Empowering Young Farmers and Humbling the Farmer (and how to design garden beds)

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I received a message wondering if I could use the help of twenty girl scouts.  The farm they were supposed to help out decided they didn’t need volunteers.  Not only can I use volunteers, but I always jump at the opportunity to reach out to kids.  It is staggering to me the minute amount of people who have chosen to grow food and the even smaller amount of women that have opted for this job.  I don’t remember in school it even being an option.  I was told I could be anything I want, a stay at home mom, a doctor, a lawyer, a nun, but never was the word farmer uttered.

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I think it is so important to show kids that living simply and farming is indeed a real career and lifestyle choice.  So I stood there thinking of all the ways I would inspire and encourage troop 2251 to do great things as they pulled in.  My breath caught and tears threatened to come.  Two cars of smiling girls were followed by a truck and trailer.  Stacked a top that trailer were twenty bales of straw for mulch and twenty bags of organic potting soil.  They had raised money to help out a farm.  What a blessing, what a group of angels that descended on our humble farm!

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I welcomed them to Pumpkin Hollow Farm and told them a bit about our simple lifestyle.  I introduced them to the animals.  They swooned over the baby lambs and my granddaughter, Maryjane.  They looked for all the kittens in the house and I showed them the wood cook stove.  We then set off to work.  We had a daunting task, turn the barren patch of dirt that was once a thriving garden at one time into a ready-to-plant plot.

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We gathered all the cardboard boxes that I had thrown in there over the winter, flattened them, and laid them beneath the paths.  I explained how we would make a one foot path, then a four foot bed, and repeat that all the way across.  They didn’t have to be straight beds.  Gardening is art, I told them, so they could make the beds wavy like little rivers, or use interesting items to line the path.

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The girl scout leaders, the girls, and I worked diligently under the first hot day of spring to create a masterpiece.  We brought over loads of bricks from the side of the outbuildings and made wavy streams of paths.  Discarded wood and branches lined the way.  I dared the girls to find the most creative piece to line the beds with.  My Christmas three that the goats stripped clean now lines of the beds!

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We had lunch beneath the pine trees and took in the views.  The little girls took turns carrying Maryjane around.  She has been in heaven this week with so many kids around.

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We then laid the twenty bales of straw thickly onto the planting beds.  All I need to do is lay a thick layer of wood chips on the paths and place stepping stones at strategic places across the beds to get across easily.  This plot will feed many, many people.  I am ever so grateful for their help.

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They taught me about generosity and hard work.  They helped a farmer that they didn’t even know.

How to Become a Homesteader-Part 5-Community

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In this “How to Become a Homesteader” series we have talked about leaving the rat race for greener pastures, eliminating a lot of unnecessary bills and cutting others.  We have lowered our need for so much income and found a good trade or homestead job that we can bring in what little we do need.  We have discussed farm animals and heating with wood and with telling time on a cuckoo clock.  We have figured what skills we ought to pick up and we are ready to roll.  But there is one very important aspect to becoming a homesteader.  Community.  It seems that would be opposite to what we are trying to achieve.  We want to be self reliant, grow our own food, take care of ourselves, and have less fear.  But, what we are really doing is becoming less reliant on big corporations and more reliant on ourselves and each other.  That is how we were made.

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When you become a homesteader you will naturally attract and meet other homesteaders.  Each has something to offer. It is one big circle out here.  A gentleman took my herbalist classes who has a tree service who got us our first cords of wood and will provide me with wood chips.  He is teaching me more and more about wild plants.  I make herbal medicines and Doug fixes computers but we need some help learning how to build things and with cars.  We have found more and more people that need what we have and can offer what we need.

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Even our friends who aren’t homesteaders, per se, have like minded ideas.  Rodney used to have a large garden before arthritis made it difficult.  Rodney Sr. can fix many things and is very creative.  Kat would love to have chickens and a small homestead.  Sandy and Bill have lots of chickens and a mad goose near their gardens.  Monte and Erik have food, water, and other necessities in case of emergency.

