A Simpler Life

10May16

Have you ever thought about going green? I’ve been pondering it for awhile now and I think it’s time. I’m just sorry I haven’t done it sooner.

I’ve never really been a fan of powerful cleaners or anti-bacterial soaps anyway. I really can’t stand the smell of them. Instead of Windex, I use a reusable cloth meant for windows with water and it does a good job with no streaks. (It almost looks like a chamois cloth.) Vinegar is a great degreaser that I use around my stove. I’ve still got to convert to a product for wood and tile floors, but I’m almost there. When I find the right solution I will convert.

Making natural biodegradable soaps really interested me so today I made a liquid Castile soap. It’s a base for making other cleaners. Here’s the instructions I used.

If you haven’t seen Wellness Mama’s site, she has some wonderful recipes for cleaners, makeup and skincare. Mommy Potamus is another great resource. Natural ingredients to keep on hand are: Castile soap, baking soda, your favorite essential oils, vinegar and lemon. I’m looking into alternatives for borax. Though I’ve seen it recommended on several sites, I am not convinced it is safe.

I’m revamping my makeup, shampoo and moisturizers too. There are some awful toxic, endocrine disrupters in makeup and skin care products as well as cleaning products. Since I’ve had thyroid issues, I really want to make sure I’m not making matters worse. Look up your products on EWG’s (the Environmental Working Group) Skindeep database and you’ll see how toxic some of those products you’re using are. It will show you ratings based on their toxicity.

I’m finally getting back to composting my kitchen scraps. What stopped me before is that the compost pile was near the barn which is about 500 yards from the house. Thankfully, our composter is now in close proximity. When you’re on a 32 acre farm, it makes a big difference! I want to be successful, so it’s got to be easy.

Giving up plastic is another thing I’m working on. Some people think they’ve got to get rid of all their plastic and start from scratch. That would be a waste and it just adds to the problem. If you’ve got it, use it. Just don’t buy any more of it. This subject is one that will really make you think. When you buy, avoid processed foods (all food that are not made from scratch)…That’s where all the packaging is. Consider buying bulk from bulk bins. Bring your own natural bags or reusable containers. There are plenty of bulk stores like Sprouts, Whole Foods and Earth Fare. It’s a hike for me, but if it’s just once a month, so it’s worth it. Check out the Plastic Pollution Coalition for some great info. on getting plastic out of your life. Jeff Bridges speaks on plastic.

I bought some canvas bags for groceries and netted bags for produce. I can’t believe Tennessee hasn’t gone plastic bag free at their grocery stores but I’m going to do it anyway. I bought 10 canvas grocery bags, 2 large canvas shopping bag and 20 netted bags.

I invested in a stainless steel safety shaver and did away with buying disposable plastic shavers.

I used to thaw my meat out in plastic bags in hot water in my sink. Here is my new solution. 1 stainless steel bowl, 1 stock pot filled with hot water and 1 lid.

My goal is to take advantage of reusable things like glass jars and containers. I already have lots of them. In my pantry I save glass and plastic jars for reuse.

I’ve found a really nice instruction for making food wrap or sandwich bags out of cotton fabric and bee’s wax or wax. It’s really easy. Here are mine. They smell so good.

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What really bothers me is there are so many products now for going green. I am choosing not to go this route because I think the whole point of going green is becoming more self-sufficient, getting creative and using what you have. This way, I feel like I’m part of the solution.

It’s always bothered me how we pillage our land and don’t give back. In fact, we live more complicated lives than our great grandparents. I want to get back to a time when we didn’t require so much. This also makes sense when you’re retired. Having a set income makes you think about those kinds of things.

Being a good steward to the earth also means impressing upon others to think about their impact on it. If we don’t influence our kids or grand kids, who will? I think in terms of making sure there’s a world for everyone.

We all have to do our part. I am not perfect. I know I have a long way to go, but it’s too important to wait. We all need to act now. “Living sustainably is not a hippie thing. Killing the world = killing ourselves.” Spirit Science


I’ve decided to make my own biodegradable soap. In case I haven’t said so, I’ve been wanting to make all natural liquid soaps for the house for some time now. I’m disgusted by all the chemicals and hidden ingredients in most products.  I love that I get to control what’s in it.

I’ve invited my friend, Sandi here to join me to make two batches (1 for her and 1 for me) of liquid Castile soap.

