Monday, September 29, 2008

The Quest for Simplicity

In the quest for simplicity, have you ever noticed the baby steps that are taken? You sort through and purge the things no longer needed/wanted and feel really good about it.......for a few days. Then you start looking around and see more that can be purged. So to clear those things out. Again, you feel content and happy with the change. A few days later, you notice more that can be purged......and so the process goes on. As you go through these stages of purging the excess and unnecessary things from your lives and home, you keep in mind the single goal of reaching a lifestyle that is simple and basic. It is a process that takes time. Were you to purge it all in one session, you would feel overwhelmed at the daunting task. Once accomplished, you might feel a sense of loss and revert back to previous habits, buying things that are not a necessity, but a want.

Striving for simplicity in our lives and homes is very much like the process we go through in our quest to live a life more in tune with the Lord's Will for our lives. When we first come to know our Lord, our thoughts and habits are cluttered with our lifestyle that is not in harmony with the Lord's way for us to live. In baby steps, He shows us through the Bible's teachings and much time spent in prayer the things that we need to change or remove from our lives. With each change, we feel a relief. Then, He shows us a new area of our lives to change. Little by little, we declutter our hearts and minds of the things that are stumbling blocks in our path of spiritual growth. Had the Lord required a full and complete immediate change, we would have floundered. We would feel overwhelmed at the changes we need to make. Because of our human nature, we would grieve some of the things we were made to give up and would have turned back to them. Thankfully, the Lord understands our human nature! While change is expected of us from the worldly way of thinking to His ways, He allows us to make these changes little by little, step by step. We are given the opportunity to make the changes when our hearts feel the desire for change.

Just as I find that I don't need the excess in our home, I am finding that there are "excesses" in my life that I used to find very important, but now with the Lord in my life, I no longer have those things nor do I miss them. With each habit or thing you remove from your life, the Lord fills that place with His love and grace. He not only fills up the space - He fills it to overflowing! The more we allow our hearts and minds to be filled with the Lord, the less we feel a need for the old ways that we lived before the Lord was a focus in our life.

I am so grateful that the Lord allows me the gentle prompting and nudging in my life to make the changes He sees fit for me to make. Not all of the changes are easy. There are some I have had to make that have been very painful and I mourned the changes for a long while. Some changes that I knew I had to make were so hard that I have cried in grief for the loss of those things. Sometimes I still miss them and feel the pull to go back to them. At those moments, I go to the Lord and find my stregnth in Him. I am realizing that it wasn't the old things I grieved for but the way it made me feel. I am learning as I go through each day how to find that feeling and much more in following the path the Lord has set before me. Just as sorting through our belongings has not always been pleasant to do, neither is sorting through our habits and ways of thinking. It is keeping your eyes on the goal at the end that keeps you striving and working through it all. With the Lord's blessing the changes can be made and we will find a deeper happiness in them.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

My Baking Day Routine

After posting our changes to having limited electricity in our home, I have been surprized at the number of emails I have received. It is humbling to realize how many actually read my blog. Thank you for the emails. I enjoy and am inspired by them.

As the days are slowly becoming shorter, we have now faced a new issue. We find that at the end of the day, we are exhausted. Even my husband, who is in very good physical condition feels it. Some days, by 8:00 pm, he is ready to drop into bed for the night. We realized tonight that with our having to get everything done by nightfall, we are working harder during the daylight hours to make sure we get all the tasks completed for the day.

