Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Another goal being realized

Our family is about to achieve another goal that we had set for our homestead. Joe and I have often spoken about wanting to make an income from our homestead. We wanted it to be something that was in accordance to our homesteading way of life. Well, it is finally happening.

My beloved husband spent time last night getting the website ready to launch as soon as we have pictures. We have always wanted to have a way of making an income from the homestead. Everything in our store will be items that we produce here at the homestead. One of the first items that is being offered are my homemade mixes for cookies and muffins. The recipes are ones that have either been passed down to me or ones that I have developed such as my chocolate chip pound cake cookies. The mix makes a soft cookie that is very light and cake-type texture. You could make the same mix as a pound cake by baking it in a loaf pan. In addition to the homemade mixes, we will be offering handmade items that we produce here.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Sewing clothing for free

I have started doing something that I really wish I had started earlier. I am making clothing for my little ones for free. I am taking apart adult size clothing that has worn areas and reusing the good parts of the fabric to make the kids clothing. Recently someone shared with me a link to the Handy Home Projects blog that shows how to make a pair of pants without buying a pattern. To make the pants, I am taking an old pair of my husband's jeans that no longer fit and using the jeans legs as the fabric for Micah's pants. I first cut off the pant legs and then cut open the seam. If you want the bulky outer seam on the finished pair of baby jeans, cut the jeans open at the inner seam. Make your pattern as the blog suggests. I cut apart the pants that I am using as the pattern at the inside seam. Following the blog's instructions for putting a decorative cuff on the bottom of the pant leg, add a strip of fabric to the top of the recycled jean pant leg to give you a casting for the waistband. This way you won't have the bulky outer side seam in the waistband. After you sew the strip on the top of the jeans leg, place you pattern on the jeans leg, trace & cut out the pattern pieces and sew as directed in the blog.

Using the same basic principles of carefully cutting apart an article of clothing to make a pattern, you can make an entirely new wardrobe. Don't have anything that you can cut up? Go to a yard sale, garage sale, or thrift store and buy something that has the style you want to make. Use that to cut up for your pattern.

Recycling old clothing to make new clothes for your kids is fun. You start looking at your worn to or no longer fitting clothing as fabric resources. Here are a few ideas I came up with of things you can make from your old clothing.

Old t-shirts: shirts, shorts, training pants, diapers, skirt, dress
Jeans: jeans, skirt, jumper
Dress shirts: dress shirts or dresses (use the botton front for the little's ones front, just adding a few more buttons to make the closure little closer together)
Pants/sweats: pants, leggings, skirt, shirt, jumper

A favorite nightgown can be used as a pattern for new ones. You can also use some nightgowns as a pattern to make full slips.

Old white bedsheets can be recycled into making slips, aprons, underthings, nightgowns.
A pretty solid color or print bed sheet can be made into a little girl's dress, skirt, shirts & short set, sleepwear.

For the home, you can recycle old bed sheets to make place mats & napkins, curtains, quilts, appliance covers, pillows, tote bags, etc.

If you take a look around and let your imagination lead you, there are many ways that you can sew for your home and family without having to buy fabric. Think outside of the box! What ideas can you come up with?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

"Green" Shopping Ideas

Lately, I have been thinking of ways to be more ecologically responsible when it comes to shopping. It seems that ever since we made the decision to cancel the trash service and recycle all of our trash, I have been finding ways to eliminate some of the trash we create. When I think about all of the plastic bags and food containers that we carry our groceries in, I am amazed at the volume that can quickly build up. Here are some ideas that I have found that may offer solutions.

Grocery bags/totes:

The health food store where I buy the grains and such gives shoppers the option of plastic or paper bags. I always take the paper ones. I double the bag for added strength. Once home, I fold the bags up and store them for later use. If I haven't used them for other things, the bags can be taken back to the store the next trip and reused. You can continue to do this until the bags begin to weaken.

Bags on the Run sells very generously sized canvas shopping bags for under $2.00 each. Their bags are about the size of a large diaper bag. The bags come in a 10-pack or larger quantity. For our family, a 10 pack of the bags would be plenty to cover the bulk of our shopping.

If you are handy with a sewing machine, you can make tote bags from any durable fabric. I would strongly suggest that if you regularly make purchases of heavy items such as canned goods, that you construct your bags with the handles made in a single long loop that is sewn to the bag, going under the bag bottom to give added support.

Produce bags:

A fast and easy option is to go to a dollar store and buy the fabric mesh zippered bags used for laundering delicate items in. These bags have almost no weight to them. If you want to remove the zipper, simply cut the zipper out of the bag. Weave a length of cord or ribbon through the bag's mesh to make a drawstring closure. These bags work great for your produce purchases. The bags hold the produce yet are see-through to make check-out faster. Sheer fabrics are also a great material to make your produce bags from.

Bulk Bin:

The bulk bins can create a small challenge. So I have come up with a few ideas that I find work well. The first is to use the sheer fabric and make bags to put the bulk items in. The only downside that I can see if the health food store bulk items such as the powdered or small grains such as quinoa or rice. The homemade fabric bags are good for the larger items though.

