Friday, December 26, 2008
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
If you're using store bought milk, you'll want to pasturize it first, to make sure there are no organisms present to compete with the yogurt cultures. Put 1 qt of milk into a small sauce pan and heat to 180*, stirring frequently. If you don't have a thermometer, this is not rocket science. Just heat it to just before it boils, and then turn off the heat. Let it cool down to about 110*. If you're using raw milk, just heat gently to 110* so as not to distroy the benificial enzymes in the milk. Once the milk is at about 110*, stir in about 1/4 cup of prepared yogurt. For your first time, it's fine to use store bought yogurt. Just make sure you get one with live active cultures. Dannon is a good brand that's easy to find. I like to use Brown Cow, found in Whole Foods or the healh food section of a regular grocery store. It's easiest if you stir a little milk into the yogurt first, and then stir the thinned yogurt into the rest of the milk. Then pour it into your quart sized jar, and rubberband a towel or coffee filter over the mouth of the jar.
Now all that's left is to find a way to keep it at about 110* for the next 8-18 hours. There are several methods for doing this. I have a gas oven with a pilot light, so I just pop it in there and leave it. Similarly, if you have an electric oven you can put it in with the oven light on. Beware with using your oven, if you need your oven to cook dinner, remove your yogurt before preheating your oven or you'll kill your culture. In my last apartment my oven didn't have a pilot light or an oven light, so I had to get a little more creative. I bought a heating pad (like for a bad back) for about $9 at a drug store. I would put my yogurt on the heating pad on low, and cover the whole thing with a dishtowel for insulation, and this worked fine. Some other methods are to use your crockpot on the warm setting with water surrounding your jar, or using a small insulated cooler with warm water, of find a yogurt maker at a thrift store and let it do the incubating. I haven't tried any of these, but have heard good results from people who have.
The yogurt needs to stay warm from 8-18 hours. The longer you incubate it, the thicker and more tart it will be. I usually aim for about 10 hours, but the process is flexable. When it's done, just pop a lid on your jar and toss it into the fridge. I like to flavor my yogurt as I'm eating it, so that I always have plain yogurt in the fridge for starting my next batch. I like to stir in maple syrup (as in the first photo) or honey. You can also use jam for fruit yogurt, and it wouldn't be bad with a little chocolate syrup if you're feeling particularly naughty.
Monday, December 22, 2008
I always plan my weeks meals around what I already have in the pantry. First I check the upstairs freezer for any leftovers that need used up. Right now I have pork roast, chicken breast, turkey, and pinto beans in the freezer already cooked and just needing thawed and thrown into a recipe. If there is nothing suitable in the kitchen freezer, I check the downstairs freezer. It has whole chickens, one turkey, a few potroast cuts of beef, a little ground beef, and several packages of boneless skinless chicken breasts. I also plan for leftovers to be rolled into other meals. If I roast a chicken at the begining of the week, I plan at least two other meals that week that use cooked chicken such as soup or cassarole. AllRecipes and RecipeZaar are great websites for finding recipes to use what you already have in the house. Durring my weekly grocery shop, I shop to stock the pantry and freezer, not for specific meals. If there are a few ingredients or spices that I need for something specific I'll go ahead and pick those up, but I don't buy a whole meals worth of ingredients in the week that I make that meal. This saves a lot of money because I try to plan meals that use spices I typically have on hand, or just buy small amounts of spices/ingredients if it's something i don't use often. Also, say I was planning a chicken meal that needs boneless, skinless chicken breasts. These are usually $4.50/lb making them a fairly expensive (to our family anyway) cut of meat. But several weeks ago they were on sale for $1.88/lb, and I got 6 packages. So now I already have chicken in the freezer and don't need to pay full price. So I plan all of my shopping trips around what's on sale, and I plan my menus around what's in the freezer.
This weeks menu:
I have pork roast, cooked diced chicken breast, and pinto beans in the freezer that I pulled into the fridge to defrost.
