Thursday, February 18, 2016

Doing Away with Party Favors

Over the years the rise of bigger and better birthday parties for our children has some parents reeling.
Their child comes home from these parties sugared and artificial colored up, and carrying a bag of more sugar and colorings or cheap plastic party favor toys.

Some mothers take it in stride.
It's all part of the fun of birthday parties.

Others aren't so happy, and they are beginning to speak up.
Junior is messed up for a week from all the artificial colors.
The toys get lost or broken quickly and wind up taking up space in a land fill.

I, personally, don't want parents or guardians to feel obligated to give my child anything for coming to the party.  We're just happy we got invited to celebrate!  We don't need tokens or gifts of our own.

But, some parents feel it is necessary or just want to give back.

So, here are some ideas of how to "favor up" a child without the cheap candies and toys:

1.  PHOTO BOOTH:  You can either hire one or set one up yourself.  Children can dress up or just pose for a cute picture you can print out for the family to add to their album.

2.  SEED BOMBS:  This can double as an activity at the party.  Children can make seed bombs to take home.  Seed bombs are seeds mixed in balls of clay and allowed to dry.  The bombs can then be planted or thrown on the side of the highway (check local laws).

3.  FACE PAINT:  Instead of carrying a bag of goodies home, a child can wear a bit of fun on their face!

4.  MANICURES:  Get those nails done!

5.  PONY RIDE OR PETTING ZOO:  Give your guests something special by hiring a pony ride or petting zoo.  Experiences trump things!

6.  U-PICK FARM:  See if you can have the party at a U-Pick farm and children can take home some produce as a favor.

7.  HOMEMADE GUMMIES:  Find a recipe online for healthy, homemade gummy candies and make it ahead of time or as an activity at the party.

8.  RECYCLED CRAYONS:  Have your guests bring (or hit your own stash of) broken crayons.  Kiddos can melt the crayons (with adult supervision) and use molds to create their own new crayons.  
9.  FAIRY GARDENS:  Buy or gather natural materials, or have the children raid your yard for materials to build a fairy scene or garden to take home.

10.  CARDS:  Perhaps your child and his/her friends are card gamers, or collect cards like sports cards or character cards.  If all the guests are involved in the same game or interest, have them bring their collections to play or exchange and provide some new packages for them, or sleeves.

11.  BIRD SEED:  Guests can depart with their own bag of bird seed for their feathered friends at home or at the park.

Do you have any environmentally friendly and health conscious ideas?  Leave them in the comments.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Imperfectly Perfect Home

I'm a real estate junkie.

Every weekend I look for open houses to visit.

I'm very judicious, though.  I personally think it is poor form to bother realtors every weekend just to look at houses.  I'm sure they'd catch on and get a bit miffed or weirded out that this lady keeps showing up but never buying.

But, if a gorgeous vintage cape cod or bungalow shows up on the market, or a pretty farm house, or colonial with many originals still intact, you bet I'm going to be there!

This past weekend, my neighbor's house had their open house.

The house is a 40 year old small ranch that fell into sad disrepair since the elderly who lived there couldn't keep up with it, were sort of hoarders, and had dogs that kind of did what they wanted where they wanted.

A real estate company bought it, gutted it, and fixed it up and I just HAD to see the transformation.

It was quite the treat to walk in, smell the fresh paint, and see everything brand new and professional done.

No crayon marks on the walls.

No scuffs on the floors.

No stains on the carpets.

No dust bunnies behind the appliances.

No dirt on the welcome mat.

No scratches on the cabinet doors.

No fading, discoloring, yellowing, candle soot, dirty diaper smells, leaks, or pitting.

It. Was. Perfect.

Later that night, I was washing my kitchen floor and noticed my discolored, scuffed, stained, dripped on lower kitchen cabinets.

They are original to the house...1950...enameled metal.

Not easily repainted, and after decades of use, not easily cleaned to gleaming, either.

We have a little red chair in the kitchen for the children to use to put their shoes on, but it often gets dragged to the counter, and banged against the cabinets in eager hope to stir the batter and lick the spoon, leaving red paint streaks on the dingy white enamel.

I was tempted to be disappointed in my scuffed cabinets.

My house isn't perfect.
Far from it.

I can see the wrinkled noses of any future real estate agents should we ever sell.

But this little cottage is our home, and every scrape, scuff, and gouge has a story to tell.
No red marks on the lower cabinets means no little helpers to stir the batters for more.

Some day we'll repaint and repair.*  Perhaps we'll even be able to remodel.

For now, the best part of the glorious imperfection of our little cottage is that it isn't a big deal if the kids do mess something up.

