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Archive for the ‘Getting Crafty’ Category

Do you ever buy onions or citrus in plastic mesh bags like these? Do you hoard them under the sink like I do?

More than a year ago now I figured out how to turn a pile of these into a scrubbie and I have been washing dishes with one ever since. I finally gave up the nasty *dish sponge* and I have not missed it. In fact, I still have to keep sponges around for the occasions when My Man washes up, and I am not even tempted to use them anymore. What a gross and unnecessary invention, that nevertheless took me many years to figure an alternative to that I liked using.

(Many people use a wash cloth and like them just fine, but I found them too flappy aroundy. I did eventually find some terry cloth diaper inserts that are a good size for dish washing, and I use them often, but this scrubbie fits perfectly in my hand and has the full force of scratchy nubs to clean the dishes!)

So, to turn your pile of bags into a scrubbie:

Step 1: Cut off all the end closures so you have just plain sleeves of mesh.

Step 2: Starting with one, curl the ends around itself so that it rolls up into a circular sausage.

Step 3: Repeat with each sleeve until you have a big fat wad, much bigger than you think it should be (it will get scrunched up).

Step 4: Reserve you longest, nubbiest one for the last. Instead of rolling it in like the others, tie a knot in one end to reform the bag, turn it inside out (so the knot is on the inside bottom of the bag) then insert your sausage roll. Work the knot up into the center of the roll. Scrunch the wad up inside the bag until it feels like a good scrubbie size and density, then tie up the top of the bag, fold the top back under and tie again so that your outside bag is wrapped twice around the whole shebang. Tie again, but this time attempt to not pull the end all the way through the knot so that the scratchy ends are not pointing up into your hand.

Scrunch the knot down flat and then use with the knotted side cradled in your palm.

 

Didn’t I say it was perfect?

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Before I move on from January’s Quiet Riot focus of electricity, water and garbage, I want to review a great energy book– The Carbon Free Home: 36 Remodeling Projects to Help Reduce the Fossil Fuel Habit by Stephen and Rebekah Hren. I had looked past this book several times, something seemed too fad-ish about the cover and I expected the projects to be along the lines of ‘replacing your incandescents with CFLs’ and ‘setting up a recycling system.’

But when I finally bit the proverbial bullet and got it out from the library, I realized I had been duped by a good cover designer to think it was fashionable. When in fact it’s a meaty book with loads of substantive projects! The authors are approachable and honest, clear and thorough. I liked it so much, I ordered my own copy.

The book includes a full range of projects– from insulating your fridge to installing solar heating tubes. Each project has a list of stats including the approximate cost, time and potential energy savings. Some are appropriate for renters, though I think the book is much more useful for homeowners who can really re-cap their investment over time. The small to medium sized projects are the stars of the book, in my view– the low to no cost things that most folks could do if they set aside a weekend for set up. The more complex projects would require considerably more information, but this book provides an overview of what’s involved as well as just plain inspiration for things like masonry stoves (yummy).

I look forward to outfitting our own home back in Alaska when we return. I never wanted to live in town, in a real sheetrock and plumbing house (I was going to build a log cabin in the woods), but over time as I’ve come around. I’ve realized the usefulness of it, given the way things actually are. I’ve re-written my goal to owning this modern system, knowing how my plumbing works and how to fix it, and eventually how to divert it into gray water garden irrigation! This book is not just empty inspiration for beginners though, as these books can sometimes be, it’s got real meat.

If you are thinking about putting a little time into the energy efficiency of your home, this would be a great place to start.

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So. I know you’re all wondering. Have I been busily crossing important things off of my list? Reigning our filthy house into order and keeping my precious babes’ eyes from dvd-vegetation? Reinstating yoga and atheist prayer practice?

Nope. Yet another sick bug hit our house last week, even though the kids were still coughing like old smokers from the last doozy. What is it about this time of year? Everyone I know is either sick or recovering from being sick, literally! And it was exactly the same story last winter at this same time. I know the line about how everyone stays inside more in the winter and breathes everyone else’s stale air, but here in the tropics we do the exact same thing in the summer. And we hardly get sick at all in the summer! So? What is it?

