Avoiding Taxes

The ’09 tax deadline isn’t that far off and I really don’t want to get my tax stuff together. Usually I’m on top of it, but this year I’m not feeling the love. Instead I’ve found a variety of activities to help me avoid working on taxes:

  1. Clean living room
  2. Shop for mother-in-law’s birthday gift
  3. Paint porch
  4. Play Candyland…twice.
  5. Go out to dinner with a friend
  6. Take cats to the vet
  7. Schedule oil change and dog’s vet appointment
  8. Make trail mix
  9. Assemble Ikea shelf
  10. Make a horse hair bracelet
  11. Sort and shelve fabric by color
  12. Rearrange medicine cabinet
  13. Make a beach bag (summer is coming, you know!)
  14. Make August vacation plans
  15. Plan a birthday party
  16. Reschedule oil change
  17. Write this blog post.

Okay, I guess I need to finish my taxes now. Unless you have a better suggestion.

Christmas Is A-comin’

Christmas is a-comin’ and you have just 5 more days to get horse hair to me for custom pieces. December 10 is the last day I will accept horse hair to be transformed into jewelry and delivered in time for Christmas. At this point a $20 rush fee is added to all orders.

In other financial news, I’ll be raising my prices in January. Sad but true. I haven’t raised my prices in quite a long time, but the price of gold and silver have skyrocketed in the last year. To keep up with the times, I need to raise my prices. So get those orders in before the end of the year to take advantage of this year’s prices.

We cut down our Christmas tree today in the wet, blinding snow. It was definitely the snowiest tree-gettin’ we’ve ever had. Makes it all the more festive. As per tradition, we headed over to Pearly Baker’s for some Boulder Style French Onion Soup afterward. Warms you up fast! The Kahlua in my hot chocolate warmed me up even faster!

I hope you all have a joyous holiday season, no matter what you celebrate.

Enjoying Summer

Horse hair bracelet with glass seed beads braided into the strands. I can add beads to most horse hair designs.

Horse hair bracelet with glass seed beads picked by the customer.

Has it really been almost a month since I last posted? Wow!

A lot has happened since then! School ended and we’ve been attacking summer vacation with gusto. The week we spent on an island on Lake Champlain felt like a month. It was wonderful! How lucky we are to have friends willing to share their experiences with us as we help them build a home away from home in such a beautiful location!

Between the playdates and swimming and generally reveling in the summer-ness, I haven’t gotten much work done. But finally the kids were off with the grandparents and I cranked out some new jewelry yesterday.

First, a lovely custom horse hair bracelet with multicolor beads. She picked out her daughter’s favorite colors of the moment to be braided into the bracelet. most of the horse hair bracelets I offer can be embellished with beads.

Learn how to make a 4 strand braid, then finish off the bracelet with a variety of beads at the upcoming horse hair jewelry class.

Learn how to make a 4-strand braid, then finish off the bracelet with a variety of beads at the upcoming horse hair jewelry class.

Next on the list were two adjustable bracelets. These are samples for an upcoming Horse Hair Jewelry Class on August 2, 2009 at the Museum of Indian Culture. Sign up soon if you want to join the class!

The quietness yesterday allowed new thoughts (oh my!) to float about in my head. At least 10 new ideas are making their way into my idea book. I’d love to sit by myself and create for a week, but the reality is, I have more summer to enjoy with my husband and two kids.

So instead, kick back with an adult smoothie, the recipe I promised you last blog post. Put the fruit you strained from the fruit cordials into a blender with some sparkling water or white wine or both. Puree. Peach makes a very sweet adult smoothie; blueberry makes a very alcohol-laden smoothie. I know I’ll be enjoying one later!

Fruit Cordials

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See all that yummy juice at the bottom? Relaxation in a jar.

Sometimes I think about those cordial glasses. I wish I’d kept them. We came across the colorful collection of tiny glasses while cleaning out the my husband’s grandparent’s house. The glasses were tiny and dainty, stemmed, widely hued, on a little tray .

