Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Errand day and homeade laundry soap

It had been a busy day full of errands, and planning for opening my grooming salon.  The amount of work ahead of me is overwhelming at times, but simple projects help me keep it all in perspective-

Today I finally got around to making another batch of laundry soap.  I don't know why I always put it off, considering it takes me all of 15 minutes to make it. Yes, I know it takes about the same amount of time to buy it in the store, but after making my own, I'm not sure I'll ever go back to store bought - not to mention the cost difference alone is worth taking the time.  This is how I make mine:

1 cup washing soda
1/2 cup borax
1 bar pure soap (not beauty bar), grated
3 gallons hot water

1. First bring some water to a boil and dissolve grated soap in it. 
2. While it's melting, fill your container with 3 gallons hot water (from the tap is fine)

3. Add dissolved soap to container of hot water

4. Add borax and washing soda to mixture and mix well. If  you dont have washing soda, you can put baking soda in a glass dish and bake at a low temp for a couple hours, this changes the chemical structure of the soda, making it washing soda by drawing out moisure.

5. Seal container with lid and set in a warm, still place for 24 hours.

A half cup per load should be sufficient to get your clothes clean.  Depending on your water, more or less may be required.  

I hope to get around to making a batch of bar soap this week. I'll try and post pictures of the process, since it will be my first attempt at hot process soap making.  I can't wait to see how it turns out.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Wishing Everyone a Merry Christmas

It has been a long time since I've truly enjoyed Christmas, for reasons I won't go into at this time.  I always breathe a sigh of relief the day AFTER, because life returns to normal. But this year has reminded me why I used to love it.  Last night I had a small get together with friends (which felt like a huge get together due to the size of my humble home). We spent the evening snacking on treats that I spent the day whipping up, playing games, and laughing until we cried.  The sparkling christmas lights added to the intimate ambience, and we spent the evening thankful for each others company. It's funny, but when you bring together a bunch a people who dread christmas as much as you do and just have some fun, somehow a bit of the holiday spirit creeps back in. At least it did for me.  So much so that I forgot to take pictures. I was too busy having a wonderful time with my dearest friends, and the kids.

The kids went to their father's house last night, so the house is quiet this morning. A bit more cooking and off to Mom's to spend the day.  But before I do, I thought I'd share my favorite recipe for friendly get together's (It's on the back of the Knorr's Vegetable Soup Mix package):

Knorr's Spinach Dip

1 package Knorr's Vegetable Soup Mix
10 oz. frozen spinach, thawed and drained
1 cup mayo
16 oz. container sour cream
1 small can water chestnuts, diced
3 scallions

Mix all ingredients and chill to let flavors meld.  I like to bake a sourdough boule until crispy, cut off the top and hollow it out, reserving the cubes of bread for dipping, and fill the hollow boule with the dip.  Of course its also a great dip for crackers and veggies.  And it's as simple as that.

Wishing everyone a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

My Favorite Christmas Treat

Yes, I know, treats aren't just for Christmas, but I tend to not cook/prepare 'junk food' very often, so at Christmas time I splurge a little.  My favorite confections to make during the season are Oreo Truffles! And they are SO easy to make.

Oreo Truffles

1 bag Oreos
1 brick cream cheese
Almond Bark or chocolate chips to coat (may use white, milk chocolate, or semi sweet)

In a food processor, pulverize oreos. Add cream cheese and mix until thoroughly blended. Refrigerate until able to easily roll into walnut sized balls.  Melt whatever you are using to coat the balls, and dip. Allow to dry on wax paper until set.

You can use whatever kind of oreo you like. Some of my favorites are the mint, peanut butter, and original. I prefer not to use the double stuff because the large amount of cream seems to give less of an oreo taste.

What are your favorite treats?