I have been sticking to my baking only twice a week. Mondays and Thursdays are the only days the oven is being used. I love it! I preplan all the baking and then I work on it all day. Breads, cookies, muffins, and anything else that needs baking are all done on those days. I also enjoy that I am able to utilize the oven and not be wasting energy by letting the oven go cold and having to heat it back up again. Most of my baking is done at the same temperature. I start by mixing my bread dough and setting it aside to rise. Next, I mix up the cookie dough and place it in the refrigerator. While the dough is chilling, I mix up the muffin batter and bake it. About the time the muffins are done, the bread dough has doubled in volume. I punch down the bread dough, shape the loaves, and place them in the pans. While the bread is rising the second time, I start baking cookies. On a normal recipe of about 6 dozen cookies, I can have them all baked by the time the bread is ready to be put into the oven. As the bread bakes, if a casserole is on the menu for dinner, I can assemble it and have it ready to pop into the oven as soon as the bread is finished. Baking this way makes for a full day, but I get much accomplished.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Homemade Fire Starters - Update

In my last post, I mentioned that I was looking for a homemade firestarter to make and use in our wood stove. Lacy, a reader of the blog, was kind enough to send a comment with a weblink to a page that shows how to make firestarters using petroleum jelly. I got very curious with this as we always have that stuff on hand. I tested it on several things that I had here around the house.

I tried it and made a couple of observations. The first being that it is messy. The lint sticks to your fingers and the jelly leaves a coating which I am not comfortable with as you have to wash your hands right away before feeling safe to light a match. If you are making these ahead of time, that wouldn't be as much of an issue though. Here is how I solved that problem.

Some weeks ago, I found a website that teaches how to make your own seed starter pots from recycled newspaper. I made one of these pots using a sheet of notebook paper to make a smaller size container. I left the 2 flaps out so that you can use them to light you starter. After mixing some petroleum jelly into the dryer lint, I packed the lint into the paper container. I lit it and placed it into my wood cookstove. The little cup burned for about 20 minutes! This is much longer than the lint would have stayed lit before. I am sure that the amount of petroleum jelly used will affect the burn time. So you will need to play around with it to see how well you need to coat the lint to get the burn time you want.

On the same website that had this firestarter, they had a link to another of their instructions. This one is for making firestarter sticks. In the instructions, they have you roll up a length of corrugated cardboard and tying it together with a length of a natural fiber such as jute or a cotton cord. You then dip the starter into melted paraffin wax to coat it. The idea is a good one, but having seen the mess that melted wax can make in the bottom of a wood stove, I have wanted to avoid using wax. So here was my thought. Why not spread a bit of petroleum jelly onto the corrugated board before rolling it up? I decided to give it a try. I didn't have any corrugated cardboard scraps so I used the cardboard from a fabric softener sheet box instead. I peeled off the colored print layer of paper just in case that ould interfere with how the starter worked. Next, I spread a very thin layer of the petroleum jelly onto the cardboard and loosely rolled it up to allow enough airflow. I tied it closed with some yarn that I had on hand. The starter lit beautifully. The one downside is that it burned faster than the dryer lint. It took just until 5 minutes for it to burn out. I am sure that the wax would increase the burn time.

After trying out the two, the dryer lint in the paper cup will be the route that I go. Who knows? I will keep experimenting. Maybe mixing the petroleum jelly into other things to see if there are other items that would have a good burn time for use as a starter. Maybe sawdust or wood chips.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Wood Stoves

Last night, we began using the wood stoves. The night time temperature has dropped into the 40's, so we needed the heat. I always look forward to this time of year. Both autumn and spring we have the cold nights and warm days. We light the stoves and it is so nice to hear the crackling of the wood and feel the heat coming from the stoves. It also means that I am able to stop using the electric stove and start cooking on the wood cookstove.

On of the downfalls of the autumn and spring is the large increase in having to use fire starters. To purchase the firestarter sticks at the store can become expensive. The sticks or bricks are simply wood shavings and sawdust that has been mixed with a oil or wax based product that will light easily. The mixture is then formed into bricks or stick shapes and compressed to become hardened as they dry. I have been thinking about ways to avoid having to buy so many of the firestarters, preferring to make our own. I don't want to use a wax base such as paraffin or old candles as the wax not only has nasty chemicals in it but can make a mess in the bottom of the stove as it melts.

In past years, I have always saved the paper egg cartons and dryer lint. I make simple fire starters by packing the cups of the egg carton with the dryer lint, then pouring on some cheap vegetable oil. This is placed in the stove under the kindling and lit. The starter worked great most times. The only time we have problems is when the wood is damp from ice or snow after a winter storm.

