Thursday, April 28, 2011

An Easy Inexpensive Emergency Candle

A couple weekends ago I taught an Emergency Preparedness class at my church. My father-in-law gave us this great emergency candle that is simple to make and very inexpensive which I featured during my class. I had a request for a tutorial, so I thought I'd post it here, because everyone needs an emergency heat/light/cooking source!

Emergency Candle Tutorial

This is what you need for the emergency candle:

* 1 bottle of rubbing alcohol (keep it unopened until the time of emergency when you need to use your candle)
* 1 plain, unused quart paint can (I got mine at The Home Depot for $3)
* 1 roll of cheap, generic toilet paper (the smaller, not jumbo rolls are best)
* 1 packet of matches (not pictured above)

First off, remove the tube from the middle of the toilet paper roll.

Next, smash your toilet paper roll and do your best to fold it. It more than likely will not fit into the paint can yet, which is why you need to start taking toilet paper off. Hold onto that toilet paper! We'll make use of it later.
(Don't use Scott brand toilet paper like I did. The roll is way too big and the paper is really thin. It took forever...)

Keep removing toilet paper until you're able to cram your toilet paper roll into the paint can. It should be a really snug fit.

Smash it all the way in and you're done!

Now you've got your emergency candle. Keep the alcohol bottle with the paint can. The alcohol is the fuel. Stick the packet of matches in the can, if they fit. Put the lid on the can and hammer it down until it's tightly closed. If the matches don't fit, keep them in a ziploc bag with your can.

You'll want to keep something with the can that will make it easy to open.
My father-in-law taped a military issue can opener to the lid. It's a great opener and it's a multi-functional tool!

Now, roll that extra toilet paper up and stick it in your car emergency kit.
It makes a nice, compact roll for travel.
(Don't ask me how long it took me to roll all that toilet paper up.)

How does this candle thing work, you ask? Here is what you need to print up and tape to the side of your can:

To use: Remove lid, add 24 oz of alcohol and light. Control the intensity of heat by adjusting the lid over the opening. You can place a wire cooking rack over it and use it like a stove. You can use this inside a car for heat with the window open a crack. Can will not get hot on the bottom until the alcohol has burned down (the can gets hot above the alcohol level.) The toilet paper will begin to burn when the alcohol gets low. You may add more alcohol but first put out the flame! (You can use the lid for that.) You can relight it after adding the alcohol. It will burn approximately 6-8 hours.

My father-in-law lit his candle on their dining room table and the bottom of the can was completely cool to the touch. It's a pretty neat thing!

To help your family and friends be more prepared, one of these would make a great gift! :-)

***Please note: Of course with any open flame, you need to keep the candle in a safe place away from children and pets and to be aware of ventilation needs when the candle is lit.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival

Ooooh, I am so excited! The Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival is coming up this May 7-8, 2011. A whole day of wool, yarn, baaing sheep and lots of crazy people who love that stuff! Yipee! I can't think of a more fun way to spend a spring Saturday. Not only that, it's only a 15 minute drive, lucky me! They are even looking for volunteers, so what do you think I did? ;-)

If you're anywhere close, try and come. I've heard this is the biggest festival of this kind in the region.
Check it out here:

*picture credit

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Adventures with Sour Milk

Ricotta Cheese

My daughter doesn't drink her whole milk fast enough. I noticed the other day that it had gone sour. It didn't smell bad, so I set it in the back of the fridge trying to think of something to do with it.

When milk is old, it does one of two things from my experience: bad bacteria wins the battle inside the jug and makes the milk go rotten or the good bacteria wins out and makes the milk go sour - two very different things. When it goes sour you can use it like you would buttermilk or some recipes even call for sour milk. When it goes rotten, well you just have to throw it out.

I haven't had a lot of milk go sour, so my experience with it was pretty limited. I had been planning on making yogurt, so yesterday, feeling oh, so resourceful, I set out making yogurt in my crockpot. Everything was going well until the milk started hitting 120º. I took off the lid and noticed the milk was separating??? I didn't remember that from last time, so I did some research and realized that that should not be happening. I was pretty ticked. A whole half gallon of grass-fed cows milk was separated into curds and whey. Now what was I going to do with it? Well, since it looked and smelled an awful lot like cheese, I thought, what the heck? And strung it in a cheesecloth bag over the sink. An hour later, I pulled it down, salted it, stirred it around and, heck! It looked and tasted exactly like ricotta! All I can figure how that happened is that the sourness stood in for the lemon juice you usually add to the milk to make ricotta. Lesson Learned #1: Sour milk does not make yogurt.

