a little piece of Downton Abbey

What happens when you combine a dash of Christmas spirit with gingerbread, candy canes, and Downton Abbey?

I’ll show you what happens …

A little something, oh, like this:

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Photo courtesy of Eggton.com

Or, maybe, like:

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Photo courtesy of http://getbacktothedrawingboard.blogspot.com

And if you want to see how such a miracle might occur, just watch …

I know some of you are taking this post to heart, as if it’s some sort of triple-dog dare. What can I say?

First of all, remember that there are consequences to taking dares …

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Photo from A Christmas Story courtesy of Uproxx.com

And if that doesn’t deter you, then I triple-dog dare you to make a Downton Abbey gingerbread castle—and post pictures to prove it.

You still have time before the big day. Whip up some construction grade gingerbread (aka, “oven plywood”) and get busy! Continue reading

Washi Tape

Have you been introduced to the colorful, textural, sticky goodness known as washi tape?

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It’s taking the craft world by storm and I love to use it to decorate boxes and envelopes, but what do I really know about it? Turns out the word “washi” comes from wa for “Japanese” and shi for “paper,” and it’s used to describe paper made by hand in the traditional Japanese manner. Although the tape isn’t always made outright from washi, the washi-like patterns and texture are where it gets its name.

Washi tape is typically made from natural fibers, such as bamboo or hemp, but most commonly from the bark of trees that are native to Japan—the mulberry, the mitsumata shrub, or the gampi tree. The beauty of the pulp from these sources is that it has no grain, making the tape easy to manipulate and tear. The whole washi tape phenomenon started in 2006 when a group of artists approached a Japanese masking tape manufacturer and presented them with a book of art they had created using the company’s industrial masking tapes. The artists requested that the company manufacture colorful masking tapes for artists, and washi tape was born.

In addition to being used as an art supply for things like business cards, serving trays, lampshades, nail art, and gift wrap, some artists, like Nasa Funahara, are taking it a step further by using washi tape as paint to recreate masterpieces by famous artists like Van Gogh and Verneer.

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Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Johannes Vermeer created with masking tape, photo spoon-tamago.com

An art student at Musashino Art University in Japan, Nasa takes about a week to build her paintings by layering different washi tapes together. Her pieces mimic the original in basic composition, but the real magic lies in looking at them up close, where the vast array of color and texture are revealed. And in Sacramento, California, there’s an art collaborative that creates large-scale interactive art installations out of washi tape, a whole “washi” movement known as Tapigami.

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photo, tapigami.com

So next time you see a coordinated pack of washi tape in the checkout line in colors and textures that make you giddy, go ahead and grab it. Its versatility is literally endless. Continue reading

Irish Trio Wins Google Science Fair

Three cheers for this lovely teen trio from County Cork, Ireland!

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Photo courtesy of Google Science Fair

Émer Hickey, Ciara Judge, and Sophie Healy-Thow recently won the Grand Prize in the 15-16 age group of the 2014 Google Science Fair.

To be sure, that’s pretty cool in and of itself, but it’s the particulars of their project that really take this farmgirl’s cake …

Reportedly inspired by Émer’s observations within her family’s backyard garden, the trio set out to study the effects of beneficial bacteria on the growth of cereal grain crops (and to think, we’ve just been picking and eating our veggies all this time).

“Émer and her mom were gardening, and she noticed nodules on one of their pea plants,” Sophie told National Geographic. “She brought that into school, and our teacher told us it was bacteria.”

As it happened, the girls’ class was in the midst of a lesson on the world food crisis, and they learned that the knobby nodules on plant rhizomes hold beneficial bacteria that boost growth. For visual reference, here are “Rhizobia nodules” attached to roots of a cowpea plant:

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Photo by Stdout via Wikimedia Commons

“We became really interested in what this bacteria can do and what people haven’t done with it so far,” said Sophie.

Atta girl!

People—lots of people—apparently told the girls that the bacteria wouldn’t have an impact on cereal crops, but they shrugged off the naysayers and decided to test their hypothesis on barley.

