Tag-Archive for ◊ Past Forward ◊

Author:
• Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

491243931Becca’s nesting.  It started in the barn.  I went out to oversee the trade-out of goats and wow.  That barn has never been that clean–even when Mother got so mad at me for refusing to give up my afternoon at the fishing hole to help her build a loom I didn’t want in the first place. She brushed down every wall in an attempt not to let me have it for my selfishness. As an aside, can I just say I’d give anything to be able to forgo fishing for Mother’s happiness?

The kitchen actually sparkled in the sunlight.  She polished every single surface.  then she went out and disinfected everything connected to the stalls.  Yes. Disinfected.  I had to make her leave the animals out all night so they could BREATHE.  *see, I already learned to use “all caps” to emphasize a word.*

Once she polished every hinge, knob, and latch (yes, she did), she went out to the family chicken coop.  Stop laughing.  She did.  While chicken hawks soared overhead and threatened the existence of my flock, Becca power sprayed (that thing is amazing!) the coop down and then took a steel wire brush to the more stubborn… deposits.

Then she painted it.

I can’t stop laughing just thinking about it.  Mid-painting, Josh arrived.  For those who haven’t met him, Josh is a very sensitive man.  He’s protective but not like Chad.  Chad would be concerned with me climbing the roof to shovel off snow.  He’d yell at me to get down and then get all quiet until he controlled his anger at me for being selfish.  Josh just walked over to that coop–rare enough in and of itself–and led her over to the porch.  He brought her a pillow to sit on, a glass of water, and a couple of cookies.  Then he went and finished painting the coop.  In case the significance of that action is not obvious, I’ll state it bluntly. Josh and house paint do not mix.  Josh and chicken yards do not mix.  Josh hates dirty work, smelly work, and “handyman” stuff.

But Josh loves Becca.  And that’s what made it so beautiful.

I know he would like to think that was the end of her “nesting.”  It was only the beginning.

The trailer came next.  I admit, I went over there and just sat to watch.  I’ve never seen anything more fascinating.  And before you ask me how I could let a VERY pregnant woman do all that work by herself, just remember that she’s pregnant–and bossy.  I don’t think even I was that bossy with the boys.  For the record, she is delightfully charming about it.  She gives orders that she follows up with apologies and offers to do nice things for you.   So she ordered me to sit, practically begged me to forgive her for being rude, and offered me tea and cookies.

Then she went on a rampage.  It was quiet, methodical, and gently done, but it was still a rampage.  She reminded me of that woman I met at the ladies’ conference–the one who is all about de-cluttering.  I think Becca bagged up half their possessions.  Josh says that he took it all to a storage unit.  He said I could publish this as a gentle way to let her know that it’s not gone yet.  I’ve never seen that trailer so clean, and Becca and Josh both keep a very clean house.

But by far the sweetest thing has been the diligence with which she has devoted every free moment to preparing clothing for this child.  She designed and sewed diapers in three separate sizes.  Then she sewed, knitted, and quilted several blankets.  She  sewed her own socks!  For the baby, I mean. She’s made sleepers, toys, and attempted to make new nursing bras–and failed.

But she did all of this in the space of three weeks and while keeping up her regular work.  If she was quite a bit bigger, I’d be confident that she is carrying twins.

I can’t stop laughing.  I’ve retyped this sentence a dozen times, trying to write it without mistakes, but laughing makes it difficult.  Just as I wrote about her layette for the baby, she came in and asked for the laptop.  Apparently it needs to be cleaned up. She mentioned emptying trash and “de-fragging.”

So, I’ll go work in the greenhouse–the one that she’s swept out daily for weeks now–and let her finish her de-cluttering projects.  It is my contention that she will not go into labor until she’s done, and her idea is to get done with everything so she can have the baby early.

willowsig

Author:
• Saturday, January 17th, 2015

Living so close to Willow for so long has been kind of an immersion project–a chance to experience raw, day-to-day life “her way.”   It’s been beautiful.  But one lesson I had trouble adjusting to was the guilt I felt when I couldn’t recreate things the same way she does because I didn’t have a lifetime of practice in creating beauty out of raw materials.  I was used to craft kits, lessons, and tutorials.  Willow has learned to see everyday items in new ways.

Josh has been good for me in that respect.  He has taught me that imitating her results isn’t wrong. It’s not “cheating” but using what skills and materials I do have in ways that I find pleasing–even if it means I buy those materials.