For the powdery or small grain items, I am saving the clear plastic deli containers. These containers work very well. Since the health food store uses twist ties with a paper strip to write the bin information onto, I can either write the information on the deli container with a permanent marker or attach a piece of tape/label to the container to record the information on.

A resource that the health food store allows is that I bring in my own gallon sized plastic jars for putting the grains into. Their attitute is that if I am willing to pay for the weight of the container, they have no problem with it. The containers that I have are recycled from a deli. The jalapenos that the deli uses on the sandwiches come in these jars. Each week, the deli throws away 2-3 of them. If I need jars, I ask them and am able to get the jars for free. The pepper odor is easily removed by washing the jars thoroughly, then rinsing in water that contains alittle bleach. Each gallon jar will hold approximately 6 lbs. of dried beans or rice. I am able to fill the jars with the amount needed and when it comes time to have the jar weighed, I remove the lid as that is the heaviest part of the jar. Even with the lid, however, most times the weight is so minimal that I just leave the lid on.

One option that may work well is to buy a box of the gallon sized baggies with the zipper type closure. The freezer bags are the best at handling the weight of the bulk bin purchases. With these bags, you can label them once with the information and then reuse the bags each time you go to the store. Having the zipper-type closure, you get a good seal that won't pop open. Once you get the purchases home, pour the contents into the containers you choose to store them in. Rinse out the bags and let them dry if needed and they are ready to use again.

Frozen/refrigerated Items:

I am love the foil looking insulated bags that you can buy at the grocery stores. Even with the 75 mile distance we have to travel home from the health food store, the tofu and other cold items stay cold. I use these bags for everything that needs to remain chilled - meat, frozen veggies, tofu, cheese, ice cream, milk, etc. We have 4 of these bags, 2 large and 2 small sized. We never have to worry about the food being warm when we get it home. The trick for things like tofu and milk is to pack frozen items in the bag with them. The bags prevent the frozen items from thawing out before we reach home and the frozen items work as an ice pack keeping the milk and tofu from becoming warm. If you don't have the insulated bags, use recycled bags and place the items in a cooler for the trip home if you have far to travel.

Look around at what you have available at home. Here is a list of a few of the light weight plastic items that regularly come into our home and can be recycled as a bulk bin container to get you started.

1. large parmesan cheese shaker bottle
2. bulk spice containers like those sold at the membership warehouses
3. peanut butter jars
4. deli containers
5. containers from the cut up fruit in the produce dept.
6. bread/bun bags

I pray that these thoughts and ideas help to inspire you.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Me? A Conservationist?

Conservationist is a term that use to make me shudder when I would hear people refer to me as one. It is a term that some use to describe "tree huggers" or some of the more radical groups. It has taken some time for me to feel comfortable with the term. Now, I readily admit that I am a conservationist. To be a homesteader, you must have a certain level of conservationist attitude. Let me explain.

We are working towards what the world would refer to as self-reliance on our homestead. Joe works off the homestead at a business in town to earn an income. At home, we are slowly adding to our livestock as money permits. We currently have Hampshire sheep, a ewe and ram, to start off with. Next spring we will be adding another ewe that will increase the breeding options. Next spring will see many changes in the amount of livestock that we have. Hopefully, we will have our first lamb born in the early spring. We are also going to be introducing Alpine goats to the homestead to raise for their milk.

Over the summer, we are going to be building a poultry coop with a detachable chicken tractor in preparation of buying new poultry in the spring. The chickens, guineas, and turkeys we had last summer were killed by cats and wildlife by late fall. This time around, we will have them more secure at night to prevent a repeat of last year's losses.

Gardening is another area where we are working towards producing our own food. Each year as we go through the challenges of heavy spring rains and intense summer heat, we are learning more about what gardening tips works and what ones do not. With each season, our garden is becoming more successful through the lessons learned.

One of Joe's co-workers lives off-grid using a wind/solar combination system that he built himself. The system is far less expensive than the ones you buy. Joe is talking to him about helping him to build a similar system for our homestead. We plan to remain on-grid. First, it will provide us a back-up system in case we don't produce enough due to weather conditions. Secondly, during the times when we are producing more than we need, the electric company will then pay us for the surplus energy we produced. Once we have learned how to build the system, we will be able to add onto it to increase the amount of electricity produced, which could lead to extra income for the homestead.

On our homestead, we have a large percentage of the land that is wooded. Among the trees are pecan, wild plum, pears, persimmons, apples, along with many non-fruit or nut bearing trees. These trees provide shade and protection to the livestock as well as our family from storms. They also provide our wood stoves with the fuel we need to heat the home and to cook on our wood cookstove. If we were to allow the trees to all be cleared to make more grazing or planting areas, we would lose a precious resource for heating & cooking. We conserve our wood resources through being smart about how we get our firewood needs met. One way being to only cut down the trees tha are dead or have been badly damaged in a storm. There are always neighbors around who have downed trees or tree limbs after major storms, or who are in need of a treeline being cleared to make room for fencing. They are also a great resource for getting firewood without exhausting our woods.

