Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Snow Candy

We're into our second day of snow here in Maryland. A lot of it had melted by the end of yesterday; sadly our sledding tracks were mostly grass. But, today's snow storm has more than made up for it and we have plans in the works for an ultimate snow fort for bombarding people with snowballs who are sledding on the hill below. Mwahahahaha!

Our 2 year old daughter has been obsessed with eating snow. Any chance (and any place) she can get it, she will. I had to sit down with her and try to explain which snow not to eat (snow from the car, the house, shoes and the good ol' yellow or brown snow) and the snow that was good to eat. Then we had the idea of collecting some clean snow in a bowl as it fell and putting a bowl out on our porch railing, we soon had some good, clean snow to eat! We got out some spoons and she sat happily eating her bowl of snow. Our 5 year old son suggested we pour maple syrup on it, so we did that and he was happy eating his sherbet-tasting snow.

Then, I remembered as a girl trying to make Snow Candy using maple syrup like in Little House on in the Big Woods, but I was disappointed because it didn't work. The thing that I think was left out in our Snow Candy making was that we didn't boil it. And that's the key to making candy! So, I thought I'd give it a whirl today and it was a great success!

So here's how we made our candy:

I boiled about a 1/2 cup of pure maple syrup in a small pot over medium heat. I didn't really measure time-wise, but I stood there, occasionally stirring with a spoon. The syrup got all frothy and bubbly after awhile, so I added a tiny lump of butter which helped a little. That's optional though. I had a small bowl of cold water that I occasionally dropped a drip of the syrup into to test its hardness. Gradually it went from making soft lumps, to harder lumps, then to being hard and brittle - we had made it to the hard-ball stage! Then I removed it from the heat, got my bowl of snow and poured it out in a steady stream all over the snow. Surprisingly, it didn't melt the snow as much as I thought, but sunk slightly into the soft, white powder. When I removed it, it was a fun, hard spindly shape - delicious for eating!

I think it would be fun to try putting large drops on some parchment paper and letting them harden there. That way we'd have little syrup mounds to suck on. I'm thinking I could make some good throat lozenges this way with honey candy and some essential oils as well! Hmm!

This is the second pouring, so the snow is more melted.
Also, the candy cooked a little longer by that point, so it's darker.

Yummy, golden maple snow candy!

Happy Winter!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Say Goodbye to Wrapping Paper

Merry Christmas! We just got our first snow last night - just in time for a beautiful White Christmas!

We're in the late morning Christmas lull after opening presents. Our daughter is down for her nap and our son is playing happily with a toy. I feel very blessed this Christmas! We tried to keep things simple this year. We only got our kids two good quality toys and one book each. I think it was just the right amount, especially with how young they are. It's so easy to get caught up in the materialistic side of gift giving, but if you make the effort, things can be as simple as you want to make them.

Also, we don't really do Santa, so that, for us, makes it easier and simpler to focus on Christ for the holiday. We used a simple scripture advent calendar which was short and perfect for our young kids.

One of my goals for this year in simplifying was to do away with wrapping paper and to wrap gifts just with fabric bags. They were very simple and fast to make, but I did learn a few things to do and not to do and so thought I'd share. Remember - this is not an exact science! No measuring was done.

1. To start with, over the last few months I slowly collected pieces of the least expensive Christmas cotton fabric at JoAnn's. Searching the remnant bin is key, because you find all sorts of good cotton Christmas remnants of various sizes, and sometimes it's the more expensive fabric for a good bargain. I got various sizes cut: 1/4 yard, 1/2 yard, and 1 yard. It's really whatever sizes you want, but I wouldn't do less than a 1/4 yard because they get harder to sew.

2. When it was time to sew, I just left the fabric folded like it comes off the bolt, cut the widths I wanted or just left the 1/4 yard or 1/2 yard like it was. (For the smaller bags I cut the 1/4 yard in half width-wise and then I just had to add a bottom seam to one of the bags.) Then I flipped the fabric so the right sides were together and sewed up the sides, the salvage edges at the top and left open. Then I folded the salvage edge down about an inch and sewed all the way around to create a channel for the ribbon drawstring to go through. I left a 2" gap near one of the side seams for the ribbon to go into.

3. Then I flipped the bag right side out, threaded a ribbon through using a safety pin pinned into the end to get it through, tied a knot in the ribbon, and then I was done!

4. About the ribbon: I learned the hard way that only two types of ribbon work for this bag - the satin kind and the grosgrain kind. (it's the kind that has a bumpy weave)


Do not use cording! It doesn't not draw the bag closed very well. And don't use ribbon with any sparkly metalic-looking ribbon. Mine just fell apart! Wired ribbon also probably won't work that well either. These types of ribbon just don't slip smoothly through the channel for drawing the bag closed.

Bad ribbon. Bad! Too much metalic.

Good ribbon! Nice and satiny.
Don't you just love the gingerbread boys? The peppermint candy look so yummy too.

Lots of bags!
5. I also learned that more small and medium sized bags were the way to go. I think we had too many big ones. I did make one large bag made from a whole yard of fabric, but we didn't have any presents that big, so we didn't use it. Most presents tend to be on the smaller side, but it was hard to know that at the time I was making them.

The pros & cons:
The downside to these bags is that there is no hiding what's in there. It's very simple to feel through the fabric unless you disguise the present in something else like a box. Also, the security isn't the greatest. There is no tape keeping curious fingers from slipping the bag open, unless you wrap the ribbon around the top a few times and tuck it in. We put our presents out Christmas morning, so we didn't have that problem.
You also have to store the bags, but they lie flat, so it's not that big a deal.

On the other hand... The great thing is- no clean up! No mounds of crinkly annoying paper to fill up your garbage can or the landfill. You can reuse these year after year and they make adorable bags to give away too. The fabric and ribbon aren't too expensive, especially if you get them on sale or clearance. Also, you can get the cutest fabrics! Just take a look at those adorable snow penguins in the picture above.

