Don’t Organize. Minimalize.

 

 

 

Right now, I know you’re being inundated via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Amazon, Ebay and a hundred other entities with ideas and products for getting organized after the holidays.

Friends, I’m not going to be that voice.

I’m going to be the voice of reality and sanity and tell you that organizing doesn’t work.  If organizing worked, we’d all be organized, having all made the very same resolution back in 2013 to “get organized” and as a result, Hoarders wouldn’t exist as a reality TV program.

With few exceptions, organization isn’t the problem.  The problem is we have too much stuff.

One of the reasons our grandmothers always had neat and tidy homes, were always ready to receive visitors, and were rarely up to their eyeballs in debt:  they owned less stuff.  In my mind, I can walk through my great grandmother’s 4 room house on Rt 5 in Ashland, Kentucky and tell you where each of her things were located…because there were so few things.  Dusting wasn’t an issue.  Maintenance wasn’t an issue.  Clutter wasn’t an issue.  Compare and contrast that to today where we make more money, have more stuff, are far less content and far more overwhelmed than even a generation ago.  Crazy, isn’t it?

Last spring, I became tired of the stuff and began moving hard and fast toward minimalism.  The difference was immediate and amazing.  We had free time because there was less to do.  Personally, I was far less anxious, perhaps because my eyes had places to rest. Cleaning was far simpler.  And here’s the thing I didn’t expect: it greatly impacted our finances.  We tended to think twice about a purchase because we didn’t want to clutter up the house with something we’d turn around and throw away.  We still have a long way to go; books, clothing and sentimental items seem to be our collective nemeses here, but I’m finding we’re far more content to live with far less and it makes me quite anxious to live with far less still.

Let me dispel a few myths for you.

Minimalism is NOT:

  • Punishment.  There’s nothing punitive in getting rid of stuff we don’t need.
  • Misery.  There’s also nothing disheartening about it though admittedly, you may have to face up to a few emotions that perhaps you hadn’t dealt with.
  • Stark.  There is nothing barren, dreary, desolate or cheerless about getting rid of junk cluttering up your living space. It showcases the things you love!
  • Boring.  Minimalism doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy life.  It means you won’t have clutter preventing you from enjoying life.

Here’s the funny thing:  once you begin to declutter your living space, the desire to minimalize will begin to extend to other areas of your life.  Your job.  Your relationships.  Your goals.  Your media life. I love this quote from Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life

Minimalism is the thing that gets us past the things so we can make room for life’s most important things–which actually aren’t things at all.

Doesn’t that just sum up what most of us really want out of life?  That’s why our grandparents were so content with so little.  And perhaps that’s why we are so stressed out with so much.

Baby Steps Toward Minimalism

Minimalism isn’t an all or nothing prospect.  It also doesn’t happen overnight.  It took us a lifetime to accumulate the clutter and develop the bad habits; it’s going to take a while to undo them, but here are a few steps to get you on the way.

  1. Remove duplicates.  You don’t need 15 winter hats or  4 “I Love Vegas” mugs.  If you have multiples, purge 1 (or 12).  Sell it, donate it, junk it, whatever.
  2. Throw away broken items.  That sounds like a gimme, but I’ll totally confess to hanging onto things I intended to mend and it just never happens.  Probably WON’T happen.  Junk it.
  3. Break it down into bite-size jobs.  Don’t tackle the entire office in one afternoon.  How about just the books?  Or just one cabinet?  Accomplish that single task, pat yourself on the back for a job well done and move on.
  4. If you’re like me and you like seeing a completed checklist on paper, go to Pinterest for a printable declutter checklist.  There are zone-based, monthly-based, number-based…I’m sure you’ll find a checklist that will help keep you motivated.
  5. Find a collector/dealer/website that will be glad to take your things.  I had a cedar chest full of mid-century items from my grandmother’s first husband who was killed in Korea.  His burial flag, for instance. I was thrilled beyond words to find a military museum who wanted to display it in their Korean War memorial.  The cedar chest was emptied and a 19 yo soldier was remembered again. Win.
  6. Don’t get hung up on perceived value.  The fact you paid $179 for an item back in 1967 means nothing in this economy and culture.  If it doesn’t bring you joy, be rid of it, regardless of how much you paid for it.

I hope those baby steps will get your started in the right direction, if you’re resolved to never organize again!  My simple decluttering goal for 2018 is to get rid of 2018 items; just 5 things a day.  Do you have goal?

The Forgotten Practice of Self-Care

 

Good Monday morning, friends!  I hope you had an amazing weekend and you’re primed and ready for the new week!  I’ve got to confess that this girl is feeling a little bit stressed.  Between the extra hours at work, the impending holiday and family commitments, I’m noticing a difference in my person.  My sleep is off, my diet is off, my mood is way off, much to the dismay of the people who have to live with me!  Whenever I neglect myself, my mind, body and emotions suffer, so with that in mind, I thought we would talk about old-fashioned self-care.

No one has to tell you that modern life is stressful, but I think we as a culture take a demented pride in abusing ourselves.  We pride ourselves in the number of hours we put in at the office, how little sleep we get, how many meals we eat on the go, how much coffee we drink to make up for lack of sleep, how much wine we drink to try to relax in order to sleep.  The lack of rest and proper nutrition weakens our immune systems so when we get sick, we get sick, but like the troopers we are, we push through the illness, further taxing our immune systems.  We’ve created these dreadful cycles of exhaustion, illness, stress and anxiety…because we consider it weakness or foolishness to care for ourselves.  So we push harder.

It’s crazy!

Let me tell you, friends, you’re worth taking care of.  I hate sounding like a L’Oreal commercial, but you are worth it.  My Faith tells me that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, a creation so amazing that the Creator Himself declared us very good, better than all other creation and loved with an everlasting love.  If only we saw that worth in ourselves and took care of ourselves as we should!  As we’re in the midst of what may be our most stressful season of the year, how about we discover some simple ways to care for our minds, bodies and emotions?

Our grannies were experts at self-care though they wouldn’t have labeled it as such.  They just knew what their minds and bodies needed to function at their best and that’s a lost practice in our culture.   We relegate it to old wives tales and lore instead of researching the wisdom behind it.

As it’s a broad, broad topic, let’s find easy ideas for self care during the dark winter months.

