Friday, February 25, 2011

This farming life

The kids are on the school bus, the barn chores are done, and I'm getting ready to drive three-plus hours east of here to attend EcoFarm Day, a conference hosted by the Canadian Organic Growers.

I'll be attending workshops on the overwinter storage of fruits and vegetables, as well as food safety on the farm, but the one I'm most looking forward to is 'Decisions for the viable and sustainable farm', a presentation that might help me decide whether to take the next step on our farming venture/adventure.

When we first moved to our farm almost three years ago, it was to become more self-reliant, to live closer to and in harmony with the earth and to raise our children in such an environment. Those intentions remain, but over the past year or so, I've been thinking about ways to have the farm as my livelihood, and not just a way of life.

The thought terrifies and excites me. I'm already climbing a huge learning curve and sometimes my legs and arms feel so tired from all the scrambling. I have no illusions that this will be easy -- for instance, I know just how physically hard this life can be, especially when I'm not a very big person to begin with. (I'm thinking back to a time last summer when despite putting all my weight behind a broadfork, it stayed stuck fast in the dirt, only to have Lucas walk over to it, grab it by the handles and hoist it clear from the ground. And don't get me started on how heavy those big bags of chicken feed are!)

It means digging deep, finding courage and coming to terms with and accepting that regardless of how stubborn I am, I will need help. Lots of it. And it's not like I don't already have two other jobs -- one as a mama, the second as a writer and editor.

I don't expect to get rich this way, but there are financial benefits to having an income-generating farm; even a small-scale one. For one, Ontario farmers who generate a gross income of $7,000 are eligible for a Farm Property Class tax rebate, which means we'd only pay 25% of our property taxes.

More importantly, generating more income on the farm means spending less time generating income off the farm, and while we do our best to reduce as much spending as we can by buying less, growing more, doing with what we have, the list of things we need money for remains long -- mortgage, property tax, vehicle repairs & gas, insurance, dental bills, savings for the kids' education, and on and on.

But even $7,000 seems like a monumental amount of money, especially when our sole farm income right now is the eggs from our 40 hens, which we sell for $3/dozen.

So we'll see. I'm not expecting to make any decisions tomorrow, only to gather more information. Maybe I'll realize I'm crazy or idealistic, or this is something to put on our 'five-year plan.' But this idea of growing the farm and making it fiscally productive has got a firm hold on me. I'm not alone.

In Kristin Kimball's book "The Dirty Life, On Farming, Food and Love," a story of her leap from a thirtysomething Manhattan-based writer to a new life on a sustainable cooperative farm in upstate New York, she writes:

"I've learned many things in the years since my life took this wild turn towards the dirt... But one lesson came harder than any of those: As much as you transform the land by farming, farming transforms you. It seeps into your skin along with the dirt that abides permanently in the creases of your thickened hands, the beds of your nails. It asks so much of your body that if you're not careful it can wreck you as surely as any vice by the time you're fifty, when you wake up and find yourself with ruined knees and dysfunctional shoulders, deaf from the constant clank and rattle of your machinery, and broke to boot.

But farming takes root in you and crowds out other endeavours, makes them seem paltry. Your acres become a world. And maybe you realize that it is beyond those acres or in your distant past, back in the realm of TiVo and cubicles, of take-out food and central heat and air, in that country where comfort has nearly disappeared, that you were deprived. Deprived of the pleasure of desire, of effort and difficulty and meaningful accomplishment. A farm asks and if you don't give enough, the primordial forces of death and wildness will overrun you. So naturally you give, and then you give some more, and then you give to the point of breaking, and then and only then it gives back, so bountifully it overfills not only your root cellar but also that parched and weedy little patch we call the soul."

I often tell my kids, "do one thing every day that scares you" and "make the most of yourself, for that's all there is of you" -- at the same time, accepting that where you are right now is perfect.

You'd think leaving our lives behind and moving to the country would be the hard part. That was easy. It's what comes next that scares me. I'll keep you posted.

Have a lovely weekend, folks!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

For the love of zucchini

The kids and I were working on our seed "wish list" the other day (yes, while some of you are coddling your seedlings, out here in zone 5a we're still at the dreaming stage) and I thought it was fun to see what was on each of their 'must-grow' list.

Jack wanted to grow pumpkins, beans, peas, tomatoes and watermelon; Ella agreed, and added cucumbers, corn, peppers, carrots and of course, sunflowers.

