Prairie Points

Friday, November 9, 2012

All's well that ends well. LOL (I crack myself up)

It's been a while since I've posted to the blog, but that doesn't mean life hasn't happened. If anything, it's been so busy, and time for formulating lucid thoughts has been  scant.  That's a shame, I think. I'm at my best when I'm lucid. hahaha.

Since I last posted, I've been a vendor at three events, and thank you to everyone that came out and said hi or bought something from me. I hope you like your goodies.

DH and I have spent many, many days at the little rental house we're fixing up, so that we can put it on the market and hopefully break even on it. hahaha...gotta love perfectionists.

Mostly, my mental energy has been divided between worrying about DS's health (status quo, for now, which is good), and my own. Oh, I'm healthy as a horse until someone tells me I'm not. I have a little over a week to enjoy blissful ignorance.  And then:
                                                 I GET THE DREADED COLONOSCOPY
It's a bit assinine to think I've cheated death for ten years. They tell you to get your first colonoscopy at age 50. I just turned 60, so in my rear-view mirror of life, I got away with it.  I've been the butt of jokes from hubby, who's had a few of them now, and in the end, I know I'll be fine.  I'm sure everything will come out alright.

Blessings,
Brenda

Friday, October 19, 2012

The autumn of my life.

Fall arrived nearly a month ago. It's been a gloriously beautiful season this year. Last year, not so much. The trees have been so vibrant and colorful that it's been nearly breathtaking at times.  I love it. It's my favorite time of year, but it's too fleeting.  It isn't fair that the sucking heat and humidity of summer can go on and on and on for what seems like forever, and the beauty of autumn is here and gone in an instant. When I was young, I loved the beginning of the school year, because I knew it meant fall was imminent.  I loved the transition from late summer to the crisp, cool days of fall. I loved taking walks in the woods and doing leaf identification and watching squirrels scamper with cheeks puffed full of acorns and seeds.  I am an autumn. Those are my colors. I look best in those colors, I feel best surrounded by those colors (except for orange, and WHY did I make a turquoise quilt??), and there is just no denying I love it beyond measure:
I love the first cup of honey-sweetened hot tea in the morning. I love heating up the oven by baking bread and muffins and stews and roasted root vegetables.  I don't even mind the first couple of days of leaf raking.  I love pulling on the sweatshirts and long jeans, and if necessary the corduroy or red flannel shirt for the extra warmth. I love having to wear socks with my shoes to keep my toes warm.

I love driving around and seeing how others have decorated their yards for the season and the excitement leading up to Halloween. Halloween. That special day for some, but soooo special for us. That is the day, 23 years ago this year, that we dodged goblins on the way to the hospital for the birth of our wonderful son. He was supposed to be a turkey, but decided to be a pumpkin instead. We call him Boo sometimes. 

I have always loved sassafras.  The way it smells, looks and it's many uses amuse me.  Sassafras tea is delicious. The tree has three different shaped leaves and in the fall, it's just gorgeous:
Fall is when the geese fly south. It's when the summer sounds recede and the sounds of the metal beasts can be heard as they devour the crops in the fields. It's a ritual that's comforting in it's predicability.

Fall is when the promise of the new life that arrives in spring has either congratulated itself on a job well done, or has been scolded for being a slacker.  Most years, awards are given.  Fall is fleeting. Soon, those vivid colors will be in piles on the ground, fading from glorious oranges, yellows and reds to drab browns and even black. It's the circle of life here in the midwest, and I love it.  I don't even mind when this is the result:

But, I'm not ready. I need another week or three before I am ready to turn around in a circle three times and lie down for the winter.  The hustle and bustle of the holidays will be here soon, the pumpkins will be in flat, mushy piles tossed in fields or backyards, and the pages of the calendar will again flip to the next months. Soon, the calendar itself will be replaced.  That's just how it is. That's how it works. Stick a fork in it, the year is done. We'll be dealing with this too soon:
NOOOOOOOOOOO!!
Not Yet.

