Is it just us, or did the holidays come out of nowhere this year? No worries. We’ve got you covered with the HOMEGROWN Holiday Gift Guide, featuring a bushel of ideas that don’t require rush shipping or deep pockets. In true HOMEGROWN fashion, you can find what you need to make most of the presents below at your local winter farmers market—or maybe even in your own pantry or closet—because the most meaningful gifts come from our hearts and our hands. We’re also including a few stocking stuffers under $20, because even the most industrious elves need a break sometimes.
1. Got a t-shirt? A needle and thread? You’ve got what you need to craft Cynthia’s head-turning tote bag. It’s perfect for hauling kale—or whatever 2014’s veggie of the year turns out to be.
2. One potato, two potato, three potato, four. Give Grandma a gift that she couldn’t love more: notecards personalized using homemade potato stamps. (Bonus: Once you’re done crafting, your tools can go in the compost pile.)
3. Remember those friends who couldn’t stop raving about your backyard honey last summer? Chances are they’ll go gaga for Charlyn’s homemade beeswax candles. Learn how to make your own votives and light up a loved one’s winter nights.
4. Decking the halls with boughs of holly smells awfully good, but Maryanne’s coffee filter wreath has a longer lifespan and a smaller price tag than store-bought greenery. Plus, it’s equally appropriate for indoor winter wonderlands and springtime bridal showers.
5. Can’t you just picture a few of these babies wrapped up and tied with a bow? Nope, they’re not candy. They’re seedballs, one way to show those neglected patches of ground some love, and they’re as much fun to make and give as they are to toss.
6. So simple, it’s genius: homemade crackers, the perfect complement to all those jams and jellies and spreads in your giftee’s pantry. Get tips in Kari’s 101.
7. In the Southwest, this time of year means delicious tamales. Learn how to make your own to give away—or, better yet, round up a few friends for a tamalada and let everyone take home his or her handiwork.
8. We’re past the window of opportunity for steeping a batch of homemade Kahlúa before Christmas (where did the year go?), but you’ve still got time to make mead using Penny’s Finnish recipe.
9. Have a family member who can’t make it home for Christmas? Nothing says love like a big plate of noodles. Make your own pasta following’s Jannine’s instructions then mail the results to anyone in need of a care package.
10. Calling all candymakers: Looking for a tidbit beyond the usual peppermint bark/orange peel/peanut brittle triad? Give Jackie’s apple cider caramels a spin of the whisk.
11. Paine’s miniature log cabins are crafted in Maine and burn incense made from balsam fir harvested by local woodsmen. Plus, they smell like winter itself for only $10.
12. You know what’s none of your giftee’s beeswax? Disposable plastic wrap. Ugh. Delight the thrifty and the eco-friendly alike with Beeswrap ($15–$19), a greener alternative.
13. If springtime feels too far away, give your favorite sweet tooth something to look forward to: her very own maple spile ($3.25) and a plan to go tree tapping.
14. Or maybe your sweetheart would rather fast forward to summer? Feed his garden daydreams with a 100-count bag of tomato trellis clips ($9.15) for the tamest plants ever.
15. Got another gardener in the family? Help her prepare her soil with a stash of biochar ($12) made from oak and tomato stakes on Pennsylvania’s Happy Cat Farm.
Want more ideas? You can find additional gift how-tos in Weeknight Wonders, updated weekdays through Christmas Eve. And just a note to you, our HOMEGROWN family: May your giving be heartfelt and your holidays be bright, and may your season be filled with delight!
This post originally appeared on HOMEGROWN.org.
PHOTOS BY (SEEDBALLS) SARADENT.CA, COURTESY OF CREATIVE COMMONS ON FLICKR; (CABIN) WICKERFURNITURE, COURTESY OF CREATIVE COMMONS ON FLICKR; (BEESWRAP) MARISA/FOOD IN JARS, COURTESY OF CREATIVE COMMONS ON FLICKR; (SPILE) CHIOT’S RUN, COURTESY OF CREATIVE COMMONS ON FLICKR; (TOMATO CLIPS) COURTESY OF JOHNNY’S SELECTED SEEDS; (BIOCHAR) COURTESY OF HAPPY CAT FARM; ALL OTHER PHOTOS AS CREDITED WITHIN LINKS
You know what song I think is great? “Small Town” by John Cougar Mellencamp.
I’ve always loved this song, even in 1985 when it came out and I was living in suburbia. I wasn’t “born in a small town” but “I’ll probably die in a small town.” And it’s a great town. Or a village to be more precise.
