Monday, December 29, 2014


Christmas Eve Treats!
Here at The Homestead, the past week and a half has been filled festive holiday activities. We have celebrated birthdays and Solstice and Christmas Eve and Christmas. We have had fun holiday outings. We have baked and cooked and wrapped. We have spent time with family and indulged in decadent holiday food and drink. We had company over for the Solstice and Christmas Eve, but on Christmas day we enjoyed a nice, quiet day at home, just me, The Man, Ladybug, Monkey and Noodle. After present-opening and Christmas breakfast, The Man and I worked on a puzzle while the kids hung out and played with their new toys.
Christmas Dinner

In the evening, we had our traditional Chinese takeout for dinner. This tradition was started in my family by my grandfather, back in the 1950's. Since it's the only thing I've ever had for Christmas dinner, I have continued the tradition with my own family. After dinner, we snuggled up to watch A Christmas Story. Shutterbug came home to join us for a belated Christmas on Saturday.

Even though we still have New Year's Eve/Day to go, I have hit the point in the holiday season where I start to get "holidayed out" and crave a return to "normal" life.  I'm feeling fat and sluggish from all the holiday indulgences, the youngest child has been all out-of-sorts from too much sugar, too much activity and not enough sleep, and our home is still strewn with bits of holiday-related debris. So, yesterday I began Operation Holiday Recovery. I managed to get the tree down and out, and cleared away all the decorations in the living room and kitchen. Today I tackled the play room, and as of this afternoon, all of holiday stuff is neatly packed away in the basement until next December. It feels good to have our house back!

All packed up till next year. 
Now that Christmas has passed, I am looking forward to the New Year, and all the promise it brings. 2014 was an exciting year of big changes, and I am eager to see what 2015 holds in store for us. Happy New Year!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Our Solstice Celebration

So, last night was the Solstice. We marked this longest night of the year and the gradual return of the Light with a nice celebration at home. We filled the house with candles, lit ice lanterns on the porch, toasted chestnuts out on the fire pit and enjoyed a delicious Solstice Feast. My sister and her fiance joined the children and I for our celebration.

Candles and greens on the table. We also had candles
 in all the windows, and on the kitchen island.

Ice Lanterns on the porch at dusk.

Ice Lanterns
Our feast was a mix of old favorites and a new recipe or two. 

Our Solstice Menu

Crostini with garlic white bean spread
crudite with dip

Mixed baby greens with cranberries and pears and balsamic dressing
Mushroom and sundried tomato risotto 
Roasted root vegetables and cauliflower
Sauteed Kale

Yule Log Cake (Chocolate, with mocha frosting)
Peppermint cookies
Hot Cocoa 

We must have been very hungry, because I didn't seem to get any pictures of the food! The risotto recipe was from Isa Chandra Moskowitz's book, Vegan with a Vengeance. It was by far my favorite dish of the meal. It was earthy, flavorful, creamy and comforting... perfect for a winter feast. I seriously want Isa to be my BFF. Her recipes are always absolutely perfect in every way. 

Next up on this week of celebrating: Christmas eve and Christmas. We will have some family visiting, which we are looking forward to. Tomorrow will be spent finishing up the last minute details of wrapping, baking and shopping for last minute menu ingredients. I'm especially looking forward to our annual tradition of making gingerbread houses... I confess I enjoy it as much as the kids do! 

I will not be posting again until after Christmas... so I will wish all of you who celebrate a very Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

DIY Holiday Card Display

It's been a busy week of holiday preparations! We got all the packages mailed out for far-away loved ones, we've been baking up a storm, our solstice ice lanterns are made, menus are planned. Today I'll be cooking up our Solstice Feast, but first, I wanted to post a quick "how-to" for our Holiday Card Display, as promised last week!

I just love getting Holiday cards! Especially nowadays, with most correspondence being digital, getting a real, honest-to-goodness card in the mail just seems extra special. Last year, Noodle and I saw a similar card display for sale in a store, and I thought, "Geez, I could MAKE that!" So I did. And so can you, if you're so inclined! This project takes about 15 minutes to make, and is pretty easy. Here's what you'll need:

  • An old picture frame (no glass needed, so this is a perfect way to use up a frame that had the glass broken
  • a piece of cardboard 
  • burlap or other fabric (maybe a holiday print?)
  • twine, hemp or string
  • a hot glue gun
  • a staple gun

First, I used hot glue to cover a piece of cardboard cut to the
size to fit in my picture frame with burlap fabric.

