Thursday, March 31, 2011

Looking Forward

"Looking forward to things 
is half the pleasure of them."

Lucy Maud Montgomery


"Cobalt Net"
Imperial Porcelain Factory
St. Petersburg, Russia

Established in 1744, The Imperial Porcelain Factory remains the oldest working factory in Russia today. The blue and white "Cobalt Net" pattern from the Imperial Factory remains a timeless classic.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

First Picnic of Spring

Spring break happens in March, and we always look forward to having our kids around for at least a portion of their vacation.  It has been our practice to spend time traveling to a place we especially enjoy, like the beach or a state park nearby.  This year the weather was chilly and rainy, but that didn't stop us from taking a day trip and enjoying the first picnic of spring.  We went to Palouse Falls, a beautiful place that happens to be out in the middle of nowhere!  After miles of desolate highway driving through wheat fields and scrub land, a small sign points to a cattle crossing and a narrow dirt road.  This road winds through a desert cow pasture, complete with munching cattle!  It leads to a space that opens up to a parking lot that is usually always filled with cars and motorcycles!  Many others had the same idea we did on this early spring day.

The center of attraction?  The falls!  It spills from the Palouse River which winds through scabland known for its coulees, cataracts, plunge pools, potholes, rock benches, buttes, and pinnacles.  The river bottom virtually drops off to 200 feet below, creating a magnificent waterfall that seems especially muddy and wild this spring.

Although portions of the park cliffs are surrounded by sturdy chain-link fence, not all areas are.  As you will see in a later picture, a walking trail follows a cliff edge, leading people to a point at the top of the falls. Another trail leads hikers to the basin at the bottom of the falls where fishing seems to be especially popular.

After the waterfall, the Palouse River can be seen as it goes through the Sentinel Bluffs of the Grand Ronde Formation.  I think it is especially beautiful in early spring when shades of green can be seen in new growth. When summer comes, the color will change to a gray-brown and the bluffs won't have nearly the contrast in color and shade.

The men who were visiting by motorcycle had a marvelous BBQ and picnic in the only covered pavilion area.  Since it was drizzling a bit, we decided to do our sight-seeing first and wait until they left to have our lunch.  As their bikes roared away, we set up for our picnic lunch.  My guys noted that people kept looking at our table as they walked by, probably because a cheerful daffodil bouquet graced our picnic table. But the guys didn't mind.  As long as there is good food, they seem to be content.

The rain continues, and early this morning spring winds have arrived.  Patience is the word for March!  But it's nearly over and hopefully some warm and dry days will arrive with April!  Happy spring!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


My kitchen has turned into a factory the past few weeks.  By late winter, I find myself craving really fresh foods.  Winter gardens, what there are of them in my locale, are not longer producing anything this time of year.  Produce is shipped in from states away.  It's still to chilly to plant outside.  That can't happen until the end of April.  So, instead I've gathered up a few sprouting supplies and have set up a little kitchen farm.  Have you ever sprouted alfalfa or radish sprouts?

When sis and I were six and seven, we had a next door neighbor who grew alfalfa sprouts in fairly abundant quantities.  They'd sprout them in pint sized cottage cheese cartons.  The sprouts would grow nearly to the top of the carton and looked like a soft, green lawn that was filled with flavor.  They were beautiful.  Next-door-neighbor sought the help of the neighborhood children to sell the sprouts.  We would go door to door, seeing if people would like to buy them for a dime or a quarter.  The sprouts sold themselves and sis and I felt quite honored that we'd been asked to help.

Ever since, growing kitchen sprouts has become a family tradition.  Although we don't grow them year around, a selection of seeds is always tucked away in the freezer, ready to grow when the mood strikes.  For weeks now, fresh and flavorful sprouts have been enjoyed in salads and sandwiches at our house.  Sprouts are high in antioxidants and enzymes.  And they contain nutrients like calcium, folic acid, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, silicon, sodium, and zinc.   Some say that alfalfa sprouts are the only plant that supplies the full range of vitamins, from A to K (including B12).  And they contain chlorophyll, a blood-healing substance.

There's quite a variety of fancy gadgets and sprouting tools that can be purchased.  Over the years I have tried many of them, but the method I prefer is the most simple one.  Here's my method:

1.)  Place 1 - 2 tsp. of alfalfa (and/or radish) seeds in a quart jar.  Add water until seeds are just covered.  Lid and place in a dark cupboard.  Allow to sit overnight.

2.)  After 8 or 10 hours, using a mesh sieve, drain the water out of the seeds.  Rinse the seeds with fresh water. and drain  Place seeds back in jar.  Place lid back on the jar.  Seeds should be damp but not sitting in water.

3.)  Place back in cupboard and give them time to sprout.  Rinse the sprouts as per method above at least twice a day (I like to rinse them at least three times daily).  

