Saturday, July 25, 2009

Sensational Saturday

For this episode of Sensational Saturday, I'm just going to post some photos of things that have brought joy to my senses lately.

(this is a storm rolling in around sunset. I love stormy Oklahoma skies!)

(What's sweeter than a sleeping baby, right? She wasn't feeling well, but she looks so peaceful. I could just sit and watch her sleep all day.)
(These are some cage free eggs I bought. The yolks were the brightest orange I have ever seen. Those chickens must have been eating some awesome bugs, which translates into some really healthy eggs for my family!)

(I made a bunch of loaves of bread. I'll be posting this recipe soon because it is awesome. I find it difficult to keep up with the demand for this bread.)

(We finally got our homeschool room put together. I think it turned out great. I am really thrilled with how the chairs turned out when I painted them.)
(The seat cushions and the curtains are toile. I'm just slightly obsessed with toile right now!)

(Check this out...this is my uber picky two year old eating what she thinks is a pancake. What is it really? A shredded squash fritter. It is very rare for me to be able to make veggies in a way that she will eat. I was proud!)
(Yesterday was my anniversary. These are the flowers my husband gave me. Does he know me or what?! I love blue hydrangeas--I had them at the wedding, and I have them all over my house. But he also bought a potted plant so I can plant it after the blooms die. He knew I really don't like getting expensive bouquets that just die and waste money. These made me quite happy!)

That's all for now, folks! See you around for the next post!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

My Favorites

Today I read a post on my friends facebook page that listed all of her favorite household products. I thought that was such a great idea, because you get a real sense of what truly works for people and what doesn't.

I also have to point out that everyone has their reasons for buying what they do. Some people value time, others think about safety and health, etc. So every recommendation must go through your "filter," if you will, that helps you decide if the product is right for your family. Things that work for me may not work for you for whatever reason, and vice versa.

At this point, you may be wondering what my "filter" is--what do I look for in household products? Well, I want to be a good steward of my life (and my family) with the products I buy. For my husband and me, we are concerned about the harsh, manmade chemicals that are in a lot of products. A lot of the cleaners on the market today are made up of neurotoxins and other very unhealthy chemicals that entered the scene as a result of weapons research during WWII. So it's like you have to choose to expose yourself and your family to neurotoxins, carcinogens, and endocrine disruptors (like the ever-present parabens) to have a squeaky clean house. These chemicals may do a decent job at cutting grime, but all the research I have read seems to point to the fact that they are nasty for our bodies (especially young developing children), and they are nasty for the earth (the one we have been charged with taking care of.)

The question I typically get is, "well what about money. You're supposed to be a good steward of that, too." Yes, I agree. We're supposed to be good stewards of our money, but just because safe and natural products cost more doesn't mean that they are a bad use of my money. More expensive is not equal to bad stewardship. My husband entrusts me with his hard earned money, and I feel that the products I buy are a good use of money. I do try to find good deals when I can, too, though.

So without further ado, here are my favorite products around the house. It's not an exhaustive list, but these are the products that make our family a little happier! :)


Counter cleaner--Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day. At our old house, we had tile counters, so I used the counter spray. But at our new house, the counter spray leaves streaks on the solid surface counter tops, so I use the window cleaner for the counter tops.

Cutting boards/sanitation -- Good, old fashioned tea tree oil. It smells great, and sanitizes well. I have used this for quite some time in place of lysol and am happy to report that we have never gotten sick from food borne bacteria! This stuff is also great for keeping dish sponges sanitary--just keep your sponges in a bath of water with a few drops of the tea tree oil.

Old rags--we rarely use paper towels. A while back we bought some cloth diapers for Isabella, and it came with a set of microfiber bottom wipes that we didn't need. So, they became our kitchen rags. We just use them as we would use a paper towel, and when we're done with them, instead of tossing them in the trash, I just put them in a bowl on top of our dryer. I toss them in the wash when the bowl gets full enough. No problems, no hassle--contrary to what Bounty would like you to believe.

Swiffer--My house has a ton of tile floors, so I have to say that I LOVE my swiffer sweeper. I bought a package of cheap microfiber cloths at Sam's. I attach them to the swiffer just like the swiffer cloths, and they work just as well. Again, I can just pull them off and toss them in the wash.

Coconut oil--My kids are allergic to milk and milk products, so we use coconut oil in place of butter or margarine in recipes. It tastes great, plus it has a multitude of great health benefits. This is a highly underrated oil!