I didn’t drink cordials. Bleck! Overly sweet stuff. The cordial glasses were odd and fun and I thought about keeping them.

But I was trying to be restrained and practical. The pack rat in me wanted to take every treasure from that house and stuff it into every every nook and cranny of my house “just in case” I needed it sometime in the future. I’d already acquired a sewing machine and dining room ensemble, china and funky green mixing bowls, plus a myriad other things from their 90 years of life.

So I put the cordial glasses in the “to sell” box, so as not stuff them into some nook and cranny of my house. How I wish I kept them “just in case,” because just in case has come.

About 2 years ago in the middle of winter a friend gave me a small glass of strawberry cordial. I took it to be polite since Bleck! cordials are overly sweet alcohol.

It was the best drink I ever had.

Despite the chill outside, I could feel the June sun warming the straw-covered field, the scent of strawberries in the air.  I was hooked. The best part was she made the cordial herself.

Since that fateful day, I’ve been making fruit cordials with summer’s bounty. I just made my first batch of strawberry cordial for the year and I’ll be making more. Last year, the strawberry cordial never even made it to the liquor cabinet. Upcoming will be peach, blueberry, raspberry and cherry cordial.

Once you see how ridiculously easy this recipe is, you’ll wonder why you never made this before.

Strawberry Cordial

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Ingredients:

  • Strawberries
  • Sugar
  • Vodka
  • Large wide-mouth jar

Directions:

1. Wash and hull strawberries, then slice in half or quarters. If the berries are small, no need to cut them.

2. Place a layer of strawberries in the bottom of the jar. Sprinkle sugar over top. Layer more strawberries, then more sugar. Repeat until you get to the top of the jar.

3. Pour vodka into the jar slowly until it reaches the top of the jar. Put lid on tightly and store in a cool dry place for 2 weeks.

3. Strain out the strawberries and put in freezer for future use (more on that in the next post). Enjoy the cordial. If the cordial is too sweet, stir in more vodka. If the taste is too strong on the alcohol side, add more sugar.

There are no quantities for this recipe because you can do this with any size jar and any amount of fruit, be it strawberries, peach, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries or any other fruit you want to try.

Last year's collection of cordials in the works: peach, strawberry, blueberry and raspberry. Sadly, they are all gone.

Last year's collection of cordials in the works: peach, cherry, blueberry and raspberry. Sadly, they are all gone.

Will Weed For Food

This daisy, which opened its petals yesterday, was a result of my Darwinian Gardening. But I'll save that story for another day.

This daisy, which opened its petals yesterday, was a result of my Darwinian Gardening. But I'll save that story for another day.

I am a Darwinian Gardener.

There. I admitted it for all the world to see. And this year I’m going to embrace my role as a Darwinian Gardener.

What is a Darwinian Gardener, you say? We are the people who don’t plan gardens, but rather spontaneously create then, on the spur of the moment, without very little forethought or attention afterward, so the garden becomes an experiment in survival of the fittest.

Here’s how it works: One random day the sun is shining and I think, “I have 2 hours to plant some seeds.” I dig into my seed jar that has seeds from my previous residence (circa 1999), pick out some seed and plant it.

Is it past the frost date? Who knows?

Did you remember to water the starts? Water? Isn’t that why we have rain (even though we haven’t seen a drop for 3 weeks)?

Does it need full sun, partial sun or shade? Huh?

Lettuce doesn’t like heat. Hey, you’re only a quitter until you try planting lettuce in June.

Are those two going to cross-pollinate? Maybe I’ll create a bigger, better more amazing hybrid that will take over the world! Bwah-ha-ha (that’s my evil Darwinian Gardener laugh).

Lamb's quarters getting a drink of rain this morning. And look! Some onion grass, too.

Lamb's quarters getting a drink of rain this morning. And look! Some onion grass, too.

I didn’t become a Darwinian Gardener on purpose. I grew up among 3 enormous gardens. My mom is an amazing gardener who had many things to teach me, but I ignored her because, while my body pulled weeds, my mind dreamed of playing in the woods. And I complained a lot about how hot it was and how hard it was to bend over. Complaining takes a lot of effort.