4.)  On day three or four, leave sprouted seeds in jar out on the counter top so they get some light.  Allow them to continue to grow.

5.)  On day five, place sprouts in a flat, low container after rinsing.  Cover with plastic wrap.  Let them sit in a well-lighted spot so that the chlorophyll develops (but out of direct sunlight, as you don't want them to cook).  

6.)  When they have greened to your liking and small leaves have developed, place them in the refrigerator and store them until ready to use.  They are safe there up to a week (but they never last that long at our house because they are so YUMMY!).

Add them to salads of all sorts (cabbage salads, lettuce salads, or mixed with green onions and radishes to make a salad all their own).  They are great in sandwiches too.  Top whole grain bread with a bit of Veganaise.  Add sprouts and sprinkle with a dash of sea salt.  Delish!

He Speaks Here

"There is a God who speaks anywhere, surely He speaks here:  through waking up and working, through going away and coming back again, through people you read and books you meet, through falling asleep in the dark."

Fredrick Buechner

Monday, March 28, 2011

Snowdrop Grace

The last of the snowdrops grace the garden bed.  These early signs of spring have kept hope alive for nearly six weeks now. They are such elegant little beauties.  Their faces droop with gentleness and stay awake so beautifully when cut and brought into the house.  They make such sweet miniature bouquets that tuck nicely onto a windowsill or tea tray.  Their arrival seems to announce that crocus and daffodils soon will appear.  And they do.  From tiny white faces so close to the brown earth, they give way to purple and yellow as the season progresses and the soil warms up.  Although brighter colors and more magnificent blossoms showcase the garden now, the tiny snowdrops will not be forgotten and I know that I will eagerly be awaiting their tiny faces again next February.  Snowdrops.  First sign of spring.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Blueberry Scones Mix in a Jar

Blueberry Scones Mix in a Jar

2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour 
(or use 50% whole wheat pastry flour)
1/2 cup vanilla sugar *
1/4 cup dry milk powder (like soymilk powder)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon dried lemon peel
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup vegetable shortening (or coconut oil)
1 cup dried blueberries

Stir together flour, sugar, milk, baking powder, lemon peel and salt.
Cut in shortening using a pastry cutter or fork until the mixture
resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in berries. Layer into a 1-quart
canning jar, tapping gently on the counter between layers to settle
before adding the next. Add additional dried blueberries to fill in
small gaps if necessary. Stores at room temperature for up to 6
weeks, or freeze for up to 6 months.

* To make vanilla sugar, fill a 1-quart jar with sugar. Split a
vanilla bean in half lengthwise and add both halves to the sugar.
Flavor gets better after a couple of weeks, and it will keep as long
as regular sugar.

Attach the following instructions on a gift tag:

Blueberry Scones

Place jar contents in a large mixing bowl. Add 1 beaten egg and 1/4
cup water; stir just until moistened. Turn dough out onto a lightly
floured surface and quickly knead gently for 12 to 15 strokes or
until nearly smooth. Pat to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut into desired
shape and place 1 inch apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Brush with
milk. Bake at 400 degrees F for 12-15 minutes or until golden.
Transfer to a rack to cool slightly and serve warm.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Garden in Every Childhood

"There is a garden in every childhood, an enchanted place where colors are brighter, the air softer, and the morning more fragrant than ever again."

Elizabeth Lawrence

Pictures from Karleen's garden.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Glory Crown

Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom:  and with all thy getting get understanding.  Exalt her, and she shall promote thee:  she shall bring thee to honour when thou dost embrace her.  She shall give to thine head an ornament of grace:  a crown of glory shall she deliver to thee.

Proverbs 4:7 - 9

I was blessed by this verse today.  It speaks of wisdom and how to embrace it.  As I thought of the words in this scripture, I was reminded of a beautiful crown that is on display at Maryhill.  Sometimes an object helps reinforce words, and this crown does that for me.  This is the crown of Queen Marie of Romania.  She was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria of England.  If you haven't read about her, I think you might enjoy learning about her life here.  And may you be blessed by this verse as well.  Get wisdom.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Nature Speaks

We welcomed spring this year with beautiful blue skies and clouds that seemed to speak expressively as they changed formations and reflected light and shadow.  It was a perfect day for a walk along the wildlife refuge trail.  We've been seeing huge flocks of snow geese from our house, and their presence enticed us to go to the refuge waters to see what else was there.  We were not disappointed, as white pelicans, swans, Canadian geese, and a variety of ducks were enjoying the quiet waters of the refuge ponds.  Red-winged blackbirds and robins filled the air with their sweet sounds.  They seemed so expressive and joyful with spring's presence.  It's been a cold winter, and there isn't much new growth yet along the trail.  It will be a few more weeks before dormant plants really believe that spring is here and respond to its warmth.  But even dried grasses and sagebrush have a beauty all their own in their winter state.  A beautiful sunset pleased us as we completed our walk around the wildlife trail loop.  The gentle lap of serene waters and the sounds of birds chirping as they found places to roost for the night were added delight to our senses at the end of a welcome day.  I'm so glad that spring is on its way, aren't you? 

