Thursday, July 29, 2010

Quilter in National Museum - Spencer Magnet Article

My latest article for the Spencer Magnet, "Quilter's talent runs free," is available for viewing.

I had such a wonderful interviewing Jan Darnell, whose quilt will be on exhibit at the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, KY this fall. She was gracious enough to invite me into her home, and show me not only her horse quilt that you will see in the article, but also several other quilts that she has made or quilted for others. She was also patient with my three year old daughter, which is always nice. I know the average reporter (although I'm not sure that word describes me) doesn't take her children to interviews, so I am especially thankful that it has worked out for me to take her with me so far.

I hope you enjoy the story. If you get a chance, take the time to visit the exhibit "A Horse's Tale" in Paducah. Darnell's quilt is amazing in person, and I'm betting the other quilts will be beautiful too.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Baking Soda Shampoo

Since last summer or maybe before that, I have read about different bloggers deciding to go shampoo-free. It sounded kind of gross, until I realized that it didn't mean going without hair washing. There are other, cheaper and possibly cleaner ways to get hair clean than to use shampoo. Who knew?

I first tried my own experiment in April. I lasted a week, and then I got to Mama's house and her shampoo smelled So good. I couldn't resist. The first week or two is the hardest, and since I hadn't really gotten the hang of being shampoo-free, it took me a while to try again.

In mid June, I decided to give the experiment another try. I took some of my old shampoo and conditioner bottles and filled one with a baking soda/water solution and filled the other with a vinegar/water solution. (I used white vinegar for the first week or so and then switched to apple cider vinegar.)

As I said, the first week or two is the hardest. Your hair is getting used to its own oils again, and over produces. I was getting used to a different texture, and I probably over washed. I missed the lather sensation. It just took some time to get used to the whole process.

After about two weeks, the oil production started to slow down, and I could go several days without washing my hair with no changes in cleanliness. This was a huge shift. I normally wash my hair every day or it gets greasy and disgusting. I was absolutely shocked when that stopped happening. Another thing that surprised me is that I can now rinse my hair with water between washings without dire consequences. When I was using shampoo, if I planned to shower without washing my hair, and my hair got wet anyway, I had to wash it. Getting my hair wet made it even greasier. Now, I can rinse it to keep it clean, and I don't have to use the baking soda every day (since baking soda can be drying).

I started adding a sprig or two of lavender to the vinegar solution because I hate the smell of vinegar. It helps a little. I read somewhere that adding essential oil can help, too, and I may try that. My one issue with the whole thing is that I like the smell of shampoo and I don't like the smell of hair. I've gotten used to not using so many man-made fragrances, but I really like herbal shampoo smells and I just don't get that herbal smell even from my lavender sprigs.

If this sounds intriguing at all, here are a few places to do some research.

  • Info: Shampoo Free @Baby Slime - This is the post I turn to for all my questions about going shampoo free. Every once in a while, I have to go back and read up on it.
  • How to Clean Your Hair Without Shampoo @SimpleMom - This post also has a lot of useful information.
  • Shampoo-Free: Why and How @SortaCrunchy - Another mom discussing why she went shampoo-free.
  • Weekend Bonus Post for Frugal Beauty Hacks @What Do We Do All Day? - One blogger who decided to get rid of excess packaging and chemicals and save a few bucks at the same time.
  • Green Cleaning And Body Products @The Artful Parent - Discusses several homemade body products, plus her method of baking soda shampoo. I think when I cut my hair again, I'll go with her direct approach.
  • Melts for the Tub @Angry Chicken - This is probably the post that started it all for me. I know she only briefly mentions going 'poo-free, but I thought the rest of the post was interesting enough to include.

So there you have it. I hope I've inspired you to save some money while avoiding nasty chemicals in your shampoo. Have you tried this before? How did it go?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Chicken DInner Workshop Contact Information

For those of you who have asked or who are joining me through the Spencer Magnet, I am posting the information for RiverSong Farm and their chicken dinner workshop. Their next chicken dinner workshop will be on Saturday, July 31 from 4-7pm. In addition to being a great way to get fresh, free-range chicken for dinner, this workshop has the potential to change the way you look at your food. I will write about my experience and have a link to my article for the Spencer Magnet soon. Thank you!

The farm's phone number is listed under contact information on the website. Please call to reserve a spot for the workshop.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


One off-hand comment by a garden club member about looking for rhubarb led me to write an article for the Spencer Magnet on the subject. (Read "Rhubarb, The Taste of Nostalgia")

My experience with rhubarb is limited to the one time a docent at the Tullie Smith House at the Atlanta History Center made a strawberry-rhubarb pie when I was an intern there. I remember it being good, but I haven't sought out rhubarb since then. After writing this story, and seeing how beautiful the plant it, I'm considering putting in a rhubarb bed!

