Gingerly Made: July 2010

Friday, July 30, 2010

Toxins and Our Health

I just read an interesting article from fellow blogger Distinct Inspirations about how toxins affect our health. We all know they do, but we tend to put it on the back burner of our minds and priorities. We don't even realize how many toxic chemicals are in our household cleaners, even the dryer sheets we toss in with the laundry. A few generations ago, people dreaded illnesses like the flu. Now we have that under control, but we are seeing far worse diseases affecting everyone around us. How many people do you know that struggle with chronic pain, migraines, fibromyalgia, and other chronic problems.

I am planning on making the switch to natural cleaning products. Not only are they safer, they are more cost effective. Why do we need 10 different cleaning agents? I plan on going with baking soda as a primary cleaner. There will be more to come on that later. In the mean time, take a look at her blog and hopefully it will fire you up to rid your home of the common every day things we use that harm us.

Recipe Friday - Homemade Granola

I have begun making my own granola this past month. Granola is a perfect snack for everybody and since it's loose and not in bars, we have been using it as a cereal too. My husband is a big snacker and he takes some to work to much on through out the day. Even Caitlin likes it, especially if I add chocolate.

What I love about granola is you can make it to suit your own personal taste. I tend to be a picky eater and love recipes that I can make my own. The recipe I found is from my Make-A-Mix book. (I highly recommend this book it's awesome! And their granola recipe has some great "extra" ingredients.)I am going to share my modified base recipe though.

Mix in bowl:
5 cups oats
1/2 cup wheat germ

You can also add in other ingredients like nuts, dried fruit, whatever you like. I usually add raisins, craisins, and if I have any, pecans. I have also added chocolate, but do that at the end so the chocolate doesn't melt and make a sticky mess.

Mix in sauce pan:
1.5 cups brown sugar
1/5 cups water
3/4 cup oil
1/2 cup honey
1.5 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
3 tsp vanilla extract

Heat until everything is dissolved, but do not boil. Then pour over your oat mixture. Mix well. Pour mixture into several baking dishes with sides. You want to have a thin layer of the granola so that it can dry out as it bakes. Bake 25 minutes at 300 degrees. Let cool, then put it in a tupperware with good lid.

Enjoy!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cloth Diapering on Vacation - Advice Needed

My husband and I are planning on taking a vacation to Philadelphia for our anniversary. We've never been and it's full of history which we both enjoy. In the past we have always tried to manage our vacations so that they are fun, but fun on a budget. Now with trying to be more green, this poses a new challenge for us.

Diapers are probably the easiest way to stay green on our trip. In the past, I'd just use disposables for the entire trip. They were easier because I didn't have to worry about washing them out and I didn't have to pack many. I'd just buy a pack when we got to our destination. My dilemma now is that we are staying at a hotel for a few days, not a relatives house, not a timeshare unit that has a washer.

I have enough diapers for about 1.5 - 2 days. I wash every two days. Our trip is a bit longer than that and I don't have a washing machine to use. So, what do I do? I'm thinking I can half it. Use disposables the first part of the trip and then cloth on the last part and wash them when we get home. But, I've actually gotten to the point where I feel kind-a guilty doing that. Wow, is my mind set changing!

So, if any of you cloth diapering mommas out there have any advice or past experience I'd love to hear it. Thanks!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Green Blog Hop

It's Wednesday again and time for another Green Blog Hop. I've found some really great sites through this hop, so click on the button below and check them out.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Virtues of Homemade Bread

I have been learning to make my own bread over the past month and have had varying degrees of success. I can now make loaf bread, rolls, hamburger/sandwich buns, pizza dough and sweet breads. I've made biscuits a few times and am still trying to perfect those. While I finally got them to rise, they still aren't the guilty pleasure Bojangles-type biscuits I want.

Anyway, through this experimentation with making bread I've learned quite a few things about the difference in homemade bread and store bought bread.

  • Homemade bread tastes so much better! It's like the difference in a $5 pizza and a gourmet pizza. It's the real thing not some cheap, badly made knock-off.
  • It's more filling. I tend to eat a lot. I love food, especially breads and pastas. But, with homemade bread, I fill up much faster. Less food, but more filling food that doesn't leave me hungry again in an hour; that's way better for my waist line.
  • We waste less with homemade bread. Store bought bread lasts a long time in my pantry and still keeps it's texture. Many times it will sit in our pantry until it molds and then we throw it away. My bread however, will dry out after a while because it doesn't contain all those nasty preservatives. This makes us use the bread when we have it and if it does dry out, I make bread crumbs out of it and store those for later use.
  • It doesn't take that much time to make. Most people think that making bread is a long and laborious endeavor. I don't think it is. Maybe, like with other things, I've just gotten used to the process. But, really the time is in the dough rising and you don't do anything for that - just let it sit in a warm place. I have started making the dry mix for my bread ahead of time and storing it in the pantry. So when it's time to make bread, I just add a few wet ingredients, toss it in my stand mixer which even does the kneading for me, let it rise and then bake. My actual time invested can't be more than 15 minutes.
  • It's better for you. It doesn't have all those preservatives, high fructose corn syrup, bleached flour (if you choose to buy unbleached), or any other chemical, bad for you ingredients. So many people avoid carbs like the plague because they have been touted as fat causing foods. But I'd argue that it's not the bread or pasta itself that is causing obesity or obesity related diseases, but the ingredients used to make the bread. Granted, that doesn't mean you should eat all bread all the time. But really, if you are eating REAL food instead of food-like products it's going to make a difference in your overall health.
For all of these reasons, I am hooked on homemade bread. I still feel tempted to buy bread at the store, especially from the deli, simply because it's there it looks and smells good, but then I remember I don't need to buy any. I can make my own way better bread and to top it all off, making my own bread is cheaper too!

