Friday, August 29, 2008

Quilting Challenge Resolved

Living in a home with small rooms, I have found quilting to be a challenge. The only room available to do the quilting in does not have any space for a quilt frame. There is no available wall space where I can place a small frame. A hoop is out of the questions when I have 2 little ones who would be all over the quilt where it lays on the floor. It has been quite frustrating as I have been wanting to hand quilt while I am still able to. I have been doing searches online trying to find an answer. I finally came across what will work and wanted to share the idea for others who may be in a similar situation.

I started looking into the old ways of quilting and in a quilt history I read about how the pioneer women made quilts while still traveling in covered wagons. Intrigued, I read as it talked about how they would quilt each block separately, then would use a sash to join the blocks together after they were done. Today, this method is known as "Quilt As You Go" and is becoming popular again.

Quilting as you go along is very easy to do. Some online quilting sites sell patterns designed specifically for this method. I am using the method using large 12 inch blocks. You can find a large listing of free quilt block patterns at Quilters Cache. Once you make your quilt block, you layer the block, batting, and backing together. Next, you pin or baste the layers together. Mark your quilt stitching lines with chalk and start hand or machine quilting the block together. Repeat with each block needed for your quilt.

You next cut your sashing strips for the top and back of your quilt. The strips are added to teh edges and used to connect one block to the next. After your rows are completed, you repeat the sashing process to connect one row to another.

I don't have a digital camera yet to take pictures of each step, so I will instead give you the best website tutorial that I have found that demonstrates the process. Welsh Quilter: Quilt as You Go has wonderful detailed pictures. I found the instructions to be very thorough. One idea that I am going to do is to use the same fabric on the back sashing as my backing to allow them to blend in.

I am so excited to have found this method of quilting. It has opened up new doors for me. I can now cut out my fabrics, then work on the blocks as time permits. Whether you quilt by hand or machine, this method has it's benefits. For those who want to quilt by hand, these blocks are very portable and can be worked on anywhere.

As soon as I have some pictures of my quilt project available, I will post them.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Kids' Craft Center

One area of recycling that I know I will enjoy is crafting with our daughter. At 2 yrs. old, she loves doing crafts. I am working at setting up a container of art supplies for her. I have been collecting recipes for homemade art supplies which are now posted on our family website. The other materials that are going to be placed in the box are recycleable items that can be used to make the various crafts.

Looking for inspiration, I did a search and found that Make-stuff has a list of craft ideas that are listed according to the recycled item used in the craft. This gives me a good starting point as to the types of things I can save for her to craft with. Here are some of the items I have found listed on various websites.

egg cartons
baby food jars
baby formula cans
tuna cans
film canisters
cardboard tubes
wire hangers
old puzzle pieces
glass bottles with lids

For the larger items, you can use a tote or other container with a lid to neatly store the items. The smaller art supplies can be stored in recycled cigar boxes that you can get free at smoke shops, cookie tins, etc.

If your child will be doing alot of crafting, you may want to add to their craft supplies a vinyl tablecloth to protect your table and an old large shirt to use as a paint smock.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Spiced Apple Rings & Pears

When I was a young child, I remember a family favorite that we enjoyed each Christmas season. They were called "Christmas Apples and Pears." This special treat was so named because of their red and green coloring.

Grandma would can apple rings or pears in jars, some with red food coloring and others with green. By Christmas, the coloring had been absorbed into the fruit turning the fruit the prettiest shades of red and green! Here is a recipe for the spices apples. If you want to do pears instead, use a firm pear, peeled and cut in half.

Spiced Christmas Apples

12 pounds firm tart apples, no more than 2 1/2-inch diameter
12 cups sugar
6 cups water
1 1/4 cups white vinegar
3 tb whole cloves
3/4 cup red hot cinnamon candies or 8 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon red food coloring, optional (See note below)

Wash apples. Peel and slice one apple at a time. Immediately cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices, remove core area with a melon baller and immerse in ascorbic acid solution to keep the apples from discoloring. In a 6-quart saucepan, combine sugar, water, vinegar, cloves, cinnamon candies, or cinnamon sticks and food coloring. Stir, heat to boil, and simmer 3 minutes. Drain apples, add to hot syrup, and cook 5 minutes. Fill wide mouth sterilized canning jars with apple rings and hot flavored syrup, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Adjust lids and process in a boiling water canner according to the recommendations below. Makes about 8 pints.

Recommended process time for Spiced Apple Rings in a boiling-water canner.
Style of Pack: Hot. Jar Size: Half-Pints or Pints.
Process Time at Altitudes of 0 - 1,000 ft: 10 min.
1,001 - 6,000 ft: 15 min.
Above 6,000 ft: 20 min.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Mouthwash & other recipes

We have been using several homemade versions of basic items and love the results. The recipes have been going around the internet for so long now that it is nearly impossible to know who started posting them. I am adding them here though for those who may not have found the recipes yet but would be interested in trying them.


