Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy Old Year's Day

Just to get the last (embarrassing!) entry off the top of the page, I need to post something here. And, I guess to cap off the end of the year.

That reminds me of "Old Year's Day". One year long ago, we spent New Year's Eve in St. Thomas. On New Year's Eve day, we had gone on a bus tour to Mountaintop, where you could view the entire island and enjoy their special banana rum drink. It was explained to us that on the island, they celebrated "Old Year's Day" which I thought was pretty cool. That was during our balloon flying days and I bought a suncatcher with the year on it. I'm sure it's still around here somewhere, but it hung in our window for a long time after we got home.

The shop is jammed with boxes of soap and other products ready to go to the Farm Show. So many loose ends to tie up before we get set up on Thursday. I feel like when we get there, it will be like stepping off a cliff. We have no idea how it will go. Hints, but no firm expectations, so we're trying to stay on an even keel (while panicking).

Sunday, December 24, 2006

And a Very, Merry Christmas to All...

I wanted to wish everyone within internet range (!) a Merry, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year filled with Happiness, Health and all good things, and above all - PEACE.

And something for my soaping friends... I had a little too much time on my hands the other morning (hard to believe, I know.) I wrote this and didn't know what to do with it. Then I thought, "Hey, I can Blog it!"

With apologies...

'Twas the night before Christmas, and I was a flutter
I wanted to soap, I'd received my shea butter;

The molds were all lined, they were waiting and ready,
the eo's were mixed and boy, were they heady;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;

Poppa was asleep, but I'd go the distance,
I had my plans made for my piece de resistance,

When out in the kitchen I made a discovery,
Stick blender was broke and there'd be no recovery;

Away to the Kwalmart I flew like a flash,
I banged on the doors, and I even talked trash;

The dang place was closed after Holiday hours,
everyone had gone home to have fun and take showers,

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a security guard, with a wild look of fear,

With a little old keychain, so shiny and bright,
I hoped against hope that he'd help me that night.

More rapid than eagles I shouted my needs
And I pleaded, and shouted, and redoubled my pleads;

"Now, Oster! now, blender! I'm down on my knees!
I'm desperate, man, oh let me in please!

Oh if you have a heart! oh, please help me tonight!
Now open up! open up! please turn on the light!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,

So he to the door lock, his keys how they flew
It was so much like magic, he even smiled too.

And then, in a twinkling, the door opened wide
And my heart, it was beating at what was inside.

The store had been stocked, I was turning around,
A shiny new stick blender easily found;

I was thrilled half to death, so I paid my bill quick,
and the guard soon took on the cute look of St. Nick;

I hurried back home with my eyes full of glee,
'cause I just couldn't wait to begin this melee.

The oils -- how they twinkled! the colors how merry!
The plans were all perfect, excited? Oh, very!

The lye hit the oils and it all came together,
And the trace was just perfect along with the weather;

Micas, how they sparkled. The swirls were aglow,
As soon as I poured it, it's perfect, I know.

The scents it released as I covered it tight,
would bring me sweet dreams, all through the night.

I know Santa visited sometime that night,
the hoofbeats and jingle bells gave me a fright.

And I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night."


And so, off to Christmas Eve with the family.

Emergency Gravy

On this day before Christmas, I was reading a series of posts about making ham gravy. I have nothing to add to the discussion, but was reminded of a Christmas a few years ago when I discovered the wisdom of "Emergency Gravy".

Our holiday dinners are pretty much set. Christmas and Thanksgiving is turkey and stuffing with mashed potatoes, corn, peas and mushrooms, relish tray and of course, gravy. Easter is ham, etc. After years of preparing these feasts, it has become pretty standard and not a panic type meal as it was in the early days.

The Christmas I am remembering was going along smoothly. We had taken the perfectly roasted turket from the oven and my husband was transferring it to a platter when I heard the fateful words, "Uh oh".

I turned to see the precious juices running from the disposable aluminum foil roaster that we have taken to using for this job (we have a perfectly good roasting pan, but this is much easier to clean up.) He had used two very sharp meat forks to lift the bird and one of them had somehow punctured the side of the pan.

I grabbed the pan and tilted it to save what was left, but there wasn't much and I dispared as to how I would ever get enough gravy to satisfy the gang. We need it for the stuffing and the mashed potatoes that pile high in the bowls and platters.

As I poured what was left into a separate pan to make the gravy, I suddenly remembered a packet of instant turkey gravy that I had stashed in the pantry - probably when I was planning (on some former holiday) to make extra gravy after the big meal for the hot turkey sandwiches my hubby loves.

I added the instant to the paltry drippings and made some really great gravy - enough for everyone. It really saved the day, so now I always make sure to have a few packets of the instant gravy around just in case.

Sometime later my son, the vegetarian, decided to help me clean the pantry and if you knew him, you would understand this. He demanded explanations for many of the odds and ends he found. The most vehement question was about the gravy packets. We never have turkey at any other time of the year and he wanted to know what in the world they were doing in the pantry.

I absentmindedly said, "Oh, that's the emergency gravy."