Next, I wrapped the string around the cardboard in a random pattern.

After you tie off the string on the back, slip the cardboard into
the back of your frame. 

Use a staple gun to staple the cardboard to the frame.

Finished! I put mine up on a pretty easel. 

If I were going to make this again, one thing I would do differently is I would use a bigger frame. This one is 11x14, and it ended up not being big enough to hold all of our cards. I might make a bigger one next year. 

Now, I must get back to the kitchen! There is a Solstice Feast to prepare. Wishing you all a Most Blessed Solstice!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Holiday-Time Craft: Pomander Balls

Now that Thanksgiving is behind us and the calendar page has flipped to December, we're starting to feel like getting ready for the Holiday season. We've slowly started replacing fall decorations (gourds and such) with winter decorations (evergreens and pinecones!) This weekend we also decided to make old-fashioned orange and clove pomander balls. I haven't made them in years, but they are something I really love. They make me think of England in the olden days, and they smell SO lovely. You can tie ribbons around them and hang them up, but I prefer to display mine in a bowl or tray with greens and pinecones. Mine are currently on the piano in our living room, near the front door, so that when we come home we are greeted by their warm, spicy fragrance.

Pomander balls are very easy to make, and they are a fun craft to do with kids. They don't require much for materials... chances are you already have everything you need in your kitchen.

Old-Fashioned Orange Pomander Balls

  • Oranges (or other citrus fruit... we used clementines)
  • whole cloves
  • Ground cinnamon, mixed with a bit of ground nutmeg and a few tablespoons of orris root powder

(NOTE* We skipped the orris root, because we didn't have any on hand. But it is nice to use if you have it, as keeps them smelling nice longer)

To make: Poke the cloves into the orange, in some kind of pattern, or just all over. If the skin of the fruit is tough to poke through, you can use a toothpick first to make it easier. Next, roll the fruit in the ground spice mixture, then either tie a ribbon around the fruit to hang it, or just place it in a bowl. The fruit should slowly dry out over a few weeks' time.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Our "Acts of Kindness" Tree

I was raised celebrating Christmas. In my family, we celebrated with all the usual trappings... Christmas trees, Santa, lights, decorations and presents. But Christmas also meant spending time with family, sharing special food and seeing relatives we didn't see as often during the year. Overall, those memories of Christmases past are mostly fond ones. As I got older, however... Christmas just didn't speak to me in the same way anymore. Many of the important people who made the holiday special for me passed on. I became disillusioned by the whole "Christmas Culture"... Being bombarded with all the tacky Christmas trappings in the stores from October to January, the pressure to spend money you don't have on garbage that no one needs, and worst of all, people yelling "Keep 'CHRIST' in CHRISTMAS" while they're trampling each other to get a good deal on a TV. Is this what Christmas has become?  Misplaced religious zealotry, commercialism and EXCESS? Instead of feeling cheerful at the holidays, I felt overwhelmed and saddened, to the point that the holiday season really meant nothing to me.

So I had to take a step back... I had to rediscover the things I loved in my childhood traditions, and the things I loved about this time of year in general, and figure out how I would pass on the GOOD of the season to my children, while eliminating the stuff  that didn't speak to me or make me feel Joyful. I love the traditions that come from ancient Solstice/Yule celebrations: Decorated trees, evergreen boughs, candles, etc. My spirituality is very Earth/Nature centered, so the traditions of celebrating Solstice and Yule really speak to me. My body and mind are very much connected to the cycles of the seasons, and I'm profoundly affected by the cycles of the Earth. Celebrating these cycles makes me feel connected to the people who have been celebrating this way since ancient times. These celebrations were so beautiful and important that early Christians wanted to get in on this Yule/Solstice stuff, so many of these traditions were absorbed into the Christian holiday of Christmas. (Particularly interesting, as according to religious historians, Jesus was born in late summer/early fall, no where near when we celebrate His "birth")  I also choose to embrace the traditional Christmas ideas of spreading Joy and Love and Light to our fellow human beings. Wasn't that what Jesus was all about? Helping those who couldn't help themselves? And then there are other little things from my childhood, things like baking special treats, building gingerbread houses and filling stockings.

These are the things that comprise our holiday season now...

