Saturday, March 30, 2013

Easter Thoughts

The voices in my mind are usually quiet during daylight hours.  It is in the silent moments of the night when they clamor to be heard, bumping against each other, merging into nonsensical impressions.  It takes concentration to sort them out, allowing them to form independently and take on structure.  Thoughts are what most people name them, but I can distinguish them in voices. Perhaps a lot of us hear the voices, but they are so much a part of what we believe to be normal that they cease to be acknowledged as voices and simply are just present.  It is more normal to refer to them as thoughts, more sane.  Hearing voices belongs to another realm we are not so comfortable speaking of.

Tomorrow is Easter Sunday. Tonight, there is an album of memories passing through my mind, pictures that were only captured in those memories.   I have lived for many Easters.  Some I can remember vividly, and some have disappeared in the mists of memory.  I remember when my firstborn was only months old… I dressed for church that day in a pale pink linen suit I’d made, with a dainty pillbox hat, and my son was wearing a little suit I had sewn him.  It’s strange that I can remember even that I lined my jacket in a matching taffeta fabric.  We had a photo of the three of us, standing in front of the house, but the photo disappeared long ago.  Perhaps it was put into an album I gave my son some years ago.  With that first child, we took a lot of photos… and less with each child that came after.  Life became more complicated with more children, and I know there were rolls of film that never got developed and were lost through the years and in the moves.  Then when Polaroid cameras were invented, there were instant photos, but those did not last well.  They curled away from their backing, and cracked, and the photographic memory was damaged, leaving only the images in my mind.  Now we have digital cameras that require no film to be developed.  We can simply download them into our computers.  But I have discovered that computers crash, and photos I have burned onto disks will not open in these newer formats, and so those photos are lost, as well.  The only pictures that are permanently preserved are the pictures in our minds, and even those fade and disappear, leaving scattered bits here and there.

Easter used to mean a new outfit for church.  The girls had Easter bonnets, sometimes with little purses to match.  On Good Friday, we always had an egg decorating tea.  The children dyed eggs and the mothers had tea and visited.  We invited friends to join us, and our Easter teas became a tradition that our friends cherished, also.  We made sweet breads and cream puffs and bundt cakes and decorated cupcakes. Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster came to our teas, cupcakes decorated with bright blue frosting and marshmallow google-eyes, with a cookie stuck in its “mouth”.  When the children got older, we invited families with younger children, and my children helped the little ones decorate the eggs.  It was an excuse to carry on our tradition, and to continue to participate in something they felt they had outgrown but still loved to do.  The Cookie Monster was always present at our Easter teas!

Our little church was filled with the color and froth of fancy dresses and bonnets, and the rafters rang out with the blaring of trumpets, announcing that special service!  Voices joined in Hosanna choruses, accompanied by the pipe organ that sounded more regal than usual.  It’s really quite funny that so many people we never saw throughout the year showed up for Christmas and on Easter Sunday.  The church is not simply open for the season.  It is a family that offers support and sustenance throughout the year, a place where love is present at all times.  If it is a healthy church, it also offers acceptance without judgment, regardless of lifestyle or race.  Church is not a doctrine to me, but a place of love, an extended family.  My spiritual center is within me, not in a building.  But my church family met in that building, and I was present as part of that family.  It was important to me, and I wanted my children to experience that, as well.

The voices in my mind once told me that tolerance is a judgmental word, implying that one was above that which was tolerated, and that a much more appropriate word is acceptance.  Acceptance has no judgment connected with it.  It offers love, where ever one is on their path.  And we each do travel our own path.  We each have our own thoughts, our own experiences, and although we sometimes cross paths with another… touch lives with another for a moment in time… we walk our path alone.  We each have our own version of reality.  And yet, we each share a common thread of life… a basic need to belong and to feel we are not alone.  Perhaps that is the enigma of being human… the need to belong and the awareness that we are alone and no other can ever truly know or understand our thoughts and our emotions.

As the years have passed, there were less Easter bonnets seen, and now they are fewer still.  There are fewer families who include a church family in their circle of life.  There are less trumpets blasting the Good News, and many children today have probably never heard Hosanna sung in a church on Easter morning.  Instead of Easter bonnets and frilly dresses, we see drooping pants and butt cracks gathered in groups at malls and parking lots.  Something lovely, some sense of innocence, has been lost in the transition. 

Tomorrow morning, I will not be in church.  My priorities have changed as I have become less mobile, and there are few familiar friends in that church.  It takes time and effort to form those kinds of friendships, and I am virtually a stranger here.  There are no small grandchildren here to color eggs, and there was no Easter tea on Good Friday.  This year, for the first time, there will not even be a family gathering to share in a meal.  Each of my children has invited me to come to their home for dinner, but I have chosen to be at home alone.  It’s less stressful than navigating stairs or driving to my children’s homes, and certainly less stressful than feeling I have become an obligation to them, an additional burden in their already busy lives.  They do not say or do anything to make me feel this... it is my perception alone.
My mother talks about how as we become adults, our own growing families are more important than our birth families. That is the way of life.  As parents, we have obligations to our children, and life today is so  much busier, with  both parents usually having to work in order to maintain a mediocre lifestyle.  It doesn't leave much time for recreation, or even time to think... it takes all one's effort to keep up with all the daily tasks!  It isn't until our children are grown that we turn to our birth family again, renewing that bond between parent and child, between siblings.  We have a history together.  There is a connection that is strengthened again.  We understand each other, and we need each other.
So, tomorrow is Easter Sunday once again, but for me it is simply another Sunday.  However, this Sunday, I will travel back in time to places that were filled with the laughter and squeals of children plucking colored eggs from their hiding places, dressed in their Easter finery.  I will spend this Easter with my family once again, the children I remember and hold dear, and the husband who will be with me in spirit.  It will be a special day!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Felted Dryer Balls

