Wednesday, January 30

The Calming Art Effect

 Every once in a while, we have one of those crazy, harried mornings. You know the ones where your youngest decides 4am is the perfect rising time for the day, and once the other children get up, no one knows where anything is, or what they deem tolerable to eat for breakfast. Goodness, throw shoes, jackets, hats, gloves and snow pants into the mix and it's a full-blown morning nightmare.
These are the mornings that I decide the gym can wait. The to-do list can wait. In fact, any plans at accomplishing anything other than drinking a hot cup of coffee in peace can wait.
When we get home from dropping my oldest off at school, I set up the table easel and let my daughter go to town with a stack of paper in any way she chooses.
These mornings, more often than not, turn into the greatest days.
I truly believe allowing some creative outlet during high-stress moments offer the best calming effect around.
While my older daughter creates, my youngest either snacks and watches, or joins in the fun with her crayon rocks. 
And this child waits for food to drop... eh hem...
The entire time, the children are engaged in creativity. I get to sit and enjoy a HOT cup of coffee - a commodity around here. But the greatest part, is that while creating, they open up and talk to me. Some of our best conversations have occurred before the sun rises, painting and drawing at the kitchen table on mornings like this.

Monday, January 28

Natural Clay Toothpaste

A few months ago, Chris and I had just finished a date night dinner and on the way home decided to stop at our local health food store. I'm not sure what it is about being sans kids in a store together, but it makes my husband goofy. Kind of a "Who are you and what did you do with my husband" - goofy. That night was no different. We were over by the natural beauty products and he started untwisting lotions and creams and jars to sniff them - which I guess is normal if you don't add weird snorting noises while you're doing it. I was too busy laughing at him to pay attention to what he was doing and before we knew it, a cloud of green powder jumped out at us and decorated the floor, the shelves, our shoes...
Long story short, after a lot of cleaning and apologizing on our part, we left the store with a not quite full container of Indian Healing Clay.
It has sat on my shelf ever since.
I'm not a big facial mask type of person, which is what the directions say to use it for, so that clay was never reopened.
Until yesterday. I ran out of toothpaste and I am bound and determined to not spend money on things I can make at home. Toothpaste is no exception.
Over Christmas, my mom gifted me the ebook DIY Organic Beauty - thanks mom! I remembered seeing a lot recipes that called for bentonite clay. I checked out my "Indian Healing Clay" and sure enough, that's what it was.
There are tons of homemade natural toothpaste recipes out there (like this and this), but I wanted to try this one first because I have the clay and want to use it up.
I won't lie, the idea of brushing my teeth with clay is still a little unsettling.
  After doing quite a bit of research on the subject, I've decided to always make my own toothpaste. It's just a matter of finding the right one for us. I did read online that the clay toothpaste has helped people with sensitive teeth.
Chris has very sensitive teeth. So that was what I focused on when I showed him this lovely jar of green clay that I expect him to put in his mouth.
Then, to highlight just how non-gross it would be, I picked up my toothbrush, scooped a little bit up with an espresso spoon and spread it on the bristles.
I turned on the water, started brushing and you know what? It wasn't gross at all.
It was different, for one it doesn't foam, but toothpaste doesn't need to foam. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, an ingredient in toothpaste, is used for the sole purpose of letting you know what you're doing is actually "working" by lathering. It's a marketing ploy (honest! - you can even read about it in this book that is all about marketing and NOT about toothpaste). Did you know that sodium lauryl sulfate - you know that stuff you put in your mouth twice a day - is used to degrease engines?
The taste of the clay toothpaste really was just like minty baking soda.
Afterword, my teeth were clean and my breath was fresh. Overall, I'm really happy with this will likely continue to use it.
I'm fairly certain, because of the texture, I will have to find another solution for my children.
What are your thoughts on homemade toothpaste?
Do you have a favorite toothpaste recipe?
I would love to hear what you have to say!
Have a great day!
~ Lisa
** This post is part of a natural livng link party over at Frugal by Choice **