For some reason, this reply elicited a howl of laughter and (since I am, to him at this time, old and apparently brain addled) a round of mockery. I laughed along and whenever the pantry is stuffed these days and he is home, he will make remarks about the "Emergency Gravy" which sets us both into gales of laughter.

Funny the little things that make memories and inside jokes.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Playing catch up

You know, I'm sure that soon I'll be able to actually catch my breath again - sometime after Jan 14 (last day of the PA Farm Show).

Meanwhile, first an update on Rudy. This is a picture of him "resting" between customers a couple of weeks ago. I think he was brooding about not being able to do his "job" properly! He still has a slight limp, but he's healing well.

We got the results back from the blood tests and, no, he doesn't have thyroid problems so he is staying on the weight loss diet the vet suggested. That should help everything.

I wish I had someone who would regulate my intake like we do his! I'd hate them, but it would be for the best. He seems to be adjusting and being the sweetie he is, apparently bears us no ill will.

Yesterday, while doing some Chritmas shopping, Tina insisted we pick up one of those Year-at-a-glance calenders. I don't mean to complain. After all, it was her present to the soap/tree/jewelry/publication studio! We always had one of these going at our herb shop and it was a godsend.

It is extremely helpful to have this on the wall to refer to when we start to make any plans. It shows any events, shows, deadlines, birthdays and holidays as we plan them so we always know when to panic!

It's nice for all of us since I often forget to mention some of this stuff to Bob or Rob so they can always check on what is coming up too.

Now, on to the preparations for the Farm Show. I think we're about "soaped out"! We have 5 shelving units full of soap. Some of our discontinued varieties are on the bottom shelves so they are a bit sparse, but we are loaded with everything else.

If we sell out, fine. If we don't, we'll have plenty of stock to take care of the new wholesale accounts we hope to pick up there along with our regular spring orders.

It's been interesting refining our new routine to produce more soap faster. We seem to have it down now and are looking forward to making soaps for the year. They are so much more uniform and will be easier to wrap (especially with the labels we are actually having preprinted for the first time!)

One more thing. I updated the soap page with new pictures of Blackberry & Sage and Apple Snap. The picture on the website are small, but I'm pretty pleased with them and thought I'd post them a bit bigger here.

The blackberries in the grocery store were gigantic and amazingly, Tina's sage was still it's summertime gray green so I'm really happy with the way we were able to display this soap.

The Apple Snap had to settle for an artificial apple - not that we don't have some real ones around here, but with the leaves and the basket, I love the homey look of the picture.

Even Bob said " wow" when he saw me open the pictures on Photoshop this morning.

Oh, and the poor glass torch just sits there forlornly waiting for me to find a minute for it again.

Well, I think I've caught up on most things and hope I can post a bit more regularly again after the show. Thanks for your patience!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Rudy's silver lining

Rudy, our sweet pup had an unfortunate experience today.

We were busy. Bob was digging trees up on the hill and Tina & I were working on cutting soap and while she was reorganizing, I was tightening up (standardizing) the files of our soap labels because we're planning to have them printed for a change. Nobody noticed that Rudy hadn't been around for a while.

Bob had just come in and sat down to talk when a customer came in and asked, "That Shelty is yours isn't it?" When we said yes, he said, "He was caught in a trap up in the corn field next to your trees and I released him, but he didn't seem to want me to pick him up."

We went outside and Rudy was limping down the road from the hill. We rushed over and he was holding his paw up gingerly. It had blood on it and he was a total mess, covered in leaves and some blood. The guy who had told us knelt down with us and asked me to hold Rudy's muzzle while he checked his paw. Turns out he's a veterinarian - large animal, but a vet nonetheless. I almost cried when he told Rudy what a "brave boy" he was.

He suggested we might want to get it x-rayed so we went inside and called to make an appointment. They said to bring him in and Tina went with me while Bob stayed home to take care of business.

The vet x-rayed Rudy's legs and we were pleased to find that there were no broken bones. A pain killer, antibiotics and time should do the trick.

While he was checking Rudy, the vet mentioned that his heartbeat was slower than would be expected after experiencing trauma and then a vet visit. I told him that Rudy hasn't been himself recently. He seems more like an old dog than a 3-year-old. He seems to be avoiding the customers who he loved before. He is tired after a day outside and sore after chasing the "frogmobile" around the fields. The vet told us that a slow heartbeat could indicate thyroid problems and suggested a blood test.

So, after all the drama of this episode, it may have a silver lining. If everything turns out as I expect, Rudy will be his perky, happy self soon and probably lose a little weight too.

And, our neighbor found out that someone has been setting traps on his property and will be taking care of that problem.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Things are hopping...

at Frog Hollow. Sorry, I just couldn't resist!

Starting the day after Thanksgiving, our Christmas tree farm starts to get busy and this year was no exception.

Contrary to the forecast a few days before, the weather was spectacular and folks took advantage of it to take a number of trees out of here.

Others were content to tag theirs in order to return later and cut them in possibly more inclement weather.

It is so nice to see old customers returning year after year. (Those who stuck by us in the lean years which had resulted from some nasty droughts.) Seeing the kids returning each year and how they've grown is always amazing, but the one's who are now grown with their own families is even more astounding! Our own son was less than a year old when we started and now he's in college, so I guess it's pretty amazing to them too!

