Wednesday, December 28

I am imposing a self-quarantine on our home. I decided to do this since it seems we are picking up germs from everywhere and I am just sick and tired of being sick and tired.

We are also instituting some new food rules here at the house so things are going to be changing.

Please stick with me - I will be out of commission until I feel better and things get settled. Maybe a week or so.

Thank you and I look forward to posting about all of this when I can actually keep my eyes open for longer than 10 minutes at a time.

Tuesday, December 27

A Lost Art

It has been said that letter writing is a lost art.

I am, however sadly, inclined to agree. Just typing this blog post is another step away from picking up a pen, choosing a pretty piece of stationary and sitting down to craft a note. This does not mean however that I have lost appreciation for handwritten correspondence, and I still pick up the pen on a regular basis.

My Grandparents can not even get internet service at their homestead, and even though I can call, it still makes Grandma's day to get a card or letter from me in the mail with pictures of the kids. There is a time and a place for the written word, not the typed.

My fascination with actual penmanship most likely comes from my intense interest in genealogy. Anyone who researches family histories knows that the best find is the one in the ancestors own handwriting. Diaries and journals are gold. A signature on a deed, a letter from France in 1918, a list of children born written in the family Bible.

To see the handwriting of the person, the imperfections in the letters, the shaking word structure, the slight slant at the end of the last name - these things tell so much about a person. My Grandfathers handwriting was shaky and his letters home from Italy in 1944 to my Grandmother at home were few and far between. A letter between courting young people then but priceless to me now, a Granddaughter who was stupid and too busy being a teenager when I should have been listening to and learning from Grandpa. And Grandma now all but gone with dementia. That they took the time to write means the world to me.

I have searched for documents in musty town offices and written to historical societies all over the country in order to see things like my Great Great Great Grandfathers declaration of why he left Europe for the United States - he was "fleeing Napoleon." Why is it that when we see someones handwriting, it makes them so much more real to us?

I love picking up a good pen and scratching a letter on a thick piece of stationary. The thicker, the better. The richness of it and the smell and the sound the pen makes on it - to be using it almost seems wrong. Like you should save the paper, untouched in its original box, like the wedding silver and the good lace tablecloth. To be using it binds you to write something epic. Something meaningful and with emotion and purpose.

Isn't that what letters are supposed to be? Heartfelt messages to someone who is cared for? Not just a text message - "Thanx 4 the B-day $$."

Getting a letter means something to me. It means that someone took the time. But time seems to be in short supply today. People can't even be bothered to get off the cell phone when they are using the restroom at the mall, let alone sit down to write a sentence or two.

This is why I do agree that it is a lost art. I believe that I am in the minority when it comes to those who send out thank you letters written with a fountain pen. There was a time when this was common place. When things were a little calmer, a little more quiet and, it seems, there was something worth taking the time to say.

This feather is a pencil. A pencil!

Monday, December 26

DPP 22 - 25.

December 22: Our little boy decided to decorate our livingroom wall with crayons. In an effort to clean it, the paint started coming off as well (cheap paint) and apparently our livingroom used to be blue.
December 23: Perfect packaging for people like me....

December 24: Our little man. Looks so angelic, doesn't he?

December 25: Our little baby girl, (actually is angelic most of the time).

Sunday, December 25

Saturday, December 24

Knitting Socks and Revisiting the Mitten/Orange Mentality

This Christmas people are getting a lot of socks.

That is what I have been knitting these past few months after the kids are in bed and I can concentrate on my knitting and purling. In my effort to spend less on gifts without sacrificing the giving, I have been making presents and scaling back in general.

We have trimmed the Christmas shopping list this year to the minimum. Discussions with family members have resulted in the discovery that they are sick of exchanging gift cards as well. Our new rule - we buy for the kids and the adults can enjoy watching them open things. And we will all go out to dinner someplace nice, after the holidays.

This takes care of a few names on the list, and the few that are left are the beneficiaries of our streamline approach. We now have more time and a little more in the way of funds, to think about what these people would really like and to get it for them.

