Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Homemade Christmas part 2- Gifts!

Ok hubby has promised me he won't visit the blog before Christmas (and if he does he only ruins his own surprise!) so I'll tell you a bit about the homemade gift projects I have on the go.

I'll start with the easy part, the baby. It's his first Christmas, he's only 9 months old, he doesn't really know what's going on, but he might just find it fun to tear the paper! For him, I'm making a fleece sleep sac, since he's suddenly so long his feet touch the bottom of the ones he has now. I might make two if I have enough fabric. I'm also going to make him some little mittens, since the stores don't seem to sell anything besides thin scratch mittens for babies under two. I might also knit a muffler for his face. This way he'll be warm and toasty on our sleigh rides with kaylee. I also bought him 4 little books because reading is so important! It was $10 for all four of them, how could I refuse?

For Andrew, I'm making him a cozy warm flannel shirt that he can wear when we're reenacting in cool weather. It is appropriate for the time period, but it isn't part of his uniform, so it will be something he wears when we're hanging out in camp. Because I can and because it's more authentic looking, I am hand stitching the whole thing. I kinda let the cat out of the bag on this one by asking him what he thought of the fabric too close to when I took his measurements, but at least it means I can still be working on Xmas gifts when he's home and awake.

I made AMAZING (if I do say so myself, and I clearly do,) venison jerky a few weeks back out of a venison roast my dad gave to us. I cleverly pulled out a tidy bundle of strips and wrapped them up and hid them in the deep recesses of the freezer, so those will make an appearance in his stocking. I am also knitting him a pair of fingerless mittens for the stocking.

One of the smallest gifts, though also proving to be the most work, is a small wooden bear I am whittling for him (pictured above). I've never done any whittling in my life, but I was given a whittling knife, and one day in the fall I grabbed a cut off scrap of a 2x4 that was lying in the driveway and thought "lets see what it can become". He needs a little bit more work, and then I think I'll take some sand paper over a few spots and maybe finish it with some melted beeswax and a little oil? I'm not too sure what I'm doing, I'm kinda out of my depth when it comes to woodwork, but I'm having fun.

There might be a few other things, but I'm trying not to get carried away with great ideas until I see how much I can actually get done! I'll post more pictures as things progress to photogenic stages.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Top gifts for gardeners

Ok I don't know how many trowels a girl needs, but those little three tined rakes that seem to always come with them are- in my opinion- totally useless. And everybody thinks they should give them to their gardening pal. Because she doesn't already have a set, surely. And those cute stepping stones/gnomes... More decoration means less space for plants people! So if you want to show the gardeners in your life you care with a meaningful, useful gift, here are my top picks:
(Keep in mind, I'm all about maximizing food to feed my family, and maintaining the health of the soil for next year. My garden is my pantry. If your gardener is raising prize begonias to enter in fancy flower competitions... Well, I'm a little out of my depth. Their needs may be different)

1. Seeds!

Seeds make a wonderful gift. Do you grow a variety s/he's always loved and admired? Save some seeds for a really personal and meaningful gift.
Or give the gift of a seed catalogue from a company such as seed savers exchange, or veseys or stokes. Let them drool over the rainbow of varieties, and then offer to pay for the seeds they pick out for next years garden. (My mother in law is paying for my seed savers order this year, and it is hands down the best gift she's ever given me!)
Who doesn't want to start planning ahead for sunshine and green things in the middle of winter? It's like a mini, mental vacation.

2. Gloves

This might seem like it goes in the same category with owning ten trowel sets, but it isn't. Gloves wear out. I burn through at least a pair a year, usually when I'm doing the heavy spring work like adding compost and tilling/cultivating the soil. Also, I'm fairly certain there are creatures who live in garden sheds and steal them. These creatures are a lesser known variant of the ones who steal socks from the dryer.
I have small hands and I hate big, clumsy gloves with long floppy fingers. They complicate every gardening task. My current favourite gloves are digz signature series, they fit great, are comfortable and give me the protection I need.

3. Subscriptions/ memberships

Another good one is a subscription to a gardening or farming magazine such as Mother Earth news, or any other magazine she likes. Bonus points (in my opinion) if it's a magazine she can receive and read on a tablet/ereader/computer. Saves paper and it's less clutter, though I do understand why some people still like the feel of paper in their fingers.
Alternatively, you could get them a membership where they like to buy their gardening products. Many of the memberships support good work (like saving varieties of scarce heirloom vegetables) and your friend will get a discount all year long when she shops.

4. Canning Gift Basket

If your friend grows food like I do, it's likely they preserve the food they grow too. The canning supplies that get used up and need replacing always make a welcome, practical gift. Try putting together a basket with the flat parts of mason jar lids (it's recommended you only use those once), pickling spices, pickling salt, pectin, cheese cloth, jar labels or a marker designed to write on glass, maybe even some more jars (I never feel I have enough... And I have a lot!). You can spring for any pieces of equipment that would make her life easier but that she's too thrifty to buy herself and makes do without. A food mill for instance, or a mortar and pestle, perhaps even a canning pot.