It's also nice to meet all the new folks who are just discovering us. We have a lot of development going on relatively nearby and those new "neighbors" are finding us.

We were so far out in the "boonies" 20 years ago when we moved here and although we're still well off the beaten trail, civilization is coming to us!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

What happened to the gourds?

If you've been following the saga of the gourd trellis, you may have asked yourself, "What are they going to do with all those gourds?"

Well, this is my first attempt at making a container/bowl from one of them.

I scalloped the top and painted fish all around the surface.

Originally, I was going to make a kind of aquarium out of it, and that may come later on another on, but after the fish were done, it just looked nice that way and I softened the design with some metallics.

Then, I went on to one we were watching all summer. It was caught between two of the cross beams and wound up flattened on both sides, sort of like a canteen. The design is a rub on that we got at A. C. Moore. As soon as I saw it, I knew where it was going to go.

I think it turned out great with a lodge look to it. There is a bear on one side and a moose on the other.

I had drilled holes around the top and had a couple ideas how to finish it. Then I remembered the pine trees outside. Duh, we live on a Christmas tree farm!

The needles will discolor with time, and that won't be a bad thing, but meanwhile they are bright green and throw off a lovely fragrance.

The natural coloring of the gourd just seems to be the right backround and a little stain brought it all out.

Yep, we took a break from the soap yesterday and worked all day and into the dark out in the shop on these babies. I took a break from time to time to work a bit on the magazine. Back to work (soap) today although we may have time to play with another gourd in between! I know Bob is impatient to see one or two made into bird houses so we really need to reward all his hard work with a few of them.

If you want to see the ones Tina made, check her blog. She may not have them up just yet, but they'll be there soon, I can guarantee it.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Change is good, change is good...

So, you may ask, "Where has she been?" Well, we've been doing a couple of things at once.

The big thing is that we have been trying out the big soapmaking equipment. From time to time, I decide that it doesn't really make that big of a difference because, after all, we can make 8 or more regular batches in a day. With Tina helping, we are like a "well oiled machine" and just pump them out very easily. We've been making soap together since day one and there is this strange little ballet that we do - each anticipating the next move of the other.

This new equipment is throwing us for a loop because it calls for a completely different dance. Weighing such large quantities of soap - mixing large quantities of lye, daunting. Risking much larger quantities on each pour. You get the idea. It also seems to be pretty picky about at what stage of trace we pour the soap. The much larger mass in the molds causes worries over heat building up and causing other problems.

To the left, I'm mixing a batch in a 5 gallon bucket with a mixer on the end of a drill. (See my Crocs?) The trace takes much longer and that comes as a surprise.

The finished product, though, is very nice - uniform and a LOT of one soap. It will be so nice to have large quantities of some of the varieties - and all in one shot.

The cutter (to the right), although sometimes hard to push through all that soap, just does such a nice job. It's pretty impressive looking, don;t you think?

I've used the same setup for 6 years or so. A great mold and cutter arrangement that my husband, Bob, made for me. We'll still use that for some of the soaps that aren't the best sellers and it's very comfortable.

Yesterday, we made 4 regular batches of various types of soap along with one giant batch of lavender.

The big batches are still pretty touch and go. The lavender is a marbled soap and I can't wait til it comes out of the mold to see how that turned out.

Along with all the soap action, Tina changed the deadline for The Essential Herbal and we're also working on the preliminaries of putting the next edition together. It will be nice to have enough time to proofread it properly etc.

It will be easier as time goes on. I just keep telling myself, "Change is good, change is good!"

Monday, November 06, 2006

Lookie Lookie!

This is pretty exciting.

After we found out about the Farm Show, we decided we are going to have to make a LOT of soap.

With all the other things going on this time of year, we needed to find either a fabulous amount organization or a better system for making a lot of soap.

It just so happened that our brother decided a few years ago that soap making might be a good back up for him since layoffs seemed to be in his horizon. He decided to get into it in a big way and went ahead and bought this bulk soap making equipment.

He made one batch and decided maybe it wasn't for him... so this has been languishing in his basement for some time. He and his wife brought it up last evening and now we have to find a place to lay it all out.

I'm sure it will work out perfectly, but if all else fails, we'll be setting it up in Tina's basement.

Getting the hang of this will be something like learning to make soap all over again, although screwing up a batch of this will be a lot more expensive.

I just love it when a plan comes together!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Exciting News

OMG, OMG, OMG!!!! This is pretty exciting news. Lancaster County Soapworks, Etc., my soap company, just received an acceptance from the Family Living Dept. of the Pennsylvania Farm show to display and demonstrate soap making. 8 days in January - 400,000 people. Better get crackin'. So scary, so cool!

As we so often say, you just never know what will result from the events you participate in. When we did the farm days at Amish Farm & House, we met a quilter who suggested we contact the woman who takes care of that Dept and gave us her name and address because they were looking for a soaper.

We'll be making soap everyday and doing two stage presentations. Oh, and selling! We'll probably be able to take all Tina's publications along as well. This should be great!