I didn't have dinner plans yet, so I whipped up a batch of lasagna. When I told my husband what happened he looked suspiciously at the lasagna. "Is it safe to eat?" haha! Lesson Learned #2: Don't reveal mistakes until after dinner is over. In reality, it tasted great and that's what he's got for lunch at work today. :-)

Well, I still wanted yogurt, especially since we were running out. So, at 3 pm I started again with fresh milk. Once it had reached 180º and had cooled down to 116º I wrapped that ceramic baby up in a towel and stuck it in my oven still warm from baking lasagna with the oven light on and then I realized my mistake. I had to let the yogurt incubate for 6 hours which would calculate to be.... 1 in the morning!?! Oh, MAN! Lesson Learned #3: Don't start your yogurt in the afternoon unless you're a night owl.

So, yes, I set my alarm clock and got up at 1 am to check on my precious yogurt. It had set beautifully. (My first time trying last year, the yogurt had been runny, but good.) Happy with my success, I stuck it right in the fridge and went to bed. This morning my kids and I got up and I went to taste-test my yogurt in the fridge. It looked gorgeous and with a bumpy mound higher in the middle like something had grown in there - which it had. I took a spoon to it for a taste and it was sour! Still good, but one of the more sour yogurts I've had. We were going to need a lot of jam to counteract that sour flavor. Lesson Learned #4: Taste test along the way. The longer yogurt sits, the more sour it gets!

It's a little ironic, isn't it? I started off with sour milk and ended with sour yogurt. Ha! *sigh* Such is life! At least my son enjoyed his yogurt this morning - with plenty of blueberry lime jam. Can't get that flavor at the store, can ya? ;-)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Happy Earth Day!

Today I decided to finally do some landscaping in the front of our house. The flower beds on either side of our steps (if you can call them flower beds) had only two oddly-placed evergreen bushes and nothing else when we moved in. We weeded it sometimes, but it mostly looked pretty pathetic.

The Spring bug bites me every year, and so I just couldn't take the bare ugliness of those beds anymore. So, my kids and I went to our local nursery and came home with 3 adopted small bushes (on clearance for $1!), some lavender plants, and a sweet-smelling flowering ground cover with white flowers. I budgeted $20 and came out really close, so I'm happy!

We also stopped at a Home and Farm store just to look around. It mostly had horse feed, bird seed and random odds and ends for gardening. Then I saw the chicken feeders. And the little chick feeders. Oh my goodness, I never wanted something more in my whole life than at that moment! I should say that sounds silly, but it's not really. Those little chicken feeders represented my desire to be self-sufficient, to live off the land and to work with my hands. Unfortunately, I had to sigh and walk away. We're renting a townhouse on a sliver of land with no fence and nasty little white dogs our neighbors let run around loose all day long.

Anyway, I digress. When we got home I tried to arrange my new plants around those darn evergreen plants, but it wasn't working. Those darn bushes! Then the obvious occurred to me: I didn't feel comfortable ripping them out and getting rid of them - our landlords probably put those in - but I could definitely move them. Woohoo! So I did. And am I the happiest little gardener on this side of the Mississippi? Yes I am! You'll agree with me when you see the before and after shots.

I also got clever with a half-bag of river rocks I had sitting in our shed. When I was done, it was a huge relief. I've been telling myself not to bother since we're only renting, but I finally just couldn't ignore that itch anymore. And now the front of our house looks right pretty!
Before - in the winter.
I know there's not much there, but that's really the way it was even in the summer.
Those darn bushes are so annoying there!

See, I moved the bushes back, and that one is now over in front of all that ugly wiring.
Whew! I feel better just looking at it.

The gap below the bushes is where I'm planning on a couple potato plants.

Space for another potato plant?

Happy Earth Day!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Swiffer Meets NONdisposables

We've got this fake wood laminate in our kitchen. It's really smooth and a broom doesn't help very much when it comes to cleaning up hair and dust. Our landlords left their Swiffer broom when they moved out. I told myself I would never buy one of those - it only promotes the disposable mindset in our country. But there it was, waiting to be used and I didn't have a regular broom. So I used it, and I was dismayed to find that it did such an amazing job at getting up all this dust I could never even see! So, I unwillingly got sucked up into the Swiffer disposable culture and I've been trying to extricate myself ever since... Then came the fateful day when someone said 5 magical words to me: "Oh, I knit my own."

