Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Handfasting

A few months ago, dear friends asked my sister and me to prepare a handfasting for them. They would be having a church wedding as well. The handfasting was a more personal choice for them. We'd all met years ago at the Renaissance Faire, and are fond of archaic, ancient rituals that have been left behind. The symbolic binding of a couple's hands is the basis for the terms we've come to know as "the bonds of holy matrimony" and "tying the knot". During the Middle Ages, public hand-holding signified exclusivity in a relationship. Handfastings were considered to be valid for a year and a day - or as long as the couple chose to commit to one another. Rings were only for the very rich, so a ceremony involving a cord sufficed.
The cord signifies that the couple has chosen to pledge to share their higher selves and all that is divine within them. It is tied loosely and removed without being untied so that it remains as a circle.
There are many circles in a handfasting. Most couples choose to wear circles of flowers and greens upon their heads, and for Laura and Robbie, the celebrants encircled us, holding hands. The circle represents the infinite love that knows no boundaries or restrictions.

Because our ceremony was planned across many miles while the couple was working hard on the larger wedding - and because we've known them so well for so long - we put together instruction and vows that we knew they'd like.
The final symbolism in the handfasting is for the couple to jump over a broom. The broom sweeps away any remnants of the past which no longer serve us. They jump together into their common future. In this case, we did not have "Cakes and Ale" because the wedding feast was yet to come.
It was really delightful to be able to share in their love and commitment to one another. They have been together through some very thick and thin times. Robbie is a force of nature, and Laura is a an amazing woman filled with talent and empathy. The circle of friends that gathered to be with them were wonderful, warm, and witty. It was the best party I've been to in a very long time. The solid fog that socked in the mountainside was almost a welcome sight, because it meant that we rented a room, allowing us to partake of all the more merrymaking!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Internets, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways...

Every so often it hits me that the young'uns around here don't remember the days before the internet. That just floors me. My daughter has no recollection of a day before email. By the time she was 6 or 7, computers were a part of our lives.
Does anyone even remember DOS? I still have nightmares about the UniVac mainframe that was part of my job as a police dispatcher back in the late 70's. It was a blank screen with a blinking cursor. The Home key, and the Escape key were very important. I still distinctly remember the day that I spent 6 hours entering a stolen car with a boat and boat trailer - only to recieve a call that it had been found. Then having to remove it.
It isn't like it was all that long ago, and yet in a handful of years, everything changed. It's remarkable, really.
When my sister and I started in business during the early 90's, I can remember spending a day or two sitting and writing notes to different suppliers, requesting catalogs and sales sheets. Some we phoned. In order to find new suppliers, we needed to go to the New York Gift Show, and comb through the bazillion booths in order to find a few that were relevant to our business. It was grueling - and fun. We got to meet some amazing people. But everything was slower. Much slower. Orders were placed over the telephone, or later the fax.

Staying in touch with friends was also more deliberate and it took more time. Sometimes it was phone calls, sometimes letters - and sometimes we just lost track of each other, tossed around by the winds like seeds from a maple tree.

Without the internet, it would be impossible for an independent magazine to exist and prosper (at least for me). How would the word get out? How would the articles arrive? Oh, the typing involved, and then I couldn't even email the file to the printer!

Now I will run into friends and they will tell me that they keep up with me by reading the blog (HI!). I am always aware of that as I write, and sometimes picture a myriad of faces while tapping away on the keys. Some are faces that I've never seen, and only make up to match the personality I've come to know as a cyber friend. Seriously, folks... would you have believed that 20 years ago? Certainly in the beginning there was a dearth of civility, as people tore into each other on forums and established pecking orders. It seemed that the internet would be a harsh place, and yet we've learned to use it more gently over the years. Looking at that evolution, we progressed very rapidly, thank goodness!

I've finally gotten a cellphone, but can never remember to take it with me anywhere. I've never sent a text message. Dragging my feet, I just don't know how many sea changes I can handle in a decade. I mean, I still remember telephones that were on party-lines. Oh oh... before I wind up sounding WAY too much like Andy Rooney, I will wrap this up!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Perhaps December should be renamed Zippy