Well, there's lots of planning to do and lots of soap to be made - YAY!!!!

Friday, November 03, 2006

FALLing...

Wow, I am just falling behind terribly. Did you ever feel that you had so much going on that you just didn't accomplish anything? I am, of course, but it just seems that I'm not.

While I'm "falling" behind, I did manage to get out and take some pictures of our fall skies and leaves. These are some Sassafras leaves still hanging onto their branch.

I swear the sky isn't this color of blue at any other time of the year. I just love it and always remember one particular bright yellow Gingko tree at the top of a hill at the Renn Faire. Something about that glorious yellow against the bright blue sky always made me so happy!

I have a lot of things I've been saving to finally post and I'll try to fit as many in here today as possible!

At the moment, I'm trying to list a necklace for a charity auction and I'm new at this. I know there's a way to show more than one picture at a time, but I just can't seem to figure it out.

I managed to get some soap listed, but I only needed one picture to pretty much cover the description. The necklace is another matter.

My little fantasy figures seem to be pretty popular. You may notice I've never shown them on my website except in the gallery. That's because they seem to sell as soon as someone sees them and they really do take some time to make.

And then there's the gourd harvest.

I took pictures of each wheelbarrow load as Bob took them in. This is one of three, so you can see we got a pretty nice number off that crazy arbor.

Now we'll see how they dry. Some of the tiny ones and even a few of the medium sized ones are ready to start playing with already. I can't wait!

This is the Bayberry that Bob got for us this spring. The babies seem to have survived pretty well. They were tiny twigs that seemed to have dried up when he put them in their "nursery" this spring. He added some sand to the bedding mix so they would feel more at home.

Spring a year ago, Tina and I planted one lonely little plant down in the woods, thinking that would be the perfect evironment. We forgot how fragrant and, apparently tasty they were to the deer. It was chewed to the nubs almost immediately and we were afraid we wouldn't be able to grow them at all.

Bob proved us wrong - YAY!

And, not to be forgotten, the chicken update.

I brought this egg in the other day and thought it seemed a lot larger than usual. Then I put it in with the others and saw I was definitely right! I suspect we'll have a double or possibly triple yolk.

Can you see the one I mean? What's that Sesame Street song? "One of these things is not like the others....."

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Quick update

Well, if nothing else, I guess I should at least check in and let you know I'm still kicking.

I've been busy with any number of projects. A couple of soap orders had us hopping for a while this month. The shop is shaping up for the Christmas tree season. It'll feature soap, jewelry and Tina's publications - along with some other goodies we have come up with. I did hit the torch and before I even managed to take pix, a friend/customer showed up and bought them all. I guess that's a good thing. Then there were a couple of ugly days that somehow kept me in the house, not accomplishing much of anything.

We're also redoing our bedroom, painting and replacing the carpet that has been there since we moved in (20 years ago) and that we were planning to replace immediately. I guess since we have the whole house to ourselves now and can actually empty our bedroom and still sleep and find our clothes it was time to do it!

I'm definitely planning to put some time in on the torch tomorrow. First, Tina & I will be taking a shelving unit in to a friend who will be opening her shop on Friday. I'm anxious to see what all has changed since I saw it last. I'm sure this is a very exciting time for her.

Maybe I'll post some pictures of the shop at Frog Hollow (ours). And if all goes well, I'll have some new glass to post about.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Leaves, gourds, glass and soap - whew!

Well, all things change and again, we walked through the woods at the end of another summer. We just experienced our first frost of the year and most of the leaves are down.

Last year in the beginning of November, I posted my favorite picture of our woods. In that picture, I was looking out from inside the woods and this time, I'm looking in.

It's a week or two earlier in the year in this picture and yet everything is bare.

If you've been following the progress of our gourd arbor, here's what one good solid frost will do to a summers worth of gourd growth.

It may look a bit sad, but all those lovely gourds hold a promise of lots of fun when they have cured.

Bob and I are having something of a disagreement about how to cure them. We've been all over the internet and opinions vary on the proper way to do this. Some say harvest before the frost, some say leave them on the vine all winter. I suspect they will be cut soon and laid on some bread trays in a non-freezing area (the garage). It's sort of a compromise. We'll see....

Inspired by all the leaves and color leading up to the frosty aftermath, I finally put the leaf beads that I showed earlier together into a necklace.

It's 20" long so it hangs nicely on sweaters and looks nice under the collar of a shirt, coming around in front of the buttons, if you know what I mean.

I followed the basic idea of a necklace in a special jewelry edition of "Belle Armoire" magazine. The first three leaf beads are strung on softflex along with single beads. Then another pass or three is made through the larger beads - looping between the large beads every time. Finally another pass attaches 4 more of the leaf beads as well as a few more loops.

Here's a section of the necklace. Various sizes and colors of beads and pearls are used throughout the necklace. I made something of a "bead soup" and tried to string the loopy parts as randomly as possible. The colors did turn out very well and although this wasn't my first idea of a three tiered necklace, it can probably be worn for many more occasions than the original design could have.

It's kind of a celebration of fall. Although I'm not really looking forward to winter, who knows what that may inspire?

