Monday, March 30, 2009

Thrift Talk 2

Thanks, Grace and Mom H. for the money saving tips. I'll go on to the next category soon, but first I thought I'd share what some further research and thought has unearthed in the area of electricity savings.

I found Michael Bluejay's site to have some very useful information. His strategy is to attack the biggest power eaters first, like central heat, air conditioning, the water heater, dryer and refrigerator. Unfortunately, most major home improvement solutions are simply out of our financial range. I can't see paying over $1,000 for an Energy Star refrigerator when our 90's model works fine. It would take a long time for the power savings to repay us for the initial cost. We are working on a few ideas, however, that would help to bring our electricity use down.

Future Energy Improvement Ideas:

In winter, we can put jugs of water outdoors to freeze at night, then bring them in and put them in the refrigerator. This will keep the temperature low enough to prevent the compresser from having to run. Cleaning the coils is also important for it to run efficiently.

Water Heater- Luke is working on a solar water heater made with a recycled tank and other salvaged materials. Basically, it allows the sun to heat the water before it goes into the indoor electric heater, taking the load off in sunny weather. He'll probably post more about this project as it nears completion.

Wood Stove- Both of us grew up in homes heated with wood stoves and now we own several acres of woodland, which would supply more than enough fuel for our comparatively mild winters if managed properly. The only catch is that insurance companies don't really like wood stoves in mobile homes. Hopefully, we will soon be mortgage free and can shop around for the type of coverage we want, or opt for no coverage if we want, rather than having to satisfy the bank. Anyway, we're planning to install one before next winter.

Cooling the House- We are searching for ways to cool the house naturally and reduce the need to run the air conditioner. Most of the heat that comes into the house via the roof and windows is radiant heat from the sun, which regular insulation doesn't block. A reflective layer is necessary for this and it is claimed that this can block 97% of the sun's radiant heat. Once again, however, installing this type of insulation would be very expensive and labor intensive. As would painting the roof with a white roof coating, which is another effective strategy, or installing a tin roof-over. These can be planned for in the future, but we have been toying around with some ideas for cheap, short term solutions that can be put into action this summer. Some of these are: 1- building a long planting box up on the ridge line and planting trailing vines, like pole beans or morning glories, to create a "green roof" effect. Half of the house is already shaded, so we would only need to do this on the exposed area. 2- making a temporary canopy over part of the roof out of a tarp with maybe a layer of heavy duty foil glued to it. The foil would act as a reflector, but without an air space underneath, it would also act as a conductor of heat if placed directly onto the roof. Hence the need for the canopy, which would also provide effective shade by itself. 3- putting transparent shade cloth made for greenhouses over exposed windows to block the sun's rays.

More about this later- we'll see if any of these ideas work and let you know if they do!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Pizza Fun

Friday night is pizza night at our house. We all have a lot of fun making it together. I thought I'd share the recipe. This is pretty much the same recipe we used growing up (and some are still using and growing up, right Alan?)

Wright Family Classic Pizza
2 1/2 cups flour
1 t. salt
1 t. sugar
1 T. or one package instant dry yeast
2 T. vegetable oil
1 cup warm water

Mix all ingredients well and knead, adding more flour if necessary to make a soft dough. Place in greased bowl, cover and let rise till doubled in size. Punch down dough and spread onto oiled pizza stone or pan. Makes 1 large pizza.

1/2 cup tomato sauce (or 2 T. tomato
paste and enough water to make 1/2 cup)
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. dried oregano (or 1T. fresh)
1/2 t. dried basil (or 1T. fresh)
1/4 t. garlic powder (or 2-3 finely minced cloves)

Mix all ingredients and spread on pizza dough. Top with 4-6 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese and toppings of choice. Bake in 425 degree preheated oven for 15-20 min.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Thrift Talk

The other day I sat down to make a list of all the things we do that save money. I was hoping it would help me think of other ways, but then I thought to post them here and ask for your ideas to help me out.