I shouldn’t say I failed completely in crossing things off the list. I did get a little quality time in my kitchen with a shaker of baking soda and an old rag, on two separate occassions. I didn’t make it all the way around, only 2/3 before I got sick. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s to accept change in small quantities– that’s the only way it ever comes.

do i need to explain the significance of a clean cabinet?

Besides those shimmery beacons of 2/3 joy right up there, guess what else I made the time for? (Quite predictably.)

Yup, I used my Saturday afternoon off to put together my very first punk homemaker’s journal. I was going to compile my specific arrangement of papers and take it to Kink*s to have it spiral bound, but then I accidentally found a Miraclebind notebook. I’m not sure I’m prepared to rave about it yet, but if it holds up I will. It’s a spiral notebook with good stiff covers, folds nicely in half for couch cozy-ing, and each piece of paper has slits behind the holes so that you can take the paper out, move it to a different spot and put it back in. They call it a “miracle” and say it “self-heals,” but really there’s nothing miraculous going on– the paper pulls out because it’s not really in there very good to begin with. They claim you can re-position each piece of paper several times, but honestly I will be surprised if it holds up all year.

The notebook was just plain lined paper and I had to gussy it up quite a bit. I printed out calendar sheets on heavy paper (so that they would hold up better), double sided– January on one side, February on the other– then punched holes along one edge, using a piece of the notebook’s original paper as a guide. I snipped the edge of each hole so that I could stick the page into the spiral binding. Then I put one calendar sheet, one lined sheet, calendar, lined, etc so that each month faces a lined page for notes.

Then I used some cheap pocket folders to divide the remainder of the book into Kitchen, Garden and Home. The folders were hard to punch holes in, but worth it because they provide plenty of space for sticking random stuff in. A very important feature, me thinks.

The Kitchen section is just plain lined paper for keeping track of recipes and experiments. The Garden and Home sections have alternating one piece of lined with one piece of graph paper (added in), so that I can sketch out garden layouts or my latest wood butchering project and write notes opposite. I considered adding calendar pages to my garden section, but decided it’s just as easy to use a piece of lined paper– each line = one week, four lines/month means you can schedule quite a lot on a single piece of paper. Note that I don’t ever, ever follow my planting schedules, but my oh my I do enjoy making them.

As described thoroughly in the comments on the original post, this journal/planner is an extremely individual thing. Everyone has different stuff to keep track of. Some of you would want menu planning pages, knitting paper, homeschool project sheets. An infinite number of subjects. I kind of wish my journal had ended up a bit more… more, but the notebook I started with could only fit so many add-ins. There’s just barely enough room in the spine left for turning the pages. If I had it to do over, I might go with the original plan to have Kink*s bind my perfect layout. But really, this one is fine. Lots of space in there for whatever hair-brained schemes I might imagine in a year.

Such as this sneak-peak. Because did you know Mardi Gras is approaching fast? And did you remember that I am in love with it? And had you realized furthermore that this would be my last Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and if ever I was going to go all out baby, it would be now!

My sister, my ex (our costuming days go way, way back) and another very close friend are all coming to visit and we are pulling out all the stops. My original idea was a hot air balloon, but alas that one was too big even for me. We settled instead on a Chinese junk. Are you familiar with these awesome old-school sailboats still in use today? But we can’t just take a thing straight on, we like to give it flavor, perversion. Our theme is ‘post-apocalypse,’ an old favorite because you can blend primitive, vintage and post-industrial all together. So my style.

The boat is going to be 16 feet long from bowsprit to stern, made out of pvc pipe and tarpaper, mobilized by a pair of jogging strollers. This may seem completely insane to you, but people do this sort of thing here at Mardi Gras. A lot of people. It is awesome.

My brain does feel very fuzzy though. What with the boat plans, quiet riot, cloth diaper post, packing and mailing zines, house scouring, movie stopping,  mucus congestion and wow–! Thank dog I have a place to write it all down.

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I don’t want anyone to panic after that DIY vs BUY post. It’s still me– same old, same old. I still believe in and love the ethic of DIY. Especially when it’s something that you couldn’t buy even if you wanted to. I didn’t make my daughter’s Christmas dollhouse because I found one used, and I never got to that train table either. But I did manage to slap together this brilliant little water saving device.

