Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Giveaway

Adrie, of the blog Fields and Fire, has generously offered a copy of her new book, The Salt, a collection of her poems, to one of you.

In addition to the book, the winner will receive one of our family's handmade birch tea light candle holders.

To enter, just leave a comment with an email address and I will be drawing names from a basket on Sunday, the 2nd.


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Reading and Knitting Today

As far as reading goes, I definitely prefer nonfiction to fiction and even when I really enjoy a nonfiction book, I seldom read it cover to cover (front to back) at least at first.  
Usually, I will first pick up the book, skim through, stopping to read something that might catch my eye and then read back through the book.  Depending on how interesting I find it, I do occasionally read every word from start to finish but more often than not I have a pile of books by my bed that I change out each night, or for a week or so before another topic draws me in.  Does anyone else read like this?

Lately, I have been especially interested in unschooling or interest-led learning and then how that might look as more of our children enter adulthood.

DIY U by Anya Kamenetz is one such book.  The subtitle is Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education.  There is quite a bit of history of higher education which I did skim through, but I am enjoying every word of the chapter, Independent Study.  

This is a great quote from this chapter by Henry David Thoreau -

"Students should not play life, or study it merely, while the community supports
them at this expensive game, but earnestly live it from beginning to
Which would have advanced most at the end of a month, -the boy who
had made his own jackknife from the ore which he had dug and smelted, reading as much
as would be necessary for this, - or the boy who had attended the lecture
on metallurgy at the Institute in the mean while, and had received a ... penknife from
his father?
Which would be more likely to cut his fingers?"

Much of this chapter focuses on how the internet has changed everything and how accessible knowledge is and that it is available through everyday people living what you want to learn about.  Collaboration is a huge aspect of real learning and the internet makes it possible, for example, to "talk" with someone anywhere in the world.

I am also reading Bill McKibben's,  Hope, Human and Wild .  I love that it is not a series of doom and gloom essays about the state of our earth, but instead offers positive solutions that are being put 
into place in various parts of the world.

As far as knitting, like my reading habits, there are many projects in the works. But one I am more focused on than the others is a gift for a new-to-be-born baby boy.  I am using the Two Needle Blocks Baby Booties and Hat pattern.  (Still avoiding double pointed needles as much as possible.)

Joining in today with Ginny and so many other inspiring knitters.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Not So Pretty Pictures

So things were pretty chaotic yesterday.  At one moment in time the following was going on:

Isaac was wiring trying to get our very old television (we use it to watch DVDs) hooked up to a digital converter box and all sorts of other paraphernalia to see if he could get something to come in.  All of the parts he brought home from recycling.  There were wires going from the TV up through the ceiling to the upstairs  out through the skylight to a wooden pole attached to our roof.  

Abraham was taking rubber mats brought home from recycling making a ramp on the couch.
Abby was up in her room watching a downloaded you tube craft video and creating something.
Nolan was replacing a hole between two closets upstairs and had plans to make a speaker from found materials.

Sarah had everything pulled out of the closet she and Abby share to re-organize.

Emmy had just taken out the watercolor paints and asked to paint.

My head was spinning and I definitely felt overwhelmed but at the same time each was engaged, doing a kind of meaningful work.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Natural Dyeing with Red Onion Skins

The other day when I was chopping up red onions for soup, I saved the skins and put them in a pot, covered them with water and heated them on the wood stove for a couple of hours and then strained the skins and kept the dye.

(This picture made the yarn look lighter than it is.)

In the meantime, I soaked a bit of wool yarn in an alum bath.

Next, the wool yarn was added to the dye bath in a pot and heated to very warm and let sit for several more hours.  Finally, the yarn was rinsed out.

I love the color that resulted - a rusty brown.

Using the red onion dyed yarn in the middle, some natural yarn next, and then finally some yarn I dyed with bracken last summer, I made a granny square.  Next I made a square the same size as the granny square, all in the single crochet stitch.  Finally, I attached the two squares using the red onion dyed yarn with the single crochet stitch around adding a loop for hanging.

