Monday, January 31, 2011

Think Before You Buy

I like to shop. For groceries, for clothes, for just about everything. In fact, I've coined the term "coveting" as in, I will covet the things I want but not actually buy them. Let's use it in a sentence, shall we? This weekend, I went and coveted the new spring fashions at the mall. Covet. Wow. I feel like a terrible person for even admitting this. Coveting is one of the big ten (as in commandments) and though I am by no means a "churchy" person, I think the ten commandments are pretty good guide when it comes to good and ethical behavior. Commandment number ten states:

You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor's.
Though I've never hungered for my neighbor's livestock,  I've certainly found myself lusting over a friend's pretty new handbag, or wishing it was my roof that was adorned with shining new solar panels. That's kind of the same thing, isn't it? It is a daily struggle for me to just be happy with what we've got. And what we've got is good. Great. Fantastic. More than I could hope for and more than I deserve. So why, oh why, do I still feel like I need more stuff?

I could easily blame it someone else. According to Consumer Reports, the average American is exposed to 247 commercial messages every day.  Of course, if you don’t watch TV, you’ll cut a lot of those ads out, but even then there are still ads flying at you from every which way. And what are all these ads telling us? That we will not be happy, healthy, wealthy, wise, popular, or anything else–unless we buy these products. So what do we do? We buy. And buy. And buy. And buy. And every time we buy, we create waste, consume energy, and in the long run make ourselves less happy than when we started.

I've done what I can do. I don't go "coveting" anymore. Let's face it. I can't go into a store and just look. I can't. I know that now. And I try to shop with lists as I find this really helps me stay on track and keeps "extras" out of my basket. But every now and then, something bright and shiny grabs my attention and it gets brought home where I glare at it, knowing the money I spent on it would have been better spent somewhere else.

So how do I avoid bringing it home in the first place? I found this handy list of questions on the Mother Nature Network that might just be the ticket. The idea is to print the questions out on a little card and stick it in your wallet so that whenever you are confronted with a purchase, you have a little something to help you really think it through.  Of course you don't really have to carry it with you. You could just mentally ask these questions. But will you remember to? I won't. I need something concrete. Perhaps I'll put it on neon colored card stock so I'll be sure to notice it each and every time open my wallet.

1. Is this purchase something I need?
2. Do I already own something that will serve the same purpose?
3. Can I borrow one instead of buying new?
4. Can I make something that will serve the same purpose?
5. Can I buy a used one?
6. How does this item encourage a simple lifestyle?
7. Do I really have the money for this purchase?
8. Can I buy one that was made with environmentally responsible materials?
9. Can I buy one that serves more than one purpose?
10. What is the impact on the environment of the full life cycle of it?
Less Stuff=Simple Life and Happy Planet!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Banana Bread

I've not been baking much. It's a shame really. I love to bake. And even more, I love to EAT what I bake. I think I eat more than I should, not just because it's tasty, but because I know there's no strange ingredients, like polysorbate 60 or sorbitan monostearate (which are found in Keebler Soft Batch Cookies.)  But, I am bound and determined to rid myself of those ten pesky pounds that came out of nowhere and refuse to leave, and I'd rather not tempt myself with my yummy homemade treats. And boy, are they yummy. My neighbors have requested I stop bringing them baked goods because their behinds are growing and if I can't give it away, I just don't make it. 

I do have one exception to this rule though: banana bread. Even though it has shortening and sugar, it has fruit and nuts in so I consider it "not that bad." And really, what else am I supposed to do with three brown bananas that no one will eat? I realize that there are hundreds of banana bread recipes out there but I'm telling you, this is the best one. It is my grandmother's recipe and she's been baking for most of her 80 something years. She sometimes tops hers with a powdered sugar glaze but for "health" sake  (and to keep my kids as sticky-free as possible) I usually omit that but if you really want the good stuff, go for it.

Kathaleen's Best Ever Banana Bread
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup shortening (organic if you have it)
2 eggs
1 tsp. baking soda
3-4 ripe smashed bananas
3 tbs. milk
2 cups sifted flour
1 cup chopped nuts (I use pecans, just like Grandma)
1/2 tsp. salt

Cream the first three ingredients. Add the baking soda, bananas and milk. Slowly stir in flour, salt and nuts. Spoon into a greased and floured loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for about an hour.

