Friday, July 13, 2018

A Day at Work

In my self-examination about my work options, I decided one good choice is to devote myself more to my already-existing business, Red Robin Soaps. If you click over, you'll see I don't keep my facebook page as up to date as I ought! 

It's a well-established home business with faithful customers and excellent products. Why turn my efforts to other avenues when this one is already good? 

Today I spent the day making Bee Balm, Healing Herb Ointment, and Insect-Repellent Lotion Bars. These products sell so well, and my customers rave about them. I thought I'd take you through my day today as I made them.

First, Healing Herb Ointment for damaged skin -- burns, poison ivy, scratches and bites. 
Several days ago I collected plantain, yarrow, and dandelion leaves and began infusing them into olive and coconut oils.
 After the leaves are strained out the oils are very green and ready for other ingredients. Adam cut up lots of beeswax for me.
 I have a large collection of essential oils. Four go into this ointment.
 Shea butter and grapeseed and almond oils are also added.
 My little hand-written recipe book contains all the scribbles needed.
 As the Healing Herb Ointment cooled, I began the Lotion Bars. They're made in silicone molds and are 1/3 beeswax.
 The golden oil above is safflower oil infused with dried dandelion flowers. This recipe is pretty labor-intensive and finicky!
 These lotion bars have 7 essential oils that repel insects, and they work wonderfully.
I slipped them in the refrigerator to cool, and began my next item: Bee Balm. More beeswax!
 Bee Balm is a simpler recipe, a lovely lotion for healthy skin. 
 By the time all these products were cooled, packaged, and labeled, it was 2:30, and I was ready for a nap!
Earlier, in the morning, I sorted dried herb leaves for tea. 
 Tarragon, lemon balm, mint, and lemongrass are my tea blend.
 I put tea into little tins that I find at the thrift store and sell them for $2 to $5, depending on size.

If I sold all those products tomorrow at the farmers' market (which I won't ...!) I would make a little over $140 profit. Adam made me crunch the numbers and be sure of the cost of each product I make because he's convinced they are under-priced, haha :) But I do make a profit, and I enjoy what I make. I enjoy meeting and talking with my customers very much. It's satisfying to know my products are beneficial to others.

Last Saturday I sold $98 at the market, a good day. I realized later that I'd have had to teach nine half-hour piano lessons (at my old rate) to make that much money. That's four and a half hours of teaching. Both are good work for good return, and I'd like to teach piano again too. But I get to choose my own hours in my soap business, which is a blessing. We'll see. For now I think I may reconsider finding a desk job that would take me away all day. Jobs like that here do not provide benefits, but they would radically alter our home life. We're having good success at trimming our budget and watching our spending.

It's hard figuring out these priorities and duties at my age, as some of you know! But for now, I'll keep making lotion.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Puppy Days of Summer

It's not quite Dog Days of Summer yet, but we can see them from here!
 The dogs say it's HOT.
 The chickens agree.
 But they all have lots of shade and water, and Trixie has a little pool she plops in to cool off her belly.

The new roof looks so good Adam decided to spray/clean the outside of the house.
 The next step will be to remove the shutters and paint them ... probably barn red to match the roof. Or black. Probably red.
 The back porch almost looks cute now!
 And there's the other side with the shade garden.
Two little sheets of roofing were left over. Adam will find a purpose for them.
 Look how droopy this volunteer watermelon (?) gourd (?) plant is. All the plants in pots are weary and dry.
 My new herb bed this spring is doing beautifully!

 A pretty marigold:
 The elephant ears are quite large! I've already asked for more concrete leaves this fall.
 It seems everybody is outside but me. I did labor in the garden quite hard on that first cool day -- we had three cool days in a row. But today is back up to 95 degrees. Ugh! So I will return to summer survival mode.
I'm knitting a little -- very light knitting so as not to overheat my lap -- and sipping lemon water, and watching a delightful children's story that puts me in mind of adventures and Christmas and writing and other happy thoughts. That in turn compels my mind into autumn, and with the air conditioner running, I can almost pretend it's not mid-July.
But for those of you who love summer's warmth, here is a sunny zinnia to keep you happy!

