Sep 22, 2016

How to EASILY Clean a Super Duper Dirty Cup

I have exactly two mugs in my cupboard: one for the Mr. and one for moi. The rest are - you guessed it! - still in our shipping container. And both these mugs (the Mr. uses his for coffee and I use mine for tea) are totally gross. They look super duper dirty, even though I've run them through the dishwasher multiple times and even, occasionally, hand washed them.

But that's okay, because I know a handy dandy little trick that makes cleaning those nasty looking cups a breeze.

Today, I finally got around to it.



How to EASILY Clean a Really Dirty Coffee or Tea Mug

One of my super duper dirty cups. Eeeewwww...

1. Pour about a teaspoonful of baking soda in the cup.

2. Pour a drop of dish detergent into the cup, too. (I used Dawn.)

3. Fill the cup with warm water.

4. With a sponge or cleaning cloth, clean the mug. (HINT: You don't need to scrub like your life depends on it!)

5. Rinse.
My clean mug, all ready for a nice cup of orange spice tea.

See? So easy peasy I'm almost embarrassed to post it. But judging by my friends' dirty coffee mugs, I'm betting a lot of people don't know this trick! ;)



Sep 20, 2016

Loaded Chicken and Potatoes Recipe

Confession: My family does not like eating chicken. They love my home canned chicken, and they love KFC, and sometimes my hubby's real barbecued chicken because all you really taste are the seasonings...but any other chicken dish pretty much makes their noses turn up. However, as a person striving to be Proverbs 31 Woman, I'm always trying to get chicken in their diet because it's more frugal than beef or pork. That's why I was so pleased when I made Loaded Chicken and Potatoes (which I discovered over at Singing Through the Rain) and my family loved it! Here is my slightly altered version:

Loaded Chicken and Potatoes Recipe

about 1 lb. chicken (I use boneless chicken breasts, but any chicken will do), cubed into 1/2" pieces*
about 12 medium yellow potatoes (or any baking type potato), cubed into 1/2" pieces
1/3 cup olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon paprika
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon Tabasco (Too hot for you? Try 2 tablespoons homemade ranch dressing, or sour cream, or cream cheese, or barbecue sauce with real sugar - no high fructose corn syrup! - instead)
2 cups Cheddar cheese (or a Mexican-style cheese blend; for this photo shoot, I used Cheddar and Monterey Jack)
1/2 - 1 cup cooked and crumbled bacon (about 1/4 to 1/2 lb.)
1/2 - 1 cup diced green onions (scallions)


1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 9" x 13" baking dish with coconut or olive oil; set aside.

2. In a large bowl, stir together the olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, paprika, garlic powder, and Tabasco (or alternatives to Tabasco) until well blended.


3. Add the potatoes and chicken to the bowl and toss until well coated. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish.

4. Bake, uncovered, for 25 minutes. Stir. Bake another 25 minutes or so, until the potatoes and chicken are cooked through and browned. Remove from oven - but keep the oven turned on.

5. Sprinkle the casserole with cheese, bacon, and green onions. Return to the oven. Bake another 5 minutes, or until the cheese is fully melted.

If desired, serve with sour cream.

Singing Through the Rain says you can make this dish in the crock pot, too. I've never tried it, but if you're interested, click here and scroll down to "Frequently Asked Questions."

* HINT: When using chicken that's been frozen, don't thaw completely before cutting. It will be much easier to chop!



Sep 17, 2016

Weekend Links & Updates

I can't stop taking photos of the big, big moon on our mountaintop homestead!
This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information. Thank you for supporting this site!


In which I share my favorite posts from this blog's Facebook page.

"When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?"
Psalm 8:3-4




* I'm ridiculously excited because I finally have some boxes to unpack! (Translation: Hubby finally had time to unload some boxes from our shipping container and bring them to the house.) The kids are finally sleeping with sheets! (They've been in sleeping bags on their beds.) And I have a few more cooking utensils and pans! It's the little things, people.

* I took this photo last Thursday. It's an apple blossom. (!)
We had two potted columnar apple trees at our suburban home, but when we moved them to the new homestead, they got eaten by deer and were generally neglected. I really thought one in particular was going to die. But when the chicks were still in the brooder in the house, I emptied their dirty (i.e. poopy) water into some of my potted plants, including the dying apple tree. Now, typically you would not put fresh chicken manure on any plant, because it can actually "burn" or kill them. But I figured the chicks were pretty little and there wasn't a ton of poop in their water, so it would be okay. I was right! The apple tree not only revived, but it's growing new leaves, and yes, blossoms! The other plants I water with poopy water also rapidly shot out new leaves and blooms. Animal manure is the best fertilizer!

