Saturday, November 29, 2008

Campartmentalizing my Life

Usually I'm against compartmentalizing my life. Christ should be the center of my life not only on Sunday, but all through the week, both at home and at work, for example. But I've started to discover the order that comes when I compartmentalize on a smaller scale. I suppose it's really scheduling.

This is something I really need in my day - order. First, play with the kids, read them books, cook meals and clean house. Then (while the kids are sleeping), I can have my bloggy time. I need this sort of compartmentalization to set boundaries. It's too easy for me to get over-caught up in this online world. Compartmentalizing it to "when the kids are sleeping" helps me not ignore the kids. It also helps me to teach the kids to help with housework, since I want it all done by the time they're in bed :)

Charlotte Mason recommends this same sort of thing for kids (scheduling each activity or school subject for about 15-20 minutes, then doing something different). Here's how we use this concept to have the kids help with housework. We set the timer for 15 minutes. That's "clean up" time. We clean up one room, then do something else (like an art project). A while later, we set the timer again and clean up a different room. Sometime during the day, each room usually gets at least picked up. Does it keep the house clean? No. But it does keep it to a sort-of manageable state. And that's good enough for me.

Using the timer, and forcing myself to stay off the computer when it's "play with the kids time" makes my day simpler and happier.

For more Living Simply Saturdays, visit Keeper of the Home.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Brown Friday

I just realized that it's the official beginning of fudge season.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Word Filled Wednesday: Things to come

Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.
1 John 3:2

I don't know about you, but I'm so glad that what we have now is only a shadow of the glorious life with Christ that is our future!

For more Word-filled Wednesdays, visit

Handmade Gifts part 3: Teenagers (Girls)

First off, let me say that Skip to My Lou has a fabulous list of handmade gifts. Which includes a terrific section for teens. Including a hammock!

A second invaluable resource is the Sew Mama Sew Handmade Holidays list from last year. Unbeatable.

These lists are so great that it seems silly to attempt my own. But I like futile activities -- I have four kids. So here we go.

Hair stuff: headbands, barrettes, curlers, etc. Sew Mama Sew has a great list of hair items to make. I don't need to repeat it.

Cocoa lip gloss. How could any teen girl resist? How could any adult mother resist? Seriously, I want some! Make a lip balm cozy too! (Although, these fit standard lip balm, which is probably not the shape your home-made lip gloss will take).

Scented or sparkle-y body lotion. Here's a recipe for body glitter. And one for shimmering body lotion.

To make an all-natural, high quality body lotion:

1) Sterilize your blender by blending boiling water (or some rubbing alchohol) in it.

2) Put about 1/2 cup oil into the blender (choose an oil that is good for your teen's skin type -- olive oil for dry skin, soybean oil or hemp oil for oily or combination skin, coconut oil for anyone).

3) Cut open 3-6 Vitamin E capsules, and the "juice" to the blender. Vitamin E is a preservative, so the lotion won't go rancid as fast.

3) Mix in a bottle of some clear Aloe Vera gel. (Sold with the lotions or with the sunscreen).

4) Add a teaspoon of vodka or grain alcohol to it.

5) Add a few drops of your favorite scented essential oil.

Mix it all together in a blender until it looks all creamy (blend,
then whip).

Not only is the lotion better than what you buy in the store, it's cheaper too, and it's shelf stable. I put it into small canning jars.

The monsterA Scarf Hood. I guess these are called snoods? Or scoodies?

A Painted Hoodie or Tee shirt.

Handmade jewelry. This can take a lot of work. Here's an easy idea. Buy or make one nice pendant (you can buy them at Hobby Lobby or Michaels, even some Walmarts). String it on a ribbon. Done!

Plushies. That's the new, hip, term for stuffed things. They're somtimes animals, other times monsters, etc. Make a big one and have it double as a pillow. I like this pattern.

A portable art case. Totally cool.

I'd better quit and get working on my gifts!

I have a lot of little girls and boys this year too on my list, so next week we'll do a little girls edition.

In case you missed them, here's a list of gifts for teenage boys (all of which would also be fine for girls), and a list of things kids can make. The Crafty Crow also did a list of gifts that kids can make, and it's much better than mine!