I am well aware of the fact that time passes much more quickly as we age. At 4, I can recall wanting to go to school so badly, and the wait went on forever. In school, I couldn't imagine ever graduating. In my 20's, all of the seasons seemed to last forever. Now in my 50's, it would seem that each month is but a day or two, with the occasional bad month lasting an eternity.
But what the heck happened to December? I mean, really! Last night I went to bed and it was mid-November. Suddenly the Solstice has passed and we are on the doorstep of Christmas rushing headlong into 2010! Truth be told, I don't even think I got used to writing 2009 yet (or even 20 anything, for that matter).
So yes, this may be a bit of exaggeration, but not much. I keep thinking of that Steve Miller song, "Time keeps on slippin', slippin, slippin, into the future..."
The upside of this of course, is that next time I wake up it will just about be spring. The seed catalogs are arriving now. They are so beautiful! Most of them have an old-timey feel (there's that theme again), and the one I got from Landreths' today is just breathtaking. This is their 225th year celebration, and the catalog has some truly frame worthy artwork inside. The cover is from their 1884 catalog, for instance.
I suppose I'd better hurry and plan the garden before fall is upon me once more.
This month has flown by so quickly. Between holding classes, getting the newest issue of the magazine out, shipping orders (the jar is 3/4's full that holds the entries for the vessel pendant!) and helping with Maryanne's soap, it seemed impossible for it to be time for Molly to be home for college already. Yet last night, she and friend Lisa were upstairs, just like the old days, whooping and laughing. The Balms and Salves making DVD is grinding along at a pretty slow pace, but once we get a good chunk of time to really sit down and work on it, that will go very quickly.
Anyhow, this is just to let you know that I'm still alive. Just hopping and skipping along. Probably see you in the new year if not before, so HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Random Thoughts on a Rainy Day...

#1 - It is important to pay attention when removing a pizza from the oven. On the other hand, when the business side of said pizza smacks against the drawers and cabinets, A) try not to mention it until AFTER it has been consumed, and B) know that it may take several days to find all of the cheesy grease.

#2 - It is appallingly stunning to realize how quickly a beautiful, well planned Christmas tree farm can turn into a mud bog of mythical proportions. It is also amazing how quickly cold weather can fix that.

#3 - I still remember and long for the day when the engine light would go on in the car and you could turn into the closest gas station where they'd pop the hood and have a look as part of the normal service. Sigh....

#4 - If you have a chronically ill person in the house, NEVER say or post anything about how well they have been getting along. Doing so is asking for trouble.

#5 - and perhaps most important - when preparing for a tea class, do not assume that even half of the participants will be able to eat scones. Have some gluten-free offerings available.

#6 - If there is a spectacular meteor shower going on, it will inevitably rain.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

It's the most _____ time of the year!

Everyone experiences this time - we'll just say December - differently. For some of us it is full of hope and cheer, and I remember visiting a friend as a child where their tree must have been 12 feet tall and covered with handmade beaded ornaments that the mother had made to resemble faberge eggs. It must have taken her all year! It still boggles my mind. For some it is a good deal more challenging.

My Christmas memories have to do more with the charming way that my grandfather attempted to inspire wonder in the 5 children and his daughter who all landed unceremoniously in the little house he'd been sharing with my grandmother.

Poppy strung the lights every year. Those big bulbs lined the rooftop, and he usually tried to do it when we were in town doing some shopping, so that we'd arrive home to the light show. He got all the good jobs... it was also his assignment to take the kids out looking at lights so that Mom and Mimi could get some wrapping done. In the meantime, we'd all be begging for a tree because all the kids at school had theirs up weeks ago. But no, ours was delivered by Santa - code for: Poppy went out on Christmas Eve and purchased a leftover tree on a lot, dragging it in after we went to sleep. The adults then decorated it with glass balls, lights, and that leaden tinsel of olden times. Sometimes Poppy would get up on the roof and stomp around with a set of sleighbells. Of all my relatives, Poppy was the most magical. That man had some crazy whimsy about him, but most people never knew it. A carpenter by day, he must have spent a lot of time thinking about how he would enchant us. He died a long time ago. I was only 14, and still miss him now.

For my mom, Christmas was an accusation of sorts. It didn't really show when we were kids. She was a great actress. But as we got older, it would throw her into despair, as if all the lights and love and cheerful greetings taunted her with the things that didn't turn out as she'd hoped. Every year she would try so hard to make things right, and every year she saw herself falling short of expectations only she had. Poor Momma never knew that her happiness would have meant more than anything money could buy.

Because we live in this loose commune, there are at least 4 businesses running between 3 adults. One of them is a Christmas tree farm, and we add a shop for the month of December, just to showcase the soap, books, teas, etc., that we do all year long. We have classes (although the last one of the year is today). We do lots of stuff, and the danger is in losing the fun of the season - I'm sure MANY self-employed people can share that sentiment. Last year we celebrated the holiday in mid-January! We won't do that again, though. Anyhow, if we aren't careful, we can lose sight of everything good that's going on. Nose to the grindstone, it's hard to see beyond the spray of grit.

