A Year of Picnics


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Monthly Archives: December 2013

With Love


Hello friends. I hope that your holidays have been merry and bright. Ours certainly have been. Aside from, you know, the stomach bug to end all stomach bugs ravaging our entire household within 5 days, including two days before Christmas (that’s when my time to suffer came ‘a calling!).

Otherwise, things have been grand. So grand, in fact, that I’ve been craving a very, very analog life, as it were, and less of a digital one. This past year was pretty intense, working back-to-back on two books. Once the holidays began ramping up, and  both books were done and I had more time to hang out in my p.j.’s with my fellas and soak it all in, or don our winter gear and go get out in it, that’s precisely what I wanted to do.

There have been cookie exchanges and handmade gifting sessions and Solstice walks and all kinds of merriment taking place. There have been friends visiting and family cookie-baking days and the consumption of copious amounts of baked goods and homemade cocktails (YES!). Would you believe there’s even been another (another!) book proposed, and, it would appear, accepted (I do so love to write, you know?!)? There has been so very much goodness brewing that it has actually brought me to tears at times.

As we move into a New Year, full of possibility and, for some, uncertainty, from our home to yours, sincerest wishes for abundant health, creativity, and happiness. Big, big love, friends.

*Images, top to bottom: My boy and his bearded friend; looking into the kitchen from outside; helping me roll out biscuits; entryway greeting; sugar cookie fixins’; cutting out shapes with Gigi and Nanny (Huxley’s grandmother and great-grandmother); setting out cookies for Santa (first time we’ve done this-so much fun!); Christmas tree bonanza (after my mom came over and added her gifts to the growing mound of goodies); opening gifts with a 3 year-old is the best gift of all!); a gift from mom to keep my noggin’ toasty; our Christmas meal feast; my incredible cache of gifts from Glenn (he knows me so very well); a Christmas light spectacle at the Western North Carolina Agricultural Center (oh my!); and dinner with our beloved friends Jen, Jon, their daughter Awynn and Jen’s parents Bill and Caroline at Stone Bowl (amazing Korean food in South Asheville-our first visit but far from our last!). 

Wild Mountain Bees

Do you have a beekeeper in your life? Or maybe someone that loves beeswax candles? Or soap? Or lip balm? See that-I just covered all of humanity there! Here’s the thing-my friend Jon Christie has got you (and ALL OF HUMANITY!-in my head, James Earl Jones is saying this) covered!

His wonderful store, Wild Mountain Bees, housed in a home in North Asheville (take Merrimon Ave. north, until it begins turning into Weaverville Hwy. in Woodfin), covers the range of apiarty-based goods (and services-look for upcoming classes or order nucs for spring now). Jon has long been a supporter of my book, and I’ve long been a supporter of all he does (he’s profiled in that book, too!).

Now that he has a brick-and-mortar store that’s much closer to my home (formerly, I either drove the steep driveway out to his mountain home in Madison County or rendezvoused around town in various locations to purchase his wares), I wanted to stop in and pick up a few items for holiday gifting. Whether you’re looking to pick up a smoker or bee suit for the budding apiary enthusiast in your life, or some locally made beeswax tea lights or Jon’s own propolis tincture (!!!) to fill stockings, Wild Mountain Bees has just what you need. He’s only open today until 5:30, and then from 10-5:30 Friday and Saturday, December 20th and 21st, before closing up for a bit over the winter.

If you stop in, tell him I sent you. Beekeepers, and small business owners, like the winged creatures we love so much, thrive by supporting each other!

Imagine Childhood (+ Giveaway!!!)

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When I was pregnant, and began imagining and accumulating the toys and play things I wanted to give to Huxley, I might as well have been conjuring up Imagine Childhood in my mind. There has literally never been one item on offer there that I haven’t oohed and ahh-ed over. Everything is as lovely to behold as it appears fun to play with. Win-win!

Not familiar with these fine folks? Here’s a description, in their own words: Imagine Childhood specializes in earth-friendly goods, craft & activity tutorials, and educational supplies. Our winter collection is filled with thoughtful gift solutions for the holiday season, with hundreds of unique heirloom quality toys, tools, games, and craft projects. Many are $25 or less with free shipping on orders over $100. In addition to our shop we also blog daily here and our recent book, IMAGINE CHILDHOOD: Exploring the World Through Nature, Imagination, and Play- 25 Projects that spark curiosity and adventurecan be found here.

