Dyeing with Fresh Indigo

Freshindigo18The dye garden is doing fabulously this year!  The Hopi sunflowers are over 10 feet tall, the madder is prolific, and the indigo is lush.  Our indigo (Dyer’s Knotweed or Polygonum tinctorium) grows very well in the North Carolina mountains and this week was indigo harvest time!Freshindigo5

Nikki (my Fern Fiber partner in crime), my kids, and I worked quickly to cut the stems above the 3rd or 4th node and strip the leaves off.  (Cutting the stem here lets the indigo grow back for a second harvest in the fall!)  The leaves were weighed and then added to some cold water.  We were hoping to get 4 pounds of leaves to dye 2 pounds of yarn.  But, we ended up with only 3 pounds.


We were joined by our friend, Sarah, as we began chopping up the leaves in the blender with more cold water and blending them to a pulp.


We stirred in 3/4 cup white vinegar.  This is supposed to help pull out the pigment and keep it from breaking down too quickly.  We let this sit for 30 minutes.


Then we strained it through muslin cloth and put the strained liquid to the side in my super large dye pot while we soaked the plant matter a second time in more cold water and let it sit for another 30 minutes.


Once the second batch was strained, all the liquid went into the big pot…


and the yarn was added.  (This is organic merino wool that we soaked overnight in water.)


After one hour of soaking, you can see the color of the bath and yarn had become more blue.


We gently squeezed the yarn out and hung it up to dry.  Within seconds, you could see the air oxidizing the pigment and changing it to blue!


The lighter blue on top was just out of the dye bath.  The darker had been out in the air for a few minutes.  Look at the difference from the picture above, too!


Drying in the shade, you can still see all of the color dripping onto the rock below!


We had been worried that we wouldn’t get enough color for the amount of yarn we wanted to dye.  I’d read that you should have 2 times the amount of plant material and we only had 1.5.  Despite this, there was still so much color left in the dye bath, we decided to add more yarn (another full pound that we’d had soaked and ready… just in case).  This sat in the dye for another hour.  The yarn on the left was from the second batch.  Only slightly lighter, but still super gorgeous!

Freshindigo17There was still so much color in the dye bath, but no more yarn to toss in there.  I decided to put the strained indigo plant material back in the bath to see if I could ferment it a bit to pull more color out.  I’ll let keep you posted on those results!

The yarns cure/dry for at least 2 days before they are washed.  Once the are dried again and reskeined, we’ll put them in our Fern Fiber naturally dyed yarn store (well, not all of them.  Sometimes us dyers take our payment in skeins of yarn!! 🙂 )



PS. I know I haven’t been posting nearly as much on my blog, but I do have a pretty active Instagram account.  If you’d like to follow my homesteading, homeschooling, and fiber frenzy, you can also find me at @ninja.chickens  and our Fern Fiber naturally dyed yarns can be followed at @fernfiber.




Natural Dyeing


I am having so much fun experimenting with natural dyes these days.  Every time I see a bright flower, or a colorful tree, I think, “Oooooh, I wonder what color dye that would make?”  This weekend, I got together with Nikki of Woolen Violet, my fiber partner in crime, and we trashed the kitchen! 🙂

Let me back up a sec.  Before we could begin our dyeing, some prep needed to happen.  We planned to try out black beans, cocoa bean chaff, cochineal (actually a bug!), and two woods: Indian Rosewood and Purple Heartwood.  Some of these things needed time to soak, so I started the prep a few days ahead of time.

On Wednesday, I chipped up the wood into small pieces.  I’m very thankful for the help of my hubby as both Rosewood and Purple Heart are very hard!  I put the wood into separate pots and filled them about 3/4 full with water (I used our tap water, which is well water with a pH of about 7).  The water was simmered for 1 hour, then taken off the stove and left to sit until dye day.

naturaldyesThe top pot is the Purple Heartwood the bottom is Rosewood.  Both woods put out a good bit of oil, but once the dye bath cooled down it was easily skimmed off of the top.

On Thursday, I began my cochineal extract.  I put 1/2 oz. of cochineal in a sauce pan and covered it with 3 inches of water.  I brought this to a simmer and let it bubble lightly for 30 minutes.  Then, I strained the cochineal through a muslin cloth and put the dye water to the side.  I placed the cochineal back in the sauce pot, covered it with 3 inches of water and repeated this process a total of 4 times, always reserving the dye water.  This would be the dye bath.

naturaldyes2Fuchsia pink from a tiny bug!

The morning before our crafty date, I put the black beans to soak in a large pot of water, stirring them often.  (Cover them with lots of water, because they expand!)  And I pre-mordanted my yarn.  Mordants are a very important step in dyeing as they help the dye bond to your fiber.  We used Alum (15% per weight of fiber) and Cream of Tartar (6% per weight of fiber).  The mordants were dissolved in water and simmered, along with our fiber, for 1 hour.  I left my yarn in the mordant bath overnight.

First thing on dye party morning, I gave the beans one last stir.  You want to let them sit for a few hours before you use the dye water so that all of the bean matter settles to the bottom.

When Nikki and family arrived, she and I bounced around like giddy little kids in a candy shop!!  There were ‘ooooooo’s and ‘aaahhhhhhh’s all day long as we watched colors change and chemical reactions happen.

We started by scooping off some of the black bean dye and pouring it in mason jars along with our pre-mordanted yarn (Quick note: we used 100% wool for all of our dyeing).  The jar on the left is straight black bean.  The one on the right has a small amount of baking soda added (changing the pH).


This one has more baking soda on the bottom and the plain bean dye bath gently poured on top…


This skein has black bean, vinegar, baking soda, and copper on the left and bean, baking soda and copper on the right (I meant to put just vinegar on the left but flubbed it up).


And what our sweet hubbies made for us while we were slaving away in the kitchen…. some delicious black bean soup from the beans we soaked for the dye bath.!!


Dyeing with black beans is a cold process.  Adding heat will change the color (to brown, I hear).  So, you put the fiber in your black bean dye and let it sit over night before rinsing and drying it.

