A Tree Change is A-Comin’

Have you seen the ‘make-under’ dolls that have become so popular of late?  This is where a preloved doll, like a Bratz doll, is given a ‘make-under’ and completely transformed in to a dolly with a more natural appearance.  The enormous eyes and lips are gone, the crazy hair and skimpy clothing replaced by something more down to earth.  More appropriate.  More accessible.  And more fun!

A group of Tree Change Doll kids ready to play outside. Picture courtesy of Tree Change Dolls on Facebook

The first I’d heard of a make-under doll was in February this year via this YouTube video.  Sonia Singh is a Tasmanian mum and artist who has been making under dolls she’s found at local tip shops for her own daughter.  Her process involves completely removing all traces of the heavy, stylized, makeup and hand painting a new face on each doll.  Sonia and her mum, Sylvia, then hand sew and hand knit new, more modest and age appropriate play outfits for each doll, and even make new shoes to replace the stripper heels the original Bratz dolls sport.  The end result is a completely refurbished, hand-styled doll that children say feels more like a friend, someone they might actually know in real life, dolls that are more friendly and fun to play with.

I can see what they mean.  The before and after pictures reveal a marked difference between the impossibly proportioned Barbies and trashy Bratz dolls, and the more natural Tree Change Dolls that Sonia creates.  Here is a recent example of Sonia’s work.

Picture from Tree Change Dolls facebook page.

Bindi – July’s charity doll. Picture from TreeChangeDolls.com

Sonia Singh and one of her Tree Change Dolls. Image from Tree Change Dolls on Facebook

I love this idea on so many levels.  First, there is the whole recycling piece.  Turning someone else’s trash in to treasure and preventing the unwanted dolls from becoming landfill.  Love that!

And then there is Sonia’s philosophy of taking dolls with hyper-sexualised features (ugh, truly truly awful) and transforming them in to what looks pretty close to being a kid you might actually know, all while providing an alternative, slightly feminist, certainly positive message to young girls.

And you know what else I love?  Sonia makes of point of not editing perceived ‘flaws’ that children might naturally have, like freckles, bushy eyebrows and buck teeth but adds them in to create personality.  Love that, too.

People just can’t get enough of these dolls.  Back in February Sonia’s original story was quickly picked up by social media and all of a sudden she become quite the viral sensation.  Her dolls, which she sells through her Etsy shop, are just about impossible to come by as they all sell out in a matter of minutes after every listing.  Clearly, Sonia has struck upon an underserved niche in the toy market and, no doubt, could make fists full of money by licensing with Mattel.  But instead of holding on greedily to her great idea Sonia has created a number of How-To videos to encourage regular peeps like you and me to have a go at upcycling old unwanted dollies ourselves.  How amazing is that?

So, of course, I had to give it a try 🙂

Here is the strumpet, Jazzmyn, I picked up at a local op-shop.  She was $2.50.  Not as whorey as I was hoping to find, quite honestly, but still.

image   image

And after a bit of tinkering, here she is now.

DSCN0514DSCN0526DSCN0542

I think she turned out pretty well for a first try.  My kids love her.  And it was a lot of fun to make her some new clothes, boots and some chicken friends 🙂  She reminds me a lot of a little girl I volunteered with in my youngest’s kindergarten class, Daniza.  Now, who would you want your 6 year old to play with: Jazzmyn with her sassy mouth and stripper heels, or Daniza and her cute chickens?

Another thing I like about Sonia is that each month she puts one of her dolls up for auction on Ebay with some of the proceeds benefiting a different charity.  Bindi, the dolly at the top of this story, was auctioned off this month for just over AUD1000 with proceeds to go to The Indigenous Literacy Foundation.  Ah.May.Zing.

I love everything about this.  The social responsibility piece.  The recycling.  The positive body image message for young girls.  The entrepreneurial spirit of a mum from Tassie!  Love.  Love.  Love.  Don’t you?