*Now, don't get me wrong.  Our house isn't in such a state of disrepair it is disgusting.  Just well-lived-in.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Considering Before Tossing

One of my favorite shows to watch is BBC's Victorian Farm.
I was able to acquire the companion book for it as well.

In the series, Ruth Goodman explains how nothing went to waste on a Victorian Farm.  It wasn't a matter of environmental concerns so much as it was a moral economic duty to not be wasteful.

It really challenged me to consider what I haphazardly toss away on a daily basis.

I'm pretty frugal and environmentally careful, but there is always room for improvement.
For example, I tend to use tea bags twice.  I'll make hubby's mug of tea for breakfast and then make myself a cup of tea with the same bag.  I don't require it as strong as hubby does, so it works out that I get the weaker tea. 

Now, normally, I am pleased with the frugality and practicality of getting two teas out of one teabag before tossing it, but I learned through Ruth Goodman that I can save the tea leaves for another use.  Damp tea leaves sprinkled on the floors prevent dust from blowing up into the air when cleaning the floors!  (Yes, I am totally going to try this because I hate cleaning my floors and in the sunbeams streaming through my windows seeing the rolling clouds of dust billowing from my efforts.)

Ruth also says that the cleanings from the floors, including the tea leaves, then goes onto the compost heap.
I'm not sure if I can do that, though, simply because in the 21st century our dust is more synthetic.  There's plastic bits, polyester fibers, and other icky pollutants we sometimes have to live with simply because it's the 21st century.
So, in the dustbin my floor cleanings will go.

Just last night I had to scrub out some cast iron pans.
I dry them with paper towels (because the pans tend to blacken my cloth towels) and then rub them down with oil with a square of paper towel.

I am scrimpy with my paper towels anyway, but just as I was tossing the paper towels into the trash I realized they are not yet spent for the trash.  They can be dried and composted.  They can be dried and used as a fire starter for our outdoor wood boiler, especially the oil soaked one.

Even the wax paper wrapping off of the butter can be reused.  Use it to grease a dish and then the wrapper can become part of a fire starter

Yes, all of this is time consuming, and who wants bowls and buckets of trash laying around because it might have potential use somewhere else.
I get that.
But it is an interesting experiment to see how far we can go before something is discarded.

Not only do we in the 21st century have an economic concern for wasting not, but an environmental one as well.

For more information on reducing your waste and consumption, go to my sidebar and read The Zero Waste Home blog.

Don't be discouraged by the extreme success Bea has had with her experience.  It can seem all too much for some of us, but rather GLEAN what you can do.

Every little bit can help your purse strings and this earth that God gave us.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Back To Austerity

Watching British Historic Realty TV is my new hobby.  Programming such as Coal House, Turn Back Time: The Family, Back In Time for Dinner, Wartime Kitchen and Garden, and the Farm Series' with Ruth Goodman, Peter Ginn, and Alex Langlands are some of my favorites.  What intrigues me most about these shows isn't just the rose-colored romantic history, but the glimpse into the austerity of the working class and wartimes throughout history.

Austerity is a word the British use quite frequently to describe the war years and post war rationing years.  In context, I had a general idea of what austerity meant, but decided to look it up in Webster's Dictionary for a more intimate understanding of the word.

  •  a simple and plain quality : an austere quality
  • : a situation in which there is not much money and it is spent only on things that are necessary
  • austerities : things that are done to live in a simple and plain way

Watching these programs, I felt a familiarity and kinship with the people as they put to practice the lives set before them, while at the same time I am struck by just how good I have it!  Compared to the average-presented American, we have much less than most.  But compared to history, I think we'll survive just fine.

I grew up what the current lexicon calls "working poor," which is typically a family that works, but earns below the national average, but typically earns too much for public assistance.  It still amazes me that those who are subsidized still manage to have luxuries I only dream about.  I don't begrudge them or judge them, but I do feel a little twinge.  But, my own sensibilities (or guilt complex) keeps me from indulgence.  As my cousin's wife once told me, "it's what you choose to make your priorities."

Growing up, I knew money was always an issue.  One of the things I heard so often was, "we can't afford it."  I remember sitting at my friend's house while she and her mother poured through JC Penney catalogs picking out her new wardrobe for the school year.  I knew I wasn't even getting new underwear and could only hope for hand me downs from my stylish cousin.  Other girls took dance lessons, music lessons, 4-H, horseback riding, clubs....and I stayed home.  Even driving to such events was economically prohibitive, never mind the fees and expenses.