Next we moved on to our woods.  We were very surprised when we put the yarn in the pots that the vibrant colors produced pale brown yarn.  Both the rosewood and the purple heartwood.  So undramatic was the change that I didn’t even take a picture.  We were waiting for more color to come out as it simmered (for one hour).  Not much happened.  We decided to do some experimenting and pulled out some of the dye bath in small cups.  We added baking soda to one, vinegar to another and baking soda and copper to a third.  The Rosewood turned sky blue with baking soda and copper.  Crazy Blue!  So, we tossed some of this in our main dye bath to see what we could get with our yarns.  It ended up being kind of a weak coffee brown.  Not a bad color, but not the blue we had hoped for.

The skein on the left was the Rosewood.  The one on the right was a white skein that was tossed in to see if it would pick up some blue.  Once it was rinsed it was fairly pale in color.


Here are some of our sample experiments.  We’d pull dye bath out and add things to them just to see what colors we might be able to get in the main bath.



I’ve read that the Purple Heartwood actually turns more purple when exposed to the sun’s UV rays.  So, maybe on a hot summer day I’ll stick the yarn outside and see if there is any color change.  From laying it out today in our cold winter sun, it did seem to get a bit of a purple tone to it, but definitely nothing dramatic.

The “Instant Gratification Award” definitely went to the cochineal!!  The second the yarn hit the dye bath it became a vibrant pink!


Cochineal simmered for one hour.



There was so much color left in the dye bath that we tossed in another skein and simmered it for 20 minutes.  Then we did it again!  Then we did it a 4th time with a little baking soda thrown in!  Isn’t it GORGEOUS!  (Yes, I’m shouting!)


Finally, we set up the cocoa chaff (lovingly donated by the amazing French Broad Chocolate Factory).  As we  poured the chaff into a muslin bag, the smell of cocoa filled the air, and once the simmering began we were all craving chocolate!!


Top left – Cochineal, Top right – Rosewood, Bottom left – Cocoa, Bottom right – Purple Heartwood




Cocoa with some baking soda and copper added.


We got in a bit of spinning while things dried.  I have to admit, my feet were tired by this point.  We’d been standing ALL DAY watching the yarns simmer.


But we soon filled our bellies with a delicious black bean soup with a pear and blueberry crisp for dessert!

To be honest, I had a very hard time not pulling the black bean yarn out of it’s dye bath early.  But, I forced myself to go to bed and woke up bright and early (thanks to one 5 year old) the next morning, ready to wash up some lovely blues!

This is the yarn dyed with black bean and baking soda:


Nikki’s mix that had the baking soda on the bottom of the jar. The purple hues are black bean by itself with the blue coming out when the baking soda is added.


This is the skein that I had in black bean, vinegar, baking soda, and copper (blues) and black bean baking soda and copper (greens)

All of our lovelies hung up to dry.


I think we are really hooked now!!!  Someone please send us a million white skeins to play with!!  We need more!  MORE!!  🙂



Fixin’ my fiddle!!

A few months ago I picked up a fiddle from craigslist for $50.  I’ve wanted to learn to play fiddle for years, but a good fiddle generally starts at over $500.  So, I thought, why don’t I try to rehab this one and see what becomes of it.   It was made sometime around the civil war and came over from Austria. This fiddle was well loved by a sweet family.  But when they moved into the area it got bounced around a bit and parts fell loose and cracked.


The top was coming apart from the sides.fiddle4

The end button was missing and the bottom block had a crack.fiddle3

The back was coming apart at the seam.fiddle2

And worst of all of it, the peg box and scroll had little cracks all through it.  Some of it had been repaired in the past and was re-cracking, some of the cracks were new. (I only pointed out one large one here.)fiddle5

I took the fiddle to a local luthier (violin maker), Danny Bishop, and he walked me through all the steps to fixing it up. (I think he got sucked into my enthusiasm and wanted to hear this fiddle sing again.)

The first thing I did was place an order with internationalviolin.com.  I got some hide glue and a couple of different types of clamps.  I worked on the back first, re-glueing it.  Isn’t it lovely?fiddleclampedback

Then I worked on glueing a spot on the side where it had been poorly glued the last time it was fixed.fiddlesidesplit


I fully opened the top to check out the insides and all looked good.  fiddletopopen

Then I glued it back tightly.  I didn’t have enough clamps so we made some out of old wooden thread spools.fiddletopclamp2

Then it was on to the peg box.  This is a pretty delicate area, but it takes a whole lot of pressure with the strings pulling on it and the pegs pressing inward.  You can see where a repair had been done on an old crack.  pegbox2

We used a very sharp razor and took this piece off.  Then I used the razor and carved out part of the box on each side so that I could replace it with a large piece of maple.


We used card stock to make a template for the wood that would go into the peg box.pegbox4

Here are the two pieces of maple that we cut (with a very sharp knife) to fit the box.pegbox5

Then they were glued and clamped into place, one side at a time.pegbox6

Here’s how it looks all glued in.  I stained it later to look just like the rest of the box.pegbox7

Once all of this was done, I took it back to Danny for a bit of help getting it ready to string up.  We drilled and reamed out the new holes.


Then we fit the pegs to the holes.  The pegs have to be sharpened, like you would a pencil, to taper them to fit the peg holes perfectly.  Then we drilled tiny holes for the strings.drillingpegholes

When I was fitting the pegs for the last time, I heard a loud crack and my heart stopped. CRAP!!  Another crack in the peg box!  With nothing to lose, Danny drilled a small hole through the crack and superglued in a piece of paperclip.  This held the crack tightly!  Yay!!  He used a tiny jewelers file and cut off the top of the paper clip.  You could barely tell it is there.fixingcrack

The peg box, all fixed up.pinsset

Next came the new end button.  I filed that down just as I did the pegs and fit it nice and snug.endnut

Then it was time to set the sound post.  The sound post is a little piece of wood that fits between the top and bottom of the violin.  It’s very important in getting a full, strong sound.  Danny had made his own tools for this and made it look super easy.  He slid the post in through the sound hole and pushed it into place with the fork.


