Wednesday, December 28, 2011

It's a Jungle in There!

Christmas is over and in a few short weeks it will be time to plant our winter/spring garden. We have a weird planting schedule here in the desert.The garden goes in at the beginning of February to make sure we get a good crop before the triple digit temperatures start to stunt our progress. Because we put things in the ground early and the temperatures are still a bit cool, we find that we have more success planting established plants rather than directly sowing our seeds in the soil. There are some exceptions of course, namely lettuce, spinach, carrots, radishes, onions and garlic. We can put those right in the dirt without issue. But for most of our plants, we like them to have a little head start to ensure a bountiful crop.

In years past, we have sewn a few seeds but depended heavily on our local nursery for starts. But this  year, we chose to grow our own starts to a)save money b)add more variety to the garden and c)ensure the plants are grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers. My husband bought a grow light for our little DIY nursery and together with our son, planted what will become this year's garden.We moved our little soon-to-be seedlings to the back bedroom and waited.

Planting seeds in the living room

That was four weeks ago. Our seeds sprouted quickly thanks to the unintentional micro- climate we created. Opening the door is like walking into a jungle...warm, humid and full of plants. The seedlings quickly outgrew their sprouting spaces and had to be moved to larger "pots" which we created with leftover party cups and a Dremel. A project that started out occupying half a wall has taken over the entire space!

I need a wide angle lens...this is only a quarter of it!
Soon it will be time to start hardening off our seedlings in preparation for planting. I'm pretty proud that we grew every single plant that will be in the garden. The only reason we'll need to hit up the nursery is for steer manure. I'm certainly ready to get my sewing room back too, and for the smell of organic compost to vacate the premises. Here's to a bountiful harvest!


Monday, December 26, 2011

Handmade Holiday Gift Recap

Now that Christmas is over and the gifts have been opened, I can share a few of things I made for friends and family. I don't make all of my gifts but I find I am especially excited to see my handmade items get opened. Making and giving is a gift in itself! Here are a few of my favorites this year:
  • Memory Game- I made a fabric memory game for my nephew Big D. It was a snap to make and I had all the materials on hand.  I cut six matching pairs from scrap fabric, pinned them to some leftover batting and some backing fabric, sewed around the squares and pinked the edges. I sewed up a little zippered bag to store them in and attatched a laminated zipper pull. I don't have a finished picture...I wrapped it before I remembered. But it turned out super cute! This tutorial will give you the basic instructions.

Backing, batting, and squares.

  • My First Color Book-I made a cloth book of colors for my other nephew, Baby T. Again, I have no pictures of the finished product, but I have one mid-process to give you an idea. For each page, I made a mini crazy quilt. I then embroidered the name of the color on each page, added batting for squishiness, slapped on a cover and marveled at my craftiness. I LOVE the way it turned out and I can just see Baby T slobbering all over it! If you'd like to make one of your own, try this tutorial.

  • Mason Jar Soap Dispensers- I made quite a few of these to add to some gift baskets that included dishtowels and dishsoap. All you need is a drill with a hole attatchment, a mason jar with a lid, soap pumps and some epoxy. For all the gory details, you can visit Heather and learn how to do it yourself!

  • Lavender Coconut Hand Salve-You may remember a few posts back I made a batch of hand salve. It was my first go round with salve making and luckily, I didn't burn the house down. I printed up a few fancy labels for the tins and added one to the aforementioned gift baskets to keep hands smooth after all that dishwashing.
How about you? Did you make any share-worthy gifts this holiday season? If you'd like, leave us link to your creations in the comments!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Making Merry

Hello friends! Sorry to have been away. We have been busy preparing for Christmas and making merry. To fully embrace the season, I'll be taking the week off. I hope you and your families have a wonderful holiday full of love, cheer and peace. See you soon!


Monday, December 12, 2011

Clip and Save

To coupon or not to coupon. That IS the question...

