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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Autumn Equinox and Harvest Moon

According to the Farmer's Almanac the month of September belongs to Jupiter. Jupiter shines at its brightest on Sept. 21st and this close visit can easily be seen even without a telescope. The article below is from another site. Read on for a fascinating little lesson. A great reason to take the time to go outside at night and really study the night sky.
The action begins at sunset on Sept 22nd, the last day of northern summer. As the sun sinks in the west, bringing the season to a close, the full Harvest Moon will rise in the east, heralding the start of fall. The two sources of light will mix together to create a kind of 360-degree, summer-autumn twilight glow that is only seen on rare occasions.
Keep an eye on the moon as it creeps above the eastern skyline. The golden orb may appear strangely inflated. This is the Moon illusion at work. For reasons not fully understood by astronomers or psychologists, a low-hanging Moon appears much wider than it really is. A Harvest Moon inflated by the moon illusion is simply gorgeous.
The view improves as the night wears on.
Northern summer changes to fall on Sept. 22nd at 11:09 pm EDT. At that precise moment, called the autumnal equinox, the Harvest Moon can be found soaring high overhead with the planet Jupiter right beside it. The two brightest objects in the night sky will be in spectacular conjunction to mark the change in seasons.
The Harvest Moon gets its name from agriculture. In the days before electric lights, farmers depended on bright moonlight to extend the workday beyond sunset. It was the only way they could gather their ripening crops in time for market. The full Moon closest to the autumnal equinox became "the Harvest Moon," and it was always a welcome sight.

I find it fascinating to understand why people did the things they did. The gathering of the harvest before the cold sets in was critical for survival. Remember the fable about the grasshopper who figured he'd worry about tomorrow when tomorrow came and dilly dallied while the ant worked nonstop preparing for the approaching winter. When cold weather settled in the grasshopper had few supplies while the ant was tucked away with plenty of food in storage.
Many of us learned about "getting our work done before play" as well as "everything in moderation" from that little story. Should the ant be expected to share with the grasshopper with the hopes he learned his lesson? Is "all work and no play" always such a bad thing? So many great topics for a group discussion.
With everything we need at the nearest supermarket it is easy to get away with irresponsible behavior, poor planning, and self-discipline. I suppose one can get away with it as long as there is a regular paycheck and the interconnecting system of our society doesn't fail. Can you imagine if a few cogs in the wheel would just stop. If we couldn't get fuel for transportation, if electricity would no longer be available. Would the average household know how to use alternative means to stay warm or get to water or even make a loaf of bread?
Those self-sustaining people of the past worked right into the moon lit night to get everything done in time before cold set in. Even if we are thankful we don't have to work so physically hard these days it would be nice to have such knowledge stored away along with the canned foods.

Information provided by Science@NASA

Friday, September 17, 2010

Everything In Due Time

The one area of any business I found the most challenging for me is how to sell myself.
When a person thinks of being their own boss they often overlook the fact that being your own boss also means being your own employees, note I said employees, plural. My area of skill and interest lies from the garden to the kitchen preparation of the creams and such. Learning to be comfortable with the computer, bookkeeping, and public relations has been a rather large hurdle. Without the help of my teenage children I doubt things would have gotten further than a few bazaars.

For starters, I had no idea how to put together a website. We found out that it isn't necessary to spend a whole lot of money for a website designer. Maybe someday I'll want a site that is more elaborate but for what I need at this point we could handle it ourselves using either Yahoo or Vista. Their customer service help is invaluable.
For a very manageable monthly fee we got started and can upgrade anytime. It was very exciting to learn how to use services such as palpal and propay for online credit card payment. I come from the generation that ordered through a catalog, wrote a check or called it in, then waited 4 - 6 weeks for delivery. Years ago we would never expect to receive a package the same week it was ordered. Our fast paced society has so increased expectations that the pressure has doubled to remain competitive.