One more thing we did today was make some old fashioned "lye soap". Now, all the soap I make is "lye soap" and in fact any real soap you will ever find will be made with lye. But, one of my customers said she had tried something from someone else labeled "Old Fashioned Lye Soap" and asked if I could make it for her. Basically, she wants what I make only cut somewhat chunkier and wrapped more primitively.

I felt that old fashioned also called for the use of Lard instead of all the lovely tropical oils I usually use.

Soap making would have actually been one of the traditional chores of fall. Along with all the butchering, the lard would have been rendered and made into the family soap supply for the year. I've always talked about that in soapmaking classes, but never actually made lard based soap before. So I hunted it down and finally made the soap. Other than the fact that it seemed to take a bit longer than usual to trace, it reminded me of the bear soap I made earlier in the summer.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Two cultures meet

One interesting thing I saw yesterday but forgot to write about, probably because I didn't have a picture to prompt me.

Near the end of the day, a group of folks arrived. From their dress, they appeared to be strict conservative Jews and possibly Hassidic although all the men and boys did not have the "locks". Most men wore Yamulkas and many appeared to be wearing the prayer shawls - the fringe hanging out beneath their shirts. The women were well covered.

Anyhow, I'm mentioning this because when they approached the Amish Pie wagon across the way from us, there was a look of "kinship" that seemed to pass from one group to the other... Two groups whose dress and customs set them apart from the rest of the world. They seemed much more animated and at ease with each other than they did with us "Englishers".

I resisted the impulse to whip out the camera to record the meeting of the cultures because it would certainly not have been appreciated by either group, I am sure. I will, however remember.

Monday, October 09, 2006

A Fun Two Days

For the past two days, we have had the most enjoyable experience, participating in the "Harvest Festival" at The Amish Farm & House on Route 30, east of Lancaster.

I have been trying to capture a picture like this for some time, but the light was never right, or the clothes line was too far away. Today, as we walked on the grounds, there was the wash hanging above the road between the house and some of the outbuildings. The sun was still pretty low in the sky and it made a nice composition with the windmill.

Our mom was always fascinated by the Amish clotheslines. Usually they are a line strung around two pulleys. One pulley will be on the porch of the house and the other will be attached to an outbuilding or large pole.

The clothes would be clipped onto the line and then it would be moved out, making room for the next piece. Usually, the clothes are hung according to size and since the families are often large, it is a sizeable amount of laundry and very picturesque as the items range out along the line. Traditionally, wash was done on Mondays, so The Amish Farm & House hangs out their wash faithfully on Mondays. I suspect with the size of the families, washday often runs into Tuesday and sometimes Wednesday if necessary!

The windmill is a familiar sight in our county. It is often used by Amish families to pump their water from the well.

What a pleasant bunch of people. The folks who work there seem to enjoy their work and each other. The visitors were as fascinating to us as the Amish lifestyle and the crafters'demonstrations were to them. I have no idea how many languages I heard being spoken in the past two days.

We put our crafters' tent up in front of the Blacksmith's Shop, the white building to the right. The bell was actually rung today at 10:45 along with all the church bells in the Lancaster area to commemorate the murders of 5 Amish school girls last week at that time.

The vine is a Hyacinth Bean Vine. That was the vine we grew up the whole way to the top of the second story of the addition to our shop at the Renn Faire well over 12 years ago. It was a great year and so it always brings back happy memories.

The little white bulbous thing on the left of the roof is a lightening "rod". It certainly wasn't on the highest point of the farm, but at least we got a good view of it!

On Sunday, we made three batches of soap, explained and answered many questions. It was nice to find that the old "patter" still comes just as easily as it did years ago.

We were asked to return again today and just couldn't pass it up even though we really needed to go on a supply run. We took the soap back that we made yesterday and very slowly cut it and trimmed it so there was always soap in various stages on display.

On Sunday, the potter/gift shop manager was across the street from us. Today, however, her spot became an Amish Bakeshop.

Shortly after we got there and set up, an Amish family came in and began putting things out on the tables.. Pies, cookies, canned goods, hotpads and many more lovely things.

Later in the day, the "pie wagon" arrived. We heard the clopping of the horse coming in the road behind us and a short time later, the man who drove them there came in pulling the converted buggy. He parked it right across from us where we could study it and exclaim about the wisdom of the design and then the yumminess of its contents!

The crowds were more sparce today and we took our own tour of the grounds...

It is hard to believe this little piece of Heaven is right off a main highway and now surrounded by a strip mall and a Target center. Somehow, when one walks through the doors of the farmhouse and into the back yard, all the hustle and bustle of the outside world melts away and we are surrounded now by a quiet farm yard.

There are so many things to see.

Flowers are at their peak everywhere. The trees are just beginning to change so this is a very colorful time of year.

Chickens are casually wandering here and there until a child starts to chase them (they seemed to be accustomed to that!) An escaped goat kid is searching fruitlessly for the way back into the pen with all his siblings and cousins.

It seems everywhere one looks there is beauty and the signs of the seasons. Where better to see those things than on a farm where life depends on what is growing, needs to be harvested, needs to be preserved or must be planted?