These ideas are fast, cheap and they work for me!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Kitchen Tip Tuesday: Prebaking Pie crusts

Today I learned why the cookbook says to layer two sheets of tin foil pressed firmly against your pie crust for pre-baking.

Because the pie crust will fall in!

This pie was very nicely standing straight up. All the way up to the edge of the pie plate, and a bit beyond. I even did the wavy edge thingy with my fingers.

Then I pre-baked it (because pumpkin pie gets soggy crusts when they're not pre-baked).

But I was too lazy to press two layers of tin foil down into the pie crust. So I just set one layer across the top.

Bad idea.

Now you know. There's a reason the instructions say what they do.

For more kitchen tips, visit Tammy's Recipes.

Made it Myself Monday: Newspaper Hats

The Kids Think Challenge this week is to build a hat from three pieces of newspaper and all the masking tape you want. Then wear it to Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma's. :)

Newspaper and masking tape are at a bit of a premium here, so each person got one piece of newspaper (Bennet got two), and 6 inches of masking tape. They each had a great hat idea, and Mom helped make them.

Bennet: "I want a cone pirate hat"

He helped make it himself.

The finished hat.

The pirate.

Josephine: "I want a cone princess hat"

Lisel: "I want a bowl hat"

I doubt that they'll last until Thursday for Thanksgiving at Grandma's, but these were so much fun that we'll make a second round there!

What have you all made lately? Leave a comment and a link!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

My Mother Letter

Dear Mother:

The job of a mother is usually thankless.

This is often a point of great turmoil for me - I have always yearned to be appreciated for what I've done in a day. When my oldest was a baby, I maintained a count of the diapers I changed in a day. Not to keep track of whether or not my baby was healthy. No, it was so that I could feel like I accomplished something in a day. Actually, not even that, it was my attempt to get some appreciation for my efforts. Imagine my disappointment when my husband's response to my current diaper tallies was less than enthusiastic.

After a while, the disappointment gave way to laziness. If my husband wouldn't praise my efforts, why should I put them in? Sure, I still changed the baby (by that time, babies), but I didn't bother cleaning the house, and rarely bothered cooking. It just didn't feel worthwhile when no one cared. (I didn't recognize these as symptoms of postpartum blues... but that's a different letter).

Eventually, the words of Jesus and the words of my pastor began to speak to me.

Matthew 6:26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
Matthew 6:30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
Luke 12:6-7 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
Psalm 139: 17-18 17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you.

If God watches over the sparrows, and has the number of hairs on my head numbered. If His thoughts toward me outnumber the grains of sand, then it follows that he sees me wipe that snotty nose for the three thousandth time. He also sees my attitude as I sweep up all the spilled food under the table after each meal. He knows how many diapers I've changed. (Can you tell I have toddlers?!) And He knows how many times I'll run my kids to this place or that when they get older.

But not only does God see these things. He takes note of them.

Matthew 6:3-4 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Matthew 6:6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Matthew 6:17-18 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

This is such a comfort to me. Those thing that I do -- from changing diapers, to laundry, aren't invisible to God. Not only that, but He promises to reward them. When I spend all day picking up the house, only to have it messed up again in ten minutes, God sees.

Because God sees, I can forgive rather than throw a fit at the insensitivities of my husband and kids. His watchful eyes free me to wash dishes in thankfulness for our abundance rather than grumble at the mess. They motivate me to work for approval and reward from God, not my family.

Matthew 6:1"Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven."
Matthe 6:5 "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full."
Matthew 6:15 When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.

When my motivation to do a task is the praise that I get from my husband, then his enthusiasm (or lack thereof) is the whole reward I get. I miss out on the reward from God that I could earn by doing things secretly, for His eyes only. How much better and more rewarding it is to just remind myself "God Sees", and let Him have it. He notices and rewards me for the things that no one else notices or cares about -- the things done in secret. Take it from me. Knowing that God saw me change those diapers, appreciates me taking care of those babies, and rewards me both now and in the future feels way better than better than my husband's obligatory grunt acknowledging my 14 diapers-so-far-today count.

May you reap the satisfaction of filling your days, weeks, and years building up those rewards from God.

