Friday, December 30, 2005

The Newest Issue is "in the mail"

The Essential Herbal Jan/Feb issue is in the mail. It will be a little while before it starts arriving at the homes of subscribers, but it will be worth the wait. This issue has more than a little of everything!

To begin with, Maureen Rogers sent an article on scented geraniums (2006 herb of the year) that leaves barely a stone unturned. Cultivation, uses, and recipes for both culinary and body care using this plant and the oil.
Bryna Tracy wrote a tutorial on Oven Hot Process Soap using milk. This is a process I've never done, but will probably be trying soon.
We did an interview with Rachel Johnston of Scent by Spirit, who has just expanded her business to the point of needing a warehouse.
Karen Mallinger lets us in on the life of an herbal columnist. She's got a real knack for seeing humor in the absurd :-).
Michele Brown is also expanding into wholesale this year, and talks about that in her column. Susanna Reppert Brill explains tea in hers.
Susan Evans gives some great advice for staying healthy this winter, and then we do a quick take on five herbs to help in another article.
Sarah Liberta tempts us once again with Sweet Potato Spice Cake. Oh my!
Oh but that isn't all! Mary Ellen Wilcox and Sam Corwin sent instructions for Valentine's Day crafting, Tina Sams put together articles on Soups and Stepping Stones, and the Yahoo list gave many suggestions on keeping the winter blues at bay.
Jerry Striker sent his favorite Elderberry Pie recipe, and Sheri Weix sent Mulled Maple Cider. Patty Sigman sent several of her favorite recipes.
We also did something new this issue - a readers' showcase. Lots of wonderful products were reviewed along with some great books.
So begins the 5th year. Each issue is filled with the offerings of many herb folk, and each issue is better than the last. Bravo to all of our contributors!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Brown With Envy

From the very first issue of The Essential Herbal (Jan/Feb '02), an article by Beth Bender Walters:


I shall confess from the beginning that I am obsessed with my garden. Smitten, enraptured, possessed. To dig, sweat, weed, compost, plant and replant appear to be my calling in life.
Those living within spying distance of my puttering are perpetually perplexed by my activities. To rescue those pungent pine needles, after my neighbor stuffs them into black plastic trash bags, quickens my pulse. I positively run down the street with my trusty wheelbarrow, ready to make a clean sweep of suburbia. I gleefully collect all of those grass trimmings which were bound for the dump.
In time, all of these fine ingredients I have accumulated shall be converted into the oh-so-precious and coveted black dirt. Pay dirt. Most people do not expend so much energy on the subject of dirt, unless it is in their house and it requires sweeping, mopping, or dusting. I, on the other hand, am enamored with terra firma. Not the indoor variety; house dirt is best ignored until a rainy day.
The good stuff is all out there in the garden somewhere...or rather, in somebody else's garden. I once read an article which boasted the title "Perfect Soil in 3 Easy Steps". "312 Backbreaking Steps" would be more accurate. The author claimed the ability to "plunge my arm into my borders up to my elbow in sweet, dark humus". Not to be outdone, I zipped outside to my cosseted, pampered soil and inserted my little finger clear up to the second joint. I suspect that the owners of these glossy picture perfect gardens are not gardeners at all, just sick individuals that enjoy making the rest of us howl in defeat and despair.
Even with my neighborhood foragings, the plot of land where I do my picking and scratching is composed primarily of clay, rock and thistle, where Canada Thistle grows in abundance and has a tap root that could encircle Cleveland within one growing season. This is my "lot (or plot) in life."
I covet other people's fertile soil in the same way that others drool over sports cars. My sister in law can produce the most delicate spires of lupines (that I attribute to her dark, fertile soil), whereas in my garden they languish, wither and perish. I am convinced that there is a secret recipe for her crumbly soil. Perhaps there is a secret recipe, handed down through generations, safeguarded like Grandma's pie crust recipe. As much as I beg, plead and threaten, she still refuses to admit that there is a formula that she follows. Ha! I've seen her shed where she keeps bags of peat moss, lime and dried manure. I know that her magical blend is floating somewhere in her head.
Its only a matter of time before I either pry the recipe from her or stumble upon it myself. In the meantime, I'll still gather my neighbor's clippings, I'll continue to pick the endless supply of shale out of my garden, and I'll continue to dream of the next season. After all, I am a gardener.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Rudolph the wonder Dog

Rudolph the wonder dog belongs to my brother in law, Bob. He's the family pet, but there can be no doubt that his heart belongs to Bob.
To understand the story of Rudy, you have to know the story of Jellybean.
Many years ago Jellybean joined the family. He was smart, brave, and a bit of a rogue. The family has a Christmas tree farm, and as soon as he was old enough it became Jellybean's job to greet each family as they arrived to choose their tree. Everyone knew him, and children adored him, looking for him and asking for him if he didn't appear.
After 12 seasons of hard work, Jellybean found his favorite spot on Christmas morning, lay down, and let out his last breath.
He had been Bob's boy too.
Eventually, the family found Rudy. This puppy had some big shoes to fill. At first it didn't look like he would be up to the challenge. He follows Bob everywhere, but while Jellybean was more serious, this little guy is very silly.
Little did we realize that Rudy was carving his own niche. He's an original, not following in footsteps, but creating his very own place. Rudy also greets the families as they arrive, and he might even help them pick the tree - but he is Bob's assistant. Rudy is a talker, and a dancer. He is aware of each and every movement in that house.
Last night as we gathered at my sister's preparing to celebrate at our brother's home, Rudy went and settled among the gifts under their tree. He knows what a gift he is.
I had to laugh when Bob started rubbing his hands together and looked at my sister with excitement asking, "can we let him open one of his presents early?'
Is there anything like a boy and his dog?

Monday, December 19, 2005

Shop the local stores!

I always try to do as much shopping in privately owned shops as possible. As as previous shop keep myself, its important to me (and should be important to everyone) that the shops that work hard to have unusual, unique, and special items stick around for us to enjoy. A while back, I wrote about 10,000 Villages and today I stopped in to visit The Dusty Rose, a purveyor of "Fine Gifts, Antiques & Such". The Dusty Rose is a great find, nestled in next to the grocery shop near my house, and just a few doors down from my favorite Chinese restaurant.
In the window are giant hand-blown orbs of glass which are just the tantalizing beginning. Owners Jerry and Barb Striker search far and wide for delightful home accents, jewelry, tabletop items, candles, fountains... all sorts of cool stuff. Today I found 2 gifts for my daughter. It's perfectly safe to mention them here, because she finds me far too boring to ever peruse this blog. Sigh.... Anyway, they sell a line of fairy jewelry, and I got her a tiny fairy wand necklace for Christmas, and another - a tiny frog with a crown - for her upcoming birthday. They are really sweet, she'll love them. The Dusty Rose can be reached either by email - , or at 717-581-1775.
I should mention here that Jerry is a long-time friend. He's the slave-driver I worked for who forced me to learn how to use the computer. His sense of humor can be found throughout the shop in some of the more unusual items. A couple years ago I found an egg separator for a friend that had Jerry written all over it. It was a ceramic piece, resembling a human head. You poured the egg into the top of the head, and the white of the egg came out the nose, while the perfect yolk remained inside.
Barb worked at the same place, and we've been friends a long time too. Her eye for display and taste are evident in every detail. The customer service is incredible.
Yep, I love the small shops.
Jerry supplied a recipe for Elderberry Pie that will be in the upcoming Jan/Feb issue of The Essential Herbal, that he brought back from his aunt's recipe collection in Ohio.
Even though the holiday season is drawing to a close, be sure to stop in and support local business whenever the opportunity arises. The big boxes may seem convenient now, but when they become the only choice, life will sure be boring.