I really enjoyed being there, meeting and interacting with the other crafters, staff and visitors - all the while being made to feel welcome.

Friday, October 06, 2006

A few more comments and some pictures

This is just a happy picture. Bob had picked a huge bucket of apples off the tree outside the soap studio and they were sitting on a bench on the porch. I came outside at one point and this is what I saw. I thought, "A is for Apple and B is for Butterfly."

It said to me that the season is winding down. Somehow it is a harvest picture to me. I love the colors together. It's my new screensaver picture.

A couple of things more about the shootings of the girls in the Amish school and then I'll go on to more cheerful topics.

First, I find it interesting that we here in Lancaster County refer to the Amish as "our" Amish. There is a very protective attitude toward those whose life has been so horribly defiled. I think part of it is that many of us who are natives here have similar or even identical roots. If ancestors of ours had made different decisions, we would have been Amish ourselves. When our grandfather's family came here 7 generations ago, they were members of the Anabaptists fleeing Europe looking for religious freedom. The head of that family became the first Amish bishop in this County.

Second, I am impressed by the news coverage. There is truly a lot of respect shown to this very different way of life. The funerals yesterday and today have been allowed to be what they should be, solemn, private events. Roads have been closed and State Police have guarded the routes to insure the privacy of the events.

At the same time, the customs of the Amish are being discussed reverently, not as usual... as a joke. The Amish belief in forgiveness seems to have stunned some of the news people and I doubt very much that they will leave here without having been touched in some way by the ideals of these peaceful people.

On Monday, I was putting the finishing touches on the magazine (Essential Herbal, Nov-Dec 2006) and Tina was making the soap that needed to be made that day. That day, we took a break to go up to her house to get a picture we needed and that was when we found out about the shootings.

On Tuesday, when we were cutting the soap, Tina let out a gasp and said, "Look at this!" Do you see the little girl's face in the soap? This soap was poured almost exactly when the worst was happening that morning... Give you chills? It did us.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Evil vs. Innocence

In the past two days, we have been extremely busy. We wrapped up the magazine in record time (and I believe it is one of the best so far) and made another 6 batches of soap. This all took a lot of concentration and the normally blaring television was turned off early each day.

Yesterday around noon, Tina and I went up to her house to download one final picture. Before taking care of it, Tina needed to check her email. Almost immediately, her SO, popped on and asked if we were anywhere near the Amish shooting. What?

We quickly turned on the silent TV and were confronted with a horror almost incomprehensible. I find it very difficult to write about this, but suffice it to say that a people of peace and innocence were defiled by evil. The depth of the feelings of the whole community was demonstrated by first responders who left the scene in tears and a colonel of our State Police who needed to collect himself during his reciting of the events at a press conference.

I think the worst part is that the victims were so young, innocent and totally defenseless.

When I think of innocence, I remember when our son was small, probably around the same age as some of the youngest victims. We, for some reason, were driving through the battlefield at Gettysburg. He saw the cannons along the road and asked what they were. It brought home to me how gently and carefully we had raised him when I explained that they were used to kill people during war. He looked at me with shock on his little face and said, "What would they ever want to do THAT for?" That day marked the beginning of his understanding of evil and perhaps mine of innocence.

This act, so contrary to the Amish way of life, must have been just as totally surreal to the little victims. For some, the first time they looked evil in the face marked the end of their lives.

And, you know, everywhere in the world there is killing, senseless and evil. Nothing is solved. Nothing is accomplished. "What WOULD they ever want to do that for?"

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Better late than....

Okay, Okay, I have an excuse!

We went off delivering orders on Monday. Here are a few of the seasonal offerings we saw at an Amish roadside stand (one of our delivery spots.)

Ya think it's Autumn? Everything on his front porch screamed FALL!

Little gourds, Mini Indian corn bunches and mini pumpkins. All sorts of wonderful things to put together into a nifty Harvest centerpiece.

While we were out, we took samples of our new Holiday scented soaps along. We called on a few of our customers to show them the new soaps and, bingo... new orders.

We took a look at the shelves in the shop and realized we better get cracking making soap! Here's the result:From left to right, it's Wise Guy, Apple Snap (seasonal), Bayberry (seasonal), Chocolate Fudge (special order), Holiday Spice (seasonal) and finally Lavender. 6 batches is a lot to do in one day, but we still need more! We'll get these all cut, trimmed and tucked away and then go for another marathon day! (Quick, before it's time to get the magazine out next week!)

But, on to the beads...

These are what I would call the inspiration beads for something that has been requested. I made all these "party in a bead" some time ago. Actually, I should post the earrings I made from a pair of these (that match) but I don't have a photo right now.

A friend/customer saw my earrings and asked me to make a bunch more for her to put in her shop.

Of course, as soon as I have a request - and for something I really love to make - I lose interest in making that type of bead!

These are the only "set" I managed to produce and I really like the color combo and the design; however, the sizes certainly bear no relation to each other! I call this bead "Oceangoing", by the way.

So, not to be swayed from the torch, I worked some more with these colors and produced:

These guys!