See it in there??soundpost

Then we took some time with the top nut or top block.  It was very tall, so he filed it down a bit and then made new notches for the strings to sit on.


Finally, it was time for the bridge…. SO close to stringing it it up!  Danny took a brand new bridge and fit it perfectly to the top of the fiddle.  Then he carve it up a bit to enhance the sound.    (I made him initial it before we put it on the fiddle.)


FINALLY, the moment of truth!  I attached the fine tuners to the tail piece.


And we began putting on the strings!!!stringingup

DONE!  Isn’t she a beauty??  It looks completely different than the first picture.


And the sound?  Well, Danny wanted to buy the fiddle from me.  When he was tuning it and testing it out, he couldn’t put it down.  The sound is rich and full and warm.  It’s just beautiful!!  I am SO glad I took on this project.  I now have a 150 year old Austrian violin that couldn’t be more lovely!!fiddling

Here’s a little video of Danny fiddling around 😉  I can’t express how thankful I am to him for taking the time to work with me.  He was a patient and knowledgable teacher.



DIY Blending Board

Thanks to Nikki and her birthday gift, I’ve been having a wonderful time spinning art yarn.  But, to make art yarn, you need art batts.  These can be on the pricey side when you are just learning how to spin.  So, I thought I’d make them myself.  Usually they are made using a drum carder.  I don’t have one of these and they cost just as much as a new spinning wheel (expensive).  But, last year, something new appeared on the market called a blending board.  It’s less expensive than a drum carder, but still pricey.   So, in an attempt to create my own batts to spin, I’ve made my own blending board for under $100.

I ordered a piece of blending cloth from Natural Fiber Yarns.  While I waited for it to arrive, Toby found an old cabinet door that was the perfect size to attach the cloth to.  He trimmed one end a bit and removed the knob.


Once we had the cloth, we put some wood glue on the door and placed the cloth securely onto the glue.


After the glue dried, Toby used tiny screws to attach the cloth on all edges.  You could also use a staple gun, but we had lots of little screws laying around.

Then, he attached a cabinet handle to the top edge so that it will be easier for me to carry and hold on to when I’m blending fiber.


I found a 3 foot long 3/8″ dowel that I had laying around the house and cut it in half (photo bomb by the kitty!)  These will be used to roll the fiber up into a batt.


And I found a cat brush to help with pushing the fiber into the blending cloth.

blendingboard6Then I got to blending.  Here’s how the process looks.  I gathered all my goodies and began ‘painting’ them onto the blending board.


First was a beautiful yellow that the kids and I had dyed with turmeric (wool and bamboo).  You drag it along the pins so that it catches and stretches.blendingboard8

Then, you can use the cat brush (The pins are at an angle so you use the brush upside down so it doesn’t pull the fiber right back out) to push the fiber deeper into the pins.


Keep adding stuff until it’s full.  These are blue and white mohair locks.blendingboard10

I added sari silk, silk cocoons, tinsel, more wool of different colors, and whatever else I could find.


Once it is full, you pull up the end a bit to loosen the fiber.  Then you place the dowels, one on each side of the fiber, and begin rolling it.



Some of the fiber may stay stuck in the blending board.  You can pull those up with your fingers or the cat brush and wrap them into the rest of the fiber.


Once you are done, just slide the dowels out and you have yourself a mini batt.  You pull from one end to start spinning your art yarn.


That’s it!  Now, I must get to spinning!



Child guided learning or Going with the Sappy Flow

The other day, Leif and I picked up our camera from the repair shop and noticed a large pine tree just outside of the front door.  The tree was dripping with sap.  In fact, there was so much sap that it looked like the sidewalk next to the tree was covered in candle wax.  Leif began asking all kinds of questions about how the tree makes sap and what it does.  He stuck his fingers in it and got himself all gooey.  We talked about how the sap is part of the tree’s immune system and when there is an injury it makes a scab, just like our bodies do.  I told him that the sap helps fight infections and that you can make it into a salve and use it on wounds.

“I want to make a sap salve for my wounds, Mommy!”  Leif said as his eyes lit up with excitement.  And, of course, I thought, ‘Yay!  An herbal project!!’.

I happened to have a little stash of pine sap that Kaia and I collected when we were out in Arizona this summer.




So, we grabbed the sap and pulled out our HerbalRootsZine about Pine (have I told you how much we LOVE this zine?!). We read all about Pine and it’s uses, and then headed to the kitchen for a little mixology 🙂



We warmed the sap in Olive oil and added a bit of beeswax.  Kaia asked to add some Lavender Essential Oil for its healing properties.  So, we tossed that in, too.




Once it was all mixed, we poured it into our jar and let it cool.


Super simple, super fun, and lots learned.  Leif went around telling everyone that he has a pine sap salve for his cuts and boo boos, and though his chocolate-covered face looks sad, he was actually super excited about his accomplishment.  He said he’s looking forward to his first cut so that he can try it out. 🙂




Maple Bacon Banana Ice Cream

Ok, here you go.


Maple Bacon Banana Ice Cream!!!!  

Yes, that deserves four exclamation marks because you can never get enough bacon!

Put the following ingredients in your food processor and blend until smooth:

3 frozen bananas
2 Tbsp canned Coconut Milk (the full fat kind)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1Tbsp Maple extract/flavor
8 drops of stevia extract (optional, use if you like it sweet!)

Add in 2 pieces of cooked, diced bacon and stir well. Eat up!  (There were large chunks of bacon in our ice cream, the picture just doesn’t show them….. don’t dice it up too small.)

Makes about 4 servings.

It came out really good….. I might add a couple of drops of liquid smoke next time to see if I can enhance that bacon-y flavor even more.

Ninja Chickens has arrived!!

Around our house, it’s very common to find one of us crafting or creating something at almost any point in time.  Blending up soaps and teas, knitting/sewing clothes and toys, carving spoons and turning bowls, making herbal medicine, drawing, painting, glueing, hammering….. If it’s “Do It Yourself”, we will try it  (and even if it’s not, we might try it! Oy!)  We just can’t help making stuff around here.