Every bite makes me think of her. Delicious!

Not my banana bread.....but looks a lot like it!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Two Days, Four Outfits

For the past two days, I've been holed up with my sewing machine. Here's the story:

While wrestling my son into his pajamas the other night, I noticed that they were getting a little short and a little tight. Time for new jammies. But after a stroll around Target (and some incredible willpower) I skipped the cute ready mades and decided it would be cheaper and more fun to sew my own. I already had a stash of cute boyish cotton prints I'd gotten on clearance and a pattern too. I picked up some plain cotton t-shirts for $2.50 each and skipped though the parking lot, applauding my frugal efforts all the way home.

Way back when, I attempted to make a pair of jammy pants for my boy. I thought the pattern looked weird so I altered it, resulting in awkward, hip huggin', diaper bearing bottoms that were poorly hemmed and ended up  in the rag bag. This time, I left well enough alone. The pattern is perfect as is and I turned out TWO pairs in about an hour and a half. Now that I've got it down, I bet I could do it in 45 minutes. Paired with the cotton tees (which I plan on embellishing later) the boy child got two matching pairs of pajamas that cost me about $5 a pop. A steal when you consider that Target's jammies run anywhere for $10 to $20 for each set.

And for some reason, I kept on a stitchin'. I found the cutest, fastest, easiest skirt pattern over at Oliver and S and made TWO, yes TWO, precious skirts for my daughter. I love them. They're fun to make, they're fast, and they look just as good as anything you could buy in the store. I'd like to figure out how to make an adult size version for myself. The ribbon hem is what really makes it special.These would be perfect for our sweltering summers but for those of you who are dealing with ice and snow at the moment, you could always use a heavier fabric like corduroy. And leggings! These would be so cute with leggings! If you have a little girl....heck, if you KNOW a little girl, make her a few of these. She'll love you forever!

I wanted a couple of cute tops to go with the skirts but I'm not quite skilled enough to start whipping out t-shirts. Knits are stretchy=scary to sew with. Anyway, cheap cotton tees to the rescue. I bought one at Target for $2.50 and the other was just a plain white tee K had in her dresser. I am blessed with a super crafty friend ( I heart you B!) who oh so generously let me use her most awesome embroidery machine to do some appliques. The result? Two ridiculously adorable, one of a kind outfits for pennies.

Pardon the wrinkles....I had to dig them out of the hamper for a pic.
Love the hot pink ribbon hem!
And as a final touch,I got together with another crafty friend and we made a few hair bows for our girls. I used the ribbons I used for the skirts and now my baby girl is fashionably coordinated from head to toe. Revel in my domesticity!! RAWWWWR!


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Nature Table

One of my favorite ways to waste time is blog hopping. I have a list of blogs that I visit on a regular basis and am always surfing around, trying to find new ones. I feel a connection to these bloggers, these women of simplicity, and draw strength and encouragement from them on a daily basis. That, and some of them have really cool ideas for me to steal :0)

Many of the blogs that I visit engage us with tales of homeschooling, unschooling, Steiner and Waldorf. When I started this whole blog business I didn't even know what the last three words even meant. Seriously. What's a Steiner? Slowly, curiosity got the better of me and I Googled each one. What an eye opener! I have always been a fan of the Montessori method but I think I might be developing a little crush on the Waldorf way of doing things.

Though affording to send my children to anything other than a public school is pretty much out of the question for us, I figure as their mother, it is my job to "fill in the gaps" so to speak. Not that you can't get a perfectly good education at a public school but I feel that integrating Montessori and Waldorf techniques into my children's lives will produce well rounded, caring, conscious little people. And since there is no way they'll be doing yoga after math time or celebrating Michaelmas with their classmates each fall, it is I who will have be bringing that little something extra to the table.