Fortunately, for one lucky small measure reader, the fantastic treasures Imagine Childhood carries could soon be festooning your child’s room, or that of a little person in your life as they are ever so generously offering to give away a $100 gift certificate! It really IS the most wonderful time of the year!

To be entered in the giveaway, simply pop over to their store, take a look around, and then leave a comment here on something that caught your eye. Me? The tiny Elsa Beskow books and portable botanical press have me completely enchanted. I’ll run the giveaway for one week, concluding midnight EST December 18th. Great things abound over there, so do be sure to enter, and tell your kid-loving friends to do the same!

What I’m Digging

Happy Friday, friends! As I type this, a warm wind is whipping around outside. The wind is so eerily warm, in fact, that I’ve got the windows in the kitchen open, my mom (who is upstairs laying out wooden train tracks with Huxley, God love her) is wearing a short sleeve top, the wood stove is cold, and I’m thinking about icy beverages to drink. The respite from frosty weather is seriously appreciated, just oddly placed. When you consider that this weather is going to pass tonight and usher in 48 degrees as a high tomorrow for what promises to be a very well-attended cookie exchange here, it’s a bit frustrating, too. I was kind of crossing my fingers for a day warm enough for the crowd to mingle comfortably outdoors around the fire ring, if they were so inclined. We might still, but there’ll definitely be a noticeable nip in the air then that’s conspicuously absent now. Oh, weather, you vexing, fickle muse, you!!!

I’ve got a new post up over at Verve. I’m sharing my love of all things cinders and ashes there, as it seems so many of us invite and celebrate the presence of fire to a greater degree this time of year than at any other.

In other news, here’s a smattering of this and thats that caught my attention this week:

*Hannah, the youngest daughter of Lynne Harty, the photographer I had the pleasure of working with on all five of my books with Lark, has started a college dorm-based cooking blog. Such creative ideas for taking dorm taking to a whole new level.

*Great ideas for simple, homemade holiday gifts.

*I’m kind of a sucker for all versions of “The Little Drummer Boy” (although I maintain that Bob Seeger and his raspy drawl takes the prize). This a capella version from Pentatonix is amazing.

*Our Eggnog Hot Chocolate got some love from Parade!

*Thinking this might just be the year the Geodesic Gingerbread House comes to life, chez English.

*Marisa’s got the 411 on canning turkey stock.

*Love hellebores, those stunning flowers that pop up when snow blankets the ground, offering silent testament that hope really does spring eternal (I do!)? Here’s how to grow them.

*The story of Charlotte & Jonathan is a great reminder that we must always, always, ALWAYS take great care not to judge people based on appearances (I wept both times I watched this).

*Bourbon salted caramels, for the win!

*I’m teaching a class on homemade body care products at a local library this Sunday. Folks attending will learn how to make (and take home samples of!) my lip balm, bath salts, and honey foot scrub, all great, simple items that also make wonderful gifts!

So, my weekend promises to be full and merry, what with ladies, cookies, body care product-making, and merriment in general. This stretch of days through the holiday season is one I look forward to all year long. We three are enjoying it to the fullest!

Wherever you go this weekend, whatever you do, and whomever you do it with, may it be grand!

*I post a photo of Huxley here each Friday because, truly, he’s what his Papa and I dig the most. This image of the two of us is from yesterday. Hominy Creek flows along the entrance to our road (we live in Hominy Valley), and faces our mailbox. Huxley and I love to toss rocks in the creek each time we walk down our dirt road to get the mail. Teaching him to skip them is up next! 

Jessica’s Scrumptious Homemade Body Butter

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I met Jessica Smith this past June. She and her lovely family had the same mind that we did to gorge ourselves on pie at Barbara Swell’s annual Retro Pie Contest. Not only did we share a love of things enrobed in flaky dough, it turned out Jessica was also a small measure reader. We ran into one another again in October at the True Nature Country Fair. Since it seemed the universe wanted us to know each other, I invited her and her insanely adorable toddler daughter Iris to Huxley’s birthday party. When they arrived, Jessica brought both birthday presents for Huxley and a gift for me, too.