Kids love water, there’s nothing to be done about it. My 2yo son’s favorite thing in the entire world is a hose. Turned on full. And he knows how to turn it up himself when I attempt to lessen the flow. This summer we were going through a truly shocking amount of water. Here at the mouth of America’s largest river, it’s not such a big deal to waste water, but what a lot of energy is wasted to pump it and purify it just so my 2yo can spray it back into the gutter.

We had a plain old kids’ waterplay table, as well as a small plastic swimming pool. Not to mention sinks and tubs. But nothing could compare to running water, and the 2yo would have a fit whenever I turned the hose off. And what’s more wholesome than playing in water? How could I want very hard to stop him? So, I thought, couldn’t I make some kind of perpetual system? Like a fountain, but not remotely fancy. Just a faucet of sorts that would run into a container and get pumped back up, closed loop.

Lots of kinds of containers could work, but we had the water table so I decided to go with that. I went to the store for a small pond pump, not knowing anything about ponds or pumps. It was rather intimidating and confusing, and I almost gave up when I saw the price range was $30-$260!!! But I ended up settling on the $40 size and so far it works just fine and is well worth the money.

Components:

waterplay table or any kind of bucket or tub that can hold at least 3 gallons

small pond pump– 80 gal/hour or greater (A pond pump is a small, submersible electric pump. There is an inlet and an outlet, make sure to get one with a sponge filter guarding the inlet.)

2 feet flexible vinyl tubing, whatever diameter fits snugly onto your pump outlet

1 hose clamp to fit tubing

2 feet rigid pipe, pvc or similar, whatever diameter the tubing can fit into comfortably

2 elbows

some piece of wood for mounting

plumber’s tape (the stuff that’s not like tape at all, but a thin strip of metal with holes)

1 small shelf bracket

associated screws

Directions:

Heat one end of the flexible tubing in hot water to relax. Remove cover and filter to get at pump outlet, then jam tubing onto outlet. Slide the hose clamp down over and tighten. My pump barely had room for the hose clamp under the filter cover. If yours just doesn’t fit, I think it would probably would work fine without a clamp, as long as the tubing is very snug on the outlet.

Cut your pvc into three lengths to form a “faucet” high enough above the water container that the kids can fill buckets and things under it. I cut mine approximately 11 in, 5 in and 2 in. Slide the long piece onto the flexible tubing, right up to flush with the pump. Now slide on an elbow (not as easy as it sounds) and seat it firmly onto the end of the pipe. Be careful as you do this that the other end of the pipe stays flush with the pump. Continue with the medium length pipe, another elbow, and lastly the little piece of pipe. When you are sure you’ve got it right, cut the end of the tubing flush with the end of the pipe.

Sorry I didn’t take more pictures of the process, but like many DIY projects, it’s much more straightforward when you’re actually doing it than it sounds in description. Fear not.

Now attach the wood to the tub however you can figure. It should be pretty well secured. Set the pump in with the “faucet” sticking up where and how you want it. Use a section of plumber’s tape to secure the pipe against the edge of the wood.

Then mount the corner bracket onto the wood so that the sticking up side is flush with the pipe. Use wire to secure. You want this whole apparatus to be as tight and strong as possible if your kids, like mine, are likely to yarf on the faucet.

Fill the tub with water and plug in the pump. Does it work? Hoorah! Allow kids to play to their heart’s content. They will still waste water, filling buckets and watering cans and dumping it everywhere, but you’re looking at one or two gallons per play session instead of 50 or 60. Do keep an eye on the water level, as the pump shouldn’t be let to run dry while it’s on.

I didn’t add any chlorine or anything, so I have to dump and refill every few days. But it’s worth it not to have to worry that the kids might drink the water (they do) or pour it on my garden plants (they do). I consider it just watering the grass anyway.

If anyone gives this a go, please come back and tell me how it went, what changes you made, problems, etc. Good luck!

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Do you remember how I said I was building my daughter a dollhouse for Christmas? Back at the beginning of the month I carefully planned it out on graph paper, borrowed a friend’s power saw, cut the pieces and stacked them in the garage.