  • Charity
  • Simplicity
  • Respect for the Earth and her changing seasons
  • Making our Home warm, comfortable and inviting for those we'll celebrate the season with
  • Making and choosing thoughtful gifts for those we love
  • Sharing traditional foods and activities

In line with the way we now choose to celebrate the season, a couple of years ago we started a new tradition in our family... the Acts of Kindness Tree. This is sort of a non-denomination twist on an Advent calendar. Each year I make little slips of paper with "acts of kindness" written on the them. These are tucked into little envelopes, and tied to a "tree" (actually just some branches from the yard, tucked into a vase) Each day, a child picks an envelope, and we do whatever is written on the paper.
The "Acts of Kindness" all ready to be tucked into envelopes

We really have fun with these. We treat many of them like Top Secret Missions of Kindness, where we try to remain anonymous, and do them without getting "caught." Some can't really be done anonymously, but those are still fun, too. Some require a little bit of money (like leaving change at the laundromat, buying a toy for a child in need, donating poinsettias to a nursing home) but many are totally free... helping a neighbor shovel, writing a letter to someone to thank them for something nice they did, let someone go ahead of you in line) Kindness doesn't have to be expensive.

Coming in the next week or two, I'll be sharing lots more of our Simple holiday traditions, crafts and recipes. May your holiday season, however you choose to celebrate it, be filled with much Love, Peace and Joy.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Our Thankful Garland

Every year for Thanksgiving, our family does a little "Thankful" craft... we always make a little banner of paper leaves, on which we write things we are thankful for. (You can see last year's banner here) Some of the leaves are very sincere... "Our Home" "Our Cats" etc... while others are a bit sillier (like "Peanut Butter") We've  been making these in one form or another since my oldest child was about four, so I think this is our tenth year! It is definitely one of my favorite family traditions.

It begins as cut out paper leaves and sharpies
This year we did it a little differently... rather than hang the leaves from string or twine across a wall or window as we usually do, I decided I wanted to put it up on our newly-revamped mantle this year. I found some nice grapevine garland at AC Moore, which seemed perfect to use as our base.  I'm very happy with how it came out.

After writing things we're Thankful for, we
tucked the leaves into the grapevine garland.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Sharing is Caring

Some silly fun with friends... Turning the
Three-legged Race into a Five-Legged Race!
Last Friday we had the most WONDERFUL Community Thanksgiving with our Homeschool group. All the families contributed traditional homemade dishes and gathered together to decorate the room, play games, talk, and share a delightful feast together. We all had a great time, and many wonderful memories were made. We feel so lucky that events like this are a regular part of our life, and we know we are truly Blessed to have so many amazing friends to share in this homeschooling journey. Whenever people give me that "You homeschool? But what about SOCIALIZATION?!" line, I always laugh, because my kids have a much more active social life than I ever did as a public school kid.

But the downside to all this socialization? Sometimes along with sharing food, friendship and fun, we also sometimes inadvertently share GERMS. About 30 or so hours after the party, at least 30 people, fully half of the party attendees, came down with a nasty tummy bug. My three kiddos were among those hit. I don't know what this bug was, exactly, but it was a strong one, to affect so many people. In our family, Noodle was the first, at 1:30am on Sunday... we were awakened by "that sound" that no parent wants to wake up to. By 10am the other two had it. Fortunately, the first two kids only threw up a couple of times then just slept it off. They were both fine in 8-12 hours. Monkey, on the other hand, continued to vomit for 13 straight hours. I brought him to the ER 6 hours in, and he ended up with an overnight hospital stay. It took two different anti-nausea meds and four bags of IV fluids to get him over the hump. This is  the second hospital stay for Monkey in less than a year. I had hoped after his bout with Norovirus in March we'd be done with hospitals for awhile, but no such luck. I'm now trying to heal his gut and boost his immune system with probiotics and vitamins. Fingers crossed we'll get through the winter without further incident.

After all this drama, we are getting back into the swing of normal life. Today we've got a busy day of classes, appointments and activities. I am grateful that we're all healthy, and able to do this stuff! Once we get caught up, I do have several posts I've been wanting to write, (about my indoor garden, and my new cold frame, my bird feeders, some recipes, and more!) and hopefully now that things are settling down I'll get to those, soon. Stay tuned! :)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

A Furry Love Story

In February of 1998, my former husband (who was not yet my husband) and I had just bought our first house, and we were set to move in in May. After living in "No Pets Allowed" apartments for many years, I was very anxious to welcome a furry friend or two into our new home.