Those are my top picks for gardener gifts, what are you giving your gardeners this year? And gardeners, what are you hoping Santa brings this year?

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Homemade Christmas, Part 1- Ornaments

Last Tuesday I had my mom, my brother's girlfriend Nicole, and my bestie Christina over to the house. It was a day of making Christmas, and it was a tonne of fun. Nicole made some awesome little snow globes out of mason jars with dollar store ornaments inside that were just so charming and sweet, I wish I'd taken a picture. She wrapped and glued twine around the lid of the jar (the base of the snow globe) and added a little raffia bow, and it was just so rustic and lovely.

I made a batch of these charming cinnamon ornaments. They're the easiest darn things, there's only two ingredients: equal parts of cinnamon, and applesauce. In this case I used a cup of each. If your apple sauce is a little wet (my homemade apple sauce always seems runnier than the store bought stuff) you might need a little extra cinnamon. The dough shouldn't be so wet that it is goopy and sticks to your hands, but if you make it too dry it will crack and not hold together. The dough doesn't do so well with a lot of handling/shaping, so I just roll it out and use a cookie cutter, then use a straw to poke a hole to hang it by. Then I bake/dry them in the oven at the lowest possible setting with the door propped open a little to let moisture out. They're done when they're mostly hard, mine had a bit of give in the middle when poked still, but I left them on the table overnight and they finished drying on their own. You could just let them air dry, but it takes days. The hearts here are maybe two and a half inches across and an inch and a half tall, the recipe made about 30 of them, and only one cracked on me while I was trying to thread the string through it!

My mom, inspired by the Table Runner that we made her for christmas 3 years ago, found some birch branches and had dad slice them into 1/4 inch thick rounds for us to get crafty with. We keep using birch rather than some other woods because I was told it's less likely to crack as it dries out.

With the help of a wood burning tool and some twine we turned out some pretty neat snowflake and woodland animal ornaments, and a couple of Christmas-y banners like the one above.

Wood burning tools are easy to use, and fun, but of course also dangerous, so use with care, they get extremely hot. They can be picked up for $10-20 at most craft stores or hardware stores. You just plug it in, wait for it to get hot, and write or draw with it like a pen. It takes a while to get the knack for how fast it will burn the wood, and sometimes it'll catch the grain of the wood and skip along trying to follow that if you're not careful. The edge of each ring is tougher so it will take longer to burn and if you try to go too fast the tip will turn aside and follow the softer wood between the rings. Go slowly.

The last thing I made that day is a garland for the tree. Here it's strung up in my door way to keep it from getting crushed until our tree goes up. All I did was take strips of paper from an old book that was falling apart, fold them accordion style, and cut out little hearts, making sure to leave a section of the edges intact, like making paper dolly chains. Then I took a huge darning needle and some twine and poked it through the center of each heart and when they were all on the string, starting from the needle end, carefully spread them all open. It really didn't take that long, and I think it's gonna look great on the tree.

I've got plans for more, but that's all I've got for now.

Homemade Christmas

"It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. (...) What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

                                                                                                 - Dr. Seuss

This year I am opting out of all the crazy commercialization and going for a homemade christmas. In a several part series, I'll detail what I'm doing to make this house diy festive, from homemade tree ornaments and home decor, to christmas candies and treats, and homemade christmas presents. I figure Connor's too young to think it's lame, and my hubby isn't really needing or wanting for much, so it's a good time to do it. I will be purchasing one gift (maybe two?) for him, but the rest will be handmade. 
I'm not forsaking any of the christmas trappings and trimmings we already have, but the truth is we don't have many. Last year was our first christmas, and we didn't really do a tree, so we've got a few rag tag ornaments we've collected over the years, but nothing substantial. Not enough to decorate a whole tree with.  I'll be using flour-salt dough ornaments, cinnamon ornaments, birch biscuits decorated with a wood burner and some paper crafts. I also want to try some dried fruit decor, with a cranberry string and dried orange slices. We are getting a real tree this year, and I'm so excited! I've always wanted one and never could because of my family's allergies. 
I'm also going to attempt to make some candy canes, and hard candies. Perhaps a batch of fudge? And of course, make up some of my hubby's favourite- Shortbread Cookies!
I'll also detail the gifts I'm making, but first I need promises that he won't visit this site until after the gift giving is done!
What are you doing to make christmas a little more sentimental this year? Join me, and lets make a Homemade Christmas!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

New Gardens

This is what my garden looked like this summer. Hubby built me three new garden boxes, 3'x10' in one long row along the fence there, and in the back you can see my gorgeous new wooden compost pile. I'm not using food scraps in it at the moment because there is a municipal compost program here, and it's just easier than trying to keep the critters out of it, but for garden trimmings, grass clippings and fall leaves it's just the ticket. This year I grew potatoes, green and yellow zucchini, kale, black krim tomatoes, carrots, snap beans, straight neck squash, cucumbers and onions. There was a lot of bed space that wasn't well used, but it wasn't bad. I got 50 lbs of food out of there this year, just including the stuff I remembered to weigh (not beans munched on here and there, or a handful of kale and a zucc hastily picked for dinner). Next year I plan to use all three beds more fully and the potatoes will be in a separate "tire tower", so hopefully the yields will be even higher. I want to get a good kitchen scale and keep a log book beside it and keep track of every ounce of edibles that come from the dirt here. My fairly modest goal is a pound per sq. foot, so 92 lbs of food. I think it's doable. There are some old window panes in the garage that I'd like to rig up into a little hot bed to keep hearty greens going longer into the fall, I also want to try letting some carrots winter in the ground.