And speaking of tables......I believe my first foray into "alternative" education will be a nature table. Everyone is always talking about their nature tables. Blog posts titled "Make a Felt Gnome for the Nature Table!" or "Win Some Play Silks for Your Nature Table!" makes me want to have our own little place to fill with outdoor treasures. Both of my kids are notorious collectors and we can't make it in from an outdoor adventure without an assortment of  rocks, sticks, leaves, feathers and whatever else they can find. We currently have a "Nature Box" where the very best of the rocks and sticks are placed for safekeeping but I'd like there to be a designated spot for them to display their cache and to keep up with the changing seasons. By allowing them to keep their collections out on display, I hope to keep their connection with nature fresh in their little minds and hopefully, generate lots of questions!

It may not be a table per se....maybe a shelf or something.  I'm stilling mulling the idea over. Do you have a nature table/shelf/area? What's on it? How do you keep it from looking junky? Is that a terrible control freak of a mother thing to ask??

P.S. The camera battery is dead and I can't find the charger so we're going to be picture-less until I do. Hopefully, my witty writing is enough to keep you engaged :)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Out Damn Spot!

I have kids. Two of them. And though we have rules about food and drink in the living room, they aren't always followed.  Sometimes Cheerios get eaten while sitting on the couch, or a cup containing something other than water (namely milk) drips on the carpet and never gets wiped up. We've lived in our house for a little more than two years now and our carpets show every minute of it. Initially, I was excited to have carpet. Our previous home had pine floors throughout and the thought of squishy, delicious carpet between my toes seemed luxurious after all that cold, hard wood. 

But oh, how I'm whistling a new tune. I pine (no pun intended) for hardwood floors again. A floor where milk, juice, pee, vomit and a variety of other fluids could be easily wiped up without a trace.But instead, I have spots. Little bitty, here and there, unexplained little spots. What I need is a steamer but I don't have one, nor do I have the cash to rent one. Plus, most steamers and carpet cleaning companies use harsh chemicals to get your carpets sparkling clean. Hardwood floors are not in the budget so it is I who will have to wage war on all those damned spots, eco-friendly cleaning solution in hand. Here is the recipe I used:

You will need...

-Baking Soda
-White Vinegar
-Scrub Brush
-Headband (to keep your hair out of your face while you scrub like there's no tomorrow)

Fill bucket with one half gallon of water. Add one half cup of vinegar. Add one quarter cup baking soda. Mix it around with your hand until it makes a goopy paste that you can spread on your carpets. Get your scrub brush and dip it into the solution. Attack those pesky spots. If you're feeling extra plucky, you can scrub your entire carpet with the paste but I didn't because really, who has time to scrub 1200 square feet of carpet with a scrub brush? I just hunt and pecked for spots. Allow the solution to dry and then vacuum. 

Though certainly more labor intensive than just spraying with carpet spray from the store, it worked just as well. The hardest part was keeping the kids fingers out of the paste while it dried. And yes, the house smelled vinegary while the concoction dried on the carpet but as soon as it did, there was no smell whatsoever. And best of all, a large majority of those little mystery spots are gone! Of course I found some later, after I had already finished, but I'll wait to scrub them until they grow in numbers and threaten to overtake the living room. Anyone know where I can get sustainable hardwood floors at a killer price? No? I guess it's just me and my scrub brush...

Friday, January 14, 2011

10 Things

There's much to be worried about. Floods in Australia, mudslides in Brazil, mass animal die offs around the globe, nine dead in a shooting rampage here in's been a tough week. My mind is troubled and I am scared. I am so very glad my family has chosen to live simply and sustainably, with only the things that really matter. Because in times like these, what else can you really cling to but the simple every day tasks of living and loving your family?

Despite it all, here are 10 things that are making me happy, right now.

1. My four Australian friends. They are wet and worried, but safe.

2. Bread. I may not be able to make it but I can buy it when so many others cannot.

3.My clothesline. Seeing my clothes flapping in the breeze is strangely soothing.

4.Haircuts. Snip and a clip and I feel like a million bucks.

5.Seed catalogues. Spring planting is just around the corner!

6.Increases and Decreases. As in crochet. I learned how to do them just this week.

7.Vitamin B Complex. Without them, I'd sleep all day.

8.My new aromatherapy book. There's an oil for every ill and I plan on learning how to use them all.