And of course, the socks. My father wears them when he is out hunting deer. My Mom likes them to shield her bare feet from the cold hardwoods first thing in the morning. My brother likes them for outdoor football games. And I like making them. To be able to give a handmade gift that you know people will actually like and use is a great feeling. How many times have you made something for someone, thinking it was a great idea, and then finding out that they never use it?

Last year, I wrote the following post:

I have been knitting like crazy here for the past few months, making Christmas socks and socks for me. Yes, I am obsessed with knitting socks. Since I figures out how I can not stop - knit 2, purl 2, eye of partridge, turn that heel!

So much so that my right thumb and index finger are chapped and cracked. Ouch!

Oh, the pains of homesteading.....

The people I gave socks to all loved them but I can not help but wonder about the general mentality of receiving home made gifts. When I was a kid, getting a home made gift was kind of like getting cheated out of a real gift. There was disappointment there. Now I know better, or course, and home made gifts are the best kind. But are we too entrenched in store bought that we can't go back to having home made mean more?

I always think about the episode of Little House where they are celebrating Christmas in their little sod house and the girls got mittens that Ma made. I thought to myself, "That is so cool and it would be so much fun to celebrate Christmas like that." But a small part of me kind of felt sorry for them. Maybe that is not the right way to say it. In fact, I am really not sure how to put it into words. I think that I, as well as most people, take for granted that we can go to the store and buy numerous, expensive Christmas gifts. Reading Christmas stories from the early 1900's tells us that getting an orange in your stocking was the biggest treat ever. When I heard those stories as a kid, I just couldn't understand why.

Are we too far gone? Can we get that mitten/orange mentality back? Will our children, or our generation for that matter, be able to look at home made gifts in the way they should be? Or will there always be that little feeling of disappointment?

Still true? We talked to our relatives and decided smaller is better. They were not mad and they did not think we were being cheap. The people I gave socks to were not disappointed as far as I could tell, in that they were asking me to make them more. Maybe as a community we can foster this little idea and see if we can get it to take hold: less is more, time is worth more than money, and it really is the thought that counts. If we can get this going in my family, where one whole branch of the tree is obsessed with Black Friday big screen tv deals, I think we have a shot.

Friday, December 23

Singing the Wood Stove Praises

Our first wood delivery came last week in the back of a small contractor dump truck that left some ruts in teh yard. A small price to pay for heat this winter. About 6 cord in total was dumped in our driveway in two loads, all split and ready to burn.

Roy and the little man were busy stacking the majority of it in the bottom of the barn and putting a weeks supply on the front porch. Now all I have to do when I need to put more logs on the fire is open up the front door, grab what I need, and I am back inside before I even have a chance to get cold.

I thought that the pellet stove was a fantastic addition to our home, and it was. But the wood stove takes the cake. It is toasty in here, much more so than the pellet stove produced, and the heat carries into the other rooms better. Probably because there is just so much more of it. The kitchen is still a little chilly but it is actually a nice retreat when the living room gets too hot to handle. I have spent a few evenings in tank tops and lightweight pajama pants. We circulate the air with the ceiling fan and we have been warm and content in the chilly weather.

We have only has the most minuscule amount of snow so far this season which is a little strange for nearing the end of December. I am not complaining, since I have a very bad relationship with the cold stuff. Winter is my least favorite season. It just seems a bit strange in that we were clearing the driveway at this time last year.

I have two pots on top of the stove to hold water and put a little moisture into the air, which need to be refilled daily. And aside from throwing some logs in now and then and emptying the ash pan, that is all the maintenance that is required.

I can not sing the praises of having a wood stove in the home loud enough. It is by far the best thing we have purchased for our home. It has already saved us a great deal of money on heating oil and being able to sit in front of a warm stove is better than television. I have been using the drying racks instead of the clothes dryer so we are saving on electric as well. The stove will more than pay for itself with the savings on electricity and oil in a year.

Next step - cooking a meal on it.