Friday, January 25

Cardamom Pear Waffles - Recipe

I'm always trying to find new ways to sneak healthy food and spices into my children's diet. I always let them know what they've eaten after they decide if they like it or not. I've found that works better than announcing it ahead of time. When I do that, I'm usually greeted with crinkled noses and loud "Eeeeew!'s"
If they do end up liking the food, I make sure to tell them exactly all the good stuff that was in it - so in the future, they will remember those things (hopefully) and associate them with pleasant tastes and thoughts of good food.
Cardamom has a slew of health benefits. It's a cancer fighter, lowers blood pressure, and can prevent blood clots just to name a few. It also has a strong ginger-like flavor that doesn't always sit well with the younger crowd.
I put together this recipe for cardamom pear waffles. So far I am happy to report it has been a hit with my kids - they loved it!
Cardamom Pear Waffles
What you need:
1 C Unbleached flour
1/2 C Whole Wheat flour
1/4 C Golden ground flax meal
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp Cardamom seed powder
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar or honey
1 1/4 C Milk
1 egg - slightly beaten
3 tbsp melted butter
1 peeled and grated bosc pear
1 bosc pear - thinly sliced as garnish (optional)
1) In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, flax meal, baking powder, cardamom, salt and sugar (if using honey, add that later with the wet ingredients).
2) Create a well in the middle of the flour mixture and add milk, egg, and melted butter (add honey now if using). Mix well.
3) Fold the grated pear into the mixture.
4) Follow the instructions for your waffle press. You could also turn this batter into pancakes by adding an extra 1/4 cup of milk to the batter.
5) Garnish with sliced pears and whipped vanilla coconut. Drizzle a bit of maple syrup or honey on top if desired.

Can you tell my 4 year old loved this?
Have a great weekend everyone!
- Lisa :)
** This post is part of a natural livng link party over at Frugal by Choice **

Thursday, January 24

DIY Lotion Disc's - The Best Dry Skin Solution

It seems like every year, my skin gets angrier and angrier during the dry winter months. This year is no exception. I do however, have a solution this time around.
Lotion Disc's!
My goodness, where do I even begin! They are really THAT great.
I have tried just about everything to keep my skin moisturized during the winter, and nothing ever works very well. As I get older, and I'm not that old - really, it's getting worse. Not to mention I've been running regularly for over 10 years now and that seems to compound the dryness on my feet. I've gone as far as slathering thick expensive face cream on my feet at night, and covering them with socks so I don't ruin the sheets. That works for about half a day.
These little disc's however, took care of all my dry skin issues in less than a few days!
I came across this solution to dry skin completely on accident. As a lot of you know, I'm on a Spending Fast for the entire year. Of course when I went on my little frantic spending spree to pick up "important" stuff, I didn't grab lotion. I just assumed I would make my own since I had everything I needed to make it already in my cabinets.
I did make my own lotion, but I'm just not thrilled with it. It hardens up and is kind of messy.
The lotion disc's are the perfect answer to that problem too. They don't make a mess, they are a lot easier to make than actual lotion, and they keep my skin softer than any water based lotion ever has.
There are a ton of recipes for these online, but I'm really happy with mine so I want to share. So far I have made two different kinds - one for me and one for little Stella's eczema.
The directions below will make one of Stella's lotion disc's. The recipe for the one I use will be at the bottom of this post.
What you need:
Stella's Lotion Disc - yields 1 disc
1 Tbsp Organic Beeswax
1 Tbsp Organic Shea Butter
1 Tbsp Organic Olive Oil
3 Vitamin E soft gels
Muffin Tin
Cupcake liner

1). Put all of the ingredients except the vitamin e into a double boiler or a glass Pyrex measuring cup. I don't own a double boiler, so I melt mine in a glass cup in the microwave. Yes, I know, microwaves are baaaaad - I think we will be ok ;)
2) Melt the beeswax, shea butter and olive oil in your double boiler. If you plan on using your microwave, heat it slowly. The idea is to warm it up just enough to melt, you don't want it getting too hot. I warm mine in 35 second increments 3 times and in between each increment, I give it a quick stir with a toothpick. Your times may be a little different though, so play with it if you have to.
3) Once everything is melted, take a toothpick and puncture each soft gel and squeeze the vitamin e oil into your melted oils. Give it a few good stirs with a toothpick again.
4). Place your cupcake liner in the muffin tin and then pour your melted oil mixture into the liner. Allow it to cool until it's solid. Reomve the wrapper and it's ready to use.
Lisa's Lotion Disc - yields 1 disc

1 Tbsp Organic Beeswax
1 Tbsp Organic Coconut Oil
1 Tbsp Organic Sweet Almond Oil
3 Vitamin E soft gels
Muffin Tin
Cupcake liner
Follow the directions for Stella's lotion disc.
That's it! So easy and so effective. I absolutely love these! Try them and let me know what you think. The disc in the picture above has lasted about three weeks so far. Overall, I think this is not only more effective than water based lotion, but also a lot cheaper. To use them, just simply rub the bar along your skin, focusing on the dryer areas. The shea butter bar takes a few more minutes to absorb into your skin than the coconut oil bar does, but both work really well.

