Friday, October 31, 2008

Preschooling at Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Homemade Soap Problems

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

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

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

Monday, October 27, 2008

Hazards of Clotheslines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 24, 2008

Recycling Cookie Tins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

"Natural" Diapering Idea

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

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

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

Chlorine Wash on Produce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Making Butter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 20, 2008

Prairie Mom's Kitchen

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

Friday, October 17, 2008

Homemade Granola

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


4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

2 cups sweetened, shredded coconut

2 cups sliced almonds

1-1/2 cups dried fruit, chopped

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/3 cup honey

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

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

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

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

Friday, October 10, 2008

Simple Solution for Sewing Pattern Storage

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

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

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

For my husband & son:

For my daughter & I:
Dresses & Jumpers

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Home Canned Soups - Recipes

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

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

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

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

Beef-Vegetable Soup

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

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

Taco Soup

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

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

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

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

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

Chicken Vegetable Soup

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

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

Baking Day & Bread Recipe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homestead Bread

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

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

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

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

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

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

Makes 4 large loaves.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Non-Electric Lighting Options

Thank you for all the emails and comments to the posts. It seems that with today's high energy prices, the idea of going non-electric on as much as possible has become a hot topic. There has been so much interest in how we now light our home that I wanted to approach that aspect today.

Our home, being built in the 1890's & the addition in 1910, has the large windows. Some have been switched out to a more modern style, but the windows are still large enough to give a lot of natural lighting in the daylight hours. There are some rooms still with the original windows that will one day be replaced as finances allow for a double-pane, more energy efficient windows. Typical of homes of that time, our house has several windows in each room. The bathroom is the only room without good natural lighting. It's only window is located where the side porch roof shades it. Having all these windows helps a great deal in providing lighting most days. There are the overcast days however where the natural lighting is not always efficient.

Currently, we are using oil lamps in the rooms. The bathroom is the only room which still has electric lighting. We feel it will likely remain with electricity due to the lack of good natural lighting which we would need for things like my husband's shaving, checking for ticks, first aid treatment, etc. that we may find challenging in oil lamp light.

As we are fixing up our home, we are going to be painting all walls white. There is a good reason our ancestors did this! It was practical. White walls reflects the oil lamp light much better than walls with a colored paint or leaving the walls in their natural wood or plaster coloring. Our rooms will have color, but it will be done with the curtains and accents around the room. My husband is going to put up lamp shelves on the walls where the lamps will be kept. Behind each lamp chimney will be a reflective plate or mirror to reflect even more of the lamp light into the room. We have found that having 2 lamps per bedroom to be sufficient. Our little ones have 1 lamp which we take into their room when checking diapers and such during the night. The lamp, for now, is not kept in their room. The living room and kitchen, being larger rooms and more activity needing good lighting, each have 3 oil lamps placed about the rooms.

A product we are looking into and considering is a solar lantern. These lanterns are advertised mainly as outdoor use, but will provide good lighting for up to 6 -12 hours depending on the brand and the amount of light it produces. We are looking for a good brand that will provide the lighting we need. If these work well, we will gradually buy enough for each room. The oil lamps will remain, but we will use them only when the solar lamps are unable to get a good charging from the sun, such as overcast days. If we find one that works well, I will certainly be posting about it here.

One consideration we have had to make is how to walk about the house in the middle of the night safely. Having a 2 yr old and a 6 month old, there are times when the little one especially will awaken in the night for a feeding or diaper change. We don't keep any of the lamps burning at night as we feel it too much of a safety risk. Also, we don't want to be wasting a lot of lamp oil. We keep one of the smaller oil lamps with a box of matches handy so that we can find it easily in the dark. I light that lamp and set the wick on a low light setting, providing just enough light to allow me to walk safely through the rooms but not bright enough to wake the little one still sleeping. This has worked out very well. We are able to navigate about our home without any problem, yet the lighting is not harsh enough to fully awaken the baby as we change his diaper or give him a feeding. Once we have a solar lantern, the lantern will be used.

A good temporary solution for the lighting issue is the campsite type lanterns. You can find ones that are battery operated, use propane or kerosene. If you go to Coleman you can find a wide assortment. One problem that they have though is that you are still having to purchase fuel and store it until ready to use.

A wonderful online resource is Lehman's which is known as a non-electric supply store. They supply items that many Amish or other plain living people use on a regular basis. One Lehman's website they have a good selection of lighting options. One thing worth mentioning, Lehman's carries both the flat & round oil lamp wicks in addition to the parts for oil lamps. If you have lamps already, you may find your replacement parts on their website. They carry the Olive Oil lamps and parts. With the Olive Oil lamp kits, you can turn any jar or glass into an oil lamp. Though it is called an Olive Oil lamp, you can use these with any
green, renewable fuel like olive oil, vegetable oil, or liquid fat or grease. Olive Oil is best though as it burns without odor or smoke, if the lamp should be knocked over, the Olive Oil will not catch fire.

For young children, one suggestion I would have would be to consider the battery operated little Coleman style lanterns for a little bedside lamp. While it does require batteries, you can use it as a temporary solution until you find something that best suits your needs. If, like us, you still have some electricity in portions of the home, you can get rechargeable batteries and a charger for the battery operated lanterns. This will help to prevent the number of battery purchases that you would need to make. The lantern would also make a nice lamp to use when needing to walk about the home at night to check on little ones or in the bathroom.