In Christ,
Amy Davis

My first attempt at French Braiding

I remember my mom putting my hair into French braids when I was a kid. I love it -- I felt so elegant in them, and I felt especially loved for all the effort that they took in my super-fine limp hair.

Lisel's hair is finally (now that she's 4 1/2) getting long enough to braid. She requested "lots of braids" after her bath today, so this is my first attempt.

She, too, feels really beautiful in them (even though they're clearly lacking in the workmanship department).

Josephine, though she has almost no hair yet (at nearly 3) couldn't be left out.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Letters of Love and Encouragement

I don't know about you, but I can live for months on a good bit of written (or even oral) encouragement. I'll re-read notes over and over, playing the words in my mind, and letting the feelings wash over me again and again: Letters from my husband, reminding me of things he loves about me, letters from friends commenting that something I did or my family does is an encouragement to them. There's just nothing quite so powerful as a personal note, penned to build up another.

That's why this Mother-Letter project is so beautiful. Not only do I love the idea of not spending money on each other for Christmas (we're doing this too), but who of us can't use a little encouragement? And for a husband to think of this and follow through with the project -- he just might be winning the "husband of the year" award from all the blogging moms!

So let's write a letter of encouragement to another Mom. I'm going to be sharing something my pastor used to say over and over about God recognizing the thankless jobs that we as mothers perform. It's encouraged me hundreds of times as I remember his words, and I pray that I do it justice as I write it down in my mother letter today.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Penny Parenting (Rewards for kids)

I'm so glad that we serve a God of rewards! He doesn't just reward belief with Eternal life, He rewards a life well lived with an easier time here on earth, and Crown in eternity. He rewards suffering with a special intimacy with Him, and with a special rule on the new earth.

I'm trying to be a Mom of rewards too. When my children behave well, I want to remind them, "Hey, you did the right thing there -- good job!". And when they go out of their way to do something extra, I want to acknowledge that. After all, life works that way (when I put in extra time at work, I get overtime, a raise and/or a special award), and God works that way. Why shouldn't my family?

But I don't want to go overboard either -- where my kids have no internal motivation to do what is right when I'm not there offering a tangible reward. I'll bet there's a balance there somewhere. But I haven't found it yet.

Right now, though, here's something that's working for us. The kids call it the "penny game". Each kid gets a cup of ten pennies in the morning. Mom has a bowl of pennies. Every time I catch them going out of their way to be kind, share or do something to help out, they get to pick a penny out of Mom's bowl, and add it to their cup. Every time they have a bad attitude or are mean to each other, they give Mom a penny. At the end of the day, each penny buys a mini chocolate chip (or five pennies buy a piece of Halloween candy that's still in a basket on top of the fridge). Every day is new -- the pennies (or lack thereof) don't carry over.

We don't do this every day. Although maybe we should. Generally, we do it once a week or so. I'm always surprised and impressed how motivating this is.

My oldest (who's six) is the most affected. The pennies come out, and he spends the day looking for ways to get extra pennies. He sweeps the kitchen, then washes the floor, then washes the dishes, then asks if he can help the littler ones do a craft, and on and on.

The second focuses more on not losing pennies, since attitude is hard for her to control, she's discovered that when she throws a fit over losing a penny, then she loses another. She's learned that if she's feeling extra sad, she can go sit in her bed to calm down, and she won't lose another penny for it.

The third, who is two, feels so bad for others when they are sad over losing a penny that she starts giving hers away. Ahem. I don't know what to do about that -- should I allow it or not?

I don't let the 18-month-old-boy-with-a-record-of-eating-pennies participate. The last thing we need is another penny-removal-from-throat surgery because of Mom's silly rewards.

Rewarding my kids reminds me to thank my Father for the extra blessings He's given us lately. He's rewarding Chester's hard work with a really nice looking house. He's rewarding my patience with my hard-working hubby by allowing Chester to understand my request that he kick it down a notch and be home more. And he's rewarding Chester's being home more with special play times with the kids. He even rewards the thankless activities by promising that He, indeed, sees them (Matthew 6). I know that He acknowledges how many messy diapers I've changed today, even if no one else cares.

Yes, Thank you Lord for motivating us we rewards, both now and in Eternity.