This year, I am looking for something that will work well. I have a few criteria that it must meet though. First, the firestarter has to be made of easily found recycled materials. I want to do these without having to buy as little new supplies as possible. Second, the starters have to be clean burning, not leaving a mess in the bottom of the stove such as a wax or some fats can do. One thing about using fats - never use an animal fat such as lard as it can cause a nasty odor!

As a child, my father used kerosene in a bucket filled with wood shavings and sawdust. He kept the bucket close enough to the stove for easy use, but far enough away to not be a fire hazard. The problem with this is that we have 2 little ones who could easily get into it as there is no place we could store it high enough to keep them out of it. I would prefer to avoid using this method. So the search for a better way is on.

When we get wood for our stoves, we are careful to not cut down healthy trees. Most of the wood that we burn has come from trees that fell during storms or recycled wood. This year, we still have several ricks of wood left over from last year. In addition to that, Joe has been bringing home wood pallets from work. The company normally just burns the pallets to dispose of them. Now, Joe gets to bring them home and what cannot be recycled to use for building material is used for firewood. The wood is well seasoned, untreated, and a hardwood that burns slow putting out a good amount of heat. Currently, we have 3 large shipping crates full of cut wood from the pallets to be used in the stoves. One of the crates is full of wood cut small enough for the cookstove.

I would love to hear any ideas that you may have for firestarters. Once I find something that works well, I will post it in a future blog.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Making your own Seed Paper

Seed paper is a fun project that can be quite addicting. With just a few basic items, you can make this wonderful paper. The paper can be used to make cards that the recipient can later plant in their flower bed. Here is how to make your own seed paper.


scraps of paper - make sure it doesn't have any inks that contain chemicals that could harm your plants
dishpan or other deep container
sponge or absorbant dish/hand towel
embroidery hoop with a scrap of sheer curtain fbric or cheesecloth stretched tightly in it.
bath towel
flannel or old t-shirts
flower or herb seeds


Tear you scraps of paper into small pieces about the size of a quarter and place into the dishpan. When I have made paper, I liked to fill the dishpan about 1/3 full of the paper scraps. Next, fill the dishpan with hot water and let the mixture set overnight. This will soften and loosen the threads of fiber in the paper. You can speed up the process by running some paper with warm water through your blender, but I find this method works very well also. One note: the more paper you have in the pan, the thicker the sheets of paper will be.

Stir the paper mixture (called a slurry) to make sure the paper has broken down and become very soft. If needed, I use a wisk to wisk the paper slurry to break up the paper even more. At this point, add the seeds sprinkling some on the top of the slurry. The seeds, if small, will rest on top of the slurry mixture.

Place a doubled layer of cheesecloth into an embroidery hoop frame stretched tightly. This will be the paper mold. Gently dip the embroidery hoop into the side of the dishpan and in a gently swaying motion, bring the hoop up to the surface of the water. The paper pulp with seeds mixed in will rest ontop of the cheesecloth. Let the excess water drain through the cheesecloth. If you notice thin patches or holes in your paper, you can gently place the hoop back into the water or very carefully, add more pulp by dipping a large spoon into the slurry and gently pouring it onto the areas where more pulp is needed.

Working on a folded towel, lay a piece of flannel, old t-shirt fabric or a scrap of cheesecloth on the towel. Carefully flip the hoop upside down with the pulp on the fabric. Working with a sponge, press out as much water as possible from the back of the hoop. This step is important as the more water you remove the easier the paper is to remove from the hoop. Wring out your sponge often to get the best results.

Once you have removed as much water as possible, gently peel of the hoop from the fabric. The paper should stay on the fabric and easily release from the hoop. If the paper doesn't release then either you pulled the hoop away too quickly or not enough water was removed. Once you have removed the hoop, leave your paper on the scrap of fabric.

