The Magic of a Yuletide Card

Thanksgiving eve.  There is always so much to be thankful for.  Health, family, security, home, and an inspired life.  These things I think of and am thankful for each day of the year.  As a vegetarian and a history lover, Thanksgiving isn’t really my favorite holiday.  And this year my children will be other places.  So, I have put up my Christmas houses and am clearing a place for the tree.  Yes, Yule is my very favorite holiday of the year.  The lights, the charity, the music, the wrappings, the trimmings, the beauty and joy that surrounds Yuletide is intoxicating for me.

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My grandparents with their great, great granddaughters. So much to be thankful for.

Now, I feel like we are all old friends here.  Just like you are over for coffee this pretty morning and I am telling you about how I, on a whim, just registered for a full load of classes to pursue a teaching degree (yes, I did that the other night) or am showing you photographs of my new granddaughter.  Over the years we’ve have had some laughs, we’ve had some tears, we’ve had some wine.  But I like the tangible as well.  I would love to be on your Christmas card list this year and I will add you to mine.  Let us pen old fashioned wishes and hopes for the new year.  I love hearing from readers and responding.  It makes us friends out there in this big, small world.

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Christmas cards may seem old fashioned, but they are a link and a wish to family and friends, old and new, and a moment of your time and love.  There is no greater gift than that.  Christmas cards have led to a few really fabulous pen pals for me.  I enjoy so much that moment of peeking in the mailbox and finding a card or letter.  Placing the envelope in my apron pocket as I make a cup of tea.  Sitting down to savor every word.  To be there.  To listen.  To read.  To pull out a few pieces of beautiful stationary and respond.  Yes, it is one of my favorite things.  Send me a card and I will send you one as well filled with good wishes and cheer, from my cozy home to yours.

Mrs. Katie Sanders

1901 Brown Ave

Pueblo, CO 81004

Wishing you a joyous Thanksgiving and a happy beginning to your Yuletide festivities.

The Beloved Family

There is a very large photograph in Aunt Donna’s basement of her as a young woman, dark hair, slim figure, standing primly in a beauty pageant.  Her forties hair swirled perfectly and her lovely face and smile… my Shyanne looks very much like her.

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Aunt Donna is my grandma’s sister.  I say ‘is’ even though she passed away on Halloween.  She is mentioned throughout this blog many times as my gardening guru, my insight to family history and spirituality, and my friend.  At eighty-nine years old, she left behind a family that she had helped keep together over decades.  The matriarch.  I shall miss visiting her.  I shall miss her home.  I shall miss asking things like, “What do I do with Jerusalem artichokes?” after a day of harvesting sumac and Oregon grape root, or apples, or grapes or Jerusalem artichokes.

Family is beloved.

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My own beautiful family. (From left: Reed, Emily, me, Maryjane, Doug, Andrew, Bree, Shyanne, Jacob)

Family looks differently to different folks, indeed, but a family is a family.  Even though the actual definition is of blood and descent, I feel the dictionary ought to update.  I was born into a very large family.  As I grow older in the line, the family line changes and we all take different places.  My grandmother is now the matriarch.  There are many pieces missing in between, either from death or distance or apathy, they move away or fall apart or come closer and evolve.

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Maryjane’s beloved Aunt Pat (my dear friend)

My granddaughter, Maryjane, knew Aunt Donna.  She knows my grandparents on one side.  She also called my friend, Kat, grandma and calls Rod, grandpa.  She calls my great friends, Auntie and Uncle.  The harsh lines of lineage change and soften.  Maryjane’s Pa adopted all my children when they were very small.  There is no question that he is their father and his entire side of the family can be found penned into Ancestry.com as such.  My lovely, dark skinned sister and brother are as much my brother and sister as my blond brother and sister.

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Four of the five of us. (From left: Patrick, Vanessa, Joel, me)

And to Maryjane there is no difference between anyone.  If they are in our lives, they are family.  Community and family and friends intertwine and become stronger.  Find those that bring you joy and choose to spend time with them.  Call once a week, pen a note and send it off.  Be there.  Be present.  Be kind.  Be thankful.  Because family, made up of the kindest and those that love us, is beloved.

