Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Memories and Decorations

A wreath's welcome on our front door, I usually make one or two in early December from cedar boughs.  I like all different types of wreaths and have made them from our Douglas and Noble fir trees too.  My favorite wreath though is just a simple fresh cedar one with a red ribbon. 

Santa Clause asleep by the fire with a fluffy cat on his lap, and a cup of steaming hot chocolate on a table beside him..  This is a picture we bring out of our treasure trove of Christmas memories, and every year we hang him up and look at him all cozy by the fire.  I've sat with my own cup of hot tea on many winter's eve and studied all the little details of this picture.

In my early 20's, during the years of pregnancy and nursing of my 2 oldest daughter's, I spent about 4 years learning to quilt.  My sister and I both took classes and bought books, fabric, and sewing machines.  I made 2 Christmas wall quilts that I bring out every year.  They aren't just specifically for Christmas, it's just become ritual that I bring them out and hang them up over the winter and then put them away until the following year. 
I remember 20 years ago making this quilt sampler in a class that I took.   My sister Joy and I took the class together and we learned all about the different techniques of quilting, including applique.  You would never know how much work goes into a quilt unless you've actually worked on one before.  These quilts have thousands of tiny little stitches in different patterns on each one, you can't tell by the picture or see all those stitches.  As I walk by going down my staircase, I touch them and remember all the different places that I sat and worked with a needle and thread, and by hand pieced them all together. 

The quilt below is one I made just because I love the red and white star motif.  I spent many happy days sewing and lovingly worked on all the many tiny stitches.  These quilts are labors of love and someday will get passed down to my children.  I haven't quilted since my son was born, once I had my third child and the girls began to grow my time got wonderfully consumed with raising children.  There is a season for everything and I may still get back into making some quilted projects.  The last quilt I was working on was for my son Jason when he was a baby, I still need to put the binding on it and will probably now present it to him when he has a child someday. 

The Christmas mouse was sewn and pieced together during my quilting and sewing years. 
We bring him out every year, his whiskers are gone, I need to patch a few places,
but he is part of our ritual too and one of our  home-made treasures.

Hand-made ornaments by my children are special, here's Jason in 2rd grade.

Heather's hand print ornament made in 3rd grade

I didn't make this Santa quilt, but I love it, many years ago I bought this quilt when my children were very young, it always hangs on the wall right by the Christmas tree. 

Another picture that we pull out to hang over the winter months. 
Kids, horses, geese and a dog all playing in the snow... how fun!

May the child-like magic of Christmas stay alive in us all, Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Beeswax Candles

Making tall, tapered, beeswax candles is easy once you have the necessary supplies, and ahhh.. the sweet, delicious, smell wafting throughout the house while you're making them is truly one of the benefits.  I've been wanting to use the wax and supplies that I've had on hand for a long time, and finally my daughter came over this week and we had fun making candles for Christmas gifts.  

I bought wax several years ago from some friends who keep bees in Eastern WA, they sell it by the pound.  When I got home, it was put away in a box, and you know, out of sight, out of mind.  Later I bought a tall metal wax melting pot and wicking from a local beekeeping supply company called Beez Neez.  I buy my beekeeping supplies through them also.  Jim sells wax, honey, pollen, and everything you need to keep bees along with plenty of good advice to keep them healthy in the Pacific Northwest.

The wax is broken up and placed in the large pot set in a water bath. I place my on our wood stove.  The water bath is so the wax doesn't scorch.  Once the wax is totally melted,  you're ready to start dipping. 
For the wicks I measured about 3 ft and tied a bolt at the bottom to keep the wick straight.  I only left the bolts on for 4 or 5 dips then I cut them off at the bottom.  The process of dipping is simple, you dip the wick to the bottom till you feel the bolt touch, pull out, I dip twice, then hang to dry, and on to the next one down the line and then redip repeatedly until you have them the thickness you like.  One note, you will want to have wax melting in another pan/water bath that is smaller, to melt wax for refilling the wax pot to keep it topped off, so the candles maintain their size correctly.  A couple more notes, the bottom's you'll see as you're nearing your last few dips, you want to square them off before you dip the last few times.  Also if they're looking a little crooked, you can roll them on a clean, flat surface to make nice and straight. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Champagne D' Argent

Hazel surprised us all over the Fall when she gave birth to four kits and won Mother-of-the-Year award for her care and nurture of them.  These were the chubbiest kits you've ever seen.  This is a picture of them at 8 weeks old with their mother Hazel. Champagne's d' Agents are an old breed of rabbit from France, they were originally called "French Silver's", there is record of them over 400 years ago.  The kit's are born all black and then gradually attain their full silver coat around 4 months old.  They are a medium sized rabbit and weigh between 9-12 lbs