The Best Jumbleberry Jam Evah

Jumbleberry Jam is my absolute favourite.  It is hard to come by and so when I do I stock up and make it last for as long as I can, scraping the very last skerrick out of the jar and even using my fingers to wipe up the last drip from the plate before putting the dirty dishes in the sink.  Why is it so hard to come by?  Because I make it myself, that’s why.  Truly, it is the best. My grandmother taught be how to make jam when I was very little.  I remember her melting wax in a small pot to pour over the top of the finished jarred jam to create an airtight seal for preservation and storage.  I use the 2 piece lids with the wax seal on the outside but otherwise our techniques are pretty much the same.  This is how we do it.

Step 1 – You’ll need to set up a hotwater bath canner, like this one, to process the jarred jam which will seal it and keep in shelf stable for up to (or even longer than) 1 year. image You also need some sterilized glass jars to put the jam in, and 2 piece lids to seal the jars.  I handwash my glass jars well in hot, soapy water before putting them in the boiling-water filled canner to keep hot and sterile while I make the jam. image It is important to put the hot jam quickly in to hot, sterile, jars and then back in to the hot water canner to keep bacteria at bay.  I find it easy to keep every clean, hot and easily accessed by doing it this way.  I remember my grandmother used to keep her clean jars in a low oven to keep them hot while preparing her jam, but she didn’t process them in the water canner the way I do (she used the melted wax to seal the jars, remember?) If you are nervous about using a hot water canner, don’t be.  Here is a link to some more info if you need to do some research before going any further.

Step 2 – Pick, wash, sort and crush your berries.  Any berries you like are fine.  I like to use a variety to make my Jumbleberry Jam normally strawberries, blueberries and blackberries.  Today I used strawberries we picked locally from the most fabulous organic farm back in May, some of which I froze in preparation for today’s Jumbleberry Jam making event.  Yes, it is really so good I plan well ahead.

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The blueberries are fresh from the farmers market.  The blackberries are boringly from the supermarket.  It is totally ok to mix and match. You’ll need 5 cups of crushed berries to make 5 large jars of Jumbleberry Jam.  What I do is put the cleaned berries in a large pyrex jar and use a potato masher to crush and measure the berries at the same time (clever, huh?).  Just keep adding different berries until you get to 5 cups of crushed berries. imageStep 3 – Once you get to 5 cups put the crushed berries in a large saucepan over high heat, add a packet of powdered pectin and 1/2 tsp of butter to the pan and start stirring.  Pectin is a naturally occuring substance found in ripe fruits that can be added to jams and jellies to help them set.  You can find it at the supermarket.  There is also a low sugar version you can try but I’ve only ever used the full-monty, regular version.

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Not at all certain why this picture is sideways. My apologies.

Step 4 – Bring the berry mix to a rolling boil while stirring all the time.  A full rolling boil is when the bubbles won’t dissipate even when you stir it.

Step 5 – Use the large pyrex jug to measure out 7 cups of sugar.  I use regular white sugar but you can use organic, or even brown sugar if you want.  Understand though that it is a lot of sugar.  A LOT.  That’s the truth about jam and it will shock you and make your teeth itch just to look at it, but 7 cups of processed white sugar is what you use.  Pour the whole amount of sugar in to the pot and keep stirring.

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Truthfully, this is a pic from when I made Strawberry Rhubarb jam a few weeks ago. I forgot to take a pic of my cooking Jumbleberry Jam today. Is much the same though – you can see all the sugar going in.

Keep cooking and stirring over high heat and bring the berry and sugar mix back to a rolling boil.  Boil hard for 1 minute.

Step 6 – Pour cooked jam in to the hot, sterile, jars and put the filled jars back in the hotwater canner to keep hot.  I like to use a pair of rubber tongs to llift the jars in and out of the water, and a funnel to ladel the hot jam in to the jars. image Wipe the rim of the jar with a wet paper towel before fitting the 2 piece lid on.