Thursday, December 22

My Rules of Shopping

Christmas shopping. I have mixed feelings. On one hand, I want a simple Christmas with family that doesn't relay on a ton of new sweaters and thermal coffee mugs wrapped up under the tree. But on the other hand, I want to take part in the whole excitement of mall decor and buying children's toys. I am not one of those people who will start a fist fight over the last parking space but I don;t care how devoted to homesteading you are, everyone enjoys a little bit of Christmas shopping adrenaline.

So, although my family will be getting plenty of thoughtful, hand made gifts this season, I am also buying. And just because it is Christmas does not mean that my general shopping rules can take a holiday. I have found that these rules really do make a positive difference on the budget and on my conscience.

My Rules of Shopping (for non-food items) - When I see something I might want to buy, I ask myself the following questions:
What is the price?
Where is it made?
What is it made of?
Is it durable?
Is it a useful item of quality that will be used frequently?
Can it be recycled?
How much packaging is there?
Can the packaging be recycled?
Is it worth the money and the effort it took to get it to this store?

I know that seems like a lot to process while browsing the housewares department, but it goes pretty fast when you know what you are looking for. I have avoided many an impulse purchase this way and I have also avoided purchasing cheaply made, over priced junk that I didn't really need in the first place.

Try them out and let me know how they work for you. Do you have rules to add to the list? Any that you think might not need to be there?

Too Early?

Is it too early for me to start planning next years garden? Given that the solstice is here, I want to celebrate the fact that the days are going to get longer. A little longer each day until I find myself weeding the tomatoes at 9pm without needing a flashlight.

The lengthening of the days - it sounds so promising. Something to look forward to.

I will spend the shortest day of the year doing the things I usually do - house chores, child care, animal care - but I think I will also find time to dig out the graph paper and do a little calculating.

I want more space for pumpkins next year. And I think I want to try corn.

Wednesday, December 21

December Photo Project 18 - 21. I'm bad at this.

I think I have failed the December Photo Project challenge. I was hoping that this would give me an opportunity to notice something new every day, even it was just a very small part of my day that I let pass by normally.

The things I have noticed instead are that 1) December was no snow on the ground makes for pretty boring outdoor photo opportunities and 2) My house is a mess.

There are only so many times I can take pictures of the Christmas lights.

Although I do have to say that in looking harder around the house, I have seen messes that I did not know existed. Here is a run down of some 'discoveries':

One, or more of my cats, has been using my big tub of potting soil in the basement as a litter box.
The little man has not actually been eating all of his apple slices, and I found his stash in the dvd cabinet. About 1 weeks worth.
Prince has been spitting out his hyperthyroid pill in the kitchen closet after I thought he had swallowed it.
Have you ever looked under your washer and dryer? Just saying.....
Something has sprung a leak under the upstairs bathroom sink.
And saving the best for last...... one of the cats had a massive hairball under our bed, probably a couple weeks ago.

So, that has been my life lately, mixed with Christmas preparations and changing many dirty diapers. So unless there are people out there interested in seeing photos of hairballs and mushy white hyperthyroid pills, I think I will just post the following pictures, 18 - 25, and call the experiment a 50/50 success.

December 18: I just really like this little guy...

December 19: What must people think when they come to my house.....

December 20: "It took you this long to figure out my pill trick Mom? Seriously, you are getting slow."

December 21: Possible hair ball culprit...

More Inspiration...

More inspiration while surfing the web. That other people are thinking the same way I do is a great comfort when it seems I am doing all this for nothing.

My Healthy Green Family
Growing Home
Frugally Sustainable

Tuesday, December 20

98.8% Natural

Just about everyone knows about Burt's Bees and I have been a fan of their chapstick for years. The pomigranite one is probably one of the best inventions of the 20th century.

But i have recently started using the shampoos and conditioners in my efforts to be a little more informed about my purchases, and the fact that I want to use more natural products.

The Super Shiny and More Moisture shampoos and conditioners are beyond fantastic. I have never has such great results from a hair product before. Paraben free, Petrochemical free and Phthalate free - just like all of their products.

I have also had great results from the Natural Acne Solutions Targeted Spot Treatment. It is not harsh and does not irritate my skin, and I noticed that it really reduces redness.

