Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Hello everyone!  I have moved my blog over to wordpress!  This is something I have wanted to do for a long time but wasn't brave enough to give it a try and potentially mess everything up.  

However, the technology gods must be smiling on me at the moment, because everything seems to have gone well, and it looks better than ever!  See you over there, and thanks for reading!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

12 Ways To Celebrate A Destitute Christmas: #5. Scratch Paper Snow Flakes, Christmas Origami, and Wycinanki

We don't usually get to experience snow here in the Deep South, but it is still fun to make paper snowflakes.  I love the way a snowflake surprises you with what it looks like once it's unfolded.

Snowflakes - 

Here is a short tutorial on how to fold a snowflake with scratch paper:

1.  Starting here with an 81/2" x 11" piece of printer paper.

2.  Fold the top corner over to the side to make a triangle.

3.  Cut off the extra at the bottom.

4.  Fold both corners up to the point of the triangle. 

4.  Fold in half, and trim the bottom edge to make it round (if you don't you will have a square or diamond-shaped snowflake).  You can also use a hole-punch, or pinking scissors to make interesting patterns.

Origami -

Origami is fun and also can be a good brain exercise.  We have several origami books we've gotten ideas out of, but here are a few online resources I can share with you for a Christmas tree, a stocking, a star, a Santa, (and different Santa here - this is more like the pattern we have in our books).

Origami paper can be expensive, but you can make your own by cutting a piece of scratch printer paper as I described in the first step for making a snowflake.  Color one side with crayon to make it a different color.

Wycinanki and Paper Garlands - 

Another fun thing to do with scratch paper is Wycinanki, or traditional Polish paper cutting art.  There are many ways to do it, but an easy way to start is to fold a piece of paper in half, and lightly draw out a scene.  Make sure whatever is draw on the center part is half of what you want (so you don't end up with a two-headed Christmas tree or something).  Cut out around the lines and unfold it.  You can then glue it on a darker sheet of paper, or hang it up on the window like a snowflake.  When you get the hang of it, you can layer different colors of paper together.  They can be very complex and decorative.

Garlands of little Christmas trees, angels, stars, or gingerbread people are easy to make by folding a piece of paper accordion-style, and drawing out whatever it is you'd like to cut in light pencil on the front.  Just make sure both sides stay connected at some point, or you will end up with a bunch of little gingerbread men or angels running around loose and not holding hands together.

In the past, I have had very little success in interesting my children to sit down for snowflakes or other paper crafts if I get everything ready and announce that we're going to do such-and-such.  They usually aren't interested.  The best way I have come up with is to get everything set up nicely, and sit down and start working on it myself in an absorbed, I-hope-no-one-will-bother-me way.  They will come running in just a few minutes!

With snowflakes on the windows, it still looks like winter even if the weather is still hot and humid!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

12 Ways To Celebrate A Destitute Christmas: #4. Elving

(Shhh....because of course we won't really have absolutely no presents this year!)

Despite what anyone who is selling something says, you don't have to buy something to make a present for someone.  Thrift, a virtue I have come to appreciate more and more, is the near-magical talent of seeing what you already have, adding a generous dose of imagination, and a dash of willingness to try.  It always manages to come up with something I never thought I could do, and whatever that turns out to be, it always far surpasses anything I could have bought because of the life that is breathed into something when it is handmade with love.

I know that many people will think that the magic of thriftiness is beyond them to accomplish.  But the truth is that we live in a world in which almost everything has been taken away from us and delivered into the hands of merchants and manufacturers.  From practical things like clothing, shoes and food, to even our songs and stories, these things once lived in the hearts, hands, and minds of all human beings, but now for some reason are left only to those who trade them for money.  It is high time we reclaimed these wonderful things for ourselves, instead of waiting for them to be peddled to us by someone who is bent on making a profit.

One rule of thriftiness is to always use what you have on hand, and of course what I already have on hand is going to be different than what someone else has.  Hopefully, however, these ideas will get your thrifty imagination fired up and inspire some creative elving!