9.Chicken poop. My herbs will be ROCKIN' this year.

10.A fridge full of pictures made "Just for Mommy."

What's making you happy today?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Lemony Delicious

First off, I would like to thank you all for your kind encouragement and suggestions about making bread. You guys provided some fantastic resources that I have been combing over. I plan to try again this weekend....I'll be sure you know how things turn and whether or not there was cursing involved.

Besides trying and failing at bread making, I've also been doing a bit of food preservation. Preservation of lemons to be exact. Because hey, when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. But when life gives you twenty pounds of lemons, you panic and start tearing through cookbooks and cooking websites to figure out what to do with all of them. Citrus does very well here in the valley. Though my own trees are young and tender, we have several friends with mature ones, and they have more fruit than they know what to do with. Because we are the people who "preserve and prepare" we are often the first to get others crop excesses since they figure with our drying/canning skills we are better equipped to handle such a surplus.

A kind assumption really, but not necessarily true. Yes. I can probably can it or dry it but that doesn't mean I know how to handle certain foods. And lemons, well, there's not a terrible lot you can do with them.  We made a huge pitcher of lemonade of course. Rolling and juicing lemons is a source of great entertainment in this house. We froze about four quarts of lemon juice to be used either while cooking or to make another yummy batch of homemade lemonade or lemon squares and the rest, we sliced and put in the trusty old dehydrator.

And what, you ask, can you do with a dehydrated lemon? Well...
  • You can put them in your tea or your ice water! Personally, I love a lemon slice in my water but never seem to have the fresh variety on hand when I get a hankering. Dried lemons=problem solved!
  • Break them up in little pieces and add them to muffin or cookie batters. I think poppy seed muffins would be especially delicious with dehydrated lemon pieces.
  • Use them for pretties. In our house, pretties are things that we look at but don't touch. Use dried lemon slices in you homemade potpourri concoctions or in your home decor projects, like perhaps, a wreath.
  • Stew them in sugar syrup and lay them over the top of a bundt or coffee cake. Yummo!
I really like the versatility of dried fruits. Next time your orchard runneth over, or you score a killer deal at the store, consider dehydrating. Simple and delicious!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Lucky in Loaves

Here is bread, which strengthens man's heart, and therefore is called the staff of life---Matthew Henry 
I am your classic female carboholic. I like potatoes. I love bread. And a meal made from some combination thereof...I'm in heaven.  I've passed my love of starch on to my son, who, upon waking from his afternoon nap, often requests a single slice of plain bread, potato if we have it. Whoever the genius was that combined potatoes with bread deserves a hearty pat on the back if you ask me.
Because I adore most any loaf you put before me, it makes sense that I would want to be a successful bread maker. One of my goals for this year is to learn how to make bread well enough to stop buying it at the market. Nothing against store bought breads. There are some fantastic artisan breads out there but I crave the satisfaction of doing it myself. However, my track record with bread baking has been less than stellar. I've yet to produce anything I would let other people see much less consume.
You see....I'm a yeast killer. It's true. At least I think that's what I do wrong EVERY SINGLE TIME. My bread does not rise and upon baking, it turns into a hard, brick-like obelisk, certainly the saddest, toughest of loaves you have ever seen. But this year, this will be the year of the bread.
I wanted to re-start my efforts with a no brainer. Something easy, impossible to screw up. A combination of a store sale and a coupon led me to a free boxed bread mix that could either be thrown in the bread machine or stirred up in a bowl. The only semi-decent bread I've ever made has come from my bread machine so I figured I'd try it there first. I pulled out the bread machine only to discover the kneading propeller thingie was missing and was nowhere to be found. Okay. No big deal. We'll do this old school...
Notice how it claims it's "easy!"
Dump, mix, cover and wait. I put the bowl on top of my dryer and shut the door, entirely expecting that I would remember to return in two hours time to check it's progress, hopefully ooohing and ahhhing over my dough, now doubled in size. Four hours later.....
An utter failure
Nothing. The boxed bread mix that was sitting in a warm draft free place for FOUR HOURS had not risen more than a quarter of an inch up the sides of the bowl. I can't even make bread from a box. Am I to be forever at the mercy of whatever the bread aisle has in stock?? Is there yeast for dummies and if so, where do I find it? If bread is the "staff of life " why is so damn difficult for me to make?
Ug. I'm disgusted. I'm going to the bakery...