It didn't really sink in just how wide the gap was until I asked on facebook what perfumes the girls wore in high school.  I remember my discount drugstore bottle of Exclamation that was a Christmas present.  The other girls from high school listed brands like Estee Lauder and Chanel.  I think now, "wow, but at least I had perfume!"

So, I was used to austerity, anyway, and rather proud of that.  But, I still didn't want to live it to such a degree.  I had no problem having to budget, or having to save up for something, but I wanted to live comfortably enough so as to be able to pay the bills, have emergency back-up, and enough money for one little vacation a year.

For a while, we managed.  But life threw us curve balls we never expected.  Without getting too personal, the bulk was serious medical stuff.  Everything turned upside down.  Plans we made fell to the wayside.

And we find ourselves facing 21st century austerity.....which still includes TV and internet and Wii, ironically.

Despite the modern "luxuries," I feel the pinch and worry our foremothers in those austere years must have felt.  Like the coal miner's wife, the heavy burden of wondering if injury or illness would befall the family and ruin them hangs over my head, too.

I also feel familiarity.  We live small by American standards, especially for having 4 children.  So, I relate to those tiny flats and cottages presented in the programs.   After watching Coal House, I looked around my own little cottage and realized just how BIG it seemed!

While we do have enough beds for each child individually, and even one toddler sized bed remaining, two of my boys choose to sleep in the same bed.  It's a common old fashioned practice that warms my heart (and their bodies) and makes the rounds of kissing them good night a bit easier and more precious.

The other familiarity is the food!  We eat similarly...simply, homemade, inexpensively.  I laugh a little when the families in the programs turn their noses up at the boiled potatoes and slice of organ meat on their plate, because one of our favorite meals is heart strips in a gravy with boiled or mashed potatoes and a side of veg.

Sometimes staying warm (or cool in the summer) can be a challenge.

Often the kids play outside because the house is so small.

Sometimes cooking on my tiny range can be a challenge.

There was even a time I washed clothes by hand because my machine broke.

Do we really need all these electric lights?

Do my kids really need those snacks (especially when dinners get picked at)?

We rarely buy retail anything.  We love hand me downs and freebie finds.  We have no problem fixing or repairing what we can and making do.

And yet, I watch these programs and realize firstly that we are not so very austere, and secondly, that perhaps we could afford to become even more austere.  Perhaps we can take a few more pages out of the home life history books and actually live BETTER than trying to reach an ever wavering American Standard.

So, when I worry that we had to stop sending our oldest to piano lessons to help sustain the budget, I can remember that a large portion of our music history comes from the self-taught.

When I worry that my kids might become bored without the latest app or toy, I realize that necessity is the mother of invention.  Less really can be more.  Imagination is put to the test when there is so little.  And I remember when my oldest was a little guy and we had few toys, how much happier he was to play, how imaginative he was, and how grateful he was for anything new.

They'll be ok.  They'll survive.  They'll thrive!

And I am not saying all of this to glean atta boys or sympathies.  It is more like thinking out loud and being encouraged and challenged that a bit more austerity may be quite the benefit to my family, not only financially, but relationally, and imaginatively.

I look forward to the experiment.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Modern Day Busybody

Last night, as I was tucking in my children, my mind was racing with all the stuff that was pouring through my newsfeed and in comments I read on Facebook.

I sighed and muttered to my 3 year old, "I'm such a busybody."

Immediately 2 Thes. 3:11 came to mind.
For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.

Then, there's 1 Timothy 5.
While those verses refer to widows young and old, it does discuss how the young widows left to their own passions become idle and busybodies, gossips.

Now, I think Facebook is great.  It helps me stay on contact with friends and family over great distances.  It's an easy source to get a hold of someone, schedule events, make plans, and it's great for small businesses and cottage industries.

The problem is with me, and ease of sinfulness in the media age.
It is so easy to scroll through my newsfeed and see what everyone is up to.  I don't check in on my friends, I just see what they post.
The provocative is more eye-catching and interesting than goodness and truth.
News and articles use click-bait pictures and titles, and I allow myself to be sucked in.
I like to discuss things deeply, but have shallowed myself to arguments and comments with people who don't care about my opinion and are just as trapped by the busybody life as I am.

While I try to avoid this, there's often a large number of people (women mostly) who post cryptic, attention-seeking posts of trouble in their lives.

That just draws in and adds to the gossip and busybody life.

Before I know it, I have collectively spent hours of my life wasted on Facebook to little greater purpose.