1.  Coloring books

All you need to make a coloring book is a black pen and some scratch paper that's (at least mostly) white on one side.  The best part of making your own coloring book is that the pictures can be whatever you dream up.  I usually make a list of about 10 ideas for each of my children.  Then I lightly sketch the picture in pencil before blacking it in with a marker.  If the idea ends up being too hard to draw, I just skip it, or replace it with a different idea.  Scenes from fairy tales, favorite stories, fantasies, friends, pets, and every-day objects make wonderful coloring book scenes.  The pictures don't have to filled to the brim, but are actually better if left fairly simple.

I know that 90% of people think they can't draw, but you don't actually need to draw very well to make a coloring book your children will adore.  I made some, very hastily, one Christmas.  They didn't turn out very well, but I thought I might as well wrap them up and put them under the tree.  To my surprise, my children LOVED them, and begged me to draw more pictures for them to color.  I think one thing they really liked was that I chose things they really loved to put into the pictures.  There were a few really bad pictures I had done in a hurry that turned out to be very comical and funny.  So even if it isn't perfect, it is still going to be fun.

 2. Paper Dolls

Just like coloring books, paper dolls can be so fun.  Draw a basic doll out of stiffer paper, or thin paper glued to cardboard.  Then you can make all sorts of different outfits - make sure to leave the little tabs that can be folded around the doll so that the clothes stay on.  This is a fun resource for making paper dolls.

3.  Story Books

Make up a short story and write it down on printer paper/scratch paper folded in half.  There are several ways to make the binding, either with a stapler, or punching holes along the fold and tying it with string or yarn.  You can also sew the pages together with needle and thread.  Stories can be something that is just made up, an adventure you child would love to have, or even something funny that happened in real life.

4. Mad Libs

Mad Libs are the best way I've found to teach basic parts of speech.  Otherwise, why else would you need to know what a noun or an adverb is?  And it is so easy to come up with your own!

Write a short paragraph, such as a description of something you have around the house, a bad habit someone has, a family misadventure, etc, and replace some of the words with blanks, with whatever part of speech has been removed labeled in parenthesis underneath the blank (verb, noun, adverb, adjective, part of the body, and plural versions of these seem to be all that most Mad Libs ask for).

5.  Story Cards

Draw pictures of different scenes or objects on note cards, or even just plain scratch paper if you don't have any cards.  The cards are used in a game to create a story.  It can be played alone or with other people, and in several different ways:

  •  You start by a card and begin making up a story from what ever is on the card (a cooking pot, a stone, a girl, a dog, a tree, a path, a house, etc).  Draw more cards to progress the story along.
  • Draw a certain number of cards, and arrange them into a story.
  • (for multiple players) Everyone draws a card and a story is created together with each person having a turn to work their card into the tale.

This is a very creative, imaginative, and fun game!  The stories are endless.

6.  Math Books

(See picture below).  I am making these for Rose this year, who is learning her times tables.  Little accordion books made from scratch paper, with all the times tables written out on them up to 12's. 

7.  Repair Favorite Toys or Clothes

We are always having things break or tear around here, and the repair pile gets backed up.  This is a great opportunity to repair these things.  Getting a favorite toy or dress back all fixed up again is almost better than getting something new, because it is already loved.

8.  Be Creative - What Do You Have On Hand?

 Look around you for what is needed and what you have.  Paper, scraps of cloth, or pieces of wood are all you need to make all sorts of things.  Scavenging in nature can also be fruitful - acorns, twigs, leaves, pine needles, and feathers can surely be turned to good use. 

For example - Clo is really wanting to learn her letters right now.  I really wanted to buy her a Montessori self-teaching letter set this year, but of course I can't.  We had some scraps of wood lying around that seemed crying out to be made into something.  I cut them into 2-inch lengths, and borrowed Mirin's wood burning tool to draw little pictures of things that matched the phonetic sounds of the letters.  I chose things that I knew she would like, mostly animals whenever possible, and I made sure only the short vowel sounds were represented.  I colored them by painting them with non-toxic kid-safe watercolors (the same ones they paint with!) and finished them by rubbing them with broken pieces of last year's tallow/beeswax candles. (if I hadn't had the wood burning tool, I probably would have used a pen or marker to draw the pictures).