Click on the pictures for a larger view.

Jumbo Tofu-Spinach Pasta Shells

24 jumbo pasta shells (or 14 manicotti OR crepes)**
2 - 10 oz. packages frozen, chopped, spinach
1/3 cup minced onion
2 tsp. vegan margarine
1 lb. soft tofu, mashed
1 tsp. egg replacer, powdered
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. nutmeg (optional)
4 cups meatless spaghetti sauce (jar or homemade)
1 cup shredded soy cheese (or melty cheese)

Cook shells in boiling water until almost tender. Drain. Cook spinach as directed on package; drain well. Cook onion in margarine until tender. In medium bowl, combine spinach, onion, mashed tofu, salt, and nutmeg. Fill each shell with about 2 Tbsp. of mixture. Pour about 1 cup of spaghetti sauce into a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Arrange stuffed shells in dish. Cover with remaining sauce. Cover and bake at 350 degrees F. for 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Remove cover; top with soy cheese and continue baking until cheese is melted, about 5 minutes.

Note: homemade "melty cheese" can be substituted for the soy cheese.  

**This recipe can be made as a gluten free dish by substituting crepes (made from cornstarch or another gluten free flour) for the shells or manicotti.

Remembering and Grandmother's Kitchen

I've recently been looking for a copy of a book that shares short stories from the life of my great-great grandfather and my grandmother.  Great-grandfather is a man whom I have read about online, and of whom I have heard stories from my father, my aunt's, and my grandmother's sisters.  He must have been an amazing man because stories about him share of strength of character and fortitude.  He was a farmer by trade, but at sometime in his life, he converted from his Mennonite religion to a different evangelical one.  His focus became his strong belief in sharing God's word and the prophecy's that spoke of the nearness of end times, so in addition to farming, he became a traveling evangelist.  Life was hard in those days, and women often found life's events ones that caused illness and death.  As a result, great-grandfather ended up having three wives in his lifetime, and with each wife he had a separate group of children.  My grandmother, Katie, was one of four daughters born to the first wife.  I don't remember Grandma sharing too many stories about her youth, as I was young in her later years and we sometimes found communication between her German and my English difficult.  She was the type who never complained, so might not have shared of all her experiences anyway.  Her sisters, on the other hand, were women who didn't have any such scruples and in later years shared many stories of life as daughter's of the first wife.  I'm pretty sure these stories were shadowed by a little bit of bias, but I don't mean to discount them either.  I'm sure they are true, although slightly embellished with the perspective of their youth.  They tell stories of their step-mothers that are reminiscent of Cinderella.  The second wive's children were many and, according to Grandmother's sisters, very coddled.  The four older girls of the first wife were expected to work hard in areas that their younger half-siblings were not asked to partake.  Which brings me to the reason why there is a picture of my kitchen at the beginning of this post.  I cannot help but compare the modern luxuries of this day to the kitchen my grandmother and her sisters had to work in.  Their stove was heated with wood, and during the summer and autumn months the days were hot.  To keep the house as cool as possible, a summer kitchen was constructed a distance from the house.  It was the job of grandmother and her sisters to cook all the meals for harvesters and farm help.  The farmers in their Manitoba community would share the job of harvesting their crops by assisting one another.  It appears that great-grandfather's oldest daughters did all the cooking for the crews as the neighbor's harvested the crops of one another.  How interesting it was to hear, in later years, of women in their 70's and 80's sharing about the sweltering hot kitchen and of all the delicious foods they prepared there, and all completely from scratch.  These were not soup and sandwich meals, but rather the German dishes that were quite expected of them, as the farmers worked hard and must be fed accordingly.  Water had to be drawn, heated on the stove, and dishes washed by hand.  Baking and cooking on a wood stove during hot summer days must have been agonizing to them.  No wonder their perspective might be slightly biased!  I'd like to say that my dear grandmother ended up with a house that contained every modern convenience.  But it was not to be.  All of my memories of visiting Grandma include visits to a sweet little cottage that had electricity, but no running water, nor indoor bathroom.  And in the kitchen was huge wood cookstove!  Neat as a pin, Grandma was one to never complain.  Her house was always neat and clean and you'd never know that she lived without the conveniences of her neighbors.  She was a dear.  I am happy to say that in her adult years she embraced her half-siblings without prejudice and I grew up knowing all of them as great-aunt and great-uncle.  She was much loved by them all.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring is Here! Edible Flowers

Spring has arrived, although the flowers are slow to share their smiling faces yet.  As you plan your flower beds, keep in mind that many make a nice addition to table decor.  Maybe it is time to add a variety of edible flowers to your spring garden.