My mind and heart are cluttered with matters outside of my realm.
It is of no benefit to me to be upset about the latest headline of celebrity shenanigans.
It is of no use to me forming arguments and rebuttals in my head over an article of great foolishness.
I do not have to attend every argument I am invited to.
I do not have to comment on everything that comes through my newsfeed.

One thing I tell my children is that they don't have to say everything that pops into their heads without filter and consideration.

The sames goes for me on Facebook.

Hi, my name is Kate, and I am a Facebook Busybody.
Time to end that idleness and be free.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Easy Healthy Homemade Mayonnaise

The ingredients list on commercial mayonnaise jars is enough to send any health-conscious person running.

For me, it was more than that.  I avoided mayo because my gastronomy became my enemy.

Mayonnaise can seem daunting to make, and it is most costly to make homemade mayo than it is to buy commercial mayo, but the benefits are big, especially if you are on a GAPS/SCD, Whole30, Paleo, or other low-carb diet.

Utilizing ingredients from Aldi can help keep costs down.

Homemade Mayonnaise

Put in a blender:

1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
 (for eggs, I recommend not buying the Aldi egg, but spending the money on local, high quality eggs to reduce risk of contamination from using raw eggs.  Wash the eggs before cracking.)

1 1/2 tsp. fresh squeeze lemon juice
(You can buy lemons at Aldi, usually, or use their bottled lemon juice.  The fresh lemons are better for you, though.)

1 tsp spicy brown mustard
(Or dijon mustard.  You can buy both at Aldi.  I am a fan of spicy brown and some may dijons contain sugar which is a no-no on GAPS/SCD and Whole30)

sea salt to taste
(Also found at Aldi, but if you want to go really healthy, find a source for Himalayan Pink Salt.)

Pour into a liquid measuring cup:

3/4 cup of olive oil
(Again, another Aldi ingredient.  You can get their extra virgin or their regular olive oil.  It does impart a stronger taste to the mayo, but I like it.  Another option is I go to the grocery store and get the store brand "light in taste" olive oil)

Start the blender with the egg mixture in it on a medium-high setting.  While it is running, SLOWLY drizzle in the olive oil.  DO NOT POUR!!  Just drizzle it in while blending.  Once the last drop of oil is poured in, let it blend for another 20-30 seconds, then turn off the blender and scoop the mayo into a clean mason jar.

It does take a little time, but it is so worth it!
It is more filling and satisfying than commercial mayo.
It is perfect on sandwiches for kiddos, and makes great protein salads for mom and dad (chicken salad, ham salad, tuna salad, salmon salad, waldorf salad, egg salad)
I also make cole slaw with it, but splashing into the cole slaw veggies some apple cider vinegar before adding the mayo.
There's also carrot slaw, which is shredded carrots, raisins, crushed pineapple, nuts (pecans, almonds, walnuts), salt to taste, a splash of apple cider vinegar, and the homemade mayo.

No nausea, no bloating, no stomach aches.
Just a feeling of being satisfied.

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Helps control cravings and appetite.
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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Built for Electricity

Being a cottage built in 1950, energy efficiency according to more modern standards wasn't an issue.  Electricity was cheap.

I am someone who prefers to reduce my electricity usage.
Not only because it is expensive here, but because I enjoy more natural, sustainable ways.

I would love to have a Vermont Bun Baker.
It would double as a cook stove in the wintertime, pulling double duty as a house heater and cooker.
But, the way the house is set up with doors, windows, and rather large radiators under nearly every window, there isn't a lot of space of hook up a wood-fired stove.

I would love to utilize the sunshine more.
A sunny, cheerful home is a happy home to me.
Thankfully, my living room has a big picture window and lets in a lot of light.  But, my kitchen has just one window and the door's window (which faces north, so it doesn't let in a lot of light.)
The dining room has just one small window, and even during sunny days I often have to turn on the chandelier so we can homeschool more comfortably.

Every older home has its quirks that create little challenges for modern living.
I remember looking at older homes while house hunting and discovering the only bathroom was a little room off the kitchen way at the back of the house!

Others had tiny bedrooms with no closet space.

The house I grew up in doesn't have heat available to every room.  In fact, only one of the bedrooms had a heat vent.  The others had nothing.

I'm not complaining, only observing how times have changed, and family needs have altering necessities.
While I don't know anything about the original residents of this cottage, I do believe we are the largest family (and possibly only family with young children) to have occupied this home.

Thankfully, today is sunny, and the position of the sun in mid-winter is optimal upon our little cottage.  As I look from the kitchen where I type this through the dining room and into the living room, it is bright and sunny, reflecting off the newly fallen slow.

For that bit of construction, I am grateful.
To have a bright home in winter.