Something else we did new this year were homemade gift tags. (You can see them in the first three photos.) There are four of us, so I found four cute Christmas/wintery symbols of the same theme through Microsoft Clip Art and copied and pasted a lot of them into a Word document. (You can search for snowflake, snowman, candy cane, Christmas tree, Christmas ornament, Christmas lights, Christmas mittens, Christmas bell, holly, Christmas candle, Christmas star, Christmas gift, Christmas stocking, and Christmas poinsetta to find ones similar to mine above.) Then I printed them in color onto white card stock, cut them out and punched a hole in each one.

The cool thing, was that the kids didn't know which symbol was theirs. I think this helped with not encouraging the "look at all of my presents" mentality. All we did was put who the present was from on the back of the tag. The kids had lots of fun hunting down their symbol once they knew which one to look for. I just looped the tag through the ribbon using the hole I punched out.

Well, I'm going to go and enjoy my Christmas candy and maybe go out for another round of sledding later. Have a wonderful holiday!

Thursday, December 13, 2012


Whew, it's been awhile! I don't even know if anyone reads this blog anymore... but anyway! I have been busy with homeschooling and taking care of the house, etc.

Right now we're learning about birds in science, and I thought it was the perfect opportunity to read together a childhood favorite book of mine The Trumpet of the Swan. I had forgotten how much information about swans was in there, so it's been the perfect choice! And I also forgot how funny it is. My 5-year-old son has loved it so far. It helps that he's always loved birds and found them fascinating and fun. My kids have owl curtains hanging in their room that I made for them, and every now and then we go over to JoAnns and get a couple little wooden birdhouses for both our kids to paint which sit on their dresser. It's just one of those funny things that has evolved through their growing up.

And it just so happens that we have some woods at the back of our property with a terrific selection of birds that come to visit - and we don't even have a bird feeder!

Vulture - I thought it was so funny to just see him perched in our tree.
Blue Jay - Yesterday was the first time I've seen one around

Barred Owl - we hear them hooting pretty often. Really cool!

Saturday, November 24, 2012


Remember my Autumn quilt?

Well, it's taken a back seat to my other sewing project - some Regency-era historical clothing. But, I did finally get all the layers put together and it is now in the official quilting hoop. I hope to get to it before winter starts, but it's looking doubtful.

Our garden has finally been put to sleep. I've piled leaves on it and hope they will act as multi-purpose mulch/weed suppressor. I've been surprised by how well my compost it going. It is actually looking like rich, black dirt. I know the crickets and worms like it in there.

Strangely, the flower bulbs I planted in September have started to come up and bloom. Our weather has been a bit warmer than usual, but we still have frosty mornings. Maybe it was the 7" of rain from the hurricane that we got. Even the violets were out all over our yard! I hope it doesn't hurt them to be out prematurely.

I haven't started an new canning projects. The only thing I canned this year were the plain and spiced peaches. It was worth the work for those.

Sorry I've been a bit absent lately. I'm homeschooling my son, so not as much time for blogging!

I hope you all have a happy Thanksgiving weekend and Christmas ahead!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Spaghetti Soup

I'm usually not a soup person, but with the cold turn in weather I have been craving something warm and soupy all the time. I'm sure it helps that our house is poorly insulated and is stinkin' cold. My husband's mom makes this spaghetti soup that his family really loves. I thought I'd give it a try with my own twist on it and came up with this:

Spaghetti Soup

1 large (28 oz. approx.) can of crushed tomatoes
1 lb. or less of ground beef or turkey, cooked and drained
2 cups of chicken or beef broth, approx. (depending on how thick or thin you like your soup)
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 cup sliced mushrooms, optional
3 or 4 stalks of Swiss chard, washed and chopped - stalks and all (Swiss chard is like a happy medium between spinach and kale. I like it because it's tender like spinach - but not as wimpy, and cooks well like kale, but unlike kale, you can eat the stalks. And if you get the rainbow kind, they're really pretty! I love Swiss chard!)
Medium handful of spaghetti noodles, broken in three or four places so the noodles are short (Forgive me, Italians!)
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 Tbsp. Italian seasoning (rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, etc.)
1 Tbsp. honey, agave, or brown sugar
dash of pepper and salt

1. In a medium pot heat on medium low the crushed tomatoes, cooked ground beef, and broth.

2. In a separate pan, saute the onions, garlic, mushrooms, and Swiss chard until the onions are tender and the Swiss chard is wilted. Add to the tomato sauce pan.

3. Add the broken spaghetti, spices, and sweetener and allow to simmer for about 20-30 minutes.

4. Serve with salad and garlic bread! Yummy!

You can also add whatever chopped up random veggies you have in your fridge like zucchini, cauliflower, carrots, or celery. I wouldn't recommend broccoli though, but I guess you could try it.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Autumny Foods & Halloween

I've been enjoying all the autumn foods! I made some Apple Cider Spiced Donuts and they turned out pretty tasty! I've got pureed pumpkin in the freezer just waiting to be made into a pie. As today is a little laid back (waiting out Hurricane Sandy), I did some online searches for Halloween food and found two I really liked:

Making All-Natural Halloween Popcorn Balls

Creepy (yet healthy!) Halloween Recipes

And as for some creepy Halloween things to watch here are my humble suggestions:

1. Shaun the Sheep - Little Sheep of Horrors

2. Wallace & Gromit - The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

3. Any Alfred Hitchcock

4. 13 Ghosts - the old school version

5. House on the Haunted Hill - old school

6. The Addams Family

Enjoy and have a Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Hurricane Prep

We're preparing for the possible landfall of Hurricane Sandy. I thought I'd post a small list of things I've learned from past experiences when preparing for an emergency. It's by no means comprehensive, but I'll put some links for other sites that talk about preparing for a hurricane below.

These things apply for a storm that you know is coming and that you have advance warning that you can prepare for.