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My world.

Paint and Friends (transforming a hundred year old shop)

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Some of the greatest transformations come from friends, a box of donuts, and a couple of gallons of paint.  One such transformation took place Saturday at our new store set to open in less than two weeks.  While the great state fair parade marched down the main street, we gathered with friends and began painting.

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When I first stepped into the space I saw through the looming clutter, the holes in the walls, the bedding in the back.  I saw past the white drywall  and the forty year old linoleum that destroyed the wood floors that are over a century old.  I could see it.

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My daughter, Emily, and I are on a great adventure opening a homesteading supply shop two miles from my house in Pueblo, Colorado.  We are taking our beloved farm name, Pumpkin Hollow Farm, as its moniker.  My first thought was to paint the walls a light orange but that was quickly vetoed.  We brainstormed old fashioned colors, ones that might have been seen in an old hotel.  Grey/blue fit the bill and a broody, crisp grey became the trim.

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We began to paint the trim around the huge picture windows grey and found that it was quickly diffusing the light.  The whole front end of the shop became cream colored.  We brightened cobwebs and grease stains and a hundred years of paint.

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The doors needed a little showcasing.  We agreed on a lovely adobe orange.

20180826_163029Emily went to work creating a pumpkin patch along the front of the building.  You can see it from blocks away and it adds whimsy and character to our store front.

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Oh, there is much to do still, but we were able to hug friends, step back and look at the change, the honoring of an old store, and envision a lively shop with memories to be made.

Daring to Imagine a Different Life

“You are daring to imagine that you could have a different life!” Birdie says in that delightful movie, You’ve Got Mail.

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I have been a working herbalist for a decade now.  It is day in-day out phone calls, with my entire identity wrapped up in it.  I will still do it on a smaller scale, but it is exhausting full time.  I loved having my identity be a stay-at-home mom, and a dance teacher, and a professional model over my life.  It takes courage to seek out a different life as businesses falter, or the children move out, or new dreams move in.  It is very difficult to close doors on some aspects in life in order to explore new ideas and dreams.  Whispered inspirations nudging us forward.  Ends of eras, sleepless nights, courage that nudges you past the fear of failure and into the unknown where you can fly is all worth it.

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I have a great passion to help people simplify their lives, lessen their bills, get out of debt, live the life they dream of, put down the phones, pick up a child, be in nature, make your own, sit on the front porch and create a grow-your-own kind of life.  My new shop will create inspiration, a place to get supplies and know-how, a place where women can gather to knit and sip on tea, a place where children learn to make cheese and crochet, and young families can get tips on growing in this altitude.  A back to the land or an urban homestead mentality.  A peace of mind, deep satisfaction kind of grin.  This new shop with my daughters will be so fine.

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The key to being brave and changing your life is changing the “what if’s.”  What if we fail?  Then we fail.  I did not take out large commercial loans for this.  What if no one comes?  Then I will have time to catch up on quilting.  What if….what if we succeed?  What if we have this shop in our family for thirty years?  What if we help change the lives of hundreds? or thousands?  What if?

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What if one door isn’t closing, it’s just changing paths and what if it is even better?

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Oh my dear, imagine that you could have a different life!

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What is your dream?

 

 

In Hilda’s Farmhouse

20180802_152433As I carefully unwrapped each fragile teacup, each plate, I was overwhelmed with emotion.  Each dish is over a hundred years old, hand painted from Denmark, and so beautiful.  How did the young newlywed, the new farm wife, feel as she carefully unwrapped such fine things on her wedding?  A hundred years separates and joins us in a flash of a tea cup.

My beautiful friend, Kat (whom I called mom) had a great love of history, and homesteading, and family.  She knew that I might be the only one to appreciate such things as old linens, and wind up clocks, and this and that, and so for each holiday I was gifted with heirlooms.  Hilda was her grandmother, a farm wife in Iowa and in my home I have her things.  I have never met her but we are connected through time as farm wives.  As women.  As housewives.  We are connected by our love of Kat and by the material things she used that carry memories and love.

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Gunhilda was her given name, but she always went by Hilda.  Her family was Danish and her husband was from Denmark.  A darling looking man named Jorgen, or George once he came to the states.  They were married in 1918 when Hilda was twenty-three years old.

