Synesthesia: A Beautiful Cross-wiring of the Brain

Synesthesia: A Beautiful Crosswiring of the BrainI recently had somebody pretty much thinking I was from another planet when I explained to them that I had synesthesia, so I thought I’d do a little post about it here for anyone else who might have it and has a hard time getting non-synesthetes to understand that we’re not just crazy…and Monday really is yellow.  Continue reading

Photo Effect Tutorial – Make Photos Look Vintage

Photo Effect Tutorial - Make Photos Look Vintage I’ve always loved tintype photographs (I’ve been told I lived a past life during the Civil War, so I suppose that might have something to do with it), but I’ve never taken the time to actually get into the tintype process. So in lieu of pulling out a real tintype camera, my latest photographic obsession has been creating “fake” tintypes digitally. Continue reading

New Black and White Images

Sugar Magnolia

This week I added my first pictures of the year to the New Images page. These are all from the black and white gallery. Just a few of them, but I’ve got more coming. And as the weather gets nicer, I should have some more to add to the flowers gallery as well. Continue reading

Humanity and Technology

TechnologyAlbert Einstein once said that, “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” In a very short span of time we’ve gotten the internet, computers, cell phones, cell phones with internet, ipods and of course social networks. Continue reading

A Little Research Can Prevent a Lot of Animal Cruelty

I don’t eat a lot of meat, but I am not a vegetarian, nor do I have any qualms against people eating meat; I simply have issues with the way many animals are treated before they reach our dinner tables. Killing an animal for food is a basic instinct dating back to prehistoric humans. Continue reading

New Website

Well, I finally got around to redoing The Woodland Elf website. The farm section is now under the “About” tab (wouldn’t quite fit in my menu), and I have my market schedule in there as well. The blog is now on the front page of this website instead of being on a separate host. Seemed to make more sense to have everything in the same place. And for those using tablets or other such smaller monitors, I made the current design flexible, so it will shrink accordingly.
The new site design has only just gone live this week, and while I think I got the links properly connected, if you happen to find one that isn’t working, let me know so I can connect any that I missed. Thanks.

You Really Believe That?

In a world of email, social media and digital camera phones, it is now easier than ever to keep tabs on what’s going on. We can share everything with our friends and family and they can share back. And while that is a wonderful convenience, the ease of connection also has a dark side sometimes. The sad fact is that the simplicity of sharing information makes it even easier for someone to say anything they want, no matter how untrue, and let it spread like wildfire across the Internet.

I’ve gotten my share of forward emails containing completely fabricated information. People will forward everything from imaginary children dying of cancer to photoshopped images of sharks hunting people in the Hurricane Sandy aftermath. The part that amazes me is the fact that people often forward such emails without thinking twice. I guess if someone writes something in an email then it must be true right? Continue reading

Spock’s First Christmas

No, it’s not Spock the vulcan, it’s Spock the big-eared cat named after the vulcan. Spock is the little kitten I rescued over the summer. He’s gotten much bigger since then, but he still has very much the energy of a kitten. As such, he tends to get into mischief.

This year was his first Christmas, and to his delight, he thought that we had provided the Christmas Tree just for his personal amusement. He spent most of the holiday season running up and down the tree continuously, trying to pulling off all the paper cranes that were decorating it. He actually succeeded in completely pulling the tree over three times this season.

This was just some video I shot of him in the decor, to the tune of Silent Night. Most pet owners can probably relate. Hope you enjoy.

New Year Reflections

Well as 2013 begins, I think it’s safe to say that one of the best parts of 2012 was my family’s new addition, Mr. Spock, the market rescue kitty. He has thoroughly enjoyed his first holiday season, succeeding in pulling the Christmas tree over three times in his obsession to rip off every paper crane on the branches (and we haven’t the taken the tree down yet, so he might still get the chance to pull it down once more!)

So as I head into the new year, I’ve decided to make it easy on myself. My resolutions are consisting of three things that are pretty much guaranteed at this point. My evil plan is to convince myself that I’ve gotten a lot accomplished by selecting resolutions that are already a sure thing. That way maybe it’ll end up actually allowing to get more completed later if I give myself that false sense of accomplishment now.

So my to-do for 2013 consists of getting my first children’s book, The Witching Hour, published (it’s actually in process now). Get my website made over (already half done). And lastly, clean my craft room (aka my bedroom) and finally complete all those half-started projects. This is the one that’s going to take the most work, but it’s also the one I want done most of all (I hate feeling cluttered with unfinished projects). And as my crazy quilt and the Clint Eastwood serape are both part of that equation, I’ll be doing a lot more work on them as well (yes, I really am planning to finish them at some point, it’s just slow going).

So now if I can have all that done by the end of 2013 (or actually before the start of farm market season would be even better), I’m going to be one happy farmer!

Don’t Worry, the World Doesn’t End Tomorrow. It’s Just the Beginning of a New Age

People always seem to love a good doomsday prediction and the Mayan calender ending tomorrow is no exception. There’s a lot of talk about it being the end of the world, but the honest truth is that the Mayans NEVER said the world was ending in 2012. It’s merely their calender that stops tomorrow.

In forth grade I was totally immersed in Mayan history and mythology (ok, not exactly the most charming reading material for a 10 year old, but I admit to having always been a little weird). The Mayans believed that a cycle of time lasted for 26,000 years, and that 26,000 year cycle was broken down into smaller ages of roughly 5,000 years each. Tomorrow is merely the end of one of those ages that began just over 5,000 years ago. And since the ancient Mayans weren’t around to record the next 5,000 year cycle, their calender “ends” tomorrow in a sense. What the solstice truly brings tomorrow is not an end, but a beginning, a beginning of the next age. Continue reading

Website Redesign

Well the markets ended in October and tomorrow is my last craft show of the year (The PTSA Holiday Show 9:00AM – 3:30PM). It’s actually a bit of a welcome reprieve. Now I can go and start catching up on that ever-extending to-list that just seems to spiral out of control during the busy summer months. At the top of my list is reconstructing my website. (Yes, I’ll admit to be slightly OCD when it comes to my website’s design, but hey, I think it’s been over a year since I redesigned it, so I did pretty well in containing my desire to trash it and restart.) Continue reading

Christmas Comes AFTER Thanksgiving

I’m a person who loves all the seasons, and especially loves them in order, but lately it seems as though Christmas is getting earlier and earlier every year. This very year, two weeks before Halloween even, Target was already running a Christmas shopping commercial. (For some strange reason, listening to Christmas carols while I’m carving pumpkins just doesn’t do it for me.) Seriously, Christmas commercials before Halloween? That’s just too early.

As far as I know, Christmas still comes AFTER Thanksgiving, which in itself comes after Halloween. It’s gotten to the point where our society’s economy is so reliant on people shopping for the holidays that a store’s entire year now seems to revolve around that mad rush of shopping and gift giving. The ironic part is that a large portion of the shopping being done involves purchasing items that were probably cheaply made in another country. Continue reading

Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pumpkin

May the odds be ever in your favor

I’m probably not actually quite as obsessed with the Hunger Games as I appear to be (I save that for Legend of the Seeker), but I have to admit that I am having a lot of fun with the mockingjay symbol. I realize it’s not exactly a Halloween image, but I couldn’t resist. It was so perfect, it was just screaming to be carved.

To make the pattern, just print out a black and white image of the mockingjay symbol, then add an extra circle around the entire pattern, leaving in the black and cutting out the white.

The Origins of Halloween

Anybody who ever watched Hocus Pocus probably recalls Alison telling how Halloween is based on “All Hallow’s Eve” to refute Max’s conspiracy theory of Halloween having been invented by the candy companies. But where did All Hallows Eve and the belief that it was the night when spirits roamed the earth come from? The origins of that date back even further to an old European Celtic celebration called Samhain.

Samhain (pronounced sow-in in Gaelic) literally meant “Summer’s End,” as the Celts recognized only two seasons, summer and winter. (Samhain’s counterpart Gamhain or “Winter’s End” took place in early May, a tradition which evolved into the current May Day celebrations). Samhain occurred when the sun reached 15 degrees Scorpio, known as a “cross-quarter day.” It was the last harvest festival and was considered the Celtic New Year.

The Celts believed that darkness was a beginning. Just as they held that a day began at sunset rather than sunrise, so too did they believe a new year should begin as the seasons were going into a time of rest and darker days (longer nights). Being the new year, the Celts also believed that on Samhain night, beings from the spirit world could come out and mingle with the living. Hence the legends of zombies and witches and such that are associated with our present-day Halloween. Continue reading

How to Make a Chicken Wire Ghost

Somebody sent me this video and I thought it was pretty cool. This guy used chicken wire (we call it that up here too) to make a glow-in-the-dark ghost. Because the chicken wire is see-through, it gives the ghost an erie transparent look. If I have time (and between farming home, 3 markets, and a part-time desk job that’s a pretty big IF) I gotta try it.

Is It Too Early for Halloween?

I know it’s still September, but does that mean it’s too early for Halloween soaps? I sure hope not, because I’m having way too much fun making these to stop now.

