Thursday, October 15, 2020

Slowing Down


A break from cleaning

    With James growing and everyday tasks becoming more and more physically taxing, I am inevitably starting to slow down.  I can feel my energy levels dropping, and I'm no longer able to get things done at the rate I was going.  But I'm ok with this, for I am slowing down in other ways as well.

    Knowing that a unique, wonderful chapter of our lives is closing and a busy and exciting new one is about to begin, I am slowing down to soak in every last bit of our current season.  I know the marathon that is coming with a newborn, but instead of the urgency I felt in weeks past to get things done, I now feel the desire to simply relax and enjoy my time with my family.  I still have my to-do list, but it has been reevaluated and put in its place- it is no longer so important.

    Craving rest and time together, Colton and I decided one last trip to the beach was in order.  We went earlier in the year and were surprised by how much fun we had.  Living only an hour away, we had intended on going back throughout the summer, but then the beaches closed for a period of time and we just got busy with projects.  But Monday we decided we would make it happen!  I packed our lunches, chairs, and tent, and away we went.

"A bit of sea-bathing would set me up forever." ~ Mrs. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice 

    It was just what we all needed- a day of doing nothing but spending time together relaxing and playing, surrounded by the calming beauty of God's creation.  We had the beach mostly to ourselves with no one on either side of us for 50 feet, at least. 

    John could run and chase the seagulls, splash in the water, fly his kite, and dig in the sand to his little heart's content.  He and Colton searched for crabs, clams, and shells.  I like to think it was an unintentional homeschooling lesson for John as we watched the little creatures.

    Colton enjoyed a swim, which ended up being therapeutic as it brought down the swelling in his post-surgery knee.  He challenged me to a fun game of bocce ball, too.  I won't tell you who won. (Hint: it wasn't him. 😉)

    I set my chair at the water's edge, just close enough for the waves to wash over my feet.  It was the most relaxing thing.  I had brought a magazine with me, but I was too distracted by the beauty around me to enjoy it!

    It was such a lovely break from our busyness.  Sometimes, in the midst of all that is happening, we have to step back and realize how blessed we are.  Not to hurry on to the next thing, but to simply enjoy what we have right now.  Our day at the beach holds memories I will always treasure, and they are far more important than the things I didn't get done.  True, quality time with family always is.

Thursday, October 08, 2020

Pantry Clean-Out

     With the changing of seasons and cooler weather approaching, it seems many of us are giving our pantries extra attention.  Though our Texas winters are far from harsh, I do still like to be prepared, and with a baby on the way, I want to make sure my pantry is stocked and that my need to venture out is kept to a minimum.

     This year has brought so many surprises and uncertainties, and I think we have consequently seen the importance of having and keeping a well-stocked pantry!  This has been a practice of mine for several years now, and our pantry has seen us through job loss, periods of very little to no income, hurricanes, and most recently and unexpectedly, food shortages.  I personally don't think we have seen the end of it, so it is my aim to remain diligent about what I have stored.  Homemakers, this is one way you can truly bless and provide for your family in a tangible way!  

    Having these things in mind, I recently did a major pantry clean-out.  It took me several days to get it done, and I made several observations along the way.  I thought I would share here in the event it helps and encourages someone else.

    The first thing I did was take everything out of my pantry.  I vacuumed, wiped down the shelves, and mopped the floors.  I knew it was temporary, but seeing my pantry empty was a bit unnerving!  An empty pantry is what we want to avoid.


    Once the pantry itself was cleaned, I went about sorting through all the food.  I decided to go through everything in categories as I went about setting things back on the shelves.  For example, I went through dry baking goods, then moved onto canned vegetables, then canned fruits, teas etc.  

    All of my jars and cans were wiped down to remove any dust.  Things that were outdated were tossed out.  Now, I did keep some things that are past their "best by" date to an extent.  I am talking here about things that had been forgotten and were too far gone for me to feel comfortable eating or feeding to my family.  As I went, I made a list of things that are getting old and that need to be used up soon.

    I used a Sharpie to write expiration dates on the front of all my cans.  I learned this tip from my parents after snooping in their pantry!  (Anyone else like to snoop in people's pantries to see how they do things?)  By doing this, I am able to see what needs using first.  The items with the furthest dates get placed towards the back of the shelf, and the ones with the closest dates get placed up front.  This system has been working very well for me so far.  Now when we buy groceries, I immediately write the dates on the cans and am able to quickly place them on the shelves accordingly.  Everything should now be much easier to rotate.