She’s been making thank-you cards since Christmas–for obvious reasons.  She told me that she and her mother always spent a lot of time creating beautiful cards for after birthdays and Christmases.  It seems strange to do that for someone in your own home, but it’s beautiful too. So, I got the “thank you card” bug and decided to take her design and create it “my way.”    But first, I want to share what she did–just because the work she puts into something as simple as a thank-you card is truly remarkable.

I came into the kitchen a few days after Christmas and she had piles of stuff all over the table. A couple of brown paper bags, cardstock, a piece of burlap I remember from a bag that she used to have hanging in the barn.  It held small garden tools, if I recall correctly.  It tore a while back and then it disappeared.  I assumed that she’d burned it.  Apparently not.  It was all washed and ready to use.  Then there was a little dress that Kari had torn and stained.  I couldn’t imagine what she was doing, so I asked.

“Making thank-you cards.”

Yes my mind did immediately think, Of course you are.  So, I poured myself a cup of coffee and began watching.  Her cardstock was white–plain and boring. She cut each piece in half with a x-acto knife and folded it.  Then she opened them flat again and cut pieces from the brown paper bags–just a bit bigger than the card base on each side, but the same height.  I started to ask why when she pulled out rubber cement and began slathering it on the cardstock.  Then I saw why.  It would have shown a tiny bit of white if she hadn’t made it a little bigger.  She trimmed it up and voila–a “kraft” paper card base.  I would have (and eventually did) just bought kraft cardstock.

The next thing she did was to take another piece of cardstock and wash it with a robins egg blue.  This she pinned to the mini clothesline she has hanging on the wall over the stove.  I’m used to seeing dish cloths or towels drying there.  Paper–who knew?

While it dried, she folded a scrap of the grocery bag and began cutting.  It took a few tries, but eventually she managed to cut the shape of a butterfly that satisfied her.  With that, she traced it onto white paper and cut out a dozen or so butterflies.  Let’s just say it took forever.  Chad and the children arrived home from their visit to the park in the middle of this, so she had to put it all away.

The next afternoon, at nap time, she started again.  She cut the sheet of paper into eight equal pieces and then cut a notch out of the bottom of each one to create a flag.  She said, “I saw one like it on the Pinterest that Mom uses–just that little notch, but isn’t it cute?”

“The Pinterest.”  Only Willow.

Then the assembly began.  She wrapped each flag with a strip of burlap, and then ripped the lace from the upper ruffle of Kari’s little dress.  I thought she’d pull out the iron, but she didn’t.  She just used the edge of the table as a sort of iron, and pulled the lace back and forth across it until it laid flat.

Once the flags were assembled, she began writing.  A simple “thank you” on each card front bottom is all she used.  Just the kraft card base with the word written in brown was enough.  But once those were done, she glued her flags to each one.  Then she pulled out the butterflies again.  On each one, she’d hand sewed–through the paper–white seed pearls.  She said they were leftover from a bracelet that broke when she was a little girl.  I was afraid to ask if they were real pearls.  I thought she might actually say yes.

tycardIn the end, the cards were lovely.  I wanted to make my own.

So… I bought the following:

Kraft cardstock-  (4 sheets at .50 per sheet from the paper store)
Blue cardstock- (1 sheet at .50 per sheet from the paper store)
Spool of burlap- “ribbon” from Christmas clearance at Walmart (1.00)
Glue-backed pearls- (6.00 for enough to make 50 cards!)
Pink printed paper- (1.00 from the paper store)
Glue runner- (3.00 from Walmart)

And I borrowed a friend’s butterfly paper punch.

Sure… it wasn’t “free” like half of Willow’s stuff was.  But it’s mine.  and I love them.  And I love knowing that the card tucked into my husband’s lunch today, thanking him for taking such good care of me on days I’m too worn out to even look at the stove, shows the love I feel for him in the work I put into it.  And that’s the most beautiful thing about Willow’s ways… they reflect her heart.  For some people, it would be a handwritten note on notebook paper.  For others a phone call “just for nothing.”  Others might do it by baking muffins or sending a note on Facebook.  But for Willow, it’s sharing her creativity with the person she wants to honor.  And we all know that as she works, she prays for us.  Isn’t that the best part of all?

beccasiggy

 

Author:
• Monday, January 05th, 2015

I stepped into the kitchen the other day and Willow pointed to an open journal on the table.  “Chad thinks you should put some or all of that one on the blog.  He thinks folks might enjoy it.”  She looked at me with a familiar expression on her face–the one that says, “I don’t get it, but I’m willing to try.”

