Hygge at the Vaughanderousa

My goal for this year is to fully embrace the concept of ‘hygge’, the practice of finding coziness and contentment in the everyday. To that end I’m challenging myself to post a picture of something hygge each day this year. I have a tendency to get so caught up in the rush of life that I find days go by without me savoring the moments of peace. Hopefully this challenge will keep me focused. 

Last night I lit this candle while making supper and waiting for Mr. X to arrive home. We enjoyed our dinner on the couch beside it, in front of the woodstove. 

Advertisements

One Baggy at a Time

Lately I’ve been working to maximize the small purchases in my life. Though I avoid plastic in my house I general, I fully embrace the ease of using plastic bags for portioning food into the freezer. Since I often buy/prep food in bulk, I found myself going through a LOT of baggies.  

Words can not express how deeply I HATE wet plastic. So my challenge was finding a way to wash, then thoroughly dry them. Nearly equal to my hate of wet plastic comes a wadded twist of plastic bags. (I fold my grocery sacks so they stay neat and clean.) Therefor, I also needed a system to store them neatly. 

There are lots of ideas for DIY baggy drying racks, but they all seemed to leave the corners wet. Ugh. I tried drying them on the back spindles to my chairs, but this left my kitchen a-flutter in wet plastic baggies. Eeeeew. Everythime I went to set the table I was snatching them off, then forgetting to put them back after the meal. Once dry, folding them back into the boxes they came from didn’t work well for storage as they constantly migrated back out.

One night, in a rush of cleaning, I upended one over an empty wine bottle to dry. Lo and behold, the next morning it was bone dry! I took a closer look, and realized I’d found the perfect way to dry them. The wine bottle shape holds the baggies fully open, yet allows good air circulation. I now keep two empty bottles as ‘decoration’ on my kitchen secretary! 

  
To store them, I began clipping them, unsealed and upside down, on the side of my fridge. 

  
 Voila! I’m now consistently saving baggies, without struggling with drying and storing them. 

Do you reuse your baggies? If so, what are your tricks/struggles?

Ducklings Come to Us.

We love duck eggs. So much, that when talking over when to get chicks this spring, we decided to get ducklings instead!

We settled on Silver Welsh Harlequins because of their multi purpose use. They are moderately good layers, we should see around 175-250 per year depending on how we use lighting in their house. They dress out as good meat birds, are excellent foragers, and run on the calmer side of the duck temperament spectrum.

Since it’s just two of us for now, we were only looking for 4-6 ducklings, but in searching Craigslist, I found a lady local who was selling a batch of 7 who were already 7 weeks old. We instantly jumped on that deal, as having a local source for info seemed a good idea. The owner was very nice, gave us extra feed with our ducklings, sold us some eggs, and said to call her with any questions. Score!

Ducklings

We brought them home, but soon realized that our box was WAY too small for them. So we hurried to fix up the old Chicken brooder house that was in bad need of patching. One day of hard work and it was pretty well good, except two windows so badly broken they  needed replaced.

With how unseasonably cold it is here, I was worried about them staying warm, so I took two old shower stall doors and propped them into the corners to make a much smaller enclosure, tied our heat lamp securely to one of the roosting shelves, directing the heat down into the smaller pen. This worked well to give them a warm cozy spot to gather. I covered the windows with several layers of frosty plastic, and we bedded them deeply with straw, about 8″ to start, and I would toss another couple inches fresh morning and night.

That evening, while vising my BIL, we mentioned that we were going to look for plexi glass to use in the windows rather than replacing them with glass pane. He offered us a piece large enough for both windows in exchange for demolishing the old potting shed it was covering. Score! So, Tuesday evening we headed over and took it apart, and yesterday I took the plexi down to our local Ace Hardware and they cut it to measurement for me. It’s worked wonderfully.

In my next post, I’ll share how we are managing water in the shed, and attempting to practice deep bedding.

A New Life: From City Girl to Homesteader

Dramatic life changes have occurred and as of last month, I’m now living on a beautiful, cozy homestead in MD! This means, the direction of my blog will take a big turn as 1) I now have time to blog again and 2) We are establishing our homestead we’ve both dreamed of and 3) I get to spend my days being a Homemaker to my Beloved.

My intention is to use this blog as a place to record the successes and failures of our homestead, both for our own use and perhaps to help share our story with others who might be interested.