Monday, January 21

DIY Classroom Valentine's

I try to take care of classroom Valentine's before February even rolls around. It just makes my life easier. My oldest child's birthday happens to be the day before, and things can get really hectic, really fast. I seem to have a habit of forgetting some of the day to day stuff when we get to that week too. So, for everyone's sanity, we plan ahead.
Right now, my son's current obsession favorite toy are these tiny little guys called Crazy Cubes. Naturally, when I asked him what type of Valentine he would like to hand out this year, he told me "A Crazy Cube one! That would be so awesome!"
Of course it would, except they don't make them.
When I told him that, he looked at me and said "well, couldn't we just make them ourselves?"
Of course we can!
The Valentine's were actually really easy to do, and you don't need special software to do it. I just scanned a drawing on to my computer and did the rest of the editing and type layout in Picasa and then placed them in Word to fit 6 to an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper.
Yes, fellow designers and image folks, I know that's not the best way to do it - but this way works just fine and anyone can do it.
First things first, you will want to decide on your theme. My Valentine included hand drawings, but if that's not an option for you, no worries, use a photo of your child (check out Pinterest for some really great creative ideas). If you are drawing, scan your finished image on to your computer. I re-sized my scanned image to 5x7.
Bring your image into Picasa and start editing. I like to edit in their Creative Kit option, if gives you more freedom. That's where I found the hand drawn hearts, and placed the cool font. This is also where I touched up any stray pencil marks.
Once you have your image finished, save it. Open word, change the page layout to landscape and insert your finished image. Adjust the size to your liking, copy and then paste as many as you can fit on a page.
Print them out, cut them up and you're done!
Happy Monday!
-Lisa :)
** This post is linked to Homemade Monday's link party, hosted by "Frugal by Choice, Cheap by Necessity AND New Nostalgia Anti-Procrastination Tuesday**

Thursday, January 17

Tuscan Orange Muffins - Whole grain

I love these muffins, but only make them when I have too many oranges. That doesn't happen a lot in this house. I try to savor these as much as I can because just like our oranges, they are usually gone in a day.
You can view the original recipe here. I have adapted it to meet our family's needs and feel it's different enough to share here. Our version is below.
1 1/4 C Unbleached Flour
1/2 C Whole wheat flour
1/2 C Organic Evaporated Cane Juice (or sugar)
2 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
3/4 - 1 C ricotta (I try to use up what's left)
1/2 C water
1/4 C Coconut oil - melted
zest from one orange
juice from one orange
1 egg slightly beaten
sugar for sprinkling - optional
Pre-heat Oven to 350 - yields 12 muffins
1) Combine the first four ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk (all the dry)
2) Place the rest of the ingredients in a separate medium bowl minus the the sugar for sprinkling (all the wet) and mix well with a fork until it's a smooth consistency.
3) Add the wet to the dry ingredients and stir with a fork until just combined - a few spots of dry flour here or there is just fine, you don't want to over mix this or it will become very dense.
4) Grease muffin tin if not using liners, and then fill each until the batter is used up. Bake for 16-18 minutes. Check muffins by inserting a toothpick in the center of your largest muffin, if it comes out dry, they're done.