She’d made a jar of of homemade body butter, and told me I deserved a treat, too, for my hard work. What a lady, right? Not only does her orange & patchouli body butter smell divine, it’s amazingly rich and thick and creamy and has proven to be exactly what my skin needs right now. About two months after Huxley was born, I developed what I can only think of as hormone-induced eczema on my calves and thighs. Without fail now, come cold, dry weather, my lower body gets red, dry, crackled spots. Jessica’s body butter has been taking care of these sore spots with amazing effectiveness, though.

I loved her creation so much I asked if she’d be willing to share it here. Seemed like the right thing to do, given that she was already a regular reader. She doesn’t have a blog or business that I can promote in return, so all I can do to show my gratitude is to tell you that she is an intelligent, beautiful, elegant, gracious, thoughtful, empathic person and we’d all do well to take a page from her book on how to live well. Thank you SO much, Jessica! Here’s her tutorial on making the most scrumptious body butter of your life, right in time for gifting!


Winter is upon us. It is the time of hot chocolate, blazing fires, woolen socks and some of our most beloved holidays. Unfortunately, it is also the time of cold, drying winds and hot, drying furnaces. This would usually be the time for battling chapped, cracked, flaking skin. But that won’t be an issue this year, because today you will be learning to make your own super luscious body butter. You’ll be in heaven after trying this. First of all, it’s absolutely luxurious. Like rubbing buttercream frosting all over your body. Secondly, not only does this body butter feel so much better than what you can buy at the store, it’s also way better for you.

Many commercial body butters contain harmful and irritating ingredients such as cyclopentasiloxane (suspected endocrine disrupter and reproductive toxicant; environmental pollutant) and dimethicone (long usage dehydrates skin; non-biodegradable eco-pollutant). Conversely, this recipe for homemade body butter is all-natural and can even be organic if you want it to be. You could probably eat this stuff (not that I recommend it). Third, compared to the price of commercially available body butters, especially the high-quality natural ones, this is very inexpensive to make. And finally, this body butter is easy to make. If you’ve ever made mayonnaise, you can make this. In fact, I would say body butter is easier than mayonnaise. I’ve never had body butter break.

So give it a try. It really is amazing stuff. Shortly after I finished this batch my neighbor’s daughter came by my house. I gave her a bit to try and she immediately began slathering it on, exclaiming, “it just feels so good!” And be sure to play around with this and make it your own. Don’t think you have to follow the recipe slavishly; think of it more as a guideline. In fact, the only real “rule” about this body butter is the one Rosemary Gladstar has for her face cream: it can never be used with any negative thoughts about the body it’s being used on.

You’ll need a few pieces of equipment to make body butter. First, a scale is very handy. All of the oils, waxes and butters are measured by weight. I use a digital scale, but an analog scale would be just as good. This doesn’t have to be exact, like soap making. In fact, this recipe is forgiving enough that you could measure everything with measuring cups and it would still turn out fine. For melting the oils, butters and beeswax together you will need a double boiler or something that approximates one. My saucepans nest together nicely so I use one inside another, slightly larger, one. Another popular double boiler substitute is to place a two-cup Pyrex measuring cup into a small pan of water.

For mixing the oils/butters/wax with the liquid portion you will need either your standard blender or an immersion blender. I suppose you could also vigorously whip them together with a balloon whisk, but I’ve always been too daunted to try this method. Finally, you will need something in which to package your body butter. Mason and Weck canning jars both work well or you could use recycled jars, tubs, or tins (if the lid has a cardboard liner be sure to get it out). Basically, the sky’s the limit; just make sure it’s clean and that you will be able to get the body butter back out again. And if you’re making body butter as a gift, you may want to give some consideration to the attractiveness of the container you choose.

Our ingredients fall into two categories: oils, waxes and butters, which will be melted together and liquids, which will be blended in at the end. All of the ingredients should be available at a well-stocked health food store or they can be purchased online at Mountain Rose Herbs. As the oils, waxes and butters form the bulk of the body butter, let’s take a look at them first.

