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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Farewell to One Heck of a Year 2010

One more day to go and we must say farewell to the first decade of the new millenium.
This past year has been a challenge and that is an understatement. It has been a year since Meadow Muffin Gardens was born as far as going from the nudges of family members to being in print on the license. How exciting it was when we first opened that envelope. And then when my son got my website up and running....
To see your own name online is so very cool. There is no other way to describe it.

Just learning the necessary computer skills took me on such a roller coaster of emotions. Sooo many times I wanted to just quit. I just wanted to be out in my gardens and tinkering around in the kitchen with the many recipe ideas. I hadn't the time to be struggling with my inadequecies dealing with this necessary gadget (it was great when it worked).

I discovered Etsy in March from a magazine at the laundramat of all places. Suddenly I had to learn to understand my camera in order to have decent pictures for the listings. I had to rediscover my creative writing skills long buried in the all assuming pace of raising a family. The task of finding out where to get the containers for these products and the labeling for those containers was a story in itself. Granted it was fun to set up the shop but it got to the point I wasn't getting my everyday work done.

With so much competition with other sellars on Etsy it is easy to feel like you're invisible in cyberspace somewhere. Imagine the excitement when I had my first sale! It was in May and the item was the Tension Headache Massage Oil. I was shipping all the way to California.
But then there was the education of how our postal system works.

So much to learn, so many mistakes, some of them costly, but perserverance was the word of each and every day.
I tried the route of setting up at a few local gift shops, a few restaurants, as well as a local farmer's market. People are usually pretty loyal to whatever body care products they are already using and not knowing who I am or what made my items so special, my time spent with these endeavors was mainly exposure, giving out lots of business cards.

My first holiday season with Etsy was so exciting. Once your sales tally creeps up and you start getting positive feedback, people are more apt to pay the shop more attention. My shop does stand apart from many of the others in the Bath and Beauty category.
Meadow Muffin Gardens cators towards all natural personal care without the use of preservatives, petrols, synthetics and perfumes. A select group of people are attracted to this sort of thing. Either they are looking for healthier alternatives to what they put onto their bodies just as we are concerned with what we put into our bodies. Or they have sensitive skin, allergies, or medical reasons and are tired of not trusting the labels of the products on store shelves. As we are more concerned with living a greener lifestyle, what we purchase as consumers becomes a matter of concern.

So with the coming and going of each of our four seasons, it is time to reflect a bit and let it sink in just how far we've come. I want to thank my ever so patient and helpful family for their encouragement and support. My wonderful husband for never saying a word at the charges necessary to get set up. My amazing children for their help in teaching (or just doing it for me) the steps needed in every direction.
I thank all of those great customers who gave me a chance by trying out my shop items and giving me feedback so I knew where there was a need for improvement.

Here's to a great year behind us and hopefully an even better year ahead with 2010. The gardening catalogs are arriving in the mail, and as any gardener knows, it doesn't take long before the itch to get back out there begins!

Happy New Year everyone!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Easy drop cookie recipes for the holidays

Christmas cookies are part of the fun of the holidays. Even if you don't bake on a regular basis any other time of the year, it seems we all get the urge during the holidays to at least find time to bake a few childhood favorites.

Pictured above are two of our classics: Chocolate chip and Snickerdoodles

The chocolate chip recipe is one of those "back of the box" recipes that was cut out and saved years ago. It is called The Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie from the back of the Crisco shortening can. You can take the basic recipe and use any of the variety of chips available such as milk chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate, dark chocolate, mint chocolate, peanut butter, cinnamon, white chocolate, M & M's, or butterscotch. This picture is the Mint Chocolate Chip version.


In a large bowl cream together the following four ingredients by hand or with an electric mixer until well blended.

1 1/2 cups Butter Flavor Crisco or any type vegetable shortening
2 1/2 cups light brown sugar, packed
4 Tbsp. milk
2 Tbsp. vanilla extract

Add 2 eggs one at a time and blend well

In another bowl combine these next three ingredients and sift thoroughly.

3 1/2 cups unbleached or bleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 baking soda

Add dry mixture to shortening mixture a portion at a time and combine until just blended.

Stir in:
2 cups of desired chips
2 cups walnuts or pecans (optional)

Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls or tablespoon (depending on how large you want your cookies) onto ungreased baking sheets.
Bake at 375 degrees for 9 - 10 minutes for chewy cookies and 11 - 12 minutes for crisp cookies.
Let cool a few minutes on the pan so they don't fall apart and then remove to wire rack to cool. Don't leave on pans too long because they will continue to bake on the hot sheets and could stick.

Makes about 4 - 5 dozen cookies depending on their size


Snickerdoodles were a favorite of Dutch Colonists and no one knows for sure where they got their unusual name. If you like cinnamon you'll like Snickerdoodles. Cinnamon is one of those spices that can help you stay healthy during cold and flu season. The health benefits of cinnamon can be attributed to its antibacterial, antifungal, antimicrobial, astringent and anti clotting properties.

