Monday, November 30, 2009

Simple Advent

We went out and found a birch branch to drill four holes for our advent log and then stopped by a local farm to pick up four beeswax tapers. We lit the first candle on Sunday and will add an additional candle each Sunday until Christmas.

Yesterday we renovated the back portion of our barn to accommodate 19 chickens and one rooster that some friends needed to find a home for before they leave for four months. We have doubled our chickens and are hoping to hatch some chicks in the spring.

Warm wishes.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

An Old Fashioned Day

We have made it our yearly Christmas season tradition to visit the Old Stone House Holiday Open House. (At our house we were not so fortunate as to have our first significant snow - it was all rain. But because of the higher elevation, we were able to enjoy the beauty of the freshly fallen snow.)

The Old Stone House Museum is located in Brownington, Vermont, in a quiet and picturesque Northeast Kingdom village, the museum includes six buildings on fifty five acres. Seemingly untouched by time, this hillside town is centered around a monumental stone dormitory, called Athenian Hall, built in 1834-36 by the Rev. Alexander Twilight, the nation’s first African-American college graduate and state legislator.

"I like the way the Stone House still looms up on that hilltop, where the wind blows all the time. There it sits, unshaken and monolithic, as I write this sentence and as you read it, every bit as astonishing today as the day it was completed. What a tribute to the faith of its creator, the Reverend Alexander Twilight: scholar, husband, teacher, preacher, legislator, father-away-from-home to nearly 3,000 boys and girls, an African American and a Vermonter of great vision, whose remains today lie buried in the church-yard just up the maple-lined dirt road from his granite school, in what surely was, and still is, one of the last best places anywhere."
Howard Frank Mosher ~ Vermont Life Magazine ~ Autumn, 1996

At the Samuel Read House we had cider warmed over the open hearth fire ~

The children decorated cookies and made ornaments to hang on their tree ~

And listened to music ~

Friday, November 27, 2009

Busy Elves

Most of our family is busy today working on toys and homemade gifts to stock up for the busy month ahead of us.

Michael is busy making more pencil holders.

Abby is making baskets to hold our gnome knitting kits (coming soon!).

I have been going back and forth melting the organic beeswax on the woodstove and pouring into 1 ounce molds. The beeswax comes from the apiary just one mile down our road where Michael helps to maintain the hives.

Melting the beeswax (the color is because the pan doubles as my dye bath pan)

The finished beeswax blocks

We had a truly delightful Thanksgiving hosting friends and family, our greatest blessings!

Warm wishes for today!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

More Thanksgiving Preparations

Abby (our nine year old) makes this custard cornbread each Thanksgiving.

Custard Corn Bread

A slightly sweet custard layer forms on the top of this unusual cornbread as it bakes. It can be made in an 8 inch square or round pan or in individual ramekins.
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup buttermilk
3 T. sugar
3/4 c. cornmeal
1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. nutmeg
2 T. butter, melted
In a large bowl beat together the eggs with 1/2 cup milk and all of the buttermilk. Stir in the sugar, cornmeal, flour, soda, salt, nutmeg, and butter and mix until well blended. Pour the batter into well-greased pans and top with the remaining milk. Do not stir the milk into the batter. Bake at 325 degrees until the center appears set when shaken slightly. The top should be lightly browned. Let stand 15 minutes before serving warm.
This recipe is from one of my favorite books, Country Wisdom and Know-How, Everything You Need to Know to Live Off the Land by Storey Books.
We spent the day cleaning up the house before our 12 guests arrive tomorrow - that makes an even 20 of us. Last night I was reading Abby the chapter from Farmer Boy - Christmas. I had to laugh heartily as I read about how mother was loudly giving orders to each of the children before their guests were due to arrive - from helping with food preparations, cleaning, checking their hair, etc... Then as soon as their guests arrived she took off her apron and her sweet voice returned.
I need to practice that sweet voice even when we are busily preparing for company. Reading that passage helped me to remember today to stay pleasant but diligent.
Instead of a formal grace before the Thanksgiving meal, we all hold hands around the table and each person shares what they are grateful for. I know I have been abundantly blessed this past year so much so that it seems unreal at times. Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving Preparations

We are hosting most of my husband's family this year. Now that we have been blessed with more space, I am excited to be able to do this.

My husband, Michael, bartered a day helping a friend down the road process (kill, etc..) his organic turkeys in exchange for one. We only eat meat we raise ourselves or know the people that raised it, which is not very often.