Friday, January 7, 2011

And the Winner Is.....

Stella! Congratulations Stella! Your copy of Renee Loux's book is on it's way.Keep an eye on your mailbox. And to everyone else who participated in my first ever giveaway, a big thank you for reading my stuff on a semi-regular basis. You guys rock!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


A friend of mine recently pointed out that even though I keep chickens and lust after goats and dairy cattle, my family has not one domesticated animal. No dog to play catch with, no cat to snuggle with on cold nights. I laughed but indeed, if we were a "real" homestead, it would be odd to see all the farm animals and not hear so much as one bark or meow. That comment got me thinking...and thinking....and thinking.....and soon, I was pretty much convinced that we needed a cat. Someone for the kids to stroke and torture with bits of yarn and floss from my stash, someone to eat crickets and purr in my lap when I read in the evenings. Yes. A kitty of our very own.

K and I went to the shelter to have a looksie. I had NO intentions of actually bringing something home but one kitty in particular snuggled into her lap, wrapped his paws around her arm and started purring like an engine. She begged, I caved, and after the adoption fee was paid, we brought him home. And my little K, the namer of things, decided to call him Twitch. Upon arrival, Twitch sniffed the couch cautiously a few times, leapt into the air and hightailed it to the master bedroom where he has been hiding ever since. 

Wiggly Cat

I know our new pet will come out in his own time and that he's just adjusting to his new surroundings. He went from dumpster, to shelter, to foster, to shelter and finally home with us. I'd be a little scared and confused too! While he's figuring things out, it is our job to make him as comfortable as possible. I've bought the same brand of food he was eating at the shelter to avoid intestinal upsets and bought the same brand of litter too. Luckily, the shelter was using an eco-friendly brand of litter made of pine shavings and ground corn so I wouldn't have to transition Twitch from clay to pine. 

K and Twitch
What's the difference, you ask? Who cares what your cat poops in as long as it keeps the stink down right? WRONG! Clay litters are a serious environmental hazard. Clay is mined in the most damaging of ways. Plus, the chemicals and perfumes in most clay litters, namely silica and sodium bentonite, have been linked to all sorts of kitty health problems including diarrhea, vomiting, kidney problems, and respiratory problems. Not only is the cat ingesting these poisonous dusts and granules when they groom, they are inhaling it when they scratch around. And we're inhaling it too every time we change or scoop the litter.No thank you!

There are several affordable, available and environmentally conscious cat litters on the market today. These varieties are made from pine, corn, wheat and even recycled newspapers. The brand we use, Feline Pine, has a clumping formula out that uses guar beans to get that sought after clumping action.And an added bonus? Pine is a natural ammonia neutralizer so the box smells fresh and clean without harsh perfumes. fresh and clean as a cat box can smell I suppose. And, pine litter weighs a FRACTION of what clay litters do so no more throwing your back out to change the box!

As soon as Twitch emerges from bedroom, he'll  be happy to find a clean, soft, environmentally sound place in which to poo. Some kitty kibble, fresh water and a hand to scratch you...a cat really can't ask for much more.

 Don't forget to enter my giveaway! Remember, to enter, you must be a follower! You have until midnight tomorrow (Wednesday, January 5).
Winners will be announced Friday. Good luck!

Monday, January 3, 2011


I hate New Year's resolutions. Though the first day of the new year is a convenient time to start anew, my resolutions are usually forgotten by the end of January. I believe this happens because most of the things we resolve to do are either unrealistic or completely unattainable. When we make a resolution, we do so to "correct" something about ourselves, something that probably doesn't really need fixing in the first place but that mainstream media tells us is utterly wrong. You're too fat. You're not smart enough. You're a slob. So this year, instead of resolving to lose that 10 pounds I've been trying to lose for 3 years, or resolving to do one load of laundry a day so that Saturday's Mt. Washmore is more of a molehill than a mountain, I'm going to resolve not to make resolutions. Instead, I will make a list of skills I wish to learn. If I learn them in the coming year, great. If it takes a little longer, that's okay too. The list will be ever growing, never ending, and will always be a reminder that despite my chubby, slovenly self, I am skilled, curious and most importantly, happy.