And for more Word-Filled-Wednesday, visit the160acrewoods.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Family Celebration

We didn't drive up to the family celebration. But I wanted to acknowledge it anyway.

Monday, the man who murdered Chester's aunt two years ago was sentenced. 55 years in prison. He's already 55, so not likely to be out on the streets to kill again (after twice already, and a third attempted).

A sad topic. And humbling.

How little control we have over our lives.

Thank you to the officers in particular who made this long and difficult road end as quickly as possible.

And thank you to the LORD for bringing good fruit out of this in the life of the man he tried to kill. God has been exceedingly merciful to him. May the glory be yours, Jesus.

Gratituesday: Free food!

I've wanted for a while now to participate in Menu Plan Monday, but I don't usually plan our menus, because our food varies so much from day to day - week to week.

We get most of our food from a local ministry called Food Net. The area grocery stores donate their "unsaleable" food (generally bread and produce, but also including a fair amount of dairy), and there's sites all over town that give this food away to anyone that shows up. There's usually lines, but they don't screen for income or anything like that. And you can go to as many as you wish every week. When we're not terribly busy, we go to three a week. Lately it's been one or two.

Since we meet income qualifications, we also get some of our food (and things like shampoo and laundry soap) from the local food bank, which we visit once a week. We by no means exhaust our possibilities for free food in our town. Not even close. If we were a bit more diligent and a bit less picky (we like good rice, for example), we could very likely never have to buy food.

Today was an especially good Food Net -- only about 70 people showed up to get food, and they had LOTS of food. I was the first one in line after they figured out that they had waaayyy too much food and decided to start just throwing food at the remaining 22 of us. Here's what we brought home.

16 yogurts and 1 individual jello
6 pieces of pizza, 6 bread sticks (these from a local pizza joint, we ate them for lunch)
1 head romaine, and a package of organic baby spinach
a sandwich (from a hospital, we'll toss the bread and salvage the meat)
1 green pepper
6 tomatoes
3 pounds of fresh green beans
fresh chives
an apple
a half cantelope
roasted onion sour cream
32 oz. spreadable margarine
16 oz. cottage cheese
5 individual packages of string cheese
1 pound of cojack cheese
half-dozen eggs
5 lb bag of frozen chicken nuggets
3 lb bag potato skins
1 lb sausage
3 pints of half-n-half
3 pints of milk
6 large cookies
6 cans of pepsi (from the local pepsi bottling plant)
6 loaves of good bread (organic whole wheat, from a local bakery -- very good)
8 packages of junky hot dog buns (save for pot luck) 2 packages of good rolls (from same bakery)
10 bagels

And probably more that I'm forgetting. I could hardly carry it all. And the lady at the front filled up each kid's pocket with candy. Yipee.

Add to that a grocery bag full of apples and pears from my Mother-in-Law last night, and leftover turkey and mashed potatoes from the weekend. Our fridge is full!

So this week we'll be eating:

yogurt, cantelope, apples and pears

omelettes, Pancakes, Oatmeal, Bagels

Green bean turkey casserole (green beans, onion sour cream, cream of mushroom soup, throw in some turkey to make it a main dish).

Poor-man lasagna (lasagna with macaroni rather than lasagna noodles.) Use the tomatoes, spinach and cottage cheese.

Potato soup (leftover mashed potatoes, leftover ham from last week)

Chicken Noodle soup (frozen homemade noodles, leftover turkey and turkey broth)

Un-stuffed peppers (same a stuffed green peppers, but with the peppers cut into chunks and it all cooked as a tomato-rice-hamburger-green pepper-cheese casserole.)

Chicken pot pie (with chopped up chicken nuggets)

And I forsee some home-made ice cream from that half-n-half.

Thank you LORD for such generosity toward us!

For more Gratituesday, visit Heavenly Homemakers

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Idea + Sale = Beware!

The combination of an idea and a sale is really lethal to me.

Last Spring, I had the idea to make monster hoodies. I found one at a thrift store, made it up and it turned out really cool. The next week I found hoodies on sale at Walgreens for $2 each. I bought 40. Then I had to go buy rubbermaid totes to house all these hoodies. Now I'm finally making good on my promise to re-coup my costs by selling them. I've given away 15-20 as gifts, but just listed the first one for sale.