Spectrum Non-Hydrogenated Shortening--this is made from palm oil, and it's really quite a fantastic shortening. Again, we sometimes use this in baking in the place of butter. But I use this primarily to oil down by bread pans (since I make all of my own bread). I pretty much use this as a replacement for non-stick sprays (to avoid all the propellants, etc.) and I have had a 100% success rate using it. The breads always come out perfect on bottom.

Cloth shopping bags--My husband's company sells the big rectangular, flat bottomed cloth bags for $1 each, so I got a bunch of them. Yes, they are better than using up plastic or paper bags. But they are also great for carrying things to and from the car. They're terrific for grocery shopping because so much more can fit so much more in each make. That translates into much faster loading and unloading!

Dish Washing Soap--I usually use either Ivory soap or Biokleen's dishwashing soap (whichever I can find cheaper per ounce.) Biokleen's is much more concentrated and comes in bigger bottles. It costs more usually, but you get so much more out of it. But at the same time, I really like the smell of Ivory soap.


Counters, Sinks, Showers, Tubs--I use the shower and tube and tile sprays from 7th Generation. They smell decently okay, and they do a good job cleaning.

I also use a mop to clean the walls and floors of my shower, and the bottom of my tub. My tubs at my new house are very deep, so using the mop saves a lot of back breaking work. It's effective and time saving!

Odor Eliminator-- I'm a huge fan of Biokleen's Bac-Out. It has natural enzymes and bacteria in it that "eat" away stains and smells. It's perfect for getting rid of stinky odors that can happen in the bathroom. (Have your little boys ever made a mess all around the toilet, and the bathroom smelled like urine for days?! Put a little Bac-Out on it, and it will be much better!) I also use it for soaking soiled clothes until I can get around to washing.

Beauty--Coconut Oil! That's our biggest secret around here (not a secret anymore, really.) My kids are bi-racial and have dark skin and curly hair that is always dry. We use coconut oil in the place of lotion. (We have a separate jar we keep in the bathroom, so don't think we coat our skin with the same stuff we cook with!) The oil is great for dry skin, and has really improved the condition of my kid's skin! It's loaded with vitamins and healthy fat that are great for skin. We also use it in place of hair oil for my daughter's super curly hair. Her hair stays soft and moisturized, and it smells great to boot!

Makeup--I use mineral makeup. I try not to use the mineral makeup they sell at Wal Mart because it's still loaded with unhealthy chemicals. Although, I have used it in a pinch. I use the real mineral makeup, and it is fabulous. I've never met anyone who wasn't in love with it once they switched. My skin, which has been prone to breakouts since I was 10 or 11 cleared up dramatically. It's a little pricier at the front end, but it lasts for a rediculously long time! Not to mention, you are not exposing yourself to those endocrine disruptors that are oh so common in makeup. Check out the Skin Deep Cosmetic Database for more info! It was a huge help to me!

Sunscreen--Last year I read up on sun screen, and I have to say it was quite the eye opening experience. There is quite a debate over whether or not we even need sunscreen, but I won't get into that. For my fair skin and my daughter (who is also fair skinned, yet able to get an awesome tan), we use the Jason Naturals Mineral Block sunscreen. It's just minerals--that's it. Minerals like mica are natural sunblocks and they don't have the nasty side effects of regular sunblock. We love this sunscreen!

Soap--Guess what we use...soap! We don't use store bought detergent body soaps. We use good old fashioned real homemade soap. We actually use lye soap. Although it does contain lye, it is balanced out by the lard in the soap, which makes for an incredibly gentle soap. Everyone in our family uses this soap in the shower, and the kids wash their hair with it, too. I'm hoping to learn how to make my own soon, so I can keep our family stocked up! As an added bonus, lye soap has the ability to cut through the scent of natural skin oils, leaving you invisible to bugs. I haven't had a single mosquito bite since I started using lye soap!


Detergent/Softener--if you've read my previous blog posts, you'll already know the answer to this one! We no longer use detergents or fabric softeners. We use Soap Nuts. You can read my previous posts to find out more info. We LOVE soap nuts. They do a fantastic job cleaning and leaving clothes fresh with no residue!

Bleach--I'm not a fan of chlorine bleach for many reasons, so we use oxygen bleach. You can buy many different brands of oxygen bleach. I've found that OxyClean does work but it has so many additives. I use other brands that are about the same price, but are just plain oxygen bleach without the additives, and it works so much better in my opinion.

Okay, so what do you think? Do you use any of these products? Do you have some you'd like to recommend? Let me know!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Summer Schooling

A while back I mentioned that I was going to start a unit this summer that highlights music and art. We got a bit of a late start, but we finally jumped in. The kids are loving it!