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Photo by Daniel Schwen via Wikimedia Commons

According to Scientific American, the team has tested the effects of beneficial bacteria on some 13,000 seeds over the course of three years. “We did a lot of experimental work in Ciara’s house,” Émer told RTE radio after their win. “First, we took over the spare room, then expanded into the kitchen, sitting room, conservatory, and the garden … It was quite a lot of work, but it has really been worth it.”

They found (naysayers be darned) that the microbes increased seed germination rates by 50 percent! What’s more, harvest yields increased by as much as 70 percent. The girls currently have a controlled field site planted with 3,600 seeds in their hometown. Émer says that further benefit may be seen in the reduced need for fertilizers and that improved germination speed is of particular interest to farmers in places like Ireland, where seeds can rot in the damp soil before sprouting.

For more details, listen to the girls explain their awe-inspiring research in their own words:

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Mr. G and Jellybean

I should probably assume that when something goes “viral” on the Internet, you’ve seen it already …

But what if you haven’t?

Some stories are just too heartwarming not to share—just in case. For instance, the story of Mr. G and Jellybean.

In a nutshell, Mr. G (a goat) and Jellybean (a donkey) were rescued, among many other animals, from an abusive California owner a few months ago. They were taken to separate animal sanctuaries in hopes of giving them happier homes.

And yet, Mr. G wasn’t happy. At all.

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Photo of Mr. G courtesy of Animal Place via Facebook.com/mrgjellybean

After arriving at Animal Place in Grass Valley, California, the 10-year-old goat stopped eating. For days, he wouldn’t even get up from the corner of his stall to go outside. Neither treats nor tenderness would perk him up despite a clean bill of health from a veterinarian.

There was only one thing to do …

Donkeycrossing

Photo by Grievous via Wikimedia Commons

There was only one “someone” who could come lumbering (lop ears and all) to the rescue …

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Photo of Jellybean courtesy of Animal Place via Facebook.com/mrgjellybean

Yup.

Grab a tissue and watch …

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Adopt a Farmer

I just learned about a super-great program in Oregon called Adopt a Farmer.

Don’t worry—no one is abandoning farmers by the roadside!

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Photo by Tomas Sennett, Environmental Protection Agency, via Wikimedia Commons

Nothing like that.

In fact, this program is more about farmers helping kids by being adopted. If this isn’t making sense yet, just let me gather my druthers, and I’ll explain …

The Adopt a Farmer program, launched in 2011 by the Agri-Business Council of Oregon, is designed to help reconnect students in middle-school science classes to the sources of their food and fiber with hands-on farm education. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that Oregon kids were grounded in good farm work …

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Photo courtesy of the Beaverton Oregon Historical Photo Gallery via Wikimedia Commons

Each participating class “adopts” one Oregon farm or ranch for the entire school year. During the year, the class takes at least one field trip to “their” farm, and the farmer or rancher also visits the classroom once a quarter to share updates about life and work on the farm.

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Photo of Hurst Farm in Sutherland, Oregon by Ian Poellet via Wikimedia Commons

Plus, the students share a blog with their farmer, which allows them to communicate directly. You can view the blogs by clicking on the “visit blog” link shown below each farmer’s picture on the program’s website.

Twelve schools and over 1,000 students are currently participating in the program, and the Agri-Business Council plans to expand the Adopt a Farmer program to schools across the state.

Here’s a little more about the program from those who know it best:

Continue reading

Repurposing

We all love doing our repurposing projects, ranging from the practical …

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Photo of an antique dresser reborn as a bathroom sink by Victorgrigas via Wikimedia Commons

to the playfully unpretentious …

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Photo of soup cans used as stool legs by Victorgrigas via Wikimedia Commons

to the positively … perfunctory?

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Photo of a commode planter by Jean Luc Henryplanter via Wikimedia Commons

Anyway, whatever the (re)purpose, we love ‘em!

But you must admit that there’s something stupendously special (and infinitely inspiring) when someone elevates repurposing to the heights of entrepreneurial artistry—someone like Traci Claussen of REpurposingNOLA Piece by Peace.

If you’re wondering who NOLA is, you’re probably not from the South (neither am I). NOLA, I learned, is the shiny new acronym for that legendary city that has risen from the floods of Katrina: New Orleans, Louisiana.