1 cup (8 oz.) water
1 tsp. baking soda

Mix together the water & baking soda until soda is dissolved. Add a bit of your favorite flavoring (mint, vanilla, etc) and stevia to taste. Mix well.

This is a great recipe. We were wanting one that was alcohol free and safe enough that if our toddler were to use it and swallow a bit of it, she wouldn't get sick. We use mint extract in ours. The Stevia is a natural sweetener that adds no calories and has no nasty aftertaste like many of the artificial sweeteners do. We use Stevia as it is completely natural, other artificial sweetneers can be used though if you prefer.



I got this recipe simply for those times when you are in between paychecks and money is tight. That always seems to be the moment that you run out of the store bought. I am only just now trying it out, so will have to give a critique of it later. For now though, I am liking it.

About 5 Tbsp. Coconut oil (found at the grocery store)
3/4 cup baking soda
3/4 cop cornstarch

Mix together the boaking soda and cornstarch in a bowl. Stir in just enough coconut oil to make a stiff paste about the consistency of play dough. Place in a small container, such as the 1/2 cup size resealable bowls. You can use a round makeup sponge to apply it. I am using an old one from a makeup compact that I had washed the makeup out of.



Again, this is a recipe I got for in case we ran out before we could go to a store. It works well, I personally don't like coconut, so am not fond of the taste. I may try to find a different ingredient that I can substitute for the coconut oil. I will post if I find something else that works.

About 2 Tbsp. coconut oil
3 Tbsp. Baking soda
flavoring of choice

Warm up the coconut oil if needed. Stir in the baking soda until dissolved. Add flavoring and Stevia to taste and mix well. To use, just dip the toothbrush into the toothpaste. Be aware, this does have a shelf life. I made it and put into the smallest sized baby food jars, making a jar for each person so we are not sharing. NOTE: sharing the toothpaste is not a good idea in case someone has a cold or is not feeling well.

Coconut oil will get liquidy at about 70*F. If you want to prevent it from getting liquidy, store in a cool place or in the refrigerator.


This last recipe is one that is old, but is a good one to have on hand if you have an infant or toddler still using baby formula. This is the same baby formula recipe that my mom used for me, just as most moms used for their babies until the commercial baby formula became popular. Whether you choose to use this formula for your little one is a personal choice. It is the only formula (including the store bought sensitive stomach and the soy based ones) that I have been able to feed our son without him spitting up. Be aware that it does not contain the DHA and ARA that commercial formulas have in them. Whenever making formula, be sure to use sterilized containers. Never make up more than one recipe's batch size at a time. I use glass jars to store the formula in as they are much easier to clean and sterilize.

I have updated this recipe! It no longer uses the corn syrup as I feel the corn syrup to not be a healthy option. For a sweetener, I found that the black strap molasses is better. It has a stronger flavor, so I cut back the amount used. Molasses is also a source of potassium. I have also added the product called: Flora's Udo Choice Infants Blend Probiotics, which is sold in powder form at health food stores. Probiotics help to add the good bacterias to your body which it needs to fight illnesses and infections. It is especially important for rebuilding your natrual good bacterias after you have been on a round of antibiotics - which will kill off the body's good bacterias while also eliminating the bad ones that caused the illness you are being treated for. Probiotics come in formulas for all age groups.

Baby formula

2 (12 oz) cans of Evaporative Milk
4 cups (32 oz) water, distilled or boiled
1 Tbsp. black strap molasses
3 ml Baby Vitamin Drops
1/2 tsp Flora's Udo Choice Infants Blend Probiotics Powder (or a one day's dosage of a liquid infant probiotic)

If you are not using distilled water, boil the water before using.
Mix together the water with the molasses and probiotic powder, making sure the probiotic powder and molasses are fully blended in. Mix in the milk and vitamins. Pour into a sterile jar and store in the refrigerator. This recipe makes enough for formula for 7 (8 oz.) bottles, about one day's supply. This formula would be a good one to have the ingredients on hand in your pantry in case of emergency, such as when the ice storms or other unforeseen emergency.

For those who may wonder how this formula may be affecting Micah, he is doing great on it. No more spitting up! His breath has lost the "sour" smell that the formula has caused and he is less fussy since I started him on this formula. He eats a small stage one jar of baby food with cereal & formula mixed in twice a day so he is getting plenty of nutrients.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Frugal Sewing

Recently a reader sent me a message asking if you can really save money by sewing your family's clothing. In short, the answer is yes! Here is how I do it.

