Saturday, February 26, 2011

Home Found Treasures

Home again. My family and I hopped the border this weekend, and are hunkered down in the mountains of New Mexico. My Momma is celebrating her 50th birthday and we decided that such an occasion is just too important miss, so we loaded up and headed east. I love how we just sort of fall back into the routine of rural living even though my husband and I have been city dwellers for years now. We started the day drinking coffee and reading by the fire, breakfast at the local (and only) cafe, and then headed out to check on the cattle. It's still mighty cold up here and ice needed to be broken and the generator started to pump water up and out of the well for the cows. We were hoping to see the newest calf, born two days prior, but it was nowhere to be found. Dad hasn't seen it since it was born...we're hoping nothing got it and that she's safely bedded down somewhere.

Helping Opa break water.

Looking for the lost calf.
When we came back to warm our frozen ears (New Mexico wind is WICKED I tell you!) Momma greeted me with some of the sweetest treasures I've seen in a while. Tucked under her arm were two vintage doll quilts, an antique handmade doll cradle and a box, a whole box full of vintage patterns. It was like Christmas I tell you! I think I actually squealed. All of these most precious things came from my Momma's dear friend Patty who thought my little K might get some use out of the cradle and quilts and knew that my new found love of sewing would surely put all those patterns to good use. K, who was away from home and lacking her best baby dolls, dug a pink teddy bear out of Granny's toy box and tucked him to the new cradle with one of the quilts. It's perfect, she whispered. And it most certainly is.

The quilts are worn but beautiful. They are both hexagon patterns. Given my record with rotary cutters and my tendency to throw them across the room, I can't imagine cutting all those teeny little hexagons by hand, or stitching them so perfectly together without a machine. I've really been bitten by the quilting bug. Not so much in the making of them but in the stories of them, especially the older ones. Not so many years ago, quilts were not just beautiful but utilitarian. They used scraps from old clothes, flour sacks, worn blankets...quilts were one of the first "up-cycled" items. I love that in some of the hexagons you can see the seam of the clothing it came from. I do love all the gorgeous fabrics you can buy and coordinate these days but the vintage scrap quilts are by far my favorite. These little doll quilts are certainly special and I'll treasure them long after K quits playing with dolls I'm sure!

The pink teddy bear, tucked in to his cradle for the night!

The other hex quilt. So gorgeous!
And the patterns. Oh do I love the patterns. I love their yellowed envelopes, and the crinkly noise the aged tissue paper makes when I hold them in my hand. I have to admit I giggled at some of the styles. Hiding in that red checked box I found patterns for bell bottoms, cat suits and an awesomely hippie style poncho with an optional hood. But there were also some really cute jumpers that I can't wait to see K in and a pattern for overalls that just scream muddy little boy. J might soon get something Momma made other than pajama pants! There are a few patterns that I could use too with a tweak here and there; a skirt with classic lines, a nightgown that only needs to be shortened, a dress that looks like I could live in it. I can't wait to really dig through and see what I can make.

Three of many!
 So with teddy tucked in and visions of bell bottoms and ponchos dancing in my head, I bid you farewell. It's almost time to start hanging the streamers for Momma's party tonight! I'm not sure when I'll get to posting again..the computer has died and I fear this is it's third and final time. We have been saving for another one and hopefully we'll get a shiny, new desktop fitted in to the office within the week. Here's hoping....

Hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


I read a rather disturbing article the other day about the future of food production. Scary, to say the least. Combine that with my fourth (maybe my fifth) viewing of the film Food Inc. and I'll clamoring to make some changes in the way my family eats.

My biggest enemy is complacency. I get all gung-ho and for a couple of months where we don't eat fast food, there is lots of from-scratch cooking and my vegetable crisper is a rainbow of good for you produce. But life happens. We get busy, we get lazy and slowly, slowly, all those not so good for you habits start sneaking back in. A fast food lunch here. A frozen dinner there. I don't want to cook dinner honey, let's go out! happens more and more frequently. And let me tell checkbook and my rear end are living proof that bad food choices make for one unhappy momma.

