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October 02, 2009

Herbs for the New Mama

At long last, A Year of Herbs begins! Thanks to all who entered the herbal prints giveaway. The lucky winner is Kate (jknh78@), who will soon be receiving her choice of beautiful art prints from L.Herbert Designs!

Herbal-teas

Though I am eager to begin to study about individual herbs and their specific uses, my formal study of herbs has begun in a much more practical manner... finding and learning to use herbs that are helpful for both mother and baby in the early weeks and months after birth!

I've mentioned a couple of times that life has been particularly busy and stressful over the last month or so, just with some current circumstances, recovering from giving birth, and adjusting to life with a new (and fussy) baby in general and I have been feeling quite worn out as a result. In the midst of all this I was beginning to really struggle with my emotions-- sad and weepy one minute, angry and very irritable the next. I felt perpetually overwhelmed and like I was breaking a bit under the pressure of it all. In speaking with my husband and midwife, I recognized that what I was experiencing was the beginnings of post-partum depression.

I am so grateful to have realized this before things got any worse. My midwife encouraged me to discuss with my husband how I could find more times for rest and just ways to feel more like myself again and remove some of the stress I was feeling (which we did, and he was so supportive and loving to allow me to do that). She also gave me the go-ahead to do some research into herbs that I could try, that might assist my body in coping with the stress, bringing my hormones and emotions more under control, and just continuing to strengthen and rejuvenate my body so that I could better handle the demands that were on me.

Natural health after birth I borrowed a book from the library called Natural Health after Birth by Aviva Jill Romm, a practicing midwife and herbalist. The focus of the book is on the post-partum period, a season of life that is often overlooked by most people, including new moms (and yes, especially me!). A wonderful aspect of the book is the use of herbal remedies to aid the mother's body in recovering physically and emotionally, as well as for increasing milk supply, helping fussy and colicky babies and more (though I can't recommend the book in it's entirety, as she is not a believer and there are some new age aspects of the book in some chapters). 

With the blessing of my midwife, I decided last week to put together one of the herbal tea mixes in the book, intended for helping with the symptoms of post-partum depression. Here is what I put together, partly from one of the book's specific recipes, and with some of my own substitutions (due to not being able to easily purchase all of the exact suggested herbs).

Keeping-Your-Balance Blend (slightly altered)

2 parts chamomile flowers (for relaxation)

2 parts nettle (for nutritive purposes, includes trace minerals and vitamins, to treat anemia, weakness and stabilize blood sugar. Also helpful for those feeling stressed and physically or emotionally drained)

2 parts peppermint (to energize and also soothe the nerves at the same time)

2 parts red raspberry leaves (rich in minerals, tonifying to the uterus, aids in balancing hormones, as well as adding a nice flavor to the tea)

1 part dandelion leaves (highly nutritive with trace minerals and iron)

I also added in:

2 parts catnip (a nervine herb, meant to relax and de-stress)

1 part yarrow (for reproductive organs and hormone balancing, immune boosting and digestion)

I mixed all of the dry herbs together in a glass jar and keep it on the counter with a measuring spoon. Whenever I want to make some, I boil some water and place 1 Tbsp of tea per cup of water into a french press. I let the kettle sit for a moment after turning it off so that it is no longer at a rolling boil (because this can damage the volatile oils in many herbs and reduce their effectiveness), then pour it over the herbs. With the lid on (but not pressed down), I let it sit and steep for 10-20 minutes before pressing it and pouring myself a mug. I aim to drink 2-4 cups of this tea a day.

**The original recipe did not include the catnip or yarrow, and also includes 2 parts of chrysanthemum flowers (for anger, stress and related emotions), oatstraw (nutritive, provides vigor and energy) and strawberry leaves (as a tonic and for nerves), and 1 part of both gingerroot (improves and stimulates circulation) and rose petals (relaxation, taste and possibly hormonal balancing). One substitute for oatstraw is to simply eat more oats, as they also contain most of the same qualities.

I am amazed at how much better I am feeling after only a week! Of course, it is not just the herbs. I have really been crying out to the Lord in prayer, playing worship music and meditating on Scripture truths, talking about how I'm doing with my husband and several friends, as well as just trying to take little breaks whenever I feel my emotions starting to rise up and become out of control.

I do feel, though, that the herbs I've been taking this past week have contributed to feeling much more calm and emotionally steady and more physically well than I did before. There have been many trying moments, but in general, I don't feel as overwhelmed as I did before and am more able to use self-control in how I respond to difficult situations.

As I've been reading and studying more about herbs lately, I've also been coming across some others that may be particularly useful for new mamas:

Nutritive (herbs with nourishing qualities, including protein, vitamins, minerals, etc.): Alfalfa, Ashwaganda, Gotu Kola, Hawthorn berries (and leaves and flowers), Milky oats (and oats in general), Nettle, , Red Raspberry leaf, Rose hips.

Nervines (herbs which support the nervous system, have a calming effect and help to relieve stress and tension): Ashwaganda, Catnip, Chamomile, Hops, Lavender, Lemon balm, Milky oats, Motherwort, Skullcap, Vervain

Galactagogues (herbs which support the nursing mother, particularly with maintaing an ample milk supply): Blessed thistle, Dandelion leaf, Fennel, Fenugreek, Nettle, Saw palmetto, Vervain, Vitex (this one is a little more controversial)

Herbs to AVOID while nursing:

Alkanet, Aloe Vera (externally is fine, but not internally), Aloes, Basil (as a food seasoning it's fine), Black Cohosh, Bladderwrack, Borage**, Bugleweed, Cascara sagrada (again, externally is fine), Chinese rhubarb, Coltsfoot, Comfrey**, Elecampane, Ephedra, Garlic (as with basil, fine for use as a food seasoning or ingredient), Joe Pye, Licorice, Male fern, Pugring buckthorn, Senna, Stillingia, Wormwood.

**I have seen conflicting information about comfrey and borage. Some books say they are fine, and even recommended for use as galactagogues. However, Romm suggests in Natural Health after Birth that they should not be used, though no specific reasons are given and I cannot seem to find any in my own research. I will have to continue to study, and so I can't really recommend them to you, one way or the other. Use your discernment in choosing whether to use them or not. 

Nursing-tea-jar I am currently also taking a herbal nursing tea, made by Rhea's Herbals Extractions (the products are great, but the site doesn't offer much information). I began taking it right after Johanna was born, to help establish a really solid milk supply, something which I struggled with a bit after Caden's birth for various reasons. It includes:

Red Raspberry, Chamomile, Lemon Grass, Borage Leaf, Fenugreek Seed, Star Anise, Marshmallow, Coriander, Fennel Seed, Galega. 

I have found that, despite feeling quite stressed and busy (usually not helpful for maintaining a good milk supply), I haven't really had any problems with having enough milk. There have been only a few days (and really, only one or two feeds on those days) where I felt it was a bit lacking, and I usually felt that was in response to me being too on-the-go, and not having had enough to eat and drink. 

For more great information on maintaining a good milk supply and a wonderful recipe for homemade mother's milk tea, check out this post

My next herb post will focus on some things that I have been learning about herbs for soothing the fussy, colicky or restless baby!

Has anyone else found herbs to be helpful in recovering after giving birth, for post-partum depression or for increasing milk supply? 


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October 01, 2009

So Grateful

New honda odyssey

Tonight, I am just so grateful for a number of things:

Our new van (that's it above): We recently felt that it was time to sell our car (a Mazda Protege5 wagon) in order to purchase a minivan for our growing family. Long story short, we ended up getting what seems to be the perfect van for us. It's a 2002 Honda Odyssey, with very low kilometres, a new transmission, no issues at all except basic maintenance, and the price was significantly below market value. Our budget for a vehicle unexpectedly went up yesterday, with some money we had not anticipated receiving, giving us the room we needed to allow us to afford getting such an excellent vehicle without going a penny into debt. Every detail of it all, including the timing of how it all happened, was so obviously ordained. We feel so blessed!

My husband getting accepted into a small business course: We have been waiting for well over a month, for Ryan to be able to go through the full application and interview process for an entrepreneurial course that he wanted to take as he begins our new family business. Last week, it began to look as though he wouldn't be accepted due to some silly eligibility issues, but just this week we received the wonderful news that he is accepted and begins classes tomorrow!

Johanna-around-4-weeks

Feeling like I have my darling baby back: After 3 weeks of extreme fussiness and colic, our little Johanna is really calming down. Most of the gas and colic is gone, the baby acne she had has almost disappeared, and she is back to being much more of her calm and happy self. She's even recently learned to smile- so delightful! I think it is probably due to the herbal teas I've been drinking this past week, which I am going to post about really soon (promise!).

Being nearly done summer/fall preserving and gardening: We've planned one big yard/garden day to get the bulk of the garden stuff finished off for the season, and then I just have to finish up the last crops that are still growing and then mulch it over for the winter. As far as preserving, I still have pumpkins to puree, and I might make more dried apples or fruit leather, and then just root cellar storage to complete (carrots, turnips, beets, etc.). I'm freezing the rest of the tomatoes, and I'll leave the kale and lettuce as long as they continue to grow.

God is so good, isn't He? He's already met our greatest need for a Savior through the cross, and yet He still lavishly pours out His blessings upon us!

Life has felt so busy and stressful this past while, and yet I can really see some light at the end of the tunnel. I feel so relieved, and am so anxious to get back into more of a regular routine in our home, and on my blog as well. Thank you all for your patience with me since Johanna's birth!

What have you been grateful for lately? How have you seen God's hand of blessing in your life?


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September 30, 2009

Play it Again: The Dirty Dozen (Making the Most of the Money you Spend on Organics)

A is for apple

Originally Published January 2008

Have you ever wondered whether some fruits or vegetables are more important to buy organic than others? The simple answer is yes!

Certain crops can be more difficult to grow, and when not using organic and natural methods, require the use of many more pesticides and sprays than other crops. So while it would be ideal to be able to purchase all of our produce organic, I know that the reality of the budget does not allow me to do so, and I'm guessing the same goes for most of you!

Allow me to introduce you to the Dirty Dozen... these are the most pesticide laden, over sprayed crops of them all. Actually, the list that I found for you lists far more than a dozen, ranging from the very worst, to the best (those that are the most minimally sprayed, despite being conventional and not organically grown).

Quickly, go take a look at them, and then come back (you'll need to scroll down a little to see them)...

Now let me explain how this list will serve both your family (by reducing toxins in their food) and your wallet (by reducing cost on unnecessary expenses). Suppose you are going to the store for red peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, onions, carrots, and strawberries. You have enough money to buy some of them organic, but not all.

So let's take a look at the list. Hmmm, peppers and strawberries are up in the top 6. Definitely buy organic. And carrots are right up there, too, at #13. Considering carrots can be quite reasonably priced (at least where I live), I'd definitely get those organic as well. Now the money is getting a little tight (those peppers and strawberries can be expensive!). But look, tomatoes are only #29 and broccoli is even better at #35. Maybe those could just be conventional, and washed really well. And look at that- onions are on the very bottom of the list! So pick up that $0.99 bag of regular onions, instead of the organic ones for $2.49 and feel relaxed about that choice. That wasn't so bad, was it?

When continually faced with choices between quality and cost, it can help so much to have a guide to which items really matter, and which items are just not such a big deal. Ideally, I would love to buy 100% organic food, and support sustainable farming, the reduction of pesticides being put into our water and soil and the wonderful men and women who are bringing these naturally produced products back to our markets.

For now, though, it seems that the most frugal option is to carefully pick and choose which organic items are the best value, and which ones I can do without. Once again, I truly believe that we do not have to choose between healthier, more natural living and careful stewardship of our finances (which is what frugality is all about).

(Update: Since I first posted this, EWG has revised and updated their Shopper's Guide to Pesticides. Some of the ratings may be different than they were when I composed this post. The Shopper's Guide can now even be downloaded as an application on your iPhone or iPod Touch, or just printed out and kept in your wallet or purse.)

Do you use the Dirty Dozen as a guide for choosing which produce to purchase organic? Do you find that it helps you to prioritize how you use your food dollars?


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September 29, 2009

When Life Hands You Soggy Pickles... Make Relish!

Sweet-relish

Sadly, my sweet pickles didn't turn out this year. For some very unknown reason, rather than staying wonderfully crisp, then turned soggy. Very soggy.

Since the recipe I use is pretty tried-and-true (I've done it before many times without fail), I decided to call my mother-in-law to brainstorm ideas of what went wrong. The recipe originates from her, so I thought she might have some clues to help solve my soggy pickle mystery. Together we came up with various thoughts... the extra pickling cucumbers I was given from a friend were too large, or they were the wrong kind of cucumber, or maybe they had some kind of bacteria on them, or maybe my fridge temperature wasn't cold enough... we still don't know and it's bugging me a bit, so if you have any thoughts to add in, send them my way!

However, my mother-in-law did come up with one fantastic solution to my main problem-- I just hated the thought of wasting so much food! All that organic apple cider vinegar, raw honey, onions from my garden, not to mention the cucumbers.

So why not make relish?

I did just that. I used a slotted spoon to scoop out all of the pickles, along with a bit of the onions and of course, some of the pickle liquid. I put it all in my food processor and chopped it up in several batches. It looked like relish. It smelled like relish. But not being a relish fan myself, I still wasn't quite sure. I called my hubby in for a taste test... and he loved it! Best relish he's ever had! Phew! 

Perfectly good food, saved from the trash can. That makes me really happy, and even happier to see my husband enjoying the relish on the hamburgers we ate the other night.

How have you made good use of food that would have otherwise been wasted? Any stories to share of how you transformed a kitchen disaster into a victory?

And, to help out a reader who left this comment:

Now, here is a "pickle" for you: I made a large batch of the lacto-fermented refrigerator pickles that you had posted a recipe for awhile ago. I used 2T of salt, because I had no whey. They ended up being way too salty. Even my husband who loves salty pickles had to admit that they probably need to be tossed. They have since been in my refrigerator because I do not want to throw them all. Any ideas on what to do with these?

Any suggestions for Sheri?


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September 28, 2009

Play it Again: My Top 3

Originally Published December 2008

Three chocolatesImagine taking a chocolate-loving woman (so, that would be pretty much any woman) to some incredible chocolate store, perhaps in, say, Belgium. The shelves and counters are lined with incredibly decadent, melt in your mouth, sweet perfection and goodness. Chocolate truffles, chocolate covered cherries, chocolate toffee, hazelnut chocolate pralines.

As she stands there, taking it all in and salivating at the delicate smell wafting through the air, she is bluntly told, "Alright lady, take your pick. You get 3. That's it. No more, no less. Just 3." Can you feel her agony as I do?

So that's sort of how I felt when Judy so graciously asked me this:

I love all these posts on nutrition and healthy eating -- but I am SO overwhelmed of where to begin. I guess I must unlearn 45 years of grocery shopping and food preparation. I do some of the obvious -- 100% pure juices -- some organic grains sprinkled in here and there. I used to think Soy Milk was good but then I thought somewhere you might have said it isn't. What would be your top three areas that I could begin to focus on? and/or eliminate from our diet.

Three?!? I can only choose three?

Ok, calm down. Stop shaking. You can handle this. It's a simple question really, and all it needs is a simple answer. She's not asking you to never post about anything important ever again, she's just asking for a starting place. You can do this.

Deep breath. Here goes:

1) Move away from processed foods, towards a whole foods diet

I say this, knowing that it is a large step, but it starts in small ways, and that is all that I'm suggesting. Really, truly. It starts by choosing 1 or 2 processed foods that you regularly buy, and starting to learn to make them from scratch or to substitute a whole food in it's place. Don't even worry yet about whole grain, organic or natural, pasture-fed, etc, etc. Just concentrate on foods that are as close to their original state as possible.

This can be as simple as forgoing the pasta mix (like Lipton side noodles, Kraft dinner, or even a Prego sauce) that you like to purchase, and try making your own sauce to pour over some noodles. It could be attempting to make some homemade bread or muffins instead of buying them from the grocery bakery. It could be learning to make homemade white sauce or trying out some new soup recipes in lieu of canned soups. Chopping and steaming your own fresh veggies instead of the usual canned or frozen ones. Try battering and baking or simply seasoning your own chicken or fish, instead of buying frozen, deep-fried chicken strips or fish sticks.

2) Switch over from a reliance on vegetable oils and margarine, to truly good-for-you fats

What goes: Margarine or any half-half mix or imitation butter spread or spray, canola oil, sunflower oil (this one can still be used minimally, but really, keep it minimal), safflower oil, corn oil, generic vegetable oils, Crisco, Pam, all hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated oils (look in the ingredients on many packaged foods to find these)

What to add: Honest-to-goodness butter, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, palm oil, flax oil (not for cooking), and even animal lard or tallow

(For more on this, see these posts, Part 1 and Part 2, for more on cooking oils, and this post on butter)

3) Start to decrease and move towards eliminating refined sugars from your diet

There are just so many good reasons to cut out refined sugars entirely:

  • They contribute to weight gain and obesity
  • They contribute to blood sugar imbalances and Type II diabetes
  • They are empty calories and actually rob your body of needed nutrients
  • They damage your teeth
  • They are addictive (I kid you not!)
  • They are a major cause of hyperactivity and an inability to focus and learn well in children
  • They cause your body to be highly acid, rather than slightly alkaline as it should be, which contributes to disease
  • They feed cancer cells (did you know that one of the most effective cancer scans looks for cells that are uptaking glucose at a fast rate?)

Do we really need any more reasons to get rid of them? Work towards this by slowly finding replacement snacks and foods for the more sugary things you have a habit of eating (pops, store-bought baking, sugary beverages, candy, cereals, granola bars and many other processed foods- look at the ingredients!). Try having one or two days a week where you don't have any refined sugar at all, and gradually cut it down more and more. Learn to use natural sweeteners in your own baking and treat-making at home.

(And if you really want to know, the other suggestion that I really strongly considered was to add in a Cod Liver Oil supplement- it gives you crucial essential fatty acids like EPA and DHA, plus high amounts of Vitamin A and D, which most North Americans are lacking in but are vitally important to good health. So if you're struggling with one of the above suggestions, consider Cod Liver Oil another good step to take instead.)

Phew! That wasn't so hard... :) Think I'll go have a piece of chocolate now. (See, there's that addictive thing I told you about!)

Aren't you proud of me for not mentioning soaking and sprouting your grains? And working to avoid food preservatives, dyes, MSG and other such chemicals? And adding more fermented and cultured foods to your diet?  And drinking raw, not pasteurized, milk? And trying to buy more organic or unsprayed produce and learning to wash and peel to avoid pesticides? And finding a good source of...

I could have mentioned all of those things, but aren't you glad I didn't?

Truthfully, I don't know that it matters where you begin. The point is simply to start somewhere. Anywhere! These are just my suggestions, to give you a few points to focus on, and I hope you find it helpful! Blessings as you begin to make these positive changes for you and your family!

What are some of the small, baby steps that you have begun taking in the area of nutrition? Do these 3 things sound like something that you could do?


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September 25, 2009

Play it Again: I Choose Hope

Daisy in grass

Originally Published June 2008

There is a lot of bad news out there. Sometimes, being on the internet so much, I can tend to feel overwhelmed by all that I read and see.

One site in particular has really been getting to me lately, with what I feel is a particularly negative, hopeless and humanistic approach. If I were to listen only to that site, I might really be struggling to find any hope at all, in the midst of so many dangers and cautions and conspiracies and the like.

Perhaps you are like me, and feel that you are doing your very best, as you continually seek to improve aspects of your health and nutrition, avoid dangerous foods and products and toxins, and still find balance in your life. Yet we are daily being told that it is not enough!

I can't do it all. I know from your comments and emails that neither can you. 

There is much fear mongering in the area of health information and education, and it is truly unfortunate. Much of it is used to manipulate us and/or convince us to part with more of our money. Some of it is well intentioned and I believe sincerely offered out of compassion and care. But yet, discerning between the two can be nearly impossible, can't it?

In general, there is a serious lack of hope in all of the hype and claims and new discoveries and all of the things that we must do in order to be "healthy". 

But what good is it all anyways? So much of the information out there is self-help or self-actualization or even heal-thyself-because-god-is-within-you garbage.

There is a vast difference between careful and conscientious stewardship, and believing that you are capable of turning everything around and creating perfect health for you and your loved ones. One is God-focused, and the other is me-focused.

Let's face it. We live in a sin-burdened, broken-down mess of a world. No matter how healthy or green or natural we may become, we all share the same end, and that is physical death and an eternity either with God or without Him.

Pursuing health and natural living is not the ultimate goal. They are merely tools that can be used to enable us to live more in harmony with the creation God has so lovingly given us to have dominion over, to steward it and to preserve it for future generations, and to experience more energy and vitality in these incredible bodies that He has designed so that we may be more fully able to minister to others and seek His kingdom, and nothing more!

Where is our hope then, in the midst of so much brokenness, despair, sickness, and confusion?

It cannot be found in this diet or that supplement or in being healed of this ailment or avoiding that toxin.
Any and all hope that we could ever desire to find can be found in nothing but the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is only in the real salvation and healing of our souls that Christ alone offers (as opposed to the counterfeits offered by the world)  that we can and should place our ultimate trust. 

I do not long for a day when I am able to cook perfectly of completely naturally produced food, and rid my home of any toxins, or when I have abounding energy and feel free of all sickness or disease. I do not long for cleaner skies and seas, a reduction in landfills, uncontaminated soil or pure drinking water.

No, I long for something far, far greater. 

I long for the day when my Savior returns on the clouds, and with the resounding of a trumpet call, draws me home to be with Him forever. I long for an eternity where the truest healing awaits- no more sickness, no more death, no more tears, no more sorrow (Rev 21:3-5).

And so as I walk daily through this world in which I am merely a stranger and an alien, I choose hope. Not in what Dr. Mercola or Nourishing Traditions or Weston Price (and certainly not Keeper of the Home) have to say. 

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness.
On Christ the Solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand. 

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.


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September 24, 2009

Memorizing Scripture as a Family


Memory-verse-box

Looking for a way to memorize scripture with your children?

Over the last month or two, we have begun using a system that is working so well for us. It helps us to not only learn new scriptures, but to continually be reviewing the ones that we have already committed to memory.