Wednesday, January 16

How to Make Your Own Ricotta Cheese and the Bad Side of Ultra-Pasteurized Milk

For a couple of years now, I have been passively searching for a way to get my hands on raw milk. You would think living minutes away from huge dairy farms, that this wouldn't be that difficult. It has been though. I'm not the type of person to go knocking on barn doors or cold calling farmers. I've made a few calls and emails to the contacts listed in online directories that are supposed to help connect farmers and customers, but nothing has amounted from that.
I always buy organic milk, but everything available in the stores has been ultra pasteurized. This is a shame because a good chunk of what's so beneficial in organic milk gets destroyed in that process, including the very enzymes needed to aid in digestion of it. Did you know, once milk has been ultra-pasteurized, it can sit on a shelf, unrefrigerated for days, even weeks and it won't go bad? It's not on a shelf though, because stores and their big-wigs know we wouldn't buy it if we knew how long it could sit. I won't go off on a rant, but this is part of my driving force to educate my children about whole, real food. It's one of the reasons teaching them to grow their own food and appreciate their local farmers is so important to me.
Anyway, back to the cheese. You can't make any sort of cheese with ultra-pasteurized milk for the reasons I listed above. It just won't curdle.
Can I tell you how excited I was when I found organic low-vat temperature pasteurized milk? People in the store probably thought I was crazy - seeing some weird lady squealing about milk. My reaction must have rubbed off on Stella too because she hugged that jug of milk all the way out the door. Thankfully I bought two half gallons so I didn't have to pry the jug out of her fingers. The lady checking us out got a good laugh from it too. This may just be the closest I will ever get to raw milk, and I'm good with that.
For local readers, I found the milk at Joesph's in Crystal Lake for $4.50 per half-gallon. Try it, it's sooo good!
On to the ricotta!
I had no idea how easy it is to make ricotta cheese. If you can pour milk and lemon juice in a pot, you can make it, seriously.
I followed the instructions listed in the book The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making and I let it hang a bit longer. 
It really was as easy as putting the milk and lemon juice in a pot and attaching a candy thermometer. I only stirred it twice the entire time.
It looks a little funky at the end of the cooking process, but this is normal. The curds are separating from the whey.
I draped a large cloth napkin over a colander that was nested in a pot and just poured everything in. The above picture is what was left.
I wanted a drier ricotta so I attached it to my faucet to drip dry for about an hour.
And this is what I got! So easy! You end up with A LOT of whey after making ricotta cheese. I couldn't just throw this away, or I would have felt like I was throwing money away. I had about three cups of it, so I used it instead of water to make two loafs of this Grandmother Bread. It was the first time making this bread, and I think I just might have a new favorite. My kids alone finished off almost an entire loaf in one day.

Tuesday, January 15

Saving Time By Saving Money

(Homemade pumpkin flax dog treats) - source
By trying to save as much money as possible this year, I also seem to be saving myself time. Yup, that's right, time. I never paid much attention to how often I looked up products either for researching, price comparing or reading sale emails. Turns out, it must have been a lot. Pair that with reduced shopping trips - I'm doing my best to only go once a week and I have been finding myself wondering out loud with my children "what to do".
We have played more games, colored more pictures and spent more time in the kitchen making things. Why didn't I start this sooner?? It has been wonderful.
It has also been harried. Ample time allows for ample boredom, especially in children used to being on the go. We can't just pick up and walk to the park right now because it's freezing outside. So we - eh, "I" -  are still trying to find good sibling squabble distractors.
Thankfully my children do enjoy time in the kitchen and as long as I divide the work up evenly, we are usually good.
This weekend we went to town making healthy dog treats (recipe attached to link above), ricotta, pumpkin scones, loaves of bread, sauerkraut, extra-large batches of potato soup to freeze, vegetable stock and granola bars.
Doing all of this serves double-duty, both keeping little hands and minds occupied and saving us money by making food from scratch.
It's a win win!
Have a great day!

Monday, January 14

Commiting to Resolutions

Ok, so this picture has absolutely nothing to do with this post, and I swore to myself I would never do this to all of you - but really??? I mean look at that face! Look at all of that spunky attitude jammed into one little expression. Love her. Also love that she likes to play dress up in the out-grown hand knits of the older two...
I'm probably a little late in the game for sharing my goals this year. I don't like the term "resolutions".  Maybe because over the years I've grown accustomed to the idea that resolutions have a habit of being broken.
I have a handful of things I want to work toward this year. Two of them, however, trump the rest and will be getting the most of my attention.
The first - A year long spending fast. Not sure what that is? That's ok, I didn't either until I came across this website. It has definitely become a favorite site of mine in the last few months. To define it simply - I will not spend money on anything that is not a need.
Determining what exactly my needs versus wants really are was a little tricky. I did it though, and even though it has only been two weeks, I'm shocked at how much money is in my account. Honestly, I had no idea how much a few dollars spent here or there - even on sales and at the thrift store - can add up so quickly.
A month before I started, I got a little panicky and bought things that I felt I would "need" but didn't quite qualify for my actual needs list. You know, important stuff, like new cloth diapers and needle felting kits (I'm serious). The most ironic purchases I made had to be the handful of kindle books that shared the theme of simplifying. This little episode really drove home how badly I needed to do this.
Even if I don't save bundles (I don't make bundles) this will be a great form of self-discipline.
Which brings me to my next goal for this year. I will write at least a little bit, every single day. If I could do anything in the world for a living, I would write. In order to do that, I need to write every day, and actually send my work off to publishers.
You will probably notice a lot more frugal posts this year. I'm hoping that's a welcomed change. My writing will hopefully improve over the year as well.
I'm really excited about the changes and look forward to sharing this upcoming year with all of you.
I would love to hear about your goals and resolutions for 2013.
Happy Monday!