Friday, December 16, 2005

pink tree... pity me.

A couple of years ago we found this tree, and thought it was just crazy enough to be cool. Molly kept it in her room, holding beads, hats, and neckwear. Its small, maybe 4" tall, so it was just in the corner minding it's own business. We didn't use it for it's intended purpose, going for more traditional greenery. Maybe it is just me, but when making a purchase such as this, it doesn't immediately occur to one that typical ornamentation is not really sufficient. We decided that this was the year to give it a shot. I think it still needs work, maybe a match and some starter fluid.
This angle isn't the best either... not that there really IS a good angle, mind you. I bought lights today, passing over the tiny pink bulbs that would have worked better (in retrospect), and choosing instead a set of 7 round bulbs in different shades of purple, pink, green, and yellow. They aren't turned on right now. Its not good. There are large paper flowers, a few flamingos, lots and lots of lunaria in the branches, and a ton of icicles.
This seemed like a good year to bring this tree out. It hasn't been a traditional year. It's been a strange, crazy year and we weren't willing to invest a lot of $$$ in making this tree (and therefore this year) look any better than it really is. All I can say is we were willing to try it once, and this will be enough. More than enough, but still...
Now that the decor is pretty much finished, its time to turn attention to other last minute bits and pieces. Time to settle in and spend some time doing some more tradional things like (ugh) baking cookies, wrapping gifts, stuffing stockings, and visiting with relatives and friends.
I know one thing for sure, this baby is coming down on New Year's Day.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

El Rodeo with Steph and Valerie

Every now and then I get together with some buds from my old work-place (now known as "the printer"). A fairly new restaurant opened up in the area with authentic Mexican food and terrific prices, so that works for us.
Here are Steph and Val in a jovial pre-holiday mood.... which isn't always easy after a long day of work. Its fun to get together over a basket of chips and talk about what's going on in our lives. Steph shares many of the same interests that I have, and Valerie has daughters around the same age as mine, so we never run out of stuff to talk about. Steph even tried the fudge recipe that was recently posted, and brought some along for us to try. Yummmm. It was good.
One of the things I love about this restaurant is the decor. Bright and cheerful!
How could you not have fun at a table like this? All carved and painted with a thick glass top. I secretly covet this table for my own dining room. Now the booths, on the other hand, are the same tables, except they are higher - so they come up almost to my chin. That's not so much fun. We finally caught on and asked for a table instead. They have a Mariachi band every so often, but I haven't been there on the right night for that yet.
So on other fronts, there is one more weekend at the Frog Hollow shop, and then we'll decide how to proceed. The magazine is my priority, glass torchwork is Maryanne's, and then there are all the things that fall in between that we do together. I'm so excited to see how the next year unfolds.

Monday, December 12, 2005

More Natural Ornaments

From The Essential Herbal

1 ounce beeswax
1/2 cup applesauce
1-1/4 cup assorted powdered spices (cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, clove, etc.)
1 T orris root
Melt beeswax slowly with the applesauce. Stir in the spices and orris root. After the mixture has cooled slightly, pour onto a protected surface. Roll dough into balls. Roll the balls firmly in lavender buds, rose petals, or citrus peel granules. Allow to dry 3 or 4 days.

Gather bay leaves (lots), dried apple and orange slices, large dried rosehips, and cinnamon sticks. Soak the rosehips and cinnamon in warm water for a few minutes to make them soft enough to pierce with a large needle.Thread large needle with dental floss or quilting twine. Begin with a rosehip, then a cinnamon stick, then an apple slice. Add enough bay leaves (through the center) to fill about 1", then an orange slice, then another inch of bay leaves. Apple slice, cinnamon stick, rosehip. Leave enough twine at either end to tie off, and enough on one of the ends to form a loop for hanging.p.s. You can string these in any order you'd like - this is just an example.

Although I titled this leaves, it works well with many, many of the things found outside - although it may be just a little late if you're under snow right now. I look for nice thick oak leaves, and other sturdy, well shaped leaves, pinecones, milkweed pods, clumps of acorns (the acorn needs to be glued into the cap, because it shrinks as it dries and falls out) and larch branches are great if you can find them. Also the Crepe Myrtle seed pod sprays are gorgeous.Spray or hand paint them in shimmery metallic colors and attach twine, ribbon or wire to hang.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Hoar Frost for the holidays

Today was a gorgeous day - in a sort of otherworldly, foggy dreamy kind of way. I drove up the back roads to the shop, trying to avoid icy patches while still watching the scenery. It was so unusual!
We'd had several inches of snow last week but then the weather warmed up a little bit. Overnight, there was a heavy fog that then froze with just a light coating on everything it touched. I think that is termed a "hoar frost".
I passed horses grazing in the mist, a weeping willow completely covered by this crystalline magic, and weeds that seemed to be blooming with ice flowers.

Once I arrived at the tree farm, I headed straight up the hill with the camera to catch the frozen fireworks and the frosted "flowers.
It was simply gorgeous, and here are some wintry photos I wanted to share with you.
The shop we cobbled together has been a lot of fun, and provided us with a real reason to do a lot of things (whipped shea butter, emulsified sugar scrubs, soap stones, etc) we've been wanting to do. Only one more week. Maryanne got a lot of good feedback on her glasswork, and enough sales to have her fired up.
I teased the Yahoo group mercilessly about the next issue - which just went to press. Once I have the completed cover and can scan one in, I'll put it up and tease you too :-).... well, I can say that this is the best issue ever.
Somehow we managed to get everything taken care of for the holidays here. The shop(s), the next issue, and even almost all of the shopping and shipping done. Heck! There may even be time to send a few cards out this year. We'll have to see about that one, though.
One last thing - fudge!
This was (I believe) a Rachel Ray recipe, posted by Monica on The Dish. It is simple, and takes about 3 minutes. You need:
4 T. butter
1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
1 pkg (12 oz.) semi-sweet morsels
1 cup (or more) pecans - optional
Melt butter slowly. Add chocolate to melted butter. When the chocolate is just melted, stir in the sweetened condensed milk with a whisk. I then add about enough pecans to make it more like fudge coated pecans.... yum! Mini-marshmallows, peanut butter, walnuts, coconut.... whatever you like can go in. Chill until firm, cut and serve.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Simply Natural Ornaments

We're pretty busy putting the finishing touches on the next issue, so I thought I'd post something from The Essential Herbal holiday issue the first year - 2002. We did an article listing ways to make things to decorate the tree.

There are so many beautiful ways to decorate the Yule tree without spending too much money. It does require a bit of forethought, but the results are well worth it. Here are some ideas.....
* The flowers that were pressed during the summer make lovely decorations if you have access to a laminator. Clear contact paper works too, but will not be as defined. Lunaria makes a great background. Add some deep blue larkspur, maybe some monarda, some arborvitae or boxwood leaves. Cut close to the flowers to avoid big empty areas. Punch a hole and add a ribbon.
* When peeling and eating citrus fruit, keep the peel as intact as possible. Use cookie cutters or scissors to cut out stars, hearts, or whatever shape you like. Cut a hole for hanging before drying. To dry flat, put a weight on top for a few days... although they will still curl a bit.
* Miniature (4") garlands are fun and fragrant. Soak 2' cinnamon sticks in warm watter to soften them. Combine with bay leaves, and string. Rosehips are a nice touch too.
* As a change from the traditional cranberry and popcorn garland, try a spice garland for incredible scent. Gather juniper berries, allspice, rosehips, 1" cinnamon pieces, cardamom pods in green and white, tonka beans or vanilla beans, star anise and hawthorne berries. Put all the hard dried spices in a large bowl of warm water. In a few minutes they will be soft enough for a needle to pierce. String with abandon. If these are stored properly to avoid tangles, they will last for years.
* Make tiny tussie mussies with dried flowers. Put lace around the outside, and glue small spring clothes pins to hang them from.
* Cut small dried goards to make a cup. Fill with moss, and then glue dried flowers to make a miniature floral arrangement. Drill holes in the sides to tie a ribbon handle - like a bucket.
* Use clear balls that can be opened to make tiny terrariums, using moss and wee woodland plants. If you look under the leaves, its easy to find pretty little plants to use. Mist lightly, seal, and hang.
* For a bit of sparkle, spray gold or silver paint onto pinecones and seedpods. Spray glitter works well too.
* Spice Clay Mix available at can be mixed with applesauce, rolled out like cookie dough, and cut with cookie cutters to make scented ornaments.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Today in the waiting room