Sunday: Pork roast with gravy, sweet potatoes, peas
Monday: Crockpot pork and beans, popcorn cauliflower, applesauce
Tuesday: Chicken noodle soup, bread, kale
Wednesday: Christmas Eve dinner with family
Thursday: Christmas Day dinner with family
Friday: BBQ chicke pizza
Saturday: we leave on vacation. Cancun here we come!!
Friday, December 19, 2008
The CPSC & CPSIA have passed a new law to go into full effect February 10th 2009 requiring extensive testing for hazardous chemicals on all items manufactured that are intended for use by children. This sounds like a good idea on the surface. I mean, with all of the lead paint recalls and scary stuff coming out of China, who's not for stricter regulation and more rigorous testing? When it comes to children, you can't be too safe. Or can you?
The problem with this law is that the testing is required to be done by the manufacturer, and no exemption or allowance is included for size of business. The tests we're talking about can cost up to $5,000 with the average being around $500. And they need to be performed on every component of every item produced. Even large businesses are struggling to meet these new testing requirements, but small businesses and work at home moms don't stand a chance. Moms that sew boutique children's clothing in their homes, dads that make wooden toys, and small manufacturers would be required to test every button, every spool of thread, every bolt of cloth, every can of paint that is used in the production of any product intended for children. At $500 a pop, this puts most of us out of business.
Not only does this include small businesses and work at home parents, but the re-sale of children's items are subject to the same testing requirements. In addition to mandatory testing, the law states that any children's items produced before Feb. 10, 2009 that have not been tested will not be able to be sold. To sell the like new Christmas jumper that your daughter only wore once without complying with the mandatory testing would be considered a felony punishable by thousands of dollars in fines and jail time. Toy stores like Larson's and Sprout Soup will have thousands of dollars of unsellable inventory just sitting in their stock rooms.
The law extends even to foreign countries who wish to export items to the United States. If they don't comply with the testing, the US won't let the items in. In light of this, many terrific companies of wonderful, quality children's toys and clothing are going to stop shipping to the US. They just can't afford to. And don't think that a law like this could never be passed in the US. It already has. The best we can hope for now is to get an amendment to either provide exemption based on business size, or to put the burden of testing on the raw materials manufacturers. Require the cloth manufacturer to test, and then the sewing mamas can buy already tested/approved materials to work with.
Feb. 10, 2009 is being referred to as "National Bankruptcy Day" by many businesses and manufacturers. Please help us by making your voice heard!
We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamer of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.
With wonderful deathless ditties,
We build up the world's great cities,
And out of a fabulous story
We fashion an empire's glory:
One man with a dream, at pleasure,
Shall go forth and conquer a crown;
And three with a new song's measure
Can trample an empire down.
We, in the ages lying
In the buried past of earth,
Built Nineveh with our sighing,
And Babel itself with our mirth;
And o'erthrew them with prophesying
To the old of the new world's worth;
For each age is a dream that is dying,
Or one that is coming to birth.
A breath of our inspiration,
Is the life of each generation.
A wondrous thing of our dreaming,
Unearthly, impossible seeming-
The soldier, the king, and the peasant
Are working together in one,
Till our dream shall become their present,
And their work in the world be done.
They had no vision amazing
Of the goodly house they are raising.
They had no divine foreshowing
Of the land to which they are going:
But on one man's soul it hath broke,
A light that doth not depart
And his look, or a word he hath spoken,
Wrought flame in another man's heart.
And therefore today is thrilling,
With a past day's late fulfilling.
And the multitudes are enlisted
In the faith that their fathers resisted,
And, scorning the dream of tomorrow,
Are bringing to pass, as they may,
In the world, for it's joy or it's sorrow,
The dream that was scorned yesterday.
But we, with our dreaming and singing,
Ceaseless and sorrowless we!
The glory about us clinging
Of the glorious futures we see,
Our souls with high music ringing;
O men! It must ever be
That we dwell, in our dreaming and singing,
A little apart from ye.
For we are afar with the dawning
And the suns that are not yet high,
And out of the infinite morning
Intrepid you hear us cry-
How, spite of your human scorning,
Once more God's future draws nigh,
And already goes forth the warning
That ye of the past must die.