So, I felt it was high time we open up a little store to showcase some of our craftiness.  We’ve started small but we plan to add more herbal, knitted, and homesteading item.  (I’m hoping to get Toby to list some of his beautiful carved bowls in there.)  Drop in and take a look!!  And tell your friends!

One of the things I’m most excited about in our Etsy store is our Tea of the Month Club!  There’s a 3-month, 6-month, and 12-month membership.  Each month, we send out a new blend of delicious herbal tea.  I’ve been working on recipes for a few months and they are all so tasty!!  I’m having a problem keeping the kids out of my December blend (yes, there is cocoa in that mix)… they just keep asking for more!



A place of her own


Back in June, I asked Kaia what she wanted for her birthday.  She went through a few ideas before settling on a tree house.  “Yes!” I thought.  “We definitely need one of those on the land!!”  And so the construction began:


Leif, as always, was a fabulous construction helper!


There was a lot of excitement when the platform was finally done! (They don’t look excited, do they?  It had been a long day of construction, with lots of mosquitoes.)

The house is shaped like an H surrounding two large trees.


The siding was made out of donated tin roof and lap siding.  It created a fabulous mash of colors and personality.

It took a while, but thanks to the help of our family, we are pretty much done!  A rope ladder and pully system are planned for the near future.  But, Kaia was able to move in today and is looking forward to some quiet time by herself.   (We’ll see what her little brother has to say about that!)

Spoon Markers

Friends of mine recently gave me some Ashwagandha, Arnica, and Sochan.  They are wonderful medicinal herbs, but I’ve never gotten to know them well as live plants.  So, I decided  I’ve finally acquired enough odd plants that I am in need of garden labels.  This past weekend, I went out to the Good Will and rummaged through their utensils bins.  I bought a large variety, but it’s the cheap spoons that were the easiest to hammer flat.  I pasted the labels on with Modge Podge, and coated it with an outdoor varnish.  I’ll let you know how they hold up.

Raising the garden space

The soil in our garden area is pure clay.  Seriously!  Red and solid!  We put in raised beds when we built the garden area a few years ago.  Still, I’ve had no luck growing root vegetables.  So, this year, we built a root bed.  We used what we had on hand (roofing tin and pipes) and constructed a three tiered bed for our beets, carrots, burdock, and maybe dandelion.

Leif insisted on helping by making thunder noises while running over the roofing tin (over and over again).

Then, he became a backhoe, which little 4 year olds can do, and dug out the root bed area for us.


So far, I’ve seeded the beets and carrots.  With all this snowy weather, nothing has popped up yet.


We also purchased some 55 gallon drums to make into strawberry and potato beds.  The barrels were cut in half and drainage holes were cut into the bottom.  For the strawberries, Toby drilled large holes in the sides of the barrels for the strawberry plants to grow from.

I’ll put the strawberries in as soon as we get a litter warmer weather.  I may put a borage (one of strawberry’s companion plants) on top of each strawberry barrel, too  The potatoes should be here in a week or two.

I’ll let you know how they all work out!!

Decoupage baskets and a celebration of eggs

We had a gooey time last week putting together these adorable cloth baskets.  We followed these instructions, only altering them to make the baskets a bit deeper, and using Modge Podge as the final coat of glue.

Leif tired of the messy, gluey hands very quickly, but continues to pick out fabric pieces for me as I glued them on to his balloon.

After we covered the balloons thoroughly with cloth and glue, we hung them to dry by the wood fire.

When it was completely dry, the kids popped the balloons and removed them from the bowl.  I WISH I had gotten a video of this.  The sound that the balloon made as it slowly released itself from the bowl was like a build up to an implosion.  This sucking sound that made you think the bowl would collapse down to nothing. It was so crazy we all went wild when it happened!

We punched holes in the sides and strung on the ribbon handles… and wore them as hats!

It just so happened that the day after we made these, we headed to a fabulous party, hosted by the also fabulous Ashley English, in celebration of eggs.  (She is working on her sixth book due out in 2014.  This one is going to be about handmade gatherings and celebrations, and from the fun our family has had at these parties, this book is definitely going to be a keeper.)

There were, of course, egg hunts!  Egg hunts in the bamboo forest…

Egg hunts in the gardens…

Egg toss and egg rolling competitions.

Silk egg dying (Yes!  You are looking at a hard boiled egg silk dyed with an old neck tie that had elephants on it!!)

And a table spread fit for a king!  Everything was either made with eggs or had eggs in the title 🙂  We brought a pumpkin flan (yes!  It was paleo)!!

And, to top it all off, a magnificent, melt-in-your-mouth Pavlova!  (Ashley, this recipe had better be published, because it alone is reason to get the book!!)

(Folks, there were actually two decadent desserts at the party, one made by Ashley and the other by Dan and Jael of the French Broad Chocolate Lounge, and neither of them had wheat!!!  What a treat!!)

“Just one more chocolate, mom??!!”

And when we got home, it was time to organize the booty.  (There are three more silk dyed eggs here, too.)

And, in celebration of the egg, my ladies wanted to let you know how hard they are working now that it is spring.


Hope you had a lovely weekend!

Blue Food Coloring, Naturally!

Every year, for my kids birthdays, I make their cake… whatever kind of cake they want.  I’ve made unicorn heads, construction sites, Ariel the mermaid sitting on an island floating in the water, and more mermaids….. you name it.  It’s always a fun challenge.  But, this year when Leif requested a Perry the Platypus cake I was stumped.  How was I to recreate a little platypus with aqua blue fur without using artificial food coloring?  There is just no good natural blue.  Cabbage can be boiled down, but that ends up being more pale blue/grey.  Blueberries are actually purple.  Then I found these:  Butterfly Pea Flowers.  They grow on vines native to Southeast Asia and are known for their vibrant blue color.  When steeped in hot water, they color the water a beautiful blue… the perfect blue for Perry the Platypus.