Drink warm drinks– There’s a reason our mamas and grannies gave us warm milk on restless nights—-it’s a sure-fire cure for most of what ails us!  With winter upon us, I make sure my kids have a hot cup of  something each morning and night.  Tea, cider, cocoa, broth, soup, something.  Not only is it comforting to our spirits, it warms our bodies and keeps us warm for hours.  It’s no different than warming a Thermos or tea pot before we add hot drinks.  Warm the inside and everything will feel warmer!  Hot fluids also hydrate quickly, create inhospitable conditions for viruses and soothe irritated throats and noses.

Dress warmly– I know this sounds like a gimme, but people don’t dress appropriately in cold weather.  We’re more concerned about being fashionable than toasty!  But here’s what I’ve noticed: even though I’m healthy overall, when I get cold, I ache.  My bones and muscles just ache!  Anxiety is exacerbated.  Productivity goes downhill.  Mood worsens.  Typically, my diet suffers because I turn to junk food for quick heat and energy.  There’s nothing we can do about the weather, but we can bundle up in natural fibers, dress in multiple layers, wear fluffy socks, slippers, robes, woolen coats and whatever it takes to stay cozy.  Dont laugh, but in the dead of winter, its not unusual to find me in 4-5 layers of clothing.  Camisole + tee + long sleeved shirt + sweater + Sherpa vest.  And you can expect to see me in Uggs til the spring thaw.  Do what you have to do to stay snuggly, my friends, and save the fashion statements for summertime.

Eat hearty meals– Now hear me, I’m not telling you to gorge yourself on indulgent holiday foods, but winter calls for heavier meals, whatever that looks like in your house.  In winter, we need the extra (beneficial) fats and perhaps a few extra carbs to keep our bodies warm so keep that soup pot full of hot brothy soups, make a big batch of stew or a big cheesy casserole for dinner  (and leftovers for lunches).  For breakfast, a pot of cheesy grits or oatmeal topped with dried fruit will warm your innards and satisfy you much longer than a cold bowl of cereal.

Sleep– Allow yourself as much sleep as you need.  If that means an afternoon nap or turning in at 8:30, do it!  Turn your bedroom into a sanctuary and treat winter as a season of rest and recuperation.   Nest with soft cotton sheets, a thick downy comforter, a handmade quilt, a heated mattress pad….whatever it takes to make it a place of comfort.   Now one caveat: be mindful that the need for extra sleep can be a symptom of SAD, thyroid disfunction and a myriad of other disorders.  If the need for sleep becomes excessive and you never feel quite rested, regardless of the amount of sleep you receive,  it’s time to talk to your PCP.

Take care of your skin– Winter in extreme northern and extreme southern climates tends to wreak havoc on our skin, so treat your skin with care!  Warm baths and showers followed by carrier oils or body butters are the way to go to prevent dry skin, chaffing, chapping and itchiness.  This skin has to last a lifetime,  so don’t be embarrassed to baby it!  During periods of outdoor activity, be sure to protect the delicate skin on your face and hands from windburn with a heavy balm or butter.

Be still– Apart from sleeping, there’s no shame in using this season to just be still.  To take a rest from the busy-ness of spring, summer and fall to simply be.  To read, daydream, write letters, watch movies, crochet a hat, snuggle with your spouse under a fluffy blanket or spend an afternoon drawing with your child in front of the fireplace. Plan a time each day to just be still.

Get outside – Admittedly, outdoor activities are not my favorite in the wintertime,  but I do make an effort to go outside with my children to play in the snow when it’s not crazy-cold.  We fill the bird feeders, walk behind the barn to see if the pond is frozen, move firewood or look for signs of deer in the trees around the milkhouse.  On particularly warm days, we may take a walk down the road.  Believe me when I say there’s nothing like a warm fireplace and steaming mug of cocoa after a busy day outdoors.

As I said, these are just a few suggestions as this topic is a mile wide and twice as deep.  Self-care is going to look different for everyone depending on climate and season of life, but we’re all worth the time and efforts to take care of ourselves!  These are a few of my favorites; what are your favorite self-care tips?

Hot Process Soap Making Part 1

 

 

I’ve been making soap for about 6 years and I still find the process absolutely fascinating.  I can’t explain all the science behind it, but it’s just amazing that water, having dripped through wood ash, becomes so volatile that when combined with oil it becomes a completely different product.  Is that amazing to you too?

Hot process soap making is a simple, but exact, science.  While there is room for creativity here and there, it IS a chemical reaction we’re creating and the percentages of lye, water and oils necessary to make that happen are EXACT.  To have a successful experience every time, you have to create those same exacting conditions every time or you’ll find soap making to be a frustrating, expensive waste of money and time.   Now there are 2 methods for soap-making; cold process and hot process, and they’re nearly identical except for the manner in which the soap is “cured” to neutralize the lye.  I’m going to show you the hot process as it’s much quicker and will be ready in time for gift giving if you choose to do so.  I’m also going to break this post into 2-3 parts so you can absorb the information without feeling overwhelmed and giving up.

There are essentially 4 steps to soapmaking.

  1. Carefully mixing distilled water and lye, in which the chemical reaction results in a steaming hot solution, and then allowing the solution to cool to 100 degrees F.
  2. Heating/melting of a combination of oils and solid fats, typically grapeseed, olive, almond and coconut oils.
  3. Combining the lye solution and warm oils and mixing to the point of ‘trace’, where the solution becomes pudding-like and thick enough that strings of soap form on top of the solution.
  4. Curing, either by heating the soapy mixture (hot process) or allowing the mixture to sit in a warm spot for 6 weeks for the lye to neutralize (cold process).

No matter how elaborate the recipe may seem, soap making always comes down to those 4 steps.  Always.  So if you’re anxious to try your hand at making soap, kinda wrap your mind around that.  Set the rest of the information aside and familiarize yourself with those 4 steps.

Okay, now there is some equipment that you’ll need that has to be set aside exclusively for soap making.  You absolutely do not want to serve popcorn in your big soap making bowl or use the same utensils for cooking.  Hit up the dollar store, my friends.  You can find most of what you need there for a few bucks.