I am excited to continue learning and experimenting with natural dyeing.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Finished the Crocheted Cardigan

Finished:  I am generally don't really like the look of crocheted clothing, but this pattern persuaded me to give it a try and it was very simple and the pattern was easy to follow.
It is the Fair Isle Style Kids Cardigan from this Etsy shop.

I used itchy wool that I had on hand for my first attempt.  It is a couple of sizes too big for Emmy but I think it will make a good play sweater.  I am planning to start another using some soft fingering weight wool that I bartered with a customer in a pretty pink which should result in a size to fit an infant.

Reading:  The Big-Little World of Doc Pritham by Dorothy Clarke Wilson - a nonfiction read about the life and times of an old Maine doctor.   Our little rural library has held on to many older books such as this one.

Listening:  Anne of Green Gables that I downloaded from Books Should Be Free .   On a morning such as this morning, at -23 degrees, we listened to a couple of chapters while sitting as close to the wood stove as possible.

Joining in with Ginny today.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

More Related to Nonconformity

This is a great video about unschooling - worth the watch.  It is long but excellent.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Martin Luther King, Jr and Nonconformity

Martin Luther King, Jr's writings and life are inspiring.

From his book, Strength to Love, I have quoted below a section from one sermon.

"Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind." - Romans 12:2

  "Do not conform is difficult advice in a generation when crowd pressures have unconsciously conditioned our minds and feet to move to the rhythmic drumbeat of the status quo.  Many voices and forces urge us to choose the path of least resistance, and bid us never to fight for an unpopular cause and never to be found in a pathetic minority of two or three.

    Even certain of our intellectual disciplines persuade us of the need to conform.  Some philosophical sociologists suggest that morality is merely group consensus and that the folkways are the right ways ways.  Some psychologists say that mental and emotional adjustment is the reward for thinking and acting like other people.

     Success, recognition, and conformity are the bywords of the modern world where everyone seems to crave the anesthetizing security of being identified with the majority.
     In spite of this prevailing tendency to conform, we as Christians have a mandate to be nonconformists.

     When an affluent society would coax us to believe that happiness consists in the size of our automobiles, the impressiveness of our houses, and the expensiveness of our clothes, Jesus reminds us, "A man's life conisteth not in the abundance of the things he possesseth."
     In spite of this imperative demand to live differently, we have cultivated a  mass mind and have moved from the extreme of rugged individualism to the even greater extreme of rugged collectivism.  We are not makers of history; we are made by history.  Longfellow said, "In this world a man must be anvil or hammer," meaning that he is either a molder of society or is molded by society.  Who doubts that today most men are anvils and are shaped by the patterns of the majority?  

      The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists, who are dedicated to justice, peace, and brotherhood.  The trailblazers in human, academic, scientific, and religious freedom have always been nonconformists.  ...... In his essay "Self-Reliance" Emerson wrote, "Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist."  The Apostle Paul reminds us that whoso would be a Christian must also be a nonconformist.  Any Christian who blindly accepts the opinions of the majority and in fear and timidity follows a path of expediency and social approval is a mental and spiritual slave."

Sunday, January 19, 2014


So the weather has been seasonably warm - in the low 30's and perfect for firewood gathering.  Mike has been cutting down some dead evergreens on our property so we can use it this season.  With all of the cold weather we just want to be sure we have enough.  
We have also learned that the soft woods - pines, hemlock, and poplar burn really well in our older inefficient woodstove.  Mike used to follow the conventional thought that hard wood was the best but now we are excited to learn that the soft woods actually burn hotter in our stove.

We had a full  house this week with Sam and Thomas staying during their last week of winter break.  Lots of meal cooking.   It was wonderful to have Thomas, our activity director here.  He gets everyone playing board games and card games.  I also enjoyed having Sam, she knits every minute she can  and she inspires me with her talent.  I have been doing a fair amount of knitting as well.

Mike and I have also been caring for Abraham and Emmy as they have a virus that won't quit.  Just when I think they are getting better, a fever will come back and knock them out.  

A friend dropped off old National Geographic magazines - so everyone has been sharing what they find interesting as they look through them.

