Fiber Arts, Animals, and Projects

These desert mornings are cool.  I put a cardigan on before I poured my coffee.  I put the chicks outside yesterday but I may need to run the heat lamp out there for mornings.  It’s going to get warm though.  It was ninety degrees yesterday and it will be again today (wasn’t I just wearing a winter hat Sunday?), so it may seem a terrible time to talk about fiber arts!  Fiber arts are apart of our series here and a welcome skill on the homestead.  Think cozy sweaters, gloves, blankets, and unique gifts all created by you.

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I have found that folks that begin crocheting first have a hard time knitting (where is that darned hook?).  I learned how to crochet from my grandmother, among many things (Lord, I miss her!), when I was thirteen.  I entered my first blanket into the school’s art show and won first place.  I was sure thrilled!  I went on to make many a baby blanket (about my patience level) for friends, all of my own children and my darling granddaughters.  Then moved on to cozies for candles and mugs and fingerless gloves.  Lots of fun ideas.  I have a loom downstairs I am just giddy to learn to how to use.  It may as well be a car in a million pieces; I haven’t the first idea how to put it together, let alone use it.  That is a goal for this winter.

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Gandalf at dusk.  That’s not snow, folks.

What about fiber animals?  I can’t have them here in the city (actually….I saw a weird video about folks spinning their dog’s fur), but I have had them before and will have them again.  Alpacas weren’t my loves.  They are cute and marionette-like, and kick.  Some of my friends adore their alpacas, it just may not have been our thing.  I need goofy, friendly, cuddly animals on my farm.  So we got sheep.  Oh goodness, I loved those sheep.  Olaf and Sven were just as bright as a pine cone but they adored me and followed me around the farm, in the house, and rather enjoyed rides in the truck.  They also liked to watch television.  (Spoiled much?)

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I have had a spinning wheel twice, and due to moving and patience issues in me (I do hope those are remedied now that I am an empty nester), I don’t have one, but that too will become one of my goals….maybe.  I once dropped off a whole bag of alpaca fleece a guy sold me to a fiber mill and I got back many skeins of lovely spun yarn.  I wonder if I could do it again myself.

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Homesteading is a lot of doing and a little bit dreaming.  We are always striving to do more, learn more, achieve more, enjoy more.  In the meantime, there are a few projects I am inspired to work on.  Better find some chunky wool…

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Here are some old past posts and projects for y’all!

Candle Sweaters and Pin Cushions (homemade gifts)

The Yarn Weasel

Alpaca Scarves and Crooked Washcloths

Vintage Handkerchiefs (a crochet project)

How to Crochet Fingerless Gloves (easy pattern!)

Bread Baking (So You Want to Be a Homesteader Series- Day 9)

For the past ten years or so we have purchased very little that is electronic, instead opting for hand cranked or self powered items.  Oil lamps, a hand cranked coffee grinder, food processor, and cast iron that can be used on a wood stove if necessary fill my cupboards.  After reading Jim Lahey’s great book, My Bread, I have baked many a loaf of good bread.  I don’t remember when I gave away my bread maker (when we became raw foodies for a short time?  When we were trying to go off grid?) but when I plugged in the one from Grandma’s house that Grandpa sent me home with, a big smile crossed my face.  All I had to do was layer the ingredients into the pan, slide it into the oven, press 7, and go about my chores.  It mixed, raised, kneaded, and baked a heavenly loaf of bread for supper while I got laundry, gardening, and housework done.  What have I been missing all these years?

Now that we are 100% solar powered, I tend to plug a few more things in (but not much!).  The bread from the breadmaker is delicious.  If I want a good boule, I will whip some up myself in mixing bowls and over hours, and bake it in my Dutch oven.  It’s nice to have options.  And nothing beats coming home to a house smelling of fresh bread.

