Winter Holidays = Cookies

It’s that time of year! Winter is well and truly here; winter solstice and Christmas are just around the corner. Our outdoor projects have been traded for some much-needed indoor renovations. So we’re shifting things here and there, patching walls and ceilings and generally making a huge mess. That’s right, a week ’till Christmas and we’re tearing the house apart. Not to worry though, this is just a classic example of “it gets worse before it gets better”, and we are beyond ready to be rid of these old pepto bismol pink walls!

But, as we all know, the holidays are not about whether or not your walls are pink, or if your house is spotless in time for guests, the holidays are about being together with those we love. So while we are chipping away at the piles of stuff (in hopes of fitting a tree in here somewhere) we’re also making time to bake cookies (and eat them with friends), play in the snow, craft ornaments, read, and just spend time together.

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DSCN8453The tree is by Ezra and the I is by Ishmael, of course!

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DSCN8410On the topic of cookies, if you’re looking for a gluten/grain/nut/ egg/dairy free (AIP Compliant, Autoimmune Protocol) cookies you have to try these Jam-filled Thumbprint Cookies from Delicious Obsessions. I tried a couple other AIP cookie recipes with such dismal results I almost gave up on the idea of cookies. These are a mixture of coconut butter, shredded coconut and coconut flour which give the cookies a great crumbly cookie texture. You can make your own coconut butter by running shredded coconut through the food processor until it resembles a nut butter. It will be runny and a tad grainy immediately after processing but it will set up, like store brought coconut butter, with a little time. These cookies work best with warm stir-able coconut butter so freshly made coconut butter is perfect.

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DSCN8445For everyone else, we made these to use with the cookie cutters. Everyone says they’re good and it’s a great recipe for kids because the dough is easy to handle and doesn’t fall apart easily. We also made these thumbprint cookies this year. They have no nuts so my kids prefer them to the traditional nut rolled thumbprint cookies. I find we make a handful of the same kinds of cookies every year plus one or two new kinds for fun. Cookies are essential for the holidays – and we’re fresh out!

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When Goats Eat Your Trees

Two things you should know about goats: 1) if there’s a way to get out they’ll find it and 2) once they’re out they will eat kill your trees. This is true any time of year but especially so during the winter when the snow pack renders the fence about 1 foot high and trees are the only thing available to eat. Besides the ample, but less desirable, hay in their barn.

The goats sampled many trees this winter. One of them was our lilac tree. All it took was 5 seconds and they had killed it. I have a faint hope that maybe a shoot or two that was buried deep beneath the snow will survive and grow. The outlook is pretty grim.

Anyways, I have a few ideas to put the wood to use. One of them was to whittle a crochet hook. It’s actually really easy. I haven’t sanded it yet but it works just fine.

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The branch I started with:

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Silver Wire Earrings {KCCO}

I started creating wire earrings quite a few years ago, around the time struggling_along and I got married. That’s 10 years now! I think I thought it would be interesting to learn how to turn some beads and wire in jewelry. Plus, I kept any earrings I wanted in the process. Somewhere along the way I decided to start selling them. I definitely remember selling wire jewelry while we where hitchhiking and traveling the west coast. A few years later, back on the east coast, we had Noah. Curious babes and tiny beads don’t mix well so the beads went up on a shelf and have mainly stayed there.

Oddly enough many things that seemed impossible with one child have become manageable with three. So when I recently found myself looking through my old beads it didn’t seem quite so daring, as it use to, to think I might make myself a few new ones.Using beads, wire and findings I already had I made eight new pairs. The photo below doesn’t show the nuisances in various beads but you’ll get the idea.

While I was at it I had to face the facts. I needed a new way to display all my earrings, so I could easily access them. I’ve tried jewelry boxes, tacking up fabric and using a picture frame lined with chicken wire, but it didn’t hold many and the earrings always seemed to be sliding around or falling off. Enter the large embroidery hoop. Covered with a piece of upcycled lace the earrings go in and out easily and the hoop keeps it just far enough from the wall that the wall doesn’t interfere. Additionally, it holds many pairs of earrings. Now to find a solution for my necklaces and bracelets and rings…..