With a little imagination, some scraps of wood destined for the burn pile have become a lovely Christmas present!

What can you find that is neglected or unappreciated to transform into something beautiful, useful, and fun?

Monday, December 12, 2016

12 Ways To Celebrate A Destitute Christmas: #3. Volunteering and Charity

This year I decided to volunteer for Rose's ballet school.  I sewed beautiful table runners for the Sugar Plum Tea, which helps raise money for Pofahl Studios, an excellent local dance school that does a lot to support the young dancers in the community.

They say that giving to others makes us happier than when we receive things ourselves.  One of my favorite things about Christmas is giving thoughtful gifts to the people I love and seeing their happiness and delight.  But even money can't buy the gifts of Love and Joy, or the small daily kindnesses that cultivate those two treasures.

Even if you have no money to spend on material things, you can give time, love and energy to your family, friends, and community in ways that will not only bring you joy and happiness, but will also make this crazy world of ours a better place.

The gift can be any size you choose.  Here are a few ideas:

1.  Smile and be kind.  This sounds obvious and not like much of an idea at all, but I am always surprised at the unhappy, impatient, and suffering looks I see on random peoples' faces this time of year.  People get stressed out and try to do too much, or meet too high of expectations, and that makes them rude and nasty.  Little kindnesses, patience, and smiles really do make a difference!

2.  Help a friend or neighbor.   Everyone struggles in some way during their lifetime, and creating a community that shares and helps each other is a blessing that not only creates peace and happiness on a local level, but by virtue of our global human interaction also touches our whole world.

In my experience, people are usually more comfortable accepting help if you have already formed a friendship with them.  You might have to wait for a good opportunity to make an offer of help.

If you are local to the Gainesville area, the Garden Sweat Equity Work Parties (SEWP) is a great way to lend a hand in the community, and also puts your work hours towards hosting your own group work party.  A great opportunity to learn from others, meet interesting people, and have help with projects that require more than one set of hands.

To offer some ideas,  these are a few opportunities that have presented themselves to us:

  • For a long time we had an elderly woman with health problems living next door to us, and we made sure she knew that we were there to help her if she needed us.  We took out her recycling, unloaded her groceries, and checked on her often.  She even called us right a few days before she passed away at a care center, just to say hello and to talk.  We are so glad for the chance to know her and to make her last few years happy with cards and gifts from the children, and just knowing she had someone living next door that cared about her.
  • After a friend had her second baby, I offered to have her oldest child over a lot to play.  Her son loved coming to play with friends, and it gave her some much-needed time to rest with her new baby and catch up on things.
  •  Last week Ethan offered a ride to a neighbor who lives alone and had to have someone drive him to the hospital for a procedure.  He also picked him up after it was finished, and we checked on him for a few days to make sure that he was comfortable and doing ok.

 3.  Volunteering in the community.  If you look around, there are usually many charitable organizations that do wonderful things in communities that rely on volunteers as their lifeblood.  Shelters, groups that feed the hungry, or cheer up elderly people who live in care facilities and might not have family to come and visit them all need volunteers.  Here are just a couple ideas for volunteer work in the Gainesville area to get you started:

GRACE Marketplace serves the community in many ways by offering food, shelter, counselling and clothing to the needy. They need volunteers for diverse jobs that range from serving food to the hungry, to giving hair cuts.

Forage Farm does wonderful work to build a local food system through a heritage seed collection, farm to restaurant programs, and youth programs that offer after school gardening.  Every second Sunday they have volunteer opportunities for work either on the farm in the community.

The Alachua County Library not only offers education, learning, and entertainment resources to the public, they also host many excellent programs, from children's programs to English lessons, and it's all for free.