I spoke briefly about coupons the other day but I just wanted to touch on the subject once again. Though my family is trying our darndest to make good choices about the food we eat, we are far from perfect. My husband still insists we have Tostitos scoops for his bi-weekly chips and salsa binges. My kids will only eat Old El Paso Stand 'n Stuff Taco Shells because they don't fall over. I buy Ziploc bags because I haven't made enough fabric snack bags to accomodate our needs. I battle daily to make the choices that are best for our family, weighing both the price and the environmental costs of our purchases.

I find myself defending my coupon use on a regular basis. How can you spout off about real food and chemical additives if you are using coupons for fruit snacks and white bread? I will concede that about 60 percent of coupons are for processed, over-sugared, you really shouldn't eat it, food. But the other 30 percent of those coupons can help you stock a reasonably healthy kitchen for a fraction of the cost. By pairing store sales with coupons, I save a bundle each month.

Don't believe me? Here are a few things I picked up this week at our local grocery store. Keep in mind that my grocery store values all coupons at a dollar.

2 Dole Premium Salad Kits 2/$3
used $2/2 coupon
Total Price: .50 each
2 Birdseye Frozen Vegetables (I got peas) $1.79
used .50/2 coupon
Total Price: $1.29 ea

Yuban Coffee $8.99
used $1.50/1 coupon
Total Price: $7.89

2 Pacific Organic Vegetable Broth $2.00
used 2 $1/1 coupons
Total Price: $1.00 ea
Seeds of Change Organic Quinoa and Brown Rice $2.89
used $1/1 coupon

Total without coupons (not including taxes) $22.46
Total with coupons (not including taxes) $15.36
Total savings of $7.10

Seven dollars saved. If I shop weekly, that turns into $28 a month. And that turns in to $336 a year! This trip was nothing, savings wise. My average savings hovers around 60 percent. I don't buy things I don't need, and I don't buy things just because there is a coupon for it. I have used coupons for eggs, produce, nuts, meat, cheese, butter, milk, bread, flour, honey, and beans, all of which are staples of a "real food" kitchen. Coupons may not be for everyone, but right now, they're right for us.

If you have any questions about getting started with coupons, please ask! How do you keep your grocery budget under control?

(This post is linked to the Green Resource.)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Ancient Beauty

Do you ever wonder what women did before the invention of modern beauty treatments? Surely women had wrinkles, acne, unwanted hair and smelly armpits before the introduction of chemicalized products. So what did they do? Long before Lancome and Lauder, women were using natural ingredients to solve their beauty conundrums. Cleopatra bathed in milk, scrubbed her skin with sea salt and honey, and lined her eyes with kohl. Esther underwent twelve months of beauty preparations including daily massages with myrrh oil. Roman women waxed their legs with tree resins and made deoderant from alum, iris and rose petals.
Though some ancient recipes aren't used anymore (hello lead based face powder) many still are and have proven just as effective as their manufactured counterparts. As I've switched my beauty products out for greener, more natural alternatives, I have found that in many cases that I can make it myself, just like the women before me. Making your own beauty products is fun, economical, and best of all, it produces a safe and effective remedy for whatever beauty issues you may be having!

I have only just begun dabbling with my own recipes. So far, I have made hand salve, body scrub, and eye make up remover but I'm really excited about my latest recipe. Homemade eye cream! Despite the religious use of sunscreen, I'm starting to see little lines pop up around my eyes. Nothing major, but something I'd definitely like to slow the progress of! There are a number of lovely organic eye creams, most of which do not fit in to my budget. I came across a basic DIY eye cream recipe that I loved and tweaked a few things to suit my needs and personal tastes. To the basic coconut oil and vitamin E base I added:
  • Evening Primrose-excellent in the treatment of eczema. Used to prevent premature aging of the skin.
  • Lavender- smells good and is believed to stimulate skin cells for faster regeneration.
  • Lemon-has a tonic action on the lymphatic system, helping deflate puffiness.
  • Carrot-also known as "nature's retinol." This rejuvenating oil is used to fight premature aging and dryness.
 Here's the exact recipe I devised:

Soothing Coconut Eye Cream

2 Teaspoons Organic Coconut Oil
1 Capsule Evening Primrose Oil
1 Capsule Vitamin E Oil
2 drops of Lavender
1 drop of Lemon
3 drops of Carrot

Melt the coconut oil in the microwave. Poke holes in the vitmain E and evening primrose capsules and add to liquid coconut oil. Add your essential oils. Mix thoroughly and pour into an appropriate container. Once hardened it is ready to use. Apply sparingly each night.