My hope was that the flowers could be infused in oil, too.  Then I could infuse some coconut oil and use the oil in the frosting.  But, no such luck.  The color didn’t transfer to the oil at all.  I heated them in coconut milk and got a light blue, but not the striking blue I was looking for.

Butterfly Pea Flowers infused in coconut milk.

Butterfly Pea Flowers infused in Rum…. just for the hell of it!

Butterfly Pea Flowers infused in boiling water.

So, I decided to infuse them in water, making a very dark blue with lots of flowers.  I put this blue water over about 6 cups of coconut.  I used enough water to coat the coconut, but not drown it.  Then dried the coconut in the oven at 130 degrees stirring it every 30 minutes.  I think it took about 3 1/2 hours to dry out completely.

Blue coconut!

And while I was soaking things in this lovely blue water, I decided to throw some hard boiled eggs in there.  I soaked these for 2 days before the birthday party so that I could make some blue deviled eggs!

Eggs in Butterfly Pea Flower water.

Here are a few other pictures of the process of creating Perry:

I smushed together some Sunbutter Crunch bars to form a bill.

I connected two Do More Bars with a tooth pick for the tail

Here’s the pre-frosting set up. The front limbs were also made from Sunbutter bars and the feet from peach gummy candies.

And here’s Perry.  I put some of the coconut in the frosting as well as coating the whole cake with it after it was frosted.  It’s certainly not as blue as the real Perry, but I think it turned out pretty dang good!

Leif was thoroughly satisfied with his cake!

Oh, and with his blue eggs!



Dark Chocolate Truffles from Hell!

Why are they hellish, you ask?  Because you won’t be able to stop eating!  Seriously!!  Five pounds added to the hips in the last few days, my friends!

So, you still want the recipe?  OK.  If you say so.

Truffles from Hell!

  • 1 cup coconut cream (Put two cans of unshaken coconut milk in the fridge for a few hours.  Scoop one cup of the thickest cream off of the top for this recipe.  You may only need to use one can.)
  • 24 ounces Enjoy Life (dairy free) chocolate chips or chunks  (16 ounces for the filling, 8 ounces for the shell)
  • 3/4 cup coconut oil (1/2 cup for filling and 1/4 cup for the shell)
  • 1/2 cup cordial (I used my home-made Rose Petal Cordial)
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 Tbsp cinnamon powder
  • 1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
Melt 16 ounces of chocolate in a double boiler.  Then, add 1 cup of coconut cream and mix well.  Add 1/2 cup of coconut oil and mix well.  Add cordial and mix well.  Pour this into a bowl/baking dish and place in the fridge for 4+ hours, until it’s completely cooled and hardened.
Once the filling is hardened, use a spoon to scoop out small amounts and form into ~1 inch balls (yes, your hands will get messy).  Roll these in the cocoa powder and cinnamon and place on wax paper on a cookie sheet.  (I rolled the filling into balls and gave them to my daughter to roll in the powders.  That kept us from making a huge gooey mess.) Place the cookie sheet back in the fridge to make sure they are nice and hard again.
Melt 8 ounces of chocolate in a double boiler.  Add 1/4 cup coconut oil and nutmeg.  Mix well.  Take the truffles out of the fridge and dunk in the melted chocolate, placing them back on the wax paper.  (I put one truffle at a time in the chocolate and fished it out with a spoon.)  Put back in the fridge until hardened.
These are fabulous treats for parties, gifts for friends, late night snacks while in a hot bubble bath….. I think these with rose petal cordial would be great for Valentine’s Day.  I might try some lavender cordial this summer!!  Yum!  Ooooh, mint cordial would be nice, too!!  Ack!  Somebody stop me!



Being a Trackhoe

I imagine I’m not the only mom who has to reinforce the knees of her child’s pants because said child spends most of his time on his ‘tracks’ pretending to be a trackhoe.  Leif was more than excited to unwrap his new trackhoe shirt and wouldn’t take it off for three days!  It was a really simple project.  I pulled up  trackhoe images from the internet and found one that I liked.  Then I used a pencil to draw it on the shirt.  I used black fabric paint to outline the image and let it dry for the night.  Then I went back and filled it in with color (again using fabric paint).  Easy peasy!

Hello 2013 and repurposing your tree

Happy New Year my loyal readers!  I hope you have all had joyous holidays!!

We have had a very slow and relaxed time here in the hollar reading books, knitting, playing family games, snuggling kittens…  I felt so lazy 🙂  It’s very hard for me to just chill.

Speaking of kittens, they have been fitting in very well around here.  In fact, last night I found all four cats snuggling on the couch and no one was hissing about it!  There has been a bit of a competition for the only sleeping basket, though.

Cookie Dough and Oreo fit in there nicely together.   It’s a great spot for snuggling and for practicing their ninja fighting skills on each other.

Max, however, felt it was his job to show the little guys how he could make himself into a perfect circle.

Of course, Isabella wanted in on the action.  Max wasn’t too sure about this.

So far, there is no clear winner in the Basket Wars.  Luckily, those not in the basket are finding other comfortable ways to get some sleep.  Well, maybe not so comfortable.

Meowwww!  Ninja attack move #286.

Oh yes, repurposing your holiday trees.  Some years we will get a tree with a root ball so that we can plant it in the yard when the holidays are over.  This year, we got a cut tree and decided to recycle it by making fragrant pine fire-starting bundles.  Everyone helped snip branches, arrange, and tie the bundles.  Kaia even cleaned out the lint trap in the dryer and stuffed some lint into each bundle (lint is a great fire starter).

Many Blessings in the New Year!

Any plans for the year to come?


Corn necklaces

Halloween Family Night with home made treats and family games.  (Twix, toffee, butterfingers, and fruit drops… none tasted the like store brand, but they were all yummy!)

Happy Sunshine Kitties


New winter hats

Spy Training


Crystal vase and bowl mushrooms

And we are only half way through Fall!!!