Here is the list thus far:

I would like to learn how....

  • To make bread well enough to stop having to buy it in the store. I'm a serial yeast killer though. This could take some work.
  • Not to be afraid of my pressure canner. I can water bath till the cows come home but I am terrified I'll blow my head off if I try to put up my own spaghetti sauce.
  • To use essential oils for both medicating and beautifying. A thoughtful Christmas gift from my husband has given me a good start but I still have much to discover.
  • To put in a zipper and make perfect pleats. WITHOUT cursing.
  • To incorporate more veggies in my family's diet, preferably in a sneaky way as both spouse and children are hesitant to eat any variety but corn and asparagus.
  • To make body, hand and laundry soap. Once all the necessary ingredients are gathered, I'll save a bundle, know exactly what's in the mix, and can make it smell however I want!
  • To compost. Properly. The homemade bin of rotting food and weeds turned in to a cricket attractant and roach motel. Time to get serious and get rid of that awful thing!
  • To do Zumba. I look in on the class every time I go to the gym and it looks like so much fun.
  • To make candles. I can't really think of a practical application but I think it looks fun!
  • To make more than dishcloths with my crochet needles.  I want a sweater dammit!
  • To quilt. Something about using scraps to make something useful and beautiful just rubs me in all the right places.
And so it begins. This year, I encourage you to consider what it is you would really like to do and learn this year. What  is really going to make you happy? If giving up sugar or losing some weight is the ticket to true bliss, than by all means, put it down. But I'm pretty sure, deep down, things like dress size and an addiction to cookies aren't what's holding you back from true happiness. What keeps us from happiness is ourselves. We put things like weight and appearance before the simple, pleasurable skills and hobbies that make life interesting and truly worth living.  Put aside your doubts, your insecurities and your I cant's and just write it down. All of it. You have a lifetime to get it all done. You best get started!

Oh! And don't forget to enter my giveaway! Remember, to enter, you must be a follower! You can enter once a day until midnight on January 5th. Winners will be announced Friday. Good luck!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year's Giveaway!

Happy New Year!One of my favorite outcomes of writing this blog is watching some of my friends, some of my very un-simplistic friends, began to take steps steps toward a greener and simpler life. I've got people canning, sewing, making their own cleaning products, keeping chickens and shopping for sustainable products. And though I can't take all the credit, I can't help but smile when they mention that they were inspired to start exploring this kind of lifestyle because of what they've read in this space. Sure, it gives me a little kick in the 'ol self esteem machine to witness this but what really makes it great is that there are now a few more people in the world trying to live better, greener, and more simply. And in the words of my girl Martha S., it's a good thing!

When I was getting started, I needed information. Resources. A green and simple living bible so to speak. There are lots of good books out there and trust me, I've read most of them. But when it comes to green living, there is one book I cannot recommend enough. Easy Green Living by Renee Loux is, in my opinion, the best resource for everything planet friendly. According to the good folks at Amazon, Renée Loux demonstrates that being green at home is easy, affordable, and better in every sense of the word. She discusses the daily choices we face that can keep the home, personal care, and beauty routines free of toxins. She exposes the dirt on cleaning products and common hazardous ingredients and reveals her recommendations for greener options, including her "Green Thumb Guides" for choosing non-toxic, eco-smart, and human-friendly products. Anything that you want to green up, she tells you how to do it.

And the best part you ask? I want YOU to have a copy. For Green's Going Green's first ever giveaway, you can enter for a chance to win Renee Loux's Easy Green Living. But there's a catch. To enter, you must be a follower. So if you've been lurking around but haven't made it official yet, by all means please do! Then, leave me a comment telling me what you think needs greening in your life. You can enter once a day, every day until midnight MST on Wednesday, January 4. Winner will be chosen at random and yes....I'll ship internationally!

Thank you all so much for reading...I can't wait to see who wins it!