    I repackaged many of my dry goods into glass jars.  This created so much space, as it eliminated a lot of bulky packaging.  Glass jars also keep bugs and critters out, keep food fresh longer, and allow you to see at a glance what and how much you have of something.  Colton and I invested in the half-gallon mason jars years ago, but any recycled glass jar will work just as well.  Here you can see my shelves of dry baking ingredients and cereals.  I used a Dymo labeler to label the fronts of my jars.

    Packaged snacks were also put into glass jars.  On the shelf above the snacks, you can see coffee and my system for sorting tea bags.  It is just an inexpensive set of plastic drawers from Walmart.  I have the drawers labeled by category.


    Above that, I have milk items (I'd like to stock a bit more) and my paper/packaging items.  The large cookie tin holds my paper plates.  Once I have an empty coffee can, I'll use it to store my coffee filters.  This is just a way to keep any potential pests out.

    Other shelves hold my dehydrated goods, canned vegetables, pasta, dry beans, and potatoes.  Pictured on the floor is vinegar in jugs, wheat in buckets, and not shown on the other end are jugs of distilled water.


    And here is my pantry all put back together!  It was a big job but well worth it.


    Over the years, my pantry has evolved based on the needs of our family.  I never expect it to stay the same, as I am always finding ways of improving my system.  One of the most important things that I have learned is to only stock the foods my family likes to eat.  I know that may seem like such an obvious thing, but sales and good bargains have tempted me many times to purchase things we ended up not caring for!  What looked like savings ended up being a waste.  

    When the food shortages hit earlier this year, I saw many people buying things they wouldn't normally buy out of necessity.  They needed food and it didn't matter what kind!  Think of how much better it would be to be stocked with familiar and comforting foods that you enjoy in a time of crisis.  It would not be such a shock to the system and routine.

    The way that I have built most of my stockpile is by shopping sales, using coupons, and checking the clearance section of stores.  Again, this only helps if you buy things you like and would normally eat, but if you know you'll use it before it goes bad, buy several, not just one when you find a deal.  I can't tell you how many cans in my pantry have a yellow clearance sticker on them!

    Normally I do a lot of stocking up around the Thanksgiving and Christmas sales.  This year I am taking a bit of a different approach with everything going on in the world.  I don't want to be dependent on sales or availability that simply may not be there this year!  I've been making a list of things I am running low on and I just buy a few cans here and there when I am out shopping.  This also builds up my supply without spending a fortune all at once.

    If you want to learn more about building a pantry, I highly recommend A Working Pantry, The Bluebirds are Nesting, and Strangers and Pilgrims on Earth blogs.  I have learned and continue to learn so much from these ladies!

    I hope you have enjoyed my pantry tour and gleaned some helpful ideas.  Do you keep a "deep" pantry?  What is your system? If you have any tips on keeping, stocking, or rotating your food supply, please share in the comments below!    

Monday, October 05, 2020

Cowboy Cookies


     With the arrival of autumn and cooler weather, I feel it is the perfect time to enjoy some baking.  Truth be told, I love to bake all year, but there is a particular coziness when the air is crisp outside and the kitchen is warmed by home-made goodness, filling the house with sweet, comforting aromas.

    Over the weekend, I baked a batch of cowboy cookies to share with friends.  I found the recipe in a cookbook, "Great Recipes from Texas", that I purchased at a garage sale.  While it was only my second time to make them, they were a huge hit!  Colton has declared them to be his absolute favorite cookie.  They have everything good in them-- chocolate chips, cinnamon, oats, coconut, and pecans.  I thought I would share the recipe with you here should you like to try them.

    First I must warn you that this recipe makes a LOT of cookies!  But I am of the opinion that one can never have too many cookies.  They are perfect for sharing or taking to gatherings, and although I have yet to try it (they always disappear before I get a chance), I'm sure they could be frozen for later.  I have never tried to halve this recipe, but I have frozen cookie dough with success, so that is an option too.  Expect about 8 dozen cookies from this recipe!

~Cowboy Cookies~

3 sticks butter (1 1/2 cup), softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
3 cups chocolate chips
3 cups oats
2 cups shredded coconut
2 cups chopped pecans

Cream together butter and sugars.  Add eggs and vanilla; beat.  In a separate bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Gradually add to sugar mixture, beating until well blended. Stir in remaining ingredients.  Bake at 350*F for 10-12 minutes.