The list grew too long for one post, so I am going to focus on one category at a time. Here is the first one.


1: Use cfl's: Also, central light fixtures often have many sockets. Use only 1 or 2.)

2: Dry clothes outdoors. Nothing smells better than fresh air dried clothing. I also hang out my cloth diapers until they are almost dry, then put them in the dryer for 10-15 min. to soften them up. Otherwise, they can get stiff as a board.

3: Bake and cook larger quantities. Four loaves of bread bake as long as two, a pound of dried beans cooks as long as a cup, you get the idea. I use the toaster oven for smaller items and reheating food, since it uses less electricity.

4: Bake bread rolls instead of loaves. If you don't have room to store four loaves, which I don't until my neighbor gets his stuff out of my freezer.....1 dozen sandwich rolls take 1/4 of the time to cook as loaves.

5: Lower temperature on water heater. This is also a safety issue to prevent scalding accidents.

6: Keep heat set low and air conditioner high. Don't be a wuss, put on a sweater if you're cold, wet your head and dress down if you're hot. I find the kids are far more oblivious to temperature extremes than I am, though they sure find a lot of other things to be picky about. :)

7: Make use of cooler nights and fans in front of open windows to cool the house, then close it up before it gets hot. Luke also put up white shutters on our bedroom windows, which is the hottest room in the house. These can be closed to block the summer sun.

8: Wash clothes with cold water. All except diapers, which I wash on a warm/cold cycle.

9: Cool leftovers completely before refrigerating. It keeps the refrigerator from having to work so hard. I also try hard to prevent people from standing in front of it with the door open while deciding what to get. The kids have been pretty good about it once I explained why it was important.

10: And here is one more way I am trying to implement. Cooking with wood! It's free for us. All I have to do is go out in the woods and gather it, then saw it up. Hard work, but fun! Last night I cooked one pot spaghetti for dinner and several days' worth of sourdough flatbread. Then we all enjoyed a blazing fire until after dark, when I began to hear a familiar call. The whippoorwill is back! Virginia took the picture below.
Can you help me think of more ways to save electricity?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

I made a Bunchie!

I tried making a diaper using Sara's tutorial, and it worked! It only took me a few hours. The tutorial was very easy to follow, and I had no problems that I couldn't figure out. I don't think I made the elastic cord quite long enough, so that's why I had to put the buttons on the front. It still works though! As you can see I'm very proud of myself. Most things I try to sew don't usually work out so well. Thanks Sara!!! :) My little Simon boy likes it, I think.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

How to make a wooden toy car.

This is the first of a series of posts that I want to do showing how to make simple wooden toys. All of my designs can be made with hand tools, or basic electric tools if you have them.

This is the plan for the body of the car. If you right click and save this picture it should print out to scale. The car is 6 inches long and just over two inches tall.

These are the tools and materials needed:

1. 8" or more of 1X4 pine board

2. 6" of 3/16 dowel rod

3. Coping Saw

4. 1/4" drill bit

5. 7/8" flat wood bit

6. 1-1/2" hole saw with 3/16" guide bit

7. Drill (not pictured)

Step 1. Cut out the pattern and trace it onto one corner of the pine board. Be sure to also mark the holes for the axles and the window. Then, clamping the wood firmly in place, cut along the traced edge with the coping saw.

Step 2. Drill the two holes for the axles using the 1/4" drill bit, and then drill out the window using the 7/8" flat wood bit.

Step 3. Using the remainder of the 1X4 board, cut out the wheels using the 1-1/2" hole saw. Then cut the dowel rod in half, so that you have two 3" axle pieces.

Step 4. Sand all the rough edges. Then, insert the dowel rods into the wheels and tamp lightly with a hammer until they slightly protrude from the other side as seen in the picture below. After that, you can put the axles on the car and tap on the remaining wheels from the other side.

Step 5. Test the quality of your work by giving it to a kid near you. By the look on his face I think this one will be just fine!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Foraging Adventures Part 2:

Weed Salad!

