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When you think of Milkweed, you may think pesky weed, sticky white sap or something like that. Personally, I like it. I have fond memories of driving with my dad in the rural areas looking for Monarch Butterfly caterpillars on Milkweed plants. Milkweed grows in our yard – on purpose. I think it’s beautiful, with its soft leaves, and delicate blossoms; how it transforms through the season to growing pregnant pods filled with perfectly white fluff; watching the wind catch the fluff and carry the seeds up and away… It’s magical and makes me believe there might be fairies.

That was the extent of my thoughts on Milkweed until a couple of years ago when I read a historical fiction novel that mentioned Milkweed fluff being used as a pillow filler. Hmm! Interesting!…

As it turns out, Milkweed is pretty cool! Besides being the only plant leaf that Monarch Butterfly larvae eat, Native Americans used the stems for rope, twine and making baskets, the nectar as a sweetener, the fluff as fire tinder and the pods cooked to eat. The leaves, roots and sap also have strong medicinal properties. Early settlers used fluff to fill pillows, mattresses and cushions and to line quilts. During World War II, children collected Milkweed fluff to fill life jackets for soldiers – Milkweed fluff is almost 6 times more buoyant than cork! Over time, various companies have attempted to make textiles, paper, rubber substitutes, lubricants, fuel and pesticides using Milkweed but so far these have either proven uneconomical or not produced any large-scale successes…. Who knew?! And you thought it was a pesky weed!


I was curious about the whole pillow filler idea and decided to try it myself. Without going overboard, I tried to use materials the early settlers probably used – woven fabric from natural fibers with no printing (cotton homespun), cotton thread, and a simple embroidered piece on muslin (that my sister-in-law generously donated to this project). I did use all my modern tools and machines, though, so not authentic I’m afraid.

NOW…. you think this process went smoothly? HA! Here’s how it really went down…

Collected big bag of fluff on quaint Sunday walk with family last month through rural park. Have at least 20 pods. Should be plenty.


10:00 AM  3 pods in and think I have more fluff in nose and floating around studio than actually stuffed into pillow.

10:15 AM  10 pods in and laughing at the utter ridiculous-ness of this, wondering why, why, WHY I thought this was a good idea! Try to take artistic pict of fluff floating around me and cannot successfully capture full effect.

10:30 AM  20 pods in and realize need MORE FLUFF! Pillow only 1/3 full!… Must rush to rural park where we collected fluff last month. Hoping not too late in season. If too late, then will have to wait ENTIRE YEAR to finish pillow! Gah!


NOON  Drag husband and toddler back to rural park, and, THANK GOODNESS, still see lots of Milkweed fluff! Though obviously nearing end of season as most pods are open now. Gather twice as much as before… just in case! As getting back into car, realize some interesting beetles have also been collected. Gah!

12:45 PM  Home again with overflowing bag of fluff. Put toddler down for nap and rush down to studio to finish pillow before house overrun with fluff.


Eew! Is that a spider?! Oh. No. Just another beetle.

1:30 PM  (45 minutes later) Pillow is finished!… Where’s my lint brush!!

Can conclude from this project, while nice idea to use natural material for pillow filling and economical since studio near rural areas and lovely to involve family in collecting fluff/getting out in nature/quality time together, NOT a big time saver. In fact, total time vacuum. Speaking of vacuum, will be needing it for months to clean all of fluff remaining in studio. Studio carpet looks like light snow covering. Gah!

RESULT: Soft-ish pillow with down-like qualities. Slightly crunchy (from seeds). More flat than fluffy. Almost zero bounce/recovery. But quaint like vintage.

Pillow dimensions: 10.5 in. x 12 in.

Milkweed pods emptied into pillow: 78

Number of minutes to stuff pillow: 77
Number of minutes spent with family gathering milkweed pods: 62

Beetles found (and flushed): 11
Spiders found (and flushed): 0 (whew!)

Inches of masking tape used to remove fluff from finished pillow to make presentable for photo: 52

Amount of fluff now on studio carpet: hard to determine
Amount of fluff in nose: also hard to determine
Number of times sneezed during pillow stuffing: 5 (surprising!)