Saturday, September 26, 2020

Gentle Days

     We have been having some gentle days around our home lately.  Colton had knee surgery at the end of last week to correct damage from an old injury.  Everything went well, but his leg had to be in a brace all week with the doctor's orders to stay off his feet.  While he was going crazy with not being able to do anything, I was selfishly enjoying his time at home, taking care of him and delighting in watching him with John. With the weather turning cooler, we enjoyed many mornings and evenings outside simply relaxing.  Here is a photo taken right on the other side of our fence.  It is a little blurry because I had to zoom.

    A mother doe and her twin fawns have been coming out regularly to graze in the pasture.  They still have their spots...

    The mother was watching me from the other side of the brush.  I kept my distance so as to not make her too nervous.

    Despite the slower pace of the week, I continued to whittle away at my to-do list.  More jars were washed and put away. 

    I also started working on the pile of ironing I have.  With the same idea to do a little at a time, I made good progress.  Setting a goal like ironing three garments a day will soon see the pile gone.  I even got some of John's shirts ironed right as they came out of the dryer.  His little pressed shirts make my heart happy.

    With the loft freshly cleaned, I have my motivation back to start crafting again.  I'd love to reopen my Etsy shop, but I know now is just not the season.  It will come soon enough.  Instead, I've been working on a little something for Baby James.  I'll be sure to share when it is finished.

    I even managed a trip to the thrift store.  Our local thrift store is such a gem.  I can't believe it took me nearly 7 years to discover it.  The volunteers are so sweet, and I have befriended many of the ladies there.  They are always so helpful and know some of the things I look out for.  Many of the jars I'm washing up came from them, for free!  Just because they knew I would use them.  And I have received texts from them letting me know they have gotten things in that I've wanted or needed.  My latest trip yielded lace placemats, a piece of embroidery, and a wooden Melissa and Doug puzzle.  Everything only set me back $6.

    The lace placemats look vintage.  They have some spots and yellowing, but I thought they were too pretty and inexpensive not to take a chance on cleaning them up.  There are 14 of them!  One of the ladies at the thrift store said to try Borax and vinegar.  If any of you know of ways to get stains out of old linens, please share!

    After the thrift store, we went to Tractor Supply (our local farm and ranch supply store) to buy some feed.  We always check the clearance section.  This time we found huge bags of mealworms for the chickens, marked down from $39.99 to $9.99, plus an extra 25% off of that.  I bought two bags and am kicking myself for not buying more!  They are "treats" but also very good for the chickens, especially with winter approaching.  John helped me feed some to the chickens.  He also insisted on carrying the bag to the shed for me, because, he said, it was too heavy for me.  What a gentleman.  No doubt he learned it from Colton.  Children pick up everything the parents do, so be mindful to teach them good things!

    We also found socks for Colton marked down, which was nice as we had just started talking about stocking up on essentials again.  When thinking in terms of preparedness, food always comes to mind first, but there are other essentials too.  I had specifically mentioned socks, and there they were!  These will be put away until needed.

"She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet."

 ~Proverbs 31:21

    Now that Colton's leg is out of the brace, the pace around our home will pick up again.  It was nice to slow things down (for me, not him, poor guy) for a little while.  Colton will be home for the next three weeks while he recovers, so we have several projects lined up.  Neither of us are in much shape to do too much, but we'll do what we can.  We laugh at ourselves for both hobbling around everywhere, a couple of old 29-year-olds, haha!

    I hope everyone has had a good week!  I'd love to hear from you in the comments.  What has been going on in your little corner of the world?

Friday, September 18, 2020

Catching Up

     These past several weeks have been full of deep-cleaning, organizing, and decluttering as I prepare for James's arrival in December.  The second trimester came with a welcome burst of energy that allowed me to tackle the housework I had fallen behind in, and while this last trimester has seen my energy levels drop somewhat, I still have that momentum.  I guess you could say I'm in nesting mode full-swing!  As my due date gets closer and closer, there is a sense of urgency that makes me feel that if I don't get things done now, they won't get done!

    This post might be a bit random as I share what I've done, but I hope it serves as an encouragement to show what can be accomplished little by little.  I admit my to-do list seemed overwhelming at first, but I took the advice of some seasoned homemakers to just "do the next thing".  I also had to remind myself that it's not the end of the world if I don't cross everything off of my list in time for the baby!  After all, homemaking and housekeeping are not a one and done thing.  That is part of the beauty and joy of it, to always have some little task that keeps our hands busy and our hearts happy, ways here and there to always bless our families, not to mention the satisfaction for ourselves when we get to see and enjoy all the fruits of our labor.  This list just helps me get it all down on paper and out of my head.

The top portion is Colton's list, the bottom is mine.
("De-grease John's toys and clothes" means clean off all of the baby balm he decided to coat everything in while I was in the shower.)