The little man has also benefitted from our switch to Burt's Bees products. The Baby Bee Shampoo & Wash is fragrance free so he does not come out of the bath smelling like a purfume factory. It gets him clean and I can lather up his hair and rinse without screaming if it happens to get into his eyes. Of course we give him a dry towel to wipe his face with if this does happen - nothing is 100% safe.

But the best product by far, even better than the pomegranite lip balm, has to be the Baby Bee Diaper Ointment. Not slimy or oily, it is thick and it stays where you put it and it does what it is supposed to do. I can not think of a better way to say it.

Now, I know that this stuff can be a little expensive. But i am willing to pay more for it. I have been able to find deals at my local natural foods store when things go on clearance, and also on the Burt's Bees website. And with the holidays here, I have noticed that some stores are selling Burt's Bees gift baskets. The cost is less than if you bought each item separately.

Monday, December 19

Cookies and DPP Day 17

December Photo Project day 17 - The promise of something good always comes from a freshly mixed bowl of dough, a rolling pin and a pine tree cookie cutter.

I have officially been placed in charge of cookies. This happened a few years ago when my mother decided that she no longer had the patience for such an undertaking and that it was now my turn in the family line to produce the holiday treats.

My Great Grandmother did it for years and years, I am not sure if my Grandmother ever really got into it or if the flag was passed directly to my mother, but it has now been passed to me. And I also have inherited some of my Great Grandmothers cookie cutters, which is just icing on the, well, on the cookie.

This year I am charged with making about 5 batches - 3 of vanilla, 1 of chocolate and 1 gingerbread spice. These are the cutout cookies - so they take twice as much effort. Baking them and then frosting them. I have decided to bake the cookies this week, a batch or two a day, depending on how long the kids nap. Then Thursday will be the big frosting day.

I made my first batch of vanilla pine trees this afternoon. The dough turned out exceptionally good this time. Other years I have had batches turn out too dry or they have not rolled out well, or they have not baked evenly. This year looks like I am off to a good start. Good dough consistency, excellent rolling, even baking with just a little light brown color on the sides to let you know it is baked through.

One batch makes about 75 cookies, depending on the cutters you are using.

Start with 4 cups of flour and 1 cup vegetable oil. Mix them together in a large bowl.
In a separate bowl combine 1 cup sugar and 2 eggs. Mix well and add to flour and oil mixture.
In another separate bowl combine 1/4 cup milk, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1 teaspoon baking soda. Mix well and add to flour and oil mixture.
Stir all ingredients together in large bowl until you get a creamy yellow dough with good consistency. You should just be able to pick it up and shape it into a ball without it totally sticking to your hands. A little sticky is good, but just a little.
Roll out about 1/3rd of the dough on a floured surface. I like to use quite a bit of flour so the dough doesn't stick to the roll out mat. I also put flour on the rolling pin and sprinkle some on top of the dough so the pin does not stick to the dough as I am rolling it out.
Use cookie cutters to make the cookies and transfer them to an ungreased baking sheet. I like to use the airbake sheets.
Bake at 400 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes. Cookies are done when there is a light brown color around the edges of the cookie.
Place on cooling racks and make sure they are completely cool before frosting or storing them.
A note on rolling the dough: After the 'first roll' as I like to call it, I gather up the cut pieces, form a new ball without adding any new dough from the bowl, and roll it out again. I can usually get three 'rolls' out of each 1/3rd. The 'second roll' will be more 'flaky' than the first since the flour has been incorporated into the dough. The 'third roll' will be even more flaky. After the 'third roll' I toss any leftover dough since it will no longer roll out without flaking apart.

Sunday, December 18

Book Report

Barnheart: The Incurable Longing for a Farm of One's Own
Jenna Woginrich

I pre-ordered this book when I found out it would be available through Battenkill Books and that I could score an autographed copy. Jenna is one of my favorite authors and has provided me with much inspiration over the past couple of years. She was the one that finally lead me to take the risk of chicken ownership which paid off and then some. Not only great homestead staples, but egg money in my pocket as well.

Her new book did not disappoint and I read through it having to slow myself down in places. I was so eager to read the book but I wanted to digest and not just fly through it. Yes readers, I had to force myself to put it down. A very good book detailing the journey to one's own farm and quite emotional in places.

