29 December 2010

Arthur's Knights

The Pictures Below are my Knights:

Non-toxic self care

Have you see The Story of Stuff: Cosmetics?

It's sobering to think about what we put on our bodies every day -- and how much of it we absorb into our bodies.

Add to the scary chemicals the fact that I am cheap and a control freak, and I have spent the last several years working to figure out how to keep myself fresh and clean without expensive commercial products.

You've seen my laundry detergent recipe.

It's been years since I used a commercial deodorant.

It's been two years since I went shampoo free.

I have been making my own skin cream for about a year, and I am working on getting rid of toothpaste. (I still regret it when I stop using my high-powered sensitive tooth toothpaste, but I am using less and less.)

We all use soap but we get the very simple castille liquid soap from Dr Bronner. One day I'd like to get away from even that, but for the moment, it's what we do.

My most recent exploration is in the oil cleansing method for a face wash. It sounds odd at first to use oil to clean our face -- after all, we've been sold a lot of expensive products to get rid of the oil! But when you really think about it, our body produces oil because it's good for our skin and hair. The trick is to remove the dirt and the *excess* oil.

Anyway, I had tried something similar a few years ago. I kept a bottle of castor oil in the shower and used it occasionally on my face. But when the bottle ran out, I didn't replace it. The castor oil was a little drying even on my then-oily skin, so I just went with warm water. That worked ok for a while, but the older I get the drier my skin gets, and lately even with no soap on it I have sandpaper cheeks and a tight dry feeling after my shower. When I ran across a variation on the castor oil skin wash, I had to give it a try. I have only been using it for a couple of days, but the sandpaper cheeks are gone and my face feels softer than it did a week ago. I think this is a keeper!

Here's what I tried:
1/4 castor oil
3/4 jojoba oil
(use more castor if you have oily skin, less if this is too drying)
a few drops of orange oil and a few drops of myrrh oil

I keep it in the shower, and once my skin is warm from the shower but not yet wet, I rub a small amount into my skin and massage it in.

Then I continue my shower, letting the oil sit on my face in the steam. When I am ready to get out of the shower, I use a warm damp cloth to gently wipe away the excess oil and dirt.

When I get out of the shower my face doesn't feel oily, it just feels soft and fresh.

I'm happy.

I will be be teaching a non-toxic self care class for free skool in February and this one will be on the list!

28 December 2010


Jack love affair with his camera was at risk of stillbirth. He was having a great deal of trouble getting photos that were recogniozable because mostr of his attempts were in low light, which although it was light enough for photos, was causing his exposure time to last longer than his abiulity to hold still.

I was kind of concerned, because showing him that his camera could do it and it was going to takle practice could backfire and give him the impression that he lacks what it takes to take good photos.

During dinner, I was struck with an idea.

Jack needs light and he needs subjects that don't move. Oh, and a way to help himself hold the camera very still.

So I pulled out my grow lights and we set up his knights to take "tableu" photos on the table.
It kept him busy for over an hour and I get the impression that he got some that pleased him. Tomorrow he wants to work with his dinosaurs -- and I will look into how the settings work on my camera work so may be I can get some "arty" shots once in a while.

Together, we will get good with our cameras -- and we'll have fun together! Can't beat that!
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Vegetables for one: Gingered carrots

Gingered carrots

1/4 cup of olive oil
pinch of salt
2 carrots
2 tablespoons of honey
1 teaspoon of butter
ginger to taste (grated fresh or powdered)

1. Chop the carrots into similar sized pieces.
2. Toss the carrots in the olive oil to coat.
3. Remove the carrots from the oil to a roasting pan. (Refrigerate the oil to use again tomorrow.)
3. Salt the carrots lightly.
4. Roast them at 450 degrees for 30 minutes or until soft and starting to brown.
5. Once the carrots are cooked, melt the butter in a small pan.
6. When the butter is melted, add the honey and stir to blend.
7. Add the ginger a little at a time, tasting after each addition.
(We like 1 tablespoon of fresh *or* a teaspoon of ground. But that's a lot.)

Put the carrots in a serving bowl (or plate) and pour the sauce over them.


This series is to help out folks who know they should eat more vegetables but just aren't sure how to prepare vegetables in interesting ways.

Every Thursday, I plan to offer a recipe for a different vegetable or a different preparation style to help you expand your vegetable options without either working too hard or being bored to death.

A medical insurance puzzle

Hey, folks,

We got this note yesterday, and as I told Rod's brother, the only insurance I have ever had was part of an employment package, and our current insurance only kicks in after the $8,000 annual deductible is met, so I would hardly call myself knowledgable about private insurance here in the US.

I told him I'd pose his question to my friends and see if anyone has anymore idea than I do. You can post here, mail me privately, or message me on Facebook if you know anything about private insurance or the Boston medical system.

Thank you!!