Repeat the process making as many sheets of paper as you want. When finished, lay a scrap of fabric on top. Next, place a cookie sheet with some heavy cans on top to "couch" the paper and press out even more water. Let set for a few minutes or until there is no more water being pressed from the paper.

Remove the cookie sheet and weights from the stack of paper. Separate the layers of fabric with paper still attached and lay them in the sun to dry fully or you can hang them on a clothesline. The drying process can take up to 12 hours depending on the temperature and amount of sunlight.

Once fully dried, gently peel the paper off of the fabric sheets. You can use the paper to make notecards, stationary, journals, or in scrapbooks.

To plant the seed paper: You can either tear the paper into pieces and plant directly into your garden or little flower pots using a good soil mix. The seeds will sprout and grow while the paper breaks down and becomes compost in the soil.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Canning Meals for the Pantry

Autumn is nearly here so the season of homemade soups and stews is fast approaching. Each year, I make large batches of soups & stews, then can the extra up into quart and pint sized jars for stocking the pantry. Nearly any soup or stew is able to be canned. The only ingredients that you don't want to include are: rice, pasta, dairy and eggs. Rice and pasta will be overcooked and mushy after they have been pressure canned in the soups. Dairy and eggs are tricky. Some people home can using them without any problem, but the research has shown that including dairy & eggs in your home canning puts you at risk for food spoilage and the health issues that comes with it.

When canning a soup or stew, I fully cook the meal. Placing the hot soup/stew into hot jars will help in insuring a good seal. I also prefer canning this way as I know that the meat is thoroughly cooked and less likely to spoil. Some of the soups & stews that I home can are:

Vegetable soup
Chicken vegetable soup (add the noodles or rice later when cooking for a meal)
Bean & Lentil
Potato soup
Taco Soup
Tomato soup
Potato & Cabbage
Beef stew

The homemade soups and stews are wonderful for the quick meals. Add a salad and some fresh baked rolls and you have a wonderful easy dinner.

Other meals that I love to can whenever possible are the simple ones that can easily be made ahead in bulk batches.

Beef pot pie filling
Chicken pot pie filling
Stuffed Cabbage rolls with sauce
Shepherd's Pie filling (pour into a dish and add some potatoes on top before baking)
Pot Roast & veggies in broth
Tamale pie filling (add cornmeal topping before baking)

The dinner pie fillings are good to have on hand. I keep some of the refrigerated pie crust mix on hand anduse it to make the pie shell for these pies. You can also pour the fillings into a casserole dish and top with potaotes or biscuits instead of using a pie crust.

When filling the jars, I leave at least a 1/2 inch of headspace but often as much as 1 inch. Always put hot food into hot jars. The flat lids should also be hot to help insure a good seal. For most all of these meals, I process the jars in the pressure canner according to the canner instructions.

When making the chicken pot pie filling, of any chicken recipe where some chicken broth is left over in the pan, strain the broth well and pour into a hot canning jar. Process in a pressure canner according to maufacturer's instructions. This broth is then stored until I am needingit for other recipes. You can flavor the broth beofre processing by adding some diced celery and other vegetables to it if desired.

No More Electric Lights

Over the past week as we have been gradually making the changes to go without electric lights, I have been learning a great deal. I now fully understand why many of the early homes often had their kitchen in a sunny part of the home! Doing dishes, cooking and cleaning are easier to do when there is good lighting. In our kitchen, the sink in not close to a window. I have both windows uncovered during the day and the back door of the kitchen is open to allow in as much light as possible.

Sunday, Joe worked on the bathroom, putting up some paneling on the outside facing wall. In the process of taking down the temporary tarp covering the wall, he exposed an old window. The glass in the bottom window is broken, but the top window is intact. Joe slid the top window into the lower position. He then placed a window screen that was in storage into the top area of the window, adding trim to hold it in place. This brought a good amount of natural light into the bathroom.

We are now going to have to re-evaluate our options with each of the home's windows. Typically in the winter, I cover the windows with blankets to hold out the cold. Now, however, we will be needing the light. This means that each window will have a plastic cover put over it to help keep the cold out, while still allowing light in.