Soap Makin’

This time of year, as the garden settles down and the weather cools, I always start the soap makin’!  Anyone who receives holiday gifts from me can pretty much expect a bar of soap. 🙂

This year, I thought I’d deviate from my tried and true recipe and experiment with a new one I found.  It sounded so delicious!!  Pumpkin & Coconut Milk Salt Bar…. like the kind of soap you’d find at a high end spa, or something like that.  Well, I don’t know what I did wrong with it, but it turned out a flop.  When I tried to cut it, it just broke into crumbly pieces.

It still smells delicious.  Kaia recommended we break it up and put it into little jars, with ribbons and little spoons, so that people could using it as a soapy salt scrub.  She’s my resourceful little one!

So, feeling the need to redeem myself and went back to my favorite recipe.  We whipped up a batch of Candy Cane soap (using peppermint and spearmint essential oils). But, this time, just before pouring it into the mold, I took out two cups of soap and colored it.  Into one cup of soap, I added a tablespoon of madder root powder.  In another cup I added 2 teaspoons of Spirulina powder.  The result was red and green…

These were put into squirt bottles.  Once I poured the main soap into the mold, we used the squirt bottles to make dots with the colors.

Then, we dragged a bamboo skewer through the dots to create hearts.

We made a double batch and poured the extra into a Tupperware.

Then, with the small amount of the colored soap we had left over, we poured it into silicone molds and swirled it up!

Usually, this recipe has cured enough in 24 hours that you can pop it out of its mold and cut it.  Not this time.  Even after 3 days it still felt like modeling clay.  I ruined a few pieces just trying to get them out of the molds.  I even stuck it in the freezer to try to harden it up.  What is it with me and soap these days??!!  So frustrating!

Anyhoo,  I still ended up with some pretty nice soap.  I love how the hearts turned out.  If I try it again, I think I’ll make the circles smaller so that there are more hearts on each soap.  I just hope it finishes hardening up fully!

Tincturing Black Walnut

Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) trees are all around here.  This time of year they are thumping on roofs, smashing into cars, and sending the squirrels into a frenzy.  I was first introduced to Black Walnut as a medicine over 15 years ago while in herb school, though it wasn’t until we moved onto our little homestead, and had outdoor animals to take care of, that I really got to know it.

Black Walnut is traditionally used as an anthelmintic (That’s your vocabulary word of the day.  Use it the next time you are talking to your vet or doctor about worms and they’ll think you are super smart! 🙂  )  That basically means that it works by expelling parasitic worms from the body.

Animals that spend most of their lives out doors (in our case, our farm dog and our chickens) are super prone to getting worms.  I’ve talked about my use of Black Walnut with Suki and heart worm (see the comment section of that post), but I also use Black Walnut as a dewormer for our chickens.  Twice a year, in the spring and late summer, when the weather is humid and muggy, I give them a Black Walnut preventative in their water (60 drops in a gallon of water) for two weeks.  If I ever notice those classic symptoms of a wormy chicken (sluggish, droopy wings, decrease in laying), I will give them another week of it.  It works wonderfully!

Black walnut tincture can cost $10-$15 an ounce in the store…. I can make a quart of it (32 ounces) for about $10.  That’s about .31 cents an ounce!

So, how do you do it?  It’s easy!

Here’s what you need:

  • Black Walnuts (I used about 12 to make a quart of tincture)  You can harvest them this time of year.  It’s easiest to grab them off the ground after they have fallen, because they grow pretty high up in the trees.
  • Alcohol (I like to use 100 proof vodka, but any alcohol that is 80 to 100 proof, or 40-50% alcohol is fine.  Since my chickens aren’t picky about the taste of their tinctures, I just use the cheep stuff.  This 1.75L bottle cost me $18)
  • A large jar (I’m using a 1/2 gallon mason jar)
  • Sharp knife
  • Wax paper
  • Gloves (though you can see, mine are mysteriously absent from this picture.  Oh, yeah.  I wasn’t wearing any.)

The state of your black walnuts is important.  You want them nice and green.  A black spot like this on the outside:

will look like this inside.  Ewwwww!  Though the chickens might not mind tinctured worms, I do!

This is what you want your walnuts to look like when you cut off the hull (or outer layer).

Cut the hull off of the walnuts and put the hulls in your jar.  You will see the black walnut start to darken before your eyes!  Seriously!  It starts oxidizing immediately!!

I begin pouring the alcohol into the jar as I’m cutting the hulls.  This keeps them from oxidizing so rapidly in the air, and puts all the good medicine in the alcohol.

So, the gloves.  Yeah.  It’s a good idea to wear gloves while you are cutting Black Walnuts as they can stain really badly.  I forgot to pick any up at the store, so I just went for it.  I think, from all the Black Walnut juice that I soaked up through my skin, I can safely say that I am now free of worms!

By the end of the cutting process the color of the alcohol had already changed dramatically, as had my fingers.


Once you cut the hulls, put them in the jar and cover them with the alcohol, you want to put the top on the jar.  A layer of wax paper goes in between the glass and the lid.  This keeps the alcohol from reacting with the metal.

You will also want to label your tincture!!  Always label!!  ‘Cause you might just forget what you put in there and what a waste it would be to have to throw it all out because you didn’t label it.  On my labels, I always put the name of the plant, along with the percentage of alcohol, and when it will be ready to strain.  (Sometimes, on you might see things on tincture bottles like 1:2 or 1:5…. that is the scientific method of tincturing and it means amount of herb:amount of alcohol or menstrum used.  We’re not doing that here.  We’re keeping it simple.)

Put your tincture in a shady place indoors and shake it gently for the next two weeks.  Here is mine, happily resting on the kitchen counter.  (Yes, those are many bottles of home made hard apple/peach cider that you see in the background!!  You are very observant!)

About 15 minutes after taking the above picture, Leif asked if he could be in one of the pictures with the Black Walnut.  Check out the color difference already!!

And my hands…… My fingers are about 10 shades darker as I type this!!