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Malmesbury and the King's Heath

Right now I'm reading Elspeth Huxley's little book, Gallipot Eyes, a diary from 1974/75. I'm nearly done. It's a local history of a small corner of North Wiltshire, England. An avid historian and digger-in-archives, Huxley lived there many years, interviewing her neighbors. Her January 1975 entry contains my favorite passage, and I share portions of it with you here:

"Malmesbury by lamplight, streets deserted, occasional footsteps clop-clopping, black shadows: a place of magic. You can feel age oozing out of ancient stones and flights of worn steps. Little houses huddle together as if on guard over treacherously narrow streets. Above it all, a broken symbol, stands the ruined Abbey. The High Street curls down to the river with St. John's Almshouses, built in the thirteenth century, at the foot, the quiet Avon in its green valley almost encircling the town.

"These Malmesburians are citizens of the oldest borough in England. This is a big claim but Stan Hudson assured me it's true. In the year 880 King Alfred granted a prescriptive charter to the town and in 939 his grandson AEthelstan, Malmesbury's own king who reigned and was buried here, confirmed it."

Now follows an ancient edict from AEthelstan:

"I Athelstan King of the English do give for me and my Successors to my Burgesses and all their Successors in the Borough of Malmesbury that they shall always have and hold all their Functions and Free Customs as they held them in the time of King Edward my Father freely and honourably and I command to all under my Dominion that they do no injury to them and that they may be free from all Calumny and of Burghboote Brugboote Wardwhite Horngeld and Scot and I give and grant to them the royal Bruery of five hides of land near to my town of Norton for their assistance in my Conflict against the Danes."

(Calumny is slander. The interesting words after it are all types of taxes and monetary collections. AEthelstan is promising reward to his faithful soldiers and their descendants ... forever.) Huxley continues:

"These were the words, an extract from King AEthelstan's charter, recited to me from memory by the current High Steward of the Malmesbury Commoners, who was born in this town, schooled here, worked here all his life and lives here now in his retirement, in a plain and dignified late Georgian house in the High Street, with a garden running down to the old wall above the Avon. A spare, upright, slender man nearing eighty, with all the courtesy and kindliness of his generation.

"Over one thousand years ago an ancestor of his fought for AEthelstan against the Danes, and in return for services rendered by this ancestor, Stan Hudson today receives the rent on ten and 5/8 of an acre of farm land on the King's Heath ...."

Huxley then describes the 240 local men who still collect this bit of monetary advantage because of the bravery of ancestors a thousand years earlier. They must live in Malmesbury still, to collect it. Huxley goes on:

"In former times each man got his own plot of land which he could, and did, cultivate; now it's all let off as farms, and the Capital Burgesses manage it as a small estate, paying each Commoner his share of the rent. The ancient ceremony of initiation is still held, though no longer on the King's Heath. The newcomer used to dig a hole in his plot and throw in a silver coin while one of the Burgesses, the Clerk to the Common, touched him with a twig, reciting:

This turf and twig I give to thee,
As free as AEthelstan gave to me,
And I hope a loving brother thou wilt be."
(p. 147-149)

Can you picture it, in the growing twilight, a huddle of men in a field with a shovel, a silver coin twinkling as it flips into the soil, and a twig laid gently on a shoulder, while a brief ancient rhyme is whispered?

In 1974, the year Huxley's diary was written, government reforms in England did away with boroughs entirely, and Malmesbury's claim to fame as the oldest one, was lost. Rather sad, I think.

Isn't it enchanting -- magical, as Huxley notes -- that a little town could retain traditions involving twigs, and pieces of silver, and recitations of an ancient edict handed down from father to son? Is it any wonder that Tolkien would've come from such a place? (I dashed over to learn more about Tolkien's childhood home. He grew up at his grandparents' home in Birmingham, just two counties north of Huxley's home, about 70 miles by road and shorter as the crow flies. The name of his grandparents' town? King's Heath. How's that for a coincidence?)

I've enjoyed Huxley's diary. She's direct, occasionally lusciously descriptive, funny ("Now that my plan to reduce the garden has led to a small but significant increase in its size, my hankering for an asparagus bed has taken on a new force." p. 24), unpretentious, and full of detail. 