Garnishing food with flowers makes such a pretty presentation at the table. Although guests may be startled at first, and uncertain if they should eat the flowers, it's fun to serve flowers with food. There's nothing prettier than a perfect miniature rose decorating a cupcake! They are so much prettier than the sugar ones!

Common edible flowers are violets, marigolds, nasturtiums, and chamomile. But, in addition to these old stand-bys, there are other flowers that also make a lovely presentation with food. Chrysanthemums, clover, dandelions, daylilies, roses, hyacinths, gladiolas, hollyhocks, impatiens, lilacs, and pansies are all blossoms that can be used in salads, to garnish dainty sandwiches, or to make a dessert prettier. Some blossoms of common herbs are make nice embellishments for food. The purple blossoms of chives are pretty fresh and retain their color when dried, thereby making a colorful presentation even during the winter months. Garlic, squash, and pea blossoms are also edible.

When selecting blossoms to be used with food, be sure to pick ones that have been grown organically. If they are purchased from a florist or garden center, the plants have probably been treated with pesticides and are not approved for food crops. Likewise, flowers picked along roadsides may have been sprayed with pesticide. Instead, grow your own flowers, purchase them at a grocer who carries flower blossoms (they are with the fresh herbs in the produce section), or choose flowers from meadows or woods that you know are safe to eat. Learn about flowers, so that you can correctly identify the safe ones. Some parts of some plants are edible, but will have other poisonous parts. This is even true with common garden produce (like rhubarb), so don't let that keep you from trying to 'good for you' parts of flowers.

Fresh flowers make beautiful garnish for desserts and look lovely tossed into a salad. But there are other ways to incorporate blossoms into food. Squash blossoms added to scrambled tofu is pretty. Squash blossoms also are beautiful when stuffed with a creamy filling mixed with chopped, fresh herbs. Nasturtium blossoms create a colorful filling for tea sandwiches, and rose or scented geranium blossoms can be used in cake batter or cookies. Chopped petals can be added to softened butters for spreads. And there is always floral tea! To make a blossom tea, add one tablespoon of petals per cup of boiling water and steep for ten minutes. Strain and enjoy with the herbal sweetener, stevia. Delicious!

So be brave! Try something new and see what kinds of flower power you can bring to your table! Have fun, be safe, and create to your hearts content!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Essentials to Achievement

The three great essentials to achieve anything worth while are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense.
Thomas Edison

Friday, March 18, 2011

Carob Caramel Candy

Carob Carmel Candy

1 cup coconut
1/2 cup carob powder
1 cup soymilk powder
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 cup honey or alternative sweetener
2 Tbsp. Earth Balance margarine
1 tsp. orange rind, grated
1/8 tsp. salt
1 cup nuts, finely chopped

Mix all ingredients, except nuts, together in bowl.  Spread 1/2 cup of nuts in the bottom of a pan.  Add the carob mixture and spread over the nuts.  Press firmly.  Sprinkle the remaining nuts over the top.  Pat down.  Chill and cut into squares.  Wrap individually.

Makes:  24 carmels

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A True Home

"A roof to keep out the rain. Four walls to keep out the wind. Floors to keep out the cold. Yes, but home is more than that. It is the laugh of a baby, the song of a mother, the strength of a father. Warmth of loving hearts, light from happy eyes, kindness, loyalty, comradeship. Home is first school...for the young ones where they learn what is right, what is good, and what is kind. Where they go for comfort when they are hurt or sick. Where joy is shared and sorrow eased. Where fathers and mothers are respected and loved. Where children are wanted. Where the simplest food is good enough for kings because it is earned. Where money is not so important as loving-kindness. Where even the teakettle sings from happiness. That is home."

Ernestine Schumann-Heink

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Party Will Keep

The dollies all wonder
when tea will be served,
Sitting propped in their chairs,
erect and reserved.

The teapot is full
and cookies are there,
But my little girl
is not in her chair.

The puppy dog waits
with eyes at the door,
Hoping that crumbs may
yet reach the floor.

But her favorite doll
leans back with a smile. . .
She has spied her mistress
all this while

Curled up in a blanket
in deepest sleep;
Too weary from play. . .

The party will keep!  


~ Joy Belle Burgess ~

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Be Gentle, Share Caring

"Remember to be gentle with yourself and others. We are all children
of chance and none can say why some fields will blossom while others
lay brown beneath the August sun. Care for those around you. Look past
your differences. Their dreams are no less than yours, their choices
no more easily made. And give, give in any way you can, of whatever
you posses. To give is to love. To withhold is to wither. Care less
for your harvest than for how it is shared and your life will have
meaning and your heart will have peace."

~Kent Nerburn~

 Our world is full of many opportunities to share.  Needs are great, as natural and man-made disasters are wreaking havoc on the lives of many.  I encourage you to consider sharing gentleness and care with those less fortunate.  Here are a few legitimate organizations that are accepting donations that will be used responsibly in helping meet the needs of victims in disaster areas.

