Simplicity by Choice

Off-Grid Living & Self-Reliance

Taming the Picky Eating February 27, 2016

Having kids, you often deal with a period of time when you have a picky eater.  Most common problem is a child who refuses to eat vegetables.  We have dealt with that with our own kids.  Having one who is autistic, we deal with it on a fairly regular basis.  We found an answer though that may work for other families as well.

This morning, I took the kids outside and we began planting vegetable seeds into the seed starting trays.  I had a variety of vegetable seeds and let the kids pick out the ones they wanted for a special garden box that will be set up in their fenced play area.  They chose grape tomatoes, sugar pod peas, and green beans.  I helped them to plant the seeds and we have them out in the sun.  Once large enough, we will be transplanting them into a square foot garden bed in their yard.  These veggies will be ones that I will let them pick and snack on.

What have me the idea originally was memories of my own childhood.  My parents always had a large garden each year.  When playing outside, I often would pick a handful of green beans, peas, or a tomato to snack on.  I loved eating straight from the garden.

As a parent, I have learned that if I let the kids help grow a few of their favorites, they were far more likely to eat the veggies at mealtimes.  It also encourages healthy snacking.  When it is warm enough, I want to plant a small strawberry patch as well.  Both kids love strawberries, so they should be a good choice. 

It is definitely worth a try to plant a few veggies and see if the kids are more likely to eat them.  Even if you only plant a small garden bed along your house or in pots on your patio, it can help.  Kids take prize in harvesting a few veggies from their own garden plants to add to the family meal.  It can make a big difference.

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New Gardening Project February 17, 2016

With Joseph gone doing his trucking job and me raising two kids here in the homestead alone most of the time, I am having to rethink how to have a family garden.  It has to be something that I can manage completely on my own.  I found a blog post about a No–Dig Garden that is very easy.  Once the garden beds are created, your work is nearly done.  The weeding is minimal, especially if you use mulch around the plants.  All organic materials means that each season you only have to add some more fertlizer or ammend the soil before planting again.  This is easily done.  Once your garden is finished for the season, add more compost or manure, cover with a layer of mulch, and let the garden beds rest until spring. 

I am going to use cinder blocks to form the garden beds.  These will not have mortar but simply stacked 2 rows tall.  The cavities of the blocks will contain rocks in the lower level and planting mix in the top level.  The cavities can be planted with flowers or herbs.  Another option would be to add a length of pipe in the corners and center blocks that are slightly taller than the cinder blocks.  These will be useful for forming a hoop cover.  To make the cover, take a length of off and bend it into a curve.  Place one end into a pipe, forming the curve over your garden bed.  You can also use these pipes for placing a trellis along the side for climbing plants or make a taller canopy to provide shade when necessary.

The boxes are very easy to construct.  Place 2 layers of cardboard under the garden bed to prevent growth of vegetation from under the bed.  Stack your cinder blocks to form the sides.  Next, place alternating layers of straw, manure, and planting mix into the beds.  You want it several inches above the bed.  After about 2 weeks, the materials will have settled down to the top of the bed. 

If you want the material to hold moisture better, use peat moss as one of the top layers.  I generally will mix a 50/50 mixture of potting mix and peat moss, which works great here in the southwest where temps reach over 100°F in summer.

You can plant right away after filling the garden beds or wait until the soil mixture settles down into the garden bed.  Once planted, add mulch to further cut down on moisture loss and weeding.

I can”t wait to get my new garden area set up.  The beauty of this method is that I can move the garden to another location easily.  Just dismantle the beds, set up in the new area, then refill the beds reusing the soil materials.  All the straw used breaks down and gives you compost.  You are, in essence, building and planting your garden in a contained compost bin.

During the winter, I will be able to add the wood ash from our wood stove to the garden beds to add more nutrients to the soil.  In spring, I just have to turn the soil and I am ready to plant, especially if I have added the additional manure to the garden beds at the end of growing  season the previous year.

I can’t wait to get started.  This is going to make gardening so much easier for me to manage this year.  I plan to start with 2 large or 4-6 small beds first.  I can expand later if needed.

