Jun 082011

I have enough shopping bags that I can usually take care of all my grocery shopping, especially since it is now more often split up between the Commissary and the Farmer’s Market… Did I mention that the most wonderful ones ever are on Etsy, from Hillbilly Creations? She has listings with new as well as upcycled fabrics, or she can custom-upcycle from your items!

ANYHOW, I’ve almost gotten into the habit of always having the bags with me, and that’s all feeling pretty settled.

So now other things are starting to occur to me.

1. When we went up to visit family over Memorial Day, I packed our church clothes and shoes. Usually, I put each shoe (or each pair, depending) in a plastic grocery bag, to keep the suitcase and clothes clean. What do I use for that?

My same shopping totes would work, of course – although that didn’t occur to me at the time, for some reason.

2. We also use the plastic shopping bags for cleaning the cat box. It’s much more convenient to be able to clean the cat box without, for instance, taking it outside to the trash can. Plus, who wants the stinky cat litter sitting around making the trash can gross?

3. And what about produce? Bananas or pineapples can be free-floating, but it would be much easier to have a bag to contain the peaches, plums, or tomatoes… and when things are sold by weight, you don’t want to use a big (heavy) cloth tote!

Presumably, I want something like these (set of 3, from 3BBags.com)?

Anyone have any good suggestions, for these situations, or other “next steps”?

May 182011

Have you ever noticed those links over on the right-hand side of the blog? There’s some pretty cool stuff over there.

Today I got a delightful package in the mail, and I wanted to draw your attention to its creator – Rachel Davis of Holy Hillbilly Creations (listed under Modest Apparel). On the website, as well as in her Etsy shop, she has a wide range of old favorites and new creations…

Some time back, I received a Holy Hillbilly Creations Reusable Shopping Bag from a giveaway she did. It was immediately my favorite bag – great design, sturdy workmanship, useful size…

When I decided I needed some more, I started talking to Rachel about her fabrics. Some of the bags she sells are made from new fabric, but many are upcycled from a variety of clothing items. As we talked, a plan began to form in my head.

I sent her some old jeans (from prior to my skirts-only shift, although you can also take them from the men in your life, or get them at garage sales and thrift stores!)…

The legs of two pairs were converted into two of her fabulous Shopping Bags.

The tops were made into a pair of adorable aprons (trimmed with a discarded sheet with a pretty butterfly pattern).

Those jeans never had it so good!

The third pair I hadn’t had any definite plans for when I sent the box off. I really wanted a purse for Jewel, but to be usable for someone her size it needed to be a lot smaller than the hip dimension of a pair of adult jeans.

The Lord blessed our endeavors, and Rachel ran across an adorable toddler skirt about that time which we swapped for my jeans. Jewel’s new purse is a masterpiece!

Jewel is also carrying her purse in the photo at the top of the post. The outfit was a hand-me-down, legging-type pants and a top. With the pink print and the kitty appliqué, it was too cute to just pass on… But, obviously, pants are a no-go. Holy Hillbilly Creations to the rescue again, with a beautiful pants-to-skirt conversion.

Rachel has been through a lot since I first “met” her and posted a review of her skirts over at Life on the Road back in 2007. They lost their home to a tornado in 2009, and have had an uphill battle since. Give her a bit of slack on how much inventory is in stock at any given time… But you’ll never, ever have occasion to doubt her sewing skills or professionalism with her business.

There are some Shopping Bags (only $8!) and other fun items stocked at the Etsy store, and you can also contact Rachel with your special requests.

Got some old clothes lying around that have sentimental value? Or that you just hate to waste? Why not let her upcycle them into a new, useful item for you!

How about those of you wanting to make a switch to wearing skirts, but can’t afford to buy all new: maybe an inexpensive pants-to-skirt conversion or two can help!

Prices vary depending on the project, but are always very reasonable.