Points for practicality: 0
Points for fun and experimentation: 10!




In February 2011 I began my “year-long” 52 Pillows Project. At the time, I felt my life had “become about surviving, being practical and efficient, stretching every dollar, sometimes just getting through the day” because of the stress. I was “tired of getting by.” In undertaking this project, I hoped to bring myself back to life!… to thrive.”

Since I started my project, A LOT of life has happened. Stress and survival mode have taken on an entirely new meaning. And we’re not through yet.

You might be wondering why don’t I just quit? Forget the remaining 26 and call it good? Well, I haven’t quit because I’m actually having fun with it now. I started out trying to get something done, I had an agenda. Fun is certainly not what I expected from my project, especially after all that we’ve gone through. But there it is!…

At my current pace I expect to finish my “year-long” project in another 2 years, making my year-long project an almost 5-year project. I say this laughingly. It just shows how life rarely goes as planned and all you can do is hang on for the ride and make the best of what comes your way.

So you can count on seeing another 26 pillows, fun and creative (that’s my plan anyway), even if it takes me another 2-1/2 years!

Pillow #7 I Got Nothin’ was a week I didn’t get a pillow finished (or even started) and my realization that, like so much of my life, I was doing my project just to get it done and done on time, instead of digging deep creatively and living from my heart.

#8 Disappointed

#8 Disappointed (This pillow was about my dad who commit suicide in 2007. I think he’s spent more time with me, in spirit, since he died than in the previous 40 of my life, if you believe in that kind of thing.) = )

#12 Nest

#12 Nest (I made this before our Jenna was born – now the blank egg could be stitched with another “J”. However, it won’t be because of the pillows so far, this is my least favorite and it is now residing at the landfill.)

#14 Collaboration #2

#14 Collaboration #2 (This pillow I made for one of my nieces using the center embroidery piece done by her mom. I was delighted recently to see she still uses it.)

#19 Outdoor (and an exercise in perfection)

#19 Outdoor (and an exercise in perfection)

#21 Pinwheel The ended up donating this Pinwheel pillow to help raise money for one of the oncology nurses at the hospital who was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was really happy to help one of the amazing nurses who has helped care for our Jenna.

#21 Pinwheel
I donated this pillow to help raise money for one of the amazing oncology nurses who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. She is one of the wonderful people who has helped care for our Jenna.

#23 Diversion (One of a set I made for my sister. Nothing special as far as technique – although I did really like this extra long lumbar pillow – and the fabric was yummy and fun! Overall, just a nice break from life’s stresses.)

Jenna, our 2-year-old, has had a feeding tube for over half her life now. When she first had it put in, I never expected more than a year later she would still need it or that we would have made so little progress with her eating. Between this and the looming probability of her needing a liver transplant, I sometimes find myself feeling discouraged, thinking “This is never going to end.” The transplant isn’t scheduled. She can’t even be put on the list until she’s finished with chemo next year, and we have no idea how long she will have the feeding tube.

A short break from the feeding tube

A short break from the feeding tube

This elusive future has been difficult for me to deal with because I am one of those people who enjoys generating to-do lists and relishes checking things off. I will, in fact, add something to my to-do list that I have already completed just so I can then check it off. My work has always revolved around Plans of Attack (POAs), deadlines, and ETAs. I’ve had control of the outcome and when things happened. But very little of that applies now to the work of caring for my daughter.

All the POAs, deadlines and ETAs in my work now with Jenna are vague and soft in nature, living in the realm of “watch and wait” and “do the best you can.” There is little to check off as finished except the day-to-day routine of medications and feeding schedule.


Jenna may get a liver transplant next year, or in 2 years, maybe 5 years or, perhaps, never. No one knows for sure. Her liver function is monitored closely by her doctors and she has been stable for several months. While they plan to submit her to the transplant committee next Spring, assuming she is placed on the transplant list, it could be years before she actually gets a transplant. Whether she gets on the list or not, the kind of liver disease she has can develop very slowly so she could live with it for many years without being much sicker, yet never fully recover either.

