Friday, March 28, 2014

Adventures in Art Journalling

As if I really need another hobby, I have adventured into the amazing world of Art Journalling.  I have been drooling over some of of the journals I've seen over the past year (maybe two).  I even started a board on Pinterest for Art Journalling, which up until recently didn't have many posts.  Now there are many.

To be honest with you, for as much as I admired the work of so many others, I kept thinking I could never be as creative or colorful.  Yet I've continued to be drawn to mixed media artwork.  Recently, however, I joined a mail art swap.  Having no idea what mail art really was, I started doing some homework and found that there is (or can be) a lot of mix media involved.  Here was my chance.  

My husband, who has always been an awesome supporter of my need to create, travelled with me to the craft store to purchase a few starter supplies.  Fortunately, many years ago I had done a (very little) bit of scrap booking, and therefore already had some supplies.  

So I went to work!  I started by spreading some gesso over two pages of my journal, then layering some distress inks on the pages.  Once dry, I sprinkled some water droplets over the pages to give the effect below.

Amazing what you can do with just water and paint!

I knew I wanted to create a woodsy theme, but wasn't quite sure how to get there.  I don't have any fancy stencils or an embossing/die cutting machine with cool tree patterns.  I pulled out my Koi Watercolor set and tried painting a mountain scene, but wasn't feeling it.  

I searched the internet for some free tree artwork that I could print and glue into my journal, and while I saw some neat ideas, nothing really jumped out at me.  Then I remembered that I had a few books of printed craft paper that I use for origami.  And I found this:

Perfect!  I could cut out the trees and glue them into my journal.  Here they are before I cut off the excess pieces hanging over the edges.

And after...

I glued all the trees on using gel medium, a technique I saw on a YouTube video.  I still have a lot to learn, as it further mixed the distress stains and water splotches.  I didn't realize that would happen.  So I just filled in the spaces with some more color from my Fabrer Castell Gelatos, which are really nice to work with....

Then added some more trees, birds, stars, and leaves...

And I'm not sure how I want to finish it off, so I'm just letting it be for now until the remainder of the inspiration comes.  I'll make sure to post a picture of the finished page when it is, indeed, finished!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Back from Haitus

The Singing Tree, as we call him, stands at the entrance to the back pasture.
This time of year I imagine him singing to try to coax in Spring.  
Sometimes the things in life that bring us joy get put on hold, shoved aside, or boxed up and closeted altogether.  We all have times like these, and it's okay.  It happens for this reason or that, an illness, a new baby, a new job, a big move, or we just simply need to retreat from the world for a time.  I think of these as just seasons in life - go with it - don't beat yourself up - just accept it and move on.  It's all part of the discovery.  

So here I am, back from my little retreat and ready to move on.  I needed a little kick in the pants to get back to the more meaningful things in my life.  The things that keep me sane.  The things that let me create.  The things that give me joy.  It's been a journey and will continue to be a journey.  I've been learning to accept myself as I am, beautifully imperfect.  It's a process, and there are good days and bad.  But here goes nothing....

Monday, August 26, 2013

Sumac Tea

Staghorn Sumac steeping in 1/2 gallon jar.

For two years now I have been familiar with the fact that Staghorn Sumac berries could be used to make a tart tasting drink.  For two years, I have pondered when the best time to harvest would be and how to go about making the tea.  I watched the seasons come and go, and new sets of berries replace the ones from last summer.  I read literature and web information, and viewed countless videos of others making this tea.  This week I finally decided I was going to ponder no longer.  So I went out and harvested about five sets of berries, brought them home, stuffed them (only about 4) into a half gallon jar, filled it with spring water, and set it out in the sun.  I was so proud of myself.  I'm not sure why it took me so long to actually try it.  Perhaps because in this day and age, we tend to view wild food as...well wild and inedible.  We seem to have lost the teachings and skills of our ancestors long ago.  Foods they would have foraged for we deem inedible.  As a matter of fact, I think we tend to view anything not found in a grocery store as "poisonous".

I've spent the last year studying my local plants; working to identify as many as I can, and then determine if they have medicinal or edible qualities.  I've learned so much, but the one thing I find is that the more I learn, the more there is to learn.  I'm amazed by how many edible plants there are, and even more amazed by the medicinal qualities many possess.

After being steeped for four hours and then strained.

So here it is.  My Sumac Tea after steeping in the sun for about four hours.  I was pleasantly surprised by the flavor.  To me it resembles the flavor of a sweet tart.  I added a little bit of sugar this time as I wanted to know what it would taste with regular sugar before I experimented with other sweeteners, like stevia, honey, and maple syrup.  I couldn't believe how good it was!  I believe this is one of nature's best kept secrets!  So how did I make it?  Well there's loads of resources and videos out there on making Sumac Tea, and I highly recommend checking them out before you make your own, but here's how I made mine:

1) place 4 or 5 groups of berries into a half gallon jar
2) fill the jar with spring water
3) set out in the sun (again, I left mine for 4 hours - experiment with what tastes best to you)
4) strain through a clean towel (I used paper towels); this removes all the fuzzies from the berries and other debris.
5) add sweetener if desired, perhaps some ice if still warm, and enjoy!