Being drawn to something as wonderful and as fulfilling as farming, however large or small your place may be, is something all us homestead dreamers can relate to. Like she says concerning desperate gardeners in March, "We're scratching around in our pots of houseplants to remember the feeling of working soil." and "I couldn't imagine a life without a garden." (Who can!!??)

My favorite chapter, Into The Garden, sums things up perfectly in this statement:

"I am comforted, even if it's just a little, by my garden and flock of hens. Knowing that there is a free source of protein and vegetables right outside my door brings me a little security at a time when the prices of gas and grain and the worlds shortages of food are all I hear about on the radio (that and the wars)."

If we all thought this way and had a very basic garden and some hens, I think every community would be a lot better off. If we could start simple, with this basic way of thinking - that we can provide just a little for ourselves - think of what other areas of our life may be affected. What lessons could we take from just spending a little time caring for two or three hens? From starting seeds and transplanting them and tending them. From knowing that a small package of seeds for $1.99 can give us a summers worth of fresh, healthy tomatoes or peas or cucumbers.

If we could get back to this - and start from there - with these two relatively small responsibilities, think of what we could foster as a society.

That's inspiration, folks.

Friday, December 16

December Photo Project 15th and 16th

December 15th - A smaller tree this year, but I really like it. Easier to decorate and maintain. Note the lack of anything even resembling a breakable ornament.

December 16th - This red-bellied woodpecker is enjoying the suet that was on sale at Tractor Supply. 10 for $8. Pretty good deal.

Thursday, December 15

Culling the Activities - Bye Bye Christmas Cards

I am not sending our Christmas cards this year. Does this make me a bad person? Will people think I am lacking in holiday spirit? Will they look at their pile of Christmas cards after the holidays and wonder where the one from my family is? Will they shun me forever since they did not get a card with a shiny picture of the 4 of use inside?

Boy, I hope not because I am not doing the card thing this year. I don't have the time. I don't have the patience or the money for stamps or my list updated. Just getting the list updated and added and subtracted from takes time. Time I really do not have.

I have had to cull quite a few activities from my daily schedule since the little girl was born. Between her, the little man, house chores, animal care, garden work and errands, I have been forced to reduce activities to the bare bones. The only time I have for kntting, reading and blogging is that magic hour after the kids are sleep and before I collapse from exhaustion.

Christmas cards are not high on the priority list this year.

I know people who have stopped sending cards for the simple reason that it wastes paper and other resources. They go green by sending e-cards, email holiday letters, and the like. And I wish I could say that the reason I was not going to send cards this year was because I was making a stand against the wasting of paper and to end global climate change. But it is not.

Truth be told, I like sending cards. I love using the mail - stationary, fancy pens, lined envelopes - this almost antiquated for of communication is my most favorite. I love the feel of a thick, high quality paper, embossed with a floral design. A pen that deposits the ink in such a smooth way that it feels you are writing with liquid gold. And if you really want to get fancy with it, try using those fantastically medeaval wax seals on the envelopes.

Someday, if the postal service survives, I will spend my pre-holiday days with my kitchen table loaded with stamps, envelopes and cards of every theme, sipping hot chocolate and writing heart felt messages as the snow falls outside. But today is not that day. Today is sending a few cards to my Grandparents with pictures of the kids and not spilling a juice cup on them before they make it to the mailbox.

Wednesday, December 14

December Photo Project (DPP) Days 13 & 14

Day 13: They'd look better with snow on them....

Day 14: Maybe my favorite picture ever of my Mother and my Son. Taken this past summer in our woods. I think they were discussing the lack of balckberries.

Tuesday, December 13

Getting the Tree

Another trip to my Grandparents tree farm to pick out the perfect tree. I look forward to this pretty much all year being that it is the perfect storm of wood stoves, wagon rides and cake with too much frosting.

My Grandparents farm in the southern tier of New York State is my ideal homestead. And visiting there always fills me with inspiration.