1. Get caught up on all your chores like washing dishes, laundry, and that toilet or bathtub you've been putting off for a couple weeks! There is nothing so stressful as facing a power outage with a sinkful of dishes. Believe me! I know!

2. Have some cash handy. ATMs aren't solar powered!

3. Have a good supply of paper plates, paper towels, and plastic utensils. Who wants to do a ton of dishes in the face of an emergency? Not me!

4. Have a toilet back-up plan just in case. You never know!

5. Clean up your yard of anything lying around. The last thing you want is the rake flying at your window.

6. If you're able to - have a generator. They go for as little as $650 for a house electricity-wise and the price goes up from there. It's something good to save for! If there is a power outage, it can save the food in your fridge, keep your water running if you're on a well like me, (or keep your sump pump running - an essential in heavy rains!) and keep you warm as we head deeper into autumn.

7. Be prepared with alternative cooking methods. Even having some meals that just need boiled water or are heat and serve can drastically reduce your stress!

Just keep in mind that where you live can drastically change how you need to prepare for a major storm or hurricane. Are you in a flood zone? Which one? (Different numbers mean different levels of risk.) Is evacuation something you could face?  Do you have a lot of trees around? Would they threaten your home if they should fall? (The biggest cause of power outages is fallen trees/tree branches!) The weather guys are saying because a lot of trees haven't lost their leaves, there is a lot more surface area for the wind to blow around and increases the likelihood of downed branches.

How to Survive a Hurricane - scroll through the pictures. The information is to the right of each picture. It's a really great list!

72-Hour Kit ideas - The text is a bit funky, but the information looks helpful.

FEMA has a lot of great info and resources:
FEMA - Hurricanes
FEMA - Heavy Rains
FEMA - Basic Disaster Supplies Kit
FEMA - Blackouts
FEMA - Protecting Your Home from Hurricane and Wind Damage  (downloadable document)

Red Cross Disaster Safety Library

If you're on the east coast - good luck and be prepared early!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Nearly Finished...

The quilt top is nearly finished!

It's a little blurry, but it's the best shot I got from full view. I managed to have the same fabric touching in only 3 places. Not too bad! It was a harder job than I thought - the no touching thing.

I need to sew on two more rows to the side and then it will be just the perfect size for our queen-sized bed!

And the two fabrics I'm adding -
The brown is for the back. Since I'm quilting it in a gold-colored thread I thought it would show up nicely on the brown.
And the gorgeous glowing orange fabric I was planning on using for the border. I also like that they're the the same pattern, just different colors.

I remember someone telling me that when you make a quilt, always make the backing a surprise - something unexpected. My surprise is the brown with the gold stitching showing through. I'll be quilting in the ditch, stair stepping up the blocks, so it will be a zig-zag pattern. I'm excited to see how it will turn out! I originally planned on tying this quilt, but when it comes down to it, I can never bear to go through with it. I just think the ties would be a distraction to the pattern.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Autumn Quilt Progress

I had some last minute fabric additions:

Leaf print, yellow funky geometric design, green leafy, and red with gold leaf print.

I just felt I needed to add another gorgeous red, a yellow I had originally planned on using, but decided against, and now redecided to use, another deep green (I loved the texture!), and I saw that leaf print and fell in love. How could I not include a fabric like that with all the right colors?!

I've got the blocks all sewn end-to-end for each row and ironed. Now I just need to sew each row offset from one another to mimic a brick path. I think this is the perfect beginners quilt - no corners to worry about matching up!

Watermelon Success!!

Yesssss!!!! And, boy, was it delicious!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Late Summer Harvest

My garden is slowly winding itself down. It's looking very weedy and overgrown (in case you were wondering if I weeded or not. haha!) I harvested our popcorn and got two more pumpkins! There's been a slow trickle of peppers and red zebra-stripe tomatoes. The most exciting thing was that I dug up the potato plant I planted from a sprouting red potato in the compost and we got 3 potatoes! I love growing potatoes. They're just so fun to dig up!

I still have one more pumpkin on the vine, and some watermelons. How do you know when they're ripe? And the sweet potato that sprouted in my kitchen and I planted later has grown into a large, beautiful plant. I had to ask someone how to harvest them - I didn't even know! She said I had to dig them up, just like potatoes. I'm really excited to see what's down there.

I realized that I haven't posted a recipe for awhile so, here's my recipe for baking pumpkins and roasting pumpkin seeds!

Baked Pumpkin

- 1 Pumpkin Pie Pumpkin, Sugar Pumpkin, or any smallish pumpkin (the flavor is better than a large one)
- parchment paper

Set your oven to 375ºF to preheat. Line a jelly roll cookie sheet (the kind with a lip around the edge) or large cake pan with parchment paper.

Cut out around the stem and remove. Then slice your pumpkin in half. Scrape out the stringy pulp and seeds (save the seeds for toasting later). Don't worry about being too meticulous and getting every single string out. We're not carving a jack-o-lantern! Place the pumpkins, cut part down on the cookie sheet. Slide them into the oven and allow them to bake for about 1 hour or until a knife passes cleanly & easily through the tough skin and inner pulp without resistance. Take them out and allow to cool for an hour or two. .

Turn the pumpkins on their back and scrape out the pulp, gently scraping as close to the skin as you can to get as much pulp as you can. Place all the pulp in a bowl and mash with a potato masher until fairly smooth (there will still be some lumps.)

Now you're ready to bake! I made some Pumpkin Muffins and they were delicious!

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

- seeds from your baked pumpkin
- olive oil
- salt

Grease a jelly pan cookie sheet (with a lip around it) with cooking spray or oil and set aside. You can use parchment paper instead if you'd like.

Place the pumpkin seeds in a colander and run a trickle of water over them as you remove the threads. The water will help the seeds slide through your fingers instead of sticking to them. Remove all the pulp and threads, preferable watching a Jane Austen movie. It's a tedious job! Once that's done, set your oven to 350ºF.