We’ve lived here 15 years now and it’s taken that long for me to really start feeling that it’s “my town.” This comes from shopping here, and shipping parcels from the post office, and doing workshops, and playing hockey, and being on committees, and helping out at special events and generally inflicting myself on the village as often as I possibly can.
Saturday was an awesome day for me in my small town. I took a CPR/AED workshop put on by the firefighters. I didn’t know what an AED was, so I looked it up on Wikipedia and it discovered that it is an “automated external defibrillator” and can be used when someone has a myocardial infarction … you know, a heart attack. When the instructor asked if anyone knew the correct term for a heart attack, well, let’s just say I looked like a genius. I used to watch the TV series, “ER” so I was familiar with the term. And I was also familiar with the use of a defibrillator when they jam those pads on a patient and yell “CLEAR!!!” and hit them with 50,000 Volts or whatever it is and the patient convulses back to life. Needless to say I was pretty disappointed to discover that the modern automated units are small, subtle, talk you through the process and use way less voltage. You still have to keep your hands off the person, but if you forget to remove your hands it sounds like the experience is more like touching an electric fence than a high voltage transmission line. Like all good country folk I am quite familiar with the jolt of an electric fence, even though I should never admit it publicly.
There were about 30 people in the class and I was pretty excited to discover that I knew the majority of them … they were all friends, business people, people from happy hockey, and half the staff of the grocery store. It was a fun morning and I was happy to take CPR again. I took it 30 years ago and as I recall it was pretty complicated … a lot of counting up ribs and stuff. Now it’s just start compressions, 100 a minute, 30 then 2 breaths. We also learned about how to handle choking which was good since I don’t think I’d ever learned the Heimlich maneuver.
Along with the instructor there were 5 or 6 volunteer firefighters there. They gave up their Saturday morning to help members of their community get up to speed on CPR. In a small tow
n this is a good skill for everyone to have. We are 25 to 30 minutes away from the nearest ambulance … on a good day. Then you’ve got the drive back down to the hospital. As I learned the best place to have a heart attack is NOT in our rural village. Unless you’ve got someone around who can grab one of the AEDs located around the community and start CPR.
This is the trade off of living far from a big urban center, but you have this other great thing happening; people volunteering to make the community a better place. Our volunteer firefighters take hundreds of hours of training to get up to speed on all the equipment and first aid. Then they keep their skills up to date by training all year.
Then they work for a living, and respond to emergency calls in their spare time.
City fire fighters are extremely well paid in Canada. They are exposed to hazardous chemic
als and dangerous conditions, so this compensation is warranted. And then there are the volunteer fighters in my community who do it for free. And yes, it’s mostly guys and guys like to drive around in big red trucks with flashing lights and use big hoses to blast fire with water. I get that.
But it is dangerous and I think there’s just way more to it. And I don’t envy anyone who responds to the carnage of a car wreck.
Nope, there’s something pretty awesome about volunteer fighters. Something way above and beyond driving shiny trucks in the parade. It’s just one of an infinite number of things that makes living in a small town such an amazing thing.
My friend Tim from the video store was there. He is also a volunteer firefighter so he showed me the trucks and different size hoses they use depending on the fire. And as expected, he was happy to make me the butt of some well-deserved razzing. Tim also took these photos. The Tamworth Volunteer Fire Department is really awesome.
After my awesome CPR training on Saturday, I’m cautioning anyone that comes to my place over the holidays and accidentally falls asleep on the couch after a big meal that there’s a pretty good chance they will wake up to find me doing chest compressions on them. Apparently I was giggling and talking at the back of the class when they were explaining exactly when you should start performing CPR.
Despite a few days of rain and some temperatures creeping towards forty degrees, it is certainly getting colder, overall. Winter’s perennial arrival is unfolding. To accompany this change of season, Ryan and I find ourselves fielding questions from friends and acquaintances alike.
“How is the cabin?”
“You must be burning a lot of wood?”
“Were you warm enough last night?”
“Was the cabin cold this morning?”
We are touched by friends’ concern, and flattered that our well-being is at the forefront of their wintertime thoughts. Such questions are certainly valid, as we both have spent past seasons living in colder and less-heated abodes. However, we are pleased to assert that our cabin is: warm!