I found some new molds made of that flexible silicon stuff I am SO in love with (it’s so much easier than trying to work with plastic molds) and they are just right for the upcoming season. Plus I also had a request again for the “spider soaps” I made last year in October, so I figured as long as I was doing spider soaps, I might as well do Jack-o-lantern soaps as well. The two kinds together having a rather charming, albeit slightly creepy (we have the spiders to thank for that) effect.

We also started harvesting our Jack-be-little gourds and all the various hybrids with different names, (but which look quite similar to Jack-be-littles making it easier to simply refer to them all as “Jacks”). So I will be bringing my flowered gourds to Canandaigua this weekend if I have enough time to finish them between now and then. I know several people have been looking for them. So wish me time (I need it more than luck at the moment!)

Write in Ron Paul!

I’ve had a bumper sticker for Ron Paul on my car since well before the primaries, and almost everyone who’s seen it has told me they’re Ron Paul fans as well. But a few weeks ago at the market, one person (who also was a Ron Paul fan himself) tried to convince me that by voting for Ron Paul, I was actually voting for Obama. I greatly disagree. By voting for Ron Paul, I am voting for neither Obama nor Romney.

Romney and Obama are just classic cookie cutter politicians doing what classic cookie cutter politicians do best: giving us more of the same. People can’t keep voting for the same old democratic and republican candidates and expect new results. As Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting new results.” Is Ron Paul going to win? No, probably not because too many people are afraid to vote for him, but if everyone who actually believes in real change plucked up the courage to write in his name, the message would be loud and clear: We’re sick of politics as usual and we want a change!

People say it will never happen, and as long as no one takes the initiative, they’re right. Nothing will change unless people make it change. We’d still be drinking overtaxed tea if the Boston Tea Party hadn’t jumped on the ship and dumped the goods overboard. And we’ll still be stuck with the same old candidates if no one ever has the guts to vote for someone new; to vote for a real change. It’d be Continue reading

Record Breaker

Well I broke my record this weekend at the Canandaigua Farmers’ Market. I was out of flowers by 8:32 in the morning, making it the fastest I’ve ever sold out. Granted I only had 12 bouquets, but as the market opens at 8:30, seemed like they were gone in the blink of an eye. Any day you can sell out two minutes after the market opens is a good day!

This coming weekend I may be a bit short on flowers as I’m right in between patches, but in two or three weeks I think I should be back on schedule with sunflowers at least. The oncoming patch was supposed to have started blooming last week, but considering how strange the weather had been this year, I’ve pretty much given up trying to accurately deduce the time that the flowers will bloom. I just know I won’t have too many this week and probably not too many next week either, but hopefully a large burst coming on the week after. I guess only the weather will tell…

I’ve got Hemp!

Hemp fabric that is. I got a request to make another hemp fabric shopping bag, so as long as I was already ordering the hemp canvass for the bag, I figured I might as well order some clothing-grade hemp fabric as well (smaller weave). Hemp is one of the strongest, most environmentally friendly fabrics on the planet, and the company I get it from is all Fair Trade. I’ve been planning for some time to start making a line of hemp clothing, and earlier this year I actually got around to drawing up the designs. So today my 100% hemp fabric arrived. It has a look and texture very similar to that of linen, and I can’t wait to start sewing with it. I’m busy making costumes for the upcoming season now, so I probably won’t get a chance to work with the hemp material until after Halloween, but it’s nice to know that it’s here. Hoping to start listing hemp fabric clothes for sale sometime in the late November/early December time frame. It’s my downtime, after the markets and Halloween end, so I’ll need a new venture!

No Elf-esteem

I won’t be posting any elf-esteem videos for the next two weeks. Taking a much needed to two-week break to tackle my mile-long summer to do list, but will be back to my weekly video postings on July 26 with a lavender bottle weaving tutorial. (They’re great for treating insomnia and headaches).

Hallelujah! It Rained!

It started to rain pretty good at the Canandaigua Market today, and I think every one of us farmers under that roof was whooping it up in celebration. The clouds looked like they were heading south toward my house and when I got home, sure enough, there had been rain. YES! It was definitely less than I was hoping for (only got a quarter inch), but at this point I’ll take anything in the line of rain. It might be enough to make my 4th batch of flowers pop at least (I’m currently cutting batch one, and batch 2 and 3 are stunted from the draught). The poor flowers have had a heck of a time of it this year, between frost and hail, and now draught. It’s amazing there are any out there at all. Hopefully this rain will help some grow, a few of the fields are starting to look like pretty crispy critters.

Too Many Markets, Not Enough Flowers

So this is my first year doing more than one market, and I guess I picked a heck of a year to do it. It’s still winter when you apply to the markets, so you have no idea what the weather will be later in the year. After applying to 3 markets, I’m now having what is probably my worst flower year ever. It started with the strange weather this spring when so much bloomed so early, meaning a lot of it was already past bloom when the farm market opened. The other side effect of the early bloom was that some things froze early on when the nice balmy weather turned icy-cold overnight. Compound that with 2 bouts of golf-ball sized hail, and you have flower beds with realtively few flowers. So right now, I’m just kind of scraping along with whatever I can get, and waiting for the flowers I planted later to catch up.

On the bright side, though, I picked my first sunflower Friday night and sunflowers are hardy little fellers, so hopefully with the upcoming hot spell, a patch of those will start popping and my tables at the markets with have many flowers once again. And I should definitely have some flowers blooming by the time the Cheshire market opens in July. So as my grandfather always said “next year…” I’ll be planting on my new lot next year too, so I’ll have more flowers to begin with. Then if some unforseeen atmospheric catastrophe such as hail, high wind, or an astroid falling from the the sky should occur, I’ll have more flowers spread out a farther distance, raising the odds for more survival. Yup, next year will be better.

A Year of Simple Pleasures

Well, The Simple Pleasures Project has drawn to a close. Today I posted Simple Pleasure #365, making it an entire of year of simple pleasures. Even though the project is finished, however, I don’t intend to overlook the daily simple pleasures of life. I still intend to notice the soft feeling of Ziah’s wool beneath my fingers as I pet him, the snorting sound Sassie makes after she rolls in the garden’s dirt, the vivid hues of an autumn sunset, the smell of the blooming wild roses, the taste of the season’s first blackberries, and all the other simple pleasures that surround me. Being aware of those little riches of life are truly what brings happiness to a person. And for me The Simple Pleasures Project has just further reaffirmed the fact that I’m definitely not interested in a “normal” life.

I’m not meant to miss out on all the simple pleasures of life in order to work a 40 hour a week job, “cooped up in some shabby little office,” as George Baily would say. My heart lies with the farm, and with the arts, and with creative expression, and that is where I intend to stay. My grandfather (who taught us all about the love of the farm) always told us that if we made our living doing something we loved, we’d never have to work a day in our life, because it would never feel like work. That’s the truth. Or to use my favorite quote from George Washington, “I had rather be on my farm than be emperor of the world.” Ditto!

Farm Market Opens This Weekend!

The first week of the Canandaigua Farmers’ Market opens tomorrow. It runs every Saturday from 8:30-12:30pm. June-October. I’ll be there hiding behind my flowers (Yes, I’m kind of shy in large crowds). I’ll also be attending the Victor Farmers’ Market this year (Hiding behind my flowers there as well). It’s my first year doing more than one market. The Victor Market runs every Wednesday, from 3:00-700pm. Hope to see you all there.

Lotion Jar Candles

My favorite candles to make are the kind that involve using a recycled container. I’d been collecting these tiny lotion jars all winter and last night got around to make some small soy candles. The cute little lotion jars make ideal containers. Why just recycle when upcycling is so much more fun!

I’m In Love with Kat Wise’s Coats

I think I’m in love…with coats. I recently discovered the wonderful, wild, wacky and ever-so colorful world of Kat Wise, a coatmaker. She upcycles old sweaters from thrift shops and turns them into amazing sweater coats. Some of them are rainbow shades (almost as colorful as her neat little house!), and some are sunfire oranges and yellows, and others are dark like something a modern witch would wear (actually several of them look like something Mrs. Weasley from Harry Potter would wear). The seams are all done inside out, so it gives them a gypsy skirt effect.

I’m right in the middle of spring cleaning my craft room (aka my bedroom, so yes it’s a little crowded at the moment), but as soon as I’m finished, I’ve just got to make one these coats. I’d probably never wear a coat that length myself, but it’s the making them that gives me the thrill, and those are something I’m definitely itching to make. If it involves something recycled, I generally want to try it. If my coat turns out ok, I’ll post the video.

For now, check out my favorite of Kat’s coats.

Elf Esteem

Well, after writing a bunch of how-to craft articles, someone suggested I try crafting how-to videos, so starting I’m starting a little how-to video series called Elf-esteem. The name comes from the fact that creating things often raises self-esteem, and as my nickname is “The Elf,” Elf-esteem seemed an appropriate name. I’ll be posting a new video hopefully each week on my youtube channel. First ones launches on the 9th of the December.

And while I was in updating mode, I finally got myself a page on Facebook. So by all means, “Like” my page and Raise Your Elf-esteem.