In a large bowl mix together the following ingredients with a wooden spoon or mixer.

1 cup vegetable shortening
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

Add 2 eggs one at a time and blend

In another bowl combine these four ingredients and sift thoroughly.

2 3/4 cups unbleached or bleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp. cream of tarter
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt

Add dry mixture to shortening mixture.
Shape into 1 inch balls.
Roll in a mixture of:
2 Tbsp. sugar and 2 tsp. cinnamon

Place cookie balls 2 inched apart onto ungreased cookie sheets
Bake at 400 degrees for 8 - 10 minutes

Cool a few minutes and remove to a wire rack

Both of these recipes freeze well and hold their shape.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Homemade Holiday Gifts - Decorative Lit Bottle

This frugal gift idea is ideal for the person who loves to explore thrift shops for treasures.

Collect interesting bottles with decorative designs in the glass. Or you could save neat wine bottles and remove the labels.

Choose multi-colored lights, white, or a solid color of your choice. A 50 bulb strand is best. If your bottle has a narrow opening use lights with only the positive end with the other end starting with just a bulb.

Gather silk flowers, grape vine or whatever theme you want for decorating the bottle. Craft stores carry quite an assortment if you cannot find what you want at second hand shops. Add a ribbon if desired. Use your imagination or try to match the theme with the interests of the person receiving the bottle.

Some ideas could include:
Grapevine with grapes as shown above
Sea shells
Christmas tree ornaments
Pet toys or little treats

Starting with the end bulb slowly work the string of lights into the bottle. The handle of a long wooden spoon is helpful to carefully push the lights to the bottom of the bottle as you add more. The positive plug will be left on the outside. If you have a way to cut an actual hole in the glass then do so at the bottom and work the lights upward instead.

Add your decorative touches and plug in! Makes a great nightlight!

Homemade Holiday Gifts - Cranberry Holly Floating Candle Jar

A crafty idea for your child's teacher, hostess gift, or just for your own holiday decorating.
This holly, cranberry, floating candle creation is sure to please anyone on our gift giving list.

Gather together the following items:

1. Wide or regular mouth size quart canning jars.

2. Plastic lids to fit the size mouth jar you chose.

3. Bunch or bunches cut holly branches, depending on how many jars you plan to put together.

4. Bag or bags whole cranberries.

5. Floating candles. Size of the candles is up to your preference.

6. Ribbon or raffetta to tie onto jar as a decorative touch.

Cut the holly branches into smaller pieces to fit into jar and fill about half to three-fourths full.
Add cranberries to make a layer about one inch or personal preference.
Fill jar with water leaving enough head space for the candle so as not to overflow.
Add candle and cap tightly.
Tie decorative ribbon around rim of jar and that is all there is to it.
Recipient just needs to know to remove the lid and light the candle.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Christmas Babies

Christmas 2010 will always be a year remembered in our household because it was a milestone year for our two children. It was our daughter's last Christmas before college graduation and our son's last Christmas before high school graduation. For as exciting as it was for all of us to plan the next moves in their lives, it was also a very reflective time to think back on past holidays.
Now, five years later, we not only have two college graduates, but both of them are married and off on their own! The word reflective is an understatement, by now it's more of a need for a tissue box.
Twenty-three years ago on Dec. 24 our son came into this world too early, too traumatically.

Dealing with Systemic Lupus, my pregnancy was a very planned, high risk ordeal from the start. An autoimmune condition, my body treated this child as an invasion and tried to reject its presence. With lupus the immune system is in overdrive and actually turns on itself. Steroids and blood thinners helped keep things under control in hopes to at least get beyond the congenital age of 28 weeks. We made it to 32 weeks before things started to go very wrong and the birth was induced. Toxemia and thrombosis became a risk to both myself and the baby.
Whisked away immediately to the neonatal intensive care unit it wasn't exactly the scene a mother envisions.

Mother Nature is quite amazing. Our son's nervous system and lungs were both strong for his congenital age, while his body's ability to keep itself warm was underdeveloped. Breathing on his own was a definite plus. He just needed time to continue to grow. Our tiny baby remained in the hospital a month to gain body fat and once he hit five pounds was allowed to go home.

By that time my own flare-up from the Lupus was under control, for I had ended up back in the hospital myself, and I was more than ready for him to come home. My poor husband, I'm sure he was a wreck, but as too often the case, emotional support for the husband/dad is often overlooked.
Mid-January was our Christmas celebration that year, and the tree was still up and waiting for us.

