Make Your Own Board Books

I found these awesome blank board books at Romp and immediately had a million ideas for them.  One fun and simple project was a counting book starring my little guy.  I rounded up 10 sets of items, set up a couple of posing areas, and we were off.  After our photoshoot I added numbers and cropped the photos and printed them on photo paper.  I trimmed the photos, glued them to the book pages, and covered them with press-on lamination film.

Since then we’ve made a color book using favorite items and a bedtime routine book.  Now that my daughter is a toddler, I think I’ll pull together a book about all of her family members, and another featuring pictures of her, maybe a version of Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes. 

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Elderberry Syrup

Every year I say I’m going to do it, but this year I finally made my own elderberry syrup!  I’ve long heard about the benefits of elderberries (otherwise known as sambucus) for boosting the immune system, treating the flu, even fighting cancer.*  Last winter we gave the kids store-bought syrup to support systems during cold and flu season.  This summer I finally went for it and made my own.

There are several elderberry shrubs growing near our home and they are ready around the same time as the blackberries.  I thought they would be difficult to harvest because they’re so small, but it turns out to be a fairly easy job:  just pick off them off by the cluster, then comb your fingers through the clusters and most will fall off easily.  Remove any stems, unripe or overripe berries and you’re ready to go.

Eaten raw they’re pretty bitter, but both of my kids had quite a few tastes as we were processing them.  However, I’ve read that eating too many raw elderberries can cause an upset stomach, so we didn’t let them overdo it.

I followed a recipe by Rosemary Gladstar that I found at 5 Orange Potatoes.  Basically you boil then simmer the berries, press, strain and add honey (check out the link for the full recipe).  The berries smell amazing as they’re cooking-sort of like blackberries but with a slight floral scent.  I tried using half the honey and the flavor/sweetness already seemed strong enough to me.  Some recipes call for sugar but white sugar is supposed to suppress the immune system, so that seemed counter-productive.  I was able to get 2 cups from the recipe for the cost of a half-cup of honey (the store brand of elderberry syrup sells 1 cup for about $13.00.)  I wouldn’t consider this syrup recipe to be something I’d want to pour over pancakes, but my kids and I would gladly take it in small amounts as a supplement.  I froze the syrup in 1/4 pint jars.

I’d like to try my hand at elderberry jam as another way to preserve and consume the berries during the winter months.  I’d also like to try combining elderberry juice with grape juice as a sweetener.  I think it might be a better complement for the berry flavor.  Anybody have a favorite elderberry recipe to share?

*Disclaimer:  I am not a health care professional or trained herbalist and am not qualified to give medical advice.

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Plantain Cubes

Plantain is one of those highly-useful herbs commonly considered a weed.  Once I learned to recognize it, I started seeing it everywhere, which is great because it is SO useful.  The leaves can be chewed or otherwise pulvarized and applied to all manner of stings, bites and rashes.

So far this summer, I’ve applied it to my daughter’s wasp sting, my husband’s snake bite, and my nettle welts.  We were all amazed at how quickly and effectively it eased pain and reduced inflamation.  (Disclaimer:  I am not a medical professional, trained herbalist or in any way qualified to provide medical advice.  To learn more about plantain, visit Bulk Herb Store.)

Our backyard happens to be full of plantain.  We had gotten behind on our mowing and so I decided it was a perfect time to harvest some leaves to try out an idea I had:  plantain ice cubes.  It seemed like a great soothing combination and something I could quickly try until I had the time and ingredients to make plantain into a salve or tincture.  Here’s what we did:

First we picked a quantity of nice, healthy leaves and washed them.  Then we packed them in our blender with just enough water to blend.

We poured this mixture into ice cube trays, filling them about halfway full (you don’t usually need that much a time.)  Once frozen, we popped them into freezer bags for storage.  I’m thinking that once they’ve melted the plantain can be used to make a poultice if extended treatment is needed.

Anybody ever tried this before?  Do you a great plantain salve or tincture recipe to share?  What are your favorite go-to herbs?