100% Recycled Paper

I’ve been using cardstock that was 30% post consumer waste for several years now, but I’ve always been searching to better that percentage. Well, I’ve finally found what I’ve been questing for, cardstock made of 100% recycled paper, 100% post consumer waste. Even the factory it’s made in is power with sustainable, eco-friendly windpower. So I am thrilled to announce that from this day forth, my greeting cards (and envelopes of course) will be made with 100% recycled paper.

Biodegradable Bags

I am thrilled to say that I finally get to go all natural with my soapmaking, no more plastic bag packaging. Today my order of 100% biodegradable bags arrived, so from now on, I will be packaging my soaps in those. They look like plastic, and they’re clear like plastic, but the great part is, they’re not plastic. They are in fact made from plants not petroleum. They definitely have a different feel. It’s a bit stiffer than plastic, and the sound crinkles a bit differently, but they’re completely biodegradable. It’s always more fun when you can package a natural bar of soap in a natural package. Perfect!

Dragonfly: March 1996-August 2011

Today was a very sad day. Due to her eye cancer, we had to put down my beloved cow Dragonfly (a.k.a. Drags, a.k.a Draggie Babes), who is pretty much the love of my life. I raised her up from a newborn baby and she’s been my best friend for 15 years. To some people it’s just a cow, but to me, she’s an absolute family member, and that’s what I feel like I’ve lost.

Dragonfly always loved her special treats, whether it was apples, rotten tomatoes, corn husks, or pumpkins. She loved being brushed, especially under the neck. And she had a trademark misshapen right ear from where her brother had once taken a bite out of it to see if it was tasty.

In honor of my darling, I put together a little slideshow of some of my favorites images of my Draggie Babes. I originally had it set to Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful,” but the music didn’t carry over when I posted it. I guess it doesn’t really matter, because she’ll always be beautiful to me. Even the vet, who probably sees a hundred cows a day, once remarked what a pretty cow she was. So this is for you Drags, you are so beautiful to me.

The Stand is Open!

Ok, the corn is finally ripe so the stand is now officially open. As it’s so dry (the pumpkins are actually turning orange already because they’re so stressed from lack of water) and since everything is so late because it’s so dry, we’re only stocking the stand Friday, Saturday, and Sunday this year. And as always, it’s usually not stocked much before 11:00 AM, but after that it’s open till dark. Enjoy!

Olive Oil Soap

Well, I’m getting closer. This was my second try at a batch if oilve oil soap, and while it didn’t exactly work out, I think I’m getting closer. I used a bar of olive oil soap once and it was one of the nicest I’ve ever used, and recently several people at the market have asked me if I do oilve oil soap. So, I’ve been working on trying to make some. I have a recipe, but I think I’m going to have to alter it. I can’t seem to get it to trace following the recipe, so I’ll think I’ll change the recipe before I wreck another batch.

The difficult part is that I’m used to using lard in the soapmaking, whereas the olive oil recipe is a castile (no animal products). That and I use my own homemade lye, so it’s a bit more unpredictable than storebought. I think I’m going to get myself some palm oil to add to the olive oil, that might help a bit. (And I only use certified, sustainably grown palm oil). A batch or two more, and I just might have some bars to take to market.

Downtown Art Show

It was the street arts festival in Canandaigua today, so after the market I parked my car (under the pavillion where I already was because I knew there wouldn’t be another parking space for miles), and headed out to the sidewalks. I try to hit it every year. There’re always some old favorites, as well as some new ones. I really liked the woman making shampoo bars. It was so interesting, I might have to try it myself. I already know how to make soap from scratch, so I can’t imagine shampoo bars would be that different, just a change in a few ingredients.

I collected a lot of cards, I always do at this thing. Some are for inspiration, and some are for people I might want to look up later. And as always, I stopped by the tie-dye guy and the batik woman. I do a little tiedying and batiking myself, but it’s time-consuming, so it’s always nice to walk into a tent and see walls of it.

Of course the highlight of the sidewalk trip: Fried Dough!

The Simple Pleasures Project

“An unhurried sense of time is in itself a form of wealth” ~ Bonnie Friedman

This year, the unthinkable happened; I missed the spring pumpkin planting. The planting of the pumpkins is one of my favorite parts of the farming year, something I always look forward to, something I’d be heartbroken to miss, and this year that is exactly what happened.

My hours at my office job had double this year, and it felt like I was racing all the time. I’d blow through chores in the morning as fast as I could, run off to work, then run home and try and get something done on the farm with the short time before nightfall, only to do the same thing all over again. I was feeling like I hit the ground running every morning, and I was missing out on the life I really loved, the life of the farm. It’s difficult to enjoy working 40 hours a week at an indoor desk job, when your heart longs for the outdoor world of the farm. I was missing everything I loved and it made me feel like Geroge Baily “cooped up in some shabby little office.” I knew I couldn’t live like that, because what’s the point of living if you’re not enjoying life right? Something had to change.

I took a leap of faith, and knew I either had to get my hours at work lessened or go out on my own. I was prepared to do either, and it all worked out in the end. I got my office hours lessened, and now I get to enjoy that as well as enjoying my time on the farm. Now I actually feel like I have time to breathe, and it’s made me realize just how much I really was missing. Too often we’re so hurried in life that we don’t have time to “stop and smell the roses,” we neglect to notice the simple pleasures in life, and those simple pleasures are what really matter

So I’ve begun a little experiment I’m calling the Simple Pleaures Project, taking time to slow down enough each day to notice and enjoy something simple. 365 days of simple pleasures. I’m sure it’s boring as all heck for anyone else to read, but it’s something fun to do on your on own. Here’s the link if you feel inspired to start your own such project for your life: The Simple Pleasures Project

Wooly Bully, Wooly Bully, Wooly Bully

No, I’m not referring to the Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs song, I’m talking about my wooly little sheep Bullseye, whose nickname (well, one of his nicknames anyway, he’s got about 4) is Bully. And yes, at this point he is very, very wooly. As such it’s sheep shearing day, not one Ziah’s (did I mention he has several nicknames?) favorite days, unless of course it’s warm out and he’s lying down. On days like that, he seems to enjoy it. Today was one of those days, and I’ve got him about 3 quarters sheared.

I have to do it when he’s in a good mood because I don’t do the whole wrestle-the-sheep-down-to-shear-it thing. I do it the old-fashioned way, I hand shear him with a regular set of shears, no electric razors here. That way I never have to worry about cutting him.

Between the wool I got last year, and the wool I’ll have this year, there shoud be plenty make some nice balls of yarn. I’ve got my dyes all planned out, no synthetics here! They’re going to be all veggie-dyes. I just need to find some carding combs and learn how to hand-spin it. That way, whatever I make with it, when I say handmade, I’ll really mean 100% handmade. Hand-sheared, Hand-dyed, Hand-spun, Hand-knitted; just like being on an 1800’s homestead.

If I’m really ambitious, I’ll teach myself how to do some needle-felting. It looks pretty cool, but I can never find a felting needle anywhere. Guess I’ll have to keep looking, and just stick with the knitting for now. (Unfortunately, when it comes to knitting I only know one stitch and can only knitt sqaures. If I have time, I’ll teach myself to do mittens this winter; they always come in handy).

You Might Be a Redneck…

If your car looks like this, you might be a redneck…
…Hey wait, that’s my car!

No, those aren’t racing stripes, that’s duct tape I had to put on it to hold down the hood when it was on it’s last legs. It had been a good car, but needless to say, this thing didn’t pass inspection when the time came and I had to get rid of it.

…but I’d say I made out pretty well on the replacement:


My Sunfire. I love thing! Couldn’t ask for a more perfect vehicle. Named her Serenity after Malcolm Reynolds’ ship (ok, so I’m a bit of a geek, but if you actually know who Malcolm Reynolds is, you probably are too).

Little Baby Brock-Brocks

I had to stop at TSC to pick up some fencing today, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that they had newly hatched chickens out (or the “Little Baby Brock-Brocks” as I used to call them). There were also some little baby ducklings. They were all so cute and fluffy, I was thinking to myself, where’s a camera when I need one!  Well, not this year, but some year I’ll bring home some of those darling little chickens and start my own flock, and hopefully be able to sell fresh eggs on the stand. All I need to do now is finish that solar powered cooler project I’ve been working on to keep the eggs cold at a farmers’ market…

My Costume Heroes

My Costume HeroesMy family usually has the television on the night of the Oscars, and we watch in between doing whatever work we’re doing that particular evening. I’m kind of the geek of the group though. While most people are waiting for the best actor/actress/picture/director awards, I’m eagerly awaiting the announcement of the costume design award which usually goes to someone only I’ve heard of. Reason being of course, that I make costumes, so I actually care about the people nominated, whereas the rest of my family is just waiting for it to move on.

While I was personally rooting for Sandy Powell, one of my costume design heroes (she was up for the Tempest), the award actually went to Colleen Atwood for Alice in Wonderland. While I was disappointed that Powell didn’t take it, Atwood is still in my top 5 favorite costume designers.