The earliest greens to arrive in spring are, incidentally, weeds that grow in our garden, yard and field. The most ubiquitous of these edibles is probably the dandelion. The one pictured is growing in my garden. I left it there on purpose last year, and now I have been rewarded with a source of very early salad and cooking greens. They are a little tougher than cultivated plants, but if you pick them before the hot weather, they are quite tasty and loaded with vitamins and minerals. This is probably due to the deep taproot that mines the soil for nutrients. This root can be harvested as well, and roasted to make a coffee substitute. I've never tried this, but the Prodigal Gardens site tells how. The buds and flowers are also delicious, though once the flowers are open, the green parts have to be removed.

Field garlic is another well known weed. I remember picking the pungent stems as a kid- I think we called it onion grass or something. All the wild alliums are edible, and their distinguishing feature is that strong, garlicky, oniony odor. There are some poisonous look- alikes in the lily family, but none of them smell like onions. So sniff before you eat. The bulbs and leaves are both edible. They are great in spaghetti sauce and the stems can be finely chopped into a salad like chives.

I know wood sorrel very well, because I have been pulling it out of my garden for years. They have three, heart shaped leaflets, resembling a shamrock, as they are sometimes called. The heart shape distinguishes it from clover, which it is often confused with. Later in the spring and summer, yellow flowers bloom, then form pods that later explode when the seeds are mature. Which explains why I have so much in my garden. The leaves and flowers are edible, and have a lovely, lemony tang. They are high in vitamin C, but they also contain oxalic acid, like spinach, which inhibits iron absorption, so it should be used in moderation. But I think it's tart taste renders it more a salad seasoning than a main ingredient.

Always be sure of any wild plant you use for food. Check several sources. You can look up varieties on Google image and also check out books from the library. I will try and add some links to our collection on the right side. Also, don't gather on roadsides, pesticide sprayed lawns, or any other polluted areas, but often you need look no further than your own backyard.

The three examples I chose are pretty easy to identify, as they are common and well known. We enjoyed all three in our salad last night!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy Saint Patrick's!

I know I've shared this song before, but I just love it. Luka Bloom steps quietly away from the proud nationalism around him and opens himself to embrace a kinship with all living things- the world of the heron, sparrow and small town.

"Tribe" by Irish folk musician Luka Bloom.


Saturday, March 14, 2009

"Bunchies" Diaper Tutorial

After much trial and error, I am happy to announce the most up to date design on my bunchies pattern. These diapers are very easy to sew. They are an adjustable fitted, allowing for a range of baby bottom sizes, and they can be returned to a perfectly flat shape, which reduces drying time and makes them easy to store. Best of all, they are made with recycled clothing- a t-shirt for the shell and part of a flannel sheet for the soaker. The only other materials needed are elastic cord, found in the sewing section of Walmart and very cheap, some velcro scraps, and a few buttons. I hope you will give them a try.

The pattern is basically an hourglass shape, but with longer, narrower tabs along the back end. Shown here folded in half, it is 14" long, 6 1/2" wide at the front and 8" along the back. At the lowest point in the middle it is 4" wide.

Step 1:
Fold a t-shirt in half, carefully smoothing any wrinkles. Pin on the pattern and cut out.

Step 2
: Place wrong sides to the outside and pin together, leaving the back tabs open.

Step 3: Fold over 1/4" of the edge of the back tabs on both pieces. Clicking on the photo should enlarge it enough to see the detail.

Step 4: Stitch 1/4" or so from the edge along the back and around the sides and front, leaving 1 1/2" open at the tabs.

Step 5: Turn right side out using the opening on one of the tabs. Top stitch all the way around 3/8"-1/2" from the edge. This forms the casing for the elastic cord. When you come to the tabs, stitch all the way to the edge so that the seam comes to a sharp point as shown in the picture.