I have been tempted...oh so give vegetarianism a try. Vegetarianism is one of the smartest and healthiest ways to eat. On average, vegetarians live about four more years than meat eaters and an added bonus? They weigh about 15% less than the rest of us too. But there are a few other reasons I have been considering a plant based diet. Meat prices are excruciatingly high and will only get higher. As I mentioned in a previous post, we get most of our beef from our family's cattle ranch. But if we want pork, chicken or fish for dinner, it's off to the grocery store we go. And lest we forget... factory farming is one of the most environmentally damaging practices we humans have come up with. Cutting out meat seems smart for health, wealth and planet. But....

I LIKE IT! I really do! And my family likes it too. And really, what kind of rancher's kid would I be if I didn't eat meat? It would be like committing family treason! The rancher's daughter is a vegetarian. The sentence is itself an oxymoron! So instead of giving up meat completely, my husband and I have committed to eating less meat. Hipsters have coined the term flexitarian which basically means a part time vegetarian. Also, when I say my husband and I committed, well, I use that term a little loosely. I told him we eat too much crap, meat is too expensive, and since I'm the one who does the cooking, he better be prepared for some meatless meals. He didn't exactly rejoice in my wise and frugal descision, rather, he raised his eyebrows and reminded me that he is "iffy" about vegetables. Iffy. 

Branding time on my husband's grandfather's ranch
Well here's a little secret. I'm kind of iffy myself. But I'm sure there are ways to make just about any veggie taste delicious. Though I strive to be like her, I am definitely no Martha Stewart in the kitchen. When it comes to vegetables, I sautee it, steam it or roast it. That's it. My family has a small list of "safe veggies" i.e. vegetables that my husband and kids will gag down with a healthy dose of ranch dressing, but I would love to expand upon that list. And eat less meat. I want be less "American" I suppose. In the good 'ol USA, a "meal" means a healthy slab of meat with an equally hearty side of carbs and bitty little portion of the good stuff. Don't get me wrong. I LOVE those American meals. Boy do I! I just think that maybe we should eat them a little less often.

I have ordered a cookbook called The Flexitarian Diet to help guide me a little, but this is the part I really need help with. I need tasty recipes. Easy recipes. Recipes that don't have weird ingredients, curry (what is it with vegetarian recipes and curry?) or meat in them. Recipes that are doable for a busy family. Lunch and snack ideas too. My go-to lunches for my kids include turkey dogs and ham sandwiches. If I'm not giving them meat, what the heck do I feed them? I'd like to learn how to use all the produce we grow, like beets and turnips, instead of giving them away. I want to jump in head first but if there aren't any weapons in the arsenal, the McDonald's drive through will be seeing my van sooner than later. Help me help myself!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


I've always had major guilt issues about the TV. Not that the box is blaring all the live long day but I hated when I used the TV to get a much needed break from my children. I'm sure you're all familiar with those kind of days. The whining, the bickering, the backtalk....the craziness that drives you right to the edge. Sometimes, a little Sesame Street is all it takes to settle things down and get back on track. But there were also days when the TV was on for no apparent reason. Or in the evenings after dinner when instead of spending time with each other in a constructive way, we were watching reruns of shows we don't really like all that much anyway.

Movie Night!
I tried self discipline. I tried nagging. I constantly reminded myself of all the cool things we could be doing and the money we could be saving if the TV were off. That long list of sewing projects would finally be finished. That stack of books on the nightstand might get read. All those letters I want to write would finally be penned... And for a while, we'd do pretty well until all of a sudden we weren't. So I took matters into my own hands....

I canceled the cable.

I canceled the cable and I'm kind of freaking out.

Not that I don't think we can live without it. Of course we can! But I've never NOT had cable. EVER. I had it growing up. I had it in my dorm room. I worked extra shifts so I could have it in my first apartment. And no matter how broke we were in those first couple of years of marriage, we always had at least a basic package. And now...nothing.

We're not going completely cold turkey I suppose. We plan on getting a converter box so we'll get the networks for news and such. And we have Netflix for movie night. But there's something a wee bit scary about not being able to flood the living room with Kipper at the push of button when the kiddos are getting out of hand. A TV free home certainly brings us closer to the simplistic life I've been striving to live, but this is a big deal for me. We prepped the kids weeks ago and though there was some initial whining, when I announced the deed had been done, they shrugged and went outside to chase the chickens. I feel like I'm the only  one mourning the loss here, and I watched far less TV than the other three members of my family!