When I asked if there was anything else, she put one hand on her hip, the other to her chin (as if to scratch a non-existent beard) before blurting out, "Zucchini, mama.... zucchini! We can't forget the zucchini."

Despite warnings to exercise restraint when planting this prolific summer squash, I always transplant one or two extras, just 'in case'. Invariably, I end up producing enough to feed a small country.

But I love growing zucchini. When I'm battling Japanese beetles and tomato hornworms, while struggling to figure out the best way to stake tomatoes and cucumbers, it takes just one look at those elephant ear-sized leaves and the beautiful, shiny baseball bat-sized fruits to make me feel like a gardening guru.

OK, I know you're not supposed to let them grow that big. But the kids get such a kick out of monster vegetables.

But I also hate food going to waste. Once I've exhausted the number of people I can foist zucchini on to (watch for me on August 8th as I celebrate National Sneak Some Zucchini on to your Neighbour's Porch Day!) then I start getting creative. Zucchini sneaks into every recipes, from breads to dips, soups to sauces to cookies.

Last August, I was planning on making a batch of zucchini pickles and some relish, but then I got distracted by this recipe for Gingered Zucchini Marmalade -- and it uses five cups of shredded peeled zucchini, or 10 cups if you double the recipe!

It's a bit finicky, but worth it.

Here it is:

• 2 oranges
• 2 lemons
• 3 tbsp chopped ginger root
• 5 cups shredded, peeled zucchini
• 1 tart apple, cored and grated
• 4 cups granulated sugar

1.) Using a vegetable peeler, remove peel from each orange in one long strip. (Step one and it's already finicky. Hang in there!) Cut orange peel into thin strips and place in a large deep stainless steel saucepan. Set aside.

2.) Remove white pith from oranges and peel and pith from lemon. (Yes, more finickyness. It gets better.) Set fruit aside.

3.) Tie orange and lemon pith and peel and ginger root in a square of cheesecloth, creating a spice bag. Add to sauce pan. (See, that was easy.)

4.) Working over the saucepan to catch juice and using a small sharp knife, separate orange and lemon segments from membrane. Place segments in saucepan and squeeze membrane to remove as much juice as possible, collecting it in the saucepan. Discard membrane and seeds. (OK, I admit, this part was quite tedious.)

5.) Add zucchini, apple and sugar to saucepan and mix well Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Boil hard, stirring frequently, until mixture reaches gel stage, about 45 minutes. Remove from heat. If gel stage has been reached, skim off foam. Discard spice bag.

6.) Meanwhile, prepare canner, jar and lids. Ladle hot marmalade into hot jars, leave 1/4" headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace. Wipe rim, centre lid and screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip tight.

7.) Place in hot water canner, ensuring jars are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes. Remove canner lid, wait five minutes, then remove jars, cool and store. Makes about four 8-oz (250 ml) jars.

I admit this might not be the most efficient way to make use of excess zucchini. It's quite time consuming and the outcome is less than if you were to bake and freeze several loaves of zucchini bread.

But if you enjoy preserves like we do, the taste is unlike any store-bought marmalade. And in the depths of winter, when summer still seems so far away, it serves as a cheerful and flavourful reminder of the bounty of our garden.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Birthday wishes and simple dreams

Jack turned nine years old on Monday and while I feel so privileged to share my life with him, to watch him grow and blossom, it seems the years are passing too quickly. There are days when I'm caught up in the day-to-day routine and I forget just how precious this time is; and then there are moments when I take a step back, look at him with fresh eyes and think, 'Who is this big boy?'

I know that there comes a time when mothers and fathers are no longer the centre of their child's world and I accept that -- it's all part of growing up. I take great comfort in the quote by Hodding Carter: "There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings." I also know there will come a time when his peers are equally, if not more, of an influence and I'm anticipating that, but I don't have to like it.

Already I see him noticing differences between how many of his friends at school live and play and our choices -- even something as simple as never having had access to any TV channels is creating an "us" versus "them" awareness.

The other day when we were out of town, we stopped for lunch in a restaurant that had sports playing on ceiling-mounted TVs. His eyes kept tracking over to the TV and when I asked him to stop, he said "I'm sorry, mum, but all the kids at school are talking about the sports teams and I don't know what they're talking about."

This lead to a conversation about how it's OK to be different and it's important to live by your own belief system (which may eventually change from ours, I know) and not follow what 'everyone else' is doing, but I worry that for now, being 'different' might become a fairly heavy burden for a sensitive soul to bear.