It's love. 

My Cu Dona

So, I suppose I should tell you a little about my "bad dog" since I realized I haven't introduced her on the blog yet. This is Kaylee. I suppose we took her in just shortly after I stopped writing the blog. She comes from the far north, we got her in Moosonee, but she was born in Attiwapiskat.
One of the fellows working for the MNR up there came across a den of puppies left orphaned after one of the nuisance dog round ups. There were as many pups as there were MNR... er... officers I suppose? living up there, and moved by sentiment, they each decided to keep one of the pups. The man who took in Kaylee (he had called her Tweezer... we changed it) had an uncle who lived next door to our trailer. He left the pup with this uncle, saying he'd come back for her when his 6 month posting in Atta was up, and he moved back to Sudbury. The uncle had small children and an allergic wife and was now faced with a rambunctious, exuberant, bitey, strong, shedding pup who had never been exposed much to people, spent the first winter of her tender life out of doors living rough in the extremes, and had never been in a house. Certainly wasn't potty trained. But he meant well by her, after all, it was only temporary, and so he put up a chain link fence in the back yard with a snug little house and she seemed happy enough. She was better off than most dogs who run loose, she was protected from round ups, fed daily, and sheltered from the worst of the weather.
Come damp spring and humid boggy summer, that little pen was quickly torn up to a mud pit by the relentless pacing of a husky mix born to trot along tirelessly for hours on end. The flies and mosquitoes that kept us all inside crawled all over her eyes and ears and constantly stung and bit her. She was walked, but not often, and with pent up energy and a flat buckle collar, she took the poor uncle for a drag each time they went out. Her "owner's" contract had ended and he was back in Sudbury, making no move to reclaim his dog.
The pen butted up against our yard. When I'd go outside to rake the lawn or trim back the brush she would stare wistfully at me through the fencing and whine gently. I was feeling a little lonely, and missed having a dog, so I waited until the neighbour was out in the yard one day and walked over and asked him could I start walking her? The exercise would be good for both of us, and I thought maybe I could help with her relentless pacing, and maybe train her a little so she would be easier for him to walk.
That's when he told me her story, and explained that he really didn't think the backyard pen was a fair solution for her long term, and that they were going to be looking for a new home for her. One moment please... hold the phone... let me go consult with my husband.
He was smart enough not to argue with his pregnant wife who told him with tear filled eyes how lonely she is when he's gone to work all day, and just how much a companion would mean to me. We both had concerns however. This dog was.... raw. Raw is the best way I can describe her, and very wild. With a baby on the way, would she be safe? So, I said let me try her for a week. I'm a fair hand at dog training, and while she won't be perfect in a week certainly, I figured I'd have a pretty good idea of whether she would turn out ok, or whether she was just too much dog for our young family.
She was very rough around the edges, scared of all the things in a people house... the steps to get inside, the hum of the fridge motor, the dvd tray popping out of the machine, the toaster. She played hard and had no "off switch" once she got going, we pretty much had to throw her outside by herself for a while to cool off. Her play bites broke skin. She would scratch and paw at people. She sure wasn't potty trained (though she did learn quickly). She was very food agressive. I had my doubts the first few days, but I could really see the potential in her. She came to trust and love us. I walked her for over an hour every day in all weather, which really made a big difference. And I use a halti, which puts pressure on her nose rather than a collar around her neck. She may be only 40 lbs, but she is STRONG and she was born to pull things. Yep, I could work with this, I decided, and so we named her Kaylee, and decided to keep her.
In the winter I bought her a harness, and we learned the ins and outs of hauling with dog power. Quality food made her eyes bright and her coat shine, she was healthy, vibrant, and did I mention STRONG!? She settled down into life in a people house incredibly fast. She has become a brilliant companion for our son. When he was little and helpless she was very respectful of his space, and now that he's more active, she's his partner in crime. He thinks up mischief she would never dream of on her own (like raiding the diaper bag for cookies) and she uses her strength and coordination to help him implement his devious little plans. He bites her ears, pulls fur out of her tail, plays with the tags on her collar, steals her bone right out of her mouth and even tries to eat out of her dish. She takes it all in stride, and licks his feet until he giggles. She was, in fact, the first thing he ever laughed at. We rigged up a baby sled for her to pull him around in, and both seem to enjoy our outings (though, the road crews here are far too diligent for our liking, we practically have to drop everything and go when we see it start to snow.).
In short, she turned into an amazing dog, one of the best pets I've ever had. And if she sometimes jumps up on guests and happens to think one corner of my garden is her personal litter box, well, I suppose it could be worse!