My husband ran across this system on a Charlotte Mason site. The method was relatively simple to put together. The most time consuming aspect was actually choosing the verses that he wanted to include in it and typing them out, but setting up the box itself was quick and easy.

Memory-verse-box-closeup

Basically, we always have one verse under "today" or "daily" that we are in the process of memorizing, as well as many others in rotation. Those verses are reviewed on even or odd days, the days of the week, and then the date of the month (this link explains it much better than I do). We bought a small box that fits index cards, and then a package of index card dividers from the dollar store. We printed the verses out on the computer, then cut and paste them onto index cards. We store all the extras at the back of the box, and gradually add them to the system as we learn them.

We like to do our verses while we eat breakfast (or dinner, if we weren't able to all eat together in the morning). Ryan leads us and we all repeat the verses together while we are learning them, and then take turns trying to say them on our own. I am constantly surprised and awed by how our 4 1/2 year old picks up the verses so easily and just rattles them off to us! Children have amazing, sponge-like memories and this is the perfect time to help them learn to hide God's word in their hearts. I am so blessed to see her learning these truths, and trust that as she understands and learns more of the Bible that it will bear much fruit in her life (and in our other children, as they grow old enough to do this as well).

Do you memorize scripture with your children or as a family? What types of methods or systems do you (or have you) used?


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September 22, 2009

Play it Again: The Great Debate- Washing our Fruits and Vegetables

Carton of blueberries

Originally Published March 2008

The debate isn't over whether we should actually wash our fruits and vegetables or not. Most people and "experts" agree, all produce should be washed before being eaten.

What is hotly debated, however, is why and with what. Some say we don't need to worry about pesticide residues, but only food-borne bacteria, and therefore rinsing in water is good enough. Others says that pesticide residue is a very real concern and we need to use specially formulated, organic (usually expensive) produce washes.

So who's right?

The articles out there say that the Government has performed tests (who's results are hard to find, by the way) showing that the amount of pesticide residues are very small, and that the trace amounts left behind are not harmful. However, these "trace amounts" have not been thoroughly tested and approved as being safe, nor has the cumulative effect of consuming trace amounts of numerous different pesticides over the long term been studied.

Many people will point out that the use of pesticides is becoming stricter, and that they are removing those considered dangerous. However, they are also adding new pesticides every year, and I think many of us would be surprised to find out how many and what types of chemicals are still ending up on our dinner tables. Here is a link to a chart detailing the chemical use on lettuce crops in California and Arizona in 2002- I do not think that this is extremely dissimilar from any other states or Canada, or that the list has changed much today.

There is somewhat of a difference between food crops, though, and this can help us to make wise decisions regarding what we buy (read a previous post of mine on this topic).

Personally, I am hesitant to believe the claim that the remaining pesticide residues are safe. Most things approved by the FDA have not gone through the rigorous studies that I believe are necessary to warrant them as being "safe", and more than that, they have not been studied in combination with other chemicals (because most chemicals have reactions or synergistic effects when mixed with other chemicals- meaning that they can become more potent or toxic together than on their own).

I do know that studies are coming out left, right and center showing increased rates of many types of cancers and other serious illnesses in the farmers and workers using these chemicals, and in the families whose nearby homes are affected by the crop sprays that travel through the air.

So how can we thoroughly wash our fruits and vegetables to avoid as many of these contaminants as possible?

There are many different thoughts on what is most effective. Unfortunately, most pesticide residues actually become absorbed by the produce, and become systemic and not capable of being washed off. However, there are still many residues that reside on the outer layer of produce, that can be removed as much as is possible by careful washing.

Here are a few general guidelines:

  1. Wash everything- regardless of what the item is, it is wise to at least briefly wash it, simply because it has been handled, has traveled, etc. and to simply reduce the risk of bacteria.
  2. Whenever possible, peel the skin from non-organic produce, such as apples, potatoes, carrots, zucchini, etc. If produce is organic, a simple wash with a good scrub brush should be sufficient, and allow you to keep the peels on, which contain a high level of nutrients.
  3. In root vegetables, most pesticides are concentrated around the top inch of the vegetable, so be sure to chop this area off. Whenever I use non-organic carrots, I also chop off more on the top that I do with organic.
  4. Foods that cannot be scrubbed or peeled (such as broccoli, berries, etc.) should be soaked in a sinkful of water and your choice of washing agent, before being thoroughly rinsed.
  5. Discard the outer leaves of leafy vegetables, like lettuce, before you thoroughly wash the inner leaves.

As far as what to use, opinions on this vary widely. It is very hard to wade through all of the different claims and arguments and decipher what is truly best. However, it seems that the best cleansers are those that contain some type of mild, natural surfactant, which basically helps to dissolve and wash away residues (please note, I don't claim to understand this very fully- there is a lot of science behind surfactants and soaps and detergents, etc. and hey, I'm just not a science-y kind of girl!).

Here is a list of safe and effective washes or make-your-own solutions that I know of:

Vinegar and Hydrogen Peroxide
The  basic method is to fill two spray bottles, one with vinegar and one with hydrogen peroxide (3%, the kind you can buy in the drug store). Spray the produce first with vinegar, and then with the peroxide, and allow to sit for a moment (scrubbing those items that need to be scrubbed), then rinse well under running water.

Vinegar and water
Another method I have heard of is to use equal parts vinegar and water and allow the vegetables to soak in it (scrubbing if necessary), before rinsing well.

Mild dish washing detergent
Use 1 tsp of detergent per gallon (4 litres) of water. Again, soak, scrub, rinse. Personally, I would only do  this with a more natural detergent, rather than a regular commercial one.

Use a pre-made produce wash such as:
Biokleen Produce Wash
Mom's Veggieswash
Nature Clean Produce Wash
There are many others out there. I've also heard that Shaklee and Amway make good washes.

What is the deal with these washes? They are generally made with non-toxic surfactants that help to break down and remove residues so that they can be rinsed off. They are usually quite mild, non-irritating, no dyes, biodegradable, etc. My particular brand (Biokleen) contains: Lime extracts, grapefruit seed and pulp extracts (a common ingredient in natural detergents), surfactants from coconut and/or corn, cold pressed orange oil and filtered water.

Is it really necessary to spend money on these name brand and more expensive washes? I'm not really convinced that they are necessarily better than a simple option such as vinegar or hydrogen peroxide, however for me, they feel simple to use. I don't find it expensive, because it is quite concentrated and one $4 bottle lasts me for a couple months. I try to wash as many items as I can each time I fill the sink with it, to help it go a little further.

There you have it. My take on the subject. This post actually took me far longer to write than I thought it would because I was trying to be thorough, and there is just so much information and controversy out there on the subject. I hope that I have been able to wade through the info and help to synthesize it a bit to help you make an informed decision.

What is your take on the issue? Do you wash your fruits and veggies with more than water? What method do you use?


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September 21, 2009

Play it Again: Canning Pumpkins

Originally Published November 2008

(Update: I didn't grow any of my own pumpkins this year, but I still intend to purchase some nice organic ones from my favorite produce market in the beginning of October and go through this same process with them. I was really happy with the pumpkin puree that I made last year and can't wait to have more of it this year!

It should also be noted that although I originally called this post "canning" pumpkins, I didn't actually can them in the typical sense. It was my intention to make puree and pressure can it, so that I could store the jars in my pantry. What I discovered as I researched was that it is NOT safe to can pumpkin or winter squash puree, and that it can only be done when the squash is in chunks, and still only with a pressure canner, not a boiling-water bath. My new favorite option is to still make the puree, but rather than can it I put it in canning jars and store it in the freezer instead. It is still almost as convenient as having actual canned pumpkin, but far safer!)

Phew... I think I might be done canning for the year! (Unless, of course, I decide to take advantage of borrowing a pressure canner to do up some dry beans for convenience sake, and I think I might have heard my husband mention pears this morning... oh well :)

I started out with those pumpkins on the left:

Winter-squash

One of the smaller pumpkins went bad before I got to it, so I was left with six, good sized pie pumpkins.

Pumpkin-baked

In the morning, I cut each one in half, seeded it, and baked the halves (cut side down) on cookie sheets, at 350 F for about an hour. I was shocked at how much water they released, for being a smaller variety of pumpkin! I left them for several hours to cool off, and started to work on them again just after lunch.

Pumpkin-draining

This was an idea I got from Kimi's brilliant post on cooking pumpkins for puree. I'm not sure I would have known to do this otherwise, but it made such a huge difference! I must have spent over an hour, pureeing batches of pumpkin in my food processor, and then draining the water out.

I found the best way to drain the puree was to keep flipping the pumpkin over and over (but being careful not to bang the strainer on the bowl, because then the puree leaks out). I also rolled the pumpkin around and around in the strainer, and as more of the liquid drained out, it would sort of clump together in a tighter ball. It took a lot of effort, but I really think that it was worth it, to have puree that is thick and perfect for making breads, muffins, etc.

Canned-pumpkin

My original intention was to can the pumpkin using my MIL's pressure canner. Unfortunately, I didn't read ahead and discovered too late (after the pumpkin was already cooked) that you can't use puree for canning, only cubes (for safety reasons). So, at the last minute, I decided to still use my jars, go ahead and make puree, and then freeze it instead.

I actually think this was far easier in the end. No messing around with the canner, and much more convenient than still having to puree cubes when I want to use a can of pumpkin.

So there you have it- the relatively painless route to delicious, spiced pumpkin bread and pies all winter long (or have you seen Kimi's latest muffins? Mmmm...)

What do you do with pumpkins? Does anyone else like to make and preserve their own puree from fresh pumpkins?


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September 18, 2009

Herbal Art Prints Giveaway!

I have such a lovely giveaway to offer you in anticipation of my new series, A Year of Herbs (which I hope to be kicking off within the next week or two)!

Here's a taste of what's up for grabs:

Lavender Rosemary

BasilChives

Aren't they beautiful? As soon as I saw them, I could just imagine how perfect any of the prints in this herb series would look in a kitchen (you know, like my kitchen! :)

These are museum-quality art prints of paintings done by stay-at-home mom Laryssa of L.Herbert Designs (and she blogs as well, at Heaven in the Home). These herb prints are only a small sample of the work that she does, including other prints of fruit, shells, eggs and feathers, scripture verses and even children's prints. Her work really is beautiful and I definitely came away with a few of my own favorites from writing up this post!

Laryssa has offered up a choice of either one 8 x 10 or two 5 x 7 prints, a choice of anything from her shop (such as the herbs above, or anything else that you fancy)!

Here's how to get yourself entered in the giveaway:
  1. Visit Laryssa's shop and then leave a comment letting me know which print or prints you would choose if you won.
  2. To earn yourself a second (or third or fourth) entry, you can do any of the things listed below. In order for me to be able to count each additional entry, please make sure that you tell me about it in a separate comment (ie. one comment with what you'd like if you won, a second comment if you Twittered about it, a third comment if you posted about it, etc.)
  3. Put out a tweet on Twitter about the giveaway
  4. Share on Facebook about the giveaway
  5. Post about the giveaway on your own blog (leave the post url in your comment)
  6. Visit Laryssa's blog and leave a comment

**For those who were wondering, the herbs prints are featured on her front page of her shop, and all other prints can be found by clicking on "Store" up near the top of the page**

Giveaway will end Wednesday, September 23 at 4:00pm. Good luck, all!

GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED.


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September 17, 2009

We Now Interupt This Blog to Bring You Real Life

Canning-toms-with-jo-in-sling Being a mama, wife and homemaker is a full time, occasionally overwhelming, but always a blessed and privileged career and calling.

Lately, though, this blessed mama is finding herself with very full days! My tasks at present feel like all (and some days more than) I can handle: caring for three little ones aged 4 and under including a somewhat colicky (but still lovely!) newborn, maintaining the home in some semblance of order and cleanliness, making meals, scaling mountains of laundry, harvesting the garden (ignoring the weeds), doing my regular fall preserving (or attempting to, as you can see in the picture of me shushing a fussy baby while canning tomatoes), starting the new school year of home educating, supporting my husband as he starts a new business, and still having any degree of time and energy for relationships.

Though I'm slowly getting back into the swing of things, I'm also just plain old exhausted from lack of sleep, and thus time spent blogging is often just a bit much for me. There doesn't seem to be enough time in the day, and seriously, my brain isn't fully functioning! I would be wrong in my priorities to spend time focusing on my blog on many of these days when I am just needed in so many other ways, and honestly, my kids (and husband) need a much more pleasant and cheerful woman than I've been of late.

I've decided that I'm going to do some "play it again" posts (idea and title inspired by the lovely Amy @ MomAdvice, who occasionally re-posts previous but excellent posts from her archives). I'm going to bring back some oldies but goodies, interspersed with what I have time and energy to write fresh until I get things on the home front back under control and myself back to being a bit more rested and sane. :)

Thanks for understanding, y'all! Hope you enjoy them and can't wait to be more fully back ASAP! (Any requests?)


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September 16, 2009

Cloth Diapering a Newborn

Johannas-cloth-diapered-bum

Though many mamas desire to use cloth diapers for their little ones, the thought of using them soon after the birth or with a newborn is often a bit overwhelming. I think the general impression is that it is much more difficult than it truly is.

After mentioning the other week that I was finding it a relatively simple thing to diaper my own newborn, I received several requests for more info on just how to go about using cloth diapering with wee ones. In this post, I will address the key questions and concerns to hopefully reassure those wanting to use cloth and give some helpful advice as well! Not wanting to just give me own opinions and experience, I've also asked a couple of other bloggers who are new mamas for their input (Lindsay of Passionate Homemaking and Michele of Frugal Granola), as well as the friendly staff over at Kelly's Closet and Nicki's Diapers. As a result, this post ended up quite lengthy, but I hope that you will find it truly helpful and informative!

So here we go...

What types of cloth diaper systems work best for newborns?

Kissaluv newborn Michele: We've been using Kissaluvs (size 0) diapers with Enoch from the beginning (which I bought from Lindsay, off of craigslist, ironically) :). They've worked great! He's a heavy-wetter, but I haven't had to use the diaper doublers that I made, yet. I love that they have a fold-down snap in front to allow for the umbilical cord. We use them along with newborn size Proraps or Bummis snap covers.

Lindsay: If you really want to cloth diaper right off the bat, or you have a smaller newborn, my recommendation is to go with the infant size prefolds and newborn covers. These are a good investment as they last forever and can also be used for burp clothes or rags in the future. The newborn size prefolds really are not absorbent at all, so I recommend the infant size and folding it the opposite direction, horizontally into thirds. This makes for a smaller more absorbent diaper.

So overall, after beginning cloth diapering my second little one, I found that using infant prefolds is the most economical option and transitioning quickly to one size diapers. Then he is set for the rest of his diapering life.

Kelly's Closet: One Size? While most one size diapers are designed to fit from birth to potty training - this doesn't necessarily mean they will fit your little one at birth. Newborns tend to have itty bitty legs and therefore the diaper is more likely to leak than after a few weeks when your little one has had some time to "thicken up."

Therefore we highly recommend prefolds and diaper covers during the early weeks for daytime use. Prefolds and diaper covers, while intimidating for most folks, is really quite simple and straightforward. Simply fasten the prefold on to baby and then fasten a cover over the prefold and you're ready to go! Prefolds also a bit easier to wash and care for compared to pocket diapers.
Prefold Cloth Diapers
Diaper Covers
Now, with all that said - for those late nights when you're sleep deprived and just the thought of driving one more diaper is ready to make you cry - we also recommend some X-Small sized pocket diapers or All-in-One diapers such as the bumGenius Deluxe All-in-One 3.0 diapers. These will make the middle of the night diaper changes very quick and easy!

Nicki's Diapers: I highly recommend using newborn size prefolds and Prorap Classic diaper covers size newborn. The newborn prefolds fit tiny babies nicely without a lot of bulk and the Prorap Classic diaper covers size newborn have a great umbilical cord cutout allowing you to use this diaper cover as baby's first diaper.  This combination also contains the newborn explosions very well with no up the back leakage as experience with disposable diapers.  This system fits up to about 10 lbs whereas at that point a one size diaper system will start to fit.

Hemp liners Stephanie: Personally, I find that we have the greatest leak protection when using a fitted diaper with a cover like Bummis or Proraps. Though I really enjoy using pocket and one-size diapers, I have had a few more leaks with those as they don't seem to fit quite snug enough on a newborn unless you purchase the extra small sizes, which hardly feel worth it to me considering how long baby wears them for. The one-size do work okay once they're past the first week or two (depending on how big your babies are- I have babies that are under 8 lbs), but I find that they're fairly bulky once folded small enough to fit a newborn. That said, it is so nice to have a quick, one-piece diaper (like a pocket diaper) to use for middle of the night changes, rather than messing around with a fitted or prefold and a cover in the dark. I have also noticed that in order to get through the night or long naps, regardless of which system we use, extra liners or doublers are a MUST! I really love microterry inserts/doublers, and have just ordered some hemp doublers because I have heard that they are even thinner but just as absorbent as the microterry, and I am all about less bulk and dry bums!

How many diapers do you need to have and how often will they need to be washed? 

Michele: I have about 30 newborn cloth diapers; if I get behind on the laundry and run out, I just use a prefold diaper with a Snappi (to close), along with a cover. Since I'm using "mama cloth" pads, and we still have some nighttime cloth diapers to wash for our toddler, we just toss everything into a washer load each day.

Kelly's Closet: As far as how many diapers a newborn will need - our general rule of thumb recommendation is 8-12 diapers per day - and it would be best to have a minimum of a 2-day supply. This will allow you to wash the diapers every other day (if you want to go slightly longer between washes then you will be a few more diapers accordingly).

Stephanie: I would say around 20-24, which will allow you to wash every 2-3 days. My newborn babies seem to go through a good 8-10 diapers a day, so that will be a pretty comfortable amount. Though I can get by with about 4 covers for my older babies/toddlers, I think that you need to have more like a minimum of 6 for newborns, just because with more frequent changes (and poops!) you are more likely to have soiled covers more quickly. On this note, I have learned that it's a necessity to keep lots of diapers around- in the diaper bag, near baby's bed at nighttime, etc. Always have more on hand than you think you need!

What do you do about meconium poops? 

Michele: We only had a few disposable diapers on hand (free samples that came in the mail), which we used for the worst of the meconium poops. After that, we just used a flushable liner in his diapers until the meconium was gone. We also oiled his bum with every diaper change to make it easier to clean those sticky meconium poops off. (I used hemp oil, but pretty much any oil would be fine.) 

Lindsay: I love cloth diapering to the extent that I wanted to place my new infant Titus into cloth diapers immediately upon his arrival. The husband was not so key on that idea due to my need to rest and the lovely meconium that arrives through the baby's bowels shortly after birth. This substance is not fun to wash out. (That is a warning! ;) Anyway, so we did use disposables for the first week of his life.

Seventh gen diapers Stephanie: I confess, we also did a few days (I think 5 or 6?) of disposables and I was glad that we did. I think that it would be feasible to use cloth from day 1, with disposable or old cloth liners for the meconium, if you have extra help around the house to deal with the extra laundry that will be produced (in addition to the other things you will need help with). One good option for those who really want to avoid conventional diapers is to pick up a package of newborn Seventh Generation diapers (or a similar brand that is unbleached and chlorine free), just to get you through those first days. It is also a blessing to not be worrying about extra loads of laundry in those early days, when there is already so much extra laundry just from regular newborn life (spit up, wet blankets, changing outfits often, etc.). **As an aside, you can often get a $2 off coupon for Seventh Gen diapers by signing up here**

What about the umbilical cord? 

Michele: We've been using Kissaluvs (size 0) diapers with Enoch from the beginning...I love that they have a fold-down snap in front to allow for the umbilical cord.

Prorap cover Stephanie: Prorap covers dip slightly to accommodate the cord (and I found that the Bummis covers came fairly low as well). We did find that in general any cloth diaper tended to rub a little bit and after it fell off (while it was still tender) we put a bandaid over her belly button to keep it from getting rubbed and from bleeding. After about a week, this wasn't necessary anymore. Regardless of what you use, you can try to fold it down or position it a bit lower to keep it away from the cord.

How often do they need to be changed? 

Kelly's Closet: Newborns are such precious little beings, so fresh and innocent to their new world outside of the womb! Diapering a newborn, however, can be a tedious task because they typically "go" frequently (typically between 8-12 times a day - and almost every diaper change is poo). Just as soon as you change that precious pint sized bum - the inevitable gurgle and explosion tells you you're going to be doing it again! 

Stephanie: I have found that newborns really need to be changed often, as little diapers just don't hold as much as big diapers. It seems to me that I change Johanna's diaper about once per feed cycle (so usually every 2-3 hours), as well as anytime I specifically know that she has wet or dirtied her diaper, and there are sometimes longer gaps between changes if she sleeps well at night (maybe up to 4-5 hours). Usually doing a change 15-20 minutes after each feed works well, or else just before they go down for each nap. Trying to change the diaper of a hungry newborn right when they wake up just isn't practical, unless you enjoy listening to crying and trying to change a really unhappy, squirmy baby!

Other tips or general advice?

Michele: Here is a recent post on some things I've sewed for diapering: Cloth Wipes and Diaper Doublers

Bumgenius Lindsay: My honest opinion is that you really do not need to have a separate newborn diapering system. Most people will feel more comfortable using disposables for the first several weeks, and that is completely understandable. You are adjusting to life with a new little one and many really don't want more laundry during this stage. If you have an average size baby, you should be able to transition to a one size cloth diaper after this point. Most one size diapers fit babies at 8 pounds and I have found this to be so with several brands (Fuzzi Bunz, Bum Genius & Happy Heiny's are in our collection). My little guy was born at 7 lb 4 oz and transitioned into one size pocket diapers at 2 weeks. Not bad.