So, with a cup of the mint tea she grew and formulated herself in hand (remind me to tell you how she did that), I sat down at the table, rested my sore arms and even sorer back (this baby sure is taking a toll on my body!) and read.

 

December 26th

Another Christmas is over–done.  People told me that as the years pass, Christmasses without Mother would become easier.  They were right.  What they didn’t tell me is that they would also become more precious and, in that regard, more difficult.  The older my children are, the harder I find it to be without her.  I want to ask so many questions–things I never imagined needing to ask back when it was just the two of us working here together. Chad says that I forget how hard she found parenting me in the beginning.  I haven’t forgotten, not really.  But Mother had a beautiful quality.  I can’t find the right word for it, but she knew how to learn from her experiences and mistakes and grow with them.  She didn’t repeat those mistakes over and over.

To be fair, she also didn’t try to overcome all of her faults and weaknesses. Some she used as a mantle of protection.  But despite it all she tried.

Of course, this has little to do with Christmas. But pondering our times together made me think of Mother and sent me on that tangent. As we put away our decorations each year, Chad always says, “This was the best Christmas ever.”  I don’t know if it’s some tradition in his family, if he really thinks it, or if it’s a momentary expression of gratitude for all that the Lord has done for us throughout the year.

515068635But this year really did seem like “the best Christmas ever.”  The boys were old enough to appreciate the deeper meaning behind the tree, the gifts, the lights, and the joy of the season.  I don’t think I’ll ever forget my Liam’s face as he listened to his father reading Luke–again–and understanding dawned.  “Jesus was really a baby!  Like Kari was.  Like Aunt Aggie’s baby in her belly.”  He looked up at me and said, “Why?”  I suspect he was remembering Kari’s diapers.

I told him, “Because He loves us.”

And, apparently infancy is an even greater misfortune than I had ever imagined, because Liam’s response was simply, “He must love us a LOT.”

Lucas, on the other hand, while very fond of our nightly readings of the story of Jesus’ birth from one of the gospels, seemed to be most affected by our traditions.  I think he used the word why until, had it been minutes on his cellphone, he would have gone way over his limit. “Why do we have a tree, Mama?”  I explained how the tree came to be in use at all and how we choose to see a tree in our family. I don’t think he liked the idea of repurposing a pagan tradition to celebrate Jesus’ birth, but Chad’s discussion of choosing to use familiar things to tell a Bible story–kind of like Jesus’ parables and Paul’s sermons at the Acropolis–seemed to strike a chord.  His twenty-four hour disdain of the tree became a constant source of questioning and observations that seemed wise beyond his years–at least to me.  “Does the tree make Jesus sad?  He died on a tree.  A baby would be sad.”  And when I told them to let their lights shine before all men–even their little sister *cough*– he said, “Mama!  Like the lights on the tree.  Jesus dying on the tree helps us be lights for Him!”  Where do they come up with this stuff?  It’s so profound in a childlike way.

They know most of the words to most of the Christmas carols.  We sang them all day every day until I was thoroughly sick of them.  But it worked.  Even now as I write, I hear the words to “Joy to the World” interspersed between “Vroom, vrooms” of their cars and whinnies of their horses.  I wonder how Handel and Watts would like to hear the song with the percussion of little boys at play.  I suspect they’d like it better than said children’s mother.  But despite the repetition that sets my nerves on edge, my heart is blessed to hear the sounds of my sons singing praises to the Lord at their young ages.  It’s genuine.  It’s heart-felt.  And isn’t that what matters more than variety, peace, or quiet?

And little Kari, despite her constant trying of my nerves and patience, developed a heart for giving.  I had to limit her–direct her every step, but she gave each one of us one of her greatest treasures for Christmas.  Daily she brought me armloads of things to “Wrap pretty, Mama.”  And daily I had to redirect her to choosing just one thing for each of us.  Becca’s baby will have Kari’s favorite stuffed toy–a puppy I made her as a baby.  The poor thing cried a little as it went into the box.  I tried to talk her out of it, but she was determined to give Becca’s child “Fido.”  Yes, Chad named the silly toy, “Fido” and nothing I did would convince her to change its name.  She only has a couple of toys that were strictly hers and masculine enough for her tastes.  But she gave them to Liam and Lucas with such joy.  “For Jesus.”  At first, I didn’t understand her.  I kept correcting her by asking which one was for Lucas and which was for Liam.  She answered the same each time, but as we wrapped and decorated the packages, she kept patting them with a satisfied air and saying, “It’s for Jesus.”