Hi Misti and Rod,

We have questions about the health insurance system in the US which seems to be almost incomprehensible to us here in Australia.

For V's first twelve months of studying at Boston Ballet and then in New York, we bought travel insurance through our travel agent which cost us AUD$1000 and supposedly covered Victor for medical and hospital treatment anywhere in the world for 12 months. However, it cannot be extended if the traveller remains overseas for more than 12 months.

However, when he went to see a doctor in Boston he was told that he could not be seen because their particular group of hospitals would not accept patients covered by any insurance company other than the ones on a list approved by their board. For being told that he could receive no treatment, we were presented with a bill for US$350 which our insurance company wouldn't pay because he had received no treatment, so we supposedly had to pay it ourselves (actually, I'm not 100% certain that it actually got paid - I certainly have received no receipt).

So we are wondering what sort of insurance we can buy from a company there in the US that will cover him for any doctor or any hospital so that he won't be turned away if he needs medical treatment. Is there coverage we can buy for a single student that comes at a reasonable rate?
While trying to figure out health insurance companies online, it appears that he must have a Social Security Number. Yet he doesn't have a Social Security Number and cannot get one since he is not a resident of the US.

What I am most worried about is that we will pay for insurance and then have him turned away again because we bought the wrong kind.

It is hard to figure out, since here in Australia, the government covers all our treatment except for elective surgery or private hospitals. As near as I can tell there is nothing similar in the US as there seems to be no government-run hospital and medical systems.

Have you any suggestions that might help us?


Belated Christmas Blessings and our best wishes for a great 2011.

Love from P and W

Sausage Making: Beef Sausage

Rod's Beef Sausage recipe

3.5 pounds of beef roast (sirloin tip)
.75 pounds beef tallow
2 teaspoons kosher sea salt
1 tablespoon fresh sage
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 tablespoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon granulated onion

Cut the roast and tallow into 1-inch cubes and layer it with the mixed herbs and spices. Run it through the grinder and into casings. (We used natural casings from the butcher.)

(We ground it twice, but it wasn't nearly as nice in texture as had hoped.)

27 December 2010

Visual meditations

So many of the beautiful old houses that are (or were) in this neighborhood have been abandoned.

They were once gorgeous, and you can still see that, but they were too big to afford and maintain as the neighborhood went downhill. And so, one by one, they were abandoned and one by one they are being torn down.

I want to capture their beauty before they're all gone.

So, during our errands yesterday, we stopped by a lovely old Saltbox on Holmes Road that I have admire for years. All three of us tromped around in the waning light, capturing what we thought of as the most beautiful or interesting part of the house.
And I hope to have more visual meditations, at least over the course of this, my week off.
I do wonder why this seems like such a good idea now, when it's so bloody cold out there! But then, if it were warmer, I'd be gardening.

Rethinking Disney

I have avoided Disney for many years. There are many reasons for that, though those reasons don't entirely keep me away.
When we read a book that Jack enjoys that only Disney has made into a movie (or just as often, Disney has made sure that version made before they bought the rights are no longer available) sometimes we get the Disney movie out of the library.

My usual experience has been that Disney destroyed the story beyond recognition, leaving Jack sad and me annoyed. But, it's a good demonstration of why watching the movie doesn't mean you know the story. (Stuart Little was a recent example.)

But we shopped very late this year -- like *after* solstice! (Time and money were both very tight this year. Thanks to a third paycheck this month, we were able to celebrate at all.) That late and with no plan, I had a hard time finding anything locally that was at all acceptable. In a rush through KMart, I saw a copy of an Alice In Wonderland movie. It wasn't the version I wanted, but it was inexpensive, so I figured that if it was a bad rendition, it wasn't a disaster.

What I had failed to notice is that it was Disney movie. (They had put the main actor's name in the spot that usually trumpets the Disney brand, what can I say?)

But we watched it. I saw about 20 minutes of it before I got restless, (not unusual for me. It takes three viewings for me to get through a good movie. A bad one can take dozens.) Rod watched it through, and Jack has watched it two or three times per day.

It's actually a pretty good movie with very little of what I hate about Disney. (Except that policy of making earlier versions very hard to come by.) They took the tack of making it "Alice 15 years later, so variances in the story were irrelevant.

It's once.

But I may have to rethink my view of the quality of Disney movies if this trend continues.

I would still have problems with the Disney mindset, of course, but fair is fair. If they increase the value of their movies, it's only fair to say so.

Walmart carries organics, too. I still won't shop there.

About the pictures: After seeing what Sue and Sari can do with a camera, and having, at Sari's suggestion, watched several YouTube videos about photography, I have decided to start experimenting more with my camera. We took our cameras along on errands yesterday and took photos of the beautiful things in our life. We'll be doing that for a while, I think.

25 December 2010

Anne Sullivan at DailyLearners.com

Day three off...relaxation sets in...