However, in absence of on demand entertainment we have...

-Embraced art. Collages, specifically. My kids love being given permission to cut up Mommy's magazine and get sticky with glue.

-Played several rousing rounds of Chutes and Ladders.

-Found new indoor hiding places for Hide and Seek. And J is learning not to call out when he's supposed to be hiding!

-Started our first family chapter book. We are reading A Nest for Celeste, a sweet story about a mouse who is looking for the perfect place to call home. It has just enough pictures to keep the attention of the littles and just enough substance to keep Mom and Dad entertained.

-Taught K how to play charades. She's limited mostly to animals and playground activities but it sure is fun trying to guess what the heck she's doing ("I'm a monkey going down the slide Mom!)

-Started picking through the scrap bin for the beginnings of a doll quilt for K. It's time I learn this quilting business and I figure something small is best to start with. Since K has free reign on fabric choices, it may not be the prettiest thing but we shall see. Brown and purple go together, right?

-Built the biggest, bestest train track for J using EVERY SINGLE PIECE of track we own. It covered the entire floor of his bedroom.

There are still those moments when someone asks for TV time, me included. It's a whole lot easier to say no when I know that even if I do flip the set on, absolutely nothing will happen. There have been moments of boredom and one flamboyant fit but I think we're adjusting well.  And believe it or's whole lot more fun hanging out with my family than watching reruns. I thought losing TV would make my life more complicated and hectic. Just think of all that time I'm going to have to fill with Mommy made entertainment! But that just isn't the case. Things just seems so much...simpler!


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

In The Sun

We spent a large part of the weekend in the backyard preparing for spring planting. This past Saturday marked the first "spring like" day for us, and the temperature stayed at a perfect 75 degrees all weekend long. The kids played in the mud, the chickens were allowed free reign of the backyard and it was a perfect urban homestead weekend. Don't be hatin' east coast and Canadian know how much I complain once our daily average temperature hovers at 110 degrees day after sweltering summer day. You give some and you take some....

Our first priority was fixing our watering system. Hubby had ingeniously rigged up an irrigation system last season so that our plants could be watered automatically and at least twice a day, which is mucho important here in the desert. The system worked beautifully until the end of the season. The scorching sun and hard water left our misters plugged and our tubing cracked. This year, instead of drip tubing, we are using small sprinkler heads attached to the main irrigation lines. This way, the water can be directed right at the roots instead of being sprayed all willy nilly. This system is much lower maintenance and hopefully, will save us some water when it counts. That hubby is awfully smart you know...

There was also much clearing of old garden matter and the digging up of forgotten winter veggies. We came across a wheelbarrow full of gargantuan turnips we left to "winter" in the soil, pulled some stubby rainbow carrots and a skinny bulb or two of fennel. After our week of hard freeze, we pretty much left the garden for dead. And for the most part, it was. But hiding there under the soil, there was still a little life left in her. I found one tiny, sheltered head of cheddar cauliflower that were roasted for dinner, along with carrots, fennel and one of the giant turnips. Everything else was yanked out and tossed in the compost bin.

The beds look naked save for their shiny new sprinklers but planting will come in the next week or two. This year, I ordered our seeds from Sweet Corn Organic Nursery in Showlow, Arizona. Family owned and local, they have a wonderful variety of heirloom, open pollinated and organic seeds. We're trying a few new things this year and I'm excited to see how they grow. I also ordered medicinal herb seeds from Rose Mountain Herbs so that I will finally have my own plants with which to concoct healing teas and maybe some salves and soaps. I'm planting lemon balm, yarrow, feverfew, chamomile, mullein, and a few others I can't remember but I'm excited all the same. 

