Monday, December 29, 2008

Hope in These Uncertain Economic Times

"I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength." Phillipians 4: 12-13

Each day, I see emails or other writings from people who are struggling financially. Yes, times are hard for most families now. In the emails and blogs, I often read how the struggles are affecting the families. They are very worried about everything from their employment, losing their home or car, and just making the utility payments. Many of the emails come from those who read my blog. They read about our lifestyle and tell me that they wish they had thought about living that way before all the struggles happened. For some reason, they feel we are untouched by the economic issues. We may not be as affected as those with huge debt, but we are affected in some ways.

I often think on the stories I have read in the Bible about the times when the Lord stepped in and brought about change in His people. If I may, I have to go on memory here as I have been unable to read the Bible in nearly a year due to my vision. I wanted to say that there were times when the Lord's people were doing very well. They were living a life of plenty and had riches. It seems that each time they reached that position in their lives, it wouldn't be long after that they would start to forget the Lord and that the riches they had came as blessings from Him. They built up idols that had more importance to them than the Lord. They were puffed up with what "they" had acheived of their own efforts and work. When they would reach this point, the Lord always stepped in. The people had to be humbled and reminded of the Lord and from Whom their blessings came from.

Over my adult years, I have watched how society in general has become. I am speaking in general terms, please take no offense for what I am saying , I say with love. I have watched as many families are consumed with the ideas of having the best of everything. They want a large home, new vehicles, and the newest version of anything that catches their eye. They have convinced themselves that they "need" these things and are willing to get into a deep debt to obtain them. Credit cards have been a downfall to many families. The convenience of being able to get what they want on a whim has gotten out of control. People, in general, have forgotten what it is like to save up for the expensive things. They want it now and buy it on credit with little thought to what their payments will be like.

Many parents are feeding this example to their children in heaping spoonsful. The child asks for the newest video game system or other equally expensive entertainment and the parents give it to them. As soon as a newer version of that gift is on the market, the kids are asking for it because they "need" it. Often the system that they already have is still sufficient, but the child sees only that there is a newer version that is better. That gift that was given is no longer viewed as being acceptable. The same goes for clothing. I remember one family who's daughter was obsessed with having jeans of a particular label. The family was not wealthy. They had to save up to give each child a school clothing budget of $150 for buying their clothing for the new school year. This daughter used over half of her budget on a single pair of jeans! The mother then spent a large portion of the son's budget on the daughter so that she would have enough new clothing to start off the school year. The son was left with enough money for a single outfit that certainly did not come from the mall, as his sister's clothing did. The daughter's whim and desires came before the true needs of her brother. She was raised without the knowledge of the difference between a need and a want. Nor was she taught to show love to her brother by being sensible with her own budget so that he would have what he needed also.

Over the last month, I have watched on the Freecycle group the wanted ads. People were doing their Christmas shopping through Freecycle. Normally it wouldn't bother me at all. This time it did. I saw ads from people asking for laptop computers, game boys systems, a Wii system, iPods, and other such items that are very expensive. They seem to have forgotten that Freecycle was originally set up as a way to keep unwanted items out of the landfills. One ad said that they "needed" a DVD player for their 18 month old. The ad that really got to me though was a woman who had been through a house fire. Insurance had paid for the home but not the contents. She was asking for furniture. She went on in her wanted ad to say that she would like 3 TVs, and gave a list of solid wood furniture she also wanted. The last thing she stated was that she wanted pictures of the furniture you offered her, which would give her a chance to pick and choose what she wanted. I am sorry for her. She is in need of prayer. She has lost everything in a fire, yet she still is not humble enough to want only the necessities. She is instead wanting donations of furniture and furnishings of the quality that she had prior to the fire. She is a prime example of what I am writing about. Because she had the items once, she feel entitled to have them again even though she cannot afford them herself.

This brings me back to my original point. Whenever the Lord's people became too prideful in their wealth, He allowed them to be put into a position of becoming humbled again. Today, we are seeing families (and governments) that have allowed over spending of their financial resources to get out of control. Families and governments are living beyond their means in an effort to have it all.

I don't see the financial struggles and hard times as a punishment from the Lord however. I see it as an opportunity for us to be humbled and reminded of where our priorities should be. It is up to each of us to decide if we are going to use this as a time of reflection on how the Lord may be using this in our own lives or are we simply going to panic and blame the Lord for our struggles. The Lord is loving and does nothing to cause us harm. While His ways are not always easy for us, sometimes what may seem the hardest is the thing that is the most loving. It is like when your child strays a bit too far in one direction and you have to rein him in help guide him into the direction he needs to be going. I see this situation as one of those times. The quest for possessions and living beyond our means has gotten out of hand and in order to save us from our own folly, the Lord has allowed this time of learning and growth.

It is my prayer that each of us will truly open our hearts and minds to what the Lord wants in our lives. That each of us will get honest with ourselves and our Lord in how we have handled our stewardship over the blessings He has given to each of us. And if the Lord has to grow us in an uncomfortable way, I pray that we all are willing to be humble enough to allow Him to teach us.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Lesson in Faith from Mary & Joseph

Today, I was thinking about the Nativity story. Though I have heard the story at this time of year for most of my life, I was very touched by it this time. I thought about the young girl, Mary, and her humble acceptance of the whole experience. I can't imagine the faith and the personal strength & conviction to her faith that she had to have to endure all that she faced.

Imagine being a very young woman and betrothed. Living at a time when pregnancy when unwed was considered reason to be stoned to death. To have the angel appear and tell you that you are to be the mother of the long awaited Messiah. Her humble reply of accepting the Lord's will is so awe inspiring. I wonder how we would handle such a situation today?

As I discussed this with my Beloved, we also spoke of Joseph and the faith he must have had. To be ready to quietly divorce Mary to prevent her from being publicly dishonored, then to change your mind after a dream. Later, when Joseph was told by a dream that he had to take Mary and the baby to Egypt to protect them from harm, he again followed the counsel given in the dream. Not only did he flee with his family, but he left right away in the middle of the night! There was no waiting until morning or debating the issue. He woke Mary and they took the infant, Jesus, and fled in the night.

I wonder. Is our personal relationship with our Lord strong enough that if our spouse were to have a dream and awake us saying that the Lord said we must get up and flee our home, would we listen? Would we have faith enough in the Lord to know that it is something we must do? Or would we look at our spouse like they were having a silly dream and roll over to go back to sleep? I think that one of the keys to answering this question for ourselves is to ask, what type of relationship do we have with the Lord?

An acquaintance or business relationship is one where you have to talk to the person, but you wouldn't if it wasn't really necessary. In this type of relationship, we talk to the Lord in prayer because it is expected of us. We say grace at the dinner table, for example, or bow our heads during prayer at church. The prayers are simply words that are said without any real heart-felt meaning to them.

A friendship is a closer relationship. With friends, you like to spend time talking about your experiences and the things going on in your life. That is a good start in our relationship with the Lord. It is certainly more meaningful than the acquaintance/business type of relationship. When you think about it though, a friendship can be a fickle thing. It is almost a choreographed relationship. You talk or spend time with your friends when it is convenient or something that you feel like doing. Likewise, it is something that you can easily set aside when you are not wanting to be bothered. In this type of relationship, we pray and spend time with the Lord. We share our experiences and have a relationship with Him. This kind of relationship can work for many years, but just like with friendships, it can fail if it is tested with trials in life.

The courting/betrothed relationship is a much deeper one. Think about when you met your husband. You spent a lot of time getting to really know him. You wanted to share not just your experiences but your thoughts. You wanted to share your heart with him. You wanted to truly get to know who he is. You wanted to get to know his heart. In this type of relationship with the Lord, we have the deep desire to really know Him. We speak to Him in prayer from our hearts. We spend time in His Word learning of Him and His will for us. Just as our husband is someone that we want to run to and share our joys and our sorrows, we go to the Lord with both the difficult times and the joyous ones.