     My first ambitious project was to do a complete pantry clean-out.  It was silly for me to think I could get this done in a day.  I'm still working on it!  I emptied out the entire pantry to wipe down shelves, take inventory of what I have, and rotate stock.  I will save this for another post since there was so much involved, but here is a picture of my empty pantry.  I don't like to see it empty!  Thankfully, it is full again and all clean and organized.

     I almost have it like I want now, but having and keeping a well-stocked pantry means that it is ever-evolving and never quite finished.  I gave myself a break from the pantry once most of it got put back together and jumped to something else on my list.  I wouldn't normally do this, but with my list and for the season I am in, I am just going with bite-sized chunks of whatever I have the energy for.  It's ok to do this!  I still see progress, so even if I don't get the satisfaction of drawing that line through my list, I still know I've accomplished a lot.

    Sorting through baby clothes was another thing on my list.  I still have some clothes from when John was a baby, plus some new things for James that I have either thrifted or been gifted.  I got all of these washed up and sorted by size.  I labeled them and put them away in the attic for when the time gets closer to use them.

    This led me to do something that I hadn't written down but that desperately needed to be done, and that is clean up the loft!  The door to the attic is in the loft, so a lot of times things that either go in the attic or need to come out just get set up there and it becomes a catch-all.  It is also where all of my craft supplies are, and that can quickly get messy if I have projects out.  It was in a dire state.  After plugging away little by little, I finally got it all done!  And now the attic is organized too!

    Here is the embarrassing "before" photo...

    And here it is all cleaned up...

     In the midst of all this, I started on another project.  We have a shelf in our utility room that I was using to hold my jars, most of them thrifted and still unwashed.  I ran out of room on that shelf a long time ago!  I decided I would relocate the jars to the top kitchen cabinets, so I am in the process of getting them all washed and sanitized for that.  It will be much more practical for me to have them at the ready in the kitchen should I need them.  I have too many to wash all in a day, so I am just doing several a day and chiseling away at the pile.

The shelf, with several jars already removed.

    To the aforementioned shelf in the utility room, I moved all of our extra bathroom toiletries, first aid, and kitchen supplies.  When things go on sale that I know we use regularly, I buy several, not just one!  This is an investment up front that saves money in the long run, as it means I never have to pay full price.  I previously had these supplies in a closet in the utility room (you can see a glimpse of it to the right in the photo above), which held everything well, but it was hard to search for things, as the closet is deep and things tended to get buried.  Now everything can be seen at a glance, and I can easily tell what we are getting low on.  Colton and I have enough shampoo and Q-tips for the next five years, I think!  But I can see that we really need dish soap...

    I've also been washing up some fabric from the thrift store.  I'd be embarrassed to tell you how long ago I bought this.  It was during a bag sale so that tells you it was pre-covid!  It has been sitting in the laundry room in the same bag I bought it in.  Now it is all washed and put away.  As a side note, I bought all this fabric for $2 total!  How could one pass that up?

    We got some free food-grade buckets from the grocery store bakery.  I washed them up and now they are ready to hold the bulk wheat that we bought.  We currently have the wheat in the freezer to kill any critters that might hatch out.

    I was also able to add some freeze dried onions to my pantry.  This had been on my list and only ended up taking about an hour to process.  We had a great harvest of onions this past spring, and my parents offered to freeze dry some for me!  They processed ten pounds sliced.  I crushed some and ground the rest and sealed them in jars.  Some of the jars will be for long-term storage (freeze-dried foods will last for decades if stored properly) so I added oxygen absorbers to them.  Now I have a good supply of onions in the pantry.

     It has been so helpful to review this past month and see all that I was able to accomplish.  I hope it has served as some inspiration if you have some bigger projects that you need to get done.  I would love to hear about them in the comments!  I'd also love to know your method for getting things done and how you stay motivated!  

Saturday, August 01, 2020

An Unexpected Blessing

  This week, just as Colton and I had mapped out what we were going to do on his days off, he called me from work and said, "Change of plans!"  That phrase always makes me uneasy, but this time it was a happy surprise.  Someone had donated a piano to our church and we needed to go out of town to pick it up!  And, since Colton and I have started taking a turn hosting church services at our house (we attend a home church), our pastor agreed to let us bring the piano home so that I could learn to play.  This has been a dream of mine for a long time!

  It is absolutely beautiful.  From what I have found, it was built sometime in the 1940's.

  I couldn't believe it came with a gorgeous piano bench, as well!  It could not be any more perfect.  Just look at the needlework...