In the long run, I'd have to say that I've finally learned to enjoy this time and let the expectations go. Maybe some old friends will pass through town while visiting family, and we'll get together. The kid will be home from college and the house will fill with young voices and the tempo of youth. We'll all let each other know in one way or another that we love each other - in spite of transgressions and hurts.

Whatever you wind up doing this December, enjoy the people you love.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Jan/Feb 2010 - The Essential Herbal Magazine

The latest issue hit the mailstream yesterday. It won't arrive in most homes for another couple of weeks, and up until the 15th, we'll still be starting new subscriptions with the Nov/Dec issue (unless requested otherwise in the comments section of the shopping cart), BUT we are actually a good week ahead of schedule! Our contributors are spectacular, and they stay ahead of deadlines. I am so grateful for their generous and giving natures. Herbies are the best! Certainly in the past I would have waited another week to post the cover and table of contents. Apparently 2009's lesson was that if there is a moment available to accomplish something, grab it! Oh look! There's a moment available... so here's the new issue :-).
Inside the bright cover, we have an embarrassment of riches to share!
Field Notes from the Editor
Winter Haikus from Sue-Ryn Burns
Down on the Farm, A Dilly of an Herb... Michele Brown and Pat Stewart give us the low-down on 2010's Herb of the Year.
Dilled Salmon Cream Cheese Tea Sandwiches, Susan Wittig Albert
Scrambled Herbs Puzzle, Janet Teas
Warming Winter Recipes - Cold & Flu Care, Betsy May. Instructions for body butter, sore throat spray, mustard plaster, ginger honey and MORE, this article is full of great ideas.
Elderberry Eases Winter Woes, Mary Hammond (includes a wonderful syrup recipe)
Happy New Year, Susan Evans delivers some quick tips for de-stressing and dreaming big.
The Global Herbal, Australia (Part 1), Marita A Orr tackles the background of herbs and their usage fon the continent down under.
Take-Apart Soap Mold - Cory Trusty gives clear, illustrated instructions for building an inexpensive, professional mold for your soaping adventures!
Tales from the Tetons - Kristena Haslam focuses on Osha for this article.
Aloe, Gail Faith Edwards. Beginning with the words, "The word Aloe in Sanskrit means Goddess", Gail takes us through the history and medicinal uses of this wonderful, easy to grow plant.
Wintertime Soups, Mary Ellen Wilcox How does Curried Pumpkin Soup sound? Sweet Potato Corn Chowder? These are some of the selections that Mary Ellen shares for the cold, winter days.
Roseroot! Not the Rose You Think, Joe Smulevitz C.H.M.H. brings light to Rhodiola Rosea, aka roseroot, Arctic root, and golden root.
How to Build an Herb Drying Rack, Karen Hood is another terrific project with simple, clear instructions so that we'll be ready when the herbs are knocking themselves out next summer.
Historic Herbal: Pearls, Kathleen Setzer - Kat has a penchant for finding ancient, fascinating ways to use herbs. In this issue, pearled lozenges - using real pearls!
The Soap Pot, Slow Cooker Soap in Winter, Alicia Grosso - another method for making soap!
Dill Pesto Recipe
Herbal Extracts, Cindy Jones... there's more than one way to skin a um ... extract an herb.
Pineapple Sage Jelly, Karen Mallinger. Once again our left-brained friend steps out of her comfort zone and finds that maybe her right brain IS still functioning.
Celebrating Oats, Susan Evans. She knows how to celebrate AND stay healthy. Oatmeal bath, granola, and oatmeal crisp recipes included.
Rose Hip Butter, Mary Graber. Known as Mountain Mary on our Yahoo! list, Mary posted this recipe and allowed us to use it in the magazine, too.
Louisianna Lagniappe - Sweetheart Rose Brownies, Sarah Liberta. Quick, easy and oh so delicious and special. Sarah does it again!

So there you have it folks. So much stuff to make, do, and learn in the coming months. We love this issue and are pretty sure you will too.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