After that week, we transitioned Titus into Kissaluavs Fitted diapers size 0 with newborn Prorap covers. I thought this was the best most recommended newborn system. I didn't think he would fit so soon into the one size diapers as I mentioned above. I really wanted to love these diapers because they were so soft and comfy on his little bum. Unfortunately, I was disappointed by how quickly their wonderful softness disappeared. A few washings later and they were rather rough on his skin and caused irritations. He also soaked through them in less than an hour sometimes, which resulted in more frequent changes. I had to use a extra doubler inside the fitted diapers, causing excess bulkiness. I found they just were not worth the money to purchase unless you have a really tiny baby (5 lb or so). They grow out of them so fast! Considering how many diapers a newborn goes through, and at $11-12 per fitted diaper, it is an expensive route. Thankfully we purchased most of ours used. It would have been far cheaper to use disposables for those first two weeks than buying a whole newborn system.

So overall, after beginning cloth diapering my second little one, I found that using infant prefolds is the most economical option and transitioning quickly to one size diapers. Then he is set for the rest of his diapering life.

Kelly's Closet: Changing the diapers is the easy part - it's picking a cloth diaper that is the challenge. Every baby is unique and while there are cloth diapers that generally work for the majority - getting a good fit in a cloth diaper can take some trial and error. Therefore, before investing in a big stash of diapers we highly recommend sampling a few diapers to get a feel for what works best for your baby (and what fits your personal preference). If nothing else, is frustrating to invest a few hundred dollars on a stash of diapers only to discover they don't work well for your little one! Therefore, after researching the brands you would like to consider- order 1-2 of each diaper and try it out!

Stephanie: Though I have traditionally gone the route of fitted diapers with covers (and don't get me wrong- I still think it's a great system and one that I'm not about to stop using), I have recently begun to use some pocket diapers, including some that are one-size. I am falling in love with these one-size pockets, mostly because they work for both my son (almost 2 1/2) and my daughter (1 month)! This is a real bonus for any mom who finds herself with two littles in diapers at the same time. It means that I can bring a few one-size diapers out with me, and know that I have something to fit either kiddo, depending on who needs the diaper changes. I don't have to make sure that I have several newborn options as well as several for the toddler, which only results in a very stuffed diaper bag (and an aching shoulder). It also helps to ease the amount of diapers that I need to store in their bedroom and on the change table, and just helps to keep things simpler overall. Though they certainly cost more up front, I am beginning to see how the cost just might be well worth it in the long run, as well as allowing me to have one more compact and easily storable system instead of 3 different size sets of diapers hanging around my house!

Brand Recommendations:

Bummis snap cover Stephanie: A really absorbent newborn fitted diaper or prefolds with Bummis Super Whisper Wrap (Proraps are also pretty decent).

Michele: Kissaluvs Size: 0 with Proraps or Bummis Snap covers

Lindsay: Infant Prefolds with Prorap or Bummis Super Whisper covers, and then a one-size pocket diaper like BumGenius, Happy Heiny or Fuzzi Bunz .

Kelly's Closet: Prefolds and diaper covers, as well as a few x-small or one-size all-in-ones, like BumGenius.

Nicki's Diapers: Newborn size prefolds and Prorap Classic diaper covers size newborn, until baby begins to fit a one-size diaper system.

**As a bonus, Nicki's Diapers has kindly offered a 5% discount to all readers who would like to make an order, using the code FIVE. They carry all of the diapers brands that have been mentioned in this post, and I also noticed that they have a great newborn package with everything you need to get going and to help you get a feel for what type of diapering system you prefer.

Any more questions on cloth diapering a newborn? What about other tips, suggestions or brand recommendations from all the other cloth-diapering mamas out there?
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September 15, 2009

A Wormy Update

Seeing as we've just been talking about composting, I thought I might as well continue on with the topic!

Today I did my weekly maintenance of my worm composting bin, and was so impressed with how it's doing that I just felt like I had to show you all the contents of my box (alright, I know it's a bit yucky, but sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, whether it's a lovely image or not):

Compost-box-couple-weeks 

After only one month, you can see that my food and paper scraps are quickly being turned into genuine compost (at least, I hope you can tell that in the picture- if you can't, it's true and you'll just have to take my word for it)! Go, wormies, go!

I was briefly having some issues with fruit flies and smell, but quickly dealt with those by re-reading Rachel's helpful post on worm box maintenance.

My weekly routine has now developed as such: open up the box and give it a good stir, add the contents of my compost bucket from under the sink, spread a layer of recycled paper strips over the top, and replace the sheet of cardboard that rests on top of my pile. Takes about 3 minutes, and now there is no smell, many more worms than before, lovely compost developing and no annoying fruit flies.

Kind of makes a girl wish she had more worms (of the composting variety, that is). All this successful composting business has got me dreaming of having a system of multiple, large worm bins down in my garage... one day, my wormy friends. You'll fill a veritable mansion, and oh, the composting fun we will have.

(Did I mention that it's very late at night? And that I'm functioning on extreme lack of sleep due to having a newborn? I'm not quite sure where the sudden affection for any sort of creepy crawly creature has come from, but perhaps all this gardening and composting I've been doing these past few years is starting to go to my head. Tell me that there are others out there that speak to their worms! Or, at least tell me how your composting is working for you.)


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September 14, 2009

Preserving Summer's Bounty: Freezing Spinach and Dehydrating Tomatoes

For all those who feel as lacking in time as I do these days, here are a few super simple ways that you can preserve some of summer's bounty!

Despite my complete and utter lack of attention, my garden continues to produce (it's so forgiving, isn't it?). The other day, I noticed that though my spinach had been doing really well, some of it was beginning to bolt due to the late summer heat (I planted my fall spinach crop earlier than I really should have, to get it in before baby arrived so I knew this was a possibility). Not wanting to miss out on it, but knowing that we realistically wouldn't get to eating it fresh, I decided to just harvest and freeze it all at once.

Bowl-of-garden-spinach 

Here it is, roots and all. I used my kitchen scissors to cut all of the good leaves off and tossed them in the salad spinner. I did a couple of batches, and with each one I simply gave it a quick wash while in the spinner and then spun it dry. When it was all cut, washed and dry, I set to chopping it all into smaller pieces.

Chopping-spinach 

With my large bowlful of chopped spinach, I got out a measuring cup and filled up small ziploc freezer bags with 2 heaping cupfuls of spinach.

Chopped-spinach-in-bags 

I pressed all of the air out of the bags, sealed them shut, labelled them, and voila. Done. Easy as pie!

Next on my list of garden and fruit preserving to-do's (which is pretty much endless, these days!) was another big bowlful of cherry tomatoes I had picked that afternoon.

Strainer-of-cherry-tomatoes 

(Yes, there are some greenies in there. My 2 year old hasn't quite grasped the concept of ripe and not-ripe yet, but he loves to be my little helper!)

Based upon how well my cherry tomatoes did last year, I knew that I would have literally hundreds upon hundreds of them this summer. Far more than we can just eat, since only my husband and I enjoy them. It's not practical to can them, since I only get bowlfuls at a time. I opted this year for the much quicker and easier task of dehydrating them. Each time I get a nice little amount (about every 2-4 days), I take a few minutes to deal with them and this has by far been the easiest of my summer preserving tasks!

Chopping-cherry-tomatoes 

After a rinse in the sink, I pull off the green stems, and then grab a steak knife (my knife of choice for cutting any type of tomatoes). All I do is slice them in half, any old direction.

Cherry-tomatoes-in-dehydrator

I lay them all out on dehydrating trays, with the cut side up at first (to prevent tomato juice from leaking inside the dehydrator). Then I dehydrate them for about a day, at a temperature somewhere around 105-115 F (I'm not precise, I just turn it on quickly and walk away).

About 6-12 hours in, I will take a few minutes to pull out the trays and flip them all over to the other side, then I stick them back in to finish dehydrating. I consider them done when they are no longer squishy feeling, but still a bit pliable (sort of like a raisin). It's important to make sure that the moisture is really gone, to ensure a good shelf life.

Bag-of-dried-cherry-tomatoes 

My little beauties, sealed up in a ziploc bag. I could also just keep them in a canning jar, but for whatever reason, I used a bag. This is from my first batch, not including the nice big batch you see in the pictures (or the one that I'm about to go out and pick!). Throughout the winter, when I want to use these I will just let them soak in a bit of olive oil for several hours, or even quickly re-hydrate them in hot water in a pinch. They will be perfect to add on top of pizza or in pasta dishes. Yum!

Bag-of-blanched-green-beans

This was my last preserving task of the evening, blanching a couple cups of chopped green beans. Check out this post for detailed directions on blanching vegetables.

I think it's worth mentioning how long it took me to do all of the work shown in this post: just under 1 hour. Honestly! I chopped the cherry tomatoes and put them on trays while sitting at the kitchen table, nursing my newborn on a nursing pillow. The spinach was probably the most work intensive, taking about 30 minutes to cut, wash, chop and bag 6 packed cups of spinach. The green beans were a piece of cake, and I did them while I cleaned up the kitchen before bed.

Preserving food doesn't have to be an all-day ordeal. If you're determined enough, you can fit it in to daily life, even when life is hectic! Anyone can do stuff like this, and I probably don't have to tell you just how nice it is to have these sorts of conveniece foods stocked away in the pantry and freezer for us to eat this winter!

What types of quick and easy preserving do you like to do? Is anyone else up to their eyeballs in ripe veggies and fruits needing to be put away for the winter?


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September 11, 2009

The World is our Classroom

As a homeschooling mama who is just in her beginning years, I loved reading through this post! It really illustrates the type of learning environment that my husband and I aspire to develop in our home. There are so many excellent ideas here, and I hope that you will be both inspired and also that you will share some of the ways that you are creating rich and meaningful learning opportunities for your own family!

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Guest Post by Abbi

Ken and Jonathan building I feel so thankful to be able to homeschool my children ages 9,7,5 and 3. We love being able to learn together and just spend time together.  My husband and I were also both blessed to be homeschooled as children and know firsthand how homeschooling can well prepare you for life in “the real world”. I know not everyone wants to homeschool, and that is okay, but what makes me sad is when I have parents tell me “We would love to homeschool but we just don’t have the ability and often they will name something that they feel they are lacking in. Another thing that makes me sad is when I talk to parents who are homeschooling but they are totally overwhelmed by many workbooks and busy work that lots of curriculums provide, but they know of no other way.

My goal in this post is to tell you that homeschooling is not just for those that have parents that are super smart and have loads of patience (neither description applies to me). Nor is homeschooling meant to be a replica of the public school in your home. Homeschooling is for those that have an enthusiasm for learning and are willing to share that enthusiasm with their kids. Homeschooling can be a very fun adventure for the whole family that prepares your kids to be wonderful additions to our world.

  In our home we do use regular textbooks for some of our core subjects (Math, English and Spelling) but for the rest we enjoy doing a lot of family studying using a lot of different ways of learning. Some might wonder if that really works, “Do you really learn when you don’t use a “school book”?” This Spring when the kids were taking achievement tests, my 9 year old Mara was about to take her Science test, she started to panic “Mom, I’ve never studied science!” I assured her that she knew a lot about science and didn’t have any need to worry. Sure enough the test results proved this to be quite true as she was in the 98th percentile and at a grade equivalent of 11.8 (She just finished 4th grade).

  Here are some of the educational activities we enjoy that don’t involve text books. You probably will find that you do a lot of them too, but perhaps you never thought about how much your child is learning.

SCIENCE

·         Walks in the woods with identification manuals in hand.

·         Learning to indentify wild foods, collect and eat them.

·         Growing a garden (complete with starting some of the plants indoors)

·         Raising fruit trees (even trying to raise oranges and bananas in the house).

·         Having many fun science books on hand to browse through and read together just for fun before nap times. We own quite a few and I also check them out regularly from the Library.

·         Regular trips to the local Science Center where there are many hands on activities to try and fun classes just for homeschoolers.

·         Finding a Monarch caterpillar, feeding it and watching it grow, turn into a chrysalis and then into a butterfly.

Monarch butterfly

·         Making a box solar oven together and attempting to use it.`

·         Making our own laundry soap.

·         Cleaning with Vinegar and Baking Soda and having fun watching their reaction to each other.

MATH

·         Baking together and as they get older on their own. Have them help you double, triple and half recipes (or any other amount you care to try).

·         Taking your children grocery shopping and having them help you figure out what is the best value on items by noticing volume and price.

·         While grocery shopping have a child keep a running tally on how much everything will cost by using a calculator.

·         Enjoy learning about fractions when cutting up pies, pizzas and such like.

·         We have a couple of boys that really enjoy numbers and so just for fun at some mealtimes we will spend time just challenging each other with oral math problems.

·         Have a rummage sale or bake sale and let the kids help (or manage completely if they are able) with the checkout table.

·         Get watches (not digital!) for the kids and teach them how to tell time and then give them reason to use them.

·         Be open about using math in your own life (such as budgeting). When children realize that math is actually useful it will make it much more interesting.

·         Teach them how to sew (my job) or do carpentry work (Ken’s department) where they get to do measuring and figuring and such like.

·         Play games like Dominos and Monopoly and have the kids do a lot of the number work.

Colonial period costumes

HISTORY

·         Read together! There are so many neat biographies out there as well as historical fiction. History does not have to be dry and boring!!! The kids and I have a  reading time together every day after lunch and before our rest time, this time has been a wonderful time to get through many, many neat books and series. Some familiar examples would be: The Little House books, Ralph Moody’s books (Little Britches is the first one) and many others. My kids just beg me to keep reading more on things like that.

·         Have good books available for the kids to read on their own. They will be far more likely to pick it up when it is handy and looks fun.

·         Read historical books yourself and then excitedly tell them about some of the neat things you learned.

·         Have fun learning about a certain time period complete with finding as many books (and videos or DVD’s) as possible on that era, using the internet, making foods to go along with that time period, dressing up in period dress and trying things like making candles, spinning and whatever else you can think of to go along with that time period. When doing this you don’t have to feel like you have to get it all figured out before you begin. We had a wonderful time learning about Viking Era, Pioneer times and the Colonial Period in this way and I simply got lots of books and then as we  came across something that we wanted to try we would do it if we had the time and the resources needed.

·         Visit older people and be interested in them and their lives. They have so much to teach us and they usually love to tell stories.

·         Visit Museums, Historic sites and Living History Museums. I absolutely love Living History Museums as they teach you so much in such interesting ways! As you travel be aware of learning places you might be passing. We took a recent trip with my parents and we were passing within 7 miles of the spot of the “House in the Big Woods”, so we took a little side drive to see it. Now not only have the kids heard the story but they can also visualize where it happened.

GEOGRAPHY


·         Get to know people from other countries. One way we have especially done this is befriending international students at our local university.  Invite them into your home. They usually enjoy learning more about America and then in turn love to tell about where they are from.

Aaron and Su Hyun making Kim-Bob ·         Try ethnic foods. We have had a lot of fun trying recipes from other countries, we have also had several international students who have enjoyed coming over to cook for us (and then we usually get to help). Another way is to visit ethnic restaurants.

·         Have maps and globes prominently displayed throughout your home. My favorite way we have done this is to have a laminated map on our table as a tablecloth. It is a little unusual but it has promoted many learning discussions!

·         Take advantage of the many fun books and videos available at the library. In 2008 we decided to study a State each week. We found a series of books at the library which we read from each day before naps. We also tried foods and any special activities we might learn about from each state. Now we are on to countries and again our library has a nice supply of books about many of the different countries.

·         Travel! I wish we could do this more but we do enjoy what we are able to do. We keep track of each state we have visited.

·         Collect state quarters and then have fun placing them on their correct state on a map.

·         Play games. There are quite a few games out there that help you learn more about geography.

·         Put together puzzles. After putting together a couple of puzzles (with tiny pieces) of the world I feel much more in tune with where things are.

HANDWRITING

·         Have your children write letters. REAL letters that they send to somebody. This is a much more meaningful way to practice writing and grandparents or somebody like that really appreciates them as well!

·         Get a Calligraphy set. It is even more fun to try really fancy writing!

·         Have the children write our Bible Verses, illustrate them and hang them around the house.

LITERATURE

·         Read aloud to your children! Books are so much easier to understand and get into when you can read them together.  Plus you can create some really great memories with your kids! (I know, my parents spent many hours reading to my siblings and I and we loved it!)

·         Shut down the TV and electronic games in your house. I think that kids will have a much higher interest in books if the books don’t have to compete with that.

SOCIAL STUDIES (or political science)


·         Get involved as a family in the whole political process. We have done that and are amazed at how much information our kids have learned.

·         When a Governor, Senator or any other such person comes to your town, try to go see them if possible. Often you will be in a group with few children and yours will quite likely be given some attention. Last year we had a lot of fun meeting various leaders and the kids got to shake their hand and listen to them speak. They now have a personal experience to remember when we speak of various leaders.

ENGLISH


I confess this isn’t my strong point and I don’t have any great ideas for eclectic learning in this department. One thing I do know is that reading good books is helpful for learning good grammar. This is a subject I am quite thankful that we can have textbooks in . J If anybody else has neat learning ideas for this area I would love to hear them!

 There are so many ways that we have fun learning together that I have just begun to touch on them. Here are a few final tips:

~Something that I think is of major importance when teaching with kids is being excited about learning yourself. They really pick up on that. If you think learning is fun and are regularly trying to learn new things, they most likely will too.

~Another thing is don’t be afraid to learn together. You can’t possibly know everything there is to know about every subject. There are many times that we pull out books or use google and learn together.

~A third tip is: Take advantage of the knowledge and experience of others. We have many friends and family that have expertise in many different areas. We love to visit them and learn from them. For example: My dad raises goats and other farm animals , raises gardens and an orchard and grafts fruit trees plus he does a lot of metal and wood working. We have learned a lot from him. We have a friend who helps to fight forest fires by dispatching water planes and helicopters. We have been able to visit her work a  couple of times and so how she does it, go inside of the planes and helicopters and talk to the pilots. That is couple of the knowledgeable people we have in our life, I am sure you have many people you could learn a lot from too!

~Fourth thing: Remember it is not all about academics! I think we all are happy when our kids do well at academics but the truth is some people excel more in that area while others excel in other areas. God made us all different and we need to embrace that. I think everybody should work at academics but how well you do does not determine your worth. Sometimes working with your hands is not given as much attention but it doesn’t have to be that way in our home schools. Knowing how to make and fix things is very valuable and we need to encourage our children to excel in that area as well.

~Most of all (to repeat what I have been saying throughout this post) have fun and don’t get stressed! Homeschooling can be a wonderful way to enjoy the blessing of children that our Heavenly Father has given us.

Abbi lives with her husband Ken and 4  homeschooled children ( Mara, Jonathan, Aaron and Megan ) in Northern MN. She blogs at Proverbs 31 Living about living as a Christian woman, Family, Homeschooling, Homemaking, Natural and Green living, Sewing, Gardening, Cooking, Frugality and all sorts of Crafting.

What are some of the ways that you teach your children and encourage them to learn and explore, without the use of textbooks and curriculum? Do you agree that learning can often happen best in these natural, real life ways?


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September 10, 2009

Frugality in Composting

Though I adore gardening and am seeking to develop my skills in the area of composting, it is definitely a weak area for me. I love taking a peak into what others are doing as I learn more about it, because I know it will be so valuable for my garden in the long run. Laura has decided to give us a glimpse into her own process, and she's told me that she is hoping to continue to blog about her composting project as it goes on, which I look forward to reading about!

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Before I get started, I just wanted to say, “Hello!” to everyone, especially Stephanie and that new little baby in the world! What a joy and a blessing. I’m praying that this will be a wonderful time for the whole family.

I also wanted to say, “Thank you,” for the opportunity to ‘guest blog’ on her site! I so enjoy her writing about natural living, homemaking, frugality, etc., all from a Christian viewpoint.

My name is Laura, a.k.a. Farmer Gal. For more information about me, please visit my blog at www.FarmerGalsMarket.com, and if you like what you see and read, please keep checking in!


Compost photo 1

As a disclaimer, I must tell you that I am a fledgling in composting. This is a process that I have just begun and thought it would be fun to share. If you’re here to learn expert tips on how to compost, you may want to look elsewhere. However, if you’re even slightly interested in compost and sharing a slice of my life along the way, you’re in the right place!

About two three three and a half months ago (where does the time go?!?) my husband, two small children and I moved from Colorado to Minnesota to live on his family farm. At the time I joked that we made the trip ‘ark style’… The two of us, two children, two dogs and two horses.

About a month after we arrived on the farm, I was contemplating life while doing one of my favorite activities… Scooping horse poop.

I’m actually kind of serious. It’s kind of like meditation and exercise combined… My mind has a chance to become quiet, it’s a good workout for my body, and it brings me closer to the earth and nature. I know, I know… Manure may be a little too close to nature for some of you out there, but for me it just works.

We had moved our horses onto a different pasture, so I was out scooping away so that the piles wouldn’t kill the grass underneath and allow it to grow back while they were off it.

As I scooped and filled my first wheel barrow, I started thinking about all of this poop and how there must be something we could do with it, which quickly led my thoughts to composting. After a little online research I found out yes, indeed, horse poop (combined with other ingredients) is a suitable material for composting. It was then that our first compost pile was born.

It was also then that Stephanie put out a request for guest bloggers while she was enjoying time with her new baby, and I thought her site would be a great forum for me to share my composting adventure, so I volunteered and she graciously obliged.

From then forward, I had grand intentions. My husband and I were going to build the compost box to beat all other compost boxes. It was going to be large enough for a tractor scoop to slide in and turn it. It was going to be anchored into the ground for support. Somehow some old, huge, heavy bridge planks that were in the shed were going to be implemented.

In the meantime, life happened. By life, I mean our normal routine of raising two little ones and my husband working, the drawn out process of moving onto the farm and moving his parents off of the farm, dial-up and/or no internet access, a nasty cold for all four of us, and…. (shudder)…. poison ivy for my husband and I, which was especially nasty for me personally. We continued to add material to the compost pile, but building of the box went to the bottom of the priority list.

Thankfully, we’re all healthy again and a lot farther along in the moving process than we were even a month ago, but we are still very busy. I knew I still wanted to get this compost box up (I’m hoping I can use it in some garlic beds this fall) but I needed to do it much more quickly than our previous plan of anchors and bridge planks entailed. I started thinking about the concept of frugality and how it can also apply to how you use your time. I had a project to accomplish, but I had minimal time to do it, so I had to streamline my goals and methods.

