That the author has been making cards. She’ll be putting one up on her craft blog every day for a week or two. She’s not quite the artiste that Willow is, but she makes a cute card or two now and then.
Well the overwhelming consensus (all three of you) was that I should try the chinaberry bead making process. So, today I did the first step. The process is both easy and tricky. Even the tricky parts are easy, but tricky is tricky regardless of ease. I started to take pictures of the process and thought, “Do people REALLY want to see a pan full of boiling china berries? Do they REALLY wanna see that mushy stuff all over my hands? I didn’t think so. BUT, if you do, I actually found a website that has pictures. You can see it HERE, HERE, or HERE.
But I do want to describe the process. I’ll admit, I had rosy ideas about the process. I thought I’d feel quite Willow-like in my industry and creativeness. And I did. But as I always tell people, “The simple life is not an EASY life.” I always forget that. My head knows it, but my heart doesn’t want it to be so. So, it was with great eagerness that I pulled out the berries I’d had the kids pick for me a couple of years ago (and never did anything with).
Step 1: Boil the berries. To do this, many people recommend a pot that you’ll never use again. So, with that in mind, I opted to spend five bucks on a cheap pan at Walmart. Just in case. The berries are toxic to humans but enticing to birds. When birds overindulge, they actually act intoxicated. I guess that means that our two trees are contributing to the delinquency of feathered friends. Please forgive us.
So, I boiled the berries. Didn’t take long. They didn’t look all that interesting and the smell isn’t pleasant. There are worse smells (Burned beans are a close second to this), but this was pretty bad. It’s a sickly sweet scent that while not strong, is definitely there.
Step 2: Remove the outer shell. I did. The instructions said to do it while the berries are still hot–just out of the boiling water. I melted my fingerprints. I’m sure of it. Thankfully, I don’t plan to take up a life of crime, so I don’t think I’m a danger to humanity. Before I describe this part, I have to interject that I didn’t like how they were looking, so I sent Ethan (number two son–number eight child) out to the tree for “fresh” ones. Those boiled even faster.
Let’s just say that you want fresh ones, okay? Good. Glad you’re with me on that. By “fresh” I mean not dried out for the past two years, not just grown on the tree. The ones on my tree are definitely “dried”. Okay. Here’s what you do. You take about six berries from the pan. After much trial and error, I discovered that this is the optimal number. As FAST as you can, you squirt the “pit” of the berry out of one end with one hand and into the other. If you squirt out the end that once held the stem, it comes out fast, easy and in one movement–usually. This is not guaranteed. Also, by the time you get to the last one, it becomes much harder already. It took me around fifteen seconds to do all six usually, and the last one took twice as long or longer than the first. Why? Because it seems like the minute you take them out of the pan, they begin to cling back to the pit! It’s bizarre.
Furthermore, once you start squeezing the cooling berry, the insides turn to mush and stick to your fingers like glue. It’s truly a mess. Just sayin’. So six is about all you can do at once.
Step 3: Wash. This is another reason for doing only six at a time. It’s easiest to wash if you put the water on cool and very low. Rub both hands together under the water, keeping the beads between your palms and fingers as they roll. You’ll lose one now and then. Willow would say, “Deal with it.” I say, “Don’t let it bother you. Life is too short.” The goal with this wash is to get all that sticky stuff off.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat. i.e. “Do this until you have a bunch of berries pitted, washed, and drying.”
Step 4: Dye if desired. I cheated. Most instructions say to let them dry first, but I didn’t. One, I wanted to see what would happen if I didn’t. Two, I didn’t want to wait. Three, I had this weird idea that maybe the dye would seep in further if I got it in there while it was all saturated. I think it was a good choice.
Now there are two kinds of dyes that people mention purchasing. You can buy food dyes (like I did–I bought those shown at the right) or you can use Rit Fabric Dye. There are other dye ideas such as beets or saffron or whatever. I wanted to do something that I could control a little easier. I’m lazy that way. Willow would have totally done the beets. Don’t you think?
I decided to go with red and black. I loved the beautiful red ones on the one blog post I shared, and I had already planned to do black with tiny pewter beads between each one. I thought it sounded cool. So, I started with red. One small jar that we’ll never use again became my “dying jar.” I put about 1/2 tsp of the red dye in about 3/4 cup of super hot water. It was cool. Looked good, actually. I let them sit and used the plastic container that once held all the other ones that I dumped today to do the black ones. Same quantities. I let both batches sit for well over an hour or two. When I rinsed them, I rinsed until the water ran clear. They’ve been drying ever since. Don’t they look pretty? I’m kind of excited now. The little beads sitting there all nice and sweet almost make up for the smell and the headache I got (I am HIGHLY sensitive to smells–not allergic to them, but the slightest anything leaves an impression for a bit. No one else in the family felt anything (although they all commented that it didn’t smell nice).
