Monday, November 26, 2012

Handmade Christmas Tree

At the tree farm!
Once the last of the Thanksgiving leftovers have been eaten up, I'm ready to start thinking about Christmas! My favorite pre-Christmas activity is going to get our tree. Each year, my family heads up to a local tree farm to cut down the perfect tree. There are few things that make me happier than watching all the children decorate our tree, the bigger ones helping the little one reach the high branches. We put on Christmas music, have cookies and hot chocolate, and enjoy spending time together.

Some of our handmade ornaments:
Twig-and-hemp stars, pinecones painted with glitter,
and painted salt clay dough ornaments.

Last year, we decided to try decorating our Christmas tree with all handmade ornaments, just for fun. We went for a walk in the woods to gather pine cones, twigs, and sprigs of juniper. When we got home, we gathered up some hemp cord, ribbons, cinnamon sticks, glue, glitter and paint. We mixed up a batch of salt clay dough, and set to work, spending an entire afternoon together, making ornaments. We also strung cranberries and popcorn, and cut out some paper snowflakes out of coffee filters. That tree had such special meaning to us, as every ornament was handcrafted by our family. The kids enjoyed the handmade tree experiment so much, that they asked if we could do it again this year! So, of course, we did!

So once again, the boxes of our old ornaments remain in the basement, and our tree is decorated entirely with ornaments made by our family. I LOVE our Handmade Christmas Tree! I can't stop smiling when I look at it! It may not be the fanciest tree ever, but as I sit here admiring it, I see the joy and creativity of my children, and that is more beautiful to me than anything.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving (in pictures)

Some appetizers... cheddar twists, polenta with sage butter sauce
and  a cheese tray

The table is set

A closer look at the centerpiece

Five of my reasons to be Thankful.

A glass of wine out by the fire after dinner,
while the children ran around the yard.
I wish I'd gotten a picture of the sun setting over the lake... it was lovely!

Back inside for dessert... pumpkin pie with fresh whipped cream
and spice cookies

We are ending this day full of delicious food, and full of Gratitude for our many Blessings. 
Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

DIY Thanksgiving Table Decor

It's now the night before Thanksgiving! There has been much pre-holiday busy-ness going on around here today... cooking up some dishes ahead of time, baking cookies and pie, and one of my favorite things... putting together the Thanksgiving Centerpiece!

I have to admit, I get far more excited than I probably should about the centerpiece, and quite honestly, my family would probably be just as happy if I just threw a plastic tablecloth on the table with one of those tissue-paper and cardboard turkeys. But I LOVE getting out the fancy linens and making the table look truly festive. I try to do something a little different each year, but there are a few things that I do go back to again and again: I like to have flowers, I like to incorporate fall-ish things like gourds, acorns and leaves, and I love to stick to the glorious color palate of the season... golds, deep reds, oranges, and browns.

This year, I found some gorgeous fall flowers at Trader Joe's (which were also really cheap!) I added in a few dried hydrangeas from my own garden, too. I arranged them all in a simple glass vase, but decided to make it look more "rustic" by covering the vase with twigs tied together with some hemp string. I also decided to make use of the plate of gourds and mini-pumpkins I have had on my table all season (we got most of them from our Farm Share back in October) The gourds will just be arranged around the flowers on the table, but I decided to do something extra-special with the mini pumpkins... I turned them into little tealight holders!

To make these, just just out the top of the pumpkin just as you would for a jack-o-lantern, then scoop out the seeds and strings. Then just place a little tealight inside. If you want to get extra-fancy, you can try cutting little holes or slits in the sides of the pumpkins, but I decided to just keep mine simple.

In addition to the centerpiece, I also worked on a few other things for the table... like these napkins! I just tied each one with a little piece of brown raffia, and tucked in a pretty sprig from an azalea bush in our yard.

I am very excited to see how it all looks together when I set the table tomorrow morning! I am also very much looking forward to spending this special day with my family, giving Thanks and enjoying the day together.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

"Thankful" Craft

As I mentioned in the last post, Thanksgiving is my FAVORITE holiday! While we should, of course, be Thankful for our Blessings every day of the year, Thanksgiving time serves as a good reminder to stop and take stock of all of the good things that we have in our life. Each year at this time, I like to make a list for myself of all the things I have to be grateful for. It’s good to look back to this list from time to time, particularly when having a “poor me!” kind of day (which we ALL have sometimes, don’t we?) Seeing all the good things in my life written down in black and white really puts things in perspective. 
I like to encourage the rest of the family to take stock of their Blessings as well, so each year during the week before Thanksgiving we gather together to make a Thankful Banner. We have done this craft together every year since the children were really little! I cut leaf shapes out of card stock or construction paper, and we all sit around the table and write things we are thankful for on the leaves. When all the leaves have a Blessing on them, I tape them along a string of raffia to make a pretty banner. We often end up having some nice discussions while working on this together… the process of this project is just as wonderful as the finished product.