There are many other examples of resources we have on the homestead that we have to carefully plan the use of. Livestock breeding must be carefully managed so that we will never be short on meat supply while still not over-breeding the females. We will be raising 2 types of chickens. One will be our egg layers and the other will be a larger fast growing breed raised for meat. Both breeds will have a set number of hens allowed to nest and hatch out young each spring to keep the flock numbers built up. Turkeys will also be raised for meat with at least 1 tom and 4-5 hens to provide not only our meat, but new hatchlings in the spring. The guineas are strictlly for insect control and will be allowed to nest as often as their nature dictates. Our garden area has to be carefully maintained throughout the year. The crops even in a home garden need to be rotated each year to help insure that the soil is not depleted of vital nutrients. Compost must be produced and the pile maintained to get the most benefit from it.

A resource many don't consider in their conservation attitude is the family income. We have a single income supporting our family. This is in part one of the reasons why it takes up abit longer to get the homestead fully functioning as it should. We are doing it without using any credit of any kind. The income that we make through Joe's job or through any sales that I make from home has to be carefully utilized so that all the basic needs are met. One way that I conserve the income is to cook completely from scratch. By eliminating the store bought convenience & packaged foods, I have greatly reduced our grocery bill each month. We base any purchase on whether it is a "need" or a "want." Through recycling fabrics and other resources, I make clothing, quilts, and other items that we need. Joe's old t-shirts, for example, that may be in great shape other than a hole in the fabric can be turned into cloth diapers, cut down and resewn to make a smaller shirt for one of the little ones, or a quilt. An old white bed sheet that is worn in an area or torn can be made into a slip, apron, bloomers for our daughter, or smaller squares can be used for a quilt. Anything made of fabric that is in our home has the potential to be recycled and made into something else that we need once it's original purpose has been met. I love looking at what we have to see how it can be recycled into something else.

Am I a tree hugger as many seem to think conservationists are? Not by a long shot. I am however, a conservationist of the homestead resources. I am so grateful that as a child I was taught how to use the old fashioned ways of doing things to have what you need. I remember a plaque in a friend's home that read: "Use it up, Wear it out, Make it do, Or do without." It was a phrase commonly known back in the days of the Great Depression. My Grandma and my father both continued to live according to thiat verse even 40 years after the depression was over. For them, it was a way of life. As a child, they passed it on to me and for this I thank them. Through their instructions and example of how to conserve your resources, I was taught the homesteading skills that are benefitting my family today.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Free Baby Sling Patterns

Blog Update: This sling pattern site is no longer available. I would recommend that you do a search for "free ring baby sling" and see if you can find another resource. I apologise for the frustration.

Recently, I had found the Sweet Things Baby Slings website. The site owner, Leah Walthery, used to make the slings as a home business. In May, 2008, she made the decision to close the business and make her baby sling instructions available to the public free of charge. I found the website to be very informative and loved the addition of photos to help illustrate the various ways to wear the slings.

Leah has the sling instructions both in a format the you can read online and also as pdf files that you can download and print. I found the instructions to be easy to understand. The illustrations that she provides are an additional aid in helping even a novice at sewing to be able to feel accomplishment in constructing their baby sling. Before making my ring sling for my son, I emailed Leah to clarify and confirm that I was accurate in my understanding of the modified hot dog fold that is used in constructing the ring sling. I was thrilled to receive an answer from her within a very short amount of time. From past experience with other websites, I had expected to not have a reply for at least a couple of days.

I was able to make my little one's ring sling is a short amount of time. I serged all the edges before I hemmed the 3 sides as directed in the instructions. I did the hot dog fold with a sheet of paper first to be sure that I had it right before doing it with the fabric. It made it much easier for me as I learn faster throught the hands-on approach. I made the sling from a lightweight green linen that I bought from Walmart. My son is a large baby, at 3 months he is already wearing size 6 month clothing. I chose to double the fabric. This will also be of a benefit in the winter. Our home is heated with a wood stove, so the extra fabric layer will help aid in keeping him warm as he is held against me. It is also a blessing as I am able to wear Micah in the sling whenever around the sheep and not worry about him being bumped around as he could be if in a stroller.

I had an 8" wide x 6 yards long strip of fabric left over after making the sling. I used a portion of the fabric to make my 2 yr old daughter, Abigail, a little sling for her baby dolls. The remaining fabric will be used later in a patchwork quilt.

Overall, I am thrilled with the sling. It is comfortable to carry Micah in and he is very stablized in the sling. I don't have to worry about him being wiggly in it and falling out. Unlike an earlier sling that I had made for Abigail, the heaviness of the linen also lets me feel free to actually work hands-free and not worry about Micah's safety.

I would strongly encourage anyone looking for a baby sling, whether it be the ring sling or the pouch type to consider going to Leah's website. If you are sewing skills challenged, take the instructions to a seamstress and ask her to make one for you. Because Leah's instructions are so specific in how to make a sling to fit your body size, you will be thrilled with the results.

May the Lord's blessings be with thee,

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Homestead Night

Quiet time is something that I look forward to each night. By 8pm, our daughter is in bed. Our son is put to bed in his bassinet about the same time. Even Joe is preparing for bed as he has to be up quite early for work. Outside the window, our little white kitten that I named "Ghost" is sitting on top of the window A/C unit watching us through the window. She used to be an indoor kitten before we got her. After alittle while, she jumps back down onto the ground and chases her brother, "Boots", our grey with white feet tomcat. A peacock that strayed onto our homestead and decided to make it his home struts one last time around the yard before flying up onto our porch roof to where he perches & sleeps each night.