Our chinking improvements of this past September – mortaring between the logs with a mix of sand, sawdust, lime, and mortar mix – have yielded wonderful results. The difference from last winter, when the cabin was chinked with a rubberized caulk and oakum, is tremendous. While our woodpile is shrinking, the wood is disappearing slowly, gradually – and yet we’re more comfortable than ever before.
But what do we mean by warmth? It’s true that the cabin temperature fluctuates, as would anyone’s residence that is heated exclusively with wood, but not uncomfortably so. With a fire in the morning and evenings, it is still pleasantly warm late in the afternoon. Overnight, the cabin holds the heat such that the blankets with which we start the evening are still sufficient come morning.
Indeed, after cooking our evening meal on the stovetop, we’re often down to our long johns and t-shirts, basking in a heat wave. The loft is a toasty resting spot, and certainly stays warm long after the first floor has begun to cool. We no longer need to huddle around the stove come morning, nor do we stuff ourselves like Michelin men into layers of sweaters. Contrary to many inquiries, we do not see our breath when we first awake.
Most grateful for the improvements is Mica, who is relieved that we have finally made a proper canine habitat. He no longer has to accept the challenges of our unusual choices. We still look to him and say: “We’re only starting this fire for you, Mica …”
… but we relish the warmth as well.
Start planning your spring plantings now! Contact Beth via firstname.lastname@example.org to design your herb garden, vegetable plantings, or small orchard.
Have you ever had a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) share? If you have, you can relate to our situation in fall 2012.
We had just gotten our first CSA share in years, and, well, let’s just say that the pumpkins were booming. We had pumpkin coming out our ears. And we still have pumpkin in our freezer from that time, and the pumpkins are rolling in again.
In other words, we need to use up some major pumpkin. There are, of course, plenty of ways we can do that. The most obvious usage is in food, like my pumpkin lasagna, but I can come up with something more creative than that. Which is how I came to paint my face orange with pumpkin and honey.
Pumpkin, you see, can also be used in skincare. In fact, according to the website I found this pumpkin/honey recipe on, it does wonders for your skin. We needed to use our pumpkin up, and this recipe, unlike so many others, only had two ingredients. It could also be made entirely locally: the other recipes I found all involved sugar, cinnamon, coconut milk, etc.
I used last year’s pumpkin and this year’s honey to make a pumpkin face mask, then used my fingers to paint it on. It was slippery and c-c-cold due to the fact that the frozen pumpkin hadn’t thawed as much as I’d thought it had. When I smeared it on my lips, it tasted like the honey in it.
Then, as the recipe required, I set the timer on the oven to twenty minutes and went to wait with orange slime drying on my face. Twenty minutes passed. Gobbets of pumpkin slid down to my chin. The mask began to dry, so that every movement of my face felt like it stretched my skin tighter over my fles. Finally the timer went off. When I tried to wash my face the mask didn’t come off so much as liquefy, but I got most of it. (I found some in my hair later.) Then it was time to test the results. Pressing my fingers against my cheeks found that they felt firmer and, I don’t know, somehow more structured than they had before. They continued to be so some twenty-six hours later. And I still have at least one more evening’s worth of pumpkin in the fridge, just waiting to be used.
Pumpkin Honey Face Mask
We found this recipe here.
¼ cup pumpkin
1 Tbs honey
Combine in small bowl. Apply liberally to face during the evening. Wait 20 minutes, then wash off.
I had fed and watered the goats and was now collecting eggs from the chickens when I heard a rattle. It sounded like the doorknob to the back door of the barn. Suddenly, the door was flung wide open and in came eight goats. Before I could get out of the chicken pen, the goats everywhere in the barn. Belle flipped open the grain bin and was merrily munching on sweet feed. The rest of the goats were stationed along the hay bale stacks and were pulling mouthfuls of hay out of the hay bales.
When faced with so many goats being naughty the only thing you can do is take a deep breath and start moving goats out of the barn one at a time. They’re not like sheep where if you tell them to go someplace and drive them, they’ll generally go. So wrangling goats can be a bit crazy. I pulled the closest goats off the hay and pushed them out the back door. I went down the line, pulling determined goats off the hay and out of the feed until they were all back in the goat pen. Then, I closed my eyes and took several calming breaths.
I had caught them before any real damage had been done. Besides eating up all the food for the winter, (you don’t think a goat wouldn’t do that?) a goat can literally die from eating too much food. After overeating, a goat can get bloat, which can kill her. The rumen is the part of the goat’s digestive system that can bloat. Goats with bloat look huge on their left side where the rumen is and are obviously in pain. They kick at their rumen and grind their teeth (not to be confused with the natural act of ruminating).
