There's lots of pressure each December to spendspendspend your way into others hearts or good graces or respect. I don't want to add to that. Besides, I don't really make or sell anything that's packageable in a gift-giving fashion anyway, so why add to the noise?
But I do want to showcase some of my favorite people who are making a difference in the world, so if you do decide you need a perfect gift for someone, maybe you'll find it here. Or just give them a hug. That always works for me.
In not much order, I present to you my favorites.
I've probably forgotten some people and places. And I'll probably update this list as I remember them. I'd love to hear about your favorites too, in the comments!
I recently spent a weekend in Lancaster PA, and several people have asked all about the attractions. So here's the itinerary, for all who are curious!
Green Dragon Market- source of great furniture and great shoo-fly pie, from the Mennonites in the back
Town of Lititz- great walking around, shops, Sturgis pretzel museum
Amish Farm and House Tours- we did the house tour- SO MUCH cool information- and saw everything on the farm
Fillmore Containers- be still my heart. New drinking lids, new jars, and a countertop water dispenser are now safely at my house.
National Watch and Clock Museum- VERYVERYVERY interesting. Could have spent way more time there (get it?!)
Columbia Riverfront Park- near the museum, it's a big river, nice picnic lunch spot.
Rock Ford Plantation- we went during their May Day celebration, with costumed actors and lots of interesting details, inside and out
King's Herb Nook- I LOVE this place. Bulk herbs, plants, soaps, books, and an outhouse.
Stoudt's/Black Angus Steak House- the PA Dutch food. The beer. And check out the men's room- I'm serious!
Wilbur Chocolate- when in Lancaster...
Discover Lancaster- the resource I used to find almost all of this
October is fast becoming one of my favorite months, what with all the fun stuff that's happening!
The first weekend of the month brings the Mid Atlantic Women's Herbal Conference in Kempton PA. Kempton is a a map dot outside of Allentown, and just happens to be next-door to the village that houses HQ for the children's theater I worked with during high school and college. Coincidence? I dunno, there are a LOT of map dots in PA and it just so happens...
This was my third year attending the MAWHC, and maybe their fourth or fifth year in existence. It's a small conference, held in fields and under tents. The teachers are fantastic, women who love being close to their students and close to the land. So far I've met and learned from Rosemary Gladstar, Deb Soule, Rosita Arvigo, Kate Gilday, and many others.
This year the weather was wild, in the 40's (Fahrenheit) and windy. The previous Monday it was 80 degrees! As the week passed I continually refined my clothing choices until I was in full winter gear, including down coat and 3 pairs of thermal pants. Hey, it kept me warm. :)
I heard lots of interesting bits from the keynote speakers and the workshop teachers. Some were thought-provoking and profound, others were articulations of unconscious choices I'd been making myself for years. This was the first year the conference organizers tried recording the teachers, and I hope they worked because there are many moments I would like to revisit and re-hear, and re-think about.
The company was great, too. Three of us carpooled early in the morning, my friends Kristen and Linda. During the day I got to see old friends and chat with many new faces. There was a lot of friendly chatter- what classes did you take? Where did you travel from? Which soup did you have? (Chicken and cashew chili with pineapple. Twice.) Yes it was cold and windy and damp and yucky, and I didn't hear anyone lamenting it. Although I have to say, the best part was when Kate Gilday played her flute for us under the Black Walnut trees and the wind didn't blow on us for the next hour. That was a special kind of magic.
Thank you, Charis, for again hosting such a great conference. See you next year!
This weekend I was invited to guest lecture at Barefoot Botanicals' Herbs Through the Seasons monthly class in Doylestown PA. I'm telling you, if you are ANYWHERE nearby, you should take this class. One student drove up from her NJ shore vacation just to participate! Linda of Barefoot just inspires that kind of passion.
I talked about muscles and herbs, and followed the class out for Linda's botany lesson. I took this class with her last year, and it was great to see the same lightbulbs going off for her current students as I remember from my experience. Wild carrot IS Queen Anne's Lace?! Oh, I get it! Linda's co-teacher, Sharon Moncrief (Greenbrier Herbalist), was there for her skeletal system talk in the afternoon. I couldn't stay for that portion, but she and I got to chat as well- so interesting!
Barefoot's farm is just beautiful. It's so lush and varied. Linda and Eric supply local restaurants (she was telling us about a green coriander encrusted scallop dish!), have a CSA and farmer's market stand, and Linda grows cut flowers and medicinal herbs as well. There's an amazing variety of plants, both wild and cultivated, in a wide variety of micro-climates on their piece of land. Dry, wet, full sun, full forest, everything is available.
So go say Hi to Linda and her husband Eric at the Doylestown Farmer's Market on Saturdays, and check out Linda's 7 month class for next year. You will learn SO MUCH!
Adam Swartz Puppets out of State College PA is doing their annual summer library tour. If you live near a Pennsylvania library, tell them to get onboard with the most fun summer show around!
Ooo- update! I just saw this on their website: We will travel almost anywhere on earth, or even extra-terrestrially, to perform or present a workshop. So anybody anywhere can get a puppet show!