Patterns: If you must buy patterns, buy them only when on sale for under $2.00 each. Many chain fabric stores have these sales once a month. Get your pattern numbers and then go to the store when the sale is on and buy the full limit of the patterns at that price. You can buy 5 patterns this way for less than the cost of a single pattern at regular price. I am picky about my patterns. I don't have a pattern for every occassion. I buy one set of basic patterns that will make up the entire wardrobe. Here is a breakdown of the patterns I have to make the clothing with.

For our daughter:
1 dress pattern that has 8 different options
1 underthings pattern that has several options of bloomers, camisoles, slips
1 nightgown & robe set
1 coat pattern (still to be purchased)

For our son:
1 pant pattern can be for day wear or pajamas (free online)
1 shirt pattern (self drafted from other clothing)
1 diaper pattern that also makes a diaper cover (free online)
1 bunting (free online)

For my husband:
1 sleep pant, shirt & robe pattern set (shirt can be used as a t-shirt, sleep pants can be shortened to make boxers)
1 shirt pattern
1 pant pattern (still to be purchased)
1 coat pattern (long ranger coat style)

For myself:
1 dress pattern (cape dress that can also be made without the cape portion attached)
1 underthings pattern (contains half slip, camisole, bloomers)
1 bra pattern (still to be purchased from Kwik-sew if I don't draft my own)
1 coat pattern (will alter my husband's pattern to make a feminine version)
My apron doesn't require a pattern
Headcovering - Prayer Kapp is a self-drafted pattern, Hanging veil is a free one given to me by another Sister

For the entire family:
1 slipper pattern - has sizes from infant through adult
1 fleece sock pattern - sized infant through adult
Winter hats - free pattern I drafted myself

There are a lot of free patterns available online if you look for them. Skirt patterns for example are very plentiful especially if you check the re-enactment clothing sites. You will find the directions for making the tiered or gathered skirts that require only your body measurements to make patterns custom sized to your body.

Fabric: this can be as expensive or inexpensive as you want to make it. It all depends on how much work you are willing top do. When I know that I have some sewing projects coming up, I start watching the sales. I rarely pay more than $3.00 a yard for fabric. Buying fabrics when they go on clearance is a favorite option. You can also buy fabric much cheaper online than at the local stores. Many of the online fabric stores will be willing to send you a swatch of the fabrics you are interested in if you ask. Some charge about $1.00 for sets of swatches. It is worth the money though, especially if you plan to purchase fabric from them often.

A cheap resource for fabric is old clothing. As I have posted about in previous blogs, you can make infant & toddler pants from adult clothing. Another way to utilize old clothing is to refurbish them. A short denim skirt can have fabric added to the bottom to make a longer one. The bib potion of a pair of old overalls can have a skirt attached to make a jumper. A skirt added to the bottom of a t-shirt can make a dress. For boys, you can use old men's jeans to make a pair of jeans for a young child. Any large sized adult t-shirt can be cut down and used for making a child size shirt. Old bed sheets can be used to make a girl's or woman's slip, an apron or a child's nightgown.

Old fleece blankets can be used to make slippers, boot socks, hats, scarves, or mittens. You can also use them (or any old blanket) as batting inside of a quilt. If you have an infant or toddler, you can use the fleece to make diapers, soakers, or training pants.

Notions: This is one area where you can really save money. While you will always need to buy thread, there are ways to recycle the other notions. When cutting apart clothing to recycle the fabric, remove all buttons, zippers, snaps (cutting a little of the fabric around the edges to give you a way to sew the snaps onto a new outfit), and any hook and eye closures. These can be stored in jars or cookie tins until needed later. String the buttons together in a set, measure the zipper and label it or place zippers of the same length in their own containers to make them easy to find.

I hope that this helps to inspire you in thnking outside of the box about your sewing. I haven't even touched on the idea of sewing for the home, but many of the ideas given above such as finding free patterns online or recycing fabric to make the items can be used for your home sewing also.

Happy Sewing!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Home Canning

Home canning is a great way to help your family be more self-sufficient. Through canning, you know exactly what ingredients are in the food that your family eats. Many home canning families agree, the flavor of the home canned beats the flavor of the store bought.

One of the questions that often comes up when planning your home canning is "how much do I need to can for my family?" The easiest way to figure this amount is to track your purchases. How often and in what quantity do you buy the vegetables at the store? Knowing this will help greatly in planning out your home canning.

Whether you have a home garden or you buy the fresh vegetables at a farmer's market or roadside produce stand, here is some information that may help you to know how much to expect from the produce.