I get it now.

I’d like to think that Mother can see us–knows how rich our lives are.  I know her fears, as with her tears, are wiped away in the arms of Jesus, but I would like to know that she is blessed by how the Lord has blessed us. I know that we are “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” but I am not confident of what that means.  Does it mean that all Christians who are with Jesus now observe and pray for us to remain strong in the faith?  Or is it referring to just those who died shortly after Jesus’ death?  I suspect the former, but I am no theologian.  Maybe that’s what I’ll study this year. Maybe I’ll find the answers,, and even if I don’t, that much time in the Word won’t hurt me.

Christmas is gone.  Easter beckons. While some say we weren’t commanded to celebrate the birth of Christ–only His death and resurrection through communion–the angels did.  The wise men did.  And we could not celebrate His death if He had not been born.  So, I’ll say it again.  Happy Birthday, Jesus.  Thank you for the greatest gift of all–You.

Author:
• Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

People often ask me if I project myself into my work–if I write my story, albeit fictionalized.  While I can’t say that I never do that, it’s not usually an overt decision when it happens.  Sometimes I write what I need to learn, and Willow’s story became that.  I never intended to write about a young woman so very different from people around her.  I assumed, as I typed the first paragraphs of Past Forward that I would show just how similar we all are at the foundation.

I was wrong.

Something about Willow’s personality and philosophy of life kept pushing its way to the forefront of her story.  It became like a theme song, one I finally named “Live Life Deliberately.”

It’s so easy to get caught up in life–to allow it to propel you in random directions without regard for how you want to live. I think that’s why people resonate so strongly with Willow.  One could say she chose to carpe vita–seize life.

I’ve received more emails about Willow than any of my other characters.  People write to tell me about their balcony container gardens, the Christmas cards they made last year, or their first attempts at making soap or candles. People have taken up knitting, sewing, painting, drawing, rug hooking and braiding, and I can’t remember what all.  There are communities where a single hen or two lay eggs every day in suburban backyards–because a fictional character inspired their owners to step out of modern American culture and live a dream.

candles11Even as I sit here, I’ve got one of the tallow candles I made last year burning next to me. I don’t need the light.  I didn’t need the candle.  I made them because I wanted to see just what kind of work went into the process.  It’s one thing to research and do the math to figure out hours and total yield.  It’s another to render tallow three and four times before deciding it’s clean enough to burn.

When I did it, a friend asked why people were so drawn to things that are hard, smelly, uncomfortable work.  It made me uncomfortable because I didn’t know the answer.  I am, by nature, a very lazy person.  I don’t want to live Willow’s life.  I want the fruits of it, but I don’t want to do hard, physical labor making soap or candles just so I can then have a way to clean up after making those candles or have light by which to make that soap.  I don’t want to garden, can, raise animals, hang clothes on the line, or a million other things that Willow has to do. Would I like it if it “just happened”?  Sure!  But unlike the delightful stories I get from readers who have “turned off electricity” for the day or week (leaving on essentials like refrigerators etc.), I like my electricity. I want it.  So why am I sitting here beside a flickering mason jar candle with lights on in the kitchen behind me and the corner of this room?

It’s a reminder.

See, while I don’t want to replicate Willow’s exact life in mine, I do want that purposeful living she embraces.  She chooses to make her soap, make her own “light”, and grow her own food.  That is how she chooses to live deliberately.  This candle, with its occasional snaps and crackles, glows brightly beside me, giving much more light than you’d expect from half a cup of tallow.

And it gives me inspiration.

I’m working on a non-fiction book whenever time allows (which isn’t often).  It’s an exploration of how a life lived deliberately looks from the perspectives of people who live very different lives.  I want to focus on the principle of living deliberately, not the method. Willow’s method is hers.  It might be perfect for you or your sister or your neighbor.  It’s not perfect for me or for everyone. So, as I struggle to find that perfect balance in my life (even if I’ll never achieve it), I wonder about others.