Necessary equipment for soap making:

  • An assortment of plastic bowls for measuring ingredients.
  • Plastic spoons and spatulas for mixing.
  • An immersion blender, optional, but SOOOOOO highly recommended!  Trust me on this one.
  • A scale that can be zeroed for weighing oils, lye and water.  The vast majority of recipes are based on weight, not volume, so a scale is an absolute necessity.
  • A candy-making thermometer.
  • Non-reactive molds.  These can be anything from a shoe box lined with parchment paper to silicone bread pans.  Personally, I like the silicone molds and pans.  They’re easy to clean and easier to remove the soap from than other molds.
  • Old towels.  Everyone should have these laying around!
  • Safety gear.  Dishwashing gloves, safety goggles, a face mask and an apron/smock.
  • Something to dry the soap on/in.  A plastic storage container lined with plastic canvas works great.
  • A plastic tablecloth.  You’ll want something to cover your workspace, preferably waterproof.
  • A gallon of white vinegar.  In an accident, vinegar will neutralize the lye immediately preventing burns.
  • An old crockpot.  For hot-process soap, you need something to heat the soap for 1 hour.  This speeds up the saponification process (conversion of oil+lye into soap).  You won’t want to use it for cooking afterwards, so check into a thrift shop for an inexpensive model that you’ll use solely for soap-making.

I know that looks like a lot of stuff but much of it is laying around your kitchen right now and it can be used indefinitely.  And as I stated, much of it can be found in bargain bins, so the initial investment should be fairly minimal!

Here’s how you do it!!

Gear up.  You’re going to feel a little silly walking around your house in a haz-mat suit, but it’s totally necessary to cover your face and exposed skin.  Lye can cause burns very easily and it stinks when combined with water, so the full suit is a must!

Step 1. Preparing the oils.

With very few exceptions, the recipe you choose will include a combination of solid and liquid oils.  Typical solids are lard, coconut oil, cocoa butter and even vegetable shortening.  Typical liquid oils include anything from olive oil, grapeseed oil, almond oil, avocado oil to plain old run-of-the-mill vegetable oil.  Don’t go renegade here!!  Be sure you choose the exact oils your recipe calls for, as the lye requirement to convert oils to soap vary.  Most recipes will give you an option of oils to choose from that fit within that required range.  Stick with those so you don’t end up with a soap-making fail!!   Using your zeroed scale, carefully weigh the precise amount of solid and liquid oils and put them in your crockpot on low heat to melt the solids and heat the liquid.  (Be sure to scrape every last bit of weighed fat out of your bowls…precise measurements, my friends!)

Step 2. Preparing your lye mixture.

After the solid oil has begun to melt, zero your scale and using a small plastic container, weigh the prescribed amount of lye.  Set aside.  Again, using a plastic container, zero out the scale and carefully weigh the distilled* water.  Precise measurements are necessary, so pour slowly and watch the scale carefully.  Very, very carefully add the lye to the distilled water.  (Never add the water to the lye as the solution can splash and cause a bad burn.)  Within a second or two of adding the lye to the water, you’ll notice a chemical reaction with extremely hot, steaming water and a foul odor.  That’s totally normal.   Immediately begin stirring the lye-water mixture with a plastic spoon until you no longer see lye crystals in the water.  That shouldn’t take terribly long, a minute or less.  Now you need only to set the solution aside and allow it to cool to 100 degrees.  Personally, I do this step outdoors so my house don’t stink, but no matter where you do it, place the cooling solution in a spot where children and animals can’t access it.  This is serious, y’all.

*Distilled water is a necessity as tap water frequently contains heavy metals, minerals and chlorine which can effect the chemical reaction and result in a “meh” colored, odiferous soap.  You should be able to buy a gallon of distilled water for under a dollar.

 

——————————————————   ~+~  ——————————————————–

Okay friends, I’m going to stop here for today.  To this point, we’ve collected the necessary equipment and created the 2 solutions that we’re going to mix together to create lye soap.  The hard part is finished, if you want to call that the hard part!   Reread the information carefully and please feel free to ask me any questions you may have thus far.  In Hot Process Soap Making Part 2, we’ll combine the mixtures, add some pretty additives, finish the soap hot process-style and mold.  So far, so good, my sweet friends!  Til next time!

 

Shared on the Simple Life Mom Homestead Blog Hop

 

 

 

Homemade Skincare

The last few years, I’ve been experimenting with homemade skincare and have experienced great success with it.  After my children were born and my thyroid went south, my skin was a wreck!  Dry, dry, I mean uber-dry, sensitive, prone to chaffing, this girl was a hot mess!   So I stopped with all the commercial products and began using what I could find in the kitchen.  Coconut oil, olive oil, oatmeal, honey, natural abrasives and my skin has greatly improved.  Here’s the thing:  our grannies had beautiful skin long before the advent of Pond’s cold cream, commercial astringents, under-eye serums and retinol lotions.  And they had beautiful skin without worrying about the parabens, petroleum by-products and endocrine disrupters that OUR beauty products are laden with.  What if we try something new and do it the old way?  Here are a few quick and easy beauty products that you can make with simple kitchen products.  Added to a pretty jar, they also make beautiful gifts that no women is going to refuse!

Whipped Body Butter– This is so crazy easy I’m almost embarrassed to share it with you!  You need 2 ingredients for this body butter:  coconut oil and essential oils, which are optional.  Add approximately 1 cup of solid coconut oil to your mixer and whip til the coconut oil is light and fluffy, almost like whipped cream.  Add a few drops of your favorite oil:  cinnamon for “warming”, peppermint for “cooling”, lavender for “relaxing” or whatever fragrance you happen to enjoy.  Mix well then scoop gently into a covered container.  To moisturize, just allow a few dabs to soften on your fingertips then massage into your skin.

Invigorating Peppermint Sugar Scrub- This is so, so good for dry wintertime skin and it smells like Christmas, which is a total bonus!  For this simple scrub, combine 1/2 c oil (olive, coconut or sweet almond) in a mixer with 2 cups of granulated sugar and several drops of peppermint essential oil.  Mix til thoroughly combined then pour into a cute covered container.  To use, simply massage into your skin while in a warm shower using your fingertips or a cloth, then rinse well with warm water and pat dry.

