Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Handmade Vs. The Wal-Mart Mentality

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016

 

cowl

 

I finished knitting up a cowl for myself, and had uploaded this picture to my facebook page, offering to make another for the low, low price of $75.  It resulted in a conversation between a couple of my knitting friends.

convo

 

The timing of the conversation coincided with my train of thought while working on a pair of fingerless mitts.  I no longer depend on income gained from handmade items.  However, I do make a living selling supplies to those who earn a living selling handmade items.  I’m very familiar with both ends of the stick.

When I first went into the handcrafted soap and personal care products business 15 years ago, the running rate for a 4 ounce bar of handmade soap was approximately $4-5 a bar.  These days, the cost of raw materials has more than doubled, but I still see some of my long time customers selling bars for nearly the same price, and it breaks my heart.  I’ll never forget an old farm wife stopping at my soap booth, looking longingly at the selection I had on display.  She told me she really wanted to buy some, but if she did she would have to hide it.  When I asked her why, she told me her husband would blow a gasket over the price, when she could buy a 10 pack of ivory soap for $2.

If I had a nickel for every person who has taken a look at one of my handmade items, and said, “That’s so cool! You should really sell your ________.  If you do, I’ll be your first customer!”,  I’d be a wealthy woman.  The cold hard truth is that makers and artisans usually struggle to get a fair price for their work. I have tried to sell some of my handmade items, and guess what?  Most of the people who told me they would buy never have.  The subject of pricing among my maker and artist friends is a hot topic. It’s not a subject taken lightly, and most agonize over it.

I have a question for you.  How much do you earn for putting in a 12 hour shift at your job?  I’m going to use my fingerless mitts as an example, although they are a gift, and not for sale. They are rather complicated, and the pair will take me approximately 12 hours to complete. If I were to charge $10 an hour for my time and the cost of the yarn, the mitts should have a minimum price tag of $120! Needless to say, I’m probably never going to use this particular pattern for selling.

 

 

 

Beetroot & Feta Salad

Saturday, December 3rd, 2016

winter-harvest

Winter gardening here in Northeastern Indiana has been more fun than usual this year, thanks to an unseasonably long and warm fall. One of the tricks of maintaining a winter garden in our northern climate is careful planning so that plants are well enough established to hold well in cold weather. This year, it’s been mild enough that I haven’t had to cover anything with mulch or protective row covers. This morning’s harvest, pictured above, came out of the garden in beautiful shape.  As the colder weather of December and January move in, things won’t look quite so vibrant, but will still be perfectly good for the kitchen.

Lunch today was beetroot and feta salad, close to the last one I’ll have.  I should have planted an additional row of beets, because I’ve only got enough left for one more meal. I didn’t spend much time trying to get a picture, because I was hungry.  I’ve noticed a lot of beetroot salad pictures online, and want to know how they manage to keep their feta perfectly white?  Beetroot is messy, and colors everything it comes in contact with. I’ve got the purple fingers to prove it.

beetroot-feta-salad

 

I’m not going to give exact amounts, because I only ever make this to serve one.  My husband hates both beets and feta. You can’t really mess this one up, because the ingredients are so simple.

Beetroot & Feta Salad with Parsley
A few beetroots, boiled, peeled, and cubed (about 1 1/2 cup per serving)
A big handful of parsley, chopped
Feta, cubed or crumbled
Fresh lemon juice
Olive oil, amount equal to lemon juice
A couple of garlic cloves, finely minced
Salt and pepper to taste

The easiest way to cook beetroot is with the skin still on. Trim the tops and bottoms, and boil them whole until fork tender. Drain and rinse with cold water. Let them sit in the pan with cold water, and they will be easier to handle.  Slip the skins off and cube.

Combine lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper into a vinaigrette.

Combine beetroot, feta, and parsley. Drizzle with vinaigrette.

No, I Haven’t Quit My Day Job

Saturday, November 26th, 2016

cream-soap

 

Apparently, a little clarification is needed. Yes, some of my friends and family have been wondering about seeing me peddle wares on Facebook and Instagram. No, I have not closed up my 9 to 5 business of the last 15 years.

Here’s the deal.  I like to make stuff. The problem is I make more stuff than Bart and I can use.  You only need so many scarves, which is a problem when you’d like to keep knitting, but you’re hooked on high-end handspun, hand dyed, really super expensive art yarn made by your dealer talented friend in Iowa.  Then there’s soap.  I usually make batches of soap that result in about 14 bars, and I don’t like to limit myself to just one scent.  Are the 5-10 different bars of soap in my shower really necessary? Bart produces gallons of maple syrup each spring, and it’s more than we can eat by ourselves, so we get rid of some of it.  I collect herbs and spices like some women collect shoes and purses. I grow them, buy them, pickle, infuse, and smoke them.  No, no!  Not that kind of smoke!  As in, I put them in the smoker with wood chips, and make them taste smoky. The list of stuff I make is mind numbing. It’s getting out of control, but I really don’t want to stop.