You need a base soap like Castile, in order to make different liquid soap variations like dish washing liquid, liquid hand soap, dishwasher liquid soap, liquid laundry detergent, shower gel, shaving cream, pet shampoo or bubble bath. I will be storing them in glass jars and will repurpose plastic pumps I’ve saved.

Though I could probably buy Bonner’s Castile Soap for about $16 for 32 oz., I could make a gallon (128 oz.) of homemade Castile soap for $30 or less.

Here’s all the supplies I either had to get or had on hand:

NOTE: Do not reuse wooden spoon, plastic utensils or immersion blender ever again after using it for soap making.

  • Rubber gloves
  • Safety goggles
  • A slotted spoon
  • Wooden spoon
  • Glass measuring cup or bowl, 2 quart
  • Glass measuring cup, 2 cup
  • Scale (I bought a digital scale)
  • A crock pot – 6 qt. minimum
  • Immersion stick blender (a cheappie you can dedicate to soap making)
  • Plastic table cloth to keep your work area clean
  • Glass jug, 1 gallon (to store your new soap) and 1 glass pint jar. It’s a little over 1 gallon.

Here’s the ingredients I used:

  • Olive oil, 24 oz.
  • Coconut oil, 16 oz.
  • Potassium Hydroxide Caustic Potash KOH Flakes, 9.35 oz. (comes in a 2 lb bottle)
  • Distilled or filtered water, 1 gallon

We’ve decided to do this outside because of the fumes from the lye. However, after doing it, we were glad it was outside. Batch one boiled over a bit. When they say pour slow, they mean very slow!!!

We cooked batch 1 in a stainless steel pot. Batch 2, we cooked in the crock pot. Batch 2 took all day. We were done with batch 1 after 4 hours. Batch one is the one in the bottle. It turned out good. It’s thinner than you think of for liquid soap.

 


We did a visual check this week on the progress of our hives. Here are a few photos. The girls are filling up the frames up and there’s a few cells with cap brood going on (bee larvae). The black & gray cells are pollen. The golden cells are honey. The first 3 frames are the fullest of the 10.

The Queen at bottom right side of knife

The Queen at bottom right side of knife from Hive #1. Click on photo to see it enlarged.

So far, we’ve had good success with examining the hives. The best time of day seems to be at dusk. Eric goes very slowly. I almost find that we really don’t need our bee suits, but it’s just a level of precaution. If you were stung in the eye, you could loose your eyesight.

The first hive looks really healthy, but the other hive is smaller and not so active. Hopefully in another week or two, the second hive will do better.

We are still learning, but so far, we are really encouraged.


We looked forward to getting our bees.

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Our bee boxes were set up and ready earlier this week.

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Inside the hive box. 10 frames inside the brood chamber which is where the bees will make honey and raise their young.

After the bees fill up 80% of the frames, we will put a honey super and put 10 more frames in.

When Eric picked up our bee packages, he went to a someone’s house that had bee hives. Bees were flying all over the place and he got stung on the tip of his finger. He’s lucky he didn’t have a reaction like he did when he was a kid. He didn’t bring his epipen!

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This is a package of bees. Eric brought our two packages (3 lbs each) home yesterday. It was so cool hearing them buzzing around in their screened packages. They actually smell good too!

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Liz lifts up one of the bee packages to see how heavy it is. It’s hard to believe it is 3 lbs of bees! Our dog Kona was very curious!

We joined a beekeepers club here and there’s a lot others just like us getting started. Another girl and her daughter, from our club, came up to watch us install the bees. She won the hive our club was giving away. She’s getting ready to purchase her bees soon, so this was really good for her to watch.

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We put out sugar water for the bees. It’s a 1:1 Spring solution of water and sugar, one for each hive. (Autumn/Winter solution is 1:2 water and sugar)

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This is the entrance of the hive.

This is Eric installing the bees.

Eric made a sugar station for the bees (below), aka “The Sugar Shack”. They are going through the sugar very quickly!

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The Sugar Shack

We will not be able to harvest our honey until a year from now, but I cannot wait. I can already tell we are going to love raising bees.


Signs of Life

27Mar16

This year wasn’t a bad winter. In fact, it was pretty mild. Every year I get a surprised when things start to come back to life when it looks like they won’t. You see, some perennials act like annuals here. I guess it’s too cold for them. So, I’m never sure when I plant a perennial if I’ll see it again the following spring.