The children and I are making centerpieces for the tables. We are using a piece of branch and Abby is hot gluing little cones around the edge and then a beeswax candle with go in the center of each and they will be placed on a square piece of fabric that I have seamed and that matches the fabric napkins I made.

My mother passed on a set of plates and a beautiful pottery gravy dish and saucer. It is so nice to be in our new home and creating traditions.

Warm wishes.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

"Let my life speak"

I was moved by this quote while reading an essay in a Quaker publication today. The most simple way to spread God's love is to let your life speak.- truly live it. Listen to that quiet voice within yourself. This will not always be easy because when we try to go our own way there will be a struggle, but when we go God's way, that struggle will cease.

We had a nice family weekend. Saturday my nine year old and I spent the day in town while we dropped the two oldest boys off for pizza and bowling with friends. Abby and I had a simple lunch at a church bazaar and found a booklet about basket making, a cowgirl hat for Sarah for Christmas, purchased yarn at the local yarn shop to knit my two oldest boys hats in their color requests.
Saturday night I snapped this photo - four of the children playing a card game by the woodstove.

Today after a crisp morning walk and Quaker meeting, we did some firewood work, chicken coop cleaning, baking, and while clearing a bank for our blueberry bushes Sarah found this little bird's nest.

Abe trying out his father's chainsaw work gear.

Warm wishes.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Basket Making

My nine year old daughter and I attended a two session basket making class at the library and after making one from the class, quickly ordered more supplies and have been enjoying this new found craft. Abby is truly enjoying herself and has made four baskets just this past week.
Our house is already filled with thrift store and yard sale baskets. However, there is just something so satisfying about now having handmade baskets in our home. Handmade is satisfying and fills your being with warmth. It is hard to explain but simply gazing at a handmade basket next to one that you know was made in China ... there is simply no comparison.

We plan to make them for Christmas gifts - some filled with hand crocheted cloths or hand knit toys. I am going to try making a shallow one - a bread basket and give it with a handmade bread basket quilt.

Now, basket making was not something I was planning on during this very busy holiday season, but it has truly been an activity that has become a joy to do alongside my daughter.
Warm wishes.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Make Your Own Beeswax Finish

I don't know what took us so long to do this... it is so easy and what wonderful results!

We are using it on our matching/memory game sets to seal the water-based ink it has been working wonderfully.

This polish is non-toxic and food grade quality which means you can use it to periodically seal all of your wooden spoons, bowls, or as a furniture polish.

Gather together 1 ounce of beeswax and cut into small pieces, 8 ounces of olive oil (about 1 cup) and essential oils if desired (lemon or lavender work well).

In a double boiler (we used a can in a pot of boiling water), add the beeswax pieces and melt. To this add the 4 ounces of olive oil and turn the heat to medium-low. Continue to heat until the wax and oil are blended. If desired add 2 - 4 drops of essential oil.

Pour into a clean jar and cap. We are lucky to have these beautiful hexagon shaped 13 oz honey jars from the honey we get from our neighbor beekeeper.

It is a wonderful activity to cut some clean rags into small squares and let your children help you polish your spoons, bowls, branch blocks, wooden toys and more.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Family Based Businesses

When we made the decision to work towards a family-centered homesteading lifestyle, our family did it without having money in the bank. However, we did have the advantage of not having much debt. We had paid off credit card debt and paid off our car payment and had begun to learn to live on a small income after my husband lost his high paying, salary position.

~ branches on our front porch, to be cut into toys and hangers

As a result, we did not have money to invest in our handcraft business and we certainly did not want to go into debt to build our business. We did not have a workshop, very few tools and no money to invest in advertising. We simply made-do and worked daily seeking local and online outlets to sell our natural toys.

~ my knitting projects on our phone/laptop counter in the kitchen, overlooking the living area

~even now while we just put a foundation in under our home, we still would like to frame in a workshop... here are some of the tools on our enclosed front porch

We have been blessed with a thriving, growing business. We will never have lots of money, but that is not our goal. Our goal is to live and work together, to work with environmentally friendly materials, and to provide quality, affordable toys that children will enjoy. In the process we have "branched" out to offer products for the home made of tree branches or knit with wool.

~ Abraham helping to fill a hand crocheted bag with branch building blocks

I want to share with you the story of another family that has similar goals. Suzy at Hip Mountain Mama is a sweet, talented woman with a beautiful family. You can read about her story here.