Shake the colander to drain as much water as you can and transfer the seeds to a bowl. Drizzle 2 -4 Tbsp. of olive oil over your pumpkin seeds. You might want more or less, but the goal is to make sure the seeds are coated well. Shake salt to taste over the seeds and mix thoroughly. Pop a seed in your mouth to make sure the salt ratio is enough (you don't have to chew it if you don't want!).

Once it's to your taste, spread the pumpkin seeds over the cookie sheet so that it is an even thickness. You want a single layer here, without much overlap of seeds so that they roast evenly. Put the seeds in the oven and roast for about 10 minutes. Stir the seeds and roast for an additional 10 minutes or until the seeds are golden and dry.

Enjoy them with the rest of that Jane Austen movie!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Autumn Quilt

With the autumny feeling in the air what with the cooler temperatures, drippy clouds, and falling leaves blowing everywhere - already! - I am finally in the mood to get to work on my autumn quilt!

My actual design is based off Amy Butler's beautiful "Lotus Brick Path" quilt design:

I tweaked it a little because I wanted the blocks to be the size of an actual brick and I wanted it to be reminiscent of walking on a brick path in the autumn time with different colored leaves strewn on it, pressed to the path from an autumn rain. I don't know if I'll get that actual affect, but I did my best in choosing fabrics.

Here are the players:

These three are my favorite. The entire quilt was inspired by that pear fabric on the right. It's too bad the colors don't show up very well, because it's just as luscious as a ripe pear!
The left fabric is this cool Indian-inspired fabric I've had for 10 years and the middle is a reproduction 1860s pattern.

That yellow is an awesome splash of color, just like vivid yellow autumn leaves!

I actually had a lot more fabrics, but I always tend to cut more blocks than I need. So this time I calculated out exactly how many blocks I'd need for a queen-sized blanket, using an actual old brick we dug up on our property for the proper brick dimensions, and starting with my favorite (the pear fabric - of which I didn't have much), I cut it all up and worked my way through the fabrics based on how much I liked them and the balance of colors I needed. There's about an average of 15 blocks of each fabric. I can't wait to start sewing!

Seven Day Challenge - Day 7

It's the final day! I think they're giving us a break after yesterday's doozie. It's a day of service and I was actually planning on doing this today anyway!

Our neighbor is kindly letting us use his camper for when my husband's parents come to stay tomorrow, and since he refused payment, I was going to make him a batch of pecan sticky rolls - his favorite. I was also going to make another batch for his dad since our neighbor says the recipe I use tastes just like his mom's who has since passed away. He was willing to pay me, but I also refused payment. Service in return for service! I'll have to make 3 batches of sticky rolls today!

Seven Day Challenge – Day 7 (Tuesday)
~ Everyday Emergency ~
Day of Service for Others

Today you felt a prompting to do an act of service for someone in need. A dear friend is really struggling and it would be very helpful if you brought him/her a meal or a special treat. You have a super busy day with no time to run to the store, but you still want to make something NICE.
Goal: Have a go-to meal or treat on hand for “emergency” acts of service

Today’s Tasks:
·         Cook either a full dinner or a special treat for someone in need (be prayerful/thoughtful about this and really try to find someone you can do this for)
·         Use only ingredients from your food storage
·         Make a list of 2 meals and 2 treats that you can always create from your storage that would be nice enough to give to another family. Make sure you keep the ingredients on hand for them (add to your report card if necessary)
·         Once you have performed your “act of service” you are DONE with the challenge!
·         Compile all your report cards from the week into a master list of things to do, learn, and buy (use our master plan outline to help guide you)
·         SHARING TIME: Post a picture of the meal or treat you made on ourFacebook page and/or share the story of the act of service you performed in either blog comments or on Facebook

Today’s Limitations:
·         For this day, and ALL days of the challenge: no spending money, no going to stores, and no restaurants
·         AFTER you have completed your act of service you can go and get a donut or a big gulp or whatever other indulgence you have been missing out on all week!
Advanced Tasks:
·         Cook your meal or treat without power
·         Make a double batch and freeze one for an act of service on another day

Need to Buy: Some more pecans to store in the fridge would be a good idea. More chocolate chips too. I like to make a big batch of chocolate chip cookie dough and freeze it for making last minute cookies. (or to eat the dough... Mmmm!)

Need to Do: Maybe make a few mix-in-a-jar recipes for even easier treats.

Need to Learn: I think I'm good!

Seven Day Challenge - Day 6

This one took me by surprise. I guess I kind of knew it was possible, but the actuality was a bit of a shock. Unfortunately, I was not able to participate, and I know this is one that we need the most work on. My in-laws are coming into town in a couple days and I needed to buy food and focus on getting ready. So, I had to break the rules and go shopping! :-(

We do have 72-hour kits, but the water is separate. To be honest, I was super intimidated by the fact that my husband was at work and I would have had to evacuate with my children alone. This is probably pretty realistic - that my husband would most likely not be home during a day-time disaster. Even he has his own little safety bag he has at his desk with supplies.

So, if I had been able to participate, I would have gone upstairs and grabbed our tent, sleeping bags, and our 72-hour kit bags - more like hauled our bags down because they're heavy - and loaded them into the car. I still have water storage I brought up from the cellar so I would have loaded that into the car along with our external hard drive (that automatically backs up every couple hours), our financial binder and some valuables. The sad thing about evacuating is that  right now I can think of a lot of things that are valuable - our photo albums with photos yet to be scanned, journals, my countless hours of research, writing I've done since I was in 1st grade... What do you do about things like that? Things that are irreplaceable? *sigh*

Anyway, I think we would have done fairly well with this challenge, except for the stress level. It's a good thing I have some essential oils in my purse for anxiety, because I would have really needed it! See, this is why we need more practice, so that it's not so stressful and the kids can even play their part.