Last week, I had the idea to make Gandalf. It started as amigurumi, but I quickly lost patience for learning to crochet just to make Gandalf. Too slow. Then I remembered seeing cute little people made from pipe cleaners. We made Josephine a little doll with a felt dress, and I knew it was a winner. Add some embroidery floss (like Wee Folk), and there we go. I really like how he turned out.

The beard was mustache were a pain -- I wrapped embroidery floss around a twister to get them this way, then molded it on to his face -- no glue.

All wizards love fire, right?

The kids got in on it too -- skipping the embroidery floss, Bennet and Lisel each designed (and mostly made) their own. I introduce Pedro and Natalie.

Guess what? Embroidery floss was on sale today for 15 cents. I was thrilled. I bought 80.
Now I just need a sale on pipe cleaners.

Oh save me!

Show me what you made this week! Leave a comment with a link to your post!

Friday, November 14, 2008

The cheapest way to get glasses

A few weeks back, justamommy posted about buying glasses from Zenni Optical.

The info was just too good to keep to myself. So I want to make sure you know about it too. They advertise glasses from $8.00 and up. You have to have your prescription first, and send it in perhaps with a measurement of your pupil distance (they provide info on measuring this on their site). They tell you exactly what information you need to obtain on the prescription from your optometrist.

This week my brother-in-law, who needs a really severe prescription, got an eye appointment through the university where he's a student. It was free. They gave him a prescription, and he went to the site. He picked his favorite frames (which weren't the cheapest there), and ordered pure titanium high index (1.61) lenses with anti-glare coating for under $70. If you've ever had to buy super-duper prescription glasses, you know this is a terrific deal.

Next time you need prescription glasses, check them out! And for more Frugal Friday, head on over to Biblical Womanhood.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Etsy shop updates

I'm finally getting around to updating my shops. Not that you need to buy anything from them. I'm just proud that I finally put something in them!

In Mother-Daughter creations (stuff I make with my mom), there's a couple of scarves up, and more to come once I get the pictures taken and find out what the fiber contents are. There's a new bag, and a mobius scarf. I think these mobius scarves are about the neatest thing ever, and I'm secretly hoping that this one doesn't sell so that I can keep it.

Mobius Scarf

And in I Don't Bite (which is not-so-mother-like stuff), I listed my very first item: a monster hoodie. Like it?

Monster HoodieMonster Hoodie

Make any oatmeal-type cookie

My husband is a terrific cook, and oatmeal cookie connoisseur. So much so that he wrote a paper on oatmeal-cookie-baking for his technical communications class this semester.

He grants his permission to post it.

Oatmeal Cookie Master Recipe

  1. Combine and mix well:
    1 cup softened Butter
    1 ¼ cup Brown Sugar
    2 large eggs
    1 teaspoon Vanilla
    1 teaspoon Baking soda
    ½ teaspoon Salt

  2. Mix in:
    1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour (it's okay to use up to 1/2 cup as whole wheat. If you use more, add another egg)
    3 cups oats

  3. (Optional) Mix in a variation:

    Oatmeal-Chocolate chip
    1 cup chocolate chips

    Oatmeal-Raisin cookies
    ¾ cup raisins

    Fall Harvest cookies
    ½ teaspoon cinnamon
    ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
    1/8 teaspoon cloves
    ½ cup chopped nuts
    ½ cup raisins

    Oatmeal Mounds
    ¾ cup toasted coconut
    ½ cup pecan nuts
    ¾ cup chocolate chips

    Oatmeal Scotchies
    ¼ teaspoon rum extract
    1 cup butterscotch chips

  4. Scoop on to cookie sheet

  5. Bake at 375 degrees F for 9 minutes

  6. Let cool on pan for 5 minutes, then remove to cooling rack

  7. Test cookies
    Whenever making cookies, it is usually best to bake a test cookie or two. By noting the conditions of the test cookie, you are able to modify the cookie dough for optimum results. The cookies that you bake are your creation; it is far better make a test cookie than to be faced with disappointment.
    If the cookie spreads excessively, add 1-2 tablespoons of flour to the dough or refrigerate the dough for 1-2 hours before baking.
    If the cookie is too dry, add 1-2 teaspoons of milk to the dough.