What?!? Knitted Swiffer sheet thingys?

Well, since then I've found out a couple more make-your-own Swiffer sheet replacements:

1. Used dryer sheets - Okay, so these are still a disposable, but you're reusing a dryer sheet that you would have thrown away anyway. My good friend, Jeanna, uses this method and she loves them. I don't like or use dryer sheets, so this wasn't an option for me. If you don't use dryer sheets either I suppose you could always get a friend to donate theirs to you.

2. Knitted or crocheted. - Just knit a simple rectangle from a fine cotton yarn, use it, toss it in the washing machine and reuse it again! Yippee!

3. Flannel - I have a lot of flannel baby receiving blankets that I somehow managed to never use. I've been wondering what I should do with them and now I know! I'll cut them up and a quick zigzag stitch should, hopefully, seal the edges enough to wash and rewash them in the washing machine.

In case you were wondering, here are the dimensions of a Swiffer sheet thingy = 8 3/4" x 10 1/2"

Now, go make your own!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Chamomile Shampoo Update

Okay, so I just used the shampoo and the "foam poo" is a no go! It took a lot just to feel like it was doing something. I doubt that it was. Another few notes:

- I was slightly suspicious of having bar soap in my shampoo. I was right, because it left this funky, unpleasant sticky feel to my hair. I had to immediately follow shampooing with my apple cider vinegar rinse just to get my hair feeling somewhat normal again.
-Also, even after all that beating with the whisk, there were still soap shavings in the bottom of the shampoo bottle.
- The yellow food coloring is totally pointless, so why bother? We're trying to get away from dyes in our stuff anyway, right?

So, here is my own updated version of the recipe that makes a lot more sense - at least to me. I might just dump out what I have and start all over again. Such a bummer, especially after that beautiful tutorial I gave you! :-)

Chamomile Shampoo

1 handful fresh or dried chamomile
1 1/4 cup boiling water
3 Tbsp. Dr. Bronner's Castille Soap (I think either the rose or lavender would go well with chamomile...)
1 Tbsp. glycerin

1. Steep the chamomile flowers in the boiling water for 15 minutes.
2. Add the castille soap and glycerin and stir (for goodness sakes, don't BEAT it! haha!) until well combined.
3. Pour into a clean reused shampoo bottle.

I'll let you know when I make my new batch and how the useage goes. It's got to be better than the last one.

Chamomile Shampoo Tutorial

I've had this recipe for Chamomile Shampoo that I've been wanting to try for a long time. The recipe is from the Homemade book that I've reviewed in the past. I finally decided to buckle down and make it. It's not as fast to make as other shampoos I've made, but it wasn't bad. It smelled lovely as I was making it too.

Here's the recipe:

Chamomile Shampoo
1 handful fresh or dried chamomile flowers
1 1/4 cups boiling water
3 Tbsp. pure soap flakes or leftover slivers of soap
1 Tbsp. glycerin
5 drops yellow food coloring (opt.)

I got the chamomile flowers and glycerin from the health food store, but you can grow your own chamomile! :-)

1. Place the flowers in a heatproof bowl and add the boiling water. Cover and let stand for 15 minutes.
You're essentially making a tea. Mmmm! Smell that wonderful chamomile!

2. While you're waiting, grate 3 Tbsp. worth of soap. Use the smallest grater you have. It helps the soap shavings soften and melt faster.

3. Strain the chamomile "tea" into another bowl.
I had to strain mine twice - once with a large sieve and once with a fine sieve. There are a lot of tiny bits from the flowers that you definitely don't want to have left in your hair...

4. Add the soap flakes to the "tea". Let them stand until the soap softens - a few minutes.

5. Beat in the food coloring, if desired (I did add it just to see), and glycerin and beat until well blended. This might take a few minutes, and as you can see it turned the shampoo into a weird yellow froth.

6. Pour the mixture into a clean 14-ounce bottle with a tight-fitting lid. Keep in a cool, dark place.
(Not the shower, obviously??) Too bad. I'm keeping mine in the shower.

I'm planning on using some tonight. I'll have to report back to let you know if the foam settled into a gel or more of a liquid. Tonight I'll just have the interesting experience of shampooing with "foam poo". Heh heh. I'll let you know how it works!
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