From the dazzling unknown shore;
Bring us hither your sun and your summers,
And renew our world as of yore;
You shall teach us your song's new numbers,
And things that we dreamt not before;
Yea, in spite of a dreamer who slumbers,
And a singer who sings no more.
We are not a religious family, and as such we do not celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday. This in itself both simplifies some things and complicates others. Most of my family celebrates Christmas as the Christian holiday and birth of Jesus, and when we celebrate with our family we join in their traditions. Although my children are still young, this does open up the door for some deep conversations on why we believe what we believe, and why it's different than what Grandma and Grandpa believe. The flip side of that coin is the secular, industry driven consumption fest that masquerades as a holiday for much of America. This is something I strive to avoid at all costs as it goes against everything I believe in and am trying to accomplish in my family.
So how does one keep Christmas meaningful without religion or buying into the consumer driven holiday? Brad and I have talked a lot about how we want to handle Christmas in our family, what it means to us, and what we want it to mean to our children. We're working hard to instill some traditions that are in line with our beliefs both spiritually and environmentally. We stress Christmas as a time to celebrate family, be thankful for what the previous year has been, give back where you can and to cherish the people you love. We're having fun creating our own family traditions. Brad is learning Christmas carols on his guitar to sing as a family. Every year we've gone as a family to pick out a live tree and wreath for our door, and decorate it as a family. This year Owen had a blast "helping" me make a gingerbread house. (If you've seen that post, I admit I didn't let him help very much. Maybe next year.) And as the kids get older we would like to start volunteering over the Christmas holiday. My first thought goes to a soup kitchen, but it would be fun to let the kids choose a charity to give their time to also.
We've gone the fairly simple route with decorations this year. We do always get a live tree and wreath. I love the energy of having live plants indoors. I love the scent of pine every time we walk in or out of the house, or come down the stairs. We do minimal holiday lights. We do have lights on the tree, but even when we own a house I don't think we'll do a whole lot of landscape lights. They require electricity to run, many of them contain led, and they're expensive to maintain as they often need to be at least partially replaced each year. Also we don't buy themed ornaments for the tree. Our tree is very eclectic, with ornaments from my childhood, our first married Christmas, and gifts from friends and family over the years. I like that you can tell the story of past Christmas's at our home by the ornaments on our tree. Every one is special, and I know where each one came from. I remember as a child how much fun it was to unwrap the ornaments at Christmas and we would talk about when we got them as we put them on the tree. That's something I want for my children. This year I had my heart set on a rosemary tree for the kitchen table. I was going to decorate it with popcorn and cranberry strands and tiny salt dough snowflakes. But I've had the hardest time finding one, all the nurseries I've checked (well OK the one nursery I checked) and both Whole Foods here in town are sold out. I've decided it's not something to stress about. I'll start earlier next year and get one before they're gone. Then provided I don't manage to kill it, we'll have fresh rosemary all year, and a little tree to decorate the following Christmas too.
Another way we're trying to simplify this year is with gifts. Brad and I got each other one large thing apiece that we've been wanting. We've gotten a few small things for each of the boys, and one larger gift for them to share. I got many of their gifts used. They're young and won't care yet, and buying used keeps things out of the landfills as well as decreases the demand for new production and all of the environmental hazards that go along with it. I've also made a lot of my gifts for family, either on my sewing machine or in my kitchen. This year my dad, who is an accomplished carpenter, has undertaken to make gifts for everyone. I have never been more excited for a Christmas gift. I've been given a hint as to what the boys are getting, and it's everything I want for toys for them. Hand made, quality, open ended, imaginative play. Now there are so many people that love my boys, and you can never have too many people who love your children, that it stands to reason they will probably receive some gifts that I would not have purchased for them. We have a small apartment, and really don't have a lot of room for extra "stuff". So what to do when well meaning people bestow upon you the gift of clutter? If it's something for the boys and they truly love it, it stays regardless of whether I would have chosen it or not. For anything else that just doesn't work for our family, I feel fine donating it to a charity like Good Will. I believe that the people in our lives truly give out of love, and would be sad if I allowed a gift that we couldn't use to remain in the house causing stress just to make them feel good. I know that if I give a gift that didn't work for the recipient I would rather they pass it on to someone who could use it than to keep it and wish they hadn't.