snowy cheer

Yesterday I awoke with the kind of dread that few people understand. I am terrified of driving in the snow. Up until my late 20's this was not the case. But on my 29th birthday, a series of 3 weather related accidents in as many weeks changed me into a quivering mass of nerves when the skies darkened in winter. The vistas from my home mean that there is no way to get home (or out) without twists and turns on steep hills.A month or so ago, I signed up for a Reiki class. This is something that's been on the peripherals of my thoughts for at least 20 years, and so finally the time seemed right.
When the forecast for snow arrived, it actually sickened me... but it was only going to be flurries, and the class would most likely be over by dark...
Well no - on both counts. Knees and hands shaking, I borrowed my brother's Outback, and headed out.
The class was wonderful. Much more than I expected or hoped for! The group was informal and everyone was incredibly open and delightful. As the afternoon progressed, I could see the enormous flakes settling onto the market roof across the alleyway.
In the city, the streets were only wet. Driving out to the edge of town, they started getting slushy. By the first little town I pass through, the road was snow-covered, and the dinner plate sized flakes were difficult to see through. I was humming at the top of my lungs (because that's a nervous habit of mine).
Imagine my relief when I spotted a cinder truck turning up onto the road that would eventually lead to my house! Normally, I would NEVER take that road because there are 2 gnarly s-turns that are both very steep, but hey! the truck would lead me.
Hah! That so and so turned off *just* before the first s-turn. Now I would be forced to do it alone. And so I did. And it was fine. It was almost fun, and between that and the residual bliss from the class, my brother (who had been pretty worried because it was getting late) exclaimed that I looked pretty happy for having gone through that experience.
It will still scare me to drive in the snow. But *maybe* I can work through this.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

simpler shopping

Every year I climb on the soapbox for a couple of minutes to say a few words about the benefits of shopping with small, family owned businesses. It isn't that I don't understand why some things really need to come from places that don't fall under that description! Computers and cameras don't grow on trees. My own sensibilities and choices lead me to what appears to be a future of eternal bargain hunting, so I also know that price matters - a lot.
So what can we do to make this particular season less stressful and draining? Personally, the mall sucks energy out of me so fast I can almost see it floating off. I haven't been in our local mall in a very long time. That's just zero fun. Big boxes? Also not any fun. If you have little ones, that can be very difficult, and you do what you have to do - no judgement here.
The internet has created communities where we know each other - much like we used to know the shopkeepers of 30 or 40 years ago. Because of that, I really enjoy shopping with the people I know on the internet. Many of them also happen to be advertisers in the magazine, and can be found along the right hand side of this post. You can take my word for it when I tell you that each of those businesses is run by a person or family that I know and trust.
The downtowns are also starting to come back, vibrantly, full of individuality and life. Talented artisans and craftsmen, great unusual shops, art galleries, museum shops, you name it! They're coming back to life in a deliciously different way. That is how I remember holiday shopping years ago! We'd meet downtown, shop around, grab a bite at a coffee shop or deli, and catch the bus home. It was so much fun, exciting, bracing, and it put us in a holiday mood. We got cold, and we loved it.
Finally, if you are a subscriber, you know that there is a lot of handmade gifting going on out there. That is also one of the more pleasant ways to get in the spirit. The next thing you know, everything is done, you're ready to celebrate with friends and loved ones, and it's time to welcome a new year. Everyone wins - you, the small business owner, and you're even doing your part to make the aisles less congested in the big box stores!
This ends my yearly diatribe.

Monday, November 30, 2009

TEH - December drawing!

During the month of December, all orders placed through the shopping cart of The Essential Herbal magazine OR checks that arrive through the mail, will be placed into a drawing. This includes subscriptions, renewals, advertising, products, books, and wholesale - the whole she-bang.
On New Year's Eve, we'll draw a winner, who will recieve this gorgeous vessel, handmade by Maryanne Schwartz of Torchsong Studio. This beauty is about 1 -1/2 inches tall and comes on the silver ball chain shown. Inside, you can wear a favorite essential oil blend, some amber resin, or anything your heart desires.
If you've been needing a reason to come visit TEH, here it is. Good luck, and happy shopping!

Herbal Aesthetics Blog Party

Ah, the beauty of herbs. When Cory Trusty posted the topic of the December Blog Party that she's hosting at a couple of weeks ago, the ideas started and it has been a never ending reel.
It would seem though, that the topic is almost too broad for me.

Almost 20 years ago, my sister and I were deep in the throes of struggling with the owner of a venue where we rented a shop. We were ready to throw in the towel. As I thought about it, my mind would run over the days we spent making luscious potpourris, or blending colorful herb teas, or gathering heady armfuls of lavender - and knew that there was no way I could face the idea of never being up to my elbows in herbs again.

Visit an herbalist's home, and you'll find jars and bottles of dried herbs, oils, vinegars and tinctures tucked into whatever space is available. There will be stems of things hanging from beams and hooks. That is beautiful. It makes you feel good to look at, and I personally feel that it is relaxing and satisfying.

In the spring, the first brave leaves to break the soil are heartbreakingly stunning, reminding us that we've made it through another winter.

Summer brings a riot of color and nourishment that strengthens and beautifies us, inside and out.

Fall comes with the stiff breezes and fiery colors, giving us the energy to gather the roots and seeds that will help to sustain us and protect us in the months to come.