* If you've read my children's chapter book Midnight Ride Without Paul Revere, and you liked it, would you please take just a minute right now and leave a review? It will make a huge difference in whether or not Amazon suggests or lists the books for other readers. Thank you so much!

 * How many years of your life will you spend shopping? And how much stuff will you throw away? 17 Staggering Statistics About Our Shopping Habits.
Mornings on the homestead are often foggy now.

* If you're thinking of joining Swagbucks, now is THE time to do it! If you join using this link, Swagbucks will give you (and me) 300 Swagbucks each! But you must join before 9/30/16 to take advantage of this offer. Learn more about Swagbucks and how I use it to get free giftcards by clicking here.

* Pretty soon, you won't even be able to buy medicated chick feed without a vet. Flea and tick treatments, either. And all those wormers and things homesteaders regularly buy at the feed store for their livestock? Gone.

* Not surprising, but definitely depressing. FDA finds Round Up found in U.S. honey.

* How the sugar industry bought scientists to put our health complaints on fat, instead of sugar. A cautionary tale.

* Many common kitchen herbs are good medicine, and thyme is among them. For best results, dry your own, or buy a brand that is as fresh as possible.

* Herbal tea for painful periods.

* Be sure to show this video to your kids! Inspirational, for sure!

* Why Tylenol is not a great choice if your child was just vaccinated.

* Last week, as an introduction to our study of the election process, the kids and I read Duck for President. I can't recommend it enough, especially for lower elementary. It's laugh out loud funny, and is a great intro into the basic election process.

* A super easy way to teach your kids to tie their shoes



Oldies But Goodies:

* Now's a terrific time to harvest dandelion roots. Here's how - and how to use them! 
* This is so easy! How to Clean Ceilings & Walls - even in a greasy kitchen. 
* Tips for Teaching Kids to Sew.

Sep 16, 2016

Can I Use a Septic Drain Field as a Vegetable Garden?

Recently, author Liberty Speidel - a friend of mine and a long time reader who just happens to write great superhuman novels, the first of which is free - (an unabashed plug for my friend!) asked me:

"We're getting our own homestead, depending on whether they agree to make some repairs. The house has a septic field with lateral lines. I'm wondering if it's safe to plant a garden over the lateral field? Or would it be unsafe to eat the food that's grown there? From the perspective of not having to water the garden much, it makes sense, but I want to make sure it's safe, too."
As I told Liberty, I'm not a septic system expert. However, I immediately had some concerns about growing food in a drain field, and a little research proved I was right to feel cautious.


Why You Shouldn't Garden Over Your Drain Field

* I think the field would be too damp to grow healthy fruit trees or bushes. Too much moisture leads fruit trees to have disease issues.

* I also wonder if the soil over the drain field would be too high in nitrogen to grow happy plants. High nitrogen levels lead to plants with lots of leaves, but not much fruit. And if the nitrogen is high enough, it will kill the plants.

* I'm also concerned that vegetables could potentially have bacteria in them that would lead to illness. According to the Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE), this risk varies depending upon the type of soil in the drain field. Clay soils are better at filtering bacteria and can "[eliminate] bacteria within a few inches of the drain trenches." Sandy soils filter bacteria less effectively and "may allow bacterial movement for several feet." VCE goes on to say that "A properly operating system will not contaminate the soil with disease-causing organisms, but it is very difficult to determine if a field is operating just as it should."

Why You Should Plant Over Your Drain Field

That said, planting over the drain field is considered a good idea. Turns out, the right plants can help your drain field by removing excess moisture and reducing soil erosion. But which plants are best? Dense grass is the most common drain field plant, and according to VCE, if you don't have at least that, you should plant it ASAP. If you want flowers, and the drain field is the only available space for them, plant shallow rooted plants that don't need tons of water. Plants with deep roots or intense water needs can clog the draining or grow into drain field pipes. Never deeply till a drain field and do not use raised beds, as they may prevent moisture from evaporating in the soil.


If you have limited space and really want to grow fruit in your drain field, VCE says to choose safer options. For example, shallow rooted vines (like cucumbers) work, if you keep the fruit on a trellis. They also mention tomatoes as a possibility, but I do not recommend them personally; tomatoes can have very deep roots, which could damage your drain field.


Title image courtesy of Tim Evanson.


Sep 13, 2016

Why We Don't Have Free Range Chickens

Last weekend, we put the chicks outside, in the hen house. Thank goodness! Chicks are cute and not much trouble when they are little fluff balls; but as they start growing feathers, if they stay inside in the brooder, they become noisy and very, very smelly. We've thought a lot about how best to keep our new hens. We have land now; should we let them free range?* Or should we keep them in a run, as we did with our chickens in the suburbs?