It's going to be a busy weekend. Son has a wrestling tournament today, and son and daughter have a band concert tomorrow, so not alot of down time for writing.  The coming week will also be full with grooming pups for Christmas.  If things get a little too crazy this week, Merry Christmas everyone!~

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Course of Change

For the past 5 months I've been working towards becoming more self-sufficient in the area of employment. For 17 years I've worked as a nurse. My life has had to revolve around my job. I cannot begin to tell you how many birthdays, holidays, school functions and friendly gatherings I have missed over the years. I felt like my entire life was slipping away from me.

Five months ago I began apprenticing in my mother's dog grooming shop in a first step to becoming self employed.  It has been a very long five months, grooming during the week, and working weekend doubles in a nursing home on weekends.  Sixteen hour days were really taking their toll on me. I was miserable, exhausted, and extremely unhappy in the position I was in.  So today, I took the next step.

I resigned from the weekend job.

It's a little scary, taking that step, but thankfully I'm now in a position to be able to spend some time focused solely on the job at hand, which is getting my garage converted into a grooming salon, and focusing on grooming. At least for a couple months.

So now is a time to become extra frugal.  I'll be looking for more ways beyond what I'm already doing to be self sufficient.  Every decision I make will be with the idea in mind that I need save money everywhere possible.

So what are your biggest money saving activities/ideas?

Friday, December 9, 2011


As the ability to buy land draws closer I've begun to develop a more certain view of what I want in my head.  That requires alot of planning, or in my case, day dreaming. I tend to take the romantic approach to planning - keeping in mind the realities involved in day to day homesteading.

The Dream: A home, built with my own two hands (and a few borrowed ones), on enough acreage to grow most of my own food.  A pasture big enough to grow the feed that it would require to nourish one or two cows year round. I want to raise a steer, pig, chickens... even milk my own cow, eventually.  I want enough room to grow enough crops to feed my family, and maybe even take some to the farmers market to sell.  I don't worry about earning a living with my homesteading, as I will soon be self employed anyway.  I want a nice wooded area on my land that can supply the wood I need to warm my house in the winter, and shield the house from the  road and the north wind.  Some flat, some gently sloping would be very nice.  A creek where a pond could be built would be nice, but isn't a requirement.

In looking at my dream, I need to really study any land I look at - for soil quality, water table, location, zoning codes, schools, and a big one for me, internet availability.  Here in rural Oklahoma it can be difficult to get anything but dial up when you live outside of city limits.  This may be negotiable though if I find the perfect piece of land.

As I research the various components of my dream, and hunt for land I will keep you posted.  Let the journey begin.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Day for Cooking

Today was a cold, gray day. A perfect kind of day to spend in the kitchen.

The day started at 5:30 this morning, when I got the hankering to make homeade buttermilk biscuits from Greg's Southern Biscuit recipe  found at allrecipes.com.  They didn't rise like I would have liked, but the flavor was incredible. I think I rolled them out a little thin, which probably explains the lack of leavening.  I made a batch of homeade sausage gravy to go with them.

Tanner decided they were so good they made his eyes cross. 

This afternoon I decided to whip up a pot of split pea soup. Let me say that as wonderful as this soup tastes, it is NOT pretty.  But paired with my Hawaiian Sandwich, it is incredible.  

Here is my recipe:

Amy's Split Pea Soup

2 1/2 cups split peas
8 cups water (or broth)
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced onion
1 cup diced ham
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a soup pot, bring to a low boil, then decrease heat and cover, stirring occasionally until peas are cooked completely.  

Hawaiian Sandwich

1 Hawaiian Sandwich roll, or 2 slices Hawaiian bread
2 slices havarti cheese
2 slices ham
1 pineapple ring

Arrange ham, cheese, and pineapple ring on bread. Butter outside surfaces of bread and grill in panini press or skillet until cheese is melted and bread is toasty.

We enjoyed a lovely cold weather meal, and then my daughter and her friend decided they wanted to get in the act and bake some chocolate peanut butter chip cookies.  I think there was more goofing going on than there was cooking but they sure had a fabulous time.  

The highlight of my day occured when I received my mail for the day.  Happily tucked into the box were the books that I've been waiting for for about 2 weeks.