We are loosely following this lesson plan, in which kids learn about Mendelssohn and Monet. I didn't really have much Mendelssohn on hand, so I switched it up, and we're doing a study on Bach. The kids really love the Brandenburg Concerto discs that I have. We have started listening to them in the car and at home. It's sweet when I ask, "Who are we listening to?" And my little ones will say, "Tach" since they can't say "Bach."

We are, also, still studying Monet. Today we pulled the paints out, and the kids tried their hand at making an impressionist painting. I think they did pretty well! My 4 year old's painting looked more like Van Gogh than Monet, but he still enjoyed it.

On top of the art/music unit, we are doing catechism and Bible verse memory. Honestly, until fairly recently, I thought catechism was only for Catholic families. I wasn't aware that there were protestant catechisms available. I was told about an awesome book for little kids called Big Truths for Little Kids, and it's basically the Shorter Catechism with a few words changed to make the vocabulary easier on little ones. It also has great stories that highlight the points in the catechism. We've found that our kids really enjoy memorizing the catechisms, and it has been a great way to dive into theology with our children. We usually memorize Bible verses that have something to do with the questions they have been memorizing.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Revisiting My Favorites

I've been so busy lately doing my projects (and eating watermelon!) that I have fallen behind on writing posts for this blog. I have some great ideas that I want to share on here in the near future. But today, I thought I'd revisit some of my favorite natural living posts that I have written in the past. Keep reading to the bottom, because there is a surprise!

Soap Nuts

I wrote about soap nuts about a month ago, when I first started using them. These little dried berries have made a huge difference in my wash. My clothes come out smelling fresh--not chemically "fresh", but clothesline fresh. And the clothes are all really soft--even things like jeans or towels that usually are a bit "crunchy" with no fabric softener. They are quite cost effective--out to about $.09 per load if you buy them in bulk. The commercial detergent we were using was about $.12 per load, and then you have to add the price of fabric softener to that, too! Frankly, I'd pay more for them just because it's nice to know that I've gotten rid of the harsh, nasty chemicals from my laundry room. But since they're pretty cheap, it's a great deal! I mentioned in my last post about Soap Nuts that I liked the added bonus that my kids can do their own wash now, since there are no chemicals to measure or pour. This has been very nice, and since my kids are fascinated with the little "berries in a bag," they have actually wanted to do their laundry. Yay!!

Homemade Cloth Pads
(these are my latest batch of pads--made out of old plaid PJ pants, and an old baby blanket)

If you are new to my blog, you may not remember this past post. But, needless to say, I got many comments from people intrigued by the fact that I make my own cloth sanitary pads. You can read the original post here (it's on my old blog). I go into the reasons why I use cloth pads, as well as how to make them. It's been almost 2 years now since I switched to cloth from the commercial paper/plastic variety. While it seemed a bit awkward at first, storing them, washing them, etc. has just become routine to me (and to my family). I'll interject a funny story right here: Recently, I was folding laundry, and I had my clean pads on the couch. I went out to an appointment and my mother in law watched the kids. When I got home, my mother in law told me that my daughter had held up one of the pads and said, "Grammy, Momma told me what these were for, and trust me you do not want to know!" Of course she knew what they were, and we all had a great laugh. But the point of the story is that cloth pads are just a normal, everyday part of life around here.

I've found that the one thing that makes life so much easier with cloth pads is having a bottle of BacOut on hand to add to the storage water. It elimates odors and the pads come out really clean in the wash. So, that's the one thing that I would add to my previous post.

Since my previous discussion of cloth pads, I have had conversations with several women from my church about them. The women usually start by saying "Eww...isn't that gross?" But I'm happy to say that several women have "converted" to cloth pads. The yuck factor does go away as it becomes routine, and if you have chemical sensitivities like I do, you may find great relief from cramping by switching. I surely did!

And Now The Surprise!
To celebrate my favorite two favorite things, I am holding my first ever giveaway!! If you win, you will receive your choice of either a starter pack of soap nuts, or 3 homemade pads/inserts. The winner will be drawn at random next Wednesday, July 15th. To enter, please do the following:

  1. Leave a comment telling me which item you would like to receive, and why.
  2. Make sure you fill in the blank with your email address so I can contact you!
  3. You can receive two additional entries by signing up to be a follower on my blog.
Good luck!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

My Little "Neighbors"

(this is the nest in the back of the house. I think the Momma Bird must be a drill sargeant because they are always lined up in a straight line looking down together.)