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the new additions

If you’re interested, here are some of the previous earrings I have made and wear regularly. The five in the upper right hand corner are earrings that are missing their mate. Eventually the missing earring will turn up so I just put them aside. At the bottom is one of the few bracelets I’ve made and one of my favorites.

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Over the Weekend

 We have made leaps and bounds of progress on the house!

The side of the house that the barn was up against had never been sided; the other three sides were in sore need of new siding.

Here’s before, after the barn was taken down:

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Earlier this summer we had the gas line moved (it wrapped around three sides of the house) and struggling_along pulled away the old siding. There was a lot of patching, replacing and rebuilding. Now we are wrapping the house in new house wrap, adding a layer of insulation and topping it all of with newly treated board siding. While we are not done with all four sides what we have done looks much better and already the drafts are noticeably less.

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(Below is the same side as the before photo above)

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Yesterday we tackled the third side which required removing four huge windows. One was already broken and they were single pane glass so the heat loss through them was significant. My in-laws (struggling_along’s folks) have been journeying up to lend a hand on this massive undertaking. With their help we managed to complete the siding of two sides, remove all the windows and frame up new openings for the slightly smaller replacement windows. These windows will also open so we’ll have better ventilation in the warmer summer months.

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Like all projects the actual doing takes about 3x’s as long as initially thought. Once we got into it we found all sorts of problems. Some were structural which we couldn’t do too much about. The previous owner/ builder definitely was not a professional. If it wasn’t built level, or correctly, you can’t really change that now. Then there was the damage from critters,namely ants, and rot from years of  water damage.

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Noah was all about sucking up the ants and hibernating flies that were hiding in the framing. The deeper we went the worse it got.

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Struggling_along tore all the bad boards away and rebuilt the framing and part of the mantle. His dad followed along measuring and cutting sheathing. By 8 o’clock that night we were stapling on house wrap by head lamp. Soon we’ll be popping the windows in and adding the insulation and siding. Great progress for a long work weekend!

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Portable Art Kits {KCCO}

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This past weekend my best friend held a birthday party for her two little ones. They’re the same age as my two oldest and have a lot of the same interests. My boys and I collaborated to make them each a gift. We decided they might enjoy a portable art kit, complete with crayons, paper, scissors, glue stick, and colored glitter glue.

For the younger of the two (a girl) the boys picked out a fleece cat print. Our friends recently got a kitten and my boys LOVE their cats so the cat print was voted the obvious choice. The fleece was thick so this was a “no-sew” project. Just cut slits, not too wide or the art supplies will slip out, and fold/ roll it up. To keep it closed I sewed on two buttons and cut to tiny slits in the far edge.

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For the older of the two (a boy) my boys picked out batman fabric. All the boys love batman, and superheros, ninjas etc. Since this fabric was thin cotton I padded it so the crayons wouldn’t break and the kit wouldn’t be flimsy.  I sewed on a pocket to hold the paper and little “tubes” to hold the rest. This one folds in thirds and ties closed.

DSCN3585DSCN3578Ready to go: in the car, to an appointment or restaurant, outside or just around the house.

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KCCO {Weaving A Slatt’s Rescue Belt}

 There aren’t many crafty projects I can make for struggling_along. Sure I knit him the obvious hat. I could knit him a sweater (although I admit I’m a bit intimated by the size and the chance that my gauge might not be just right and the whole thing will turn out wonky). Other than that there’s not much struggling_along wants or would wear.

Then we came across this idea of a belt. Woven out of paracord; it’s nearly indestructible and it also serves as EDC storage for nearly 100 ft of paracord. You can buy one online but they start at around 40 dollars. When I saw that I pretty much said “No way! I can make one” even though I’ve never woven anything but paper placements in grade school and those little hot pads. Doing my research I found basically three common methods of weaving belts (you can find a lot of how to videos on YouTube). I choose the Slatt’s Rescue weave because it’s the only one that you can pull the very end out and have useable cord instantly, without cutting, un-weaving or having only part of the belt useable. Also, there is no premeasured length so I just keep weaving until it’s the right length. Struggling_along can try it on to be sure and it’s not overly thick and bulky.

