Handmade, Recycled, and Joyful Holidays Coming!

Hey Guys! I am really excited about the upcoming winter holidays! This season has traditionally been my favorite time of year. Warm kitchen wafting baking scents through our cozy forest home. Chill outside for romping in all that is Nature’s beauty. Craft ideas are flowing for gift giving, decorating, and sharing.

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It’s important to me to steer clear of the excessive consumption, gift ‘obligation,’ and meaningless gift-giving that generates piles of waste. I know my tribe is filled with caretakers of the earth, too, and I want to help you create beautiful, meaningful gifts and decorations this year.

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For many years, I have made most of the holiday gifts and decorations in our home. Our family designs and prints The Dolphin Studio calendars which are wonderful gifts for anyone on your list.  Each year on Black Friday we kick-off the season with Community Make Day, when we invite our neighbors into the studio to learn and make all the decorations for our annual Holiday Shindy (this year is the 12th annual Shindy!). Hope some of you local folks can join us on November 23rd for Community Make Day at 40 Melville Street in Pittsfield, MA — it’s all free.

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In our house we hang handmade stockings, wreaths, and ornaments made from discarded textiles and last year’s Dolphin Studio calendars. Each year, my sweet (and now 89 year old) mother-in-law has my daughters over for an afternoon when they delve into making original ornaments.  They have made origami and toothpick stars, baby gnomes in nutshells, pinecone elves and the like. All of these activities create a wonderful generational and community connection that we remember and look forward to each year. In addition to handmade decorating, we bake cookies (with my mom’s recipes collected over a lifetime) and gift wrap packages using recycled Dolphin Studio calendars and the funny pages from the local newspaper that we save during the year. 

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Right now in the studio, we are super close to wrapping up a wonderful collection of Winter Solstice Decorating Ideas with supporting teaching videos. All the easy-to-make projects included are nearly completely made from recycled materials. Our mission is to encourage conscious consumption by offering ideas and inspiration for hand-making some (maybe even all??) of your holiday decorations and gifts. Spread the word! Share our site with your friends and family! Lets work together to take back the holidays we celebrate to a place where there is little stress and a whole lot of joy!

Check back here and be sure you have your name on our email list to stay in the know. We are excited to offer all sorts of creative handmade holiday ideas right here in the coming days.   

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Controversy vs Advocacy

The News from The Dolphin Studio is that our February image is causing a stir. Take a read below for the letter we sent out to our Dolphin Studio customers.

Purchase your calendar here.

Oh, and one of the reasons there is such a stir about our image is here. When something so beautiful comes out of corporate America it deserves celebration~

Here is the Letter we sent:

Dear Beloved Calendar Customers,

Thank you for supporting our nearly 50-year-old family business.  The Dolphin Studio deeply values each and every one of you whether you’ve been supporting us since 1970 or you are new to our tribe.

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It has been brought to our attention that our original February 2019 image portraying Colin Kaepernick to celebrate Black History Month is seen by some as controversial.

We get it.

The ffrench family continues a long line of racial justice seekers, so it is important to note that we see Colin Kaepernick’s actions as brave respectful and honorable.  We support Mr. Kaepernick’s ability to bring racial injustice to a national and international stage. 

We also support our customers’ desire to step away from the inundation of controversy and divisiveness of these unprecedented times.  For this reason, you will find 2 different February pages in your 2019 calendar.  Feel free to choose the one that best suits your environment.

 

Thanks to Katrina Britney Davis for capturing, and allowing us to use the image of Colin Kaepernick we used to generate our original calendar page for February 2019.

 

Stay tuned for a stand-alone poster of Colin Kaepernick in my shop this fall – proceeds to support https://knowyourrightscamp.com/

 

 

 

Warm your Autumn Kitchen with Ginger Molasses Cookies

Every once in a while you will find recipes posted here.  I love to bake sweet treats although sugar and animal products are not on my list of things to eat - I bake for my kids and the pleasure I find in perfecting cookie recipes and adding a handmade, love-filled treat for their lunch boxes.    

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When we were kids, my sisters and I walked to and from school and often we would stop by Williams and Sons Country Store right on Main Street in Stockbridge, MA where we grew up.  Mr. Creelman, who ran the little shop with his wife had a special softspot for my little sister.  Everyday he would give her a piece of penny candy.  Sometimes I had enough pocket change to get one of Mrs. Creelman’s most delicious ginger molasses cookies.  Those were good days – and those cookies were savored every step of the walk home if they lasted that long. 