Samaritan's Purse
American Red Cross

Monday, March 14, 2011

A New Note

"There's a new note in the choirs that sing upon the leafless boughs.  There's a new song in the air today --- a song that seems to rouse --- and resurrect the life within, grown cold in winter hours --- Waking all the old sweet dreams --- of blossoms, buds and flowers.  There's a new hope in the world today because of this glad sound.  There's an urgent and an upward thrust of green things in the ground.  There's a new joy in the hearts of men because of this strange note:  this rapturous reveille from some little feathered throat."

~ Patience Strong ~

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Simplest of Simple Waffles

Amazingly, these three ingredient waffles are very delicious!  Be sure the waffle iron is completely preheated and conditioned (oiled).  Don't peek until the "done" light goes off or they will stick.  

Simplest of Simple Waffles

1 cups water
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup rolled oats, gluten free if necessary

Preheat waffle iron. Using a blender, mix all ingredients together until very smooth. Pour batter into a prepared, hot waffle iron. Bake for 10 - 12 minutes. The waffles should be golden brown and crispy. Serve with maple syrup and peanut butter or canned fruit. Also good with a frozen dessert like sherbet.

Serves: 1 or 2

Enjoy! Recipe may be doubled to serve more.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


"The first to come! . . . The golden crocus, boldly thrusting up --- as if to catch and hold the sunlight in its painted cup --- The first ones out to shout a salutation of good cheer --- making haste to show themselves before the rest appear.  For soon will come the other members of the family --- robed in deepest purple, palest mauve and ivory --- and dazzled by their beauty we'll forget to say goodbye --- to the first that took the risk, and braved the wintry sky."

~ Patience Strong ~

~ A yellow buttercup joins the golden crocus in this photo. ~

Friday, March 11, 2011

Homemade Soda Pop

Of course we all know that soda pop is one of the worst things for our health. Thus said, I would like to share a recipe for you for homemade soda. The recipe includes real ingredients from natural sources, so maybe without the additives and high fructose cornsyrup it might be a bit better for you. I'm not sure where I first got this recipe. It's one that I scribbled on a piece of notebook paper and saved because it was such an unusual recipe. Here it is:

Homemade Soda

2 cups organic cane sugar (Florida Crystals)
1/4 cup water

Melt the sugar and water in a warm saucepan until it carmalizes. Stir constantly during this process. The temperature should rise to about 280 degrees F. and the sugar should turn to a dark amber.

Remove from heat. Slowly add:

2 cups of water

Place mixture back on the heat. Add the:
juice of one lemon (may use other fruit juices as desired)

Then add the:
scrapings of one vanilla bean

Bring mixture to a boil, then allow mixture to steep for one hour. Do not strain. Fill syrup into jars and cork. This makes the flavored syrup for soda. When ready to prepare soda:

Fill a glass with ice. Place 1/4 cup of the syrup you have made into the glass of ice. Add plain seltzer water and give a quick stir.

Add a straw and enjoy!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Clarice's "Wren Bay"

Several summers past I turned onto a road that was so hidden in the trees that I missed it the first time I passed.  The road was lined with tall evergreens and consisted of a dirt and gravel lane that wound through the woods.  It led to a quaint old house that was once the home to an Admiral.  As the car stopped, the back door opened and out popped Clarice and her two lovely daughters.  Warm hugs and friendly words were shared as everyone started talking at once.  It was our first meeting, but you'd have thought we had been friends forever.  The Wren-like warmth of this trio made me feel right at home.  I was directed through a old-fashioned kitchen to the living room.  A cozy coverlet-lined sofa provided a comfortable place to sit, but I couldn't sit for long because there were so many interesting things to see.  Clarice's china closets were lined with unusual vintage pieces and bits of artwork.  Mayra, a black, floppy-eared rabbit hopped across the floor.  It's crate was open nearby with a bowl of bunny food beside it.  Throughout the house, interesting vignettes created pretty places for the eyes to settle.  A wooden doll house that was completely furnished and artfully decorated by Chloe for an upcoming holiday was set at a focal point.  It fit into the decor in the most charming way.  Aubrerne's passion for Tolkien and characters in that genre could be seen in her artwork and the books she surrounded herself with.  In the center of the living room, a large, antique table was set.  An assortment of wooden chairs surrounded the table that was draped with a colorful vintage cloth.  Mismatched vintage china and real silverware was set at each place-setting.  Dainty ladies hankies served as place mats.  The effect was so unique and charming, you would have to be there to completely experience its appeal.  Even with all the lovelies throughout the room, one's eyes were always set on coming back to rest on the beautiful table.  While Clarice was putting the finishing touches on making the food for tea, her sweet daughters gave an enticing tour of their cottage home.  The girls, Auberne' and Chloe, shared of the projects they had been stitching, crafting, and enjoying.  A beautifully appointed library was lined with rows upon rows of old books.  A comfy sofa with a plaid covered table beside it encouraged the reading of a good book and some time out.  Here, Mr. Fox-Hughes was cheerfully ensconced, watching some television in this cozy man-den, keeping out of the way so that the ladies could enjoy a special afternoon.  Upon completion of the tour, we sat down for tea.  The menu was unique and the food delightful!  Summer Hill tea spoke of rosemary and lavender as it was poured into china teacups from a crown-adorned Roseanna teapot.  Individual pots of thick chocolate mousse, walnut-lavender scones, homemade espresso truffles, and lavender honey gave the palate an experience not soon forgotten.  Chattering voices shared topics near and dear to our hearts, covering everything from crafting, home education, home remedies, recipes, and more.  The time flew by swiftly.  Those moments shared cemented a friendship that is cherished still and meaningful beyond measure.  Kindred spirits are always connected, even when distance complicates togetherness.  