I also got very frustrated with the packaging of my products. Choosing the right containers and finding how to get waterproof labels was as time consuming as making the products. We had bought a great ink jet printer only to soon realize that you need a laser printer for adhering the ink to waterproof labels. Only after I spent money I didn't yet have on a labeling company did I discover who offered printing services. Finally a friend led me to the most personal service I could want through a UPS store who was willing to download the labeling software I already was using in order for them to be able to open the files on their system. I'm sure as funds allow I'll improve my labeling system but for now that headache was put to rest.

I got involved with a local organic farmer's market which geared toward the health conscious consumer. To stand there on the other side of the table as people stroll by, it is very hard to figure out what to do with myself. Do I remain quiet and let people show interest and ask questions or do I get a bit chatty and risk them feeling uncomfortable and drifting away. I know for myself I don't like when a vendor watches me studying their products. If I have a question, I'll ask. So what I've discovered is that if people don't know a thing about me or what I am selling, they'll take a business card and hopefully look it up later. I've discovered that those hours spent at the market were not in vain at all.
The vendors next to me selling edibles is a whole other ballgame. People come to these markets intending to buy their organic produce and fresh baked breads. Though my products fit in with the whole back to nature scene, my type of products are something that takes some study and decision making. People need to find out what makes my stuff worth spending their money on when they can find brand name body care products at any store. Just having confidence in the quality of my line has been a turning point. I know its value but when you're standing there feeling very vulnerable to judgement it is easy to get insecure. So at this point I've learned not to be so sensitive. It is much more about networking and connections than on the spot sales. Its about getting the word out there.

One of the greatest compliments I had so far was an invitation to be part of a crafter's blog. That was so exciting to see my online interview posted on her site. What a great way for exposure!
Her site is:

I never thought I'd have the time to get involved in blogging or reading forums and other peoples' blogs. Now I understand how I have to keep up with the times and take advantage of networks like facebook, blogging and accumulating "fans" and "friends" even if I never really meet these people.
Times change and we have to go with the flow. As the saying goes, "Everything in due time."

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Kid Approved Zucchini Breads

To you it's zucchini bread, to your kids, call it spice bread, chocolate bread, or cakes if you add frosting. Whatever you call it, serving zucchini as a dessert is a great way to not only use them up, but add a vegetable to the menu.  

Summer zucchini can easily go from excitement over the first few to the joke about how many have trouble finding homes when people just want to give them away. Instead of ending up adding some of the abundance to the compost pile, I shred them for later use.

Shred them in the food processor then measure out 2 cup portion sizes into baggies and freeze. They are then ready to go for baking or adding to casseroles or soups. If the zucchini is young you don't have to peel them before shredding. If they are like a baseball bat the skin may be thicker so to avoid noticeable "green pieces" in your bread you better peel it first. When defrosted you'll notice a lot of water in the baggie and just a small lump of vegetable. Don't drain off the water. It was part of the zucchini to start with and your baking bread won't know the difference between this and fresh.

Here are three great recipes for zucchini bread!
Pictured above are the Chocolate Zucchini and the Speckled Zucchini breads.

recipe comes from Kitty and Lucian Maynard's book, Country Inn and Bed & Breakfast Cookbook
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (or half unbleached white, half wheat)
1/2 cup cocoa
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 cup butter (3/4 cup) softened
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini
1/2 cup milk (or yogurt or vanilla yogurt)
1 cup nuts (optional)

Sift together the dry ingredients.
In a mixing bowl cream together the butter and sugar.
In another bowl mix together the eggs, vanilla, zucchini, milk and nuts.
Alternate combining the wet and dry ingredients with the creamed mixture.
Spread batter into 2 greased loaf pans.
Bake in a 350 degree oven for 1 hour. Cool before taking out of pans.
Makes two loaves

Recipe from Gregg R. Gillespie's cookbook, 1001 Muffins, Biscuits, Doughnuts, Pancakes, Waffles, Popovers, Fritters, Scones, and Other Quick Breads