Soothing Oatmeal Facial Scrub- I love this for irritated, dry skin!  Combine 1/2 cup of finely ground oatmeal, 1 cup of coconut oil, 2 T of olive oil, 1 T of honey and 1/2 cup of brown sugar.  When mixed, store in a covered container.  To use, apply a small amount to your damp skin and massage very gently.  Rinse well and blot dry.

Simple Homemade Astringent- No more of that odd-smelling stingy stuff!  This astringent is about as simple as it comes!  In a glass container, combine 1 cup of distilled water, 1/4 cup of organic apple cider vinegar and up to 10 drops of essential oil.  Lavender and lemon are nice, but tea tree oil would be great if you have troubled skin.  Shake well and store out of direct sunlight.  To use, simply dip a cotton ball and wipe your face.  Blot dry and moisturize.

Homemade Honey and Aloe Facial Cleanser-  This gentle cleanser is great for sensitive skin, especially during the harsh winter months and only requires 3 ingredients!  Combine 1/4 cup of raw honey, 1/4 cup of aloe vera gel and 1 T of olive or sweet almond oil and pour into a covered container such as a mason jar.   To use, simply massage into skin and rinse well.

As you can see, with the exception of perhaps the aloe vera gel, most of these ingredients can be found in your kitchen cupboards right now.  And as you know, they are naturally anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-acne, and some folks even say anti-aging.  I can’t speak to those things, but I can tell you my skin has never felt better.  No more tight, drawn skin, no more outbreaks and people swear I’m not in 40s, so I’ll take it!  LOL

Okay, as I stated in my Homemade Holidays post, presentation is everything!  If you’re going to give these items as gifts, make the packaging and presentation as beautiful as the product.  For the body butter and scrubs, I would use a basic 4 oz Mason Jar but for something as thin as the facial cleanser and astringent, a better option would probably be Pump Bottles. To finish the look of the bottle, turn to our good friend Pinterest for cute labels.   I love the old-fashioned looking apothecary labels but these Mason jars are adorable too!   You’ll want to be sure to include the product name,  ingredients and the date you made it, for safety’s sake.  Last, be sure to accessorize, my dears!  To your homemade goodies, add a hand-knit spa cloth, perhaps a pair of aloe-infused slippers or a seriously relaxing CD such as Marconi Union Weightless to complete the spa experience!

Care to share some of your favorite homemade skincare ideas?

*Posted to Homestead Blog Hop!

Homemade Holidays!

Okay friends, we’ve turned that corner and we’re officially in the holiday season now and I have to confess that as much as I love Thanksgiving and Christmas,  I get so dreadfully anxious over them.  Or at least I used to.  There’s so much pressure for everything to be “just so”….I blame the Hallmark Channel and Martha Stewart.   A few years ago, it occurred to me how silly it is to trade gift cards with people we don’t talk to or see.  How silly it is to stress over buying the “it” toy of the season that’s going to be set aside 3 days after Christmas and never picked up again.  And my personal non-favorite, running myself ragged trying to accommodate every extended family member in the tri-state area.  Silly.

Now listen to my heart, friends; I’m not against gift buying or decorating or baking or visiting if that brings you joy;  I love all those things!  I’m against the pointless consumerism, stress, debt, anxiety and waste that accompanies the holidays.  That’s not what Thanksgiving and Christmas were meant to be.  We’ve taken 2 beautiful holidays, meant to be times of praise, joy, thankfulness and celebration and turned them into burdens.  Isn’t that just like America?!  My sweet friends, how about we unburden ourselves this year?  Over the next few weeks, let’s deconstruct these frantic times we live in and re-learn to celebrate the holidays like our grandparents did.  Simply.  Thankfully.  Frugally.  How about we share some favorite recipes, homemade gift ideas, start creating realistic traditions and learn to reconnect with our people?

Sound like fun?

Let’s get started by talking about some thoughtful, homemade gifts that we can share with the adults on our lists.  Understand that I’m not under the delusion that our husbands would be thrilled over a pair of hand-knit socks…(Pa Ingalls would but my Mr Lynch, probably not, though he would rave over them for my feeling’s sake!)  But what if we use our talents as a means to stretch our gift budget?  Instead of grabbing a gift card or marked-down appliance or gadget for our parents, neighbors, friends and teachers, what if we made something meaningful?  Something that required our effort instead of our credit cards?  I’m going to throw out some suggestions, just little things I’ve given over the past few years that were well received.

 

  • Tea baskets.  All you need is a simple inexpensive basket, lined with a tea towel and tins of your favorite loose leaf teas.  Bonus:  make your own blends with herbs from the grocery or your own garden.
  • Breakfast Baskets.  Again, a simple, inexpensive basket, lined with a tea towel and filled with goodies for a traditional breakfast.  Tea or quality coffee, a homemade muffin or pancake mix in a Mason jar, an assortment of homemade jams, jellies or butters and a bottle of local maple syrup or honey.
  • Felted Wool items.  Years ago, I made a pair of felted wool mittens and a beanie for a niece and she wore them for years.  Decorated with buttons, bells and ribbons, they can be made into really stylish accessories.
  • Family History book.  Some 10 years ago, I put together a book with family photos, documents, birth certificates and stories for my in-laws and they loved it.  The grandchildren also loved seeing pictures of their grandparents as children.  When the grandparents passed, it quickly became a family heirloom.
  • Cook’s Basket For the person who enjoys time in the kitchen, put together a basket of homegrown herbs, handmade extracts and perhaps copies of treasured recipes.  Salt-preserved herbs and baking extracts are incredibly easy and inexpensive and you are only limited by your imagination!
  • Spa Baskets In years past, I’ve given spa baskets to teachers and bus drivers at my children’s school.  I used cute Wooden Berry Baskets filled with raffia and added a homemade soap, homegrown luffa sponge and a hand knit spa cloth.  Now I’ll be sure to include a lotion bar too!
  • Sweets sampler.  These are always well-loved, especially when they’re stuffed with samples of baklava, potato candy, peanut butter fudge and Guinness Stout cake.
  • Cheese Plates.  On a cute, reusable Cheese Board, I packed summer sausage, homemade pickles, homegrown pickled peppers,  quality hard cheese and homemade candy.  This was my father-in-law’s favorite gift each year, hands down!
  • Flavored Vinegars and Homemade Hot Sauces.  Before I learned to make my own vinegar, I learned to flavor store-bought with the simplest of ingredients such as herbs and berries.  And if you’re looking for something unique for a foodie friend, I’ll be sharing my Carolina-style bbq sauce next week!