And Traci Claussen has put her fashion sense to repurposing her city “Piece by Peace,” using castaway fabric from urban industries to craft couture items with a conscience. Traci talks about her business in this video interview:

Traci started making bags from burlap coffee sacks and old carpet in 2009.

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Photo by Jkafader via Wikimedia Commons

 “She began designing bags for her own travels: an eco-duffel for a trip to the Jurassic Coast of England; a burlap HoBo handbag for running around town; a RE-weekender Bag for trips to the coast,” explains her blog. “She made adjustments to the prototype after each trip, to add or edit options that would make it more useful for the next trip.”

Now, Traci tailors her designs to meet the needs of her travel-savvy customers. She offers a BURLAP line, featuring her original three designs and seasonal favorites, as well as a signature CARPETBAGGER line and a VEGAN line of totes. She also stocks her online store and physical shop at 604 Julia Street with gorgeous, eclectic goodies, including clothing, candles, and cosmetic collections—all locally made and mostly repurposed, of course.

“I design for the wanderlust in my heart,” says Traci, “because people with innate wanderlust share a compassion, a thirst for local people and the planet. That chronic thirst to grow and learn, help others, bring people together, celebrate appreciation for the individual—it inspires communities.”

Hop on over to RepurposingNola.com to pick up a little more inspiration—and maybe even a Christmas gift or two!

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Happy Thanksgiving

I know you love a good story as much as I do.

But a good old-fashioned story?

All the better.

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Anonymous artist in the style of Petrus van Schendel (1806-1870) via Wikimedia Commons

The yarn I want to share with you on this lovely Thanksgiving is a rare gem—after all, it’s a rarity to find a tale that is rich in the atmosphere and traditions of this cherished holiday. But, one glimpse at the author and you’ll know just what I mean …

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Photo of Louisa May Alcott via Wikimedia Commons

Recognize her?

That’s right—Louis May Alcott (how thankful we are for her!) wrote a wonderful little account of the fictional Bassett family’s Thanksgiving in 19th century New Hampshire, aptly named, An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving.

alcott-book

Picture this …

“Thanksgiving morning is here, and the Bassett family’s cozy kitchen is filled with the hustle and bustle of the holiday. But this year something is different: Tilly, Prue, and their brothers and sisters have been left in charge of everything from the roasted turkey to the apple slump. They tie on their aprons and step into the kitchen, but are they really up for the challenge of cooking a Thanksgiving feast?” (Excerpted from the back cover of the children’s book adaptation beautifully illustrated by James Bernardin.)

Why are the children left to cook for themselves?

It’s a bit of a mix-up, really, but I don’t want to spoil the story for you. Suffice it to say, a neighbor brings word that Grandma Bassett isn’t feeling well, so Ma and Pa must rush off to her aid by horse-drawn sleigh, leaving the children to prepare for Thanksgiving on their own.

Mustering their best intentions, the children embark on a series of humorous mishaps—for instance, forgetting the sugar in the plum pudding and spicing the stuffing with wormwood and catnip. As if the story of seven children scrambling to prepare the feast isn’t entertaining enough, you are sure to swoon with nostalgia as you read Ms. Alcott’s romantic literary rendering of the simpler times we all long for today …

“The girls, after a short rest, set the table and made all ready to dish up the dinner when that exciting moment came. It was not at all the sort of table we see now, but would look very plain and countrified to us, with its green-handled knives, and two-pronged steel forks, its red-and-white china, and pewter platters, scoured until they shone, with mugs and spoons to match, and a brown jug for the cider. The cloth was coarse, but white as snow, and the little maids had seen the blue-eyed flax grow, out of which their mother wove the linen; they had watched and watched while it bleached in the green meadow. They had no napkins and little silver; but the best tankard and Ma’s few wedding spoons were set forth in state. Nuts and apples at the corners gave an air, and the place of honor was left in the middle for the oranges yet to come.”

Oranges, gladful guests, and a delightful meal all manifest before the happy ending of the story (if that’s a spoiler, I do apologize).