Winter arrives with an appreciation of the form of trees, the stark whiteness, and the desire to cocoon in the home we've festooned with remembrances of nature.

It is all beautiful! Adding herbs and spices to enhance the flavors and appearance of foods, a gorgeous ruby colored tisane, a bluish purple elderberry syrup, or a well-made bar of handmade herbal soap. So I couldn't really decide!

Here are some past posts that might give you some ideas :-).
~ wildcrafting herbal teas
~ tub teas
~ leaf prints
~ persimmon cake
~ love potions
~ last minute herbal gifts
~ making potpourri
~ making a wreath
~ how to make lavender wands
or even the post just prior to this - citrus pomanders.

That's just a wee taste of *some* of the beautiful things you can do with herbs! Not even scratching the surface, really.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Today we got around to making pomanders. The fruit was purchased a few days ago, but there was finally an hour or so that we could sit and let the fragrances of the citrus and spices waft about. We usually see this done with oranges, but for years we have preferred using lemons and limes. They don't spoil nearly as often, and oranges are just too good for eating!Begin with nice, blemish-free fruits. If you'd like to hang it from a ribbon, tape or band off sections where the ribbon will go, so you don't put cloves there. The lemon shown being worked on will shrink quite a bit, but there will be a clear line where the rubber bands have been.Use something sharp to make a hole, rather than trying to jam the cloves in. That just makes your fingers hurt. We used wooden skewers here, but have used nails, etc. in the past.We enjoy making different patterns and designs. They won't be terribly clear when the pomander is cured, but they do look pretty cool. When the kids were little, we set them to work on the tiny kumquats, and they loved it... of course those are too small for any sort of pattern.When the fruit is covered with all the cloves you want to insert, make up a rolling blend. We used equal parts of cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove, with a smidge of orris root.Cover the pomanders and then roll them over and pour the spices over every side and surface.

Each day for the next couple of weeks you'll want to roll them around gently in the spices, and spoon it from the plate onto the top of them. They will gradually dessicate, become incredibly lightweight. You can enclose them in fine mesh if you want, or just tie a ribbon around them to hang in the closet.

A really fun and fragrant craft for the holidays!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Great Christmas Trees in Lancaster County

There are tons of choices around here, and you can spend anywhere from $30 right on up to way over $100 for a fresh cut tree that you choose and cut yourself. What is the difference? Probably a cup of cocoa and a hay ride, really.
Frog Hollow Evergreens, between Manheim and Mount Joy is the lower end of the spectrum. ALL cut trees are $30! You have to bring your own thermos full of cocoa, but you can save that $70 - $100 for something else.

The farm has been owned by Bob and Maryanne Schwartz (my sister and her husband) for over 20 years. Bob was raised on an evergreen nursery, so when they purchased this hillside covered with trees that was already in operation, it was a perfect fit! Over those years, we've had the opportunity to see families grow, change, and add or lose a generation. The customers came to love Jellybean, a sheltie who felt it was his duty to escort everyone up the hill. When Jellybean died one Christmas morning after completing his yearly duties, Rudolph joined the family and has taken up the cause - albeit not quite as willingly.
My house is on a hill surrounded by the trees. From it, I can see almost all of the fields. I can see the children skipping along beside their parents, and sometimes hear their voices. The excitement is everywhere, and it rolls around the hills everyday from now until December 21st - 9am until dusk. My sister and I have put our collective wares together in a little shop, and every year we meet new people and make new friends. It's a lot of fun.

Varieties available are: Canaan fir (a cross between Fraser and balsam that grows best in our area - lovely!), Douglas fir, Concolor fir (orange scented needles), White pine, Norway spruce, and Blue spruce. They can be drilled for the Stand-Straight (r) tree stands - free of charge. Trees are also tied with netting for transport, also free of charge. The stands are available for sale, as well as tree bags, and you can get pre-dug trees, but I don't have those prices off the top of my head.

Directions are on their website ( or you can give them a call at 717-653-5666. Come on out and get a fresh tree! See you soon, and Happy Holidays!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

New Classes for Jan/Feb announced!

We still have the Bath Crafts, the Intro to Aromatherapy, and Blending Herbal Teas (who knew that one would get so much attention?) to go, but we've put together the classes that will begin after the holidays.
For those of you at a distance, we're working on something for you ;-).

These will all be on Saturday afternoons from 1 until 2:30, and they'll be held here at the N. Strickler Road location. All classes are $30 each, except the soapmaking class and the kitchen cosmetics. They are $35.
Please reserve your space by registering at The Essential Herbal You can pay by cash or check on the day of the class, but if we hold a space for you and you don't show up, we'll have to charge your card.