Really, our life has been so home centered these last few weeks - would be considered boring by most.  But, I  am feeling content once again (have squelched the fears and wantings for now) in the daily tasks and rhythms that repeat themselves over and over again each day, week, and month.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Crocheting and Reading

I am using up some wool yarn I have had for years to try out a new crochet pattern.
I love it.  It is simple and quick.  I have the button row edge and the arms to finish.

Still really enjoying Crossing To Safety and am just about done.
Wondering if the other books by Wallace Stegner are just as good.

Joining in today with Ginny and so many others at the Yarn Along.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Our Experience with Etsy


I thought I would share a little more today about running an online business, specifically a shop at etsy.

Back just after etsy started in 2005, I opened a shop to sell my hand knit waldorf inspired toys.
This was a very part-time business for me, but slowly I started to see the potential and as Mike and I made steps towards a home based lifestyle, I asked him if he would consider making some toys of branches.  

Fast forward a couple of years and we are living in northern Vermont where local fairs yield very little attendance because of our small population.  We made some inquiries to the larger online natural toy shops and secured some wholesale customers and had our first request to make birch table number holders for a wedding.

From there, we opened a separate shop, Vermont Branch Company, and were simply blessed with the right timing for birch and rustic wedding and home decor.  Our toys continue to sell but to support our family, we really do rely on the wedding market. 

To date, we have spent next to nothing on advertising except for recently advertising at Small Things and some blog button exchanges.

Our family relies heavily on our Etsy sales  - Mike and I think too much now and have begun to brainstorm ways to incorporate a more holistic approach to income that can utilize our homestead more (food, flowers, herbs, goat milk, vacation stays, etc..)

Etsy has also started to allow sellers to sell manufactured goods as long as the seller is the designer (from what I understand).  I am very concerned about this and am keeping my eyes open for new options limited to only handmade one of a kind pieces.

But... for those starting out in the online world of sales, etsy is a wonderful place to begin. 
It is very user friendly and there is no cost to start a shop except .20 per item listing.
They do take 3.5% of sales and bill monthly, but I think that is reasonable.

To get sales, it is really important to have good tags (one or more word descriptions entered in the item listing) and also to list new items regularly - at least one new item each day even if you are just relisting something because I think that helps with the search engines.

Also, find a niche.  Make what you enjoy making, but find a way to make it unique.   Also, tell your story - the process of making, a bit about yourself, your family, your goals.  

Start a blog with regularly postings and add your shop to the side bar:)

I don't use facebook but some sellers do with much success.

Take great pictures and keep them simple.  Perhaps use a similar background for most of your pictures to provide a more uniform, polished look to your shop.

When you make a sale, package the item thoughtfully.  We used recycled tissue paper and fold the item in it neatly like a gift and then add a wool yarn tie and hand write a note on the back of a business card which goes under the yarn tie.   Often we include a little extra something such as a small birch hook.  We also still hand write the addresses on the packages as we don't feel the need to use a printer.   

I also think it helps to ship orders out  as soon as possible and to communicate well with customers.   Many of our sales are repeat customers.

It takes time and patience but as your sales increase, potential customers will feel more comfortable buying from an established shop.

I am sure some of you reading this have an etsy shop, please share your thoughts!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Living a Joy Filled Life

Part of my last posts about hopelessness that seems so prevalent in our society - has prompted me to offer some of the lessons I have learned along our family's journey.

I am not an expert in any one area but I have a passion for life - for living - and a joy that is always inside.

This is a gift that I have been given and I want to share it with others.  I truly believe that nearly anything is possible and that obstacles are meant to be overcome.

Please feel free to ask me questions in the comments and I will devote a post here and there to answer them.
I am sure there will be many I may not be able to answer, but if you want to know about living a less hurried, family-centered life where status and income are not priorities, or want to know about using your gifts to earn an income I would be happy to share my thoughts.


Saturday, January 11, 2014


I just want to apologize for my post yesterday (I took it down).  I really don't know enough about the issue of drug addiction, specifically heroin and other opiates that has reached epidemic rates in Vermont (#2 per capita)  and Maine (#1 per capita).   As some thoughtful readers shared that much of this is a result of addiction to prescription drugs that were initially prescribed by doctors.  I feel terribly for all that have had to and continue to go through this.  I do plan to write to our governor to point this out that while treatment facilities are good for right now, a better solution would seem to be to make addictive prescription drugs illegal like much of Europe has already done.  (Fighting the  pharmaceutical companies another huge issue..)