This link is part of the Homestead Barn Hop at Homestead Revival.  Follow this link for more great homesteady inspiration!

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Pantry-Building Resources

There seem to be two main camps when it comes to long-term food storage.  One approach involves setting aside a quantity of food and supplies for emergency purposes and leaving it untouched for a year or more.  Wendy DeWitt offers a plan for this approach in her book Everything Under the Sun.  In the other approach, supplies are rotated through regular use, a method I first learned about from Donna Miller at Grain Storehouse who describes it as a long-term workable pantry.  While there are advantages to the first method (more cut-and-dry, less regular inventory to worry about) and there are times that I do implement this method (emergency car kits and bug-out bags) I’ve found the second to be a better fit for my preferences and purposes.

Advantages of the Long-Term Workable Pantry
– fresher ingredients due to more frequent rotation
– greater familiarity preparing and eating pantry items
– more compatible with the use of real foods with less preservatives

Helpful Sites  Here are some of the many excellent websites that have helped me in developing my long-term workable pantry:
Kitchen Stewardship
Miller’s Grainhouse
– Simply Living Smart

Podcasts  I find audio is easier to integrate into my day than lots of hours in front of the computer, so for me podcasts have been even more helpful as I’ve been trying to assimilate information about building a long-term workable pantry.   The podcasts below can all be found on iTunes and many also cover other subjects of interest to preppers and homesteaders:
Nature’s Harmony Farm
New Life on a Homestead
Preparedness Radio Network (especially “Your Preparation Station” program)
Stumbling Homestead
Harvest Eating
Survival Podcast

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Our Preparedness Journey

What’s prepping?  Although we’ve long had an interest in many of the skills and topics  that fall under the category of prepping (gardening, hunting, cooking from scratch, etc.), it’s been less than a year since my husband and I were introduced to the term and set out to intentionally develop skills and accumulate supplies that would help us become more self-reliant and better prepared.

Prepared for what?  What first came to mind when I thought about “emergency preparedness” were large-scale events like hurricanes, pandemics or terrorist attacks.  While  natural and man-made crises are definitely important reasons to be prepared, I’ve learned that more personal concerns like job loss, sickness, local power outages, and even positive events (like the birth of a child) can also create a need for preparation .  I’ve also found that being more prepared makes everyday life run more smoothly.  It’s always helpful to have a house stocked with groceries and essentials, and buying items in bulk or stockpiling with coupons means that we are always getting our groceries at the best possible prices. Developing the skills of preparedness–cooking from scratch, first aid training, fishing, hunting, herbal medicine, wildcrafting, gardening, etc–is very empowering, has helped us live a healthier lifestyle, and has given our family a lot of fun experiences and mutual interests.

Where to begin?  Actually setting about to get prepared can be a daunting task.  I immediately had dozens of to-do, to-buy, and to-learn lists in my mind, and I continue to feel overwhelmed at times.  Of course, nobody can ever be completely prepared for every possible situation, and there are some situations for which we can’t prepare at all.  I guess it’s just important to remember that it’s a journey so I’m trying to set small goals and keep working away at it.

What’s my motivation?  One important thing I keep coming back to is the heart and purpose behind my prepping.  I can easily be motived by fear of the potential dangers and uncertainties in this world.   Fear can prompt me to be controlling, attempting to manage my life and family in such a way as to prevent any bad thing from ever happening.  Although fear can have value in getting my attention and moving me to take action, I don’t want it to be the reason for what I do.  I know that fear (and the related desire to take control) are indicators that I need to call on God, rest in His provision and protection, and seek His leading.  I believe that God is leading our family to be prepared, and that that leading is part of His provision.  I believe that He intends our preparations to be part of the resposbilities He gave us in managing our household well, and that He intends us to use this part of our life as a ministry–to encourage and assists others in their preparations, and to offer help and hope in times of need.

The journey continues!  I look forward to sharing our preparedness journey through this blog and hope that I can offer some helpful resources and ideas for others in the process.  I also look forward to learning from all of you who are on this journey as well!