So, that’s how you START to make the beads. Next time… drilling. I get to pretend to be a dentist or something equally terrifying. Stay tuned. Prayerfully I’ll only get blood on the red beads, eh?
Oh, and with all the goop I had under my fingernails and everything, I highly recommend a shower later. Scrub your hair well so that they REALLY get clean under there. I don’t think the beads themselves are toxic. I think the mash that you squeeze them out of is. And that ends up under your fingernails where they COULD then contaminate your food. So even if you think you’ve got ‘em clean… wash again. Just in case. And the final beads…
Stay tuned for part two. I just realized that I didn’t take pictures of the “beads” before dying. If you want to see them, this is what they look like, check HERE at the website shown above (this is a direct link to one of her pictures).
I was talking to Willow the other day–movies. I mentioned the old Tammy movies and talked about how she said that “Nothing dresses up an outfit like Chinaberry beads.” Of course, Willow wanted to know what those are, so I asked Chautona to make some. She’s not sure, though. Does anyone care about “chinaberry beads?” I think they’d be a fun project–stringing a homemade bead necklace. The picture shows possibilities. And you could always buy yourself one there instead if Chautona says no…
I also have a stamp of a girl named Willow (no joke) writing a “recipe” but it looks like she’s writing in her journal to me. I think I need to combine the two into one very “Willow” card.
What a wonderful way to celebrate the release of HearthLand Episode 1!!!
Lavender florets sprinkled in to the top of melted tallow and rehardened, makes a lovely lavender scented candle. I’m enjoying it as I type.
I am SO excited!
I’m calling these “Fat-Free” because the fat I used to make them was… you guessed it! FREE!
I finally have the results on the candle making process. I will never become a chandler, but I may make these more than once, actually. It was quite fun, and I have my preferred methods already! WOOT.
We have here, 10 lbs of hard beef fat. As I said, I got this free from my grocery store (I expected to pay for it as I had to order it, but it arrived with a lovely N/C written across the top of the plastic. WOOT!
- A large container to melt the fat in (I used a Dutch Oven, but people use stock pots, crock pots (I’ll get to that later) and regular sauce pans to render their fat.
- Jars or containers for the candles. I did both the little mini jelly jars and the pretty blue vintage ones–for fun.
- Cheesecloth (to strain the fat. YOU WANT TO DO THIS!)
- Cotton string or twine for wicks (Braid it for the fatter candles)
- Bolt nuts (to keep the wick at the bottom of the jar.
That’s it! That’s all it takes. Now there are LOTS of ways people suggest to render the fat. So, I tried several of the most popular looking ones. I started with just putting fat in the Dutch oven and covering it with water. I knew it would work best if I trimmed off the meat stuff and cut it small, but I wanted to really see how different things would work, so I tried it right out of the package.
As you can see, there is still a lot of meat on that fat.
Ready to boil! It took quite a while to melt this fat. It was really nice to do it this way because the water kept the fat from becoming too hot. I could go do other things, come back, stir, mash with a potato masher, go away again, and repeat. The disadvantages were that it took MUCH longer to do it this way and I don’t think it got out all the fat it could have. I think there was more waste this way.
Anyway, after this, I took all the leftovers, strained ‘em, and put them in the crockpot overnight. Just let it keep melting that fat. Meanwhile, I strained the liquid I had from this a couple of times and then set it outside. The fat solidified and rose to the top. The water and meat pieces fell to the bottom. Our dog loved it over his bowl of dog food. See:
The crockpot method is also very nice in the “dump it and leave it department. It also smells a lot better. My eldest came in the house the next morning and said, “Mmm… what’s for dinner?” We all gagged. LOL. It did get a LOT more rendered fat out of the leftovers from batch one.
This is what it looked like when I took the time to cut off the excess meat (or most of it) from the fat. Sergeant liked that too. And can I just say it is WEIRD to be trimming MEAT from FAT instead of the other way around? When Laura claimed that Ma Ingalls used every single piece of that pig, she wasn’t joking!
This time I just put it in the Dutch oven, turned it on and stirred. And stirred. And stirred. Now this is how I’d always pictured Willow doing it. I mean, I figured they were rendering the tallow while organizing the beef when their meat arrived each time. Then freeze it into bricks and melt again to strain it a couple more times before doing the candling–just get the big stuff off first and all. Well, it doesn’t take long for the fat to melt. In that regard, this is the fastest way. I’d say I stirred for an hour tops. I think I could have cut that–maybe even in half–but I was paranoid about overheating the oil. I’m a rookie. What can I say?