If our relationship with the Lord is one of an acquaintance or even that of a friend, I doubt that we would take seriously any guidance that came our way that was out of the ordinary. If our husband has a strong, deep relationship with the Lord and were to have a dream telling him to take his family and flee just as Joseph did, we would likely look at our husband as though he had "lost it" and not take him seriously if our own relationship with the Lord that of an acquaintance or simple a friend. If we had a deep relationship like that of someone who is courting or betrothed, wouldn't we be more likely to listen and respond?

It is never easy to follow the guidance of an unknown leader. How much easier though is it to follow the counsel and guidance of someone you know and trust? The closer your relationship or the deeper your knowledge of that leader, the easier it is to put faith in their guidance and trust that it is sound and right. It is the same with the Lord. If we have the deeper relationship with Him, following His counsel would be far simpler because we would know Him enough to have full faith and trust in Him.

Spending time getting to know our Lord is critical. Learning of the Lord, seeing the consistent way in which He dealt with His people by delving into His word, spending time in prayer and sharing your heart with Him, getting to really know Him is what it takes to be able to follow His guidance without question.

In our human-ness, it is often difficult to give up control. We worry and fret over all the "what ifs" in life. As we get to know the Lord though, these worries and fears dissipate. We come to find the peace and rest that He promises. It doesn't matter what trials or situations arise in our lives. The steadiness of the Lord will carry us through any storm that come into our lives.

In this time when so many are faced with the financial burdens and struggles, I pray that each will reach out and get to know the Lord and find the peace and calm that only He can bring. Be open to His guidance, leaning not on your own understanding but on the Lord. His way may not always be easy, but He is always faithful and will be there with you to sustain you when your own strength and knowledge fail you.

May the Lord's blessings be with thee,

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Supporting the Troops

How many of us would be willing to take a job where we knew that not only would we have to spend long periods. often up to 18 months, in foreign lands in often hostile situations? What if the job meant that we would have to be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice of laying down our life to protect strangers? How many of us would look at such a high stress job and consider it an "honor" to serve in that often thank-less job? I dare say that it is a special breed of people who take on this role. The true HEROS of our nation..........our troops!

My Beloved is a Hero in my eyes and heart. He served our country by serving in the Navy. I have never heard him refer to his time in the Navy as being a sacrifice or duty. It was something that he felt honored to do and looks back on with great memories of the friendships and experiences that he had.

It doesn't matter what your political views of the wars are. The troops are our fellow Americans. They are someone's brother or sister. They are fathers and mothers. They are sons and daughters. They are doing a job that many would not be willing to do. Many are doing this job with little support from home. That is where eMail Our Military comes in.

eMail Our Military is an organization that takes up where the former "write any soldier" program left off. Troops who wish to receive emails from home can register with eMail Our Military. Civilians who would like to send emails & coorespond with someone serving in the military also register. The eMail Our Military organization then matches up the troops with civilians and that is where it begins. Through the email, you can send notes of encouragement and support to the troops. These emails are so important to those serving! They can boost the morale and help make their time away from their loved ones easier.

The program is very well organized. It provides a safe way for those of us who wish to email/coorespond with those serving and offer encouragement a way to do so without endangering them. They never publicize the names and addresses of the service members, ships or units on the web.

The registration process for civilians is very easy. They have a registration form that you fill out and a $2.00 registration fee. Once your registration is processed, they contact you with the information you will need to start emailing the troop you have been given to coorespond with.

My Beloved and I are both registering to coorespond with a someone deployed in military service. We are looking forward to being able to write and let them know that we are praying for them and encourage them however we can.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Revival of the Old Ways

It seems that with each generation, we are losing more of the knowledge and teachings of the old ways. With that loss of knowledge comes a dependence on the stores to provide for our family's needs. But does it really need to be this way?

There was a time when young boys and girls were taught by working along side their parents how to do the basic skills that they would need later in life. Sons were taught how to farm, tend livestock, or to work in the trade of their fathers. Daughters were taught how to properly keep the home, meal preparation, gardening & food preservation, sewing, quilting and other needle arts, soap and candle making, along with the other skills that a homemaker needed. Today, very few children are brought up learning these skills. I remember as a youth having friends who had no idea how to prepare a meal. If it were not for the Home Ec classes at school, they would never have learned. What a sad thing it is to see so many families struggling so hard today when if they had learned & put into practice the skills of frugal and self reliant living, their lives could be made easier.

It seems that many people feel as I do that the knowledge of the old ways need to be kept alive. There is a small revival happening across our nation. People are taking a second look and interest in the ways of the earlier generations. They are wanting to learn how the pioneers and others managed in hard economic times and in the days before all the conveniences were so readily available.

I have been surprized to find that there are instructional videos on sites like YouTube that teach how to do the old handcrafts such as preparing wool for spinning, spinning both on a wheel and using drop spindles, cheese making, soap making, and many other skills that were a necessary knowledge to have in the old days. For those starting out in homesteading, you can learn how to garden, tend animals, butchering various types of livestock, hunting skills, and much more.

Whether you have dreams of homesteading or simply want to ease your family's financial burdens, look into the old skills. Take a hard look at your spending and see what areas you can make changes. Changes don't have to come all at once. Make them gradually, choosing the one change that is most needed first. Once you are comfortable with that change, make another one. Involve your family in this. Let your children, if they are old enough, to make changes also that would benefit them and the family. Every new skill that your children learn will be a blessing to them later in life. One of the blessings that you can give your children as they grow is the ability to do for themselves as much as possible. Whether they use the skills to save money or use them to earn a little extra income, the knowledge will benefit them.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

New Homestead Adventure

It looks like our family is about to embark on a new homestead adventure. Our home is needing so much major repair (foundation, termite damage, roof) that we have had to make the decision to rebuild. So, here is the challenge. How does a family with very limited financial resources build a new home without accumulating debt? That is the interesting part.

We have decided on a small approx. 800 sq. ft. floor plan. It is a simple design that is actually based on the house my Grandmother lived in when I was growing up. It is 3 bedroom with 1 bath. On our floor plan, the bathroom is as large as the bedrooms as it will also serve as the laundry room. Two of the bedrooms will be along one end of the house and the bathroom & 3rd bedroom will be on the opposite side of the house. In the center section of the home will be one large room. One portion of the room will serve as a kitchen area, the other end as a living room area, with the dining table separating the two areas. This design will allow us to place 2 propane heaters in opposite ends of the central room which will be enough to heat the entire home. We will also have our wood stoves that will heat the home, with the propane being there as a back-up for times such as ovenight or if we are low on firewood.

We are excited about this. Joe and I have talked about doing this in the past, but always thought of it happening further in the future. I am researching online for options on how we can best do this. There are so many options out there. We just have to sift through them to find the one that is in a price range that we can afford without going into debt. Our plan is to get the foundation, framing, and roof done with help. Joe and I can close it up and wrap it. Once the house is closed up and we get the insulation and plumbing in, we will be able to move in. We can always finish the interior after we are in the house.

Isn't it exciting to see how the Lord leads? We hadn't thought of doing this so soon, but evidently it is the right time.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


It is hard to imagine that in about 2 1/2 years, we will begin to officially homeschool our little ones. Abigail will be old enough to start Kindergarten level and Micah will be doing Preschool. In preparation, we have been looking at homeschool curriculums for the children. We have certain criteria that we are looking for that we feel are important considerations to make.

1. The curriculum must be Christian-based. No exceptions. The curriculum must come from a reputable Christian resource that will not only teach the courses needed, but also include the Bible's teachings along with the material.

2. We want their curriculum coming from a single source. We realize that many homeschooling families use the "buffet" method in choosing curriculums. Math form one source, science from another, language arts from yet a third source, and so on. For the sake of simplicity and also a continuity of the scope & sequence of the curriculum material we want to use one resource for all the curriculum.

3. We want the curriculum to come from a source that offers accreditation. We wish for our children to be able to receive a diploma from an accredited school once their homeschooling years have been completed.

4. We do not want to use a correspondance school system. We do however want a curriculum that will allow us to homeschool & grade the children's work with us sending in reports so that the school can keep the records.

Part of the reason for the accreditation requirement is that we want our children to have the advantage of having a recognizable diploma after they finish their homeschooling. We are also looking ahead. Oklahoma has very few requirements made of the homeschooling families at this time. We want to be prepared in case this should change at some point in the future. By already being established with an accredited school program, we would be able to continue as we always have with very little changes needing to be made to accommidate any new regulations or laws that should come up in the future years.