There was a lovely Dogwood tree (pictured at the right with my realtor hiding in the branches) in my front yard when I moved into this home, and the driveway was lined with two Pine trees and a Sweet Gum tree.  Two ornamental Pear trees tower in front along the boulevard, a huge old oak tree graces my front yard, and a Japanese Maple stands guard on the other side of my home.  The first winter following a dry summer caused the demise of my Dogwood before I even had an opportunity to make an essence of the flowers, and the next two winters took the two Pine trees.  The shrubs in front of my front porch on each side of the sidewalk also succumbed to the drought. The Sweet Gum tree survived to litter the driveway. 
The name is romantic, but it bears a “fruit” that is a useless nuisance, as far as I can ascertain. They are wooden balls about the size of a large gumball (and actually nicknamed gumballs), covered with holes not unlike filigree, but with sharp spikes.  They are actually quite pretty upon close inspection, and extremely plentiful.  I have asked people what they do with them, and the only answer I have gotten is to use them for mulch.  I have thought about spraying them silver or gold and using them as ornaments on a Christmas tree, but the spike are sharp and I don’t know if the spikes would withstand years of packing and unpacking without special handling or wrapping.  They litter my driveway and the grass around the tree.  Imagine my surprise when I searched for uses online and although the majority of sites echoed my frustration with them, there are actually people who sell them from as little as $4.50 for 30 of them on up the scale to even higher prices.  And even more surprising is the fact that people are buying them for crafting!  All that is needed is some hot glue to turn these abundant little critters into wreaths or garlands, decorated with ribbons and glitter.  I am in possession of a fortune in Sweet Gum balls in my yard! 

My friend, Melanie, told me she is making felted dryer balls that replace dryer sheets in the laundry, thereby using something natural, without chemicals, which many of us prefer.  I looked them up online and there appears to be a wide variety of methods for making them.  Some suggested putting potpourri in the center to add scent, and that sounded great until I thought about how this could possibly present a mold problem, with the moisture from the wet washed clothes put in the dryer.  It seemed to me that some kind of wood chip center might hold the essential oil scent better, so I tried breaking up some pine cones and sewed little pouches from used dryer sheets to enclose them in the center of the yarn balls.  Breaking up the cones was difficult, and it was a messy process!  Then I thought about the Sweet Gum spikey balls.  I placed one on a scrap of fleece fabric to safely enclose the sharp spikes, drizzled a dropper full of essential oil over the Sweet Gum ball, folded the fleece around it, and then wrapped the yarn around the ball, taking care to secure the fleece in my wrapping. 
One 3.5 oz. skein of yarn made only four dryer balls when using the pine cone center, but with the Sweet Gum balls and the added bulk of the fleece, I was able to get six large yarn balls from each skein.  I used Paton’s 100% wool yarn that said it was appropriate for felting, but there are many other brands on the market, I’m sure.  This one happened to be on sale at JoAnn’s when I looked online, so it won my vote!  The colors I chose were beautiful jewel tones, which are favorites with all of my children.
After winding the ball of yarn and securing the end by weaving it into the ball, I slipped each ball into a nylon stocking, tying a piece of acrylic yarn between each of the balls in the stocking. I tied them into a bow, so they would be easy to remove after the felting process in case I wanted to re-use the stockings.  I washed the nylon “caterpillars” with a load of bath towels in hot water and detergent, then dried them in a hot dryer.  One time through the wash didn’t felt them fully, so I repeated the process.  The scent is still there, and my clothes smell delightful when they are removed from the dryer. 
These are the colors I used, and the corresponding essential oil that I put in each color felted ball:  Emerald: Lemon Eucalyptus, White Tweed: Sweet Orange, Wisteria:  Lavender, Jade:  Tea Tree, Rosewood: Rosewood, Bird of Paradise:  Spruce
And now comes the verbal warning!  While making the felted wool dryer balls and scenting them with essential oils, I had all those scented woolen balls sitting out on a table next to my chair… with a very potent aroma wafting from those dryer balls!  That night I began feeling extremely nauseous, and thought maybe I just needed to sleep.  I was mistaken.  I was up ALL NIGHT violently purging from available orifices in my body.  I had not been exposed to anyone sick, to my knowledge.  I hadn’t eaten anything that could have given me food poisoning.  The last bout was around 6:00 in the morning, so the siege lasted about 8 hours total.  I didn’t know I had that much excess fluid in my body! 

At first, I thought I had picked up a bug somehow, but I was not feeling sick in any other respect, other than the purging.  I kept thinking about those darn dryer balls and “smelling” them while I was purging.  Then it finally occurred to me that perhaps I was experiencing a “proofing” from the essential oils.  A proofing occurs when an herb or tincture triggers a full-body detox.  I’ve had that happen with herbs but never before with essential oils, and I use them all the time.  I am always careful NOT to have them come into contact with my skin directly.  Perhaps it was something in that specific set of oils that brought it on, the synergistic blend formed when the oils combined.  Whatever caused it, I probably needed to have it happen.  I really believe it had something to do with the essential oil blend, especially since I was “aware” of it when I was around the scent afterward.  I felt fine the next day, for the most part.  Whenever I got near the woolen balls, I felt a little twinge of nausea, but it passed quickly.   