It’s not as if I couldn’t be a good gardener. I could, if I put the time and effort into it. But right now, my time and effort are spent elsewhere, raising kids, running a small business, maintaining a 100-year-old house and being the craftiest girl on the block.

Oddly enough everyone thinks I’m a good gardener. In my wildlife rehabilitation days, I nurtured all sorts of critters back to health, from red-tailed hawks and great blue herons all the way down to bullfrogs and baby bunnies. So people assume I’m as careful and attentive to plants. I’m not. But that doesn’t stop them from asking me for advice.

My advice: “Put it in the ground and see if it grows.”

And really, I want to have huge, lush gardens. I want to live off the land and say, “I grew that and fed my family.” I dream of vegetable gardens and cutting gardens, terraced with rocks, flowing with fountains, erupting with interesting vegetative textures and colors, filled with whimsical garden ornaments.

A rather funny dream since my yard is barely big enough to accommodate 2 kids, 1 dog, 2 adults, a couple of pea plants and a massive amount of toys.

I have not given up these dreams, but this year I’m letting go of the expectations for big gardens. I’m letting go of the guilt of not getting my peas in by St. Patrick’s day or my lettuce in by… whenever lettuce was supposed to be in the ground.

As my friends discussed seeds and starts, height of pea plants and when the radishes will be done, I realized that Darwinian gardening isn’t just about survival of the fittest plant, it’s about embracing opportunities as a gardener. Two of my grand gardening friends have huge, beautiful gardens and they could use a weeder. A few more friends dove into the deep end without life preservers, signing up for large plots in the local community garden. They’ll definitely need help.

Rather than struggle to get my own garden in, I’ll show up at their gardens with aWill Weed For Food” sign around my neck. I’ll help them be great gardeners and be paid in cucumbers and eggplants.

The opportunities in my “weed patch” abound, as well. The progeny of last year’s pumpkins and tomatoes always sprout up and the birds plant sunflowers up and down the yard. Uncultivated areas are rife with lamb’s quarters, a local weed that is also edible. Think native spinach. Yum.

Don’t worry, I’ll still be throwing seeds in the ground to see who survives. But this year, I’ll do it with pride as a Darwinian Gardener.

Products of a Snow Day

About 6 inches on the ground. A day off from school. Here’s what we made of the snow day Monday.

Left to her own devices my daughter comes up with the cutest stuff, like this spring chick. I’m encouraging more glue useage instead of taping everything. “Look, the beak opens and the wings move,” she said.snday1

A few artist books done. Experimenting with pencil pockets of different shapes. The red flowers on white background  (journal at bottom of photo) were snipped from a shirt my daughter outgrew years ago, but the shirt was to worn out to pass on to cousins.

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Steamy cups of homemade hot chocolate after throwing snow balls, shoveling sidewalks and playing with snowy dogs.

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Books read when we piled into bed for an afternoon snuggle. The kids were given a one time only offer: eat Smarties in mom’s bed while she read to them. I was sipping a vanilla chai.

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“Asparagus Eggs” (as we call it), our favorite Martha Stewart recipe. Delicious, nutritious dinner in a flash.

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Snow days are such a pleasant treat!

*****UPDATE******

For those of you who couldn’t see the link to the Martha Stewart recipe, here it is, from the May/June 2003 Everyday Food magazine