Meanwhile, that very month, some friends were walking home from the subway very late one evening when they found a small cat wandering in the cold. They brought her in for the night, to keep her warm. After trying hard to find her owners, to no avail, they ended up finding themselves the parents of this sweet little girl. They named her Twizzler, and it was soon determined that Twizzler was expecting! When we heard that our friends would soon have some kittens needing homes, we immediately volunteered to take two. It was meant-to-be.

On April 15, 1998, we got the call that the kittens had made their debut. Like the eager expectant "parents" that we were, we rushed over to meet them as soon as possible. There were four, altogether, and we named our two kittens that night... Gus and Tallulah. We visited  them often over the next 8 weeks, and we brought them home to our new house in June. They turned out to be wonderful cats... funny, affectionate, each with a distinctly awesome personality.

And so it began. Those cats stayed with me through my engagement, marriage, the births of three beautiful children, a move to a new house and the end of my marriage. They were by my side through money struggles, new careers, and new friends. They were there for the formation of a wonderful new relationship, and making of an expanded family. They were with me while my family suffered loss, and while we worked our way through grief. They have been furry little constants for me in this crazy life, and I'm so grateful for the quiet comfort they have given me all these years. My kids have never known life without these two cats in it. They were so sweet, gentle and patient with the kids, allowing them to pick them up, hug them, hold them and even tolerating being dressed up in doll clothes. Not once did they ever scratch or bite, but instead would just get up and walk away if they'd had enough of playing. For my youngest child, who had challenges with developmental delays, Gus and Tallulah were like therapy cats for him. They taught him so much about love, compassion and patience.

One year ago tomorrow, on November 7, 2013, Gus left this Earth at the age of 15.5 years, and is still sorely missed. Today, after a long illness Tallulah joined her brother in Kitty Heaven. I am so sad at this loss, but I take comfort in the idea that their souls are reunited. I hope there is some good catnip up there.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Time to Harvest the Herbs

With the temps outside dipping below freezing, it's time to harvest our herbs from the garden. A little past time, actually, but I was a little slow this year. It seemed like the cold weather sort of snuck up on us! One day we were outside in just our shirt sleeves, and the next day they were predicting frost. We even had a little bit of snow this past Sunday! Since I didn't have time to harvest then, I just draped some tablecloths over the herbs to protect them until I could bring them in. This morning I finally got out there, and cut a whole bunch of herbs... rosemary, thyme, oregano, lemon balm and sage. They've all been trimmed and rinsed, "yucky" leaves discarded, and are currently spread out on towels on the counter, ready to be bundled up and hung to dry for our winter enjoyment. Later I'll go out to get the chives, mints and catnip. The last of the lavender came in a few weeks ago, and the last of the basil has already been turned into pesto, which is in the freezer, ready for our pastas and pizzas over the winter.

We use our herbs for so much more than culinary purposes. While I do love the delicious flavor my herbs add to my cooking, we also use herbs for medicinal purposes. Peppermint, spearmint and lemon balm make a nice tea to soothe tummies and aid digestion. I love to have a cup of this tea after dinner. When you've got a cold, tea made from thyme with a squeeze of lemon and a spoonful of raw, local honey is great for soothing coughs and sore throats. A rosemary rinse in your hair after washing is great for soothing a dry itchy scalp, and is even said to promote hair growth. No matter the ailment, chances are there is an herbal remedy to soothe it.

And finally... we'll also be reserving some for some herb crafts: smudge sticks, wreaths and fire bundles. But first, I'm going to sit with a cup of peppermint tea and enjoy the wonderful herbal smells wafting though our home.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


Just a quick post, today... I just had to give a little update on our indoor gardening project! 

A few days ago, I filled up the flat bin with some rocks (for drainage) and some of that homemade potting soil I was telling you about. I planted one side with spinach seeds and one side with arugula seeds. 

This morning I noticed:


See those little green spots in there? Such a cool thing to have brand new things growing while the regular summer garden is winding down. I'm looking forward to planting some indoor potatoes this weekend, and will also be getting our coldframe up on our bed of hardy greens out in the main garden. So far I am having a grand ol' time with this project!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Indoor Gardening (and Homemade Potting Soil!)