I'd love to hear more ideas. What have you done this year to keep Christmas simple? What are your favorite traditions?
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Ever frugal, I cut my templates from empty cereal boxes. I mixed my ginger bread, rolled and cut all of my pieces. They looked surprisingly good. Here is the recipe I used for the gingerbread:
1 C butter, softened
1 3/4 C packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp dark molasses
1 1/4 C granulated sugar
6 C all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp each ground ginger, ground cinnamon, and ground allspice
1)Cream butter and sugars. Stir in eggs and molasses
2)Sift all dry ingredients together separately
3)Mix dry ingredients into wet until just combined, don't over mix
4)Knead dough on floured surface until completely combined
5)Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in fridge for at least 1 hour
6)Roll out to 1/4 inch thickness and cut template pieces
7)Bake on greased cookie sheet for 15 min at 325*, cool completely
I cut windows into the gingerbread when it was hot out of the oven. When all the pieces were cool, I put crushed butterscotch into the window pieces and baked them at 350* for about another 5 minutes on a foil lined baking sheet. Here's the window pieces with the crushed butterscotch candy:
And the windows once they were melted:
When everything was completely cool and ready to assemble I mixed up a batch of royal icing. I wanted most of the house to be edible, so I just used this for the construction, and used a butter cream for the rest of the decorating. Here's the royal icing recipe, and be warned, this stuff dries like cement, so work quickly and clean up as you go.
1 lb powdered sugar
1/4 tsp cream of tarter
3 egg whites
Beat slowly until stiff peaks form
And the butter cream recipe:
1/2 C white shortening*
3 1/2 C powdered sugar
1 tsp clear vanilla*
1/4 tsp almond extract*
3-4 Tbsp milk or hot water
Beat shortening and flavoring for a minute, then slowly add half of the sugar, mixing well. Add half of the milk or water and mix well. Add the rest of the sugar and just enough water for the desired consistency, either spreading or piping.
*I used butter and regular vanilla, so my butter cream came out off white. I don't mind, I think it's pretty, and I hate Crisco, so there you go. I also left out the almond extract as I didn't have any, and I still think my icing tasted pretty good.
So after assembly and decoration (and barely making a dent in all the candy I bought to make this thing) Here is the final product!
Not quite magazine cover worthy, but not bad for my first try.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
I also do wrap style Velcro closure diaper covers.
Wool makes such a great diaper cover. It's anti microbial so it doesn't need washed after every wear. Just air it out between uses and the lanolin in the wool naturally neutralizes odors. It allows air to circulate to baby's bum, so hit helps cut down on diaper rash, and it is a natural fiber, which many moms like to keep next to their baby's skin.
I also designed and produce the patent-pending WallabyBags. In our home we have switched to reusable almost everything over the past couple of years. We use cloth diapers, towels, shopping bags and the thought of cloth tp is playing in the back of my mind. My husband might not go for that though. But we still went through a lot of plastic baggies. I pack my husbands lunch every day, and several days a week the boys and I are out around lunch time and I try to pack ours as well. I knew there had to be a better way. And thus was born the WallabyBag. They're laminated on the inside with polyurethane so they're water proof and keep your sandwich fresh. They fold over the top like the old school sandwich baggies to keep snacks contained with out Velcro to catch and hold crumbs, and they have a flat bottom to stand on their own for easy snacking. I put everything from peach slices to cheerios in these. I use them in the fridge to store cheese or cut veggies. My aunt had me make her several large ones and she uses them to store washed and cut greens for salad. And the best part? They're machine washable and dryable.
Thanks for taking a minute to check out my stuff. Hope you like it!