When giving a homemade gift, pay extra attention to presentation; that seems to make all the difference, in my humble opinion.  Invest in quality, reusable bins, baskets or containers instead of buying gift boxes that will be thrown away.   And take the time to dress up your package.  Recycle brown paper bags or Sunday comics as wrapping and tie them up with simple cotton string.  These are a few of my favorite things…..

But seriously, look to your talents and your resources to both bless people and stretch your budget.  The object isn’t to spend the most or buy the biggest or impress but to bless others by using the gifts we’ve been gifted with.  I can honestly say I’d rather receive a homemade-ugly gift that someone put their heart into than an As Seen On TV gizmo that will be donated to the Goodwill in January.   Are you willing to say the same?

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be posting numerous homemade-simple DIYs that you can give for gifts.  I’ll be posting recipes for homemade spa products, my favorite Carolina-style bbq sauce, hot-process lye soap, flavored sugar, a few very simple canning recipes, an old family-recipe toffee, and anything else I can dream up.  My goal is to present you with an idea for everyone on your list…don’t know if that will happen, but we’ll give it a try!  Til next time!

 

Posted to Homestead Blog Hop!

Homemade Scents DIY

 

I found these recipes circulating on the internet and just had to share them with you!  Now that cooler temperatures are upon us and we’re firing up the woodstoves, a steamer pot full of rich, natural potpourri is a wonderful treat for the senses.  Scent is such a powerful connector, linking us to people, places and events and is a simple way to create a warm, inviting atmosphere in your home.  Now, if you don’t heat with wood, don’t fret!  You can always use a kettle on low heat on the back of the stove or an Aromatherapy Electric Simmering Pot.   I love these electric simmer pots because you can move them around from room to room without worrying about children and pets around an open flame—or forgetting that you had potpourri on the stove until it cooked dry, ignited and stunk for days.  Ahem.

What I really like about these recipes, aside from the fact they’re not putting toxic chemicals into the air in our home, is that you can make many of these out of kitchen scraps like citrus peel, frost-bitten herbs or fruits that have begun to go south.  AND if you’re really clever, which I know you are, you can make these shelf stable and use them as handmade gifts.  Simply dehydrate the apple and citrus slices, cranberries and herbs, toss them in a bag with the remainder of the ingredients and sprinkle with any extracts, spices or essential oils.  Seal them tightly in a pretty bag and give them as a gift with an electric simmering crock.  Can you think of a nicer gift for a teacher, bus driver, mail deliverer or secretary?

Here are some simple, non-toxic, handmade scented recipes for you!

CINNAMON APPLE:  1 sliced apple +  1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon + 1 tsp. maple or vanilla extract + 2 cups of water

MINTY CITRUS PINE:   1 sliced lime + 1 tsp. vanilla + 1 small branch of fresh pine needles + 1/4 cup fresh mint + 2 cinnamon sticks + 2 cups of water

WINTER CITRUS   2 sprigs rosemary + 1/2 of sliced lemon +  1/2 sliced grapefruit + 1 tsp. vanilla  + 2 cinnamon sticks + 2 cups of water

CRAN-ORANGE   1/2 cup fresh cranberries + 1 sliced orange + 1 tsp. whole cloves  +  2 cinnamon sticks + 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg + 2 cups of water

MULLED ROSEMARY  3-5 cinnamon sticks + 1 sliced orange + 1-2 sprigs of rosemary +  1 cup fresh cranberries + 1 tbsp. cloves + 2 tbsp. nutmeg + 2 cups of water

SPICED VANILLA  4-6 cinnamon sticks +  1 tsp. vanilla extract +  rind of 1 orange + 2 tbsp. cloves + 3-5 bay leaves + 2 cups of water

But don’t stop with these recipes!  Create custom scents for your house using ingredients from your kitchen!  How about Viennese cinnamon using inexpensive coffee grounds, a few cinnamon sticks, and a dash of vanilla or maple extract to 2 cups of water?  Or chocolate mint using a few tablespoons of Dutch cocoa and a dash of peppermint extract?   Or candied citrus, with orange slices, vanilla extract and Dutch cocoa powder?  Personally, I love more savory combinations such as cranberry, rosemary and bay leaves.  But anything works so long as it’s pleasing to your senses!

So tell me, what are your tricks for making your home smell amazing during the long, closed-window seasons of fall and winter?

 

Posted to SimpleLifeMom Homestead Blog Hop

Felted Wool Dryer Ball DIY!

Okay, I’m going to say something that you may find sort of shocking.

Our grandmothers didn’t use fabric softener—–and we shouldn’t either.

While I love the results of fabric softener and fabric sheets—the beautiful scent, the static free clothing–I have to say that I worry from time to time about using them.  They smell wonderful and they do a fabulous job—BUT—I wonder if the cons outweigh the pros in this circumstance.   Softeners are expensive, they coat our dryer vents creating a potential for fire and they often contain potent chemicals like acetone (the active ingredient in nail polish remover).  Our children are wearing clothes that are potentially laced with paint thinner…that’s crazy!  But thankfully, there are other options.  Vinegar added to the rinse helps reduce odors and stiffness in the fabric, and homemade wool dryer balls will absolutely help eliminate static in the drying cycle!

Benefits of Wool Dryer Balls

Why should you make and use dryer balls instead of fabric softener??

  1. They save time.  The wool balls bouncing around in the dryer help to keep clothes separated and shorten the drying time.
  2. They save money.  Dryer balls can be used hundreds of times before they’ll need replaced.  Isn’t that better than running out to buy softener every week or two?
  3. They soften naturally.  Dryer balls rub against the fiber of the wet clothes softening the clothes naturally.
  4. Don’t affect absorbency.  Dryer balls soften without affecting the absorbency of of towels and lofty fabrics.
  5. Don’t affect air circulation.  The same waxes and chemicals that reduce absorbency in your towels also hinder air circulating through the fabric, which can mean you sweat more!

Here’s what you need to make your own!