 

One View of Simplicity February 1, 2015

Filed under: green living,old fashioned,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 11:20 pm
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Ever since we started on this journey to a more simplified lifestyle 6 years ago, we are often asked why we would do this to ourselves.  It seems that society’s outlook on someone deciding to live within their means (or below their means) just because they choose to, is one in which the person is looked upon as having gone off their rocker.  For us, it seems silly that the media spouts off about the cries of conservationalists and enviromentalists for people to become more conscience of their use of fossil fuels and natural resources.  These groups often push for a more sustainable lifestyle that reduces the carbon footprint of each family.  Yet, here we are, doing exactly that and we are looked upon as being radical or weird.

I read an article today, “When Bread Bags Weren’t Funny” by Megan McArdle, that a dear friend shared on Facebook.  I loved the perspective of the author.  She was spot on in her views.  She shares in the article a glimpse into our nations past.  Not the distant past, but just a generation ago, using illustrations from the Little House books series as a comparison.

As I read the article, I was nodding my head in agreement to so much of it.  I have always held the belief that as a society, we have become spoiled.  Things that are relatively new (within 2 generations) have become so commonplace that people think it is impossible to life comfortably  without them.  One example of this attitude is the air conditioner.   When people first hear that we don’t use an air conditioner in the summer, they freak out.  They can’t understand how we can manage without one.  Truth be told, generations of our ancestors survived hot summers very well without air conditioning.  Even more interesting is to note that prior to my Grandma’s generation, women wore far more heavy clothing than we do today.  Yet, even in the deep south where humidity is  stifling in the middle of summer, these southern women managed to get through the season without health issues popping up all the time.

One of the issues that really makes me wonder at the thought processes of others is when people get weird over the idea of us using wood stoves for heat and cooking in winter while we have kids in the house.  Let me say this, even our autistic child who is developmentally delayed knows to never touch the wood stoves.  He doesn’t even touch them in summer when the stoves are not in use.  He simply has be trained to not touch them.  It is no different than teaching a young child to not touch a burner on your kitchen stove or to not pick up a glass object.  You simply train them.  Yet, there are those who cannot seem to understand this concept.

As far as the economics part of simplicity, here is my opinion. We are living on a single income.  My husband doesn’t make a huge salary, but a very modest hourly wage.  The wage is low enough that many families that we know would be looking for a second income to survive on a monthly basis.  According to the US Census bureau, the poverty line for a family of 4 is about $22,300 income per year.  Our family income is close to that.  Yet, we manage on this income.  How do we do it?

First, we don’t use credit unless critical.  We now have 1 credit card that is held in reserve for medical expenses only.  We are part of a medical sharing program and this credit card is what we use if we have to go to a doctor or buy medication.  Secondly, we only are buying essentials.  We see no need to go into debt to buy things that are unnecessary.  One point brought up in the article that I agree with is the opinion expressed about clothing.  In earlier generations, a person only had a week’s worth of clothing.  It was common for a woman to have what was termed her “work dresses” which were worn throughout the week.  These were the dresses worn as she did her daily tasks. The fabrics were sturdy ones that could take a lot of use.  For Sundays, she may have a single dress that was only for church or a special occasion, such as a wedding.  It was not uncommon for a woman to wear her Sunday best as her wedding dress.  When I was growing up, we got new (or new to us from the thrift store) clothes that were purchased just before the new school year began.  Our older clothes that still fit became our play clothes.  Each day, we would put on our school clothes before heading out to the bus.  When we got home, we had to change into our play clothes so that our newer outfits wouldn’t get messed up as we did chores or went out to play.  Today, many kids get a complete new wardrobe of clothing when school begins and they wear these same clothes whether playing outdoors or going to school.  Seldom do I hear someone talk about play clothes for their younger kids.  Often, kids today have more clothing than can fit in their dressers and closets.  Why?  Why would anyone need that many clothes?  How much money is spent on buying and maintaining that amount of clothing?  Where else could that money be better used?  It isn’t just the kids either.  Many adults have far more than they need, yet society says more is the better option.  If you don’t have a lot, then you are poor and underprivileged.  You are lacking in their eyes.  But who is truly lacking in this?