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Monte and Erik, our dear, dear long time friends, are moving across the country next month.  This is a couple that has a framed painting from Emily that she drew when she was six on the wall among their fine art.  The kids used to call them Uncle Monte and Uncle Erik.  We have traveled with them and they were among the first at the hospital when Maryjane was born.  Eating and drinking and watching the Superbowl at their house with all the kids was bittersweet this year.

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In a fit of silliness at the end we planned our ideal homestead and what we can all do. Bret is a hunter and is going to school for mechanics, Dillon (Shyanne’s long time boyfriend) works in construction and can help us build things on this imaginary homestead.  Shyanne is an amazing baker.  I volunteered to grow the gardens and make the medicine.  “I’ll be the bartender!” Erik says and across the room Andy says, “I’ll grow the weed!”  and everyone cheered.

Despite the fact that some of us don’t smoke weed (our son is an executive at a dispensary), and Monte and Erik are moving to Washington DC, and our kids probably don’t want to live that close to us, we enjoyed imagining the possibility.  There is comfort in being near close friends and family and a need to be near others.  The old saying still rings true, “Many hands make light work.”  And since each of us has our own gifts and talents, we can come together to provide a completely self reliant community.

The Life of a Healer- Part 2 (gifts and fire)

I think you would have liked her.  She was a very nice girl, naïve and not equipped with a lot of common sense, but a very nice girl.  I remember her to be very compassionate.  At six years old Wildflower pointed to a truck load of sheep and asked where they were going.  Her father told her they were going to be dinner.  Wildflower was horrified at the very notion.  When she was twelve years old she read in a teen magazine about a lifestyle called vegetarianism and was so excited to find such a thing that she adopted it immediately.  Being such a lover of and having such a connection to animals seemed so contradictory to eating them.

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This was about the time her intuition began.  A nervous feeling in her stomach wracked her for hours at school one day and she simply could not figure out what was wrong.  She learned that afternoon that her friend’s house had caught fire that morning and had burned.  As she grew older she started having dreams of tragedies before they hit the news.  She was so upset by these things and confided in her grandmother.  A funny thing about intuitive abilities, they remain secret among families.  It turned out that Wildflower’s grandmother had been a medical intuitive.  Her sisters were all highly intuitive.  Her nieces were too.  Wildflower’s sister was finding her own abilities.  A strong gift was evident among the female family members but one would have to search to learn about it.  Wildflower’s grandmother told her how to shut off what she didn’t want to see.  What Wildflower was left with was the ability to know when the phone was about to ring.  She still didn’t know what her gifts were or how they would be used in the future.  A very close family member told Wildflower these things were of the devil and to denounce them.  But the intuition continued though it was weak for there were many other things going on in Wildflower’s life.

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As she held her newborn son, after barely turning nineteen, in a cold hospital room with two beds, another mother holding a screaming infant across from her, she took in the beautiful sight of her new love.  Her son was beautiful and small, a perfect gift from the Creator.  She, of course, had other plans now.  There wasn’t a convent in her future.  Something more pressing and passionate had overcome her, motherhood.

One year before she had met in school a quiet, brooding, mysterious, artistic boy who was both charming and confusing.  A decision turned to an infant and Wildflower felt that she should stay with him even though he showed signs of intense anger and would go for months without even uttering a word to her.  I told you she was naïve.  Very nice though.  You would have liked her.  You just would have felt sorry for her for she was truly a clueless child and felt if she got married, things would work out.  If she had another child, things would work out.

As she sat huddled in the small basement after being locked in there, six months pregnant and holding onto her frightened two year old, she wondered how she had gotten to this place.  She heard the leaves and kindling being shoved around the door and the sound of a match.  The door was being set on fire.

The Twelve Days of Christmas (new traditions)

We always had the advent calendar that was made of cardboard and had little cutouts with chocolates of undetermined age within.  Growing up my sister and brother and I would take turns opening a day until the most anticipated day of the year arrived, Christmas!

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Our children did the same for many years.  A few years ago, leery of the chocolate contents, I decided to make a different advent calendar.  I went to the dollar store and picked up twenty four tiny stockings and some contents.  Calculating which teenager would open the stocking each day I put a small gift in each.  Most of the items were from the dollar store or a piece of candy.  Ear phones, eye lash curler, nail polish, batteries…a little goodie to look forward to.

Last year there wasn’t much sign of any of the kids so Doug and I started a new tradition.  I am not sure how it started, but we began the twelve days of Christmas.  Taking turns, we gave each other a small gift each day until Christmas.  A back massage, a small kitchen gadget, some warm socks, a special meal….just little actions or trinkets that made the season more fun.

This year we are doing something a little different, putting the gifts into song.  So, on Christmas eve we will have a completed version of the 12 Days of Christmas.

So far we have:

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a watch that belonged to me. (I put a new battery in his watch)  On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to meeeee a handheld mandolin slicer, and a watch that belonged to me. (I could never figure out the large contraption he gave me one year.  I needed a hand held one.)

Let’s skip ahead, shall we?  Today I shall sing him the fifth gift.  Our little coffee shop sold and the new owners no longer wanted to sell booze or host karaoke.  We enjoy singing at Rodney’s every third week.  He has a fantastic set up.  And Maryjane can come and she does love to sing and dance along.  It really is the cutest thing you will ever see.  But Doug mentioned missing a bar type atmosphere of singing.  I, friends, can do without waiting until 9:30 at night to sing my first song when I should be in bed with a cup of tea and a magazine.  Staying up until normally unseen hours is also not on my radar.  But, tonight, unbeknownst to him yet, I will trade tea for beer and go wail a few songs at a bar forty five minutes away on a weeknight because this will make my hubby very happy.

So, On the fifth day of Christmas my true love (better believe it!) gave to meeee…..Fiiivvvee karaoke soooongs…..

a pair of internet moccasins, a nice western shirt, a handheld mandolin slicer, and a watch that belonged toooo meeee.

I am also reposting the 12 Days of Christmas song I wrote last year as it begs to be sung again this year.  So, folks, sing it loud….

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On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me….a cat in a tree.

On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me…2 murdered ornaments and a cat in a tree.

On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me…3 hopeful children, 2 murdered ornaments, and a cat in a tree.

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…4 cups of coffee, 3 hopeful children, 2 murdered ornaments, and a cat in a tree.

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…fiiivvvee (sing it now) Christmas Chickens (not to eat)….4 cups of coffee, 3 hopeful children, 2 murdered ornaments, and a cat in a tree.

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…6 friends a comin’, fiiivvvee Christmas chickens (not to eat), 4 cups of coffee, 3 hopeful children, 2 murdered ornaments (may they rest in peace), and a cat in a tree.

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me…7 Christmas cards, 6 friends a comin’, 5 Christmas chickens, 4 cups of coffee, 3 hopeful children, 2 murdered ornaments…and a caaaatt in the tree.

On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…8 sugar cookes, 7 Christmas cards, 6 friends a comin’, fiiivvvee Christmas chickens (not to eat), 4 cups of coffee, 3 hopeful children, 2 murdered ornaments, and a cat in a tree.

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On the ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…9 Victorian houses, 8 sugar cookies, 7 Christmas cards, 6 friends a comin’, 5 Christmas chickens, 4 cups of coffee, 3 hopeful children, 2 murdered ornaments, and a cat in a tree.

(Stay with me now!) On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me….Ten violin songs, 9 Victorian houses, 8 sugar cookies, 7 Christmas cards, 6 friends a comin’, 5 Christmas chickens, 4 cups of coffee, 3 hopeful children, 2 murdered ornaments, and a cat in a tree.

On the eleventh day of Christmas (we’re almost there) my true love gave to me…11 sets of light, 10 violin songs, 9 Victorian houses, 8 sugar cookies, 7 Christmas cards, 6 friends a comin’, 5 Christmas chickens, 4 cups of coffee, 3 hopeful children, 2 murdered ornaments, and a cat in a tree.

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(Now draw this out and pause for dramatic purposes, Santa is coming soon!) On the twelfth day of Christmas….my true love gave to me…(now kind of fast here) 12 wrapped presents, 11 sets of lights, 10 violin songs, 9 Victorian houses, 8 sugar cookies, 7 Christmas cards, 6 friends a comin’ (are they coming already?!), ffffiiiiivvvveeee Christmas chiiickeeens….badambompbomp..4 cups of coffee (more please), 3 hopeful children (hope they don’t get coal), 2 murdered ornaments, and aaaaaaa cat in a tree (jazz hands).

Merry Christmas!  May your days be filled with fun and laughter and cats in trees.

Becoming the Farm Paparazzi (and who won the award)

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It probably makes Doug happy that our anniversary is a week after Valentine’s Day because he is let off the hook for pricey Valentine’s gifts…just flowers and a sweet card will do!  I bought him a nice bottle of rum and a card.  Flowers might have been lost on him.  But for our anniversary we exchange something lovely.  Like turquoise oftentimes.  Cause Mama loves a little turquoise! And since that costs considerably less than a diamond, I am thinking Doug is a lucky husband to have it so easy!  This year, however, my jewelery box literally overflows.  I am a spoiled woman indeed with all my colorful baubles.  I can transport myself to Santa Fe in two shakes of a necklace or earrings…or bracelet or ring or multiples of them all!  So, he was a bit stumped this year.

I am having the time of my life writing this blog and I do imagine it as a book in about a year with the sequel being the bigger homestead and farm.  And as the paper I write for puts out its last edition today and the other publication I chose to stop writing for, and my next cookbook not coming out until fall, I am using all my creative writing energies here.  To entertain you folks, to record our happenings and make record of a life being well lived.  The only thing missing was bright colored photographs.  I have lovely pictures on here but they were taken from Doug’s ITouch which has no flash and that he was tired of me stealing.  So, out of the box last week twas not a piece of history from New Mexico, but a bright red, shiny, me-proof camera!  It is easy to use, has a brilliant flash, and takes marvelous pictures.  I can’t wait to use it to better record life on the mini-farm.  Close ups of chicken antics, lush vegetables falling off their vines, ideas and show and tells, bees in their natural habitat (or the one I made for them), plates of luscious food and wine, chronicles of a new baby…this is going to be fun.

This will be my last picture with the ITouch!  I have to use it to take a picture of the camera!  So, the photo journaling along with prose begins.  We always joke that my aunts are the paparazzi at family events; I now proudly join the ranks.

Now, awards time…(drum roll please)  Out of a hat, one name was drawn, and that name would be Liza!  Congratulations, you have won the February contest and a glorious basket of body products including my new soap!  March’s contest goes like this; What is one amazing tip you’d like to share?  Something to make mini-farming or housekeeping easier or more productive?  Can’t wait to read the entries!  The winner will win a free class at my home, a gift certificate to my shop, a free dance lesson, or a surprise gift from off the farm.  Your choice should you win!  Reply on the March Contest link. Good luck!

Love Wrapped Up in Stitches

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I’ve been a busy bee these past months.  Our first grandchild is coming in four short weeks or less and I cannot tell you the buzz of excitement around here! (I am using a lot of bee terms…I am also excited for my bees to arrive in April!)  We have a baby shower this weekend that will fill the capacity of the coffee shop I am using and there were still many more people I would have liked to invite!  It is a great thing when friends and family gather around a soon to be mom and support her.  Community is an amazing thing!

This journey has brought us closer, has created a new place in our lives to fill with joy, and has made me very thankful for each moment.  There are moments when we are forced to realize our good fortune and no longer take for granted that everyone has a healthy pregnancy, or that everyone gives birth, or that everyone’s child grows up.  A friend of Emily’s, who was going to come to the shower as they have been going through their pregnancies together, and supporting each other, lost her baby at seven months pregnant.  A perfect baby girl was born yesterday at two pounds, with defined fingers, curly black hair, and a cord around her neck.  A cruel thing to have to deliver a dead baby and such a young mom left in the wake of grief.  I was moved to tears for this sweet young woman.  There is a bond all around the world amongst women, those we do not even know, one that can never be fully understood or explained, a connection in motherhood, one that sympathizes with each emotion involved.  And all I can do is pray for her, powerless to take away her sadness.

Our hearts beat a little faster as we ask Emily, “Did the baby move today?”  Place our hands on her warm tummy in hopes of feeling a little kick, a little hello, desperate for her to be born healthy and strong and outlive us all!

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I have prepared a welcoming pack of gifts, one that I do hope she will drag around for years to come.  I made a quilt for Maryjane to warm her in the evenings, to cuddle into and know that she is adored and watched over, to hide under during thunderstorms, to dream under.  I did not opt to put in the yarn ties, I simply quilted it and left it rather plain (in my mind).  But, it seemed perfect.  As I learned from my mother and grandmother, I embroidered the recipient’s name on the back and who made it.

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I had these fun labels made to put on all the things I shall make her.  Made for you by Grammie.  This baby comes from young families and there are nine,….calculate how spoiled this baby is going to be….nine grandmas!  I had to think of a name that set me a part but wasn’t too far from the original.  So, Grammie it is.

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A fuzzy afghan to swaddle her in, hold her close to my heart, watch her wrap up her teddy bear (Papa Doug is in charge of all things fluffy and stuffed around here…the bonified expert on stuffed animals!) that Papa gave her.  Watch it be cast aside, then found again, and act as a reminder of how much we think of her.

Crafting homemade gifts for others is so much more emotionally charged then something off of a Walmart shelf, don’t you think?  It doesn’t take much to pick up a simple skill, make a throw pillow, a quilt, an afghan, a shawl, a scarf…your love for the person wrapped up in the stitches!

Farmgirl Aprons

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Out of all the fascinating literature and school work that my seventh grade teacher taught, the one thing I remember her saying is, “One day, when you are in your late thirties you will stop worrying about what other people think about you.”  This was in response to our incessant trying to keep up on fashion and with the other students.  The nervous, pre-teens giggled, scoffed and wiggled in their seats and shook their heads sure that wouldn’t happen.  I remember thinking, “I can’t wait for that.”  I was quite doubtful, however.

Well, sure enough, late thirties, and I couldn’t care less what people think about the way I dress.  It is liberating, fantastic!  And, I am indeed trying to bring aprons back mainstream.  Seldom will you find me without one.  I have ones for around the house, ones for parties, ones for karaoke, ones for the store, and ones that match everything.  They are a charming accessory to any outfit.  I love the vintage feel, the glamorous housewife, the perfect hostess, the beauty of a fashion culture ended with the Flower Children.

But not only that, aprons are practical.  I have a place for my knife to open straw bales and letters.  A place for a tissue and a couple of bucks.  The funny thing is, no matter what I am wearing or where we are at, I always seem to pull a clothes pin out of my pocket!  A testament to my lifestyle, I guess.

The other thing that appeals to me so is the histories behind these lovely articles of clothing.  They tell stories of the women that made them or the places I got them.  For instance the one above is not old, it was in a tea house that my Grandma and I used to frequent.  When my Grandma felt better we had Tuesday outings.  We’d leave the kids with Grandpa for some Taco Bell and Grandpa time and Grandma and I would skirt off to IHOP or a tea house and a little shopping.  I bought this apron on a whim.  It will serve to remind me of Tuesday outings.

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The red apron was made by my friend, Kat’s, grandmother.  Kat enjoys giving me wonderful vintage items from her family for holidays because I think she knows how much I love them and treasure them and their stories.  Kat is in her young, early sixties, so I can speculate how long ago her grandma would have made this, and the others that Kat has bestowed upon me.  I can see her grandmother at the sewing machine with a piece of lovely fabric making these practical and pretty aprons.  The pocket on this one is a doily.  How clever!