Step 7 – Once all the jars are filled lower the rack back in to the hotwater canner and bring the water back to a boil.  Process the jars in the boiling water for 5 minutes.  Remove them and let them cool on a wire rack. imageimage

As the jars cool you will hear the lids ‘pop’ as the changes in pressure create the airtight seal.  I’ve never had a jar fail to seal before but the way you test it is by pressing gently in the centre of the lid.  If it pops up and down then the seal did not work and the jam must be kept refrigerated and eaten first. image Step 8 – Voila!  The best homemade Jumbleberry Jam Evah!  Don’t forget to print up some cute labels for your jars.  Believe me, after a few months you will absolutely forget what kind of jam it is that you made and you’ll be glad you did. Homemade jam makes wonderful gifts (I think) for teachers, babysitters and friends who need a boost.  I hope you try it.  Making jam is easy, satisfying and a delicious treat.

It’s The End of the World … I Mean School Year.

It’s the end of the school year here in America and we are all losing our minds.  Why is it that everything gets crammed into the last two weeks of school?  Final assessments and last minute assignments.  Multiple class parties that need hard-to-find supplies to be sent in on time.  Poetry recitals and Fun Days that need costume preparation and volunteering.  Daily after school swim team practice with late night, school night, meets (wha??).

I know it is a lot of fun but when all the varying facets of our lives decide to ‘have fun’ simultaneously it all becomes rather chaotic and stressful.  And too much.  The regular ebb and flow of our routine is lost and anarchy follows.  There are more tears than usual.  More drama.  More drive-thru-dinners.  Mamas with school aged children, tell me I’m not alone!  It’s madness, right?

But I finally hit a new low last night.  My better half is out of town which means that I’m flying solo.  Cub scouts is usually his domain but yesterday it, along with everything else, was mine.  Our domestic cubby was getting ready for his meeting and came to me just minutes before we had to leave with a badge that had fallen off.  Last night was their big Moving-Up-To-The-Next-Cubby-Level night so a presentable uniform was key.  And his had a badge that was missing.

There was no time to sew and the fabri-tack wasn’t cutting it so I **stapled it back on to his shirt and called it done**.  I present my shame here:

Evidence that Mama has reached her limit.

Evidence that Mama has reached her limit.

Looks ok from a distance.

Looks ok from a distance, right?

There is a popular blog post going around called the Worst End of School Year Mom Ever.  Definitely worth a read and it is with only moderate amounts of shame that I can admit that I.Am.That.Mom.  But let’s face it.  We all are at this time of the year, right?  Just limping, limping by until summer holidays come to save us.

But that’s when the real work starts when I stare down the barrel of 10 long weeks (10 weeks!!  More madness!) of Cruise Director-ship.  In a desperate attempt to be proactive I have already installed structure and rules around how much reading, outside activity, and chores must be completed before any glowing rectangular devices can be turned on.  Yeah, we’ll see how long that lasts.

Just dialing it in.  Sigh.

Keep Calm and Carrot On

Carrots are in!  I know you’ll all be so relieved to hear it but I finally got them planted yesterday.  As I type this my thoughts go to my gardening buddy Dan from vegetablurb who always seems to be conducting (and enjoying) different gardening experiments as this year my carrots are a bit of an experiment, too.  You see, I am totally living on the wild side and am using … technically … expired seeds (audible gasp!!).

carrot package carrot seeds

I know I know.  They were supposed to have finished being planted in 2013 but who can use so many teeny carrot seeds that come in the one packet?  There must be hundreds and hundreds in there!  I know the traditional planting method is to dig a furrow and then sprinkle all of tiny seeds in with the plan to thin 98% out once they grow but I feel like that is just so wasteful, don’t you?  And I know a packet of seeds costs just pennies but … I’m not certain that is the point.  Waste is waste and we are all supposed to be mindful of minimizing our waste, right?