As far as my favorite costume design heroes, my #1 spot is a tie between Sandy Powell who gets a large percentage of the good ones (Rob Roy, Young Victoria, Gangs of New York) and Ngila Dickson who did my all time favorite movie Lord of the Rings, not to mention The Last Samurai, the Illusionist, and was one of the designers for Xena: Warrior Princess.

Then the #2 spot goes Jenny Beavan (Everafter, need I say more?).

And at #3 comes tonight’s winner Colleen Atwood (She’s designed so many costumes I aspire to recreate).

So there we are. Four costume designers who greatly inspire me and keep me working hard on my own costumes. As far as the Academy Awards themselves, I just have one question, how come nobody ever shows up in a gown they got at the Goodwill?

Sponge Painting

My mother recently redid her kitchen walls. The paper was getting old and discolored and peeling at the seams, and everyone agreed it was time for an upgrade. The first attempt was a disaster, however, with the solid gold color she chose, reminding us of a kitchen from 1970’s California. The only thing missing was my Gramma’s old Philco refrigerator! The second attempt was an almost cream colored yellow, which left the kitchen looking as stark as a hospital wing. But the third time was the charm when my mother decided to try sponge painting.

Sponge painting a fun and easy way to give new life to any room, all you need is two shades of paint, a roller and a sponge. Reminiscent of the old spackled enamel cookware, it gives walls a country cottage look, and is far more welcoming than a solid colored wall. This is particularly nice for a room such as a kitchen where the formality of a solid color is not necessarily wanted. Sponge painting is a lot easier than trying to deal with wallpaper, but the finished result has a similar feel to wallpaper.

To start, select two shades of the same the color, one being the main color you would like to see, the second being about two shades darker. Paint the darker shade on the walls first. If there is already wallpaper on the walls, smooth the seems with plaster, then paint right over it. It saves the trouble of trying to remove the wallpaper. Use a paint roller to coat the entire wall with the darker color, the same way you would paint any traditional wall. Apply a second coat if necessary.

When the first shade has dried, softly dip a piece of sponge into the lighter color then proceed to dab it on the wall. The object is dab haphazardly, allowing the bottom color to peek through in tiny spots. Don’t try to make it to orderly. Stand back from time to time to ensure there are no large patches of dark color showing through. Keep dabbing until you are satisfied with the result. This is very similar to rag rolling, except that where rag rolling requires a bit of practice, sponge painting is so easy anyone can do it.


The Finished Result

 


Close up of sponge paint texture

Yogurt That’s Good in More Ways Than One

Most people are familiar with the health benefits of yogurt. The live and active cultures (probiotics) are of course essentials for our health and well being. It’s a good source of protein, calcium, vitamin B-2, B-12, potassium, and magnesium. And for people who have trouble with dairy products, yogurt is often much easier to digest than other milk based foods and drinks.

Despite all the benefits, I’m usually not a big fan of yogurt myself, but my father recently started working for Chobani yogurt, and brought some home for us to try. After sampling some, I’m beginning to decide that perhaps I do like yogurt. To start with, the Chobani is a Greek yogurt, so it’s thicker than most yogurts which I like better, but the part that really peeked my interest was the company itself.

Chobani makes their yogurt with milk from cows not treated with rbST, something that can often be hard to find given that so many milk producers pump their cows up with the drug. Not only is the drug harmful to the cows (cows who are treated with rbST generally die of exhaustion, living only half as long as cows not treated with rbST), but it’s also harmful to people who consume dairy product from cows treated with the drug. This is due to the fact that the milk holds the drug residue.

The other part I liked about this particular yogurt was, in addition to being rbST free, the company also gives 10% of it’s profits to charity. It’s a win-win situation, yogurt that’s good for the consumer and good for the world.

Catching a Swarm

I used up the last of my beeswax this week, making more dipped candles for the Cheshire Union, but I’m planning to harvest my honey and wax within the next few weeks, so that should replenish my stocks (I know I’m contrary to what most beekeepers do, but that’s when I have the most time, so that’s when I harvest). I also generally supplement my wax with wax from other local beekeepers in the area as well. However, there a certain gratification that comes from making candles out of one’s own beeswax, especially when it comes from a swarm you caught and raised yourself.
I caught a swarm of bees in 2006. It was an unusually cold day in May and my family and I were next door at my grandmother’s doing the spring yard work. My mother was sawing a dead branch off one of the trees and when it came down, it was crawling with countless honeybees, (needless to say, Continue reading

The Hush of Winter

The first real snow arrived here a few days ago, and with it comes the wonderous hush of winter. The distant cars on the roads are suddenly silenced, the woods are still and calm, and the only sound to be heard is one’s own footsteps softly brushing across the covered ground. Many people complain about the cold and snow of the winter season, but as I walked through the six inch deep covering of fluffy, white powder this morning, I have yet to understand why. Sure it takes a little bit longer to get dressed, and we have to carry jugs of water to the barn because the hose is frozen, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

When the snows of winter come, it’s as if all the outside world has fallen asleep, and I can feel nature’s hush relaxing me as well. When I walk down the woodland path behind my house, I feel a great sense of peace enhanced by the gentle meolody of my neighbor’s windchimes swaying in a gentle breeze on the other side of the trees. They have the most beautiful sounding windchimes. They sound like buddhust temple chimes instead of ordinary clanging windchimes, and listening to their music while walking in the snowcovered woods is quite litterally magical.

I love the feel of soft snow beneath the sled as I pull this week’s bails of hay from the hayshed to the cow barn. I love the way it eases the difficulty of walking on frozen ground for the animals. Even Sassie the horse, who currently has an abscess on her foot that we’re treating, seems to benefit from the cushion of snow. And lastly, nothing is cozier than coming in from chores with snowcovered boots and standing by the wood stove to warm up.

I think the reason some people dislike the winter is because they don’t appreciate it for what it is. It is a time of slowing down, and a time to relax, and unless it’s treated as such, it can’t be enjoyed. It becomes a pain rather than a joy. Maybe we just need to quiet ourselves this time of the year as well, and follow the example of the hush of winter. My grandfather always said, you have to be outside in a snowstorm to enjoy it, and I couldn’t agree more.

New Logo

There is something indescribably satisfying about organizing. Organizing excites me. It’s as if removing clutter from my physical environment also clears my mind, giving me new energy and new project ideas. I finally tackled a job that’s been staring me in the face for quite sometime: My Bedroom. Aside from having all my soap, candle, and card making materials in there, I also have a card table set up with my sewing machine, surrounded by bag of material and half finished projects.

While I do have a closet in the bedroom, it was never shelved, so has been severely underused. But not anymore. Today I finally took it upon myself to build some shelves, and at last, I am beginning organize my craft and sewing things. Everything is going to have it’s own place, and anything in a box has a handy little tag telling me what’s in it. It give me more room in my room, and it doesn’t look so cluttered. Best of all, I inherited some old wooden furnature that really warms up the room and the dresser is the perfect place to set my antique Singer sewing machine. (My cousin found it out in his barn a few years ago and gave it to me because he knew I sewed. One of these days I’ll have the motor repaired in it).

The only thing missing is a carpet, which I intend to make from some old upholstery material Gramma gave me a few weeks ago. It’s yellowish, so it’ll be shag rug reminiscent, giving my room a sort of hippie-Civil War feel. (I know, strange combination, but the old furniture looks 1800’s and most everything else looks 1960’s. Well, anyway, they’re two of my favorite fashion eras).

And on a really bright note, today I was thrilled to learn that I sold quite a few crafts at one of the shops I have my items in. Currently I have rye weavings, greeting cards, and crafted gourds in the Simply Unique Gift Shop in Bloomfield, and I have hand-dipped beeswax tapers in the Cheshire Union Gift Shop in Cheshire.

And finally, I’m getting my site revised. Here’s my new logo. I took out the textured background and just made it plain green, plus I added the deep red boarder and changed the wording to match.

Best Hot Chocolate Ever!

I found myself this morning in the Dahli Java (by the Byrne Dairy on Main Street in Canandaigua if you’re looking for it) on my way to a tailoring mission. I don’t drink coffee, but knowing that Scott does hot chocolate during the cold months of the farm market, I ventured to ask if he did hot chocolate in his shop as well. To my great delight, the answer was yes. However, little did I know what a heavenly treat I was in for.

Not only does he do hot chocolate in his shop, but it’s REAL hot chocolate the kind he makes right there, not the stuff you get from a box. It was steaming hot when I got it, so I let it sit in the car for about a half hour while running my errands. When I returned, it had cooled to just the right temperature, so I proceeded to consume what would be the best hot chocolate I have ever tasted! Sure beats the heck out of box cocoa. Next time I’m near there, I’ll probably have to go back for more!

As for the tailoring mission, it will be something new. I’ve replaced countless zippers in my sewing ventures, but this will be the first time I’m replacing just the zipper slider on an otherwise fine zipper track. Doesn’t appear as though it will be too difficult though, so I rather look forward to the new adventure.