Pick Your Own is a great resource for finding local farms where you can go and pick the vegetables & fruit yourself. This offers you a savings as you are not paying someone else to pick the produce for you and take it to market. On the website, they have a lot of great information on how to home can the produce and charts that list the approximate amount you can expect to home can from a bushel of the produce.

When planning your home canning, take into account that you will need very sturdy shelving. The glass canning jars are very heavy and you don't want the shelves to collapse under the weight of the jars. You also want to be sure to have the jars of food stored in an area where they will not be in direct sunlight and the room temperature can be kept at a temperate range year round, about 50-70 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you live in an area where home canning supplies are hard to find year round, online resources such as can give you the ability to buy the supplies any time of the year. This is great for those of us who home can meals, soups, stews and other things that we gain access to throughout the entire year.

The Extension Service at North Dakota State University is one of many websites that has online the USDA recommendations and instructions for home canning. It is a great idea for you to always consult that current recommendations. Using old canning books can be great for the recipes, but the canning instructions to insure food safety may have changed over the years.

Here is one of our family's favorite homemade soups that I home can.

Cream of Tomato Soup

1 cup butter
8 tsp. salt
2 2/3 Tbsp. finely minced onion
6 quarts of tomato juice (or 3 of the large cans of tomato juice from the store)
1.5 cups flour
1.5 cups sugar
1 tsp. black pepper

Melt butter and saute the onion. In a bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, salt & pepper. Slowly stir this into the butter. The mixture will be very thick. Continue stirring constantly to avoid lumps. Once you have enough flour in that it is becoming thick, start alternating adding the flour mixture and tomato juice to prevent lumps. After all the four mixture has been mixed into the butter, add the remaining juice and stir until smooth and well blended. Cook 1 minute.

Pour the soup into prepared canning jars. Wipe the rim to remove any drops of soup that may have spilled onto them. Add lids and seal. Process in a waterbath for 1 hour. This recipe will yield abotu 11 pints of soup.

***This soup is nice and thick. You can use it as is or add a bit of milk to thin and give it a creamy taste. Before processing, the soup has a light color, but once it has been fully processed the soup is a dark, rich red color.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Simplicity in Hospitality

Have you ever noticed how the more simplified your life is, the more willing you are to show hospitality to others? It isn't that you were unwilling to show hospitality before but now that your life is finding a calmer rhythm, you feel more relaxed at the idea of showing hospitality.

I have often struggled with the concept of hospitality. Even though my parents always had an "open door" policy with neighbors and others who stopped by, when I became an adult, I struggled with it. I am very shy & reserved by nature. While I do well in forums such as the yahoo groups or homesteading forums I participate in, when it comes to actually meeting someone face to face, I struggle greatly with my own feelings of shyness. Luckily, I am blessed with a husband who is quite the social butterfly to my wallflower. Being with him, I have been learning to step out of my comfort zone and be more open to others. Inviting people to our home has always been hard. I could probably find more excuses not to have a guest in our home that anyone you have met.

As we have been simplifying our lives, I have begun to notice a change in myself. When the idea of inviting someone to our home comes to mind, I don't have the usual sick feeling in the pit of my stomach reaction. It is as though the calmer our lives become, the more peace I feel about inviting people to our home.

Our home is small. When you start adding all of the "stuff", both the necessary and the frivolous, the house quickly gets that cluttered appearance that makes me feel uncomfortable. I have been around people in the past who judge you greatly on appearances. If you don't dress a certain way, or your home is not of a certain value, they judge you as not worthy of their time. Then there are those who would look at a home with clutter caused by a lack of storage and see a house that is unkempt, even though the house is clean. One family I grew up with actually has the attitude that if children's toys are out on the floor during the day then the mother is lazy in her housekeeping. They take no consideration for the fact that the children are awake and playing with the toys. Growing up and living as an adult among people who are openly judging you in nearly every aspect of your life has left it's mark on me. For years, I saw each new person that I met as a potential new "judge" who would look at my life and condemn me for anything they thought was beneath their standards or ideals. It has only been in the past few years, during my time with Joe, that I have begun to feel like everyone isn't out to judge me.

Back to the simplicity part of the topic, I am finding that the less cluttered my home is, the less cluttered I feel that my life is. I have time to take a breath and enjoy the moments. I have a more structured life and find that I thrive on that. I take joy in doing things the old way. So much of the things that we have in our lives, whether it be possessions or activities, are cluttering to our life. While some of these are essential and make our lives easier, others bog us down and cause stress.

When we feel the stress of the various types of clutter in our life, we are less likely to feel hospitable to others. Inviting someone into our home can become a burden instead of a blessing. Instead of looking forward to the visit and enjoying it, we worry about all the preparations and other details that normally wouldn't have bothered us. I find that for me, I need the simplicity to be able to feel the joy and peace in being hospitable. Scaling back on the possessions so that I have less clutter to make the home appear unkempt to others, makes it easier for me to maintain the home.

