Inspired to Simplify

sods

This past weekend, my family spent 3 days camping in the mountains of WV. Canaan Valley, Blackwater Falls, Dolly Sods. I have a few stories to share later on, but there is something about a few days spent unplugged, in nature, that makes me think a bit. It’s like all the cobwebs and noise and stress that clutter my mind all melt off. And I can see a little more clearly.

For us, camping is in itself an exercise of freedom and simplicity. We tent camp. We cook over the fire or a little propane stove. We pack 5 plates, 5 metal cups, 1 pan and one pot. Dishes are washed up quickly in a tub of water warmed over the stove while we eat, ready to use for the next meal. Coffee (the best coffee I’ve had in a while) is brewed in a French Press–no coffee pot beeping at us. And we brew tea in the sun while we hike.

There are few clothes and fewer shoes. A couple of games and books during down time. We talk. We play boccie ball. We go for walks.

I find myself resisting the return to reality.

Not that my reality is in any way bad. But it is hurried sometimes. It is full of stuff. Stuff I have to organize and clean and maintain. And clean some more. Stuff that costs money to buy and eventually replace. We may not notice it, but all our stuff easily becomes a thief that robs our time and energy and resources.

I think about that little campsite and the few things we brought. I didn’t miss anything. And then I think about this spacious house and garage that’s full of STUFF. How half the time, I can find the stuff I’m looking for. And I know something’s gotta give–or better still, GO.

Oh, the all-or-nothing side of me would like to mercilessly tear through the house and eliminate great piles of it. But I’ve got kids. And the kids come with lots of things, it seems. They’re busy with it all the time. And I’m not going to be the great purging ogre. I have encouraged them, little by little to go through their things and see what they love, what they need and what can go. It’s a process.

But then there’s me. I took a look at my closet. Too many items that barely (if ever) see the light of day. So a couple of large bags are headed for donation. I’ve got 3 or 4 skillets that do basically the same thing. Saving the beloved cast iron, sending the rest out the door. And I think it’s time to let go of some jewelry, some dishes, some knickknacks and decorations (not that I have too many of those to begin with).

And on the flip side, the getting side of things, it’s time to begin asking, “Does this add to our lives? Is it a need? Or is it just a trifle that eats up our money and then takes up space?” We already do some serious thinking about the bigger purchases, but it seems that those little pieces of clutter and junk converge on the house in the most stealthy way. And I’m ready to put a stop to it.

I want to get creative when we have a need instead of spending and consuming. I want to enjoy open spaces and simple surroundings. I’m ready to live with significantly less so I can live a little more. 

So share with me…

What do you do to simplify your life?

Advertisements

DIY Nourishing Body Butter

body butter

This post contains affiliate links. But these are pretty much the products I used for this project, or at least a close second. 🙂

It seems like I have wanted to do this FOREVER. Every time I purchased a bottle of lotion for us I never really did feel good about what we were slathering all over our skin. I was never comfortable with what was making it’s way into the bloodstream of my youngest who sometimes struggles with her immune system.

Well, I finally jumped in. And I have to say, making your own body butter/lotion is ridiculously easy. Kind of shameful that I waited so long!

My list of ingredients might look on the long-ish side. But don’t worry. All you really need is shea butter and coconut oil. Everything else I added in is just extras to make this lotion a little more healing for my daughter’s eczema. But the first two on the list will still give you a wonderful, nourishing moisturizer. And although the initial cost of getting all this stuff may seem overwhelming, remember that you’ll be able to make more than one batch from your purchase.

Whipped Body Butter

  • 8 oz. shea butter
  • 4 oz. extra virgin coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup almond oil
  • 1/4 cup herbal infused olive oil (I had some Calendula from the herb garden–but if you don’t have any herbal oil, just use all almond oil. Jojoba or avocado oil would be great for really dry skin too.)
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp pure Vitamin E oil (I added this for it’s preserving effect as well as it’s ability to help heal the skin–but it’s optional)
  • 20 drops tea tree oil
  • 15 drops lavender oil
  • 10 drops cedarwood
  • 10 drops geranium

lotion ingredients

A note about the essential oils. They are also optional. But if’ you’re looking to add a little extra healing boost for itchy, rashy or sensitive skin, you might want to consider investing in some. In my experience, tea tree oil is one of the best for itchy skin. It’s also anti-bacterial. The lavender helps to calm irritated skin. The cedarwood and geranium are newer to me, but I thought I’d give them a try, since they are reported to help promote healthy skin as well.