Another bit of Thanksgiving craftiness we’ve begun planning is our Thanksgiving table centerpiece! I’ll be sharing that project with you next post! 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Countdown to Thanksgiving!

It’s just one week until my very favorite holiday… Thanksgiving! I love that we have an entire holiday which is all about counting your Blessings and sharing a meal with the ones you love. No commercialism, no marketing… just Thankfulness and Togetherness… what’s better than that? We have been preparing for this special day by planning our menu, making shopping lists, and preparing to do some Thanksgiving Day crafts and projects (come back in the next few days for more on this!)

Speaking of the Menu… as vegetarians, we get a lot of people asking us, “But what about Thanksgiving?! What do you eat for Thanksgiving if you don't eat turkey!?" Well, I'll tell you, we eat LOTS of things! I will say one thing we've never had is Tofurkey (though I'm not knocking this quintessential Vegetarian Thanksgiving staple... I know it's a favorite of many!) When we plan our Thanksgiving menu, we think “harvest” foods, things that reflect the warm flavors of Autumn, with a nod toward a few “traditional” foods that may have been served at the first Thanksgiving (though usually with a modern “twist”) Squashes and other autumn veggies, bountiful grains, warm spices... that sort of thing. In the weeks leading up to the Big Day, everyone in the family puts in requests for special dishes they would like to have for our Thanksgiving feast, and we plan our menu together.

This year’s menu will be:


Cheese Tray: cranberry goat cheese, cheddar, grapes, assorted crackers
Polenta with sage butter


Lentil Loaf with vegetarian gravy (a family favorite!)
Mashed potatoes
Spiced butternut squash
Green beans almondine
Maple carrots
Garlic kale
Apple-raisin stuffing
Whole grain crusty rolls
Cranberry sauce


Pumpkin Pie with fresh whipped cream
Spice cookies

Mulled Cider

Though all of us here at The Homestead are very much looking forward to gathering around the dinner table, we're also really excited to just have some uninterrupted time to spend together... we'll have all five kids at home at the same time! The Man of the House is planning on starting up a family football game, and I'm hoping for a nice walk together after dinner. We all have so much to be Thankful for.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Sunflower Treats for Birds!

We've been a little bit busy around here this fall, so we're a little bit behind schedule doing fall yard-and-garden clean up. As of this weekend, we've got most of the vegetable beds cleaned up and ready for their winter rest (with the exception of one bed which still has some hardy kale growing) and we've finally gotten around to cutting back all the rest of the perennial beds.

But what I really want to talk about today is Sunflowers! I LOVE my sunflowers. They are one of the first things we sow outside in the spring. We water and weed and watch and wait for them to sprout up, and for their sunny faces to reach toward the sky from mid summer into early fall. By mid fall, the blooms are all spent, and it's time to harvest the seeds. We harvest some seeds for our own use by wrapping some of the "mammoth" sunflower heads in cheesecloth and hanging them in the house to dry out. The cheesecloth is important, as it catches any seeds that might fall out as the flower heads dry. But we also always hang several of our sunflower heads outside along our back fence as a special treat for the birds. It's a cheap, easy way to feed our feathered friends. We love to watch all the birds who come around to feast on the seeds.

In addition to all of our yard clean up, we are also planning and preparing for my FAVORITE holiday... Thanksgiving! There will be several posts coming up on that topic, so stay tuned!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Baking Soda: Miracle in a Box!

 I am not kidding when I say I could not live my daily life without baking soda! Seriously, this is one of the most amazing substances on Earth. Not only is it used as a leavening in nearly all cake and cookie recipes, but you can also use it for a variety of other health, beauty and household purposes. Here are 25 things that you can do with this miraculous substance!
  1. Brush your teeth… a paste of baking soda and water will clean your teeth, remove coffee and tea stains and freshen breath.
  2. Wash your hair.
  3. Make your own homemade deodorant
  4. Use as a gentle but effective scouring powder for sinks, tubs, stove tops… anywhere!
  5. Bake some soda bread.
  6. Make a cool erupting volcano.
  7. Make a paste of baking soda and water and apply to bee stings and insect bites.
  8. Put some in a bath to relieve the itch of poison ivy and other skin irritations.
  9. Use to scrub away stuck on food from pots and pans.
  10. Add a teaspoon to a glass of water to make a mouthwash/gargle to freshen your breath
  11. The above mouthwash is also good for relieving canker sores.
  12. Sprinkle in your sneakers to eliminate odors.
  13. Keep an open container in the back of the fridge and freezer to minimize food odors.
  14. Use it to clean your toilets… sprinkle some in, scrub and flush.
  15. Clear a slow drain by putting in a half-cup of baking soda, then pour in some vinegar. Follow by flushing  with hot water.
  16.  Make Laundry Soap.
  17. Cure heartburn by drinking a glass of water mixed with ½ teaspoon of baking soda.
  18. Use as a fruit and veggie wash.
  19. Freshen rugs and carpets by sprinkling them with baking soda, let sit for an hour or so, then vacuum.
  20. A paste of baking soda and water can be used to remove water rings from wood furniture.
  21. Sprinkle in the litter box, to keep it smelling fresher.
  22. Use as a hand scrub to remove garlic and onion odors.
  23. Remove coffee stains from cups and coffee makers.
  24. Freshen up your garbage disposal with baking soda… pour some in, and flush with warm water.
  25. Remove food odors from plastic containers by soaking in a baking soda solution.
  Do you have any favorite uses for baking soda not mentioned here? 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

It's Election Day!