Shea butter, our main ingredient, is a soft butter pressed from the nut of the Karite tree. It is incredibly nourishing to the skin and is one of the best natural moisturizers. It is pressed by hand in a labor-intensive process performed by African women, so be sure to buy from a source that pays these women a fair wage. Mango butter is a semi-hard butter pressed from the seed of the mango tree. It is a good source of many essential fatty acids and is wonderfully rejuvenating. It is very similar in color and texture to cocoa butter so, although I have not tried it, I imagine that you could substitute one for the other. Cocoa butter should give your body butter a slight chocolaty aroma. (Note: As both mango and cocoa butter have a fairly hard consistency, if you include too much in your recipe or the storage area is particularly cold, there will be small granules in your body butter. These will quickly melt at body temperature, so it’s nothing to get too worked up over.)Coconut oil, pressed from coconuts, is a light, moisturizing oil with a scent to transport you to a tropical beach.

You have many options for your liquid oil. Grapeseed, almond, apricot kernel and jojoba are all good choices. Olive oil is not recommended for cosmetic applications as it is quite heavy and will give your body butter a greasy feel. I like grapeseed oil because it is particularly light and non-greasy, but if you have mature or damaged skin, you may like to try apricot kernel or almond oil. Beeswax firms your body butter up to a nice consistency. I find the beeswax pastilles available from Mountain Rose Herbs to be exceptionally easy to work with, but beeswax grated from a block will do just as well. And if you have local beeswax available, by all means use that.

Our liquids are water and aloe vera gel. I used to think the water in lotions, creams and body butters was just filler, but then I learned that they actually perform a vital role. Usually the oils in a recipe are too heavy to penetrate very deeply into your skin and will just sit on top of the skin. So while the oils are forming a protective barrier to seal in moisture, the water and aloe vera gel are small enough molecularly to permeate and rehydrate your cells. Distilled water is preferred in body butter as tap water can contain bacteria that may shorten the shelf life of your body butter. (Note: If mold grows on your body butter, discard.)

You can also get fancy and use a hydrosol in place of distilled water. A hydrosol, also known as floral water (rose-water is one) is produced by steam-distilling plant material and contains all the beneficial properties of the plant. Calendula, lavender and rose are all especially good for one’s skin. Aloe vera gel soothes dry and inflamed skin. Purchased aloe vera gel is the most convenient to use in this recipe. You can, of course, use raw gel scraped from your aloe plant but know that the shelf life of your body butter will be quite short.

You may also include essential oils to add fragrance to your body butter. One of the nicest things about making your own body butter is that you are free to craft your own fragrance blends. Blend therapeutic grade essential oils to create your own signature fragrance. Or use just a single oil for a fresh, uncomplicated scent.

Here is the recipe (adapted from Mountain Rose Herbs):

The butters, oils and wax (by weight):
-3 oz shea butter
-2 oz mango butter
-1 oz coconut oil
-3 oz grapeseed oil (or other liquid oil of choice)
-½ oz beeswax

The liquids (by volume):
-2 oz distilled water or hydrosol
-2 oz aloe vera gel

Essential oils of choice


1. Combine all butters, oils and wax in the double boiler and heat until melted, stirring occasionally.

2. When the oils, butters, and wax have melted, pour into your blender or, if using an immersion blender, into the container in which you will be blending everything and allow to come to room temperature.

3. Measure out the distilled water and aloe vera gel (into the same container is fine) and allow to come to room temperature.

4. When the butter/oil/wax mixture has cooled sufficiently (it will become thick and opaque) turn on the blender and very slowly pour in the water/aloe vera gel. The color will lighten significantly and the mixture will be one homogenous consistency. Scrape down the sides and continue blending if necessary to achieve this.

5. When the body butter is fully blended, add essential oils if you wish. For this batch, I used 50 drops of sweet orange, 50 drops of patchouli and, just to mix it up, 15 drops of lavender. This resulted in a very lightly scented body butter. Normally, I would never count drops, but just add until I get what I want. Play around with it.

6. When the body butter is exactly how you like it, pour it into your jars, cap and label. The body butter will firm up as it cools. I keep my body butter at room temperature and I’ve never had a batch go bad, but if you think you’ll be storing it for longer than six months, you may want to refrigerate it.


Body butter can be a bit of a pain to clean up after. What I have found to be very helpful is to use paper towels to wipe as much as possible off of everything before I try washing. You can then compost the paper towels.

Good luck with all your body butter endeavors, folks. Here’s to soft skin all winter long!