I took my older brother in to the hospital for day surgery. The waiting room is huge, and it is the same room I spent 3 days in last March while my mother died. I wasn't looking forward to sitting there today. As I registered at the desk and got my beeper, I heard beautiful singing - quiet and many, many voices. Off to the side (well actually one whole side) of the room were between 30 and 40 Amish people. I have no idea who they were there for, or what had happened (although there was a nasty accident last night where a buggy was hit by a truck), but they were there to support someone. They sat in a huge circle holding hands, singing. Since the Amish here speak the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect, the words of the songs weren't important as much as the least to me.I sat near enough to not be distracted by all the other small groups of people sitting and talking, but far enough not to intrude. Eventually a man stood at the head of the circle and started to pray in English. He prayed for all the people in the hospital, for all the family members, and for everyone touched by hardship or tragedy. No fire and brimstone, just a request for a blessing and peace...After that, they continued singing while taking turns going to see the person they were there to care for. It was very moving to see so many people caring so deeply and gathering in that place to do what they could. It completely changed the way I felt in that room. It was really beautiful.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Frankincense and Myrrh

In my imagination, things were going to slow down once the shop finally got finished and open. Yes, I can hear you chuckling, and as the wholesale orders rolled in on Monday and yesterday, I realized the folly of my plan. The days are getting away from me, and now I'm thinking, "as soon as the next issue goes out....". That probably won't happen either, but I like to pretend. In the meantime, I'll post this snippet on these familiar yet exotic resins.

Frankincense and Myrrh

The two fragrant resins are often referred to, but rarely do we see them in use. Many people have never seen them or smelled their exotic perfume. Others who attend churches rich in ritual are much more accustomed to censors pouring forth the smoke of frankincense.

During the holidays, these are two of the famed gifts of the Magi from the Bible, given along with gold to the baby Jesus, and are found sometimes in small quantities packaged for gift giving.

They are both resins, or saps from plants. Frankincense comes from the plant Boswellia carteri, and is grown mainly in Ethiopia. The scent is sunny and piney. It comes in different sizes, tear, pearl, and powder and is a warm variety of yellows. It is also available in essential oil, a form that is easiest to use in winter. In aromatherapy, frankincense is used to calm and release tension. It is also said to assist in meditation. When blending fragrances, frankincense oil is very valuable, because it quickly grounds blends that are too heady or lightens blends that are too base.

Myrrh is from a plant native to northern Africa. It is Commiphora myrrha. It comes in shades of red, amber, and brown and can be found in chunks, granules, or powder. The fragrance of myrrh is dark and mysterious. It is perfectly balanced by the brighter frankincense. Myrrh is rarely used in aromatherapy blends, but is found in mouthwashes and toothpastes (often along with goldenseal) to heal gums and keep them healthy. It does NOT taste good. It was also used in mummification.

In the summer with windows open, these may be smoldered on charcoal blocks to release their fragrant full bodied scents. In the winter, that isn’t possible. Instead, try adding some to a simmering pot. It takes a little while, but the hot water releases the scent. They can go into the fireplace in small quantities, or set in a dish on a heat source. They will however ruin the dish, so keep that in mind. The small pea-sized pieces may also be strung using a heated needle and worn about the neck. Body heat will slowly release the fragrance and surround you with mystery.

Monday, November 28, 2005

opening weekend

We opened our little shop doors on Friday. It was a fun weekend, even if I'd forgotten what hard work retail can be. The weather turned cold last week, so it was perfect to get folks into a holiday mood. Bob spent his days going up and down the hill with the frogmobile and wagon, hauling down trees. Although I'd like to whine about being on my feet and any other little things that were uncomfortable - at least I was warm inside the shop!
Yesterday I finally wised up and took along some things so I could work on a couple articles for the next issue. The deadline is only 2 days away and the schedule is very tight this year.
At some point this week we need to make some more product for the shelves. The whipped shea butter, the salt soap bars, and the soap stones were bigger hits than we'd anticipated.

Friday, November 25, 2005

The shop and stuff

Well first, I thought I'd share an image of Thanksgiving
at my sister's house yesterday. Her dining room and kitchen are open and there is a spread of appetizers behind the siblings and kids. Maryanne is in the background working on the gravy. This year my brothers, sister and I stepped into the role of oldsters, as we are in the position of being without any older relatives. It seems lucky to me that there just aren't enough kids to really gang up on us and tell us that we aren't making sense, or all the things kids do to make you feel out of touch. I figure we can go on thinking that we're "with it" forever if we can just keep the kids quiet.
So today (as I mentioned earlier) was the first official day of business for the shop at the tree farm. Here is a picture of the front of the shop where Maryanne generally does all of her torch work and soaping. At those times, it is her studio but for the next month it is known as the shop. To the right there is a large bay where her husband Bob makes pine roping and wreaths while the customers are up on the hill searching for the perfect tree. When Rob is home from college, he helps his dad. The studio is warm and cozy, and the bay where Bob works has a woodstove that takes some of the chill off. The family sheltie "Rudy" also helps out by making sure the kids all get a chance to pet him. He's a herding dog, so none of the kids get too far away from their parents, and he really gets tuckered out by the end of the day.
One of the things we've been working hard on for the last few days is gift baskets. We learned at our old herb shop that they make great gifts, and we really enjoy putting them together. Lavender and Wise Woman blend were always the most popular, so they were first. But first that required making up lotions, milk baths, and whipped shea butter, oh, and a really great sugar scrub that isn't greasy - it's creamy! All the new products require labels and tags.
Then there is a fragrance called Ginger Essence that we both fell in love with. The spritz is delicious, and we made a pile of different items in that scent for baskets. We also made some gorgeous soaps using a red mica... oh they are so nice!
We used a coffee scent for another group of baskets - something more unisex. That one includes a coffee flavored lip balm in addition to the other body care products.
Lastly is a small basket called "Scents of Christmas" with a balsam sachet, some frankincense and myrrh,and a great forest scented candle - all tied up with a spice clay ornament.
When Maryanne isn't making soap or fixing an incredible spread for the holidays, she's working on her torchwork beads and vessels. Lately she's been making some pendants that are fairies, mermaids, goddesses, and angels. It's pretty amazing stuff. I'm hoping at some point to get a few lessons in, although I can't imagine ever having the patience to get the kind of detail she gets in her pieces. I'm thinking my work would be more "organic". And just in case all the soaps, toiletries, books, jewelry, don't hit the spot, we put together a few holiday treats. Whew! We're finally ready.

Black Friday.... and they're off!!!

We've spent the last couple of months whipping up all sorts of goodies to put in the shop along with our books, jewelry, and soaps. Today is the official start of business at Frog Hollow Christmas Tree farm, and aside from a little bit of labeling and pricing, we are all set to go. The best part of this is that we've had recipes for spa-type items that we've been dying to try and this gave us the incentive to put them together. No matter how the shop goes, we've had a blast using exotic ingredients, making obscenely extravagant packaging (considering that we're cigar band packaging gals), and just playing to our heart's content.
I'll be back later on with pictures.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Design your own postage!