Joe and I have set up a 6 month rule in our home. With the exception of tools and seasonal clothing or items, anything in our home that is not needed within 6 months will be given away or recycled in some way. This is making a huge difference in our home. We have sold, given away to families, and donated to charities several trailer loads of things that had been stored in our home and out buildings. So far, there is not one thing that we have given away that we have regretted. Our lives are becoming more simple and plain, yet through the scaling back on possessions, we are finding more time to do things as a family.

This fall, I am taking a huge leap in my hospitality fears. I am planning a get-together with other families in our state who share similar interests with our family. I think is shocked Joe when I asked his opinion of the idea. He loved it though.

Maybe there is hope for me yet in this area of my life.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

"Free" Yard Sale

This weekend, we have had another "everything is free" yard sale. These yard sales, for a lack of a better term, are one way that we can find homes for the things we don't need. We have tried giving much of it away through Freecycle, but we have found the greatest success in finding homes for the items by simply putting it all out by the driveway and letting people stop by and take what they want.

At first, people are uncertain about just taking the things. The idea of setting things up like a yard sale, then not accepting any form of payment is rather new to most who stop by. Once they get over the initial surprise though, it is fun to want as they look through things and take what they need.

One day, Joe came in after a customer left to tell me about what happened. It seems that the gentleman had several kids in the minivan he was driving. He came across the large bag of stuffed animals that we had set out. He took the bag to the minivan, opened the door and dumped the contents of the bag onto the van floor. The kids went nuts! They were so excited to see all the new toys that had been dropped at their feet. I loved hearing stories like that one. It is such a joy to know that the things we have no more use of can bring such enjoyment to others.

This weekend's offerings include a large amount of old weathered pallets that Joe was given. While we can always use pallets for building enclosures and other projects around the homestead, he gets so many given to him, that Joe can't keep them all without our yard looking like a pallet business. Many of these pallets can be taken apart and the wood recycled for other projects. I know that many people will use the pallets as they are, simply connecting one to another, to make the fences for animal enclosures such as a small pen or for fencing in their garden area from wildlife that would tear the garden up.

Our house has a back room that is unfinished. It is in the oldest part of the home and someone had started to remodel it, but never finished after tearing the walls down to the bare studs and outer wall. In past years, that room has been used as a storage unit. By giving away the things in that room, as well as the outbuildings, we are making it possible for us to use that back room for other purposes. We can turn it into a large pantry or maybe later on it can be turned into a home school room for the kids to do their studies in. There are a lot of options for that space.

I am so glad that we have the opportunity to gift others with the things that they need. We have been so blessed. The Lord has been providing for us. If there is a way that we can help others also, then we are glad to have the chance.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Fall Garden & Looking Ahead

If you live in a region where you have a long growing season as we do, you may be lucky enough to grow a garden for nearly 9 months of the year. Our first hard frost typically doesn't happen until sometime in December. This means that we can plant nearly any vegetable in late August or early September and have plenty of time for a good harvest.

Our typical summers get too hot in July & August for many vegetable varieties to grow and produce a full harvest. This year, the hot weather came early and the leafy greens, such as spinach and buttercrunch lettuce that I planted in the spring went to see before I had a chance to harvest anything from them. If planted in September, after summer's heat has passed, I can get a nice harvest of fresh greens for our meals.

There are many plant varieties that have short growing periods of no more than about 75 days from germination until harvest. This means that if you plant by Labor Day, you will be harvesting fresh vegetables before Thanksgiving. Imagine planting the vegetables needed for your Thanksgiving meal and harvesting them fresh just in time for the holiday meal!

I find that planting for a fall garden is much more sucessful than the spring planting. In early spring, we have heavy rains that flood our garden each year. We don't have the option of moving the garden, so have had to adapt the method in which we plant. If the summer heat arrives early, many of the typically planted in spring crops can be burned. Things like peas, green beans, and other of the cool weather crops don't fare well in the heat. These are best planted in the fall when the cooler temperatures are more favorable for the plants.

One of the challenges of planting in the fall is buying seeds. By late June, most stores are no longer seling the seeds. I buy my seeds through Heirloom Acres Seeds. Thom & Renata Kirk, started Heirloom Acres Seeds as a family home business. The seeds they sell are all heirloom and organic. No hybrids! The seeds are of excellent quality and I have had great results from them. They offer fast turn-around on the orders and the customer service is the best I have ever found. I have been surprised at the low price that they have charged for their seeds. Many companies who sell the heirloom or organic seeds sell them for nearly twice what I have paid for my seeds in my orders. The packets are very generous in seed quantity, giving you plently of seed for a typical family garden. If bought in larger quantities, you are able to buy enough seeds for the entire growing season with enough left over for the following year. I like to use the extra seed to plant in little containers and sell to other home gardeners. Through selling the little plants, you can quickly recoup the cost of your entire seed purchase!