The first, More Straw Bale Building: A Complete Guide to Designing and Building with Straw has me daydreaming about building my home... again.   The second is How to Build Small Barns and Outbuildings.  I love to sit with my books on these nippy winter evenings. Can't wait to curl up with these tonight. In fact, I think I'll go and do that now!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Survival Bags... check

In a previous post I mentioned checking my Bug Out Bag (or BOB for short), and had forgotten that not everyone is familiar with what one is, or why they are a good idea to have handy.  So I decided to write a little about them this morning:

As many of us strive to become more self sufficient, we feel empowered and in greater control of our lives. But lets face it. No matter how much control we have over our environments, things can still happen that leave us feeling helpless and in danger. Natural - or not so natural -  disasters, financial collapse, civil unrest, or any number of  things, probable or not, are POSSIBLE.  Sometimes we get too comfortable and forget that things can go bad in a hurry. Take, for instance, the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan)  The purpose of a BOB is to make sure that if/when they do, that you have increased your odds of survival. (Additional bags can be made to keep in your vehicles. How many times have you been stranded in a broken down vehicle with nothing to eat, drink, or keep you warm? Not fun.)

You want enough of any item to last  you approximately 72 hours. This is more easily managed and portable. Your personal choices of inventory will be dependant on effectiveness, preference, and the size of the bag you want to carry. The base components of your BOB include water, food, shelter, and first aid.

1. Water: This can mean bottled water, purification tablets or iodine, water filters, or any number of other options.

2. Food: Again, you can make this as simple or as complicated as you would like.  I like to include protein bars, vacuum packed tuna packets, trail mix, etc.  Some people choose freeze dried foods, MRE's, or other food that requires some preparation. I choose not to, because many of these require use of water to prepare, fire, utensils, etc.

3.Shelter: Again, depending on the size of pack you want to carry, you can take something as simple as a poncho, a tarp, or a emergency blanket; or you can pack a tent on a frame backpack, so many options.  Eventually I will put a blanket and rope with each pack. I learned how to make a hammock from a blanket and rope on a diy video, and since I sleep in hammock when I'm camping, these seemed the simplest to me. That combined with a tarp in case of rain... Mind you, I don't live in a very cold climate, although it CAN get well below freezing once in a great while. Additional seasonal clothing can come in handy too.

4. First Aid:  I always make sure to carry feminine hygiene products since they are dual purpose. Pads are great for pressure bandages on heavily bleeding wounds. I carry Coban (vet wrap is cheaper) to secure thick bandages. Tampons can be used for bloody noses, etc.  I will also pack triple antibiotic ointment, needle and thread, super glue (yes, you can glue cuts back together, and is basically the same as skin glue), assorted bandages and gauze, and medical tape, an ace wrap, oint for rashes (ie caladryl), peroxide, or normal saline. Ibuprofen, anti-diarrheal meds, etc.  The list can get long and complicated. Personalize your list to your needs. (I.e. - if you aren't allergic to poison ivy/oak/sumac, leave out the caladryl)

In addition to the basics, you can add whatever items you think you may need.  Common items include:
1. flashlight/batteries or windup... if battery operated, you'll need batteries too.
2. emergency radio
3. fire starter kits
4. Bug repellent, sunblock
5. whistle
6. compass
7. survival knife
8. fishing lures/line
9. signal mirror....

Remember to check your bags every few months for problems, leakes, and make sure everything is in proper working order.Make sure your knife didnt rust from a leaking bottle of water, your food isn't out of date (if it expires), your bandages are clean, etc.

So now that you're thinking about it, what items would you put in your bag?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Survival, Sanity, and Something Sweet

When I got up this morning I had several things on my 'to do' list.  I knew I wouldn't get them all done, but I'm proud to report that I got a good start on the list.