Read about my adventures in bread making and get the recipe for homemade bread.

t4toriginalFCC

Monday, July 26, 2010

Baking Soda - What is it?

Recently, I have been doing research on making my own beauty products and household cleaners and just about every recipe includes baking soda. Other DIY/eco moms rave about how wonderful baking soda is around the house. But I'm wondering what exactly is baking soda. I've used it for years in cooking and have never questioned it. Is it a naturally occurring substance? Is it created in a lab somewhere? I know that it's also called sodium bicarbonate, but that doesn't really tell me anything except it has a scientific name. I looked it up on Wikipedia and got a lot of information. Too much actually - it had a lot about the scientific properties of sodium bicarbonate.

Untimately, what I found is Trona and Nohcolite, the naturally occurring parts are mined primarily out of Wyoming. It is then processed into soda ash. This processing is decomposing the trona by heating it to between 70 and 130 degrees Celsius. The ash then undergoes a lot of filtering to make sure it's clean. Finally, carbon dioxide is added to create sodium bicarbonate or baking soda.

So, I guess, yes, it is a naturally occurring substance in that we don't have to add chemicals to create it. But, it does take a lot of processing to go from the natural material, trona, to what we buy in the store. It takes a lot of coal to decompose the trona into soda ash. And I'm not sure exactly how they infuse carbon dioxide to the ash, but I'm sure there is an environmental impact somewhere to the process.

Soda ash can also be produced artificially. The U.S. has slowly abandoned this method of creating soda ash because it produces harmful environmental wastes and the beds of trona in Wyoming provide means of producing it naturally.

While I feel better knowing that this super cleaner is much more natural than some of the alternatives, don't be fooled. It too has an environmental impact from mining and coal fueled processing. I suppose this is a case of the lesser of two evils. Now I wonder how much trona the earth holds, how quickly does it form in the earth, and how quickly we are using it up?

Resources:
Wikipedia - Sodium Bicarbonate
Wikipedia - Nahcolite
Wikipedia - Trona
Wyoming Trona
Arm & Hammer

Friday, July 23, 2010

Friday Recipes - French Toast Casserole

One of my favorite breakfasts to serve when we have company is Baked French Toast Casserole with Maple Syrup. I usually reserve it for company or holidays because being a casserole it's a big dish. If I do make it for some random weekend, we can eat on it all week long. You have to prepare this dish the night before, but that extra prep is worth it. And it let's you sleep in a little bit the next day.

  • 1 loaf French bread (13 to 16 ounces)
  • 8 large eggs
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Dash salt
  • Praline Topping, recipe follows
  • Maple syrup

Slice French bread into 20 slices, 1-inch each. (Use any extra bread for garlic toast or bread crumbs). Arrange slices in a generously buttered 9 by 13-inch flat baking dish in 2 rows, overlapping the slices. In a large bowl, combine the eggs, half-and-half, milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt and beat with a rotary beater or whisk until blended but not too bubbly. Pour mixture over the bread slices, making sure all are covered evenly with the milk-egg mixture. Spoon some of the mixture in between the slices. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Spread Praline Topping evenly over the bread and bake for 40 minutes, until puffed and lightly golden. Serve with maple syrup.

Praline Topping:

  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and blend well. Makes enough for Baked French Toast Casserole.


I found this oh so tasty breakfast treat on Food Network. It's a Paula Deen recipe, so you know it has to taste good.

If you don't already have a Food Network account, I highly recommend it. You can save all the great recipes you find in "My Recipe Box" and even add your personal recipes. All your favorite recipes in one place!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Saving Green

Part of the intention with this blog is to talk about how my family is saving up enough money to afford our dream. In some ways I have talked about it by talking about how we are trying to cut down on our grocery budget and other little things we do, but I haven't really talked about the importance of saving, budgeting, etc.

I must confess that although I do believe in protecting our environment and living a more natural life, part of our family motivation is financial. Living simply is an environmental, moral, and financial choice. And why shouldn't it be? Truth be told, you can live a life that is environmentally motivated and spend all the money you've got. Or you can buy cheap things that save your budget, but are harmful to our world around us. Living a green life and a frugal life aren't always hand in hand. It is our family choice to make it so. You can save green, financially, and save green, environmentally, all at the same time. I'd like to take a few lines to brag on how God has blessed us financially and then confess some of our money mistakes.

First, we got started with a fairly clean slate. Most people graduate college and inherit a lot of college debt. We did not. Between academic and sports scholarships, one parent who taught at our university giving full tuition to his children, and other parents saving enough to pay the balance, we both graduated with a combined college debt of $2,500. Yep, that's right, $2,500. All I can attribute that to is a blessing from God, because we did not think about college debt at all.