How do you live deliberately?  What do you do to ensure that you are making purposeful decisions that direct your life in the path you desire most?  How is your life different than it was before you made that decision?

If you’d like to be part of this book and are willing to be interviewed, I would love to know more. I would love to learn with you and from you just what it means to live deliberate, purposeful lives.  Please Email Me:)

Author:
• Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

Image courtesy of Etsy. Painted leaf can be purchased from LoisArmstrongArt.

Living on Willow’s farm has taught me more than how to butcher a chicken or render tallow for candles.  While making my own soap, cleansers, and personal hygiene products is rewarding and a step in the direction I want my life to go, the lessons I’ve learned from Willow and her mother can’t be seen in a row of canned vegetables, fruits, and jams. I’ve learned most from who they are (and were) as people.  These lessons are rooted deep in my heart now.

People meet Willow, hear about her life, visit the farm, and they’re struck by the vast amount of work it takes to “do it all.”  Those three words are like a mantra or something. The amazing thing is that having lived both lives, Josh and I see a truth that I don’t think most people can grasp.  Despite the hours of hard physical labor Willow puts in every day, she has much more free time–“me time”–than anyone we know.

When we were talking about it the other night, Josh suggested I write and share a bit of our conversation because it really impacted both of us.  So, here we go.

Did you know that Willow takes a walk every day?  A lot of people do that, so it’s really nothing remarkable–not unless you know her and know what happens on that walk.  She sees things.  She notices insects.  Nothing remarkable there.  We all tend to notice the pesky things.  But Willow notices things about them that I wouldn’t have thought to look for, much less embrace and enjoy.  She finds them beautiful (assuming they aren’t in her home).  She marvels at their design.  As workouts go, her walks are useless because sometimes she doesn’t make it more than a couple hundred yards from the back door and all because she spends too much time watching–observing.

She’ll also come back and tell you what insects were noticeably absent or overly abundant. From that, she’ll hypothesize about what animals and birds are in abundance and which ones are low in population this year.

But the most fun is when she brings nature back with her.  Yesterday, she brought home several leaves–some thoroughly dry already, others still pliable despite their vivid fall coloring.  The boys clambered to see, and she gave each boy one of the dried, curled leaves. They disintegrated in seconds.  I’ll never forget her words.  “This is why you need to learn to ask.  You say, “Mommy, do I need to be gentle?”

I thought she was a bit crazy, but she pulled out two of the fresher leaves and passed one to each boy.  Lucas’ little fist curled around the stem, but he didn’t seem willing to test its pliability.  But he didn’t ask. So she prompted him.  “Ask me if you can touch it or if you need to be gentle.”

And so the lesson went.  It took several tries, but after a few minutes, each boy had learned a lesson–not the one Willow hoped to convey.  They didn’t understand her explanation of how and why leaves change colors.  They didn’t grasp that the veins on the backs of the leaves are like the veins under our skin.  But they learned how to treat delicate things, and they learned it on something that didn’t matter.

And I learned.  I learned that being a mother isn’t diapers and feedings.  It isn’t tucking them into bed and reading a story.  Well, it is.  But that’s not the main thing.  The main thing is what your children learn when you do those things.  They learn how to care for things–for people.  They learn without even realizing it.  It began with Kari–that intentional education without a formal setting.  I loved reading about it, but I admit I’ve looked into local private schools and pre-schools.  I’ve looked into every educational style–every curriculum style.  And yes, my baby won’t even be born for four more months.  I’d decided on a Charlotte Mason approach in a home education setting.  I thought it sounded closest to Kari’s plans while still giving me a concrete framework and assurance that I am not leaving gaping holes in my child’s education.  I was sure Josh would agree with me, but do you know what he said?  He said, “Becca, you can’t love the principle, love the results, want to replicate those results, and ignore the process.”

He’s right.  Kari’s educational process isn’t the only right way to educate a child–whether at home, school, or anywhere else.  But I love the naturalness of it. It’s what my heart longs for.  And I’m compromising out of fear.  Well, I was.  I’m going to give myself six years of trying it Kari’s way.  Birth to six.  If I feel like my child is far behind other kids at that point and I can’t stand it, well… okay.  But I have a feeling that it’ll be far richer than I ever imagined.

I’ve seen the fruit of this life.  I want it.  I just have to learn how to develop it in my life without trying to be someone I’m not.  That is the hardest part of all.