Warm wishes.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Simple Sunday

"Time is one of God's gifts which we easily take for granted, and in the use of which we are commonly prodigal. It is rich in opportunities, yet it is relentless in its record of our selection. According to the way we spend the minutes and hours we will find the Divine Spirit within us coming into possession or being crowded out of our lives."
~ Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, Religious Society of Friends, 1927

Thursday, November 12, 2009


I am thankful for neighbors. While we live four miles down a gravel road, it is wonderful to have good neighbors, neighbors that truly love and care for one another. No, we may not see each other daily or even weekly, but there is the feeling of comfort that we are there for one another.
Yesterday we had our 80 year old neighbor over for tea. It was fun to watch my daughters help in the simple preparations - making sure our living area was picked up, baking "jammies", and preparing the tea and table. Our guest of honor is a widow of many years and she lives by herself. Although she has chronic pain she remains one of the most joyful people I know. She loves our children although she has 23 great-grandchildren of her own. It is with much pleasure that our family gets to learn of what life was like growing up in the 30's and 40's in rural Vermont. She shared about how her father was in charge of disbursing clothes, food and sometimes money to the poor. Back then the towns administered to the needy. She shared how they often received clothing that wasn't even fit for those in need and how her mother made beautiful braided rugs from the excess material.

My nine year old daughter and eleven year old son ride their bicycles to her house and visit with her about once a week or so and upon their return home, I am often blessed with hearing another story about her life.

Here is the recipe for the Jammies:

1/2 Cup Oil

1/2 Cup Honey

1/2 teaspoon Vanilla

2 Cups Whole Wheat Flour

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon salt

Mix all ingredients together. Spoon the dough onto a cookie sheet by teaspoonfuls. Make a dent in the top of each ball with your thumb. Spoon in 1/2 teaspoon or so of jam. Bake for 12 - 15 minutes at 350 degrees.

So yummy!

Warm wishes. Tonya

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Two Needle Mitten Knitting Pattern

This pattern is modified a bit from a free pattern sheet I picked up at my local yarn shop. (by Red Heart yarns).

I have not become a multi - needle knitter yet, nor do I use circular needles yet. With constantly picking up and putting down my work with six children and various household tasks weaving their way throughout my day, I have simply preferred to stick with two needle patterns.

What I like about this pattern is that you don’t even have to worry about a left handed or right handed mitten!

Using worsted weight yarn and sizes 4 and 6 needles

These directions are for Toddler, Child, Women, Men

Mitten Cuff: With size 4 needles cast on 23 (27, 35, 41) stitches. Work in ribbing as follows: Row 1: K1, P1 Row 2: P1, K1
Repeat rows 1 and 2 for 2 ( 2 ½, 3, 3 ½ ) inches (or until desired length – I like to make the cuffs long for my children)

End on a Row 1. Change to size 6 needles and work in plain Stockinette stitch, beginning with K row for 2 (2, 4, 4) rows from end of rib, end in P row.

Shape Thumb Gusset: K 11 (13, 17, 20) stitches, place marker, K in front and back and front again of next stitch (3 stitches in 1 stitch), place marker, K 11 (13, 17, 20) stitches – there are now 3 stitches between markers.

Next row: Purl
Next row: K to marker, slip marker, K in front and back of next stitch, K to last stitch before next marker, K in front and back of next stitch, slip marker, K to end of row – 5 stitches between markers. Repeat last two rows until there are a total of 7 (9, 11, 13) stitches between markers – (29, 35, 45, 53) stitches.

Hand: Knit first 11 (13, 17, 20) stitches, place next 7 (9, 11, 13) stitches on a holder; turn and cast on one stitch, turn and knit across remaining stitches. (11, 13, 17, 20)

All sizes – Work even in Stockinette Stitch on 23 (27, 35, 41) stitches until mitten measures 5 ½ (6 ½, 9 ½, 10 ½ ) inches from the beginning or 1 ½ inches from desired length to tip of mitten.
Decrease Row 1: K3, K2together; repeat across – 16 (20, 28, 32) stitches
Purl 1 Row
Decrease Row 2: K2, K2together, repeat across – 12 (15, 21, 24) stitches
Purl 1 Row
Decrease Row 3: K1, K2together, repeat across – 8 (10, 14, 16) stitches
Purl 1 Row
Decrease Row 4: K2together across 4 (5, 7, 8) stitches
Cut yarn, leaving a long end; weave through remaining stitches, draw up tightly and sew seam

Knit across 7 (9, 11, 13) stitches on the stitch holder, increasing 1 stitch at each end of the row (9, 11, 13, 15) stitches. Work even until ¾ (1, 1 ¼, 1 ¾) inches from beginning of thumb.
Repeat decrease from row 3 above
Purl 1 row
Repeat decrease from row 4 above.
Cut yarn, leaving a long end; weave through remaining stitches and draw up tightly then sew thumb seam.