When we got married, Eric had just graduated and I had one semester left. We were so worried, because Eric was having a tough time finding a job and then plop, one landed right in his lap. He started the week after we returned from our honeymoon. (We didn't take an extravagant honeymoon either. We didn't have the money and didn't take out a loan for one. We went to the beach for three days instead.) Eric has been working with that company ever since.

The wonderful things that God has done in our lives continues. I found a good job, we got a small starter home, paid off our car, we were able to save. But save isn't something we always did. We spent more than we needed to because we could. Eric is a technology guy and loved getting new techy things, and well, I like to shop - enough said. We weren't rich and didn't spend more than we had, but we certainly didn't need to spend what we had just because we had it.

Our turn towards frugality began with the idea of having children. I knew I would most likely stay home with our kids when we had them and so we began to practice living on one income and saving the other. We moved into a bigger house, which is both a good and bad thing. I love our house and the roomy-ness of it. But it comes with a larger mortgage and bigger heating/cooling bills. We didn't consider the increase in heating/cooling and up-keep when we bought this house and it has been an adjustment. We still have to check our needs versus wants, but we are getting better about it.

Last year, our AC unit died (read, unrepairable) and we had to replace it. That ate into the savings we had from my job. It has taken us a year, but we finally have our emergency fund savings back in place. Now we can concentrate on saving for our dreams again. It's a slow process, but one that's worth it. Every grocery bill I can cut down on, every bit of produce we get from our garden, water that we save in our rain barrel, disposable diaper we don't use, gets us a little bit closer to our goal.

We are big fans of Dave Ramsey and his book The Total Money Makeover. While we were already making strides in the right direction before reading this book, it was informative, eye-opening, and easy to follow. I would highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn more about financial options, or anyone needing help to form a plan to get themselves out of debt. It lit a fire under us to pay down everything we can, save as much as we can, and give what we can. Whatever your dreams are or plans for the future, it's so worth it to sacrifice a little now to have what your heart wants later. And, the beautiful thing is, if you save the way we do, you get to save a little bit of green earth too.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Green Blog Hop

Here we go again. It's time for the weekly Green Blog hop.

The Rules:

* MANDATORY: Create a new Green Blog Hop blog post on your blog and include the Green Blog Hop button by copying and pasting the code above.


* Follow Going Green with Noah, Tales of the Wife and And Then There were 4, the hostesses of the blog listed in the first three slots. We’d LOVE if you put our blog button on your blog!


* Add your blog name to the MckLinky below.


* Try to follow at least three additional blogs. This is not mandatory, but it will help ensure that everyone who signs up gets a few new followers!


* Follow as many other blogs as you want. The more you follow, the more that will follow you back! Which means that if someone follows you, it is common courtesy to follow back!


* The weekly Green Blog Hop MckLinky opens every Tuesday night and will be open to add your blog link until 9:00 p.m. CST Wednesday night. You then have all week long to visit blogs and return follows!


* There is a new list every week. The link you enter one week will not carry over to the next week's MckLinky. Please link up again each week to join in the fun!


Remember to create a blog posting including the button after linking up - Please - It's the best way to get the word out!

Is there ever enough time to DIY

If you're a mom, you surely know that time is your most precious resource. Dads too for that matter. There just never seems to be enough time to do all the things you want. This week has been particularly busy for us. It's VBS week at church and we had some friends stay with us for a couple of days on top of the usual to do and honey do lists. It's been lots of fun, but not very productive.

Sometimes I wonder if it would be easier to just hire somebody to take care of those lingering to do lists. I have been hassling my dear hubby since before our daughter was born to make built-in bookshelves for the nursery. Now that we are canning and freezing the wonderful summer produce, I've asked him to also build shelves for our laundry room so that it can be organized and also as a place to store our canned foods. He works full time and when he gets off work needs a little bit of time to relax, plus we are also working in the garden, mowing the lawn, getting rid of that awful pampas grass, and a myriad of other honey do tasks. When is he supposed to find time to build custom floor to ceiling shelves?

There was a time when I would get fed up with the delay, go the hardware store and buy the wood myself fulling intending to build the shelves myself. Then of course I'd be completely lost and he'd be forced to help me. :) I like to think I'm handy, but I guess I'm really not. I don't know anything about carpentry. But now, I can't do that and watch our busy little bee too. I can't even paint a room by myself because Caitlin is just too into everything right now. Before she was born, Eric and I would do those types of projects together and get them done faster. Not now. One of us has to entertain while the other works which makes us not want to do the project in the first place.

I get tempted to hire someone to build the shelves or paint a room or whatever it is that needs to be done. Get it done and over with. But then I think about how nice it would be to do those things ourselves and the money we would save too. What a dilemma!

As frustrated as I get at my limited ability to DIY, I want to learn to do things ourselves. So, I guess I need to be more patient and know that eventually, one day, we'll get to all the bazillion tasks I write down on my little lists. In the meantime, I'll tackle the small things I can get done during nap time.

Monday, July 19, 2010

All You Grocery Challenge - Week 4

Well, this week's grocery shopping is a total mystery to me. My hubby went with me on Saturday to do our shopping for the week because we have company coming in today and I won't have time to do my normal Monday shopping. I think we stayed pretty well on budget, but actual numbers I don't know. When we got home we just put up all the groceries. I didn't even think about taking a picture or keeping the receipts. What was I thinking? :)

So instead of sharing how much I spent, I'll share what I've learned.
  1. Coupons are great! (If you have coupons for what you need)
  2. Matching coupons with grocery store sales is even better!
  3. The more "raw" foods you buy, the less coupons there are and that's not a good thing
While trying to save money on our grocery budget, I have also been trying to buy healthier foods. I am now trying to make as much food from scratch using raw ingredients - no canned biscuits, frozen meals, frozen or processed food snacks, etc. In this process I think I've uncovered a conspiracy to keep us all fat and unhealthy.

Processed foods are so much cheaper if you play the coupon game because processed foods offer tons of coupons and are easily matched with grocery store sales. Produce, dairy, meats, flour, sugar, and other foods that I call "raw ingredients" however have very few if any coupons. The only way you can get discounts on some of these items is if the grocery store happens to run a sale on them or if your grocery store offers a dollars off your purchase coupon. And up until recently, I haven't seen one of those types of coupons.

I must be fair and say that both the grocery stores I typically shop have, in the past month, given me a dollars off my total purchase coupon, but I don't know why. What do I have to do/purchase in order to keep getting those types of coupons? And why don't producers of raw ingredients offer coupons?

I think we have been successful in reducing our grocery bill a little, but I would love to reduce it even more. I'm jealous of those people who can figure out how to buy tons of groceries for $20. But I also wonder what the quality of their diet is. As much as I would love to reduce my grocery bill, I don't want to sacrifice my family's health by feeding them processed junk all the time.

So, my question to you, is how do you keep your family healthy and low budget all at the same time?

Simple Lives Thursday Blog Hop


t4toriginalFCC

Friday, July 16, 2010

Blogs Have A Carbon Footprint Too

I have been seeing blogs with "My blog is carbon neutral" buttons and wondering what in the world that's about. Well apparently, just because we are using the internet and not paper, that doesn't mean we have no impact on the planet. Make it Green! provides the following information.

How much carbon dioxide does your blog create?

According to a study by Alexander Wissner-Gross, PhD, physicist at Harvard University and environmental activist, an average website causes about 0.02g (0,0008oz.) of carbon dioxide for each visit. Assuming an average blog gets 15,000 visits a month, it has yearly carbon dioxide emissions of 3,6kg (8lb.). This can mainly be tracked back to the immense energy usage from (mainframe) computers, servers, and their cooling systems.

Make it Green! is a German company partnering with the US Arbor Day Foundation and will plant a tree for free in Plumas National Forest in Northern California. These trees will help regrow many of the forests destroyed by wildfire. Read more about planting in Plumas.

All they ask is that you
  1. Create a post about making your blog carbon neutral
  2. Send an email to CO2-neutral@kaufda.de with the link to your post
Then they plant a tree. How simple is that! This is an easy and simple thing each of us can do for our environment. If you choose to make your blog, website, facebook, or twitter, or anything with a URL carbon neutral, please leave me a comment and let me know you did. You can get the button on the Make it Green! website. Thanks!

Friday Recipes - Sweet Potato Dumplings

This recipe is one of my family's favorites. It took a long time before we got it. Our former pastor's wife used to make this one for our church pot lucks and my husband begged her to give me the recipe on multiple occasions and she would politely deflect the conversation to something else. I guess she didn't want anyone one else to get credit for these yummy, yummy sweet potatoes. :)

They eventually took a new position at another church and moved away. That was when I inherited this recipe and a big box of sweet potatoes. Maybe I should protect this one? But I've never been a recipe keeper, I like sharing recipes as much as I like sharing the food itself.

While the recipe isn't 100% from scratch (it uses canned biscuits), it could be if you are a skilled biscuit maker.

Sweet Potato Dumplings
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Canned Biscuits
  • 2 Sticks Butter/Margarine
  • 2 Cups Hot Water
  • 2 Cups Sugar
  • 1 Teaspoon Cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut potato into slices. Roll out biscuit. Put potato slice on biscuit and envelope, make sure to seal each potato slice really well. Put butter/margarine in dish and then place in oven to melt the butter. Roll each dumpling in butter and then place close together in dish. Mix the water, sugar and cinnamon and then bring to a boil until it is dissolved. Pour the cinnamon mix over the dumplings and then bake at 350 degrees for up to 45 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

Enjoy!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Change Takes Time

Ok, so I recently read a fun post by a new friend at Green Earth Bazaar. It was a quiz, How Eco-Friendly Are You? While I am normally bored by all the quizzes people put on the net, this one seemed fun and interesting to me. My result was, well....

Ginger's Result: Wannabe Green Machine
on quiz: How Eco-Friendly Are You?

You are semi-earth-conscious and do an alright job when it comes to reducing, re-using, and recycling. Although you take some steps toward a greener tomorrow, you are still stuck in the past when it comes to making a large scale change. Maybe it be your gas guzzling vehicle or your bad habit of leaving the lights on while you are out, you still do things that negatively impact the natural world. Don’t worry though… there is still time to do the right thing. Visit www.carbonfootprint.com to see how you can make a big change today!

Quiz MakerTake this quiz & get your result


I think it's kind-a funny that it mentions a gas guzzling vehicle since I entered that my car gets 30+ miles to the gallon. I always thought that was pretty good for an all gas vehicle. Oh well, we plan to get either a hybrid or electric car for our next car purchase. What this quiz does tell me though is that I still have a long way to go. This is a learning process and changing the way you live does take time. I guess we could change everything all at once, but from what little I know, people who make radical changes in a short period of time don't usually stick to it. Crash diet anyone?

So here's to accepting that there are more ways to change and a pledge to change them - one step at a time.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Inspiration from The Self Sufficiency Handbook

We all need a little inspiration sometimes. Lately, mine has come in the form of a book - The Self-Sufficiency Handbook. This book is a great resource if you are thinking about living not only a green life, but a self-sufficient life as well. While this book does not go in depth on any one topic, it's great for getting ideas and planning. Because of this book, we have either learned more about or have become interested in solar power, gray water, soil care, and animal husbandry. After reading this book, if you are interested in a certain topic, there are tons of books that get into the nitty gritty of the topic you want to research.

The main source of inspiration for me though, has been a picture in this book. The drawing of "A Dream Plot" is just that - a dream plot. It's beautiful, well laid out, and has everything I want on my property. I know it seems silly, but I look at this drawing and I long to live in a place like it. This layout is for a smaller property, and I'd like a larger plot so we can have some larger animals, a place for kids to play, etc. But overall, this image reflects my heart's desire for a simple life.

You can see it in the picture here, but it is better seen on the Amazon Reader, page 10. You can also read some of the book if you're interested.

My family's goal of having a property like this is still a long term goal. We are planning to find a property and build a home on it in about five years. And then of course it will take some time to get all the gardens, fruit trees, and animal houses set up. In the mean time, I am still going to learn as much as I can about living simply, living off the land, and being a frugally minded person.

Monday, July 12, 2010

All You Grocery Challenge - Week 3

This is my third week trying out the All You Grocery Challenge. After my shopping this week, I went over budget again. Last week, it really bothered me. I went over because I made dumb shopping mistakes. This week however, it really doesn't bother me because I believe I made some smart choices. Let me explain.

Brilliant Moms has been raving about this book, Make-A-Mix. The idea is that you pre-mix bulk sizes of generic mixes that you can later use in recipes. They have a "Hot Roll Mix" which makes all sorts of cinnamon buns, pizza crust, they probably list 15 recipes for this one mix. They have Granola, pancake mixes, seasoned meat mixes, sauce mixes. By making your own mixes from scratch, you don't have to buy expensive pre-made mixes in the store AND you know exactly what's in your food.

Well, I bought the book with much excitement and it finally came in the mail on Saturday. So, this week I bought bulk flour and some other things to try out these mixes. I love it, because although I spent $80 on groceries this week, these mixes are going to last me for months to come. Plus the organizational part of me loves the clean looking pantry with neat containers lined up in a row. They look so pretty! (I know I'm a nerd, but that's ok with me)

Anyway, here are my numbers:
Spent: $107.35

Loyalty Card: $23.88

Coupons: $3.74

Total Spent: $79.73

Prepping our Fall Garden

Yard work is hard work. Technology gives us some great tools, but some times the best thing for your garden is good old fashioned physical labor.

We are prepping for our fall garden. We still have tomato plants producing, a few squash and zucchini plants, and two green peppers, but I have also pulled up half of the squash and zucchinis and all of our green beans. In the bare spots, we are now trying to turn over some of the soil before we plant our fall crop which we are seeding indoors. We will also add a 50/50 mix of top soil and manure to add some nutrient rich soil to what we've got.

One of the problems with living in a subdivision is that when the builders built all the houses, they brought in a lot of rock to level the ground. Now, we have to dig out that rock so our plants have a place to root.

In the past, we have borrowed a tiller to turn the soil over. Recently we learned that the tiller doesn't really get deep enough to make a great impact on your soil quality. You want to turn over at least a foot deep of soil for the plant's roots. The soil compresses over time and makes it difficult for strong roots to take hold. A tiller is great for turning over the top soil, but doesn't get deep enough for all that hard rocky soil. This is where the manual labor comes in.

The best method is to dig a trench 1 foot deep. Put the soil to the side. Next, dig a trench right beside the first trench filling in the first trench with soil from the second. Keep digging your entire garden filling the previous trench with the current trench's soil. The last trench is filled with the soil from the very first trench you dug. This way, the soil is completely turned over in every part of your garden. It's hard work, especially if you've got compacted rocky soil, but over time your soil quality improves drastically. And of course you should add compost to enrich the soil and replace nutrients lost from the last crop.

So, that's what we are doing. It's slow going, especially in this heat, but we will hopefully have a better harvest from good soil feeding our crop.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

I Hate Pampas Grass

We have a small concrete patio in our backyard surrounded by pampas grass. Five plants in all. It was so over planted that they sort of grew together so that you could not pass between them without injury. If you don't know what pampas grass is, the picture to the right is when it's small, pretty and tropical looking. This is not a picture from my yard!

The frustrating thing about this plant is that the leaves are sharp like razors. It has cut every member of my family including my 15 month old. And you can't kill it! I'm all for natural landscaping and not getting rid of plants unless they are problematic - well this one is problematic and the only way to get rid of it, is to pull it out of the ground by it's roots.

Well, obviously, it's not too easy to "pull" out of the ground because you can't grab it for fear of shredding your hands. And this plant wants to survive - it's roots are strong. So, my dear husband has been trimming the plants down with a little help from me, cutting up the rest with a chainsaw we borrowed, and then digging down into the ground to get at the roots. Here are a couple of pictures. One plant had already been removed about month ago or else I couldn't have taken a picture of the patio at all.

This picture shows the three remaining plants, the wreckage from the forth and was taken close to where the fifth used to stand. I don't know who planted all of those dumb plants so close together, but that was a bad idea if I ever saw one.

Have you ever had to deal with pampas grass? Get rid of it? Does it have ANY redeeming qualities? I'll be so happy when it's gone.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Recipe Friday - Chocolate Zucchini Bread

The one thing our garden produced this year in abundance was zucchini. I have a chest freezer full of it! So, I have been making lots zucchini bread. I was going to post my normal recipe, but my mom brought this one to me. I tried it this week and can't stop myself from munching on it.

* I do not know the original source of this recipe because it was passed down to her.

Chocolate Zucchini Bread
3 squares Bakers chocolate, melted and cooled
3 cups flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3 eggs
3 cups sugar
3 cups grated zucchini
1/5 cups vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix dry ingredients and set aside
Beat eggs and sugar together
Add chocolate and beat
Add oil, mix well
Fold in zucchini

Grease and flour bread pans. Bake 45 minutes to 1 hour and 15 minutes depending on size of pans. (Mine took 1 hour)


Enjoy!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Water in a Drought

We finally had a few cooler days last week. I was hoping that was the end of this heat wave we were having, but no, it's back and with a fury. Yesterday was 102 here. More abnormal than the heat, is that there's very little humidity. Like every summer, we seem to be going through yet another drought. Even the air is suffering. North Carolina summers typically have muggy, sticky air during the summer; right now it just feels like a desert.

I don't know if we are going to have watering regulations put on us again as in year's past, but just in case, here are some water saving tips.

  1. Get a rain barrel and pump to water your garden. (This works best if you start collecting water before the drought.)
  2. Recycle gray water - the water from your laundry, baths, dishes. If not heavily soaped, you can use it on your garden. There are also systems you can install directing gray water to your toilets. I haven't done a lot of research on the costs of these systems yet, but assuming it's not terribly expensive, it will be something we want to install on our home when we build.
  3. Only run the washing machine and dishwasher with full loads.
  4. Start a compost pile instead of using the garbage disposal. It not only cuts down on water usage, but provides lovely compost for your garden and keeps solids out of the septic and sewer systems.
  5. Time your showers. Put a clock in the bathroom or shower where it can be seen while showering.
  6. Don't let the faucet run. Whether you need to rinse dishes, vegetables, or even your razor - fill the sink with enough water for the job and rinse in the pool of water as opposed to running water.
  7. Mulch around plants to help them retain water.
  8. Water in the early morning. Avoid the hot part of the day because the water will evaporate before soaking into the ground. Avoid evening watering because it promotes mold on your vegetables.
  9. Use drip irrigation if you can. It will get water to the roots with out wasting any on the leaves where it can evaporate and leave your plant hotter and drier. (It's the same principle behind not putting water on your face or head when it's really hot out.)
  10. Be mindful of your water usage. If you just pay attention to the resources you use instead of using them frivolously, you will be amazed at the ways you can find to save water.
Do you have any water saving tips?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Blog With Substance Award


Last night, I received a lovely surprise. My friend at The Cheap and Choosy awarded this blog "a blog with substance." Thank you so much! I would certainly have nominated The Cheap and Choosy if I could. She is my personal friend and I get a ton of ideas from her - the latest of which I posted about just this morning.

The guidelines for accepting this award are:
  • thank the person who gave you the award.
  • sum up your blogging philosophy, motivation, and experience in/with five words.
  • choose ten other blogs you consider to have substance.
My philosophy, motivation, and experience in five words
  1. family (motivation)
  2. community (motivation)
  3. Creation Care (philosophy) - ok, so that's not one word, but there it is
  4. simple (philosophy)
  5. learning (experience)
Ten Blogs with Substance:

  1. Brilliant Moms
  2. Eartheasy
  3. Life of a Garden
  4. The Eco-Friendly Family
  5. Fit and Frugal Natural Kitchen
  6. Cook Eat Think
  7. Nautre Moms
  8. Southern Savers
  9. Clean Air Gardening Blog
  10. The Self Sufficient Blog

Reuse a Botched Sewing Project

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about a sewing project that went wrong. I ran out of fabric and couldn't complete my project. The plan was to get more fabric when the store restocked, but they are not restocking that particular fabric. So, the question is, what can I do with all that wasted fabric?

Eric suggested I make pajama pants. There was plenty of fabric, but because I had almost completed the project, I wasn't sure if the pieces would be big enough. Next, I thought about making kitchen towels. I really want to end my paper towel usage and need some more kitchen towels. (I'm already cleaning my windows without paper towels.) This is still a project I plan to do, so stay posted for that one, but I liked a friend's idea better for now.

My friend at The Cheap and Choosy has been making her own cloth wipes for the baby. She used extra flannel blankets she had been given as baby gifts. My attempt at a bath robe was made of flannel - perfect. I've cut out the pieces of cloth already, now I just need to sew them. This project is great because it lets me use the fabric that would otherwise be wasted and it starts saving on disposable wipes.

Here are some other sites with crafty ideas for reusing fabric scraps or in my case botched sewing projects:

TipNup - Scrap Happy Ideas

All Things Frugal
Make and Takes

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

All You Grocery Challenge - Week 2

This was not such a good week. I thought I had just made it under my budget - then I remembered a purchase my husband made. First, I am upset at two grocery mistakes I made this week and then you add the $8 Eric spent and it's a frustrating grocery week for me.

I decided to go to two different grocery stores to maximize my savings. I didn't have many manufacturer's coupons for items we needed; I did have coupons for dollars off a purchase at both grocery stores. The first was a $4 off coupon if I bought $20 worth of produce at Kroger. Not a problem - we eat a lot of fresh food and because I have been making homemade spaghetti, I needed to get more onions and parsley anyway. My first mistake was with a bag a fresh cherries. They were $3.99 a lb - I didn't see the pound mark and just assumed the bag was $3.99. Well, it was a two pound bag putting me over my planned spending there.

Then, I went to Harris Teeter. I thought I had a $5 off a $40 purchase coupon. I had $45 worth of groceries - so I overspent and the coupon didn't go into effect until two days later. Ugh.

Here are my totals:











K
roger
Spent: $42.25
Loyalty card -$11.46
Store coupon -$4.00
Total: $26.79

Harris Teeter
Spent: $60.46
Loyalty card -$10.59
Coupons -$4.19
Total: $45.68

Food Lion - $8
WalMart - $2.69

Weekly Total: $83.16


So, I was supposed to spend $75 or less. What's a girl to do if there aren't a lot of coupons for items you need? Or if there's no great super double or triple coupon event for the coupons you do have? Maybe I can make up for it next week? I guess this is why they call it a challenge.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Cloth Swim Diapers

My family has really been enjoying the pool this summer. Our 15 month old girl, Caitlin, loves the water. And up until this past week, we have been buying disposable swim diapers. I mean, maybe you knew, but I had no idea there WERE reusable swim diapers. It wasn't even something that crossed my mind. My brilliant husband however, was smart enough to question the norm and started wondering if there was another option out there besides spending all our money on something we were just going to throw away.

And what do you know...there are reusable, washable swim diapers. We bought a brand called iPlay, but there are several out there to choose from. My Swim Baby is just one site that offers a large selection to choose from.

For those of you who don't know the stats on diapers in our landfills, here is what Wikipedia says:
An estimated 27.4 billion disposable diapers are used each year in the US, resulting in a possible 3.4 million tons of used diapers adding to landfills each year.
There is a debate on whether or not reusable diapers are really better for the environment or not. This is what I say. Both disposable and reusable diaper production can have adverse environmental effects and they both leave human waste behind. The difference is reusable diapers aren't sitting in our landfills in mass quantities waiting to biodegrade. One cloth diaper equals hundreds of disposables. Some statistics I found state that it could take many hundreds of years for disposable diapers to decompose. The New Parent's Guide shares these thoughts:

It is estimated that roughly 5 million tons of untreated waste and a total of 2 billion tons of urine, feces, plastic and paper are added to landfills annually. It takes around 80,000 pounds of plastic and over 200,000 trees a year to manufacture the disposable diapers for American babies alone. Although some disposables are said to be biodegradable; in order for these diapers to decompose, they must be exposed to air (oxygen) and sun. Since this is highly unlikely, it can take several hundred years for the decomposition of disposables to take place, with some of the plastic material never decomposing.

The untreated waste placed in landfills by dirty disposable diapers is also a possible danger to contaminating ground water. Pro-disposable advocates say that cleaning cloth diapers uses more energy and contributes to the load on sanitary sewer systems and potential water pollution. This view really makes no sense if you think about it. The amount of water used per week to wash cloth diapers at home is about the same amount consumed by an adult flushing the toilet four or five times daily for a week. Also, the greater amount of water and energy being used by diaper service companies to wash large amounts of cloth diapers multiple times; the per diaper impact on energy and water supplies is actually less than home washing.

Faced with statistics like these, I personally feel that it is important for me and my family to use reusable diapers as often as possible. I'm not going to lie. We do use disposables when we go somewhere where others may watch Caitlin. For example, she wears disposables to church. This is to help her care takers who may not be used to cloth. But, all in all, I feel better knowing that I am doing one more thing to reduce my wastefulness and leave this world a better place for my daughter.

Fluffy Biscuits - I Finally Did It

If you have been reading my blog, you remember I was having trouble making biscuits. They kept turning out sort of dense. They had a good taste, but the texture was all wrong. I don't know about you, but when I think of biscuits, I think warm, FLUFFY, buttery biscuits.

Anyway, last Sunday, I was talking about this problem with a few ladies in my church. They both make homemade biscuits and I asked them for advice. Turns out, my problem was with the milk I was using. Apparently, buttermilk is the key. One lady told me that if she was out of buttermilk and she used "sweet milk" the biscuits never came out as fluffy.

I used a recipe found in The Southern Cookbook, but here is a very similar one found on FoodNetwork.