I love the evenings. The coolness of the night after a hot summer day is such a blessed relief. I find myself more creative in the evening. It is also a time when I can work on my tasks uninterrupted. I love being able to do the evening chores in the quiet of the night. It gives me time to reflect and actually enjoy the cleaning.

I find myself enjoying the quiet times to crochet or sew. I am able to complete the projects faster than during the day when little ones are needing my attentions. Especially the tasks like sewing that need more focused attention that I find myself able to do when a toddler and newborn are awake and actve.

By spending the quiet hours of evening doing my tasks that require more attention, I am free to work on preschool activities with our daughter in the mornings. It is a time of preparation for me. When our daughter is old enough for school, we will be homeschooling her and home-preschooling her little brother. What a joy it is to have this time of preparation. To be able to feel my way into a routine that will best serve our lifestyle and family.

Tonight, I have been crocheting dishcloths and wash cloths. I have some baby weight yarn and am going to make some crocheted baby wipes tomorrow. These are so relaxing to make. I am building up a supply of them so that I can put them up for sale. I feel that by having an inventory of the cloths already made, I will be able to mail the orders out much faster than I would with custom made orders.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

No More Trash Service

Over the past few weeks, we have been sorting our trash into recycling bins instead of paying a trash service to haul off the trash each week. Living in the rural areas, trash service can become expensive. The company that hauled our trash had raised it's rates twice in less than a year. After reading about a family who recycled 100% of their trash, we took a hard look at the trash we had coming into our home. We realised that we could recycle all of our trash also. We were paying money each month to have the trash hauled off when we could be taking it to a recycling center and getting paid for at least a portion of the trash instead!

The first step we took was diong a search to find a recycling center that would accept all of our recycle catagories. We found one through the searchable database at Earth 911.org. The center we chose is a reasonable distance from home and convenient in that it is near a store we can buy our supplies from.

The next step was to have some bins in a convenient location in the kitchen. Along one wall, we have a row of 5 large plastic totes. The totes are labeled for plastics, paper, aluminum, tin, and glass. We rinse out all food containers before tossing them into their bin to prevent insects and odors.

We have found that after a month of sorting, there is no trash left that cannot be recycled. There is the occassional odd item that we have set aside in a small bag, such as light bulbs, that we will ask the center about when we go. If they don't accept the light bulbs, they have a dumpster there that we can toss them in.

Items such as clothing or other useable things can be donated to others through Freecycle or a local charity. This allows you to clear out the clutter and no longer needed things from your home and while helping others at the same time.

There have been changes that we have made to make the recycling work. To save of the space needed to store the recycleables unti we make our monthly trip to the center, we are very conscience of the packaging our purchases come in. Little things like the brand of tofu I buy makes a difference. One brand sells the tofu in little plastic trays with a sheet of thin plastic that you remove to open the container. Sold next to this tofu is another brand, marked at the same price, that packages their tofu shrink wrapped similar to blocks of cheese. I now buy the brand that is shrink wrapped unless I have a specific need for the tray. Over the winter, I will likely buy the tof in the trays to provide me with little containers to start my garden seeds in. Once I am finished with them, they will be recycled.

Another consideration that we made was in the area of diapers and feminine products. While they are said to be recycleable, most centers do not accept them. We have been cloth diapering our little ones from the very beginning but have kept disposibles on hand in case there is a need for them. Now, we no longer store the disposibles. I make sure that if we take the little ones out, we have plenty of cloth diapers with us. As for the feminine products, I have been using cloth Momma pads for a couple of years now. Only on rare occassions have I used the disposible types, not out of necessity but out of convenience at times when I am away from home. Now, I simply take enough cloth ones to last until I get back home. Celtic Cloths has a free pattern for making your own wet bags.

It is amazing when we consider that 100% of the trash we toss out is recycleable. Through recycling we have been able to save the money we would have spent on trash service. I find that it takes no more effort to sort the trash than it did to simply toss it out. My only regret is in not doing this sooner!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Cloth Diapering

We have been using cloth diapers on our little ones for 2 years now. We began when our daughter was a newborn. We have used disposibles from time to time, but have always gone back to using cloth.

Cloth diapers today are not the same as they were 20 years ago. While the prefolds are still popular, the trend today is a fitted cloth diaper that resembles a disposible in design. There are basically 4 ways to cloth diaper using the fitted designs.

Pocket diapers are very popular. These are made with an opening in the back where you can stuff a folded prefold diaper or other "soaker" into the diaper to give it the absorbancy needed. Typically, pocket diapers have a water barrier fabric in it's construction to prevent leaks. They have snap or hook & loop tape closures so no diaper pins are needed.

All-in-one (AIO) diapers are made with the absorbant layer sewn inside the diaper. They also are made with a water barrier fabric to eliminate the need for an additional diaper cover to prevent leaks. These diapers are probably the ones that I have seen most often being used. As with the pocket diapers, these typically have snaps or hook & loop tape closures.