Friday, December 12, 2008
In addition to finding cool stuff, it can't be denied that thrift shopping is a very frugal endeavor. I buy about 99% of clothes for myself and the boys at thrift stores. I rarely spend over $1.99 for a shirt or pants. If you know what to look for you can often find designer clothes for pennies on the dollar. I routinely find Gymboree and Children's Place for a dollar or so, and have even found boutique clothing like Hanna Anderson. In years that I don't have the time or inspiration to make them, I can find great Halloween costumes there. And as I mentioned in Sweater: Deconstructed I never try clothes on at the store, but for $.50 I can afford to make a few mistakes. In general about 75% of what I bring home works really well for me.
I also look at items in the thrift store as raw material for crafting. I get wool sweaters and felt them for longies and diaper covers, I use vintage or jersey sheets for fabric to make clothing and hand bags, I refashion clothing items into something new and different. And if I find something that just doesn't fit and isn't worth my time to alter, it goes right back into the donation box and I take it back to the thrift store next time I go.
Thrift shopping is not only good for my personal pocket book though. It is environmentally friendly and good for the community as well. Buying used not only saves me money, but it keeps things out of the landfills, and it decreases the demand for new manufactured goods helping to limit factory emissions. When I declutter I have little time to take pictures and list things on craigslist or deal with a garage sale, so any usable items I'm getting rid of go to the thrift store. I probably could make a little money trying to sell some things, but it saves so much time and headache to donate, and I feel good about giving. A lot of thrift stores support charity causes, so the money I spend there goes back into the community. Proceeds from Good Will go toward education, training, and career services for people with disadvantages, such as welfare dependency, homelessness, and lack of education or work experience, as well as those with physical, mental and emotional disabilities. Last year, local Good Wills collectively provided employment and training services to more than 1.1 million individuals. Salvation Army provides toys for kids at Christmas, coats for the homeless, food for the hungry, help for abused women and children, care for the elderly, and many other social services. Volunteers of America (my favorite thrift store here) provides services for children and families, developmental disabilities, elderly, emergency services, employment training, health care, homeless, housing, and much more. Be sure to check into the thrift stores in your area to see how they give back to the community.
Some of my best finds at thrift stores include a Thomas the Train play mat for my 3yo, a like new pressure cooker, some terrific clothes including an emerald green cotton/lambswool sweater and an 8 gore long skirt that fits perfectly and is very flattering, a spider costume for my 1yo for Halloween that was like new, some great vintage sheets, and every year I stock up on cookie tins for giving home made candy in.
If you've never stepped into a thrift store, I strongly encourage you to give it a try, you never know what you might find. And if you already shop at thrift stores you can feel good knowing that you are not only saving money, but are doing a good thing for the environment and the community.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
The above picture is a great example of the franken-fruit developed by the commercial grower. I happen to know that these Golden Delicious were shipped to Ohio all the way from Washington state. And that is rare, because usually you have no idea where fruit in the grocery is from. Compared to the Gold Rush, the Golden Delicious are frankenishly huge, and unnaturally pristine. And wouldn't you hate to be the person who's job it was to put that little sticker on every single apple? The Gold Rush apples are smaller, and not nearly as pretty, but in all the chopping I did I really came to appreciate the natural beauty in the imperfect apples. And the difference in the flavor is amazing. Biting into a Gold Rush apple is like taking a swig of fresh apple cider. The Golden delicious were very bland, with a bitter skin and almost no flavor. So buy local and organic when you can, it really makes a difference.
A huge pot of applesauce keeping hot while waiting for the water bath to come to a boil. If instead of canning it you let it continue on the stove, you get apple butter.
This stuff is so good it really should be illegal.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
I get 99% of clothes for myself and the boys at the thrift store. I love my thrift store. I have so many good things to say about thrift shopping that it deserves it's own post. Soon. But today we're talking about a sweater.
I tried it on at this point, to make sure the shoulder seams were in the right place. You want this seam serged before you sew up the side seam and underarm, so better to make sure it fits now. Once you're sure the seams fall nicely, go ahead and serge or zigzag stitch this seam.