So, if you are foolish enough to do a marathon of scented dryer balls in the course of a single day, you might want to put the wound balls into a plastic bag to keep the scent enclosed somewhat, at least, unless you are feeling particularly adventurous and want to experience a full-body purge.  This just further illustrates how very powerful the essential oils can be.  Here are some photos of the finished balls, with the three grandchildren who had fun helping to unwrap them from the stockings.  There are a few balls missing, as they already had gone home with the aunties who were visiting the grandchildren and their parents.
If you are in need of the Sweet Gum balls, I have a plethora of pretty pods in my yard, and you can have as many as you want to pick up and carry home at no charge!
Here are a couple of photos of two of the grandchildren, sewing on their very own microwave bowl potholders.  Charlotte's sour face in the photo of Quentin sewing is because he got to sew first! It was the first time either of them has sewn on a sewing machine, and the adults were on the edge of their seats, anticipating a finger caught in the sewing seam... but there were no mishaps.  We had a wonderful time during their spring break, and I'm looking forward to the two older grandchildren spending time with me this summer.  Charlotte would get too homesick, so her parents aren't letting her come to stay alone.  She is family oriented and her first question was... where are all the people?  I was home alone when they arrived around midnight.  She is used to all the aunts, uncles and cousins coming to spend time with them.

 Ava, their older sister in the middle with the felted dryer balls, loves to iron.  Her first question was, "What can I iron?"  Last summer, she neatly ironed all my bags of scraps.  This trip, she found my Ziploc bags of strip sets for the Hidden Wells quilts and pressed all of those and neatly folded them, ready to be cut and sewn into blocks.  I sure wish I had her around all the time! 

My wish to all of you is that you have some little ones to share your talents with... we need to share our gifts with these who will become the future generation of quilters. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Safe Toiletries from Your Kitchen

It's a rare rainy, gloomy day here in Cincinnati.  I miss the sun!  It's a good day to catch up with household duties such as laundry and cleaning, but I have fabrics all over my family room in the process of becoming quilts of all sorts and sizes.  I have company coming this week, and I'm excited! 

My Minnesota son and his family are coming... these are my youngest grandchildren (pictured on the left)... and it is a delight to be part of the excitement they feel with the possibilities of each new day.  As they grow into teenagers, they become less excited with the world around them and more involved with their own social circles.  Then, when we are busy raising children and earning a living, that becomes our primary focus.  It isn't until we graduate into retirement that we have an opportunity to regain that child-like excitement and delight with each miracle unfolding around us, moment by moment. 
I now have great-grandchildren, as well, who can refresh our perspective on life.  There are many things children are able to teach us about living in the moment and savoring each experience as it comes, if we are open to their observations of the world around us.  And there are many things we can teach our children, if we take the time and put forth the energy to do so.  We can teach them that it is more rewarding to make something with their own two hands than to write a check at the store.  We can teach them that money does not carry the most value in their lives... there are qualities like honesty and compassion that will purchase more peace in their hearts than any amount of dollars in their pockets.  We can teach them that a hard day's work may tire the body, but it is a good kind of tired, one that is rewarding to the soul.  We can pass on the talents we have, the bits of wisdom we have gleaned through our mistakes.  I can remember my oldest daughter when she was a teen telling me once, "Mother, PLEASE!  Let me make my own mistakes!"  Sometimes we just have to learn through experience. 
One of the things I've been aware of from the time I started having children over fifty years ago is that it is very important what we put on and into our bodies.  I cooked and baked from "scratch", and we didn't have fast foods or packaged foods available to us.  We churned our own butter and baked our own bread, kneading it by hand, inhaling the yeasty aroma and learning by the satiny feel of the dough when it was ready to be turned into a greased bowl and covered with a tea towel, to raise. 
My grandmother used to "doctor" us up with Comfrey tea (now herbalists say it is dangerous, but there is more of the harmful chemical in a peanut butter sandwich than in a pot of tea!)  She greased our chests with skunk grease (her brothers were trappers) and put more skunk grease on the bottoms of our feet.  There is a lot of truth to those old wives tales... the "grease" on the bottoms of our feet hold in our body heat, and if there is something medicinal in it, that is absorbed through the skin, also.  I learned a lot of common wisdom from my grandmother, often while we sipped green tea with a bit of sugar and a lot of milk added to the brew.  Special moments are made more memorable by those who share them with us. 
I learned to value things that were simple and made in my own kitchen, and as I became an adult, I learned to make more of them for myself.  I made oatmeal soap, which my children hated because it did not lather well.  I learned to develop the recipes with different oils, each bringing their own lathering qualities to the finished product.  And I learned to make other things... salt scrubs, face masks, astringents, lip balms, and even a non-petroleum jelly.  Here are some of the recipes I have made that work for us.  You will need a small kitchen scale, pyrex measuring cups, and a small stainless steel pot to melt things in... preferably with a kind of pouring spout.

Non-Petroleum Jelly:
1-1/4 oz. Natural Beeswax
3/4 cup Sweet Almond Oil
Combine and heat gently until beeswax is melted.
1 teaspoon Vitamin E oil  and the following OPTIONAL essential oils.
20 drops Egyptian Rose Essential Oil
20 drops Clary Sage Essential Oil
12 drops Lavender Essential Oil
Mix well.  Pour into container with lid.