Step 6: Thread the elastic cord into a darning needle and feed through the casing all the way around, smoothing it flat as you go. Tie it off with several good square knots when you are done, and trim.

Step 7: Cut velcro pieces as shown, using the hook side for the back tabs and the loop side for the front. Stitch securely, being careful not to sew over the elastic cord. I used a zig zag stitch and went all the way around each piece twice.

Step 8: For the soaker, cut four layers of flannel in a 13" square. Stitch around the outside, leaving a small opening for turning. Turn out, then top stitch all the way around, turning the edge of the opening inside as you sew it shut. Fold the soaker in thirds, and center it lengthwise down the middle of the diaper shell. Pin the middle third along the back side, about 1" from the edge. Unfold and stitch the middle securely. The soaker can be stored flat, then folded into thirds before using. I usually fold the two sides under so there is no seam against the baby's skin.

Step 9: Sew flat buttons 2"-4" from the end of the tabs as shown. You may want to put 2 or 3 on each side to make the diaper more adjustable. To use diaper, place under baby's bottom, fold between legs and close tabs. Then, grasp both ends of the elastic cord together and pull gently. Loop the excess around the buttons. Quickly run your finger under the leg openings to make sure it is not too tight and stretch if necessary to even out the bunching. To wash, close the tabs, but make sure the soaker is unfolded and on the outside. Alternately, you can keep the soaker a separate piece if you wish. You can also use a newborn size prefold for a soaker instead of making one.

Here is a side view on my son. It is just a wee bit snug, so I will probably add another pair of buttons closer to the front. I have been using this size diaper since he was a chubby baby. I have noticed, though, that the sizes of my babies' bottoms don't change all that much from the time they are 3 months to toddler size. Once they start getting mobile, they work off the fat even though their bones and muscles are growing.

Ha ha! That's my guy!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Metamorphosis of a Pipe Cleaner and Other Tidbits

Virginia has been on the verge of reading for quite some time now. She knows the letters and sounds, but just hasn't gotten the trick of putting them together. And she hasn't been too interested, so I haven't pushed. This week, however, I started a little game as an incentive. Each day I write an easy word in huge letters of something found in the house on the white board. She has to read it, then bring me the object. So far, she has been doing well with just a little help. Oh, I forgot to mention. There is a prize once she reads it. Yesterday, the "prize" was me getting down the forgotten box of pipe cleaners. As you can see, we had fun making butterflies. There are four easy steps, shown at the bottom of the picture.

A few days ago, Jamie asked how we got our kids to eat healthy food. Sometimes, all I have to say in response to an "I'm hungry, Mama!" is "Go eat a carrot like Bugs Bunny." and off they hop to the refrigerator to grab one. Of course, we get our share of half eaten carrots around here. Not to mention half eaten apples. And so today (does this count for frugal Friday?) I made scrap cake. It is really applesauce spice cake, because I had an old jar of forgotten applesauce that had frozen in the back of the refrigerator. The scraps are from the half eaten carrots and apples, which I grated into the batter after cutting off the nibbled bits for the chickens. I milled soft white wheat berries for the flour, so it's all whole grain, and I used half the sugar it called for. Reuben helped me shell some pecans (he really does help, even if he eats half the bits he pulls from the shell) and a few added raisins made it just perfect. Sweet, moist and delicious!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

My Herbal First Aid Kit

I have been enjoying the book Mom gave me, pictured here. "Gentle Healing for Baby and Child" by Andrea Candee. Andrea is an experienced herbalist, and mom as well, and this book is a treasure! It is easy to read and is full of time tested, chemical free remedies for just about any kind of ailment imaginable. The author is careful to give the reader a criteria for judging when medical help is necessary, but this book can save countless trips to the doctor's office, as well as many nasty side effects of conventional treatments and over the counter drugs. Andrea also places a lot of emphasis on the emotional aspect of wellness, which I very much appreciate. For instance, she recommends Bach flower essences and chamomile tea for soothing troubled nerves that accompany injury or illness. She has also had much sucess in using imaginative visualizations to aid the body in it's healing ability. Even minor trauma, such as the sight of blood on a cut, is given consideration- Andrea suggests using a red wash cloth to clean the wound, so it doesn't show up. Kind of reminds me of that joke about the pirate captain who started wearing a red shirt during battle in order to keep his men from losing heart when he got wounded. Hmm, maybe I should also keep a brown wash cloth for those really dire emergencies, lol!