We have been looking at Bob Jones University's homeschool program and are very impressed with it. We are still researching though to make certain that the Bob Jones University program is what we really want to use before making the final decision. The Bob Jones University's homeschool program offers the Christian-based curriculum that we are seeking. The children would actually be able to graduate and receive a diploma from Bob Jones University upon completion of the homeschool program. One additional advantage of the Bob Jones University program is that once the children have completed their homeschooling years, the money spent on their homeschool materials will be credited towards their college education at Bob Jones University.

We have 2 years yet to make our choice. There are so many options available that it is taking time to find the one that will be best for our family. I would love to hear from other homeschooling families who use accredited school programs. What program do you use? What made that curriculum stand out and become the one you chose for your children? Are there any out there that we should use caution with?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Grey Water & Rain Water

One of our winter projects this year is to build a grey water system to take the grey water from the house to our garden behind the house. We are building the system ourselves. The system is a very basic one. We will have new piping running from our sinks, tub/shower, and washing machine and running them to the garden area. Because we do not use chemicals, we will not have need of a filtration system for the grey water. It is our hope that once the system is completed, we will be watering the garden mostly with the grey water. The system will utilize gravity to carry the water, thus avoiding the use of electricity to pump the water to the garden area.

Another idea we are looking into is a way to utilize rain water. Each spring, we have had a rainy season bringing enough rain to flood the garden in past years. If we can find a way to collect and store the water for using later once the rains have past, this will also lower our rural water usage. Our home has no gutters, but there are 2 areas where we are easily able to place containers to collect the run-off from the roof. The big question for us would be how to prevent mosquitos from laying eggs in the water and also prevent algae from forming in the water. We would be wanting only an organic method to prevent these things.

With the changes to using grey water planned, I am now researching ways to avoid using chemicals in my homemade cleaning solutions. Many recipes online call for things like ammonia which you wouldn't want tio use if planning to utilize grey water. As I find new recipes that are safe for use in grey water, I will post them or their links to the blog.

If any of you have started utilizing grey water systems at your homes, I would love to hear about your experiences. We will keep you updated on our system once we get it in place.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Caffeine Addiction

Addiction to caffeine is one of the most prevalent addictions in the world today. It is also one of the least spoken of. Most likely it is due to the fact that it is seen as being a harmless ingredient in common drinks such as coffee, tea, soda, and even that cup of hot cocoa. The newest form that I am aware of is the energy drinks that are loaded with caffeine.

I was raised on caffeine. Some of my earliest memories are of when I was about 5 yrs. old. I remember on a very regular basis we would always get a "bedtime snack" before going to bed. I would sit on the floor between the couch and coffee table with a bowl of popcorn or chips on the coffee table and a tall glass bottle of Pepsi. As a parent, I can't imagine giving a child a bottle of soda immediately before sending them to bed. It is a wonder I ever fell asleep as a child! Later, I began drinking coffee at an early age. Living on a small farm, we had morning chores before catching the school bus and on the cold mornings especially, we would often grab a cup of coffee as it was always available.

When I was truck driving with my Beloved, I was drinking alot of coffee or soda that contained caffeine. Long hours of driving, the caffeine was a benefit in helping you to stay awake. If the caffeine itself didn't keep you awake, the need for finding a rest area certainly did! LOL

One of the downfalls with the caffeine though is that you can become addicted to it. According to, caffeine is the most common psychoactive drug in the world. Caffeine takes affect in the body about 30 minutes after it is ingested and it's effects are diminishing within 3 hours. Caffeine affects several areas of the body's systems: mood, stamina, the cerebral vascular system, and gastric and colonic activity.

There is a simple way to know if you are addicted to caffeine. In the studies by the American Psychiatric Association, they found that it is easiest to diagose a caffeine addiction by seeing what if any withdrawal symptoms a person has when they refrain from ingesting caffeine. Some of the symptoms include: headaches, fatigue, decreased energy/activeness, decreased alertness/attentiveness, drowsiness, decreased contentedness/well-being, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and feeling foggy/not clearheaded. In their study, they found that the withdrawal symptoms start to appear about 12-24 hours after the person stops ingesting caffeine. The symptoms can peak at about 20-51 hours. The total withdrawal period can last 2-9 days. Experts suggest that if you feel the need to decrease your caffeine intact or omit it all together, do it very slowly to avoid the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

Now that I have given you all the information, I will give you the reason behind this post. Yesterday (Monday) I awoke with a terrible headache that had me both light and sound sensitive. I tried everything to get rid of it. I made sure that I ate well as sometimes people get headaches when hungry. I took Tylenol. Even took a long soak in a bubble bath while the kids were napping. Nothing worked. It was afternoon when I finally realized the cause. On Sunday, we were rushed getting rady for Church and I never drank any coffee. I also didn't have my usual cups of coffee throughout the day. The only caffeine I had was a glass of Pepsi with lunch. I had gone over 24 hours without my usual "caffeine fix" for the day. By evening, I had drank a couple of cups of strong coffee and the headache, though still present, was becoming a dull ache and no longer the sharp pain it had been. This is when I realized just how bad my addiction to caffeine is. I have always joked about being addicted to caffeine. I have tried going off of it "cold turkey" in past years, only to get the severe headaches, which also brought on a short temper, and a problem with lack of concentration. Last night, I decided enough is enough. Up until recently when we bought our stovetop perculator, we were using a 30-cup capacity coffee urn like the ones you would see at a business or church's kitchen. It was not unusual for me to drink the entire amount by myself while Joe was at work.

I am now trying to ease myself off caffeine. I am following the recommendations to do it slowly. I am hoping that by doing so, I will be able to get off the caffeine without dealing with all the nasty withdrawal symptoms. So far today, the headache that I had yesterday is completely gone.

Our stovetop coffee perculator holds 6 cups (3 mug's worth) of coffee. Today, I made a pot of coffee and am currently on my second mug. Once I am finished with the 3rd mug, I am done drinking coffee for the day. I have herb teas that I drink that do not contain caffeine. Just this alone will reduce my daily coffee intact down significantly as I normally make 2-3 pots of coffee a day just for myself before Joe gets home from work in the afternoon. My plan is to cut back one cup of coffee each week for the next few weeks. I will still drink my cup of hot cocoa in the evenings with Joe as this contains only a very small amount of caffeine and not enough to cause me problems.

I am praying that the Lord help me in this. I have tried getting off the caffeine before without success. I will post here my progress as I go along.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Preparing for Christmas

Greetings to all! I pray that everyone is doing well. I thank all for the emails and comments wishing me well. Simplifying my life through cutting back on other non-material things in my life is having the desired affect in my health. Our family had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. My Beloved worked along side me in the kitchen. As I did the cooking, he did the cleaning up. It is something that he is wanting to do each year on the holidays. We want the children to learn to take part as they are able so that it becomes a family activity. At 2 1/2 yrs old, Abbie is already old enough that she can do little tasks to help in both the food preparation and setting the table. To her, washing the plastic dishes, spoons and forks is still a playing activity. I wash the items first to be sure they are clean, then I let her "wash " them. It both keeps her happily occupied while teaching her a skill that will be a blessing later. She is also learning to take part in the household tasks.

Now that the Thanksgiving holiday is past, Christmas preparations are going into a more focused effort. We keep our celebration simple. Our main focus is on the birth of our Lord. We intend for our children to grow up not focusing on the holiday tree, decorations, and expecting a pile of gifts waiting for them on Christmas morning. In our home, we will have a small tree on a table decorated with ornaments that are homemade. I am making stockings from fleece for each family member. Right now, the children each have a purchased gift. I am working on making the remaining gifts. They are simple things, a toy and clothing type items.

During the next few weeks, I will be helping Abbie to make little gifts for her Daddy, brother, and Grandparents. This will become a tradition. We want the children to learn that just as Christ gave of Himself for us, we should give of ourselves (time, talents) to others.