Lavender Sugar Scrub:
Grind 1/4 cup dried Lavender Flowers in a spice grinder until fine consistency.
Layer 1 cup of granulated sugar with the ground Lavender in a pretty glass goblet or jar, making thin layers of each.
Cover and let rest for several weeks to integrate the Lavender scent with the sugar.
To use:  Pour about a teaspoon of mixture in the palm of your hand, moisten slightly with water and massage into your face.  Rinse well with warm water.  Pat dry.

All-Purpose Cleansing and Nourishing Grains:
1/2 cup organic oat flour; 1/2 cup dried milk; 1/4 cup ground Lavender Flowers; 1/4 cup ground Comfrey Root
Add 20 drops Lavender essential oil
Combine all ingredients in food processor and process until well mixed.  Drop Lavender oil in while processing. 
Store mixture in a covered jar.
Mix about 1 teaspoon of mixture with enough water in the palm of your hand to make a thin paste.  Massage into face.  Let sit a few minutes and rinse off with warm water.  Apply toner to finish.

Orange Almond Scrubbing Grains:
1/2 cup dried Orange Peel, finely ground and sifted (dried peel can have sharp edges, if not sifted);
1-1/2 cups ground organic oatmeal
1/2 cup ground almonds (works best to grind almonds with oatmeal so they do not become almond butter)
Blend until in fine powder form.  Place some in the palm of your hand and moisten with a few drops of warm water.
Rub onto face gently, with a circular motion.  Rinse with warm water, followed by astringent.

Rose Cleansing and Moisturizing Oil:
1/2 cup Grapeseed Oil
1/2 cup Jojoba Oil
1/2 cup Apricot Kernel Oil
1 teaspoon Vitamin E Oil
20 drops Egyptian Rose Geranium Essential Oil
12 drops Lavender Essential Oil
12 drops Chamomile Essential Oil
8 drops Tea Tree Essential Oil
Shake all oils in a corked bottle until well mixed.  Using a cotton ball, apply oil to face and gently massage in.  Wipe excess oil off with a clean cotton ball, and finish by patting on a toner.  May massage in and leave overnight to moisturize dry skin.  This is my absolute favorite cleansing oil for dry winter face, followed by the Rose Geranium Splash as a toner.

Rose Geranium Splash:
Rose Geranium oil is antiseptic and has an uplifting scent.  Use after cleansing to tighten pores and reduce any remaining oiliness.  Leaves skin soft and supple.
1 cup distilled water
1/2 cup witch hazel
1 teaspoon Polysorbate 20, emulsifier
1 Tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon Egyptian Rose Geranium Essential Oil
Mix well.  Apply as a splash or with cotton ball after moisturizing face.

Rose Vinegar Astringent:
Fill a jar loosely with dried rosebuds and petals.  Pour distilled white vinegar over dried roses.  Steep for at least 2 weeks.  May use a cotton ball to put on your face, or put 3 to 4 Tablespoons in bath water.  I find I need to rinse it off with cool water, if I use this on my face.  It's a little too astringent for my face, but is wonderful in bath water.

Chamomile Tea Astringent:
1/4 cup Chamomile flowers steeped in 1 cup boiling distilled water until cool.  Strain water from herbs.  Add:
1/2 cup witch hazel, 1 teaspoon Potassium Sorbate (preservative)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
15 drops Lemon Essential Oil
Chamomile has strong anti-inflammatory and disinfecting qualities, and is soothing to wind-chapped or sunburned skin.  This recipe will soothe and calm your complexion.  Best stored in the refrigerator, even though it has a preservative in it.

Herbal Wipes:
1 roll Bounty paper towels, cut in half. Use a serrated, sharp knife.  Remove cardboard tube.
Put in a Rubbermaid container... I use the Collectible round 2-quart with a screw-on top. Note: Each recipe makes 2 containers.
16 oz.. bottle witch hazel
Add: 1 Tbsp. Egyptian Rose Geranium Essential Oil
1 teaspoon Lavender Essential Oil
1 teaspoon Clary Sage Essential Oil
25 drops Rosewood Essential Oil
Shake well.
Add half of this mixture to 2 cups distilled water and mix well. Pour over the 1/2 roll of Bounty towels in jar. Put lid on jar, and turn jar upside down and on its side to moisten all towel segments. These are popular with everyone... and other combinations of essential oils work well for facial wipes. It's best to use a top, middle and base note for each scent combination. I am told they work wonders for cooling down hot flashes!  They are great for hand wipes, too... put a few in a zip-lock baggie and stick in your purse.  Tea tree essential oil to added to the basic recipe and leaving out the other essential oils works well on painful hemorrhoids.  My youngest son adapted this recipe for natural baby wipes, adding a half teaspoon of liquid castile soap to the witch hazel and water.  A tiny bit of Lavender or Chamomile essential oil added for babies also works well in this combination.
I certainly hope you will find some things of value in these recipes.  Decorative bottles can be purchased at most places like Michael's, Target, Wal-Mart or other stores in your area.  Now, I think I will have a cup of green tea with milk, and say a prayer of thanks for having such a wonderful grandmother who planted my feet firmly on this path!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Quilts for the Microwave! Awesome!