A Christmas Cookie Party

Most everyone who celebrates Christmas also takes part in the simple joy of making Christmas cookies. There is something very satisfactory about rolling out a lump of cookie dough and pressing in cookie cutters of all shapes and sizes. The aroma of the baking cookies fills the kitchen as more cookies are cut and once they’re all baked to that perfect golden hue, the real fun of frosting them arrives. What can make this holiday tradition even more fun, however, is turning the event into a whole cookie-baking party.

Assuming you get along well with your extended family, invite everyone to take part in a fun night of cookie baking and decorating. Make several batches of cookie dough a few days ahead of the party and keep them in the freezer. On the day of the cookie party, pull them out a few hours before the cookie makers arrive. If you don’t have a large table, spread the cookie cutters, rolling pins and frosting containers out on several tables to ensure there is plenty for all. And if someone runs out of something, the cookie supplies can easily be passed back and forth between tables. Waxed paper taped to the tables and sprinkled with a little bit of flour will protect the tables and make a good dough-rolling surface.

Have one person in charge of the oven who can collect the cookie trays filled with cutouts and bake them. It will keep everything flowing smoothly. Also don’t limit your party to just sugar cookies. With so many people, everyone might have different tastes. Ginger snaps make excellent cutouts, especially when smeared with vanilla frosting, and there are many chocolate cookie recipes that lend themselves well to becoming Christmas cookies.

And most important of all, don’t forget to have fun! There are no rules when it comes to cookie making, they can be as traditional or as crazy as you like, and in my family we’ve found that when the cousins get together, the cookies usually end up pretty crazy. This year we created a batman cookie out of an angel whose head ended up with pointed ears in the oven. And out of the last bits of dough, we fashioned the dark mark from Harry Potter, which ended up being frosted with an appropriately eerie shade of green. (Don’t ask us what that had to do with Christmas, because we don’t know, we just know it was fun!)

This is What Happens When Sheep Get Angry…

Ok, so sheep are usually cute, cuddly, wooly, adorable little critters, but in all honesty, Ziah (my sheep) isn’t one of them. Sure he’s cute and adorable, but as far as cuddly, forget it. Like a small child he tends to have a large temper when he doesn’t get his way. Last night was such a time.

When it came time to put him in the barn for the evening (which we do to protect him from the coyotes), he decided that he wasn’t quite ready to go in. So in one quick movement, he focused all his energy on the door, and banged himself into it as hard as he could, ripping the door right off his barn, latch, hinges and all.

So, here is Ziah’s handywork – This is what happens when sheep get angry.

It’s going to be a fun day reattaching the door tomorrow. Somehow I don’t think superglue is gonna fix it.

Thanksgiving: A Three-day Event

I’m not sure anyone enjoys Thanksgiving as much as my family. For us it’s not just a dinner, it’s a three-day event. The Wednesday before thanksgiving, all the family members meet up at Gramma’s (this year it was my Aunt’s house, but usually it’s Gramma’s). First we had a quick dinner of pizza and then everyone set about slicing and dicing apples, oranges (which usually leads to somebody’s hands stinging from citrus juice), grapes, and grapefruits for the big bowl of fruit salad. Then we talked, laughed, played apples-to-apples, and had a general all around good time.

Thanksgiving morning we got up early to get chores done, then came back inside to watch the Thanksgiving Day parade and get the carrots and celery ready for the veggie plate while mom made the coveted chocolate cream pie. Normally we don’t know any of the bands or songs in the parade since all the music we listen to is from our parents generation (and in my case, some songs from even before my parents generation), but this year they had songs by Greenday, U2, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis and that guy who does “Who do you love,” bands we actually know. Also thought the pizza dough group was awesome.

After the parade we always listen to Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” song on the radio, then we head over the to meet the family for the Thanksgiving feast. We got to our Aunt’s house around 1:30. My uncle had a very cool picture slide show playing on the ipad with images from all the past holidays and get togethers; everyone was clustered together in a little corner watching it. Then came the food.

In my family, there’s never a shortage because someone is always worried there won’t be enough so we always make extra. We have turkey, rolls, corn, peas, squash, excellent stuffing, Gramma’s applesauce, mashed potatoes and gravy, creamed cauliflower, clam stuffing, not to mention all the pies for desert. Pretty much every kind anyone could ask, including the chocolate cream pie that we sometimes play cards for to see who wins the last piece.

After lunch all of us cousins play games. This year we started with the Nerf gun war as my little cousin has pretty much every Nerf dart gun they make, so all of us kids are upstairs ducking behind doorways and stealing ammo from one another trying not to get hit with the darts in the process. After exhausting ourselves in the battle, we went back downstairs and started the annual chess championship rounds. We had two people playing on the Chinese chess set, and two people playing chess on the ipad. Then there were rounds of stratego, or as we like to call  it “strategery.”

At 4:00 we headed home to do the second set of chores, listening to Alice’s Restaurant again on the the way, then we drove back down to my Aunt’s, and rewarmed dinner in the microwave, followed by a piece of pie. We all sat talking, laughing and joking for a time, then all of us cousins went up to play the Nintendo (or play station, or whatever they call those things now). Since Thanksgiving is the only time I ever play, I don’t drive so well with the little controllers and my car was usually seen flying off a cliff. I consistently ended up in last place every time, save for the two times I squeaked by to get second-to-last place.

About 9:00 everyone gathered in the living room and we started a movie. This year it was Tommy Boy. I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of watching that deer tear apart David Spade’s car. And at long last, after the movie was over, everyone cleared out slowly and went home.

Thanksgiving doesn’t end there though. For us black Friday doesn’t mean shopping it means “left-overs night!” At 6:30 Friday night we all go down to my Aunt’s to have “another Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat,” and then we cousins once again set about for a round of game playing fun. We played two rounds rounds of clue, which included an interested dice rolling sequence where the first person rolled 1, the second person rolled 2, the third player rolled 3, and the forth player rolled 4 before the sequence spell finally broke with the fifth player. Afterward my uncle taught us all how to play Euchre, which I haven’t played since I was about 7. We finally got the hang of it I think. We dealt the cards out for poker, but never got around to it, since we were all too busy eating. Then we went up to the play station once again, and once again I spent most of the evening unsuccessfully trying not to drive my car off a cliff. And like the previous night, I consistently came in last every time except for twice when I made it to second to last place.

Everybody cleared out about quarter after eleven with a box of leftovers to use as lunches the following week. Gotta love it.

Storing Yarn

Last spring I started what has become a very long project, making Clint Eastwood’s serape from Fist Full of Dollars (the greatest Western ever filmed). In order to stay with a fair amount of authenticity, I have been weaving it with yarn instead of just making a lookalike from some cheap cotton fabric. One thing that had never occurred to me was the danger the project would be in when I got busy and left it alone for several months.

I am well aware of the havoc that moths can wreak on sweaters, but I had never even thought about what they might do plain yarn itself. I was therefore quite dismayed when I picked the project back up this week and discovered a slew of moth larvae had infested one of my balls of yarn and munched holes all throughout it like a block of Swiss cheese. (I was fortunate enough to find that they had not yet begun to chew apart all the hard work I’d invested in the Serape itself.) I quickly realized something needed to be done.

While the little cedar blocks they make for sweaters are a good way to discourage moths, I decided to try something else that would allow me to kill two bird with one stone. Those little plastic zipper containers that sets of sheets come in are just perfect size for storing two or three balls of yarn. Their tight zipper closures keeps out the unwanted moths, and they provide a neat, convenient way to store yarn. Now on to finishing the serape!

Happy Celtic New Year

Ah, astrological Halloween, I love it. Today was the day the sun reached 15 degrees Scorpio, the day the ancient Celts used as Samhain, the Halloween precursor. And boy, the Celts sure knew what they were doing having Samhain as their new year festival. I agree with their way of thinking because it’s as much a new year for me as it was for the Celts (considering we both share the same farming calender, I suppose that makes sense).

Everything is finished for the year. I’m done with the market, I’m done with craft shows, the last harvests have been gotten in, and even work at my office job is slowing down. I guess these all bring mixed feelings. Since I’m burned out with exhaustion from the hustle and bustle of summer, the much needed winter rest is welcome, but I have to admit the extra summer money is nice to have. But either way, it’s now time to move on to a fresh year. It’s time for fall cleaning and cozy flannel sheets, time to remove the summer wind chimes from my woodland walking path, and time to tackle all the projects I’ve been putting off over the summer.

With my Celtic New Year fresh start, I’m going to concentrate more effort on web designing this year. I’ve dabbled in it a little bit with overhauling a large portion of a relative’s website, and earlier this year doing from scratch the website for the farm market which I rather like (http://canandaiguafarmersmarket.com/). The first site on my list for this winter, however, will be my own. The Woodland Elf site is looking fairly shabby, but considering that I originally slapped it together several years ago in about 10 minutes without a template and without having previously known a scrap of java script, I think its simple appearance is understandable.