Seven Day Challenge – Day 6 (Monday)
~ Natural Disaster ~
Evacuation & 72-Hour Kits

A horrible hurricane (or earthquake, or other disaster) is about to hit your area. You have to evacuate within minutes and eat out of your 72 hour kits today. While you were gone your house was destroyed. Lots to think about today.
Goal: Test your family’s evacuation plan and 72 hour kit foods
Today’s Tasks:
  • Evacuate your house within 15 minutes of getting today’s email. You do not know if your house will be destroyed while you are gone so plan accordingly. Stay away until after lunchtime
  • Eat/drink ONLY out of your 72 hour kits until you return home
  • While you are out, make a list of potential reasons you may be forced to evacuate. For each scenario, write down where you would go, what type of stuff you would need in your kits, how long you’d be gone, etc. Use this list to re-evaluate what you may or may not include in your kits.
  • Make a list of all of your valuables to submit to your insurance company since your house was destroyed while you were gone (this is more valuable to have BEFORE you actually lose everything)
  • Using the daily report card, make a list of things you could do/buy to minimize your losses in a complete house loss (i.e. Fireproof/waterproof safe, computer backup options, safety deposit box for valuables, etc.)
  • SHARING TIME: Post a picture or description of one of your 72 hour kit meals on our facebook page or in the blog comments

Today’s Limitations:
  • For this day, and ALL days of the challenge: no spending money, no going to stores, and no restaurants
  • You can’t eat or drink anything besides what is in your 72 hour kits until dinnertime
  • You must stay away from home until after lunch
Advanced Tasks:
  • Eat out of your 72 hour kits for dinner too
  • Evacuate overnight using only supplies from your disaster kit
  • Contact your insurance company and find out details about what would be covered in a total loss situation like this
Need to Buy: Unscented glycerin soap (If you have regular bar soap, even in a ziploc bag, it makes your whole bag reek!), camp dishes?, 50-foot nylon rope, extra shoes for hubby & kids?

Need to Do: Update our home inventory. Relocate our 72-hour kits to the downstairs closet. Keep some water with our kits.

Need to Learn: How to lighten our load and have bags that are easier to carry.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Seven Day Challenge - Day 5

I told you it was coming! No power cooking day! Just this morning I was heating up some homemade instant oatmeal in the microwave (how lame, because I could just heat up water...) and thinking I bet today's the day for powerless cooking. I must have a 6th sense for this or something, because I was totally right. So, the oatmeal was a powerless cooking appropriate meal, I just took a shortcut. :-) For the rest of the day we had leftover tuna fish sandwiches, and for dinner we had campfire burritos! Mmmm! They were so good! We cooked the meat and the rice separately on the fire using our volcano stove and then mixed the meat and rice, salsa, cheese and black beans all together and filled the tortilla shells. Then we wrapped the burritos in foil and cooked them over coals for about 3 minutes on each side. They turned out awesome!

Welcome to the 7 Day Challenge. For 7 days, we are testing our Emergency Preparedness and Food Storage Plans. Each day will bring a NEW mock emergency, or situation that will test at least one of the reasons “WHY” we strive to be prepared! REMEMBER: No going to a store, or spending any money for the entire 7 days! And please feel free to adapt the scenarios to fit your own family and situation.

Seven Day Challenge – Day 5 (Sunday)
~ Every Day Emergency ~
Power Failure

A drunk driver struck a power line near your house today. Power is out in your entire neighborhood all day long. You must cook meals for your family using no electricity, and make a NICE Sunday dinner! You must also entertain yourself (and your family members) without electronics (the HORROR).
Goal: Practice living without electricity

Today’s Tasks:
  • Cook all three meals without electricity
  • Make a NICE Sunday dinner from scratch (no opening up a can of ravioli)
  • Do something FUN that doesn’t involve power
  • Do an inventory of your fuel storage, how many meals can you cook with the fuel you have stored?
  • Review one of our powerless cooking classes (online class or recorded live class)
  • SHARING TIME: What tools/fuel did you use to cook without power today? Share a picture or description on our Facebook page or on the blog comments!
Realistically, if we were without power we would lose our water because our well pump is powered by electricity which would stink! I fixed my kids oatmeal this morning (homemade instant) in the microwave (oops!), but to do it without power I would have used either our volcano stove or our butane camp stove to heat up the water. Luckily I found a kettle at the thrift store a month or so ago! 

Need to Buy: A generator! I have my eye on a Goal Zero Generator. We also need dutch oven with legs and lid, more InstaFire fuel (5 gal. bucket), outdoor cooking utensils for cast iron, a hook for lifting lids and grills. 

Need to Do: Pull dead wood from our 1/3 acre forest, chop it up and stack it in the lee of the shed. (Right now we just have a huge pile of dead branches. It's a pain every time we want to have a campfire!)

Need to Learn: More outdoor cooking recipes! I also need to up my coal-fire cooking skills. It's been a long time since I did hearth cooking at Conner Prairie and I am really rusty. 

This challenge was great, because it really brought out the glaring, gaping holes in our supplies and skills when it comes to powerless cooking. My goal is eventually to work up to doing one powerless cooking meal a week. Right now, maybe every other week since my husband is in school. 

P.S. If you're interested in a volcano stove (they are so awesome!), I'd recommend you'd get one from Emergency Essentials during Black Friday after Thanksgiving. They have them for an awesome sale!