I decided to try something fun and different for breakfast, since my kids like over easy eggs and toast. I made 'Toad in a Hole'.  I'm still not sure why it's called that, nor am I sure that there aren't other names for it but the kids loved it.  And it's simple.  Merely cut a hole out of the center of the bread, put it in the skillet and crack an egg in the hole. Cook to your desired doneness... is that a word?   Sis decided just to pick it up and try to eat it with her hands.  That didn't last long.

Once was breakfast was over, and the kids were off to school, I decided to inventory our bug out pack.  So far I have only made one bag, and its only partially stocked. I add more items as my finances allow. Currently, I have fire starters, water, protien bars, ponchos, emergency blankets, fishing hooks, vet wrap and a whistle.  I plan on adding more first aid items, something for purifying water, more food options, a rope, a blanket, and a few other things. I also plan on making two more bags so each of us has one.  The protien bars had a 'best by' date of yesterday.  I don't know how long they stay good, but they are going to have to stay there a bit longer until I can replace them

Once that task was complete, I moved on to my office. It looked like something had exploded there.  So I went through every file folder, drawer, and surface, and tossed a giant bag full of stuff I didn't need any more. Thankfully, tomorrow is garbage day! Yikes. It sure feels good to sit here in my clean office.

Last but not least, I decided to make a sweet treat. I made the chocolate cake from the recipe on the back of the Hershey's Cocoa box.  Unfortunately, the center fell in a little and I couldn't get them out of the pans. So rather than a layer cake, we are eating one layer at a time!

I still have two rooms to get done tomorrow, and my belated spring cleaning will be done.  I feel so much better already. It's amazing what a relief it is when you clear out the clutter!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Housekeeping day

Today was a busy, productive day.  I took advantage of the fact that I had a couple days off to start on some housekeeping that should have been done a long time ago. First I transplanted some herb seedlings (cilantro, parsley, and oregano) that I started a couple of weeks ago for the kitchen.  I reused some peat pellets, so I'm not sure how well they'll do, we shall see. I'm obviously only halfway through  in this picture. Forgot to take a picture of the completed task.

Next, I cleaned out my indoor greenhouse and moved it from the warm, dark living room, to the much lighter laundry room. Hopefully that will give the little guys the little extra to make it.

When I cleaned out the greenhouse, I found my pot of seed packets and inventoried what I had. By the looks of it, I'll only need to buy tomato and bell pepper seeds this year, if everything sprouts.  I know it seems awful early to be planning my garden, but one can never plan too much.  My favorite crops so far are my Black Beauty zuchinni and armenian cucumbers.  I've yet to have a very successful tomato or bell pepper crop. Maybe this year will be the year. (Fingers crossed)

By the time I finished with those tasks, the cleaning bug had hit full force. I cleaned out the kitchen cabinets and got rid of  lots of very useful but seldom used kitchen appliances so that I could find the things I actually do use. I'll be posting on our local Freecycle group to give them to some who needs them. If you're not familiar with freecycle, its a wonderful way to keep your things out of the landfill, and find things that you can't buy.  I think most communities have freecycle web groups.

This afternoon, a friend took a drive with me to  look for property.  Seems that land here in central oklahoma is running about $3000-$5000/acre on average.  Now I just need to decide if I want to buy a smaller piece of land and own it, or finance a larger piece of land.  I'm leaning toward owning a smaller piece. The last thing I want to do is sink a bunch of money into something and be at the mercy of the bank if my grooming shop doesn't make it.  (Terrible that I'm planning for possible failure when I haven't even opened shop yet. Not pessimistic, I say. Just realistic.)

This year I plan on making all of my christmas gifts (except for the kids' gifts). I'm hoping to get a start on that Monday with my first batch EVER of hot process soap.I've made cold process, but like the hot process SO much better.  Funny thing, but after I used homeade soap, I can't make myself buy commercial soaps or body wash anymore.  The one thing I don't think I'll ever give up is my shampoo though.  But who knows. Anyone have a great shampoo recipe?.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Haircut at Home

Yesterday I decided that I just couldnt take it anymore!  My son's hair was driving me crazy. He wanted to keep it longer but it just looked... well, AWFUL.  I decided I wasnt going to pay someone to trim it and leave it long when I had scissors at home. Heck if I messed it up too badly, I have clippers here too!