I've been off for three full days now and I am starting to feel really relaxed. So relaxed that at 6:45 or so, I was ready for bed. (I'm quite sure it wasn't a matter of an overfull belly from the feast. No, really!)

On Thursday, we rushed around getting organized for our private Solstice celebration -- Rod shopped, then I shopped, then Rod went to choir practice and Jack and I shopped. It was exhausting, but fun for the most part. I was appalled at the inferior quality of the clothes I saw for sale. I wanted to get Jack a bathrobe and pajamas and couldn't find any that weren't flimsy and made of polyester. Clearly I don't know where to shop!

Yesterday, our friend Sari came over and brought her delightful children, Nadia and Aiden, over to play with Jack. We had a lovely chat, the little folks played, we had lunch, and the we spent some time drawing with the children.

All the while Sari captured our play with her camera. She's very talented! Don't you agree? I was feeling kind of sluggish and frumpy, but you'd never guess it from the lovely photos she captured.

Later that evening, Rod went to his last performance with the choir while Jack and I Today we had a very quiet day. We stayed in our pajamas until midday, we opened our solstice gifts and made our feast, read our new books and we played. We even watched one of Jack's new movies (Journey to the Center of the Earth) over dinner. We all proclaimed it even more interesting than the original Verne. If nothing else, the guide was prettier and the youngster wasn't quite such a twit. (We got the 2008 Brenden Frasier version -- is it me, or does Frasier look like a man with serious allergy issues?)

Jack got a new, "grownup" camera (a little purple Vivitar Vivicam 5022) and he's been experimenting with it. As always, it's interesting to see the world as Jack sees it -- and he may be adding his own photos to his occasional blog posts if he starts getting photos he really likes. (But he says the BEST present is the mounted knight Dad got for him.)

Rod got me a new food grinder and then spent much of the afternoon figuring out how to use it without destroying the counter tops. Success! He attached it to a piece of plywood and attached that to our trusty folding table. It was quite stable and did a terrific job of making a nice fine, even grind of walnut meal. Next experiment: sausage!

And Rod didn't really get any big gifts, just a couple of books by Kepler, over which he seems inordinately pleased, and some warm socks and thermal underwear. He's a funny guy -- I've spent far more in both time and money to far less effect. But I'm glad he's happy.

Tomorrow: thank you notes! :)

A Merry Christmas

A Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it!
From all of us here at Chez Smiffy.

(And thanks to Ratna Sari for the lovely impromptu family portrait!)

23 December 2010

The season gets better and better!

Over the course of the last little while, we had, in addition to the delightful news of five babies due in the new year, the news that three of our friends have been given a post-cancer bill of health.

The sun is returning to Chez Smiffy indeed.

Oh, and these festive angels are my grandchildren Bella and Leo -- taken several years ago, but I love this photo.

My first day of vacation

This is my grandson, Nikko -- isn't he gorgeous? He's evidently enjoying the snow storms in Europe a lot more than most people.
I am on my my first day of winter vacation today. It felt so good to be up and not in a hurry! I have lounged around visiting the children on Facebook, washing the dishes, and gathering laundry at a snail's pace.

Speaking of Facebook, I am amused at the folks who fill the comment section of any article about Facebook with derisive comments. They're so sure that only narcissistic idiots would bother with FB. I have to agree that there are certainly plenty of narcissists and a fair share of idiots there -- but I tend to unfriend them pretty fast. But my whole family is there -- my mother, my brothers, my kids, cousins and inlaws are all usinf FB. Nope, they're not posting things that are are of monumental importance, but because of Facebook, I know that my daughter-in-law isn't enjoying winter, that my granddaughter got her third belt in karate, and that my mother is going to visit my brother and nephews in Florida for the holidays. Could all of that have been communicated in letters or e-mails? Sure, it could. But it never was. I feel so much more in touch with what's on everyone's minds these days. Even the stupid stuff. I love that.

The house is still pretty good from last weekend, so I will whirl through making it sparkle again, and then Jack and I can go out for a nice walk. I want to get some snow pictures, but Jack's boots have a hole in them, so we'll have to stick to the roads today.

The photos Jack chose arrived yesterday! Hurrah! The timing is perfect! When we get cold, we can come indoors, make a cup of cocoa, and then have a look at starting to put together our first page.

Rod will be out shopping this morning and I will take a turn this afternoon. As Jack mentioned last night, we didn't get time to shop before this, so we agreed to wait and celebrate Yule on the weekend. That means a lot of rushing around at the last minute along with the rest of the crowd. Oh well. Maybe we will be less busy next year.

And I have promised Jack that we will spend some of every day (he said all) hitting the books -- he wants to do a lot more schooling than we've had time for lately. I love this boy!