  Colton's grandfather said the piano player at his church used to give lessons, and he is going to inquire Sunday as to whether she still does.  I certainly hope so!  If not, I'll be searching YouTube.  If anyone knows of any good resources, please let me know in the comments!



Friday, July 24, 2020

Baby News!

It's a BOY!!!

    Colton and I are so happy that God is blessing us with another son and that John will have a little brother.  We are still amazed and sometimes we will say to each other, "I can't believe we are having another baby!"  There is nothing quite like bringing a child into the world and having its precious life entrusted to us by God.  There is also nothing quite like hearing a baby's heartbeat in the womb or seeing it move around on an ultrasound screen, not to mention the little kicks I have been feeling!  It is already a life, he is already a person, a living soul.  His name is James Everett and we can't wait to meet him.

"For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother's womb.  I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.  My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.  Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them."
 ~Psalm 139:13-16

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Hello, Again!

     Hello, is anybody there?  It has been so long since I have posted and so much has changed, not just in the world, but in my little world.  Fear not, all is well, and I apologize if I have caused any concern by my long absence.  The fact is, Colton and I have some very exciting news...

    We are expecting a baby!!!  I am about 15 weeks along and all is going well.  We are so excited!  And honestly, quite surprised.  We prayed for a child for six years before the Lord blessed us with John.  He is our little miracle.  While we had hoped for more children, we really didn't expect any more.  We are so grateful that God has chosen to bless us in this way once again.

"He maketh the barren woman to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children.  Praise ye the LORD."
~Psalm 113:9

    I am sorry to have kept everyone in the dark all this time.  Truth be told, we shared the news with family and friends the moment we found out, but nausea kept me far away from screens!  Thankfully, that unpleasant symptom is starting to subside and things are getting back to normal.

    I do hope to keep blogging, but I can't make any promises as to how frequently that will be.  I was in a sort of survival mode during the first trimester, but now that I am feeling better, I have a lot of catching up to do around the home!  I am unsure of what this new season will bring, so please be patient with me as I find my footing.  I hope to get you up-to-date very soon on what has been going on around here the last two months!

Friday, April 03, 2020

Eliminating Food Waste

  With bare grocery store shelves around the world, it is time to pay close attention to how we manage the food supply in our homes.  In order to stretch things and make what we have last, we need to be wise and industrious like the woman in Proverbs 31.  It will take a new measure of strength for us to navigate this current situation, but I believe God has equipped us to do it. 

"She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms.  She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night...She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness."
~Proverbs 31:17-18, 27

   As things get more and more serious, I am really doing my best to avoid wasting anything in the kitchen.  This takes planning and being mindful of how I do things.  I thought I would share some examples of what I am doing in the event it might help someone else.

  Colton and I are coffee drinkers, but we generally don't have more than two cups each per day.  We have cut back to one and this is honestly plenty for us.  I make them individually using a pour over system and this ensures that no coffee is left over or wasted.  Doing it this way actually makes a gourmet cup of coffee, so it feels like a luxury instead of a sacrifice!  I use a reusable Gold Tone filter that I bought earlier in the year ($6 on Amazon) so we no longer have to buy paper filters.  The used coffee grounds will start going in the compost pile for my garden.

Pour-over Coffee Method

 Other than coffee, we generally just drink water.  We did have some juice that we purchased on sale, and Colton stretched it by diluting it with a little water.  We are not used to things being super sweet so we don't mind this.  Now that it is heating up in our part of the country, I will start making iced tea on occasion, but I will save it for when Colton is home and able to enjoy it with me.  I have spearmint growing in a pot, and this is good for adding to water and tea for flavor.

  Breakfast time has been pushed back to about 10am, and supper has been moved up to 5pm.  We started doing this when Colton wanted to try intermittent fasting (supposed to be great for health and weight loss) and it worked well for us.  This way we eat two big meals and a light snack mid afternoon, instead of three meals per day.  This also allows us to get to work in the garden before it starts getting too hot.  Colton and I have our coffee and John has his milk first thing and then we can get started with our day.  The exception to this is that I will give something to John to hold him over until breakfast if he is hungry, but generally he is just ready to go outside!

  For breakfast, eggs are obviously the top choice since we have chickens.  But the other day I realized that it is also important how I cook them.  For example, frying them takes more oil than scrambling them, so scrambling them it is.  If I use a cast iron or non-stick skillet, I do not have to use my scouring powder like I would with my stainless steel pans when I wash them.  When I fry bacon, I always save the grease to pour into a jar that I keep in the fridge.  I use just a small pat of this in the pan when I scramble my eggs.  It also makes the best biscuits you've ever tasted if you substitute it for the shortening in your recipe! 