And the coup de gras? He actually liked it!  Too bad, I really wanted to get my clippers out. hehe.  I also gave myself a trim, which turned out fairly well.  My daughter, however, declined and is holding out for my regular stylist to cut it.  Maddening, since all she needs is a trim. She doesn't even have bangs! lol.   Oh well,

Haircuts in a salon $30
Haircut at home   $0
Money saved  $30

Think we'll start saving money on haircuts more often. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Getting in the Spirit

In spite of the fact that I'm feeling a little under the weather, its been a lovely evening. The kids came home early enough to put on a little christmas cheer with me so we spent the evening decorating. I decided to let them put the tree up all by themselves this year. I tend to be a bit of a control freak, so kudos to me! I only made a couple of suggestions, but shut up when they decided to do it their way lol. Most of our ornaments are hand made with love.

Even Lucky got in the Christmas spirit... or at least he was dressed like it!

And what cold Autumn night is complete without homeade hot chocolate with fresh whipped cream?

The lights were stretched on the shrubs... not sure if I'll get anything else done this year.  

And when all the work is done, we got to sit back and enjoy the beauty of the season.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Natural Building Techniques

For quite some time I 've been reading up on various natural building techniques, including Cob, Adobe, Earthbag, Cordwood, and Strawbale.  With the possibility of being able to buy land soon looming, I have become more pressed to make decisions about what I want, and how I'll achieve my goal.

My primary goal is to build a home with my own two hands (and those of some friends), that is molded from all natural materials, off grid, utilizes passive solar techniques, and incorporates both indoor and outdoor living areas.

Exterior of Eco-Dome

 Some time ago, I thought I had settled on earthbag construction.  I fell in love with the curves, circular designs and the fact that they are very inexpensive to build.  I found these pictures at Cal-Earth. One of my favorite sites to study for earthbag building is Earthbag Plans.  There are so many neat ideas, many not realistic for me, but fun to look at just the same

Main dome of Eco-Dome

Recently I have begun reading more about straw bale homes. What I love about them is the use of thermal mass to insulate, faster erection of walls, and availability of straw, since I live here in rural Oklahoma.  In addition,  you still have the creative freedom to sculpt your home through the plastering process. I found a lovely site that shows the process in detail at House of Straw.

I realize that my biggest challenges will be the actual cost of building, and the manpower of getting the job done to make it the most economical choice.  

My plan is to first find a piece of  land.  When I find the piece that speaks to me, I will spend a year just  observing the land during the seasons for changes - become familiar before building, spending plenty of time there simply absorbing the landscape. I know this will help me not only make better decisions, but will also give me the time to begin saving the money to do the actual building.  

Of course, seeing as I'm still learning this whole process, this plan may change many times between now and the completed process. But I promise to keep you posted along the way!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Homestead Stuffing

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  We had a wonderful day with friends, old and new.  And for today's meal, we brought two dishes. One inspired the title of today's blog:

I was late getting started making our traditional Sourdough Stuffing last night. Normally it is made using our heirloom cast iron meat grinder.  As fate would have it, we forgot to bring it home from Mom's house last year, which I'd forgotten until I started looking for it. So I decided to use my food processor.... but we couldn't find a vital piece of the equipment.  In the end, I made do with what I had on hand: A knife, a cutting board, and my hands - the way it was done for  centuries.

May I say I liked it better than any other year in history.  From now on I will be making it the same way, and will always call it Homestead stuffing! lol

Homestead Stuffing
3 Sourdough Boules
2 cups milk
2 bunches celery
2 onions
2 eggs
1 stick butter
poultry seasoning to taste

Let bread stale either in room air or in the oven. Put milk in a pan and add bread, allowing it to soak up the milk.  Squeeze milk out of the bread, and tear into small pieces.  Chop celery and onion finely. Combine bread pieces, celery, and onion and mix well. Beat eggs and stir into bread mixture. Melt butter in saucepan and pour over bread mixture. Mix well. Add Poultry seasoning to taste.  Bake in 350 degree oven, covered, for 1 hour.  Uncover and bake until top is crusty.