Seven Day Challenge - Day 4

It's Day 4 - Helping Those in Need! This one is an interesting one. As I'm the primary cook, cleaner, teacher (we homeschool), child-care giver this would be quite the challenge for our family. I'm not sure how realistic it would  be for me to leave without my children. We can't afford childcare, so realistically I would probably bring the kids with me and maybe enlist the help of family members? My mom is in Utah and so are my husband's parents. I think I'll have to do some tweaking to this challenge to fit our family's situation...
Update - Well, this one has been harder to wrap my head around than the others. Realistically, if I had to leave I would take the kids with me because they're so young. My husband already knows all my passwords for stuff and he handles most of the finances. We do have a will purchased for both of us, but we do need to fill it out.
Seven Day Challenge - Day 4 (Saturday)
~ Economic Crisis ~
Helping Those in Need
One of your elderly parents (or grandparents, or dear friend, or child) is having severe health problems and can no longer afford home health care. You were asked to come and live with them for 2 months to help out with their day to day living and have to leave TOMORROW. Today you must help your family prepare for you to have an extended “leave of absence”. If you are single focus on getting your own affairs settled.
Goal: Teach your family knowledge and skills that depend on you

Today’s Tasks:
  • Teach the other members of your household how to do any tasks that normally fall to you (i.e. laundry, cooking basics, mowing the lawn, car maintenance, etc.)
  • Make sure to pass any financial information on to your spouse, significant other, or another family member. (Use this questionnaire we made last year as a starting point of the type of info you should pass on)
  • If you’re the one in charge of managing the family schedule and routines, write it all out and make assignments or arrangements for how the family could make it without you
  • If you live alone, make a plan for who would look after your house/affairs if you had to leave suddenly
  • Make a list of all your logins for important websites that family members may need to access. Either print it and put it somewhere secure or save it in a secure manner on your computer
  • SHARING TIME: What is the ONE task that would be hardest for someone else to take over if you were gone for two months? Share in the blog comments or over on our Facebook page.
Today’s Limitations:
  • For this day, and ALL days of the challenge: no spending money, no going to stores, and no restaurants.
  • No other limitations today.
Advanced Tasks:
  • After teaching your family how to do your “jobs” actually leave for the day and make them DO THEM.
  • If you’re single or don’t have a large household, pass along the information to a friend or family for taking care of your house and affairs FOR REAL. Not just a plan for “in case”.

Need to Buy: We're good!
Need to Do: Create a collection of recipes that are easy to make/easy to follow for my husband since he rarely cooks. If my husband were to leave, I would need a list of bills that need to be paid and when as he usually takes that job on. He does have me practice now and then so I'm not totally clueless, which is a good thing as we do most bill paying online and we use a finance software my husband wrote that has it's own little quirks.  
Fill out our wills.
Need to Learn: We're good!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Seven Day Challenge - Day 3

I was afraid it would be a no electricity day, but I am so glad it wasn't. After yesterday's stress of having no running water, I needed a break. Having a medical/health challenge today was a relief! I actually feel pretty good about this one!

Seven Day Challenge – Day 3 (Friday)
Health Benefits
Medical Issues and Concerns

Health care costs in your country have gone through the roof. Battles are waging between government, doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies. All doctors have gone on strike leaving a gaping hole in available medical care in your community. Today will focus on what you will need to do to prepare your family for all kinds of medical emergencies, including getting yourselves healthier to avoid dependence on medications (if at all possible) and/or medical interventions.
Goal: Get your family’s medical history & supplies in order and get healthy!

Today’s Tasks:
  • Prepare a family medical plan to include in your Emergency Binder (see this sample medical plan a reader sent to us. You can be this thorough or just jot down some simple info for your family.)
  • Do an inventory of your home medical supplies. Add items to your daily report card that you need to purchase. (There is an awesome comprehensive list of suggestions found on this post Modern Survival Blog)
  • Print out instructions for basic first aid procedures (there are some helpful guides found at this link)
  • Review our notes from the CPR/First Aid class we attended at our church, then look up when there is a formal class in your area and SIGN UP for it
  • Research any specific medicines you are taking, find out how you can stock pile some, make a plan for how to keep them refrigerated if necessary, etc. (Also consider if making lifestyle changes could help reduce your dependency on them)
  • Since living a healthy lifestyle is so important for disease prevention, cook healthy meals AND do a physical activity as a family (if applicable) today

Successes -
1. I have been slowly building up a supply of essential oils and learning how to use them for various health concerns. It's something that takes time and practice and isn't something that can be absorbed at the time of emergency. The great things about essential oils is that if you keep them in a cool, dark place they don't expire like OTC/prescription medicines. Also, I am able to replace everything in our medicine cabinet with something that actually works. (I have wasted a lot of money on medicines that don't work for me like cold medicine!) Also, a few months ago I restocked our band-aid and 1st aid supplies. In addition, we have a 1st aid kit upstairs, in the kitchen, and in the car! And I've used them all at some point.

2. Awhile ago I purchased a home medical guide book and two pocket-sized 1st aid guides. I also have a reference book for using essential oils medicinally. 

3. In Excel, I created a basic medical record with each family member listed with their blood type, past and present health conditions, medications being taken, major surgeries, major dental work, and a list of known vaccines received.

4. I just got my prescription filled for 3 months. I feel very fortunate that my medication is very common, inexpensive and it's not a problem to get 90 days worth.

5. I have our home address, emergency phone numbers, mine and my husband's cell numbers and our house phone printed off, laminated and put in a prominent place so my son can see it. Next to our phone numbers we have our photo so he doesn't have to worry about having to read our names.

6. We got outside as a family and did some yard work clearing out a part of our woods. Hooray!

Failures -
1. Exercise in general. It's the bane of my existence! I need to find some ways of incorporating some fun, easy exercise for me and my kids. If I can disguise it as dancing or yard work or hiking or biking, then I'm good! It's just an effort to do those things. *sigh*

Need to Buy: Multi-vitamins and calcium supplements for us and the kids. Small bottles for essential oils for 1st aid purposes in car and in the kitchen.

Need to Do: Become familiar with my medical guides so I know where to look. Double-check 1st aid kit in the car to see if it needs any refills. (We've actually used some band-aids from there!) Sign 

Need to Learn: Review CPR & 1st aid techniques and teach some basic skills to my 5-year old. (stop, drop & roll, what to do for basic cuts and scrapes, bruises, and other common owies, review 911 and phone numbers.) Find ways of incorporating exercise into our daily life.