The library theme this year is Super Heroes. Adam and Kathy, and their puppets, work in lessons about kindness, self esteem, team work, and other 'kid friendly' topics, with enough puns and bad (not inappropriate!) jokes for the grown ups to enjoy themselves as well. The kids also get to show off their super powers!
I've known Adam and Kathy for years and years, and it was such treat to visit with them yesterday! But I wasn't the only weirdo laughing in the audience, plenty of parents were snorting and groaning and giggling too.
Love you guys, I'm so glad we could spend the afternoon together!
Here's the link to their website again: http://adamswartzpuppets.com/.
Yesterday was Groundhog Day, as well as Imbolc. The ancient Celtic holiday features the same observances- a spirit of nature makes a prediction about how much winter we have left, because- and here’s the GOOD NEWS- we’re halfway to Spring! We’re officially on the upslope now.
Of course, this means that we’re also in the time of Winter when we get our coldest and snowiest weather here in PA. I have to say, though, I’m almost getting used to it. Last night was incredibly windy and about 19 degrees, and that was no more uncomfortable than a pre-dawn Christmastime walk to the train station had been, when I realized that 30 degrees really didn’t feel all that bad anymore.
While I’m enjoying wallowing in the last throes of hibernation, it is time to announce that CSA season has arrived. It’s true, the window of opportunity to sign up for fresh food grown in local good earth, is open NOW. It seems crazy, but farmers are already seeding spring crops in their greenhouses.
Let me tell you about a few of my favorites.
In the Philly suburbs area, Pennypack Farms is a familiar and well-run option. You probably already know someone (if you live here, that is) that uses Pennypack. They have a variety of share sizes, 2 locations for pickup, and a fabulous herb garden at their Maple Glen farm besides. Their setup is simple- you choose from the pickup day and location options at the beginning of the season so farmers know how much to harvest on each day. Show up anytime they are open on your day, and check out the list of options posted. There may be limits on certain items (one head of broccoli per person, for example) and there may be required taking, should there be an over-abundance of a crop. Bring a bag, weigh out your choices, check off that you arrived on the register, and poof! Fresh vegetables from that very farm in your possession. They also offer extras like fruit, meat, dairy and egg shares, in addition to the vegetables.
I have belonged to their Highlands Farm site for both summer and winter shares, although they have discontinued the winter share there due to the trouble of keeping the long, narrow, gravel, hilly drive open. (The Highlands is a preserved estate on Skippack Pike west of Butler Pike.) I split the share with a Pennypack member, and we emailed each other what we had chosen, because we didn’t arrive together and weren’t supposed to choose more than that week’s limits. This setup was a little onerous, but the choices were generous and in summer they frequently had ‘seconds’ bins we could pick through for extras, which I liked because I could try one of something without needing to take a full share of it.
Next, I joined the Red Earth Farm CSA with a friend. They are based in Berks County PA, and have a great system for sharing. Each week you log into their website and choose your items. We’d email each other with our choices, reminding the other to pick her half. Red Earth Farm also offers many extra types of shares as well, and you can purchase additional items through their site. My friend and I got a few extra cases of tomatoes and canned them together!
When you sign up, you choose your location. The nearest site for us was a private home in Ambler, which received the farm’s deliveries on Wednesdays. One of us would drive over, transfer our bin contents to a bag, and make arrangements to drop off the other’s bag. We live 5 minutes from each other so that was no problem.
This was by far my favorite CSA I’ve tried (there have been a few other not worth mentioning too). Unfortunately, Ambler has become very inconvenient for both of us, which is a real shame. I’m very biased and strongly urge everyone in the area to try Red Earth Farm this summer, by which I mean sign up NOW! I think there’s only a few weeks left.
Now I’m trying out a service called Door to Door Organics. They also have an online ordering system, and options to purchase all sorts of other items, as well as an area to choose items you hate (like onions in my case!), or items you really love. You choose from several box sizes, whether you want fruit, veggies, or a mix of them, and weekly or bi-weekly delivery. You can also leave a message for delivery instructions to make sure everything is protected from weather, animals, neighbors, etc.
Each week you log in to see the contents of your next box, and they try to accommodate your love/hate list. You can substitute up to 5 of the items, purchase extras, or even skip a delivery very easily. I just received my 3rd box this morning. The quality of everything I’ve gotten has been great so far, though the quantity has been sometimes disappointing. Not everything is local either, although items that are get labeled as such on the order page. I was pleased to see that “1” banana unit is really 2 fruits, same with potatoes, acorn squash, and a few other items. But the kale bunch had about 5 stalks in it, and this time I got a blood orange that is scarcely bigger than a golf ball. I suppose I will soon learn what’s what when ordering, and when I did the math on each week it is a little cheaper than either Pennypack or Red Earth Farm so smaller items are to be expected.