Over the years, our son thrived and caught up developmentally. Premature children have immature nervous systems which can result in being overly sensitive to stimuli such as noise, light, touch or stress. Told in most cases these children catch up developmentally by the age of eight, we didn't worry over every little setback from teachers. I think one of the most annoying things with evaluations is the tendency to label children with some type of developmental disorder. My mother's best advise for raising children was "this too shall pass".

Children need to know they are good at some thing, some passion. With him, it was music. He received his first acoustic guitar for his ninth birthday. His passion for music went beyond a hobby. To take an idea and put it to words and then to music is amazing. Songwriting really is poetry set to music. Studying lyrics and what those words are saying can be a very useful tool to understand one's child and how they think.
Below is a song written at the age of 18 when social issues, politics and ethics weigh heavily on the minds of our young people about to step out into the real world.

Upon graduating from High School, college was the goal, but after his freshman year, being the high achiever he is, he took his future one step further and joined the Army. As a mother, the jumble of emotions felt over this voluntary decision was overwhelming at times. While many young people his age are more into relationships and parties, here this young man was mapping out his financial and career path. The lyrics of the above song hint at what has now become a desire to work in journalism, and using the military to gain contacts and connections seemed the ideal route to attain that goal.

Now an American soldier, our Christmas baby of 1992 will be turning 23, another birthday celebration for our once three pound baby who has become quite the young man. With college under his belt, commissioned as Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, his beautiful bride by his side, the world is opening up with opportunity.
He certainly took to heart his Dad's advice whenever unsure about a decision, "When in doubt, go for it.".

And let that be our Holiday wish for all of our young people entering adulthood in this insecure world in which we live.

Happy Holidays!

July 25, 2015

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Origins of Our Christmas Traditions

Understanding why people behave as they do is always a fascination. People go through the traditions of our holidays, go to church, spend money, do what is expected, celebrate however their family's have always celebrated, and rarely stop to question 'why?'

The origins of the the candy cane, the Christmas tree,  Christmas carols, Christmas cards and our beloved Rudolph tale are explained below.
And of course I had to include the letter from Virginia Wolf asking the editor of "The Sun" if there really was a Santa Claus. What a wonderful explanation which clears up doubts we all may have had. As Francis P. Church said, "The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see".

The history of the candy cane can be traced back to Germany. In 1670, the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral was said to have bent straight white candy canes into the now-familiar "J" shape to represent a shepherd's staff. He then gave them to children in the choir to keep them happy during long Christmas services. The custom soon spread throughout Europe.

Later, candy canes came to America. A German immigrant by the name of August Imgard was the first person to decorate his Christmas tree with candy canes, back in 1847. Prior to 1900, Christmas cards only showed all-white candy canes. Around that same time, it is said that candy makers started adding peppermint flavors to the candy canes.

This is one version of the Christian candy cane story:
A candymaker in Indiana wanted to make a candy for Christmas that incorporated symbols from the birth, life and death of Jesus Christ.

He began with a stick of pure white candy to symbolize the virgin birth and the purity of Jesus. He then shaped it in the form of a "J" to represent the name of Jesus and the staff of the "Good Shepherd." Finally, he added red stripes to symbolize Jesus' blood and suffering on the cross.

The candymaker hoped that each time someone ate his creation they would be reminded of Jesus and the great love God gave us at Christmas.

The story of the Indiana candymaker has been widely circulated and retold, while other stories suggest the candy cane was created long ago as a secret symbol that would allow persecuted Christians to identify one another. Neither version fits the timeline of historical records. The German choirmaster who is credited with turning the usual straight candy sticks into staff-shaped sweets lived in the late 17th century, long after most of Europe had become Christian, and well before Indiana became a state or candy canes came to America. Also, historical records from various parts of the world show the canes were all-white until the early 1900s.

Our beloved Christmas tree traditions are part of a long line of cultures that treasured and worshipped evergreens. With the arrival of the winter solstice, people brought evergreens native to their area into their homes to symbolize life's triumph over death. These included palm leaves, mistletoe, holly, and of course the evergreen tree branches of which we are familiar.

Our modern Christmas tree evolved from the Germans and Scandinavians during the Middle Ages. Legend has it that Martin Luther began the tradition of decorating trees to celebrate Christmas. Around 1500, it is said that being in awe of the beauty of snow dusted evergreens in the woods, he brought a little fir tree indoors, lit it with candles, and used the symbolism to tell the story of Christ's birth.

The arrival of the Christmas tree to the United States most likely began either with Hessian troops during the American Revolution or with German immigrants settling in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Puritans didn't approve of the custom, therefore in New England the tradition spread very slowly.

An actual market for Christmas trees was born in 1851 with the brainstorm of a Mark Carr. He hauled two ox sleds of evergreens into New York City and ended up selling all of them. Within 50 years, one in five American families had a tree at Christmastime, and today the custom is nearly universal.