To make homemade dryer balls you only need 2-3 items:  an old knee high or panty hose, wool and essential oils (optional).  For the wool, you need 100% all natural wool; no synthetic blends, thanks!  You can use 2-3 skeins of wool yarn such as Lion Brand Yarn 620-152 Wool-Ease Yarn or you can upcycle an old wool sweater by cutting it into strips of “yarn”.  Either way works and either will yield 5-10 dryer balls.

Here’s how you do it!

If you’re recycling an old sweater, cut off the arms and using sharp scissors, cut a 1/2 inch strip of “yarn”, beginning at the cuff and spiraling around all the way to the top.  Do the same thing with the body of the sweater til you have a lovely pile of wool yarn.
Using either your yarn or your upcycled sweater strips, you need to begin rolling the fiber into a ball.  Start by winding it around 2 fingers 10-15 times til you have the beginning of a ball.  Remove the fibers from your finger then begin alternately winding the yarn in opposite directions until that lumpy egg-looking wad of yarn begins to resemble a ball.  Keep winding until you have a ball about the size of a baseball.

Now using a crochet hook, paint can tool or any other item with a hook, pull the end of the string under several layers of yarn.  Pull up and repeat several times to “lock” the yarn into place.

Tuck the ball into the toe of your hose and tie a tight knot.  Repeat for the length of the hose.  Now throw the ball of yarn into the washer and dryer on hot settings with a load of laundry.

Do this several times and you’ll end up with a dense, felted wool ball.  If you’d like to scent the wool balls, simply drop a few drops of your favorite essential oils and replenish as needed.

To use!

Simply toss them in your dryer with wet clothes and dry as usual.  6-8 wool balls seem to be the optimal number, but experiment and see what results in the shortest drying time and least amount of static.  You may need more or you may need less, so experiment and see what works for you.

Now isn’t that just the easiest DIY project ever?  Not only does it remove potentially hazardous chemicals from our home, it also shortens drying time which saves us money.  Nothing wrong with that!  I hope you give felted wool dryer balls and try and let me know what you think about this time, money and chemical saving project!  Til next time!

 

Posted to the Simple Life Mom Homestead Blog Hop!

The Book Post!

Admittedly, I’m a total nerd.  I love books and as the weather begins to turn, I would rather spend an evening curled up in a recliner with a book than going out.  I enjoy a large collection of pre-WWII cookbooks, receipt and home ec books that I read frequently because there’s so much you can learn about our changing culture by reading old books!  That’s also how I began learning many of the heirloom skills that I practice; skills such as cooking from scratch, building a pantry, homemade remedies and cleaners, sewing and fiber arts.  I dont mind downloaded books or youtube videos, but I learn much more efficiently from actual books!

Anyway, wintertime is the perfect time to begin researching projects and skills for the next season and I’d like to share some of my very favorite books; books that I’ve found invaluable in the amount of practical information that you can glean from them!

Topping my list of books every wannabe homesteader, DIYer and home cook should own:

 

Blue Book Guide to Preserving (by Jarden Home Brands)– Simply put, this book has no competition.  There are a LOT of great canning books out there, but the Ball Blue Book is the grandmother of them all.  It covers the basics to home canning in great detail, with full-color pictures, step-by-step instructions and fully-tested recipes.  If you’re even considering learning home food preservation, this should be the very first book you buy.

Jam On: The Craft of Canning Fruit – Jam On by Laena McCarthy picks up where the Ball Blue Book left off with exciting recipes for  jams and jellies, chutneys, fruit pickles, shrubs, butters, syrups, simple cheeses and ideas for serving the finished products.  Again, the book features beautiful full-color pictures with step-by-step directions.  This is the book I go to when I want to do small-batch, off-season canning for gifts.

 

Canning for a New Generation: Bold, Fresh Flavors for the Modern Pantry – This is NOT your granny’s canning book!  Divided into chapters according to seasons, Liana Krissof takes plain simple recipes such as classic strawberry preserves and then kicks it up a notch with interesting flavor combinations like strawberry-lemon preserves and strawberry-lavender jam.  While there are few pictures included, it’s easy to read and full to the brim with interesting recipes.

Homemade: A Surprisingly Easy Guide to Making Hundreds of Everyday Products You Would Otherwise Buy – This is a funky little book that I picked up before my children were born and it has proven invaluable time and time again.  It has literally hundreds of knock-off recipes for everything from household cleaners and toiletries to baking mixes and dog treats.  Want to make homemade Ranch dressing?  Or your own cold cream, oatmeal bread, anti-anxiety tea, wallpaper stripper or furniture polish?  It’s all in there along with hundreds of other recipes.  It’s a great book to help you reduce the amount of toxic chemicals and processed, packaged food in your home.

 

The Beekeeper’s Bible: Bees, Honey, Recipes & Other Home Uses – I picked this book up when we were first entertaining the thought of keeping bees and it’s an interesting read.  It gives a history of beekeeping as we know it, an overview of what’s involved, what to expect and interesting historical and modern-day drawings and photos.  There’s also a ton of recipes for using honey and wax in the home.

 

Gene Logsdon’s Practical Skills: A Revival of Forgotten Crafts, Techniques, and Traditions – Anything by Gene Logsdon is worth reading, but Practical Skills covers everything from home maintenance to land management.  He’s my go-to guy for anything related to gardening, composting, animal husbandry, culinary arts and anything else related to home and farm.  He’s not a fancy writer…you won’t find elaborate sentence structure and elaborate vocabulary, but plain old wisdom in simple words.

The Sweet Magnolias Cookbook: More Than 100 Favorite Southern Recipes – This book makes me so happy.  It’s a taste of my childhood, full of the recipes my mom and mamaw made as I was growing up.  The food isn’t fancy necessarily, but rough, hearty, delicious:  Sunday ham with red-eye gravy, fresh apple cake, navy bean soup, cheddar corn muffins, fried catfish, corn chowder and a hundred other amazing recipes.  This is the book I go to when the pains of being away from the coast get to be too much!

 

Better Homes and Gardens: New Cook Book, 16th Edition – This is my everyday, go-to, used til the pages are sticking together- cookbook.  The standard for cookbooks for nearly 100 years, it covers everything from drinks and desserts to meats and vegetarian dishes.  Nothing gourmet here, just plain, basic, cooked from scratch meals that your whole family will love.  I’m still using the one my mamaw bought for me in 1994…it’s a real treasure to me for several reasons!