I do love this style. I've been making a lot of them in different color combos and other people seem to like them a lot too.

Sometimes, it's just hard to sit and make anything over and over. On the other hand, sometimes it's so easy to just make a set because the design is new or inspiring.

I only managed to produce one bead like the one to the right. I've done this exact bead in a set before and really love it. It's called "Wild Salmon"! I've made a vessel in these colors, too. I guess I'll have to finish off this set and the one above. Both are made with my favorite pale emerald green and I'm really taking a liking to the silvered ivory that "belts" the half and half bead above,

Sunday, September 24, 2006

As the seasons change

At the end of Summer, we have some of the most luxuriant growth on our plants. So, before the frost, I thought I'd take a few pictures.

I've been trying to grow sunflowers in front of the shop for some time now and something always seemed to get in the way. One year, they were doing well and some creature came along and just chopped them down. It may have been the resident groundhogs or maybe just a bunny with an itchy chin.

I gave up and then this year, my husband and son decided to plant sunflowers on the side of the one bird cage/aviary so the birds would have some nice shade in the heat of the summer.

It worked very well, and while they were planting, they planted some seeds in with the gourds and a few in front of the shop.

This one is a result of that planting. It is a little later blooming than the enormous ones in other places in the yard, but it is also perkier and quite attractive to the bee in the center, who waited while I came inside and grabbed my camera.

Another plant that has challenged me for years is the Rosa Rugosa. I fell in love with this rose and with its juicy hips one autumn, years ago, at the Cape May, NJ. The brilliant color of the rose alone is reason to grow them and I love the texture of the leaves.

My sister and I felt we had to taste the fleshy orange hips. After trespassing across a hotel lawn to acquire a few, we were pleasantly surprised to find them pretty good. They are touted as a good source of vitamin C and, sure enough, there was a hint of citrus fruit in the flavor.

The juicy red things in the second picture are the hips. I have the definite feeling that rose hip jelly is somewhere in our near future!

I have purchased a few of these over the years, but it seems I often make the mistake of planting certain plants in the path of future construction or in a place that is too distant to inspire the babying they sometimes need to get a good start.

Again, this time, my husband (the one with the greenest thumb!) decided to buy a number of these plants and populate a hill with them. He is hardy enough to get out in the bright afternoon sun and weed them! The hillside is doing quite well and if all goes well, they will have taken over so completely by next summer that the weeding will be a thing of the past.

Just as a teaser, I expect to take a few things out of the kiln today worthy of blogging, so, until tomorrow....

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The rain is gone.... for now

Well, the rain was gone (it's returning later today though), we did a bit of exploring yesterday in the woods and in the pond.

A few weeks ago, Tina and I had found Spiceberries starting to ripen on the trees in the woods. We picked as many ripe ones as we could find thinking they'd be a great addition to the still experiments. Then, we decided we'd be back in the next week or two to clean up all the berries still ripening. One week led to another and when we checked yesterday, they were gone. I guess the birds and animals in the woods think they smell as tasty as we did.

On our way back up the path, we saw another plant that we didn't know, but it held these bunches of berries.

We brought a sample up to the shop and began consulting field guides. Seems these are Black Haw berries.

From what we could find, the bark of this plant is a substitute for cramp bark and also, some people make jellies with the berries. There was one ripe (black) berry in this bunch and we both tasted it. It was pretty bland.

As we passed the pond, there was a disturbance on the surface and when we looked closer, there were a large number of fish swirling, then stretching out in a block, swimming a bit and then swirling around fallen leaves, etc. The "disturbance in in the rough little oval I drew on the picture.

When we moved in the pond was clear and housed a large school of big goldfish. In the winter, on a warm day, the fish would swim around the top of the water and we could see them from our living room window.

A flock of ducks - bought as day old chicks in a box which looked much smaller than it was - had taken their toll changing the chemical make up of the pond. Bass (carnivorous fish) had been added and they ate most of the resident goldfish. Duckweed which had been clinging to other plants we added over the years had taken over the pond.


This is a huge discovery. My husband, Bob, has been working on the pond for the past 2-3 years, trying to bring it back to its former glory. He added a few "goldfishy-type" fish this spring and they seem to have multiplied.

It's difficult to get a good picture of the "gang", but here they are. There are a number of apparently adult fish in their full colors and the more immature ones seem to be mostly drab colors, but by this winter or spring, I'll bet we'll have the colorful display we loved 20 years ago!

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Social Whirl!

What a weekend. I have no pictures to share, but just had to write about this.

We are usually boring homebodies - just ask our son - so this was a very unusually social 3 days.

First, the usual Friday dinner was even more lively than usual. Our son brought a friend, Molly, home with him this weekend and for a change, I prepared a meal that even Rob could eat. We all sat down to a large pan of stuffed shells with meatballs on the side and laughed and kidded through the entire meal. Lots of reminiscences, some a bit shocking but all funny. As Rob gets older, there is less and less censoring, so the kids got a pretty vivid picture of who we were way back when. I think they were entertained and Rob didn't seem to be "too" embarrassed by his crazy family.