Instead of the ‘Goliath’ of compost boxes, we ended up with more of a ‘David’… Old t-posts that were here on the farm, some leftover plywood from the construction on my brother-in-law’s new house, and some fencing wire. It may not be the most beautiful compost box, but it’s going to get the job done, and I feel perfectly content with that for now.

Compost Photo 2

So that’s the long version of how we have begun the composting process. Next time I will share with you how we slapped together constructed the box, the reasoning behind the materials we are putting in it, and some online sources that I have found useful. Down the road I hope to share the fruits of our labor and how we end up applying the compost, and some pretty pictures of the finished product, all from our happy little ‘David’ box. 

Ladies, please tell us about how you do your own composting... what type of box or pile do you use, how did you set it up and how is it working for you?

You can visit Laura at her blog, Farmer Gal's Market!


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September 09, 2009

What Bone Broth Should Really Look Like

Gelatinous-broth-up-close

The topic of homemade bone broth has come up many times on this blog. You just might know by now that I think it is fantastically nourishing for the body, as well as the perfect way to help stretch out the budget and make good use of all that we've been given.

One common question that comes up when the topic of bone broth arises is:

"Is it supposed to get thick and gelatinous? If so, how do I get it that way? Mine never seems to thicken up."

When I first began making bone broths, I couldn't seem to get them to the texture that I wanted them either. The books told me that to know that I was getting the benefits of the gelatin in the bones, I should end up with a broth that is actually thick and jelly-like when cooled. I knew that something was missing in the way that I was making my broth.

As I read more, I realized that the addition of apple cider vinegar in the beginning was very important, so I began to do that, but was still only occasionally achieving a gelatinous texture. In fact, the only times when it worked really well was when I used my crockpot to cook a whole chicken, with some water in there to start off the broth. Once my chicken was cooked, there would be small amounts of gelatin in the crockpot as well, which I would save to add once I began making broth with the remaining bones.

I then read somewhere that the bones should soak in cold water for about an hour before beginning to boil them. I put two and two together. When I make a chicken in the crockpot, it takes a while for the water to heat up. Thus, the bones were being soaked in cool water first, before being boiled. Aha!

The next time I made broth, I added apple cider vinegar to my pot with the bones, covered the bones with cold water, and let it sit for 1 hour. Then, and only then, did I turn the burner on and begin the process of simmering the bones to make the broth. For the first time, I suddenly achieved broth that cooled to the perfect, gelatinous texture, proving to me that I had indeed reaped all of the benefits (gelatin, minerals, etc.) from those bones. Success!

I took these pictures when I made a huge batch of beef broth some months ago, because the gelatin was just so thick that I hoped that you would be able to see it in the pictures. This is when the broth is completely cool, after being in the fridge overnight before putting it into jars to freeze. When it was warm, it was completely liquid and runny, which it should be (because who wants to eat jelly-like soup?), but once it cooled I could tell that it had turned out just right.

Pouring-thick-broth-into-jar

So that, my friends, is what bone broth should really look like. Any questions? Or tips from those who also make it?


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September 08, 2009

How to Have Natural Childbirth in the Hospital

Though I am a huge advocate of homebirth with a trained midwife (having just had my second successful homebirth), I also know that it is not for everybody. I was delighted when Emily offered to write a guest post presenting another angle on natural births and how to have a beautiful birth experience in the hospital. I would love to hear from others in the comments who have also had a positive hospital childbirth experience!

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Natural labor photo

Guest Post by Emily


When I became pregnant with our first child in 2007, I knew right from the start that I wanted to have a natural birth. Mostly, I wanted to avoid having a c-section for any reason other than absolute medical necessity.  I knew that too many interventions could lead down the path to a c-section, and I knew I was willing to deal with the pain of labor to prevent going down that path.  I also knew that it would not be easy for me to have a natural birth, and not just because of the labor.  Unfortunately, in today’s society it seems that there are many obstacles in the way of a mother that desires to give birth naturally, and the most powerful one is the place where the majority of women give birth, the hospital.

Hospitals don’t expect women to give birth naturally.  They don’t expect that you understand or are prepared for your labor and birth.  They don’t expect you to be able to manage your contractions. They expect that you will be in pain, be overwhelmed, and want interventions and medication and that is what they are set up to provide. They don’t expect that you would actually desire to have a natural birth experience. 

I think it is so important to prepare for your birth, especially if you are going to give birth in a place that does not put a high value on natural birth. Here are seven of the ways I found that helped me achieve the birthing experience I wanted while in the hospital.

1. Do your own research. Read, read, read as much as you can about natural birth. You are the final decision maker for your birth experience and how you want your birth to be, not the nurses, the hospital staff, or even your doctor.  Research and knowledge will help you to make good decisions and overcome the fear and unknown of labor.

2. Take a good birthing class.  This is one that I didn’t take my own advice on, my husband and I just went to the class that the hospital offered.  If I had to do my first birth over again I would take a class that was more focused on natural birth, like the Bradley Method. This will help you feel prepared and supported in your decision.

3. Make it a family affair.  It is so important to know that your husband is on board, and understands and supports your desire to have a natural birth. Your husband will probably be your most important birth coach. Encourage your husband to go to childbirth classes with you and also to read books on natural labor.  It is so helpful if your husband understands the process of labor, what you will be going through, and how to comfort and encourage you. 

4. Get support in addition to your husband. The best decision I made with my first birth was to use a doula. The support of my husband and my doula helped me to feel confident in my ability to birth naturally and allowed me to achieve the birth experience I wanted. Not feeling supported in your decision can make it harder to resist giving in to interventions and medication when the going gets tough. So whether it’s your sister, your mom, your best friend, or your doula, have someone with you that supports you 100%. 

5. Talk with other moms who have had natural births, especially those that have given birth naturally in a hospital.  This was one of the most encouraging things I did before my daughter was born. It really helped me to believe that I could do it.  It also wouldn’t hurt to talk to moms who didn’t have great birth experiences.  All births that end with healthy babies and moms are good birth stories, but it may help to learn from those who had births that didn’t go exactly as the mother had hoped. 

6. Write out your birth plan.  Go over it with your doctor or midwife ahead of time and take it with you to the hospital to give to the nurses.  You might be surprised that your nurses may really want to help you achieve your goal of natural birth.  I was so fortunate to have great nurses for both of my births who were supportive and encouraging because they read my birth plan and knew the type of birth I wanted. 

7. Once you are in labor, stay home as long as possible! Laboring at home is much, much more relaxing than laboring at the hospital.  And when you’re relaxed you will probably progress faster and easier (although that’s not a given).  Plus, as long as you are at home you won’t have the option of medications and interventions so you will learn to manage the contractions without them and know that you are able to do it.  That way you won’t be as easily tempted by the meds once you get to the hospital. 

For those of you who don’t have the option of having a homebirth, or just don’t feel comfortable with it, but still desire to give birth naturally, I’m here to encourage you that it is possible to have a natural birth in the hospital – I know, I have done it twice now! In planning and preparing for natural childbirth I learned, and experienced, that it is not just about avoiding a c-section, but is about the joy and strength that comes from the amazing experience of working with your body to give birth to your baby.  Believe in yourself and trust your body! You really can give birth naturally – it is what your body was made and designed to do!

For more information on natural childbirth, these are books I found helpful: The Official Lamaze Guide: Giving Birth with Confidence by Judith Lothian and Charlotte DeVries; The Birth Book: Everything You Need to Know to Have a Safe and Satisfying Birth (Sears Parenting Library) by William and Martha Sears; Homebirth in the Hospital: Integrating Natural Childbirth with Modern Medicine by Stacey Kerr M.D.; and Empowered Pregnancy by Theodore Peck.

Have you had a natural hospital birth? What things did you find helpful in your experience?

Emily is the blessed wife of Jeremy, and natural birthing mama of Kaelyn (Oct. ‘07) and Brenden (June ’09).  Since the birth of her daughter she has been learning to live more frugally and more “green”.  You can read her birth stories, and follow her “frugally green” journey on her blog: liverenewed.blogspot.com



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September 07, 2009

Beautifying Heart and Home

I immediately knew that I liked Sharon when I read the sub-title of her blog, The Good Woman, "...she's not flawless, she's forgiven". She is a wonderful example of a woman desiring to teach the younger women in the model of Titus 2. I know that you will be blessed by what she has to share!

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Guest Post by Sharon Kaufman

Heart-home2  

Could your house, with its tasteful and attractively arranged furnishings, make it into the pages of House Beautiful? Most of us would say, "No, but I'm working toward beautifying my home in such a way." A well-cared-for and pleasingly outfitted home is what many godly women strive for. But regardless of how visually stunning and impeccably organized our homes are, there is yet a greater priority for the Christian woman – the beautification of her heart.


The other day I took up reading John Piper’s, The Pleasures of God where I had left off the day before:
“He beautifies the meek with salvation.” (Psalm 149:4)…God is an infinitely beautiful person...One of the ways God expresses His delight in this beauty is by giving it away to His people. He takes pleasure in them by adorning them…with His own beauty.” (The Pleasures of God by John Piper, page 186-87)

There you have it - the beautification of the heart, the Christian woman’s priority. Our homes will never really be beautiful until our hearts reflect back to God and to those around us the ever-increasing image of the loveliness of our Savior.

Proverbs 14:1 says, “The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish tears it down with her own hands”. The wise woman takes time to behold the beauty of the Lord and wait quietly as He instills that beauty within her. But godly, inner loveliness is of no consequence to the foolish woman. She may even be pursuing worthy goals – homeschooling, serving in women’s ministries, singing in the choir, etc. But these pursuits are vain without first sitting down at the feet of the Beautiful One.

So why should we be so beautified? Why? But for the glory of God put forth in our own little worlds. For women, this happens as we nurture others, as God has so designed. Regardless of our marital status, by prioritizing our time at Christ’s feet, we are empowered to nurture those God puts into our lives. It is the overflow of the Lord’s beauty, as the Spirit of God produces in us God’s quality of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control.

As nurturers, we have countless opportunities to profoundly influence the next generation with the beauty of the Lord, and it happens as we bring this beauty first into our own hearts. Even an unbelieving world acknowledges this “influence principle” in their secularistic way. I became aware of this fact after having read a magazine article about a man who educates young girls in northern Pakistan, a poverty stricken region where girls have never had the privilege of attending school.

In his own way, this former U.S. Army medic, has gone to war against Islamic fundamentalists. His method is based on a simple yet profound idea: that by helping to provide secular education (especially for girls) in this most explosively unstable part of the world, support for the Taliban will slowly evaporate.

The importance of women as nurturers in the home and the huge impact that nurturing has upon society is obvious even to this unsaved man, having stated in the article that nothing would change in northern Pakistan until its girls are educated, for they are the ones who remain in the home and instill values in the upcoming generation.

Isn’t it interesting that in the little book of Titus, Paul instructs Titus, the pastor on the Island of Crete, to teach the older women how to train the younger women to love and submit to their husbands, to love their children, to be pure and kind and to be workers at home? God had redeemed these women who were now exiting out of a culture in which it was customary for them to sip wine in excess and gossip maliciously. It is significant that “of all the ways Paul could have instructed in how to combat the decadence of that culture, he told the older women to invest their energies in training the younger women to live Christianly in their own homes.” (Spiritual Mothering by Susan Hunt, p. 43). What you do there really does make a dramatic difference. And by outwardly manifesting a heart that displays the exquisite character of Christ, that difference will resound for God’s glorious cause.

So while it is important to look well to the ways of our homes, it is imperative that we first beautify our hearts. My little cottage, though it may never be featured in House Beautiful, though the couch is a bit threadbare and the carpet worn, if the beauty of the Lord dwells there, it is perfect. May we find ourselves sitting at the feet of our stunning Savior, being adorned by Him so that His radiance and beauty may be enjoyed by all who dwell alongside us.

Sharon has enjoyed being Robert’s helper now for 32 years, being mom their grown son and three grown daughters and “Granny” to seven delightful grandchildren. She is passionate about encouraging and equipping women in her church and beyond and also through her blog (The Good Woman) to embrace and delight in their divinely-designed occupation as helpers.


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September 04, 2009

You Tell Me: The Little Things

Toonies **I confess, I couldn't resist using this picture. This, my friends, is a Canadian $2 coin, otherwise known as the Toonie (get it? Two-nie. Punny, huh?). I don't usually, but yes, I did giggle when I saw this picture and thought of how the little things do indeed add up!**

Last call for your input, I promise! :)

I've just found your comments and emails so very helpful in this book writing process, that I just can't resist asking you for one more, very practical thing.

Some time ago, I wrote a post called The Little Things That Add Up. I shared some of the things that I had been doing in my own kitchen and cooking that may not save a whole lot of money in and of themselves, but all together added up to small but significant savings.

Many of you joined in and added some of your own little things, like making your own spice mixes, saving store-bought bread bags for kitchen storage, or making cloth snack bags that can be reused rather than buying ziploc baggies. I know that you've got more frugal tips tucked away in those creative brains of yours, and I would love to pry them out of you, if I may!

Would you share with me and my readers any and all of the "little" frugal things that you do to keep your food and kitchen costs low? My thanks in advance!

(Again, my one request is that you only leave a comment for me of this nature if you are comfortable with me publishing it as a quote in my new eBook. It won't be practical for me to directly contact every single person who comments, and I would like to freely use the quotes that I think would add to the book. If you would leave a name that you are comfortable with me using when/if I quote you (it doesn't have to be your real name, and last names aren't necessary), as well as where you're from (only if you're comfortable with that), that would be fantastic! Thanks!


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September 03, 2009

How to Date your Kids (and why that’s so special)

Though you'll usually find Katie posting about nutrition, cooking and great tips for a healthier kitchen, she was really excited to post on a slightly different kind of topic, but one that she is equally passionate about. I love the concept of dating your kids, and we try to make a point of doing that around our home as well, especially with Daddy who doesn't get as much special time with the kids during the week. Though we love being together as a family, there's something so wonderful about getting a bit of one-on-one time in as well!

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Guest Post by Katie

Daddy son

Moms wish only the very best for their kids:  healthy meals, opportunities to try organized sports or music or art (or all of that and more), academic challenges and experiences, friends who stand by them, a deep and abiding faith, strong health, and joyful days.  In seeking those goals and trying to find the time to balance everything, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that most kids just want their parents to love them and give them time.  Parents are short on time these days, but that makes it all the more important to carve out special periods of time to spend just with the family.  If you have more than one child, it’s important to spend quality one-on-one time with each child individually. 


We’ve only been parents of two for a year, but already we see the joy and advantages of having “special time” with Mommy or Daddy.

Here are some ways we’ve gotten one-on-one time in our family:

With the baby…
Our daughter is just one, so her special time is mostly on the swings or cuddled in the rocking chair before bed.

With a toddler…
When my son was small, about 18 mos.-2 years old, if we weren’t going anywhere on a given day, I would make sure that we had “Special Time” mid-morning. 

Special Time Guidelines:
•    The child gets to choose any activity he/she wants, and (within safety and reason) the parent participates, even if “not in the mood”.
•    Set the timer (we did 10 minutes, sometimes 15, at this age).
•    The parent is not allowed to do anything but play during this time:  no answering the phone, no folding laundry, no checking the to-do list or email.
•    When the timer beeps, special time is over. 
•    Decide upon a way to “end” the time that can be a routine.  For my son and me, we had a “Special Time hug and prayer”:  “Thank you God for Mommy, Thank you God for Buddy Boy, Thank you God for Special Time.  Amen.”
•    Go your separate ways.  You can come back to playing in 5 minutes, but try to do another task for a little while so Special Time is set apart from daily life.
•    Special Time wasn’t in place of regular playing, and it didn’t mean that was the only time I spent one-on-one with my son at that age.  It was just a time set apart. 

Benefits of this system:
•    Multi-taskers are forced to focus on what’s important: their child.
•    Allowing the child to choose the activity gives you something productive and encouraging to say during the day:  “I wonder what you’ll choose for your Special Time activity?”  or “Mommy doesn’t want to do X right now, but hold that in your head for Special Time.” 
•    The child knows that they’ll get some positive, one-on-one attention every day and have something to look forward to on a normal day when you’re not going anywhere fun.
•    The timer makes the ending clear to all participants, and Mommy doesn’t have to watch the clock; she can just enjoy playing.
This Special Time system was inspired by Dr. Harvey Karp’s The Happiest Toddler on the Block.

When balancing two children…
During Lent this year, I promised God I would give 10 minutes of “Special Time”, although not quite this systematic, with each of my kids.  I had noticed (with sadness and guilt) that it was just too easy to get to the end of my day and realize that I hadn’t spent real one-on-one time with my daughter especially.  She seemed to be just incorporated into play with the older child or into my cooking or cleaning.  Special Time was a good routine to have.  I modified it so that I just made sure each child got their 10 minutes of basic Mommy-time, and although I didn’t always set the timer, it was better if I did.

Daddy-Son time…
Before Lovey Girl was born, my husband and son would always have “boy night” when I went to my book club once a month.  They cooked and ate dinner together, often in front of the TV, and played sports.  It was a treasure that Buddy Boy truly mourned when his sister got too old to come with Mommy to the restaurants.  We now make sure that “Boy Night” happens every so often.  Here’s a great shot of the boys watching Scooby Doo and eating their dinners (that I got to witness because Lovey Girl and I just went for a walk and played downstairs to stay out of their way):

Strawberries Mommy-Son time…

I know my son also misses time with just Mom, because he sure is eager to be near to me and doing something whenever his sister falls asleep.  I had an opportunity to take him to a children’s production that our local symphony orchestra puts on, and when I asked him if he wanted to go, I called it a “date”.  He smiled like I had said “candy and ice cream”, and I knew I was onto something.  He’s heard Daddy and I refer to our “dates” and knows they’re fun and special. 

My son and I have gotten all gussied up twice now to go on special Mommy/Son “dates”, and he really glows in the presence of just mom.  Last week we even went strawberry picking, just the two of us.  Even though it happened that way out of necessity (husband doesn’t love strawberry picking and volunteered to stay home with Lovey Girl), calling it a “date” got Buddy Boy all excited about it and helped me remember to be patient with him in the patch.

So Date Your Kids!
This serves as a good reminder to me to make sure I get some one-on-one loving time with each of my kids, every day. May it also inspire you to find some “special time” or make a “date” with your kids.  They’ll positively beam, and you won’t regret it!

Let’s pile up great memories in the comments:  tell us about your favorite “dates” or “special time” routines with your kiddos.

Katie blogs at Kitchen Stewardship, where it’s all about the Baby Steps to balancing nutrition, the environment, time, and money through the eyes of faith.  She gives weekly “Monday Missions” to challenge readers to make one positive change in their kitchen each week, with supporting recipes and tips to help make it happen.

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September 02, 2009

Our Motives for Healthier Living

As Christians who desire to live more healthfully, naturally, sustainably, you-fill-in-the-blank, I think our motivation is such an important area to discuss. I would definitely agree with this guest poster and her conclusion as to why we should even care about or do any of these things at all. But I'll let her tell you more about it... :)

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Guest Post by Babychaser

Cambells soup ingredients

We’ve taken the plunge to healthier living… but why?  This is a question I have to ask myself from time to time… mostly when I’m focusing a little too much on the specifics.

It’s easy to get wrapped up on making sure we are eating healthy and not being exposed to dangerous chemicals… and when we get too wrapped up in it, it can become an idol. 

On the far, far other side of that is my inclination to be lazy and just let it go when it gets to be too much. 

So why have we made the decision to live a healthier lifestyle?  I think the answer to that helps to keep me in check.  Stewardship. 

Most of the time we think of stewardship as being in reference to finances.  We are to be good stewards of our money… all that God gives us.  We are also to be good stewards of everything else God has and will give us… including our bodies and our family’s bodies. 

Upon learning more and more of the crazy things we’ve implemented in our lives, one friend smiled and said, “I’d love to know how you guys are going to die.”  I had to laugh because the truth is; we are all going to die.  Even if we take all the chemicals and harmful substances out of our lives, we will still die.  But God gave us these bodies to live in (note: we are not our bodies, but merely live in our bodies while we reside on earth.)  He gave them to us and it is up to us to be good stewards of them. 

Good stewardship may look different from one family to another.  I do not hold myself above those who have not chosen to make the food and chemical choices we have just like I hope those in better physical shape are not looking down on us for failing to exercise as I know we should.  None on this earth is perfect, but as I have learned about the harm so many of the foods, etc. available to us are to our bodies, I’ve felt the need to make changes in order to be a better steward of my family’s health. 

Let me give a couple examples: 
•    Refined sugars lower our immune systems as well as a ton of other things.

•    BPA affects our bodies in a number of ways, including its links to breast cancer and fertility problems.

•    Pasteurization depletes most (or all) of the healthful aspects of milk and is linked to a number of allergies and health problems.

As I work to be a good steward of our health, it only makes sense to me to cut as much refined sugar as possible, to remove BPA from our home and to switch to raw milk. 

I’ll be the first to admit that we are are not die hard on these things.  From time to time my kids can be found playing with bad plastics or our family will get ice cream from one of the yummy places around town, but we are on a road to being healthier and getting closer and closer every day. 

You can learn more of our journey to healthier living beginning with this post

What motivates you to live healthier? Do you agree that it's an issue of stewardship?

Babychaser is the wife to her Beloved and mommy to Tornado and Sweet Pea.   You can read about the “Adventures of the Babychaser” at her blog, Stay at Home Mommy.  Blogging anonymously, Babychaser writes about raising healthy children, training her children, day to day happenings, and anything else tickling her fingertips.
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September 01, 2009

A Year of Herbs

Herbal pot

Have you ever wished that you could take the time to study and learn more about specific herbs, how to use them and what specific ailments they are good for treating? Me too!

So much so that I have decided to do just that this year!

Over the course of the next year, I have made a goal of purchasing or acquiring one or two new herbs each month (either dried, or as an essential oil, or if possible, I might just go pick them myself!). During that month, I intend to study up on that particular herb (or herbs) and find ways to practically use it in promoting good health for my family. It may be as a treatment for colds or flus, as a part of an emergency herbal first aid kit, as a way to deal with uncomfortable symptoms like heartburn or headaches, or even just by using it to boost our nutrition. 