The title for this blog comes from my 11-year old granddaughter, Ava.  She and I e-mail each other regularly, now that she has an e-mail account, and when I told her about the microwave bowl potholders and the baking potato bags, she had that response:  "Quilts for the microwave!  Awesome!!"  She also said her dad, my oldest son, loves baked potatoes, so could we please keep it a secret and surprise him?  Since they will be here in just a few days, I am hoping he will not have time to read my blog. I've decided I will make each of his three children their own microwave bowl potholder in different colors, so they can easily tell which one is theirs... I remember those battles over "that one is mine" when  my children were growing up. 

Speaking of children, my youngest son was here working in Cincinnati this past week for several days.  He and one of his co-workers were able to stop by on their way out of town to "give me a hug" and were just in time to shovel my sidewalk and clean the  layer of snow and ice off my van!  Since I had a doctor appointment I had to go to the next day, the snow removal was very much appreciated, almost as much as the hugs.  I pointed out that the Christmas cactus was again blooming, in anticipation of my oldest son's visit, and he countered with, "No, Mom, it's blooming because I am here again!"  Sibling rivalry never changes. 

That Christmas cactus is the only plant in my home at this point in time.  I have a green thumb when it comes to outside gardening, but I seem to be able to kill off anything I grow inside in record time.  This cactus doesn't need a lot of attention, and it sits in the only full-sun window in my home, and has grown from a tiny little sprig I bought at Kroger's 4 years ago when I moved here, to a huge, lush full-fledged plant that blooms a couple of times each year.  I've re-potted it twice, and this is just about as big a pot that I can have in my home, so it will stay in this pot. I remember my maternal grandmother always had a beautiful Christmas cactus, and my father also has one, so this plant is really a tribute to both of them, and the blossoming love they have brought into my life. 

Today, I have set my clocks ahead one hour... at least, those clocks I can reach.  There are several on walls beyond my reach that will have to wait until one of my tall children come to visit.  I am not very steady on a ladder anymore, so don't dare to try reaching them myself.  I do not like daylight savings time... it messes up everyone's schedules... especially babies and pets.  I will like the extra hour of daylight in the evening, however, as I can no longer drive at night.

Quilts for the microwave... I LOVE my microwave  bowl potholders, and although I was skeptical about the potato bag, I think it made the best microwave baked potato I've ever eaten!  It was fluffy, tender-skinned, and had no hard spots.  I've made the bags in two sizes... but they can be just about any size you choose, I think.  The first bag was 10" x 24", and ends up being about 10" square when finished, and holds four potatoes.  I also made a slightly smaller one that will hold one or two potatoes.

Cut the front and back of 100% cotton fabric.  I used coordinating colors for mine.  Cut the Warm and Natural batting the same size.  Layer the cotton fabrics, right sides together, with the batting on top.  The photo at the right, with the lining and batting folded back, shows how the 3 layers are arranged.  Place a pin at each of the corners, but do not sew over the pins.  Sew 1/4" from the edge all the way around the four sides, leaving a space about 4" at one end unsewn, so the bag can be turned right side out.  Turn bag, making sure the corners are pushed out fully.  Turn under the raw edge you left open for turning and finger press the edges so that the edge is straight.

Topstitch the edge closed, 1/4" from the edge, making sure you catch in the raw edges that you turned in.  Topstitch the other end, also.  Measure down about 2" from one of the ends, and mark with a pin.  This will be the "envelope flap" of your potato bag in the final step.  Fold your "quilt" in half, so that the bottom edge is about 2" from the top edge, as shown in the photo at the left.  Mark the fold line with another pin on both sides, right and left.  This fold line will mark the your "quilt" in half.  Open it out, and stitch a big "X" on both halves of the opened "quilt".  I used a bit larger stitch, and use my needle down position so it was easy to swivel at the turning point.  I sewed from  one corner to the marked fold line where the bottom will be, then swiveled the needle and sewed diagonally to the place I marked for the "flap" bottom on the other end.

See photo on the right. Your open piece will have two large "X" stitching lines, one on  each half of the piece.  Now your bag is almost done.  Fold the quilted bag in half.  Measure down about 2" from one end.  That is your "flap" that will be turned down and sewn along the sides.  The following photos show how this will look.  Below left, see how the top flap is marked, about 2" down, and the bag is pinned in place.  Bottom right, I topstitch down both sides, forming the potato bag.  Again, make sure all of your fabrics are pure cotton.  I used Warm and Natural batting in my bag, which is not pure cotton, but it works.  I understand Warm and Natural now makes a batting that is for using in the microwave, 100% cotton.  I have not seen that batting at any of the places I buy my fabric.

Instructions for baking potatoes:
Wash the potato, scrubbing the skin well.  Wrap the wet potato in a paper towel, wetting your hands to form the towel around the potato.  My paper towels come with perforations on the half-sheet, and I found that half sheet is big enough for the sized potatoes I use.  The paper toweling can be re-used, after it dries, I discovered.  I was concerned that the potato might burst if it wasn't pierced, but an online friend and one of the list-moms for Quilt Talk, Cal, assured us it doesn't need to be pierced, and she was absolutely right.  I read several different methods online for baking the potatoes, but I tried Cal's method and it was perfect!  I used the baked potato setting on my microwave, and have tried it baking up to two potatoes at one time. 