Other Notes:
Following the links they gave above, I found this online free pdf of a CPR/1st Aid Guide and FSME's blog post about CPR & 1st Aid Tips.
Also, over at Food Storage Made Easy they have a great post about Your Natural Long-Term Storage Medicine Cabinet. There's some great info there!

Somethings that's dawning on me - Never put off what you can do today. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Seven Day Challenge - Day 2

So, this morning I took a nice long, hot shower (it had been a few days), and during my shower I thought, "I bet they'll have a water challenge today." I checked my e-mail after I was all nice and clean and sure enough - they did! I didn't mean to cheat, but it sure feels good to be clean! If I had checked my e-mail before my shower I would have been ticked off, but I would have dug out our solar shower and got that set out in the sun to warm up, then set it up in our shower. I still plan to set it up today and give my son a shower with it. I told my husband we'd set it up for him, but he said he was going to wait until tomorrow when it was a different challenge. Spoil sport!

Seven Day Challenge - Day 2

~ Natural Disaster ~
Water Service Interruption

Please note: Today is a NEW emergency, none of the limitations listed yesterday apply. Your country is experiencing a WAR and the water purification facility in your area has been bombed. All water services coming to your home have been halted indefinitely. (If you use well water, your well was destroyed too!) Today you will practice living without running water in your home and experience cooking, sanitation, hygiene, etc. with STORED water.

Goal: Learn what your water needs will truly be in an emergency

Today’s Tasks:
  • Cook all meals (and CLEAN UP) using only stored water
  • Take a shower or bath using stored water (Don’t cheat and skip this one!)
  • Use stored water for flushing toilets
  • Calculate your usage for the day and use that number to determine how much of a water supply you actually have
  • FILL any empty water containers you have been procrastinating on filling
  • Make a plan for how you will collect/purify additional water if/when you run out (use your daily report card to help)
  • SHARING TIME: Post a picture or a description of the task you found most difficult to do using stored water today on Facebook or in the blog comments.

Today’s Limitations:
  • For this day, and ALL days of the challenge: no spending money, no going to stores, and no restaurants
  • Do NOT use running water at all. To help you not cheat, you can turn off your main water supply for the day
Advanced Tasks:
  • To conserve water, use a sanitation kit rather than flush stored water down the toilet.
  • Get ambitious and do a load of LAUNDRY with stored water.
  • Go to the nearest source of fresh water and fill up several water containers and purify it.
 So, what we did, because I know I would accidentally turn on a tap or flush the toilet, was to turn off our water. That's right! We went hard core! And for even more realism, I asked my husband to show me how to do it (he works half time and goes to school half time, so he's home today) and he said he wouldn't show me, but would tell me how to do it. I guess that was more realistic. If he wasn't home I could call him at work and he'd tell me over the phone. 

Anyway, I had to overcome my fear of our cellar (cellar = HUGE spiders!!!), and just bite the bullet to bring up 18 2-liters from our water storage and turn off our water. It wasn't so bad, but there was a gigantic spider hanging out on the underside of the cellar door. My goal today is to sweep out those steps and clear out the cobwebs, so it's not so scary.

Then, of all the inconveniences, last night we chose not to do the dishes. This morning I had a stack of dishes to wash with NO RUNNING WATER. That was a joy, let me tell you! But it was definitely a learning experience.

The whole day went rather well. Even my 5-year-old handled the whole situation rather well. Turning off the water was a good idea. It definitely kept us from cheating. By the end of the day, though, I could feel the stress of not having running water. I don't know how well I'd do for a few days or even a week without running water. I'm sure we'd find a system, but dishes were my biggest enemy even with using paper disposables. We had to cook which creates dishes... 

I needed to do laundry today, but don't really have a good way to do it. I'd like to get a laundry plunger.

Successes -
1. We had drinkable, usable water in our storage. Hooray!
2. We used 9 2-liter bottles of water. By that estimation we have enough water for about 3-4 days and that's if we only take sponge baths. 
3. We used our portable toilet that uses enzymes and liquid absorbing pellets. 
4. We had paper plates, plastic cups, and plastic utensils to use, thus cutting down on dishes to wash.

Failures -
1. I wasted 6 1/2 2-liters of water on the boatload of dishes I had to do.
2. Dishes. It was hard to keep the pile of dishes down.
3. Procrastinated pulling out the solar shower and therefore didn't get to use it. 

Need to Buy:
Paper towels (we use cloth normally, but some disposable would be nice), more paper plates, paper bowls, and disposable sippy cups. 

Canvas bucket in case we have to haul water from the two rivers on either side of us (down a steep hill and across some railroad tracks or across our neighbor's property.) I guess we could drive our car down to the river and fill up our empty 2-liters. That sounds much better than hauling water up a steep hill by hand! 

Also, I'd like one of those big wash tubs to use for baths. That way we could use the gray water afterwards.

We need to have a way of storing more water. 2-liters work well and we have lots of room in our cellar to put them, but I'd like to get a couple 55-gallon drums. We'd have to find a way of filling them though. We only get so much water from our well every day. Our hillside is on the dry side.

I also need bleach to use to refill our 2-liters using our well water since it's not treated.

Need to Do:
Come up with a system for doing laundry, washing dishes, and taking baths. 

Need to Learn:
Water conservation techniques

I am hoping tomorrow isn't a challenge not using electricity. I know they've done them before! I don't know if I could cope!

The Seven Day Challenge Has Begun!

Yesterday the Seven Day Challenge sponsored by the gals over at Food Storage Made Easy started! For some reason I didn't get the e-mail in the morning, so I didn't find out until I checked my google reader later in the day.