3 cups all-purpose flour (or half unbleached white, half wheat)
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup either semisweet chocolate chips or cinnamon chips
3 large eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup sour cream or yogurt (plain or vanilla)
2 cups shredded zucchini

In a large bowl, blend together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and either chocolate or cinnamon chips.
In another bowl, beat the eggs until foamy then beat in the oil, vanilla extract and either sour cream of yogurt.
Using a spoon stir in the zucchini.
Combine the two mixtures, blending until the dry ingredients are well moistened.
Spread batter into two greased loaf pans
Bake at 350 degrees for 45 - 60 minutes depending on your oven. Check with a toothpick
Cool before taking out of pan.
Makes 2 loaves

recipe from Phyllis Pellman Good and Rachel Thomas Pellman's cookbook, From Amish and Mennonite Kitchens

3 eggs
2 cups sugar
2 cups shredded zucchini
1 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour (or half unbleached white, half wheat)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1/2 cup nuts
1/2 cup raisins

Beat eggs till foamy
Stir in sugar, zucchini, oil, and vanilla
Sift together dry ingredients
Combine wet with dry ingredients, stir in nuts and raisins
Pour into bread pans which have been greased only on the bottoms.
Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour. Cool before removing from pans
Can be used as a bread or frosted as a cake
Makes 2 loaves

These recipes freeze well for later use.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The More You Know, The Further You'll Go

When my kids would generalize about school and claim they were either good or bad at certain subjects I'd try to nip that attitude in the bud.
To generalize and say you're lousy at science just means you haven't found an area within that field that interests you.
One great perk about home schooling is that a student can take a topic that excites him and dive into it with all the time he needs to really explore and learn the information.
My children were not home schooled but we always had a library of information to look up the answer to whatever question they had. We always tried to do hands on projects on our own to make a subject more interesting and a real learning experience.

I remember when my daughter was little we ordered this "make your own perfume" kit for Christmas. Dabbling around with that set and learning about the molecular structure of these fragrances helped her realize that chemistry and biology can be much more interesting than the formulations and memory drills she had in the classroom. It wasn't too long before that interest blended with our passion for earth and life sciences and we learned the difference between natural and synthetic, and how our bodies interpret various chemical makeups. Suddenly, science became a fascinating rather than intimidating part of our lives.

Meadow Muffin Gardens
Making lotions and creams has always been a challenge. Most people have heard the saying "oil and water don't mix" in reference to relationships. Well, that is literally true as well; there is a knack to blending oil and water and keeping it that way. I've had creams and lotions look fine at the time of pouring only to observe later and realize that underneath the solid surface lies a little pool of water. With practice and more research as to what I was doing wrong, I think I've gotten over that hump of hit or miss.

I have several "oops" jars under my bathroom sink. They are fine to use, the beneficial properties are still there,, it's just a bit greasy. When I think back on all those creams I proudly gave to friends and family to try out as I was learning, I could either cringe or smile in good humor.

The point is that in order to succeed at anything, we need to be willing to fail and keep plugging away till we get it right. Perseverance is a term I use all the time with my children as they try to keep their heads above water with every challenge that they encounter in growing up. One of our favorite musical groups, The Mighty Manatees, has a line in a song "Don't go straight, Go forward". There is a lot of wisdom in those words. Anything worthwhile usually doesn't come easy.

Remember when we were still in school and wondered where in the world we'll ever use the stuff we struggled to learn? We all have what it takes to succeed. The key is to get out of your own way. Our fear of failure and insecurities need to stand aside so we can fine tune those God-given skills that were there all along.

You never know, you may be pleasantly surprised one day.