To be honest, it wasn't much of a debate. There's no way we're free ranging our chickens.


First, Why Would You Want to Free Range Chickens?

There are three main reasons to free range hens: 1) It can save money (because the hens don't need as much commercial chicken feed). 2) It cuts back on bugs you may not want in your yard (in addition to some you may find desirable). 3) And their eggs taste better and are healthier for you to eat. In fact, eggs from free range hens have:
  • 2/3 more vitamin A
  • 1/3 less cholesterol
  • 1/4 less saturated fat
  • Two times more omega-3 fatty acids
  • Three times more vitamin E
  • Seven times more beta carotene
  • 4 to 6 times as much vitamin D

Courtesy of Svklimkin and Wikimedia Commons.
Why We Don't Free Range Our Hens

Let me count the reasons...

* Free range chickens get into and destroy everything! That includes the vegetable garden, the flower garden, the trees (chickens scratch at their base, which could kill trees, especially young ones), etc. They also scratch up the grass and can turn it to dust.

* Free ranging chickens are much more vulnerable to predators, particularly hawks and other predatory birds.

* Free range hens may not lay eggs where you can find them. Instead of using the nesting boxes in the hen house, they tend to lay their eggs in bushes where they will end up either rotting or being eaten by other animals.

* Free range hens are difficult to control. They may not come home to the hen house at the end of the day. Instead, they might roost in trees, making them vulnerable to predators. And you can't control where they scratch around, either.

* Did I mention that free range chickens destroy everything???


Solutions to the Free Ranging Dilemma

If you don't want your hens tearing everything up, eating your garden-fresh food, and turning the lawn to desert, all is not lost. There are several ways to get the benefits of free ranging without letting your chickens totally take over your yard.

Simple chicken tractor. (Courtesy of wisemandarine and Wikimedia Commons.)
1. Use a chicken tractor - basically a small, moveable chicken run. The idea is to move the tractor every day or so; the hens benefit from scratching around in that confined area, but they aren't in one location long enough to do permanent damage. In fact, hens in this setting can help you, by eating bugs, mowing the grass, and leaving behind a little bit of fertilizer. Using a tractor, you can even release them into your vegetable garden and have them till the land a bit, remove undesirable bugs and plant debris, and fertilize a little. The downside to this arrangement is that tractors really only work on flat, level ground. Plus, they can be difficult to move unless they are quite small. In addition, it can be tough to get hens in and out of the tractor. Also, hens in a tractor are more available to predators who dig than they would be in a well built, permanent run. (Though this is less of a problem in the suburbs than in a rural location).

2. Supervised free ranging. We did this for years when we lived in the suburbs. Basically, I'd let the hens out of their run when I was in the backyard doing other things. This way, I could keep them out of the garden and in our yard (not the neighbors'). Read here about how we controlled and trained the hens using sprays of water and a toy garden hoe. The downside here is that you have to pay attention to the hens, and it may take time to get them used to being herded back into their run or hen house.

3. Make the run huge. This is how we're handling our current flock, and it works best if you have a little land (although I've seen it plenty of times in the suburbs). You simply make the chicken run quite large for the number of birds you have. Better yet, you design things so you can change the location of the run; for example, in the spring, the run might be in front of the hen house, but in the summer, you move it to the back of the hen house; in the fall, it's on the right hand side of the hen house; and in the winter, it's on the left hand side. This keeps the hens from turning their run into nothing but dirt, and makes it possible to keep the chickens in fresh forage. The downside is that it takes some skill to build such a run and hen house, and it requires more space, too.

If none of these things work for you, you can still improve your hens eggs!

The trick is to provide them with plenty of forage. You can do this by giving them yard clippings such as grass, the weeds you pull from the garden, less than ideal veggies from your garden, and table scraps (meat and vegetables...and yes, cooked eggs, too). You might even try wetting a small area of your yard and covering it with cardboard for a time; worms and other bugs will flock to the area - and once you remove the cardboard, you can let your hens have at them!



* Never imagine that "free range" eggs you buy at the store come from hens who have a large yard to scratch in. In fact, they have extremely limited access - perhaps one small door to get outside, among a flock of hundreds - to a tiny (often hen sized) plot of dirt.

** Title image courtesy of sasastro.




Sep 10, 2016

Weekend Links & Updates

September dusk on the homestead.
In which I share my favorite posts from this blog's Facebook page.

"An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life."