Tilly and Prue even manage to produce a perfect apple cobbler dessert, using the very recipe that is included at the end of the story: Louisa May Alcott’s Apple Slump.

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Photo by Ralph Daily via Wikimedia Commons

You want the recipe, won’t you? Well, just visit the Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House website, where you can write down the recipe or order your own keepsake calligraphy copy for $2.50.

Now, let me send you off to read the story for yourself. There are several ways to enjoy An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving and make it a new annual tradition:

• Read the full story online (for free) at Ibiblio.org.
• Listen to the entire story (also for free) at Librivox.org.
• Order a copy of one of the illustrated children’s book adaptations from Amazon.com.

Oh, and, I also found a film based on the story (haven’t seen it yet). Take a peek at the trailer:

And, with that, I wish you a Thanksgiving full of joy, laughter, and delicious food shared with those you love.

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Image courtesy of The Graphics Fairy

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The Great British Bake Off

Many of us are fans of British television. Think Downton Abby, Sherlock, and the recent Dr. Who revival. So I was intrigued to learn about Britain’s most popular show, The Great British Bake Off, a reality-based, amateur baking competition that’s quickly becoming a cultural phenomenon. Now ending its fifth season, The Great British Bake Off displays none of the hallmarks of American reality television; the majority of the show is set inside tents filled with cooking stations, and the contestants themselves are regular people who just love baking and live in their own homes during the filming of the show.

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The biggest difference? There’s no prize money. So why do people love it? From what I can gather, the contestants’ lack of glamour makes them relatable to viewers. There are no ulterior motives, and because there’s no prize money, contestants aren’t sabotaging each other to get ahead. And the parts of a baking show you might think would be boring, like waiting for pastry to bake or bread to rise, actually end up building great suspense.

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Chief executive Richard McKerrow says, “Bakers are really good people. The very act of what they do is to make something for lots of other people. That makes them really refreshing.”

I couldn’t agree more, and I hope our American television execs soon take a cue from our British friends across the pond. Continue reading

Knitting Glass

These darker, shorter days tend to veer my crafting to projects that might keep my hands happily busy for the winter months. Knitting and embroidery are hands-down my favorites. On a recent foray into cyberspace for some ideas, I happened upon Carol Milne, a Seattle-based artist from Canada who knits with glass. Yes, you heard that exactly right, she knits with glass!

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Milne has developed a technique for pouring glass into molds of designs made from wax, a new twist on the ancient art of lost wax casting. She uses a slender and very elastic candle to make different patterns, then surrounds them with a high-temperature plaster to make a mold. Each stitch of her knitted design must be carefully created by hand because using needles tends to stretch the wax. After the molds are dry, the wax is melted with hot steam and replaced by liquid glass. When the glass has slowly cooled, the molds are chiseled away in archeological fashion to reveal intricately knitted structures.

Milne first embarked on this technically challenging journey back in 2002 as a way to couple her knitting passion (she’s been wielding needles since she was 10) with her love for cast glass sculpture. I think I’ll have to stick with yarn, but how inspiring to combine her two passions into timeless art.

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Milkmaid Beauty Queen

Step aside Miss America,

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Photo by Staff Sgt. Jessica Barnett, Kansas Adjutant General’s Department Public Affairs Office via Wikimedia Commons

you’ll need a bucket if you want to compete with Miss Uganda …

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Photo, http://www.ugandaonline.net

a milk bucket, that is.

This year, hopefuls vying for the title of Miss Uganda had to show their talents in an unusual realm for a beauty pageant—a milking contest. And that’s not all; they also had to handle sheep and goats and answer pertinent questions about agriculture—no tapping cup tricks for these ladies … and no swimsuits.

“Why all this emphasis on farming?” you might ask. The current Ugandan president apparently thought it would be a good way to spotlight agriculture, the country’s economic backbone. “We are here to change the perception that agriculture cannot co-exist with beauty. The contestants have been taken through 25 modules of agriculture and have had their hands dirty at some points to get to know how things are done. The regional winners, together with the overall winner, will champion agricultural projects in the next one year,” said Brenda Nanyonjo, Miss Uganda spokeswoman.

You go, farmgirls!

dairy-queen Continue reading