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When the children were little I made furry puppets that wrapped around one’s neck and waist and fastened.  They looked a bit like sloths.  I got the pattern from my grandma who had made them for myself and my siblings when I was younger. The ones I made my children were loved dearly as well.  We took them to craft shows and at one particular show met a charming, grandmother-like woman.  With dark eyes, and dark skin, and a heavy bosom for hugging children, no doubt, she emanated sweetness and Southern charm.  She told Doug and I that if we could run by her house, she had a few items that she had sewed that she wanted to give me.  I don’t know if she even knew our names.  We went to her humble apartment, and though she wasn’t home, she had left a bag on the door.  Inside was filled with home sewn napkins of beautiful fabrics and hand towels and two aprons, this being my favorite one of the two.  This is my around the house apron because it covers the most and can stand up to wet laundry and white flour.  Her kindness will forever stay with me bound in the stitches of this homey apron.

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This is my newest apron from Kat that I received this Christmas.  The bottom fringe is hand crocheted and taken from an old pillow case while the top is a thin, spring-like pink floral.  It is so pretty, I feel like a princess wearing it.

I have over twenty aprons in my collection, some given, some bought, some that I made.  Aprons were my first clothing project, and even though I haven’t evolved much past that, it did help me figure out how to make skirts.  Aprons are wonderful gifts.  Everyone should have an apron or two, or twenty, in their artillery as a farm girl!

 

Homemade Christmas (and Lip Balm!)

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Gifts from the heart.  Or from your homestead.  Or made by the work of your hands.  Or something you devised from the nearest craft store.  A letter.  Let us all strive this year to give each other things of real worth.  Nothing that needs to be dusted or that may end up in a landfill.  Something that touches our hearts, or souls, or our tummies, or that just makes us smile.  Here are some ideas for homemade gifts and a recipe for the best lip balm you will ever try.

  1. Use rough yarn, or leftover scraps of yarn to whip up little kitchen wash rags and a pot holder.
  2. Anything you canned this year, or if you didn’t can this year, it won’t take long to cook up some jelly!  A beautiful jar of beets, applesauce, or strawberry jam is always a delight to receive.
  3. Infused alcohol: place vodka, rum, brandy or other hard liquor in a pretty bottle and drop in vanilla beans and a little brown sugar, or raspberries, hazelnuts and honey, or lemons and sugar, or cinnamon sticks and maple syrup.  The combinations are unending, the aperitif unparalleled.
  4. Homemade laundry soap (future post).
  5. Candles, made by you or not, candles are always nice to have in any lifestyle!
  6. A pretty tea cup with your favorite blend of tea and a tea ball.
  7. Homemade cookies, fudge, any delight from the kitchen that the recipient may not have had time to make this year.
  8. Your prized recipe with a few of the ingredients.
  9. A letter telling the person how much they mean to you.
  10. Cover half a styrofoam ball with leftover fabric and glue into old teacup flat side down to make a charming pin cushion.  Glue cup onto saucer.
  11. Seeds and instructions.  Your saved seeds even better!
  12. Infused honey.
  13. The best lip balm: In a double boiler (I put the ingredients into a glass measuring cup inside a saucepan of water) you will need 2 and a half ounces of olive oil, almond, grapeseed, or apricot kernel oil.  Add to that 1 oz of shea butter, and 1 oz of chopped up beeswax. While that is melting prepare the lip balm containers (available online, I get mine at http://mountainroseherbs.com ).  Drop 3 drops of essential oil to each container (spearmint, orange, lemon, or vanilla all make yummy lip balms).  When wax mixture has thoroughly melted and you have stirred it with a chopstick several times in the process, pour into each container without cussing.  It’s quick and kind of messy and worth it.  For you will have 20-22 fabulous lip balms in your possession made by you.

Merry Christmas Everyone!