22 December 2010

Exchanging Gifts

Whew! it's Been Hard Getting Presents for Everybody! Because we are going Like this: ZIP... Zoom! Ahem ... Anyway,Let Me explain why:Because Y is a Crooked Letter and can"t be made straight?


Because first we're going this way, then we go that way, then we go to bed, then we go this way and then we go that way, so it's all pretty "Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall".

First we go in to one shop, then another shop, then bed, then another shop then another shop.

And for a seven year old that's all quite busy, busy, busy.

21 December 2010

Happy Solstice everyone!

Joy to the world
The sun's return
Let earth recieve his light
Let every heart prepare for spring
and bird and beast rejoice!

Dark Ruled the earth and death has reigned
but on the wheel does spin
From out the womb of night
is birthed the infant light
The sun has come again!

What we're up to; solstice 2010

I haven't posted much about what we're up to lately, largely because it's been a very busy few weeks. (When isn't it, though?)

The cards are made and mailed, and since I have heard that one of the last ones has arrived, I assume most of them have.

We got the house pulled together and feast foods prepared for our solstice ritual last weekend. It went beautifully. Oddly enough, of the 17 people we started out expecting, only four made it and yet it was perfect. My old teacher and HP used to say that "the people who need to be there, will be there." Yet again, he is proven right.

Life was so busy going into the holiday, though, that we had no time to prepare for our private solstice celebration, so now we're dashing around finding each other some gifts to exchange and planning our feast meal together. Since I get off work on Thursday, we're thinking we'll celebrate this weekend, whenever we get finished all the preparations. There won't be any decorations or stockings this year, though. There has been no time to decorate before now and I just can't see making the effort just for a few days.

Last night, Jack and I went out shopping. One of my presents to him was his very own scrapbooking paper stack with mats -- but he had to choose that. As he said "Knowing me, whatever you had gotten, I'd have used and been happy with, but I'm glad I got to choose."

While we were out, Jack picked up his gifts for Rod, and my goodness wasn't he squirrelly this year! I had to talk him out of a number of completely inappropriate gifts because he kept cracking himself up imagining his father playing with them. (A huge beach ball, a dog's chew toy stuffed puppy, etc.) Eventually he made some good choices, but my goodness the silliness!

Two more days of work and then I get to hang out with my fellas for a week. I sure am looking forward to that!!

Happy solstice everyone!

BTW: The photo is my grandfather, Narcisse (Nelson) Earl Harold Durocher (to the left), and his brothers with their grandfather Alexandre Francis Xavier Durocher. The photo was taken around 1900. This one of my favorite family photos. I just love Grandpa Alexandre's face -- doesn't he look like a man full of mischief!

18 December 2010

Remembering what I have to be grateful for

People looking at my life now might be inclined to think of me as "having it all". And they're be pretty much right. Oh, there are things we do without, things we'd like to do and have that we can't -- at least not without some planning. But we have enough to eat. We have a home to live in. Increasingly, we have our health. It is not even a major splurge to buy bath soap, toothpaste and shoe laces all at the same time

It wasn't always this way for me, though.

I was raised in a good, working class home with caring parents. They did their best for me -- for all of us. (I had five brothers before I turned six.)

But I was a willful child. I grew up fast -- but not as fast as I thought. I made mistakes. I accidentally got pregnant in my sophomore year of college. Between that and some financial snarl-ups with the college bursar, I decided to drop out and be a Mamma. My beau, also very young, dropped out, married me, and tried to do right by our little boy.

But we were very young. We had never talked about how marriages should work, or how families should work. Turns out, we had completely different ideas about that with little or no overlap. We tried -- but within four years, it was over.

I found myself on my own at 23 to try to make a life for my two little boys, ages four and two. I had no job skills and I didn't know how to drive. I had untreated hypothyroid and untreated seizure disorder, so I was exhausted and "in and out" a lot of the time. I worked what jobs I could find, while taking my kids to soup kitchens and volunteering at food coops to get the free vegetables that were too old to be sold to paying customers.

I dealt with social workers who wanted to know why there was no food in the fridge except some very sad carrots and a soggy cabbage. They wanted to know why my closet was full of men's clothes and where was the man who wore them, and why wasn't he helping? (Men's clothes are less expensive and more durable than women's clothes, so I wore them. Not flattering, but they kept the Michigan cold out.) I dealt with neighbors who saw that our life was a struggle and called the authorities because I wasn't parenting the way they thought I should.

Yep, mine were the kids whose teachers were pointing fingers and blaming, because my kids didn't have clean clothes every day. (I washed laundry when I could afford the laundromat and soap -- about once a month. I washed them in the tub with dish soap sometimes -- but our apartment was very cold in winter and the clothes took forever to dry. The kids didn't have enough clothes to keep them dressed in clean clothes while the others dried.)