Another way you can teach children to give to others as Christ gave to us is to find a charity that you can help especially during this season. Find one that is age appropriate for your children so that they can also participate. This year, my Beloved has signed our family up to be bell ringers for the Salvation Army. At 2 yrs old, Abbie will enjoy ringing the bell. I am working on teaching her to say "Merry Christmas" which I am sure she will do very well at. We will all be there as a family doing this. Now that Abbie is getting older, I am planning to make little blankets that she can help to tie instead of quilting. We will work on them through the upcoming year for donating next year. It will be another way to give of ourselves through the year to help others. Another idea is to make a little craft of some kind for the troops. We are considering making little angels to send with a note thanking them for their service and letting them know that we are keeping them in prayer.

Along with our family devotions which we have several times throughout each week, we are hoping to keep this holiday season in a way that focuses on the Lord and gives glory to Him. I pray that the Lord's blessings be with you and your family as you celebrate this blessed season.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Making Changes

It has been too long since I last posted here. I am making changes in my life. As some may already know, I have both fibromyalgia and arthritis. The arthritis isn't too bad, but the cold weather affects it. Over the past couple of months, my body really seems to have been taking a hit. Everything from being sick for 2 weeks with a cold to being injured by our sheep when they were a bit ornery and territorial when the ewe was in heat. Now, with winter cold upon us, I am having to slow down and prioritize my activities to help prevent flare ups of the fibromyalgia. One of the problems with my fibromyalgia is that it hits me pretty fast. I have been medication-free, treatment-free for 2 years now due to changing my diet. I had found that something in the grain fed to commercially raised livestock causes my flare ups. So, I eat a vegetarian diet for the most part but also eat grass-fed meats which do not cause me to have a flare. The best meat that I have been able to eat without any problem is venison.

Last week, I had a rough week with pain. In short, I overworked myself. That is one of the few things that causes a flare up. I have been baking cookies and breads for my Beloved's co-workers who place orders with him at work. It has been a nice little way to earn a bit extra for the family. Last Monday, I had a large order which involved making 4 full batches of cookies. Only one was a type that didn't require the cookies to be shaped before baking. This meant a lot of standing, which is something I cannot do. By the time I was done, my pain level was very high and I had difficulty walking. My Beloved very lovingly hugged me and let me know that we would no longer take any cookie or bread orders. It is just too much. His concern was that now that winter is upon us, the number of orders would go up.

Another change that I am making is that I will only be using my blogs at blogger. The homestead blogger account was my oldest blog, but this account is much easier to manage. Between the two blogs (this one and my recipes blog) I will be kept busy enough.

One of my Beloved's and my goals has always been to simplify our lives. I am finding that it is time to do it in other areas of my life also. My first responsibility it to my relationship with my Lord, then my family, then other things. In an effort to do that, I am not going to be participating in groups or forums, with the exception of the homesteading one that my Beloved and I have at Yahoo. If you are interested in it, you can find the link to our group on our family website. There is much to keep me busy here at home. Besides seeing to the more common needs of my family, I also am working on sewing clothing items for all of us.

I will still be sewing and crocheting items to sell through our family website and our Ebay store. These will be ready-made and I will not be taking orders. This will allow me to focus on my family first without the stresses that come from meeting deadlines on orders.

May the Lord's blessings be with thee.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Keeping Warm at Night

Have you ever climbing into bed on a cold night and felt very chilled from the bed sheets being cold? Unlike our little ones who's bedroom is heated, my Beloved and I sleep in a room that has no heat or insulation. Often at night, the bed is very cold which can cause your muscles to clench and tighten.

We finally found a very easy solution for the problem. The first step was to remove the top sheet from the bed. Next, I took a large fuzzy acrylic blanket and spread out on top of the bottom bed sheet. We sleep on top of this blanket. Next, I added layers of blankets. The first is another fuzzy acrylic blanket, then a couple of heavy quilts or comforters.

The acrylic blankets that we use are the fuzzy large throws or decorative type blankets. Most often, you see these blankets with a large decorative image such as an animal or floral design.
The first night that we did this, the temperature dropped to freezing point. Though the air in the room was very cold, we kept warm and comfortable all night. The following morning, I awoke without any pain or discomfort in my muscles from them becoming cold in the night.

I am now thinking about finding old acrylic blankets to use as a batting inside quilts. Feeling how warm the blankets are, I would imagine that they would make a wonderful batting layer.
If you have access to old acrylic blankets, you can turn them into crib sheets to make a little one's crib or toddler bed just a bit warmer and softer.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Family Gardening - Where to Start?

Growing your own food is a blessing. Not only is it cheaper in the long run, but you have all the health benefits of fresh produce that has been organically grown and the benefits of spending the time outdoors. For most homesteaders, the dream to grow/raise all of their family's food is a common goal. It can seem like a daunting task. One question that I hear often is, "Where do we start?" Here is how I plan ours.

1. Plan your garden area. How much space do you have available? We have 20 acres, but only a very small portion of it is good fertile soil for gardening. Luckily, it is the area directly behind the house and not a section in the farthest end of our field! We also have a couple of other smaller areas where we can plant, but the soil is not as fertile and would need a great deal of compost to make it good enough for growing a vegetable garden. The area where we plant the garden is roughly 1/8 acre in size. I am able to plant quite alot in that area and by succession planting, I am able to grow 3 gardens in the same space.

2. Deciding what to plant. This is one of the hardest things for many people. I made it easy for us by keeping track of the foods we actually enjoy eating. Make a list of all the vegetables that your family eats on a regular basis. You can take this a step further by saving your shopping receipts.
When you first start planting a garden, make sure to plant the vegetables, such as tomatoes, that can be expensive to buy in the store's produce area.

3. How much do we plant? This is another area where the shopping receipts can help. You can take a look at a typical month and add up the quantity of the vegetables you buy. Be sure to include canned and frozen vegetables in the amount. I count 1 pint for each small 12-15 oz. can of vegetables and 1 quart for each large 28 oz. can. This is also going to be important to know if you are planning to can the vegetables as it will give you an idea of how many jars you will need. Next, talk to gardeners in your area or the nurseries. Find out what kind of yield you can expect. Look through seed catalogues. They can often give you an idea of what type of yield to expect. Then, plan your seed purchase accordingly.

4. Start your seeds early. I buy my seeds from Heirloom Acres Seeds about the beginning of January. By late February, I am ready to start the seeds in little flats indoors. I like to give the seeds about 8 weeks headstart in their growth before planting just after the last frost. Buy enough seed to last the entire year. They offer their seeds in packets and also a variety of bulk size quantities. The larger the quantity, the better the price. All of their seeds are open pollinated, they do not sell any that are hybrids.

5. One tip that I learned from my Father was to plant things like green beans & peas in double rows. He would plant 2 rows of beans or peas only 2 inches apart. This would give him twice as much harvest in the same area that traditionally he would have gotten had he planted them in single rows. Between each set of double rows, he would leave a space wide enough to walk through. The plants grew very well. I remember one year in particular that we had 2 (20 ft long) rows of green beans that in their first picking produced 115 quarts of green beans for canning.

6. Succession planting is essential. About 2-3 weeks after you plant your garden, go back and plant a second planting of the vegetables. I will plant a row of squash plants, for example, then a few weeks later, plant more squash seeds. This will allow me to get a continual harvest. By the time the first plants are starting to slow down production, the second planting is in full production.

7. Pay close attention to your area's first and last frost dates. Plants such as winter squash, root crops, peas and beans that produce well in cooler temperatures can be planted in late summer for a fall harvest. If you have very hot summers (100*+ for several weeks in a row) you may want to start the seeds in a flat, then only expose them to the sun during the cooler parts of the day. This will prevent the intense heat of the sun from burning up the tender plants. Then, once the hottest part of summer is over, transplant them into the garden. Things like peas may need to be planted in an area where they will get partial shade in the afternoon if the temperatures are still pretty hot in the afternoon. When I planted a fall crop this year, I checked the date of the first frost, then counted backwards the number of days on the calendar the seed packets gave for the amount of time until harvest. This gave me the last possible date when I could plant the seeds and still have a harvest. To give us a better harvest, I included a couple extra weeks for the harvesting. For most of the vegetables, this meant that I could plant as late as Labor Day in September to get the seeds in the ground.