NOTE:  As with the microwave bowl potholders, I would recommend staying nearby and keeping an eye on it, to make sure the fabric doesn't start smoldering... especially the first few times you make them.  I've heard a few comments that it sounds like too much work, but it was well worth wrapping the potato in toweling for me, which is really the only extra step, once you've made your bag.  The potatoes were so light and fluffy, and the skin was tender.  If you have a large family, this would probably not be as effective as baking them in a conventional oven, but for a few potatoes, it is perfect.  The bag was hot when I took it out of the microwave, and I would definitely let it cool before using it again.  My potato didn't explode and blow a hole through my microwave, and I didn't have to turn it during the baking process to avoid a hard spot on the bottom.  As Ava so eloquently stated, "Quilts for the microwave!  Awesome!!"

Have an awesome day and enjoy our extra hour of daylight in the evening. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Essential Oils in the Home

Essential oils are powerful natural aids for household use.  They can be added to cleaning recipes and are effective in the laundry, as well.  Through the years, I’ve developed some recipes that I use regularly.  They are natural, reasonable in price, and in many cases, more effective than commercial products that are made with harmful chemicals.  Most of the supplies are readily available in your grocery store, online, or in a natural foods store. 

Supply List:
Baking Soda
Washing Soda (found in your grocery store in the laundry aisle)
Borax (also in the laundry aisle)
White Distilled Vinegar, made from grain not petroleum products (learn to read labels)
Pure Liquid Castile Soap, such as Dr. Bronner’s
Tea Tree Essential Oil
Vegetable Glycerin (available in most pharmacies)
Assorted Essential Oils, as desired
Spray bottles
NOTE: Be sure to label your containers clearly, when making your products.

1 cup water
20 drops pure essential oil of Lavender
Pour the water into a spray bottle. Add the lavender essential oil and shake to blend. Spray on the surface and let set for at least 15 minutes, or don’t rinse at all.  Since essential oils do not integrate with the water, shake well each time before using.  May add a few Tablespoons of vodka, to help incorporate the essential oil, if desired.
Makes: 1 cup spray
Shelf Life: Indefinite

NOTE:  New research is proving that the old folk recipes using herbs and essential oils to kill germs, such as those used by 14th century doctors during the Black Plague, were based on good science. Many essential oils, such as the oils of lavender and thyme, are more antiseptic than phenol, the industry standard. Research is also showing that antibacterial plant oils may not cause drug resistance as could be the case with common chemical disinfectants. This essential oil-based spray leaves a lovely, clean scent. It is a good choice to use for misting your cutting board after use.
This recipe makes 2 cups, and it works on most types of dirt.
2 teaspoons borax
½ teaspoon liquid castile soap
2 cups hot water
May add up to 10 drops of Essential Oil, such as Tea Tree, Sweet Orange, Lemon or Lavender, if desired.  Combine all ingredients with the hot water in a pint or larger spray bottle. Shake to blend. Spritz the area every foot or so, and wipe clean with a clean soft rag as you go. For difficult dirt, spray and leave the cleanser on the surface for five minutes or so before wiping.  Works great for cleaning little handprints on walls and painted woodwork!

Pour 3/4 cup baking soda into a bowl.   Add: 1 teaspoon vegetable glycerin. 
Add enough liquid castile soap to make a buttercream frosting consistency, about 6 teaspoons. 
Add:  5 drops each Tea Tree and Lavender essential oils to kill bacteria. 
Store in a sealed glass jar, to keep the product moist.   Scoop the mixture onto a wet sponge or cloth, and wipe the surface.   Let dry, then wipe off with a dampened cloth and polish with dry cloth.  This is the perfect recipe for cleaning the bathtub because it rinses easily and doesn’t leave grit.  Works great for shining glass stove tops.

2 oz. Jojoba Oil
½ teaspoon liquid castile soap
1 teaspoon Lemon Essential Oil
2 oz. white natural grain-distilled vinegar
Mix ingredients in spray bottle.  Shake well before using.  Spray on wood surface and wipe clean with soft cloth.  Do not use on glass surfaces, as there is oil in the mixture. Note:  Use an old piece of recycled flannel for an excellent polishing cloth or old, worn out wool socks or pieces of ragged wool sweaters, since wool makes beneficial static that actually attracts the dust.

½ cup Olive oil
½ cup Coconut oil
½ cup Jojoba oil
2 ounces beeswax (about ¼ cup)
1 teaspoon Lemon Essential Oil
Melt the oils and beeswax in a small stainless steel pan over low heat. Remove from the heat and cool slightly. Add Lemon Oil. Stir well.  Pour into wide-mouth container.  Dab some cream onto a soft cotton rag and rub into the furniture. Buff and polish until the oils are well worked into the wood.  This formula may even remove some visible scratches in the wood.
1 teaspoon liquid castile detergent
1 cup vinegar
2 cups distilled water
Quart spray bottle
Put all the ingredients into a spray bottle, shake it up a bit, and use as you would a commercial brand. The soap in this recipe is important. It cuts the wax residue from the commercial brands you might have used in the past.   It looks smeary at first, but dries sparkling clear. You may add a couple drops of Lemon Essential oil, if desired.
Vinegar is the magic secret! Pour straight distilled white vinegar into the bowl or glass with scale and it dissolves the minerals and it is crystal clear clean. For the shower stall or around a sink faucet, soak a washcloth in straight vinegar and lay the cloth over the area for as long as needed, repeating if necessary. This works well on the dispenser drip tray on the door of your refrigerator… it dissolves the mineral build-up perfectly. 
Straight vinegar reportedly kills 82 percent of mold. Pour some white distilled vinegar straight into a spray bottle, spray on the moldy area, and let set without rinsing.  The smell will dissipate in a few hours.  May alternately make a mixture of 2 cups each vinegar and water, with 2 teaspoons Tea Tree essential oil, which is also a powerful mold killer.