There is so much information in this book that will take time to implement. I chose to begin with a first aid kit. My kids get booboos far more often than they get sick, so this seemed the most logical place to start. I tried to keep it simple and small, so it can easily travel with us in the diaper bag (don't ask me where I'm going to put the diapers now). And since the diaper bag hangs high on a hook when we are at home, it is the perfect medicine chest. This way we only need one kit. Well, two, because I fixed one up for Luke to keep in his work truck.

Here is a list of the contents:
1. Rescue Remedy pastilles- made from Bach flower essences. For stress relief from injury or whatever. Available from
2. Herbal Savvy- by Country Comfort. An all purpose skin salve with comfrey and aloe. There are no ingredients that you can't pronounce or find in nature. Also available at iherb.
3. Ground Cayenne Pepper-This amazing substance is far more than a seasoning. 1/8 -1/4 tsp. mixed with an ounce or two of water and swallowed can stop a nosebleed in less than 10 seconds. It can stop a bleeding cut and hemmorhage as well and packed directly onto a wound. I have used it as a gargle for instant relief from a sore throat, which it also cured in less than a day. It also clears congestion. I plan on keeping it nearby, along with my shepherd's purse, for my home birth this summer.
4. Tea Tree Oil- Three drops added to 4 oz. of water for an antiseptic wound wash. Also drops can be placed on insect bites.
5. Peppermint Oil- can be inhaled to relieve headaches, congestion and nausea, or one drop added to hot water to make a soothing tea. Diluted, it can be dabbed on the temples for further relief. I bought both of these oils also from iherb.
6. Emergen-C- for an energy or immune system boost for occasions when exposed to or experiencing symptoms of any illness. I got this at Earth Fare on sale, but Walmart has it too.
7. Clear Surgical Tape
8. Roller Gauze
9. Cotton Balls
10. Spray Bottle
-for mixing the antiseptic wash. These last four items I bought at Walmart.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Fishy Food Fun

We had some fun creating our lunch today! Tuna sandwich with baby spinach on homemade honey wheat bread, cut into the shape of a fish. The apple slices made great waves. Can you tell I'm not a fan of "don't play with your food!" Lol! The only problem now is that Kaitlin thinks it's too pretty to eat! :)

Here's an idea! Why don't you share some creative things you guys do to dress up your table for even the most reluctant of eaters? (It doesn't have to be an original idea. I got this one from Disney channel, though the apple "waves" were my addition. I always like to sneak in the extra fruits/veggies.)

Monday, March 9, 2009

Great Granola!

Monday is usually our baking day, but last night Virginia needed something to do, so we made granola together. I thought I'd post the recipe we use.

Sara's Great Granola

3 cups quick oats
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup organic sugar (or brown or raw)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey

Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Mix all ingredients thoroughly, then spread onto a large, buttered baking sheet. Bake 30 minutes, stirring once half way through baking time, and once when done. Cool completely before storing. Add dried fruits and nuts if desired. We usually double the recipe because the 5 of us eat it up pretty fast.

Jon, the coconut is optional :).

Friday, March 6, 2009

Kaitlin's Nutrition Chart

Kaitlin, you did a great job with your mama!

Hmmm, what can we cut and paste next?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Grow Fresh Salads All Year

Sprouting is about the easiest way to get tasty, super nutritious, fresh salads all year. It takes very little time and effort, and is essentially foolproof gardening.