Vegetable gardening is not an exact science. Some years the weather is better than others and will affect your crop accordingly. We learned through experience that in our area, the heavy rains in the spring flood our garden. So, we now have to plant in raised rows. The rows are built up about 10 inches taller than the walk space between them. This keeps the plants high enough that even when there is standing water in the garden, the plants are high enough to not be flooded out. We also learned that if the intense heat hits the garden too early in the summer and slows down the amount of harvest, plant the same varieties of plants again in late August and we will have a bumper crop of vegetables in the fall.

There are some vegetables, such as tomatoes, that enjoy the heat. Those are planted for a summer harvest. By the time they are starting to slow down, we are able to pull up the tomato plants and plant other vegetable seeds and plants in their place. By planting in this way, we are now able to get 3 full gardens in the same space in one growing season.

Next year, I am going to set up a large cold frame. I am curious to try and grow salad vegetables in a cold frame and see how long into the winter we can have fresh salads.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Crochet Shawls

Over the past week I have been working on crocheting a triangular shawl. I ended up getting 2 made! The are huge ~ 70 inches across and 36 inches from the neck to the bottom tip of the triangle. I am so thrilled to get both done in a week. I used my favorite yarn. It is a very soft acrylic/polyester yarn that is very cuddly and warm. This first shawl is made from an earth tone yarn that has tones of tan and other colors that remind me of a desert.

This is the second one that I made. It is made in a yarn that has shades of tan, cream and old rose with hints of purple and blue.It was interesting how I used skeins of yarn with the same dye lot numbers for this shawl, but I got the really neat striped effect in the top of the shawl. I couldn't have been more pleased at this happy mistake! I got the striped design without changing yarns! It was fun seeing that happen since it didn't occur with the skein used in the bottom portion of the shawl.
I am selling both of these shawls. We have them listed on our family website. If you are interested, feel free to contact me via email if you have any questions.

Monday, November 10, 2008

It's raining!

I am so excited. We have been saving the wood ash from our 2 wood stoves for making potash. Today, we started having rain again. I have a 18 gallon tote outside to collect as much of the rain water as possible. We are supposed to have rain off and on all day. By the weekend, I will have enough ash to start making the potash. I just need to set up an area where I can safely put the ash hopper. I already have an idea of what I will be using for the hopper. Either an old 5 gallon bucket or an old 18 gallon tote. Either one will work well. Just need a small hole near the bottom for the liquid to drain out of. I already have a container to catch the liquid in. We get glass gallon sized jars from a sandwich deli. They are too heavy to use for storing our dried goods in the pantry. The heavy glass would work good for storing the liquid in until I am able to make soap.

I found a recipe for making the soap that gives approximate amounts of fats & lye. I am excited to try making it to see if the recipe is an authentic one. Whether the soap comes out soft or forms a hard bar, we will be able to make use of it.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Preschooling at Home

I am beginning to preschool our daughter this year. At 2 1/2 years old, she has already been showing signs of being ready to learn. The things that we do with her are simple and are based on her own interests. For example, Abbie loves books. She enjoys being read to and will often spend time herself looking through her books. One of her favorite times is when her Daddy is reading to her. Abbie's eyes light up and there is alot of giggling as he makes funny sound effects and faces for the characters. She mimics him and they have a wonderful time together. This is something we are going to be developing into a night time routine right before her bedtime. Another activity she enjoys is when she is asking you to identify the objects in the pictures. As you name each one, she repeats it back to you.

I have been making Abbie's art supplies. I found recipes for everything from finger paints to play clay that I am making for her to play with. When her baby brother is napping, we get out the art supplies and she spends time creating things with them. With the holidays approaching, I am collecting ideas for her to make both as decorations and as gifts.

At her age, Abbie is like a little sponge. She soaks up everything she is exposed to. What a blessing to no longer have a TV that can bring into the home things that a tender mind may not be ready for. While I understand that children will eventually be exposed to the world, I don't think she needs to be bombarded with it at this age. I am all for her having a time of innocence at this age.

Toddlers are still building their vocabulary. This is a wonderful time to introuce them to music, especially good quality childrens' music. Abbie loves to sing and dance. Often as we have music playing, we will hear her singing to the music. As she is singing, she is also building on her vocabulary. We also play games of reciting the ABCs and counting from 1-20. Though she may not be able to recite them on her own, by doing this often enough she will gradually learn to recite them on her own.

There are those who may be reading this thinking that we are pushing her through preschooling. That is fine. We know that we are only building on Abbie's own interest. We also keep it a fun game. As son as we see her begin to tire of something, we stop. Sometimes she may go a few days of not wanting to say ABCs. That is okay. We know that when she wants to do it, she will. We simply make the option available. The key to not over burdening her with too much too soon is to watch her reactions. If she is having fun and enjoying it, then we continue. As soon as she is no longer having fun, we stop.

There will come a day when she will not have an option of only doing the "fun" parts of homeschooling. Rare is the child who wakes up in the morning with great eagerness and excitement to do a Math or History assignment. Blessed are you if your children are always excited about their schoolwork and eager to start working on it! Each child though will have a subject that they don't like and it can be a struggle to get them to work on it. When that time comes, Abbie and her little brother will learn that not all things that are necessary in life are "fun" to do. At her age though, we are keeping it fun to help build her enthusiasm to learn.

After her 3rd birthday, we wll begin to work more on teaching her to write her letters. We are waiting for her fine motor skills needed for controlling the pencil to develop a bit more. One of her favorite toys to play with is a Fisher Price Doodle Pro. The Doodle Pro is great for helping to develop the motor skills she will need when learning to write with a pencil. Of all of her toys, this is the one she gets out to play the most. One additional benefit is that the Doodle Pro comes with 4 magnets in the shapes of circle, square, triangle & flower. Through playing with the Doodle Pro with her, we have been able to teach her the names of the shapes and their colors.

In the coming weeks, I will be posting resources and ideas for homeschooling your children. The ideas will hopefully be a help to both those with toddlers/preschoolers and those with older children.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Homemade Soap Problems

It is a sad fact of life that those of us who make homemade soaps for our families are finding it more and more difficult to buy the 100% sodium hydroxide (lye) for our soaps. Here in Oklahoma, you cannot buy it in any of the stores in my area. To purchase the lye, we would have to go to online resources such as the soap making suppliers. This is also a problem. I am wanting to make a good old-fashioned soap with no frangrances or colorings. Many of the retail online businesses that sell soap making supplies will only sell the lye to you if you are also buying the frangrances, colorants, or other supplies when you purchase the lye. I have no use for these things.

I remember that in the old days, the lye was homemade. The early colonists and even the pioneers later on didn't have access to the commercially available lye for their soap making. Instead, they had to make their own from wood ash. If it was possible back in those days to do it, why would I not be able to recreate the homemade version? We heat our home with wood stoves, including our cookstove. I have a readily available amount of wood ash to work with.

I am going to give it a try. I am going to save the ash and try making my soaps from the homemade lye. The homemade potash lye is a potassium hydroxide, which makes a soft brownish colored soap. The soap looks more like a gel consistency unlike the hard bars of soap you get from the sodium hydroxide. After I make a batch of the soap, I will post a blog giving the results.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Hazards of Clotheslines

As some of you may remember from previous blog posts, I have been doing laundry by hand and drying it on a clothesline whenever possible. Well, recently I learned a valuable lesson.

Our clothesline is located about 20-25 feet from our fenceline near the road. My husband moved it there to make it more convenient for me. Our back steps are made of large flat stones that tend to get slippery at times. So the clothesline was moved from behind to house to the front, which also put it close to our daughter's play area & sand box.

A couple of weeks ago while changing diapers, I noticed a little rash on both of the kids. I didn't think anything of it, since diaper rashs do sometimes happen, especially if they slept through the night or have eaten a new food the day before. I treated the rash and thought nothing of it.

Well, the kids are finally nearing the end of their rash. My husband's mother told me what she thought the cause of the rash was after seeing it when she had the kids at her home last Saturday. Poison Ivy! Who would ever think that you can get poison ivy from hanging out the wash?!!!