Rhubarb is sour, so most recipes call for it to be used in desserts. That way sugar and fruit can act as a counter balance to its tartness. I've also heard people describe it as counteracting the sweetness of other things.

Here are some resources if you are interested in learning more about this vegetable:

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Patchworkers Quilt Guild

For the last two months, I have joined in with the Patchworker Quilt Guild in my county. They are part of the Homemakers Association out of the county extension office. Among other things, that means that my annual dues of $7.50 pays for my membership to the guild. If you've ever considered joining a quilt guild, you know what a big deal that is. Guilds can be very expensive!

Part of the reason I've attended these meetings is because I wanted to get a feel for the club for an article for the Spencer Magnet. (Read "Circle of Friends" here.) But I wouldn't be writing these articles if I wasn't interested in the subject. My interest in quilt making goes back many years.

My maternal grandma and great-grandma both made quilts that covered my family when I was growing up. These quilts were beautiful, but utilitarian. They consisted of squares cut out of left over fabric or old clothes and are mostly made of polyester fabric with a bed sheet backing.

I decided when I was about 19 that I wanted to learn to quilt too. Grandma gave me a pattern and helped me find some fabric - including some of her scraps and some of my brother's old shorts - and we started cutting out the pieces. Unfortunately, Grandma got very sick and passed away soon after we started the project. I've done bits and pieces over the years, but my quilt still isn't finished.

After I lost Grandma, my quilt interest grew into an obsession. I started buying magazines and books and learning the names of different quilt patterns. I was a history major in college and started researching the history of quilting. I actually wrote my senior thesis on the history of quilting, including a 30 minute presentation with visual aids. (I wish I had a recording of that.)

My Mama and I took a quilting class together in the fall of 1997. I have both of our unfinished quilts now. Hers is a little more finished than mine. I chose my colors to match my bedroom at the time, so it's a little outdated now. I still would like to finish it because it is pretty.

I also purchased enough fabric to make my daughter an Olivia (the pig) quilt for her bed. I've gotten as far as cutting out the blocks, but now I'm a little afraid to sew the flannel together. Apparently, I do really need this quilt guild!

I have been involved in clubs and activities before that have devolved into backbiting and gossiping. (And please don't say that's what you have to expect when you get a group of women together. That is insulting and untrue.) At the first meeting I attended of the quilt guild, a member stated that her husband pointed out that there are Sunday School classes he knows who don't get a long as well and for as long as this quilt guild does.  (I didn't publish that quote in my article for obvious reasons.)

I am thrilled to find a group of women who are interested in quilting and in learning and teaching others to quilt. I am accepted by the group. The women do not mind that I bring my 3 year old daughter, and compliment her behavior. I am by nature fairly shy, and even when I am going somewhere with the intention of meeting new people, it can take me some time to get my nerve up to approach anyone. I was pleasantly surprised by the women who remembered me on my second visit and came over to say hi.

I hope that these articles will encourage local women to check out our Homemakers Association, but I also hope that my experiences will encourage those of you who are not local to look into clubs in your own area. I have heard rumors that some homemaker clubs expect members to be a certain kind of women. I believe this organization is important enough, though, that I encourage you to look into it.

If you don't find what you're looking for, talk to your county extension agent about starting a new club. It doesn't hurt to ask.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Recipes at the Spencer Magnet

I forgot to mention that about a month ago I started writing a second article each week for my local paper, the Spencer Magnet. I now write an article about a local recipe each week, in addition to the feature articles. Below are links to each of the articles up to now. I'll try to post these at least once a month so you can experience these great recipes too.

Home Cooking:

Monday, July 12, 2010

Not Your Mama's Homemakers Clubs

I joined the Homemaker Association in my county in March 2009. I had taken a class through the county extension office program known as SOS (Sharing OurSelves) on sewing, and the teachers mentioned that they had a sewing club if you joined the association. It was only about $7 to join ($7.50 now), and I really needed the help. I didn't go to sewing club every month, but I really enjoyed it and learned a lot when I did get to go. The club members were instrumental in my finishing my daughter's Halloween costume on time and in wearable condition.

Since May, I have started attending more of the Homemaker Association clubs in order to meet people and learn more about the community. I started going in part so I would have topics and sources to write about for the Spencer Magnet, but I've enjoyed going so much for myself too. I am meeting wonderful people and learning so much about the community where we live and about the topics each club is devoted to. Our county has nine clubs. Two are "business" clubs that are reminiscent of the Junior League (I say as someone who knows little to nothing about Junior League). (The other clubs are all devoted to specific crafts such as sewing, quilting and basket making. I will feature each of them over time.)