4 oz. pure soap flakes or grated soap
1 cup washing soda
Put soap flakes into sauce pan with water just to cover.  Heat, stirring constantly, until soap is dissolved.  Fill a 1 gallon bucket or container with hot tap water (empty ice cream pail works fine, but don’t store in that… I tried that once, and the detergent ate through the plastic).  Add soap/water mixture to hot water in bucket.  Stir slowly with long spoon to mix.  Add 1 cup of washing soda and stir until dissolved.  Add Eucalyptus Essential Oil, if desired, to kill dust mites and bacteria.  I use about ¼ cup if Eucalyptus oil for this sized batch.  Pour into gallon jug.  As this cools, the mixture will thicken.  Use one cup per full load of laundry. Shake before pouring.  A plastic jug that has held laundry detergent would be a good choice for storing this natural detergent.
*Tip from my friend, Elanne:  Pour white vinegar into the fabric softener container in your washer to soften clothes naturally.

Essential oils are extremely powerful, and should never be used straight on the skin, although recently some suppliers claim it is safe.  I use all essential oils in a carrier oil.  My essential oil reference of choice is Valerie Worwood's, The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy.  Quoting Valerie Worwood:  "Unlike chemical drugs, essential oils do not remain in the body.  They leave no toxins behind.  And essential oils make much more sense as air fresheners than commercial products, as they cleanse the air by altering the structure of the molecules creating the smells, rather than masking the unwanted smells.  When we are looking for alternatives to toxic products in our homes and in our lives, essential oils are a convenient, practical, and pleasant solution."

I use essential oils in a small plug-in device made by Aura Cacia, that has a pad to absorb a couple of drops of the oil and dispense it gently into the air.  I have one in each of my bathrooms, and there is even one made for use in a vehicle's cigarette lighter spot.  I listed a recipe for Thieves' Blend Essential Oil in a prior blog post, and make sure I freshen the oil every time I am exposed to any viruses, or if I am expecting company.  I haven't caught a cold in years, and I think it is due to the Thieves' Blend.  Sometimes, I even  put a drop or two on a cotton ball and slip it into a chest pocket (or into my bra) so that the warmth of my body continues to release the aromatherapy benefits for a couple of days. 

Now for the teaser... I may be posting another natural laundry tool very soon... when I have tested it myself.  Tonight, we set our clocks ahead an hour.  My oldest daughter was not happy, saying she will now go to work in darkness again.  I will appreciate the extra hour of daylight in the evening, because I am seldom up early enough to be affected by the lack of sun in the morning!  There are, after all, some benefits to being retired! 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Sunshine, Soup, and Microwave Potholders

The sun is shining in Cincinnati today.  Sunshine makes me feel happy!  As I sit at my sewing machine, I can look out over my deck and see squirrels doing their high-wire act in anticipation of spring.  The birds are singing merrily in the sun.  My Christmas cactus is beginning to bloom again… I think it likes the sunshine, and doesn’t realize it is only supposed to bloom at Christmas.  The strange thing I have noticed is that it seems to bloom before my children come to visit.  It bloomed in January when my youngest son and his family came down from Michigan to have our “Christmas” a few weeks late.  And it bloomed again last weekend when they came for another visit.  Now, new blossoms are forming, and my oldest son and his family are planning a trip here from Minnesota during their spring break from school in less than two weeks.  The cactus evidently likes to have the grandchildren here as much as I do!   My Cincinnati grandchildren are all teenagers or beyond, and I seldom see them anymore.  I don't remember growing too old to want to spend time with my grandparents, but times are different now, and the world seems to move at a much faster pace than it did sixty years ago when I was a child.
Last weekend, I made clam chowder and pea soup. It was not fancy company fare, but it was good food, and filling.  I also made flat bread (a Finnish treat I remember my mother making when I was a child) and breadsticks to go with the soup.  And I made caramel rolls and cinnamon twists for our breakfasts.  I haven't baked much for quite a while, and it was good to work with the yeast dough again.  My mother-in-law taught me how to make her version of caramel rolls many years ago when I was a young bride... with lots of butter and whipping cream to make the caramel for the rolls to rise in.  I think of her when I make the recipes she so lovingly made for her family.  And my younger sister taught me how to make the cinnamon twists when she visited me a few years ago.  I am always excited when I learn new things!

It’s very easy to put a pot of soup on, and especially welcome when the weather is gloomy.  Healthy vegetables can be “sneaked” in, with the help of a food processor.  And it doesn’t have to take all day to make, either.  It smells delicious, along with the bread, and says “WELCOME” to those entering your home.