If you have never considered a fall garden, give it consideration. You may be surprised at the amount of harvest you can achieve.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Alternative to "Brown Bag" lunches

I have been thinking about how much trash people create through their "brown bag" lunches. It doesn't matter if it is your lunch that you take to work or a child's school lunch. We can always do things to lessen the amount of trash we create. Through internet searches, you can find numerous websites that have free instructions (oft times they have a picture tutorial) to help you make your own environmentally friendly alternatives to the brown bag lunch.

For a lunch bag, you can use several options. One being to sew a simple lunch bag from 2 fabrics (lining and outer) and to help insulate it, place some batting in between the fabrics. Another little bag that I think would make a nice lunch bag is actually a small backpack that was originally designed to be a mini diaper bag for breastfeeding Moms. If you wanted, you could make the main portion of the bag insulated. Just adapt the basic instructions insulated lunch bag at the link above.

A really nice touch that I found was a fabric sandwich wrap. The instructions are pictorial and very thorough. I have added these onto my list of sewing projects. For those of us who bake our bread in the larger loaf pans, you know how difficult it is to find sandwich containers that are large enough to fit our bread size. Making these fabric wraps are a good way to solve that problems and still be using something that is reusable. I would suggest making extras if you will be using them quite often.

For utensils, I suggest making a roll-up tote. One easy way is to use a fabric placemat and add a utensil pocket with rows of vertical stitching to divide the pocket for each utensil to be placed into. I found the instructions for these at Canadian Living's website.

When taking soups or other foods in your lunch, use containers from home that can be washed and reused. Empty, small peanut butter jars can serve as a container for cut up fruit, raw veggies, or granola. A large baby food jar can be filled with hummus, tahini, peanut butter, or other dip to eat with your raw veggies. For soups and stews, a thermos jar is great!

Make the picnic packs fun and personalized by using fabrics that are customized to your family members. A child who love kittens can have a backpack, fabric napkin, placemat-utensil tote, and sandwich wraps made of kitten prints. A fabric of your husband or son's favorite ball team's logo would make a fun option for them.

Have fun with the ideas and see how you can alter them to fit your family's needs. If you make the packs fun for the kids, they are happy to use them.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Homemade Soaps

I have been making our laundry soap for our family using bars of Ivory soap. When I make my next supply run, I am going to get the supplies to make 2 types of soap.

Both soaps will be the same basic ingredients. The bath soap will have some type of additive for making the soap very moisturizing. The other bar will be a laundry soap with Orange Essential Oil in it to boost the oil/grease cutting properties of the soap and also to give it a light scent.

I found that I can buy the lye locally and not have to mail order it. The rest of the ingredients are basic ones found in the grocery store. Once I start making these soaps, it will really be a blessing both in the cost and in the knowing how to do it for ourselves instead of depending on a store.

My next project after I feel good about these soaps will be to start making our own shampoo and conditioner.

I would love to hear from others who have been making their own lye soaps. What lessons have you learned through trial and error?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Our Recycling Experiment

As readers of the blog already know, we have been recycling all of our trash. I wanted to update you on the progress.

Turning our old underground tornado storm shelter into a burn pit was a great idea. Unlike open bonfires, we don't have to worry about embers starting a grass fire. We have had an unexpected benefit from the burn pit. The fire built in the old stone structure gets hot enough that the trash burns more thoroughly than burning in a barrel did for us before. There is only a powdery ash left over. This ash, then can be placed in our garden to amend the soil. If you have a dog run or kennel with a dirt floor, you can scatter the ash on the ground to remove the odor from the dog's urinating on the ground.

Something new is developing though in the recycling. I have found that the gallon size milk jugs, baby formula cans, and baby food jars for example can be offered on Freecycle for teachers to use for crafting with their students. They also can use egg cartons, yogurt containers and many other items. I love being able to pass these things along.

We have worked it all out so that we are able to make the trip to the recycling center once every 2 months. What a blessing this has been! We are saving money each month by not having the trash service and we also are able to be more environmentally responsible.

Laundry - Revisited

Over the weekend, Joe and I talked about our electric & water usage. I suggested that we can make a major change that will help lessen our usage. The change being to stop using our electric washer & dryer completely.