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By making your own bread for sandwiches, toast, croutons, pizza crust, and bread crumbs, you really cut down on the food bill and can control what you are eating.  Flour, salt, yeast, and sugar do not cost much.  I recently read what is in “dough conditioner”…well folks, let me just tell you that we won’t be eating take out pizza or processed bread any longer.

I bought my daughter a breadmaker for her bridal shower.  I think it is the best of both worlds between convenience and homemade.  A little homemade butter and you have heaven on a plate.

Here are a few recipes of mine from over the years on this blog if you want to try your hand at a homemade loaf.  But do consider a breadmaker.  I bet there is one at a second hand store by you!

Grain Mills and Rye Bread

Maple Molasses Whole Wheat Bread

The Joyful, Simple Life of a Frugal Housewife

I have a little book that was written by Mrs. Child in 1832.  The American Frugal Housewife is surely just as useful today in many senses.  The author almost lost me when she noted that coffee was not economical and could be avoided.  Oh, she’s a strict one, that Mrs. Child.  Her prose is clear and concise and the book is ever fun to read.  Going on two hundred years old, it is a bit of history rolled into a gentle reminder that not that much has changed.

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If you make a dollar, only spend eighty cents.  If you make fifty cents, only spend forty.  The original Dave Ramsey.  Why do all the girls these days need the new bonnets from France when clean, proper dresses and a ribbon will do?  Girls have no home education these days!  In this book she covers everything from cuts of meat (she would wonder about me and my vegetarianism), to how to make custard, and Indian pudding.  She discusses herbs for cooking and all their medicinal values as well.  A new onion will take the pain out of a wasp sting.  Every housekeeping gem that we housewives- even in the twenty-first century- could ever need are in this book.  She would tisk-tisk me for sure.  But in this time and age, I am not too bad.  But there is always room for improvement.  A simple, frugal life is a life of peace.

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The gents installing the meters for the solar panels on our homestead were surprised at how little electricity we use.  Now it can all be generated from the sun.  When you walk through our gate, past the Pumpkin Hollow Farm sign, you will find yourself in a large yard.  Under snow, it looks ordinary, but this spring you will find dozens, upon dozens, and dozens of medicinal and culinary herbs.  This year, enough produce growing to last us eight+ months.

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When you come in there is a wood stove and nice wood floors that are easy to clean.  Plants and aloes and seed starts fill my home.  We read by candlelight and oil lamps.  Twinkly lights are the electric lights.  Piles of books to read, board games, and a tuned piano supply entertainment. We rarely watch television.  In the warmer months we will sit on the porch or go for a walk, all free things.  And blessed time together.

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In the kitchen, home cooked meals are made.  I am finally getting used to not cooking for  all the children.  Just me and Pa and some left for the puppy.  Our root cellar is dwindling but there are still over a hundred jars of produce put up.  There are fresh eggs from the coop.  Cups of herb tea steaming on the counter.

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You will almost always find me in an apron.  They are so practical and keep my long skirts clean.  I make all of our own medicine, prepare our meals, create much of what we need.  I can sew a quilt, make our own soap, brew some meade, put up green beans, bake sourdough bread, make antibiotics, save seeds, use the library, ride my bike, and if I make fifty cents then I shall save ten!  More likely five cents, but we’ll get there.

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Such a good life indeed.

Colorful Curry Winter Slow Cooker Soup

Need something quick, delicious, seasonal, and nutritious, oh, and easy?  This soup is perfect for cold nights in or for company.  It’s various colors add different antioxidants to the dish which boost immunity.  The beans give it protein and satiates hunger.  The layered flavors are savory with just a touch of heat and salt.  One pot, quick prep, and the meal serves 4-6.

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4 small potatoes

1 yellow/orange beet

1/4 of a purple cabbage

3/4 cup of baby lima beans (or other bean)

2 Tb curry powder of choice

2 ts of garlic powder

5 cups of broth (Preferably from the root cellar.  I used red chile/corn.)

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Chop vegetables and layer everything into crock pot and set to low for 8 hours.  After 6 hours I add 1 Tb of salt because I don’t put any in my broth.  Adjust accordingly to what your soup needs.  It may not need any extra.