Seven Day Challenge - Day 1 (Wednesday)
~ Economic Crisis ~
Global Food Shortage

Today’s Tasks:
·         Cook all your meals and snacks using only pantry foods
·         Make a complete meal plan for 7 days (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) using ONLY ingredients you already have in your storage
·         Do an inventory to determine how long your food supply will last you (use our 3 month supply and long term calculators to help
·         SHARING TIME: Take a picture of your meal plan (or type it up) and share iton our Facebook page or in the blog comments
Today’s Limitations:
·         For this day, and ALL days of the challenge: no spending money, no going to stores, and no restaurants
·         You cannot use any fridge or freezer food (assume it has been used up)
·         You cannot use fresh produce from your garden (pretend it’s winter)
·         You cannot use fresh eggs even if you have chickens (someone stole them)
Advanced Tasks:
·         Make a meal plan for 30 days instead of just 7
·         Add a dessert to your menu tonight as well
·         A huge thunderstorm also struck today and your power is out all day. Cook all meals without power!

Here's my meal plan:

Day 1
B- Pancakes w/ syrup & freeze-dried strawberries
L – PB& J w/ homemade bread
D – Sloppy Joe on Toast w/ freeze-dried peppers and onions
Day 2
B – Beans on toast w/ applesauce
L – leftovers (we almost always eat leftovers for lunch)
D – Pasta w/ meat sauce & canned green beans (or freeze-dried)
Day 3
B – Homemade Instant Oatmeal w/ raisins
L – PB & J
D – BBQ Chicken on bread w/ freeze dried green peas
Day 4
B – scrambled eggs (dehydrated) w/ TVP bacon & toast w/ canned peaches
L – Tuna sandwiches or on crackers
D – ABC soup mix w/ freeze-dried chicken and veggies
Day 5
B – Homemade instant oatmeal w/ dehydrated apples
L – Leftovers
D – Salmon Loaf using canned salmon
Day 6
B – Cold cereal with rice or almond milk (shelf stable)
L – PB&J
D – Black beans & rice w/ diced tomatoes
Day 7
B – 9 grain cracked cereal w/ maple syrup
L – leftovers
D – Chili & Cornbread

After each day's experience, we are supposed to fill out a "report card" to see how we did and where we can improve. Here is what I learned:

Need to Buy:
I didn't have the opportunity to make meals and snacks only from food storage  and nothing from the fridge because I didn't find out until after dinner. Blast it! But, I did do the exercise of making a complete meal plan for 7 days. I still need to figure out how much we have in our food storage. I'm guesstimating about 1 - 2 months worth of food? If we go without a lot of stuff. And I do a lot of baking. 

One thing I learned was that I do not have enough snacks that my kids like to last a week! I also need crackers, more condiments, and some sort of freeze dried or canned cheese. If we can't use anything in our fridge, or we had hypothetically run out I would most miss cheese. I have powdered butter, but I think I would like some canned butter too. (Canning your own is not safe!) I think we need more canned or freeze dried meats. I loved canned salmon, but we've been using it and haven't replaced what we used, so I think we'd run out fairly quickly. 

I'd also like to stock up on more shelf stable milk. My son drinks rice milk and my husband shouldn't drink cows milk, but he does, because it's easy. I would much rather drink shelf stable rice or almond milk than powdered milk any day. Since that's the case, we should really have a good stock of it. 

Need to Do:
Things I need to do an inventory to know how long the food we have would last. We have a lot of staples, but not a lot of the extra stuff that would make life a little nicer and easier.

It would be handy to create at least 2 weeks worth of bag meals - meals that have everything needed to make it including the water all in one bag. If I had to make something from scratch under a stressful situation, having some meals already put together would ease a lot of stress. 

Need to Learn:
To add some fresh food to our diet I can use some things from our garden, but if it's winter time I would like to actually know how to do some sprouting. I've taken a class about it and have some information, but I actually need to just do it.

I'm fairly confident in my skills to be flexible and creative and thrifty with our meals if a situation like this actually happened, but it would be good to expand my recipe repertoire for making food storage meals. Reviewing recipes I already have and trying some out would be good! (preparing with and without power)

My daughter and I need to learn how to drink shelf stable milk on a regular basis. My daughter is 2 and loves drinking cow milk, but if there's an emergency and we couldn't get milk after we'd run out, she would be one unhappy toddler! If she could learn to drink rice milk too, then it wouldn't be as traumatic. 

On to the next challenge!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Early Autumn & Chocolate

We still have a couple weeks before official autumn, but today we have been blessed with lovely cool weather. The kids and I ventured outside this morning in sweaters and pants! It was wonderful. I love autumn. Tonight there is a women's activity at church and I signed up to bring dessert. We're to make apple crisp. I just pulled mine out of the oven and it smells blissfully of autumn! Do you think they'd notice if I stole a teeny tiny piece? I mean, I have heavy cream in my fridge, for goodness sakes! It's practically screaming for me to eat it. Oooooh, so hard to resist! (Can you tell I haven't had lunch yet?)

Our house is cool, a hot apple crisp is on the stove and now all I need is a warm, crackly fire in a woodstove. Alas, we had to remove our stove for insurance purposes (it wasn't installed up to code, blast it!). But I guess I could always turn to the fireplace on Netflix! haha!

I've been meaning to share this, but kept forgetting. About a month ago, in an uncharacteristically fit of food inventiveness, my husband got the kids together and made up a new, yummy dessert. He dubbed it:

Muddy Bananas

He heated chocolate chips with peanut butter and then they dipped ripe bananas in it. They were in love! I gave it a try later on and it's absolutely delicious! When I told him the chocolate/peanut butter mixture reminded me of Nutella, but better, he was a little disappointed to feel it wasn't as original as he thought. I assured him that it was different because he used peanut butter instead of hazelnuts and Ghiridelli chocolate chips which are a darker chocolate and so, sooooo good! It was amazing. My husband is so clever! :-)

Speaking of chocolate. I have now created 2 new converts to making S'mores with dark chocolate. You should give it a try. Really. It is so much better than with milk chocolate! I never liked S'mores because of the milk chocolate (too sweet!), but with dark chocolate, it's almost like a whole different dessert and so, so amazing.
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