Or take the 'toys' that kids play with today: I'd say a huge majority of children at the kids' school have some kind of a handheld games system, such as a DS or DSi. Everywhere I go I see kids zoning out over one of these gadgets -- at the arena, on the school bus, in the classroom, even on field trips. Kids aren't talking to each other face-to-face anymore -- they're 'chatting' though a screen.

I worry that young children are losing the ability to use their imagination to pretend play, to create, to wonder and to simply notice the world around them. Childhood is so short -- it seems such as waste to spend it glued to a machine.

Regardless of their popularity, my kids do not, and will not, have one of these gadgets. Lucas and I have talked to the kids about our concerns and expressed how much we value and marvel at their ability for creative play, and they seem to understand, accept and even agree with our decision.

This doesn't mean we are complete Luddites: Lucas' parents know how much Jack loves music and so they gave him a basic iPod for Christmas. Are we hypocrites? Some might say so, but we're simply trying find a balanced co-existence in a tech-obsessed world.

Still, when it came time to give Jack his birthday gifts, we focused on some simple things: a couple of books, a small Lego building set, the promise of some handknit socks (which are still on the needles) and a dream pillow.

I used fabric from some old flannel pyjamas -- the tartan came from Lucas, the stars from me -- and filled the pillow with rice scented with lavender oil. The hand-stitched pocket on the front is filled with dried lavender blossoms.

When I tucked him in to bed last night, I was pleased to see the pillow snugged beside his face. I explained that I made it from our old flannels so that he knew we were always there to comfort him and that I scented it with lavender to help relax and soothe him as he drifted off to sleep. He simply smiled and said, 'thanks, mum.'

I'm sure when his friends ask him what he got for his birthday, he'll talk about the books, the Lego set, the new yo-yo that he got from a friend, but he won't mention his dream pillow. That's OK. While he often gets up in the middle of the night and crawls into our bed because he wants to be with us, last night he slept in his own bed. I'd say the dream pillow worked its magic and that's good enough for me.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

And the winner is....

Sorry, folks, for the delay in announcing the winner of my Valentine's Day Giveaway. The kids and I were out of town for the last two days and upon returning home late last night and finding a sick husband (he's a bit better today), an empty wood stove and a barn full of hungry animals, I simply couldn't get to my computer.

Without further ado, the winner is...

... Annie's Granny! Please email me at fiona [at] rowangarthfarm [dot] ca with your mailing address so I can send you your copy of "Carrots Love Tomatoes."

And thanks to all of you who left comments. Giveaway or not, I love hearing from you!

Friday, February 18, 2011

One of these things...

... is not like the other!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Not just a knitted dishcloth

"The quality of a thing comes from the knowledge and beauty it carries more than from its expense." ~ William Coperthwaite, author of "A Handmade Life"

I'd hope to make a pair of socks for February's 'Year in Colour' challenge project -- I even cast on a pair using a funky orange twist yarn -- but I put those aside as I'd like to get Jack's birthday socks finished first.

But I still needed a project for this month. While I think orange looks beautiful on pumpkins and monarch butterflies, it's not really a colour that we wear much of. As we hand wash all our dishes and I needed to make up some more dishcloths, I thought this cotton yarn would make a colourful addition to our linen drawer. At least this one will be easy to find!

I've mentioned my love for quick-knit projects and dishcloths are the ultimate in quick knits. I like to always have something on the go and these are items I can start and finish in one sitting. They're easy, inexpensive and you can play with colourful yarns you might not otherwise consider.

But I haven't always make dishcloths, nor did I appreciate their intrinsic goodness. I remember saying 'thank you' as I received a set of handmade cloths as a wedding shower gift, while feeling some disdain as if I really wanted to say "that's it?" The time the gift-giver took to handcraft those cloths, imbuing those simple things with love and blessings as Lucas and I began a new life together was completely lost on my 23-year-old self.

Since then, I've distanced myself from that girl who cared too much about matching dish sets and expensive crystal. Now I admire people who take the time to craft the tools of daily life and I find ways to make or use those items with care. I've even become the person who gives handmade dishcloths as gifts.

Taking the time to make something as simple as a dishcloth in a busy life filled with competing demands can be a tough sell. If you can buy dishcloths at the dollar store, does it even make sense to make them anymore? I think so.

"Nothing is too small or insignificant to be well designed," writes Coperthwaite. "Paying attention to what is small and subtle can make a great deal of difference in the world around us."