Egg and Toast Ideas

Serves 4

  • 1/2 tablespoon softened butter
  • 4 slices (1 inch thick) hearty white bread
  • 4 large eggs
  • Salt and pepper
  • TOPPING IDEAS
  • Asparagus, Fontina, and Dijon Mustard: Divide 4 teaspoons Dijon mustard, 8 stalks blanched asparagus, cut into 1-inch lengths, and 1 1/2 cups grated fontina cheese among toasts.
  • Ham and Gruyere: Divide 4 ounces thinly sliced ham and 1 1/2 cups grated Gruyere cheese among toasts.
  • Tomato, Cheddar, and Canadian Bacon: Divide 2 chopped plum tomatoes, 4 ounces diced Canadian bacon, and 1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese among toasts.
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spread 1/2 tablespoon softened butter over one side of each of 4 slices (1 inch thick) hearty white bread. Place each piece of bread, buttered side down, on a baking sheet.
  2. Using your fingers, create a well in the center of the bread, being careful not to tear it.
  3. Break 1 large egg into each well, keeping the yolk intact; cover bread with desired topping, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  4. Bake until the cheese has melted and the egg is set but slightly runny when pierced with the tip of a paring knife, 15 to 20 minutes. Check the toasts frequently because eggs set quickly.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone. Did you forget? Here’s a quick and sweet treat for your sweetheart. It takes about 20 minutes to make, and 25 minutes to chill and they’ll love ya forever.

Peppermint Bark

1/2 pound white chocolate, chopped into pieces
3 large candy canes
1/8 teaspoon mint extract

Line a baking sheet with parchment, and set aside. In the top of a double boiler, melt white chocolate, stirring constantly.

Pound candy canes into small pieces with a meat tenderizer. Stir candy canes and mint extract into the melted chocolate. Remove from heat; have a towel ready to wipe the bottom of the double broiler so you don’t get hot water on your cookie sheet. Pour the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet; spread evenly. Chill until firm, 25 to 30 minutes. Break into pieces, and eat up, Valentine!

Spring Fever

If horses could talk, he'd say: "Less petting, more carrots."

If horses could talk, he'd say: "Less petting, more carrots."

Seems like I took a little break from blogging, didn’t I? Not purposeful, but deserved. My Christmas season was busier than ever, in a good way. I made many, many pieces of custom horse hair jewelry that people in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Nevada are now wearing (you can view some of them over at Flickr).

vanilla2hotchocolatemix12maddiechocolate1I also whipped up a few Christmas gifts for family and friends.  Family got bottles of the vanilla extract I’ve been working on for months. The hand-drawn labels at a special touch.

Instant hot chocolate mix was also a favorite, since my 5-year-old could help make it. My dog thought one jar pf hot chocolate under the Christmas tree was for her and she tried to open it. Or maybe she was just auditioning for the new reality show “When Dogs Attack.”

Last week was c-c-c-cold here in Pennsylvania. I know that 6 degrees F is nothing compared to what folks in North Dakota and Alaska see, but for us thin-skinned types, it’s just too much. We rush inside to hunker down under fuzzy blankets and barely move. That leads to a little cabin fever.

We relieved those symptoms by heading to the Pennsylvania Farm Show. The kids had a blast.

Little people meeting little chickens.

Little people meeting little chickens.

They petted horses and saw chickens hatch.

Ducklings scoot up the ramp and then slide down the other side.

Ducklings scoot up the ramp and then slide down the other side.

They watched baby ducks slide down their duck slide and saw all sorts of handmade items like Gingerbread houses and quilts and honey.

We even saw a tractor square dance. I’m not a vehicle aficionado (I like that things with wheels get me places faster and that’s about as far as I my love goes), but I was very impressed with their precision tractor driving. It was worth seeing.

We also visited “our farm” last week and signed up for our CSA (community sustained agriculture). All this agri-minded-ness has me thinking about spring and wanting to buy seeds and flower. We still have a long way to go until Spring, but one can dream!

Happy New Year!

Have a sip of homemade cherry cordial to ring in 2009.

Have a sip of homemade cherry cordial to ring in 2009.

Happy New Year! I hope your celebrations went well last night and you all filled your bellies with pork, sauerkraut and mashed potatoes today.

I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who has supported me this past year.

Thanks to all the customers who bought products from me, all the family who babysat my kids so I could work, all the friends who I vented to and, of course, to my kids who had to wait to play Monopoly until mommy shipped out this one last package.

May all of you have a wonderfully happy, healthy and prosperous 2009!