A less common diaper, but one that many use is a fitted diaper made without the water barrier fabric. These are made just like the AIO diapers but need a diaper cover to be worn over them to prevent leaks. A diaper cover can be simply described as a fitted diaper without an absorbant layer.

Prefold diapers are still used by many cloth diapering Moms either as the diaper or tri-folded and placed inside a pocket diaper as a soaker. If used as a diaper, they need diaper pins and a diaper cover.

I have used each of the diaper styles listed above. While each Mom has her own preferences, I want to share my feelings about the benefits and the drawbacks of each style.

Pocket Diapers: At first, this diaper was my least favorite, but after using them for awhile, I came to see their benefits. The main benefit that I saw in these diapers is the ability to remove the absorbant layer for laundering. This make it easy for me to see that the absorbant layer was thoroughly cleaned. The diapers also dry much faster. The downside is having to keep track of various soakers and pocket diapers. For some Moms that I have spoken to, there is also the "ick" factor in having to remove a wet soaker from the pocket.

AIO Diapers: In the beginning, these were my favorites. It was all one piece. No soakers or diaper covers to keep track of. They worked exactly like a disposible. The problem however is that they take a long time to dry. The soaker in some of the diapers made tend to be very bulky looking. When put in my dryer, I have to run the dryer 2 complete cycles to dry the AIO diapers thoroughly. If hung on the clothesline, diapers washed in the early morning are finally completely dried in the late afternoon.

Fitted diaper with diaper cover: These can be tricky. If you buy the diaper and cover from the same company (or make them using the same pattern company) they work great. All diaper covers do not fit all diapers. I have a few cloth diapers that needed covers. The covers that came with the diapers were from a different manufacturer and did not completely cover the diaper in the leg area or the top. The diapers are prone to leak wetness in those areas. If you have a cover that properly fits the diaper, these diapers work very well. I find that they tend to dry a little faster than the AIO.

Prefold diapers with a diaper cover: These have 2 problems that I have found. the first being that if the prefold is not made large enough, you don't get good coverage on a large baby. Secondly they need diaper pins. Using the diaper pins makes some parents nervous in fear that they will poke a wiggly baby with a pin. The other problem we have found with prefolds is the difficulty in getting a snug fit in the leg area.

In making cloth diapers for our 3 month old son, I found a solution that I am finding works well. I have a soaker that is shaped exactly like a diaper and made from terry cloth. It has soaker that is attached with a single line of stitching to hold it in place. The addition of the attached soaker allows for a good level of absorbancy. By making the soaker diaper shaped, it helps to prevent leaks. I make these with extra long tabs to wrap around the front and overlap in the middle. This will allow for growth. These can be made with or without closures since they will be worn inside a diaper cover. The diaper covers are cut a little bit larger than the soaker to make sure that they will completely cover the soaker. I am using ProCare water barrier fabric inside the covers. The covers are 3 layers - flannel or fleece lining, ProCare, and an outer fabric. I am using an over lock machine to sew the layers together. This will also help to prevent the diaper from wicking onto the baby's clothing. Having the soaker with an attached trifold layer and a separate cover will make the washing and drying faster and easier. By having the soaker & trifold stitched together, it is less parts to keep track of in the laundry. Having the separate components also will make drying time shorter. As soon as I have pictures available, I will post them to the blog.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Laundry Day

Yesterday was an interesting one and alot of fun. Over the weekend, our washing machine's belt had finally stretched to the point that it no longer would spin the drum to get the water out of the laundry. With 2 little ones in cloth diapers, I really needed to be able to do laundry. I ended up washing laundry by hand and hanging it out on the clothesline to dry. What a great experience it was!

While Micah, age 3 months, was napping I went to task washing the laundry. Abigail, age 2 yrs, was beside me "helping" as she swished around the wash cloths and flannel baby wipes around in the rinse water. By the time we were done, Micah had awaken. I put him in a baby carrier and the 3 of us went outdoors to hang up the wash. Abigail had such fun running around. At times, she would come over and help hand to me the clothespins. Later she helped to put the dried laundry into the basket. At one point as I was putting the wet laundry on the line, I glanced down to see Abigail dropping a kitten into the basket on top of the laundry. She is such a little monkey! All the while when we were outside, Micah was looking around and enjoying the breeze.

I loved the experience. While I don't see myself doing laundry by hand all the time, it is nice to know that if the situation comes up again, I know how to do the laundry without a machine. I also had the chance to really appreciate the homemade laundry soap. I was pleasantly surprised at how soft the wash water felt. My soap recipe is very simple. I grate very fine 3 bars of Ivory soap. Once grated I measure how much soap I have. The soap is poured into a large bowl. To this, I add Borax and washing soda in the ratio of: 1 part soap, 2 parts borax, 2 parts washing soda. I mix the ingredients together very well using my hands to break up any lumps that may be in the powdered ingredients. I store the soap in recycled metal baby formula cans with plastic lids. To use the soap, I use the little scoop that came with the baby formula, about a 1 Tablespoon measurement. I add 2-3 scoops of the soap to a large load of laundry. For presoaking the diapers, I use 1 scoop in the diaper pail of water. The soap works great on our laundry and smells very nice also.