Ok, this is totally off topic, but I saw the coolest thing ever today! At you can make real postage stamps with the photo of your choice. It is quite a bit more expensive than regular postage - I think $17 for 20 37-cent stamps... but for a special gift, or some very special mailing, it just seems like such a great idea. It was on the Today show this morning, and I just had to check it out. They were suggesting them for holiday gifts for the person who has everything. Personally, I think I'll wait until the postage goes up next year.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

product review heaven

There are a lot of pros and cons to editing a magazine. One of the cons is trying to be fair. Here at The Essential Herbal, there are times when we receive books and/or products for review, and that's fun - but it makes me worry that our regular advertisers or readers don't get the same break. So after much thought, we've come up with a "reader's showcase".

The plan is to to do this twice a year - January and May. Anything that is sent between those issues will be saved for a large article to be put together. The January article was posted to the Yahoo list, and the May article will be noted in the magazine for readers who may not be on-line - or any subscriber who missed this opportunity. We'll check out all the products and write about them. There are several books, and all the products above - plus 3 or 4 that are on the way. This will be a lot of fun for me, and there won't be any of that nagging feeling of concern that anyone was left out.

It's hard to make out the products on the picture here... we'll do better for the article. I'm enjoying some lipbalm from The Green Spiral as I write, and baked up a Bread and Spread from Herbs by Sarah the other night. Many other companies sent products, including Laurel Country Herbs, Planet Earth Remedies, Herbal Momma, Herbs from the Labyrinth, and Prairieland Herbs. There were even some items just perfect for Molly to try out, and she really enjoys doing product reviews, and its handy to have her point of view.

We only have another week or so to get the magazine pulled together for the printer, so we'd better get busy slathering. Perfect timing, too, as the weather has turned chilly and dry.

On a personal note, I read Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins this week. The book is largely set in New Orleans and discusses the blending of perfume (and the afterlife, immortality, love, morality, good vs. evil...). The narration about life in New Orleans made me even sadder to think that may never be seen again. The storyline was rich and full, and much more thought provoking than I'd expected. Some passages made me stop reading for a while, just to think. I loved the book.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Why Blog? ... and some shop shots

The other day I was talking to a friend who started a blog, but can't get into it. The conversation made me think about how much fun this is - and why!
The area I live in is so beautiful that it has long been a tourist destination. The farms, the rolling hills, the countryside, and the different people make it very interesting. The diversity of the plant life is staggering. Add to that some of the fun projects that come my way and my natural propensity for chatter, and we're in business.
But there's so much more. This was started in the early spring, and since that time I've realized how much more I "see" because of this exercise in writing and reporting those visual delights around me. The most mundane of daily images become much more, because I am looking at them differently. Thinking about the things that might be interesting to someone else makes me aware of those little details in everyday life that are miraculous - but taken for granted.
I worried as the leaves started to fall that it would be hard to find interesting subjects. There are always good articles from magazines, great recipes and crafts... so that was in the back of my mind. After the talk with my friend, and the ensuing thought, it became clear that there will always be wonderful little tidbits. They happen to all of us everyday, and I feel extremely fortunate to have found this - another way to go hunting in the wilderness - to show me the little jewels that are everyday moments.
The shop is coming along nicely. We've been having fun with packaging and display. It's been a while, and it seems to be taking us forever to get it all pulled together.
As we tend to do, we took on a bunch of projects all at one time. My sister and I each have our own businesses and families, so those are our first priorities, and the shop and the new products to fill it fell between the cracks for a while. The tree farm is now getting busier every day, and this past weekend saw many families out choosing trees, so the deadline is gonging loudly.
We only have a few more products on our official list of things to do, and then we'll just continue until it is the end of the season. There are several shops that carry product locally, so nothing we do will go to waste.

In case you're wondering, yes there is already a list of things that will begin after the holidays. It must be a sickness...

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Meeting Mary Ellen and the Juniper story

The other day we headed up to The Rosemary House again, this time because one of our regular writers, Mary Ellen Wilcox (left) of SouthRidge Treasures was going to be visiting and it was a good place to meet - familiar to us both. We even got a little visit in with Susanna, who needed to scoot to get her daughter off to a riding lesson.
It was great to finally meet. We've corresponded for years, and Mary Ellen has contributed very generously to The Essential Herbal magazine with wonderful recipes and crafts. She is quite a talented woman who knows her herbs. Her husband Skip and cousin Karen were along as well. We all managed to get a little shopping in to, and I continued working on the list of holiday stuff (which I cannot, unfortunately, disclose). It's one of my favorite things to be able to shop at small, independently owned businesses at this time of year. I was also very happy to receive one of Mary Ellen's cookbooks!
On the way there we noticed the sun shining on juniper boughs laden with brilliant blue berries. This year they are just loaded! My great-aunt Mary always chose cedar or junipers for the tree she brought in for Christmas. They have a very Victorian look, and every time I see them I think of her house. They are rarely used for that purpose anymore. Wonder why....
Anyhow, we decid
ed that we'd stop for a picture on the way home. Check this out!
It got us to giggling about one of our earlier adventures. Now this is naughty, you aren't supposed to do this...

We were gearing up for one of our shops, either at the tree farm or The Herb Basket - we're not quite sure. We were out along the highway for some reason, and we spotted these trees growing everywhere along the road. That year they were covered with the blue berries too.
If you've been paying attention, you'll know that I hardly leave the house without my clippers. That day was no exception. The vehicle at the time was a van with a side door. So we sidled up to one of these beauties, opened the side door, and I just started cutting away at some of the berried boughs, chucking them over my shoulder while Maryanne laughed uncontrollably, making up headlines that might appear in the paper the next day (she does that A LOT). Not wanting to harm any single plant, we edged the car up a bit to the next tree, and continued until we had enough for a few wreaths.
Now that isn't really the funny part to us. What really gets us is the way we took off like bank robbers, got off at the next exit, and doubled back to escape surveillance.
These days I go "hunting" with my camera, and wildcraft on property of friends or family with permission - 99% of the time :-).

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Leaves and 10,000 Villages

This morning I noticed that the leaves lying on the ground are spectacular this year. Some of them seem to have borders around them of differing shades, and leaves from the same tree have varying intensities and colors. I think that the long summer drought, followed by a good amount of rain just prior to the end of the growing season may have contributed to this. In any case the last two weeks or so have been very colorful.
Its made me think while I drive lately.
So often I've credited my grandfather with my love for nature. Yesterday I was thinking about how my grandmother would exclaim every season, "This is my favorite time of year!", and would then go on to talk about whatever made her feel that way at that particular moment. She would point things out from the car, and then say, "don't you look Fred! You're driving". We kids would sit in the back and laugh, enjoying the view, and the predictable banter. Another thing that Mimi (my grandmother) would often exclaim was, "I just love life." This would come at unexpected moments, and in her 80's and 90's she rarely complained, instead telling us that old age certainly "beat the alternative". Mimi was a difficult, high-strung woman. She was born too soon to fully appreciate her independent nature. Although she's been dead for several years, this is the first time I've understood how much she contributed to my nature.
Today there was no school. Instead of continuing to get the shop ready for the upcoming season, we had a girl's day out. My daughter, sister and I went to a shop in the next town over called 10,000 Villages. The shop itself is run by the Mennonite Central Committee. They travel the world and purchase crafts from tiny villages, paying a fair amount and providing those things to us here. They've been doing this for at least 30 years, and the things in that shop are just fabulous. There is a huge room full of beautiful rugs that kept my sister occupied for quite a while. There are carved wood room dividers and furniture... all sorts of textiles and clothing, accessories, soapstone dinnerware and sculpture, pottery, jewelry, home decor, hand made musical instuments, and the most wonderful tree ornaments imaginable.
Additionally, they have a tea room where they serve authentic foods from a different country or region each week. We don't go often enough, but just love being able to step into another culture for a little while from time to time. The country chosen is represented with special beverages, entrees, side dishes, and desserts. It's really wonderful, and a great way to spend an afternoon when there is no school.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

salt soap recipe

The following article appeared in the July ’05 issue of The Essential Herbal Magazine, written by Maryanne Schwartz. The original idea was posted by Iben on The Soap Dish Forum.
Some people use different oils with good results, but we love the coconut because of the added sudsing action. Although one would expect so much coconut to be somewhat drying, we haven’t found that to be the case (perhaps because of the water softening properties of the soap), and in fact many of our “test subjects” prefer the spa bars to the regular soap. I’ve been reading that others are finding it helpful for eczema, but that is anecdotal information.