There are many companies online that offer sprouting seeds and materials. These lids, which fit half gallon canning jars found at your local grocery store, are from the Sprout People. But before I got these lids as a gift from Luke's mom, I just used a piece of cheesecloth secured with a rubber band. When I didn't have cheesecloth I placed a strainer over the mouth of the jar to drain it, then used a piece of cloth draped over the top to keep the dust out for the rest of the time.

I have always purchased my seeds from a health food store near us, as they are much cheaper than any I have seen online. I usually grow alfalfa and mung beans for salads, but I have sprouted broccoli, which is delicious, as well as lentils and wheat berries, which I already had in my pantry. These latter two I added to my bread dough to enhance the nutrition, flavor and texture of the bread. But beware! When you sprout wheat or other cereals, you must use them all when they are ready, because they will not stop growing when you refrigerate them like other sprouts and soon you'll have grass instead of sprouts.

Lentils and wheat take about two days, alfalfa and other beans take three or four. Sprouts will grow faster in warmer temperatures than in cold ones, too, some more than others.

It probably takes less time to do it, than to read this, so I'll stop rambling and get on with the simple instructions.

1. Place 1/4 cup seeds in a half gallon canning jar, or less in a quart sized jar. Cover with water to at least three times the depth of the seeds. Soak overnight.

2. In the morning, drain seeds, then rinse and drain again. Invert the jar at an angle for a couple hours to drain thoroughly. This helps air to circulate better.

3. Rinse and drain at least twice a day until they are ready. On the last day, put them in a window so they will produce chlorophyll. Then rinse, drain and eat. Store them in the refrigerator for three or four days if they don't get eaten before then.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Snow in South Carolina

I don't think I've seen this much snow at one time in all the 12 years I've lived in South Carolina. It started as ice pellets Sunday evening, then changed to thick, fluffy, cottony flakes. It soon grew dark, but we could still watch the snow fall thick and fast in the glow of the porch light. Two hours after it started, the power went out, so we all camped out in the living room near the kerosene heater, which also doubled as a cook stove. The electricity was restored late Tuesday morning, but our well pump was frozen, so we were still without water until early afternoon. Whew! I was getting tired of trying to wash dishes with melted snow! For the most part, though, we had a blast!

View of the garden with field and woods beyond.

View of the house from the driveway.

View of the creek taken from the bridge

We built this snowman in at our neighbor's house where the snow packed better.

Breakfast on the cook stove.

More Pictures.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Look What I Made!

As you can see, Virginia is very proud of her latest creation. The idea began when she saw in her coloring book several pictures of items used in everyday life. Food, clothes, musical instruments, jewelry- it was too much. She had to cut them out. But then she needed people to use them. She sat and thought a minute and then the proverbial light bulb appeared. The gingerbread cookie cutter would make the perfect stencil! She fished it out of the kitchen drawer and quickly traced and cut out a boy and girl. Then she glued a necklace and skirt onto the girl, and a guitar onto the boy. But where were they to live? A gingerbread house of course! She cut and glued, but began to get a little frustrated when the roof kept popping off, so I helped reinforce it a bit with some packaging tape. Then she needed something for the candy, because all gingerbread houses must have candy! What better use for that box of random beads and lite brite pegs? Voila!

I think this was the first three dimensional thing Virginia has made with paper. The thought process, the problems to be solved, and the sheer thrill of the whole project were fascinating to behold. A milestone had been crossed in her mental development, and I am so glad I was there to see it.

The drive to create is, I think, one of the most basic human impulses. It makes us imitators of our Creator, and is a gift he has given us to be used for his and our mutual pleasure. It is what fuels our quest for knowledge, not the other way around. This, I think, is the most important principle in Luke's and my approach to homeschooling, or rather unschooling. We are simply here to aid our children's own journey, assist them to pursue their own individual gifts and callings. We are not here to force or shape them into any kind of mold by any institution of society, but to protect them from this kind of manipulation as best as we are able. And to show them by example and gentle instruction, and even our mistakes, the ways of Jesus as we go through the rhythms and changes of life.