January 9 - Making Herbal Beads We will use several different fragrant herbs and spices to create beautiful, artistically organic beads that can be combined with other stones and beads to form amazing jewelry that will emit scent as you wear it. You will be making beads and taking them along home.

January 16 - Soapmaking
We've been making soap so long that our kids barely know there are store bought synthetic detergent bars! It is our pleasure to share some of what we've picked up along the way AND what we did wrong so you don't have to. We'll be making cold-process oatmeal and lavender soap. This is a demo-style class, but each participant will leave with some of the soap we've made and the know-how to go home and make it themselves. Materials will be available for purchase on the day of the class should you want to do that and a class hand-out with clear instructions will be provided.

January 23 - Potpourri!
Brilliant colors and delicious scents blend together in feasts for the senses as we talk about all the things that can be used in dry and simmering potpourris. Learn about using fixatives to hold the scent longer, how to incorporate blossoms from the garden and what to look for on woodland hikes. Leave with some of both kinds of potpourri that you've made yourself. Recipes and instructions included.

January 30 - Salt and Sugar Scrubs
You can make these indulgent, luxurious concoctions for yourself with a little instruction on our part. Learn about the different ingredients, and why you'd want to use them. Participants will each make and take a jar of salt scrub along with recipes and instructions to make more at home.

February 6 - Medicinal Vinegars

We'll make Four Thieves vinegar during the class, and talk about the hows and whys of using herbal vinegars as medicine. Each participant will leave with a bottle and lots of recipes and instructions.

February 7 - Super Sunday - Kitchen Cosmetics
Leave the men at home with the 7 layer dip and come join us for a fun workshop where we'll make lots of fun cosmetics right in the kitchen. Note: Not as scary as this picture - lol.Winter Sunshine Moisturizer, a clay mask, Lavender Rose Cream, and a simple pore cleansing lotion will be on the "menu". We'll send some of them along home with you as well as lots of recipes and instructions.

February 13 - Introduction to Medicinal Herbs in the Backyard
Wouldn't it be great to find plants outside that could help pull out that splinter, sooth that sunburn, and clear up that poison ivy? How about something to help relax and sleep, or to tame that tummy ache. There are even anti-viral herbs growing wild outside! Come learn about them with us!

February 20 - Herbal Honeys, Syrups, and Elixirs
Whether the purpose is pleasure or medicine, these preparations are fun to make and a great way to incorporate herbs. We'll make one of each, and everyone takes some herbal honey home along with recipes and instructions.

February 27 - Making Incense
Using exotic resins, herbs, spices, and woods, we'll make delightful cones of incense. Each participant will make their own, choosing from various ingredients. We'll all roll about a dozen or so cones to take along, and have recipes and instructions if you'd like to make more. Hard to find ingredients will be available for purchase on the day of class.

Stay tuned - we've been busy!

During the past week, things have been humming along at a brisk pace here on the hill.
The next issue is packed up and ready to go to the printer bright and early on Monday. It is fabulous (again)!

Midweek we did a demo for a local women's group, and they started buying the soaps we took along before the program even got started :-). They were a welcoming, fun group. We love doing local workshops, talks, and programs!
We quickly changed gears and spent 2 days filming (? what do you call it these days?) the newest DVD. It is about making balms and salves. While it is being edited, we'll be putting together a kit to go with it, and with any luck it will be available in a week or so. This came about because when we'd post about our local classes, we heard from so many people who'd like to take them, but they are far away. With the dvd's and kits - it is almost like being here!

Today's class wasn't popular, so instead we'll pound out 8 batches of soap and then sit down and hammer out the class schedule for January and February. We're looking at things like Herb Beads, another Soapmaking class, Herbs for First Aid, Kitchen Cosmetics, Medicinal Vinegars, and maybe something really fun for Super Sunday. If you are nearby and have something specific you'd like to learn, drop us a line! The new schedule will be posted here and on the Twisted Sisters blog tomorrow.

We're working on a couple of other surprises, but I'll write about that a bit later when they are closer to being ready.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

...and suddenly, it is mid-November!

How did this happen? The geese are honking away, hurrying south before it gets any later.
The other day (surely it couldn't have been more than a week... could it?) I was hurrying around, harvesting, drying, and brewing potions in the kitchen while the sunny breezes blew through the windows. I vaguely remember something about Halloween, and here we are rushing headlong into Thanksgiving and the vortex of holidays.