Well, as usual, one of us saw a recipe for something different. This time it was Tina. She started talking about this salt soap and even emailed the information to me. It sounded so strange that I was sure, even after seeing the info that it was a melt and pour soap with salt added and we'd tried that before. When she finally got through to me that it was really something different, we just had to try it.

Here's what we did: We call these "Canyon Soaps". The red of the clay and the rough texture that the salt gives the soap made us think of canyon walls.

Mix lye:
4.5 oz. lye
5.5 oz. Distilled Water (Don't even think of discounting, this one goes so fast!)

Melt Oil:
25 oz. Coconut oil

By the time the oil is melted, the lye was cool enough to use and we mixed it, I'm not sure if it was even tracing, just well mixed and we added:

1 oz. Moroccan Red Clay
0.1 oz. ground Irish Moss

Then, we started adding Salt which we stirred in relatively slowly:
9 oz. coarse (pretzel) salt
6 oz. table salt

This traces FAST (you'll see!) and you basically glop it into the mold as soon as you can. It heats up and goes to gel almost at once. We went for a walk in the woods and it was pretty much ready to unmold when we got back... maybe an hour! It was still warm (even somewhat hot) when we sliced it up. It is a bit crumbly around the edges, but hardens up and the soap itself is heavy. If you plan to bevel the edges at all, do it now.We tried it out almost immediately! It has gotten much milder since then (really needed to rest for a while to continue the cure), but the bubbles are almost like lotion, rather than big and fluffy.

After the success of the first soap, we tried a second. We made it almost the same, but added Bentonite clay instead of the red clay and a little Hydrated Chromium Oxide for the green color. This one came out a seafoam green and we decided it would be called “Mermaid's Treasure”.

This is really a different kind of soap. Heavy, textured and the speed that it sets up is just fun and amazing. After doing soap in a production mode for so long, it's just such fun to try something with a new twist.

To see more variations, check out The Sibling Group!

Sunday, November 06, 2005

working on the Frog Hollow shop

Today was supposed to be a day filled with lots and lots of productivity. We've gotten thrown off by several things, and finally got the website that my sister and I are doing together live. It's called The Sibling Group, which was what we called the Publishing Co. under which our book about our shop was published. Then there was a furious week of getting packaging and samples in the mail for some new products... and then last week we lost in the hospital.

So anyhow, yes... we're pretty far behind schedule. Our list includes making about 15 or 20 products that have been swimming around in our collective brain and making the labels and packaging that go with them, filling and packing orders for our respective businesses, and setting up the shop at Frog Hollow Tree Farm for the holidays. But you know, today was so gorgeous, and nasty weather was headed our way.....
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Into the woods we went to visit our favorite haunts from spring. Above is the stream we walked down in April to find the tiny jewelweed sprouts, and all the spring blooms. As you can see, it's getting ready for the winter. I wish I could have captured the sounds of the leaves falling, the walnuts clunking, and the wind whistling.... and even the sounds of hunters in the far distance. The dog ran along with us sniffing at every turn in the path.
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I don't forage for mushrooms, but do enjoy finding them. They can be so lovely when they pop out of unexpected places like the one above.

So after our walk, we did get a few things done. A few dozen soap stones, a display, an order got packed, and some special order soaps were started. Tomorrow's another day, and I'm betting it will be a lot more productive!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Still Life... sorta :-)

Today we took our brother home.  He's so much better than he was 2 days ago.  Here he's attempting to look crazed.  That's a hobby of his.  I doubt if I have any photos of him looking like a typical human.  Not his style.  By the time we'd left, his nurse burst into tears over the miracle of his recovery, and he'd made most of the people who'd cared for him in the most difficult hours laugh out loud.  We're so glad to have our brilliant, gifted, talented, funny brother back.
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His home is a cabin in the woods, with the second story built out over a lake.  It is the most gorgeous setting imaginable.  Today was another one of those perfect Autumn days - high 60's, blue sky, and the trees are finally showing some color.  The side yard opens onto a meadow where there were several horses.  As I stood at the fence to take a picture, they all looked up and started to amble towards me.  Not having any carrots or apples, I took the picture and ske-daddled.
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We sat on the dock for a little while looking over the lake and taking in the changing leaves.  We picked up some sycamore seed pods and watched while John's cat Lily made sure that he knew that she wasn't happy that he'd been away.
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One of the trees has leaned across the lake reflecting perfectly onto the water.  The weather has gotten cool enough that the frogs and fish are not near the surface, but the tree is probably a terrific harbor for them in warmer weather.
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I promise to get back to the uses of herbs.  This week and the events it held for us is wrapping up.  Sitting outside and watching the world go by was the perfect end.  Tomorrow is a new beginning.  Look how beautiful it is!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Balsam Fir Sachets and Spice Clay Ornaments

We got a breather today from the trips to watch over our brother, and actually got to play in the studio for a little while. While I jumped on the pumice soapstones (they're still in the molds), Maryanne set to work making up sachets from the incredibly fragrant balsam fir needles we found. I just love the scent of balsam. There's something about it that is so familiar, even though it isn't one of the conifers that are common to this area. Both of these projects have been sitting and waiting for the last week, and we were so eager to get to play with them. The giant pine cone in the background is a yellow pine cone - about 12" long... and we have a project in mind for some of them, too :-).
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We'd also made up some of the spice clay ornaments from the mix that is on The Essential Herbal website. We used very small cutters and got a TON of the ornaments - somewhere around 100. With a typical sized cutter, the yield is more like 25.
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With Halloween over, the shop at Frog Hollow Evergreens will be opening. Folks will be wandering over the hills looking for the perfect tree, and we'll be setting out our creations for their perusal. Maybe we'll see some of you there!