It seems that if you have poison ivy growing anywhere in the area and the wind is blowing the across the poison ivy towards your clothesline, the oils from the poison ivy can be carried by the wind to your clothing. The kids' diapers were hung on the clothesline and there is poison ivy near the fence.

What is confirming the poison ivy theory for me is that the rashes were not getting better when diaper rash ointment was used. Our daughter's was the worst and had about 6 small blisters that continued to grow a little bit. When her diaper rubbed up against the blisters, they would break open. I began treating them with Neosporin instead since the rash was opened up and used plain cornstarch instead of a powder. This has affected the rash the most. The rash is nearly healed now on both of the litle ones.

I would never have considered that poison ivy could get on your laundry that way. For now, until I am able to move the clothesline or get clothes drying racks for indoors I am drying their diapers n the electric dryer again.

If you have hay fever, never place you clothesline anywhere near ragweed or other plants that have pollens that can be blown onto your laundry and cause an allergic reaction. My in-laws have had problems with that in the past.

I hope that this information will benefit someone and help prevent the same problems from occurring to their family.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Recycling Cookie Tins

I love the old flat cookies tins that you see nearly on a daily basis at thrift stores. They are so versatile in how you can recycle them. Around the holidays, the tins seem to show up everywhere. Often, just after the holiday when the cookies and treats are gone the tins end up in landfills or thrift stores. If you have some of these tins laying around unused, here are a few ideas to hopefully inspire you in ways to use them.

Storage container for sewing notions or other craft supplies. I love the fact that you can store items that you don't want little hands to play with! The tins have snug fitting lids that are difficult for little ones to open, which makes them a good option for storing things like glitter, stamp inks, acrylic paints, etc.

Cookie tins make a nice travel crafting kit. As long as your embroidery hoop is smaller than the cookie tin, you can carry an embroidery project, threads, and any other supplies needed. This can also be done with hand applique or piece work for quilt blocks, scrapbook paper piecings, or other crafts.

First Aid Kit ~ whether you use a small tin to makea kit for your backpack or a larger one for an emergency preparedness kit, the tins make a nice waterproof container for storing bandages and other supplies.

Mini Sewing Kit ~ The small tins are prefect sized for storing your sewing kit in the car, suitcase when traveling, or in your desk at work. Load up some sewing machine bobbins with the colors of thread you would most often need. Add a small piece of material to hold the sewing needles, a few buttons, small pair of scissors, and a needle threader and your kit is ready.

Stationary Kit ~ In a large flat tin, you can store a few blank note cards, a small address book, stamps, and a pen. The tin can be used as a make-shift lap desk if needed.

When painted and decorated the tins can made into gift packaging for special occassions. There are so many uses for them. You are limited only by your imagination.

What uses can you think of for the tins? Do you use them in your home? I would love to hear about what you do with them.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

"Natural" Diapering Idea

Recently, I was reminded of simple idea for little ones still wearing diapers. It is an idea that I remember my Grandma talking about. Back when my father was a baby, they didn't have all the various baby powders that we see on the market today. A common solution for helping the baby stay dry and diaper rash free could be found in their kitchen cabinet........cornstarch. We often find baby powders containing cornstarch in them today. It is a wonderful and very basic.

If you have an old dusting powder tin with powder puff, clean them thoroughly to remove any residue frangrance that may cause a rash on a baby's sensitive skin. Once the tin and puff are fully dried, pour cornstarch into the tin and add the powder puff. Keep this with your baby's diapering supplies. When changing the baby, after cleaning their bottom, dust a bit of the cornstarch onto their bottom just as you would a baby powder.

Cornstarch is much less expensive than the baby powders. It also has no fragrances or other ingredients that can cause a reaction in baby's skin. I use it on my little ones now. I love how it is helping their skin to stay dry and prevent rashes. It is working better than even the more pricey baby powders that we have tried in the past.

Chlorine Wash on Produce

Over the past couple of months, I have been noticing that when I open a bag of potatoes from the store, there is a strong chlorine odor. The first time this happened, it concerned me as I am not used to having this problem. I called the packaging company and asked about it.

It seems that it is a standard practice in our country for root crops to be given a wash with a solution containing chlorine dioxide. I did a search online about this. One of the easiest to read articles that I found on it is from a Cornell Cooperative Extension Publication called "Integrated Crop & Pest Management Guidelines for Commercial Vegetable Production." The link I have highlighted if for Chapter 10 of the publication which deals specifically with the chlorine dioxide issue.

The wash is used to clean the vegetables and treat them to prevent soft rot & bacterias in an effort to lengthen the shelf life of the vegetables. The chlorine dioxide wash is also used in the storage containers where the vegetables are stored until packaging to prevent cross-contaminaton.

What the packaging company told me was that if the plastic bag the potatoes come in is damp looking inside, then the potatoes are fresh. These fresh harvested potatoes, when the bag is opened, may have the chlorine odor as they have not been stored long enough for the odor to wear off. The chlorine dioxide in the potatoes is not enough to cause any harm to us, according to all the information I have read.

I wonder about it though. What about people who have a sensitivity to chlorine? The use of chlorine dioxide is not a general knowledge that people are taught. How many people eat these potatoes, skins and all, never knowing that the chlorine dioxide was used?

We have decided that in the spring, we will be planting our own root crops. There are natural ways to store them and prevent spoilage that eliminate the need for using chemicals.
Root crops are perfect for over-wintering. They can be stored right there in the garden area. The Colorado State University's extension service office has a paper titled, "Storage of Home Grown Vegetables" which give detailed instructions for several methods.

A method that I will be using is to utilize a "cold room." If you have an out building where the produce can be protected both from the weather and also from rodents or other animals, you can use it to store your baskets or bins of vegetables. Something that is in excess in rural areas is the non-working refrigerators & freezers. People just do not want to pay to have these hauled off to a landfill. Nearly each week, you can find these gems on Freecycle. Being that our out buildings are not secure enough to prevent rodents or other animals from getting to our harvest, we need another way of protecting them. In your outbuilding, barn, or large shed place old refrigerators or freezers laying on their back so that they now have a lid that you lift up like a chest freezer. Clean the inside very well. You may even want to sprinkle a bit of food-grade Diatomaceous Earth in the bottom to help prevent any insects. The vegetables can be placed in bushel baskets and stored in these bins. They will be both protected from the wildlife and also from the drastic weather changes. If you are concerned about moisture, you can eleminate the problem by removing the doors (lids) from the bins and replacing them with old screen doors window screens that are heavy enough to prevent a rodent or other critter from getting through to the vegetables.

A popular way of storing the root crops over winter in to make a bin near the garden using straw bales for the sides, adding some straw inside to place the vegetables onto, then covering with more straw for insulation. Though this method is a good sound one, there is a problem in the fact that rodents love to nest in the straw during winter. You run the risk of providing the rodents with now only a nice warm bed, but one with a readily available food supply!

We store our animals' winter feed in the old appliances with great results. We have never had any problems with rodents or pests in the grain. It is also nice knowing that by repurposing the appliances, we are not adding to the landfill problems.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Making Butter

On our yahoo group, the question was posed by a member asking how to make butter. I thought I would share it here also.

Butter making is very easy to do. If you buy raw unpastuerized milk be sure you trust the source. If you buy from a farm, ask questions about their milking practices. Some will even offer to show you around their animals and milking area. We buy milk from a small farm. The milk we receive from them has a high cream percentage. I have bought gallon jars of milk and when the cream rose to the top it was nearly 1/3 of the jar's content.

I skim the cream off using a soup ladle, placing the cream in another container for storing until I am ready to use it for butter or whipped cream. As a preference, I always leave about 1 inch of cream on the milk to stir in and give the milk a nice creamy flavor. The cream is set aside in the refrigerator and often will separate again with a thin layer of milk under the cream.

When I am ready to make butter, the cream is skimmed off again. Save the milk leftover from this. It is buttermilk and can be used in your recipes or for drinking. Let the cream warm up to room temperature. Some recommend even allowing it to set on the counter for up to 12 hours to allow it time to "ripen" before churning.