Toys for kids is another area where people go nutty.  In the Little House books, the Ingalls children had a special toy.  In the first book, Little House in the Big Woods, Laura writes about her sister, Mary, having a doll.  Laura’ parents couldn’t afford a doll for Laura, so Laura had a doll made by wrapping a cloth around a corn cob.  Later, she would get a doll of her own.  At that time however, Laura was happy to play with her corn cob doll.  Our kids have had a lot of toys given to them over the years.  We finally took on the task of buying each child an 18-gallon size plastic tote.  Because their bedroom is small, the toys that fit in their totes is all they keep.  We have given the excess to a thrift store run by a church that uses the proceeds for a youth ministry.  Our kids don’t feel slighted one bit by having to donate the extra toys.  They still have all their favorites.  Later, once the house remodel is done, they will appreciate even more the downsizing of their toys.  The room we are fixing up for them is the largest in our house.  We will be putting a wall down the center to give each of the two kids a room of their own.  Their rooms at that time will be about the size of a small bedroom in a single wide trailer.  More than enough room for them since they spend so little time in their bedroom anyways. Most of the time the family gathers in the kitchen/dining room or are outdoors.

My current project is attacking the homeschool shelves.  Every homeschooling family will shudder at the thought of what I am doing.  I am boxing up and donating all the excessive books that I have.  When I started buying them, I planned to use them with both children.  Now that I have a better idea of what Pookie is capable of doing, I know that it may be years before he can use some of these resources, if he is ever able to use them.  Instead of keeping everything on the hopes that he may one day be able to use the materials, I am donating everything Little Miss is not using within the next year.  By doing this, I will be able to clear nearly all the shelves.  Yes, like many homeschool families, I have a large amount of books and resources cluttering my shelves.  Not for too much longer though.

My feeling is that there was much to be appreciated about the more sparse furnishings.  The less you have, the easier to maintain and keep clean.  Purchases now are being considered by how much real use will it get.  I take time to consider each purchase and try to never buy anything on a whim or impulse.  Such was the way of things with earlier generations.  Money was scarce and they had to be thoughtful in considering each and every purchase they made.  Why is it so strange to others if a family lives that way now?  I can only think that it is because it is more acceptable to give in to our desires and wants without considering the financial consequences of those purchases.

As I think on that article mentioned above, I can only smile to think that someone else is “getting it” and understanding that there is no shame in choosing to live with less.

 

 

No Grocery Store Challenge Preparations July 2, 2014

Filed under: green living,homesteading,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 6:03 am
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In my previous post, I spoke of a blog article that was written about a family’s challenge to go a year without grocery shopping at a store.  It has inspired me in many ways.

Over the past week, I have been noticing how easy it is to just go to the store instead of hitting up the pantry or other options.  I realize that my pantry isn’t really set up for doing the challenge.  It is growing season right now and so the stores of vegetables and such that I had last autumn are depleted.  I still need to locate local farms that sell raw milk, eggs, and farmer’s markets for produce.

One area that I am working on currently is to restructure my recipe collection.  I am taking into consideration the items we typically might buy, but can be made easily at home.  One example is saltine crackers.  How often do you purchase a box of these at the store to use with soups or eat as a part of a snack?  Did you know that these can be made with only 5 ingredients that are commonly found in nearly any pantry?  Here is an easy recipe that is fast and easy to make.

Saltine Crackers

2 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
2/3 c. milk
2 tbsp. butter
1/2 tsp. baking soda

Combine the dry ingredients, cut in the butter, then stir in the milk.  Round into a ball and knead for few strokes.  Divide dough into several pieces and roll out very thin on a floured board.  Lay sheets on ungreased cookie sheet.  Sprinkle with salt and prick with a fork.  Cut into 1 1/2 inch squares with a sharp knife or pizza cutter.  Bake at 375 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned.

There are many things that we are so accustomed to buying that can be made easily at home.  We have simply become spoiled with the convenience of the stores.  Over the next few months, I am going to be making changes here at the homestead to take the challenge.  I am being realistic.  I know that if we were to simply start the challenge tomorrow, we would likely fail.  I do want to make the necessary changes to give us a real chance at being as successful as possible in doing the challenge.

The end goal is to rely as little as possible on the stores for our food.  We don’t want to continue being caught in the trap of having to pay rising costs to feed our family a healthy meal.  We also are wanting to support local small farms that are trying to survive in a time when Monsanto’s GMO food products are so prevalent and forcing small family farms out of business.  It is also giving us back the control to decide what we will and won’t put into our bodies.  I have said this before but it can never be said too often, “The chemicals individually that are used in food production may be determined to be safe, but there has never been sufficient testing done on what the cumulative effects of the various chemicals to our bodies.  How do they interact as the chemicals build up in our bodies over time?”   By being more aware of where our food comes from, we can make informed choices.