I am so grateful that the washing machine belt had to be replaced. Had it not been for that fact, I would have missed out on a precious experience with my kids.

Organic Pest Control

Pest control seems to be a topic on many email groups as of late. For this reason, I wanted to share some information that I have found helpful. Having an organic homestead/farm can bring challenges in the area of pest control. Our homestead has lots of wooded area near the house. Between the woods vegetation and animals, we get fleas, ticks and many other natural pests. It is just a part of living in a rural area. The problem though is how to control these pests so that we don't have an infestation. In previous years, my husband has spread a granular product in the yard around the home and in the dog kennel areas to prevent ticks, fleas and other insects from being in the kennel and from coming into the home. Now that we are doing things organically, we cannot use that product.

A solution that we have found is Diatomaceous Earth. Diatomaceous earth is a natural product. It is a sedimentary rock that is soft like a chalk. It is formed from decomposed diatoms, a hard-shelled algae. In powder form, the DE is a white to off white color and similar to pumis.

Farmers that I have met often feed a bit of DE to their animals on a daily basis to cure adn also prevent worms and parasites. It is a food grade material that is safe for humans as well. For feeding to your animals, you can check here for a website that give more detailed information and dosages.

Another use for DE is to spread it around your yard or in areas where you want to control insects. Safe enough to use in the home, you can sprinkle abit of it at the entry points where you have seen insects. It takes about 48 or so to have affect. The insects need to come in contact with it. Outdoors, you spread it in the areas around the home, animal pens, children's play areas, and your BBQ area.

Food grade Diatomaceous earth is available at feed stores or other farm supply stores that sell animal feed. You can find Diatomaceous earth sold as a swimming pool filter product but be aware that the type used in pool filters has chemicals added that are needed for filtering the pool water. The pool filter variety is not organic due to the added chemicals and I don't know what affect it would have if your pet came in contact with it and tried to eat it.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Canning OAMC style - Meats

In my family, I am the only vegetarian. The reasons for my being vegetarian are another blog in itself. Suffice it to say at this time that the main reason for the vegetarian diet is due to health challenges that I was living with.

I have been overcoming the challenge of making meals for our family by simply omitting the meat from the recipes. I cook the meat separately. After I have removed my portion of the meal, I add the meat to the rest for my husband and daughter. The OAMC and canning has made this very easy to do. The following is a more detailed explanation of how I work the canning into OAMC.

PLEASE NOTE: the canning instructions given are for my local altitude. Always check the altitude for your specific area and your canner instruction manual to know what pressure level you need to safely can meats in your area. You can find your altitude by typing your location (city & state) and the word "altitude" into a search engine. You will notice in the instructions below that I precook all my meats prior to canning them. I realize that there are many people how can raw meats, allowing the canning process to cook the meats. I have never tried that before and would rather be certain that the meat being stored is fully cooked and therefore safe. I have never had problems with the meat being over cooked from having been pre-cooked before the canning process. I also prefer my method of precooking the meat as it helps in controlling the amount of fats in the foods.

Ground meat: I buy the large family bulk packs of ground beef. This provides you with the best price per pound. Here is a breakdown of what I do with the meat.

*Meatballs - I make enough meatballs from one of the packs of ground beef to fill the bottom of a roasting pan. These are baked at 350*F until done. Once they have cooled, I bag them up in gallon sized freezer bags that are labeled & dated. If you want, you could use smaller bags that hold enough for one meal.

The meatballs are great for adding to spaghetti sauce, homemade soups, stews, meatball sandwiches, and Swedish Meatballs & pasta.

*Meat & Veggie mix - I brown the ground beef with a little garlic in a large skillet or pan. Once cooked, I drain the meat thoroughly to remove as much of the fats as possible. I divide the meat into pint size canning jars filling them about 1/2 full. I next add to each jar some chopped onions and bell peppers, filling the jar to 1 inch below the top. I add water to each jar, filling it to 1 inch below the rim. Wipe the rim of each jar with a clean cloth to make sure there is no food residue on the rim that can cause the jars to not seal properly. Place on a lid and ring. I process the jars in my pressure canner at 10 lb. pressure on my weighted gauge for 25-30 minutes for pint size. Check the altitude for your area and consult your canner instructions to find the proper weight/pressure for your area.

This meat & veggie mix is added to homemade soups, stews, sauces, casseroles, pizza, calzones, pot pies, sloppy joes, and a variety of other meals.

Beef Stew Meat: We use this cut of meat quite often. The meat is in very large chunks that I cut into smaller more bite size pieces. The smaller pieces are both easier to remove from a canning jar, but also are easier for our toddler to handle. We buy this in the large family size packages. For our size family, 1 large package will provide a minimum of 7 meals worth of meat.

To prepare the stew meat, I cut it to the desired size and place it in a large roaster pan along with some diced onion and minced garlic. This is baked in a 350*F oven until done. The stew meat that I buy has no fat on it. Once cooked, the roaster pan has a great deal of juices in it that will be used later. I divide the meat into jars as follows:

* Beef Stew - Fill jars 1/4 full of the stew meat. Add peeled and diced potatoes, carrots, celery, and onion. Add about 1 inch of the broth from the roaster pan and finish filling the jar to 1 inch from the top with water. Wipe the jar rims clean and put on the lid & ring. Process in your pressure canner according to your canner's instructions.