Pea Soup:
Boil the ham bone with very little ham for a couple of hours, in a big pot of water.  Chop the following vegetables in a food processor:  a large onion, several stalks of celery, and a couple of handfuls of baby carrots.  Add the finely chopped vegetables to the ham bone and water and continue to simmer for another half hour or so.  Take out the bone, and add two one-pound bags of split peas. Simmer until peas are tender, a couple of hours, covered.  When the peas are almost done, add as much diced ham as you want… I put several cups of diced ham in it.  Cook, covered, until the soup thickens.  It will not be really thick, but as it cools it will get very much thicker.  The reason I add the ham last is to prevent the flavor from being boiled out of it.
Clam Chowder, Alaena’s New England Style:
Peel about 6 to 8 potatoes and dice into small chunks.  Cover with water and finely chop one large onion and a few stalks of celery in the food processor.  Add to the potatoes.  Cover and cook until the vegetables are tender, or about an hour on low heat.  Add whole milk, at least to double the amount you have in the pot already, and carefully heat over medium heat almost to the boiling point, stirring frequently to prevent scorching.  Add two 10-oz. cans of chopped baby clams, juice and all.  Heat thoroughly.  This is not a thick soup, and if you want to thicken it, add a flour/water mixture about the consistency of heavy cream, as you would if you were making gravy.  Cook until the soup thickens.  This would be very pretty garnished with finely chopped cilantro, chives, or parsley, also.  This started out to be potato soup, but when my son called as they were coming in to town to see if I needed him to pick anything up, I jumped at the chance... and had him stop at the local Kroger's and get the canned clams.  Clam chowder is one of my favorite soups!  So, thank you, Donavon. 
Now, unless you are feeding a small army, you will have leftover soup, and soup is almost always better the second time around.  If you heat it in the microwave, it’s always difficult to lift the hot bowl out without dipping your potholder in the soup or burning your hands!  I have discovered a wonderful alternative, and it’s especially handy for those of us who live alone and eat a lot of leftovers… a microwave bowl potholder!  You put the bowl of food in the bowl potholder before you put it in the microwave, and it not only protects your hands from getting burned on the hot bowl, but it keeps the soup hotter for a longer time. 

Microwave Bowl Potholder:
You will need a cotton batting… I used Warm and Natural, readily available online or at a fabric store.  It is not quite 100% cotton, but it worked fine for me.  It is on sale for 40% off right now at JoAnn’s Fabric, but if you are on JoAnn’s mailing list, they often have 50% off coupons for one cut of fabric or one item.  A twin sized batt will make a lot of bowls. 
Be sure your fabric is also 100% cotton.  Man-made fabrics of unknown content could catch on fire in the microwave.  Cotton thread is best, but I have used polyester thread and it worked fine and didn’t ignite when heating it in the microwave.  NOTE:  I do stay nearby and watch to make sure the fabric doesn’t get too hot and start smoking!
I’ve made the bowl in two sizes:  10” square and 12” square.  The 10” works fine for most soup bowls, and the larger square works for the rimmed soup bowls, a serving bowl, or a dinner plate.  Cut 2 squares of the batting, ½” smaller (so I cut the batting 9-1/2” or 11-1/2”.  Cut one square of your focus fabric for the outside and one of a contrasting fabric for the inside of the bowl.  See photo above. 
Place one piece of batting on the wrong side of the outer fabric and the other on the wrong side of the  inner fabric.  Put one pin at the center of each of the four sides, and sew diagonally across the square in both directions to secure the batting.  You now have a big “X” in the center of your square, as shown in the photo above left.   
Fold the square in half and pin to hold it in place, pinning through all layers.  Draw a “dart” where your fold is.  Mark ¾” from the fold, and then holding your ruler at that point, draw a 2” tapered line, as shown on the photo to the right.  Sew the dart along the line.  Repeat at the center of all four sides.  Your fabric will now be bowl-shaped.  Repeat this with the lining material, so you have two fabric bowl shapes, as shown below. 
 Place them, right sides together and batting side out, and pin at the four corners and where the darts meet.  I do not clip the darts, and I pin them so that they are facing in opposite directions (see photo below).  Mark one end, about an inch in from the corner, and put another mark about an inch before the dart on one side.  Start sewing where you put the second mark, sewing in a ¼” seam, all around the “bowl”, ending where you put your first mark. 

This leaves a space to turn the bowl right side out.  I thought this was the hardest part of making the bowl potholder… turning it right side out! Use something fairly pointed to push out each of the 4 corners well. 
Turn your bowl right side out where you left your opening, and stitch all around the outer edge of your “bowl”, making sure to fold in the open edges and enclose them in your seam. 
Push the darts into place, and you will see you have a bowl-shaped potholder.  Put your bowl of soup or plate of food in the bowl potholder, then into the microwave and heat.  Take it out, leaving it in the potholder.  It will keep your soup hot while you eat.
 I make sets of the different sizes, along with a matching quilted envelope for baking potatoes in the microwave.  Instructions for that potato bag will be on my next blog! 
Enjoy your soup or reheated plate of food.  And smile while you’re enjoying it, nice and hot to the last spoonful!  These would make great gifts for the person who has everything… and especially for the person who has nothing!  Where does your imagination lead you?  What cheerful colors can you pick out?  I have one granddaughter who collects owls, so the owl bowl potholder was made for her, of course. 
The photo above shows a completed 10” bowl potholder, as well as the 12”, to the left.  These could be made in any size you wish, just by making sure the both the inner and outer fabrics are the same size and the batting is ½” smaller.

I’ve made some in a bird fabric.  The birds will go to my mother who used to love bird-watching when they lived on Pelican Lake in the very northern part of Minnesota. Our children learned to recognize various birds when they stayed with my parents at the lake.  I think her love of birds goes back as far as I can remember.  I grew up on a farm in northern Wisconsin, and remember holding my hand out, filled with birdseed, and the chickadees would perch on my hand to eat it.  Here in Cincinnati, I occasionally see a cardinal or blue jay in the trees that border my yard.  Their color stands out easily against the greenery.  Where ever you are, I hope the sun is shining and the birdsong is filling your heart with joy.