1. Measure out and melt the shea butter and coconut oil until they are completely melted in a double boiler over low heat. (Don’t skip this. You’ll get a grainy textured lotion.) I just put the butters in the mixing bowl for my Kitchen Aid and set the mixing bowl over a small pot of simmering water.

2. After the oils are completely melted, add in the remaining ingredients. Stir gently just to combine.

3. Set the bowl of melted oils outside in the cold, or in your refrigerator for a couple hours, until they are almost completely solid. You don’t want them rock hard. Think room temperature butter.

melted butters

This is what mine looked like after it cooled and hardened a bit.

4. Using a hand held mixer or a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip the oils on medium speed for a minute.

5. Scrape down the sides and bottom (especially important if you’re using a stand mixer) and crank the speed up to high. You’ll probably need to stop the mixer every now and then and scrape down the sides again. Whip it for a few minutes, getting lots of air into the mixture, until it begins to become light, fluffy and shiny. It will sort of look like meringue.

whipped butter

6. After you feel like it is all well mixed and whipped, it’s ready to scoop into jars or containers for storage.

This recipe made 2 pint jars for me. If you feel like you may not use it up in a month or two, just cut the measurements in half.

We love this stuff! My daughter keeps telling me over and over how good it feels. Her skins is much softer and holds it’s moisture a lot longer. And the essential oils give it a light, herby fragrance.

Enjoy!

 

This post is part of Wildcrafting Wednesday.


Working on the Grocery Budget (or how I’m going to “find” a few hundred bucks)

A couple weeks ago, I shared my plans for saving for this year’s bulk food purchases. Buying in bulk saves me a lot in the long run, but if I don’t have that set aside, it spells trouble for the monthly cash flow.

Since then, however, I’ve felt even more challenged to take another look at our family’s spending on food. I’ve got two factors working here. First, my daughter has food allergies. So I have to make extra purchases for her that are generally more expensive than the alternative. (Peanuts are deadly to her, but a jar of almond butter costs at least 3 times as much as peanut butter!) We buy a good amount of gluten free grains and flours for her. And dairy is out, so I’m having to buy coconut milk as well.

Second, I’m striving to buy real food, clean meats and support local farmers and businesses when I can. I don’t buy all our food organic. We just don’t have the funds for that right now. But I have consciously made the decision to spend a little more on foods I believe are worth it. (Especially in the protein department.)

So is there room to cut our budget with these types of constraints? I think so.

Really, I believe I have used these factors to justify a little extra spending last year. After all, if we have to buy allergy free foods, then the budget goes up, right? Well, yes–sometimes. But it doesn’t always have to. And what I need to do is re-evaluate things, to make sure we’re doing the best we can with what we’ve got.

Motivation for bringing the budget down

image credit

I started thinking about this more as we crossed into 2014 and my husband and I were talking about the things we might have to spend money on this year beyond the regular monthly expenses. Somehow, we’ve let both vehicles get to the point where they need new tires at the same time. Really? Yeah, great planning there.

We also have some things that have to be done around the house/property (I’m not talking planting pretty flowers or new curtains–but some major stuff.) And we need to start saving for that.

And then there’s the long dreamed of pop up camper, a vehicle to pay off, and other goals that are in the distance, but would benefit from a little extra cash flow.

I’m sure you, too, have some places that could use the additional funds.

How to find a few hundred dollars this year

There’s a few ways we can do this (and this will end up being a topic covered over a few posts), but here’s an example.

grocery-shopping-cart-600x450image credit

Stop buying something. We recently started making our own sourdough bread. We’re giving it a try here and there with my allergic one (The process of sourdoughing helps break down the gluten a bit. Many who have trouble with wheat do better with sourdough. This has been Ella’s case in the past and since her wheat allergy is mild, we’ve reintroduced this here and there.)

I used to buy her gluten free bread once a week for $5 a loaf. And if I bought other bread for us, that would be about $3 a loaf. So we’ll say I was spending about $8 a week on bread. I can make a loaf of sourdough bread for about $.50 a loaf if I use the store brand flour and still less than a dollar if I buy the more expensive flour. I bake about 3 loaves a week. Even if I’m using the best flour, I’m still saving $5 a week. That’s $260 a year! For something that literally takes 5 minutes of my time.

Once I realized this, I began thinking of other things I could quit buying. Maybe we didn’t really need it at all, or maybe I could make it myself. So far I’ve come up with crackers, some of my teas (I have a little bit of an herbal tea obsession :)), and I’m looking into making our mayo and that pesky almond butter. Hopefully, I’ll think of some more.