I bake the beef stew in the oven with biscuits or you can make a double crust pie with the beef stew as the filling.

* Beef Vegetable Soup - Fill jars 1/4 full of the stew meat. Add mixed vegetables, filling to 1 inch from the rim. Season a large can of tomato juice with italian seasonings to taste. Pour over the meat & vegetables to 1 inch from the rim, just barely covering the food in the jars. Clean the jar rims and attach the lids. Process in a pressure canner according to your canner's instructions.

This soup can be used as a soup or thickened with some instant mashed potatoe flakes and used as a filling in a double crust pie.

* Stew Meat - you can also process jars of the stew meat without any vegetables added. Fill the jars 3/4 full of the meat and add enough water to fill to 1 inch below the rim. Clean the rims and attach lids. Process in your pressure canner according to your canner's instructions.

The most versatile way fo canning the meat, you can add this to any recipe. Shredded and cooked with BBQ sauce, you will have a nice sandwich filling.

***Note: the water added to the jars will become broth during the processing. If you are concerned however about the strength of the broth's flavor, you can add a small amount of Liquid Browning to the jars before processing. Liquid Browning is a beef flavor enhancer often used in making beef stew and other recipes.

Chicken: I buy the skinless chicken breasts in the large bags. I roast the chicken in the roaster at 350*F until fully cooked. The meat is then cut into pieces or shredded depending on how it is to be used. Again, consult your canner's manual to verify the amount of pressure and the processing times.

* Chicken Soup base - Fill a jar about 1/4 full of the cooked chicken. Add sliced carrots, celery, and abit of your favorite chicken soup seasonings. Add about 1 inch of the chicken broth to each jar. Fill the jars to 1 inch from the rim with water. Clean the jar rims and attach lids. Process in your pressure canner according to your canner's instructions.

When cooking with this soup base, you can add pasta, rice, or dumplings to make a hearty meal.

* Chicken and vegetables - fill the jars 1/4 full of diced up chicken. Fill the jars to 1 inch from the rim with mixed vegetables. Cover the vegetables with water, filling jars to 1 inch from the rim. Process in a pressure canner according to your canner's instructions.

This can be made into a soup or stew. You can also drain the broth off (save for another recipe) and make a white gravy to cover the chicken and vegetables with. Bake in a double crusted pie and you have a hearty chicken pot pie.

* BBQ Shredded chicken - shred chicken and cover with your favorite BBQ sauce recipe. Make the sauce slightly on the thin side, but not watery. Add some finely chopped onion and bell pepper and mix thoroughly. Fill jars to 1 inch from rim. Clean the rims and attach lids. Process in a pressure canner according to your canner's instructions.

BBQ chicken can be used in sandwiches or even as a pizza topping.

Take a look at your recipes. Meat & vegetable mixtures for things like tamale pie can be made ahead and canned for use later. Pint jars of fajita mix are a quick meal either with flour tortillas, on a pizza or made into a calzone. When it comes to canning meat & vegetable combinations, you are limited only by your own imagination.

As a rule, I never add dairy (eggs, milk, cheese, etc) to my canned foods. I prefer adding these later when I am making the meals.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Hospitality in our Homes

In a gentler time, hospitality was a common practice. It was considered rude to not extend an invitation to your home or to treat a visitor to your home as a honored guest. The gift of hospitality is something that has been lost in many homes. I wonder, does it really need to be that way? Can we teach our children or maybe even ourselves how to extend hospitality with a grace that makes the visitor feel as though their visit is an important part of your day?

I am ashamed of the times in the years past when I did not offer the kind of hospitality to others that I should have. It is something that I find myself having to work on. Welcoming people into your home is not always an easy thing. We are so caught up in our own busy days, taking care of the tasks at hand, that we don't stop to think of inviting someone to our home to just sit and chat. Maybe our home is not kept at a "company ready" state where we would feel comfortable having someone just drop by unannounced. Some people are very private and don't like others stopping by and are much happier being left to themselves. Whatever the reason, these obstacles can be overcome with work on our part.

One of my favorite memories from my childhood was of the times I spent at my Grandmother's home. Each summer, I would spend a portion of the time off from school at her home. It was during these visits that she taught me many things about cooking and hosptiality. Grandma loved to have people visit. It did not matter if the visits were planned or unannounced, she was always prepared for them and accepted the guests with grace. Another influence on me at that time was our next door neighbor. She was a retired school teacher and quite elderly. She lived alone, so our family would check on her each day. Many times, my little sister or I would spend the night at her house on the weekends so that she wasn't always alone at night. She was another gentle woman who accepted inpromptu visits with grace. On the days that I would stay at her home, she would have an afternoon tea. We would make tea and have some little sandwiches or other treat. It was a time that we could sit down, relax and take a break from our activities of the day.

Showing hospitality doesn't mean that we have to set out a "high tea" each time a friend visits. We can easily sit at the table or comfortable chairs and have a cool drink on a warm summer day or maybe have that cup of tea or coffee. Hospitality has a great deal to do with our attitude. Do we welcome visitors with genuine feelings of being happy to see them or do we put on the good show and just go through the motions, glancing at the clock & thinking of all that we feel we should be doing? When someone comes to your door to visit, they are taking time out of their day and making the visit a priority. Do we feel in ourselves any appreciation for the fact that they made that visit a priority in their busy day?

