...Growing, Building, Cooking, Preserving, Crafting...

2006 began our urban homestead when I broke ground on a garden, which now includes perennial fruits, flowers, & many vegetable varieties. We dream of solar panels, keeping bees and hens. Until then we'll continue growing and preserving our own fruits and vegetables, building what we can for our home, cooking from scratch, and crafting most days.


My Holiday Sweatshop...and Remembering What We Celebrate

Lights on Wisconsin Ave. looking east from 6th St.
"Santa's workshop" has been in full swing this week with the help of some amazing friends who have taken/are taking Vera for a morning so I can sew away on some gifts--especially ones I don't want V to see.  Yesterday morning I began Brick Road Skirt number two for my other niece as well as a tiny overcoat for Vera's doll.  As I was sewing up a storm I had time to sip lukewarm coffee and let my thoughts wander.  A big realization I had was how impossible it is to make these quality gifts at dirt cheap prices if you are accounting for actual the time and labor put into them, not to mention the materials (though mine were all scraps or things I had on hand.)  A friend and fellow knitter made a statement in a recent blog post--when she was challenged with the idea of selling her knitwear--about how much she'd actually have to charge for each product.  It was decidedly more than she believed anyone would easily pay.  Since I've become a more serious crafter over the last several years I've gained enormous appreciation for the work that's put into handcrafted items.  It's no wonder an adult size cabled sweater could cost hundreds of dollars, hand-sewn kids clothes carry boutique prices, and foods like meticulously cracked and picked hickory nuts can go for almost $25/lb.  I had a pretty clear idea about all of this before yesterday, but after my four hour sweat session in the morning, I can now firmly offer that there's absolutely no way the cheap goods people buy at big box stores can be manufactured in the workers' or environment's best interest.  It's truly saddening to me, but gives me even more motivation to sew away on these gifts knowing that it's one less item being demanded via exploited labor practices from China, Vietnam, India, or other foreign lands.

I have now knocked out two of the seven (or eight?) gifts I have on my to-do list.  Will I finish in time?  Probably.  Although I'm sure I'll spend some late nights next week in my craft corner putting on the finishing touches.  How does Santa do it?  After taking Vera to see the new Muppet movie recently, she was excited about Kermit the Frog.  I took a well-worn Kermit T-shirt (probably another relic resuscitated from my brother's crusty college dwelling), cut the print from it and turned it into a pillow.  It's very basic, but she's going to love it.  I even found some green piping in my stash to decorate the edges. So here's where I insert (hoping for a chuckle) "It's Not Easy Being Green."  After the above paragraph, I reiterate that it certainly isn't easy.  But I know it's the right thing for me to do and I think Vera will be happy with this novelty gift.
Perfect green piping from my stash
And plenty of matching material on hand for the back
Hand-sewn cards
I used to make all my own holiday cards as well, but in recent years have gone the way of printed photo cards.  Once you have kids, all the relatives just want to see holiday photos, right?  I only ordered about a third of the printed cards that I did last year, using e-mail and social networking modes to share our holiday wishes/photos otherwise for a much lower carbon footprint (much lower cost in printing and postage...and much less time filling them out.)  Don't get me wrong, I still love each and every one of the people to whom I normally send hard copies of cards, but in keeping things more simple this year, time spent writing and mailing cards had to be cut.  I did, however, sew some handmade cards yesterday to supplement the printed ones and sent these originals to my family members with wallet size home-printed candid shots of Vera tucked inside.  I've made several types of machine-sewn cards before and it couldn't be easier.  In fact, we made our own wedding invitations this way and I still treasure the prototype.

Though my husband claims I seem more stressed this holiday season, I actually feel fairly at peace.  I just disguise it well as I walk around looking dazed, disgruntled, or desperate for a nap.  We've had a chance to check out some cool holiday events this month--a circle tour of downtown Milwaukee to check out the Milwaukee Holiday Lights, the MATC Culinary Student Gingerbread Houses at the Milwaukee Public Market...
Kremlin (?) Gingerbread House
An Homage to my hometown--Paris...Illinois

Holiday Sparkle at St. Paul Fish Market--"Goldfish Tree"
...a Wine and Cheese Tasting at a friend's home, and the Holistic Moms Network Alternative Cookie Exchange at our house.  There will be more fun towards week's end as we celebrate Winter Solstice. 
My friends' amazing hors d'oeuvres spread for the Wine and Cheese party
Wine for the Tastin'
Karen's lovely mantle

Gretel’s Gingerbread Cookies (Gluten-free, Dairy-free Soy-free, White sugar in icing only)

Makes 3-4 dozen cookies

This is a very easy dough to work with.  It’s not too sticky and therefore fun for kids to play and shape/cut/roll while mom/dad is punching out cookies…of course the kids can do this as well!

1 c. coconut oil, melted
1 egg
1 t. water
1/4 c. honey
1/2 t. ground allspice
2 t. ground ginger
1/2 t. ground cloves
1/2 t. cinnamon powder
1/8 t. peeled and grated fresh ginger (optional…but might want to add a little extra ground ginger)
1 t. baking soda
3 c. blanched almond flour, or more as needed (I ended up using 3 1/2 c. approx.)

Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease or line a cookie sheet.  Mix all ingredients together in a bowl, until the dough is dry enough and not sticky to work with.   Add more almond flour, if necessary.  Roll dough (use a little extra almond flour to “dust” the rolling surface, as needed) and cut out shapes.  Place cutouts on cookie sheet and bake 10-12 min, or until edges turn golden. 

Decorating Icing
1 egg white
1/2 lb. organic powdered sugar, sifted
1 T. water
1 t. cream of tartar

Combine all ingredients in an electric mixer (or use electric beaters).  Beat on high for 2-3 min. until glossy.  Spread onto cookies or put in decorating bag to use for piping.

Ready for the Swap
We finally decided last week to approach the holiday season by presenting Vera with stories of all cultures' winter traditions.  So far we're learning about Hanukkah and Las Posadas, we've read Christmas in the Big Woods (part of the Little House Series), How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and watched A Christmas Carol.  We also plan to talk about Yule (Winter Solstice) and Kwanzaa; read 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, and watch "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" (indulging my inner 80s child) and hopefully learn about Chinese New Year and Ramadan later in the season.  It's not that I expect Vera to celebrate all of these festivals or even pick one.  My goal is to begin exposing her year by year to the ways in which people of all ages celebrate this special time of year around the world.

Othr Gluten-Free goodies for the cookie exchange
Chocolate Drizzled Peanut Butter No-Bakes
Gluten-Free Yumminess!
Through my efforts, not only have I learned more than expected about these other festivities, but have realized that this time of year for me is really about memories.  I put my great-grandmother's glass ornaments--given to me by my own Gramma--on the tree; I read/tell stories we enjoyed as kids; we sing carols that I couldn't carry in a paper bag when I was eight; we exchange gifts in the spirit of generosity that our parents so overwhelmingly demonstrated; I display the toothpick, clothespin, and popsicle stick creche I sloppily glued together in 2nd grade; I bake cookies by family recipes; and carry on other traditions however subtle or strange--like hanging all the greeting cards around a doorway/window and bringing the trifecta of brandy, pickled herring, and frozen Tom and Jerry mix to my parents who live far enough south of the Cheddar Curtain so as not to have easy access to these regional goodies.  For me, this time of year is for reflecting, remembering, (hopefully relaxing...eventually), and maybe doing it all while I sit quietly by the light of the tree in the living room.  

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