My commitment to you is that I will post at least once a month with the findings of my studies, letting you know about a specific herb, it's history, it's qualities and benefits, how it may be used and ways that I am learning to prepare any tinctures, teas, creams, etc. so that you can try using it yourself!

I'll tell you now that I've just purchased Comfrey and Yarrow, so one of those two will be the first in the series. Honestly, I am so excited to delve into this area of study! It's almost completely new to me, but it's been on the back burner of my mind for quite some time now. I'm so eager to learn more about the incredible healing qualities that God has so kindly given us in His Creation!

Are you with me? Does this sound like fun to anyone else? Any particular herb suggestions or requests that you have for me?


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August 31, 2009

A Tale of Two Gardens- Part 2

By popular demand, I decided to run the second part of this post right away. The suggestions are so valuable, and having gardened myself for 3 years now, I can definitely attest to the wisdom in these tips. I know that I've been encouraged and reminded of areas where I could improve my own gardening and make it easier for myself, so thanks Amber!

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Ambers garden4  

Guest Post by Amber

Continuing on from Part 1...

#1 – Start small.

Yes, I know; do I have to spoil the fun? “Start small” is really hard to remember when you're pouring over seed catalogs in January! Those 400 feet of corn don't seem so long, and surely you'll need at least 5 zucchini plants, right? Perhaps if you lived away from all contact with civilization, or grew vegetables as a business, you could handle that garden you're dreaming of, but most of us have other things to do with our lives. We can't spend 4 hours a day on garden maintenance.

So be realistic. Of course, if you've never gardened before, it will be hard to judge what's realistic. For example, unless you've heard from gardening friends, you won't know any better than to plant those 5 zucchini plants to feed your family of 4. (You'll have zucchini coming out your ears!) I suggest finding some gardening friends. They'll warn you about those crops which are more difficult to grow, and give you a good idea of how much you'll need to plant. It's always better to get a pleasant experience this year, and increase your gardening next year, than to be overwhelmed this year and never garden again.

Container gardens are also a good way to get a taste of gardening. Go for a pot with a tomato plant in it (make sure it's deep enough!) or a rubber-maid tub full of dirt and a crop of bush beans. Here's my tub of butter crunch lettuce – it fed us April-June of this year: 

Ambers garden5

There's nothing like going out and picking your salad five minutes before you eat it!

#2 – Go Organic

Let me contradict one very important myth; that organic gardening is the hardest kind to try. Nothing could be further from the truth. Organic gardening is a lot like eating healthy. It may require a little more work in the beginning, but in the end it will save you hours and hours of time in the doctor's office or on the sidelines when you could be living a more vibrant life. Organic gardening takes a little more “oomph” when you're starting out, but eventually it will save you endless work and frustration.

The trick to organic, labor-reduced gardening is letting God's nature do more and more work for you. You will waste hours and hours of work trying to go against what God built into a plant naturally

Feed your soil, and your soil will feed the plants, and your plants will feed you.”

You thought I was going to say something about taking care of the plants, didn't you? Really, God made the soil to naturally take care of the plants. Good soil makes plants resistant to disease, bugs, and drought. If you have good soil, basically all you'll have to take care of is pruning, tying, and picking, with a little weeding and watering here and there.

This concept is probably the most important thing my Dad has taught me about gardening. Pouring chemicals onto plants will give you sick soil, and eventually make you more work, but using organic methods to build up the soil will give you better and better plants each year. When you can get your brain geared into thinking about soil care instead of plant care, your work load will decrease like bathtub water going down the drain. It's so simple it's almost funny!

Good soil isn't common in my part of the country. We have red clay here! But you'd never know it, looking at the “brownie mix” in our beds. That soil was built up over a 20-year period. Surprisingly, though, most of the change has happened in the last couple years, as Dad has started focusing more and more on soil improvement instead of plant care. You can improve your soil too, and you may start seeing results in as little as one year. There's hope for any soil!

Don't just avoid harmful sprays – learn to feed your soil beneficial things. Get into the mindset of thinking of your soil as living. It should be living; it should be packed with beneficial organisms that break down organic matter and help plants absorb nutrients. That topic is much too vast to get into in this post, but if you'll take the time to research how to feed your soil, you'll have a garden that practically takes care of most problems for you.

#3 – Use cover crops.

For this tip, I'd love to use neon lights and make a big flashing sign that says “TIMESAVER!” This is the secret to almost eliminating the hours you spend weeding.

Cover crops are plants you sow “underneath” your main crop, to add nutrients to the soil, and to cover up bare soil. Bare soil is against nature! Have you ever noticed how weeds love to grow in bare spots? If you leave the space underneath and between your plants empty, guess what's going to fill in those bare space? That's right; weeds.

You don't want that – weeds steal nutrients and look awful. But don't try to maintain that bare soil; you'll be fighting against the whole of nature, and will waste a lot of time. Instead, plant something beneficial there. Crops such as clover, buckwheat, winter rye, and alfalfa all add nutrients to the soil, and prevent the weeds from taking over.

Right now we have a lovely thick carpet of clover about a foot high growing under our tomato plants. It's soft and pretty, and I can count on one hand the number of weeds I've had to pull from those beds this year. When the growing season is over, we'll till the clover into the soil, and let it compost there.

Mulch made from grass clippings or leaves also works on the same principle as cover crops. An added benefit of these is that they are feeding the soil as they slowly decompose. It's a steady feeding that – unlike powdered fertilizers – won't be washed away deep into the soil where plants can't reach it.

#4 – Choose your plants wisely.

Some plants are just easier to maintain than others. Lettuce is super easy – just plant it and pick it. Bush beans require little or no maintenance when they're growing, but they do take a lot of time to pick. Cucumbers are easy to pick, but they produce best if they're up on a trellis, and that takes a little time to put together. Tomatoes are the most popular plant among American home gardeners, and are known for being heavy yielders, but you'll have to spend some time tying them to poles, or making cages for them. That can get time-consuming, especially if you have 8+foot-plants like ours! But to us it's worth it because of the tremendous yield (and the dropped jaws of folks who see our plants).

Sit down and figure out just how much effort you're willing to spend on your garden, and be sure to match plants accordingly. Looking through a few gardening books (look for “organic” and “intensive planting” gardening books) should give you an idea of how much time you'll have to spend on each kind of plant. Don't plant potatoes if you don't have time to hill them up, or asparagus if you can't pick it quickly enough to keep it from going to seed!

Ambers garden3

#5 – Schedule Time

Don't just hope you'll get around to gardening when you have a free moment. Free moments don't happen very often – certainly not often enough to upkeep a garden! Having a garden is a little bit like buying a dog; don't just “get” one, then stick it in the backyard kennel all day. Schedule times to work in the garden, just like walking the dog or making dinner. Habit makes everything go smoother.

If you let your garden go for two weeks, and then try to do all that work in one day, you will have more than you can handle. You'll become frustrated and wonder why you ever planted a single seed. If you set aside just thirty minutes – or even ten minutes – every day, that's probably all the time you'll need to spend out there, except for when you're planting seeds or picking produce. Garden maintenance shouldn't have to take up all your time.

I like just about everything about gardening but, like most of you, I don't have all day to spend in the garden – even though I'd enjoy it. I find that I usually get out there to work every other day, for 20-40 minutes. That's all. It's enough time to turn the compost, pull a handful of weeds, prune and tie the tomato plants, check to see what needs to be picked, and do some watering. Some days I don't even do all that.

Of course, our garden is a fair size (not in mere physical size, but in the amount of vegetation contained in it). Many of you could start on a much smaller scale and only spend 10 minutes a day on upkeep. Gardening in containers is even simpler. Having easy access to your plants will encourage you to be consistent in taking care of them. Keep that in mind if you're selecting a garden space.

#6 – Get the whole family involved.

I feel like snickering as I write this. I could say this is the whole secret to our beautiful garden – not cover crops, or raised beds, or plant selection, but family involvement! If I was the only one gardening, that place would not look the way it does now. Many hands truly makes lighter work.

Dad is definitely the garden manager, and we wouldn't get far without him. But he has to go to work every morning and, even with all the free time he spends in the garden, I know the help the rest of us give is important too. I have a mother and five siblings, and we all help in the garden in some sort of way. We all spend different amounts of time out there, because some of us are more passionate about gardening than others, but everybody does something.

Our garden is a family thing. Our garden is a relaxed thing – we're not stressed about everything being perfect. We want it to be nice, but not at the expense of stressful relationships. Gardening should be a beautiful thing. I find that being among plants makes me feel extremely close to the Lord. His hand print is everywhere.

I think everyone should have the opportunity to garden; it does something for your soul. If you've taken the first steps, or have been gardening a long time, I commend you. If you want to garden, but are nervous about starting, let me encourage you. Get out there and try it! The world isn't going to fall apart if you fail. And nothing is really a failure – you're working with living things, and everything that happens to them will teach you a lesson.

So give it a try! But be warned...

...You may fall in love with it.

Which tip most resounds with you? Do any experienced gardeners out there want to second any of Amber's suggestions?

~ Amber is the second oldest in a family with six children, and is serving the Lord at home through various ministries and entrepreneurial adventures. Besides gardening, she also enjoys writing, sewing, cooking, baking, music, and reading, and blogs about using skills for the Lord at www.fruit-of-her-hands.blogspot.com.



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August 28, 2009

A Tale of Two Gardens

I'm excited to introduce this two-part guest post to you! Amber had so many wonderful things to say about her (and her family's) experience of gardening and such helpful suggestions that I decided to turn it into a series. I hope that you're as inspired as I was and encouraged in your own gardening efforts. Look forward to Part 2 next week!

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Guest Post by Amber

Ambers garden2

I would love to garden, but I just don't have the time.”


Sound familiar? It's certainly a phrase I've heard before. Having grown up with a garden in the backyard almost every year, I have a tendency to shrug off this little phrase. “Just get out there are do it!” I want to say. “It's not that hard!”

Today, I had an eye-opener.

This afternoon, my father, my two brothers, and I were out working in a garden, in the humid Virginia air. The soil was red and clumpy – and heavy. Gnats buzzed around our heads as we moved heavy piles of clay here and there, and bent over to plant eight fifty-foot rows of corn, twenty-five hills of zucchini and yellow squash, one row of cucumbers, and one bed of string beans. We began our work sometime around 3:15 that afternoon. We didn't finish until 5:30.


A little while ago, I sat down next to this computer and pulled my shoes off, ready to relax. I looked at my white socks, now turned red from clay that seeped into my shoes. Every muscle in my arms aches with each movement, and my back is stiff and sore. I am ready to sit still for a good long while, and ready to snort at anyone who calls gardening easy.

That, perhaps, is what many people imagine gardening to be like; back-breaking, time-consuming, hot, never-ending work that leaves you exhausted. But let me tell you about another garden.

This garden is divided into ten beds, each neatly edged in cement blocks or wood. The pathways are strewn with straw or leaves, and within the beds dark soil is fluffy and rich, like brownie mix. The plants are tall and close together, shading the soil so that you can hardly see it. Produce hangs heavy and shiny on vines.


This garden is a pleasure to enter – even if you're coming there to work. Weeds come out of the soil easily, roots and all. The dirt holds moisture like a sponge, and requires little watering. Produce is within reach and easy to pick; in fact, picking is likely what you'll spend the most time doing in this garden.

Sound like a magazine garden? Does it sound too good to be real? Too...easy?

It is a real garden. It's my family's garden.

Ambers garden1

It's not a magazine garden. If you walked through it right now, you'd see one zucchini plant dead from squash bores, and two or three bean plants with a bit of fungus growing on them. But it's still a beautiful place. And we're not exhausted every time we work in it.


But what about the first garden I mentioned? That is also real. It is a garden we are making on the land of a couple who lives less than an hour away from us. The owner tilled the land briefly with a tractor the day before we planted, and from there on we did all the work.

While there, I realized how easy we have it at home. This was a lot of work! No wonder so many people turn away from gardening after the first try! If I hadn't been so excited about having so much land to plant things on, I think I could have sat down and cried with exhaustion when I finished raking that 400 feet of clay soil.


What made the difference? Why was that garden so time-consuming and hard, while gardening at home is so enjoyable and an integral part of life? What's the secret?

Let's admit it – most people would like to garden. I think it's something God put in us from the moment He placed Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. Growing your own food – what a freeing thought! But the obstacles are many for some people. How can you fit gardening into your life, without it taking over your life? I hope to give you some tips that will answer that question.


First a disclaimer; if you want a garden, you do have to garden. There is no magic fairy dust you can sprinkle on that bare patch to make things grow. These tips I'll share are not designed to encourage a couch potato. I'm not aiming for effortless gardening – just less-effort gardening.

I'm not a gardening expert at all, but I've listened to many gardeners – 'specially my Dad – talk about gardening, and I've worked alongside my Dad so much, that I believe some of it has worn off on me. From him, I have learned all sorts of information that I could share with you on time-saving gardening. I can't possibly include it all in one blog post.

So let's try to keep it simple – here are my top 6 suggestions for fitting gardening into your life...

To be continued next week... Aren't you curious and excited to read Amber's tips? Do you wish that you could garden, or garden more or bigger than you do, but feel that you just don't have the time that it takes?

~ Amber is the second oldest in a family with six children, and is serving the Lord at home through various ministries and entrepreneurial adventures. Besides gardening, she also enjoys writing, sewing, cooking, baking, music, and reading, and blogs about using skills for the Lord at www.fruit-of-her-hands.blogspot.com.



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August 27, 2009

How to Nurture Generosity in Your Children

What a great topic! I love it, so I'll hand it straight over to Jamie without further ado...

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Guest Post by Jamie Martin of Steady Mom 

Steadymom1

Photo by Milena Mihaylova 

One Sunday afternoon our family of five headed out to visit a friend. As we drove, my husband was telling the children about his job with Love146, an organization combating child sex slavery and exploitation in Southeast Asia. He was leaving soon for a work-related trip to Cambodia, and described to our kids the poverty there.

When he finished, all was quiet - for a few minutes. Then a little voice piped up from the back seat. "I know what we could do, Daddy, to help the people. We could buy them a cow. That way they would have milk to drink - because they probably get so thirsty."

Tears filled my eyes as I listened, amazed by my child inventing solutions to poverty. How can we nurture these generous spirits, I wondered?

Over time, I've developed a few ideas:

1. Discuss the importance of giving.

Some parents believe finances shouldn't be discussed with children, but I disagree. When it comes to generosity we need to talk to our little people. When you give, let your children know why. Read stories and biographies with them in which characters sacrifice to give to others. Discuss Bible verses that inspire giving. Proverbs 11:25 is a good example: "A generous person will be enriched, and the one who provides water for others will himself be satisfied." Other verses to consider: 2 Corinthians 9:10-11; Acts 20:35; Proverbs 19:17; and James 1:27.

2. Model generosity and involve your children in the process.

Don't just write a check to your favorite organization and mail it. Let your children watch as you write it. Say a prayer together before sending. There have been times in our family when we've had "Giving Days." For this event, we would give our monthly online donations together as a family. The children would gather around our laptop after dinner, and we'd pull up websites of various organizations that we support. One by one we would submit our donations, letting the children take turns clicking the mouse to send the funds.

We invite the children to pray (if they want) for those who will benefit from our money. It always touches our hearts to see our two internationally-adopted children praying for others in their birth countries.

Steadymomtwoboys

3. Watch for natural opportunities to reinforce this valuable lesson.

Returning to my initial story, my husband and I wanted our son Jonathan to realize that buying a cow could make a real difference. It was an unsought-after opportunity to reinforce generosity. So we searched for organizations to donate toward the purchase of a cow for a needy family.

Throughout the year, many opportunities arise to involve your children in donating toys or school supplies for various holidays. Take the time to seek these out and watch your kids get excited about the joy their gift can bring to someone.

4. Don't quench your child's generosity.

There may come a time when your children want to give away something you think they should keep. If at all possible, let them be generous. Recently one of our sons wanted to give his favorite book, which he had recently received, to another friend as a birthday present. I talked with him, making sure he knew he wouldn't get it back afterward. He understood, and he really wanted to bless someone else. I let him, and he hasn't regretted it.

Some families require their children to set aside part of an allowance for giving. This can be a good exercise in teaching the discipline of giving. But generally, I think mothers should focus on inspiring generosity instead of requiring it. A child's personal motivation will produce longer-lasting results than a parent's force. When giving is a lifestyle, it becomes a natural way for a child to interact with the needs he or she notices in the world.

In the process of nurturing generosity in our little ones, we find ourselves blessed. Through the act of giving away, we gain infinitely more - depth in our relationships, our marriage, our children, and our faith.

How do you attempt to instill a generous spirit within your family?

Jamie writes about her journey toward becoming a more intentional, professional mother at her blog, Steady Mom. She candidly presents the realistic picture of her successes and struggles doing life with her six-year-old daughter and two four-year-old sons (not twins!). In between moments of living and learning with little people, you can find Jamie with her nose stuck in a satisfying book.

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August 26, 2009

Adjusting to Life with 3 Little Ones

3-kids-in-pjs-2

Well, I'd say we're an incredibly thankful, mostly happy and pleasant, though generally overtired (and occasionally, overly emotional) bunch around here lately!

I'd have to say it's mostly the mama who fits into the overtired and overly emotional category (okay, and maybe the 2 year old as well). But, sleepless nights and crazy hormones aside, I'm doing well. Loving my little brood, reveling in my sweet newborn girl, and trying to just take it easy and recover from the birth. 

Recovering is hard work. Do you know why? Because it requires me to slow down and not do anything! I don't like to not do anything! As you can imagine, I have a hard time really letting my body heal and recover for the simple reason that I find it so difficult to just stop and rest. And so, I keep starting to feel really great, then begin to push myself just a bit too much, and bang, I'm two (or three or four) steps back again, feeling worse than I did before.

As a result of this continued pattern over the past two weeks, last night my husband gave me 3 priorities for this week:

  1. Take care of myself
  2. Take care of Johanna
  3. Work on my new ebook (because it only requires sitting at my laptop. Easy, peasy.)

That's all I'm allowed to do! And write this post. :) It drives me crazy, but deep down, I really appreciate it. Isn't he great? (Seriously, he's in the kitchen as I write this, making a gallon of Bread and Butter Pickles for me, because I'm not allowed to do kitchen work. What a man. Sigh.)

(And yes, that's a sling he's wearing, calming a fussy little girl- it's worth it to buy your baby carriers in husband-friendly colors!)

Ry-making-pickles

Even with my current limited responsibilities, life is busy and bustling around here! It's impossible to be bored or to have many calm, quiet moments with 3 littles, that's for sure! There's always someone who is hungry, or thirsty, or needs a bum change (or both little ones at the same time!), or is loving on the baby a little too aggressively, or has an owie, or wants to tell us something, or made a mess, or... you get the point! But it's a wonderful sort of busy, and we're slowly adapting to it and learning how to balance the needs of three small children. Thank goodness for all those freezer meals and a husband who was able to take a bit of time off this summer! 

In the midst of it all, a few things of interest:

1) The baby poll! I had almost forgotten about it, until yesterday afternoon! What's really funny about it is that nearly everyone expected Johanna to arrive much earlier than she actually did (me included!), and so most of the dates guessed were much, much before her date of birth. The winner is actually the very last entrant, who put her guess in after I was already overdue!

Harmony is the winner, with her guess of:

August 14th (it was August 12- the next closest was August 10th, but when I took the time and weight guesses into account, this one was closer)
3:40 pm  (5:22 pm)
girl (yep, she's a girl)
7 lbs 10 oz. (exactly right!)

Congrats, Harmony! You've won a $20 Amazon gift card, and a copy of my ebook, Healthy Homemaking: One Step at a Time!

Johanna-sleeping-in-cute-plaid-dress

2) Cloth diapering a newborn is really not difficult at all. With my first baby, I started cloth diapers at around 6 or 8 weeks. With my second, I think I waited 3 or 4 weeks. This time, I had been given one pack of newborn sposies, and I was determined to start cloth after 1 week. It actually ended up being more like 5 or 6 days, and off we went! I've been using a combination of pocket diapers (Fuzzi Bunz, DryBees, and Haute Pockets), and fitted with covers (mostly Indisposables, with a few other random diapers mixed in, and for covers I've got Proraps and Bummis Snap). It's working out really, really well, is far easier than I thought it would be at this stage, and hey, if you're already doing cloth with one child, then why not with two? The more the merrier! LOL! 

3) The garden that continues to produce, in spite of me. Someone just asked me the other day if I'll share my experience of gardening and preserving through a summer of pregnancy and having a newborn, once I hit the end of garden season. I can already anticipate my answer- it just doesn't go together very well! :) Of course, I'm saying that in the midst of 3 weeks during which I have barely gone out to my garden at all, except to do a bit of harvesting that simply had to be done.

However, I actually kept up with it all pretty well until baby arrived, and even though I am seriously neglecting my garden, it continues to produce food for me. Gotta love that! The weeds are dangerously high and I believe they are plotting a coup to take over my garden. Nonetheless, I am picking cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, onions, carrots, beets, beans and the last of the cauliflower. The potatoes are ready, but I'm fortunate that they can sit in the ground for a couple of weeks, and thankfully my tomatoes are a bit behind this year and won't be ready until probably early or mid-September. 

As soon as I can, I will be back to preserving, and the series that I began earlier in the summer on Preserving Summer's Bounty. Yesterday afternoon, one of my dearest friends came over and helped me (ie. did most of it herself) can just over 20 lbs of peaches. Is that not love? She called it her baby gift to us. That's what I call a great baby gift- 12 pints and 5 quarts of freshly canned peaches! I should have taken pictures of the process, but I wasn't quite that on the ball. Next time, I promise! 

That's it for me! I'm signing off, but there's most guest posts ahead for the rest of this week and next week as well!


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August 25, 2009

Making Cooking Easier: Using Your Slow Cooker

I would agree that slow cookers can be a busy mama's best friend some days. I get a lot of use out of mine, especially in the winter when we enjoy a lot of hot, hearty stews, soups, chili, etc. One of my favorite sites for recipes is A Year of Slowcooking. Check it out, enjoy the post and happy slowcooking! 