I have read her old postcards often.  I am fascinated by her friends’ scripts and brief notations.  How sweet to receive such correspondence on a snowy day.

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I put on one of the aprons that Hilda made.  They are starting to fray but they are sturdy and lovely in their simple way.  A good sized pocket to gather eggs.

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I will make tea for the ladies that might come by for a visit.  Just as she would have done in that farmhouse past the rows of corn a hundred years ago and just as women will do a hundred years from now.  We are all connected by that nurturing spirit, love of family and community, and of simple things like hand painted dishes so fine.

The Farmgirl School Milestone

Over a thousand blog followers.  I could not believe it as I lifted my coffee cup to my lips, the steam rising in the cooler morning air, and saw that number.  136,555 hits to my writings.  My most popular blog by far (by thousands) was How to Make Chokecherry Wine!  I want to share that with you again along with a few of my favorite blog posts.

What a chronicle this has become!  I use it nearly daily.  How do you can beans?  I look up my blog!  I am teaching a canning class today and I couldn’t remember how long to can pickled beets and eggs.  It’s right here.

We had a lovely visit with our friends, Lisa and Lance yesterday at Bristol brewery that resides inside a hundred year old school.  They have been on the same journey as we have all these years.  We have watched our children grow up and grandchildren come.  They have worked hard and own a ranch with their family out east. ( https://rafterwranch.net/) We talk about her cows, my chickens, our plans, our kids, this lifestyle.  We have some very big changes and great plans coming up so I bounce ideas off of Lisa and we talk about ways to make my new business idea work (oh, the suspense, I can’t tell you yet!) and how to use our house to buy a farm in the future.  In almost six years so much has changed for both of us, yet there sipping a macchiato on a summer day we may as well have been in her kitchen years ago plotting our next farming move.  Like minded friends are gold, folks.

And so, here’s to a 1000 more readers and a great many more tales to tell.

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How to Make Chokecherry Wine

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A Visit to an Amish Home

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And a Child Was Born

 

 

A Simple Life

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We were at our favorite Celtic festival this weekend.  For two days we step back in time.  We feel a swell of pride and odd recognition as we hear the familiar bag pipes sound.  Outfits of different eras swish in the morning air through the woods.  We find our clan (Mackay) and bid everyone well.  It is an annual time of catching up with old friends and seeing glimpses of a simpler time as we toast with our mead and listen to the fiddlers and harpists play.

As I drive home, flying down the highway, I see the abandoned homesteads and outbuildings that line the railroad tracks.

All our modern conveniences do not add up to happiness.  We still work the same hours but with less meaningful work and constant stress.  I think our bodies were made to be more physical, our tasks plenty.  Our evenings filled with music and books by the fire instead of stressful television shows.  Home cooked meals and clothes on the line and chickens waiting for scratch and friends coming to call on Sunday afternoon.  There was joy in simplicity and we were not so inundated with brain washing media and mass panic.

I could see the ghosts of the farm women in their aprons taking a pail of milk into the farm kitchen.  The men throwing hay to the sheep.  A trusty farm dog by his side.

At the festival our friends did demonstrations of sheep herding with their incredible Border Collies.  A tradition as old as the Highlands.

We do not have to fall into the day to day modern but can choose to live more simply.  We can choose to unplug the television, hang up a clothes line, put a pot of beans on, cancel cable.  We can choose to dress simpler, eat simpler, enjoy simpler activities like having friends over to laugh by the fire or take a walk in the evening.  We can shut off the news and don our aprons and embrace our inner wisdom and enjoy a simple life.

For many of the greatest joys are from holding a warm egg just laid in your hands, or clipping herbs for tea, or seeing how many tomatoes are ready to harvest.  Some of our greatest joys are in an embrace, a smile, a plate of locally grown food, and a day consumed with inner peace.