My boys often needed a bath. (When we got home, ate dinner, and went to bed, I was just too tired to argue if they adamantly refused to bathe, which they often did. That the teachers at school expressed a disdainful attitude toward me did nothing to enhance my authority with my boys, and it just didn't seem worth the fight. They had to live with it, so if they refused to bathe, I told them what I thought of that and let it go.)

By spring my boys' boots were stinky, because it was a struggle just to afford one pair of shoes for them each season, and the boys simply *would* not stay out of puddles.

Because we relied on buses, and often didn't have money for bus fare, so we walked. A lot. 17 miles in a day wasn't every day, but it wasn't terribly unusual, either. We walked to the soup kitchen, we walked to the grocery store, we walked to school. We walked through the parks to pick up returnable cans from the trash cans and lanes -- on a good day, it bought us our dinner!. We sometimes walked to the plasma center, where I went twice a week, so I could sell my blood plasma to feed my kids. (I thought of it as an extension of breastfeeding -- using my blood to feed my kids, but less directly.) We were always able to take the bus home.

All of that walking was good for us, but it took a lot of time and a lot of energy. Especially when food was scarce.

My guys often didn't do their homework because when we all got home we were exhausted, and there was certainly no time to do projects.

I knew how about personal hygiene, I knew about the importance of education, I knew a lot of things. But I was young and overwhelmed with choices gone bad.

If I could have, I would have given them the life I am giving to their baby brother -- it's not that I didn't care, or didn't know any better. It's that abject poverty and the struggle to keep our heads above water was all I could manage.

I eventually got a Pell grant, went back to college and got a better job. Over time, the jobs got better and life got easier.

My life is very, very different now, of course. We have enough good food, we have a lovely home, we have a car. We can afford health care, even if it does take a big chunk out of our budget -- we can. We have the resources to homeschool, and the time, energy, and resources to stay clean and well groomed. We can afford new clothes when we need them and new shoes *and* boots, if we plan for them.

Yeah, I have *a lot* to be grateful for!

One thing, though. If you would?

Please try to be a little more understanding when you see someone who seems not to care ehough about their children. Are there parents who don't care? Probably. But remember that unless you know the circumstances, you don't know the circumstances. You can't assume that every parent has the resources you have. You may be confronted with someone for whom life's challenges are at or above her ability to cope. I didn't explain my situation to people -- no one asked and there seemed no point to complaining, and I know I am not alone in that.

People sometimes complain to me about families that don't operate the way they think they should, about people who don't seem to care enough, about families that operate the way mine did so many years ago. They try to contrast that lifestyle with the way Rod and I live and are raising Jack -- they think they're complimenting us, but it hurts every time they do it. My life is very, very different now, but I am the same me, with the same heart as ever. I wanted all this for my older boys, too, and it breaks my heart that I couldn't provide it for them.

Unless you REALLY know the circumstances, you don't know the circumstances. Err on the side of kindness. Please?

16 December 2010

Tonight's experiment: Black Bean Brownies

Black Bean Peppermint Brownies

4 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate

¼ cup butter
¼ cup coconut oil

6 eggs

3/4 cup maple syrup

2 cups black beans, pureed

2 1/2 tablespoons coffee

10 drops peppermint flavouring
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Oil or butter an 8-inch baking pan. Melt chocolate and butter or oil together in small saucepan. In mixing bowl, beat eggs and maple syrup together. Add melted chocolate mixture and beat well. Beat in bean puree and coffee substitute. Fold in nuts. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 40 to 45 minutes, or until set. If you press your finger in the middle, it should make a little dent. Don't overbake. Cool. Cut into 2-inch squares.
Yield: 16

Food Inc

Ann Arbor Free Skool screened Food, Inc last night and we took the chance to see it since we'd wanted to for some time.

I was wary.

So many people told me how horrifying that movie is and how shocking, and how I'd "never look at food the same way again" that I was expecting it to be pretty horrible.

I'll admit, there were some really revolting scenes, but there was nothing particularly new to me in there. Nothing I hadn't heard or seen before.

I guess, though, that if people are finding Food, Inc. to be shocking and revolting, it's a very, very good thing. It means that it's reaching people who didn't already know what our industrial food really is and Mr. Kenner, the producer/director of Food, Inc, isn't just preaching to the choir.

The discussion afterward was interesting, too, as
the conversation went back and forth from "only the government can do something" to "if we wait for the government it will never change".

But really? Participation in the industrial food chain is a choice. No, really.

If you're in a hurry and 'have to" stop for fast food, you have made two choices:
  • You have made the choice to be too busy, and
  • You have made the choice not to plan ahead.
Yes, we do it, too. But we acknowledge that it is our choices that got us into that pickle.

Since grabbing a quick bite has proven to be even more obviously toxic to us, we have learned to make other choices. We plan ahead, we pack ahead, and when there was no time to do either, we have discovered that it's almost always possible to duck into a grocery store to pick up some organic fruit and a little raw milk cheese.