  I have also started saving the egg shells.  After rinsing and drying them, I put them in a jar.  These can be crushed and given back to my chickens as a calcium supplement or added to the garden.  I have also seen instructions for turning them into calcium powder for human consumption so I will be looking into that.  Nothing is being thrown away!

  Bread is a great filler and can really stretch a meal, so I have been baking it in some form or another almost daily.  I made biscuits for breakfast one morning to go with our eggs, but we did not eat the whole pan like we normally do!  (Yes, we really like biscuits.)  We had a couple each for breakfast and the rest were saved to be warmed for supper.  We put jam on our biscuits but not butter like we usually do, and they were still delicious. 

  That is another thing.  As these are not plenteous times, we have to pace ourselves.  We are used to always having an abundance of food in front of us, which is a blessing, but I think this sometimes tempts us to keep eating even when we are no longer hungry!  To combat this, I have started fixing (dishing up) everyone's plates before we sit down to eat.  Another option would be to set food aside for leftovers before even putting it on the table.  I can assure you that I am giving generous portions, everyone gets a balanced meal, and no one is leaving the table hungry, so please don't think I'm withholding food from my family!  My family's health, nourishment, and well-being are of the utmost importance to me and this is just one way I am making what we have last.  

  Meal planning is probably the biggest way to eliminate waste.  Use fresh items first before they go bad, and check the dates on your canned goods to make sure you are using up the oldest food and rotating it properly.  If milk is a little past its 'use by' date, use it to make biscuits or pancakes, or freeze it to do so later.  Leftovers can be turned into other meals, or parts of other meals.  If there is not enough of something for everyone, it can still be saved and we can have a choose-your-own-leftovers night.  The homemade herb bread above was served one night with spaghetti, and the rest of the loaf was used the next day for grilled cheese sandwiches.  One side of the sandwich was spread with butter, as usual, but the other side was spread with bacon grease reserved from breakfast.  It was delicious.

  The crumbs from the cutting board were not brushed into the trash, but into a bowl I am keeping in the refrigerator for the chickens.  This is where the scraps go, although with very little waste, there are consequently very few scraps! 

  And some scraps I am keeping for us.  For example, I keep a Ziploc bag in the freezer for vegetable scraps.  Peels, trimmings, etc. go into this bag for when I make bone broth.  It adds extra nutrients and flavor.  When I thinned my carrots the other day, the chickens got a few of the tops, but most of them were washed and added to my bone broth bag.  Yes, carrot tops are edible!  They taste a lot like the carrots themselves and can be chopped and added to soups or salads.  I dehydrated a bunch last year for this purpose.

  I am keeping another bag in the freezer for making soup.  This is where that one leftover spoonful of peas goes, or the tomato sauce that I rinsed from the jar gets dumped.  When I decide to make soup, this bag will be added to the pot.

  Before I toss something, I just ask myself if there is anything I can do with it.  Potato water (the water that potatoes are boiled in), for instance, can be used in bread or cooled and poured onto plants.  If you aren't sure about something, just Google it!  I also save my butter wrappers and use those to grease pans before baking.

  I hope this gives you some ideas.  It really does take a different mindset and we have to get creative.  If you have any more tips, please share them in the comments!  We are all trying to get through this strange and difficult time.  


Friday, March 20, 2020

Stewarding Our Resources and Making Things Last

  Colton is home again!  We are all so glad he's back and in good health.  Thank you to everyone who prayed for his safe and speedy return.

  In my last post I wrote that God will always provide for His children, and we need to trust in Him during this crazy time.  Because of Him, we can have peace instead of the fear and hysteria that the world seems to have succumbed to.  Remember, we can't live by bread alone.

  With that said, we still have work to do as keepers at home.

"She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness."
Proverbs 31:27

  My friend, Patsi, from A Working Pantry said something in one of her comments the other day that really stuck with me.  She said that sometimes answered prayers come in the form of hard work on our part.  I think that is so true.  We have to be willing to put in some work.  God saved Noah and his family from the flood, but Noah still had to build the ark!

Busy Bees

  I would say these times call for an increased sense of diligence as we steward our resources to care for our homes and loved ones.  I personally believe that there will be lean times ahead for many, and what we have been seeing is just the beginning.  Because of this, I am already more mindful of what we use and how I do things.  We have a good supply right now, but my goal is to stretch it and make it last until this is all over, and we don't know when that will be.  Hopefully soon.