If you do not have a butter churn, place the cream in a large jar that has enough room for the cream to expand. Start shaking the jar of cream. Depending on the cream's temperature and how hard you shake the jar, it can take 15 minutes to a half hour to make the butter. You will first see the cream thickening. The cream then starts to separate and you will see the butter separating from the water. Keep shaking, but shake much more gently. Once you see the butter forming, the hard shaking can cause it to break up too much and have the appearance of cottage cheese curds. Butter will be very thick and turn a yellow color. I most often have seen it as a single solid lump.

Transfer the butter into a bowl. Using a spatula, start pressing and folding the butter to press the water out of it. If the butter gets too soft while doing this, gently run a bit of very cold water into the bowl to chill the butter again. Continue pressing and draining out the water from the butter until no more water is present. It this point if you want salted butter, you can add a small amount. I would add no more than 1/8 teaspoon at a time until you acheive the flavor you are wanting. Never add a larger measurement as once yo have done so, you cannot reduce the salty flavor if too much salt was put in.

When your butter is made, I suggest lining a muffin pan with the paper liners or place some waxed paper on a baking sheet. Measure your butter into 1/2 cup quanty and place into the muffin liners or in mounds on the waxed paper. Place in the refrigerator to allow the butter to harden. Once it has hardened, you can then wrap the extra portions of butter in waxed paper and place in a container or large freezer bag. By having the butter in 1/2 cup portions, you will not have to measure the butter as often for your recipes since many recipes call for 1/2 cup of the butter.

If you have access to a butter churn or have a mixer with dough hooks, you can greatly reduce the amount of time it takes to make the butter. One lady told me that her mixer with dough hooks makes butter in as little as 4 minutes when the cream is about 55*F.

Which ever way you make it, you will end up with a butter that is much better tasting than most store bought butters. If you are homeschooling your children, you can place small amounts of the cream into baby food jars for them to shake and make butter with. Kids get a lot of fun out of watching the cream become butter. Let them help make a batch of biscuits or bread to have with their fresh made butter. What a treat!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Prairie Mom's Kitchen

I am now posting my recipes to a new blog I started last night. It is called, Prairie Mom's Kitchen. I will be adding more recipes each day to get the collection built up quickly. It is my hope that by posting the recipes in a central location, I will be able to serve the needs of the ones who have requested recipes from me. If you have a recipe request, I will be happy to check my collection of recipes and see if I have it. If not, I will try to locate it elsewhere and then post to the blog. Just send me an email with your request and I will answer you as soon as I am able to locate the recipe.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Homemade Granola

Our family loves granola and trail mixes. We eat it nearly every day either as a cereal or snack. Our 2 yr. old refers to dried fruits as "candy" and enjoys having it available throughout the day to snack on. You can do a search online and find thousands of pages with recipes for making your own granola. Here is one that is very basic. It contains only a few ingredients which makes it very affordable. I originally found the recipe on Andrea's Recipes Blog. In her recipe she used blueberries for the dried fruit. Our daughter loves raisins, so I am making it with those.


4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

2 cups sweetened, shredded coconut

2 cups sliced almonds

1-1/2 cups dried fruit, chopped

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/3 cup honey

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
2. Toss the oats, coconut, almonds, and blueberries together in a large bowl. Pour the vegetable oil and honey over the oat mixture and add the cinnamon. Stir with the silicone spatula or spoon until the mixture is completely coated.
3. Pour onto the prepared baking pan. Bake, stirring about every 5 minutes with the spatula, until the mixture turns a nice, even golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes.
4. Remove from the oven and allow to cool, stirring occasionally. Store cooled granola in an airtight container.

Trail Mix is a favorite addition to the Granola for making a healthy snack. It is perfect for when out running errands or whenever you need a little "pick me up" during the work day. Often, we will buy the large bags of trail mix in an assortment of varieties. Often the store bought versions are cheaper than mixing a similar version at home. We do sometimes add more of our favorites such as yogurt covered raisins to them. If you have access to dried fruits or the ability to dry your own, you can make the trail mix yourself.

A great way to use the granola is to melt a bit of peanut butter mixed with honey. I don't measure,I just work for a smooth creamy texture that is easy to pour. Pour the peanut butter-honey mixture over your homemade granola. The granola should have just enough of the peanut butter mixture to "glue" the granola together. Press into a small baking pan that has been sprayed with non-stick spray. You want to press the mixture firm enough that when the mixture dries,it will hold together. This makes a nice chewy granola bar. Cut the granola into bars and wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap. The great thing about these bars is that they do not contain all the additives such as high fructose corn syrup that you may be wanting to stay away from.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Simple Solution for Sewing Pattern Storage

If you do very much sewing for your family, you know how quickly the stash of patterns can build up. I have the goal for myself to sew as close to 100% of my family's clothing as possible. Thankfully, the style of clothing we enjoy wearing does not require that I have stacks upon stacks of patterns for giving variety. I do not have a "sewing room" as many women enjoy, so I have to be careful in what I have and how I store them.

I have tried several "systems" for storing my patterns. One being to use the cardboard pattern boxes. I found though that once put into those boxes, I often would forget about the patterns. Luckily, I never purchased a duplicate of a pattern that I already had in my collection. Recently though, I have started going through my patterns with dismay. I have many patterns that I had bought with the intentions to make them for our daughter, but she has out-grown them before the patterns could be used. Many patterns still are in their "new" condition. How wasteful!

I now am organizing my family's patterns in a binder. I have a section for each family member. I am using the top-loading sheet protectors to store the patterns in. This allows me to flip through the binder to find the pattern needed. In the front, I am making an indexing sheet for each person. I have the patterns listed according to category. The categories are:

For my husband & son:

For my daughter & I:
Dresses & Jumpers

Things specific for the little ones:
Diaper pattern
Diaper Cover
Training pant

By having a listing of patterns by category for each person, I am able to keep track of what patterns need to be purchased. Whenever possible, for the little ones, I am buying multiples of their patterns that I know I will be using for most of their clothing needs. For example, if the pattern has 2 or 3 packets, each with a different size range, I will buy one of each packet. This helps to avoid the frustration of the pattern being out of print when she is ready to go into the larger sizes. An advantage to storing the pattern packets in the sheet protectors is that as I trace the size I need, I can store those pieces in a baggie or 6x9 envelope behind the original pattern.

To save on binder space, I will have the patterns for the home & crafts in a separate binder. These will be organized also by type. Quilt patterns, home furnishings, holiday crafts, dolls and toys, other crafts. You can further organize the binders by having for each person a record of their sizes with the date. When sewing gifts for others, you can also include color preferences, occasion, and any other information that would help you when it is time to sew that project.

Now, when I am wanting to plan out my sewing, I can easily find the patterns that I need. No more hunting them down, flipping through boxes of patterns! Everything is easily accessible and at my fingertips.

How much simpler this is making the sewing. Once I realized that I didn't need to have a pattern for every occasion, but started getting patterns that can be made with variations to get many looks from the same pattern, I was able to free up a lot of the clutter and chaos in my sewing pattern collection.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Home Canned Soups - Recipes

Tis the season for homemade soups & stews! Autumn is here and the cool nip is in the air. On our homestead, the cold days when the wood cookstove is lit, you will often find a kettle of a soup or stew simmering on the back of the stove. Add a fresh baked loaf of bread and you have a ready meal that is very satisfying and warms you after being outdoors. Below are some of our favorite recipes for home canned soups.

A quick note before we begin - the USDA recommendations say that you should not use dairy, eggs, cheese, rice, or pasta in soups or other recipes that you home can. Choose recipes that do not contain these ingredients or choose ones that you can easily add these ingredients at the time when you are preparing the recipe for a meal. For example - Taco Soup is served with sour cream and shredded cheese. In canning this soup, I would be certain to not add these ingredients to the jar, but would have them on hand when I plan to make the soup to be added to it just prior to serving.

When I make soups to home can, I choose family favorites from my recipe collection. Most of the recipes make enough to fill a slow cooker, but I will double or triple the recipe and make it in a stock pot or large kettle. I reserve out enough to have for a meal, then the remaining amount is divided into canning jars. I can some in pint jars which are perfect for a quick lunch or for my husband to take to work and heat up in the microwave for his lunch. The remainder is canned in quart jars for family meals.