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At first the weave can seem a bit confusing. You have to make loops and twist them the right way and tighten them down. However, you keep doing the same exact thing over and over so it quickly becomes routine. You can use your fingers only but I find that after a while pliers save the ends of your fingers from getting sore.

If you’re interested in learning the weave I recommend this video by TIAT:

For starting the belt on a buckle (with hidden ends) I like the paracord weaver’s video:

The paracord weaver also has another video on how to calculate just how much cordage your belt will contain.

These (above videos) are just what I used. There are a ton of how-to videos out there and you might find a different one easier to learn from. If you’re looking for paracord military surplus stores often carry loads of it. Our local surplus store has a wall full with just about every color under the rainbow. Of course you can also find it online.

I’m almost done!  Maybe an indestructible doormat next…

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{KCCO} A Little Sewing

In moments here and there I’ve been able to squeeze a little sewing. It’s a little harder than fitting in time for knitting as I have to have the space and time open for prepping the fabric, cutting out the pattern, pinning and finally sewing- all without those helpful little hands- well, being not so helpful. But with a couple easy “2 hour” patterns I have managed two skirts and a new apron.

Taking pictures of one’s self isn’t too easy so here are only parts of the finished items. The first two are skirts using New Look pattern 6354. The first photo is E and the second F which is a tad fuller. I left off the decorative ribbons.

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This one is a See & Sew apron. Pattern B5125 option A. I really like this apron and the fabric. The trouble is I don’t want it getting stained and eventually all my aprons get stained. Ah well.

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{KCCO} Pants for Ishi

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I had a chance over this past month to work on a few sewing projects, including making these adorable pants for Ishmael. The fabric is soft and breathable and the pattern free and easy- just use a pair of pants the size you want,folded in half, adding a few inches for folding down the hem and waist- which is elastic.

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Ishi is quite independent (and vocal) when it comes to picking out his clothes, luckily these seem to meet his requirements. Just right for climbing,driving trucks, digging in the dirt, and, of course, hanging out with the dog. All in an afternoon’s work for this busy boy of mine!

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And I’d say he looks pretty darn cute in them too!

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{KCCO/Yarn Along} Finally….Ezra’s Finished Pullover

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Strange how some projects fly off the needles while others take far longer than I initially thought. A couple weeks ago I finally finished Ezra’s pullover, the one I thought would be done for Thanksgiving, then by winter Solstice, then by his birthday…. My slow progress didn’t faze Ezra though. He still loves his sweater and since it’s in fingering weight yarn it’s still cool enough for the warmer temperatures. The only downside is that warmer temps means that Megan is shedding- everywhere!- and the black yarn seems to attract it.

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His pullover is pattern  #12 Boy’s Pullover from Knit Simple Magazine, Spring/Summer Issue 2010, in size 4, minus the collar.  This one is knit in pieces and sewn together. See my ravelry page here.

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{In the Kitchen} Foraging

Now that spring is finally here all the wild shoots, blossoms and roots are resurrecting from the winter’s freeze. Over the winter I read several intriguing posts on foraging and using stinging nettle most notably from And Here We Are: nettle mead, and this post on nettle pasta, which is the one I used, although I made 6x the recipe and froze some for future use.

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There was plenty of nettle to be found and all of it was below knee height.  My little helper boys and I picked a whole lot, wearing a shared pair of gloves, until our bag was full and one by one they accidentally touched the nettle and poor Ishi fell hands first into a patch. Sting nettle really does sting. Growing up my brothers and I always called it seven minute itch as that’s about how long it really itches for- give or take. It was time to call it quits.

When we got back I sorted through, rinsed and then blanched the nettle. It only takes about 30 seconds for the nettle to wilt, then the stinging aspect is gone. It’s important to really squeeze the nettle as not to make the pasta too wet. By the way the green water from the nettle makes a great dark green natural egg dye.