Remember when I told you about how we were doing Winter Gardening this year? WELL... we've been doing lots of stuff to get ready! One of the things we've been doing is setting up an indoor garden area in our basement. We plan to try indoor potatoes (again) as well as growing a variety of greens. We also plan to use this area to start seeds for next year's crop in the late winter/early spring. We haven't actually planted anything yet, but I do want to share a little "sneak peak" at how it's coming along. Before I show you pictures, though, I do want to issue a warning. These are not "Pinterest Worthy" pictures. This area is not pretty. It is functional, but not pretty. We are using stuff we have, so things are not all matchy and nice.
We purchased a grow light at Home Depot, to provide adequate light.
The orange buckets on either side of the desk will be used for potatoes,
and the plastic tub on top will be for growing greens. Inside the
 desk, we have a plastic bin in which seeds and such are stored.
  Under the desk,we have a watering can, and a big bucket of potting soil.

Inside the seed storage bin: seeds, markers, peat pots, trowel.


We chose this location, as it's a spot we can block off from the cats, who view all such things as there personal playground. We have a small finished area of our basement which contains a TV room and a small kitchen area, which seemed a nice, out-of-the-way location which is still easily accessible.

About our bucket of potting soil...  I knew I'd be using a lot this year, since I plan to do lots of container gardening, so I started looking into ways to save some cash on potting soil. I found out that it's actually really easy to make your own, and way cheaper than the stuff you buy pre-mixed. I measured my ingredients with an old almond milk carton and mixed it up in the bucket. Here is the recipe I used:

1-1/2 gallons peat moss
1/2 gallon perlite
1/2 gallon manure or compost
1 cup sand
3/4 cup organic fertilizer

This makes about half a bucket of soil. You can double the recipe, but I find it easier to mix in smaller batches, so I mixed up one batch, then another, then put them together.

This is sort of a basic, all-purpose potting soil. If you want to get really fancy, you can find a lot of other recipes which are good for specific planting purposes such as seed starting or for particular plants.

I am hoping to get things planted this coming week, and will update. If anyone else out there is trying winter gardening, I'd love to here your experiences!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Master Shopping List

I'm constantly looking for ways to live a greener, simpler and more frugal (frugaler?) life. One of the tools I've come up with recently to help me toward this goal is my Master Shopping List. It's something I've been working on for quite some time, and I've finally got it down to a system that really works for me.

Now before I tell you about this, let me just say that I have tried several phone apps for this purpose, but none of them have worked well for me. I have a way of doing things, and none of the apps were a good fit. I know several people who use grocery apps and are very happy with them, but they really just don't work as well for me. I found that having a physical list works better for me, so I created a printed out master list to take with me on my errands.

Prior to creating my Master List, I would sit down each Thursday and make my menu plan for the week (I still do that part) and then I would write up a shopping list of all the things I needed to make that week's dinners, along with any staples we needed. I realized I was spending a lot of time writing the same things over and over each week, as, like most families, we do have a good many items that we purchase every (or almost every) week. I decided it might be easier to type up a Master List of all the things we buy regularly, and then just have space to add special items I need to buy on occasion. I put the list in a plastic page protector, so I can cross items off with a dry erase marker, then wipe it clean for the following week. I put my list on a cute little clip board, which fits easily in my purse.

I do my grocery shopping at three different stores each week, as I've figured out over time that this is the best way to stretch my grocery buck. I am fortunate to live in an area where all the stores I shop at are close by and en route to places I end up in my day-to-day travels, so shopping at three different stores isn't all that inconvenient for me. (I understand that this might not work for everyone... back when my kids were little, and errands where a bit more of a project, I did one-stop shopping once a week at one store, as the convenience factor outweighed the extra expense.) Since I shop in several places, I set my list up by store, with a post-it note, if needed, to add any additional items. I wanted something small, that I could slip ealiy into my bag, so I formatted the list to fit on a half-sheet of paper, which fits perfectly on the small memo-sized clipboard I picked up from the clearance bin at Staples.

This Master List saves me oodles of time, and it saves paper, as I'm not writing up a whole new list each week. My whole shopping routine just feels much more streamlined and efficient now.

Next post: a little update on our Winter Gardening! In addition to preparing for a cold frame, we've also set up a little indoor gardening area. Pics and details, soon!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Homemade Almond Butter

I absolutely love almond butter. I eat it on apples, with bananas, in cookies and sometimes I even have some on  toast. I think of almond butter as being like peanut butter's sophisticated cousin. (though don't get me wrong... I love peanut butter, too!)