Interesting is the fact that farms dedicated solely to raising Christmas trees started during the Great Depression. People didn't have money to spend on landscaping, therefore nurserymen began to focus on the care of evergreens and prune them into the preferred symmetrical shape of the Christmas tree. Only six species make up the majority of the nation's Christmas tree trade. Scotch Pine ranks first, followed by the Douglas Fir, Balsam Fir, Spruces and White Pine.

Most of us know by heart at least a few Christmas songs, and have heard many others, both secular and religious. During the 12th century, St. Francis of Assisi wanted to teach people about the birth of Jesus Christ, and did so by adding religious lyrics to well-known tunes. Many carols were written in Germany during the 14th century.

One of the more well-known hymn today is "Silent Night" which was written in Austria in 1818. Supposedly, on Christmas Eve, Father Joseph Mohr, the pastor of St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf, solved the dilemma of a broken organ by taking a poem and giving it a melody.

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” comes from England and was written sometime in the 15th century. It was one of the most popular carols for centuries, finally published around 1833.

In 1843, Sir Henry Cole commissioned the first commercial Christmas cards in London. The cards were illustrated by John Callcott Horsley with a picture of a family drinking wine and sold for one penny each. Although his design choice was criticized for promoting the "moral corruption" of children, Cole's idea spawned the beginnings of one of the most important holiday traditions.

One interesting aspect of the early history of Christmas cards is that you seldom saw illustrations that depicted snow, Christmas trees, or winter themes. Instead, people preferred to send cards with pictures of flowers, fairies, and lighthearted landscapes that would remind the recipient that Spring would soon be approaching.

 In 1875, Louis Prang became the first printer to offer commercial Christmas cards in the United States. The cards were very successful and quickly spawned a number of cheap imitations that ultimately led to the demise of his business. You can see a sample of cards from this time period by browsing through the gallery on the Emotions Cards Web site.


A man named Bob May, depressed and broken-hearted, stared out his drafty apartment window into the chilling December night. His four-year-old daughter Barbara sat on his lap quietly sobbing.
Bobs wife, Evelyn, was dying of cancer. Little Barbara couldn't understand why her mummy could never come home.

Barbara looked up into her dad's eyes and asked, "Why isn't Mummy just like everybody else's Mummy?" Bob's jaw tightened and his eyes welled with tears. Her question brought waves of grief, but also of anger.

It had been the story of Bob's life. Life always had to be different for Bob. Small when he was a kid, Bob was often bullied by other boys. He was too little at the time to compete in sports. He was often called names he'd rather not remember. From childhood, Bob was different and never seemed to fit in.

Bob did complete college, married his loving wife and was grateful to get his job as a copywriter at Montgomery Ward during the Great Depression. Then he was blessed with his little girl. But it was all short-lived. Evelyn's bout with cancer stripped them of all their savings and now Bob and his daughter were forced to live in a two-room apartment in the Chicago slums.

Evelyn died just days before Christmas in 1938. Bob struggled to give hope to his child, for whom he couldn't even afford to buy a Christmas gift. But if he couldn't buy a gift, he was determined to make one - a storybook!

Bob had created a character in his own mind and told the animal's story to little Barbara to give her comfort and hope. Again and again Bob told the story, embellishing it more with each telling.

The story Bob May created was his own autobiography in fable form. The character he created was a misfit outcast like he was. A little reindeer named Rudolph, with a big shiny nose.

Bob finished the book just in time to give it to his little girl on Christmas Day. But the story doesn't end there. The general manager of Montgomery Ward caught wind of the little storybook and offered Bob May a nominal fee to purchase the rights to print the book.

Wards went on to print, 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer' and distribute it to children visiting Santa Claus in their stores. By 1946 Wards had printed and distributed more than six million copies of Rudolph. That same year, a major publisher wanted to purchase the rights from Wards to print an updated version of the book. In an unprecedented gesture of kindness, the CEO of Wards returned all rights back to Bob May. The book became a best seller.

Many toy and marketing deals followed and Bob May, now remarried with a growing family, became wealthy from the story he created to comfort his grieving daughter.
Bob's brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, made a song adaptation to Rudolph.
Though the song was turned down by such popular vocalists as Bing Crosby and Dinah Shore, it was recorded by the singing cowboy, Gene Autry.

"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" was released in 1949 and became a phenomenal success, selling more records than any other Christmas song, with the exception of "White Christmas."

 Bob May learned the lesson, just like his dear friend Rudolph, that being different isn't so bad.
In fact, being different can be a blessing.


 Francis P. Church’s editorial, “Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus” was an immediate sensation, and went on to became one of the most famous editorials ever written. It first appeared in the The New York Sun in 1897, almost a hundred years ago, and was reprinted annually until 1949 when the paper went out of business.
Dear Editor—
I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?
Virginia O’Hanlon
"Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood."