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Let’s Do This Thing

Thank you for joining us on our adventures, and misadventures, on our fledgling homestead!

I’m not the most graceful person in the world, I love to laugh, can be a little persistent when I need to be, and am to the moon and back in love with and grateful for my loving husband and family. Bless their heart for putting up with me.

Now let’s see what kind of mess I can get into.

If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice. – Rush

 

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Simple Steps for a Sustainable Easter

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Hippity Hoppity, Easter is on it’s way! I love spring, when I can open the widows and let the fresh air in, see the trees and plants coming into bloom, and feel that renewing sense of potential and excitement. It’s a time for new beginnings, spring cleaning, updating project lists, big sun hats, and fresh, local food.

We don’t actually celebrate Easter, but we do celebrate the spring equinox, which shares a lot of the same (or similar) symbolism with Easter. We celebrate the all that is wonderful about the season and how it makes us feel. Eggs, fresh grass, bunnies, and chicks are all part and parcel of the celebration, but it has become something other than what the original celebration was all about. Consumerism has taken over what should be a beautiful, simple season. It’s about fertility, growth, and a renewed sense of optimism (at least, for me it is).

Go to any store and you would think that it’s Christmas, part 2. Plastic Easter baskets filled with plastic grass, topped off with cheap toys and candy, all wrapped up in a plastic bag line the shelves. We’ve become so engrossed in the “what did you get” that we’ve forgotten about the “how do you feel”. I would like to suggest that we return to a simpler celebration that would include time with friends and family, time to revisit our goals, and simple appreciation for the gifts of the season.

Here are few things that we can do to lessen our impact on the planet, reconnect with simple traditions, and honor the season:

Choose real eggs over plastic. Go to the farmer’s market and pick up a couple dozen farm fresh eggs and dye them using natural dyes. You’ll learn how to use natural dyes, which can be used for other purposes, support the local economy, and have the most delicious eggs ever. You can even get really fancy and blow them out with an egg blower and save them for next year! I’ve had this one for years and love it. Another alternative is to use wooden eggs. You can paint them and save them, using them year after year. These could potentially become cherished items, passed on through the generations too.

Forgo the plastic grass. Choose something that can be reused or repurposed. Scarves, vintage doilies, or vintage hankies would look so pretty in a basket and can be useful after nestling the delicate eggs. You can also just use real grass. Just pull some up, stuff the basket, and then compost it later. The bonus with this is that it’s free!

Choose a real basket. You could either reuse this year after year, or, if you choose a more neutral one, you’ll be able to use it for all kinds of things. I have a basket that served as an Easter basket and traveled with us from San Diego, but now I use it to collect eggs from our chickens. I didn’t have to go out and get a specific basket for collecting eggs, it’s very useful, and it’s cute too.

Visit a farm instead of gifting bunnies or chicks. Not only would this be a really fun activity for the entire family, you’ll save yourself the headache of eventually having to rehome the bunny or chick, once it’s grown and the cuteness has worn off. Many farms loving giving tours, especially in the spring when there is new life everywhere. Some even have farm-to-table dinners, which would be the perfect end to a perfect day.

Choose locally-raised and grown food for your feast. If you’re in the city, your best bet is probably a visit to your farmer’s market. You’ll find all kinds of seasonal treats, like ramps, fiddleheads, lamb, flowers, etc. Talk the to the farmer and ask where they are located, making sure that he really is local. Some vendors at farmer’s markets just buy from where ever and sell it, letting the customer assume that it’s local. You might end up with a smaller meal, but really, this isn’t about the meal, it’s about the celebration of the season. If you’re lucky, you might even be able to find wild onions (chives) and mushrooms if you’re into foraging!

Create something beautiful. In celebration of the season, make a wreath of locally gathered items. I love a simple, moss-covered wreath with a big bow on it. Create decorations made of materials that can be composted, or better yet, make it so that you can use year after year, like the cute little bunny picks pictured here.

Avoid food waste. By having a smaller meal, we become more purposeful and, coincidentally, more grateful, for it. We savor every last bite, knowing that the season’s offerings are short-lived. And what to do with all of those eggs? If you blew them out, now you have the perfect makings for a delicious frittata. You can also use them to make custard, eat them as a snack, top off a spring salad with them, or even pickle them. They won’t go to waste!

There are a lot of different things that you can do to create a sustainable, simple, and beautiful Easter holiday, but it’s more important to start. Do just one thing and see how it makes you feel. I guarantee that you’ll get a little smile inside, like a light that says, “thank you for caring.” They’re such simple, easy changes, but that’s how we create bigger change, one Easter celebration at a time.

Photo credit: JESHOOTS on Pexels

How Your Environment Affects Your Health

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You’re doing all of the things right. You watch what you eat, you exercise,  you get plenty of rest, and you do what you can to have a balanced work and social life. Life is good. But if you’re not paying attention to your environment, all of that hard work is just making your body work harder than it needs to. It’s also making a bigger impact than most people realize, both in the immediate and down the road. There are a few approaches to this that I focus on; the individual benefits, the larger environmental benefits, and the social responsibility.

The first part of this is about creating an environment so that all of your efforts to lead a happy, health life aren’t being thwarted by a heavy chemical body burden. It’s easier to make changes on the individual level first, so we’ll start there. The chemical body burden is the level of chemical residues that can be found in the urine, blood, and breast milk. Most people don’t even know that they have it (all of us do, to one extent or another), what it is, or have bothered to have it measured. You don’t even have to have it measured to know that there are probably several things that you can think of off the top of your head that are contributing to it. Everything in your environment has an affect on your health, so when your environment is clean your body will be able respond optimally to all of your mindful eating and exercise. That’s the individual benefits side of the puzzle.

Another piece of the puzzle is the environmental benefits. We’re not talking about just eating organic or producing less waste (which both have a huge impact on human health). We’re talking about the big picture here, where what we choose to do impacts not only our immediate environment, but the global environment too. This is about being the change that you wish to see in the world, one little step at a time.

The hard part about it is that it can be difficult, if not impossible to know what is affecting you or how to fix it. It can also be overwhelming because once you see one thing, you begin to see toxins everywhere, all the time. It’s enough to make you throw your hands up in the air and just give up. But take heart, everyone has to start somewhere. In fact, my mother always says that the best place to start is at the beginning and she’s not wrong. Taking it one step at a time makes it so much easier and not nearly as overwhelming.

The other puzzle piece is the social responsibility, which is why I do what I do. I know that trying to look at the individual pieces and the bigger picture is not easy. That’s where I come in. I help you set up a step-by-step, strategic plan to clean up your environment and live a more sustainable lifestyle. We’re a team, because that’s really the only way to create the bigger impact that is needed to ensure that everyone is healthier. But it has to start with one person, and that person is you, or me, or your friend next door. When we realize that our choices don’t only affect ourselves, but those that we love, our neighborhood, our town, and our world, it empowers us to make the changes necessary. It’s working on the micro (where we see the most immediate benefits) to affect the macro.

My mother says the best way to eat and elephant is one bite at a time. That’s how I approach being the change I wish to see in the world, one client at a time, one home at a time, one friend at a time. If I can help someone realize that their choice of something as random as flooring or soap affects not only their health, but the health of someone they love that lives on the other side of the country, then I’m happy. Yes, it’s a total paradigm shift and it may not be easy, but it is simple. And the good thing is that once you get, you really get it and the rest comes pretty easily and that’s about as sustainable as you can get.

Photo credit: Bench Accounting on Unsplash

 

Wisdom From My Mama

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See that beautiful young woman in that photo? That’s my Mama and she was born in the early 1930’s. She was 18 at the time and that’s her high school graduation photo. I’ve learned so much from her and it’s interesting that the older I get, the more I realize that I’ve learned from her and the more that I’m becoming like her, which I think is a wonderful thing. She is the kindest, sweetest, most honest, caring, giving person I know. She’s always throwing out little tidbits of wisdom that have become a part of me, and I’m grateful for them. She loves to laugh, can cook like nobody’s business, loves to be involved in her community, and loves taking care of her family. I would venture to say that she is considers herself a religious woman, attending church every week, and tries her hardest to live a good life. We’re not religious, but I love that she sticks to what she believes is true, what she would call “stick-to-it-ivness”, and doesn’t try to cram it down everyone else’s throat. Yes, she may nudge every now and then, but that’s just her and I don’t let it bother me. She means well and she loves us and that’s all that matters.

The other day I got a letter from her in the mail (yes, she still does snail mail). It was a little piece that she had written, what she called an “essay” on washing dishes. I have no idea why she sent it, but I love it. There’s a little note with it that says, “Hi Sweet Daughter, how do you like my essay? Smile! Love ya, Mother”. That’s it. Just the note and the essay, which is so typical of her. Just send the necessaries and don’t add too much fluff. She’s a very no-nonsense woman that way. Anyway, I thought I would share it with you here, just to give you a snapshot of where I am privileged to come from.

She calls this “Washing Dishes”.

“Some folks find washing dishes a distasteful task. Maybe that’s why so many kitchen sinks are full of them.

Since I was quite young, one of my chores was “doing the dishes” and I didn’t particularly like it then as I had other things to do when where more fun or more interesting.

I don’t recall when I began to find a certain pleasure in washing dishes. At some point I decided I didn’t like dishwasher because the dishes had to be rinsed first and sometimes the dishes weren’t clean and they had water spots. It was and is too much trouble in my opinion.

In one apartment where we lived we kept our dry cereal in the dishwasher. Now days as I wash dishes I can look out my kitchen window and watch whatever is going on outside and I can pray or meditate and sometimes I will be listening to gospel music. I “saw” God one time in a coffee mug I was drying!!

There is a unique sensation of satisfaction in having my hands in hot, sudsy water (wearing rubber gloves) and scrubbing a pot or pan. And when I am finished and hang up my drying towel, I can walk out of my kitchen feeling really good!!

You may think I’m crazy for feeling this way about “doing dishes”, but I know my Heavenly Father has given me these dishes to wash and this kitchen and this house to take care of and He trusts me to do it.

Dishwashers are a great invention and bless all those who have one, but I think I will just store our cereal in ours!! (p.s. We don’t have one).”

After reading this, I realized that I feel the same way. I don’t need, nor do I want, a dishwasher. I like being of service to my family and it’s one of the ways that I show them that I love them. I also agree that they don’t get the dishes clean, I don’t like the water spots that they leave, take up way too much space, and use too much water and electricity. They also get really nasty in the bottom and that grosses me out. And because we’re on a septic system, we have to be really careful about what we put in it and dishwasher detergent doesn’t fall in that category. I just wash them by hand, saving water, electricity, and our septic system at the same time. Even when we have lots of people over and there are tons of dishes left over, it’s okay. Alan, Darrian, and I all get in there together and get it done. It’s fun family time that we don’t get very often anymore and that is more important to me than the convenience of an electricity sucking machine that disconnects me from my family and the simplicity of life.

So, thank you, Mama. I appreciate everything you’ve taught me and continue to share with me. You’re the most wonderful Mama on the planet and I’m blessed to call you mine.

The Unschooling Adventure

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When our youngest son was in public elementary school, he loved it, he was doing well, and he was thriving. Then came middle school. What a nightmare. He was miserable, the education was lackluster, to say the least, and he was turning into a little jerk. He had  been such a sweet kid, so the change in him was unnerving and confusing.

We pulled him out of school and went with an online public school. That’s when we learned about how he learns best. He had trouble going from subject to subject, bouncing around, and retaining very little. He did much better as a binge learner. He loves to delve deep into a subject and learn all he can and then go on to the next thing. He’ll spend months learning something, like ancient history and war, computers, or cooking and then move on to something else. Unfortunately the online public school was basically the same thing as public school, only at home, so that didn’t work either. And then add in all of the nagging that I was doing to get him to do his homework (which was making both of us cranky) to the mix and that can squash the love of learning really fast. So we decided to scrap it and start all over.

The first thing we did was just let him take a break, which was harder on me than it was on him. The poor kid basically slept for about 8 months. He was exhausted and it was obvious. I learned a lot of patience during those 8 months, letting his body get the rest it needed and just being there for him. After that he finally started wanting to get up and do things, becoming more engaged than he had ever been before. My sweet boy was coming back!

I had been doing days and days of research on education alternatives and discovered unschooling. I knew this would be perfect for him because it would give him the freedom to learn what he was interested in at his own pace and to the depth that would satisfy him and keep him engaged. My husband and I decided to give it a try and see how it went and I’m so grateful that we did.

One of the hardest parts of unschooling is remembering that no matter what they’re doing, they’re always learning something. There is no, “and what did we learn from this?” or checking to make sure that they’re learning. Rest assured, they are. He was learning what he loves, what makes him tick, what he doesn’t like, and how he likes to be in the world. He was learning to be a responsible human being, how to find joy in life, and how to be a good person. That was more important to us than him learning how to do common core math or recite useless data that he would never use in his life. His love of learning was growing exponentially and his range of interests grew along with it.

That was 5 1/2 years ago and today he is happy, well-adjusted, can hold a decent conversation, knows how to problem solve, can build computers, and has a wicked sense of humor. At 17 he is kind, observant, smart as a whip, well-rounded and engaged. He has a job, and IRA, and loves to snowboard and do martial arts. He does spend a lot of time online, but it’s funny that a lot of it is on research of topics that he’s interested in. Right now it’s the periodic table, Spirit Science, and physics. Most of the time it’s hard to just keep up with him.

Because unschooling is learner led, it has given us the opportunity to really get to know our son as a person and a friend. We love spending time with him and we’re lucky that he loves spending time with us too. Watching him grow this way has been such a wonderful experience for our family and I am grateful for it. I will say that unschooling isn’t for everyone, but for us, it’s been perfect. I love the man he is becoming and I’m the lucky one that gets to be his mom.

*Photo credit: David Bartus on Pexels

The Last Thing I Want Is An InstantPot

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Looks like Instant Pots are all the rage now. And I’m apparently way behind because I just found out what they were less than a year ago. Yeah, they look pretty and fancy and so convenient. I can see how one would be useful in some situations. But really…no thanks.

When we decided to simplify our life we did it with the intention of reducing how hard we trample on this Earth every day. So one day, I was looking at the toaster…then I saw the toaster oven. I had a toaster…and I had a toaster oven. Ummmm….ok. I can make toast in the toaster oven. The toaster got booted. Then, after we moved to North Carolina, I was in the kitchen and I saw the toaster oven…and the oven. I had a toaster oven and I had an oven. Really? The toaster oven doesn’t even seal all of the way and it takes forever to make toast. The toaster oven had to go. Now I just make toast under the broiler in way less time than it ever took me to make it in both the toaster and the toaster oven. Bonus: I gained some nice counter space.

Then I see that everyone has an Instant Pot. Its the new, groovy, must have item. For some. First, its just another appliance to take up space for us. Second, I don’t want to become so dependent on an appliance that depends on electricity to run that I lose all of the skills that I’ve gained in learning how to cook from scratch, in the simplest ways. Third, I probably wouldn’t use it anyway. It would get stuck in the pantry in the back and would never see the light of day. And fourth, we really want to be off-grid, dependent only on ourselves, our family, friends, and neighbors. We want a simple life, with beautiful, simple things. We want to enjoy and be grateful for the simple things in life. And that my friends, does not include an Instant Pot.

I’d rather hone my skills. I want to be able to provide delicious, healthy meals for my family, no matter if the electricity is still on or not. I take comfort in the fact that I can cook rice, beans, soups, and all sorts of other goodness on the stove, in the oven, or even over the fire, if need be.

For me, more technology means less connection to that which sustains us. The entire process of cooking, watching it, waiting for it to be perfect, stirring in a bit of this and bit of that, and tasting it are all part of how I love my family. I don’t show my family that I love them by pushing a button and walking away. I get in there, get my hands dirty, and get splattered with food. And that, dear ones, is how I love.

*Photo credit: Pixabay

Black & Pinto Bean Posole

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I got this recipe from the Real Simple Magazine (that’s also their picture), but modified it a bit. It says for it to be done in a slow cooker, but mine was being crazy and wouldn’t heat up, so I did it on the stove. It also called for all black beans, but since I had just canned pintos (and a friend gave a jar of her canned black beans), I just combined the two and it turned out amazing! This is also good for all of my veggie friends because it uses veggie broth instead of chicken broth. I also used canned hominy from the store because I don’t know how to make that myself, but I’m sure I could figure it out. There’s another thing to learn, right? Anyway, give tit a go and see what you think! It’s really, really easy, packed with stuff that’s good for you, and makes enough for leftovers, which I always count as a plus…because, you know…teenagers.

8 cups homemade vegetable broth

3 poblano chiles, chopped (I thought this would be too many, but it was perfect)

1 onion, chopped

8 cloves garlic, chopped

1/4 cup olive oil (I just eyeballed this one)

2 Tbs chili powder

1 Tbs tomato paste

1 tsp oregano

1 pint cooked black beans

2 pints cooked pinto beans (check out the recipe for these here)

2 15 oz cans white hominy, drained

1/4 cup fresh lime juice (about 2 limes)

1 1/2 tsp kosher salt

1/8 tsp cayenne

Fun toppings: cilantro (man, I love this stuff), sour cream, avocado (not my favorite, but if that’s the way you roll, go for it), sliced radishes, or sliced green cabbage. Or whatever else flips your pancakes.

Combine the broth, poblanos, onion, garlic, oil, chile powder, tomato paste, oregano, and beans in a big stock pot. Heat to boiling, then let it simmer on low for an hour. Stir in the hominy, lime juice, salt, and cayenne. Heat through and serve with whatever toppings you chose.

This made quite a bit (about 8 servings, but I feel like it was more), but like I said, we dig leftovers, so plan to have this for lunch the next day. Unless you’re serving a gaggle of teenagers. In that case, plan on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

15 Weird Things You Can Compost

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At first I thought composting would be like taking a science exam: way too complicated and confusing. And honestly, I still don’t have it down pat, but we’re figuring it out, a little at a time. In fact, the first year we did it totally wrong and just let it go (after we had put a ton of pumpkins in there). The pumpkins started growing and, because we really didn’t do anything to it, the plants took the yard over like freaking Jumanji.

We don’t really make nearly enough scraps yet to compost, expecting to have enough for the garden, but we still do it simply to keep the stuff out of the landfill. Don’t have a yard? Live in an apartment or a militant HOA? You can still compost! Some cities and towns have community gardens that would love to take your compost (get a plot for yourself, while you’re at it!). Our local soup kitchen has it’s own garden and they accept donated compost as well. Even local schools might be interested, especially if you’re willing to get the project started for a

In my quest for diverting anything and everything from the landfill I did discover that you can compost some pretty weird stuff…stuff I had never even thought about. Here’s a quick list of just 15 things you can compost, but there are lots, lots more. And if you’re ever not sure if you can compost something, a quick Google search will head you in the right direction.

  1. Freezer-burned fruits and veggies. When you really think about it, they’re still raw (well, probably blanched), so why not? Even with the ice on them, throw those suckers in there (and the bag can be recycled in the plastic grocery bag bin at the market)!
  2. Pine cones. Not the ones from the store that have been scented, but just the regular ones that fall of the trees in your yard. But wait! First you can harvest out the pine nuts, then throw the pine cones in the composter. We actually use them as fire starters, but the composter will eat’em up too.
  3. Human hair. I wouldn’t add it if it has been chemically or color treated, but otherwise, it can be composted. If it’s treated, in the spring you can just throw it out in the yard for the birds. They’ll love making nests out of it.
  4. Moldy cheese. Now, we don’t get a lot of moldy cheese around here just because it doesn’t last that long, but if you’re not of the mind to just cut off the mold and eat the rest, throw that sucker in the composter.
  5. Sawdust. As long as the wood hasn’t been treated, it’s good to go. Just sweep the stuff up and throw it in there. We use sawdust to make fire starters too. No need for any of it to go to waste!
  6. Tea bags. You know those fancy, silky ones? Yeah….those are probably plastic, so don’t compost those. But if it’s just a regular ol’ tea bag, cut the staple part off and throw the bag and tea in there. No waste, no fuss.
  7. Nut shells (except for walnuts). As long as their from raw nuts and haven’t been sprayed with pesticides, you’re good to go.
  8. Pet hair. We’ve got 2 dogs and 3 cats, so yeah…we’ve got a fur issue. I brush the dogs and run old school lint brush over the cats. All that that hair goes right into the compost bucket.
  9. Dryer lint. As long as your clothes are made of natural fibers, then it’s fine. But if you’ve got anything in there that is not, you’re better off saving it for the birds or making firestarters out of it.
  10. Moldy bread and crackers. Just toss it all in there! If the bread is just stale, run it through the food processor and dry it on low in the oven…voila’! Breadcrumbs!
  11. Booze. The morning after that raging party, when you’re going around picking up cups of left-behind drinks, as long as they don’t have mixers in them, just add them to the pile.
  12. Crumbs from the countertop and floor. I have to sweep our floors twice a day and all of that stuff (minus anything not compostable) goes right into the compost bucket.
  13. Wine corks. It’s best to chop these up as best you can, but they’re fine to go in. Alternatively, you can put them in a jar with some rubbing alcohol, let them soak,  and use them as fire starters.
  14. Nail clippings. I know…ew, but it’s true. After all, they’re made from the same stuff that your hair is made from, so throw those suckers in there.
  15. Hamster, gerbil, and rabbit droppings. Gotta love those house pets, and now you can love their poop, because it can go right in the compost. However, do NOT compost dog or cat poop. If you are looking for a way to get rid of that without throwing it in the trash, get yourself one of these, made specifically for composting dog and cat poop.