I want more autumn. I waited all winter, spring and summer for it. I will embrace each day, pulling on the Cuddleduds if need be, in order to enjoy it.  Even with the necessary chores that have to be taken care of, it's a joy to work ouside when it's beautiful.  Well, enough of this. You get the picture. Don't look for an I-love-winter post in February. It won't be there, because I'll be true to my autumn. I'll endure winter, skip through the tulips come spring, and wipe the sweat off my forehead while gardening next summer, but all the while, I'll be keeping memories of this in my heart:
Enjoy.

Red, Orange and Yellow Autumn Blessings,
Brenda

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Rendezvous out yonder.

Busy, busy, busy. That's what I've been. DH and I have been doubling down on getting a little rental house in Decatur ready to sell. We've fixed a shed, torn out a small deck, painted on a porch, used scrapers to get ick off a concrete porch, mowed and mowed, cut down a couple of small trees, and that's just the outside stuff. We're getting all that done while the weather is still good. Lots more to do inside, but it will be just cute as a button soon.  On my rare days off, I've been getting ready for the fall festivals and bazaars I signed up for.  The first is this weekend, and it should be so much fun. The weatherman says the weather will be fabulous for it.  It is a Rendezvous, just west of Moweaqua.  There will be old canvas-style tents, maybe a teepee or two (?), re-enactors in the garb of old, demonstrations of all kinds, blue-grass music at 2:00 by Thrashin' Grass, a great local band and just all kinds of hoo-rawin'.  Come on out and see me.  I haven't had as much time as I'd like to get ready, but I have managed to make up some soaps in a few of the old, favorite scents. I have a spicy apple, vanilla-scented oatmeal-honey, cinnamon hand scrub, lavender-chamomile, and hippy chic (this one is a sandalwood scented bar with patchouli sprinkled on it.)  The quantities are limited somewhat, just a dozen bars of a couple of them, since my method of production has changed and the final output is so much smaller.  It's a good way to ease back into soapmaking on a limited basis, I think.  Anywhoo, here's what I have, pre-labeling:
If I get more time between now and Saturday (hahahahaha), I'll try to stir up another batch or two. If I don't get it done in time for this event, I'll be a vendor at the Clark Farm's "In Plain Air" farm event near Herrick the last weekend in October, at the Shelbyville Craft Vendor show on November 3, and the Moweaqua Methodist Cookie Walk and Bazaar on December 1. 

I've also been gathering odds and ends on short jaunts around the yard, and assembled these pretty fall swags:

The colors aren't a bit true in the pictures, but you get the idea.  I love the dried grasses and of course the sweet annie base adds the green and the soft, sweet scent.  I'll add a bow or ribbon in fall colors and these will be available on Saturday.

You've already seen the mug rugs I've made, and sadly there are still only two of the Halloween print rugs. I'm hoping I can add a few between now and then.  What I need is a rainy day. Oh, wait!!  That's today!!  DH and I are so stiff and sore we decided to take today off, so I'm freeeeee for a few hours. Yippee.


I am looking forward to being around many of my friends, being in the old-timey atmosphere, listening to good music and generally enjoying a gorgeous fall day.  If you're in the area, why not come out?  To get there, just go west of Moweaqua, on the blacktop.  Drive past the golf course and in about another mile or so, watch for the sign on the north side of the road. There may be more signage up that day, but there's a lovely hand-painted sign up now. You can't miss it.  If you come to the crossroads where a large rock pile used to sit, you've gone too far.  Hope to see you out yonder, if the good Lord's willin' and the creek don't rise.

Happy fall blessings,
Brenda

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Never a dull moment.

I have been meeting myself coming and going. Mostly going...crazy. hahaha

There was a Hotel California concert to go to (priorities, you know!!), and a few other fun things, but mostly work, work work.  The yard is in constant need of attention. Not just our own yard, but this one, too:

This is a little rental house we bought in Decatur.  We've been busy as all get-out working on getting this ready to sell. There is still much to do, but every few days, now that it's started raining again, I have to mow the yard. We've filled in low places in the backyard, sewn grass seed, repaired several bad areas on the backyard storage shed, and I've cleaned and cleaned, but more to do there, and there is just the basic stuff to make sure it "shines like a dime in a goat's butt" (thanks, hubby...I needed that visual...NOT).  It's been newly sided, the windows will be wrapped, and I will be doing landscaping in the front and back, as well.  A cute little house which will be market ready sometime in the next few weeks.