As for her feeding tube, typically in cases of long-lasting food aversions or eating issues, they’d replace the feeding tube (NG) with something more long-term, less conspicuous and easier to maintain. But because of Jenna’s particular liver disease, it is too risky for her to get that. And no one can make her eat, nor would we want to. We aren’t even sure why she won’t eat.


So I’ve been working on how to live freely with all this uncertainty. I can tell this will be an ongoing process…

What I’ve noticed in my quest so far is that actually looking for certainty in our lives is the beginning to finding freedom. This is a lot easier to do if I’m not thinking too far ahead or too far back. For example, if I think of only today, there is a lot I am certain about. Jenna will need her morning meds, chemo and evening meds. She will need a certain amount of formula pumped through her feeding tube today and all that involves. She may or may not sign “eat” during the day, but if she does (and even if she doesn’t), we will offer her food. Whether she eats it or not we cannot be certain of, but we will keep trying.

In a week I can be certain of the same things, plus a couple more like blood draws and doctor appointments. Occasionally, I take glimpses ahead 2, 3, 4 weeks, but I usually stop at a week. Any further out than that and there are too many unknowns. In fact, I rarely plan or think further out than a week and often say in my defense (mostly to my son), “That’s too far ahead to think about.”

Girl on the go, wearing an apron I made for her

Girl on the go, wearing an apron I made for her

Going the other direction, if I think too far back, evaluating how long Jenna has had the feeding tube or how many times we’ve gone to ER, etc., or comparing our past experiences with the present, there again I can get trapped and feel discouraged and insufficient, thinking things should be different from how they are or that I should have done something differently. So it’s just better all around to stay focused on short amounts of time in the present.

Another thing I’ve noticed is the importance of celebrating the successes, big and small. Like the week Jenna ate two raspberries and a blueberry. Or when her bilirubin blood test result was below 3 for the first time (normal range is 0.1 to 1.0). Or when she learned to walk. I might even be able to celebrate that it’s been over 3 months since we’ve made a trip to ER if I’m careful not to evaluate anything about that. When I am looking for success and progress in our daily and weekly lives, instead of shortcomings and “failures,” life looks better, the future tolerable, if not bright.

The other thing I’ve noticed is when I don’t get a break, away from the house, from Jenna, it does feel like it never ends because, well, it doesn’t. Pretty much 24/7 I am Mom/nurse. Getting away is something I’ve always struggled with. I’m a “home body” at heart. But it really is imperative that I get out without my kids once in a while, ideally on a regular weekly basis. Funny this feels like it will be the most difficult to do.


I don’t feel I’ve found all the answers yet. This path we are on with Jenna is certainly an uncertain one and learning to move freely along its twists and turns is imperative. So much of it is out of our control, and the sooner we can allow ourselves to meander with ease, the better. Sometimes when I am looking at Jenna I think she has all the answers, all the wisdom. She doesn’t get discouraged or feel overwhelmed by her life. She doesn’t worry about what might happen in the future. She doesn’t seem to realize she is sick or even that something is wrong. She just takes it as it comes. Perhaps the answer isn’t “out there” somewhere, but is and has always been right in front of me.

My original idea for this pillow was to emulate this jacket I made years ago. The jacket face design was appliquéd using woven apparel and quilting fabrics. For the pillow I decided to try felt, but I had planned on emulating the colors and sewing. Felt doesn’t come in a wide array of colors so I had to change my plans. Anyway, that was over a year ago and the stack of felt and the pattern sketch have been gathering dust ever since.

Tiffy 3

A few of months ago I started working on the pattern again. And I decided I wanted to try a more freehand style stitching rather than appliqué. I’m drawn to the freehand styles but they are so outside of what I feel I am good at or how I like to sew. I like accuracy and perfection. Once I decided on this change, the project sat for another month or so, because, well, I was afraid. I know, ridiculous, but there it is. In the meantime, to boost my confidence, I did a lot of “research”, studying examples of freehand stitching, trying to memorize or learn the technique.

Finally I just sat down and did it. At first I was so nervous, then, suddenly, I was having FUN! I was shocked by how much fun I was having. I actually giggled as I stitched haphazardly outside the “lines.” What an unexpected delight! I didn’t want to finish, I was having so much fun!… And so here is Pillow #26, with all its purposeful imperfections…


You could probably conclude a lot of things about me from this pillow, and you’d probably be right. It’s funny, even to me, how often the way I sew is the way I do my life. I guess that’s why they say art emulates reality.