What I can do though, is raise our children to think outside the box, perhaps they won't just go along with conventional practices.  I hope that when the day comes and they have to go to an regular  doctor and he/she prescribes a medication that they will look up the pros, cons, side effects and make an informed decision before taking it.  So many of us in this country were raised with the attitude that "this is just the way it is".    The school system, the distractions of technology, the very low nutritional value of food, the lack of human interaction  - all contribute to this.  I think this country is doing a great job of raising up a whole population to not believe in themselves, to not utilize their gifts, and to just believe "this is the way it is".  Does anyone tell children today that they can do whatever they set their minds to?  

Well, I have always been one to question everything and pray that our children do the same.  It is ok to risk being misunderstood and to be considered strange over conformity just for the sake of conformity.

I am sorry that this isn't  a very joyful topic, but I do think if we fall prey to our culture's many forms and methods of numbing us down that it will be harder to experience a fulfilling life.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Knitting and Reading

I am really boring again - another Plain Vest - this time using size 10 needles and the newer colors from Peace Fleece to make stripes.

Next week I hope to share a new adorable pattern I am working on (hint - I saw it at Taryn's blog).

I am excited, though, to finally be able to share a really good novel, recommended by Ginny, Crossing to Safety.  Our little library had a copy and now I am wondering if I would also enjoy his other books.

Joining in at the Knit Along today.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Feeding Our Families

Happy to be joining in with other mamas to talk about food at the beginning of each month for 2014.

This is such a huge topic for me and one that has been a work in progress over the past 10 years.   I would have to say about  25 - 50% of my time each day is spent in some aspect of food - production, preparation, planning, consuming, and clean-up.  We have eating with us nearly full-time an 18 year old boy, 15 1/2 year old boy, and then 13, 9, almost 6, and 2 year olds as well as Mike and myself.  There are also times when Thomas is home from college and of course visitors.

I am sure I have shared much of this here before, but I grew up eating quite conventionally for the most part.  Although, before my parents were divorced, my Mom did bake bread and cook from scratch and grew a small garden.    After she became a single mom much of that was left behind because of her lack of time.  However,  I also had the wonderful experience as a young girl visiting my aunt and uncle who were definitely earthy crunchy types where I was introduced to all kinds of new foods.  In addition, my mother and father both did instill the importance of a  somewhat healthy eating lifestyle in me as far as keeping junk foods and sugars to a minimum.

When I went to college, I found myself drawn to the natural food store and cafe at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.  I certainly didn't fit in appearance wise with the crowd that hung out there, but I would still go several days a week, buy a cinnamon raisin bagel and chocolate covered raisins and sometimes sit and study a bit with a cup of coffee while absorbing the atmosphere and conversations of those around me. 

Years later, about 8 years into our marriage, realizing ever so slowly that the mainstream, status-seeking lifestyle wasn't what we wanted for our family, Mike and I started reading more and more about homesteading.  I had always had small gardens even at our first home (the seed was planted from my own childhood I am sure) but I wanted to learn more about eating healthy, doing more for ourselves, relying less on the conventional food systems and supporting local economies.   
Thus we made our move finally to Vermont in 2005.  Since then there have been many challenges which is certainly a normal part of life but through it all our resolve to put food as our number one priority has remained.  Truly, without our health, really what do we have?

So, despite earning very little often, food has remained our largest expense.  It is that important.  
This past year our business took over too much of our time.  We realize this looking back now and are working to change our priorities for 2014.  Because of this we saved very little food from the growing season and didn't always take the time to prepare as healthy meals as I would like.
I am going to start off this series by sharing what we purchased at least week's food shopping.  There is so much room for improvement.