Today I was in the mood for some almond butter, but there was none to be found in our fridge. I did have some raw almonds, so I decided to try to make some. I am so glad I did. Not only is it crazy easy to make nut butter, it's also cheaper. Store-bought almond butter is about $8 for a 12-oz jar, or about $.67 per ounce. The almond butter I made today cost about $.46 per ounce. Cost will, of course, vary depending on where you buy your nuts. I paid $6.29/lb, which I think is about average.

There is no recipe, as such, as turning those almonds into almond butter doesn't take much. All you need is your almonds and a food processor. If you want to get fancy, you can roast and salt your almonds first, but I'm an almond butter purist, so I just used mine as-is. Dump your almonds into your food processor and start 'er up. Stop now and then to scrape down the sides, then keep going.

After a few moments, your almonds will look like this:
It may seem impossible that this somewhat powdery meal textured stuff could ever be almond butter, but trust me, it will. Patience! Keep processing, and scraping, processing and scraping. Soon it will start to clump together a bit, like this:
Keep going! You're almost there. Just keep processing and scraping until it's creamy. When it looks good, try out some of your homemade almondy deliciousness, then put the rest in a jar in the fridge and use within a couple of weeks. 


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Planning our Four Season Garden

This is the time of year when the garden starts winding down. We just picked the last of our green beans, dug up the last batch of potatoes and picked the last cucumber. Earlier in the month we brought in the last of the zucchini and summer squash. While we still have quite a bit left to harvest (like tomatoes, carrots, beets, some late lettuce and other hardy greens) it's time to start clearing away the faded plants and start prepping the beds for a winter's rest.

We have a lot to do this year, to be prepared for next spring. Some of our raised beds are finishing their 6th year in use, and need to be rebuilt. We also have to take some steps to replenish the soil for next year. We'll do this by tilling the soil and planting some winter rye in the beds as a winter cover crop.

But there will be one bed that we will not be tucking in for the winter. We're going to try an
stack of old windows, just waiting
to be turned into a coldframe.
experiment this year... Winter gardening! We're going to reserve one bed to build a cold frame around, and we're going to try growing some hardy crops, like kale, cabbage and collards. I've been planning to do this for years, but just haven't gotten around to it! We have a whole stack of old windows in our garage that we're going to use to build the cold frame. It will be interesting to see how this experiment goes, as The Farmer's Almanac is predicting another really cold winter. With that forecast in mind, we may not keep it going through the whole winter, but I will be happy to just extend our growing season as long as possible.

In addition to the winter bed we'll have outside, we're also going to try to grow some things indoors, as well. We're planning to repeat our past Indoor Potato Experiment, though hoping for more success this time. I'm also trying to start a windowsill herb garden, though the cats seem determined to have their way with it.

I'm plan to have most of our set-up done in the coming weeks, before the first frost sets in. I'll be posting pics and updates on this project, so stay tuned!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Totally Indulgent Vegan Pumpkin Bread

Last post I gushed on about my love of pumpkin. What better way to indulge in this delicious Autumn flavor than with some warm, sweet, moist and delicious pumpkin bread?

My favorite recipe for pumpkin bread is not exactly "health food" as it does contain a good amount of sugar, but for a special treat this time of year it's just perfect. I use white whole wheat flour, but if you prefer to avoid wheat you could try substituting the gluten-free flour of your choice.

Totally Indulgent Vegan Pumpkin Bread

1-3/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup pureed fresh pumpkin
3/4 cup raw sugar (I usually use either turbinado or sucanat)
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup sunflower oil
1/4 cup almond milk (or any non-dairy milk)

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a loaf pan and set aside. In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, spice and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, sugar and vanilla until creamy. Add in the oil and milk and stir until well combined. Add in the flour mixture, and stir until just combined. Don't over mix. It will be a pretty thick batter. Scrape it into your prepared loaf pan, and smooth it out a bit with a spatula. If you want, you can sprinkle the top with a tiny bit of sugar. Bake in the center of the oven for about 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out cleanish, (as in, no wet batter, just moist crumbs)

This batter can also be used to make pumpkin muffins! Just spoon into muffin tins (3/4 full) and bake 15-20 minutes, for standard sized muffins.

Thursday, October 2, 2014


Tis the Season for ALL Things Pumpkin. Everywhere you look, you'll find pumpkins spice this and pumpkin that. Even things that ought never be pumpkin flavored are jumping on the pumpkin wagon (Pumpkin spice GUM?!?)