We have been using them too often. Part of the reason I haven't used the clothesline as much as I would like is due to the wasps that have been very active and swarming in the area I have to walk through to get to the clothesline. Joe has finally gotten a handle on the wasps. He has killed most of them and the nests have been treated so that they cannot use them. He has also cleared a tree in the front yard that had provided too much shade for a clothesline. The tree was not healthy and was a risk to our home. Parts of it had already come down in storms and the section left would have taken the front porch of the house if it were to fall in another storm. Now that he has removed that tree, we can move the clothesline to the yard closer to Abbie's play area.

I am now looking for a few items to make the hand washing a bit easier. I am planning to get a wash board for washing out the more stubborn laundry. I will also be searching for a wringer to use to wring out the clothes. My hands have arthritis in them and hand wringing the clothes is not as affective as I would like. A wringer will remove much more water, making the line drying time go much faster. Large items like blankets & quilts will be done on the weekends when Joe is here to help me hand wring them, each of us taking an end and twisting to get the water out. The goal is to be able to do 100% of the laundry without electricity.

I am keeping an eye out for an old wringer washer. Yes, they use electricity, but it will be used mainly on those days when I am unable to do the laundry by hand. The wringer type washers use far less water and in my opinion clean much better than many washers made today.

In our laundry room, we will be able to set up the wash tubs and such in the spot where our electric machine now are placed. A low sturdy table or wide bench will hold the wash tubs with a hand crank wringer attached to the tubs. The water access is already there and the bathroom is next to the laundry which will make emptying the wash & rinse tubs very easy & convenient.

Our local Ace hardware store sells the standing clothes drying racks and washboards. The local feed stores have the galvanized wash tubs. With luck, I may even find some of these items on Freecycle or Craig's List.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Recycled Flannel Bed Sheets

It is becoming a challenge and a point of a bit of joking that anything in the house made of fabric will be recycled into something else as soon as it has lost it's usefulness. Such is the case with some bedding we were given.

We received some sheets that are in great condition, but the family no longer wanted them. They had tried to sell them in a yard sale with no luck, so gave them to us to sell in our yard sale. After taking a look at the sheets, I rescued them from the sale table and they have been laundered and set aside to be made into other things.

One set was of a heavy flannel. The sheets are much too large for our beds, so I have been using them to make diapers. I then realised that they are heavy enough to make very absorbant kitchen towels, which we are always needing more of! So, today I have been cutting the sheet up into the size needed and made ready to run through the overloc machine. In less than an hour, I will have a stack of new kitchen towels! I am loving this. The towels will be far more absorbant than the store bought variety and I am able to make them a larger size that is more practical.

Heavy flannel sheets that may have worn areas can be recycled to be the towels used for draining fried foods onto or for cleaning up the more nasty messes that can stain your nicer towels. This will eliminate the need for paper towels.

If you have a double-layer of the flannel and an old windbreaker jacket, you can stack the flannel on top of the windbreaker to make bed pads for placing in a baby crib. From a large king-size flannel flat sheet, you can make 2 crib/toddler bed sized fitted sheets or a stack of long pillow cases to be slipped over a bassinet mattress.

I would love to hear your ideas for recycling old flannel sheets.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Winter Preparations

Even though we are still in the summer months, my thoughts are turning towards winter and the preparations we need to make. For the past few years, we have had at least 1 ice storm that has had power outages or other hazards involved. One year, the ice storm froze our driveway to the point that it was 6 weeks before we could safely drive our car out of the driveway. Ever since then, I always assume the worst for the upcoming winter. Some are easier than others, but living so far from a city, we have to take into consideration that road conditions could leave us without a way to bring in supplies for an extended time.

I have been taking stock of the pantry inventory. Now is the time to be laying in a sufficient food stores for winter. We eat a lot of homemade soups, stews and casseroles through the cold months. I am starting to put up jars of homemade soups. Some are in pint jars for my husband to take to work for his lunch, others in quart jars for family meals. I cook a double or triple batch of the soup when I am making dinner. After I have taken out a portion for our evening meal, I put up the rest in jars. What a blessing it is to have these ready-made meals in the pantry! On days when we are busy with other tasks or out running errands, it is nice to come home and have the convenience of these soups & stews to make quickly. Some days, I will simply empty a couple of the quart jars into my slow cooker in the morning and let the soup/stew cook all day.

Another preparation I am taking stock of is our winter clothing. There are warm fleece socks to be made. We use these as both slippers in the home and as boot liners for when we are outdoors. I am drafting patterns to make Micah some flannel sleep pants that will fit comfortably over his cloth diapers. Abbie also will have new flannel pants to wear under her nightgowns. I am planning to make Abbie some fleece jumpers to wear. She has worn them in the past and they kept her nice and warm even on the coldest days. It seems that my sewing list gets longer each time I look at it, but what a joy and a blessing to know that I can make these things for the family.