Oh, and what did Willow do with all those leaves?  Can you believe she painted them?  Chad’s making barn wood frames from a few pieces they salvaged from the burned barn–even ones with charred edges.  They’re stunnning. I sure hope one is going to be my Christmas present!

Author:
• Tuesday, April 01st, 2014

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?

beads1I 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…

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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).

Author:
• Saturday, March 29th, 2014
chinaberry beads

Image courtesy of Pinterest

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…

 

 

 

 

 

beccasiggy

Author:
• Monday, January 27th, 2014

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.

First, my supplies: candles1

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!

Also needed:

  • 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.

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As you can see, there is still a lot of meat on that fat.

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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:

Okay, so that was taken several years ago. Isn’t my granddaughter cute? Yeah, Sergeant is too. I just thought that tongue says it all!

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

Image courtesy of Amazon as I said.

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!

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See!  All ready to go!  Just pour (carefully… it’s HOT) and voila!

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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

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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!

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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.”

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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!  :)

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Author:
• Thursday, December 26th, 2013

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.

December 25–

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.+

• Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

Every year about this time, Mother would get me busy with something that didn’t require my brain but did require my busy hands–cookie making, chicken de-boning, coloring–and then she’d just start reciting.  I remember the first time she ever did it.  I was about five and had gotten into trouble for something.  Why can’t I remember what?  Anyway, she’d set me to separating dried beans into jars.  Mother liked our beans to be stored in Mason jars with all rocks removed so we didn’t have to take the time to do it when we cooked them.  As an added lesson to whatever it was (I suspect I made a mess that only Mother could clean up, now that I think of it), she combined pinto beans, white navy beans, and split peas for me to separate into jars and from the rocks and rotten pieces.  I was discouraged and feeling a little sorry for myself.  Why Mother didn’t tell me to change my attitude and deal with it, I will never know.  Instead, she pulled out the table leaf and started mixing bread.  As she mixed, she recited.

Annie and Willie’s Prayer

‘Twas the eve before Christmas. “Good night,” had been said,
And Annie and Willie had crept into bed;
There were tears on their pillows, and tears in their eyes,
And each little bosom was heaving with sighs,
For tonight their stern father’s command had been given
That they should retire precisely at seven
Instead of at eight-for they troubled him more
With questions unheard of than ever before:
He had told them he thought this delusion a sin,
No such creature as “Santa Claus” ever had been.
And he hoped, after this, he should never more hear
How he scrambled down chimneys with presents each year.
And this was the reason that two little heads
So restlessly tossed on their soft, downy beds.
Eight, nine, and the clock on the steeple tolled ten,
Not a word had been spoken by either till then,
When Willie’s sad face from the blanket did peep,
And whispered, “Dear Annie, is ‘ou fast as’eep?”
“Why no, brother Willie,” a sweet voice replies,
“I’ve long tried in vain, but I can’t shut my eyes,
For somehow it makes me so sorry because
Dear Papa has said there is no ‘Santa Claus.’
Now we know there is, and it can’t be denied,
For he came every year before Mama died;
But, then, I’ve been thinking that she used to pray,
And God would hear everything Mama would say,
And maybe she asked him to send Santa Claus here
With that sackful of presents he brought every year.”
“Well, why tan’t we p’ay dest as Mama did den,
And ask Dod to send him with p’esents aden?”
“I’ve been thinking so too,” and without a word more
Four little bare feet bounded out on the floor,
And four little knees the soft carpet pressed,
And two tiny hands were clasped close to each breast.
“Now, Willie, you know we must firmly believe
That the presents we ask for we’re sure to receive;
You must wait very still till I say the ‘Amen,’
And by that you will know that your turn has come then.”
“Dear Jesus, look down on my brother and me,
And grant us the favor we are asking of thee.
I want a wax dolly, a tea set, and ring,
And an ebony workbox that shuts with a spring.
Bless Papa, dear Jesus, and cause him to see
That Santa Claus loves us as much as does he;
Don’t let him get fretful and angry again
At dear brother Willie and Annie. Amen.”
“Please, Desus, ‘et Santa Taus turn down tonight,
And b’ing us some p’esents before it is light,
I want he should div’ me a nice ‘ittie s’ed,
With bright sbinin’ ‘unners, and all painted red;
A box full of tandy, a book, and a toy,
Amen, and then, Desus, I’ll be a dood boy.”