After letting the tincture sit for 2 weeks, you can strain the hulls out.  I use muslin/cheese cloth to get all the little bits out of the fluid.  Save your tincture in a clean, labeled jar (don’t forget that layer of wax paper) and store in a cool, dark place.  You can bottle it up in little dropper jars for easy use.

See, wasn’t that easy???

(The happy, worm-free ladies say ‘hello!’)

Oh, and unlike many of the chemical dewormers for chickens that are on the market today, you can still eat the eggs of your chickens while they are taking Black Walnut tincture!!


Raspberry Figgy Puddin’ Fudge

Right now, we have raspberries and figs coming out the wazoo!  The raspberries get eaten by the fist full, canned up, put in smoothies…..  I’m sure I can do the same with the figs, but this is our first year harvesting them, and I’m still learning what to do with figs.  I mean, you can only eat so many of them without your bowels talking to you, you know?

So, I was having a hankering for something sweet, the kitchen counter was covered in raspberries and figs, and my food processor was calling to me.

Raspberry Figgy Puddin’ Fudge  (makes ~40)

  • 1 cup almonds
  • 1 cup dates (chopped)
  • 1 cup fresh raspberreis
  • 10 fresh figs
  • liquid stevia
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
Put your almonds in the food processor and grind them up to a pretty fine consistency.  Then, put in the dates and do the same.  Add the raspberries, figs, and 60 drops (that’s about 2 squirts) of stevia and blend it in with the almonds and dates.  You should have a pretty pink mush 🙂  Add the cocoa powder, coconut, and vanilla and keep pulsing.  Then add the coconut oil and blend until smooth-ish.
Place large (tablespoon sized) dollops of the mix onto a cookie sheet covered with wax paper and put this in the fridge for about an hour.  Once they have firmed up, you can put them in a ziploc and keep them stored in the fridge.  I can’t tell you how long they keep, ’cause we ate all of them in 24 hours 🙂
I really loved the flavor, but the raspberry seeds were a tad bit annoying.  Next time, I might try other fruits, like banana or mango…. or maybe avocado???


Settling in

We’ve had a wonderfully full summer with activities to keep us very busy.  But, with perfect  timing, the weather has started to turn a bit cooler just as we are beginning to settle in to our school year and we are feeling ourselves begin to calm down a bit.

Leif LOVES his ‘school’ time.  He fusses when I put the books away.  He and Kaia spent an hour playing with his new wooden letters yesterday.  I sat and knit while she did the lesson for me 🙂

We’ve been putting up our harvests:

Raspberry/Elderberry Mead, Raspberry Jam with chocolate mint, Raspberries and Peaches in a light syrup, Peach/Apple Hard Cider, Cinnamon Peaches, Peach/Lavender Butter, Green Beans, Pickled Green Beans…

Peaches and Raspberries in a light syrup

And watching our little foster kitties grow big and strong (and very mischievous!)

Wilbur at maybe 3 weeks old

Little bellies getting bigger

Discovering new activities!

Kaia is finishing up a class on stage make up

Looking Older

Zombie Horror Makeup

on the left is 'plump', on the right is 'thin'

This was from Glamour day

We’ve been visiting farms and just enjoying each other’s company.

I have a general feeling of excitement about this Fall without any particular reason why.  I love this time of year. 🙂

What have you been up to?


Gettin’ Busy

Toby and the kids have been at the beach for the past 4 days.  I decided to stay here, in the cool mountain weather, to have a little time to myself and get some stuff done.  (I love ‘getting stuff done’ time 🙂

Aside from aerials, movies, a massage, archery practice, and other joyful stuff, I also made 5 gallons of Elderberry/Raspberry mead!!!  I can’t wait to see how it turns out!  (Waiting is a super hard thing when you are supposed to let it age 6 – 12 months!!  I always cheat and have some as soon as it’s done fermenting!)

I also canned up some green beans and jelly (elder/raspberry again because I had a big crop this year!)

I was inspired to can because of my friend, Ashley English.  Aside from being a fabulous author, wonderful homesteader, and mama to one of the cutest little boys around.  She also throws stupendous canning parties!!

I was super happy to be invited to her pickling party yesterday.  Whole Foods came out and filmed the party for one of their upcoming online shows, and other photographers were their capturing great pickling moments for her new book.  (Ashley, Kaia is taking a stage/movie makeup class…. next time I’ll have her out there with her little make up kit to make sure each of us is camera ready 🙂

I have to admit, I felt pretty important will all the cameras around!

We sat down around a table while Ashley talked about canning preparation and the ingredients we would need.  We created beautiful jars of canned okra (Moroccan Road Okra, she called it) and then crafted our own labels.

While this was going on, we also chowed down on FABULOUS local and home made foods (well, most people ate daintily, but I seriously chowed down!)  There were all kinds of  home canned foods, from pickles and okra to kumquats and cherries.  There were home made breads, artisan cheeses, salami, and kielbasa.  It made me moan!!

This is our beautiful host!

The family should be pulling into the driveway any minute now and I can’t wait to get some hugs and snuggles!

Have a beautiful week!


Firefly Gathering

This summer, Kaia and I decided to consciously study survival skills.  What would we do if we were without our normal comforts, how would we survive?  What if she were lost in the forest?  What if she had to find clean water… food… fire…

I began a long list of things that I would like us to learn.  Things they don’t teach in schools that are supposed to teach our kids how to ‘survive’ in the big world.

This week, we had a fabulous opportunity to work on this list at the Firefly Gathering.  Only 50 minutes south of us, once a year, is an amazing gathering of people sharing their primitive survival and sustainable living skills.  So, Kaia and I packed up our hammocks and headed out.

During the 2 days we were there, the woods filled with tents, hammocks, and make-shift living quarters.  This picture above was taken as we arrived and the woods still seemed quiet.  We arrived a little early, so we had some time to wonder and explore.

We learned that there are many trade blankets and barter circles, but Kaia and I arrived without bringing anything to trade.  So, she quickly gathered sticks and began whittling.  At the trading blanket that we went to, people were looking to trade things like hand blown glass flutes, and hand crafted jewelry and medicines.  I was worried that no one would want to trade for a simple hand whittled boat.  But a sweet mother went and got her tie-dyes specifically so she could trade something with Kaia.  Very kind!