Serve with delicious, warm sourdough bread (tomorrow’s recipe)!

Creative Ways to Cook With A Lot More Vegetables

_BBF2511_gThere is something about the various colors of vegetables that I find so beautiful.  Artists for centuries have been painting their curves, their textures, their light.  Vegetables are among the most appealing sights to me.  It fuels my gardening.  It fuels my diet.

I am still surprised when people tell me that they, or their spouse, or their children do not eat vegetables.  Missing out on that satisfying crunch, the way the savory slices gather in sauce and spices, the bright colors creating a mesmerizing palette on the dinner table.

I will never forget when my friend, Nancy, and I were running our market booth and two women came over and pointed at green, frilly leaves and asked, “What’s that?”  We stared at them for a minute.  “Lettuce,” we replied.  “What do you do with it?” they inquired.

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So, perhaps folks do not know what to do with vegetables.  Here are some ideas to easily incorporate lots of glorious colors, textures, and flavors into your meals.  Listen, if mama is cooking, the folks around the table are going to eat it.  We raised our children vegetarian.  Their primary diet was vegetables!  They never turned their nose up because they were never given an option.  That goes for men too.  No one got their own meals.  There were no chicken nuggets and fries for the kids while we ate crisp slices of eggplant with spaghetti.  The kids (and this goes for how school lunches should be too) should eat the same fabulous food as adults.  That is how they learn to love vegetables.

With that, let’s get cooking!

First buy or grow lots of beautiful, organic produce.  Whatever appeals to you or interests you.  Now think of a theme.

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If you want to go Asian- chop maybe five different vegetables (like cabbage, carrots, onion, snow peas, and red pepper) and saute them with tamari, scallion oil, a touch of orange juice, and serve topped with peanuts or cashews and rice.

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If you want to go Italian- slice eggplant real thin and bread in flour, non-dairy milk, then panko and fry or bake.  Put salt and pepper, nutritional yeast, onion and garlic powder, and oregano in the flour and panko mixtures.  Make your own sauce by sauteing onions and garlic, then add in diced tomatoes, and simmer with dried basil, oregano, a touch of thyme and paprika, a dash of wine, then top with basil as you add it to the pasta.  Or just pick out a great pasta sauce.

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Pizza night- Layer pizza sauce on thin pizza dough (15 minutes to make tops).  Layer on (or for more depth, saute first in olive oil) oyster or lobster mushrooms (these aren’t your slimy canned bit, they taste like seafood), red and green peppers, black olives, and diced eggplant and zucchini.  Top with nutritional yeast, Italian seasoning, maybe a bit of truffle salt and a swirl of truffle oil.  Bake.

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Maybe you want Mexican food tonight- How about sauteed red and green peppers and onions in mini-tacos.  Maybe add diced, roasted pumpkin, butternut squash, or zucchini.  Pinto beans with green chilies. Top with salsa (which is a vegetable), guacamole (best vegetable), lettuce, tomato, and a creamy vegan cashew queso (5 minutes to make).  Serve with a margarita (not a vegetable, sadly).

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Spanish calls for paella with its slow cooked rice, savory seasonings like garlic and paprika, and lots of finely diced vegetables like peppers, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, and kale.

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Indian food is quite easy with its various curries and sauces using any vegetable but especially lentils, cauliflower, peas, and potatoes.

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Create a hash by sauteing or baking onion, garlic, bright colored peppers, potatoes, sweet potatoes.  You can add in crushed up tofu colored with turmeric for scrambled eggs.  If you have farm fresh eggs from happy chickens, you can throw all the vegetables you have into a cast iron pan, saute, then add eggs to make a frittata.