Trick to Avoid Goat Bloat
The trick is to feed them baking soda along with vegetable oil and anti-gas medicine. Dosing goats are oh so joyful because inevitably the goat doesn’t want to be dosed, and you end up in a tussle. Wear your ratty clothes and have a handler present. You can give pills via the mouth (called boluses, for those who were curious) and you can feed liquids (drench) through either a drenching gun or use a big syringe and squirt it in their mouths. Expect to be covered in whatever you drench with. Yuck.
The better way is to prevent your goats from getting into the feed, so you don’t have this problem. That means not only goat feed, but chicken feed, horse feed, or whatever else. No matter how clever you think you are at containing their feed, go the extra mile and really keep them from it. Lock doors and look for ways to get in or out. Goats are clever and can climb. Boy, can they climb! There are photos of feral goats on literal toe-holds on cliffs and on tops of trees. I’ve heard of one person whose goats actual climbed scaffolding to get out of the barn from the open top window. They analyze your defenses and take advantage of them.
In my first blog post I talked about Annie, one of my first goats, whom the owner traded for 4 chickens because she was a bit of an escape artist. The truth is all goats are capable of being escape artists, and if you’re not willing to give them a good solid barrier, you’ll have goat mayhem.
I suspect it was Annie who opened the barn door with her horns.
My solution was simple. I locked the backdoor. When I told my husband about the goat escape the next day, he suggested we put a bar on the door to prevent any further openings.
Yep, that'll probably work.
I was thrilled by the turnout for our comfrey giveaway, so we're giving away another outside-the-box chicken feed on our blog this week. Click here for a chance to win 100+ peace silkworm eggs, which can turn into tasty caterpillars for your flock.
While I'm on the topic of alternative chicken feeds, I thought I'd toss out a few other ideas you may not have heard of. Chances are you've considered growing plants like corn and sunflowers for your flock, but how about ... worms? Or black soldier flies? Or Japanese beetles?
Back in the vegetable kingdom, many books sing the praises of raising duckweed for your flock, but our spoiled chickens turned up their noses (or should that be beaks?). We're in the early stages of experimenting with tree fruits, and so far persimmons and mulberries both seem to have potential in the chicken pasture.
And then there are the crazy ideas I want to research in more depth this winter. Like trapping or raising crawdads for our chickens. Or maybe growing snails, slugs, or grasshoppers. I'd be curious to hear your suggestions on the topic.
After two semi comatose days unpacking, laundering, cleaning and Christmas decorating this morning I was faced with the cold slap of what my friend Claudia termed 'post India stress disorder.' While in the duck yard of all places, perhaps in this moment my overloaded senses allowed a gap for entry, I realized I don't know what to do with my India experience.
My last few nights have been a slow motion nocturnal slideshow of hallowed eyes, babies in miniature, petite mothers sculpted down to the size of middle school children and roving forgotten animals. The nightmares aren't really, as the reality is so much more foul smelling, hopeless, and unjust than any manifestation of my brain.
The sweetness of home, joyous nature of children and feelings of time well spent are a tentative thread holding me above the precipice of abject pain and neglect. I am moving through my home and conversations thoroughly disbelieving of my own worthiness, yet secretly profoundly thankful. I feel as if I somehow cheated and walked away with a lotto win.
The gifts of food and personal security, self worth in the greater world, hope for my child, career and family choices, and the safety nets that have given me freedom from true fear and loss are like luxurious fat enveloping and cushioning me from reality. The seemingly random nature of the universe, never so obvious as when looking into the dull eyes of a child on the brink of death, does not make me feel lucky. Instead I am home to my loving and healthy family, on our dream homestead and left feeling that I didn't earn this, do not deserve this in the narcissistic way I had formerly thought. By accident of birth I was afforded confidence in my place and opportunity in the world. For me it was a case of get up and go fishing, where for many there is no pond in which to cast a line.
With a clarity born under an equally clear Idaho sky I realized my road had only two possible routes at this time. Like the encapsulated droplets on the backs of our ducks on this 8 degree F morning; I can protect myself. I can pull into my warm dry center, letting the sorrow and injustice roll off and take the joy and beauty with. The path that demands jumping off over the edge and committing is less clear. To drink it in, pathogens, neglect, hope and scarred beauty all becoming one with my cells invites the sadness in. But with it, a bit of the God that is in each of us.
This morning I choose to drink of life, and feel myself to my very soul become a child of this world.