Proverbs 31:10-12

 
* It was a crazy week. I suddenly realized, as I prepped for homeschool, that my daughter's new bedroom still looked like an ugly, dark cave. I couldn't bear to have her trying to do school work in there. So in addition to preserving apples, taking care of a puppy, and prepping for school, I ended up painting her room. The original owners painted it dark red with a dirty white ceiling. It took a lot of paint to cover that up. It's amazing how much bigger and more cheerful the room looks painted Frosted Lemon!

* There will always be some food contamination, but the percentage found in processed or commercially prepared food is higher than it is on the homestead!

* Antibiotics early in life may lead to allergies later. 

* Sadly, this is an increasingly common garden problem and an excellent reason to use only your own compost and hay you're 100 percent sure is organic.

Oldies But Goodies:

* Resources for Teaching Kids About 9/11.
Keep Your Fall Leaves! They are valuable.
* We love our small space homeschool workboxes.
* How to male your own SCOBY for kombucha. 
* Choosing the perfect paint color every time.
 

Sep 9, 2016

How Moms Can Make Money at Home

It's a question I frequently hear - on playgrounds, on social media, among friends meeting for coffee.
It's a question I also ask myself: How can I make money to help out my husband or family? A reader also recently asked this question of me:

"Hi Kristina,
My name is Jamie. I'm a 34 year old Christian wife and homeschooling mama of 4 little ones (only 2 of them are school aged)...I have a simple question to ask you that may be difficult to answer but I'd love any advice you have! I often think about what it means to be a Proverbs 31 wife, and something has been tugging at my heart for several years now. I long to help my husband out in the financial area, (i.e. work from home) but there's one major problem...I don't know what my talents are! Sounds funny I know, but I honestly don't know what I could do to make a little extra money to help us out. We are not necessarily in dire straits with finances but my husband is self employed and is often stressed about money since all the weight is on him and I wish I could do more to help...I feel stuck. And I know we are total strangers but do you have any advice? Right now the only answer I can come up with is 'Pray.'
Thank you for any help!
In Christ,
Jamie"

Jamie, you're not alone! I think most stay at home moms ask themselves this question on a regular basis. Many stay at home moms even feel guilty for not helping their family financially. In fact, it seems that in our society, it's expected that both the husband and wife should bring in some income. Even in my own household, I often feel there's an expectation that I must bring in some sort of income, or earn extra money when it is needed.

But I'd like you to question this whole idea.

Until quite recently, in all but the very poorest American families, wives were not expected to make money. Not because they weren't capable of doing so, and not even because our society expected husbands should be able to support their wives and children all by themselves. Wives generally didn't work because...they were already working.

They were working in the home. Caring for the children, keeping the house tidy, cooking...All important things, and all things that would cost an arm and a leg to hire someone to do.

So, if you think about it, they were helping their husbands financially by not going out and getting a job. 

Even today, if you add up what the average working mom earns, then subtract all the expenses of her working away from home (including fuel, work clothes, lunches, convenience or restaurant dinner food, and childcare), you'll usually find she's not adding much at all to the family income. (Here's a good example.)

Maybe that's why so many modern moms strive to work at home.

But here's another little secret that didn't use to be a secret at all: Back in the day, housewives contributed to the family income in another important way. They were excellent house managers.

That's not a term we hear anymore. What exactly is a house manager? It's someone who keeps the household running smoothly. It's someone who saves her husband time and frustration. It's someone who makes it easier for her husband to go off to work every morning. And it's someone who sees to it he has to work less hard, rather than more hard.

That's a far cry from many wives I see today, who go on shopping sprees with the attitude that "he'll just have to figure out a way to pay for it."

And so one very important way you can contribute to the family income is by spending the family income wisely.

How much can you save by being a good household manager? Potentially thousands every year.

Now, maybe you already are a good household manager and all you (and your husband) need to do is appreciate just how much you contribute to the family. If that's the case, another thing to consider is your lifestyle. Do you live like the average American, expecting expensive vacations, the latest gadgets and grown up toys, lots of stuff, lots of "going out," and lots of debt?

If so, learning to love a life living within your means is an important goal. Start recognizing that debt is slavery. (Really think on that!) Start realizing that stuff is also a sort of slavery. And start recognizing that if your husband is stressed out trying to pay for things you don't really need it's not worth it. At. All.

I don't know you, Jamie. So I don't know what your lifestyle is like or whether I'm "preaching to the choir." You may still be thinking, "We still need some extra cash." I get it. I seriously do! So here are some thoughts on how you can save or earn money, making your family more comfortable:

* Keep praying. Prayer is so powerful, and if you allow God to, he will either change your heart so you don't feel the need to work, or he will provide the perfect job for you.