If I remember correctly, the local newspaper printed Mrs. Creelman’s Ginger Molasses Cookie recipe back in the day and that is how my mother got ahold of it.  My mom made these cookies during the year.  They were not special occasion cookies but were baked to fill the cookie jar and doled out with coffee or tea after dinner – or in school lunches if we planned ahead.  My mother came from a place were cookies were sacred and only to be consumed with permission.  I never understood that thought process and feel comfortable knowing that my kids have the option to enjoy the cookies we bake as they would like – I mean maybe not right before we sit down to a meal but otherwise – please!  Have a couple cookies and enjoy every morsel.  You see, a few years ago, I stopped eating sugar and animal products to improve my health and symptoms associated with Ulcerative Colitis – so it brings me extra pleasure to bake and be rewarded with appreciation. 

My mom made each of her daughters a cookbook with all our family favorite recipes in it. This is one the ways I love my mom on a daily basis

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One of my kids is gluten free (not an allergy but she no longer complains about daily stomach aches), and I love to make perfect cookies.  So, when baking, I convert my recipes to be gluten free. 

Following is the recipe both ways – the traditional way of Mrs. Creelman and then my conversion to GF baking.  Try them out either way and let me know your feedback.

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Soft Ginger Cookies – Mrs. Creelman from Williams Country Store Stockbridge, MA

In a large bowl cream 4 sticks (2 cups) unsalted butter or margarine, softened.

Beat in 3 cups sugar until light and fluffy

Add 1 cup unsulfured molasses

Add 3 large eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition

Add 1 teaspoon salt

Sift together:

8 cups all purpose flour

11/2 Tablespoons of each of: dry ginger and baking soda

1 Tablespoon each: ground cloves and cinnamon

Stir into the above until well incorporated.   Roll dough into 11/2 inch balls.  With sugar coated hands, roll balls into sugar and arrange them 2” apart on ungreased baking sheets. 

 

Bake in preheated oven at 350 for 13 minutes

Cool cookies on racks

Makes about 70 cookies

 

For Gluten Free I changed flour to 6 cups Bob’s Red Mill GF Flour Mix (blue label) and 3 cups Fine Almond Flour.  Upped baking time to 14 minutes. 


Home

This weeks theme is HOME

Home.  Home is powerful.  I feel blessed to have a home, a safe, warm comfortable home.  Blessed, Privledged, yes!  I feel gratitude for the position in this world that I was born into.  I feel hopeful that the work I do in the world helps those who are not as fortunate, or comfortable as me to have a better life – a better home.  More comfort, more voice, less worry, and struggle.

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This is my home:

My hubby, two not-so-little girls and I live in the place where I landed with my birth family as immigrants when I was just three years old.  It is the place where Chris spent his summers as far back as he can remember.  As a matter of fact, my husband and I met that first summer we spent in the USA.  It was 1969.  He was 5 and I was 3, he and his family lived next door to the friends we stayed with until the house where we settled was ready, a few towns over, down in the valley.  Of course, it wasn’t love-at-first-sight, when we re-met as adults we were great friends for 10 years before we even dated.  Our love story is pretty beautiful and tidbits will be sprinkled throughout my posts here and there but for now we revert back to our topic. 

Home. 

It takes me a while to settle into a new place to live.  The best parts of my life have been filled with a solid connection to place.  The houses where I have felt comforted and relaxed are those where I’ve spent the most time, time enough for them to become home.  We currently live in the house where my husband and his family spent their summers.  The property was in his family for a few generations as a summer place.  About 20 years ago my super talented and able man, added a second half to the once tiny cabin and winterized the building into the coziest home in the all the woods near and far.  Cool in summer and toasty warm in the bitter cold.  I love our little house – even though our soon to be teenage daughters share a room and we have one closet – in the whole house.

 view from the tree house.

view from the tree house.

A few years ago we bought a house two doors down our dirt road.  The elderly childless couple that had lived there had both passed away and their house was sitting empty. Chris popped in to check on it one day and found it in a terrible state of water damage with mold and falling sheetrock.  We were able to buy it for a song!  We gutted it, down to the studs, cleared out dumpsters full of damage and reconfigured the layout to meet our needs: Separate bedrooms for the girls, a single floor suite for Omi, (Chris’ mom who might, one day, decide she would like help with her daily chores) an office for Chris, closets, lots of closets, a mudroom, and a great big dining table in a sun-splashed great room so we can have dinner parties!  Outside, outside is heaven.  Birds sing, bears lumber, nesting hawks whistle, baby owls learn to hoot, kids sing, dogs fetch, water babbles.  Along the south wall, there is to be the most amazing deck overlooking a house-less valley with views into the next county.  There will be a raised-bed garden with herbs, vegetables, and cutting-flowers, a fire pit, and meadow below.  There IS a treehouse!  Wait til you hear about the treehouse (first post on Thursday this week!)

Oh, Tribe, these are just the highlights!

For the first time in our lives we are planning, renovating, tricking out, a house for ourselves.  We have started from scratch and will make it just the way we want as a place to call home for what might be forever! 