I use the square foot gardening technique where the advice is to plant 2, maybe 3 seeds per hole with a view to eventually thin to one carrot per hole, so we are still thinning 1/2 to 2/3 out but it is far less wasteful than traditional methods.  And since I have such a small vege patch my carrot patch is also very small which means I always have lots of seeds left over once planting is done.  What to do?

In response I have started cold storing my seeds in the fridge – I blogged about that here – and have had much success. Although each year that goes by I feel like it is really just an extension of the experiment.

Cold stored seeds waiting for next planting season.

Cold stored seeds waiting for next planting season.

Surely there will come a time when germination rates will drop and there will come a point of diminishing returns.  My hopes are that won’t be this year.  I did add an extra seed per hole as insurance – hehehe.

What do you do with your left over seeds?  Throw them out and eat the cost?  Has anyone else tried storing them year over year?  How long will that work?  I’m up to my 3rd year running now.  Hmmmm.

Keep Calm and Carrot On

Waste Not Want Not. Right?

I came across this blog and her ideas about accepting personal responsibility for our food consumption AND WASTE is compelling. I have heard the stat that she quoted before: that 50% of food produced in US ends up as waste (!!). Extraordinary!  And truly shameful.

I know I am guilty of not planning meals out properly and allowing veges to mould in the back of the fridge before I use them. I have over ordered at restaurants, maybe even taken the leftovers home but left them on the counter instead of refrigerating them, thereby allowing them to spoil. My kids pour too much cereal into their bowls and don’t finish it. In my weaker moments I allow them too many afternoon snacks which ruins their appetites for dinner.  My sorry list of wasteful confessions could go on and on.

I think being more mindful and aware of how much we really do waste is a good step in a sustainable direction.  But it takes commitment, right?  Being mindful is one thing but following through with action is what really matters.  And firing up the compost heap! I do feel like the spoiled cucumbers aren’t a complete loss of they go back into the garden at some point … right?

Hmm, this post has got me thinking.  What do you do to minimize food waste at your house?

Small Town Soul, Big City Brain

Ever since I watched Dive! (http://www.divethefilm.com/) a few years ago, I have been ultra-concerned with the amount of food we waste. I learned that about 50% of all the food produced in the U.S. ends up in the dump. When students approach me about writing on GMOs “because they are going to save the world,” I’m the (annoying) teacher who challenges their thinking by forcing them to consider the amount of food we waste as a potential solution to the food crisis. My request is logical: Do not overstate the impact of any one solution on world hunger. I must admit that my ulterior motive is to save myself from reading another paper on the GMO debate, primarily because the issue is a confusing mess from which no one has derived a clear definition that distinguishes genetically modified from hybridized organisms. After all, humans have been hybridizing crops since agriculture began. Only one of my students has addressed how…

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When Life Gives you Lemons … Bonus Round

From the When Life Gives You Lemons … Drink Limoncello Series.

Part 6: When Life Gives You Lemons … Make Lemon Curd from the Leftover Limoncello Lemons.

or How to Make Lemon Curd.

You thought I was done with the whole lemon thing, didn’t you?  Well, honestly, I don’t know if I’ll ever be done with the lemon thing.  There is just so much to love about lemons. But I thought to add one more Bonus Round to the series.

If you do decide to make your own limoncello (and I hope you do) you may find yourself with a mountain of naked lemons.  Lemons that you took much time and care to grow and nurture only to find that it was just their peels that was needed to make the, admittedly awesome, limoncello I’ve been rabbiting on about for so long.  Such a waste to not have a purpose for the rest of the lemons, right?  Again, you can go back to squeezing lemon juice over everything in sight (lemon juice is great as a cleaning product, too.  Here are 24 Things You Can Clean With Lemon) but my favourite thing to do is to turn them in to lemon curd.