What the...??? This is starting to remind me of last year - when we, the entire extended family, decided to push Christmas back a week.
I'm sure it's only because it has been so busy around here. It's that fun kind of busy, though.
It started out on Monday, heading to the shore. Beautiful weather for this time of year, but by the next day (or was it the day after that?), Hurricane Ida was ashore in the south, barreling up the shoreline. We thought that if it had been snow, we would have happily been trapped in our delightful suite for a few extra days, but we needed to get back. Personally, it was time for the Jan/Feb magazine deadline, and for my dearest, there were other commitments to return to. So we played and we ate and we relaxed and had fun. It was a delicious break before getting back to business on Thursday afternoon.
On Friday, I puttered around at my favorite herb shop, and then ran home to begin preparations for the Balms and Salves class on Saturday. These classes are such fun! We are getting many requests to either do on-line classes or make DVD's of the ones we are holding - so we think that the taping will be easier. Like we do with the soap, perhaps - we have the DVD, the kit that matches what we're doing exactly, and also the soap book. That seems to work well, I think.
Earlier today, we were putting the final touches on the shop at Frog Hollow so that Maryanne can open for the season. Usually the shop doesn't even open until Thanksgiving, but between the classes and people who come in while tagging trees (which seems to be very early this year because of the gorgeous weekends) the shelves needed to be restocked today and need another look tomorrow!
At some point, I wandered down into the woods to collect some dried things for a project we've been working on. We attempted some mold-making that didn't work out, so it looks like we'll be free-handing these faces. Sculpting doesn't come easily to me, but it is fun. With the addition of the items I found in the woods, she came out better than I expected, and I can't wait to see how everything dries tomorrow!
Also today, while running an errand I ran across these berries on a tree. Are they autumn olives? I've been looking around for a while, and if they are, the whole town is full of them! I tasted one. It was sweet and tart. They are dotted like Asian pears.So that's been my week.
In between we've gotten some spectacular articles for the next issue. I'm pretty excited about that too. We'll start putting it together and get it to the printer within a week or so. We learned our lesson about procrastination last time, and won't let that happen again.
And on that note... Isn't this a gorgeous evening in November?

Sunday, November 08, 2009

..met a pieman, going to the shore...

A month or so ago, I baked a delicious elderberry pie. A berry/pie fiend/friend of mine was beside himself when he saw the picture. So into the freezer went a pie-sized quantity of fresh berries, biding their time for their big moment.
Tomorrow he and I will go to the shore for a few days, and so it was time to get out the elderberries! At the same time, my daughter has been ill, and I'd like her to take some back to college tomorrow.
What to do, what to do?
Maybe I could change the pie recipe to tarts? Maybe use a cupcake tin?
So, I flattened a paper cupcake liner and used that as a cutting template.
Once the dough was inside the pan, I used scissors to cut out the excess triangles of dough and saved that for the tops. It took some time, but I got 12 circles out of 2 pie crusts.
The filling:
4 cups elderberries
1 (scant) cup sugar
3 T cornstarch
juice from one lemon
Heat oven to 375 degrees
I used a canning funnel to ladle the filling into the tartshells. Then I used tiny cookie cutters to make shapes to go on top. Also, some of the leftover dough was used to build up the edges. Into the oven they went for about 25 minutes. At 15 minutes I spun them, because my oven cooks the back ones first. They came out pretty well.
Another experiment that didn't go too badly!
The best part? There will be enough for everyone, and I hope that they will all feel special and loved.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

fruit, herbs, and alcohol

Today we had a class on making tinctures. It was a lot of fun, and since we're just starting out with the classes, they are small. A benefit of small classes is taking home some great stuff. Last week we poured beautiful lavender oatmeal soap into lined 3" x 5" wooden berry boxes. I cut mine and it turned into 4 great bars of soap - although there is a bit of an ash layer on top because it wasn't insulated.
This week we talked about different methods and different herbs, how to use tinctures, and then everyone made a pint jar to take home. I thought we'd all make elderberry, but as it turned out we also had someone who chose to pick vitex berries off the bush out back, another chose holy basil, Maryanne wanted the echinacea I'd dug and cleaned prior to class (that jar is beside the soap, above), while I used some ephedra. It was a lot of fun! With a bigger class we wouldn't have been able to be as flexible in either of the classes.
During the course of today's class, we were talking about using the herbs that grow near you, and I lugged out the jar of sour cherries I've been macerating since June. That will eventually become a cordial, and sniffing today (deLIGHTful!) we decided that they need a vanilla bean to swim around with them. To make the liquid into cordial, it will require the addition of a simple syrup, maple syrup, or honey. We are still fantisizing about what will happen to the actual drunken fruit.
After class I spied some pomegranates and the price is starting to come down on them. In fact, they were on special. So I snagged a couple of them for the same eventual purpose.
After cutting open the pomegranates, the beautiful jewel-toned seeds (what do you call them? The seeds are encased in the small juicy corn-shaped thing-a-ma-jigs) are separated from the pulp and placed into a large mason jar.
I muddled them pretty well to get the juice running.
Finally a few cardamom seeds and a healthy slice of ginger went in before it was covered to the top of the jar with vodka. Then I carefully labelled it and spelled it incorrectly.
In a couple of months we'll have a sniff and see what else it needs!
It seems like it could be great fun to follow along in the seasons and make up cordials to go along. Persimmon? eh.... I don't know about that one, but it might be worth a try with nutmeg and cinnamon!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