Well then....I'm off to pamper my hardworkin' hands.Though I'm thrilled to see our summer garden taking shape, all that digging and planting and scraping my knuckles on the cinder blocks that make up our raised beds have left my farm girl hands sore and in desperate need of some lovin'. I finally acquired all the ingredients I needed to make a fantastic hand oil, whose recipe I found in one of new favorite books,  The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy by Valerie Worwood. A dab'll do ya and it makes those scratched, sore and dusty hands look and feel like new again. Almost...

Stay tuned for the recipe!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Be Mine

Today, may you be surrounded by those you love. 
Hug them, kiss them, be kind and take heart.

Peace and blessings to you all on this, 
St. Valentine's Day.

Happy Valentines Day Friends!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

So Fresh and So Clean, Clean!

I'm going to talk about laundry again. Now I realize that I blog about laundry quite a bit but hear me out. Changing the way you wash and dry your family's clothes is one of the easiest places in your life to green up. We've talked about washing in cold water, line drying and the resulting contraband clothesline, washing only full loads and using biodegradable laundry detergents. I am completely comfortable with all of these subtle changes in my laundry routine but that last point has been causing me some grief lately.

Laundry detergent. There are several brands of "eco friendly" laundry detergent on the market that work great, smell heavenly, and allow your mind to rest easy knowing that when you are washing a pair of poopy stained pants for the 100th time, at least you aren't polluting the environment when you do it. The problem lies in the cost of these products. My personal favorite is one put out by Method. It comes in a teeny tiny bottle (less packaging!) and has a handy dandy pump that can be operated with one hand in case, say, you have a little of the aforementioned poopy on one of your hands and don't want to contaminate the whole bottle. Each bottle washes about 50 load and smells lovely. But paying $15 every 50 loads is starting to get on my nerves. I did a little math and I figure it costs me about 30 cents to wash one load of fresh smelling, environmentally friendly, everyday laundry. However, a bottle of planet pollutin' Gain does 64 loads and costs about 19 cents per load. Not a huge difference but big enough to put a hiccup in my budget. Again, I'm being forced to choose between price and planet.

My tutu clad soap stirrer.
Most of the time, this little conundrum of price versus planet can be solved by making your own. I've found this to be true with cleaning products, food, and a number of other items that make my family's world go round. I have been toying with the idea of making my own laundry powder for a while now but was worried that a)it wouldn't clean my clothes, b) it would smell funky, and c) it would gunk up my washing machine. Lots of research  has assured me that none of these issues are a problem, except maybe the smell. Not that the homemade stuff smells just doesn't make your clothes smell like much of anything which is a bit of a turn off for people like me who like their clothes wafting with fake fresh scents. 

I used a recipe I found here at Soulemama, and also one that my grandmother sent to me. It's a combo of the two. The main difference between them is the kind of soap flakes used.  One uses Fels Naptha and the other Dr.Bronner's castile. I prefer to use castile because it's petroleum free and comes in a variety of scents to perhaps leave a little lavender (or rose, or peppermint or whatever kind you buy) aroma on my clothes. It came out something like this:

(Makes approximately 5 cups)

2 cups (finely) grated castile soap(I used Dr. Bronner's lavender)
1 cup borax
1 cup baking soda
1 cup washing soda
10 drops lavender essential oil

Mix all the ingredients together. Store in airtight container like a mason jar or in my case, a pretty glass canister I got at Goodwill. Start with about 1/8 a cup per load and go from there. You may need to give the jar a shake or a stir once in a while to prevent the soap flakes from settling to the bottom. Recipe doubles well!

I didn't end up using the lavender oil pictured...the soap was lavender-y enough!
So there it is. All mixed up and ready to wash. Cheap, eco-friendly, and hopefully, a fully capable detergent strong enough for grass stains, diaper explosions and spaghetti night napkins. There's about six or seven pairs of potty training undies being washed with my new homemade detergent as we speak. We'll assess effectiveness once they're done.  What kind of detergent do you use?