We are still working out the details in how we will do our lighting. For now, the oil lamps are sufficient, but we realize that on overcast days and in the winter when natural lighting is more limited, we will need to have other options available. As we learn what works for us, I will continue to post what we learn.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Hidden Electric Usage

In my last blog I wrote about the significant drop in our electric bill. I wanted to post today about some way that you can lower your bills also. When my husband gave serious though to our electric usage, he made some discoveries about our habits.

On a typical morning, Joe would wake up, turning lights and the TV on so that he could listen to it as he got ready for work. Often eating breakfast in front of the TV. Most days, the computer was also turned on so that he could download the emails. It was not unusual for the TV to remain on all day until we went to bed at night. Computer also was on all day. These were the easy usages to limit or eliminate. We no longer have electric lights, nor do we have the TV, DVD player, VCR, and radio. We use the computer alone for communication, news, weather reports, home business, and in the background, if we want music playing, we utilize the Window's Media player.

There are also many "hidden" usages that can be limited to lower your electric bill. If you have an electric water heater, think about the possibility of unplugging it or turning off the switch to it's plug at your circuit box when it is not needed. Our water heater is on a 220 circuit. The plug is in easy reach, so we keep it unplugged unless we actually need the hot water. The water heater runs for about 30 minutes, then shuts off as the water has reached the temperature it is set for. We unplug the water heater again once the water has been heated. By unplugging or switching off the circuit to the water heater when not in use, you are able to prevent the intermittent usage throughout the day & night. Your water heater comes on to heat the water, then shuts off. As the water in the water heater begins to cool, the heater will switch on again. This process goes on all day & night for as long as you have power going to the water heater. If no one is home during the day, the water heater is still heating water that you have no need for! How often have you gone on a weekend trip or a vacation and left the water heater plugged in or the switch still turned on in the circuit box? Who were you heating up the water for? All that usage was simply adding to your electric bill. You received no benefit from it! You can also help in saving money by making sure you have a water heater blanket wrapped around the water heater to help in keeping the water warm longer. For washing dishes or other small tasks, I tend to use the stove to heat the water. I find that the stove heats the water much faster, thus using less electricity. When the wood cookstove is lit, the hot water for cleaning is heated for free.

Any appliance that has a digital readout is drawing electricity even when not in use. Stoves with a digital readout clock, for example, is constantly using power to keep that clock displayed. While the energy usage may be small by comparison to other appliances, you are still using electricity in a constant flow to the stove.

In most homes, the only appliances that require a constant availability to draw electrical power is your refrigerator and freezer. Of course there are always exceptions, alarm systems, people with disabilities who have power chairs or other needs, will have additional circuits that need a constant availability for electrical usage. Most of us however, can simply shut off the circuits to unneeded appliances or unplug them if the plugs are placed in a spot that make it convenient.

In every family's home there are ways to cut back usage. Shutting off the computer and turning off the power at the surge strip, cutting off power to the water heater, and cutting off power to appliances with digital readouts makes a huge difference! You may be surprised at how much this simple thing can cut down your monthly bill.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Our Electric Bill

We finally received our first electric bill that shows our electric usage with our limiting electricity to only the essential appliances (water heater, refrigerator, stove, and laundry as a backup for when I am unable to do it by hand) and for the computer & my sewing machine.

To give you a comparison, Our August bill was $250 for one month. The September bill came Friday and Joe was eager to see the difference. The bill was only $51 for the month! What a huge change! Soon, our electric bill will be going even lower as we continue to make adjustments in our lifestyle.

The following is a description of how we use the electricity now. The only thing using electricity full time is the refrigerator. For obvious reasons, we cannot unplug it for part of the time. The electric stove is in use only a twice a day. The greatest usage though is when I am baking. To help save energy, I plan my baking so that I am doing it only twice a week, on Monday & Thursday. On those days, I bake enough bread, cookies, and anything else that we will need until the next baking day. This also includes any orders that I have for baking bread or cookies for others. By limiting the number of days that I bake, I am not heating up the oven nearly as often.

The water heater is plugged in only when we will be needing it. It shares a 220 outlet with the clothes dryer. The outlet is placed high enough up on the wall that we can easily swith out the plugs as needed. The water heater takes 30 minutes to heat up the water so we plug it in 30 minutes before we need the water for baths or cleaning. The clothes dryer is used a bit more often than I would like, but it mainly for the laundry that doesn't fit on the clothesline or for days when I cannot hang things on the line to dry outdoors. The washing machine is also only used part time. I am working up to using it only for the large items like blankets and comforters. It is also used for now on days when my arthritis in my hands is flaring up too much to wash laundry on the washboard.

Once the weather is cool enough, I will be using the wood stove for all my cooking. I am also looking to find someone willing to trade a working wringer washer for our automatic one. The wringer washers use far less water, from my experiences with them, than the automatic ones. It will also be a blessing when I am unable to wash the laundry fully by hand.

Thank you to all who have written either as comments or in emails. Your ideas and thoughts are an inspiration and we are grateful to you.