Then on my last Saturday afternoon off before My Man’s crazy test weeks, instead of diligently working on the dollhouse, I met a friend downtown to check out the New Orleans Fringe Fest. In between shows, we were wandering around the ridiculously charming art/punk part of town and got swallowed into the looming maw of an enormous junk shop. There were a few pieces of furniture for the 4yo’s dollhouse I wasn’t sure how I was going to make, so I asked at the front if they had any. Another wanderer overheard and practically accosted me, “Are you looking for a dollhouse? We still have my daughter’s up in the attic, it’s got a ton of furniture. I’d love to get rid of it.” He pressed his card at me.

I was still convinced I had enough time to make my own– hell, I’d already started! So I gave him an incredibly non-comittal answer and went about my day. A few days later, beginning to accept my oncoming fate of two weeks of 24/7 parenting, and listing in my mind all the things I would still need to do to make this dollhouse (let alone any other Christmas presents) I dug out the card. Maybe I’d just see how much he wanted for it.

The end of this story is evident, right? $75 dollars and a trip across town later, I had the 4yo’s present all taken care of and stashed in the back of the closet. No impending work, no need to borrow a jig saw, no tiny furniture to figure out. All done.

I was so sad I almost cried.

Perhaps you need some background for this story. You already know about my die-hard desire (unfulfilled) to make everything at home and by hand. You can probably guess at my dislike for the relatively low quality construction of the house I bought, and the two boxes of furniture and tiny accessories that came with it which will be strewn across the floor of our entire house by this time next week.

But what you are not likely to understand is that I adore dollhouses, and miniatures in general. I loved them far beyond girlhood, as evidenced by Dumpster Diver Barbie (yes, those are tiny bagels in that tiny plastic bag). In fact I have been waiting until my daughter was old enough, fantasizing about this moment when I would make her the perfect, sweet, old fashioned dollhouse. I’ve been cutting and sanding little chunks of 2×4 in my mind, and adding batting and squares of fabric to make tiny beds. No joke!

But in a heavy duty consumer world, where people buy more new crap all the time and consequently clean out their closets regularly to “pare down and simplify,” buying what you need second-hand is always easier, and usually cheaper than making it yourself.

Consider my dollhouse. I was going to use scavenged wood, beautiful 3/4 inch oak faced plywood that I found on the side of the road for free. That’s well and good, saved me at least $40, and I could borrow the tools I needed. But, I wanted to make this dollhouse a little bit fancy, since my girl is getting old enough to care now. I was going to buy scrapbook paper to “wallpaper” the walls and paint for the outside– an easy $10, probably more. And there were a few pieces of furniture I wanted to buy, mainly a toilet and bathtub– $20 right there. Then if I fell for the cast iron wood cookstove I ran across when I was looking online for the bathroom stuff, another $15. I could easily see myself spending $75 by the time it was said and done. And purchasing and consuming new materials, as far as that goes.

This lesson has been driven through my mind at least 94 times since I became an adult, and it’s still only half lodged. It’s why knitting never took for me. Spending $30 for yarn when I could buy a perfectly serviceable hat at the thrift store for $3? Why on earth would I do that? But apart from knitting, I am still hopelessly stuck in my youthful fantasies of almost anthropolgic handcrafting. Particularly once I started mothering, those fantasies blossomed with a whole new meaning. I would be that mother, the one who’s well mannered children are always wearing hand sewn clothing and playing with hand carved wooden toys.

Wow. Motherhood. If nothing else, parenting will lay bare your ardent (and often completely unrealistic) expectations for How the World Ought to Be. And then rip them to shreds.

Every project is different, don’t think I’m knocking DIY unilaterally. But of course it makes no sense whatsoever to spend 3 hours sewing my kid pants from $5 of purchased new material when I can buy good quality pants second-hand for $4. No sense at all to spend hours on handmade wooden toys that will just get shoved under the couch to make room for the plethora of brightly colored plastic toys that seem to breed on their own.

No sense at all. Unless I enjoy the making.