Safety Razor Shaving for Ladies

Since I began cold showers a year ago, I’ve been on a mission to figure out how to integrate shaving into my new routine. See, at least for me, cold water showers mean lots of goose bumps. And goose bumps don’t mix well with razors. Trust me on this. 

My interest in vintage things had led me to geeing out on Double Edged Safety Razors a couple years ago when I was buying a gift for my youngest brother.  I happened into The Art of Shaving out in Chicago on a blistery, bitter cold day (a high of -2) and the elegant feel instantly captivate me. I purchased a shaving brush for him, and spent the next few weeks learning all I could about shaving.  I passed the info along to him, and moved on with my life.

A couple weeks back, a friend knowing my interest, gave me an old Gillette New Long Comb double edge safety razor. From what I have learned on Badger and Blade I believe it be from the early 30’s. 

It seemed to beautiful to waste so I began searching for info on using a DE safety razor as a woman.  There is not much out there! A few ladies do use them, and seemed to have had good luck, so I decided to give it a whirl.

I choose the Alba Botanica Uncented Very Emollient Cream Shave for two reasons.  First,  I have a severe allergy to coconut oil which instantly dwindles my options for shaving soap to nearly nothing.  Secondly, this is a brushless cream which also does not need rinsed off which works perfectly with my cold showers because it allows me to shave in my warm room sans goose bumps!

It was a little scary the first time I shaved. But, I followed to rules, used a 30 degree angle, short, light strokes and breathed deeply.

Success! No nicks or cuts, no red bumps, and a smooooooooth shave! A few minutes later I worked up the courage to try my arm pits, and success there as well. 

This has truly revolutionized my shaving.  It had become a painful chore which I avoided as much as possible with cartridge razors.  Now it’s fun and challenging! No pain, no razor burn, super smooth, and so cheap. These replacement blades cost around $1 per blade (I use expensive ones, there are many cheaper) and compared to cartridge blades which are a fortune, this is very affordable.  

I’ll post a few links for anyone interested in learning more about this. 

Badger and Blade has a lot of detailed information for those who like to fully arm themselves with information before starting.  Their article on blade angle is particularly helpful. It is geared towards men, so their shaving is demonstrated on faces, but the same principle apply.

Maggard Razors has a very, very informative video on leg shaving, and one demonstrating armpit shaving. Now, I use brushless, no rinse shaving cream so my clean up is easy, just a damp rag, keep that in mind of all the lathering seems too much, or if like myself, you want to be able to shave out of the warm shower.

Here’s a few pictures of my razor…it’s so beautiful and lovely in the hand, it’s a joy to work with.





What Happened to Summer?

Oh my, these past weeks have flown by so quickly, it’s hard to recall everything that happened! But I have a few pictures from some of the highlights.

The god parents for my sisters kids offered her their shore house for a week this summer, and we aunts cycled through to enjoy the experience and help keep track of the kids.
It was a beautiful, refreshing time. I discovered that I really do not like the shore at ALL from about 10:00-4:00PM. It’s hot, crowded, and gross. But at sunrise and sunset…ah, it’s beautiful, refreshing, and oh so calming.

IMG_0383.JPG

IMG_0399.JPG

IMG_0391.JPG

IMG_0393.JPG

Continue reading

The Great American Irish Festival

This past weekend I had my first taste of a music festival. I learned about the Great American Irish Festival a couple months ago, and when I realized the High Kings and Makem and Spain Brothers would be there, I bought my tickets immediately!

I decided to spend the money on a campsite so that any friends or family who wanted to could come up, and my sister and brother joined me.

It was nothing less than awesome! Irish folk music all weekend, great weather, good food and plenty of fellow Irish fans.

The High Kings were mind blowing. The energy and skill they brought to the stage was infectious. They encouraged us to sing along with them too, which, as a singer I love doing but often feel constrained to NOT do! Their song list was everything I could hope for, Fields of Athenry, The Town I Loved So Well, Marie’s Wedding, Wild Rover and such.

Here are. Couple short videos I took.

The Town I Loved So Well

Marie’s Wedding

The Makem and Spain Brothers were awesome as well. I was sad to see Conor has left the group, his tenor was great. After their Friday concert, I went up to meet Roy Makem, and asked if they could play Ha’Penny Bridge, which I first learned from them and has become one of my favorite Irish songs. He graciously said he’d try to remember, and on Saturday, they played it! Thanks again!!!