The idea of getting my work done during daylight hours has it's ups and downs. Getting it all done during the daylight seems all well and fine until I realise that come winter, those daylight hours will be shorter and I will have to really have my day well planned! At this point though, I am getting into the routine. It will take time though as I am more of a "night owl."

The new changes will take time to get used to. Not so much in the living without electric lights. That part is easy. The adjustments that we are making as to what we do and at what time we do it is having the greatest impact. I love the challenge though.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Blessing of Living Without Electric Lights & TV

Last week, our old house gave us a challenge that we are running with. The old fuse box finally gave out on 3 of the 5 circuits. Of course, they were the most used ones! Our kids' bedroom, the kitchen, and the livingroom now are without electricity, with the exception of the stove that was on it's own circuit. My husband & I have never had electricity in our bedroom, being that it is located in the 1890 portion of the home. We have always used a heavy duty extension cord to bring power to the alarm clock and lamp. Now, the refrigerator is on a heavy duty extension cord until this weekend when we will be moving it to the pantry which still has electricity.

We are giving ourselves until next payday (in 2 weeks) to be certain, but it looks like our decision is already made. Instead of replacing the fuse box with another large one to have electricity throughout the entire home, we will be buying a small one that will provide electricity only to the essential areas. The kitchen needs power to the stove since I am only able to use my wood cookstove during the cooler weather. Three months of the year, we need the electric stove. I also need it for all the baking that I do year round and for my canning as it provides a more constant level of heat than the wood stove provides. The pantry must have electricity as we are moving the refrigerator and eventually will be putting a freezer in there. It is also the room where our laundry & water heater is located. The clothes dryer and washer are being kept as a back up for the times when the weather is stormy & I can't hang it out on the line or when the arthritis in my hands is too painful to hand wash the laundry. The water heater will remain also as a backup for when we have our solar water heating system built. There are often times when the skies are overcast enough that the solar system may not provide water hot enough for our needs. The only other electricity that our home will have is a single outlet in the kitchen for any small appliances, such as my wheat grinder, and in the livingroom for the computer and my sewing machine. As I am able, I am wanting to start converting as much as possible to the non-electric versions. I have an old sewing machine that once I have a treadle base, I can convert it into a treadle powdered machine. A hand-crank wheat grinder is an investment that I have wanted to aim for also to allow me the ability during power outages to still be able to mill my grains for cooking/baking.

The change to using oil lamps for all of our lighting has been rather easy. We don't stay up late due to Joe's having to be up early for work. The major adjustment has been the lack of TV. That has also been something that after the first few days has become easy to do without.

The one major adjustment that I have had to make is in getting all my work done in daylight hours. There are some things that I can manage with the light from oil lamps, but doing dishes and other cleaning is best being completely done before sundown. I have also learned where I can place my oil lamps in the rooms to provide the best lighting.

Our daughter, at 2 yrs old, has also been making adjustments. Instead of wanting to watch Veggie Tales or Disney DVDs in the afternoon, she is coloring in her coloring books, playing with her toys, or looking at her other books. Often, I catch her sitting near her 5 month old brother with her books and "reading" to him. They are interacting much more, entertaining each other.

At their young age, the change to limited electricity and not having a TV will be easy. They will grow up not knowing anything different. Abbie plays outdoors more, which we love to see. She won't grow up vegetating in front of the TV with her only exercise being changing the station or playing video games. Having 20 acres of land to run and play on, the kids wil grow up loving the outdoors and getting plenty of exercise each day.
We are also spending more time as a family doing things together.

Having the electricity act up has turned into a wonderful blessing. I thank the Lord for the grace He has shown to us through this opportunity to make these changes.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Having A "Green Christmas"

With all the efforts to conserve and live a more organic lifestyle, I have been giving thought to the idea of a "Green Christmas". Having a green Christmas can be a fun challlenge in your creativity. Each year, most of the gifts that we give are homemade. We don't agree with how commercialized the holiday has become. We also want the tradition established so that our children will grow up with the idea of making their gifts.