Monday, October 31, 2005

the many floors of a hospital

Over the years, I've spent lots of time in hospitals. We have a fairly large family, and that tends to mean that occasionally someone gets sick.
In March, it was Mom. That was a particularly nasty stint. We spent the better part of three days in the neuro-intensive care area before she left us. My ex brother in law was there at the same time, but although he was there for months he eventually got out.
On Friday our brother went into the same hospital via ambulance. I will spare you the gory details. He was in very bad shape having lost about 1/2 of the blood in his body. We spent most of the morning in the ER waiting for him to go on to testing.
Eventually we went up to the second floor to wait while he had some endoscopic procedure done. We waited in the same place we sat while Mom was there. It was hard. I kept thinking that if I walked down the hall, she'd still be there.
From there we went to the 6th floor where he was in Intermediate Intensive Care for the next day or two (its starting to blur). This morning he moved to the 7th floor in a semi-private room.
We got there this morning to find him fully dressed and ready to go. Not that the doctor had released him, mind you..... His roomie was very much the PA Dutch man, speaking loudly and constantly in the accent we've come to recognize. I can't blame my brother for being annoyed by was relentless until the man fell asleep, snoring loudly.
BUT... he was terribly disoriented. For a while there it looked like he might be released. Luckily that was not the case. There's been a new ominous development. He's pretty unhappy with my sister and me, but at least he's alive and safe...especially since we took his clothes, shoes, wallet and keys. I wonder where he'll be when we get there in the morning.
When we were all younger I didn't mind the hospital so much. We went to the hospital for things like tonsils and wisdom teeth. Sometimes there would be a baby. Sometimes it was unpleasant, but always we came out in better health than we went in. We'd sit either in the waiting rooms or close together in chairs right in the room, talking quietly while our loved one slept nearby. I've even enjoyed going down to the cafeteria with a sibling or two to grab a bite and share some gallows humor.
When Mom died, we were suddenly catapulted into the next level. We are more fragile and our bumps and bruises are more serious these days. Having my brother so sick makes me feel very vulnerable. We are "the gang". Nobody's allowed to leave yet.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The frost is on the pumpkin....

We had our first frost of the season last night.  Its a few weeks late for our area, and considering that daylight savings time is over in a few days, we might as well get into the darkness and get it over with.  I've got several pounds of dried elderberries all ready to be tinctured or made into the cordial we've been talking about on the Yahoo list.  Molly came home from school with a deep cough, so it's lucky we have some tincture left over from last year's batch.
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Halloween is almost here.  In Pagan traditions it is generally a time to honor those who have passed before us, to remember loved ones, and to grieve and love, and let it go.  This has been a year that included loss for me, so I will be thinking of my mother on Halloween, and remembering who she was.  I think about her every day, but it will be nice to have a day to devote to it.  The leaves have turned colors and are beginning to swirl with the slightest breeze.  I saw a signature line today that said, "Autumn - a time when every leaf is a bloom".  Its interesting to me that this season is such a metaphor for itself.  The rushing winds, the fading sun, the brisk chill in the air are so reflective of the way we conduct ourselves.  We scurry around preparing for the holidays to come, and burrow into our homes early in the evening. 
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On a lighter note, this is a shot of the very beginning of our space in the shop in Lititz where we'll be displaying our things.  The most recently created products aren't there yet, nor the basket of soap balls, the bayleaf garlands, or the spice clay ornaments cut in tiny gingerbread men, stars, and candy cane shapes.  The shop is a co-op of crafters and antiquers, and Lititz is a tourist destination.  Right across the street is the Wilbur chocolate company.  So now, everytime we go to restock we'll have to stop across the street and see about some Wilbur buds.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

An Herbal Halloween

Right now the weather is ugly. It has me going back in time, to other Autumns, other Halloweens, and the deep blue skies, crisp breezes, and fluffy clouds. I was thinking today about the first time I ever planted saffron bulbs. I forgot about them soon afterwards, and was stunned to find the crocuses bloomin on Halloween a month or so later. I pulled this article from the Sept/Oct 2004 issue of The Essential Herbal:

An Herbal Halloween
Michele Brown,
Possum Creek Herb Farm

Think of Halloween and what comes to mind? Jack O’ Lanterns, black cats, witches riding their brooms across a moonlit sky, bats? Not too far-fetched actually. Many traditions that we use to celebrate the autumn holiday come from superstitions and the medieval use of herbs and charms to ward off evil spirits used for centuries.

So, pull up the quilt, turn on the light, bolt the door and read on…

Centuries ago, the village herbalist would often brew up a concoction to provide relief from whatever disease happened to be plaguing the folk at that time. However, as time passed and as other religious beliefs took over, the lowly herbalist was forced to hide her gardens and her tools of trade. Witches they were called back then and for many who were caught they often were punished for creating what was thought to be dangerous or even accused of calling upon the devil himself while dancing around their cauldrons. What we have found about these women and men who tried their best to take care of those folks who came begging for help is that many herbs and plants were most beneficial in healing or repelling diseases or the cause of the disease.

Juniper, rosemary and thyme were hung at each doorway of the village homes to rid the house of vermin. Today we find that the antiseptic properties of these herbs help repel mice, ants and other little critters that want to make our home their home. The twigs of Ash, Willow, Hazel and Elder were reported to be protection against snakes and warts. Apparently no snake worth his skin would cross a line drawn with an ash twig. Even today the juice from the Hazel twig is helpful as an antiseptic for wounds, warts, bruises and bumps. Of course, we call it Witch Hazel. Mugwort, of the Artemisia family, offered protection from evil spirits, lightning and bad fortune. It was placed under the bed, in the shoe, or sown in a dress hem to be carried everywhere. Mandrake, considered a powerful aphrodisiac, was said to shriek loudly as it was being harvested. And then there is good old common parsley. Believe it or not, legend has it that parsley was the devil’s special favorite. And apparently only the wicked and bewitched can grow it. Uh oh….

But there were some herbs of saving grace back in medieval times. Rue stood for repentance and was an antidote against poisons. Rosemary grew in the gardens of the righteous. A symbol of faithfulness, love and purity, it kept away bad dreams. A bountiful sage plant growing in the garden meant prosperity and good health to the household. St. John’s Wort was used as a protection from illness and made one think they were invincible when going into battle and Yarrow banished all fears.

A legend that began many years ago which has thankfully gone by the wayside was that giving of a cutting or a start of a plant was considered unlucky and it was thought unlikely that the plant would ever grow. Friends refused to offer a cutting and often turned their backs so the other could “steal” a piece from the desired plant. What work that would be today.
So, enjoy the full autumn moon in your herb garden. Carry a little rosemary, mugwort, garlic, sage and thyme in your pocket and whistle a little tune. Just because...

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Ones That Got Away

You should see the pictures I took today! It was one of those incredible autumn days where the trees are ablaze and the sky is so blue it makes your heart soar. We had some deliveries to take down to the Amish country, so while waiting for my accomplice, I snapped a few shots of caterpillars munching happily on bronze fennel. It seems late for them, so I didn't want to miss that! And then there was the single perfect cabbage rose in a pink blush. Surely the last of the season. I climbed over the garden to get that one.
We headed out, and our countryside is so picturesque this time of year! The farmers are out baling up the hay and silage. The corn has been mostly harvested, so the neat-as-a-pin farms are settled in the valleys like paintings. As we passed an Amish school, the children were outside playing at recess, and the old stone mills were just gleaming in their ancient glory. All along, I snapped happily away, thinking of all the wonderful pictures I'd have to share.
At just about that point, someone - who shall remain nameless - but her initials are "my sister" mentioned that she hadn't given back the memory card for my camera that she'd borrowed earlier. Oh well, they would have been great :-).

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Spice Clay, Simmering Potpourri, and ....

We've been working on a few products for the holidays, mostly for the shop at Frog Hollow.  The are also up on the website under "Fun Stuff" at The Essential Herbal.
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The first is a blend of spices to make spice clay ornaments or to use when making pomanders.  All you need for the ornaments is a cup of applesauce.  For the pomanders, you need whole cloves and a thin skinned citrus fruit.  The spices are used to roll the pomander in while it dries.  This mix is something we use nearly every year around here.
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Our favorite blend for simmering potpourri is the next product.  It makes the whole house smell exactly like you always thought the perfect holiday house would smell like.  Baking pies and cookies with just a hint of orange. 
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And then there is Rudolph's Revenge - for the naughty one at your house.  Heh, heh, heh.