I’ve been trying to get at it and spice it for the last two years, but there seems to have always been other more important things that kept pushing it further down my to-do list. This year, however, I’m bound and determined to take the time to fix it just how I want it. Especially since I’m doing so much more than just candles and soaps now, it’s definitely time for an update. I plan to start re-coding it tonight, but sadly enough I’m usually much better at doing other people’s sites than taking the time to do my own, so we’ll see how this turns out.

Coincidence

It’s interesting how coincidences happen sometimes. I was dropping off a wreath order at the The Dalai Java this morning (if you’re a coffee drinker it’s next to Byrne Dairy on Main Street in Canandaigua) and about 3 seconds after I walked in, someone who frequented the farm market this summer walked in behind me. He saw me and said I might just the person who could help him, asking if I could repair an item for him. Now that is what I call a happy coincidence; being in the right place at just the right time.

I also finished the St. Mary’s show this weekend. The turnout wasn’t as big as we’d been hoping, but this was only the first year, and next year they’re planning on more advertising. It was certainly a lot of fun though, going around and seeing all the things everyone else had made and talking with the other vendors. Turns out the woman sitting next to me was even related to someone my mother used to landscape for. Two coincidences in one day; what are the odds.

Craft Show This Weekend

Hey, this weekend I’ll be at St. Mary’s in Canandaigua doing a craft show both Saturday and Sunday. Stop by and check it out. I’m working on a bunch of new things that I don’t generally take to market, new wreaths, Christmas ornaments and the like. I’ll try to have the how-to’s for a few of the projects posted over the next couple of weeks, but for now it’s “balls to the wall” getting ready. I’m very excited about this weekend, but I gotta admit, I’m glad it’s the last one of the year. The exhaustion has finally hit. Celtic New Year is starting to look pretty good right now!!

Legend of the Seeker Pumpkin

When it comes to carving pumpkins, my brother, sister and I are maniacs. We spend the entire year collecting silhouettes that will make good new patterns, and carve dozens of the fruits come Halloween. This year was a little different, however. Due to time constraints we carved relatively few. I’ve only carved 5 pumpkins (a huge drop from the 200+ my siblings and I used to carve in a week), and only created one new pattern this year. Even so, I rather enjoyed the new pattern so I’d thought I’d share it.

Legend of the Seeker is the only television show I watch, but I’m basically obsessed with it, so I decided to do a Legend of the Seeker pumpkin. I took the poster silhouette of the confessor, the seeker, the mord sith, and the wizard all standing together and carved the space out around them to make a suitable pumpkin pattern. I thought it was appropriate considering I’m going as the confessor for Halloween. Here’s the finished product; I’m going as the one on the left.


Kahlan, Richard, Cara, & Zedd

This was the poster I used as the pattern; it’s one of the Save Our Seeker campaign posters (somebody please pick up this awesome show). I nixed the rest of the poster and just used the silhouettes of the main four characters as the pattern for the pumpkin. To carve it, just draw a circle around the people and carve out around the figures, leaving them standing in the pumpkin.

A Good Day

Today was definitely what I consider a good day in my world. It was my day off so I let myself sleep in, and when I woke up, it wasn’t even raining. That’s a welcome change, because the last several weeks it’s been nothing but gloom on my days off. The sun even came of the clouds for a minute or two.

So I got my entire field of pumpkins harvested. Usually I have my brother to help me, but he’s working the night shift now, so he sleeps in the daytime. This year I did all the planting, hoeing (till the rain stopped me), and harvesting myself. The perks of that, however, include getting first pick of the pumpkins. I chose three perfectly shaped ones to save for my Halloween carving.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were way more pumpkins in that tangled mess of weeds than I had expected. And as added bonus, there were a bunch of gourds I hadn’t even planned on because somebody (could’ve been me) mislabeled the jars when we were saving seeds last year. Ever notice how the stuff you don’t mean to plant always grows better than the stuff you do? Got some really cool ones cause they crossed with the pumpkins having grown in such close proximity.

After harvesting I got to spend the rest of the day cleaning my room (a long awaited project!) while listening to Guess Who records (yes vinyl) on the $5 record player my brother very kindly got for me a couple weeks ago at the Rushville community garage sale. One of the speakers doesn’t work and there’s a bit of a whining hum in the one that does, but hey, it’s a record player, enough said.

Ok, ok, so I’ll admit to be one of the typical kids who thinks that the scratching, hissing, crackling, and generally inferior quality of a record sounds warmer than digitalized media, but let’s face it, some artists really do sound better on vinyl. A prime example is The Animals. They already have that echo-ish sound we love and records just enhance it. It sounds like they’re in some deep, echoing chamber. (Oh wait, that was John Bonham in the stairwell during When the Levee Breaks)

Hmm…this post started out as farming, but what can I say, I’ve always been passionate about my music and sometimes things just head that direction. And when I say “my music” I of course mean the great music that would actually be considered parents’ music, but which I love just as much, if not more than they do (and in the case of Robert Johnson, that’d probably be considered my Grandparents or even Great-Grandparents music, but I love it anyway!)

The High Point of Autumn

I am truly a child of Autumn (never mind the fact that I was born in the spring). Autumn is really when I’m happiest. It seems like nothing can go wrong, and even when things do go wrong, it seems to be much easier to take when the lovely weather of the fall is there to smooth things over.

There’s always a high point to my Autumns. Naturally Halloween is my highest point, but there’s also a specific point about the nature of the season itself that I always hit at least once during the fall. Between my house and the barnyard there is a patch of trees that we call “The Fort” due to the fact that my siblings and I always played there. At the end of the the fort is one of my favorite ash trees (still the best climbing one around), which stands at a fork where the two paths that travel through the fort meet. The high point of the season is when those ash leaves turn that bright yellow, tinged by just a hint of peachy-green and fall to ground. They cover the forest floor right where the two paths of the fort meet and roll down the hill towards the cow water barrels.

There is something indescribably irresistible about running over the soft, dry dirt of the fort paths when those ash leaves are covering the ground just right. It happens every year. This year it was today. To make thing even more perfect, it was a warm day, perfect for barefoot ash leaf walking, with just the right amount of cool breeze. Talk about being one with nature; the high point of Autumn for sure. If there was one day I didn’t want to have to go to work at the indoor office, it was most definitely today. Oh well, gotta pay the bills somehow until I manage become totally self-sufficient. And hey, it’s quite possible that the high point will still be there tomorrow.

Ok, that’s enough of my seasonal sights ranting. The car’s all packed for market, it’s pushing 1:00 in the morning and I gotta get up at 6:00, so I think I’ll be heading to be bed now, as the full moon shines its bright silver rays through my open window. Man, I love this season.

Midnight Geek-Out

So last night at 1:30 in the morning, when everyone else is sleeping, I’m outside in the moonlight running around through the woods and the open meadows behind my house like some Medieval sorceress. I’m not in any form a werewolf (at least as far as I know), but there is something about the full moon that just makes me want to run outside under its light. Maybe it’s the bit of Celtic blood in me. So last night, after making sure no one was looking, I geeked up, put on my confessor’s dress and ran out into the night.

With the bright light of the full moon I could see for miles and running around with those long flowing sleeves, I hit that point where I didn’t have to just pretend I was in the Celtic sorcery days, I felt like I was actually there. And yes, I did have an excuse ready just in case anybody happened to catch me in the act of running around costumed up on a night other than Halloween; it was research for the fantasy story I’m writing. Sometimes you actually have to become your characters before you can write about them (and everybody need to geek-out once in a while!)

Overlock vs. Sewing Machine Thread

I do a lot of mending on my clothes, probably more than I should. I routinely keep mending clothes long after they’ve attained the status of rags. More than once my mother has said she will pay me to just buy a new shirt, but hey, you really can’t replace a favorite, so I keep on mending.

In my long mending history I have used all kinds of threads and found that some work better than others. Waxed quilting thread (aside from being the greatest innovation in quilting since the needle!) is actually quite useful for mending as it never twists up like unwaxed thread. It can be a little stiff to work with when trying to mend holes, however, so it’s best used on bigger rips.

Recently I stumbled onto the wonderful world of overlock thread. What really caught my attention was the fact that a spool of overlock thread cost the same as a spool of regular thread, yet was about 3 times as big as a spool of regular thread. I took one home and decided to try it.

I quickly realized that overlock thread is definitely thinner than all-purpose thread, so using it on a sewing machine would be out of the question (not to mention the fact that it would be very difficult to fit the huge spool on the machine spikes). Mending, however, is a different story.

Whereas a sewing machine only sews single threaded (at least in the case of the bobbin), when I’m mending, I always bend the thread in the middle and sew with the two layers. Therefore the thinner overlock thread is plenty thick enough when doubled up. In short, if you mend by hand and use the double thickness method, you can get three times the thread for your mending buck by using overlock thread. Just don’t use it on a regular sewing machine, or you may find your project literally “bursting at the seams.”

City Dog Visits the Farm

My sister has friends visiting this weekend for Labor Day, and they brought their dog with them. Being from an area far less rural, this was Nalah’s (the dog’s) first trip to a farm and I think she thoroughly enjoyed it. The first thing she did was discover the wonderful joys of fresh manure. Having never experienced it before, she spent about ten minutes just rolling and thrashing about like a beached fish, coating herself in as much manure as she possibly could.