Whether your gift to the community is large or small, in some way it will touch a heart and shine.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

12 Ways To Celebrate A Destitute Christmas: #2. Curling Up With A Good Book

The darkness fills the corners more and more as we lean towards the solstice.    The short days, early dusk, and long nights give ample opportunity for reading  a good wintertime tale.  Stories, in fact, have shaped the way we celebrate this season.  Here is an interesting article about it.

How sweet and cozy it is to snuggle up with loved ones, a cup of peppermint tea in hand, and a good book read out loud! 

My favorite part is that enjoying a good book doesn't have to cost anything.  The local library is a great place to look for lovely winter stories and won't cost a penny.  If you have a computer with internet, Project Gutenberg has so many interesting old books available for free.

Otherwise, browse through the books you already have.  It doesn't have to be a Christmas tale to be fun to read!  I keep a special section of books on our shelves to get out after Thanksgiving.  Getting out the familiar, loved stories which haven't been read all year is almost like opening presents on Christmas morning.   Everyone gasps and holds up favorite books, calling out, "Let's read this one first!"

Folk and fairy tales from the North, stories about celebrating the season, and old-fashioned tales of Christmas are what we have been enjoying lately.  Here are a few of our favorite books from the Christmas shelf:

Kirsten's Surprise (one of the American Girl series books)

A story about a Midwestern pioneer girl who immigrated from Sweden, and makes her family's holiday special by celebrating the traditions of St. Lucia.

A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas

This is an especial favorite, very funny and poetic descriptions of annoying the snoozing uncles, and snowball games.

 A New Coat For Anna by Harriet Ziefert

Unable to afford a new warm coat after the devastation of WWII, Anna and her mother start at a sheep farm and cleverly trade with skilled neighbors, gathering berries and dyeing the wool themselves to make a beautiful new coat.  I love their resourcefulness, and also looking at the labor and skills that go into a garment.

Snowflake Bently by Jacqueline Briggs Martin

A true story of a man who first photographed snowflake patterns - the first person who discovered that snowflakes are unique.

The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen

Classic story, and a fun adventure.

The Wonderful Adventures of Nils by Selma Lagerlof

This story was used to teach geography to Swedish school children.  It is a diverse and imaginative collection of tales of a bad boy who finds himself suddenly very small and travels around Sweden on the back of a migrating wild goose.  Among the adventures, there is an interesting story of a broken-hearted mermaid which became Stockholm, in a very similar theme as the Selkie myths from Ireland.

The Lamp, the Ice, and the Boat Called Fish:  Based on a True Story by Jacqueline Briggs Martin

The story of an Inuit family who went along with Vilhjalmur Stefansson's 1913 expedition to the Arctic to study the plants and people who lived there.  The father helped the expedition by providing meat he hunted, the mother made climate-appropriate clothes for everyone, and their two children came along.

  One of my favorite things about this book is that it really helps re-frame any sort of hardship we might have. One of the children on the expedition was a 2-year old - I cannot imagine being on an Arctic boat expedition with a 2-year old

After their ship is broken and sunk by the ice, they walk/climb 100 miles over sea ice to make an igloo on a frozen island.  The family and a few other explorers barely survive there while Stefansson and others walk 200 miles to Siberia to get a rescue party.

The Dancing Fox by John Bierhorst

 An amazing collection of fascinating and captivating Arctic tales of animals, shamans, and brave people.

The Polar Bear Son:  An Inuit Tale by Lydia Dabcovich

I'll admit that this story made a few tears come to my eyes.  A lonely, poor woman adopts a little polar bear and he provides meat for her when he is grown.  They love each other, but the other people don't like him, and insist that they part.

 Russian Fairy Tales by Aleksandr Afanasev

Favorite stories, and lots of Ivans.  Ivan the Rich and Ivan the Poor has a very funny plot twist, and we liked it so much we made it into a play for Mirin's boyscout troup a few years ago as a homeschool project.  There are lots of other great stories, like Ivan and the Sunbird, Vasillisa the Wise, and Baba Yaga in her house on chicken feet.


The Troll With no Heart in His Body by Lise Lunge-Larsen and Betsy Bowen

Wonderful stories from Norway.