I’m using the service to force myself into fresh food, fruit, and variety during the winter, and I expect I’ll switch to an all fruit, bi-weekly box in summer when I can shop at the local Lansdale farmer’s market more. It’s really a great market and I got there often last year, so that’s no burden. Also, if you sign up with them using this link, I'll get a discount on my next order for inviting you! (If it doesn't work, email me and I'll send you a new invite. Thanks!)
Really, though, I encourage you to try any of these ideas, or any of the ones near you. Try doing a search on LocalHarvest.org to see what’s nearby. You get really fresh stuff, support local farmers, and don’t have to go to the grocery store as often (or am I the only one who thinks that's a win-win-WIN?!) And if anyone wants to host a Red Earth Farm pick up site in the Lansdale/Montgomeryville/Collegeville area, DO IT! I’ll be the first to sign up.
This morning I got an advance copy of the Spring 2015 Continuing Education Classes catalog from the Morris Arboretum- thanks Miriam! And here it is, my first-ever all-by-myself workshop hosted by someone else:
Once the classes are on the Arboretum's website, Miriam will let me know and we'll have a link to register for it. But I'm in print! This is a happy Saturday morning for me :)
In the meantime, register for my other workshops on my Events page! You'll have fun and learn some things and taste some things and generally come away from the day knowing a little more than you did before.
If last winter taught me anything, it was the virtue of being prepared.
For the first time I have a car that’s not great in snow, and we had a record-breaking season. Our area experienced several ice storms that wrecked the power lines. Cabin fever became a reality for people who had never heard of it. And I got a parking ticket for parking in a snow emergency route, something I didn’t know existed!
So here are the top 11 things I am doing to prepare this year, plus my favorite cold-weather tip. Feel free to add your own ideas and modify these to suit.
1. Get on your township or borough’s email list. They should send out notices to keep you informed of things like road closures and snow emergencies.
2. Stock up on at least 3 days worth of water, and easy to eat food like canned goods and dried fruit. If the power goes out and you hunker down for a little, you don’t want to be at the store with all the other crazies.
3. Stock a shoebox with candles, matches, batteries, flashlights, and other power-outage essentials. This way you don’t have to hunt for everything when you need it. My box also has individually wrapped antibacterial wipe samples and personal wipe samples, just in case.
4. Pack a bag with a thick sweater, extra socks, a hat, gloves, and a power bar or two, and put it in your car trunk. If my car gets stuck, I can layer up and save gas by not running my car as much, until I’m found. Keep a car charger for your phone and a heavy blanket in your car as well.
5. I wear contacts, so I carry my glasses and a case full of solution with me. My vision is so bad that I’d be helpless if something happened to my contacts.
6. Shop after-Halloween sales and pick up glow-in-the-dark necklaces. You can loop them on your car’s bumper or windshield wipers to stay visible if you’re stuck after dark.
7. Shop end-of-winter sales and pick up some instant hand and foot warmers to keep in your car, and your power-outage shoebox.
8. Don’t leave your house without a full water bottle. And don’t drink it just for fun!
9. Invest in a rechargeable flashlight, that sits in a charger and automatically turns on when the power goes out. This fall I bought this pair (affiliate link.)
10. Invest in a crank-operated radio/flashlight/USB charger for your storm box, and another for your car.
11. Plan for your favorite hunker-down treat. If you’re going to be stuck at home for a little while, you might as well enjoy it! I will be reading Jack London stories in fluffy socks wrapped in a fluffy blanket on my couch, sipping my new favorite adult beverage, Snap (made from a PA Dutch gingersnap recipe!) and bourbon. Come and get me, Winter!
Oh! And here’s my favorite tip- use the cold to your advantage.
Last year, many of my pilates clients lost power for several days, some almost a week, after a bad ice storm. Most of them have since gotten emergency generators, but at the time I heard lots of laments about ruined food from freezers and fridges thawing.
But, hey guys, it’s 12 degrees outside, with 3 feet of snow on the ground. If you toss your stuff out in the snow, it will stay cold! Specifically, anything on top of the snow will freeze to the air temperature, and anything buried in the snow will stay at it’s current temp- snow is a great insulator. So dig a hole for the milk just outside your door, and put your frozen things on the back porch or in an unheated shed. (This is also a great place to store the holiday leftovers.)
Special thanks to Jenna at Cold Antler Farm for her vlog on this topic, and to many of her commenters too. Also, special thanks to my mom and her trusty hurricane box. For continuing tips and ideas, follow my Storm Ready Pinterest board!
Fun Fact: I'm an herbalist and a movement coach. Not a doctor, or a pharmacist, and not pretending to be one on TV.
This is a public space, so my writing reflects my experiences and I try to stay general enough so it might relate to you. This does not constitute medical advice, and I encourage you to discuss concerns with your doctor. Remember, however, that the final say in your wellness decisions are always yours- you have the power to choose, you are the boss of you.
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This website is provided for educational and informational purposes only and is not medical, mental health or healthcare advice. The information presented here is not intended to diagnose, treat, heal, cure or prevent any illness, medical condition or mental or emotional condition. Working with us is not a guarantee of any results. Paula Billig owns all copyrights to the materials presented here unless otherwise noted.