This was also her first encounter with cows, sheep, and horses. She was rather frightened by the large animals at first, but her fear soon turned to curiosity. She ran stood at the fence barking, but decided it was close enough, so she slipped inside. That was where she met the charming, wooly monster Ziah (aka Bully the Sheep). Ziah is not one to suffer intruders so he started chasing Nalah around the pasture as fast as he possibly could, running with two feet at a time.

Nalah quickly ducked back out through the fence, but decided she was having a good time annoying this strange white creature. She continued to bark at the sheep, sticking her head in through the fence every few minutes tempting the sheep to come and get her. Ziah accepted the invitation continuously ramming himself into the fence just as Nalah pulled her head to safety. The two of them must have spent a half hour bantering back and forth.

After finally getting board with that, Nalah spent the remainder of her time running circles around the huge garden, rolling in the grass, and enjoying the novelty of drinking water out a stream. She is still afraid of the cow, however.
Copyright © Amber Reifsteck ~ The Woodland Elf

Today I have officially given up on my pumpkin patch. It’s not that I’ve given up on the pumpkins themselves, they’re still there, it’s just that I’ve given up on trying to rescue the patch from the weeds. When I first started it, I had the thing clean as whistle, all the weeds hoed out properly, it was great. But you know, the best laid plans of men and mice and all that…fast-forward two months later and the patch now looks more like a jungleland interior than a viable crop. I suppose it might have had something to do with the fact that work got busy which left me with only two days of being at home.

For a while I squeaked along with that, but then the rain started and for some reason, the rain always seemed to fall on my two days off. So a couple weeks of rain and no hoeing and suddenly the patch is drowning. I went up there today to try and uncovered the buried treasure that was once my pumpkin patch, but found it too depressing. I knew I was never gonna get the patch back in shape in one day, the mosquitoes were driving me insane, and I had several orders to fill this week. Plus I rationalized that the pumpkins have already formed on the vines. If they can’t make it on their own now, no amount of hoeing is going to save them. So I gave up. I’ll still have plenty of pumpkins come fall, I’ll just be picking them out of the weeds. On the bright side, the pumpkins themselves look really nice this year. Planted them in the prized manure patch; always produces a good squash crop.

A Country Day Walk

My boss is away for the weekend which leaves me in charge of all the phone calls and emails. I do tend to have what is a borderline phobia of telephones (if anyone happens to know if they have for name this, let me know); there is just something that makes me very, very nervous when I’m talking on them. Talking on them for too long actually stresses me out; it fries my nerves and leaves me exhausted, probably from having to work up the huge amount of energy it takes for me to make a call. On top of that, I have several craft orders for this coming weekend. As Sunday and Thursday are my only days off from work or market, I generally try to do most of my craft order work on those to two days. To put it simply, the phones were draining all my energy and I had a lot of work to do today, and only a short time to do it, and I was also sleep deprived from the market yesterday. Put it all together and it’s the perfect lethal headache combination.

Feeling a headache coming on, I knew I had to take a break no matter what was on my to-do list, so I grabbed my apple basket and set out across the field for Gramma’s house (she lives on the farm next door to ourselves). It’s always very quiet there, especially when it’s calm and sunny as it was today, and it’s a great way to relax my aching head. Gramma has one of the best apple trees around (actually she used to have the absolute best, but the rabbits killed the tree a few years ago, much to my dismay) and they are perfect size for feeding our cows medicine so I headed for the tree to gather some “cow apples.”

On my way, I passed by the grapes and sampled a few. Still a bit tart, but just beginning to hint at the sweet Concord goodness yet to come. About another week and they will be ready. I also passed by the best pear tree in the county (Gramma ended up with all the best fruit trees), which unfortunately has not been producing any fruit this year. But low and behold as I walked beneath the revered tree, there on one of the lowest branches was a single, juicy ripe, still firm pear, just starting to show pink on one side. It was perfect, so I took the pear picker (a long stick with a basket on it) and plucked it from the tree. My mouth watered just at the sight of it, but rather than eat it, I stuck it in my basket to save as a present for my brother, knowing that as much as I like pears, he likes them even more. Then I continued on to the apple tree.

After filling my basket and my belly with the little red beauties, I decided to take the long way home to ensure that my head received ample rest. Instead of going back down the driveway, I cut across the yard strolling beneath the English walnut trees that the squirrels have already fully ravaged in preparation for winter. I walked past the old well where the garter snakes lay absorbing the sun. I gently tiptoed through the pines by the second grape patch whose wine-making fruits were still green. And I crossed the second driveway to the grove by the pond where the corkscrew willow stood with all its gnarly branches.

A bit further in the woods, I found leaning against a tree, a pile of sticks that Poppy (my grandfather) had stored there at some point, for reasons unknown. Most of them seemed to be swirly branches that had fallen from the corkscrew willow at some point. I gathered an appropriately sized one to use as walking stick and made my way to the pond.

The bullfrogs all dove into the water as I wound around the pond, looking like dominoes as they successively jumped away one by one. From the dock I stared across the water watching the dragonflies dart in and out of the cattails and the damselflies, their thin blue bodies looking like magic wands, hovering over the smooth glass-like surface of the pond. It was so serene I almost felt as though I could walk on water, though I decided against testing the theory due to my reluctance to get wet in the likelyhood of failure.

I sat at the edge of the dock, dipping my toes in the water and suddenly a dragonfly landed on the boards beside me in what was a candidly magically moment. I love dragonflies, so I always get a thrill when they fly anywhere near me. After a moment, it ascended in the air, and I decided to was time to leave. I walked back across the field to return to my work, though not before sampling another half sour grape. My headache was gone and I felt re-energized by my little nature excursion. Not bad for a 30 minute walk. Who says relaxation can’t be brief to be effective?

A Trip Through Time: The Sterling Renaissance Festival

A few relatives and I attended the Sterling Renaissance Festival this month. We generally try to go every couple of years and it’s usually the highlight of our summer when we do. Attending the festival is like taking a trip through time. For starters it is basically out in the middle of nowhere, so by the time you get there, you’re starting to wonder just how lost you’ve become, and then all of a sudden there it is. You pass through the castle gateway to enter are immediately transport to Warwickshire in the 1500’s.

The streets are lined with quaint little huts and more than half of the attendees are dressed in Renaissance garb. Attending in costume always makes it more fun as you truly do feel like you’re in the Renaissance world, and when you’re in costume the actors will often include you in their comic improvisation (as they did the year my two siblings and I attended as the Three Musketeers and one of the actors referred to us as Athos, Porthos, and Lesbos!)

There is what I will call an actual Renaissance cult, or “true rennies” as they often call themselves who do not simply attend Renaissance Festivals, they live for them. They study the era, are adamant about historical accuracy in speech, bring the festival fun home with them (even my siblings and I have turned to jousting on bicycles at home) and never attend a festival without being properly costumed. It is not necessary to be part of the Renaissance cult to enjoy the festival, however, and there are countless normal people every weekend who enjoy the fest almost as much as the cult rennies.

Perhaps the reason the festivals appeal to such a wide range of people is due to the very fact that they are not entirely historically accurate. (Let’s face it, the real Renaissance Europe was not exactly fun and games.) Renaissance Festivals tend to bring out the best of the romanticized Renaissance era that we have come to know and love through novels such as The Three Musketeers or films like Everafter and Knight’s Tale (which of course are favorites among the Renaissance cult). They combine all the most enjoyable elements from the medieval and renaissance times.

The Sterling Renaissance Festival has a different theme each weekend. The weekend we went was Fantasy Costume weekend, which meant that all the geeks (myself included) were out and about dressed as their favorite fantasy characters. I went as Kahlan Amnell, the mother confessor from Legend of the Seeker, wearing a gown I managed to make for $5 from a tablecloth I’d purchased in a secondhand store. But by far my favorite costume of the day was the guy dressed as Mr. Tumnus from the Chronicles of Narnia. He had the furry faun legs, the horns, and a set of hooves; it was very cool. (My camera unfortunately died, so I didn’t get a picture.)

The Sterling fest has fun for the entire family. The musical entertainers of the realm are always spectacular with the Empty Hats topping the list of favorites. There are musicians around every corner at the Faire, and they are all greatly talented, but there is still only one Empty Hats. They have a large following at renaissance festivals and their lively music and clever lyrics are enjoyed by all. Their song “Black Velvet Band” always gets the crowd singing along. Sharing the stages with the musicians are a variety of talent acts from Daniel Duke of Danger and his mixture of comedy and balance to Johnny Fox an authentic sword swallower.

There are dozens of shows going on from the always amusing trial and dunk, to the washer women, to the men of mud pits (who kind of look like the Geico cavemen by the end of the show). Just beware, they ask for hugs after the show. There is even usually a Shakespeare play going on at one of the stages for the so inclined, though somehow, I still seem to miss A Midsummer Night’s Dream every time. Plenty of good food (don’t miss the fried dough and apple dumplings for dessert) and a host of actors wandering around the grounds gives it all that Renaissance feel, though I do have admit that I found the Medieval clown with butterfly wings just a little bit creepy.