Naked lemons.  Kinda sad, right?  (pic from oddlovescompany.com)

Naked lemons. Kinda sad, right?
(pic from oddlovescompany.com)

Ina Garten has a great recipe here but I feel there is a lot of equipment I have to wash up once done (food processor, saucepans, extra mixing bowls).   I’d rather take the easy way out and do it all in one bowl in the microwave.  I’m afraid I wrote this recipe down from a library book and have lost the citation.  Let me know what it is if you happen to know it.

Lemon Curd – Microwave

Ingredients

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice (juice from 6-8 lemons)
  • 3 lemons, zested
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted.

Directions

  1. In a microwave safe bowl, whisk together the sugar and eggs until smooth.  Stir in lemon juice, zest, and butter.
  2. Cook in microwave for 1 minute intervals, stirring after each minute until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
  3. Remove from microwave and pour in to small sterile jars.  Store for up to 3 weeks in the refrigerator.

    Delicious Lemon Curd - one of my favourite things ever

    Delicious Lemon Curd – one of my favourite things ever. (pic from Liren@KitchenConfidante.com)

I’ve never had it last longer than 3 weeks because it has all been eaten up so fast but I would imagine it would keep like any other butter product, even longer in the freezer.  It is heavenly on crepes and toast, in tarts and jelly rolls, between mini merigues topped with softly whipped heavy cream, or as a filling for lemon bars.  So many uses!  But for me, I find it most delicious when eaten straight from the jar with a spoon.  Yum!  Another great gift for those you love.  Make some lemon curd.  I promise you, you won’t regret it.

Ice-Pocalypse 2015

Here in Charlotte we were finally hit with our first proper winter storm of the season.  This time last year we’d already had snow and a bunch of snow days for the kids but it has been late coming this year (thank you thank you thank you).  The local media were all a-twitter about the conditions and I can’t say they got it wrong.  We woke up this morning to find everything covered in about an inch of ice.

That's not snow.  That's ice.

That’s not snow. That’s ice.

Yea, we're not going anywhere anytime soon

Yea, we’re not going anywhere anytime soon.

Even the the trees and (sniff) camellia buds are frozen.  It looks like Krispy Kreme has moved in and covered everything with their glaze and I’m not even convinced it is pretty this time.  Blech.

Honestly, I’d never heard of ice storms until I moved down here but I have learned that they are serious stuff.  The roads are impassable (and some of the interstate is actually closed, according to local media) and all the driveways and footpaths are solids sheet of ice.  The whole city grinds to a halt when this happens: schools and businesses close, the Hubster has to work from home, no one can get out of their houses, kids get cabin fever. The big concern comes when the power lines and tree limbs have ice form of them and they break from the heavy load, cutting off the power supply.  It can take days for the power to be restored and with the accompanying cold weather (we are expecting temps of 4*F/-16*C these next few days) it can be truly life threatening.  I don’t go in for all the hysteria the media will whip up but I am a believer in Being Prepared, and I thank my Girl Guide days for that -lol.

So, go ahead and stock up on milk and bread by all means and buy the kids a sled but more than that, think about how you would handle a power outage that could last for days in this climate.   I talked about my Ice-Pocalypse-SnowMageddon-OMG-we’re-trapped-with-no-power-and-we-can’t-get-out strategies here.  Fortunately, I’ve not had to bring out those big guns this storm – but I have a plan.

Don’t forget to take care of any outdoor pets you might have (our chickens are doing well with their big, fluffy, down-filled coats, super sweet coop, and electric water heater to keep their drinking water from freezing) and please check on any elderly neighbours you might have who may not be faring so well.

But on the bright side, it’ll be a hot chocolate drinking, cubby-house building, Netflix watching, strawberry waffle making, get-my-knit-on kinda day.  And that’s not bad at all.

How do you spend the day when you find yourself unexpectedly housebound?  And what do you do with cabin-fevered kids?  All ideas, strategies, encouraging thoughts, and atta-girls are much appreciated!