And of course, don't forget the most important ingredient for a happy Thanksgiving: Remembering to give thanks. Here are just a few of the people I am thankful for in my life:

 My daughter and her best friend

My son

And my dear friend (with his daughter)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Autumn is in full swing again, and I'm loving the color that always abounds.

Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of my car accident.  It seems like every day since that day has continued to revolve around that crazy 15 seconds.  Tomorrow will again be another crazy day. Ironically it will also bring an ironic closure to the entire experience.  I won't go into detail, but to say that it will all be over soon.

Unfortunately, I have been so preoccupied by those events that I had forgotten what my ultimate life goals are- To become self sufficient and gloriously happy in the simplicity of my life.  As I mentioned before, I have continued to make me own laundry soap this year. I have also continued to make my own tootpaste.  My daughter isn't easily impressed, but my son loves the stuff and won't use the store bought anymore.  

For those interested, here is my recipe for homeade toothpaste

3/8 cup baking soda
1/8 cup salt
1/8 cup glycerin
enough water to reach your desired consistancy
peppermint or other essential oil to taste (cinnamon, clove, vanilla, or whatever you enjoy)

Mix all ingredients together and pour or spoon into the container of your choice. This recipe fits perfectly into a 3 oz travel container like the pink one in the picture.

Friday, November 18, 2011

A change of direction

My journey to change the way I live my life has taken me in a new direction. I have decided to make a dramatic change in careers.  After 17 years as a nurse, I have begun apprenticing as a dog groomer in my mothers shop. This is the main reason I haven't posted in such a long time.  Between working as a nurse full time (weekend double shifts), and grooming dogs 4 days a week during the week, I have been pretty busy.

 Today, as I sat here at the computer, it occurred to me that this year has just flown away from me.  Last time I posted it was cold and snowy.  Since then we had a turbulent spring, a record breaking heatwave, and unprecedented earthquakes. My weren't those exciting.  No, really!  Having grown up in California, I've actually missed the quakes I'd grown accustomed to.  Now my children have experienced them too!  My son just stood there with a silly smile on his face, and my daughter was completely unimpressed.  She kills me.

I began apprenticing in Mom's grooming shop in July.  It has been alot of fun so far.  

There are days when I wonder if I've just lost my mind. The thought of being self employed is more than a little scary; Especially the idea of not having a guaranteed paycheck. But the pro's are pretty great too, and I think they far outweight the cons. I'm ready to be my own boss!

As for self-sufficiency, I'm am working at that in baby steps.  I am happy to say I haven't bought laundry soap in a year. By making it at home I would estimate than I've saved about $300 this year.  Since my garden never made it into the yard last year, I hope to spend this winter preparing some raised beds, learning to grow mushrooms, and growing fresh herbs in pots indoors.  And of course, research, research, research!  

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

It's Just Around the Corner!

After several weeks of what has become affectionately called 'Snowklahoma', we have finally been blessed with beautiful spring like weather. So once again, I checked on my beautiful seedlings, watered them, and looked them over. And this is what I found.

My onions are still spindly and laying over. Is this normal? I have no idea, since I've never planted onions indoors before, but I suspect they have not seen enough sun. So I will continue to baby them and attempt to keep them safe from the mice. Orkin man is coming to save me this Friday!

On a brighter note, my tomatoes have finally developed their first beautiful little true leaves. I can almost taste the homeade pasta sauce already!

The collards are also producing their first true leaves like my tomatoes. Keeping up with the Joneses I suppose.  But they are long and spindly and laying down like the onions. Not sure about those since I've never raised these either.

I've heard we are in for another round of snow, which is still disheartening with spring fever already kicked in, but I'm so thrilled to have these little reminders that spring is around the corner.  Happy Planting.