Because, all else being equal, it comes down to how we want to spend our time. When you are a mama, with the implicit drastic limitations on your time, it often distills quite clearly. Do I enjoy my DIY projects more than I enjoy say, an afternoon at the coffee shop to write? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

There are other important reasons that I believe we should keep doing this stuff. All kinds of handcrafting traditions are being lost, and anyone who can keep hold of one is a kind of living time capsule, an asset to humankind. And certainly all those handcrafted items offer a superior sensory experience. Even though a hat from the thrift store costs a tenth as much, it is vastly inferior to one hand knitted by someone who knows what they’re doing.

But moralizing aside, it’s still a matter of doing what makes sense for the time and place we’re really in. Letting go of my wholesome handmade mama image has been painful, but I find more and more often it just makes more sense to B.U.Y.

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Hallelujah. We made it through. My Man finished his last test Thursday– beginning almost 30 days of semi-freedom and familial bliss!

I have so many (many) posts in my head, gathering to a complex hurricane of thoughts. But I’m really trying to relax just a bit, instead of charging into my free time with the panic of starvation. Instead of diving straight off the deep end, I thought I’d start with this simple, season-appropriate DIY project.

Up until recently my kiddos largely drank out of plastic. It always bothered me, bothered the shit out of me in fact. I hate to drink out of plastic, so why was I allowing my tiny budding babies to pollute their otherwise pure systems with leaching chemical compounds? I’d give them jam jars when I could, but so often I just couldn’t face up to the possibility of yet another wipe-up of spilled fluids, number 57 of the day. So I’d defer to plastic, oh beneficent god of the spill-proof sippy cup.

But a few moths ago I was grazing Simple, Frugal, Green and I found these kids’ cups made out of jam jars (half pint mason jars) with a hole punched in the lid to put a straw through. Brilliant! How had I never thought of that?

My mind worked at it a bit more though, and I thought, why jars? Why not these cute apple shaped bottles I’d gotten at the store to use as small sized glass water bottles? And instead of just a plastic straw, like Abby used, why not invest in a set of stainless steel straws?

Thus, my (half mine anyway) brainchild was born.

Don’t you want one? Don’t you want half a dozen, since 5 are always lost under the couch anyway?

As you might imagine, this cute apple shaped bottle was sold with apple juice in it. For $1.75. How’s that for a cheap sippy cup? With free drink no less!

The stainless steel straws get you though. $10.99 for 4. I strongly recommend you get ones that come with a special straw cleaning brush. (You know I hate to link to Amaz*n, but here they are if you don’t want to mess around looking for them.)

So, how to punch that sweet little hole that brings it all together. Of course drilling a hole just the size of the straw would be the logical way to do it, these lids are pretty soft metal and would be easy to drill. But my drill bit chuck is stuck tight, I can’t get the phillip’s head out to put in a drill bit. (Any advice?) So short of that I used the phillips head bit and a screw to make a hole, which wasn’t big enough, so then I used a phillips head screwdriver by hand, just yarfing it back and forth, to open the hole up enough to get the straw through. Don’t overdo it though, the tighter the hole around the straw, the less leaking action you’ll see.

And no, these aren’t spill-proof. But then, no sippy is. Even the best ones we found (Playtex) would start leaking after the kids chewed the plastic mouthpiece enough. These apple bottles are a good shape for the sippy, partly because they’re squat– low center of gravity– but also because if they’re less than half full when they get tipped over, the level of the liquid doesn’t reach the hole, and they don’t leak at all! But even when mostly full, if you’ve been careful to make the hole perfectly fit the straw, the leaking isn’t too bad.

4 apple juice bottles $7

4 straws + cleaning brush — $11

no more worrying about poison laced orange juice — priceless

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Kyce from Old Recipe for a New World (she doesn’t write often, but always wonderful) wrote a great post a few weeks back called Letting Go: The Christmas Edition. Oh honey, don’t I know it!

I (love)(hate) Christmas. I really do. I’ve written about it every year since I began blogging [here, here and here], and lord knows I don’t want to repeat myself. Suffice it to say, I seem to be finally catching on that this infernal holiday of compromised values begins in November. It’s taken me a full 34 years to get my head around that. I am determined to be prepared this year, thinking ahead for quality gifts in order to avoid getting caught by the last minute Icky Gifting.

I want to share my few ideas, and get your ideas. If we pool mental resources here, maybe we can pull this off without too much heartbreak. Well, it gives us something to hope for. I’m putting it on my list anyway,

Dear Santa,

This Christmas, please just let me relax and enjoy the generosity of loved ones without too much ethical compromise, personal angst, or familial alienation.