Gluten-Free Peach Crisp

When I found out my son and I had a gluten intolerance, especially to oats, I started experimenting with favorite recipes. Peach Crisp is one of the many I’ve worked on and though our family really enjoys it, even my husband who isn’t gluten intolerant, I’ve never shared it with anyone else. So if you end up trying this, let me know how you like it!


Tiffiny’s Gluten-Free Peach Crisp

Peach ingredients:

2-3 sliced fresh peaches (or more if you like)

1 Tbsp butter

1/2 cup pure maple syrup

2 tsp lemon juice

1/4 tsp cinnamon


Topping ingredients:

1/3 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup softened butter

1/2 cup sweetened almond butter (use crunchy style for more texture)

1/4 tsp gluten-free vanilla extract

1-1/4 cup brown rice flour

3/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 cup walnuts (optional, for more texture)


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Placed sliced peaches in a baking dish (9×9 or 8×8 or comparable). Combine the maple syrup, lemon juice and cinnamon and pour over the peaches. Dot with the 1 Tbsp of butter. Set aside.

Mix all the topping ingredients together until well mixed. Then dot small bits of the topping onto the peaches until the peaches are covered. (You may have extra topping leftover.)

Bake for 25-40 minutes, until peaches are bubbly and topping is browned. A shorter cooking time will make your topping more cookie-like, while a longer cooking time will make it crisper.

Let cool until firm, and serve warm. Yummmmm!

(If you use unsweetened almond butter, you may want to increase the brown sugar.)


This will be my last peach recipe this season. I was going to do peach pie next but why? There are a million peach pie recipes out there so what’s the point. I’m not doing anything new or even trying to make a gluten-free pie. Nope, just using the recipe straight out of my 1956 Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook.

Also I’ve realized since my daughter’s condition has been stable and she’s in remission, instead of trying to find a new normal, I’ve tried to go back to the old normal, which is basically impossible. I’m not sure if I’ve been in my usual overachiever mode or if I’m in denial. Maybe both. Either way, I’ve been really stressed and need to back off on some of the things I’ve been doing. Extra cooking, extra blogging, extra anything, I’m cutting back on. So I may not be blogging as much but I’ll still be here, so don’t give up on me… = )

Until next time, Happy Peach Season!

One of my favorite peach dessert recipes from childhood is Peach Cobbler, eating it fresh out of the oven on a brisk fall night… Never mind that the evening I made it this week it was still in the 90s, it was still delicious in our air-conditioned house, though not quite the same ambience as I remember.


Taken from my 1950s Betty Crocker cookbook handed down from my maternal grandmother to my mom to me, and held together, yes, by duct tape, I converted the original recipe to gluten-free and updated it a bit (like using butter instead of shortening.)



Gluten Free Peach Cobbler

(original recipe from 1956 Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook, Revised and Enlarged)


2/3 c. plus 1 Tbsp. sugar

1 Tbsp. cornstarch

1 c. water

3 c. sliced fresh peaches (or more if you like)

1 c. all-purpose gluten-free flour (I use Bob’s Mills)

3/4 tsp. xanthum gum

1-1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

5 Tbsp. butter, softened to room temperature

1/2 c. milk (I used almond milk)



Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a saucepan, mix 2/3 cup sugar, cornstarch and water. Gradually stir in peaches. Bring to a boil and boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Pour into 1-1/2 quart baking dish and dot with 2 tablespoons of butter. Sprinkle with cinnamon.

Mix together flour, 1 Tbsp. sugar, baking powder, salt and xanthum gum. Cut 3 tablespoons of butter in “with pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture looks like “meal”…” Stir in milk. Drop by spoonfuls onto hot peaches. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm.

Serves 4-6

(If you want to make this a non-gluten-free recipe, just substitute regular all-purpose wheat flour in the same quantity, and omit xanthum gum. Also, Betty recommends using up to 1 cup sugar mixed in with peaches. I went with the 2/3 cup myself.)



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