I  look forward to hearing about any plans that you may have to trying this challenge in some form or fashion.

 

Emergency Ingredient Substitutions December 20, 2013

Filed under: family,off grid,pantry building,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 6:10 am
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Living off-grid, you learn new ways of doing things.  I have quickly realized that simply eating a primarily vegan or vegetarian diet can significantly reduce the need for refrigeration.  Only 2 types of items need refrigeration.  The first is animal products.  Eggs, milk, cheeses, yogurt, meats, and other food items that we get from animals all need to be kept cold to slow down the process of the food spoiling.  The second group of items that require refrigeration are leftovers.  This can be eliminated very easily by being more careful in the amount of food that you prepare.

With winter storms coming more frequently, I wanted to share some ideas.  These are things that I do on a regular basis but are great for others to learn in case of power outages.  There are substitutions that you can make in place of the perishable ingredients.  Here are a few of my favorites.

Eggs:

1 Tbsp. flaxseed meal + 3 Tbsp. warm water, let set a minute to thicken

1/2 of a banana, mashed

1/4 cup of applesauce

 

Dairy:

almond milk, I buy cartons that are not refrigerated until opened

Butter:  substitute with 1/2 the amount of butter with applesauce. I keep a pack of the individual size serving cups on hand as they are 1/2 cup each.

 

Ground meat:  TVP (textured vegetable protein)

seitan (gluten powder mixed with water to make a very stiff mix)

homemade veggie burger made from beans and finely chopped veggies

 

All of the items mention above are things that can be stored on a pantry shelf.  No refrigeration is needed for the base ingredients until you use them.  The almond milk needs refrigeration once the quart sized box carton is opened.  The remaining items only need refrigeration if you make too much and have leftovers.

Just these few things can help to lessen the stress of trying to keep perishables cold enough in a power outage.  Pick a couple of them and learn to use them before a situation comes up and you are forced to rely on them.  Testing them in recipes also will allow you a chance to see which options your family enjoys and which ones you do not.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Homemade Air Fresheners December 1, 2013

I typically buy the little gel pellet style air fresheners from Dollar Tree.  These pellets come in a jar with a vented lid.  As the gel pellets dry out, they shrink until becoming hard little beads.  I had a couple of the jars right now that have fully dried up.  Instead of throwing the container and all away, I came up with a couple of ideas for recycling these jars.

Idea #1  Use the jars for moth balls.  If you ever have stored your clothes only to find that a mouse or other damaging pest has gotten to your clothing, you know that adding moth balls will repel most pests.  Fill the empty jars with the moth balls.  Tuck them into your clothing storage shelves around the boxes or into a large tote.

Idea #2  Fill the jars with potpourri of your favorite scents.  A favorite mixture that I like in the kitchen is to place a blend of broken cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, whole allspice, and dried orange peels.

Idea #3  I found a wonderfully easy recipe for making homemade gel-type air fresheners on One Good Thing by Jillee.  The ingredients are very simple: liquid potpourri, unflavored gelatin, and salt.  A second recipe that she shares in her tutorial used water and essential oils in place of the liquid potpourri.  I would recommend testing the containers first by placing hot water in them to make sure they are heat safe.

For those times when you need a spray, here is a very easy recipe.  In a small dish mix together 1 Tablespoon of baking soda and 2-3 drops of your favorite essential oil scent.  Pour the mixture into a spray bottle and fill with water.  Shake to dissolve the baking soda.  Use just as you would a store-bought freshener.  You can adjust the strength of the scent by adding more essential oil.  This mixture is safe for using on furniture or anything that needs a bit of freshening.  Knowing the benefits of aromatherapy, I am thinking of making some in a lavender scent to use on bed pillows.

Learning to make your own fresheners, you can easily customize the scents to meet any aromatherapy needs that you may have.  Aromaweb has over 60 recipes for making your own aromatherapy blends.

While I am at it, I am going to throw this link out here.  Frugal by Choice blog has the recipe for making homemade “Vicks” shower disks.

Enjoy!