I was invited to join the Junior League by an alumna of my college when I first moved to Kentucky (because we don't have an active alumnae association) and declined. Who wants to wear a suit and sit around having stuffy teas? I don't know about the Junior League, but that is certainly not what I found when I went to the Loyal and Waterford Homemaking Clubs.

I found ladies who care about each other, who are part of one another's lives. Women who know how to get down and have fun, but are active in the community. They raise money for scholarships, help the elderly, and make curtains for the school.

Most importantly, they do not judge. Some of them are lifelong homemakers (or "housewives"). Some of them worked outside the home, and joined the club when they retired. Some of them still work outside the home and meet with the club when they are able. They don't all like housework or even crafts. They all believe that making the home inviting is important and that the home is an important part of the surrounding community.

To learn more about each of these clubs, read my articles for the Spencer Magnet:
The Homemakers Association is an outreach of the county extension program, and is available nationwide. Not all counties have multiple clubs, and from what I can tell, not all counties even have Homemakers clubs. They are a great way to plug into your local community, and get involved on a regional and national level, though. Especially if you are in a rural area, this may be something you'll want to look into.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Making Pickles

My husband was recently gifted with some homegrown cucumbers, and we were at a loss as to what to do with them. Then we remembered that we had grown cucumbers of our own in order to make pickles. I thought it might be a good idea to to practice pickle making on these cucumbers before ours have even gotten started good.

I asked my Mama for tips, but she has not made pickles in years. Then my thoughts turned, as they do these days, to whether any of my neighbors have experience with making pickles. I started calling around and soon found a few people who were willing to give me pointers and willing to be interviewed for an article for the Spencer Magnet. (Read "Discover the Benefits of Canning.")

While I still have not made my own pickles (I'll let you know when I do), I was delighted to be invited to Lora Cheek's home to watch her make pickles with her mother one morning last week. When I arrived, they had just sanitized the canning jars and were cutting the cucumbers. It was fascinating to watch cucumbers go from bright green to olive as the vinegar mixture was added. Most thrilling of all was hearing the jar lids "pop" as the jars sealed themselves after 10 minutes in a water bath.

I was inspired by Cheek's use of a crawfish pot as a water bath canner, and a glass measuring cup for pouring the vinegar mixture into the jars. It made me realize that I didn't need a lot of equipment to can anything. I have some jars and a pressure canner. Other things can be improvised.

My daughter, who normally is very shy around strangers, warmed up almost as soon as we got out of the car. The dog, a beagle/dachshund mix, came up to her and licked her face. She started laughing and made herself right at home, at one point actually crawling into Mrs. Cheek's lap to rock with her! I started to wonder if a different kid got out of my car.

I'll tell you all about my own adventures in making pickles as soon as possible - hopefully I'll have something useful to add in a few days. In the meantime, here are some resources for you if I've inspired you to make your own pickles:

  • Preparing & Canning Fermented Foods and Pickled Vegetables - I can't say enough about using your local extension office as a resource. I called the Family Resource agent, and she left a booklet on all kinds of food preserving at the front desk for me. I only live a few miles from the office, but I could have asked to have it mailed. Or you can always look up your state extension offices brochures online.
  • Good Eats: The Early Years by Alton Brown - This book is such a fabulous resource! I need to remember to look through it when I have questions about nearly anything food related. (Can't wait for volume 2 this fall.) Anyway, the pickle chapter explains the history and science behind pickles in a fun way (I wish chemistry class had been this much fun). It contains 2 recipes for refrigerator pickles, but explains the differences between those and fresh pack and fermented pickles.
  • Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book - contains fresh pack recipes, and explains common problems.
  • Reader's Digest Homemade - Contains several pickle recipes.
  • Southern Living Annuals - I have almost every one since 1998, and they of course contain pickle recipes (cause us Southerners love our pickles).
  • Ball Blue Book of Preserving - This is the grandaddy of all canning books. Originally published in 1909 and updated every few years (although I can't find a difference between this year's edition and my edition from 2004 except the new one is prettier).
  • Peak Food: Why a Local, Seasonal Diet is Never Boring @Leda's Urban Homestead - The maple bread & butter pickles she made sound intriguing.
  • Pickles @ A Mountain Mama - I read this post of Kelli's last summer, and was fascinated by this method of making pickles. I also love her basket.
  • Spicy Pickled Carrots @ Wisdom of the Moon - These are so pretty! Plus I like that she combined several recipes to make her own.
  • Canning Pickles @ Little Birdie Secrets - Detailed description, plus photos of the steps. A great tutorial.
Happy pickling!

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