Monday, September 6, 2010

September - End of Summer Reflection

September has always been one of my favorite months of the year.
Being my birthday month it holds special memories of things we've done to make my day my own.
But aside from that September has always been a happy sad time. Back in May the approach of Memorial Day meant long, lazy, hazy days so anticipated for the summer ahead.
However, that empty calender still managed to fill its slots with day to day responsibilities and suddenly here we are watching for the approaching school bus. A new and exciting chapter of another season is just opening up and the kids are ready to take on what is next in life.

Everything got done I suppose but with everyone going in their own direction it is getting more difficult to manage the fuzzy moments of family time. It is a very sad day for me when I wake the morning after the first hard frost and I need to say good-bye to my flowering and garden friends, so beautiful and giving all summer long.

So September is the time when my husband just knows what is churning inside my head and we head for the hills and go hiking. Mentally refreshing and physically stimulating, a good walk really does help put things in perspective.
This year's Labor Day weekend was spent trekking the trails of Hawk Mountain, Pennsylvania. Within an hour's drive from our home, this beautiful region is a great attraction for enthusiasts studying hawk migration, those hiking the Appalachian Trail and seeking a bit of solitude.

The above view is from atop the point called Bear's Rock. A well marked trail, the walk was a pleasant hike enabling good conversation without too much need for concentration on our footing or catching our breath. But we also tried to stay quiet long enough to hear what was being whispered all around us.

Observing the feel of the breeze, the look of the land, its a clear message that the plants are getting tired, they've completed another cycle of intense growth, did what they had to do, and now need a rest. We have to do the same. Take advantage of the moments we're given, do what needs to be done and then let go and let be.

Yes the summer is nearing its end, the weather is cooling off, the house may seem too quiet again. But now we can look forward to another chapter, another season of opportunity.
Fall festivals can be as exciting as the musical festivals of summer, holiday bazaars can be as full of treasures as flea markets, and of course the upcoming holiday season has the potential of as much family time as we can handle.

Take a moment this Labor Day to set aside a time for yourself to reflect with pride your own path, to appreciate our country's history, and just why this day in September came to be a national holiday.

"All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence" 
Martin Luther King Jr.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Origin of our logo picture and quote

"Beauty is only an herb away."

Every business card, product label and facebook profile picture all carry this picture as well as our six work slogan.

If pictures say a thousand words, than this picture puts all the pieces together.
Personality type that I am, it is very hard to slow down and not attempt to achieve everything on my life's list all at the same time.

Life is a series of chapters, beginnings and endings, the closing of one door leading to the realization that the opening of that next door is totally up to me. There comes a time in life's maturity when we are aware of how paralyzing our fears can be and stop letting ourselves get in our way.

The idea of creating and selling my products has been just a seed for years while busy with all the demands of that time period, simply getting everything done in a day that needed to be done. Time management revolved around spouse, home, kids, job, lawn, errands, and on and on.
And in the blink of an eye you look around and the house is quiet and you realize your time is your own, you can finish what you start and you discover who you are again.

That wonderful realization is a great thing about reaching a certain age. Who has time to worry about getting older when new opportunities are within reach. A renewed sense of accomplishment and purpose sparks heightened energy levels and the developing caterpillar morphs into a seemingly new creature.

With the ability to fly, the butterfly takes off and busily fulfills the next stage in its life cycle. A flying flower of beauty, so seemingly fragile yet it knows to just go with the flow when the winds blow or risk damage to itself.

Every summer I anxiously wait for the return of the butterflies; around here we see mostly various types of swallowtails. Their short lifespans are a reminder to all of us to "just do it".

The quote "Beauty is only an herb away" was the creative thinking of my son. He summed it all up in those six little words.
Everything and everyone is a unique creation, beautiful in its own right. This mother earth of ours provides everything we need to take care of this temple we were given at birth. Just watch the creatures in the wild; they seek what is naturally offered to sustain them, heal them and protect them. They just know. What happened to our instinctual awareness of what we need? Lets stand back and look at the bigger picture and rethink how culture has shaped our attitudes and beliefs.