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Eli’s Birth Story

MY JOURNEY TO HOMEBIRTH

I was seven months pregnant and had cumulatively spent less than three hours thinking about giving birth.  In my first trimester I’d perused some of the last chapters of What to Expect When You’re Expecting, read some troubling snippets about epidurals, episiotomies and enemas, and decided to focus my attention on “lighter” subjects like fetal development and nursery themes.

Several months later I sat across from my friend B in the same home where I’d witnessed the incredible birth of her son less than a year before.  She was asking me some pretty direct questions regarding my feelings and plans about birth, and I really didn’t have much to say.  She reminded me, “Mendy, you ARE going to have this baby, you know.”

I cried all the way home.  Thoughts of childbirth only filled me with dread.  B’s serene home birth had been one of the most incredible events I’d ever witnessed.  Why would I not want the same thing for my baby?  I had chosen to have a hospital birth with a certified nurse midwife thinking it would be the best of both worlds, but I just couldn’t feel peaceful about it.  I remembered how instantly comfortable I had felt with B’s midwife, K, and how impressed I’d been by the way she interacted with B as she labored.  I knew they had a special relationship and lengthy appointments leading up to the birth.  Though my experiences at the women’s health center had been positive, I’d probably seen my midwife a whole 20 minutes.

I decided to get busy working on my birth plan.  As B had pointed out, having a hospital birth would mean that I would need to be assertive and stand up for what I wanted in terms of procedures and interventions—especially in a hospital with a 25% cesarean rate.  Up to this time, I hadn’t really even bothered to learn about these choices and possibilities.  I found some sample birth plans online and as I began to go through the options a pattern began to emerge:  basically, I wanted to turn down just about every procedure the hospital had to offer while at the same time, requesting accommodations that might not be permitted.  As I learned about the comfort measures that promoted natural childbirth—and how important it was to be in a place where I’d feel safe and relaxed—it became obvious that a home birth was definitely the best choice for me.  I shared what I’d learned with my husband, Clyde, who let me know that he’d support whatever choice I made.  I contacted K and was overjoyed to learn that she would be able to be our midwife!

We met with K and her apprentice and we began to prepare for our home birth.  They spent so much time with us, answering our questions, giving guidance about nutrition and fitness, monitoring my health and the baby’s progress.  It was obvious that they really cared and were invested in us.

They recommended that Clyde and I take a childbirth class geared specifically for homebirthers.  This was a wonderful experience, especially for Clyde.  Although I’d been sharing highlights from books I’d been reading, this class really helped him know what to expect and how he could help, even how to catch the baby himself, if needed or desired.  I was encouraged and empowered as we learned about the stages of labor and birth and the different strategies that could help throughout the process.

THE BIG DAY

My water broke around 3 in the morning.  I took a shower and tried to follow the early labor advice I’d received from my childbirth class—try to ignore labor as long as you can and GO TO BED!  I slept until around 5 when I woke Clyde to tell him I didn’t think he’d be going to work that morning.  Amidst mild contractions we remade the bed and started hauling out supplies.  I called our birth team while Clyde made me a comfy spot on the couch and started putting the birth tub together.   K reminded me to “think marathon” (first-time moms often have lengthy labors) and encouraged me to rest.  By 6 the contractions began requiring my full attention.  I tried lying on my side on the couch, then all fours on the floor, leaning over an exercise ball, but about the only thing that seemed to bring relief was Clyde massaging and putting pressure on my lower back.  This was a challenge because he was also busy filling up the tub (we’d opted for a water birth) and had discovered that we’d already maxed out the hot water tank.  While Clyde continued boiling water and rubbing my back, I called for reinforcements and my dad came by to take over water hauling duties.

My contractions were feeling pretty intense and though I knew their frequency and duration was speeding up, I was afraid that I still had a long way to go and hoped I’d be able to handle it.  I was a noisy laborer, and when K’s apprentice called to check on us the intensity of my moans in the background let her know she’d better come on over.  When she arrived around 9 I was 7 cm dilated and was finally able to get in the tub.  The warm water felt great on my back and I felt more relief as I was able to move my hips more easily with the water supporting me.