Death and Laughter

steve and lisaI can see her still, pixie sized, with soft blond hair just brushing her shoulders, and compassionate, smiling eyes swirling her wine glass.  I can see her in the vineyards, on the boat watching the whales, in her home watching inspirational television, in her Fiat driving around dressed smartly.  She was one of the wisest women I have ever had the great honor to be friends with.  She crossed the veil, with grace and hopes of not returning, last week.  She was in her late fifties.  Her husband, Steve, my friend for many years, will be driving through and stopping in to see me.  We shall cry and reminisce and drink wine in her honor.

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If you have followed me for awhile, they were the couple we used to visit in California every few years.  I wrote many notes and added many photographs of our adventures through wine country, the Red Wood forest, to the ocean.

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Our society doesn’t like to speak of death.  We are fearful and clearly do not want to accept it.  But telling your loved ones what you want can help ease the decision making in a bereaved spouse and children.  It doesn’t all have to be doom and gloom.  Death is the next great transition, the next path, it is all beautiful, and it can be spoken of with humor.

When my daughters were young I remember them clearly arguing in the back seat as we drove somewhere about my remains.

I will put her ashes in the compost pile so that she can grow into flowers and trees! The other retorted, No, I am putting her ashes in the lion cage at the zoo.  You know she always wanted to be near a lion!

“Excuse me, I am right here!” I said, all of us laughing.

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Saturday as Doug and I were driving, we thought of Lisa.  I told him when I die call Lauren!  She is a friend of mine who specializes in green funerals.  The last thing I need is to be filled up with chemicals and shoved into Mother Earth with a final “screw you” inside of my veins.  No, just put me in there as is so I can feed a tree and microorganisms without killing everything.  Or cremate me and put me in the lion cage.  That could be fun.

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Doug chimed in,

A deceased woman was seen floating on Minnequa lake on fire this morning in a Viking funeral.  Two men in kilts were arrested for disturbing the peace and public drunkenness.  The bagpipes were confiscated.  Three police officers- friends of the deceased- were arrested for drunkenness and attacking a police officer with a sword.  The deceased’s children were seen fleeing the scene. 

We laughed at this vibrant scene in our imaginations as we made our way to my brother’s St. Patrick’s day party.

My friend, Nancy, who was a great part of this blog as well, died at fifty-four years old and in her final decisions wanted a green burial.  She was buried on her land in a beautiful ceremony right in the path of the easement where the oil companies were going to come through.  She had the last laugh!

I turned to Doug and asked him seriously since he doesn’t speak too much of it, “What do you want?”  He was silent for a moment and then replied thoughtfully,

I have just one request.  I want you to prop me up in the first row and see how many people notice!

Well, that sent us into another round of laughter.

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We may not have written down exact plans, but we have the gist of it.  Death is not scary.  It is just another journey.  Save a little money for your burial, write down what you want, and then maybe plan a great reception in your honor complete with Mariachi and margaritas or your flaming corpse on the nearby lake.  Send yourself off proper.  And love those around you fiercely while they are alive.  I will sure miss Lisa.

 

Facebook Groups and Meeting New Friends (how to expand our communities)

20180205_091100We are in a new town.  Our lives have changed quite a bit; Doug is working full time and I am not working every day.  I thought it would be nice to have some people over to play cards one evening or to ask a girlfriend to coffee.  Then I realized we don’t know anyone here!  I knew a few people from my classes and from the fairs and markets.  But if you do not know people well enough it is hard to just say, “Hey, you wanna go get some tea?”

So I started two facebook groups.  Facebook is my nemesis and saving grace all in one.  I get easily trapped in the negativity but it is also the only way to properly build and promote my business and writings.  It is also a great way to meet new people.  A private Facebook group can be easily made (it can also be made public).  I made two of them.

One of them was Doug’s idea.  His original name for it was the Black Hat Society but it turns out there are several chapters out east so instead the Purple Door Society came to be.  A beautiful woman who was in my herb and shaman classes and supported my little farm encouraged me to put the idea into action.  We sat down one day at a coffee shop and ironed out a rough idea of what this women’s group could look like then invited four other girls.  Who invited a few others.  We had our first meet up at another coffee shop last week.   Four free thinking gals, most of them healers, not wanting anyone to need something from them, just wanting to be themselves.  We sat and had tea or coffee and realized that most of us hadn’t been out with girls in a long, long time for conversation!  Next month the group (a little bigger now) is going to Florence for shopping and lunch.