Then again, it sat to harden. I melted it again. Strained it again. And let it harden. Again. These melts were FAST. I mean, ten minutes or so maybe. While it melted (and you do have to stir) I got ready for the pour process. WOOHOO!
Now here’s the nuts and bolts of it… *ducks*. I just tied a string to those nuts (nice and long so there would be no problem with it) and set aside. I did twelve like this–one for each little jar.
Works great–kind of like fishing weights. Just keeps that wick at the bottom. Then what I did was to set up my wick rod. I’d imagined Kari building these neat things out of wood. Just use a block on the bottom, dowel rods going up each side, and one long dowel rod across the top. I figured screw eyes in the end of the side dowels would allow the top dowel to slide through and sit there nicely. And I almost made one. Then I thought, “What if I hate this and never do it again? What would Willow do?” I glanced around my house and my eyes landed on my front door–with the “temporary” (it’s 12 years old now) curtain hanging from a … MAGNETIC ROD. WOOT. Genius. I didn’t get a GOOD picture of what I used, so here’s one from Amazon. Because I think it’s cool.
Those end pieces are magnetic! So I just laid it down atop some cans of beans and veggies and voila! Had my little wick stick and without any cost at all!
See! All ready to go! Just pour (carefully… it’s HOT) and voila!
I think it’s fascinating how the oil is so yellow and turns into white again. Okay, look closely at that picture. See the nuts on the edges of the jars? Once I got done pouring, I just scooted the jars and wick strings around until they were reasonably centered. Voila! Wicked candles. I poured 10 of these. Still had TONS of melted tallow. So… I went for the BIG GUNS
I wish I could tell you why there’s a piece of cardstock back there. I really do. Clueless. It was late. That’s all I’ve got for you. LOL. Anyway, I needed more space for stuff to work–hang and all, so I tied some wicks to my cabinet door handles and put the bigger jars below it… like this. I had 4 of these!
Looks like lemonade in those jars, doesn’t it? Weird, right? At this point, things got interesting. You see, I had cabinet doors (like to where the dishes are and the cold cereal boxes–minor things like that) sitting there unmovable. If someone came stumbling in for breakfast and didn’t pay attention, we could have a mess. So I did what any good chandler would do. At midnight in the middle of January in the desert (read: it’s cold out there!), I opened the doors and windows. Then I piled blankets on me, put on a sweater, and let my fingers type half-frozen as I worked on my current book and my tallow candles solidified.
The little ones only took about… maybe an hour? Forty-five minutes? Not sure because I didn’t check often. I just sat down and got up about an hour later. The big ones weren’t even close. Hardly thickening. But I cut off the wicks to the height of the jar on the little ones, put the lids on, and stuck ‘em in the fridge. Then I carefully moved the bigger ones to the wick holder apparatus. I snuggled back under the blankets, and sometime in the next hour or two they were solidified. So, doors and windows closed and jars went in fridge.
My daughter took two home with her–big and little. She called with her verdict: “They’re going to burn for a LONG time and they do have a bit of a beef smell, but it isn’t bad.”
Last night, I finally burned mine. I burned one of the little ones just to get a feel for it. When you take the candles out of the fridge (I just kept ‘em in there after solidifying them all the way), there is no scent. I can’t smell a thing. When they burn, they crackle a bit and every once in a while, I thought I smelled a bit of beef–like beef jerky. But it wasn’t consistent, and it might have been the open bag of beef jerky on the floor beneath it. Snicker.
I took my little tiny candle into our bathroom to get a feel for how much light it would put out (Our living room has two lights that stay on pretty much 24/7 and are HARD to turn off, so I didn’t wanna mess with that). I was astounded! Now we don’t have a big bathroom–it’s a bit smaller than I imagine Willow’s to be, but not THAT much smaller. There was PLENTY of light in there. I could find anything I needed by just opening the cabinet door and reading. It put off a bit more than any nightlight I’ve ever owned. That surprised me. I thought it would have taken two to be of any real use. Not so! WOOT! Still, I wouldn’t want to do my makeup with it. Just sayin’.