After years of making home furnishings and designing spaces for my product, while making-do with what others have set forth as far as home design goes it is exciting to be in a place where we can indulge in creation.   My husband is a licensed building contractor and master plumber.  He is inspired by fuel conservation and high-efficiency homes.  Using environmentally kind, handmade and recycled furnishings, fixtures, and materials is the launch pad for home-design.  We will incorporate lots of my wares in the mix including Potholder Rugs, Blankets, and new furniture pieces coming together in the studio. Deciding upon every last detail is a lot of research and work and we both love it!  High design meets environmentalism, researching, weighing attributes to make choices we can get behind is a lot of work and it is so inspiring and lovely to have this project to bring us together as a couple while learning all manner of interesting enviromentalisms along the path.  I hope you join us as the project moves forward.  I’ll be posting weekly updates here with all sorts of information and details about every step of the way.  Are you in a renovation process, or dream of being there?  Maybe you are a designer or newly-wed looking for handmade or recycled elements to add to your living space or maybe you are just interested in learning about our process, Check-in here on Thursdays for weekly progress reports.

In the meantime, we are having a picnic dinner tonight down at the ‘other’ house.  If you want to join us on your very own picnic, check out the amazing array of picnic blankets in the shop now.  Enter THISWEEK at check out to get a whopping 25% off your purchase.  Now till Sunday evening at 7pm Massachusetts time.

And to that we toast a wonderful summer filled with achieving your biggest goals and enjoying the company along your path.

 

 

 

Jewish Geography

Tonight I went to see a show with traditional Irish dance and song. There was storytelling in between: hardships, love of country, war, leaving home and settling in a new place. It got me thinking about my ancestors. No matter where you are from the common thread we all share is the varied history of race, religion, love, and persecution.

I am not Irish, not one drop, much to my dismay, but I was able to identify with the stories because they reminded me of stories I heard from my elder family members. The dance was more in line with Russian folk dancing and the Hora. The language, instead of Gaelic was Yiddish. The stories of persecution were the same, hate based on religion.

I come from a long line of proud Jews, although my grandfather on my father’s side did change his name at the young age of 13, so he made not have been so proud of flaunting his Jewish identity or perhaps just felt the need to hide it. I don’t think he really wanted to hide it though because it was still a Jewish name! He went from Moses Rogovin (way Jewish) to William Rogoff (kinda but definitely Jewish). Like going from Orthodox to Conservative. He was born on the lower east side of NY, 13 Essex Street. His dad, Jacob, emigrated from Russia.  My dad loved to tell us stories about going into the city for pickles, knishes, books, and yarmulkes. When I got married he felt it was really important to go to Essex Street to the guy that has been making yarmulkes forever rather than order them in New Jersey

My grandfather on my mother’s side was an immigrant. He came from Poland. At the age of 13 he was sent off to Prague to go to yeshiva, he was to study to become a rabbi. Little did his parents know that he was skipping school to find odd jobs to save a little money to get a boat to America.  He and a friend traveled across Europe trading bread and sugar to get to Spain. He was 16. They found a boat that was going to South America so they took it. He ended up living in Argentina for 3 years and Brazil for 3 years, saving money so he could get to North America. He learned Spanish and Portuguese; he already spoke Polish, Yiddish, Hebrew, and Slovak. He arrived at Ellis Island in 1921 with 6 languages under his belt, but not English. He was very learned for a guy that didn’t finish his schooling and had no issue with learning another or two. He lived in New York, where quite a few years later met his wife, Lillian Rand- who turned out to be his first cousin, that he had never met before. Makes for an interesting family tree: my mother is my cousin, my brother is my cousin, mutation in cells makes cancer an easy target. Of course, the good totally outweighs the bad, they were the best grandparents in the world.

My grandfather, Leo, was driven, as one could gather from his plight from Europe after WWI. He and Lilly married and moved to New Jersey. Newark. The Weequahic section.  The Jewish section. He ended up opening a dry goods store in the Italian section of Newark. You guessed it- he picked up Italian (already fluent in English) and was fluent with the neighborhood, especially all the old widows that came in to buy their black dressed that they had to wear every day. His store carried all sorts of dry goods -sheets, towels, clothing.  The store was eponymously named Leo’s Dry Goods and was so incredibly cool. Dark worn wood, an old cash register with fancy keys and piles as high as the tall ceiling, stacked with work pants, floral sheets, housecoats (remember those?). Everything was made from natural materials because there wasn’t anything but natural materials.

His incredible story is what inspired me to name my business in honor of him. Handmade goods constructed with attention to detail, of natural materials. Leo’s Dry Goods, there isn’t a green awning with white letters hanging over a window anymore, but there still is the passion and drive for quality and success. Inspired by my heritage, proud to represent a part of my family’s history.