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Soups are always comforting and easy to put together.  With most meals start with a sofrito.  A sofrito is a blend of onion, garlic, celery, and carrots slowly sauteed in olive oil.  Then add diced veggies.  Any and all combinations.  Then add spices depending on what theme you chose.  Then add rich vegetable broth or bouillon.  At the end you could add a bit of cashew cream or almond milk for creaminess.  Add lots of beans.  Use an immersion blender to hide the Brussels sprouts if need be.

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A few tips:

Garlic should go in everything!

Top dishes with toasted pine nuts, almonds, cashews, or walnuts.

Add beans, lentils, or dried peas.

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Serve with pasta, big hunks of warm Italian bread and olive oil, rice, cooked rye, barley, or quinoa or homemade croutons.

Roasted vegetables cooked with rosemary, thyme, and garlic increase flavor and are wonderful served with bread and salad.

Top dishes with a drizzle of great olive oil or flavored olive oil.

A touch of sugar balances acidity in tomatoes.

Spices, spices, spices.  Layer flavors as you cook.

Put on some music (preferably Andrea Bocelli), pour a glass of wine, put your apron on, and enjoy cooking.  Vegetarian food takes half the time to prepare and is real easy on the wallet.  Antioxidants and nutrients kill disease and make healthy kids and hubbies.  And vegetables taste great!  Bon Appetit!

 

 

The Delicious and Versatile Homemade Crouton

I try to bake bread each week.  The first few days the bread is delicious and soft.  The next few days it needs to be toasted.  The next few days we forget about it.  Then I make croutons!  Croutons are a great way to preserve stale bread and can be made with store bought bread as well.

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Simply cut into half inch pieces and place on cookie sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Use a large spoon and stir while flipping the pieces over (the best you can, don’t do every single piece, you’ll go crazy) and drizzle with a little more oil and salt and pepper.

For these I used a little sage and onion infused olive oil from Drizzle and Dip in Southlands along with good olive oil.  Rye bread was made into croutons this week and it goes very well with strong flavors like garlic, sage, and onion.  You can also add minced herbs if you wish.

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Bake at 325 degrees for 20 minutes.  Shake the pan after 10 minutes.  Then again when it comes out of the oven.  Let cool on pan completely.  Store in a paper bag.  These are delicious on salad, in soup, or as a snack.  These crispy, salty, savory croutons taste great with a little holiday red wine.  Add a few slices of good cheese and you have fast hors d’oeuvres.

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Here is a link to one of my bread recipes. Click here

Goats in the Kitchen (and homemade chevre)

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Not in my kitchen, though that would be fun!  My cats would wonder what kind of odd dog I had brought home this time, and Bumble, the greyhound, would have thought he had a new playmate.

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I went to Nancy’s house for an impromptu lesson on cheese and butter making.  The snow was falling softly and thickly outdoors, creating a mood more like Christmas than Spring, but the effect was nonetheless calming and beautiful.  Her little farm lay softly beneath the quiet snow and inside the kitchen things were hopping.

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Faleena brought the infants in to play for a few minutes and as they skittered about the floor, and took to us snuggling them, all was right with the world.  Goats in the kitchen seemed a perfectly normal activity and fueled my desire to have a proper homestead, complete with goats.

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The kids are still nursing so there is less milk to be had then if Nancy chose to run her mini-dairy as a commercial operation.  Which suits us fine as we don’t do anything to maximum production, just enough is fine with us.  We still had several half gallon canning jars filled with fresh milk at our fingertips to turn into delicious chevre.

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These little packages sure make life easier.  If don’t happen to have a young calf or goat to slaughter and retrieve the stomach lining from (traditional rennet), you can use one of these packets that have the proper cultures already made up for you to make your cheese.  You can also use vegetable rennet.  All we had to do was sprinkle this packet onto a gallon of raw, fresh milk and wait for 12 hours.  Nancy set up a bit of a television test kitchen by preparing half the batch the night before and letting me prepare the second half.  The first half was ready for me to finish and take home.