Warm wishes,

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Theater

Our oldest son, Thomas, has been involved with theater since he was 7 1/2 years old - it is truly his passion and his gift.

Now, his brothers and sister have followed in his footsteps, maybe not with the same intensity, but nonetheless, they enjoy acting and singing. They all have wonderful voices which they most certainly did not get from their parents.

Their latest production was with the Vermont Family Theater. They presented Oliver Twist over the weekend. We had two shows on Saturday and an afternoon show on Sunday. Needless to say, we are all taking it easy today from the long week of rehearsals and then the actual shows.

However, the experience and joy they receive from both the process and the actual performing, make it all worthwhile.

Here is Abby as an orphan and a pickpocket ~

Isaac as a pickpocket~

Thomas as Fagin~

Warm wishes, Tonya

Friday, November 6, 2009

Playdough and Multiplication

These chilly dark days of November prompted us to make up a new batch of playdough.

I like this recipe from Festivals Family and Food by Diana Carey and Judy Large - (cook in a heavy saucepan over medium heat and stir constantly until dough forms. It can be still slightly sticky to touch when done and then remove from pan and knead in just a touch of flour).

2 cups flour

1 cup salt

2 T. oil

2 t. cream of tartar

1 1/2 cup water

I then divided the dough into small balls and using a toothpick and cake decorating colors, "hid" some coloring in the center of the ball and gave them one at a time to each child to knead and find out what color surprise they had.

After the children kneaded their colors through, rolled, cut with cookie cutters, and sculpted, I showed them how to roll out the dough, cut out a square and then cut it up in lines to multiply. For example, ten lines horizontally and then 8 lines vertically would equal 80 little tiny squares.

I couldn't resist a little extra learning during their playtime.

Warm wishes. Tonya

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Beautiful Words

Just today…..

I let my eleven year old son know that lunch is ready and he replies, “I just have to finish crocheting to the end of the row. I can’t stop in the middle you know.”

Five year old Sarah drops a piece of cheese on the floor and says, “Oh dear.”. Seconds later, 21 month old Abraham says, “O Deee.”

I ask my fifteen year old son to bring Abraham outside while I clean for a few minutes and he replies, "Sure Mom, I am just going to finish up my math first."

My daughter runs to her coat and pulls out a little rock and says, “Here Mom. This is a love rock for you.”

Warm wishes. Tonya

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

What to do with some of that candy.....

My children requested toothpicks so they could create with all their sticky candy....

We also made some twig books from this tutuorial -

(Please be sure to visit GardenMama to enter a drawing being offered by Hip Mountain Mama)
Warm wishes. Tonya

Monday, November 2, 2009

Handwork Updates and Halloween Goodness

My girls made these little clothespin dolls - we used wool roving for the hair, acorn caps for hats, and scraps of fabric for the clothing.

I have been working on some products for our store.

Here is a toddler gnome and ball set~

And a hat and baby bootie set~

For Halloween my children all made their own costumes except for Sarah (age 5) - I made her an owl costume.

We have ( from right to left) Sarah as an owl, Abby as a cat, and Isaac as a trash can. Little Abraham was a flower (I found the costume at a thrift shop). Oh.... it was a windy, rainy Halloween night, but they braved the weather with my dear husband and managed to still come home with their bags much too full of candy.

Warm wishes. Tonya

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Simple Sunday

I just wanted to share the words to a song from a CD by Lori Coronato (Journey Home)

caught in words and caught in forms
the way things ought to be
judgments fly, I don't know why
Sometimes we disagree
quick to think I know the heart
so much that I can't see
pages I will never know
a silent history
help me love the way you love
help me see the way you do
clothe me with compassion
and fill me with your truth
a gentle word may turn the wrath
but I'm so quick to fight
I've got my reasons all lined up
I'm always justified
I've got my answers for the questions
I've made up my mind
so busy fixing others lives
can't see what's wrong with mine
when will I ever learn to be
a reflection of the love you've given me