Yes, I have guilt about how I “should” be sewing these things myself… But the facts of the matter are that I am really doing all that I can manage right now, and furthermore that I am not (and I may never be, although I intend to try) what would be deemed a competent seamstress. To get these tasks taken care of, getting such high-quality work done at such a reasonable price, is good stewardship, plain and simple.


This is an unsolicited review, based on products that I purchased on my own initiative. I was not compensated in any way for this review. This review has not been approved or edited by anyone.
I was “disclosing” before it was cool. See my Review Policy for the full scoop.

May 092011

Still working on my list of 12 DIY Projects to Try in 2011. I know it’s a long way from February, but bear with me. Here’s what has happened so far:

I started with the Spicy Chai Tea recipe from Houseboat Eats. I doubled it, since I figured that everyone would want a taste, and I didn’t want to have to skimp!

Jewel and I had a fun time together on Mother’s Day making up our new concoction.

Bulk spices all came from the Monterey Bay Spice Company (online), except for the cardamom, which I had already purchased (ground, so not as pretty!).

Pretty, eh?

Then I discovered that I didn’t know a good way to crush the harder items – whole cloves, peppercorns, etc.

Here’s what I came up with. Functional, not glamorous.

But anyhow, we got the job done! Then they simmered in the pot.

Taking a West Ladies idea, I strained it using a well-washed section from an old sheer curtain (and a brave husband).

Since the milk is added with the tea, it is already creamy looking – not the clear tea you see in some of the photos with the online recipes (although of course you could make it that way).

And the verdict? Everyone enjoyed the tea! (That’s Jewel sipping hers at the top of the post).

We all agreed it had a bit too much bite, and added a bit more sugar and milk than seemed to be indicated.

Based on our taste test, as well as the variation at Tammy’s Recipes, we’ll be tweaking it a bit next time.

Less ginger, for sure. Perhaps a bit more orange, and a bit more allspice.

Next time will be soon, though! Chai is so delicious…

Wolf asked me if it was worth it — all the time and effort, and even the monetary investment — over buying Chai teabags or concentrate in the store. Aside from the “fun” factor, I readily admit that that cup of chai wasn’t worth all that… But as part of a process, I believe it was. Being able to build it exactly to our taste is a wonderful feeling.

Hopefully we can get a “perfect blend” worked out, and make ready-to-go chai packets as Christmas presents this year.

[Be sure to check out the blog hop I'm entering with this post: Simple Lives Thursday, co-hosted by the amazing GNOWFGLINS]

Mar 252011

Using the Square Foot Gardening method, we’ve decided to go with two squares, plus a third square with just sweet corn.

Nick has made me up a lovely Visio garden layout diagram, so that we can think things through now, and keep track of what we did for future planning.

Here’s what I’m thinking so far:

What do you think?

I’m waiting on the corn and cowpeas I ordered from Monticello (yeah, we’re going to grow the plants from which Thomas Jefferson ate – how fun is that?), but other than that we have everything listed here ready to go…

Mar 172011

So back at the beginning of the year I made a list of 12 DIY Projects to Try in 2011 – one for each month.

We got a little off track with winter illnesses, but here’s what has happened so far:

  • January – Sew a Blind Hem
  • February – Homemade Chai Tea (pushed back due to budgeting for outrageous spices)
  • March – Homemade Hamburger Buns – here we are!

I used the recipe from the West Ladies in Homestead Blessings: The Art of Bread Making.

Hamburger Buns by the West Ladies
4-5 cups flour
2 tbsps. yeast
1 cup milk
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup oil
3 T honey
1 t salt

Mix 2 cups flour with the yeast in a large mixing bowl; set aside.

Heat milk, water, oil, honey and salt in a small saucepan on the stove until very warm.

When warmed, make a well in the flour/yeast and pour in the wet ingredients. Mix them with a wooden spoon, adding more flour as needed to make a firm dough. Knead briefly on a floured surface.

Oil bowl. Put dough in it, turning once to coat, and let rise for 10 minutes.

When risen, roll out to a 1/2 inch thickness and using a large mason jar lid ring, cut out circles of the dough. Place them on greased baking stones and let rise for 30 minutes.