Kaia and I stayed for only two of the 4 days.  Her birthday is the same weekend as the gathering, so we left early to make cake and have a party.  But, while we were there, I took a class on starting a fire with flint and steel.  VERY cool!

Flint rock, piece of broken steel file, and my fire!!

Getting the fire going with a tiny ember.

It felt so empowering and satisfying to get a fire going with just a rock, a piece of steel, and some cedar bark!  I’m planning on making a little kit to carry with me, so watch out people!!

My second class, which Kaia took with me, was on snares and deadfall traps.  It was a fabulous class.  I think I’d like to get a book on this to really study some of the traps and snares in more detail.

Kaia, blocking one side of her figure 4 deadfall trap, so the prey has to enter on the side that will trigger the trap.

This is another fancy trap, I think the teacher said it originated in Africa.  Yes, our teacher wore only a leather loin cloth.  🙂

Snack break.

The third class I took was on making and using slingshots.  I really had no idea how potent slingshots could be.  I always thought of them as toys, but man, these things really packed a punch!  We started with a Y branch of a tree, whittled it down, added some rubber bands, and a leather pouch (to hold your ammo).  I was surprised how similar it is to archery in how you stand and aim.  I was able to hit targets pretty accurately.  The teacher is a well known archer and sling shot champion.  He also creates the most beautiful slingshots I’ve ever seen.

Mud ball pyramid, created after a heavy rain turned the parking lot to a mud pit.

My final class was on starting fire with a bow drill.  We created all of our equipment.  I have to say, flint and steel are so much easier.  I worked my butt off and was able to get lots of smoke and some nice embers, but I just could not get the fire to take.  By the end of the class, my hands had blisters and my arms were worn out.  Very fun though.  I need to practice at home so I can do it if I ever need to.

While I was doing all of this, Kaia was also taking classes on basket making and wilderness survival skills.  We both want to go back for the full 4 days next year!!!


Blue Back Hoe Undies

The other day, Leif told me that he would start using the potty more if I could make him some blue back hoe undies.  I said, ” you got it, buddy!”

Behold!  Blue Back Hoe Undies

Cutest Butt Ever!  One day, he’s is going to get tired of me chasing him around the house trying to grab those cheeks!!

Oh, the back hoe fabric is from Spoonflower and the undies pattern is from Fishsticks Designs.

Hanging chairs

From the moment my daughter saw this in a magazine months ago, she has been begging me to make one for her.  So, this morning, since we have been working on types of triangles and degrees of angles, I thought we’d work it into todays lessons.  I planned on making a tutorial for you all, but I messed up so many times, I’m not sure how they ended up looking like they did.  But, basically, I took a 1.5 yard rectangle of cotton canvas and cut it on the diagonal, to form two right triangles.  Flip one of the triangles over so that the longest of the 90 degree angle sides are together.  Then, I sewed these up on the longest edge (that is not the hypotenuse).  That gave me one large isosceles triangle.  Then I sewed the two bottom tips together and put on a circle bottom.  I finished the edges with a nice trim and sew on a nice strong webbing for a loop to hang it from and voila.  Personal hugglepods at a fraction of the cost.  I know this sounds totally confusing, but if you draw it out on a piece of paper, it might help visualizing it.

Happy kids played in their new hanging chairs all afternoon.

Hand Made Holidays

What beautiful holiday celebrations we have had this year!  I am so grateful for the time that I have been able to spend with my friends and family.  We’ve spent many days traveling to others houses to participate in their revelry and had a wonderful time!  At our own home, we had a small Winter Solstice dinner with friends, old and new.

Followed by a decadent, chocolate yule log cake, of course.


Ok, and I have definitely been feeling uber-crafty this year.  I love to give hand made gifts!!  I feel like they ooze with love and comfort… I hope the recipients feel that, too, cause this year, we couldn’t help ourselves.  There was…

Rum infused with Banana and Vanilla

A Car Shirt for Dad to enjoy massages more often

And even when Toby sat up, Leif just kept on driving!

Toby turned a magic wand for Kaia

We all got some new flannel or fleece pajama pants

And Leif also got some winter pants.  Both were corduroy on the outside.  One was lined with flannel and the other with fleece.  (and in case you are wondering, Leif did chose the cupcake fabric!!  In fact, he begged me for it!)

There was also a puppet theater that you can hang in a door way.

The other side has pockets to keep your puppets in.

Holiday Cards

Wintermint Lotion Bars

Vanilla and Candy Cane sugar scrubs (made by Kaia)

Sea Glass Pendants

Hand knitted hat with velcro detachable hair for a little friend going through Chemo.

Hand turned wood bowls by Toby

Flannel pajama pants for Pop and a knitted purse for Mom

Now that the holidays are over, I don’t know what to do with myself.  I feel like I should be crafting when ever I have a spare moment.  Guess I need to learn to try to put my feet up.  Ha!


When Kaia and I were at the conference this past weekend, we both entered a raffle for various fun prizes.  Kaia has a hard time with raffles because she gets herself very worked up about winning.  So, she was pretty devastated when she didn’t win the wire tree that she’d hoped for.  And it didn’t help that I did win the two prizes that I’d hoped for.  She begged me to buy her a similar tree from a vendor.  But, I really wanted her to understand that she was completely capable of either earning the money herself, or of actually making her own tree.  (I feel like I placate her too often by buying her things she wants.)  The vendor heard how upset Kaia was about the tree she didn’t win and offered to teach us how to make them.  This was extremely generous of her considering she was giving up her time and the money she could have made if I’d bought a tree.  So, for the past two days, Kaia has been working diligently on her own personal tree.

She wanted a white tree.

Check out the concentration on her face:

I’m so proud of her!  She finished her tree and glued it to a piece of Amethyst.  It now adorns her bedside table where she can meditate on it as she goes to sleep.  I think this is a craft that we will do over and over!