Now a word of caution!  There are different "types" of Sumac.  Staghorn Sumac, Rhus typhinia, is what you want to use.  You can't miss it, really.  It grows everywhere around here, and can commonly be found in disturbed areas and roadsides.  However, there is also a Poison Sumac, Toxicodendron vernix.  So you need to make sure you get a positive ID on any plant before you use it as an edible.  There are many references out there like the USDA plant fact sheets, Wikipedia, Wildflowers of Western PA (search under families - C for Cashew family), and the Ohio Public Library Information Network.  These are just a few of the first websites that came up when I searched for Staghorn Sumac.  There are many more.  I can honestly say that I have never (to my knowledge) seen poison sumac.  But have read and been told that it has white berries.  These are (obviously) NOT edible; hence the name.  Staghorn Sumac and Poison Sumac are in the same family, and  actually in the same family as Poison Ivy, Anacardiaceae, though they look nothing alike.

Have any of you ever made Staghorn Sumac Tea or used it medicinally?  I'd love to hear from you, so please feel free to comment.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Yarn Along at Summer's End

FO: Octopus from the book Amigurumi Knits by Hansi Singh

Joining Ginny's Yarn Along

Okay, so maybe it's not really summer's end, but for me, the freedom of days to myself, working in the garden, spinning, knitting, and spending time with my two alpacas is sadly over.  The reality of having to go back to work is here, and I will be forced to be much more strict with time management, as I will have to carefully balance work and farm life.

The garden, early on.  Before my zucchini flopped.

Summer has been quite a busy one, and the busier I was, the faster it went.  The garden I didn't get planted until mid-June began providing us with food about four weeks ago.  While my zucchini plants rotted (totally my faulty for planting them too close), my beans have exploded!  I filled a five gallon bucket the last two mornings.  I was able to barter with my next door neighbors for tomatoes.  This was a good trade, as my husband got a bit too aggressive with pruning our plants and our tomato harvest is minuscule.

A mixture of wild flowers including Calendula, Poppy, Red Clover, and some other Composite.

I also spent much of the summer learning as many of my local plants as possible; figuring out which can be used as foods and/or medicines.  I've made a number of my own tinctures: Yarrow, Motherwort, Plantain, and Calendula.  I hope to take some time and write more about these later as some have curious stories to go along with them.  Lastly,  I've also focused on growing some of my own medicinal herbs: Calendula, Comfrey, Lemon Balm, Spearmint, Catnip, California Poppies, to name a few.  It's been amazing to watch these plants grow.

Bracken and Bramble, happy to be among their own kind.
We spent the summer searching for a farm of our own, with no luck, I must add.  So as my summer was coming to an end, we realized that it wasn't going to be feasible to continue to travel each night to the farm where we had been exchanging with a friend alpaca boarding for splitting the chores.  She has sheep and goats and took care of the morning chores; we did the night chores.  Since I will be teaching night classes starting this coming week, we decided to move our two girls to board at another farm where they will be cared for by the owners of the farm.  It was a good move, even if I'm sad that I don't get to interact with them on a daily basis.  They are with other alpacas and seem much happier.  And this makes me happy.

The summer edition of Mary Jane's Farm and my second Octopus
I'm still working on the book "The Snow Child" by Eowyn Ivey (I've actually renewed it from the library twice now).  And while it was a summer goal to actually 'read' it, new textbooks and lecture writing have become its replacement.  I may just end up finding the audiobook and enjoying it during my commutes.  We'll see.  I did pick the latest edition of Mary Jane's Farm magazine recently, however.  I love this magazine, but only purchase it occasionally as I already subscribe to Mother Earth News, Mother Earth Living, and Spin Off.  But this edition was packed full of articles on growing and using medicinal herbs.  I couldn't resist.  

From hand dyed, handspun BFL.  

I finished my hand warmers from the last Yarn Along and have been knitting Octopi (I actually think the plural of octopus is 'octopuses').  These were the reason I learned to knit few years ago, and have just felt learned enough to complete them now.  They are an amigurumi patterns by Hansi Singh in her book "Amigurumi Knits".  You can also find the pattern here on Ravelry.  If you enjoy knitting amigurumi, she has some other fabulous patterns as well.

And guess what?!  It won a first place ribbon at the Butler Farm Show!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Yarn Along

This is the first time I've participated in the Yarn Along, but one of my goals this summer (I've taken the summer off!) was to actually read a book; not just listen to it as an audiobook, as I so often do, but actually read it.  I even went so far as to (finally) get a library card to my local library just so I could borrow this book.

I saw this book recommended by SpiderWomanKnits in one of her Instagram photos.  I've only just begun reading, but from the cover's description, it is about a childless couple who moved from Pennsylvania to the wilds of Alaska.  Longing for a child of their own, they build a girl out of snow only to find that she magically turns into a "real" girl.  Here's the actual synopsis from the inside cover of the book:

I'm really looking forward to this book as there seem to be many parallels with my own life.