It is with this scene in mind that I opened the colorful cover of the novel, Wren Bay.  It is the very personal and cherished work of Clarice Fox-Hughes.  As I read its pages, I came to realize more and more that the protagonist, Wren, truly was the substance of Clarice.  Clarice's creative spirit was reflected so well in the story of Wren as she worked to create a warm and loving home for her beloved Devlin and herself.  Wren's privileged upbringing and appreciation for fine things reflected the childhood of Clarice, a child raised with foreign travel and affluence.  One couldn't help but feel that Clarice really knew her subject as her writing voice speaks of European elegance and Boston society.  It was obvious that Clarice had researched her subject well as she wrote of herbal remedies, fine-crafted stitchery projects, delicious dishes made from gourmet recipes, and more.  Clarice described Wren's experiences of learning to milk a cow with equal assurance and expertise, although after meeting Clarice I really doubt she has ever milked a cow herself.  The characters in Wren Bay are well-developed and become intertwined not only in the life of Wren, but to the reader as well.  Aunt Sophie could be any one's favorite spinster aunt, and Mimi obviously cooks with the talent of Julia Child.  Mary becomes a reassuring figure to Wren, taking on a mother-like quality for her, as the reading audience is aware that Wren was orphaned a child.  Heart-strings are pulled by the child, Lily, whom Wren takes under her wing, teaching her about life by the same whole-child techniques that Clarice used to home educate her own daughters.  Holistic and creative, using nature and objects from daily life, these methods were illustrated by the experiences of Wren and Lily as the child learned effortlessly by natural teaching techniques.  Wren's practical ease in creating a nurturing environment is reflected in Clarice's home.  As I completed the last page of Wren Bay, reading the final sentence which consists of the words "Wren's blessing tonight. . ." I could not help but say three words of my own.  Wren is Clarice.

Wren Bay, the story of making a home, exudes charm, creativity, and warmth.  It is skillfully mixed with grace and elegance, with a true mix of practicality, economy, and the careful use of natural resources.  Later, as I pondered this delightful book, I remembered the day that I sat at Clarice's table and she shared with me that she agonized over any aspect of her life that required writing.  Her life-long experiences with dyslexia has caused her moments of concern and learning challenges.  I recalled how she shared that writing a blog post was agonizing at times as she struggled to choose just the right words and to place them correctly in a paragraph with spelling that was true.  These obstacles, the technical aspects of writing a book, were overcome by Clarice as she allowed her vivid imagination and creativity to shine forth.  She has written a novel that is fully developed, with settings the reader can picture, and with characters the reader comes to know as friends.  Wren Bay is a delightful book and a joy to read!  

Great job, Clarice!  Thank you for sharing a piece of your heart!  I anticipate volume two of the delightful life of Wren Bay.  

You may read Clarice's blog, Storybook Woods, here.  To visit other posts on Gracious Hospitality, click here or click on the header.


Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Little Bavaria

Signs of spring are slowly showing up in some places.  Daffodils are blooming along the coastal range, and reports of Thundercloud Plums flowering in Seattle have been heard.  In less mild climates, tulip and daffodil shoots are poking through the earth.  But, in many places, winter is still very evident.  A small town on the eastern slope of the Cascade mountain range is still very much in winter mode.  Traces of snow and chilly temperatures greet visitors to Leavenworth.  Although signs of spring are not yet seen, there is evidence of gladness everywhere!  Christmas lights still twinkle and sparkle, adding a golden glow both night and day.  So cheerful, there's no need to take them down for the Valentine holiday!  Instead, a layer of sweetheart decorations are added on top of the Christmas decor, making for an interesting mix of both holidays.  The result really is quaint and jaunty.  Little shops provide much to see for the window shoppers who walk along the streets.  European gifts and treasures meld with handcrafted items made by local artisans.  And the food!  Restaurant menus, posted behind windowed boxes that are  placed by front entrances, reveal German dishes of all sorts!  Bakery windows are dressed with cheer, calling passersby to enter in and sample sweet and savory baked goods.  An old hotel and motels adorned with gingerbread fru-fru provide places to rest and revive, making this an ideal place for winter sport enthusiasts in season.  The inviting warmth of Leavenworth during the chilly months of February and March helps one retain a bit of buoyancy of spirit when spring seems to be taking too long to arrive.


Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Happy Creating!

When our children were small and we were developing our parenting and educational philosophy, we decided that creativity was a trait that was important to us and one that we wanted to develop in our children.  According to one of my favorite books on the subject, one of  the best gifts we could give our children is to provide them with ready-materials and time.  It’s important to let children invent, create, and have fun.  It sure makes a mess, but it’s worth it!  Arts and crafts projects that don’t use pre-drawn patterns or designs allow children to create and develop according to their view of the world.  Here are some ideas for some of the craft projects.  Maybe they would be something you would enjoy doing with the children in your life.
1.  Paper mache’ — create sculptures or scenes using newspaper and flour & water glue.  After it dries, paint with Tempra paints and add twigs, stones, dried moss, aluminum foil or mirror rivers and lakes, etc.  Great fun!  We once created the Garden of Eden doing this!

2.  Sawdust and glue — similar to paper mache’ but using fine sawdust and Elmer’s glue instead.

3.  Make kites — use a plain template and paint or color designs on the kite body to make your own design or check online or the library for books and kite shapes.

4.  Wooden objects — children seem to enjoy crafting with wood, so we bought lots of different ‘wood’ things from the craft store and let them paint, decorate, hammer, nail, etc. to make things.  Stencils are helpful in adding designs like planes, trains, etc.  When homes were being built around the neighborhood, we would ask the contractor if we could take the wood scraps home.  They were happy to get rid of them and they provided raw materials for some great building projects.

5.  3-D art using foam shapes, twigs, dried legumes, etc.  Fun to use a basic design on tag board and then glue objects on it to make a collage or work of art.

6.  Computer art — using simple programs that teach 3D animation, computer graphics, or photo editing.

7.  Kits — lots of fun!  Go to Michael’s or Craft Warehouse and look at all the kits that are available.  Latch hook rugs, felt art, beading, etc. can all be fun for both girls and boys.  Boys enjoy making latch hook rugs in an airplane theme!

8.  Candle-making — either dipped candles, molded candles or rolled candles using beeswax.  Kids especially have fun with this project:   take an aluminum pie plate and hold a regular candle up in the middle of the plate.  Then pour melted, colored wax into the plate.  Gently dip the plate of wax in a sink full of cold water.  The hot wax will rise to the top and will ‘hug’ the candle, making a candle holder.  Work as a team, as hot wax can burn.

9.  String art — look online for designs.  A pattern looks somewhat like a dot to dot page, but without the numbers.  Colored string is sewn on the page in sequences that create a woven effect and make beautiful pictures — of ships or buildings — etc.

10. Watercolor — really fun and helpful if you can find someone who is willing to give a few lessons first.  Use ‘cheater’ techniques to help get started with watercolor (like dot stickers that keep paint from sticking somewhere when you first coat the page, etc.).  Small paintings make great Christmas gifts for family.

11. Boys love sewing machines!  And so do girls.  Make them earn their driver’s license first (to teach machine safety) and then give them small projects where they create designs — hot pads, pillows, and other small things are fun.  Or, have them turn a t-shirt inside out and sew up the neckline and the sleeves.  Turn right-side-out and stuff will pillow stuffing.  Then stitch up the bottom.

12.  Theme quilts — have them make quilt blocks on a theme (we made one with a dog theme and another with an airplane theme).  Use muslin for the blocks and cut them out in 10″ squares.  Using fabric crayons, permanent markers, appliques, buttons, or photo transfers (where you print off photos onto transfer paper and then iron them onto fabric) to create blocks in the selected theme.  Give grandma a block to make — and one to dad — and one for mom — etc.   Then have the child sew the blocks together with printed fabric (also in their theme — they have fun going to the fabric store and choosing something that strikes their fancy).  The quilt top is pretty easy to make.  Add a back (stitch together like a pillow case with thin, rolled padding for the middle and then turn right side out).  Tie with yarn and stitch up the turn-space by hand.  Easy and really valued by the child when done!

13. Make wicker and twig (or silk flower or dried leaf) arrangements or wall hangings.  Cool glue guns, fabric ribbons (printed in themes kids like) etc. all work together to make small objects, arrangements, wall-hangings, etc.  The fun is the process — and they make nice gifts for family members.