Monday, October 17, 2005

clay ornaments, and walking around

The idea of pressing plants into polymer clay for tree ornaments has been rattling around in my head lately, and today was the day.  They are prettier than they appear here, and the ribbon added a nice touch.
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I used rosemary on the bottom pink one, lavender on the top blue one, ragweed on the top pink one, and the rest are all juniper sprigs.  First I had to go GET the juniper and the ragweed.  I went out to the same meadow I took pictures of in May.  Back then, I couldn't have gotten near to the juniper - between the ticks and the underbrush, but today it was nearly flat.  Must be the dryness of the summer, because I've never been able to walk so easily through this particular area.
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The juniper was just loaded with berries.  They are just barely getting a tinge of blue, still mostly green.  Behind this tree was a grove of staghorn sumac also loaded with the large red stalks of berries.
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The milkweed pods are ripening and the fluffy seeds will soon burst from the pods and go flying in the wind.
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The rosehips were bright red and the boughs were full.  Soon the birds and deer will take care of that.  You can see the sky in the background, and today was another perfect autumn day - gusty and cool.  Besides working on the ornaments, I also boiled the tallow from the bayberries we gathered a couple weeks ago.  Turns out the local berries aren't nearly as fragrant as the Delaware berries.  Must be the sea air!  Also got the desk pretty well cleared so that tomorrow is open to work on some new products for the holidays.  They'll be up on the website and in the Frog Hollow Holiday shop before you know it.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

renaissance faire - visiting old friends

My sister was gifted with a couple comp tickets for the renaissance festival where we honed our "herb lady" skills. This was where we became the Twisted Sisters. 10 years later, we were still greeted as The Twisted Sisters! But I digress. Our friend Laura who owns a jewelry shop at the fair sent us tickets, and we grabbed Molly and set out on this cool blustery Autumn day. We were very happy that the Queen who'd been there when we were there - the delightfully effervescent Kate Ramsey was again Queen this year. As a wee nipperkin, Molly used to accompany her in various roles. Molly's favorite year was the first year Kate was a gypsy. Kate had been given doctor's orders to remain mute for 6 weeks, so she and Molly did some sort of sign language, running about the shire snitching shiny things and playing. It was so much fun for her. It was wonderful to see her again.
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One of the things that really bothered us was all the anachronistic crap we saw. When we were there, the faire was very authentic. We were not allowed watches, spoke always in dialect, and the management was very strict. Today we saw employees wearing (gasp!!!) sneakers, and even worse, one of the acts announced a sport score during a show. It was sad. Below you will see members of the cast wearing wings. Oh Please!
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At the Mud Show - where the Mud Beggars really get to show their stuff - there were some specialized souveniers. T-shirts were available saying "A Higher Level of Stupid" and "Got Milk", but my favorite item were these stickers.
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The ubiquitous ovals with initials standing for destinations are on everyone's car these days. One of my friends and I often discuss the need to get out of the mud when we are feeling less than on top of the world, and I just loved these stickers.
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Our friend Mark Shira is still potting and making incredible mugs and chalices from clay. He is never less than hilarious, always over the top, and great fun to visit with. We met him our first year when he made the unusual request of wolfbane - for his wedding. Hmmmm. We also visited with Judy Johnson at the crossroad, and her shop overflowed with incredibly beautiful stuff.... bird baths, garden sculpture, and unique, gorgeous "stuff". We saw Mark the Jester, Val the Rock Vixen, and Lanky Hemptwister. Most of our friends are gone, however.
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And then.... the band that would have made it all worthwhile even if we had payed to get in. Corvus Corax was making their US debut from Germany. OMG are they ever HOT! Its hard to describe their music, but it is medieval songs, played on handmade instruments the likes of which I've never seen. They were all researched and reconstructed. Belly dancers were everywhere, and the percussion was incredible. Something like bagpipes - but not quite, and lots of vocals in various languages. The music was great, but the presentation was so cool. They were all wearing some sort of loincloths beneath long brocade coats with these genie type boots (curled toes) that were huge and had very thick soles - making them very tall and very lean looking. It was like Kiss in the 1500's. is their website. We got their Cd and played it on the way home - causing Molly to shake her head while Maryanne and I danced and shimmied in our seats. They were awesome!

We figure once every 5 or 10 years is plenty, but it was good to see our friends - and to see how very right we were to leave when we did.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Praying Mantis at the door

This afternoon as I left the soap studio at my sister's, I noticed this beauty on the doorstep.  The picture is actually turned upside-down because it was sort of lying on it's side :-(.  It was cold and rainy, and it seemed to be napping peacefully.  They are the most unusual looking bugs around here, and I could watch them for hours.... well, not this one, because it asleep, but when they climb up the window, or a plant stalk.
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We set up a space in a craft mall in Lititz today, next door to a bead shop, and across the street from.... drumroll please.... Wilbur Chocolate Company.  The smell of that chocolate on the street is intoxicating.  You can almost taste it.  When we were kids, our grandfather took us to a little park in Lititz to play and feed the giant golden carp and trout that swam in the pond there.  I didn't know at the time that a chocolate factory was SO CLOSE, and never tasted Wilbur Buds until I was about 30.  They are soooo good.  Anyhow, we set up there and are hoping it goes well.  Then we returned to the studio to resume work on our top secret holiday product.  Last week we came up with Road Apple soap.  Want to see?  Its the first item under "shop for products" on the website - .

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

today's lessons - Incense class and Trimming Soap

This evening I gave a small class on making incense.  We made cones, logs, and odd shapes from scratch.  The recipe called for sandalwood, lavender, frankincense, and various other ingredients.  It has been a while since I've given this class in person, having done an on-line class at Forum'ulations for Beta recently.  I'd forgotten how great the ingredients smell while they are being worked into a clay and smooshed into shapes.
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I'd also forgotten how a little powder becomes a whole lot of clay to work with.  Jody and Sarah are putting the finishing touches on their batches.  Sarah came up the original idea of making tiny bowls that she plans to drop essential oil into just prior to burning.  Each time I give this class, there is another innovation.  The conversation is always great at classes that involve handwork.  It was fun!

Then there is the indoctrination of the previously (way back) mentioned elves to help with all the soap trimming over at Maryanne's business - Lancaster County Soaps.  Molly is coming along nicely, even managing to enjoy the work.  I believe, however, that it might have something to do with hearing tales of her mother's youth from her aunt.  We'll have to do something about that.....
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It's nice to have her take an interest in some of the things I love to do.  Maybe there is hope after all :-).

Monday, October 10, 2005

Pumpkin Recipe with a Twist

We're still busy running around like wild women here, so I'm posting a recipe and article from Stephen Lee that was published in the Spt/Oct 2002 issue.

Fallin For Pumpkin .... a vegetable love story with a fairy tale ending

Charlie Brown, long of comic strip fame, is still looking for his Great Pumpkin, but thankfully I've found mine. Forget all those giant squash - like the 163 pounder that won the blue ribbon at last year's Kentucky State Fair and even those well-scrutinized and hand-picked globes gathered by families for their youngsters artfully carving into scary Halloween faces. My pumpkin, indeed "the" pumpkin of choice for any knowledgeable cook, is the pie or sugar variety - small, succulent and tender, perfect for any recipe.
Pumpkins, a member of the gourd family, along with watermelons and butternut squash, are so underutilized. The orange wonders are good for so much more than jack o'lanterns and those ubiquitous pies served at holiday time. Occasionally when making a beef stew, I'll simply substitute chunks of pared pumpkin for some or all of the potatoes called for in the recipe. Everyone loves the "gourmet" difference that exchange makes. One of my favorite methods is to simply steam chunks of pumpkin over two cups of vegetable broth. When the pumpkin is tender, I press it through a ricer, mix in just enough of the vegetable broth to make a moist mash, season with a snip or two of fresh chives and use the results as a heart-healthy side dish suitable for most any meal.
Smart cooks choose pumpkins that are free from blemishes and heavy for their size, just a little over one and a half pounds is perfect. You can keep whole pumpkins for about a month at room temperature and about 3 months if refrigerated; however, if you begin to use pumpkin the way I do you won't have to worry much about storing them - they'll be used up in a flash.
To help you take that leap into fun pumpkin cookery I'm offering one of my most favorite recipes. You might be tempted to reserve this effort for a special occasion, I have vegetarian friends who use it as their Thanksgiving dinner; but I encourage you to find the time (and soon) to put this tasty dish before your family and friends. You'll find the presentation magical and the results worthy of that fairy tale ending..... and they all ate happily ever after.