Maybe for you it could be switching to reusable towels and cloth napkins instead of paper. (We’ve been doing that for years and don’t miss them.) Maybe there are some unhealthy choices that you could just drop altogether and really not miss after a while.

Other money saving strategies I’m planning

  • The price book. I had one of these a while ago, but it’s time for a redo. I’ll probably share about it next.
  • More meatless meals
  • More simple suppers. Simple food usually costs a bit less (and saves the cook as well!).
  • Cut back on treats while out. We don’t do this often. But I’ll probably go to Starbucks a couple times a month, or get something in the checkout for the kids here and there. Not a major part of our spending, but it wouldn’t hurt to trim it a bit.
  • Shop with cash. I’ve already been doing this a bit more. If I take out what’s in the budget for groceries (and make myself leave my plastic at home) I’m much more disciplined about what I buy. And I’m finding that when I chose not to make a purchase, I usually really don’t miss it.

I know there are tons of other ideas and I’d love for you to share! It can be difficult balancing the funds we’ve been blessed with and the best possible nourishment for our families. I don’t buy all healthy, all perfect all the time. No one can. But we all have room to grow (or, rather, shrink) when it comes to the food budget–and STILL keep real food on the table.

What are your strategies for keeping the food budget in check?


Saving For The Year’s Bulk Food Purchases

The beginning of a new year is the time when everyone looks at the finances, the anticipated expenses of the coming year. We all hope to plan well and sock away money for those larger purchases.

For the family trying to get the most out of seasonal, local food purchases, buying in bulk is often the way to go. After all, if I want to enjoy blueberries all year, and avoid that $4 package of berries in February, then I’d better get them while they’re $.99 in July. If I want plenty of chicken from a local farm, then I’ve got to buy them up while the farmer is doing the butchering.

But buying in bulk requires a little forethought and planning. Otherwise, those 4 gallons of honey I hope to get next summer are going to put a major strain on the monthly cash flow. (And yes, I do really want 4 gallons of honey. It should last me a year…maybe.)

bulk list

So this week, I sat down and made a list (a wishlist of sorts) of everything I’d like to get in season, in bulk this year. I also included in there any anticipated expenses for the garden. My numbers are just estimates and could honestly be way off. But it’s a place to start.

Here’s the wishlist:

  • 4 gallons honey (at about $32/gallon)
  • 2 gallons grade B maple syrup ($50/gallon)

maple syrup

  • 1/2 a locally raised beef (I really have no idea. Shooting for around $300-400)
  • Whole chickens from local farm (Usually around $15 a bird and I’d like to get 20+ this year. But that also depends on whether we purchase an extra freezer.)

IMG_2498

  • In season fruit (Berries, apples, peaches, pears–I’d like to can more of them this year and set aside $100+ for that. Last year’s apples were free and I got the berries at $.99/lb, but I don’t know if I’ll be so fortunate this year.)

squash

  • Garden set up. This year I’d like to till in a good amount of compost in late winter/early spring. We’re also going to set up our own little grow station for seedlings and I’ll need to buy some lights for that. Then there’s the few extra canning supplies, like lids, that we’ll pick up. Oh, yeah, and mulch. I’m thinking $200-300 will be a good start. (If that sounds crazy for a garden, consider that other than seeds and a very small amount of seedlings we might buy, this garden will, Lord willing, provide us with an entire season of produce and a couple hundred jars of preserved food to eat on throughout the year.)
  • Bulk grains and legumes.  I already buy my rice in bulk. I’m hoping to switch our family back over to sourdoughed spelt this year, which we have done in the past and seemed to work well for even my allergic little one. I’ll buy that in 50 lb. sacks and grind it as we need it. We might also look into a few other bulk purchases like millet (one of my favorite gf grains) and beans. Over the course of the year, I’d like to set aside $400 for that.

The Bottom Line

All of that brings me to around $1800. Which about made me choke. And perhaps it is a little excessive. But if I look at our total food expenses for an entire year, it’s not all that bad. Buying in bulk allows me to save a ton when I break down the per pound price. Plus, I can spend less on weekly trips (especially during the winter months, when there’s not much to stock up on) when we are well supplied on the essentials.

If I break it down by weeks, it works out to about $30/week. Of course, I’ll have to put aside a little more than that every week, if possible, since some of these purchases will be made about mid-year.

I’m not expecting it to go perfectly. But if I fail to plan at all, then we won’t be able to do much at all. Anything we can set aside will help out in the long run.

What about you?

Does your family buy food in bulk? How do you make that work for your budget?