When thinking of gifts, I am one who looks more for the practical. I try to match up the person with a gift that I know that they will find alot of use for. A green Christmas gift, to me, is a gift that has a purpose or function that doesn't require energy sources such as batteries or electricity to be used for the gift to be enjoyed. There are many gift ideas to choose from. For someone who loves to cook, you might consider a potholders set with coordinating placemats and fabric napkins. Just about anyone a quilt would make a nice gift that they would be able to use for years to come. Using fleece to make a winter gear set of scarf, hat, and mittens with maybe a lap blanket would be great for a person who likes to attend football games. Made in their team colors would be a special touch. Make a spa basket using a recycled basket or container, filled with homemade soaps and candle with a luffa sponge included. For the guy who loves being outdoors, you can make fleece boot liners to keep their feet warm along with some winter gear. You can also use gathered feathers found on your walks to hand tie flies for the man who loves fishing. Making guys a gift basket of items for their car or truck is always a hit. You know how they love their vehicles! If you make your own jams, jellies and fruit butters, these in a gift basket make a wonderful gift also! Or for a snack lover, make a basket including an assortment of salsa, brownie mix, or other snacks that they would enjoy.

Ornaments can be anything recycled and decorated. Glittered pinecones, sprigs of natural vegetation such as red berries tucked into the tree branches, and raffia garlands can be beautifully made for the "green Christmas" tree. What about recycling old holiday cards to make your ornaments? Make your own ornaments out of homemade modeling clay and paint to decorate them. Applesauce-cinnamon ornaments are always a nice touch. You can also make a natural garland for your mantle by stringing dried apple slices intermingled with dried orange peel and little fabric sachets filled with whole cloves or other spices.

Cards can be handmade from just about any paper. Making your own recycled paper would make an extra special card. Try making your own paper, after forming the paper sheet sprinkle some wldflower seeds onto the paper before couching it to remove all the water. The couching process will press the seeds into the fibers of the paper. Let the paper dry thoroughly! In the spring, the paper from the card can be torn into pieces and planted to grow the flowers!
You can find all types of holiday designs for making rubber stamped cards, or try your own hand at carving a design using a potato and stamping you cards.

Gift wrapping is another wonderful exercise in creative recycling or re-purposing of other items. An old cookie tin can be painted and decorated to become a nice gift box. You can also take old cereal boxes and cover them with fabric or paint them to turn them into beautiful gift boxes. One popular green Christmas packaging idea is the fabric gift bags. These can be made any size needed. These make great treat bags for tucking some cookies or other holiday treats into for holiday party favors. If you make a favorite dry cookie mix, place it in a baggie, then tuck into the fabric gift bag, tie with raffia and add the recipe card for using the mix and you have both the gift wrap and the gift all in one. For clothing items, you can make fabric envelopes, which are similar to making a pillow sham. Tuck the clothing into a muslin fabric bag, then tuck it all into the fabric envelope. After the gift is opened and the clothing (or maybe a quilt!) is removed from the muslin bag, the muslin can be stuffed with a filler and stitched closed, becoming a pillow. The pillow is put back into the fabric envelope and the recipient now has a pillow for their couch, bed, or favorite chair!

Having a green Christmas is only as rustic or plain as you wish it to be. There are many way in which you can incorporate the green Christmas attitude and ideals while still having a very beautiful and colorful holiday! Look around at yard sales, thrift stores, and other resources to see what is available to you. The recycled packaging, decorations and gifts don't have to look recycled once finished. They can be as beautiful and as high quality as anything found in stores and sold as new. Your own creativity is the only thing holding you back. Go for it! Give it a try. If you see a nice fleece blanket that has minor holes in a portion of it, recycle that fabric to make mittens and other winter gear. Cut up a couple of them to make a fleece patchwork blanket. You may be amazed at how much use you can get from the recycled materials. You will also find satisfaction in knowing that you are providing others with gifts and holiday decorations that they will enjoy while still beince conservation minded.