While I would agree with those who say that folks do get carried away with Pumpkin Everything there IS a pretty good reason to get psyched about Pumpkin this time of year. Pumpkins are in season, cheap, plentiful and, when done right, absolutely delicious. Here are a few of my favorite ways to do pumpkin:

Pumpkin Soup
Pumpkin Bread/muffins
Pumpkin butter
Pumpkin spice oatmeal
Pumpkin pancakes
Pumpkin ravioli

When pumpkin is in season, I usually get one or two pumpkins each week, and roast, puree and freeze them in pint jars. Then, whenever I need pumpkin for a recipe, I can just pull out a jar and thaw. While this is definitely a bit more work than just buying canned pumpkin, fresh pumpkin tastes so much better, and you'll save a ton of money prepping your own. As an example: a 14 to 15 oz can of pumpkin costs upwards of $3 or more for the organic brands. Today I cooked up two good-sized organic sugar pumpkins, which I paid $5 for. I ended up with two and a half quarts of pureed pumpkin, which is roughly the same as 5 or 6 cans. Such a bargain!

Coming soon... I'll be sharing a few more recipes of what to do with all this delicious in-season pumpkin!

Soon-to-be Pumpkin Bread

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Filling the Cabinet

Before I quit my job, I kept thinking about all the free time I would have once I wasn't working full time. But a funny thing happened, which is that since my last day of work I have been busier than ever. I get up between 5:30 and 6am, and I'm going-going-going all day long. I was talking about this with my friend Kristen, and she said it's like when you find yourself with an empty cabinet... you always manage to fill it up with stuff. I thought that was a perfect comparison!

Although my days are really busy, my life is vastly different than it was before. Prior to quitting my job (a very demanding, high-stress job) I felt like I was constantly being pulled in all directions. I was always worried that my kids weren't getting enough of my time, I hated that I didn't have time for creative pursuits and that I sometimes couldn't keep up with home tasks the way I'd have liked to. There were ALWAYS things I was supposed to be doing, whether it was stuff for work, stuff for the kids homeschooling or stuff around the house. I just couldn't ever seem to get everything done, no matter how early I got up and how many hours I worked. Because I felt so stressed, I was often short and grumpy with those I love, and that was not something I felt good about. I had a tremendous amount of guilt, that I was not "good enough" at my job, as a mom or as a partner.

Since quitting my job, there is a huge, noticeable absence of stress in my life. While I was working full-time, the stress was constant and menacing, and now, stress is but an occasional, temporary annoyance. I think there are several reasons for this. First of all, I no longer feel like I'm short-changing my kids. That was the hardest part of my former job... that it took so much of me, that there was little left for my family. I wanted to give more to my kids, and now, I can. In less than a month, I'm already feeling a big difference in my relationship with my kids.

So what am I doing to fill up my days, now that I'm not running a daycare? Well...

I've become much more active in my kids homeschool group.
I'm spending more time helping the kids with their schoolwork.
I'm driving my kids to lots and lots of classes, field trips and extra-curricular activities.
I'm making time to write, every single day.
I'm teaching an art class, and making plans to teach more classes in the future.
I'm taking care of my home and family, mindfully and happily.

Yes, I'm busy,  but mostly I'm busy doing things I WANT to do (like actively parenting, writing every day, making and teaching Art) and not things I HAVE to do (like endless tedious daycare paperwork and payroll taxes) Such a difference.

I think there is a lot of truth in the old saying, "If Mama Ain't Happy, Ain't Nobody Happy." And right now, I am Happy. I feel SO incredibly Blessed and lucky to have been able to do this.

Life. Is. GOOD.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Happy Autumn! (and a recipe!)

Wee pumpkins on our mantle, for Fall
Last night at 10:29pm was the Autumnal Equinox! That means that today is the first full day of Autumn. I really really love this time of year. I picked up some mums for the porch yesterday afternoon, and we celebrated with an Equinox Feast last night: Apple Cranberry Salad, Pumpkin soup, 13-grain bread and baked apples for dessert.  I meant to take a picture of our table, which we set with our fall-ish table cloth and some candles, but we were all STARVING after a super-busy day, so I totally forgot to take pics until we had already finished eating and the table no longer looked so pretty. Oh well.