Here is the one video I got of Ha’Penny Bridge.

Besides them, there were lots of great acts I heard for the first time, Seamus Kennedy, The Moxi Strings, Runa to name a few.

Saturday night I played my new set of bones with a group of guys in camp, one of the highlights of the weekend. I love how a shared love of music instantly creates a bond between total strangers.

Camping in my little canvas tent with my sheepskin was delicious. I slept like a rock both nights, so comfy and soft!

Making Vanilla Extract

When I made my first batch of vanilla extract, my brother had to buy the alcohol for me. When I bought my second batch a few days after I turned 21, I couldn’t believe when the cashier didn’t card me – after all the sign on the door assured “Anyone who appears under 31 WILL be carded.”

It’s been quite a few years since that first batch, when I asked my brother for the “Cheapest vodka you can find”, and boy, have I learned a lot!

Me thinks, it’s time to share that knowledge with those who might be interested.

First off, I don’t make vanilla extract so I can have it cheap. I make it for the fun, experience, and ability to control flavor and value. If you are looking to save money, read on, and hopefully I can change your mind,

You will need a few things to start.

Vanilla Beans: I’ve tried beans from a few places, and the best, most affordable priced that I have found are from Vanilla Products USA. They are a little pricier than some places like World Class Vanilla, but their beans are quite noticeably nicer, more aromatic and less woody.
I purchase Grade B Madagascar Vanilla Beans. Beans come in two grades, A and B. Grade A are more expensive because they are prettier, and more plump. However, for extract you actually want grade B as the pretty factor is meaningless, and the lower moisture content of grade B means you’ll get more beans per pound! Tahitian is the second most popular variety, but they give a more fruity flavor, so I don’t like them to be my main bean. I’ll add a few for extra kick though.

Alcohol: you can use straight Vodka, it will give a very nice extract. However, if you are like me and want a more flavorful extract, try mixing some. I like to mix vodka and gold rum. I’ve tried dark rum, but it gives a very bold rum flavor that I think it’s a touch too powerful. I’ve stuck with slightly cheaper rums in the past, but I want to try Appleton Special Gold next time.

Water: extract is best made with 35% alcohol content, so be prepared to dilute if your chosen alcohol is higher than 80 proof, tops. There is a handy dandy calculator here that can help you figure out how much to add.

You will need containers. I like glass mason jars. They seal well, don’t impart favors, and I never worry about the effects of plastic!

Technique: VanillaReview is the most complete source for instructions on vanilla extract I’ve found. They also have lots of reviews for different bean brands. Check them out for more indepth info, but I’ve developed a few changes from their way.

Ratio: According to the FDA, to have single fold vanilla extract, you need at least 8 beans per 8oz of alcohol. Single Fold is what you’ll most often find in the store, though you can get double and triple for a pretty penny.

1# of Grade B vanilla beans yield around 160-180 beans, so you’ll get around 5 quarts of Single Fold Extract per pound of beans. I like to go stronger, so I typically expect to use 1.12#of beans per 4 quarts of alcohol.

If you order from a place like Vanilla Products USA, they give free beans according to how much you buy, so, each time I’ve bought from them, along with my pound of Grade B Madagascar Beans, they’ve sent 1/8th pound of grade A Tahitian beans, that is simply add for more flavor and fullness.

Method:

1. Gather your products.
2. Blend your alcohols and, of needed, dilute them with water.
3. Count out your beans, 8 per 8 oz for Single fold. If your looking for something a bit stronger, just add whatever you have left over after ensuring you have 8 per 8 oz.
4. Cut the beans in half so you have shorter, more manageable lengths. Especially if your making a smaller batch, you want the ensure the entire bean is submerged in the alcohol.
5. Slice each half lengthwise to open up the center, and allow the vanilla caviar to mix quickly. Some people say this step is unnecessary, but I think it makes a difference in how quickly and strongly the extract brews. Scraping is not needed as you will be shaking regularly and the caviar will quickly loosen on its own.
6. Add your beans to the alcohol and make sure they are covered completely.
7. Cover tightly and shake well. You’ll start to see the caviar loosening already!
8. Label with the date, alcohol used and bean quantity and whatever else you want to remember.
9. Store in a dark place and shake regularly the first few weeks, then shake whenever you remember afterwards.
10. Patience! Many people advocate using your extract after 8 weeks. I strongly disagree. The flavor will be still be very weak at that point. I wait at least 6 months before using mine. After 6 months, if I feel like it, I’ll strain the beans out and use them in sugar or sachets. Or, I’ll leave them in for another 6 months. I’m not sure I get much more flavor after the initial 6 months, but I know I’m not loosing any flavor!
11. Enjoy! By now, your extract should be very dark, rich, full of vanilla aroma and flavor. I find vanilla extract to be a rewarding and fun hobby. And it makes the perfect, one of a kind gift.