  8. Call your friends (or your kids) and enjoy some cookies together!

Oatmeal Scotchies

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Mommy Napping

After two weeks of bad colds, now that we're finally getting well, Mommy is tired.

So while I normally would have been blogging (I have a great works-for-me-wednesday post idea), I was napping.

Oh well. That works for me too, this week. And now I have the energy to be cheerful around my kids because I napped while they napped.

If I had the time (now that it'd time to make supper), I'd tell you how it's a complete sanity saver to have all four of my kids confined to their beds for a period in the afternoon. No, they don't all sleep. Usually only the younger two do. The older ones look at books or play quietly in their beds (or at least that's the goal). And we all feel much better afterwards.

I need that down time.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Autumn leaves falling

For as long as I can remember, I've loved Autumn. And not just because it's my birthday. I love range of colors; outside my office window are a few trees that are still green, several that are brown, and red, yellow and purple in between. The true blues of the sky and the golden harvest moon couple with the bright apple greens, yellows and reds and the orange pumpkins. The colors are full and mature, not so naive as springs pastels; instead they're pensive, showing off a summer's life well lived.

leaf-angelsThe cooler nights and short days are a relief after a hot working summer. The produce is in, the freezer is full, and my cupboards are lined with canning jars showing off their colorful produce. The year is winding down toward the greys and browns of winter, encouraging me to reflect back over this year in thankfulness for what God has provided, and in wondering what produce my year shows.

What have I done with my year? Do I have colorful leaves and fruit to show for my year of hard labors? Can I take joy in the accomplishments of the year? Have I progressed toward my life goals? Have I been the type of mother that I want to be? The type wife that I'll look back someday and be glad I was?

It struck me last weekend how all this flamboyant color is really death coming slowly. And yet it's so beautiful. In reflecting on it, I think that's how we're intended to die: looking back on a life lived fully and rightly, where the truly important things were important even in the day-to-day life. And where the fruit and colors of a life well lived bring glory and praise to the One who created such beauty.

Really, it isn't death. Not for the tree, nor for the believer. It's just a winter's rest.

For more Gratituesday, visit Heavenly Homemakers, and for lots of great things to Talk About, visit The Lazy Organizer.

Made it Myself Monday: Needle felted porcupine pincushion

I've discovered a terrific therapy craft -- Needle felting! When I'm mad or frustrated, I can jab something millions of times with barbed needles! How satisfying!

I made a pin cushion -- a porcupine, of course.

I wish I had headless pins, they would be much better for pictures here.

His little tail is for balancing.

I started by wet-felting around an egg shape, then cutting it open in a cross shape, and forming the points into legs, and the small part of the egg into a head. Then I filled it and needle-felted on a tummy and the brown back fur, added some to the face, and put on the tail.

I'm pretty satisfied, especially for a first project.

What did you and/or your kids make this week? Share a link in the comments!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Easy and Painless Organic Gardening

Organic Gardening Carnival
We didn't have a garden this year.

Well, we did, but it was a joke.

Truth be told, we were very ambitious last winter. Chet started six flats of plants indoors in late January, nurturing them and teaching us all about the terrific growth. He put so much effort into them that by the time they were hardened off and ready to plant, we had all lost motivation.

So, into the ground they went (the half that we got to, that is). But they didn't get anything after that. No water, no fertilization, no weeding.

We moved out for the month of June to do some remodeling, so we really didn't even look at the garden for most of the summer.

Needless to say, we didn't get much produce from that crop.

But, we did have a few successes - plants that grew with no care and no watering. The perrenials.

are by far my new favorite plants. Two years ago it felt like a big investment to put in two grapes, a dozen strawberries and six raspberries (they totalled over $20 if I remember right).

But this year, in just two years, we were overwhelmed with produce from these. We had to start calling friends over to pick raspberries -- we couldn't process them fast enough. And they are impervious to weeds -- the raspberry thicket is so, well, thick, that nothing else could grow if it tried. We're giving away stray raspberry plants right and left (want any? Leave a comment and we'll talk!)