At the Natural Food Store - 
local organic tofu (made in Vermont), salad greens, bakers yeast, herbal mouthwash (I have battled tooth decay for years now), organic strawberry jam, organic veggie bouillon, 4 organic pounds of pasta, a dark chocolate bar, organic corn chips, honey sesame sticks, organic raisins, organic wheat bulger, vanilla extract, 10 lbs local organic w.w. bread flour
At a small Grocery store - 
2 organic wines (Cottonwood Creek is $6.99 a bottle), 2 Parmesan cheeses, 2 large spaghetti sauce, 1 box powdered sugar, 10 pounds King Arthur Unbleached Flour, 2 boxes Cheerios, Graham crackers, toilet paper (marcal), dental floss, cream cheese, Stonyfield Organic yogurt , 2 pounds Monterey cheese
At Shaws - 
2 organic grape juice, organic salad dressing, 2 organic salsa, 2 bags fair trade organic coffee

Recently I called our nearby organic farm and asked them if I could buy $100 worth of potatoes, carrots and onions and was excited they still had enough available.  So those are our vegetable staples right now.  Our own winter squash never matured this year because of the wet July I think.  Even though we grew 150 onions, they were gone by mid November.  

All of our eggs do come from our hens.

Today we are going to buy some organic pasture raised stew beef from our neighbor as well as raw milk (which we buy milk at least a couple times a week) to make a beef stew tomorrow morning.  One of my favorites - 

Here is how I make it (approximately)
Beef Stew
Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to the bottom of a large soup pot (cast iron would be wonderful).    Let the oil get hot and add the beef pieces (about 1 1/2 pounds) to brown each side.  When it is just about done add a lot of chopped garlic.   Add 1 quart canned chopped tomatoes with the juices, salt and pepper, various seasonings to your taste, 1/2 cup red wine and reduce heat to simmer.  Cut up 4 onions but in large slices/chunks.  Add to pot.  Add potatoes (cut in large chunks) and carrots.  I just leave all of this to simmer on the woodstove all day.  Be sure to check often and add liquid if necessary.  I put the pot on a rack on the wood stove so it stays at a low temperature.

As this series progresses, I plan to share more of our goals for this year's growing season, how we are progressing (or not) with milking our own goats, and more meal plans and recipes.  

Joining in with Feeding Our Families ~

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Coming Out of the Deep Freeze

After a few days of really cold temperatures (it was -20 last night at 9:00), we are finally warming up to about 15 degrees today.  We can see out our windows again.   This is the first time since we have lived here (this is our 5th winter) that the windows have been completely iced over.  

We also brought the ducks down to the basement workshop for the night just to be sure they would make it.

We had a visit today from a friend that has moved away from the area - with his little girl.

If you read this blog regularly you may know that Abby is our baker.  I bought her this book for Christmas.  It profiles 17 women that are at least making a portion of their living from baking cakes and it includes many recipes.  Today she baked her second cake from the book.  

We are completely out of candles now after the holiday season and from losing power right before Christmas so I am taking the rest of this afternoon to finish candle dipping.

What are you up to on this winter weekend?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Knitting and Reading

With a virus going around, I am taking the opportunity to rest lots which means knitting lots.  I finished the Matinee Jacket from my favorite knitting book (which I have probably mentioned here far too many times), Vintage Knits for Modern Babies.  I used the heavy worsted weight Andes wool from Knit Picks and size 10 circular needles.  I cast on for the smallest size that the pattern gave (3 - 6 month) and it came up about a size 3/4.  It is too big for Emmy right now.

I am reading an older book, Kinds of Love by May Sarton, that I found in our little library.  Our library is kind of special because they have held on to a pretty good size collection of older books.  It is a novel set in a fictional small New Hampshire town and is about the people that make up that town and how one finds a sense of being.  

This year I have made a pledge to keep my new book buying to a minimum.  I am thinking of coming up with a book budget for our family.  Of course we always keep our eyes open at book sales, thrift shops and yard sales, but sometimes it is hard to be patient.

So, with wanting to keep our spending much less this year than last, I am going through all of the books we now own and weeding out what I don't think is worth keeping.  Through this process, I am finding lots of books that I would love to read again.  For the Family's Sake is one example.

Joining in today with Ginny.
Happy New Year everyone!