For further reading on beauty treatments of the past, check out The Toilet of Flora. Published in 1784, this super fun read is "A collection of the most simple and approved methods of preparing baths, essences, pomatums, powders, perfumes, and sweet-scented waters..." The link provides a full text version of the book meaning you can read all 252 pages of colonial beauty remedies! Who knows what you might find!


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Deck the Halls

My husband is a grinch. Not that he's mean and nasty during the holiday season but all the decorating and baking and music and movies and shopping just aren't his cup of tea. I force him in to it and he obliges without too much complaint. We've worked out a system of sorts, a little give and take. For example, if he brings in all the Christmas boxes from the garage and puts them back, I don't make him help with decorating. If we listen to Christmas music in the house, we don't have to listen to it in the car. If he stays home with the kids, I'll do all the Christmas shopping. You get the idea.

This is our third Christmas in this house. We have been blessed with fantastic neighbors, all of whom love Christmas and decorate the outsides of their houses. Growing up, my own family always put up outdoor Christmas lights. Dad would work all afternoon and then, as the sun set, we'd all bundle up, walk a short distance away from the house and wait for Dad to flip the switch and dazzle us with his handy work.

Since my husband and I have been together (that's eight years now) we have NEVER put up outdoor lights.But with all our awesome neighbors lighting up the night year after year, I was beginning to feel a little left out. For the past two years we have been a dark spot, a blemish on the multi-colored, twinkling face of the cul de sac. Well not this year by golly! This is the year we sparkle with the rest of them!

After deciding on our color scheme, we ended up purchasing LED Christmas lights which are the "greenest" way deck the halls.  If you're in the market for Christmas lights, consider LED's. There are many advantages to purchasing LED's over regular incandescent lights.
  • Durability- Since they aren't encapsulated in glass, LED lights are more durable than incandescent lights and can withstand all kinds of weather.
  • Longevity-While incandescent lights last about 2,000 hours, LED lights can last up to 50,000 hours.
  • Safety-LED lights produce little if any heat lowering the risk of fire.
  • Efficiency-LED's are very energy efficient. Depending on the size of your house, you can plan to tack on at least $70 to your electric bill to run your outdoor incandescent lights. But switch to LED's and you'll hardly even see a difference in the numbers.

Do you decorate the outside of your home during the holiday season? Let's have a look! Post a picture of your house in all its holiday splendor and leave a link in the comments for us follow. May your days be merry and bright!


Friday, December 2, 2011


Not so long ago, my husband purchased a juicer. As I mentioned, making fresh juice uses a LOT of produce, and as a result, the juicer spits out vast amounts of dry food pulp. Our last attempt at composting failed miserably but I couldn't in good conscience just throw all that nutritious pulp in the trash can. Instead, we started dumping it in our unused flower beds, stirring it around in the soil and giving it an occasional sprinkle of water to get it to decompose.

A few weeks ago, as a I stood over the sink washing another load of dishes, I noticed a sprout of green in our otherwise barren flower bed. I figured it was a weed and went about my business. However, that "weed" has grown into what I believe is robust little tomato plant. Can you believe it? A store bought, non-organic tomato seed was ground to smithereens in a juicer and tossed out to decompose and it sprouted. It reached out, took hold of the soil and pushed it's way up toward the sun. That is one scrappy tomato seed!
There's actually two separate plants!
We have a cold front moving in this weekend and we may actually get a freeze (which is a big deal here in the desert) but I'm not worried. If my little tomato plant can overcome a catastrophic dismembering in a Breville JE98XL juicer, I know a little cold weather is going to be no big deal.