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At the end of the 12 hours, the milk has coagulated into something resembling panna cotta which made me start craving caramel sauce.  I then strained the mixture through a thick cheesecloth lined colander saving the whey for soups or dressings.  I was instructed to gather up the ends of the cheesecloth and hang it over the bowl to drain for 4-12 hours depending on desired consistency.  Promptly at 4 hours I unwrapped it.  Forget desired consistency, it depends on one’s patience!

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I made a delicious dinner of chevre filled manicotti covered in rich sauce of tomato, spaghetti sauce, peppers, wine, and spices, all from the root cellar.  Topped it with parmesan and breadcrumbs and baked it for 25 minutes.  I still have more chevre in the fridge waiting for the addition of green chilies to be spread on crackers for lunch.  Self reliance never tasted so good!

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Feeling rather pioneer woman-like, we moved on to butter.  We set up an elaborate hand cranked cream separator (goat’s milk has to be separated manually) and went to work separating rich cream from sweet milk rendering it skim and still quite good.  We placed the cream in pint jars and each took one.  We shook, and shook, watched homesteading films, and shook…..then moved it to an old butter churner and cranked…and cranked.  Doug has delicious cream for his coffee but alas, we did not succeed at making butter.  Next time!

Making Extracts (cold medicine and vanilla)

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One for cooking, one for health:

For Health: Garlic and Herb with Echinacea Extract

Feel a cold coming on?  You will only have to start taking your new cold extract and you will feel better in no time!  The herbs in this mixture are anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-biotic, and specific to the lymphatic system and to the upper respiratory system.  And most of the herbs are in your cupboard!

In a pint jar add 1 clove of garlic (whole is fine), 1 Tb of basil, 1/2 ts of rosemary, 1/4 t thyme, pinch of ginger.  If you grow purple coneflower, aka Echinacea, then place 1 Tb of crushed leaves or a big flower in it.  You can get it from the health food store or online if necessary.

Fill jar with vodka, rum, brandy, or apple cider vinegar if you are adverse to alcohol (the alcohol works the fastest though).  Shake daily and keep in window for a week.  Place in cupboard.  After four weeks, strain.  It is ready after a week, however.  Just dip your teaspoon in there.  You can put your teaspoon of ‘maybe not the yummiest concoction you ever made’ into a tablespoon of orange juice to help it go down! This works as cold medicine as well.  Take 1 ts as needed.  You cannot overdose!

For Cooking: Vanilla Extract

This one is much tastier.  In fact I insist that you put a little in your batter and have a thimble yourself.  Delicious! (And helps libido if you wanted it for health reasons!)  When recipes call for a teaspoon of vanilla extract I always double it.  This stuff is too good not to use plenty.  When you get to the store, check out the ingredients of store-bought vanilla extract.  You are making the same thing only fresher and more fabulous and you will save so much money!

In a pint jar place one whole vanilla bean (health food stores, online).  Add 1/4 cup of brown sugar.  Fill with rum or brandy.  Let sit for a week in the cupboard before using it.  Don’t strain it!  When it gets half way down, add another bean, a touch of brown sugar, and top with more alcohol.

Try adding a splash of vanilla extract and orange juice while making scrambled eggs.  We call them “sweet eggs”.  They are very good!

The Well Behaved Goat

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He went from being a cute little guy to something of a nuisance.  Like an oversized six year old, giggling and trying to wrestle, he started pushing me around.  It was unfortunate that my back was against the metal bars of the stall.  I could practically feel the bruises forming!  His horns, thankfully nubs, were happily slamming into my hip as if I were another little boy goat wanting to play.  I could not push him very far, he was definitely stronger than me.  And as I was intermittently yelling for Doug and cussing at the six year old, I started thinking about when we get our own farm animals.

I imagined myself with a whole herd of unruly goats, throwing me into bars and permanently damaging my hip.  We were pet sitting for our friends at the time.  Doug just laughed when I told him because the day before the same goat had got him right in the stomach and I had at the time….laughed.  There’s karma for ya.  The goats are rescues from the Denver Zoo.  Nubians, the size of a very large dog, the mentality of a pre-schooler, and the escapee smarts of Houdini.  My friend, Nancy, says that it was just bad behavior on that goat’s part and that her Nubians do not do any such thing.  I did think that we could maybe get dwarf Nubians.  Doug said they will just take out our kneecaps instead!