Her village, Oaksey, lies just inside the Cotswolds. What a charming place! If you've followed Susan Branch's vacations to the UK, you know its lovely yellow-stone cottages, hillsides of sheep, quiet footpaths, and hamlets unchanged for 300 years, and pristine for tourists' visits. Some villages, however would prefer a bit of modern development! Of this phenomenon, Huxley states, "It's other people's villages we want to leave unspoiled so that we can go and look at them, while we develop our own." (78)

If you find this little one year's diary and enjoy hamlet stories, I recommend it highly.

Image result for gallipot eyes

Friday, July 6, 2018

My Dark Season

I've told you before how I love autumn (and even winter) and wait longingly for them.

This is that longing time. This is my "winter" -- the season when I feel discouraged, bored, restless, depressed, lethargic, and prone to too many naps. I really don't like summer.

I was feeling quite down a few days ago, quite dissatisfied with my indoor, cooped-up life while the sweltering heat and clouds of mosquitoes reign supreme outside my window. If you live up north, remember how you feel about ice and snow in February? Yeah ... that's my summer.

I'm cheering myself with painting and thoughts of how June, which is now a memory, is supposed to be:
I started with a strawberry border.
 Then I added some text.
 Since I'd already practiced on some purple cone flowers and ditch lilies, I added them on either side.

 It has rather a fireworks look.
What other things bloom in June? Roses, of course, and a few pinks.
A riot of busy blooming, but that's how June is, yes?

I finished a prayer shawl and started a new one, having rejoined my little Thursday group of ladies again on a more regular basis. 

I might mention also ... if nobody minds ... about finances. (I know, what a topic!) But we bloggers want to share meaningful information, right? And many of us in our 50s and 60s are in the same boat: empty-nesting, working still, wondering about "retirement" (whatever that is, and if it ever really might happen), and some of us are struggling to make our finances work. That's one reason I considered job-hunting again.

Should I regain my contentment at home? Should I be contributing to our income more? Should Adam find some additional income to compensate for his salary? Finally I sat down with our real budget and crunched the numbers -- and here's where I feel like some of you might be able to relate.  Our finances are tighter than I realized, but they are (for now) doable -- if we make a concerted effort to economize more. Simplify more. Regulate and schedule more. We were overspending so much on groceries, of all things! We'd gotten out of our old habit of shopping once a week, instead dashing to the store for any handful of items we thought we needed for dinner that night. I thought perhaps we were over-spending on farm improvements or eating out or car repairs, but it turns out it was our constant runs to WalMart. That, I can take in hand and correct. 

I may still find some work to do outside the home, but that will be the second corrective measure; the first will be more careful attention to our budget. Are any of you in the same boat - a few of you maybe? I know some of you have professional husbands or had lucrative professional careers yourself, and you are set in a comfortable retirement. Some of us are still puzzling out that future.

The other thing Adam and I do each day is watch with bewilderment the war zone that is Facebook. I have close friend/old friends/new friends/acquaintances who are on opposite sides of the Hate Wars -- i.e. politics these days. What unkindnesses can be thrown back and forth today? What old relationships can be trashed? We watch with horror as sweet people who wouldn't hurt a fly say the most unkind things to others. I remember, years ago, thinking that the online platform was a handy place to thrash people soundly with my opinions. I no longer feel that way, nor does Adam. (I may share my thinking and reasoning, but I try to do it calmly and moderately.) Our new rule when interacting with people on social media is caution and kindness. I do not block or unfriend anyone on Facebook, but I do occasionally "unfollow" a friend whose public conversation has become offensive. If it would cause me to cringe and leave the room in person, that's my cue to "leave the Facebook room," so to speak. 

So, so many of us are in the dangerous middle no-man's-land in the War of Hateful Words. It's worse, I think, not to take a side. To hold up one's arms and holler, "Cease fire, folks!" No one listens except the others who also long for peace. 

We live in a land of peace. Isn't that what our ancestors strove for? What we strive for? What we are thankful for when we view nations around the world with gutted cities and bombed neighborhoods and refugees fleeing soldiers? Why would we ruin our precious peace with the anger and vitriol we spew each day? Caution and kindness. I will work harder to let these words guide and guard me. 