No, it's not ideal, but it is more nourishing than fast food and we can limit how much industrial food we eat.

And we've recently discovered a fast-food chain, Chipotle, which we find we can eat without getting sick, and which advertises its use of pastured beef and all organic ingredients. It tastes like food, too. And even better, they can feed our whole crew -- vegan for John, and grain free for me, without batting an eye. They use who foods, so they know what to leave out when they prepare a tray.

So, Food, Inc. If you haven't seen it, you would probably benefit by it. But eat dinner first because if you don't know this stuff, you're going to find it hard to eat for a while afterward.

15 December 2010

And for Isabella and Oliver

You can't really see the dimensionality in these photos, but the children are on popdots so they stand out from the tree.
They didn't turn out quite the way I envisioned, but they're nice. I wish I had been able to find a green card for Oliver's card, but I can't find any cards of a decent weight at all this year, so I used red cards from last year's stash. I think I differentiated them well enough in the end. No question which one belongs to who.
These cards took forever, though, and I'm afraid they're going to arrive on boxing day. Next year, Nikko will be old enough to need a card, and the year after, Sara will need one, too. I'd better start now! ;)
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I set myself a challenge this year

I got back in touch with a couple of old friends from college recently and I wanted to send them holiday cards.
But one friend's partner and the other friend would be completely unable to appreciate cards that were simply visually attractive. I did some research on cards meant for the pleasure of blind people and set to work.

Sadly, both of my friends are polite enough that I'm not sure whether I'll ever know whether they were lovely to the touch, but I am pleased.

The "snow" is a textured glitter paper, the trees are cut from textured bark like paper, and there is large sandy glitter on the trees and on the snow flakes. I wanted to use embossing. but I never did figure out how to get my embosser to work and I was running out of time. Maybe next year. ;)
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12 December 2010

It's beginning to look a lot like ...Solstice!

I am down to the very last few cards I need to make -- the ones I spend the most time on and probably should have started last June. I hope they're on time...or, if they're not, I hope the recipients likes them enough to forgive me.

Snow has finally fallen, and the cold has finally set in. It's so hard for me to feel ready for the holidays when the last of the hardy flowers are still hanging on. Now that we're buried in what some are calling Killer Storm 2010, I can really believe that the dark times are almost over. Good thing, too, because we're having out Yule gathering next weekend and I have a ritual to write!

I find that I am finally in the mood for the holidays. And just in time comes a recipe from Organic and Thrifty for grain free hazelnut gingerbread. Hmmmm...maybe I'll add gingerbread to the dessert table along with the pumpkin pie I've started.

Because I have to say, I feel so much better since we've gone off grains, but I do miss baking cookies and eating festive holiday desserts.

Hazelnut Gingerbread

Preheat the oven to 325. Lightly grease a pie plate or line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a food processor, whip together:

3/4 c. butter at room temp
1/3 c. honey
1/6 c molasses


3 cups hazelnut (or almond) flour
1 cup arrowroot flour
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda

The dough should have the texture of sugar cookie dough (if it seems to "wet", add a bit more arrowroot powder). If you wish to roll out the biscuits and cut them into circles (or any fun shape, for that matter!) I'd advise chilling it briefly to make it a little more workable. Otherwise, pour it into pie plate and smooth to even so it can be served in wedges.

Bake for about 45 minutes or until browned on top.

Doesn't that sound yummy? Wedges of gingerbread with ginger whipped cream on top and a cup of home made eggnog? And later a decadent, rich slice of pumpkin pie with maybe some mulled wine.

Yeah. I'm ready for the holidays now. :)

11 December 2010

Ann Arbor Free Skool card class

It's always amazing to me what we can do working with recycling.

I mean, I do plenty of recycling of crafting materials, but wo literally hunt around someone else's recycling...and make art. Not all my style, I'll admit, but I like them all, actually.

Jack was there as my assistant, but I'll let him blog his impression if he wants to. I will say, however, that he astonished everyone there with his speed -- he made six cards!

Anyway, we did have a great time. I am not sure I acted as "teacher" so much as "catalyst". The calibre of art that came out of this afternoon's adventure was very exciting -- especially given how hesitant some folks seemed. I don't think they all started out thinking of themselves as artists.

And they were a lovely group of young people. Very warm, and welcoming ... and with a couple of sparkling exceptions, just as introverted as I am. It was a little quiet at first, but we all relaxed and everyone seemed to have a lot of fun!

I am looking forward to teaching with Ann Arbor Free School again. Maybe with something where there is more to say. :p
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10 December 2010

Mildly famous...

Regarding my previous post: Well, well, well...PETA doesn't like Heifer International. Whoda thunk it?

On to more interesting thoughts, I have the coolest Aunt ever! I sent her a card early this year -- and she wrote to tell me that she was going to use it on her bulletin board at the hospital where she works for her lactation consultant practice.