When I do get some free time, I've begun making soaps again, which is music to a few ears. I spent many years making handmade soaps and selling them at various festivals and bazaars. I never made a lot of money doing it, but it was fun and it was a good reason to get out and see people. A few loyal customers have missed these, as they really are much nicer to use than the detergent bars from the store.  Here's what I've made so far:

As you can see, I need to get busy and make a whole lot more to be ready for the upcoming events I have committed to.  I have three batches of vanilla scented oatmeal-honey, one batch of a spicy apple (nice!), one batch of a sandalwood/patchouli, and one batch of a lavender-chamomile.  I have essential and fragrance oils for many others, it's just finding the time.  I'll keep plugging away, however.  In the other stolen moments, I've been making these:

These are some of the mug rugs I've sewn together, making good use of fabric scraps. Most of them are machine quilted, but a few are done by hand.  They are colorful and good little gifts, tucked inside a special coffee or tea cup/mug.  I have two of them from Halloween fabric, and plan to make more of these, plus some in Christmas fabric:

There are free-range fruitcakes and noodles to be made, as well as many other projects swirling around in my head.  So many ideas and plans and projects and so little time.  If I ever win the lottery (hahaha...I don't even PLAY the lottery), I'm going to hire a gardener, a handyman, a cleaning lady, and possibly a cook. I'll assist the cook, since I don't mind doing that. I do sometimes wish I didn't have to stop what I'm doing to prepare the food. Oh, well. We all have the same 24 hours in our day. I just wish I had 28 hours instead.

Warm Autumn Blessings,  (don't get me started on this cold autumn weather we're having...urghhh)
Brenda

Friday, September 21, 2012

Good news, bad news. I'm baaaaack.

Well, hello there. Did you miss me? I know I haven't posted anything for a while, but between being extremely busy and then extremely exhausted, I just didn't do it.  First, let me say THANK YOU to all who came out to the Tour of Homes. That was incredibly successful. Our Methodist Women's group at church now has the funds to continue supporting the children's homes and other mission work we do. We also bought some sharp knives for our kitchen. Have you ever tried fixing a funeral dinner with dull knives? Mercy.

I love this cooler weather, too. I've been taking hikes in the woods and gathering odds and ends of stuff to experiment with. I snipped some twigs from a sassafras tree, since I had read that using sassafras tea in soapmaking turned the soap a lovely dark purple. I don't know what planet this person is from but in my experimenting this is what my results were:

First I made the tea by steeping the twigs for half an hour or so. It turned the water a lovely shade of dark red.

I added my measured lye to this red-stained water and then the lye/water mix to the melted oils.  Don't be so alarmed. It takes both an acid (the fats) and a base (the lye), to make soap. It's simple science, really.  Otherwise, you have a vat of oils just sitting there wondering why they were born.  I completed the process, and molded the soap, and this is what I had:
Does this look dark purple to you?  I didn't waste any fragrance oil on it, since I didn't even like the texture of it. I'm wondering if the roots of the sassafras may make a difference in the saturation of the coloring. I'll try that next.  The twigs smelled great, though:


Now, for the good news, bad news portion of the post.  Which do you want first? Ok, let's start with the bad news.  Remember this little guy?

This is little Reuben, the banty rooster I gifted to a neighbor.  He had a great life, as long as it lasted, but I'm sorry to report that a chicken hawk got him one day last week.  Reuben was quite a ladies man, I hear, so perhaps there will be some little Reubens out there.  That is nature. It is cruel and raw, but the chicken hawk also eats lots of rodents and other undesirables, so it is a valuable member of the countryside.  Reuben sang his little heart out and was spoiled rotten.  R.I.P. little friend.