Hospitality shouldn't be limited only to visitors to our home. When our husband returns home from work, do we show hospitality to him? Do we treat him in a way that makes him look forward to coming home each night? When he talks to us about his day, do we really listen to him or are we dividing our attention between him and a TV program or some other distraction? If an infamous person that you had respect and admiration for came into the home, how would you treat them? Would they get only a portion of your attention when they spoke or would you be focusing your attention on what they had to say? Would you gladly get them something to drink and maybe a treat of some kind to enjoy? Likely, you would drop everything and make certain that they were treated with respect, dignity, and a high level of hospitality. Knowing that we would be willing to do this for a stranger, why is it that we tend to make excuses or stiffen our backs when it comes to doing these things for our husband?

I have had it said that a woman who shows this level of hospitality to her husband is seen by some individuals as being subservient to her husband. Nothing is further from the truth! When we show hospitality to our husband, showing him that what he has to say is very important to us and that we are appreciative of the work he does to support the family, he will feel valued by us. He will gain a confidence in the fact that home is a place where he can come and know that he will be treated with respect and courtesy. He will find the home to be a haven and a calm place apart from the stresses of the world outside the home. One of the blessings that comes from treating your husband with such hospitality is that he will treat you with the same level of respect. It is true that if your treat your husband like a king, he will treat you as his queen. Sometimes it takes longer for some to treat their wife in this way, but eventually it can happen.

Hospitality isn't always easy. Some people seem to have the trait so much a part of them that it has become second nature for them. Others have to work harder at it. It does not matter who they are showing hospitality towards. I have a difficult time with it myself. I can show hospitality to my husband, but I am a very private person and unless I know someone well, I have a difficult time inviting people to our home. In my case, I have recognised that it is out of fear of being judged. I am much more conservative now than I used to be. There are those who knew me before who are against the changes that I have made. I am working on it though. It is definitely a step out of my comfort zone!

I find that as I take those steps towards showing hospitality to others more often, it is getting easier. Having a husband who is a "social butterfly" to my "wall flower" make it alot more achievable. Over time, I am beginning to feel more peace with the whole idea of hospitality. I have a long way to go yet. By and by, I will get there.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Canning: OAMC style

Living in a rural area as we do, our trips to the grocery store have always been limited.  The stores are far enough away that the trip to the stores always becomes an all-day outing which involves alot of pre-planning and preparation.  The once a month cooking recipes work great for our lifestyle.  It saves time during the busy gardening/canning season and is a tremendous blessing when storms cause power outages throughout the year.
I am doing my once a month cooking differently than most websites talk about.  We don't have a large freezer, so I am unable to store pre-made casseroles and other dinners in the freezer.  Instead, I utilize my pressure canner in making the meals.
The canner allows me to make & store large batches of homemade soups and stews.  In addition, I am able to put up in jars the various meat and vegetable fillings used in common meals.  Fajita mixes, tamale pie filling, the fillings for various pot pies all can be put up in jars.  When you are ready to make the meal, you only need to make the crust, assemble the pie and bake. 
Through home canning the meals, I have been able to stock the pantry with fast to prepare meals that quickly can be heated up on the wood cookstove or in a pan on the BBQ grill during power outages.  I jar up the meals in both the pint and quart sizes.  The pint jars are perfect size for my husband to take to work with him.  He uses the microwave in the lunch room to heat up the meal. 
I often buy meat in the bulk size "family packs" at the store.  I precook the burger meat by either browning it with chopped onions, garlic & bell peppers or by making meatballs that are baked in the oven.  After draining the burger meat thoroughly, I home can it in pint or half-pint sized jars.  These have just a bit of water in them.  During the pressure canning process, the water becomes a nice beef flavored broth.  Meatballs are either canned with some spaghetti sauce or placed in a bag or container to freeze.  Chicken is roasted in the oven, cut into pieces then canned with some chopped veggies and water.  This makes a nice base to use in recipes such as chicken noodle soup.  I add the same veggies and seasoning to the chicken when I can it as you would use in homemade chicken soup.  When you make the soup, you just have to add pasta or rice when you heat it up.
When cooking stew meat, I put the entire bulk pack in a large roasting pan with some basic seasonings like onions, garlic, and bell peppers.  I roast the meat until done.  Once it is cooked, I cut the meat into bite sized pieces and place them into jars.  Add some diced carrots, diced potatoes, and chopped celery with abit of the broth from the pan.  Finish filling the jars with a little water.  Once pressure canned, these jars will contain a quick beef stew.  With the remaining stew meat, I can jars of various soups or a few jars of the meat with onions & bell peppers to use in other recipes later on.
By making the meals this way, I am able to make a month's worth of meals ahead of time.  We save alot of money and time each month by taking the time to do this.  Even with the cost of the jars and canning lids included, we are able to keep our grocery budget down to a fraction of what most families spend.  In future posts, I will be adding recipes that I home can for our pantry.
May the Lord's blessings be with thee.