Basic Soap Making: All the Skills and Tools You Need to Get Started (How To Basics) – Basic Soap Making was the first book I purchased when I began dabbling in soap making.  She covers everything from start to finish, including the saponification process, making molds, adding natural colorants and essential oils, plus many recipes including goat milk soap.  The pictures are full color and the instructions are step-by-step.

Eat the Yolks – This book is a little different than the other books listed, but it was a game-changer for me so I feel compelled to include it.  Several years ago, just as I had turned 40, I felt bad.  Sluggish.  Overweight.  My thyroid had gone south.  My joints ached.  And then this book challenged me to re-think everything I knew about nutrition:  that red meat is bad, grains are good and whatever you do, DON’T eat the egg yolks!  I don’t follow a strict Paleo diet…I gotta have my cheese!…but the health results I’ve experienced speak for themselves.  40# lighter, cholesterol is down, thyroid is much happier, joints don’t crunch anymore!   If you order nothing else from this list, spend the $4 and read this book.  It’s a real lifesaver!

What would you add to the book list?

Transitioning Into Winter & A Simple DIY Project

Well my friends, now that we’re nearing November and the growing season is over, it’s time to transition out of the garden and into the home.   Everything has its season, and as the days get short, dark and cold, it’s time to move inside and enjoy the warmth of home and family.  Typically, late fall and early winter is when I begin fiber work, making homemade soaps, sewing, crafting, quilting and DIY so in that spirit, it’s time to transition this blog to winter as well.   We’re going to continue with the “Waste Not! ” series (as I believe reducing kitchen waste is worth our time, attention and effort) and there will be a scattering of a few of our favorite recipes here and there, but I think it’s time to settle down and begin working on some simple, wintertime projects.

Over the coming dark months, I plan on tackling DIYs that I think you’ll love.  We’ll use this time to rediscover simple heirloom skills that will nurture your home and family, starting today with homemade lotion bars.

 

I discovered these fun little lotion bars a few weeks ago purely on accident.  I wanted to use the beeswax we cleaned out of our hives to make some non-toxic scented melts for our home.  I melted coconut oil, beeswax and essential oils into muffin tins and ended up with pretty wonderful-smelling wax…but it wasn’t til my mama was fussing about her chapped cheeks that I had an epiphany.  Not only did our wax melts smell amazing, they would be very soothing on her skin as well.   She tried it and called early the next morning to let me know that her skin had healed overnight and was smooth as a baby’s butt!  Can’t get a better endorsement than your mama’s, right?

Now here’s the thing:  I’ve only begun dabbling in EOs quite recently and I can’t answer whether or not they’ll be a life changer for you.  I don’t know if there’s actual measureable science behind the various claims or whether it’s all snake oil.  What I CAN tell you is that any opportunity we have to use all natural products and purge toxic ones from our homes, well, there’s no reason not to pursue that!  These are the same products that have been used for hundreds or thousands of years to naturally light our homes, soften and protect our skin, preserve food and treat illnesses, so why not use them in our homes too? Let’s get started now!

Here’s what you need for lotion bars!

  1. Natural beeswax such as  Beesworks® BEESWAX PELLETS, YELLOW, 1lb-Pesticide Free-Chemical Free-Cosmetic Grade-Must Have For Many Different Projects.  You need something that isn’t laden with pesticides or bleached and the pellets will make the measuring and melting process much easier for you!  The beeswax will give your lotion bar “body” and help it to set up firm.
  2. Coconut oil such as Garden of Life Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil – Unrefined Cold Pressed Coconut Oil for Hair, Skin and Cooking, 14 Ounce.  Coconut oil will provide a bit of natural fragrance and will melt almost immediately on your skin.
  3. Essential oils.  You have a whole range of options here, both brand and scent, so I’ll just say that I’m loving Plant Therapy EOs.  They’re reasonably priced, pure and smell amazing!  This one sounds like autumn in a bottle to me: Plant Therapy Holiday Season Synergy Essential Oil Blend. 100% Pure, Undiluted, Therapeutic Grade. Blend of: Sweet Orange, Cinnamon Bark, Ginger and Nutmeg. 10 mL (1/3 Ounce).
  4. Something to mold the wax in like Freshware SL-118RD 8-Cavity Silicone Mold – Oval, ice cube trays or mini-muffin liners such as Fox Run 4997 White Bake Cups, Petit Four, 100 Cups.
  5. A double boiler or clean tin cans

Here’s how you do it!

To make a batch of these bars, add 1 ounce of beeswax and a scant half cup of coconut oil to your double boiler or clean tin cans and set over a simmering pot of water.  (Be careful and don’t give yourself a steam burn here!)  The coconut oil will melt immediately, but the beeswax will take a bit of time.

Stir frequently with a disposable spoon til the wax is melted; remove from heat.  Carefully add up to 40 drops of essential oil to the melted wax/oil; this may vary according to the strength of the oils that you’re using.  Judge accordingly.  Stir to incorporate the oils and wax.  Using a pot holder, slowly pour the mixture into the mold of your choice and allow to cool.

When the wax is completely cooled, remove from the mold and store in a cool, dry place in an airtight package.  When you’re ready to use, simply hold it in your hands for a moment or two til the wax begins to soften and melt.  Gently rub the oils into your skin and enjoy the amazing fragrance!

BONUS!

Like I stated earlier, these bars are also fantastic in a wax warmer!  The beeswax and coconut oil provide a naturally “sweet” aroma and are perfect carriers for the EO of your choosing.  As they’re completely non-toxic, you don’t have to worry about odd chemicals polluting your home air quality.  And what I really love is that you can tailor the fragrance to your mood; lavender to relax at bedtime, peppermint to pick you up in the morning, delicious seasonal scents like cinnamon and nutmeg to help you enjoy the autumn, rosemary and citrus for savory winter fragrances.  Love that!  Personally, I prefer the plug-in wax warmers like this Candle Warmers Etc. Pluggable Fragrance Warmer, Mason Jar because I can plug it into a high outlet that the children and pets are less likely to reach.  And it’s a Mason jar, so…..!