Saturday, it was the Sizzlers' meeting. It seemed that life had gotten in the way of most of the "regulars", so the core group was Rachel and me. Luckily, we were joined by Lesliediana from Arlington (yep, Virginia) and two Traci's who we met at the Lebanon show.

I really don't think I have had so much fun with a group of women in ages and that's saying something because most of the Sizzlers meetings are a blast. We snacked and bonded and just laughed uncontrollably most of the afternoon. Then my darling husband, Bob, grilled some burgers and we sat down to eat even more. Someone asked when the stripper was coming, just as Rob and Molly returned from their travels. Rob walked into the room and one of the Traci's said, "You must be the stripper!" You have to know our reserved son to imagine the expression on his face! Molly was quietly amused.

It was one of those wonderful things that happens when a group of relative strangers just clicks. At first, I was worried because many that we were expecting weren't able to come. I wish everyone could have been there to enjoy an uproarious day. We even discussed beads and jewelry!

So, I thought I could take a deep breath on Sunday and recover. Tina and I went early to pick up some stain for her wicker kitchen set and worked a bit on that. Sometime in the middle of all this, Rob and Molly headed back to school. Then, I had promised to mow the yard and I came home and zipped around taking care of that. A quick shower and off to our next gathering.

I had almost forgotten that we were invited to an "impromptu surprise wedding reception" for some friends in the afternoon. Our friend, Brian, often invites a group for dinners. It's always fun, but this time, he had a purpose. He is the head steward on a cable ship and was out at sea when Kelly and Scott were married this summer. When he called to invite us, he told me they had served cupcakes at their wedding and didn't have a proper cake, so no top layer to freeze and eat next year on their first anniversary. He planned to correct that!.

We all brought cards and some small gifts - in our case a box of assorted soaps. It was nice and again it was a group of casual friends who got along great.

After dinner was finished, we prepared for Brian's usual fabulous dessert. He entered with a two tier wedding cake. Kelly and Scott were overwhelmed, but did the traditional cutting of the cake and attempted to smear cake and icing on each others' faces... They are an adorable couple and its clear they know how to play together.

Anyhow, that was my weekend. It was so nice to enjoy family, new and old friends getting along and having fun together. I feel like I packed a good portion of my annual socializing into one three day period - now, sigh, back to work.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Rain, rain....

Rudy's expression pretty much says it all. We really needed the rain, but you know, enough is enough! The past few days, we've received some much-needed rain, but the inactivity is taking it's toll on all of us.

Today will be much better, clearing on the horizon and nice cool, clear weather for a few days.

We made some soap on Tuesday and really need to make some more, but just seem to be putting everything off.

I haven't even lit the torch for days and days. There seem to be so many things I need to do, but I just am not doing them.

Family for dinner tonight and a Sizzler's meeting tomorrow, plus kids home for the weekend from college.

I'll take a big breath on Sunday and dig back in!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Stuff

Lots of things going on, nothing really Earth-shattering.

Yesterday, we went to visit (and feed!) our son at Ursinus College. It's not a very long trip - only 1-1/2 to 2 hours and I really don't know why we haven't visited him more since he started last year. Part of it is that he comes home pretty often. Apparently the driers at school don't work! He does his own laundry so I really can't complain and it's good seeing him and meeting the friends he brings along.

I snapped a picture of the cooling towers at the Limerick nuclear plant. It's pretty close to Collegeville, so it seems he's moved from the shadow of TMI to the shadow of Limerick.

This, though is what I've been working on lately. I was asked to make 12 aromatherapy vessels for a well-known essential oil company and thought I'd give it a shot.

Originally, I resisted because I would really prefer not to do anything resembling production. There's enough of that in the soap business.

I can't seem to do more than 3 or 4 at a sitting, but I did get them done. They are the Caliente glass that I love.

I broke down and ordered a few other colors. Probably not enough of any of them to do another full order, but plenty of experimenting. Some are reducing colors. In other words, the metal in the glass rises to the surface when they are flashed in a reducing flame (propane heavy rather than oxygen heavy which is called an oxidizing flame).

I'm also working on an autumn necklace which will include all the leaves I made a few weeks ago. I wanted to make some acorns and some oak leaves to add to it and while we were visiting the campus yesterday, I found some fallen acorns to use as models.

I have tried making acorns before, but they look more like a male body part! Maybe with real models in front of me, they'll look like what they are supposed to be!

On the other hand, the oak leaves I have made before actually have turned out pretty well. We'll see.

Today, we're probably going to make some "seasonal" soaps for the holidays. A bayberry for sure and probably something apple-y and spicy for fall.

Tina already reported on the Colonial Day show we did this weekend. I was saved by some prior orders that I have to deliver at the show and actually, the jewelry went all right, but nothing like what we had imagined.

I'll try to get back on a routine of posting again. It seems I often forget my camera and I really don't like to post without a picture!

I did want to mention the memorials yesterday and how touching it was watching the people who had lost loved ones 5 years ago. Yesterday, as we drove down to Rob's school, I was surprised at all the billboards and signs in memory of the disaster and I was also surprised at how raw and close to the surface all those memories and emotions still are. Even though I didn't lose anyone close to me, we as a nation lost our innocense once again.