We canned up three and a half gallons of grape jelly (only because I didn't feel creative enough to make grape juice).

Our sour cherry tree also went to town -- we got way more than ten gallons of sour cherries from the one tree this year. They were completely worth the investment.

Our strawberries, which were pretty disappointing by comparison, still produced just fine -- we have four gallons of chopped berries in the freezer for the rest of the winter.

The rhubarb also did just fine with no care. We harvested it lightly, because we're hoping to divide it next year. We froze it chopped and mixed with strawberries for a quick dessert.

And the potatoes also did great -- we stuck some from the grocery store (in five colors: red, yellow, white, brown and purple!) in the ground just before Easter, and totally ignored them all summer long. Sometime in August or September (I don't remember which), we dug some up. YUM -- especially the purple ones! And they're so good for the ground that I don't feel bad if I forgot half of them.

The second stars of the season are the herbs. If you've never tried home-grown fresh herbs instead of the dried grocery-store variety, you're missing out. Not only do the taste wonderful, but they're so easy to grow!

Thyme and Oregano both come back on their own in our region, and we are still harvesting them. And we tried out a new variety of basil that has quickly become our favorite - pistou. They're super tiny, with high flavor (and not quite as sweet as sweet basil) and soooo cute (about 6 inches tall). I'm going to grow some in a pot for over-winter.

Vote for me? Pretty please?

About a week ago, I entered a contest to win four free aprons from Apron Queen's Reviews. To enter, you had to do the chicken dance.

Bennet was a turkey for halloween, so it was just perfect to teach him the turkey dance. The winner will be decided this week by vote.

So, if you'd be so kind as to visit the Apron Queen's Reviews and vote (maybe even for me), I'd be so grateful.

I haven't decided yet whether I would get an apron for myself if I won -- I think I'm in love with the cafe toile. But I have two girls, and they have to girl cousins, and would that just be too cool to get the four little girls each their own apron?!? And look, they have a "Josephine" line (And an "Ava" line too!). It's like they were made with us in mind!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

How to make your own medicine, part 2

Wow! The cold and flu season really is here. Not only did the kids get sick this last week, but with all the coughing in my face, sleeping next to sick kids and nose-wiping on Mommy's shirt, I got it too. I tell you, I'm so thankful for my tinctures now.

Tinctures are the ultra-potent variety of herbal medicine. You could just drink a tea, but the real healing herbs taste so bad that you don't want to drink more than a couple of drops. And you could just take a capsule (sometimes I would prefer that), but your body absorbs so much less from a capsule than from a liquid medicine. I really like tinctures the best.

You'll need:

1 bottle of cheap vodka.
anything that is 40 % alcohol, or 80 proof will do, but don't bother paying extra for something that tastes good. By the time the herb is in it, it'll taste terrible anyway. I was thrilled to find the vodka used here for under $5 at our local grocery store.

1 bag herbs.
Our local place sells herbs by the 1/10 of a pound, so I use 1/10 of a pound of herbs. I'm sure that an ounce would work just as well, and your vodka would stretch further. If you're going by volume, perhaps about a cup is a good choice. They seem to expand.

1 pint jar with a lid.
Or use a quart if you want a lot, and want to use up all your vodka at once.

1. Put your herbs in the jar.

2. Pour in enough vodka to cover the herbs.

3. Close the jar and label it with the type of herb.

4. Shake it up.

5. Put it in the cupboard. Ideally, you'll take it out and shake it every day for about two weeks. I generally forget, and just shake it whenever I remember for a month or longer.

6. Eventually it'll look something like this: dark, and probably murky. Not like something you want to drink.

7. After that, you can strain it through a sieve, then a coffee filter into a new jar. Or you can forget about it and let the herbs settle to the bottom over the course of a few weeks. That's what happened to the herbs above, and it's really the better option if you used ground herbs rather than whole or chopped herbs.

8. When it's clear enough that it doesn't look like mud, pour it into a bottle for storage (I like dark glass bottles for this). Make sure to label it. I always think that I'll never forget what that herb smells like, but I always do.