Thanks, Aunt Bev, I don';t think my cards have ever been famous before! :)

(The small one at the top, under the ribbon is the one I made...)
I got this note from a homeschooling friends of mine, whose daughter is raising money for Heifer International.

If you'd like to help her our, just follow the link in her letter below and buy some soap. It's inexpensive and would make a cute stocking stuffer, and the money goes to a good cause -- helping the poor to help themselves!

As some of you already know Rhianna is raising money to help feed hungry families around the world. Most people who donate this gift basket do so with the help of their school, church or scout groups.

As a homeschooler, she is doing this pretty much on her own and really needs our support. She wrote the following email to ask for your help.

I will be posting pictures of her actually making the soap at my blog (hopefully by Friday). To see them just use the link she provides and click on "blog" in the sidebar.

Thanks in advance,

Gina Guzman


Hello Friends and Family,

I, Rhianna, need your help with my fundraiser. My goal is to get a
"Knitter's Basket" from Heifer International, which is one Angora
Rabbit, one sheep, one alpaca and one llama. The entire basket is $480,
although if we don't raise the entire amount we should be able to get at least a few shares of it, each share costing $48.

Questions & Answers
Because I'm better at explaining things in lists.

What is Heifer International?
Heifer International gives poor families around the world livestock to
raise, breed, gather animal products from and sell. For more you can
visit Heifer's website, http://www.heifer.org/

Where can I buy the soap?
You can order it at my mom's online store, or you can place your order through my mom's email, taliesin3 (at) comcast (dot) net.

I want to help you, but I don't want to buy soap.
That's okay as I will also be sending an email about Read to Feed, which is another Heifer International fundraiser.

I have a question, but it isn't on this list.
Then you can just reply with your question in an email.

Why soap?
Well, one, because soap's easy and quick, and two because it's rather hard to put plastic animals in candles because it's not transparent and it would probably melt the plastic. The animals all reprisent the animals Heifer gives to families, although we had to substitute and not include some, such as horses instead of donkeys and there are no bees and camels and water buffalo.

I want to support you but I don't want to spend any money. Is there
any way I can help?
Yes you can. If you happen to have any small plastic animals around the
house, you can send them here in order to make more soap, or you can
tell your friends and family to buy soaps through my mom's online store!

Thank you,

08 December 2010

Oooh! Raw fruit cake -- grain free!!!

A raw, gluten-free fruit cake from Mothering Magazine!

1 cup dates
1 cup raisins
1 cup prunes
1 cup pecans
1 cup walnuts
1 cup shredded coconut

Place the dates, raisins, and prunes in a food processor and mix until combined well. Finely chop the nuts and then mix them along with the coconut, by hand. Add enough honey to moisten then place into a cake pan or mold of your choice. Turn out onto a cake plate and serve!I LOVE fruitcake! :) Maybe it's not off the list after all!

03 December 2010

Another recipe I want to try

This comes from Corinna Borden at The Ann Arbor News.

Ginger, Garlic and Chili Pepper Soup
5 cups or so of pumpkin, sweet potatoes, potatoes or squash
about 1 quart broth (to cover)
1 large onion
1 12 ounce can of coconut milk
4 tablespoons of peanut butter
8 garlic cloves
1 medium ginger root (about the size of your palm)
4 hot chili peppers
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Lime juice, pumpkin seed oil, and toasted peanuts for garnish

It is better to do sequential small batches in the blender, rather than trying to fit in as much as you can.

Chop the ginger, garlic and chili peppers.

Place them at the bottom of a soup pot with the oil and turn on low.

While those are sautéing, chop the onion and throw it in as well.

While those are softening and filling your kitchen with a swoon-worthy aroma, chop the pumpkin, sweet potato, potato and squash and add them to the pot.

Add enough water or broth to cover the cooking tubers and squash, add the coconut milk, add the peanut butter, put the lid on the pot, and leave it alone until the pumpkin and potatoes are cooked.

(About 45-60 minutes).

In small portions, blend the soup together. Serve with lime juice, pumpkin seed oil and toasted peanuts for garnish.

30 November 2010

Recycled Card Making Class at Ann Arbor Free Skool

Saturday, December 11th at 1pm, see the AAFS Blog for the location

Do you love the ritual of Holiday Greeting cards for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, or Solstice, but hate the idea of adding to the landfill? How about using recycled materials like gift wrap, previously sen cards, ribbon, buttons, gift tags, and that beautiful whatsit from the kitchen junk drawer to create your holiday greetings?

Don't know how? Come for an afternoon of fun turning recycled materials into fun greeting cards. You can use these ideas for birthday cards, thank you cards, and whatever else you want a card for.

27 November 2010

Getting out of the card making business...

Mmmm, looks like I'm getting out of the card making business.