I posted a while back about all the bird living around us--especially the two nests of barn swallows that have taken over my front and back porches. I wanted to post pictures of them. They are getting quite big (they're not big balls of fluff anymore), and they are definitely singing more now--not just the little chirps. They are also making a much bigger mess on my porches! But I think they are about to leave the nest, since they look quite mature now. Every time I walk outside, they all peer over the edge of the nest and look down at me (which is actually kind of creepy.)

(this is the front porch nest. Their Momma Bird is more relaxed than the back porch Momma--they're always going every which way in their nest

Ways with the Watermelon

I'm back to blogging again after a wonderful 4th of July break. My husband took the kids to see his parents, so I was home all alone over the holiday weekend, and then Curtis' parents kept the boys for a few more days. It was a nice, restful break, and I was able to use the time to finish some projects that I had been aching to do. I'll post those next time.

This summer, I have been loving watermelon! It's really not summer (at least in the South) without letting watermelon juice drip down your chin at least once! I bought a big 'ole watermelon last week in hopes of sharing it with the family. But while my family was gone, I worked on a painting project in the garage; and after a long, hot day, I decided to break open the watermelon! So what is one single person to do with a watermelon meant for 6 people? Well, eat it, of course. But since I had time to experiment, I tried new things with my lovely melon.

The first thing I did was make caramelized watermelon slices. To do this, you cut the watermelon in wedges and coat with sugar and then sautee until caramelized in a pan. I try my hardest not to eat refined sugar, so I did not coat it with the granulated sugar. Instead, I put a little raw honey on each side and then browned it. It never actually caramelized, and I think it probably would have been better just browned without anything on it at all. But eating hot watermelon was an interesting experience for me. It doesn't really taste like watermelon at all, but it is still quite delicious. I think if it was spiced up a little and served with other fruit, it would make a lovely dessert. So, I am going to keep experimenting with this one. I think it has great potential.
(caramelized watermelon slices)

The second thing I did with the watermelon was make pickled watermelon rind. The end product turned out great, but the process was somewhat messy. I followed a recipe I found very loosely, as the recipe called for adding 8 CUPS of white sugar to a 3 quart mixture!! I wonder if they were making pickles or candy! :) So, I cut the sugar down to about 3 cups, and I used sucanat instead of white sugar. I also substituted apple cider vinegar for the white vinegar called for in the recipe. (I will have to say, however, that you have to boil the ACV, and my house smelled very strongly of vinegar for a whole day afterward!) While I don't recall ever having pickled watermelon rind before, I would assume by the recipe that it is intended to be more of a dessert or candied pickle than a tart pickle. But with the modifications I made, I'm happy to say that they turned into a fabulously sweet and tart pickle that tastes just like a sweet gherkin. I am very happy with the results, and I chopped some of them up last night to put in a tuna salad, and even my pickiest eaters couldn't tell it wasn't a traditional pickle. You may be wondering, "Why go to all the effort to make pickled rind when you can just go buy a sweet gherkin at the store?" My motivation was twofold: first, I love to learn new things and have new challenges. Second, the idea behind it is to waste less and make the most use out of every part of your food. I think this is a lost art in our society today, and I want to rediscover stewardship of food.

(this is the rind after it has been peeled)

(the finished product. the recipe yielded 3 quart jars)

Here's my recipe for pickled watermelon rind:

  • 4 quarts of watermelon rind, peeled with all red flesh removed
  • Sprinkle 3/4 cup of salt over the rind and cover with water. Let sit in the fridge overnight.
  • On the next day, drain and lightly rinse the rind. Cover with fresh water, and boil until the rind starts to get soft. Remove from the heat and drain.
  • In a large pot, bring about 1 quart of ACV, 3-4 cups of sucanat, 5 cinnamon sticks, 2 Tblsp. whole cloves, and 1 tsp mustard powder to a boil. Continue to boil for a few minutes until the mixture is a little more syrupy. Add the rind, and boil until the rind is clear and soft.
  • Spoon the pickles and syrup into sterilized jars, and process in a water bath.
I also made wonderful smoothies with the watermelon. I put chunks of the melon into the freezer until they were icy but not frozen solid. I then pureed the chunks along with some peeled peaches from the farmer's market, the juice of one lime, and some stevia. They made wonderful smoothies, and even my super picky two year old partook of the yumminess.

I want to end this post with a picture of my refrigerator (above). At the farmer's market yesterday, there were so many different varieties of zucchini and squash, and they were super cheap, so I stocked up on them (the picture above is about half of it). And then my mother in law brought me 3 HUGE summer squash from her friend's farm. So, now I'm in desperate need of some creative ideas for serving them this week. If you have any ideas--they need to be milk free since my kids are allergic--I would love some help so we don't end up eating grilled squash every day!