Cinderella's Lasagna in a Pumpkin Coach

10 6" diameter pumpkins - pie or sugar
2 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup butter, unsalted
1 large onion, yellow - sliced thin
2 Tbsp. Tarragon, fresh - minced
1 Tbsp. brown sugar, dark
2 cups Almonds, toasted - chopped fine
2 tsp. Kosher salt
1 tsp. white pepper - freshly ground
24 5" x 5" sheets pasta, fresh or equivalent lasagna noodles
1 cup bread crumbs - dry
1 cup Parmesan cheese - freshly grated
1 cup Ricotta cheese

Cut tops off of pumpkins and reserve. Scrape and discard the seeds and strings from the pumpkin interiors. Place pumpkins with tops laying aside on a greased, parchment-lined baking sheet and roast, in a preheated 350 degree oven for about an hour just until the pumpkin meat becomes tender. Remove pumpkins from oven and let rest until cool enough to handle.
Remove all the pumpkin meat from 4 of the pumpkins, reserving to a bowl, and discard the shells. Remove and reserve most of the meat from the remaining pumpkins, leaving just enough to allow the pumpkins to hold their shape. Puree the pumpkin meat in a food processor with the vegetable broth and reserve.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, add the onions and cook for 3 minutes, then add the tarragon and brown sugar, and cook for 2 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Add the pumpkin puree, mix well and bring to a boil. Remove from heat; add the almonds and season with salt and pepper.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add the pasta sheets or lasagna noodles and cook just until al dente. Drain and put a little of the pumpkin sauce over the pasta to keep them from sticking together.
To assemble: Place a pasta sheet into the bottom of each pumpkin, cover with a few spoons of the sauce and a sprinkling of bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese. Top with a little of the ricotta cheese. Continue with this layering in the same fashion finishing with a top of ricotta cheese. Choose the 6 nicest roasted pumpkin tops and place one back onto each pumpkin, discarding the rest.
Place pumpkins onto a lightly greased, parchment-lined baking sheet and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20 minutes.
Remove the pumpkins from the oven and allow to sit for 10 minutes. Serve warm.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Nov/Dec Issue Went to Print

It has been a busy week or so around here. The next issue took my attention for a while. Can I just say that I don't know how the big guys do it. It is really tough to get into the holiday spirit while enjoying 80 degree, blue skied, breezy days.
Nevertheless, the holiday issue shines once again - always a fun piece to put together. There were two different articles on the herbs of the season. Mary Ellen Wilcox focused more on the more recent 2000 years or so, while Jeanne Rose wrote from a Druidic view. We had a great article from India, talking about the 10 most used herbs for cooking, and their traditional/tribal medicinal uses. There were lots of great recipes, and articles on relaxation, digestion, cranberries, sage, tea, and more.
We've also been helping Nancy Reppert from Sweet Remembrances in Mechanicsburg format a cookbook that should be going to press and ready in time for the holidays. Typing in those recipes was very tempting, and I may have actually gained a few pounds.
In the next few days the printer will call and we'll start the mailing procedure.

Monday, October 03, 2005

fragrant herbal beads and incense kits

We have an herbal bead kit, which includes an small instruction book and a couple packets of "just add water" herb mixture. I bring this up because they've been selling like hotcakes on the web site for $9.95 plus shipping, and with the holidays coming - and the herbs reaching full maturity it seemed like something that might be of interest. Oh, and there's another kit... the incense making kit. Same thing, with the instruction book and the "just add water" packets. This way you can make them immediately and then take your time to put together your own blends using the instructions in the booklet.
Available at The Essential Herbal
This concludes the commercial portion of this blog :-).

Pumpkin Mushroom Stuffing

I have to share this one. It's sooooo good. Maggie from sent it in for last year's holiday issue of the mag. It was a first place winner at the Iowa State Fair.

Pumpkin Mushroom Stuffing

6 cups cubed pumpkin bread
1 cup butter
1 cup chopped celery
2 cups chopped red onion
1 cup sliced mushrooms (portabella, cremini, portini, or a mix)
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 or 1/2 cup chicken (or veggie) broth
Optional - chopped toasted pecans (optional - HAH!)
Spread bread cubes on a baking sheet and let dry overnight, or heat in a 200 degree oven until dry.
Preheat oven to 375 and butter a 2 quart baking dish.
Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat.
Saute celery and onions for about 10 minutes.
Add mushrooms, and continue cooking for about 8 minutes or until tender.
Add fresh herbs, salt, and pepper.
Fold in bread cubes, and add enough broth to moisten.
Transfer to prepared dish and cover with foil.
Bake for 40 minutes.
Remove cover and bake 10 minutes, or until top is crisp.
Garnish with fresh herbs and pecans.

*** Maggie's note (and I heartily agree) - even though the recipe lists the pecans as optional, we highly recommend adding them, and personally think this recipe is even better with the pecans mixed in before baking so they are evenly dispersed through the stuffing.
*** Tina's family's note - choose a pumpkin bread recipe that is not terribly sweet, or cut some of the sugar.  I cut about 1/3 of the sweetness.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Bayberries, Baltimore, and beads... and bacon

We headed out on a road trip this morning.  Bead show in Baltimore.  I was just along for the ride.  Inner Harbor in Baltimore is a great place to spend a day.  Not that we did that, mind you, but it is a cool place.  Anyhow, we stopped by my super top secret bayberry patch before leaving town.  My sister needed to drop off a soap order there, so we got in touch with the groundskeeper/security who allowed us to harvest over a quart of the little lovelies.  This is a picture of one of the branches AFTER we were tired of picking them.  It is still laden with berries. My friend there (at the super secret site) told me that they'd cut the bushes way back just a few weeks ago.  Just imagine all the berries that went into the chipper!  Sob.
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Then we got on the road.  We didn't get too far before we started to see signs for a Cracker Barrel.  Not long ago we had the opportunity to sample the bacon there, and now we have a new tradition.  We start to drool whenever we see a sign.  That put us back another hour or so.  The 70 or so minute trip to Baltimore was now more like 3 hours.  We would have liked to park off of Rt. 83 and take the light rail into Inner Harbor, but the light rail is being repaired.  Instead, we drove all the way in and found a parking lot that charged a mere $18 for a couple of hours.  The light rail would have cost about $5 for both of us.  Grrrrrrr.  As we got into town we started seeing giant decorated fiberglas crabs.  You may remember that there were the giant mastodons done the same way when we were in Ft. Wayne.  I love this trend!  Maryanne is standing behind one of my favorites - Black, White, and Red All Over.  The body of the crab is covered with those flat glass globs. 
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The one below was just gorgeous.  Shards of sea glass covered the entire thing.  Didn't catch the name of it though.  There were a lot of really cool crabs, but we walked for hours during the bead show and didn't have the strength to take more pictures.  One of my favorites was painted like a blues singer holding a giant harmonica in his claws.
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The bead show was interesting.  They aren't really my thing, but I love looking at the strands of pretty, shiny stuff - lol.