After risen second time, heat oven to 400 degrees and bake them until golden brown on top.

So I mixed. Since I’ve never made this recipe before, and I am not what you might call an expert baker, I did not feel at all confident knowing when the right amount of flour had been added. After all, exactly what consistency am I aiming for?

But anyhow, there was dough.

After rising, I rolled it out to 1/2″ (or thereabouts), and cut it out using a wide-mouth mason jar (I couldn’t find a lid ring!).

After rising and baking, I had the beautiful-looking buns that appear at the top of the post.

It turns out that it was not quite as perfect as it seemed, and they were over-done on the bottoms.

I’m not sure if this could have to do with the “how much flour” question… Since they didn’t look brown enough on top to be cooked much less, I’m not sure it’s correctable by that kind of simple adjustment.

We also found them a bit small for our family’s style – at least the grown-ups. They were actually quite nice as “sliders”, or kid-sized burgers.

And YUMMY! We all enjoyed them very much, and have used the leftovers as dinner rolls, sandwich rolls, and any other excuse we could think of to eat them.

This is something we will definitely be switching to permanently for our hamburger buns. Now to figure out how to make some nice hot dog shapes…

(This post is also on the Blog Hop Simple Lives Thursday, hosted by the wonderful mama at GNOWFGLINS)

Mar 142011

Sounds serious, eh?

I’ve never “gardened”.

Houseplants, yes. Water the lawn and mow it, yes.

“Garden”, no.

But if we’re going to make Contentment (see our explanation page, and posts about it) a reality, it’s going to take quite a bit of farm know-how.

So I figure I better work on knowing how, now.

I’m starting with the most-recommended book in my informal survey of gardening friends:

I have to make a few decisions such as -

  • Where to put the garden in the yard
  • How big to make it (in this case, how many “squares” to create)
  • Dig into the ground only, or build raised beds on top?
  • How best to make a fertile plot of of this horrible, sandy soil (what needs to be added)

All before we even get to the fun questions, such as choosing which crops to grow!

I sent for the Free Catalog from Gardens Alive, which includes a $25 coupon (not a sponsored endorsement, just sharing a deal!). Using it, I got their 10 pack of seeds, since they meet my primary requirement of being open-pollinated / heirloom varieties. I may not be saving any seeds this year, but I know that that is part of our future.

I want to eat the food the way God designed it, and I want it to reproduce itself self-sufficiently – also the way God designed it.

Their 10-pack includes:

  • Blue Lake 274 Bush Bean
  • Detroit Dark Red Beet
  • Black Seeded Simpson Lettuce
  • Cal Wonder Pepper
  • Cherry Belle Radish
  • Danvers 126 Carrot
  • Bloomsdale Spinach
  • Early Summer Crookneck Squash
  • Brandywine Red Tomato
  • Sweet Burpless Cucumber Hybrid

We will probably not grow the beet or the radish, but will use the other eight as our first experiments with each of those vegetables.

Important things we’re considering adding include Corn, Blackeyed Peas, Pole Beans, Winter Squash, Brussels Sprouts, Garlic, Onion, and some friendly and edible plants like Nasturtium and Marigold.

Some things I’m anxious to grow we won’t start until we move up to the land, since they’re not annuals: Asparagus, Blueberries, etc.

And how do Strawberries grow in Mississippi? In Florida they’re an annual crop, since there’s no winter to speak of to create the dormancy period which would signal them to produce again… So, here, can I keep them going?

I plan to grow a few little trees in containers – like Clementines. Not sure whether I should start those now, or would the trip still traumatize them too much?

Yes, I’m totally overwhelmed. Likely I will end up throwing myself on the mercy of the garden department staff at Lowes….

Feb 192011

I have been looking into different means of lowering our energy costs. The two biggest expenses seem to be heating and cooling. The three places that this is applicable are 1) heating the clothes dryer, 2) heating the house, and 3) cooling the house.