Their prayers being ended, they raised up their heads,
With hearts light and cheerful, again sought their beds.
They were lost soon in slumber, both peaceful and deep,
And with fairies in dreamland were roaming in sleep.

Eight, nine, and the little French clock had struck ten,
Ere the father had thought of his children again:
He seems now to hear Annie’s half-suppressed sighs,
And to see the big tears stand in Willie’s blue eyes.
“I was harsh with my darlings,” he mentally said,
“And should not have sent them so early to bed;
But then I was troubled; my feelings found vent,
For bank stock today have gone down ten per cent!

But of course they’ve forgotten their troubles ere this,
And that I denied them the thrice-asked-for kiss:
But, just to make sure, I’ll go up to their door,
For I never spoke harsh to my darlings before.”
So saying, he softly ascended the stairs,
And arrived at the door to hear both of their prayers;
His Annie’s “Bless Papa” drew forth the big tears,
And Willie’s grave promise fell sweet on his ears.
“Strange-strange-I’d forgotten,” said he with a sigh,
“How I longed when a child to have Christmas draw nigh.”
“I’ll atone for my harshness,” he inwardly said,
“By answering their prayers ere I sleep in my bed.”
Then he turned to the stairs and softly went down,
Threw off velvet slippers and silk dressing gown,
Donned hat, coat, and boots, and was out in the street,
A millionaire facing the cold, driving in the sleet!
Nor stopped he until he had bought everything
From the box full of candy to the tiny gold ring;
Indeed, he kept adding so much to his store,
That the various presents outnumbered a score.

Then homeward he turned. Where his holiday load,
With Aunt Mary’s help, in the nursery was stowed.
Miss Dolly was seated beneath a pine tree,
By the side of a table spread out for her tea;
A workbox well fitted in the center was laid,
And on it the ring for which Annie had prayed,
A soldier in uniform stood by a sled
“With bright shining runners, and all painted red.”
There were balls, dogs, and horses, books pleasing to see,
And birds of all colors were perched in the tree!
While Santa Claus, laughing, stood up in the top,
As if getting ready more presents to drop.
And as the fond father the picture surveyed,
He thought for his trouble he had amply been paid,
And he said to himself, as he brushed off a tear,
‘I’m happier tonight than I’ve been for a year;
I’ve enjoyed more pure pleasure than ever before;
What care I if bank stock falls ten per cent more!
Hereafter I’ll make it a rule, I believe,
To have Santa Claus visit us each Christmas Eve.”
So thinking, he gently extinguished the light,
And, tripping down stairs, retired for the night.

As soon as the beams of the bright morning sun
Put the darkness to flight, and the stars one by one,
Four little blue eyes out of sleep opened wide,
And at the same moment the presents espied;
Then out of their beds they sprang with a bound,
And the very gifts prayed for were all of them found.
They laughed and they cried, in their innocent glee,
And shouted for Papa to come quick and see
What presents old Santa Claus brought in the night
(just the things that they wanted,) and left before light:
“And now,” added Annie, in a voice soft and low,
“You’ll believe there’s a ‘Santa Claus’, papa, I know”-
While dear little Willie climbed up on his knee,
Determined no secret between them should be,
And told in soft whispers how Annie had said
That their dear, blessed mama, so long ago dead,
Used to kneel down by the side of her chair,
And that God up in heaven had answered her prayer.
“Den we dot up and prayed dust well as we tould,
And Dod answered our prayers: now wasn’t He dood?”
“I should say that He was, if He sent you all these,
And knew just what presents my children would please.
(Well, well, let him think so, the dear little elf,
‘Twould be cruel to tell him I did it myself.”)

Blind father! Who caused your stern heart to relent,
And the hasty words spoken so soon to repent?
‘Twas the Lord Jesus who bade you steal softly upstairs,
And made you His agent to answer their prayers.

– Sophia P. Snow

I learned later that she’d spent every night after I went to bed, memorizing the poem in order to be able to recite it to me at will.  When people hear about my childhood and some of the cultural things I still don’t understand and say, “What kind of mother did you have?” I think of things like this and say to myself, “This kind of mother.  The best I could have hoped for.”

Chad went online to find a link to the poem somewhere and found this video of a man reading it.  We thought you might enjoy it.  You can also purchase the poem from Amazon either as a single book or in the collection of poems we recommend, The Best Loved Poems of the American People by Hazel Felleman

willowsig