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Guest Post by Nola

Crockpot

Lately I have been trying to use my slow cooker (also known as a crock pot) more. I had a basic one that broke right before my second child was born, and my husband decided to replace it with a nice 7 quart model. It even has a “keep warm” and “buffet” setting. I’ve been coming up with more and more ways to use it, so I thought I would share some ideas about getting more out of your slow cooker. Maybe you have some ideas to share too!

1.    Why Use a Slow Cooker?


•    Slow cookers cook all day with no or minimal attention. Perfect for busy moms!
•    With a slow cooker, you can go out and come home to the delicious aroma of home-cooked food…and thus also avoid having to throw something together at the last minute, which means you may avoid unhealthy or expensive options, due to hunger and no time.
•    You can make supper in the morning and then avoid the rush in the late afternoon, which usually coincides with the time children need the most attention.
•    Having supper on time can be easier since it was all put together in the morning. This is much appreciated by hungry husbands and kids!  Sometimes life gets crazy and supper is late due to unforeseen things that happen with the kids or whatever.
•    You can use it on tougher cuts of meat and they come out tender. I no longer even cook a roast in the oven.
•    If it’s a hot day, you can cook things without turning on the oven. Its not just a winter time appliance!
•    You can cook big batches of something without attention and then (depending on family size and size of the slow cooker) freeze some for later use.
•    You can cook in your slow cooker when the stove is occupied with other pots and pans. For me, during canning season the stove is often occupied (and I don’t want the kitchen any hotter by using the oven) and I am too tired to think about what is for supper if I have to make it late in the day. It’s a perfect option to use my slow cooker!
•    You can cook great food for having company or house guests. I often use mine when I am having family stay for a few days, since that way we can be out and about doing things and come home to supper. I have also served supper guests from my slow cooker. Its so simple and easy, and then you can have all the clean up done in the morning, and relax and enjoy your guests before and after supper. After all, having company isn’t about the food, its about the people! The slow cooker makes time for what really matters. This is my favorite way to have supper guests.

2.    What Slow Cookers Cook:

Slow cookers seem to cook certain types of food best. The types of foods that cook best are those that can cook slowly all day, not things that would need very little cooking time. I have found slow cooking to be best with roasts, chicken parts, spaghetti sauce, soups and stews.  I’ve also done beans, and breakfast cooked cereals. I’ve even seen recipes for desserts and hot drinks, but have yet to find healthy recipes for those. You can even adapt many recipes to the slow cooker!

Do you have a slow cooker? Are there any ways you can think of that you aren’t using your slow cooker to its full advantage? Any other ideas, favorite recipe sources, or other ideas on how to make better use of this handy kitchen appliance?

Nola is a homemaker and mother to two girls: 6 months and 3 years. She enjoys finding healthy ways to serve her family better.

Image by lindyireland


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August 24, 2009

Motherhood, Moses and the Beauty of Broken Vessels

**My sincere apologies for not having the bio and links up earlier for this post! I'm feeling a little a lot tired and scattered around here, and didn't realize I had actually set this to auto-post without having it ready to go. My bad. Make sure you go and visit Kelly's wonderful blog!**

Seeing as Kelly just had her 8th baby a few weeks before me, this is the one guest post that wasn't written specifically for my blog. I figured having a newborn herself was a pretty good excuse to use something she's written before! Kelly gave me a choice of several posts, and this one really resonated with me. I, too, have felt the weight of responsibility and those feelings of inadequacy that she speaks of, when I consider my role as a mother to these 3 precious lives. I pray that you are encouraged as I was by these words of truth!

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Guest Post by Kelly

(Originally published at Generation Cedar in Dec 2008. Republished with permission.)

It was a simple prayer…but I couldn’t stop sobbing.

Broken

During church this morning, during intercessory prayer–just like every Sunday, a prayer was offered up for the expecting moms in our church, of which I am one ;-)

The prayer went something like…”Thank you, Lord, for the incredible gift of immortal souls whom you have given us to bring up to love You.”

At that moment, the weight of my responsibility met with my overwhelming feelings of inadequacy, and I began to sob.

“It’s too big, Lord…it’s too hard”, were the silent cries of my heart.

And as unexpectedly as the tears came His voice…”Remember Moses”.

I flipped through my Bible after the prayer, and scanned through the call to Moses in Exodus to rescue God’s people from Egypt.

Moses pleaded with God three times–even while beholding the miracle of the burning bush–that he was not capable.

The first time he said…”WHO AM I?” (3:11)

The second time he said…”BUT THEY WILL NOT BELIEVE ME OR LISTEN TO ME.” (4:1)

The third time (can you imagine his desperation)…”I CAN’T EVEN TALK RIGHT!” (4:10)

And God’s answer to Moses was, “Certainly I will be with you.”

God doesn’t call perfect people to do His work (praise Him!)

He chooses the broken, the imperfect, the weak, so that His power can be revealed. (”Therefore I will glory in my infirmities, for when I am weak, You are strong.”)

And God says to this mother, and to you…”Certainly I will be with You.”

Most definitely. You can be sure of it.

I do feel, as Moses must have, that my task is too much sometimes. And God knew the task was too much for Moses…if Moses were given it to do alone.

But God said to Moses…”I AM that I AM”.

And He is for us…

All He wants–all He has ever wanted is a willing, obedient heart. That is the only vessel through which He can show forth His power.

“Father, make me a willing vessel, broken as I am, through which You demonstrate Yourself to the world.”

Kelly, a.k.a. “Word Warrior” writes for the blog at her family's website, Generation Cedar, where their purpose is to equip and strengthen Christian families, knowing that strong families make a strong nation. She is a homeschooling mother of 8 (including her own new little baby!) and has a passion for inspiring and encouraging women to build godly homes!


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August 21, 2009

Waldorf-Inspired Real Play

While we don't specifically use Waldorf methods in our home (simply because I've never studied about it myself), I think that there are a lot of similarities in our philosophy of how we would like our children to learn and play, especially as home educators.  I've really enjoyed learning more about the Waldorf method from guest poster Cara!

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Guest Post by Cara

Sewing card

Waldorf is a method of education founded by Rudolf Steiner in the late 1800s that focuses on a natural approach to child development. While we don't use everything from the philosophy (it goes into some religion stuff that we don't agree with), we do really like the approach to early childhood education.  Steiner advocates allowing children to develop in a natural environment with a focus on the natural rhythms of home life.  In this philosophy of childrearing, children live their lives with purpose, imagination, and love.  I learned about this method of education when the daycare that I worked at four mornings a week as a teen underwent transformation from a regular daycare into a Waldorf preschool.  I was amazed to watch some of the daycare children turn from hyperactive, easily distracted, and easily bored to calm happy kids with an excellent attention span.  The play they engaged in was now Real Play, play with more meaning that mimics what we do in every day life.

The following are some things that we do to facilitate Real Play in our home.  It seems almost too simple, but it is quite enriching.

Starting with my little babies, I help them to be a part of every day life by playing near me on the floor, and when they want to be held they ride on my hip in a sling, or on my back in a mei tai or Ergo.  I chatter about what I'm preparing for supper, sing little nursery rhymes, and give lots of smiles while allowing them to see what goes on in every day life.  Letting them see you always being engaged in something, rather than just passively being entertained (on the computer or TV) helps prevent boredom through example.  When I am sitting and listening to the radio or just having a conversation with my hubby, if I'm not nursing a baby, I try to have some handwork to do, like knitting or hand sewing. 

We don't allow screen time of any kind for children.  No videos, no cartoons, no computer games.  I'm not a purist, my daughter has seen me on the computer and she has seen cartoons at other people's house. But as a general rule, we stay away from that, so that she doesn't get conditioned to where she needs something to watch to be entertained.  You will find that once your child develops a long attention span, they are happy to play alongside you while you work and you will not depend on the TV to keep them entertained while you accomplish your chores.

Toddler Helping

I make a point to slow down what I'm doing and do things with purpose so my little ones can see and imitate me, since that's what they do naturally.  I don't rushidly fold the laundry. I carefully smooth out each shirt, fold it, and place it in the stack.  I take care to place my dirty dishes in the sink, then gently wash them.  I avoid looking as if I'm a chicken with my head cut off as I rush around to catch up on housework.  I smile as I work.  Really, it doesn't take much more time at all, and it gives the children something to imitate.  This work is your quality time with the children, young children especially enjoy an activity like making bread with mom just as much (or in our case more!) than a trip to the fair or amusement park.  It shows them by example how to care for belongings, to find contentment in what must be done, and it gives them peace of mind to know that Mommy isn't frazzled.

When possible, I involve my children in my work.  It takes a little longer, but my toddler receives much more joy in completely emptying the dryer into the laundry basket for me than she would with a dozen 'Good Job!' stickers.  I also pay attention to what will trigger a meltdown and avoid it.  For instance, my little girl isn't happy just putting the two cups of flour in my cookie batter; she wants to scoop the entire flour canister into the mixing bowl. So, knowing this, scooping the flour is something that just Mommy does for now, and she has a bin full of rice and scoops where she can scoop to her heart's content.  When helping isn't possible because of safety (like with sewing) or the tendency to trigger a meltdown, I do try to provide some similar alternative for her, again, encouraging her desire to imitate me.

We sing little songs throughout the day.  Children love repetition and silly rhyming songs. A verse of "This is the way we wash our hands" before lunch or after playing outside makes hand washing into a pleasurable experience rather than a chore.  A little song can convince a reluctant toddler to do what needs to be done as well, "This is the way we buckle our carseat, buckle our carseat, buckle our carseat..."

Ant hill

Waldorf puts emphasis on outside time as well.  And to allow children's imagination to flow, unstructured open nature areas are encouraged over playgrounds with play structures.  On play structures, children are confined to what is there. In a natural park setting, children have more of an opportunity to notice small things. They watch the ants trailing out of the ant hill.  They collect pine cones.  They make mud pies and daydream.

Natural toys are preferred, but if those are not available due to money constraints, open-ended toys are the best.  The more specific a toy is, the faster a child will get bored with it. Open ended toys are toys that can perform a variety of purposes. A basket can be a bathtub one day, an oven for baking bread the next, and also turned upside down, covered with a playsilk, and used as a stage for a play the next day.  By contrast, a flashing box with buttons that talks and tells the child what to do is limited to its one specific roll, and quickly becomes boring.  Having few toys is preferred to having many.  With many toys out, the child is overwhelmed and stops playing with them in search of more order and simplicity.

My first summer job as a daycare assistant greatly influenced how I parent my children and live my life. I learned to slow down and appreciate the little things with children. I learned that faster isn't always better. I learned that children don't need to be constantly busy to be happy. And I learned that children weren't nuisances to be 'kept busy' until they could be taught later on, but they were to be joyously included in every day life right along side an adult. I wanted to share since I feel that what I've learned has enriched our family life, and I hope it can enrich yours as well.

More Reading:
Why Natural Toys?
Dressing Children Simply
An example of Meaningful Work
Instructions to Make a Waldorf-Style Doll

Cara is the stay-at-home mama of two children so far; 2-1/2 and 7 months.  She writes about parenting and crafting at Green Bean, and health and food at Health Home & Happiness, and also has an Etsy shop where she sells Waldorf inspired dolls and more.


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August 20, 2009

Organization for the Disorganized

Today's guest post is by my real life friend, Melanie. When she asked me about writing this topic, I didn't completely get the concept, but I trust Mel and knew that it would be good. It is! I relate to this more than I thought I would, and the suggestions make so much sense! I know, this isn't a blog about organization per se, but let's face it... busy mamas need to be organized! Enjoy!

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Guest Post by Melanie Dreyer

Messy toys Once I arrived at work on time and my boss asked me if everything was ok.  I quit borrowing books from the library years ago when I realized my money was better spent on buying books than on late fees.  I own a dozen white shirts, at least as many black shirts and I have four dozen cans of tomatoes in my pantry all because I’m too distracted while shopping to remember what I already have.  I like the idea of using coupons but actually remembering to put them in my purse is another thing and if they’ve made it that far I usually forget to take them out upon payment.  My keys now have a visible home where I hang them but before that I would spend up to half and hour looking for where I left them: my jacket pocket – but which jacket? my purse? the counter? the table in the foyer? the diaper bag?

You get the picture.  I have some organizational issues.  Can you relate?  If so “ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life” by Judith Kolberg and Kathleen Nadeau, PH.D may prove to be very helpful.

The title is unfortunate because until recently, when researching some learning difficulties my children have, I would not have identified myself as ADD or thought this book would apply to me.  Attention Deficit Disorder is really a set of symptoms that have an assortment of underlying causes that I won’t get into here.  In my case one of the predominant reasons for my ADD tendencies is that I am right brained.  As a visual learner who thinks in pictures I need to see the big picture in order to get a concept; following sequential steps or learning in increments is difficult for me.  Thus, many of the books on organization out there have proven difficult to follow because they are geared towards to the left-brained thinker and learner – or the more naturally organized person.  Right-Brained Ways to Organize or Organization for the Visual Learner might be better titles.

The book deals with some key issues that I could immediately relate to: the reality that if something is out of sight, it’s out of mind, the need to see the big picture first (macro-focus) and the uncanny ability to get lost in the finite details, (micro-focus).  A spare-room, home-office or garage that has become the household dumping ground can be overwhelming because it is difficult to see beyond the whole mess or cleaning the bathroom, which should take 20 minutes, ends up taking two hours because of over-focusing on cleaning the grout lines with a toothbrush.  Other difficulties are becoming easily distracted, moving from one task to another without finishing any of them and boredom - the need for stimulation in order to engage in a task.

Some of the solutions provided in the book left me wondering why I hadn’t thought of it, they are so simple.  Other solutions are ingenious.  For example, one way to combat “OosOom” (out of sight, out of mind) is to use clear storage bins where the contents can easily be seen.  This helps contain the clutter, while providing the visual cues needed for memory’s sake.  Also, place baskets near the doorway (a classic gathering place for clutter) labelled “In” and “Out”.  One basket is the place to put incoming items; the other is for outbound items.  Outbound items can be moved to a bin in the car, inbound items can be put away when the basket gets full. 

Another helpful hint was to use what the authors call a “stubby to-do” list.  They recommend using a bright sticky note and listing your top priorities for the day in large print using verbs such as: bake cake, get groceries, pick-up dry-cleaning, drop off library books.  It is important to list no more than five items otherwise you run the risk of being overwhelmed and to place the list in a place where you will be easily reminded of what needs to be done that day. 

The authors suggest using a timer or alarm clock to help combat loosing track of time, especially for activities that can cause you to micro-focus such as surfing the internet.  Analogue clocks are recommended over digital clocks since they provide a visual cue of the time passing.

Other ideas for tackling large organizing tasks like the garage or a child’s bedroom is to get creative: turn the garage into a hardware store or the child’s bedroom into a toy store and organize according to the departments found in those stores.  This can provide motivation to work on these tasks and provide categories for sorting through the overwhelming clutter.

The book addresses key organizational issues in separate sections:  Things, Time, and Paper.  They also provide tips on prioritizing, combating boredom, simplifying, plenty-of-time thinking, night-owl tendencies, skim reading and setting up a support system.  This book has proven invaluable to me and I highly recommend it to anyone who can relate to my organizational struggles or needs some creative ways to help a chronically disorganized family member.

Do you relate to these organizational struggles? What things do you to overcome them?

Melanie Dreyer is a homeschooling mom of four children ages 8, 6, 3 and 21 months and resides in the interior of British Columbia.  She has a blog called “Met With Perfect Pleasure” where she writes about motherhood, biblical womanhood, the Gospel and anything else that interests her.


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August 19, 2009

7 IndispensableThings

Johanna-in-doll-cart 

**Yes, this is baby Johanna in the kid's little doll carriage, lovingly wrapped up and given a little piggy to keep her company. :)

I think one of the most wonderful things about having a 3rd baby is that the actual work of caring for a newborn becomes so much more natural. I remember feeling fairly overwhelmed when I had my first child, a lot less when I had my second, and now this third time around feels even that much simpler and easier.

The longer I am a mother, the more that I realize there are very few things that I need as I nurture my new little one. Her needs are not complex, and neither are the tools that I need to meet them.

There have been a few things, however, that I have been considering quite indispensable in these early days with my sweet little girl:

1) God's grace. Abundant, undeserved, unfailing, sufficient. Along with the daily strength that He offers me, comes deep and pervasive joy. I am overwhelmed, but mostly by His goodness and the rich blessings in my life. 

2) My husband. More than I can ever remember before, I have been cared for and coddled and treated like a queen. In the first few days, if I even tried to so much as put a dish in the dishwasher, I was told in no uncertain terms to sit myself back down! He has been so understanding of my need to rest, and so helpful with the children and around the house. I don't know what I would have done without him!

Cosleeper 3) Our Co-Sleeper. If there is one thing that I would recommend for every new mother, I think this would have to be it. Having my baby right beside me allows me to nurse so easily throughout the night, without getting up, without turning on lights. And having her in her own bed (and not actually in mine) allows me to sleep comfortably, without worrying about baby, without feeling squished. Ahhh... nighttime nursing at it's finest. 

4) My Shower Hug. Back when I reviewed this, I had a feeling that I was really going to like it. Boy, was I ever right! It's like a hot compress in the shower, and much more comfortable than a nursing bra at night. Oh yes, I like it very much. :)

5) Our washer and drier. Between stuff from the homebirth, all of my non-pregnancy clothes that were musty from storage (yep, should have thought to do that pre-baby), regular family laundry and now the usual deluge of laundry that comes along with having a newborn, those machines have been doing double duty, I tell ya!

6) Meals I don't have to cook. Between my MIL here for a few days, a week of dinners from our church caregroup (standard for every baby born- I think this is such a good thing!), and my after-baby freezer stash of meals and simple meal-makings (nitrate-free turkey hotdogs, anyone?), we have been set around here. What a blessing to not have to be doing much fussing around in the kitchen at this point! Every time I try to get more active again since the birth, it starts to obviously affect my recovery, and so I am grateful to know that even if the house gets messy or all that laundry doesn't get caught up on yet, at least we will eat!

7) My nursing canopy and sling (oops, that's 2 things, isn't it?). These are a couple of items that I decided to splurge on this time around (if splurge is the right term for someone who buys things only on sale or places like Craigslist). I got through two previous babies without them, but decided that they sure would be nice to have, and I'm so glad I did. My nursing canopy is not only adorable (a boldly colored morning-glory pattern by Amy Butler), but it really does make nursing in public so much easier as it is completely hands-free and more covering than any blanket. My new-to-me Hotsling has also been a huge improvement over using a Snugli type carrier, a bad ringsling, and an Ergo infant insert. It folds up small, goes on and off quickly, keeps baby snug and happy, and so far isn't bugging my back. I'm a happy camper.

What things do you consider indispensable after the birth of a baby?


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August 18, 2009

Making Your Own Convenience Food Mixes

For those who are baby-stepping your way towards learning to make more foods from scratch, rather than packages, here are some great ideas for making that process easier in this guest post!

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Pancakes for convenience mixes

Guest Post by Allyson

As a stay-at-home mama to our highly active 2 year-old daughter, Emahry, and our “coming into his own” and very mobile 9 month-old son, Jonathan, I know how tempting it can be to reach for the convenience foods while grocery shopping.  However, I’ve found that with a little planning I can make many convenience foods from scratch at home. We’ve found this to be a great way to streamline our time in the kitchen.

One of our favorite quick fix breakfast recipes is this Oatmeal Cinnamon Pancake Mix. The flavor of these pancakes is delicious, but I think my favorite part is that one large batch of the mix lasts our family about a month. Once the mix is complete it takes very little time to make pancakes for breakfast from scratch.

A jar of this pancake mix also makes a great housewarming, new baby, or holiday gift.

Oatmeal Cinnamon Pancake Mix

4 cups old fashioned oats
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup packed brown sugar (or other dry sweetener)
1 cup instant dry nonfat milk
3 Tablespoons baking powder
2 Tablespoons cinnamon
5 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Mix these ingredients together in a large bowl. I use my hands to make sure the brown sugar is mixed in well. Store the mix at room temperature in an airtight container or gallon-sized freezer bag.

Yield: 10 cups of pancake mix.

Oatmeal Cinnamon Pancakes
 
2 eggs
1/3 cup applesauce
2 cups of Oatmeal Cinnamon Pancake Mix (recipe above)
1 cup water
Optional: one mashed banana or fruit of your choice

Beat eggs in a large bowl. Gradually beat in applesauce. Alternately add mix and water to mixture. Blend well. Preheat and oil griddle. Pour 1/3 cup batter per pancake. Cook until bubbles form around edges, flip and cook until done.

Yield: about 10 pancakes

(Stephanie's note: If you would prefer, I believe that you could probably leave out the powdered milk in making the mix, and instead substitute 1 cup of milk for the cup of water when mixing it up in the morning. Another option might be to use 1 cup of buttermilk, kefir or watered down yogurt instead, but add it the night before in order to soak the flour. I haven't tried this myself, but I don't think it would be difficult to play around and find a way to make it work!)

Here are a few other ideas for streamlining your time in the kitchen.

- Freeze cooked portions of meat for adding to tacos, pizza, pasta sauce, and soups.
- Chop and freeze raw onions and peppers for tacos and fajitas.
- Freeze cooked portions of brown rice for tacos, stir-fry, and soups.
- Cook and freeze beans for tacos, beans and rice, brownies and more.
- Freeze fresh fruit like strawberries and banana slices for baking and smoothies.
- Make your own cake mixes.

How do you save time in the kitchen while still cooking from scratch?

Allyson is the happy wife of Tim  and stay-at-home mama to Emahry (2 years) and Jonathan (9 months). She and her husband strive to bring glory to God as they live, love, and learn together. Allyson regularly blogs about family, faith, frugality, and her journey as a wife and mom at A Heart for Home.
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August 17, 2009

Making Mothering Babies Easier: Babywearing

I thought this would be a great guest post to start things off with, seeing as I have just entered back into the world of frequent babywearing myself! I love wearing my new little sweetheart in my Hotsling, and especially love the convenience and free hands that it offers me. The author of this post, Nola, has been a longtime blog reader, is a fellow Canadian, and as I have gotten to know her through our emails, I consider her a sweet friend and encourager in my own journey of natural living. Hope you all enjoy this and all of the other upcoming guest posts while I relax and enjoy my "babymoon"! :) Love Stephanie

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Guest Post by Nola

Baby in sling 

Image by hoyasmeg

I have always believed babies need a lot of close contact with their mothers.  When I had my first child (now 3) I didn’t know much about babies other than that they needed to be close. With this in mind, I found a second hand infant carrier. However, it was poorly designed and very difficult to use, and it also hurt my back.