Today is Election Day, and I am so grateful to the women who came before me, who worked hard and sacrificed much so that I would have the right to vote today. I think many of us take this precious right for granted, but it's important to remember that just a couple of generations ago, women did not have the option to cast a ballot. I hope that today all of you will exercise your right to help choose our next leaders.

We are looking forward to wrapping up our work day this evening, so we can put on the TV and settle in to watch the election results roll in. We've been studying the election process with our homeschool Civics Club, so the children are almost as excited as I am to watch the coverage. We're going to make a party of it... Ladybug is making star-shaped sugar cookies, and I made these:
The Man of the House has dubbed these "Presidential Parfaits" which I think is as good a name as any! They are made of yogurt, strawberries and blueberries. Festive, no?! In addition to enjoying our Patriotic snacks, I'm looking forward to watching the democratic process in action tonight, and to sharing it with our children.

Don't forget to Vote!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Herb Wreath

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, we had a HUGE herb harvest this year… plenty to dry for teas and cooking over the winter, with enough left over for some fun herb crafts! So after smudge sticks, Ladybug and I tried our hands at wreath-making.

There are a couple of ways you can do this project. The easy way is to buy a wreath frame from your local craft supply store, and just arrange your herb sprigs on that. But, I didn’t feel like purchasing anything new, so I decided to just work with what we had on hand: A pile of herbs (rosemary, sage and lavender) some scissors, and some florist wire.

 First, I made a small bunch of rosemary, and wrapped the end of the bunch together with florist wire. I added another bunch on top of the first, attaching the middle of the top bunch to the bottom of the first, so it overlapped. I kept doing this until it was long enough to loop around into the size wreath I wanted. Next, I secured the bottom of the last bunch under the first bunch, to make a nice circle. From there, I began to layer on some sprigs of sage in the same way, but just lashing them onto to rosemary. I finished by just tucking in sprigs of sage and lavender until the wreath was nice and full. I thought about adding a little raffia bow, but decided that the herbs were pretty enough on their own. I love the way this wreath smells, and I love that all who come in our front door will be greeted with its delightful scent!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Harvesting Herbs and Making Smudge Sticks

Bundles of catnip, sage and rosemary, hanging to dry

Yesterday we harvested the last of our herbs for the season. Our house is now filled with little bundles of herbs, hung up to dry for use over the winter. We have catnip for the kitties, mint and lemon balm for teas, plus lavender, sage, oregano, rosemary and thyme.  Our herbs grew very well this year, so in addition to all we have drying for our own culinary use, we also gave some to the neighbors and set some aside for making smudge sticks, wreaths and other crafts.

So after we hung up our bundles of herbs to dry, Ladybug and I set to work on making smudge sticks. Smudge sticks are bundles of herbs which are burned to make fragrant smoke. Smudge sticks are used to “cleanse” your space of negative energy, and also they make your home smell nice! Traditionally, smudge sticks are made from white sage and cedar, but you can use other herbs, as well. We made ours with sage and lavender.

To make, start by gathering a few sticks of your herbs, roughly 4-6 inches long, into a bundle. We started with lavender in the middle, then added sage around the outside. Tie one end of the bundle together very tightly with cotton string. Next, wrap the string tightly around the whole bundle, all the way down to the other end. Tie off the end with a knot. Let your smudge sticks sit for a week or so before using, to dry out a bit.
Finished Smudge Sticks!

Today, we’ll be using more of the herbs to make a fragrant wreath for our front door. We plan to use rosemary, sage and lavender. Pics to follow, tomorrow!

But first, we are going to take some time on this crisp, fall day to go for a family hike at a local reservation.  We are looking forward to spending some much-needed time in nature!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Homemade Dish Washing Liquid

Although most of our dishes are washed in our dishwasher, we do have a lot of things that need to be washed by hand… pots and pans, large serving dishes, some china pieces, etc. To get the job done, I use my own homemade dish washing liquid.  It’s easy to make, inexpensive, free of chemicals and it works. All of the ingredients for this are on my Simple LivingShopping List.

Mama’s Homemade Dish Washing Soap

1 cup of water
½ cup castile soap (I use Dr. Bronner’s baby mild unscented)
1 Tbsp vinegar
5 drops of essential oil

A note about the essential oil: I like to use rosemary oil for this… but lemon, sage, lavender or tea tree are all nice too… use whatever you like!

Mix all together in an empty squeeze bottle or soap dispenser. Use as you would use any other dish washing liquid. Keep in mind that this soap will not foam up the way that synthetic dish liquids will, but it still works great!