All in all, I got 10 little jars and 4 big ones out of 10 lbs of hard fat scraps. I think I must have lost at least a pound to meat and gristle. Not too shabby for a simple experiment. Today’s experiment is that after I melted the entire top of the candle, I snuffed it out and put lavender florets on top. I’m letting them sink into the melted tallow and harden again. I’m hoping tomorrow I’ll have a slightly faint scent of lavender. If it works, it’ll be a GREAT way to add scent next time. Just fill the jars 1/3 of the way. Let harden. Pour a tiny bit of melted tallow on top. Add the lavender. Let harden. Repeat twice, and bam. Lavender candles! (I know, I know. “Essential oils!” Well, I’m doing what I think Willow and Kari would have tried, not what others can do by going to the store. It’s a quirk of mine!)
So, there’s my lesson. I had fun. I think they’ll make fun gifts for friends who are crunchy enough to enjoy it!
Chad, Willow, and the children are in Westbury for a late Christmas gathering with the Tesdall-Sullivan-Stuart clan. Chad had to work yesterday, even with the miscarriage, which I think is cruel. So they decided to enjoy their celebration today. She’s feeling better physically. That’s part of why they went, I think. Marianne won’t let Willow overdo it. She’ll be forced to sit and enjoy the children.
Meanwhile, Josh and I are holding down the fort while they’re gone. Can you believe it? Josh milked the new goat, Guinevere. I call her Gwenny. He insists on her real name. I think he only washed his hands four times afterward too. He still won’t drink the stuff, but it’s a start.
But, the real reason for my post is that one of my gifts to Willow was a new journal–one I decorated the cover for myself.
Okay, fine. With help from Josh. A LOT of help then. The idea is that she’ll put her thoughts in there for everything she wants to share on here. Of course, sometimes I’ll be taking from the journals on the table. That means sometimes there’ll even be entries from Kari, but I wanted one that I knew, if there was a new entry, HAD to be shared. So, Merry Christmas (late though it may be) and I look forward to sharing stuff with you. Josh and I are excited about upcoming changes around here and what it means for us. We’ll share that with you as well.
I’m ready. This year was more rushed than I’d like. I don’t enjoy a life of rushing and panic because plans are taking longer than expected. I have to adjust my plans and expectations to fit my reality. I can do that now that I know. I think I am beginning to understand Mother’s feeling of constant flux in our lives. I just followed her lead, never realizing how much change came with each year. I must remember this as the children near adulthood–showing them the ebb and flow of life so they are more prepared than I was for it.
Aggie stopped by last week and gave me a beautiful glass dispenser. I couldn’t figure out why I needed something like that when the faucet works fine, but I thought maybe it would be nice for lemonade or lemon water in the summer. Then she explained her idea–laundry soap! (Becca, maybe you can put a picture on the thing to show what it looks like?) I love it. Mother would have approved. I think if glass wasn’t so fragile and expensive to ship, or too heavy to carry, she would have had something like this years ago. It’s nice not to have to dip into the bucket and fiddle with the lid etc. If it needs stirring, I can see it. It’s just a lovely gift and I think them staying with us really gave her insight into what suits me best. I’m afraid my silly throw quilt will be less unique and practical, but I know she’ll understand that it was made with love.
Becca showed Chad the blog where Aggie got the idea and now he’s obsessed with creating a new and beautiful laundry room like the one on the blog. I had to go into town and find it at the library so I could see what she was talking about. It’s a beautiful room, really. I love it. But I just don’t understand. We’re a working farm. We have mud, manure, and other muckiness. My laundry room is in a barn! Why would we try to make it more than utilitarian? Then again, is that not what our life is about? Living it to the fullest and infusing beauty into every corner of it? So, our new laundry room will be both pretty and utilitarian. And it’ll feature my lovely new dispenser! Isn’t that just beautiful? I’m so excited.
The contractions are stronger now. I think it’s almost over. Time for me to take another shower. Chad will laugh–to prevent himself from crying again, I suspect. That part doesn’t have to go into the blog, Becca. You can share if you think it matters, but once I start writing, I find it hard to stay only on one topic. I just ramble.
As you can see, she’s well enough. We’re praying for her, of course–and Chad. I decided to leave those thoughts and musings because it is what makes Willow, Willow. And isn’t that what this blog is all about? Sharing her? I start with a laundry fun post and end with what is affecting her heart right now.
Have a wonderful day.+
I got this note yesterday!
I met Josh! I couldn’t believe it. He was standing right behind me in line at Joann’s on Saturday. When he was there he wasn’t working and was there with his girlfriend. However, if you would meet him while working at Joann’s [you] would possibly [assume the same thing Chad did of him] (which isn’t right as Josh demonstrated ).
So… what was Josh doing in JoAnn’s with a girlfriend? Huh?? Huh??
(psst… this was supposed to be published back on December 11, 2013