We still have factory-made dishcloths in our linen drawer, but when it comes time to wash up, I love that the kids chose my handmade creations over the store-bought ones. It's heartening to know that a simple act like knitting dishcloths is helping to cultivate their appreciation for finding beauty and worth in the simple things.

And maybe when they're all grown up and they receive handmade things, they'll look the gift-giver in the eye, say thank you -- and mean it.

P.S. There are still a few days left in the Valentine's Day Giveaway, so if you haven't left a comment yet, it's not too late!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How (not) to make granola

I'm always looking for ways to create wholesome, nourishing food for my family and save money at the grocery store. Both my kids love eating cereal for breakfast but with all the empty-caloried, sugar-filled yuck on the market, there are only a few brands that we'd buy -- and these don't come cheap. So I started making my own.

Here's our favourite wintertime cereal recipe : a simple Honey Almond Granola, filled with nutritious grains and crunchy nutty goodness, kissed with a hint of sweet and a dash of love.

I get most of the ingredients at the bulk food store, except for: the honey, which my dad buys from a local farmer (until we get our own hives buzzing); the vanilla, which we make ourselves from vanilla beans; and the vegetable oil. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

First, here's the recipe:

• 4 cups large flake rolled oats
• 1/2 cup oat bran
• 1/2 cup wheat germ
• 1/2 cup unsweetened large flake coconut
• 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
• 1/4 sesame seeds, not toasted
• 1 cup unsalted raw almonds, roughly chopped
• 1/2 cup honey
• 1/4 vegetable oil
• 1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
• 1 cup golden raisins *
• 1 cup dried cranberries *
• 1/2 cup dried currants *

* or dried fruit of your choosing

1.) Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Have ready two heavy-bottomed baking sheets.

2.) Stir together the rolled oats, oat bran, wheat germ, coconut, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and almonds in a large bowl and set aside.

3.) Stir the raisins, cranberries and currants (or dried fruit of your choosing) in a separate bowl. Marvel at how pretty and festive it looks. Set aside.

3.) Place the honey in a small pot and heat until melted. Add the vegetable oil and vanilla extract and stir until combined. Pour over the rolled oat mixture and stir until the grains are evenly coated with the honey mixture.

4.) Do not get swept away by your six-year-old's insistence that we should add the berries now because it would look oh-so-pretty.

5.) Do not spread the mixture out on the two baking sheets before re-checking the recipe.

6.) Do not spend the next 20 minutes hand-picking all the 'pretty berries' from the grains and cursing the recipe for having 2-1/2 cups of assorted dried fruit in it. Do not notice the pursed lips in the photo posted below.

7.) Do not give up and decide to bake the granola anyway, covering the baking sheets with tinfoil and hoping for the best. Do not ignore the scent of roasting cranberries/raisins.

8.) Skip steps 4 through 8.

9.) Divide the grains and honey mixture without the dried fruit onto the two baking sheets. Place in the oven without the tinfoil and bake for approximately 20 to 25 minutes, stirring frequently. When ready, oats (but not the dried fruit) should start to turn a light golden brown. Check often as it can burn quickly.

10.) Remove from oven, cool and place mixture in a large bowl. Only then add the dried fruit mixture and stir until well combined.

The recipe makes about 12 cups and keeps up to four weeks, but it never lasts in our household that long.

Even with the 'oops', this hearty granola tastes delicious topped with with hemp seeds and served with your choice of milk. Or not. Lucas takes his straight up, sometimes with yogurt -- if he's feeling adventurous.

If you haven't already, be sure to visit my Valentine's Day Giveaway post for a chance to win a copy of Louise Riotte's 'Carrots Love Tomatoes!"

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day Giveaway

In the spirit of Valentine's Day -- a day that's all about love, love, love! -- I'd like to offer a small token of gratitude for reading about our madcap life here on Rowangarth Farm: one copy of Louise Riotte's garden classic "Carrots Love Tomatoes."

Since its first publication in 1975, gardeners worldwide have learned how companion planting -- growing certain plants in close proximity to one another to help with nutrient uptake, pest control and pollination -- can create a beautiful, healthy and harmonious garden.

In this handy reference book, you'll learn the ABCs of companion planting -- how Absinthium (also called wormwood) makes a great border planting to keep animals out (works well for deer!) and how Yew is susceptible to root rot fungus if grown next to rhododendrons. There are also short chapters on 'Pollination of fruit & nuts', 'Nut trees', 'Fruit tree culture' and 'Poisonous plants.'

To enter, simply leave a comment in today's post (one entry per person, please). A winner will be selected one week from today.