 If you remember I had my frustrations with this doe not taking care of her litters.  I wasn't going to keep her, however after "The Talk" we had, she decided it was time to become a mother.  Taking time to seriously talk to my animals has brought about changes in them, and perhaps even more in me and the understanding I have for them.  I will hang onto a good animal and keep trying. 
So, I've decided to keep her and will look forward to some good litter's this next year. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Home-Made Soap

Have you ever thought about making soap?  I used to say "I'm going to learn to make soap someday," and finally I did.  I studied  it first, to see if it looked like something I could do, and everything I read made it sound like something a decent cook would know how to do.  The first step is to find a good book to show you the steps and give different recipes, the second is to gather the supplies and ingredients, the third is to measure the weights of each ingredient and bring it to the right temperature,  and the fourth is to follow the directions.   There are additional easy things like taking temps, adding essential oils and blending.
If you can cook and know how to follow directions... You could easily make soap!
I followed the steps I read about in a variety of soap making books, many borrowed from the library or bought second hand.  I wrote out a list of all the supplies I needed, it took some time to gather all those supplies and it took a small investment (like all my interests.)  I made soap, laundry detergent and a shampoo bar.  I made some mistakes along the way, especially in the beginning and I'm still learning now.  Making soap is fun and it's easy, and the end product is truly the best, you will love it, and so will all of your friends and family.  

A batch of lemon grass soap made with my daughter on Wednesday.  We are making soap for our own home use as well as for Christmas gifts this time of year.  If you want to make you own soap you will need to know where to buy your supplies from, look locally, search online.   In the Seattle area I buy my soap-making supplies through Zenith Supplies, this is a good place to buy from when just starting out making smaller batches of soap.  As I make more soap there's another store that sells in bulk at wholesale prices, I plan to check into their pricing and see how they compare.  For the average soap maker in the Seattle area looking for soap-making supplies Zenith is a great place to find it all, and they sell online too.

Here's the list of Soap Making Supplies I made up to check off as I found back when I started making soap a couple of years ago.  I wanted to buy inexpensive supplies just for soap making and nothing else.  Goodwill is where I found pots, pans, plastic pitchers, wooden spoons, and a hand-held blender.

Supplies you will need for soap making 
  • Digital Kitchen Scale (This is very important to your success in soap-making) I bought new through Zenith Supplies
  • Soap Pot ~ 8 ounces or larger stainless steel or unchipped enamel
  • 2 plastic pitchers with pouring spout for lye/ water solution.
  • A couple long handled wooden spoons
  • 2 Kitchen thermometers
  • Rubber gloves
  • Wooden or stainless steel ladle
  • A couple stainless steel pots, for melting fats and oils
  • Soap molds
  • Soap Making Lye
  • Palm Oil
  • Coconut Oil
  • Olive Oil
  • Essential Oils to scent your soap
  • A hand-held electric blender

When I started making soap this book proved the most valuable for me.  It's called Basic Soap Making, All the skills you need to get started.  There are lots of pictures that help show every step all the way through.  It shows  how to make wooden soap boxes, swirled soap, and liquid soaps.  Lot's of good stuff here in an easy to understand book on basic soap.

The recipe that I'm going to share today and the one I've used the most so far is a recipe from a pamphlet that Zenith gave me when I went in after my first batch disaster, the one I chronicled in the beginning of the soap chapter.  Then I made my second batch and succeeded with this recipe.  So that means it's easy and beginner proof.

You will also need something to pour your soap in to cure for 24 to 48 hours.  You can use a heavy duty cardboard box, as long as it will hold up to some heat.  Placing a parchment liner, shiny side toward the soap will help to remove the soap easily.  Measure and fold the paper, I show how I do this in an earlier post along with helpful pictures, clamp the paper on so it doesn't crumple when pouring into.


Basic Soap Recipe

24 oz olive oil
24 oz coconut oil
38 oz palm oil
12 oz lye
32 oz water
4 or more oz scent

1. While preheating your fats and oils start your lye solution.
2.  Weigh out your preheated fats and oils.
3.  Prepare your mold or molds (I do this before I start)
4.  When all ingredients are around 98 degrees add scent pour lye solution slowy into your oils and fats, stir constantly with a wooden spoon.  If you have an electric hand held blender, this is the time to use it, blend until the soap thickens and tracing occurs, then quickly pour into molds.
5.  Cover with a towel and keep undisturbed in a warm place for 24 hours.
6.  Remove from mold, cut and cure for 4 weeks.
An important note is to never add the lye to the water, but slowly pour the cold water over the  lye granules, while stirring continuously.  A chemical reaction occurs right away, gloves, a mask, goggles and a towel over the face are needed as the fumes are strong and can be overwhelming.  The temperature will immediately rise to around 160 degrees, then will need to cool down to 98 to 100 degrees, just like the fats and oils will.