  One thing Colton and I are both doing right now is working hard in the garden every morning and evening.  It's no longer just a hobby that supplements our grocery shopping, it's what will feed us and others if the shelves remain empty.  I'm carefully choosing what to plant based on what we eat and what will be easiest to preserve.  For example, I only have half a row of lettuce planted for fresh salads, but I have 16 tomato plants, as well as several peppers and fresh herbs, because these can be canned and turned into various tomato based meals.  Green beans will also be planted in the coming days for canning and freezing.  We have a row of yellow squash and a row of zucchini, which will be very versatile and used to bulk up meals.  I'm planning on doing a staggered planting of okra (planting one row and then waiting a few weeks to plant another row, etc.), as this can tolerate the Texas heat that we have already started experiencing.  Okra and squash can both be frozen.  I'm also planting things a little closer together to optimize space.

  Along the same lines, I am checking on my chickens throughout the day, making sure they are safe and have plenty of water.  We let them free range in the afternoons, so I need to make sure dogs and other predators stay away.  There is also no slacking when it comes to gathering their eggs and putting them into cartons right away for the refrigerator.  I stocked up on their feed on Tuesday, along with extra dog and cat food, and I'm glad I didn't wait any longer.  This was the section of chick starter at Tractor Supply!

  I hunted around and found a few bags off to the side and snatched up two of them.  

  In the kitchen, I have been extra mindful about eliminating waste.  I have started measuring out my dish detergent when I wash dishes.  One half teaspoon in the dish pan gets the job done just as well as my usual liberal squirts.  For the dishwasher, I am making sure I have a full load before I run it.  I store most things in glass, but when I do use a plastic Ziploc bag for something, it gets washed and reused unless it held raw meat.  Larger trash items get crushed before going into the trash can, or they are set outside to be taken to our dump (we burn our trash here on the ranch), and food packaging is rinsed before being thrown away to eliminate smells.  This is so I can really fill up a trash bag before it gets tossed.  On that note, when I sweep the floor, dirt gets thrown outside, not into the trash can.  As far as eliminating food waste, there is so much that can be done in that area that I am saving that topic for my next post.

  In the laundry room, the same concepts apply.  I carefully measure out how much detergent I am using, and filling the measuring cup to the first line has never failed to get a normal load of laundry clean.  I use a little more for really dirty things.  I am also making sure I have a full load before I run the washer.   I do not use dryer sheets, but if you do, I would suggest cutting them in half or seeing if you can use them more than once.  Or if you are able to find them, invest in wool dryer balls.  Also, clothes can be worn more than once if they are not that dirty!  The clothes I wear after a shower in the evening go right back on the hanger because I only wear them for a few hours and they don't get dirty.  In addition to reducing the amount of laundry, it also extends the life of my clothes.  I've also started wearing an apron while I work for added protection.  The same goes for bathroom towels in that they go right back up on the peg to dry and be used again.  Since all we do is dry our clean selves off after a shower, they are not dirty.

  In the bathroom, one of the ways I am able to stretch my shampoo usage is by just using enough to clean my scalp and hair at the roots.  The rest of my hair gets cleaned as I rinse it.  For brushing my teeth, I use a homemade tooth powder, but if you use conventional toothpaste, just pay attention to how much you are using each time.  If you run out, you can use baking soda, or alternate using baking soda with your toothpaste now to make it last longer.  Baking soda or arrowroot powder can also be used as a natural deodorant in a pinch.  Now, I am hesitant to mention this next thing, but as toilet paper seems to be such a hot commodity and also very hard to find, I think it is worth sharing.  After John was born, my midwife and doctor both handed me a squirt bottle and gave me strict instructions not to use toilet paper while I was healing.  At first I thought, you've got to be kidding me!  But I did what they said and after doing so realized something very obvious: water gets you cleaner than paper.  So I have brought out my squirt bottle for rinsing and have made up a stack of flannel wipes for drying.  The toilet paper we have is saved for, well, the dirty jobs.  I am really sorry if that is more than you wanted to know, but these are strange times!  

  For cleaning, I really haven't changed anything yet, as a little goes a long way with the homemade products I use.  If you are used to using commercial products and can't find them in the stores or are running low, try to look for some natural alternatives.  I typically use baking soda, vinegar, citric acid, and essential oils for cleaning, and nothing beats good old fashioned soap and water.  I have some reusable cleaning cloths that I made a while back and I need to dig them out again, as I've been using disposables for convenience lately. 