If the shows are a bit grown up for the younger festival attendees, they will certainly enjoy the rides and games. Some of them such as the throwing stars and axes will win them prizes if they hit their mark. Others such as archery allow a person a great opportunity to poke fun at themselves. I was so bad at shooting arrows, the man in charge of the area jokingly told me I had to come back when the festival closed and gather all the ones I’d shot over the roof! There is also a grove of fortunetellers ranging from tarot carders to palm readers for those curious about what the future might hold.

Lining all the streets are numerous artisans, many of whom are performing live demonstrations of their crafts. They are dressed in period costumes and only too happy answer any questions, in a Renaissance English accent of course. It’s hard to give them all a thorough visit in one day, so I usually pop in and out of most them choosing 6 or 7 to really take my time in. This year those included the herb shop, the glass maker (who was giving a demonstration of how he delicately made very neat glass dragons), all of the costume vendors (I’m a total sucker period costumes), a talented fairy artist named Renae Taylor, a swordmaker, the tapestry weavers, and the leather carver, but there were ever so many more I would have camped out in as well had there been more time!

Of course the biggest draw of the Renaissance Festival is the armored joust which occurs twice a day. It takes place on the Field of Honor and often times the royal procession, led by Queen Elizabeth herself, comes to watch the knights compete. The joust is very much a performance with comical dialogue and fighting sequences. It involves both sword fighting and jousting with lances. The large draft horses they ride, though being rather historically inaccurate, are very impressive in looks for entertainment purposes. One of my neighbors who is an avid horseman had the opportunity to joust as one of the knights many years ago. He told us an amusing story about how he wanted to actually joust with the other knights, but they did not have the courage to challenge him in unscripted joust.

Before the joust, the knights vie for the crowd’s attention. The side of the field my relatives and I were on loudly cheered for Sir William while the opposite side of the field gave their support to Sir Oren. Sir Oren also made an attempt to gain our side of the field by singing lyrics to “Why can’t we be friends,” but his efforts were futile as our half of the field continued to root for Sir William who ended up as champion of the tournament. (It makes me wonder if they change the winner every performance or if it is the same script all season) It is highly entertaining and not a performance to be missed.

All in all the Renaissance Festival makes for a fun annual outing and is well worth the hour and a half drive we have to take to get there.


The Empty Hats tearing up the Shire.


Sir Orin and Sir William charge each other with lances.


Johnny Fox swallows a sword: Don’t try this at home kids.

Autumn

Ah, a sure sign of late summer, I awoke this morning to the heavenly aroma of mom’s tomato sauce cooking on the stove. No other scent in the world can compare (except maybe that of frying bacon). Smells like autumn is on it way!

“Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.” – George Eliot

Experimenting with Blueberry Muffins

As the self proclaimed world’s worst cook, I’m generally hesitant to try anything new when it comes to matters of the kitchen. My unfortunate cousin can attest to my experiments with toasted cheese as I gave him the options between extra crispy and char broiled. However, when I saw the blueberry pints being brought out across from me at the market, I caved in.

I rather have a weakness for blueberry muffins so I decided to try and learn to cook them without killing myself or anyone else in my path. Well, in this particular attempt at creating somewhat edible culinary delights, I succeeded. They really weren’t bad considering the recipe I pulled off the internet had about thousand ingredients. Now, however, having made them once, I shall attempt to drastically alter the recipe to make it a bit more to my liking (which translates as simpler). If this works, I will post the recipe, if not, I will bury any evidence that I ever tried to make my own recipe…

Flock of Starlings

Ok, it’s been a while. After the holidays I tend to go into hibernation mode and do all the cleaning and items on my to-do list that get neglected during the busier summer months, so I basically fall off the face of the planet for a few weeks. I still managed to take a few pictures during my posting absence, however, including this shot of a flock of starlings, which I’m calling “Winter’s Flock”

Turkey Feathers

Coincidences have an odd way of occurring sometimes. My cousin had a baby at the end of last week and it’s tradition that I usually make a dream catcher when a new baby is born. As I missed the last two additions to the family, I thought I’d make dream catchers for them as well. So I was planning three dream catchers this week. The only problem was, my supply of nice feathers has dwindled to almost nothing, as I haven’t yet taken my autumn forest walk to collect more.

Well, as coincidence would have it, I hit a turkey on the way home from work this evening. (Of course, of all days, I had to hit it the one time I borrowed my sister’s car. Luckily, she’s currently visiting England, so there’s not much she can do about it right now.) So, having never done a wild turkey before, the first thing I did was call my grandmother who gave me all the information I needed. After dunking it in boiling water, the feathers came out fine. Then, despite the fact that the meat was a bit bruised from the accident, Gramma gave my brother and I a lesson on how to clean a turkey. It’s sort of like gutting a deer, only in smaller form. So we’ll find out tomorrow if the turkey is still good for eating, but in any event, there are plenty of beautiful feathers for dream catchers.

I’m just glad the poor turkey isn’t going to waste.

Randomness…

According to Greek mythology, the winter months were created when Persephone, the daughter of the harvest Goddess, was taken into the earth by Hades. Eventually, Persephone was returned to her mother, but only on the condition that she split her time between the world above and the world below. She was to spend six months above earth with her mother, and six months below earth with Hades. The Greeks believed that during those six months, the harvest Goddess, Demeter, was sad at her daughter’s absence and thus everything went into hibernation, bringing us the winter months.

Personally, I think the winter months were created to prevent people from killing themselves, or least going insane as they tried to multitask. The summer months seem made specifically for the sole purpose of multitasking around here. As I sit here typing this at 2:00 in the morning (when I would probably be better off in bed, but unfortunately am a bit of an insomniac), I’m recounting the set of multitasking I just completed and thanking the universe that there do exist winter months.

My other desk job is as busy as the farm this time of the year, so I’m spending a fair bit of time there as well. Then once I’m back home, it’s chore time, followed by flower cutting. I was lucky enough to get out of the fields before the bats came out tonight. I don’t really have a problem with bats, but I don’t particularly like being hit by them either. Once the flowers were picked, the real multitasking began. As I sat there stripping flowers, I also had a set of pictures printing, a batch of soap cooking on one burner and a pot of candle wax on another. The result was an odd mix of cinnamon and eucalyptus scents filling the air. A rather interesting smell to say the least.

Flower Stripping

And so it begins. Last night was the first big sunflower picking of the year. Our living room was bedecked in funeral parlor style as piles of flowers covered every available space. Of course we can’t just bunch them into bouquets, we have to strip off all the leaves first. That’s the part where a nice long movie like Lord of the Rings or Ben-hur comes in handy. If you can watch a movie, it kind of breaks up the monotony of pulling leaves off the stems one by one. We were up until 2:00 in the morning stripping leaves last night, but looks like we’ll have plenty of bouquets to put on the stand this week.

This year the flowers are at optimum picking height; about waist high. Some years they end up six feet tall with stems like tree trunks. We fondly (or perhaps rather unfondly) refer to those patches as Mirkwood. Even worse, however, are the very dry years when we end up with dwarfed flowers. It’s never fun picking flowers less than knee high!

Per usual, even though we staggered the plantings by several weeks, there appear to be four patches all coming on at the same time. I guess that’s to be expected, they generally do that every year. The weather is usually the cause. All rain one minute and all sun the next tends to stunt one patch and start another off like a rocket. Oh well, there’s not much prettier than a patch of sunflowers all blooming at once, even if it does make for a large flush of flowers at one time.

While I was out amidst the yellow heads unfurling their golden petals to the sky, I couldn’t resist popping off a few heads for my pan of silica crystal. Sunflowers keep their color when dried and their chunky bodies make them loads of fun to work with on wreaths. And unlike the fresh flowers, dried heads don’t make you all sticky!
Copyright © Amber Reifsteck ~ The Woodland Elf

A Country Farm

A country farm is without question the greatest place in the world for a crafter to live. Perhaps being a country girl myself makes me a bit biased, but for the crafter, there does seem to be a certain advantage to living in the backwoods of the world. What we can’t grow ourselves, we can find readily available in nature or at the very least, buried somewhere in the deep recesses of the barn.

Using these resources, the country crafter can make practically anything from baskets and fabric dyes to knitting needles and musical instruments. (Yes, even a guitar can be made by a desperate 16-year-old with some abatibi board and a lot of duct tape.) The best thing about crafting for a hobby is that it’s always there waiting. A person can begin a project, leave it for weeks or months, and then suddenly re-immerse themselves in the project once more. The craft project is always ready to be called upon, when the time is right.

On the subject of time and crafts, I’ve finally gotten around to fixing this websight. I’ve been meaning to do so for quite sometime, but haven’t had the chance. Life happens after all. I know the same five crafting how-to’s have been there for weeks, so my hope now is to try and make time to post a new one every Friday. But as the saying goes, the best laid plans of men and mice go shortly awry; we’ll see what happens.

~The Woodland Elf
Copyright © Amber Reifsteck ~ The Woodland Elf