Sitting above the washer, ready for action!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Ode To A Cast Iron Skillet

It's funny the little things you start to appreciate as you age. Case in point: my cast iron skillet. I really dig my cast iron skillet. Just this morning, my little boy carefully carried in an egg from the chicken coop (yes...the dry streak may be over!) and demanded I cook it, post haste. My skillet, which lives on top of the stove, was ready for action. I flipped on the burner, cracked the egg in the skillet, scrambled it up and slid it out onto a plate for my wannabe farm boy to devour. While this sounds like a simple, everyday task, one that takes place in millions of homes every morning, I got my jollies by watching that egg slide right out of the skillet, no oil or butter required. A perfectly seasoned cast iron skillet is a beautiful thing.

I wasn't always pro-cast iron. I fought it for a long time actually. My husband wanted "cookware he could pass on to his kids" and I was clinging for dear life to my non-stick coated pans. I mean really. What kind of an inheritance is a frying pan? Wow. Thanks Mom and Dad. You died and left me a skillet? And I was instantly leary of any cookware that couldn't be tossed in the dishwasher.  But when I learned that my beloved Teflon coated pans were leaching chemical nastiness into my food and producing harmful fumes, I relented, and Lodge Cast Iron became the backbone of my kitchen.

And what harm can a non-stick pan really do, you ask? Well, the chemicals used to make pots and pans non-stick are believed to be carcinogenic, bioaccumulate in tissues over time, and persist in the environment because there is no known mechanism that can break them down. Non-stick chemicals have been linked with developmental disorders, birth defects, cancer, and have been proven highly toxic to the liver, kidneys and blood. And the fumes produced by a hot pan have been known to KILL people's pets. KILL! Can you believe it??

Will eating off of non-stick pans ruin your life? Probably not. And I'm certainly not advocating you toss all your cookware because that would just be plain silly. All I'm sayin' is that there is an AWFUL lot of research suggesting that stick-free pans can do some serious damage. So when it comes time to replace one of your pots or pans, perhaps you might choose a safer and more sustainable alternative. Some green cookware options include stainless steel, glass, ceramic, copper, silicone and cast iron. Cast iron is my personal favorite. Once seasoned, those bad boys are heavenly to work with. A few things to remember with cast iron:
  • The handles get really freakin' hot. Don't touch them.
  • Never use soap to clean your cast iron. It will ruin the seasoning. The first time I squirted dish soap on our cast iron my husband almost passed out. If you do forget, it's not the end of the world Dry it off, lube it up with vegetable oil, and stick it in the oven. You'll be re-seasoned and ready to cook in no time.
  • Stubborn messes can be cleaned by soaking or by scrubbing with a paste of water and coarse salt.

Happy Cooking!

Look Closely...She Has BACON tied to her feet!


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

No Eggs

Love and eggs are best then they are fresh--Russian Proverb

I had to buy eggs. From the grocery store. And no. I'm not happy about it. I have not had to buy eggs from the grocery store in months but for whatever reason, my hens have ceased to lay.  I've not had a single egg since mid December. Daisy quit first. The weather was turning colder and the days were shorter and everything I read said that chickens naturally slow down production in the winter. I still got about three blue eggs a week from Olivia until one week, I didn't find any. And I've seen nothing but empty nest boxes ever since.

Both chickens are less than two years old and appear to be healthy. Hubby and I gave the coop a very thorough cleaning this past weekend thinking maybe my hens are neat freaks and are withholding eggs because of a little chicken clutter. I scrubbed the roosts and the nest boxes, polished the galvanized metal feeder and waterer, and laid a thick layer of fresh bedding. I also inspected their, um, chicken parts to make sure nothing was plugged or pasted over. Everything looked A-OK in that department as well. We walked away and I felt confident that their extreme coop makeover would surely kick start production.

Apparently, I was wrong. That was four days ago. And still, no eggs. Not to sound like a heartless animal owner but really, I didn't buy chickens to be pets. I'm not risking fines from my HOA to have feathered companions for my children. I did not sacrifice yard space to listen to their gentle clucking while I work in the garden. I have chickens because I want eggs. It's supposed to be a balanced relationship, ya know? I feed you, give you fresh water, provide a nice place for you to sleep and poop, stroke your feathers, and throw you veggie scraps and apple slices. In return, I want an egg from each of you, at least every other day. That's not too much to ask, is it?

Daisy and rebellious hens.
If I have to buy grocery store eggs again I might cry. Any suggestions welcome!