Tyler Florence's Buttermilk Biscuits
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 cup vegetable shortening, cold, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups buttermilk, plus additional for brushing

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Cut in the shortening using a pastry blender or your hands until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Make a well in the center and add 1 cup buttermilk. Using your hands, quickly fold the dry ingredients into the buttermilk until a sticky dough forms. You may need to add more buttermilk.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Gently fold the dough over itself 3 or 4 times to create layers. Press the dough out to 1 1/2-inches thick and cut with a floured 3-inch biscuit cutter. Lay the biscuits on an ungreased cookie sheet and brush the tops with buttermilk. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until risen and golden brown.

I hope this helps any other challenged biscuit makers out there.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Friday Recipes - Strawberry Shortcake

Happy July 4th weekend everyone! Aside from fireworks, I always think of having a cookout with fresh food and yummy desserts as a 4th of July must do. Here is one of my favorite dessert recipes.

A picky eater, I used to only eat the strawberry part of strawberry shortcake. No whipped cream and no shortcake because, well, I just didn't think it tasted good. Those spongy little cakes you buy in the store and a bucket of whipped cream tasted.....fake, gross. This recipe is completely from scratch and tastes heavenly. Be careful with this one though, you might find yourself making it a little too often like I did.

Strawberries:
Wash and cut into quarters. Sprinkle with sugar and a splash of lemon juice. Set in the refrigerator. The sugar and lemon juice make a nice juice as it sits in the fridge.

Whipped Cream:
Buy whipping cream. Add 3 tablespoons of sugar per 1 cup of whipping cream and a splash of vanilla extract. Blend on high until liquid becomes whipped cream. The longer you blend, the firmer the whipped cream. (* Tip: the colder the whipping cream, the faster it becomes whipped cream) Put in refrigerator to stay cold.

Shortcake: (from The Yankee Cook Book by Imogene Wolcott)
2 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shortening
3/4 cup milk (about)

Mix all ingredients except for milk; use a butter knife to cut in shortening. Add milk a little at a time until you get a not too sticky dough. Flour hands and pat into cakes (I usually make 6) Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes.

Top shortcake with strawberries and whipped cream and enjoy!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

What Does It Mean To Be Self Sufficient

Looking on the internet for ways to be more self sufficient, I stumbled across a website with some simple but great information. The people at DayCreek are also trying to live more sustainably. What I really loved was their explanation of what it means to be self sufficient. Here is what they have to say:

SELF-SUFFICIENCY DEFINED

Self-sufficiency by definition is a state in which someone or something can self-sustain oneself without using outside resources. If you take that statement literally, it is impossible to obtain. Each and every living creature on this planet is dependent upon outside resources in order to survive. For instance, all animals need food to live. Most animals (excluding humans and the animals we feed) hunt and gather food as they did thousands if not millions of years ago. The majority of humans on the other hand, rely on others to produce food. We are no longer hunters and the gatherers, but rather consumers. This interdependency for the most part works. Most people buy their food instead of foraging for food themselves. Of course, buying food means that we must have money. And in order to have money, most of us need a job. Thus starts the vicious circle that has gotten most of us removed from the basics of being self-sufficient.

Besides food, we need other things too - water, shelter and warmth. Again, most people today rely on outside resources to provide these things. People get their water from a faucet, live in a mortgaged home or apartment and rely on heat from an electric or gas utility company. So what does being self-sufficient mean in today's society?

We can be self-sufficient by using our own physical and mental skills to produce food, shelter and warmth in order to sustain one's own existence. It means not relying on others for things that you can do yourself. It is a way of life that reduces our dependency on external resources in order to live. Self-sufficiency for most homesteaders means rekindling the skills once commonly used by past generations: growing, raising and preserving food, making and repairing tools, cutting and drying firewood, mending and/or making clothes and even building a house or a barn.

This is by no means an easy feat. It requires a ton of self-discipline and a determination not found in most people. Especially in today's society where over the years we have grown accustom to depending upon others to provide for our basic needs. As technology makes life "easier", we move further and further away from the basics and lose the skills that once sustained us.

What is gained by self-sufficiency? A greater sense of freedom and greater control of one's life. You will also eat healthier knowing what went into growing and raising your own food. You will reduce your dependency on money and reduce your need to work a stressful, 60 hour per week (or more!) job. Instead of paying a repairman to fix something, you take pride in fixing it yourself.

How self-sufficient one becomes is entirely a personal decision. There are plenty of things to consider and weigh. It is up to each of us to determine how self-sufficient to become.

This is a perfect description of what I want in life. I don't want to retreat from society or modern conveniences. I will still go to grocery stores, but my selection of foods will be healthy options I can not grow at home. We will still call a repair man if it's something we can't do ourselves. I just want to be able to do things for myself that allow my family to be healthy, save us money, protect this world that God gave us, make us capable human beings who can rely on our own know-how. My husband still works to provide for us financially, but by learning to be a sustainable family, our money can go farther. We can hopefully save for retirement, education for our child, travel - things that would take us much longer to achieve if we didn't choose to live this way.

I know many people don't live sustainably because it's simply easier not to. The world we live in has become very convenient and I think we are often too lazy to live differently. It takes time to garden, to cook dinner every night, to sew, to use cloth diapers, to build something yourself. But, in my opinion, the value you get from doing those things is greater than the loss of convenience.

If you are willing to take a chance on living a more sustainable life, the people at Daycreek have also compiled a list of things you can do. You don't have to do them all, but pick a couple and see if it enriches your life. I bet you'll be surprised at how much you enjoy doing things for yourself!
 
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