Last night, Jack was asking about when he learned to run and when he learned to walk. I explained that, like most children, he learned to run pretty much at the same time as he learned to walk -- but that actually, for a while, he mostly "danced".

Then I remembered that I had scrapped "Dancin' Man Jack" the autumn he learned to walk. We went and found that page and then Jack poured over all the rest of the scrapbooks.

When he was done, he wondered why the pages were all of him as a baby and none were of him as a big kid. I explained that when Grandpa John had to stop scrapbooking with me, I had started not to make time for crafting -- and then I had been so busy making cards that I hadn't had time to scrap in a couple of years.

He wants me to go back to recording The History of Jack and he says that he'll work with me so that I can be sure to make the time. :)

Yep, he's closing in on eight all right

My impression of eight years old is that is when the analyst awakes.

If that's the case then Jack is nearing eight for sure.

Last weekend, I was trying to get Jack moving so we could pick up a few groceries we couldn't get through the week without. I wanted to get them before we picked Rod up from church but I simply could not get Jack moving. I muttered about having no idea how Rod gets him moving in the morning.

Jack was quiet for a few minutes and then he explained.

"Well, you have the loudest voice in the family, but Dad loses his patience faster."

Hmmm. Yup, the analyst awakes. (And, again, Mamma is going top spend several years blushing.)

25 November 2010

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

I hope your Thanksgiving was as marvelous as ours was!

We spent most of the day preparing the feast -- including a turkey that Rod suprised me with after we agreed that a turkey simply wasn't in the budget this year.

But Rod know that for me, Thanksgiving just isn't Thanksgiving without a turkey. (He's heard my "hotdogs for Thanksgiving" story often enough...) So he sought out a smaller bird, and not as high quality--and by gum, we had our turkey!

To that we added what feastables we had in the house or garden -- cranberry raspberry sauce, mashed potatoes and gravy, a medly of carrots, beets, and butternut. (I had only one pan left, so we cooked them together. They were pretty, but I have to admit that it could have been a Valentines day dinner, so red and white was our feast.) We followed it up with pumpkin chocolate pie in a walnut crust.

It was the first holiday meal I can remember making in which everything turned out and it all came to the table at the same time!

After dinner, we made new leaves for our Gratitude tree and posted those.

And then, finally, we worked on our holiday cards. Jack got all of the card he has finished autographed and sealed into envelopes. I got mine as far as into envelopes, but I still have to finish putting the appropriate greeting on each one.

(I found Merry Christmas and God Jul stamps this year, so more of my friends can have the greeting appropriate to what they're celebrating. Next year I hope to add Hanukkah -- though Kwanzaa will wait until I know someone who celebrates it.)

Then Jack has six more cards to complete his list and I have *16*!!! I thought I was just about done, but no.

While I was looking for a walnut pie crust recipe, I came across this:

Sweet Walnut Crust:
1 cup walnuts
¾ cup chopped dried apricots
¼ [2-3] chopped dates, or raisins
1/3 cup maple syrup

Place the first three ingredients in the food process and process into a moist meal. While the processor is running slowly pour in the agave until the mixture turns into a ball. Press sweet crust into 9-inch pie dish to form piecrust.

It sounds Amazing! We didn't have the ingredients to make it this time...but maybe for Yule.

This was the pie recipe we settled on:

Walnut Pie Crust:

2 cups of ground nuts
3 tablespoons of butter
4 tablespoons of coconut oil
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons cake spice

Mix well and press into two buttered pie pans.

Pumpkin Custard Filling

2 cups (cooked) pureed pumpkin
9 pastured egg yolks, beaten
1 cup of grass-fed heavy cream
1 cup of grass-fed sour cream
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 nutmeg, ground
1/3 of a vanilla bean, ground
pinch of sea salt
1 ounce of baking chocolate
2 ounces dark, semi-sweet chocolate
a small handful of raw coco nibs

Mix the all ingredients except the chocolate until they're light and fluffy and almost ready to peak.

Whir the chocolate in the food processor until it's little pebbles.

Stir the chocolate into the pumpkin foam.

a handful of walnuts
a handful of pecans
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon molasses
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Warm the nuts, sugar and spices until the sugar is melted into the butter and it all smells faintly of caramel, making sure to stir well so that the nuts are covered.

Pour the pumpkin into the crusts. Drizzle the toping over it.
Bake at 350 F for 45 minutes.

It turned our amazingly well!

24 November 2010


OK, I admit it.

Wordpress has me entirely flumoxed.

Anyone know of a Wordpress for Dummies resource?

For the moment, I can't even figure out how to design a template for it...and I don't care for the templates I've managed to find. I suspect it's not as hard as I'm making it, just a bit more opaque than Blogger.

Oh, and that's Thisbe, by John Waterhouse. Isn't she lovely? (I am a real fan of Waterhouse and the PreRaphealite Brotherhood.)
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