Now a disclaimer. These are powerful stuff. Don't just gulp them down (as if you could). Too much can be dangerous, especially for kids. So store them out of reach. A dose of a full-strength tincture is about 4 drops. Yes, that's right, 4 drops. Just under 1/8 of a teaspoon. For kids, it's half that. Because of this tiny dose, I often dilute my tinctures with either distilled water or colloidal silver (which I also make myself). If you dilute it with equal parts something else (not another tincture), then a kid can safely take about 1/8 teaspoon.

I have two favorite tinctures:
Lobelia - This is great for lower chest congestion. I think of it as nature's Albuterol - it will dilate whatever you put it on. I give it to my kids when they have a cough, it dilates their esophagus and they cough up all the junk in their lungs. My husband uses it for his ear infections -- a couple of drops in his year, and it drains (plus it kills the infection). But it burns like heck. I find that it also makes me sleepy.

Lobelia is cataloged as a poison by Rodale's (because of it's effect on the nervous system that makes me sleepy), but also recognized widely enough for it's medicinal use that you can find it at many health-food stores. Really, most medicines are poisons if you take too much. That's why we store them out of reach. That said, please don't take a lot of it at once. I allow 2 to 4 doses (see above) a day in my family.

Echinecea-Eyebright. These two herbs combine terrific to deal with upper respiratory congestion. We've never had a sinus infection develop from a cold when we had this around. It's also the best for allergies (itchy eyes in particular) and runny noses. 2 to 4 doses a day is plenty of this too.

I'm not going to kid you, both of these taste really awful, and only a fairly sick person will take them straight. I give these to my kids in their morning juice when they need it. They actually prefer the juice with just the hint of the bitter herb. Weird kids.

We almost never get the stomach flu, so I don't know the remedies for them as much. I know ginger is terrific (we buy candied ginger, yummy!), and Lalycairn commented on part 1 that yarrow tea is great for tummy upset. Peppermint, candied papaya and activated charcoal are all pretty good for gassiness.

What about you? What herbs are your favorites, and how do you use them?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Gifts, philosophy, and Educational Games giveaway

I have no business writing about what to get our kids for Christmas. To be honest, we've never given our kids Christmas gifts. At first, it was because we couldn't afford anything, and knew that kids under three would never remember that they didn't get a Christmas gift from their parents those first few Christmases.

Then two years ago, we decided that we could afford to buy each of the kids a gift. We spent a couple of dollars on each kid for a really nice garage sale toy and wrapped them up.

After Christmas at Nani and Papa's on the 23rd, and Christmas at Grandma and Papa Dewey on the 24th, the kids were so overwhelmed with gifts that it seemed cruel to stack more new toys on them. So we left the gifts, wrapped, in a closet. They're still there.

We've realized that it's going to be the same every year. Our kids get so many gifts from Aunts, Uncles, Grandma's and Grandpas that anything Mom and Dad might buy is definitely not special.

This year we decided to change our focus. No gifts inside our nuclear family. Even Mom and Dad aren't going to get each other gifts. Instead, we're going to make a family project of giving to others. The kids are involved not only in getting gifts for some of the extended family (we draw names), but we as a family will make it a point each year to give either time or money to something we consider worthwhile.

We received a Christmas gift catalog from Samaritan's Purse a few weeks ago. In the center spread was gifts that kids can buy for other kids. Fresh milk to a kid in Africa for $4. This year, we'll do a project that involves the kids working (like raking the neighbor's lawn), and pay them enough money for them to buy something from that catalog for a kid in need. Mom and Dad will do the same - giving enough money that it actually hurts to a family in need.

I don't know how it will work for us. I don't know whether the philosophy that "Christmas is about giving, not getting" will actually come through. I don't know if I can handle not buying gifts for my husband and kids. But we're trying it.

By the way, my kids favorite toys, hands down, are dress-up clothes.

We all want to give good gifts to our kids, be they material or not. Since I'm in the Fall clean-up mode, I have some good gifts that I'd like to give to your kids.

So up today we have an educational game: National Geographic's Global Pursuit. It's trivial pursuit on a global level - complete with chips, lots of cards, a 12 sided die and a world map that you build during the game. It looks to be lots of fun for families with older kids.

Leave a comment if you'd like to win. I'll close comments on Saturday, November 8th, draw a winner and mail it out next week.