14. We had a great time with ceramics!   A ceramics shop has green-ware that they will show you/your child how to clean (using tools kind of like a dentist uses).  After it’s cleaned, they will bake it for you in a kiln for a small fee.  Then have child apply a glaze and take it back to the ceramics shop to be processed in the kiln again.  We chose projects like gazing balls, vases with multi-colored glazes that melted and make funny patterns, chess game pieces, etc.  You can also get plain clay from them — like play-dough.  Statues, objects, free-form pots, etc. can all be made.  When done and dried they can be fired and glazed as well.

15. Model rockets and model airplanes — plastic or paper — ones that fly or are used just for decoration — all are fun and teach creativity and following directions.  Allow your child to think ‘outside the box’ as they create on their own using the base kits that are available at craft stores.
16. Model airplane paints work great for painting designs on stones for paper weights.  Be sure to buy the type of paint that is safe to breathe!

17.  For art — never negate the value of Legos when it comes to developing creativity!  So many skills are learned with Lego building.  You might assign specific projects with Legos — a complete village or building or vehicle.  Take a picture of the finished project to remember it by.

Happy creating!  Remember, children are only limited by time, resources, and their imaginations!

~ Thanks, Katie, for sharing a fun afternoon and for posing for the picture! ~

Painting with Puff!


When I was a child, my first grade reading book was Dick and Jane.  They had a dog named Spot and a cat named Puff.  I always thought Puff was a cute name for a cat!  But this post isn’t about reading or about cats.  It’s about a fun art project that uses ingredients mixed together that create a paint that puffs up when microwaved.  How fun is that?  Here’s the recipe.  May it keep the children in your life happily entertained for at least an hour or two!

In a small bowl, combine:

2 Tbsp. self-raising flour*
6 drops of food coloring
2 Tbsp. salt

Add enough water to make into a creamy paste.  Using a paint brush or sponge, create a design on tagboard or cardboard.  Make another ‘batch’ of puffy paint in other colors if desired.  Paint, paint, paint.  When done, microwave the design on high for  15 – 30 seconds.  The paint will puff and should dry completely.

*To make your own self-raising flour, blend 2 cups of all-purpose flour with 1 Tbsp. baking powder.

~ Thank you, Allison and Levi, for cheerfully posing for this picture! ~

His Song

‎"Yet the LORD will command his lovingkindness in the day time, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life." 

Psalm 42:8

~ Singing are Madison, Morgan, Sheri, & Jeff Easter; Ryan Seaton ~

Monday, March 07, 2011

History of a Teapot

Teapots are a palette for artistic expression.  General thought is that English teapots are adorned with flowers and frills.  But here is an example of an English teapot that is about as far away from flowers as you can get!  For those who enjoy English history, this teapot is not only handsome, but creates a great conversation starter and a foray into the famous Battle of Waterloo 1815.  Tari gave me this creative gift, and although I have not yet made tea in this pot, I have really enjoyed learning about the Battle of Waterloo.  If you are interested, you can read about it here.  Next on the agenda is to determine exactly what type of tea would best be served in a Waterloo teapot! 

~ Sadler ~ Staffordshire England ~ The Battle of Waterloo 1815 ~ The Duke of Wellington & Soldiers of the Battle of Waterloo ~ Sergeant of the Coldstream Guards, Private of the Black Watch Regiment, Captain of the 3rd Foot Guards, Sergeant of the 1st Food Guards ~

Thursday, March 03, 2011


"RELUCTANTLY Spring makes her way --- At Winter's edge she hesitates, as if she feared to come too soon.  The primrose halts, the wind-flower waits --- for Spring's green cloak is flecked with snow, and in her tresses wild and bright --- a dew of frost glints in the gold and sparkles in the sun's cold light."

~ Patience Strong ~

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Happy Birthday, Tari

Special birthday wishes to my friend, Tari. Your creativity and passion for life always inspires me. Friends since our teens, our mutual interests and perspectives on life provide common ground, while our dramatic differences keep life interesting. Having a friend who can wield a hammer and wire a house, as well as whip up a floral design and stitch a lovely seam, exibits diversity not seen in many. Hours of deep and thoughtful conversations over cups of Yunnan Gold seal the deal. This friendship is for "keeps". I hope the year ahead is blessed with many good things. Enjoy your day! Happy birthday to you!

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The Whole Child

‘The popular method of filling the student’s mind with that which is not practical and hurrying him through a certain course, in order that he may obtain a diploma, is not true education. True education begins on the inside, at the core, with that which is practical.’

Goodloe Harper Bell, Review December 26, 1882

* * *

I love this quote because it exhibits the need to develop the whole child.  Too many times parents and educators compartmentalize a child's development, keeping intellectual learning separate from vocational skills, musical expression or physical ability.  Seeing the child as a whole person and helping them develop in all facets of their being establishes the core of what true education really is.

March Daffodils

Daffodils that come before the swallow dares,
And take the winds of March with beauty.