A small tree this year, so the little man could be in charge of decorating, and so I would have less pine needles to clean up daily. We found a nice one, just about 5 feet tall, and it even came with a free birds nest left over from this past springs brood.

Have you ever been witness to a 2 1/2 year old little boy when he gets to ride in the wagon and watch Grandpa use a chainsaw? I don't think he would notice now if Santa did not bring him a single present this year. He was beaming from ear to ear the entire time and was thrilled to "help".

Grandma has a huge spread waiting for us with turkey, mashed potatoes, home made applesauce - just like a late Thanksgiving dinner. The cat was begging for turkey and the squash was the color of a tangerine on fire and the wood stove at our backs in the kitchen felt so good I could have sat there for the rest of my days.

The house is always warm - sometimes too warm - but it makes it so you don't want to even think about the long drive home. When we lived at the old house, just the thought of going home made me sick to my stomach. Going from one fabulous extreme to a dreaded one. Now that we are at the new place, it is far less dramatic of a change, but i come home with just a little bit of longing. And some great ideas.

And a Christmas tree.

Monday, December 12

Blue Birds in December & DPP

Over to Mom and Dad's house after church yesterday after the little man decided not to be on his best behavior during the children's pageant. Terrible two's mixed with "I'm mad because you have a new baby" makes for an interesting time in the pew.

Dad spent the last day of hunting season out trying to get a deer for the freezer and we stayed in out of the cold eating toasted cheese sandwiches and making Christmas plans.

There has been almost no snow yet this year, just some chill and rather windy days that are almost more depressing than a few feet of snow outside your door. I like winter, to a point. Snow at Christmas and then I'm done. For me winter means long days of being inside. Brown slush, loud snow plows, and scraping ice off the windshield. I almost want to throw a party when the Baker Creek Seed Catalog arrives. It makes me want to go running up the road, waving the catalog in the air, and yelling "See! There is a thing called spring!!!".

This chilly Sunday, eating hot toasted cheese, I stood by the back door and watched yet another over sized, cheaply constructed "house" going up in the field behind my parents house. Development turned what was for generations, a home for deer, coyote, fox and just about every small furry animal you can think of, into a chemical fed series of lawns with very large vinyl sided houses plopped in the middle.

Add that to the bare tree branches, the lifeless grass and the bits of ice crusting the back deck, and you have a recipe for a day feeling sorry for yourself.

This little bluebird then came and sat on the fence. I guess I should say not-so-little bluebird since he was quite well fed, but that nice bright blue....
He hung around long enough for me to take a few pictures and decided it was too much of a wind chill for him on that fence.

This was not one of these moments when I was instantly transported back to a state of absolute happiness, and a light did not shine down and I did not hear music or anything. It was a bluebird for pete's sake. It was just a nice interruption to an otherwise stressful and cold day.

I think this might be the female in the tree:

Sunday, December 11

Small Town Light Parade

You know you live in a small town when a Christmas light covered pontoon rescue boat being pulled on its trailer down main street is a great evening attraction.

Our town closed off Main street the other night for the "light parade" and the little man and I did not miss it. All the local Main street businesses were open and I got this little wave of pride and nostalgia seeing them mostly filled with eager customers. I hate to see an empty shop.

But the little man had no interest in browsing the local used book store since Main street was lit up like Las Vegas.

Free cookies, hot chocolate and horse drawn wagon rides were offered and the street was packed with people, strollers and dogs in Christmas outfits.

The futuristic Star Trek-like Christmas trees confused the little man for a minute, but that didn't stop him from trying to take off the decorations.

A great evening with just the little man and myself enjoying a great small town atmosphere. The little guy was less impressed with the meaningfulness of it all and more by the fire trucks and the boy scouts throwing candy.

December Photo Project (DPP) Day 11

December Photo Project Day 10:

The view from my kitchen window this morning. I spend a great deal of time looking out this window due to the fact that our kitchen sink is right under it and we have no dishwasher.

Saturday, December 10

Pine Cone Garland & DPP Day 10

I made and posted about this garland last year, but I love the idea so much that i had to share it again. Decorating with natural elements is my favorite part of the holidays. I like the simple cozy look, and the way it brings my home together.