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We really like goats though.  We tend to choose the naughtiest kitten at the shelter to bring home, the misfit dogs, etc.  We laugh at the goat’s antics (maybe because they don’t belong to us!) and watch their ever-childlike silliness.  We would like a few of our own.  We do not want any part in supporting factory farms and it would be nice to have our own daily milk that can be turned into butter or cheese or buttermilk or any number of dairy wonders that we generally refrain from!  How nice to add to my routine twice daily milkings.  The feel of a new baby in my arms like the one Emily is holding in the picture.  That was taken at Nancy’s house last year when her goats gave birth to two sets of triplets.  It was cute overload.  It was something I would like to see at our homestead one day.

Now, if I don’t want to get into the milk business, just provide for me and Doug and straggling children and grandchildren, how much do I really need?  Will a dwarf Nubian give, say two tablespoons of milk per day or a gallon?  What other breeds are there?  Is there a goat that can give fiber and good milk?  Please share any experiences you have had, friends.  Where in the world is my wonderous, well behaved, friendly, milk giving, fiber giving, hornless goat?

Sugar Scrubs and Breaks from Normalcy

All this farmgirl stuff started spiraling out of control on a plane to Vegas if we really wanted to pinpoint a moment.  Isn’t it amazing how a seemingly small event can make such an impact down the road (a country road in our case)?  I picked up a book on natural beauty to read on the plane.  As an ex-model I was always very concerned about how I looked and I am afraid a bit of my identity was wrapped up in my face (I am better now!) so imagine when in my late twenties acne became my new accessory. Ignorance is truly bliss, but I suppose knowledge is too.  I found out about all the toxic, cancer causing, unidentifiable, petroleum based ingredients in my beauty and bath products, and what I was putting on my young children’s skin!  www.cosmeticsdatabase.com did the rest.  I was done for.

When we got home from our trip, out went a huge trash bag of beauty and body products and in went all organics.  (And another trash bag of cleaning products and pharmaceuticals!)  Well, the organics were pricey and they still had ingredients in them that were not exactly non-toxic.  I started on a mission to make all our own body products.  I made lotion first, which I am still slightly famous for, then came sugar scrub, salts, shampoo, hair spray, deodorant….everything.  Oh, I was on a roll.  A monster had been made.

We started out in a cookie cutter suburban house that cost way too much, in a not very interesting suburb, working ridiculously hard to pay for things we didn’t get to enjoy.  Stressed out and making more money than we ever had, we paid our debts (wealth really is an illusion, isn’t it?) and thought this was a normal life. What saved us was Dave Ramsey University and a farmer’s market.

A farmer’s market where I took all the body products and the ten or so herbal medicines I had learned to make in a Certified Herbalist Course.  We make a lot more medicines than that now but it was those first years of farmer’s markets that allowed us get where we are.  So, when Doug finally had that nervous breakdown over servers that never came back up, we took our cue and left the “normal life.”  It was a risk, but we did 6-8 markets a week and moved to a smaller town not far from where we were.  We cut our bills in half. We found a shop just over two years ago.  The rest is still being written.

As a gift to you for Christmas (and perhaps a gift from you to all your friends!) I want to share my sugar scrub recipe.  So lovely and simple.  Happy Holidays!

SUGAR SCRUB

In a 4 oz canning jar, pour sugar in leaving 1/2 inch head space.

Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla essential oil and 1 teaspoon of orange essential oil. Only use essential oils!

Then pour rich olive oil up to the very rim and let soak in.  Replace lid and shake vigorously.

Experiment with other essential oils too.  I love this blend for the holidays, it smells like a creamsicle!   This leaves your skin amazingly soft and glowing.