A few weeks into mothering I found out about other types of baby carriers and slings. We purchased one that worked well for us and that made life much easier. Soon after, I was surprised to learn that carrying my baby even had a name: babywearing. Its nothing new really- mothers the world over carry their babies with fabric in many different ways. It’s making a comeback now in North America.

What is babywearing?

Basically, babywearing means wearing, or carrying your baby hands-free on your body, with a baby carrier of some sort that is made out of cloth and may also possess rings or buckles. People use all sorts of things to babywear- ring slings, pouch slings, wraps, soft structured carriers, etc! It’s all a matter of how you want the carrier to look, feel, and really, its also a matter of what works for you and your baby. Many mothers find that they prefer to have more than one carrier for different needs and situations, or as the baby grows. Older babies and toddlers can also be worn (although their needs are different) depending on the carrier that you have. I have found, for example, that the ergo is perfect for older babies and toddlers, but the Moby wrap is more suited for a small baby.

What babywearing is not:

•    Something that should hurt your back, or be uncomfortable! If it hurts, there is something wrong. Usually it means you need to adjust something and learn how to make it work for you. Sometimes it might mean using a different carrier. I have personally never found ring slings or sling pouches very comfortable for long periods of time, and had trouble making the Ergo and Moby wrap work for me at first, but now they don’t hurt me at all. Different moms like different carriers. My friend loves her ring slings!
•    Something that is only for small babies or young babies. I wore my then 2 1/2 year old on my back in our Ergo last year without issues at around 30 pounds. Certain carriers are better for this than others.
•    Something that will slow down the physical development of babies. I have proof of this one! I was often told that since my daughter was held so much, that she would be delayed. However, she walked and learned all her motor skills very early.

Why babywear?

•    It’s very good for the baby. There have been lots of studies done on it, but to me it makes sense- the baby is close to its mother (or often father, in our house, or even the odd time Grandma) and therefore gets the closeness that babies need.
•    It makes life much easier at times. The baby is usually happy to be so close, and many things can be carried out faster with the baby attached, hands free, than it could be if the baby was fussy sitting or laying on its own, or if you tried to do things with only one hand (the other balancing the baby). Often times, especially with my first child, she wanted to be held a lot, so babywearing allowed me to keep going and meet her needs at the same time
•    It can be used for walks and hikes when the baby either doesn’t like the stroller, or when a stroller is inconvenient/awkward or unusable (think big crowds where it’s unsafe to allow a child to walk or awkward to navigate a stroller, small trunk spaces or hikes). You can babywear anywhere really. And you get great looks and comments too!
•    Depending on the carrier and your baby, you can breastfeed in some carriers. Personally I have found that my babies nurse so quickly that it’s not worth it, but many babies and moms find this very useful, especially in public as it can be very discreet. Definitely something to try after the baby is able to latch properly.

How to babywear:

Here are some resources that I have found the most helpful:

•    www.thebabywearer.com has LOTS of information especially if you are confused about which type of carrier to try or how to use one that you own. It goes into a lot more detail than I have here.
•    Other moms. Ask around if you see another mom using a sling or carrier. Ask a friend to demonstrate hers.
•    Stores that sell baby carriers. They usually allow you to try them on, and some even have weighted dolls to show you what carrying a baby would be like, or you can bring along your child and try them out. Some stores that sell baby carriers may be maternity or cloth diapering stores, or they might have an idea of where carriers are sold in your area.
•    Online stores. Although you can’t try them on, there is often a lot of information and you can sometimes call and speak to a real person to help you make your decision.

Be aware that some baby carriers are simply not well designed. I would recommend purchasing one used or new from stores that specialize in this sort of thing- in my experience the “big box” type stores do not have quality baby carriers, and it’s really worth the investment to be comfortable for both you and your baby! Some carriers are better for certain ages than others, and some are better for different situations. Some moms simply prefer some types over others! Don’t be intimidated by trying wraps or trying something different. Like me you may be surprised! I thought the Moby wrap looked too complicated, but I was given one and it was very simple to use. Stores often offer personal help or even DVDs or online directions and videos. Personally, I love my Moby wrap for the newborn to age around 4-5 months period, and the Ergo from about 4-5 months into toddlerhood. Try what works for you, and know that if it doesn’t feel right, often you may need a little help learning to adjust the carrier to work for you.

If you don’t already babywear, are you now more intrigued about how it can make mothering easier? For those of you that already have a carrier, what types do you like? Do you find it makes mothering easier? Any fun stories to share of wearing your baby?

Nola is the mother of two girls, ages 3 and 6 months. She enjoys “wearing” her baby around her home, while hanging out clothes, going on walks, grocery shopping, and hiking with her family!
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August 14, 2009

Johanna's Birth Story

Daddy-first-kiss-johanna

The birth story begins about 2 1/2 weeks before she actually arrived. It was then that I began having regular bouts of contractions, a week and a half before my due date. With many positive signs of impending labor (increasing contractions, crampiness, slightly elevated blood pressure, a baby that was sitting incredibly low, etc.) we all thought that labor was likely to begin at any time that week, my midwife included. And so we waited...

And waited... and waited. After over a week of continued contractions but no labor, I was discouraged. It had been the hottest week of the entire summer (a true heatwave for our area), and I was literally wilting, between the heat and the discomfort. As I reached my due date I was really struggling with maintaining a positive attitude, and with the feeling that my body had deceived me somehow and that everyone's life had been put on hold waiting for me (my husband with his job, my MIL who had stayed with us the entire week, etc.). 

God had some work to do in my heart. I spent last Friday incredibly emotional, just so eager to be done and so frustrated at having spent over a week and a half sitting on pins and needles, expecting labor at any moment. How I wished that I had prepared my heart for her arrival at or after her due date, instead of putting so much hope in all of these "signs" that she was coming. By Saturday, after much prayer, I finally felt at peace waiting for God's perfect timing and we resolved to busy ourselves with fun and productive activities as we waited.

When I saw my midwife on Tuesday morning, the day before I was one week overdue, she checked me and found that I was 3, almost 4 cm dilated and she couldn't believe how low the baby's head was. She had discussed with me the week before that perhaps all of the contractions were due to a herbal prenatal formula I was taking, and recommended I stop taking it for my own sanity. I had obeyed and been off the herbs for an entire week, and yet the contractions had continued, even increasing in intensity, and were obviously doing work but were not kicking in to a regular rhythm of labor.

As she was headed out of town that weekend (having expected me to have my baby a week or more ago), we discussed that we might try something to give my body a nudge. She performed a membrane sweep that morning, and we agreed to give it 24 hours to see what it would do. Well, even with a loooong walk that evening, it didn't do anything. So the next morning she gave me permission to go ahead and try the castor oil cocktail that had worked so well for me with our son.

Dehydrating-plums

Wednesday morning dawned with some contractions, but nothing more promising than usual. I decided to go ahead with the cocktail and took it at around 9:30am, allowing Ryan enough time to to make a quick trip into the city with the kids to pick up something for the business. By about noon, after I had been lying down trying to catch one last nap, contractions started coming but they were still quite mild and spaced out. They picked up a teeny bit by 12:30, when I gave up trying to nap and starting puttering around the kitchen. I pitted and dehydrated a couple trays of ripe plums from our neighbors, did some laundry, washed dishes, etc. until 1pm.

Ryan took the kids to his sisters and then went out for coffee with a friend (only 5 min. away, cell phone in hand!), and about 15 minutes after he left I decided it was worth calling the midwife, just to let her know what was happening. Since she was in the area, and since she thought my labor could possibly go fast (if this was indeed labor) she decided to just pop over and see where things were at. She arrived by about 1:40, and just observed me for awhile. She decided to read a book on the couch while I mopped my kitchen floor, and shortly afterwords she cleaned out my fish bowl for me, LOL! Fun times with Anne!

Around 2, contractions were coming a little closer together and I was starting to feel it in my back (a good sign for me that things are happening, as I always have back labor). Ryan came home shortly after, and while I continued to labor fairly easily, we had a great discussion with Anne (an Orthodox Christian) on early church history in between contractions. Each time one came, I would just lean forward onto the back of the couch or the dining room table, close my eyes and sway my hips, then pop back up again to continue our conversation!

Laughing-on-birth-ball 

**Obviously this is earlier on in labor, when a cracked joke would still make me laugh! :) My MIL said this picture would give a false impression of labor being easy, but I think it shows that labor isn't all hard work or pain. There can still be sweet and memorable moments, and yes, even fun!**

By 2:30, I had started applying a heat pack to help ease the back ache, and Ryan and Anne were occasionally coming to give me back rubs. Contractions were about 3 minutes apart, and very manageable but becoming more intense. By 3:00 I started talking about taking a hot shower, and Ryan decided to call our friend Ange who was coming to serve as a doula for us (she had also helped with our first daughter's birth).

I had never taken a shower during labor before, but I did find it quite relaxing and helpful to have the hot water beating down on my back. I had put a folding chair in the tub, hoping I could sit on it backwards but it turned out to be too tight of a fit. Instead, I just leaned over and held onto the chair and stood up again once the contraction finished. My thoughts centered around relaxing and opening up, and letting my body do it's job so baby could come more quickly. Once I got out, maybe around 3:45 or so, Anne decided to check me and said that I was definitely 4+ cms and she thought things were progressing well (I think more from other indications than just how much I was dilated).

On-birth-ball-johanna

Our friend Ange arrived just before 4:00, and I was so glad we had called her when we did. Soon after her arrival I found that I was starting to need a lot more consistent coaching and counter-pressure on my back. Being upright was too much to handle, so I spent almost the next hour on the living room floor, leaning over a birthing ball. Ryan and Ange took turns doing my back, and Ry coached me on my relaxation and breathing, while Ange fed me bites of Labor-Aid popsicle in between contractions. At some point during this time, Anne also gave me water injections for my back (just sterile water injected in 4 sites in the lower back), to help relieve some of the back pain and allow me to simply focus on the contractions.

By 4:30, I was starting to have a more difficult time relaxing. Contractions were coming 2 minutes apart and were quite intense at their peak. I was still feeling very calm and peaceful, but was also very focused on the work at hand and needed to use all my concentration to get through each one. Gradually, they become more and more difficult to handle, and I found myself repeating a phrase over in my head that I had read in one of Crystal's birth stories a couple years ago... "He endured the Cross... He endured the Cross." Focusing on what Christ had endured for me gave me more strength to focus on this far smaller trial that He asked me to endure for my baby. 

In-pool-having-johanna

Towards 5:00, the birth pool was ready and waiting, and they asked me if I wanted to get in. My husband said that he knew I was definitely in transition at this point, as almost every question they asked me was met with a sigh and a tired sounding "I don't know". I sat and drank a small glass of water first, and noticed that I was trembling as I did so. I got in the pool and sank into the blissfully warm water. It felt wonderful for a moment until the next contraction hit and I suddenly felt out of control as I struggled to find a new position that would work for me.

Nothing seemed comfortable at all and I found myself quite restlessly moving around, trying different things out. During contractions, Ry noticed that I couldn't seem to relax at all anymore and I know that my breathing had become more shallow and I was starting to make low moans during their peak.

Within a few minutes, I began to feel low pressure, though I was unsure of whether I was really as far along as I felt that I was, because I hadn't been checked since I was 4 cm. I do vaguely recall hearing Anne say "You're going to have your baby soon", though I didn't quite process it at the time. In the next two contractions, the pressure increased and I felt my breath begin to catch in the midst of the contraction, something I remember reading about as the Hoquet reflex, which signifies a crossover into Stage 2 (pushing).

The next contraction, I could not hold back at all as my body began to push with all it's might and I felt this little baby barreling down. It was incredibly painful, much more than I remember pushing my last baby to have been, and my husband later told me that it was the first time in 3 births that he has ever heard me actually scream. By the end of that contraction, her head had already been born! As the next one began, the rest of her body was born, and suddenly this beautiful, wet little creature was up on my chest!!! 

Johanna-on-towel We spent a full minute or two just rejoicing and admiring her before we actually took a look to find out whether she was a boy or girl (although as soon as I saw her face, I felt sure that she was a girl). We were overjoyed to learn that we had another daughter and just continued exclaiming how perfect she was. I sat with her in the tub for a good 20 minutes, while keeping her mostly under the warm water and waiting for the cord to stop pulsing. When it was finished, Ryan cut the cord and took her, while they helped me out of the tub to birth the placenta. 

It turned out that the reason it hurt so much to push her out was because the little munchkin had her hand up beside her face. Didn't slow her down any, but it was definitely more uncomfortable! Fortunately, I had only 1 small tear that didn't require stitches, so all's well that ends well. :)

Overall, I could not have asked for a more wonderful birth! God really answered my prayers for a peaceful and calm birth. It was definitely hard work and had some challenging moments, but it was short (from active labor to birth, a little over 3 1/2 hours) and very sweet. Having Johanna in the water was definitely a positive experience, and I relish the memory of those first 20 minutes spent just relaxing with her in the warm water.

Birth-team-johanna 

**Our wonderful birth team, Inya (assistant midwife), Anne (midwife) holding Johanna, myself, friend Angela, and Ryan, a couple hours after her birth**

Family-photo-johanna-2

Our family, enjoying Johanna together once the kids came home to meet her. They're just adoring their new baby sister, and they are both so loving and gentle with her. What a blessing!

I couldn't have asked for a more incredible birth and I am still a bit in awe of it all! God is so good!


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Meet Johanna!

Johanna-in-pink-sucking-fist

Johanna Providence

7 lbs 10 oz, 21 inches long

 Wednesday, August 12 at 5:22pm

Johanna means "God is gracious", which we have just been feeling in abundance lately, as we marvel over His goodness in our lives. We also felt that this gentle, feminine name really suited her, with her very delicate and sweet demeanor. We chose Providence in light of the fact that we've been learning more and more about His sovereign care over all things, and what a blessing it is to be under the providential hand of such a kind and loving God.

Johanna-sucking-finger-on-me

This little girl just loves her fingers and fist! I have a feeling she was well acquainted with them in the womb. She found her thumb in the first hour after birth!

Me-holding--johanna-on-bed 

Enjoying my sweet girl, the day after her birth. There is nothing in the world like the first few days with a newborn. So fleeting and so precious.

Caden-and-daddy-hold-johanna

Caden just can't get over the new "bay" (yep, only one syllable- we're working on it!) and loves to give her kisses. Ryan is absolutely in love with his new daughter, and I'm glad I'm the one who gets to nurse her or else I don't think I would have many chances to hold this little girl!

Abbie-holding-jo-in-blue-chair 

Abbie holding Johanna this morning. She's the most doting big sister ever, and is so gentle and responsible with her.

I think I'll have the birth story ready later today, with more details and some photos from her arrival. Thank you so much for all of the congratulations and well wishes! Everyone is doing really well, just enjoying our new addition and praising God for her. So far, it feels like we're adjusting to being a family of 5 with relative ease (due in part to Grandma's help, I'm sure!), my recovery is going smoothly, and we're just having a wonderful time being together with Ryan off of work.

Starting on Monday, I'll begin to put up all the incredible guest posts that I've received, and I can't wait to share them with you. More to come soon...


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August 12, 2009

It's a girl!

Thought you all might like to know that Baby #3 has arrived!

We had a beautiful little girl late in the afternoon, at about 5:20 pm. The birth went wonderfully and I will share the details with you, including some pictures, in the next day or so. A name is being decided on and hopefully I'll be able to share that soon, too! :)

She's such a doll, just laying here in my lap and sucking her fist as I type. It's been a perfect day and we are just so grateful to God for her safe arrival and feel incredibly blessed to be her parents.

More to come soon!


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Where Food Comes From 101

Abbie-holding-garden-carrots 

**Abbie holding fresh carrots, straight from our garden**

What kind of food education are our children getting?

While my husband and I were berry picking a few weekends ago, we got into a discussion about whether kids actually have an idea of where food comes from and how grateful we are that ours have the privilege of being able to be a part of the process, as we tend to our family garden and buy from small, local farmers.

Unfortunately, I believe that for most kids their view of food is nothing more than the unrealistic, seasonless food available at the grocery store. Chicken comes in breast form, skinless, boneless, in a plastic wrapped package. Carrots come in the shape of baby carrots, in a plastic bag with a bunny on the front. Applesauce comes in individually wrapped containers covered in foil. Watermelon and strawberries grow in December. Milk comes in plastic jugs, and fluffy white "wonder" bread doesn't resemble the grains it originated from in the slightest. 

In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Barbara Kingsolver talks about a friend who didn't know that potato plants grow "up" (with the plant portion on the top, and the potatoes growing underground, along the roots). Quite frankly, until two years ago, neither did I. I couldn't have told you what a potato plant looked like or how it functioned in the slightest. I bet I'm not alone.

Children need an agricultural education. Regardless of whether they will be a food producer themselves or whether they will support the food industry through the choices they make and how they spend their dollars. They need to have the experience of visiting a farm, picking food from the ground or off the vine or  fruit tree. To see a cow be milked, or to watch eggs be gathered from a hen house. To know that chickens actually walked around with a head, feet, skin, feathers and bones before they became our tasty dinner.

If we cease to offer this kind of education, how will our children ever know how to provide for themselves in a distraught economy? Will they have the confidence or the knowledge to be able to live in a self-sustainable way, especially if the conveniences that we are blessed to have access to are no longer available? If they were to end up in a circumstance where they needed to, would they be able to learn and use the skills necessary to raise their food from the ground up?

Quite frankly, would we have the ability to sustain ourselves? As adults, who have been raised in this era of the Supermarket, what will we do if there ever comes a time when the bounty that we currently know ceases to exist?

How do we give our kids this necessary education in "Where Food Comes From 101"?
  • Shop at produce markets or farmers markets. See food that doesn't reside in large grocery stores, in plastic wrap or foil packages. Talk to the farmers and get to know them. Learn about the different seasons, and which foods grow at which times of the year.
  • Take field trips to farms, or visit friends who live on hobby or larger farms. Many places offer dairy tours, pumpkin patch hay rides, apple u-pick, honey-bee tours, etc.
  • Find more local sources of food for your family, and share these sources with your children. My children come with me to purchase our meat from a small family farm. They've also visited the friends who are organic egg farmers (from whom we purchase our eggs), and have actually walked up to say hi to the chickens. They know that our weekly jars of raw milk come from a cow named Belle who eats green grass in a small town nearby.
  • Grow something! There is something tremendous about watching food grow from a seed, to a little seedling, to a larger plant, and end up on your dinner table. There is also enormous ownership involved, and it is such a thrill to children to eat the carrots or potatoes that they helped to grow! It can be as small as a few herbs or some potted peas or tomatoes on your porch, or as large as a backyard garden that helps to feed your family.
  • Discuss it with your children as you make food. Ask them where they think it came from, or how it grows? When I've cooked whole chickens in the not-so-distant past, my 4 year old daughter and I have had wonderful discussions about how these chickens used to be alive, how they had heads and feet and feathers. She now knows that our family supports farmers who raise these chickens so that they can be happy and healthy, until they are ready to be killed so that we can eat them as our dinner and that God uses them to help our bodies grow strong. Don't hide the realities of how foods are raised, and the process of how they end up on our table.
Are you concerned about the level of awareness that this generation of children has when it comes to where their food really comes from? What are you doing to give your children a real food education?
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August 11, 2009

You Tell Me: Finding the Time to Cook From Scratch

Cooking

I think that one of the biggest struggles that many of us have as we seek to eat and cook only whole foods, while keeping our grocery budgets reasonable and affordable, is that it requires more time to prepare these wholesome foods.

I've heard many people argue that it doesn't really take any more time than cooking other foods, and that anyone can do it, and to a large degree, I would agree that it's true. But I won't lie and say that I don't spend more time in the kitchen than many other women I know. Preparing real foods, from scratch, takes time. That's the truth of the matter.

That said, I have learned how to streamline my time in the kitchen over the years, and I anticipate that the longer I am a homemaker, the better I will get at using my time effectively and making quality foods with less of a time investment. Some things have become second nature to me and thus seem to go quicker. Some things I make in large batches which saves me time in the long run. I've learned to multi-task better. I don't need to refer to recipes nearly as much anymore and cooking feels more intuitive, which takes some of the extra time and thought out of the process.

As I write this new ebook on feeding your family nourishing, real, whole foods on a frugal budget, one of the areas that I would love to hear from you is on the topic of finding the time to cook from scratch:

  • How do you do it?
  • What tips and tricks do you use to make better use of your time?
  • Do you batch cook? Have baking days? Spend certain times of the day or days of the week focusing on food prep? Do you make meals for the freezer (eg. once-a-month-cooking)?
  • What tools or techniques help to make your job easier? Particular kitchen appliances? Certain methods of cooking?
  • How do you balance your kitchen time with your other responsibilities as a wife, mom and homemaker?
  • Are there any resources that helped you in learning how to make homemade foods?
  • Anything else you think would be helpful to share!

As I said last time, my one request is that you only leave a comment for me of this nature if you are comfortable with me publishing it as a quote in my new eBook. It won't be practical for me to directly contact every single person who comments, and I would like to freely use the quotes that I think would add to the book. If you would leave a name that you are comfortable with me using when/if I quote you (it doesn't have to be your real name, and last names aren't necessary), as well as where you're from (only if you're comfortable with that), that would be fantastic!

Your responses last time were wonderful! Thank you so much to all who commented and emailed. I was so blessed to read all of your responses, and know that they will be a very valuable part of this new book!


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August 10, 2009

Preserving Summer's Bounty: Freezing Garlic

Remember all of my garlic galore?

Well, I've just finished preserving it all for this fall and winter! I've now dried all of the bulbs out completely. Just recently I did some sorting into piles: gorgeous and intended for planting this fall, good for storage, and not so good for storage.