One note - in the future, I will use a double line of the string to make the garland a little stronger. The longer the line of pinecones, the stronger the string needs to be.

When the holidays roll around, I am all about decorating. No, I do not light up every square inch of the exterior of my house and have those giant blow-up Santa's in the front yard. I like natural decorating. And I am "all about it" because it is just that - natural. I love the way the house looks with the holiday decor. It just makes it feel that much more homey and pioneer-like.

Pine boughs, pine cones, handmade ornaments along with antique ones from the 40's, apple themed kitchen table trees and lighted pine garland.

My decorations consist mostly of things I have made myself or that others have made for me. I have items that have been passed down from my Great Grandmother and things that I made yesterday.

Case and point: Pine Cone Garland. I love to decorate with pine cones in the winter months but there are only so many boxes and bowls and baskets I can fill without running out of room to put them. Especially this year with the little guy into EVERYTHING, I have to be careful. (our main tree does not have any ornaments on it this year because I did not want to have to hire someone to stand sentry by the tree 24/7).

And my pine cone collection was growing. I am always collecting them from my Grandparents farm and this past fall we picked up a ton of really nice, sturdy good sized ones from the Walmart parking lot. So I decided to string them and hang them up, garland style.

My first attempts at simply pushing a needle through the base did not work so I resorted to a drill. Here is how I did it:

What you will need - a drill, a 3/32" or 5/64" drill bit depending on the size of your pine cones, a sturdy long needle, some strong thread, scissors, and large buttons.

Step 1: Gather a ton of pine cones of similar size.
Step 2: use a drill bit to drill a hole through the thick base of the cones. This will be messy so be sure to put down a towel.
Step 3: thread a large needle with a strong, sturdy thread or cord (make sure both the needle and the cord will fit through the hole). I used an old spool of very heavy duty thread that i found at my husbands' Grandparents house. It is on a wooden spool so I can only guess how old it is. It was made by American Thread Co., Star, 200 yards, Size 8, Mercerized. you could probably also use fishing line, a thin but strong twine, etc.

Step 4: string the pine cones, one at a time, making sure not to get tangled or to get any knots in the string. It is also best to do this part of the project, and maybe the entire project itself, when both cats and toddlers are napping.

Step 5: I finished off each end with a big, thick button to give it something strong. And I like the way it looks. You could use just about anything you want - large beads, bells for the holidays, etc.
Step 6: Hang and enjoy

In addition to hanging them, I also like to drape them along the tops of cabinets. As opposed to setting individual pine cones in a row and hoping that they don't fall off, having them strung together makes it much less likely they will cone down. And I think it looks pretty.

Friday, December 9

...buying a metro ticket at 2am in Stuttgart.

I envy those who travel.

People who plan trips to places where you need a passport, and guard it in concealed security pouches once you reach your destination. People who can fly across an ocean without getting motion sickness, jet lag, or the inevitable cold from recycled passenger plane air systems.

People who can live out of what constitutes a carry on bag for a three week jaunt to Italy. And who can order a coffee and ask where the bathroom is, in Italian, once they get there.

I watch travel shows on PBS and ride along with Rick Steves in France. Although he spends too much time in museums for my taste.

Not to say that I have never left home - our honeymoon was spent in Ireland, navigating the highway system and kissing the Blarney stone. I had managed to work myself up into such a heightened state of anxiety that I did not leave the hotel for a day and a half. We did tend to fit in nicely as long as we kept our mouths shut. We managed to fly under the radar at an outdoor side street pub in Cork where the locals were giving some 'obvious' American tourists a hard time.

Another trip to Germany for a friends wedding resulted in dramatic motion sickness from a frighteningly turbulent commuter plane flight over Switzerland which left my nerves jolted for most of the trip. I knew hardly any words in German but soon learned that Americans were called "swine" by the majority of hotel maid staff.

Our last trip to places foreign was a whirlwind trek to 4 countries in a little less than 2 weeks. A brilliant idea gone terribly wrong as we felt like we were participants on The Amazing Race rather than enjoying what my Mother referred to as a once in a lifetime trip. Whether she was impressed by our ambition or didn't think we would make it back alive was not clear.