The Great Post Christmas Clean Out

christmas clean out

It seems that every year, it has become a tradition for us to do a little purging around the holidays. I like to encourage my kids to go through their belongings every now and then and see if there is anything we can give away or put into a yard sale. And especially at Christmas time, my advice is for every new thing you get, see if you can find one item to part with.

Cause we don’t NEED tons of stuff piling up around here. There’s only so many square feet to go around. I like to keep things as simple as possible, and I firmly believe that the more belongings a child has, the harder it is for them to care for their stuff and space.

So we set to work after the holidays giving my youngest’s room and closet a bit of a makeover. Brace yourself. This is ugly.

before cleaning

Please let me clarify that this wasn’t what her room looked like in the beginning of the process. This is about mid way. We went through shoes and toys and shelves. We moved things around and started a box to donate. Being that she’s the youngest, she has inherited lots of her sister’s things and since she’s on the little side, we are also often blessed with clothing/shoes her friend has outgrown.

I went to the store and selected a few items to make organizing easier. Shoe organizer, little drawers for hair things. It wasn’t much, but it made a big difference.

shoe rack

hair drawers

I picked up a few Command Hooks at the store and a mesh laundry sack so we could get her hamper up off the floor and free up a little more space. (For the growing baby doll collection)

The back of the door works great right now.

laundry

Little by little, I’ve been adding to the donation box from other places in the house. There are a couple other closets in the house that could use some help, too. Perfect family activity for a cold winter afternoon!

How do you organize all those new Christmas toys?


Eating From the Pantry This Month

pantry eating

As much as I love all the fun, indulgent food of the holidays, I am ready for a return to simpler eating.

And so is my wallet.

So in an effort to save some cash, limit shopping trips (who likes grocery shopping in freezing temps?) and use up what we have, we’re going to do our best to eat from the pantry (and freezer) this month.

I already feel rather well stocked. In November, we purchased a quarter of a small-ish cow. My husband was able to get 3 deer this year during hunting season. None were gigantic, but I feel really good (and grateful) about the amount of clean meat we have in the freezer.

We still have loads of home canned green beans, some butternut squashes and frozen berries from the summer’s garden and preserving.

The Plan

To make this really work, we need a plan. I’ve already made a long list of dinners I can put together from what we have on hand. I may need to add an item here or there from the store, but the majority of it is already here.

Here’s a sample…

In the meat department I can do

  • Steak Fingers, slaw, fries
  • Baked Cubed Steak with gravy, potatoes, veg
  • Hoagies, salad
  • Burgers
  • Beef Stew and Mexican Stew (super yummy–I’ll share the recipe next time I make it)
  • Spanish rice with ground beef
  • Nachos (we really like Mexican food :))
  • Steak and Peppers over rice with a teriyaki sauce
  • Roasted Chicken with broccoli rice casserole
  • Chicken Fried Rice
  • Chicken Pot Pie
  • Chicken and Rice soup
  • Salmon Patties

We’ll also sprinkle in a few meatless or meat-light dishes like this lentil dish, potato soup, quiche, soup beans and ham, homemade pizza, and crockpot baked beans served with cornbread. And I’ll fill in everything with more veggies.

I printed a weekly menu planner from this site and I’m just selecting from my big list to fill in a weeks worth of dinners.

Breakfast is usually a rotation of muffins, eggs, yogurt…simple things like that. And for lunches, we’ll eat up any leftovers, simple sandwiches or soups that I can make early in the week and eat for a few days.

What about produce, or dairy, or eggs?

Yes, I’ll still have to pop in at the store for these things. I’d like to limit myself to a quick trip to our Aldi store while my girls are at dance. And my goal is to try to stay around only $50 to $75 per week, which is a whole lot less than our family of 5 usually spends on food in a week. (I think I could even come in less than that the first two weeks or so of the month.)

I think the key to this will be getting creative and not feeling like I have to run out and replace something as soon as it’s gone. Yes, we may run out of tomato sauce or potatoes or something. But if I just look around, there’s plenty of other ingredients around to make a meal out of…if I just get a little creative.

If this whole idea resonates with you, let me know in the comments and share how you plan to tighten the grocery belt and get creative this month.

Are you up for a pantry challenge this month?


Thanksgiving Decorations That Inspire–Monthly Post at Modern Alternative Mama

Who decorates for Thanksgiving anymore? Doesn’t the entire nation jump straight from Halloween to Christmas? Well, not everyone. Not this family.

Today I’m sharing our simple, kid friendly Thanksgiving projects and decorations to inspire some gratitude in your household. Come visit me over at Modern Alternative Mama!

thanksdecor.jpg