Yours,

CJ

We are spending our Christmas at home this year, with my mom coming. That will help right off the bat. My in-laws, godbless’em, have too much money to restrain at the holidays. My mom would probably go as crazy as them if old-hippie poverty didn’t keep her in check.

For whatever reason, Christmases with my mom are always much smaller than with the in-laws. In fact, it’s one of the best times of year for our otherwise very strained relationship, at least we can bond about Christmas and how it ought to be.

Which is sparkly lights, the smell of evergreen and cinnamon, whispered secrets and The Animals’ Merry Christmas.

My list of secrets so far looks like this:

For the 4yo– a dollhouse. She wrote her first ever letter to Santa asking for one. I am making it myself of course, more on this soon as I realize how in over my head I am.

For the 2yo– a train table. He already has a nice wooden train set, just needs a table and a way to semi-permanently attach the track to it.

For My Man– Oops, tut-tut, he might be reading….

For my mom, sister, MIL and sister-in-law– freshly ground and personally mixed organic spice set. I’m pretty excited about this idea. If you’ve never smelled or used freshly ground spices, it’s an epiphanal moment. It makes you want to sweep your arm through your (inevitably stale) spice cabinet, straight into the trash. All these ladies like to cook, but don’t get to do that much complicated cooking, and I think will appreciate really kick-ass, unique spice blends. I’m going to do a Mexican mole, Moroccan ras al hanout (unbelievable! the smell makes me swoon!) and a not-your-average-Italian blend with juniper berries and fennel. All these are fantastic with meat, but can also rock a pot of beans. I even ordered a pound of fancy Hawaiian finishing salt. Part of reason I’m excited about this idea is because I’ll get a share too! I never order fresh spices for myself because replacing a whole collection is expensive, and I don’t use that much over the course of the year. Fresh spices make much more sense for a group of people than for just me in my lonesome kitchen. I spent almost $80 on organic, fair trade spices, which sounds like a lot (feels like a lot!!!) but then I have four of my important gifts covered, plus plenty leftover for my own pantry.**

The father and brother-in-law I think My Man will cover. Hopefully at the local artisan market, lots of awesome stuff there.

Grandparents get the standard (they love it) calendar of cute kid photos.

I made a batch of homemade soap (it’s gotta cure for 3 weeks, so do it now!) and some lip balm for those last minute little gift moments. It’s good to have tricks up your sleeve. The lip balm takes all of 3 minutes once you secure the beeswax.

That leaves a 4yo cousin and a 12yo half-sister. Any ideas?

I will be filling you in more about all the above gifts over the course of the month. I have lots of Riot-y ‘stuff’ subjects to cover, as well as lots of good Christmas ideas, like the adorable songbird tree ornaments me and the kids made this morning out of tag-board and poster paint! In fact I’ve been feeling inspired to do a series, “Christmas– It Doesn’t Have to Suck Ass.”

Please leave your favorite homemade gift ideas in the comments, especially for children. If you have posted anything on your own blog, leave a link. We can all use some extra inspiration this time of year!

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**If anyone else thinks this spice mix idea is brilliant and wants to tag along, I ordered from Mountain Rose Herbs. you would think organic spice would be more expensive, but the Mountain Rose prices averaged around $3.50/4oz, which is quite good. I ordered the spices whole in 4oz bags (the smallest size available), I’ll grind them in our coffee grinder and package them in 1/2 cup (the really tiny size) canning jars. This wouldn’t be worth it for less than 4 or 5 gift recipients, and I think could cover more like 6 or 7. I will give y’all the recipes when I get to that point, but if you want to follow along, here’s what you’ll need to order:

  • allspice berries 4oz
  • black peppercorns 8oz
  • whole chile peppers, or red pepper flakes 4oz
  • cinnamon sticks 8oz
  • whole cloves 4oz
  • cumin seed 8oz
  • ginger, ground 4oz
  • juniper berries 4oz
  • whole nutmeg 4oz
  • fennel seed 4oz
  • thyme 4oz
  • rosemary 4oz
  • sage 4oz

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