Measuring the fats and oil is the next step, we are using Palm Oil, Coconut Oil, and Olive Oil.  Once measured pour them into a pan over low to medium heat.  Heat the solid oils of Palm and Coconut, once they are melted add the olive oil.  This melted oil mixture now needs to cool down to 98 to 100 degrees.  This is the trick in soap-making, timing the lye water solution and fat and oil mixture to coordinate their temperatures.
Once both the lye/ water solution and the oils both reach between 98 and 100 degrees this is the time to mix the two together.  If you're having a tough time coordinating the temperatures of the oils and lye solution
use a hot or cold water bath, this will really help.  When the temperature is reached in both, first pour the oils into the pan then slowly pour in the water lye solution slowly, mix with a wooden spoon. 

After the oil and lye/water mixture is mixed, I switch to a hand-held blender, one we found at Goodwill.  
This was a tip from Kathy Miller's soap-making website.  It is a real amazing time saver and works wonders at bringing the soap quickly to the trace stage, you also have to be really careful to keep it under the soap liquid and not splash, this is an exciting part, with the mixer rapidly blending, I only blend for around 4 to 5 seconds at a time so I don't burn out the engine of the hand blender.  I've read that can happen if you keep it running non-stop while you're blending.  I take a break and just use it to stir then blend some more until it reaches the trace stage.  My daughter already added the lemon grass essential oil and is now adding the yellow mica for a beautiful golden yellow color.

In the photo below the soap is just starting to trace,
we stop and pour it quickly into the mold.

The soap in the mold needs to have a piece of parchment paper cut to fit the top and a towel laid over it to help keep the heat in, set in a warm spot for 24 hours.

It was nice to have Tessa and Kaley help out with holding baby Roman while my oldest daughter Christina and I made our batch of lemon grass soap.  Pictured below is Kaley snuggling him in a comfy chair by the woodstove.

We worked at making soap on Wednesday and on Thursday we removed the soap from the mold, we cut it by hand,  and will let it cure, this batch made 21 bars of wonderful soap.  In soap-making you can use any variety of essential oil and create different types of soap.  You can also use any oil or mixture of oils, lanolin, shea butter, cocoa butter, palm kernal, animal fat, and even vegetable shortening.  In mixing my own recipes I go to soap calc and formulate the correct measurements and lye/water solution. Soap Calc is one of the best things I've ever found to help soap-makers, it is simple to use and once you try it you will be set free to create any combination of soap that suites you and your skin. 

Once you walk through the soap-making door the possibilities are endless. I'm continuing to make batches of soap throughout the week, and next week my daughter and I will be making labels for our soap, along with making tall tapered beeswax candles.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Silver Hair

It's kind of a play on light, but when I saw this picture of me, I said "Yikes, I'm really going gray".  Then as I looked at it I said, well, it looks more silver, maybe even platinum.  We can make it sound better by changing the word from gray to silver.   Then it dawned on me, I am a Grandma and middle aged, and I love this part of my life.  Just look at my first Grandchild, he is so sweet and precious and I just melt inside every time I hold him.  In this picture a week ago I was changing his diaper and clothes and picked him up to cuddle, my daughter had her camera and snapped a picture of us.

Of course I am the typical gushing Grandma, so full of happiness at how rich and full my life has become because of little Roman.  I want to see him regularly, at least every week, he's growing up so fast.  I had to create a reason for my daughter Christina to come over with him regularly or I seem to go through Grandma withdrawals.  I began to think and talk it over with her, and said, "We need to plan one day per week to get together at least".   She agreed to every Wednesday and we are planning to do a homestead craft on that day.  This week we are going to make goat's milk soap, next Wednesday we are making candles, then we'll take a break for the holiday's and resume in January.  She wants to learn cheese making, bread making, pies, we want to paint, and do whatever we can think of.  I'm so excited because my daughter truly wants to learn from me, and the added bonus for you reader's on this blog is that I will photograph what we're learning and doing and write about it.  You will get to meet her and she may even write a few posts.  The best part is that I know every week I'll get to see my grandson and daughter!