We spent 3 days in each of Ireland, Scotland, France and Germany, seeing fractions of what they all had to offer. Ireland was old hat to us as it was our second time there so I managed to curb the nerves and visit some places in the hills of Tipperary from which my ancestors left four generations before I set foot in the old cemetery.

Scotland was an amazing place and we spent a great deal of our three days in Edinburgh enjoying the winding streets, thick accents and parking tickets our rental car received. Our visits to Sterling and Loch Ness went without incident until Roy managed to talk me into a boat cruise on the Loch. A repeat of the Switzerland flight soon followed with choppy water, high winds and pelting rain and I was sick to my stomach for the remainder of Scotland.

Leaving Scotland for France almost resulted in Roy making me throw away half of my clothing since our luggage was overweight and would cost a hefty extra amount to haul to Paris. Of course, Roy would not part with his William Wallace inspired sword that we now had to cart through two more countries, and then back to the US. I had over packed, as usual, but I did manage to talk Roy into paying the extra amount so I would not lose my emergency rain coat and extra socks.

Paris - the city of light. We arrived at night and managed to combine enough French with English to get a taxi to drive us to a hotel. With much gesturing and pointing at maps, we arrived and realized that all French people must be under 5 feet tall and less than 100 pounds. At least all those who designed our hotel anyway. Thinking about it, it was actually really nice, in a cute and quaint kind of way. But at the time we arrived, luggage, including large sword in a box, late at night, we were not impressed. The room was the size of my current bathroom and after we had out luggage in there, we were basically walking on said luggage instead of the floor.

Not speaking the language, my nerves took over and I spent most of France in the 'salle de bains'. Doing my best, we did enjoy Paris and our trip to the very tip top of the Eiffel Tower, or 'la tour eiffel'. Normandy won out over nerves given that I am a World War II enthusiast to put it mildly. The most humbling part of the trip, and Bayeux won my heart.

Rounding out our trip was a visit to Germany and our friends who's wedding we had attended a few years previously. Bavaria is beautiful, and more genealogy was a great way to end our time in Europe.

Should we go back? Given that I love the security and peace of mind that staying home provides, should I try to venture out again and test my nerves and my low tolerance for high noise levels?

Should I spend these late, sleepless nights of newborn baby care learning French phrases for ordering a sandwich and a coke? German for 'where is the post office?'? Or the Italian words for 'I do not like ham on my sliced melon.'

Should I give in to my guilty desire to wander back streets and alleyways, surrounded by towering old buildings that serve as apartments with little balconies loaded with drying laundry? Should I try to buy fresh produce where all the signs are in French and I get ripped off and end up paying $10 for an apple? And maybe I won't care because I am an American in France trying to be spontaneous, trusting and half ignoring my anxiety issues? Of course I will have Roy there with me, looking like a menacing body guard - a shorter version of Jason Statham without the English accent.

Do they homestead in Germany? Can I find a place to pick up a pair of knitting needles and some local wool to churn out a quick pair of socks? Not because I have cold feet but because knitting socks is like my anti-panic attack mediation. Can I get my chicken feeding fix at a little place in Galway? Or maybe I should save that location for the knitting - I might have better luck finding the wool there.

My immediate answer is that I would rather be curled up in front of my new wood burning stove with Joel Salatin's latest book than to be trying to buy a metro ticket at 2am in Stuttgart. Or is it because I can keep my anxieties in check when I worry about chicken feed and ordering cords of firewood.

Maybe I do need those socks for my cold feet after all.

December Photo Project - Day 9

December 9: Each one of these marks a three-hour interval in my overnight hours.....

Thursday, December 8

December Photo Project - Day 8

December 8: 'Been knittin' my fingers to the bone....

Wednesday, December 7

December Photo Project - Day 7

December 7: At last, I can retire from this life of crime.....

December 7th, 1941

"Yesterday, December 7, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan....No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might, will win through to absolute victory."

Tuesday, December 6

December Photo Project - Day 6

December 6: Homemade holiday decor is the only way to go.