Peace to all of you, friends. Thank you for stopping by! I had little to offer but a small watercolor -- stay cool out there!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Announcing Blog Festivals ...?

I announce that (above) with a question mark because it's not really my festival. It's Pom Pom's. ( I don't think she'll mind my offering to participate.) Dash over and read what she said --
"Reading and viewing, knitting and drinking tea . . . writing and drawing in my Jane Austen journal."  - Pom Pom
She proposes a month of this, starting August 1st!

Here are the four Austen novels I own. I haven't actually read any but Persuasion in many years. What a fun idea! August and its unbearable, dreary heat will pass faster if I'm strolling through Pemberley, sparring with Mr. Knightley, or escaping from the clutches of evil Cousin Elliot into those of handsome Captain Wentworth!

After August, Pom Pom suggests a Beatrix Potter Festival in September ... I might wait until October? I adore October, and September is still Hot Summer here. I'm pretty well set for Miss Potter, if I do say so myself:

Austen would inspire much writing in a journal, followed by Potter, who would cause one to sketch animals.

Of course, I'll need two new, small journals from the creative hands of Adam, the book-crafter. I'm still dabbling a tiny bit in my winter/spring/summer journal, but I think I do need a fresh start.

Anyone else care to join in the fun?

Monday, July 2, 2018

It's Been a Week!

 The chickens are chickening. These are the younger birds. They're having a turn in the orchard and loving it! This apple tree branch is a favorite daytime roost.

I made a batch of soap -- lemongrass, coconut mango, and chocolate/coffee.
 This is Ethel. She's two and a half years old. She's never gone broody before, but she is now! I'm allowing her four eggs -- all four from the only other hen in this coop, an Ameracauna (Punkin, remember her?) And Bernie the Roo is also an Ameracauna, so these chicks will be "full-bred" supposedly. (Ethel herself is a Barred Rock.)

 I did a little pre-natal visit this morning, and all is well. Adam will be putting metal sheeting along the base of the walls in this coop to keep out all the mice and very-scary rats. The barn is full of them. (If you have chicken food, you have rodents.) 

And for the past week our roof has been worked on!
 These fellows are doing a great job. I love the color. The metal roof is the same price as an asphalt would have been. We are thankful. We've had to live under tarps a bit, but they are dryer than our old roof, haha! 
 Lots of nasty old metal lies in the yard. The roof had a manufacturer's date on it: Feb. 2, 1923. Wow!
 Nearly done! I think they are finishing up this morning.
 And earlier this week we learned that our boat had sunk in the slip. It was sitting high two weeks before. But the scuppers plugged up, and it filled with rain water ... 21" of rain in June.
 Adam inquired for someone to help raise it, not wanting to pay too much. He found a very hard-working, responsible young man (14 years old) who lives locally and has been messing about in boats all his life. He came, he diagnosed, he implemented, and the boat was raised. Adam was so impressed he paid him more to clean the outside. It's good to encourage industry in young people these days.

I enjoyed the Croakerfest (July 4th) Festival parade in Oriental on Saturday.

Local sailing camps pulled dinghies around.
They even put a wheel on the tiller so they could be steered!

The "Cooligans"

 That evening we watched the fireworks from the marina where our boat lives.
 This is the little marina store, such a quiet, sweet place. We sat on the porch on the backside of this building. The fireworks were shot from the top of the bridge, which you can barely see far away to the right of the building.

An aged live oak tree shades a patch of grass there, with ferns and Spanish moss dressing it elegantly. The elderly lady who owned and ran this marina for many years, died in early June, and now her son will run it. May it remain a peaceful place that feels more like 1960 than 2018 :)

I'm contemplating my life. I worked at a challenging part-time job for 2 years, and stopped because it was killing my legs and veins. I've now been home for a year, and it's been fun painting and writing and weaving and being a chicken lady. But I confess to sometimes being bored and needing more to DO. I am a doer, not a sitter-and-thinker. So I'm toying again with finding a job nearby. I have neither the patience nor energy to teach full-time now. I cannot stand for hours, but I also should not sit all the time. (Fussy, I know.) I'll get back to you on what I decide to do. I can be irritatingly indecisive at times.

Have a Happy July 4th/Independence Day! I will be inside in the air conditioning!