Back to the silver hair, I decided over the summer not to put any more hair color on my hair, I used to do it myself with a wash out hair color called Natural Instincts, it costs about $8 and washes out every couple months.  I put it on 4 or 5 times per year.  Then something interesting began to happen last Spring, I noticed that the top of my head would go numb when I went outside in the sun.  I'm outside a lot, so I began to wear a hat, it was bothering me that bad.  A hat is a good idea anyway at my age, simply to preserve the skin.  I really had to think about this whole hair color thing, because in my family history my Grandma died due to a brain tumor, she always dyed her hair dark brown.  I began to wonder, could it be the hair color making it go numb, and then I carefully noted it happened every time.  I'm not a vain person, but being a girl we all have a certain vanity and want to look our best. I really struggled with not doing it anymore, I had many discussions with my husband and children about it.  They love me and want me to be healthy and said don't do it anymore, so, I decided not to.  It's not that I will never do it again, I might, especially since I have a twin sister that still has dark hair.

Over the years I've always cut my own hair, in the front I do it myself and then will ask my husband or daughter to cut it across the back. I've also cut my children's and husband's hair because often times money has been tight.  I know that's not for everyone, it's simply what I do.  If you have blonde hair I've read the hair dye is not as bad for you as the brunette color.  I've also looked into natural hair dyes like henna, sage, and tea.  If anyone has a great tip on naturally dying hair I'd love to hear it.  For now I'm embracing my new look and feeling good about my decision. Onward with the changes of life!

Somewhere there is a scripture in the bible, I tried to find this morning, I think it's in Proverbs and it talks about silver hair being a crown of glory.  If you know where it is I'd love to print it out here.

Here's the scripture, shared from a reader named Olivia, Thank you Olivia I so much appreciate it.  It sure does make gray hair sound good what the bible has to say about it!  I will now walk with a knowing that my gray hair is a crown of glory gained through a righteous life!

Proverbs 16:31
Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.
Proverbs 16:30-32 (in Context) Proverbs 16 (Whole Chapter) Other Translations
Proverbs 20:29
The glory of youths is their strength, but the beauty of the aged is their gray hair.

 PS.  I'm planning to share some Christmas decorating and am hoping today I'll have enough light to take a few pictures, my flash doesn't work on my camera, so natural lighting is important for taking photo's. We put up our tree last Wednesday and I made a wreath for the front door and swags over the windows.  It feels good to walk around my house and feel the Christmas magic.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Goldens and Sierra ~ Work and Play

The Golden's and Sierra are constant companions for all of us, they add a richness to our life that is hard to describe.  A few days ago I went outside with my camera  to take some pictures of them at work and play.  They like to be right in the middle of whatever is going on, whether it's peeling a log with Dad, feeding the animals with me, or greeting the girls as they come home from school.  It's always fun to be around our Golden's, that's what they're all about... fun!
Wrestling together is a daily activity.

They like it when we take a break and sit down on the back deck, 
then it's time to get Dad and give him hugs and kisses. 

Sierra, our Great Pyrenees has a different nature than the Golden's, she likes to play and have fun too, but only when she wants to, more importantly she likes to guard and be on watch, that's her nature.  It's only been in the last few months that we've been able to let her loose to run the property, ever since we finished the perimeter fence we've slowly been giving her more freedom.  Great Pyrenees will wander if they're not fenced in as that's part of their nature, they want to check out the neighborhood and surrounding properties, they will traverse a large territory.  She now has 10 fully fenced acres to wander around, however, we've had to train her not to dig out once it was done.  We even had to hot wire the base of her 2 acre pasture that was built just for her, so she wouldn't dig out.  This is a beautiful breed of dog, but remember they need to have a large fenced property, and you have to devote lots of time to training them.  She spent much of her younger years on a leash being trained and keeping a close eye on, she went everywhere with my husband for 2 years, to work, on walks, tied on the porch, in her pasture, and now it's so nice to have her free and staying in the yard.    Everyone loves her, she has a sweet spirit and is truly beautiful.

Josie watching Dad work at peeling a log for his next project, a log entryway.   We don't normally use the trees on our property for clients projects, but this one was an exception.  Rarely do we take down our majestic trees even though we have plenty of them. If ever we do they're usually saved for building projects around home.  I counted the rings on this tree, 61 years old! 

Josie is my girl, both her and Summer are, they will go everywhere with me.  I have spent more time training the two of them, and my husband has spent more time training Sierra and Jesu.  They're all family dogs, but each has a master that they're bonded with.  I've worked with Josie since birth training her and I'm very happy with how she has turned out.  The puppies Jesu and Josie turned one in October, how fast they grow up.  

Below is smiley Jesu (pronounced Jess-oo) we also call him "Bubs", he is a lover and our only boy dog.  All the girls love him and so do we.  Our Golden's are fun loving and want to be with us no matter what we're doing.  This is a breed that is easy to train, wants to please you and be with you, their nature is sweet and wonderful, and they keep us smiling and laughing throughout the day.