The following soups are giving their original portions. You will need to double or triple the amount if you are home canning these. I left them in their original amounts for those who want the recipes but do not plan to home can them. All soups are using precooked meats. I process the soups in my pressure canner for 65 minutes at the pressure level for my altitude.

Beef-Vegetable Soup

1 lb. stew meat
1 large bag of frozen mixed vegetables (or chopped up fresh vegetables from your garden)
1 large onion, diced
1 quart of tomato juice
Italian Seasoning, to taste
Salt & Pepper, to taste

Precook the stew meat. Place all ingredients in a kettle or small stock pot. For a thicker tomato juice, add a pint of tomato puree. Bring the ingredients just to near boiling, then simmer to allow the flavors to blend. If the tomato flavor is very strong and you want to tone it down, you can do so by adding a Tablespoon of molasses.

Taco Soup

1/2 lb. dry pinto beans
1/2 lb. dry kidney beans
1 lb. ground beef
1 small onion, diced
2 cups, whole kernel corn
1 pint diced tomatoes
1 small can diced green chilies
1 small can of sliced black olives
1 package Taco Seasoning mix
Corn Chips
Sour Cream
Shredded Cheese

Wash, then cook the dry beans in lightly salted water until soft. In a skillet, brown the ground beef with the onions until meat is cooked & onions are soft. Drain. Sprinkle on the taco Seasoning and add a small amount of water, according to package directions. Simmer until the seasoning mix is slightly thickened.

Drain off just enough water from the cooked beans so that the water just barely covers the beans. Add meat, onions, corn, tomatoes, and chilies. Cook until all ingredients are heated through.

**If canning, put the soup into canning jars at this point and process in your pressure canner according to your canner manufacturer's instructions.

To serve: Ladle the hot soup over some corn chips placed in a bowl. Garnish the soup with the sour cream, shredded cheese and sliced black olives.

Chicken Vegetable Soup

2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, cooked and cubed
3 can (14-1/2 ounces) Italian diced tomatoes , undrained
6 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2" cubes
8 medium carrots, chopped
6 celery ribs, chopped
2 large onion, chopped
3 medium green pepper, chopped
2 cans (4 oz. each) mushroom stems and pieces, drained
4 chicken bouillon cubes
4 cups hot water

Mix the chicken and all vegetables into a large kettle or bowl. Divide the mixture evenly in canning jars, filling them 3/4 full. Dissolve the chicken boullion in the hot water. Divide the boullion between the jars of chicken & vegetable. Finish filling each jar with water, leaving 1 inch of headspace. Wipe down the jar rims. Add lids and rings. Process in a pressure canner for 65 minutes at the pressure level your canner manufacturer recommends for your altitude.
* If you cook the chicken breast by boiling them, save the water and use it instead of the boullion.

Baking Day & Bread Recipe

I have often been asked about the baking that I do for our family. Only on a very rare occassion, like when I am sick and cannot bake, will we bring in store bought bread or other baked goods. We love the flavor of homemade and find it more satisfying.

Today is a baking day for me. As I mentioned in a previous post, I bake each Monday & Thursday. Today, I am baking 4 loaves of bread for my family and 1 loaf for a bread order to be delivered tomorrow. We use about 1 loaf per day. It is not unusual during the winter months to even use more! We have toast with breakfast, sandwiches at lunch, then buttered bread is available at dinner time. My Beloved also takes a couple of extra sandwiches to work to have at his morning & afternoon breaks. Working a very physical job, he gets pretty hungry! I now understand why the Amish women I knew as a youth would bake several loaves each day for their families. The bread recipe that we use is one that I got years ago. The original recipe is not like the one I have now. I played with the ingredients and their amounts until I found a recipe that we love. For a whole wheat bread, it is very light and moist in flavor & texture. I will include the recipe at the bottom of this post.

I am a strong advocate of using freshly ground grains. Once a wheat berry is milled, whether it is cracked or ground into a flour, it begins to lose it's nutrient values. This is in part why the whole wheat flour at the store is enriched - they have to add the nutrients back into the flour. I grind the flour as I need it. I rarely have whole wheat flour in a container being stored on a shelf. If I do, it is because of grinding a little too much. That flour is used fairly quickly in a homemade pancake mix or other recipe. I store white flour for the bread & cookie orders that I get from time to time. I get my wheat in 25 pound pails from a health food store for slightly higher than the farmer's co-op price. I use Hard Red Winter wheat for my breads and most recipes. For things like pie crusts, pastries and pasta, I use a Soft Spring wheat which is lighter in texture. Hard red winter wheat can be used for all baking though.

Here are a few tips that I have learned from my experiences with baking bread.

* Fresh baked bread needs to "rest" under a towel until fully cooled for it to slice easily without tearing. It will slice very easily the day after baking.

* I keep my bread under a towel for a day before wrapping or bagging it up. This will help it to store longer. The excess moisture from baking needs time to escape from the center of the bread to prevent it from spoiling quickly.

* For a soft crust, I always put a light coating of Olive Oil in the bowl the dough rises in. I place the dough into the bowl, then flip the dough over to coat the other side. I use Olive Oil on my hands when working with the dough to shape the loaves also. This has helped tremendously in achieving a soft crust.

* Humid days seem to cause the bread to need a little extra flour. Very dry climates seem to require less flour.

* When kneading in the flour, be careful to not knead in enough to make a stiff dough. The flour used should only make the dough not sticky. A common mistake when making bread is the flour being kneaded in. Too much will make a heavy, tough loaf. Even with using 100% whole wheat flour, you can get a soft light loaf by being careful in the amount of flour kneaded into the dough.

* Remove bread from your pans immediately after baking. The bread should slip easily from the pan when inverted. Cover with a towel. Never let bread or muffins cool in the pans. Cooling in the pans can cause condensation in the bottom of the pans, making the bread wet. Once the wet area dries, it will be very hard and not good to eat.

* I treat my good bread pans like I do my cast iron. I have found that the pans "season" just as cast iron pans do. I have 4 bread pans that are used for my bread baking only. These never need more than a simple rinsing with hot water & wiped out. I dry them, then place them into the oven while the oven is shut off but still warm. This dries them thoroughly & reduces the chance of rust. For things like meatloaf or quick breads that tend to leave a mess in the pans, I have a couple of old bread pans that I reserve for that purpose.

* If you plan to freeze your loaves of bread, let them remain under a towel overnight before wrapping and freezing. This will eliminate the chance of ice crystals forming on the bread.

* You can make the bread dough ahead of time & store in your freezer. Let the dough rise the first time, punch down the dough and knead lightly. Divide the dough and shape into loaves. Place the loaves to be frozen on a cookie sheet & cover lightly. Place in your freezer until frozen. Remove the frozen loaves, wrap and return to the freezer. To use them, thaw the loaf out in the refrigerator. Place in a bread pan and let rise. Bake as stated in the recipe. NOTE: this works best if you have a deep freezer as it is much colder than the freezer section of your refrigerator.

Homestead Bread

2 Tbsp. dry active yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 Tbsp. sugar, optional
12 cups whole wheat flour
2 Tbsp. Vital Wheat Gluten, optional
4 Tbsp. ground flax seed, optional
2 Tbsp. salt
5 cups hot water, from tap
2/3 cup Olive Oil
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup molasses

Mix together in a small bowl the yeast, 1/2 cup water, and sugar. Set aside until mixture has turned to foam, about 15 minutes.

While yeast is activating, in a large bowl mix together the dry ingredients. Make a "well" in the center. Pour in the hot water, olive oil, honey, molasses, and yeast mixture. Blend the ingredients thoroughly. Dough will be abit sticky.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Start kneading the dough, adding more flour alittle at a lime, until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Place dough into a lightly oiled bowl, turning the dough once to oil the top, cover with a cloth and let rise in a warm, draft-free area until the dough has doubled in volume. Punch the dough down and divide into 4 equal parts. Shape each part into a loaf and place the loaf into an oiled bread pan. Cover and set the bread to rise a 2nd time.

Once risen, bake the bread at 350* for about 30-40 minutes. Bread is finished baking when the crust is golden in color and the bread slips easily out of the pan.

Makes 4 large loaves.