November begins at TEH

We are really stepping here!
Orders and renewals are coming in....
The classes are starting to come together after a couple of false starts, and there will be people learning in the kitchen for the next couple months of Saturdays. This week it will be tinctures - one of my favorites.
The shop at Frog Hollow is about ready to roll for the year, and it is basically an extended version of our booth from the farm market. The really cool part is that we don't need to schlep it and set it up and break it down each week!
Maryanne's wholesale soap business is keeping us hopping as shops stock up for the coming holidays, and while I was doing the mailing last night, she was making a batch of liquid soap. We've been playing around with some seriously cool molded soaps lately, too.

As for the magazine, we're in that very short break between getting an issue out and getting serious about the next one. Last night I put together a mailing for a few hundred people who have managed to resist renewing for over a year --- last call before the names go into a dump file. What can I say? Some people knit while they sit and watch a show in the evening. I prepare bulk mailings :-).
There are several elderberry candy orders here, so it looks like that's what I'll be doing after dropping the mailing and the orders at the post office.
This is my favorite time of year (wait... didn't I say that in April?) Ok, ok... there are many favorite times, which makes me lucky. I do love the hustle and bustle. It's invigorating to be trying to figure out how to get things done in between this class, those orders, writing an article for somebody, and spending a day at Radiance.

If Spring is a season of rising sap and walking in the woods feeling the green-ness, Autumn is the brisk, hub-bub of business and getting everything accomplished in shorter light hours. It is talking to people instead of plants. It is blankets and slippers and cocoa.

Welcome, November! I've missed you.

Friday, October 30, 2009

All Hallows

No matter what you believe, in the Autumn, our thoughts go to the cycles of life, the death (harvest) of the plants, and the hope for the renewal in the spring.
On a bright cheery afternoon last week we went to the Mount Bethel cemetery in Columbia PA to look up and visit some relatives. This place was founded in 1720, and although some find graveyards macabre, they are such a commentary on the human condition in times past. Styles have really changed. This cemetery contains no lasered photographs on monuments. All are hand carved.
Many, many of these memorials are for teens or younger children. As I walked, the sense of longing, sadness and love was palpable.
These towers and obelisks are so different from what we'd have today. There is much ornate carving, but many of the stones are sandstone, easily worn away within 100 - 150 years.
only daughter and first-born son...
We forget how lucky we are to have so many deadly childhood diseases irradicated or manageable today. That isn't a statement for OR against innoculations - it is simply an observation. Imagine the terror parents felt the instant a child ran a fever.
I could imagine a loved one running their hand over the flowers on this monument, or sitting upon the front part, which is fashioned like a small bed, or chaise lounge.
Although the families of these people are mostly gone themselves, we can still mourn with them as we pass. Notice the "m's" on the stone below... they resemble the willow tree motif that is often used.
On the base of the pedastal at the foot of this stone, "we love you still".
This gentleman was a poet, writer, and it would seem from the writings on all four sides of his obelisk, much loved by the community as well as his family.

No explanation needed....This celtic cross was about 10 feet tall.

So much of the carving was gone from the stone that it was unreadable.
No age given. No years. Just "our boy".
This one held me for a long time. Mary was 9. Her parents are nearby, and she is the only child with them.
For some reason, this struck me as if to say, "hey! wait a minute, I have something more to say..."

This long row of tablet style graves and those like this used to terrify me as a child, as I assumed that the body was above ground. It was just another style of monument.
An angel watches over.
Again, I chuckled at this tiny obelisk. In the tradition and style of the soaring 10, 12, and 25 foot giants in the nearby background, this perfect little stone was for a child.

A wee lamb nestled in beside a tree stump. One of my favorite styles, but worn almost beyond recognition.
This little lamb will also wear away before too long. It is only from 1922 - relatively new in gravestone years.

So we walked, and we mourned, and we laughed. In some instances, we nearly cried. I suppose that in many cases, the only trace that these people existed is these stones. Now we have photographs, paperwork, and so many "footprints". But for these people, it is just the stone.