I set aside any that had cracks or openings in the bulbs. I have read that those ones may not store well, and should be used quicker or else preserved in a different manner. 

After searching the web quite a bit and talking to a friend, I came to the conclusion that the way I wanted to go about it was to peel my cloves, mince them in olive oil, and then freeze the garlic in usable portions. This method was recommended to me by a friend as something that she does herself whenever she has too much garlic that's going to go bad, and though it is a bit of work up front, it will make using my garden garlic throughout the year a snap.

Mincing-garlic-in-food-processor 

After peeling it, I put the cloves into my food processor with enough olive oil to make it run smoothly and mince them up well. It's not a puree, but a nice, fine mince that is quite smooth because of the added oil. The oil will help to preserve the texture and flavor, or so I've read.

Minced-garlic-on-tray 

Next I made little dollops onto a cookie sheet with parchment paper. I used a teaspoon to do it, and I figure that each dollop is about 2 cloves worth of minced garlic.

After I filled a couple of cookie sheets, I put them in the freezer so that they could freeze individually. Then I scraped them off of the parchment paper and put them all into a ziploc bag.

Voila! Instant minced garlic at my fingertips!

Dry-garlic-in-storage-box

Of course, I will still have the other half of my bulbs which I will be keeping in dry storage (which you can see above- just a bin with air holes, and layers of dried garlic in newspaper which will be kept in the garage) and I will use the dried bulbs whenever possible. But I love having this frozen garlic as a really convenient option, and also a way to make sure that none of my garlic will go bad before I get to use it!

Has anyone tried this or a similar method before? How do you preserve excess garlic?


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August 08, 2009

Interview with Nourishing Traditions Author Sally Fallon

Nourishing-open-book 

Image by Azure Standard

While checking on my Azure order the other day, I noticed a link up to a recent article of an interview between Susan Booth (of Azure Standard) and Sally Fallon Morell, the author of the book Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats and President of the Weston A. Price Foundation.

If you've never listened to or read anything by Sally before, it's worth reading this article just to get more of an overview of the Foundation and the type of whole foods, traditional diet that they promote (which is also the type of diet that I love to talk about and cook for my family).

Here is just a brief snippet from the article, but I would really recommending that you read the entire interview here:

Booth: You were saying that the best diet has a lot of fat and cholesterol in it because of these fat-soluble vitamins. And that kind of goes against the grain these days when there is so much heart disease, diabetes, and obesity… what you’re saying is exactly the opposite of what we’ve been hearing in the mainstream media.

Fallon: Right. All of these diseases have occurred as we’ve cut back on cholesterol, as we’ve cut back on saturated fats. So, they’re obviously not being caused by cholesterol and saturated fat. It just doesn’t make sense in any way, shape or form. And there’s a huge volume of literature that contradicts the theory that cholesterol and saturated fat cause heart disease. What the Lipid Hypothesis did was create a health crisis of enormous proportions because it has made people turn away from the very foods they need to be healthy.

Booth: So, do you think that if you take your cod liver oil, eat liver, and use butter and cream, it is possible then to get all of your nutrition from food and have it be complete? Or do you think supplementation is still necessary?

Fallon: I think it’s a goal to get all your nutrition from food, and of course, cod liver oil is a food. But, a lot of us have started off in not-ideal health. I personally need to take some natural vitamin C, especially during the allergy season. I’ve always had to. And that’s kind of where I ended up. I’m sure that if I had started out with a better diet, I wouldn’t need all that vitamin C. So, I take vitamin C, and I also take B12 just because there are a lot of symptoms of B12 deficiency in my family. So while the goal is to get your nutrition from foods, for a lot of people, some supplementation is necessary.

Booth: If there was something that you could tell Azure’s customers — the one thing you want them to take away from this article — what would you tell them?

Fallon: I would eat the way your ancestors ate and prepare the foods the way they prepared them. Now, by ancestors, I mean you have to go back to before they were industrialized. In America, that’s several generations.

Are you a fan of Nourishing Traditions and the Weston Price Foundation? Do you agree with their counter-cultural stance on animal foods, fats, cholesterol, traditional diets, etc. and eat that way yourself?


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August 07, 2009

Composting With Worms

Top-worm-compost-bin

As I've had a few extra days waiting for baby that I didn't anticipate having, I've been getting just a few last minute projects out of the way. One of them was to create a small worm composting box (also known as vermiculture or vermicomposting).

This is a great way to do composting on a small scale, in order to make good use of kitchen scraps (keeping them out of the trash!) and end up with excellent, nutrient-rich compost to add to any house plants or veggies that you've got growing. Because of it's small scale, absolutely anyone can do this, even those in a small apartment!

A friend had recently decided to get rid of her bin, and before she sold it she took out a good handful of worms and set them aside to give to me. I had been wanting to give this a try for quite some time, so I was really excited to take them home and get things set up.

So as not to reinvent the wheel, I am going to direct you to a set of posts that offer an excellent overview of worm composting, including photo tutorials for setting yours up and lots of other great information and tips. Rachel at Small Notebook has been doing it for over a year, and she has posted extensively on it. Thanks Rachel!

A Year of Composting

How to Make a Worm Compost Bin

The Apartment Compost Bin

Adding Worms

Maintaining the Compost Bin

The Compost Results

Sideways-worm-compost-bin 

Here's a bit of a side view so you can see how I've set mine up. A large cardboard egg flat on the bottom, lots of strips of newspaper, then a bunch of small veggie scraps (I cut up any large chunks, to make it easier for the worms to break down quickly), the worms, some more veggie scraps including dried and crushed egg shells, and then I added another thin layer of newspaper strips before putting the lid on and sticking it in the cupboard. The blue lid underneath is to catch anything that drips out, as it's important to keep the pile lightly moist (I just sprinkled mine with a small glass of water, and will check it once a week to make sure that it hasn't dried out).

Has anyone else tried worm composting? What do you think of it? Any tips or suggestions?


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August 05, 2009

Ebooks are 20% off!

Book-cover-for-sidebar I decided quite some time ago that whenever my FeedBurner showed that my number of subscribed readers had risen above 2000, that I would offer you all a sale on my ebook, as a thank you to my wonderful readers.

(If you're wondering where you can see this number, it's on my left sidebar, right below the green box about our new baby)

This morning, I saw that the number was at 2011! (Depending when you are looking, you will see different numbers. The feed numbers tend to fluctuate a lot over the course of the week, and even the day, but I promise it was really over 2000!).

What that means to you is that my ebook, Healthy Homemaking: One Step at a Time is 20% off for the next 2 days!

You can purchase it now for $6.95, instead of the regular price of $8.95!

(ok, so that's more like 23%, but who's counting?)

Thanks to all my faithful readers and subscribers who make writing this blog so enjoyable!


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No News

Nope, no baby yet. :)

Today is my due date. Most of your Baby Poll guesses have come and gone (as have my own guesses). Seems that this baby just wants to keep us all guessing! LOL!

I just don't have anything that I really felt like posting for this morning, but I knew that if I posted nothing, I would get a slew of emails and phone calls wondering if something had happened! To set your minds at ease, nothing is happening, but I simply needed a day off.

I promise, I will post as soon as I can when something happens! Until then, I'm going to take a day to finish up the last of some household projects, and if baby still isn't here, then the next day my MIL and I are going to take the kids out for a day of fun somewhere. I need all the distraction I can get!

I'll be back soon with a real post, I promise!


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August 04, 2009

Preserving Summer's Bounty: Drying and Grinding Herbs

As you may have noticed, I've begun a new series called Preserving Summer's Bounty, where I am creating photo tutorials of some of the different foods that I am preserving this summer, along with a variety of preserving methods. If you missed the first two, they are:

Beautiful Blueberries (freezing)

Blanching and Freezing Vegetables

Also related are my Bread and Butter and Dill pickle recipes, the two ways that I preserve all my cucumbers, as well as my previous tutorial on making pumpkin puree to freeze.

More posts in this series to come will likely include freezing garlic, canning tomatoes, canning fruits (like peaches or pears), canning blackberry jam, canning applesauce and making dried apples, dry storage for long-term veggies (squash, onions, garlic, etc.) and whatever else I find myself up to!

Dried-basil-going-into-coffee-grinder

Today, I just wanted to briefly show you what I do with my fresh herbs.

I should have taken a better photo of it, but you can still see some of my basil leaves sitting on my dehydrator tray behind the grinder. Immediately after I pick my herbs, I give them a good rinse (and a spin in the salad spinner, if they need it). I generally remove the stems and only put the leaves on the dehydrator trays. I dehydrate mine at around 95 F. You can do it a little higher than that, but a lower temperature helps to retain more of the oils in the herbs for better flavor.

For those who don't have a dehydrator, a tried and true method is to put the herbs into brown paper bags, and then seal and tie them upside down in a dark place with good air circulation. Once the herbs have fully dried (about 1-2 weeks), you can continue on grinding them as I do.

Grinding-basil-in-coffee-grinder

Once they're thoroughly dry, I pull out my trusty little coffee grinder (which has barely ever seen coffee, but sees a whole lot of herbs, nuts, seeds, etc.). I fill it up with dried leaves, and pulse it several times until I have a fine enough grind. I just continue doing little batches until it's done, and as I go along, I pour the ground herbs into either glass jars that I re-use, or sometimes little ziploc bags.

It's important to label them immediately, because although you might be able to tell what they are by the smell or sight, quite often ground green herbs look an awful lot like so many other types of ground green herbs!

I do this with pretty much any herbs I grow: basil, oregano, dill, mint, thyme, rosemary, parsley, etc. I can't really think of much that this wouldn't work with!

I store my dried herbs in my pantry, where it's dark, to help them retain their flavor longer. As my small glass jars on the counter are used up, I simply refill them from my pantry stash.

Though I haven't done so this year, one other method that I've used to preserve herbs was to take fresh oregano and basil leaves, and blend them up together. I froze this puree into ice cube trays, and then popped the herb cubes into a ziploc bag to keep in the freezer. This helped to retain a really nice flavor when I melted a cube into a spaghetti sauce or the like.

The wonderful thing about herbs is that anyone can grow them, no matter how small your home is or whether you have a yard or not! Growing your own fresh herbs makes such a difference in taste, whether you're using them fresh or dried.

Do you grow your own herbs? Which ones? What do you usually do with this excess herbs that you want to preserve?


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August 03, 2009

Grocery Budget Discussion: Expense or Investment?

Veggies-from-2-ee's

I ran across this last week at Beauty That Moves (hat tip to Small Notebook), which is part of an excellent discussion of the grocery costs for buying healthful, whole foods:

I wonder how much other families spend on groceries each week. Is that too bold of a thing to ask? I've been wanting to pose this question for several days now, yet admittedly, I don't really know why I need the information. But then I thought, maybe it's not just for me, maybe we all need the information - from one another. Maybe it would help us to feel a little less alone as we hand over however much it is to the cashier in our respective hometown markets each week. I was taught growing up that our grocery budget is the one area in  our household finances we have the most control over, and I do believe that still. But I also am still so amazed at how much so little costs each week, regardless of not buying packaged foods and doing all of our cooking from scratch.

I highly recommend that you read the rest of the post fully, as well as look through the lengthy comments below. The discussion is well worth it.

For those of us who are committed to purchasing nutritious and higher-quality foods, it can sometimes be daunting as we face the balance between a commitment to our health, and the financial constraints that most families find themselves in.

I love the question "expense or investment", because I think it's a very valid one that most homemakers have to continue to ask themselves as they make choices about what they will and will not purchase, and how many dollars they will spend. 

Personally, we've chosen to try to take as balanced of an approach as we can at this stage of life. We agreed early on that good food is an investment in our health, and that you either pay now (in higher food prices) or you pay later (in poor health, medical bills and reduced quality of life). However, we're still a young family, working to save money and spend what we have cautiously. We have a specific and not-so-roomy grocery budget, considering the quality and cost of the foods that we value buying. It's a very tough balancing act, month to month, and it only increases as our family grows.

For me, it's a worthwhile tension when I look at the bigger picture, but I definitely feel the stretch of it each and every month, and have had to make many sacrifices- a bit less meat, no convenience foods at all (even healthy ones), almost only homemade treats, raw milk that we ration out over the course of the week, few bought beverages (but lots of water!), everything from scratch...

How do you view your grocery budget? Is it an expense or investment? Do you relate to the grocery budgets and the concerns of the women who commented on the other post?


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August 01, 2009

Limeade Popsicles: Easy and Refreshing!

Kids-eating-limeade-popsicles

Who doesn't love limeade or lemonade in the middle of a hot, sunny day?

The other week, I picked up a bag of discounted limes from the produce market, and had sort of forgotten about them. In the midst of "one of those mornings", I decided that the kids and I just need to just stop doing our cleaning chores, have a little fun and enjoy hanging out together. I remembered the bag of limes sitting in my fridge drawer and was suddenly inspired to create a recipe for Limeade Popsicles, instead of our standard yogurt/fruit smoothie ones!

Blend up:
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/8 cup raw honey (or to taste, depending how sweet you like it)
Enough filtered water to make 1 quart or 1 litre

This would have made 2 or 3 trays of popsicles, but I only have 1 tray. So... we made a tray of popsicles and Mommy enjoyed iced limeade while she blogged! :) It you only have 1 tray like me, definitely cut these amounts in half or simply do as I did and drink the yummy excess.

Pour and pop the tray into the freezer. Wait impatiently for several hours. Dum, da, dum, dum...

(Or make a fun craft while you wait- we decided to make these cute and simple binoculars! The idea came from Camp WannaLaffaLotta at Life as Mom, which is a great source for fun things to do with your kids this summer!)

Enjoy! And drip sticky juice all over the patio (and kitchen floor) and do a whole lot of delightful slurping! :)

What types of popsicles do you enjoy making?


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July 31, 2009

How My Garden Grows: July

It's been awhile, so I thought it might be time for a quick photo garden tour! These pictures were actually taken a week ago, so just imagine everything a little bit bigger!

Cauli,-potatoes-and-tomatoes-late-july-garden

This patch is a mix of cauliflower to the far left, potatoes in the center and front, a bit of broccoli to the right, and a couple of tomatoes in pots on the end. The broccoli was great while it lasted, but we didn't get too much and it's finished now. The potatoes are finished flowering, and honestly, I'm not sure how much longer they need- it's my first year growing potatoes! These tomato plants are struggling behind my other 6, and I'm not quite sure why.

Purple-cauliflower-heads-late-july-garden 

This is some of the cauliflower up close. It's purple!!! It's an heirloom variety called Purple of Sicily. These heads are just coming up, but I've already picked 3 or 4 heads that were a nice size and have lots more coming. We found they tasted a bit like a cauliflower/broccoli cross, but definitely yummy!

Bean-teepee-late-july-garde

Here's a bean teepee I've got going. I started it a bit late, and it's only just starting to take off now. It's a mix of three different colors of heirloom string beans. I imagine it'll start to put out beans in a few more weeks.

Zucchinni-late-july-garden 

This is my lovely zucchini plant. I find that one plant is plenty for our little family, although this year I've been taking them off the moment they're large enough to eat! It's a Black Beauty and I grew it last year as well, and still love it. Behind it are some basil plants, as well as tall dill plants, and then a patch of newly planted carrot seeds where my peas used to be (I just pulled them last week- so sad!). Beyond that are some beets, and the turnip patch that I just finished pulling and preserving this week.

Cucumbers-late-july-garden 

Here are my 8 cucumber plants. 5 of them got off to a good start, and 3 didn't germinate well and needed to be re-planted so they're a little behind. I like to grow my cucumbers up wooden stakes to save space and keep them up off the ground. It works well for me! I've got quite a few little pickling cucumbers starting to grow (yay for pickles!), and just a couple of larger slicing ones growing as well. My lemon cucumber plants are the small ones, and I am a bit impatient for them to start flowering!

Carrots-and-onions-late-july-garden 

Pardon my shadow! The left is my carrot patch that I'm digging into several times a week, and the right is onions whose tops are just starting to fall over.

Pepper-and-watermelon-late-july-garden

This is further down in the carrot/onion row. This lower spot had spinach up until recently, and now I've got a little watermelon and pepper plant in there, but they're still quite small. Not sure if they'll make it this year or not as I got them in a bit late while I was waiting for space to open up. Just above them is a newly planted patch of spinach, where my lettuce used to reside. The lettuce started to bolt, so I replaced it with the spinach seeds. I don't like repeating a crop so close to where I just grew it, for the sake of depleting the nutrients in my soil, but I didn't have any other logical places available, so this is where it ended up.

Delicata-squash-and-pumpkin-late-july-garden 

As you can see, there are lots of new things just starting out in my garden, despite the fact that it's late July! As soon as I get my spring crops out, I like to get new things going while I enjoy my summer crops. I am all about succession planting! These little seedlings are both Delicata Squash, and there's a little mound to the right where I just planted pumpkin seeds. It's a bit late, but I had the space and the seeds, and it's a hot summer, so I'm going to give it a shot and see if I can't get some pumpkins going still! (And a week after this picture was taken, all of the squash plants have really started to grow well, including the new pumpkin seeds, so they're much bigger than what you see.)

Corn,-tomatoes,-potatoes-late-july-garden

My last row. You can't see the kale still growing valiantly down at the end. There's a small corn patch in the middle, with a bit of onions to their left. To the right of the corn are 4 tomato plants that are doing really nicely. And in the shade on the right is my overgrown garbage can, full of potatoes! I've also just put in a new patch of lettuce to replace the one I just took out. It's right in front of the tomatoes, and I'm hoping the tomatoes will offer the lettuce just enough shade to let them grow nicely even in the heat. The patch in front of the corn is waiting for some peas to be replanted, but it's just too hot for peas right now, so I'm going to wait a few more weeks.

So that's what I've got growing right now. How about you? How are your gardens doing?


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July 29, 2009

Waste Not, Want Not

I felt a little foolish saying yes, but as far as I could figure, I had paid good money for it and I wasn't going to turn down anything that could possibly be nourishing food for my family!

The "it" that I'm referring to is all the miscellaneous bones and fat that was left over after the meat was all packaged up (this isn't including the two packages of nice, normal shaped soup bones I received). When I was on the phone with the meat shop, discussing how I wanted my meat cut and packaged, they asked me whether I wanted certain parts of the cow, such as soup bones, and this was the one question I didn't quite know how to answer.

I decided to say yes, thinking that if I was really at a loss for what to do with it, I could always get rid of it, but it was at least worth a shot. This very large bag of bits and pieces has been sitting in my deep freeze now for over 2 months, and in my nesting frenzy (and realizing that I desperately needed the space it was taking up for all the berries that are now in season), I decided to buck up and figure out what to do with it all!

Boiling-bones-and-fat-from-cow

I confess that as I removed the large bag from my freezer and set it on my counter to scrutinize, I was tempted just for a moment to chuck it all out and pretend that I had never taken it from the butcher's. I was out of my comfort zone, already had enough things to do that week, and wasn't sure I really wanted to deal with this bag of random bits and pieces. Nonetheless, I moved forward and I'm glad I did.

The best thing I could figure was to let it defrost enough to separate the pieces, and then split it up into my three largest soup pots. I honestly wasn't even sure what the pieces would be like once thawed, but fortunately I was able to make them fit between the three pots. It turned out that a lot of the pieces were bone with a lot of fat on them, and some of the pieces almost seemed to be straight fat, and others looked a lot like soup bones.

I proceeded as I usually do when making bone broth, letting them sit in cold water with apple cider vinegar for an hour to draw out the gelatin in the bones, and then simmering them for about 12-24 hours, with remnants of celery, onions, garlic and carrots, as well as some seasonings and salt.

In the end, it made an enormous amount of broth!

Taking-fat-off-top-of-broth 

This is a very, very large stock pot, and it is absolutely full of beef bone broth (there was also another large bowl full of broth besides this)! I think I put 14 1 litre canning jars/yogurt containers full of broth in my freezer and a couple of smaller containers, not to mention a couple of ice cube trays that I filled with broth as well (and popped the frozen cubes into a ziploc bag for when I just need a little broth)!

You can also see in this picture that there is a lot of fat that has risen and congealed while the broth cooled in the fridge overnight. This I have separated, and am planning to take the plunge and try my hand at rendering lard (Edit: Which I now realize is called tallow because mine is beef. :) The process is very similar to rendering lard, and as some have commented that mine is already rendered, now that I re-read some stuff, including having found this tutorial, I think that mine is basically done and I could use it as is). It looks easy enough, and I can't bear the thought of wasting anything that could be used, so I'll let you know how it goes!

Honestly, I felt like I was Ma Ingalls or perhaps a grandmother in the Depression Era as I did all of this. It's certainly not the norm for most housewives, and yet I was so glad that I had done it. Every bit of food that we receive is provision from God's hand, and I want to cultivate an attitude and work ethic that demonstrates my gratefulness for what He has given us, and a willingness to use it all to the best of my ability as I serve my family.

It was a valuable lesson for me in not wasting anything that God provides for us. I'm so thankful now that I took the time to deal with it, and will be happy to use all that beautiful broth, not to mention the tallow I'm about to make, knowing that it is good, wholesome food for my family.

I'm joining in the Pennywise Platter Thursday carnival over at The Nourishing Gourmet, an excellent place to find more ways to frugally dish up nutritious foods!

How do you feel about finding ways to creatively use absolutely everything that you have available to you? Do you ever find it a challenge to take the time and effort to jump over the hurdle of not wanting to be bothered by a difficult, time-consuming or unknown task?


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Just for fun...

Spice-rack

Nesting much?

I did this last week (completely emptying, washing, re-filling and neatly labeling all of my spices and herbs), along with a whole slew of other cleaning and organizing tasks. It may be a bit over the top, but it does make me smile to see how pretty it looks.

I need some more distraction, though! It is swelteringly hot here (we're in the midst of an unusually hot heatwave this week), and even though I would normally not mind waiting out my due date or even beyond, I am just so ready for this baby to come so that I can cool off just a little! I'm officially due in about a week, so in reality I don't have that long to go, but the days are dragging by right now.

So just for fun, can I get you ladies to entertain me a little?

I'd love to hear the wacky things you've done while nesting, crazy techniques you've tried to induce labor, or simply funny stories about labor and birth!

Ready, set, make me laugh!


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