The first thing to do is to make sure the house is adequately insulated and sealed for holding in the heat and cool that we produce. There are several places to get information on this, so I will go on to other things to help.

1) Heating the clothes dryer.

This is a huge drain on our electricity. Using electricity to produce heat is the most inefficient way to use electricity. I actually documented my power use and found that running the dryer uses 5 times the electricity used on an average day. We solved this problem by installing a gas dryer. Burning natural gas to produce heat is much more efficient and less expensive than using electricity.

Another option here is to hang some clothes out to dry naturally. We have an indoor rack that we can hang a few things on and we have an outdoor line (like mom used to have). Hanging things out to dry is good for the bulky things we have.

2) Heating and cooling the geothermal way.

This is a good discussion topic for later. For now just imagine heating and cooling with the same temperature air from an underground duct system. Just like caves stay a constant temperature because of their massive earth insulation, we can have a buried duct system that bring constant warmer than the ambient air temperature in during the winter and cooler than the ambient air temperature during the summer. This is really simplified and these systems are usually supplemented with other methods.

3) Heating the house.

This is the same huge drain on electricity. So, of course, we use gas. This cuts the electric bill by about $200 per month during the cold months and only adds about $35 per month to the gas bill.

4) Cooling the house.

This is my biggest concern right now. Everyone who lives in a region of the world where it is hot for 3 to 6 months out of the year (I know, some are longer) knows how expensive it is to run a central AC unit or window units. This isn’t as easy as just “switch to gas”. Gas units are expensive up front. But if you can afford it and will keep the house for many years then go for it. Heat exchanger units with natural gas are a great alternative. I am going a different, kind of extremist method. I’m going to build an ice cooling system.

In its simplest form we could just put an ice block in front of a fan and turn on the fan. But the ice would melt and get all over the floor. OK, let’s put it in a tray to catch the water. We can even reuse the water if we retain it in a collection system. This would still put a lot of moisture in the air and in some parts of the world that’s the last thing we want. Let’s go a step further and put the water in containers (like a 2 liter soda bottle) and freeze it. Now when the ice melts it is inside the container and we can just freeze it again. We might even incorporate fins on the containers that would conduct the cool over a larger surface area. If you put water in bottles and freeze it, remember to leave a little space at the top of the bottle for expansion of the freezing water and leave the cap off while freezing so the bottle doesn’t burst.

OK, that’s one method.

What if we used the ice a little differently? What if we had an insulated container lined with hose and in the container we had ice and in the hose we circulated liquid that was transported to a cooling coil on a fan?

Take a container (maybe a large Styrofoam cooler) and line the inside with a hose that can circulate liquid. If the hose is a material that conducts (like copper pipe) it will work better, but PVC or garden hose will work. Fill the container with ice and circulate the liquid in the hose using a small pump. Connect the ends of the hose to a cooling coil in a central ducted system or a stand-alone fan. You will need the ice to actually come in contact with the hose for best conduction. This makes the reusable bottle method not as good, but we could drain out the water and refreeze it into ice cubes for reuse. For a little more efficiency we could get rid of all the extra space in the middle of the container. We could actually fill that with smaller containers (like a few 2 litre bottles).

We still need fans to circulate the air, but like the heating, we can save about $200 on the electric bill per month by not using the big central AC unit and the fan will add about $35 back into the bill. The more efficient the fan is, the better.

Taking it to another level …

What I propose to do at my home place is a bit more extensive. I plan to start with a 4 foot by 4 foot pit in the ground. The bottom of the pit will be tapered down in a cone mostly to give a little more surface area. Line the pit with a heavy plastic to capture the water from the melting ice that can be reused or repurposed. I was thinking about putting a small hose and pump down to the bottom of the pit to pull out the water as it accumulates. Next is to line the pit with hose starting about two feet below the top edge. This is much like the Styrofoam cooler method, only this uses the ground for the insulation. This also allows me to have a much larger holding container. The last step is to fill the pit with ice and seal it up. As in the Styrofoam cooler method, I will pump liquid through the hose to a cooling coil used to cool the air and a fan to circulate the air. I will need to get on a regular schedule of draining out the melt-off every day to freeze back into ice for the next day. Usually this type of water cooling system is piped into each room in the house where you can connect a coil and fan setup in any or all of the rooms.