  Some of the things I have mentioned I already do or should have been doing anyway.  Others are due to special circumstances and will look a bit extreme to most people.  Each person will have to choose what is best for their family, but I hope these examples will at least give some ideas.  We need to get creative when we can't get to the store or when what we normally use is unavailable.  If you have any ideas for stretching things or making things last, please share in the comments!  Every little thing is important and may be very helpful during this time of scarcity.

"He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much..."
~Luke 16:10a


Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Calm in the Midst of a Storm

  These are certainly troublesome times.  Grocery store shelves are empty, people are fighting over toilet paper, public events have been cancelled, schools have been shut down, businesses are starting to close, and I have heard of people in our area already starting to lose their jobs.  It really is almost surreal.  On top of all of this craze, Colton is in quarantine at work and has been since Sunday because he came in contact with a patient (Colton is a firefighter/paramedic) who may have Covid-19.  And this is just the beginning.

  Yet, in all of this chaos, I have a certain calmness.  As I continue on with my daily work, I can't help but stop and give thanks to God for the life He has led me and Colton to live.  I know it's not for everyone, but it is certainly for us, and never have I been so thankful for our garden, our chickens, and the old-fashioned skills that we have learned.  I am counting my blessings.

An abundance of eggs from my chickens

   For one, I'm grateful that God put it on our hearts to focus on our outdoor projects first.

"Prepare thy work without, and make it fit for thyself in the field; and afterwards build thine house."
~Proverbs 24:27

  Because of this, we have a more sustainable food source and don't have to rely so heavily on the grocery store.

Salad fixin's from last year's garden

   I'm grateful that Colton convinced me that we need a huge garden.  It has always been a dream/goal of mine to grow most of our food, but I also know it takes a lot of work and I doubted that I would realistically be able to diligently care for a huge plot, let alone preserve all of its bounty. Now I am seeing how blessed we are to have such a large space.  I'm also grateful that Colton got the water and gas lines put in before all of this happened, as it has allowed me to plant and carry on with my work with him gone.

Snow peas in our current garden

  I'm grateful that we have one million chickens and that my hoarding problem is coming in handy.  (Ok, I counted the other day and we actually only have 40, not including the chicks.)  That's a lot of eggs each day for ourselves and others who need them, including our pets if it comes to that, not to mention an egg-cellent (sorry, I had to) source of protein.  And I'm so thankful that no one wanted to buy my chickens when I tried selling some of them because I thought we had too many!

Happy, healthy, free range chickens

  I'm grateful that Colton is able to hunt and that he took the opportunity this winter to stock our freezer.  He is such a good husband, father, and provider.   I'm glad I got over my fear of pressure canning venison, and I'm glad that after we tasted the first jar, Colton decided to harvest two more deer the next morning so that I could can the meat and add it to the pantry.  Yes, it was that delicious.

Canned venison

   I'm grateful that we live on the ranch with Colton's family, as trying as it may be sometimes living in such close proximity to one's in-laws.  (Really, I love them and couldn't ask for better in-laws.  I know if I ever needed anything, they would be right here in an instant to help.)  We looked for a house in town when I was pregnant with John and a few times since so that we could have our own place, but each time God closed all the doors.  Now we know of a certainty that this where God has us, and I see more and more why that is.

  I'm grateful that living on one income has made me no stranger to frugality and resourcefulness.  "Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without" is a saying that has served us well.  I know how to pinch pennies, stretch a meal, and find alternatives to things we need and want.  In times of scarcity, that knowledge is worth its weight in gold.

A frugal 'thank-you' basket of homemade bread, jelly, and zinnia seeds saved from my garden

   Yes, my heart is overflowing with gratitude for this life God has blessed us with.  But I will tell you, the peace I have does not lie in these things.  They could all be gone in an instant.  My peace rests in God Himself, and my point is that I can see His sovereign Hand at work in our lives.  That is what gives me an overwhelming sense of safety, security, and calmness in the midst of this storm.  All of the hard times we have experienced, all of the heartache, all of our failed plans- they were for our good.  God has been teaching us, refining us, preparing us.  It has been hard for me to see at times, but it is all coming together. 

"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." ~Romans 8:28

  I know the country life is not for everyone, and that is ok.  It is what God has placed on our hearts, but even if He had chosen a different lifestyle for us, the fact remains that He will always provide for our needs.  The truth is, no one is "self-sufficient".  It is God who sustains us.  This doesn't alleviate our responsibility to exercise wisdom or work hard for what we have, but ultimately, God is in control and He will always, always take care of His children, no matter what is going on in the world.  He is still able to take a few loaves and fishes and feed thousands.  Please, put your trust in Him, not a package of toilet paper (or a multitude of chickens, for that matter).

  "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.  
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever." 
~Psalm 23