As for what I'm knitting: I'm working on a set of knitter's mittens or fingerless gloves.  But I'm knitting two at a time on the same needles and from the same center pull ball.

I've never done this before, but I always find that (since I'm usually making up the pattern as I go along) I forget what I've done on the first one, so the second is slightly different.

I figure that if I knit them at the same time, the pattern will be exactly the same.  I'm using some of my hand dyed, hand spun BFL that I had stashed away for such an occasion.

The summer has been pretty darn rainy so far.  On one hand, all the rain has been really good for my late planted garden (I didn't get it in until almost mid-June!).  My beans, squash, and zucchini are getting ready to bloom already!  On the other hand, everything is so incredibly wet and muddy.  I can say though, that when it's raining, I don't feel guilty about staying inside, reading a book, spinning, or sewing.  Those are things that are difficult for me to do when it's nice outside.  We had a pretty big storm this morning and then again this evening.  They were calling for flash flooding, and as you can see below, we got it.

Fortunately we live on top of the hill!  

Thursday, July 4, 2013

A Facelift and Some Bees

Our new bees!
Where do you start when you haven't blogged in over four months?  I guess with a facelift, which is just what Sprout the Right Brained Bean got this afternoon.  It took some time and fenangling to get things just the way I liked - I'm certainly no computer genius (that's my husband's forte) - but I'm pretty pleased with the new look.  Sure there's still some work to do.  Life in itself is a work in progress?

A lot has happened in four months.  Life has felt a lot busier since we moved the girls to their new (temporary) dwellings.  We swap boarding fees for the nightly chores of taking care of not only our two alpacas, but a menagerie of 20 other sheep and goats.  It sure has been fun interacting with all of them - what personalities they have - but it is easily an hour or more out of each night, as they are 10 miles away.  We are still searching for our own home and farm (looking at a place today, as a matter of fact). And it will be so nice to have all our animals in one place one day.  But for now, we make this work.

We also added a hive of bees to our ever-growing homestead.  Last fall, at the Mother Earth News Fair, we purchased a top bar hive from Bee Thinking in Portland, OR, and couldn't bee happier with it (pun intended)!  Then in March we took a beginner bee keeping class from Christy Hemenway (who I also heard speak at the Mother Earth News Fair) with Gold Star Honeybees.  We learned so much, and it gave us the confidence to get ourselves going in a land where no one else keeps bees in top bar hives (or at least we don't know of anyone).  She's been such a wonderful mentor through the beginning of our beekeeping adventures!  I can't say enough about how available and patient she's been with us.  And it's seriously been an adventure - our bees swarmed a month and a half after we got them, leaving us with half the bees and a queenless hive (we accidentally destroyed the new queen cells left behind)!  It took us a month to confirm that we had no queen, and once we did, we immediately had a new on shipped to us.  Would you believe that in a mere 10 days, she had laid eggs in SEVEN full combs!?  We couldn't believe it either!

There she is!  With the shiny black thorax!  Our new queen!
We've been extremely pleased with our bees, thus far (other that the swarming).  They really are a calm bunch.  We never have to smoke them to examine the hive.  As a matter of fact, the one (and only) time that we tried, only agitated them.  So we said, "Enough of that!"  We've come to find that you can tell the mood of your hive just by the sound of their buzzing.  This was very evident during the month they were queenless.  They actually sounded frantic during that time.  Once their new queen arrived, they calmed down - almost immediately.  It was amazing.  They too are up with our alpacas, as my friend's farm has an abundance of flowering plants.  The bees seem very happy there.

Well, this doesn't begin to cover my four month absence and all that has happened/changed on the farm, but it's a start.  One last note:  I didn't completely disappear; I spend a lot of time on Instagram!  So come on over there and visit!  There's a link to my Instagram on the left side of the screen!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The App that Shocks the World

Time can really fly by fast.  I can't believe it's been over two months since we moved the girls to their new farm, the holidays are through, and everyone is well acquainted with the new year, eagerly anticipating spring.  I know I'm ready for spring!  I can't wait to see all the green starting to pop up, followed by the colorful flowers, the warmer breezes, and the bustling of farm and wildlife.

But that's not really what this particular post is about.  Instead, I just wanted to share a couple of fantastic new photo apps for the iPhone that I discovered this week!  Each of these pictures was just ordinary to begin with.  Then they were 'shocked' using ShockMyPic, and finally captioned with Overgram to create a work of art!  I truly love what can be done with photography nowadays, and I especially love ShockMyPic.  It creates sort of a "paint-by-number" effect with your photos, that really makes the details and color stick out.

I love photographing nature, but sometimes when I look at the pictures afterward, they just don't seem to have captured the color and contrast.  Now the details are drawn back out and enhanced.

And nifty little captions added with Overgram......

I seem to be spending more time on Instagram these days.  Check out the link on the right!  Have a great day!