Now, let's get to the good news. Today I was blessed to find the first blue/green egg from either Betsy or Dolly, my new ameraucanas.   I let out a little squeal when I saw it:

Sorry for the white light in the middle of it. It actually is all-over blue/green and so pretty. All my other eggs are shades of brown or tan, or just this side of white.  I have three americaunas, so I'm hoping that soon the other two will be producing, as well. 

I have signed up for a few fall festivals and have begun making soap again, on a limited basis. There won't, however, be any dark purple sassafras tea soap. Or will there? :)

Blue egg blessings,
Brenda

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Tour of Homes....Preview

In just a bit over a week, the ladies from my church will be hosting a wonderful event.  On September 8, from 1-5, there will be six fabulous homes open for viewing.  I love going into other people's homes, just for inspiration, mostly. I race home and start cleaning.   hahahahaha.    Really and truly you can get some great ideas for your own home by seeing what others have done with theirs. On this tour of homes, there are several different decorating styles.  Real families live in these homes and words cannot express how grateful we are to them for agreeing to be on the tour. Here is a list of the homes. I don't have any inside pictures, just the outside pics, but I can tell you a bit about each home.

This is the home of Don and Peggy Hanks, on Hanover Street, right across from the church.
I've been in this house. It is fantastic.  Don and Peggy have an amazing collection of antiques and collectibles and have displayed them so beautifully. This house is in the Arts and Crafts or Mission style so popular in the first decades of the 20th century.  Be sure to check out Peggy's music room.  Peggy keeps our church showcase decorated and it's fun to see all the items from her own collection that she uses to highlight each season or holiday.

This is the home of Mark and Tappi McLeod, on Warren Street.


I have never been in this house, even though it was on another Tour of Homes a few years ago.  This home must be fanstastic inside.  The owners are lively and fun, and definitely have the means to create a special home for their family.  There's a lot of tile and a sunken room and so much more. I'm anxious to see it.

                                           This is the home of Trent and Ann Collins on South Putnam.

I kow the picture isn't as good as it could be, but this home is surrounded by so many trees and is a real gem.  It is a contemporary style and I was in it when the former owner still lived there.  He had it decorated in a gorgeous modern style, which isn't my favorite style, but he had such good taste that even to me, it looked fabulous.  I'm anxious to see what the Collins' have done. If you see Ann or Trent that day, you might notice crocodile tears in their eyes. Their firstborn, Amanda, has gone off to college and they are missing their little girl. They aren't yet empty-nesters, however, so their household is still quite active.

This is the home of Mike and Shawn Conlin on North Macon Street. 

 I can't wait to see this house. I was in this one years ago when it was on another tour of homes and it was decorated in Victorian style. It was beautiful, for sure, but was more reminiscent of a museum than a comfortable home. The new owners have a great family with fun, smart kids, and Shawn says her decorating style is more like HGTv's "Trash to Treasure".  I know Shawn likes to go "picking" and I am so anxious to see how she's used her treasures.

This is the Richard and Barbara Gregory home, and the only home that is in the country (but not very far out).

I have never been in this home, but I've been told it is absolutely beautiful.  Richard and Barbara are farmers and have always lived in this area, their ancestors lived here and there is a lifetime of memorabilia, plus their own lifetime of collecting displayed in this home. Quite tastefully, too. To get to this home, drive past the golf course just west of town and at the first opportunity on the west edge of the golf course, turn left and follow that road around a couple of small curves, then south about a mile or so.  There will be signs to follow.