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Lavender

The lavender survived the winter. I didn’t think it would since I’ve read that they don’t do well in Zone 7. Mine looks really healthy though. It might have been a hardier variety. The hardier ones are developed for colder climates.

Dusty Miller

Dusty Miller

My dusty miller actually survived and it has new growth. Note to myself for next year…Don’t dig them up. They’ll come back!

Pineapple Sage

Pineapple Sage

A pineapple sage plant I planted after growing it in my bathroom all winter last year grew huge during the summer. All the stalks had died during the winter, but I found new growth underneath. Turns out, the person who gave me a cutting of this plant needs me to give them a cutting because their plant died!

Even my stevia has new growth.

Russian Sage

Russian Sage

Russian Sage and Mexican Sage are also coming back.

Eric threw a bunch of iris bulbs out by the treeline and they are growing now. Even though they only bloom once, I love it when they do. They are so vibrant. I had more bulbs, so I threw them out there too.

Tulip

Tulip

We have gladiolus, dutch irises, irises and tulips and they all have different blooming times. I’ve integrated them so we will have a full season of blooms.

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New Plum Tree

We brought home two new plum trees last week to add to our fruit tree grove of apples, pears and peaches.

We also planted strawberries and raspberries. Two years ago, we started blueberries and blackberries and the blackberries are real producers. We’re ot doing too well with the blueberries, so we fertilized them this year. Hopefully it helps. We started everbearing strawberries this year.

Each year, we plant less in our herb garden. I like that there’s some established plants in there now and each year we learn something new about the plants.


We are about to embark on another adventure…beekeeping! Eric says what he likes most about this one is that we can be away for days at time and not have to worry about them. (Definitely not as hard as caring for dogs and horses.)

Eric recently took a class on beekeeping. Apparently, there are lots of locals here that raise bees.

We were invited by one gentleman to come out to his place and he would set us up with 2 hives. At one time, he had about 150 hives. He’s now setting his son up to raise bees.

Our bees will arrive sometime at the end of April. We will be starting with 2 packages of bees. That’s 6 lbs of bees! Each package has a queen. We will not be able to harvest the honey till after the first year. How much honey we harvest will depend on how well the resources are here (the supply of nectar). We have berries, fruit trees, flowers, wildflowers and a nearby creek. Hopefully it will provide an ample supply.

I personally love honey. I prefer it to any of the natural sugars. I use it to make desserts and even sweeten my coffee occasionally. The trick to using honey in cold drinks is to make a simple syrup. Combine one part honey and one part water in a saucepans over medium heat and stir until completely dissolved. Let cool and store in the refrigerator. Use it to sweeten any drink to your desired taste.

Stay tuned. I’ll be posting more on our new project as we go along.


RV There Yet?

11Dec15

In September, Eric and I bought an RV. I never thought I’d be the RV type, but with all the bugs here, I now am. Besides, there’s something so cozy about a small space. We bought it two days after my birthday and Eric says it’s a gift for all the upcoming occasions (for the next two years).

As much as we love the farm, we thought it would be nice to get away once in awhile and explore. We are close to so many beautiful states. And, as I’m finding out, Tennessee and Alabama have some of the most gorgeous campgrounds.

I love how modern RVs have now become. They actually have interiors I like. The interior of this RV is beautiful and well-laid out with a separate bedroom, good-sized bath, a living area and a decent kitchen and dining area. It has a black/gray/tan neutral interior. One of my favorite features is the in-house vacuum. They call this a 26 ft. travel trailer, but in reality, it’s about 29.7 ft. The one we bought is a Keystone Hideout.

I went crazy stocking this camper. Everyone has their own personal bin (including the dog). I added a cozy little bed for Daisy. Since I have two of everything in my kitchen, it made sense to make use of all those extra utensils and appliances. I tried to make it feel like a home by adding comfortable bedding, pillows, throws and a basket for magazines and books.

On our first trip in October, which was only a few miles down the road at David Crockett State Park, we had our friends out for a barbecue. One of our friends gave us cute dog themed tea towels. Our other friends gave us a seasonal tea towel and pumpkin to decorate for the holidays.

In early November, we also visited Meriwether Lewis (in Natchez Trace) State Park which is an amazing free site with pull-throughs.

We are really enjoying  being RV owners. I like the fact that we never need a suitcase and we will always feel comfortable in our home away from home.




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