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It was really very simple to make. Just like making regular pasta and it has that same great fresh pasta taste. I’ll have to try making spinach pasta next. After kneading a bit and resting the dough I rolled it out using a vintage cast iron pasta machine my older brother gifted to me. I’ll go a tad thinner next time.

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Here it is cooked and lightly buttered. To be honest the nettle didn’t give much flavor but it does add a lot of nutrients. I’m thinking of using part of the frozen dough as lasagna noodles.

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We’ve also been enjoying the spring by foraging wild blossoms for jelly and trying woodchuck (aka groundhog) for the first time in a pot pie.

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What do you enjoy foraging?

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Pig Butchering

Another 10 inches of snow. So much for thinking spring was on the way.

DSCN0055Despite the snow it was time to butcher and process one of the pigs.  I helped to separate the girl pigs then Struggling_along did the deed and hoisted her up.  DSCN0072

The kids were happy it was snowing and that my brother and his girlfriend were showing up soon so they danced around.

DSCN0070 DSCN0091 DSCN0092 Struggling_along tended to the gutting and hair removal as we headed inside to start supper. Plus, I needed to sharpen all the knives for breaking down the pig into chops, roasts etc. the next day.

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The few photos I took while we were cutting up the meat were too blurry. Besides, most of the time my hands were too busy breaking down the hams into more manageable sized roasts and ham steaks or wrapping the meat for the freezer. Ezra decided to help label the bags.Now we have cute bags with H A M scrawled across; a few even have smiley faces.

I did snap these as I finished up grinding the sausage.

DSCN0148 DSCN0149Then we (and when I say we I mean Struggling_along and my brother) moved Mercedes in with Chevy. Hopefully he will indeed “make good things happen” and we’ll have an early fall litter of pigs.

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Homemade Breadcrumbs

Here’s a cooking staple so easy to make at home I don’t even know why breadcrumbs are sold in the supermarket. They’re almost too simple to post about-  but they’re that good.

First, start with some bread. Store brought or homemade- even gluten free. End slices, whole slices, edge pieces from sandwiches; room temperature or frozen, it doesn’t matter.

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Place the bread in a food processor and pulse several times, running the processor until the bread is in fairly uniform crumbs.

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And there you have it: fresh bread crumbs. Use right away or store in the freezer for a longer shelf life.

For dried breadcrumbs you can dry some bread in the oven before processing or dry the breadcrumbs afterwards. Generally fresh crumbs can be used interchangeably for dry crumbs. Although, once in a great while, a recipe may specify dry crumbs to absorb more moisture.

Also, if you don’t have a food processor you can dry some bread and rub the slices together creating dried bread crumbs or you can use your fingers and crumble fresh slices for fresh crumbs. It works but it’s a lot more labor intensive, hence the food processor.

DSCN9960These fresh crumbs are especially great on homemade chicken nuggets, Chicken Kiev…. basically anywhere you want a tasty, crispy breadcrumb coating these will be the star.

Enjoy!

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A Quilt for Me {KCCO}

DSCN9397I started this quilt last year, or maybe it was the year before. Piecing and then quilting each square has certainly taken a while but I really like where it’s heading. Some of the fabric is salvaged from old clothes,some were scrap pieces from friends and a few I even brought, but all of them are favorites. I had a blue and white quilt from my mother for ages.I can’t even remember when I first had the quilt but despite my attempts to patch it said quilt has disintegrated into rags. Hence this one.

DSCN9403The best part isn’t that I’ll have a new quilt; the best part is the making. Whether it’s picking out fabric or deciding where to place each square we’re making it. The boys are eager to lend their opinions and being the guy who lifts and lowers the sewing machine’s foot as we rotate the square to quilt  it is awesome. Plus, it’s like magic.

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DSCN9386Twenty squares down. I’m not really sure how many more we’ll go. I’d love a large blanket -like queen sized- but that’s also pretty huge! We’ll see, after all it’s all in the making.

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