                               This is the home of Grant and Carrie Alward, just 1/4 mile west of the Village.
This home is sometimes referred to as "The Homestead" or the "Whitacre Mansion".   The original portion of this house was built by Michael Schneider and his wife, who were the founders of the Village of Moweaqua.  They were early pioneers to this area, and many, many descendants of theirs still live in and around the village, but the name has become anglicized to Snyder. Their daughter and her husband bought the house from her parents and enlarged it, then THEIR daughter and her husband transformed in into what you see now, with some exceptions.  The home changed hands a few times through the years, but in recent memory it was owned by the Andreas family of Decatur (ADM), Dr. Alan Bilyeau and his wife, and Mark and Ginger Whitacre, who added on the large addition to the south.  Dr. and Mrs. Phillip Alward of Decatur purchased the home and Mrs. Alward made a lot of changes on the inside, completely redoing the kitchen, as well as many other gorgeous features.  This home was featured prominently in the movie "The Informant", starring Matt Damon.  The movie company, including Steven Soderbergh, Mr. Damon, Melanie Linsky and many others were in and around the village for several weeks a few years ago.  It was quite exciting to see how they made it snow in May, and catching glimpses of (and even getting the autograph of) Matt Damon. After Mrs. Alward's death in April of 2011, their son Grant and his wife Carrie moved back from Florida and are purchasing the home from Dr. Alward.  Grant and Carrie have two cute little children, with baby number three on the way.  You won't want to miss seeing this home.

So there you have it.  Doesn't it sound grand?  The ticket price is $7 and can be purchased that day, beginning at 12:30. You'll receive a brochure with the addresses, a map and descriptions of the homes.  Just come to the First United Methodist Church in Moweaqua, located at 222 North Hanover.  There will be a cookies and tea/punch reception in the Wesley room, and our own Pastor Sharon will be on hand to explain the symbolism found in the choir loft and beautiful stained glass windows of the sanctuary.  The sancuary will be decorated with scads of chrysanthemums, since we designated Sunday, September 9 as Chrysanthemum Sunday.  What a glorious way to begin autumn.  We will have our own ladies as hostesses in each home, and I'll be in the Alward house for a couple of hours at the beginning of the tour. Stop by and say hello.  See you then,

Blessings,
Brenda

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Channeling the ancestors....or hickory syrup in 5 easy steps.

Not having enough to do, I set out to find something else with which to entertain my ever-curious peabrain.  Those dang ancestral parts of my DNA surface every now and then and just won't shush until I've satisfied a hankerin' (SEE!! I told you they surface), to re-create some ancient recipe or some-such. This time, the idea of making hickory syrup took hold. My son had purchased a tiny, sample-sized  bottle of it somewhere, and said he liked it. He got his father to taste it, and he liked it, too.  That's all it took. The challenge was on. First up, I had to do a little research on how to begin. I had no idea such a product was even out there. I need to get out more. Once I deduced that this syrup was a product of the bark, and not the sap like with maple syrup, I set out to traipsin' over yonder and found a shagbark hickory tree. Between what had newly fallen on the ground and a couple of pieces I plucked from the trunk, I came home with plenty of bark. Unwashed, it looked like this:
The instructions  were to wash this with a stiff brush under running water, which I did. This gets rid of any pests which may be hiding in cracks and crevises, dirt, and such.  The next step was to put it in an oven at 350 Degrees for approx. 15 minutes.  The bark turns a golden brown, and makes the house smell so much like a fall campfire. I loved that part. Once it's roasted, it looks like this:

It really does smell nice and looks good, too.  The next step was to break this up into smaller pieces, measure out a half pound of it, and place it in a saucepan, with water to cover. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer it for around 25 minutes. Strain this, saving the bark for your next cookout, or just pitching it.  Put the hickory tea back in the pan, then simmer more until it's been reduced by about 25%.


Now, pour the tea into a measuring cup and using a 2-1 ratio, add cane or pure sugar to the mix. I had some pure raw sugar from Beachy's in Arthur, so that's what I used. It's naturally brown.  I had a bit over 1 cup of tea after the reduction, so I added two cups of the sugar.

Now you just boil this until it has turned into hickory syrup. Stir often and as it starts to thicken, stir it all the time, so it doesn't scorch.  There you have it....your own hickory syrup.

I started with one cup of hickory tea and added the two cups of sugar. After cooking for 15-20 minutes, I ended up with 2 cups of syrup.  It's very sweet, like any syrup, but has that smoky, woodsy flavor unique to hickory.  Use it like you would any syrup; over pancakes, in baking, or in a glass over ice, with selzer water and a splash of real vanilla extract. mmmmm.

Ok, now that that's over, I'm off to have a talk with my ancestors. They're driving me nuts. LOL
Walk in the woods blessings,
Brenda