Anyway, I decided the solution was to revamp my old Etsy store, and try to sell my surplus, so I can justify continuing to make more stuff.  I hope it works, because I really don’t want to curb my hobbies. You can find a tab for the Etsy store at the top of the page. I’ve got more stuff to list, but I still need to take pictures.  Mulled maple syrup will be added shortly.

So, yeah, to answer the question, I still have my day job.

 

scarf-1

Food Traditions

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016

harvest

This isn’t exactly a rant.  More random musings from the garden and kitchen. Plus, I’m writing this more for the sake of journaling, than thinking anyone is going to benefit from anything I have to say.  It’s a very hot muggy day, and I’m trudging back and forth between the garden and kitchen, taking breaks to cool off while I finish planting my fall garden – peas, beets, carrots, spinach, pak choy, lettuce, cabbage.  If I don’t finish planting this week, it’s going to be too late.

It always feels a little strange to be planting at the same time I’m dealing with the glut of a late summer garden.  I’ve got a bumper crop of poblano peppers and eggplant this year.  Once it cools off this evening, I’ll fire up the grill and get the peppers charred, and will work till bedtime getting them peeled, seeded, packaged, and in the freezer. This is just the first batch. There are more left on the plants than the number I picked this morning.

poblanos

Anyway, back to my musings. While I’m taking my indoor breaks from the garden, I’m going through old cookbooks and a few articles, planning a couple of new ways to preserve my red roasting peppers and eggplant.  As I’m reading about making Serbian Ajvar, I find myself comparing my new fangled American preserving to Old World  preservation. Old food traditions exert a strong pull on me.

As much as I love modern conveniences and technology, my heart thrills to explore old forgotten, labor intensive methods of food preparation.  I prefer my mortar and pestle to my food processor, my big chef’s knife to about any gadget you can name, and I never recoil from a recipe that calls for 30 minutes of slow heat and stirring, or something that requires several stages of preparation over a period of days, or even weeks.

Another aspect of old traditions that appeals to me is community.  My time spent preparing my harvest is solitary, and I know it can’t be helped, but something inside me screams that this isn’t right!  This isn’t the way it should be done.  Historically, communities have come together to harvest and prepare the fruits of their labor. Grandmothers, mothers, and daughters, passing down recipes and methods from one generation to another, sitting together talking, sharing stories and wisdom as they snap, peel, chop and grind.

I’m conflicted. Sometimes I think I’d give up this world I live in for an older way.  And I don’t mean that in a “cranky-old-lady-reminiscing-about-the-good-old-days-like-they-were-better” kind of way. I think  something’s been lost that we’ll never be able to get back.  But, this is the world I’ve been given, so I’ll just keep learning what I can about old methods, and choosing to do things the hard way.

A Cautionary Tale

Sunday, June 19th, 2016

latch

 

It’s been a while since I’ve felt like writing. Life is messy, and sometimes blogging falls by the wayside.  This morning I feel like writing, because the house is quite, I have no one to talk to, and I just scared the crap out of myself.

My husband, Bart, was out till the wee hours of the morning bowfishing with our son, Kuyler, who came home to spend some time with his dad on Father’s Day.  They will be sleeping in quite late today.

I was up bright and early with the sun, and went out to do my morning chores in the barn. While I was feeding chicks and changing water in the brooder, I pulled the door closed behind me, so no chicks would get out. I stood there looking at the door feeling stunned.

I never pull the brooder door completely shut, because there’s a latch on the outside. It’s a very sturdily built cage about 4’x10′, about 6′ tall, enclosed with 1/2″ hardware cloth.  I was locked inside with 25 baby chickens!

I had no idea when the guys would be waking up. And even when they did wake up, they weren’t going to be looking for me, because I’m always off doing my own thing.  I don’t carry my cell phone around the farm with me, so it was in its usual place on my desk in my office.

I stood there in my cage, contemplating several hours keeping company with the chickens. I’m not sure I can describe those first few minutes while I was still absorbing my situation, before my head started working out possible solutions.

 

brooder

 

I wasn’t too keen on the idea of trying to kick out the hardware cloth. When Bart builds something, it doesn’t come apart easily, and the hardware cloth wasn’t simply stapled in place, but fastened with heavy-duty U nails.  Then I noticed the piece of wire I use to hold a gate shut (pictured on the right hand side of the cage).  The wire is threaded through the hardware cloth, and then wrapped around the wire of the gate. I have the gate in place to prevent the hens from trying to nest in that corner.

It took me about 10 minutes, but I was able to pull the wire through, and then use it to jimmy the outside latch.  For a while, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to pull it off.

The moral of this story?  I’m still thinking about it.  I have looped a piece of wire through the latch, and run it inside the cage for now.