The Return of the Light:  Twelve Tales from Around the World for the Winter Solstice by Carolyn McVickar Edwards  

A really lovely collection of solstice stories - the story from the Northwest coast about Raven, as well as the Norse story of Ragnarok are two favorites.

The Christmas Roses: Legends for Advent by Selma Lagerlof

A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Stories by Charles Dickens

A Christmas Carol is probably the most famous, but Charles Dickens wrote many other good stories about the holiday.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott 

 Wonderfully, this story starts with a destitute Christmas!  The March girls are poor, and have to make-do and make things cheery for themselves, which they do with imagination and creativity.

Louisa May Alcott's Christmas Treasury 


An Old Fashioned Christmas Day by Washington Irving (this is selected from his book The Sketchbook of Geoffry Crayon, Gent)

Old Christmas: From the Sketchbook of Washington Irving 

 These, according to the article above, are what helped inspire how we celebrate Christmas today.  All of these stories are on Project Gutenberg. 

 The Grinch Who Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss

 Of course a Christmas book list would not be complete without this one!

The Church Mice at Christmas by Graham Oakley

All of the church mice books are very funny, but this one just happens to be a Christmas book.

'Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore

Last, but not least, because of course we always save this one for Christmas Eve.  The images of Santa flying around on a sleigh were apparently preceded and inspired by Washington Irving's Christmas tales.

What are some of your favorite books to read for the holidays?

Monday, December 5, 2016

Ambrosia: A Local Food Recipe

Ambrosia was originally the food and drink of the ancient Greek gods that gave them immortality, but in modern times it mostly refers to a fruity salad.  It is one of those recipes like gravy, in which everyone has their own version.

It can vary from a wholesome salad of orange sections, chopped nuts and yoghurt to something covered in Cool Whip and garnished with Maraschino cherries and tiny green marshmallows.

As my passion is for local, preferably home-grown or wildharvested food, my recipe reflects what is seasonally available here.  Oranges and grapefruit are abundant in the late fall and winter, when the pecans are ripe.  This tends to be our calving season, when we have no milk, and therefore no cream, so I don't include dairy, making it a Paleo-friendly recipe as well.

My dad does butterfly research in South Florida, and will often bring home big bunches of coconuts, in various stages of ripeness.  Coconut palms are a common South Florida landscaping tree, but the coconuts are usually cut off and set out on the curb for the garbage pick up (Here is a place for that saying, "One man's trash is another man's treasure").  We will often have fresh coconuts lying around, waiting for a patient hand to crack them open.  However, if you don't find your own fresh coconuts, dried coconut works very well and soaks up the extra orange juice.


2 Grapefruit (I had one pink one and one white one on hand)

3 Oranges

1/2 cup chopped pecans

1 cup grated coconut, fresh or dried - if using fresh coconut, pour off some of the citrus juice, as the dried coconut will absorb it.  Otherwise your salad might end up too soupy.

1/2 cup dried wild plums, pits removed (or dried sour cherries)

1-2 Tablespoons honey, optional

1.  Section the oranges and grapefruit into a salad bowl.

2.  Add other ingredients and toss.  It is best if you make it 2-3 hours ahead of time for the nuts, cherries, and coconut to soak up the citrus juice.  

Notes:  This salad will keep pretty well in the fridge for a couple of days. 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Sectioning Citrus: A Useful Skill When Handling Too Many Oranges

Citrus sections are a delightful way to eat up the abundance of oranges and grapefruit this time of year.  With all the pithy white and membranes removed, even the pickiest of eaters will delight in a bowlful.  When I first had sectioned oranges at my in-laws' house, I wondered how on earth they had spared the time to de-membrane each little piece.  So tedious!

There is a trick to sectioning citrus efficiently.  It isn't difficult, and it makes the most elegant dessert:

1.  Start with fresh citrus.  The closer to it having been plucked from the maternal tree, the better, as the whole process is easier when the peel is fresh and crisp, and not soft and leathery as it will get after awhile.