If you live in an area where you can collect ice all winter and store it in a barn or shed, you wouldn’t have to make or buy as much ice during the summer. And if you built this as a large container above ground you could insulate it and ice it for cooling in the summer and build a fire under it for heating the water in the winter.

…There’s much more to come as I investigate this topic further…

Jan 032011

I actually started on the road to naturalizing my deodorant even before my adventures with the No Shampoo Method, so I thought it was about time I shared!

Like my friend Lisa Stone, I started with simply dampening my armpit and using baking soda. I confess I was surprised – it worked really well!

The only immediately drawback was that it was somewhat messy (baking soda dust all over the bathroom).

As time went on, I also got some irritation starting (especially on one side). I guess it is a little harsh – we use it as a scouring agent in cleaning, after all!

So I decided to jump in with both feet and try the homemade deodorant so perfectly explained and illustrated over at Kitchen Stewardship (her photo). There’s another great tutorial at Passionate Homemaking.

The recipe is simply this:

  • 6-8 Tbsp Coconut oil (cooled to a solid)
  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch (or arrowroot powder)

You just mix this up, then fill an old commercial deodorant container, and you’re all set!

This recipe filled my old “Secret” tube, with enough left (stored in a Tupperware in the refrigerator) to fill it probably twice more.

I have been using this preparation for a while now, and I am very pleased with the results.

As a deodorant, it works beautifully. And since switching over from plain baking soda, I have not had any skin irritation.

Although solid when cool, the mixture is a little more gooey than the recipes seem to indicate when I apply it, so I think I probably need to use less oil and/or more cornstarch next time. I’ll try adding more cornstarch to the leftover mixture before the next refill. (Obviously it is not a problem that has stopped me from using the mixture as is…)

Wolf dislikes coconut a lot, so I’m not sure if he’ll be willing to use this. It doesn’t leave you smelling tropical all day, but it does have a scent (which I actually like a lot!) when you are putting it on.

We could try another oil, but coconut has various properties that make it a superior choice (such as being antibacterial).

I’ll keep you posted…

Jan 012011

I was inspired yesterday by Money Saving Mom’s post, 12 Do-It-Yourself Projects I Plan to Attempt in 2011.

There are a lot of things I’d like to try in the coming year, as well… And I very much agree with her reasoning that it’s too easy to put it off without more concrete goals and planning.

Crystal’s idea was to decide on one project to do each month, and commit to doing those and blogging about them. Her choices are not too far off from things I’d like to try!

She mentions homemade laundry soap and homemade dishwasher soap. Those sound great, but I’ve tried the laundry soap, and it seems like it’s just not getting the job done with our icky water here. Ah, well…

Here’s my list so far:

January: Learn to sew a Blind Hem, and hem Wolf’s new dress pants.

February: Make From-Scratch Chai Tea. Yummmmm!

March: Make Homemade Hamburger Buns (Anyone have a fabulous recipe to pass along?). We’ve been making bread so long, it’s sad that we don’t already do this!

April: Plant some food-producing plants in a container garden or raised bed.

May: Make Freezer Jam.

June: Make Plum Jam (the “regular” kind) – these two should make for an interesting comparison!

July: Make homemade soap.

August: Make cheese (I understand Mozzarella is a good place to start).

September: Preserve something in the dehydrator.

October: Make Homemade Apple Butter.

November: Make a pair of fleece footie pajamas for each of the Littles. (Set in a zipper, make feet…)

December: Make Homemade Marshmallows.

There are many, many more things I want to do, but these are the ones that came to mind as just the right “significant projects” for this list.

Do you have any Home Ec projects you’d like to try this year?

“A goal is a dream with a deadline”