I hope you enjoyed this little DIY!  It may be the GenX in me, but I love projects like these bars that are ready to go in 20 minutes!  There’s a time and place for long, elaborate projects, but there’s great satisfaction in holding a finished product in your hand in a short period of time.  I’m already mulling over the next quick DIY….can’t wait to share it with you!  Til next time!

 

Posted to Simple Life Mom Homestead Blog Hop!

Holiday Wishbook 2017 – A List Of Useful Items For The Homestead!

For my younger readers who never experienced it, I can’t fully describe what it was like when the Sears-Roebuck Wishbook arrived each autumn.  Let me just say it was a big, big deal.  It was like Amazon Prime Day, Black Friday and December 26th clearance shopping all rolled into one thick, beautiful catalog.  When it finally arrived at the end of October, you’d anxiously rip off that clear plastic covering and spend your Saturday morning pouring over the pages, hunting for the best new toy and avidly reading the colorful descriptions.  Sigh.

I’m sorry you missed that experience, but as we’re quickly approaching the holiday season,  I’d like to give you a Wishbook of sorts!  Every heirloom skill and working homestead requires certain essential tools and I want to share a few of my favorites with you. Though I am an Amazon affiliate, I have no connection to any of these companies beyond the fact that I have used these particular products for many years and have found them useful, convenient and reliable….so when I say I love them it’s because I love them!  I may do a Dirty Dozen list later on…of products I shipped back or threw in the dumpster, but not today!  These are the keepers!  Here we go!

L’Equip Food Dehydrator

I’ve been using this dehydrator for 7 or 8 years and it’s still running like a champ.  It comes with fine screens for small foods like herbs, adjustable heat settings, sized to fit in a standard cabinet, has a 10 year warranty and runs silently.  You can also buy additional trays, screens and fruit leather inserts to expand the amount you can dry at once.  It’s a real workhorse! L’EQUIP 528 6 Tray Food Dehydrator, 500-watt

      

Ball Enamel Water Bath Canner and Utensils

– When you begin preserving your own food, water bath canning is typically the first step.  What I love about the enamel canner is that after 10 years, the finish is as beautiful as when it was new.  No stains, marks or scratches unlike some of the models on the market.  The wire rack and lifter tool prevents shattered jars and burned fingers and are absolute necessities. Ball Enamel Water Bath Canner, Including Chrome-Plated Rack and 4-Piece Utensil Set

Ball Blue Book

-There are a million canning books out there, but this has been the standard bearer for several generations.  This book includes full-color pictures, step-by-step how-tos and hundreds of recipes that have been tested for safety and flavor.  In my opinion, this should be required reading for all new home-canners Blue Book Guide to Preserving (by Jarden Home Brands).

Instant Pot

-Though this is a fairly new (5 years) product on the market, I’ve used mine enough to excitedly recommend it to dozens of my close friends and family members!  The Instant Pot cooks quick, nutritious food with little mess and replaces a dozen other small appliances like yogurt makers, rice cookers, egg cooker, crock pots, steamers.  I love the set-it-and-forget-it programs and the automatic keep-warm setting.  I’m serious when I say this product has revolutionized how I prepare food for my family Instant Pot DUO60 6 Qt 7-in-1 Multi-Use Programmable Pressure Cooker, Slow Cooker, Rice Cooker, Steamer, Sauté, Yogurt Maker and Warmer 

White Wizard Stain Remover

This may seem like a strange Wishbook recommendation, but let me tell you, homesteading is dirty, dirty work.  Throw in a couple active kids and rambunctious dogs and you end up with stains that are total nightmares.  White Wizard successfully removed chocolate syrup + ketchup + iced tea from Petunia’s white cotton Sunday dress, so I’m confident it will remove pretty much any stain from any fabric.  And it smells nice too White Wizard WW010 All Purpose Stain Remover – 10 fl. oz.

Lodge Cast Iron

-Another homestead standard, my Lodge cast iron has given me many years of service with minimal work.  Scrub with oil and salt to clean, dry and wipe with oil and you’ll have a reliable pan for decades to come.  And the silicon handle is a lifesaver! Lodge Cast Iron Skillet with Red Silicone Hot Handle Holder, 12-inch

Ecofan

-We love heating with firewood, but hated the noise from the built-in fan in the woodstove, so this was a real find for us!  It’s completely non-electric and requires no installation!  You simply set the fan on the rear of the stove and as the base heats, it creates its own power and runs silently.  It’s quite small but does it ever move air!  We love it! Ecofan 810CAKBX UltrAir Mid-Size Heat Powered Wood Stove Fan, Made in Canada, Nickel 

Victorio Food Mill

-Plainly put, no other food mill, strainer, blender, juicer or processor compares to a Victorio food mill.  If you’re going to preserve your own sauces, salsas, butters and purees, you’re either going to HAVE a Victorio food mill or NEED a Victorio food mill.  It’s a real workhorse, easily grinding through tomatoes, onions, grapes, apples and discharging the seeds, cores and peels.  I cannot recommend this tool enough! Deluxe Food Strainer and Sauce Maker by VICTORIO VKP250

Garden Claw

-This is perfect for breaking ground in small areas like raised beds and for loosening and aerating soil between close plantings.    They also work well in tough, clay, packed soil…they’re so useful, we have 2! Garden Weasel 91316 Garden Claw

Push/Pull Hoe

-This tool was a game-changer for us.  Using this hoe, I can weed our entire garden (3000+ sf) in under an hour.  And the real plus to this tool is the push/pull “mopping” motion is far more gentle on the arms and shoulders than the “hacking” movement of a traditional hoe. Push Pull Hoe

Perfect Pickler

-I found this gadget at Lehman’s in Amish country many years ago and have thoroughly enjoyed using it.  I like to incorporate lacto-fermented food into our diet as often as possible because of the health benefits but a) who has time to wait months for kraut and b) who wants a 5 gallon crock of kraut anyway?!  The Perfect Pickler ferments small batches of veggies in under 10 days using only a Mason jar and salt. Perfect Pickler Fermentation Value PackageSo there’s the 2017 Legacy Wishbook!  I have a few more products to recommend, but that will have to wait til next year, my friends!  So what am I missing?  What other useful products would you add to my Wishbook?