There are blankets to inspect and make sure they are in good shape for another winter season, a couple of quilts to be made for the little one's cribs, and maybe some flannel crib sheets to sew. Much of the sewing are fast projects that take longer to trace and cut out the patterns than it takes for me to sew the things together.

Joe has already been building up our stores of firewood. Our supply of wood for the cook stove is getting quite impressive! We still have firewood left from last season for the larger wood stove that we heat with. The still needs to be stacked and made ready. It is already split and has been curing all spring & so far this summer.

Another project Joe is going to be soon building is the chicken coop. Next spring, we will be getting a new flock to replace the ones the wildlife killed last year. We are planning on buying pullets. Half of the chickens will be a brown egg layer variety and the others will be meat chickens. I also am hoping to buy some heritage breed turkeys and for Joe, I am wanting to get him some more guineas. When he builds the coop, he is also building a detachable chicken tractor that can be moved about the yard during the day, then put back to the coop at night so the flock can learn to roost in it.

There is much to be done, but by and by we will get it accomplished.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Lessons in Cloth Diapering

I have been using cloth diapers on my little ones ever since our oldest (age 2) was born. From time to time, there have been many questions posed to me that I will answer here.

*How many do you need?
This really depends on how often you plan to wash them. I have 2 little ones in diapers right now, so I launder them every day. The general recommendation is to have 20 diapers for a newborn. This is about a 2-day supply. Newborns go through more diapers each day than an older baby or toddler. This is due in part to their being given liquids only. When they are older and eating more solid foods than drinking liquids, the number of diapers needed per day will decrease. Many who dry the diapers on a clothesline also will have a larger number of diapers due to the time it takes to dry the thicker diapers on the line.

*How do you care for them?
The diapers that I am making are not made with a water barrier fabric. I am able to simply empty soiled diapers into the toilet, then set them to soak in soapy water. When I have enough for a load in the machine, I wash them adding a little bleach to the water. Fabric softeners can lessen a diaper's ability to absorb wetness, so instead, I use white vinegar. The white vinegar removes any soap residue and also freshens the diapers.
Depending on the weather I will dry them either in the dryer or on the clothesline. Drying on the clothesline is always preferable as the sun will dry the diapers much more thoroughly, which in turn will increase the diaper's absorbancy.
If you purchase cloth diapers made with PUL fabric, you cannot dry them in a dryer without risking losing the water barrier's ability to prevent leaks over time.

*How do you prevent leaks with diapers not made with a water barrier fabric?
There are a couple of options. First is to use diaper covers. These look similar to the diapers but without any absorbant layer. Another option is to wear a pair of knickers (soakers) over top of the diaper. This has a couple of advantages. One is that the fleece ro sweater material the knickers are made of will be absorbant yet not leak. Secondly, if you have a little one who has figured out how to unfasten the velcro closure on the diapers, the pull up knickers will prevent them from removing the diapers. A third option would be to use the old standby plastic/vinyl pants.
One consideration with the knickers - you can take knickers made from fleece and turn them into training pants when the toddler is ready for potty training.

*Are they hard to deal with when away from home?
That depends on your attitude and preparation. No doubt, cloth diapers take up more space in a diaper bag. When I have both little ones with me on an all day outing, I have 3 bags. One diaper bag for a day's worth of diapers, a large tote bag for putting the soiled/wet diapers into. and a smaller diaper bag to carry just enough supplies for 1 diaper change per child that I carry into the stores. I know that sounds like a pain in the keester to some but it is actually very easy considering that you don't actually carry all three bags with you in the stores and such. In a small diaper bag, I carry 1 diaper for each child, the diapering supplies (powder, lotion, wipes), and a plastic bag or "wet bag." This is gives me just the amount that I need to have on hand. The other diapers are kept in the car. When we use a diaper out of the bag I am carrying with me, we simply restock it when we get back to the car.
As soon as I get home, the soiled/wet diapers are put to soak or are washed right away. I use a tote that is machine washable so that I can toss it in the washer also to prevent it from getting an odor.

*What type are the easiest to work with?
This depends on your own preferences and how much work you want to do with them. Pocket diapers need the absorbancy layer pulled out of a soiled/wet diaper before washing and then restuffed after the diapers are dried. A fitted all-in-one works exactly like a disposible in that you don't have to add a cover or stuff a pocket. The downside that I have experienced with the thick AIO diapers is that they take much longer to dry than the pocket style or the prefolds. In my opinion, I find the prefolds or fitted with a water barrier and a set of diaper covers or knickers to be easiest.

There are alot of free diaper patterns online, along with many SAHMs who sell the cloth diapers that they make. If you are unsure what style you would prefer, go to a baby consignment store and buy one diaper of each style so that you can decide which one works best for you.