* Remember Proverbs 31. I don't believe for a second that she did her trading and clothes selling while she had young children at home. Because young children require pretty much everything a woman has! That section of the Bible shows us the entire life of one "noble woman." Keep that in mind.

* Build skills. Build one of your interests until you're an expert at a marketable skill. For example, in the full version of the email you sent me, you said you like to write; so consider developing that skill by blogging and contributing to small local publications, and eventually you may become professional enough to grow your blog or write for national publications. Or choose one of your other interests to develop.

* Use Swagbucks to earn gift certificates for places like Amazon, where you can buy discounted food and other necessities. Or use those gift cards for school supplies and gifts throughout the year.

* Consider doing more shopping online. Some people find they can get better prices on diapers, toilet paper, and so on by shopping at Amazon, especially if they use Subscribe and Save.

* Keep a price book for groceries, toiletries, and other commonly used household items.

* Stock up when you can. When items you use go on sale, buy a bunch. In the long run, that saves money.

* If you're not already, get organized about serving food. Meal plan (here's my super easy method) and always have easy peasy meals on hand (in the pantry or freezer) for those "I'm too tired to cook nights." Eating out is not only unhealthy, but it burns through money fast.

* Pack your husband's lunch, if possible. If he loves eating out for lunch, see if he'll agree to doing it only once or twice a month.

* Shop used. Children's clothes, for example, are so much cheaper used. Also, depending upon where you live, you may find thrift stores, Craigslist, etc., can provide quality household goods for a fraction of the cost.

* Dump the dish or cable. TV is outrageously expensive. Learn to live with Netflix (saving thousands per year). Consider DVDs from the library, too (as long as you can get them returned in a timely way).

* Cook from scratch as much as possible. Your family will not only be more healthy, but you'll save a lot of money. I also think you'll find that cooking from scratch often really isn't that much more time consuming.

Readers: What are your suggestions for how Jamie - or anyone - can save or earn money?


Sep 3, 2016

Weekend Links

In which I share my favorite posts from this blog's Facebook page.
"He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding."
Daniel 5:21
 
 * UPDATE: Friends, I found another apple tree. I previously overlooked it because a small wild tree is trying to grow through it. But even though it's been neglected, there are some apples on it. I think that brings us up to 11 apple and 11 plum trees. Amazing blessings.

* My newest Pinterest board is all about raising sheep...because hubby thinks they should be our next homestead addition. Turns out, they are very good at keeping down vegetation - better than goats. Plus...lamb chops. 

* Costco has a reputation for carrying only high end products. That's why I was so disappointed when I discovered the canned mandarin oranges we got there are a product of China. No thanks; I don't want food from China. Read labels carefully, friends!

* These "Bouncy Bands" look like a great invention for young kids who must sit all day in public/private school. A reader who works for Head Start says they use them with their kids and they work well!

* I've been using these free first day of school questionnaires with my kids since kindergarten. They make wonderful keepsakes!

* "Studies show a direct link between the amount of physical possessions in a house and the stress level of the female homeowner. One study done at UCLA found that the more stuff was in a woman’s house, the higher her level of stress hormones. This same study also found that women subconsciously relate how happy they are with their home-life and family to how they feel about their homes. So the more clutter and chaos in the home, the less happy the woman is with her family and her life."

* Ibuprofen isn't especially safe for anyone, but there are special considerations if you're over 40.

* The FDA bans antibacterial soap.

* "We now know that those iPads, smartphones and Xboxes are a form of digital drug. Recent brain imaging research is showing that they affect the brain’s frontal cortex - which controls executive functioning, including impulse control - in exactly the same way that cocaine does. Technology is so hyper-arousing that it raises dopamine levels - the feel-good neurotransmitter most involved in the addiction dynamic - as much as sex. This addictive effect is why Dr. Peter Whybrow, director of neuroscience at UCLA, calls screens 'electronic cocaine' and Chinese researchers call them 'digital heroin.'"
Ed.

* An interesting article about heirloom apples and why you've never heard of them. 

* The puppy Ed is primarily my 7 year old son's responsibility. He's doing a good job, but today he said, "He wants to go out again? I wish there were 10 of me!" Ha! Now he knows how every mama feels!

Oldies But Goodies:

* How We Homeschool on a Shoestring Budget
* Want Big Savings on Groceries? Use a Price Book!
* Quesadillas for a quick, healthy meal anytime.
* How to Get Your Kids to Eat Healthy

Source of this meme is unknown.