B and K arrived soon afterward.  B made sure I kept hydrated and began praying for and coaching me to help my breathing and moaning relaxed and productive.  K and her apprentice prepared the supplies for the birth and monitored my progress and the baby’s heart rate.  I must have been pretty encouraged by the arrival of our wonderful support team, because I don’t really remember going through a dramatic transition experience.  I got out of the water so that K could check me, but was glad to get back in quickly because it definitely was making a difference in my perception of pain.  Clyde got in with me and continued to put pressure on my back.  Around 10:30 I was able to begin pushing.  I’m not sure what I had thought “pushing” meant, but was somehow surprised to find out that it really meant PUSHING!  (I think I thought my body would do it for me in some involuntary way, but it turns out that it really means “bear down so hard you see stars.”)  It was hard work, but I knew that I was the only one who could push my baby out, so I PUSHED (with no tearing even though he was born with his hand up beside his face)!  In less than 2 ½ hours, we held our beautiful baby boy in our arms.

Clyde and I were able to take all of the time we needed to just be amazed by this little person—to meet and touch and make eye contact and hold him close, while K almost imperceptibly assisted and monitored as needed.  He was alert and calm and a champion eater from the start.  It was great to enjoy our first moments and days with our son in the privacy and comfort of our own home surrounded by close friends and family.

I am thankful for the journey to homebirth that required me to take personal responsibility for my family in a much deeper way and for the opportunity to have a natural birth.  Both of these experiences have been invaluable in preparing and empowering me for the many challenges, decisions and responsibilities of motherhood.  Our choice to birth at home required much more from Clyde as well and my love, respect and connection with him deepened through this experience.  I am unspeakably grateful for the beautiful and peaceful way in which we were able to welcome our son into the world.  It’s wonderful to be able to personally testify that birth can truly be a serene and sacred event.

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Pastured Poultry Paddocks

Once the coop was designed and built we were on to thinking about the outdoor set-up for our new flock.  Although free-range was appealing in terms of chicken nutrition/feed costs and quality of life, we were concerned about the many potential predators and also wanted more control over where (and on what) our chickens roamed.  I was investigating different types of chicken runs when I learned about chicken tractors and discovered the pastured poultry methods developed by Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms.  At first I was disheartened to think our coop design had been a big mistake and that we should have gone with something small and mobile.  Then I heard Jack Spirko interview permaculturalist Paul Wheaton on the Survival Podcast and knew his paddock shift system was exactly what we were looking for.  Paul’s article explains the idea in detail and gives an overview and comparison of other systems. 

The basic idea is to create four or more fenced areas (or use portable fencing) and rotate the flock so that each area gets at least 28 days of rest before reuse .  This allows the plant life to benefit from the grazing and fertilization and rebound becoming increasingly lush over time (intensive rotational grazing.) 

Our paddock set-up has a permanent access run with four rotating paddocks.  Each has some shade provided by nearby trees.  So far it seems to be working well.  We’ve been shifting the same day each week, which only gives 21 days of rest, so we probably need to adjust that for optimal results, it’s just harder to keep track of a 9/10-day rotation.  It’s really nice to have fresh forage for them and to know they’re not going to be swiped up by a wandering neighbor dog. 

One predator issue remains in the hawk we often see inspecting the yard.  We’ve considered using netting or even strands of wire and have thought about some type of shelter item that could be moved from paddock to paddock.  I would prefer to see some type of evergreen shrubbery or other tall plant (like the peony bushes growing along the access run where they like to hang out) rather that additional structures, but it would take time for most plants to be big enough to make much of a difference.  Ideally we’d have all kinds of established trees and plants that provide additional food inputs  incorporated into the design.  One of our hens ended up being a rooster, and he’s been taking his watch-dog, protective role very seriously, so maybe that will make enough of a difference safety-wise. 

Anybody else trying a paddock shift system?  Any hawk safety suggestions from the veteran chicken farmers out there?

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