Let me know if you try your own. I’d love to hear your stories!

Now for a few pictures of my latest batch.

20140711-111439-40479103.jpg

20140711-111439-40479739.jpg

20140711-111440-40480375.jpg

20140711-111440-40480990.jpg

Joshua’s Legacy

It’s nearing the anniversary of my nephew Joshua’s birth and subsequent passing. A lot has been bringing it to mind, not just the looming anniversary, but also conversations I’ve been in lately on abortion.

I’ve always been against abortion. But after Joshua’s summer, my views changed on a deep level.

Prior, I’d been against it, but not fully, intensely committed to it. It was a belief I held that did not personally effect me.

What changed? I’ve asked myself that question hundreds of times since. It came to me this morning while frying eggs for my grandmother’s breakfast.

I had loved someone whose very humanity was denied by a significant portion of the population. People I lived near, worked beside, voted with, they denied that he was human.

I was there, holding my sister’s hand as she struggled to give birth at 23 weeks…17 weeks short of what it should have been. I’ve been privileged to attend quite a number of births, but none were so emotionally difficult. When he was born there were no lusty cries. Only the sound of clicking machines, quiet voices as the eight or so nurses were crowded around his little body, working with quick movements to do what they needed. I don’t remember the few moments after his birth very clearly…I remember that I stayed by my sister’s bed as she finished her labor. I could not hold Joshua. Neither could my sister….I prayed passionately for her….giving birth to one so young, who so desperately needed love, but she could not express it in the normal process with hugs and cuddles.

I spent a few days with her before I had to head back up to my friend who I’d been visiting when the call came, and who had graciously lent me her car to drive four hours in the middle of night so I could be there. I spent hours sitting by his crib, talking in whispers, watching him, willing him to live, praying longingly for his life.

Joshua passed away a few weeks later. I never was able to touch him. But I loved him. He was a full, little human. Complete. Deserving. Entitled to all our love and care.

When I hear babies described as a ‘fetus’ it makes my blood boil. Do NOT remove their humanity. Our culture is obsessed with ‘being who we are,’ yet somehow with the passage of a law, we strip an entire segment of the population of their most basic defining point – their humanity.

So don’t talk to me about autonomy, free choice, difficult choice, self expression, loving others, acceptance, and tolerance when you won’t grant the fundamental right behind all those ideas – that of life.

ETA: My sister reminded me of this. Joshua was born three days before he would have been granted legal status as a person.

She very kindly let me share some pictures as well.

20140630-183947-67187606.jpg

20140630-183947-67187849.jpg

20140630-183947-67187709.jpg

An Evening of Folk Music.

20140626-195205.jpg

The playing and singing of folk music is one of my biggest passions. When I was growing up, we sang and played music at home nearly everyday. But, what with all my older siblings being married and busy with their own families, it had become rather rare for us to get together for music.

I decided this spring, that needed to change! I’ve been going to irish sessions and open mic nights in the area, but wanted something that was more accessible for my family and friends. I wanted somewhere that kids would be welcome, and all varieties of folk music could be enjoyed.

A local park proved the ideal location so I sent out invitations to everyone I could think of on Facebook! The first one was rather slow, we had a good time, but not many showed. However, last night, the second one was well attended. We had five musicians that were not family members show up! And a few park visitors stopped by for a while!

We had a grand time! Music from Ireland, Australia, and America was sang, spanning several centuries in time, we even had some early country/rock thrown in the mix in a folk style, and one fantastic Gaelic number! Guitars, and mandolins made up the instruments of choice, with an accordion, melodica, tambourine and a set of bag pipes rounding out the mix. Kids ran around, cookies were eaten, babies cuddled, jokes shared, laughter and music filled the air.

Here a short clip I grabbed of two of the Aussie songs.