Next you'll sew and then serge the side seams. Start at the hem and sew toward the armpit. Once to the point where the body meets the sleeve, line up your seams and sew on into the arm seam. Side seam and under arm seam are done in one long seam. Again you may want to try it on before you go back and serge this seam.
To finish your seams, thread all of your loose threads through a large eye needle and thread back through the first half inch of serging.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
It started with one spot in his diaper area on Friday morning, and has since developed into a full blown head to toe case. He's doing remarkably well for how miserable he looks. Surprisingly, my three year old does not have them, even though he was exposed at the same time. Yes, that's right. I'm one of those moms who purposely exposes her kids to diseases in hopes to get them out of the way when they're young so we don't have to worry about it later. I'm well aware that there is a vaccine for the chicken pox. So far it is the only vaccine that we have decided to forgo.
Vaccinating kids is a very complex subject with strong feelings on either side of the equation. I believe that, in general, vaccines are a good thing. When my little brother was a baby he almost died from haemophilus influenza type B. There is now a vaccine for this and it has saved many parents from the worry that my parents went through. To me, however, the chicken pox vaccine is a little different. First of all, the chicken pox is a very manageable illness and complications in healthy children with normal immune systems is very rare. Yes it's a PITA, and the kids are miserable for about a week, but very very few children die from the chicken pox. Secondly, the chicken pox vaccine is a very new one, and not very effective at that. In the history of new vaccines, many get pulled after several years of use on the general population because risks are discovered that weren't apparent in the development stages due to inadequate testing. I'd rather my kid not be the guinea pig. Also, the chicken pox vaccine is a live virus vaccine. Kids can actually contract the disease from the vaccine, and kids and catch the disease from a child who has been recently vaccinated even if they do not appear sick. And probably my biggest reason for deciding against the chicken pox vaccine is that it is not a lasting immunity like the wild virus. Chicken pox can be a very serious illness to older children, teens, adults, and especially elderly. The extent of the pox is much greater in teens and adults, and the risks of complications such as pneumonia and encephalitis is much higher. I would rather my kids suffer a lesser case as a young child when they won't remember the ordeal and be set for life then get vaccinated as a child and risk being susceptible as a teen or adult when the risk is much greater.
So now that the little one has successfully contracted the chicken pox (we shared some suckers with a friend who currently had them) I am left trying to comfort a very itchy 14 month old. Sunday and Monday he had a bit of a fever, and really just wanted to snuggle all day. Fevers are a body's way of combating intruders, in this case the chicken pox virus, so I didn't treat it with anything other then extra hugs and cuddles. Last night was pretty rough, as he is now quite itchy and had a very hard time falling and staying asleep. To help relieve the itching so we could all get some sleep I did a few different things. First I applied tea tree oil to the spots. Tea tree oil is a very effective anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. While the tea tree oil was setting on his spots I drew a warm bath. I placed about a cup of oatmeal and 1/4 cup of baking soda into a thin cotton dish cloth and tied it shut. I placed this under the running water until the bath was cloudy. Then I popped my kiddo into the tub, and used the oatmeal cloth to sponge all his spots, squeezing the oat milk out all over him. He loved this, and he usually isn't a big fan of bath time. Then I pulled him out, patted him down, and gave him a fresh clean double thick cloth diaper. The itching was soothed enough that he was able to sleep for several hours. My husband repeated the oatmeal bath in the wee hours of the morning, and we all managed to sleep until 8.
And thus has been our experience so far with the chicken pox. Please remember that I am not a doctor, just a mother who reads too much. It is important that you do your own research on vaccines and include your pediatrician in your decisions.
Well, that’s the family, and we’re all happy to have you as our guest. Ever since I’ve become a mother I’ve wanted to raise my kids close to the land. I want them to grow up understanding where our food comes from, and how our actions impact the earth. As my dream of land to roam on is still several years away I am striving to implement the urban equivalent. I do my best to cook from scratch, eat local, use environmentally friendly products in my home, avoid consumerism, and simplify my life. In this blog I want to document our journey as we strive to make green lifestyle choice and mindful decisions about our home. Hopefully you will learn something new, teach me something new, and we’ll all leave better people.