We wanted to meet couples as well, like minded ones.  I created a vegan supper club called the Plant Foodie Supper Club for Southern Colorado.  Vegans, vegetarians, pescatarians, and the curious all welcome.  The other night we hosted two other couples for a potluck style feast.  Homemade pasta and sauce, pesto stuffed mushrooms, a vegan cheese board, French bread, and chocolate mousse.  The food and wine great, the conversations amazing, the game filled with laughter, and the evening wonderful with new friends.  Next month a young couple that we haven’t met before is hosting the dinner.  It’s wonderful to be getting out of our 24 hour a day working habit and getting out there to see who is sharing this beautiful city and planet with us!

I always say that what we learned from our adventures in losing everything was that we were so busy trying to be self sufficient that we ended up becoming completely dependent on others.  We were made to be communities, our success, joys, and health depend on it.  In a world that values media and overtime, let us make a bit of time for new friends and time with others.  Maybe start a facebook group of your own!

The Entertaining Farmgirl’s Yuletide Gathering

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The breeze blew mischievously as Doug continued lighting the luminarias that lined the walk, the oil lanterns, and the dozens and dozens of tea lights.  The house was ready for a party.  And so was I.

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Luminarias are prevalent in New Mexico where they light the way for travelers and carolers alike.  Simply fold down a few inches of a paper lunch bag.  Pour in three inches or so of sand and place a tea candle in the center.  

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An oil lamp makes a lovely welcome outdoors and adds whimsy to the lighting indoors.  Remember, no overhead lighting allowed!  Twinkly lights and tea candles work beautifully to create drama, softened features, and enchantment.  

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We haven’t thrown a Christmas party in four years.  It was wonderful being able to send out invites to a Yuletide Gathering with a few friends.  I chose to serve soups and had my guests bring either wine, bread, or dessert.  Soups are easy to prepare in advance.  They are always delicious and hard to mess up.  Alongside, I served a platter of garlic bread for the Sherry Tomato Soup,  corn chips and sour cream for the Three Chile Mole, and green olives for the Italian Lentil soup.  Friends came bearing garlic and cheese breads, sausages in raspberry chipotle sauce, and lots of divine desserts.

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Make sure you put out little cards stating what each thing is.  The key is to free up as much time to mingle with guests and join in the festivities and you want your guests to feel at home.

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Before guests arrived I put out a platter of my homemade manchego cheese and crackers with roasted orange-parmesan olives (almost all of these recipes are in my new cookbook, From Mama’s Kitchen With Love).  I don’t wait too long after guests arrive to serve supper but something to snack on quells early dinner pangs and gives folks something to do.

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Place all plates, silverware, and glassware out so that friends can help themselves.  Use china.  You can do dishes tomorrow.  

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The couches and the easy chairs are set up in a circle for ease of conversation and it was very easy to pull up other chairs so that everyone could take part in the games and laughter.  I invited an eclectic group of people.  A surgical tech, a Reiki master, the owner of a metaphysical shop, a veteran and her older three children who homestead and homeschool, my oldest, great friends-Rod Sr., Rodney, and my dear Pat.  Everyone had things in common and the conversation stayed lively.

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Start with an ice breaker.  We name all of our animals after movies and so we named off our eight cats and dog to create a fun ice breaker where they had to name the movie.  

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From walking up the illuminated path, to having wine and hors d’oeuvres, to the ice breaker, than dinner, a ten dollar gift exchange, then the game.  We played a fun game called “Catch Phrase” that required no boards or teams, just an electronic device that we passed around that gave us a word and we had to get the group to say it with clues.  It created a lot of great laughter and fun.

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The White Elephant game where people bring odd gifts and people trade and such just creates more items that folks don’t want and may end up in a landfill.  Everyone brought a nice ten dollar gift, such as small oil burners, and salt lamps, crystals, books, and candles, and everyone was delighted with what they received.  

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Pour leftover soup into pint jars and send them home with friends!

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New friends were made, great food was had, joy was spread, and I do believe that is the best party I have had.  Such a beautiful way to celebrate the season of light.