************************ THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED ************************

For my regular readers -- this is simply my way of saying 'thanks' for visiting, for sharing your tips, your stories and your lives.

And if you're a new visitor or if you've never commented before -- please, don't be shy. I'd love to hear from you!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Love, cookies and simple things

I'm not a dozen roses, expensive chocolates or a fancy dinner kind of girl when it comes to Valentine's Day, but I do love the idea of simply celebrating love. Around our house, that means two things: handmade cards and home-baked cookies.

We spent the first part of our day enjoying our annual tradition of making simple cards for the kids' friends at school.

Then it was time to make the cookies. Like Mama Pea over at A Home Grown Journal, I have our own "special" sugar cookie recipe that we use for Valentine's Day, Halloween, Christmas, even birthdays -- really any occasion that calls for a fun, cut-out, decorative cookie.

While her secret ingredient is nutmeg, mine is ground cardamom. I don't know what it is about its resinous, aromatic, almost ginger-peppery flavour that makes these cookies so delicious, but I do know mine are the only sugar cookies my husband enjoys.

Here's the recipe:

• 3/4 cup softened butter
• 3/4 raw sugar
• 1 large egg
• 1 tsp vanilla
• 2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
• 1 tsp baking soda
• 1 tsp cream of tartar
• 1/4 tsp salt
• 1/4 tsp ground cardamom

1.) Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl. Add egg. Beat well. Add vanilla. Beat until smooth.

2.) Ask kids to clean up. Remark that this is the only time they're keen to do dishes.

3.) Combine remaining five dry ingredients in a small bowl. Add to butter mixture in two additions, mixing well after each addition.

4.) Divide dough into equal portions. Shape each portion into flattened disc, wrap in wax paper and chill. The recipe says to do this for at least six hours to make the dough more manageable, but I find that two hours is just fine. Or, maybe we're just impatient.

5.) Roll out dough onto a lightly floured surface to 1.25" thickness. Cut with lightly floured cutters.

6.) Place on a cookie pan about 2" apart. Roll out scraps to cut more shapes.

6.) Place in 350 degree F preheated oven for 10 minutes until cookies are puffy and edges are just golden.

7.) Enlist loyal watchdog to guard over cookies in case of siege by bandits.

8.) Remove and let cool completely. Chase away thieving children/husband/loyal watchdog.

9.) Mix royal icing. This is the recipe I use for our gingerbread house making.

• 1/3 cup meringue powder
• 1 cup icing sugar
• 45 ml hot water
• pinch of cream of tartar

i.) Blend meringue powder and water at low speed for one minute. Then blend for 4 to 7 minutes at high speed until thick, soft peaks form. Or not. Peaks never form for me.
ii.) Blend in icing sugar.
iii.) Decorate!

Mama's cookies

Ella's cookies for her Valentine's Day school party.
Jack decided to take plain cookies.
When I asked him why he said, "I'd like my teacher to have a good time at the party and not have to chase around a whole bunch of kids freaking out on sugar."
Evidently, Ella didn't have the same concern for her teacher.

Wishing you all a day filled with love, bliss and yummy cookies.


I got over my case of finishupitis and completed this quick-knit mitten project. Just don't ask me how late I stayed up to do it.

Next up on the needles: I've got an uber quick idea for the Year in Colour challenge and I've got the perfect yarn to to make some socks for Jack's birthday, which is, incidentally, in eight days. Have I mentioned I tend to leave things to the last minute?

P.S. Remember to check in tomorrow for my first giveaway!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Bulk store goodness & my soon-to-be first giveway

While my blog posts are often lengthy sagas (who knew someone could write so much about knitting one sock?) this will be a quick one: I've got a pile of work to get through, the barn is in a sorry state, I just picked up two more balls of sock yarn (I'm going to need a knitting intervention soon, I think!), I've got two kids that'll be home from school in less than three hours and I've got a date with my kitchen*. Oh, yes... I've been at the bulk food store.

I love the bulk food store with its rows of bins brimming with culinary possibilities. There's nothing prepared, no preservatives or additives -- just good old fashioned ingredients that encourage creativity in the kitchen.

I stocked up on some rye flour and Red Fife flour for some home-baked bread, rolled oats, nuts and raisins (golden ones, no less -- so sunny and cheery!) for granola, carob powder and poppy seeds for cookies (not together!) and I couldn't resist getting some delicious dried lavender blossoms. I'd like to make each of us an aromatherapy rice bag, perfect for taking away the chills or for soothing aching muscles. I've got to figure out a way to heat it without using a microwave -- perhaps a double boiler on the woodstove?