But this brings me to the recipe I want to share! I had been planning to make my favorite creamy vegan pumpkin soup for our feast, but we had a full day of homeschool classes and such which had me out of the house until 5:45pm, so I feared I wouldn't have time to make it. So I decided to try making the pumpkin soup in the crock pot, immersion blender, added a can of coconut milk and it was good to go. It took me another five minutes to toss together the salad and slice the bread while the kids set the table, and dinner was ready by 6. I'm pretty sure that the combination of the crock pot and the immersion blender are going to change the way we make dinner here at the homestead. I'm imagining myself making all sorts of delicious crock pot soups and stews to get us through the winter.
and I'm SO glad I did! It really worked out well. I just tossed everything into the crock pot in the morning, and it simmered all day while we were going about our day. At dinner time I just pureed it right in the pot with my recently-acquired

Crock Pot Pumpkin Soup

2 medium onions, chopped in chunks
1 Tbsp olive oil
Good-sized sugar pumpkin, peeled and cut into chunks
4 cups vegetable broth
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons curry powder (add more or less, depending how spicy you like it)
1  can of coconut milk
Salt and pepper to taste

Put the crock pot on high, and toss in the onion and olive oil. Let cook until it starts to soften, stirring every so often while you prepare the pumpkin. Add the pumpkin, broth and spices, and set crock pot to low. Simmer for 6-8 hours, or until everything is soft.

When it's time for dinner, use an immersion blender to puree the soup (or you can puree it in a regular blender, in small batches) Add the coconut milk and adjust the seasonings, if necessary. Serve with a big salad and crusty bread.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Room Reveal: The New Living Room!

At long last... we're ready to reveal our new living room! As I mentioned last post, we have had all sorts of snags and challenges getting this room put together. As a result, it was not quite the frugal redo we'd hoped for. Oh well. But it could have been MUCH worse, so we're just going to focus on the positive, which is that we now have a nice new comfortable room to relax and entertain in. 

Here's an overview of what went into this room:
  • Stripped off old wallpaper (a nightmare of a task... so glad that's over!)
  • Repaired, primed and painted walls a soft gold. Took two tries, as the first color was more bright mustard yellow than soft gold. Lesson learned: always do a test patch, and do not rely on the tiny paint chip to give you a true idea of how the color will look on your wall. 
  • Rug brought up from basement. 
  • Faux fireplace updated
  • New sofa, chairs and curtains purchased at Ikea
  • Ceiling fan and light fixture from Home Depot
  • Old knob and tube wiring replaced by electrician
  • New pillows purchased at Homegoods and Christmas Tree Shops
  • Cushions purchased from
  • Candles purchased from Homegoods
The rest was stuff we had already. Much of what is in this room are family heirlooms and special things I've collected over the years. I enjoy being surrounded by this eclectic assortment of the "this and that" of life. 

And now... for pictures!

Here is the alcove by the front door. This chest belonged
to my paternal grandmother, and the doily was crocheted
by my maternal grandmother. The twigs and hydrangea
are from our garden, and the painting is from when I had
fun "pain night" with some friends. 

 New chairs, from Ikea, with anantique side table in between.
 My sister found this table in the trash about 25 years ago.
My knitting basket sits in front. The coffee table has kicked
around my home in various rooms for a good many years.

On the left, Ikea Ektorp sofa, with my old antique china cabinet in the corner.
The cabinet is filled with my grandmother's tea cup collection, and my great
grandmother's collection of pink depression glass. 

Another photo of the Ikea chairs. I really do like the texture
they bring to this room, and I love how they take up less
space than upholstered chairs would.

I love my new sofa! Ikea is the best. Cheap, pretty and comfy. On the floor
next to the sofa is an old piece of driftwood that the cats like to use as
 a scratching post. 

The fireplace wall. Many of the antique books on the shelves belonged to my
grandfather. The serving pieces on the mantle were my grandmother's, and the
wine bottle with twigs was from my recycle bin. The assortment of candlesticks
 and candles were a big splurge purchase, from Homegoods. Some were
 on clearance, some were not, but I do love the way the fill the fireplace area.

The piano wall and the front door. Still working on this area, as I would like to
accessorize the piano a bit more. I would like something on the right of the piano,
to balance out my fabulous thrift shop monkey lamp on the left. The large
antique painting was given to me by a friend many years ago. 

I especially like the way this room looks in the evening...

I don't really consider this room "done" as I know it will continue to be a work in progress. But for now, I'm enjoying being in this space, and I look forward to getting the chance to spend time this room with family and friends.