 

latch

Gone To The Birds!

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

Jersey Roo

It was a horrible, awful winter! Between historic snow accumulation and historic sub zero temperatures, the winter was hard on me, and it was hard on my chickens and geese. My husband was healing from a neck/shoulder injury for a good part of the winter, so guess who did most of the snow shoveling? I’ve never been so happy for spring to arrive!

There were a couple of unfortunate events concerning my birds this winter.  About 4 weeks ago, I went out and found that my prize Jersey Giant rooster (pictured above) had keeled over dead … just like that.  He was fine one minute, and the next he was dead.  At only about 8 months of age, he was growing very fast and was already about 15 pounds.  I’ve speculated that maybe his heart gave out.  I had spent quite a bit of money to purchase him, along with two hens, from Maria Hall back in October.  She breeds some outstanding birds, and my three chickens were not exactly cheap.  My purpose in buying the birds was to establish my own flock, and I wanted to start out with high quality birds for breeding.

With my rooster gone, and no broody hens to sit on eggs, I rushed the freshest eggs that I had on hand to a friend who agreed to incubate them for me.  My hope was that we might be able to hatch out at least one rooster, so I wouldn’t have to shuck out another $150 to get a replacement. Three weeks later, we got lucky, and 10 eggs hatched out. Here’s one of the little guys within 24 hours of hatching out.

JG chick

And here’s a shot that I took today, the end of week 1.  If you look closely you can see the first little feathers at the very tips of the wings. Before you start over-romanticizing how cute and fuzzy he is, I’ll have you know he pooped on my hand twice while I was trying to take his picture!

jg chick 1 week

The other unfortunate event, which happened on Valentine’s Day,  involved my gander. I don’t know how it happened, but I went out one day and found him just sitting with a deep laceration across the top of his head.  I was sure he was a goner, but a great local vet patched him up and he survived.  Unfortunately, he’s now blind in one eye, but he’s adapted very well, and it doesn’t seem to be causing him a problem.  And, he felt good enough to father children.  His mate is sitting on 6 eggs which are due to hatch in exactly 2 weeks.

sitting goose 2

She’s so pretty I’ve just got to give you one more picture. I’d say newly hatched chicks and goslings on the way is a pretty good way to greet the new spring, wouldn’t you?

sitting goose

Not So Lazy Sunday

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

I was a little negligent during my work week, so I’m behind on paperwork.  I went to a beer festival yesterday, so I promised myself I would put in a full day of work on Sunday.  Of course, I woke up to the most perfect weather I’ve seen in weeks, so I’ve decided to see how much I can cram into one Sunday. I probably don’t have time for a blog post, but I actually felt like writing today, so hey, why not?  I’ve been breaking up the work-work stuff with fun-work stuff.  After round one of the not so fun work, I grabbed my camera and went out to the pasture to play with the geese and scrub down the wading pond, water buckets, and feeders.

On the way out I got sidetracked by the passionflower vine I planted along side the chicken coop this spring.

passionflower

I’m a little fastidious about keeping my birds clean, so every week to 10 days I usually scrub down the water buckets and feeders, as well as the goose pool.  The goose pool gets a little “interesting” if I don’t clean it up periodically.  I found a leopard frog in it the other morning. A good stiff scrub brush and some elbow grease were called for today.

pool

Of course, I had some help from Teasel, the gander. He’s very nosy, and insists on inspecting everything.

help

Tulsi, the female was content to armchair supervise, and even treated Teasel and I to some dancing.

dancing

Did I mention it’s an absolutely gorgeous day?

blue eyes

While I was scrubbing the pool, I let the hose run into a muddy spot where Tulsi and Teasel love to root around in the mud. They were so busy with the mud, I was able to sneak up from behind and get this shot.  Usually, they are so busy being armchair supervisors, that I’m rarely able to get a shot from behind.

feathers

Did I mention that it’s an amazing day? The bees were busy on the fall asters blooming in the pasture.

bee on aster

By the way, the chickens I raised from chicks this spring just started laying eggs two or three weeks ago.

welsummer eggs 2

When I was done in the pasture, I made a simple lunch of three perfectly poached eggs, and a piece of toast made from stale leftover bread (seriously, stale homemade bread makes the BEST toast in the world).  Then I wrote this blog post, and now I have to go back to the not-so-fun work.

poached eggs

 

 

Personal Log: Stardate 67095.7

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

I know I’ve been rather quiet this summer.  It’s been a mixed bag, emotional roller coaster of a summer.  This morning, as I’ve been moving around my house, trying to go on with life as usual, I’ve been feeling the overwhelming need to get it all off my chest. This blog is the closest thing to a journal that I’ve ever kept, so it just makes sense to do it here.

This season of big changes in my life began in May with the news that my eldest son had been offered a job in Utah, and had 6 days to pack for the move.  I knew something like this would happen one day, and it was a wonderful opportunity for my son.  This is what raising children is all about … shaping them into happy, responsible adults who will be equipped to strike out in the world, and make their own way.  I found out I wasn’t as prepared for this eventuality as I thought I would be, and spent those 6 days crying as I helped him pack.  Then, on the evening of May 20th, my little birdie flew.  As happy as I was for him, it felt like like my heart was going to break.

fly birdie

However, life goes on, and my husband, youngest son, and I grew accustomed to the change.  Eleven days later, my youngest son graduated from high school.  My son is the young man on the left.

kuyler-graduation

My little family of 3 settled into the summer routine of work and play, and began to make preparations for my youngest to go away to college in the fall.  In the middle of the summer, I had a difficult moment of heartbreak.

In July I decided to add a couple of young Sebastopol geese to the flock of chickens in the pasture. They were beautiful, friendly, and so intelligent.  I fell in love with them immediately.

geese

A few days after bringing them home, a wandering Siberian Husky climbed the pasture fence and killed my new geese, and half the flock of chickens I had raised from chicks.  I was devastated.  It turned out the dog belonged to a neighboring Amish farm, and the Amish farmer did compensate us for the loss.  Unfortunately, here in farm country, a dog that kills livestock has to be put down, which made the whole situation all the more tragic.  I decided to get right back on the horse, and was able to locate a new pair of geese, which I brought home about 3 weeks ago.

new geese

So, this brings me up to this morning.  Yesterday my youngest son moved into his dorm room in Indianapolis.  My beautiful baby boy is now a young man taking his first steps of independence.   My house is a very different kind of quiet this morning, and I’ve started to cry again.   I usually pour my heart out to my mom, but she’s away in England visiting my brother right now.  My husband is out in the woods hunting squirrels, my oldest is in Utah, and my youngest is in Indy posting pictures of  his new  view on Facebook. It’s very different than the view of the cornfield from the bedroom window he’s looked from since birth.

Indy

It’s exciting that my kids are grown up, and beginning lives of their own.  It also marks the end of an era for my husband and I, and the beginning of something new.  I know these changes are normal and good, and common to all parents. My story isn’t unique, but yet it feels like it is.  I know there are many good things to come, but for right now I feel like my heart is breaking.  These children are so much a part of me than they’ll ever know, I love them more than life, and the separation is difficult.

brother messing around

Just Another Summer Morning

Saturday, June 22nd, 2013

The weatherman was calling for a rather warm, humid day with a chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon, so I decided to get an early start this morning.  First on my agenda was running to my Amish neighbor, Rose’s, house to help her butcher a few chickens.  She had promised to give me a refresher course in chicken processing, since I’ll be doing my own at the end of the summer, and haven’t done so since I was a teenager.  Apparently, chicken processing is a little like riding a bike, and it all came rushing back to me.  Rose gave me a chicken to take home for dinner, and it’s currently soaking in buttermilk in my fridge for Buttermilk Fried Chicken from the cookbook, The Pioneer Woman Cooks.  One of these days I’ll have to sneak some pictures from a distance of the Amish working in their fields, or a buggy passing by for you.

Anyone know what to do with a gallon of mulberries?  After placing an old sheet under a mulberry tree along the pasture fence row and giving it a good shake, I’ve got a gallon I need to decide what to do with. Sorbet for dessert after fried chicken tonight?

mulberries

I spent a little time with my garden, pulling a few weeds, and picking some out of control greensl.  I suppose those should become part of dinner this evening also.  That’s spinach in the foreground, cilantro behind it, flowering arugula in the back, and dill in the upper left hand corner.  When I’m done writing this post, I’m going to go back out and pick the sugar snap peas.

lush greens

Because I garden in raised beds, space is at a premium. I always grow one or two zucchini plants, and they tend to be a bit problematic, thanks to their sprawling tendency.  I picked up a tip on pinterest that seems to have solved the problem.  I placed an upside down tomato cage over the plant, and as it has been growing, I pull the leaves up into the cage. It’s holding the main stem relatively upright, and preventing the plant from creeping out of its designated space.  We’ll see what happens as the plant grows larger.

zucchini control

 

Waiting For Spring

Sunday, March 31st, 2013

tromping

I’m ready for spring.  I’m ready for warmth. I want to start poking seeds in the ground and get dirt under my fingernails, to start tromping in the woods, to see green, to start shedding my winter insulation.  I feel like I’ve been holding my breath, and desperately need to catch it. I feel like I want something, but don’t know what it is.  I haven’t felt like this in a long time. It’s weird, not bad, just strange. I’m sure I’ll figure it out. I always do. Thanks for humoring me… I needed to get that out. The picture above is of one of my sons and I tromping in the woods two springs ago. My other son was the photographer.