While I must dash, be sure to visit on Monday for my first giveaway! Curious? I'll give you two hints.

Take this...

and add some of this...

Have a lovely weekend!

* Just to be clear -- I'd much rather prefer a date with my husband, but it is the middle of a workday, after all...

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Gettin' knitty with it -- Mittens!

I love quick-knit projects. Like Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (a.k.a. The Yarn Harlot), I often get a case of Startitis, only to be stricken with a worse case of Finishitupitis. Translation -- I'm often really good at starting, not so good at finishing.

In some cases, this is a good thing -- when I get too frazzled or invested in any project, sometimes it's just best to walk away, take a break, breathe.

But I love the simple pleasure of looking at a finished project, even something easy like Jack's ribbed hat, and saying, "I did that." And then to see my family enjoying the item I made for them -- it's like love incarnate, but in woolly form.

I know I said I'd be working on the Year in Colour challenge but it's still early in the month, and I've yet to find some orange wool that inspires me. (Maybe if I got off the farm more, I'd find inspiration. Yes, I'm a winter hermit. A procrastinating winter hermit, at that.)

In the meantime, I loved working with the wool for Jack's hat, so I started a pair of mittens using a pattern from the same book, Judith Durant's One-Skein Wonders, in the green wool that I used for the stripe.

And here's what I've discovered: Knitting mittens is addictive... especially when it's minus 200 degrees outside.

It's small projects like this that grab me, that have me uttering things like, "I can't stop now, I've just started the gusset"...

or "Yes, I know I haven't moved in over an hour and we should really get supper started, but let me just finish the hand!"

(I know this is inside-out. It's a bad habit I've developed when working with DPNs and circular needles. I sought help in YouTube and I'm much better now, thanks.)

or "Yes, I know it's well past my bedtime and I'll be a total troll in the morning, but look at how great this thumb is shaping up!"

At least with a hobby/preoccupation/obsession like this one, I can preserve our matrimonial and family bliss with promises that the next pair will be "just for you."

What inspires you?

Ed. update: Here's a lovely and related post from homesteading/quilting/lady extraordinaire Mama Pea at A Home Grown Journal about the joy of creativity and the challenge of making time for this kind of good-for-the-soul activity...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Sock monkey love

While I can assure you that I haven't been spending all my waking hours crafting (though that'd be much more fun that what I have been doing too much of -- working, shoveling, thawing, moping), in the spirit of Monday's post on 'Making time for creativity', I'd like to share how I spent the first day of 2011.

Many moons ago, I’d spend New Year’s Day in a prone position with a bottle of Tylenol, some ginger tea to soothe a queasy belly and a disjointed collection of hazy memories of the shenanigans from the night before.

This year, I made a sock monkey.

I have a fairly intense aversion to all the plastic crap, I mean toys, on the market nowadays and while my kids don't have too much of that stuff, I've been trying to instill an appreciation of "simpler" toys.

Ok, truth be told, I'm obsessed with llama and alpaca wool and when I found this sock monkey "kit" (two 'flawed' socks, plus instructions) at Rancho Tranquilo, a local alpaca farm, I had to make one... or two... or...

They're fun and really easy, too. Start with a sock...

Turn it inside out, cut down the centre and sew up two legs...

Turn the sock right-side out and stuff with filling. I wish I'd had some natural fleece or fibre, but I only had synthetic on hand.

Then cut pieces from the second sock to make the face, tail...

... arms and ears. Sew on a mouth and some button eyes and you're done! Well, almost.

Keeping in mind I didn't start this project until 4:00 p.m., due to multiple kid requests, ("Can I help?"), questions ("Are you almost done?"), whimpers ("Is there anything to eat around here?") and barn chores, it was almost midnight before I got the monkey finished. But knowing my daughter's penchant for flair, it just didn't seem right giving her a "naked" monkey.

Even sock monkeys need accessories.

Seeing the look on Ella's face the next morning when she brought monkey down for breakfast (I tucked it into bed with her as she slept -- so sweet!) was worth staying up until 2 a.m. knitting an itty, bitty pink scarf and making a floppy garden-style hat with matching fringe. Yes, I actually did that.

Of course, Ella being Ella, she'd already embellished the monkey with her own sense of style.

So without further ado, meet Rosemary Rosebud Butterfly, the sock monkey.

And yes, I do fully appreciate that she's surrounded by plastic crap, I mean toys. Sigh.
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