 2.  With a sharp knife, cut off both ends of the orange or grapefruit.

3.  Beginning at the top, cut away the peel on the sides (in one long curl if possible.  It looks so impressive when you are done!).  Be sure to cut down through the white pith to the very edge of the fruit.  Now you are left with a naked grapefruit/orange, the sections exposed.

 4.  Over a bowl (this is a fairly juicy process) insert the knife carefully between one of the sections and the white membrane.  For the first section, you have to cut on both sides where the membrane is clinging to.  After that, you usually only have to slice on one side of the membrane, and the section rolls away into the bowl, as shown below:

 You can either stop along the way to pick out seeds, or pick them out post-sectioning.

Repeat the process with as many fruits as you wish, and soon you will have a big bowl of fresh citrus sections!  Don't forget to give the husk of the orange a little squeeze afterwards.  There will still be lots of juice left.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Real French Dressing

This beautiful bowl was given to me by my friend Savannah, and was hand-made by her father - Thanks so much, Savannah!  It will have a treasured place in my kitchen.

I'll never forget the moment I stepped inside Tata Gabby's apartment building in France.  The beautiful wrought-iron grating clanged behind us as the door shut out the streets of Nice and the bright summer's day.   We were enveloped in dimness as we walked up two flights of beautifully tiled stairs.  I struggled to drag my heavy luggage up the steep staircase, breathing in the smell of stone and old cement.  It was the year I turned eleven, and this was the first time I had travelled anywhere without my parents, and one of the first times I had been on an airplane.  My grandmother, who I usually only saw briefly on holidays, was to be my sole caretaker for this terrifying stay abroad with relatives I had never met and who spoke no English.

The long flight across the Atlantic made the light pouring in the large windows of the tiny apartment too bright for my tired eyes as I looked down into the small garden behind the building.  The foreign sights and sounds baffled me with their strangeness.  Loud school children shouted to each other in French, and even glanced up at me from the playground behind their school.  This was the school that my grandmother and her sister had gone to, until they were forced to give up schooling and take up jobs with a dressmaker to help ends meet during WWII.

My cousin Aurore soon arrived, confidently kissing the family and friends who had crowded around the tiny but stylish glass table in the living room.  Older by several years, she seemed impossibly confident and grown-up, and I did not have much to say to her attempts to practice English. She went into the kitchen to help with lunch, and I was urged by my grandmother to go along.  It seemed more comfortable than being stared at and talked about in French by the old relatives, so I followed behind.

When I bashfully peeked around the corner of the kitchen door, my cousin was mixing things in a salad bowl.

"Do you like French dressing?" she asked me.

I immediately thought of the sweet, glossy reddish stuff that is poured over iceberg lettuce here in the States.  It was my favorite salad dressing when I was a kid, probably because it is so ungodly sweet.  "I love French dressing!" I said.

Aurore seemed very satisfied with that, and I watched her make the dressing.  When it was finally time for lunch, I looked over the unusual repast and served myself a big bunch of salad, thinking I would at least feel at home with it.

To my utter surprise, French dressing in the States bears no resemblance whatsoever to what that salad was dressed with.  Instead of the high-fructose corn syrup-saturated glop I was accustomed to, a spicy, tangy flavor overwhelmed my fragile American taste buds.  I had never, ever had a salad dressing like that!  I have remembered it all these years, and here is the recipe to share with you:

Real French Dressing

1/2 cup olive oil (the real stuff, now, not the flavorless "salad oil" or sunflower oil marked up as being from real olives)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

A dash of salt

A grind of pepper
1 Tablespoon good mustard

1 garlic clove, grated.

*Mix all ingredients with a fork, pour over the salad, and toss*

Justin Handville added this note on Facebook:  

Note regarding technique: this is an emulsion. The mustard acts as the emulsifier. Mix the polar ingredients first (everything except the olive oil). Then, slowly, while stirring continuously, drizzle in the olive oil. This emulsion will hold together for an hour or two, so it's best to make it just before using it.

Emulsifying it this way makes a very fine dressing, and this would be the proper way to make it, but if you don't have the time, just whisking it with a fork before tossing it into the salad works, too.