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Monday, November 17, 2014

A Green Christmas, Part 1: Family Crafts



**This is going to be a four-part series on creating less waste during the holidays.

According to the the EPA, Americans generate 25% more waste between Thanksgiving and Christmas. That equals about a million extra tons of trash each year. (If there was an emoticon with eyeballs popping out if its head, I'd use it right now.) All that trash is going to be broken down into a toxic sludge that will eventually contaminate our fresh water and air. In addition to the ridiculous amount of trash that is produced, there are also three hundred thousand trees cut down to make the 2.65 billion Christmas cards sold each year in the U.S.  For every pound of virgin paper made from tree pulp, another one pound of carbon dioxide is emitted. (E-cards allow you to send a photo and save some trees!)

I'm no Grinch (listening to Christmas music right now, actually, and don't care a fig that it's only November) and I love decorating for the holidays. For my new home, however, I wanted to decorate it being as green as possible. The next month will highlight my green Christmas journey.

Devin and Kaleb busy cutting their pinwheels.

This past weekend we had a family craft night which I hope will become a new tradition. We made three pinwheel wreaths from old moving boxes and the comics, paper snowflakes from old school papers and glass snow jars. The snow jars were made with sugar and thrift store mini Christmas trees that I found at Good Will for $3. Tack on another $3 for the Sunday newspaper and the night cost a total of $6. Better yet, everything we made can either be reused or recycled after we are through with it.

Pinwheel Comic Wreath



Start by cutting a full comic page in half, like in the photo above.




Fold in half twice, each time cutting along the folded seam. When you are done you should have four separate small squares of comic paper. Repeat with the remaining full comic sheets.


Taking a small square, make a cut at each corner to the middle of the square, being careful not to cut all the way through. Once all four corners have been cut, you should have four triangles still attached in the middle. This is a great job for the kiddos to do.


Using a hot glue-gun on the low-setting, take a corner from each triangle and glue to the center of the square. (I glued while the kids cut.)


Once one pinwheel was assembled I used it to help gauge how many would need to be made all together.


Using large and small mixing bowls for the outlines, Dino traced and cut out the cardboard wreath forms. We needed eleven pinwheels to complete one wreath. Place a dab of hot glue on the back of each pinwheel and press onto the cardboard wreath, continue until no cardboard is showing.



The kids now have a festive and fun wreath to adorn their bedroom doors and its completely recyclable at the end of the season. (Although I'm hoping we can get a couple seasons out of these!)

Paper Snowflakes



This is such an obvious decoration but by using the endless stream of school papers that come home instead of new, you are not wasting virgin paper. I even like the whimsy look of the sentences shining through the snowflakes. Light blue handouts make really neat colored snowflakes too.

Glass Snow Jars



These glass snow jars were so easy and fun to make. Just grab any empty glass jars with a lid around your house and fill with white sugar. Add little animals, trees, Santas or whatever for your own homemade version of snow globes.


Don't throw out the sugar after the holidays- turn it into a body scrub! Waste not, want not: 1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup oil (almond, grape, apricot, etc.), 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp ginger and 1 tsp nutmeg. Mix all together and store in an airtight jar. Watch the shower floor after use as it can get slippery!

Eco-friendly holiday decorations can be fun, cute and rather inexpensive. Maybe family craft night can be a tradition in your house this year. Don't forget the popcorn and hot cocoa!

Linked with the Homemade Monday  and Simply Natural Saturday series.

Monday, November 10, 2014

How to Make Homemade Butter



When you are going to indulge in dairy then the pastured variety is the healthiest way to go- although it is by no means the cheapest. Grass-fed animals are more likely to be humanely treated and the nutritional content of their milk products is going to be far superior to what you would get from feedlot cattle. So while you 'pay for what you get,' there is a way to make pastured dairy more affordable: make it yourself!


Start by pouring 2 cups of the heavy cream into the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, mix on high. Wrap an old kitchen towel around the bowl because the cream will splash everywhere otherwise. Once it turns into whip cream, you can take the towel down but it will start splashing again when it starts to separate. Leaving the cream on the counter for 30 minutes beforehand will shorten the time it takes for the butter to separate from the buttermilk. Since I can never seem to remember to do this, it takes about 10 minutes for it to separate.


Once the stiff whip cream starts to turn into butter and buttermilk, switch to the paddle attachment on the mixer. If this is not done the butter will collect inside of the whisk making it difficult to get out. Wrap the towel around the bowl and mix on low speed until the butter and buttermilk have fully separated- about 2 minutes.

It will look like this.



Press all the butter into a patty on the side of the bowl to extract as much of the buttermilk as possible. Pour the buttermilk into a clean Ball jar and place in the fridge for use in baking.

This buttermilk is not the same as what is sold in the stores due to a lack of cultures but it is still incredibly delicious in bake goods. This recipe will yield a little over a cup of buttermilk. Make sure to use within the week.


Any remaining buttermilk in the butter will cause it to go rancid sooner rather than later, especially if you keep it out on the counter (I don't recommend this).  Rinsing the butter a few times will help it keep for longer. Pour cold, filtered water into the mixing bowl with the butter and turn on low speed for 10 seconds. (There are ice cubes in my photo but  I found it made the butter too hard to work with so just stick with the cold water.) Scrape the butter off the paddle attachment and form into another patty- dump the milky-looking rinse water and repeat this process until the water is clear. It took me a total of three times.


Place the butter on a piece of parchment and blot off any remaining water with a clean kitchen rag. Fold the parchment paper in half over the butter and use it to help form a butter log.

Made-with-Love next to a store-bought stick of butter.

Your yummy butter is now ready for consumption! Store in the fridge inside a butter crock or just roll back up in the parchment paper, twisting the ends tightly closed. Enjoy within 2 weeks. (Not a problem in my house!)

Make your holiday cookies extra special (and somewhat healthier) this year with some homemade pastured butter!










Monday, November 3, 2014

Homemade Wax Tarts for Diffusors



It's the holiday preseason and everywhere you turn there will be fragrances, candles and other Christmasy-scented paraphernalia that are lining the store shelves ready to turn your home into an olfactory wonderland. From this past post, you already know the dangers of artificial fragrances, however, you don't have to forgo the best smells of the season. In Christmas' passed, folks used to bring in fresh evergreen boughs and decorate it with dried oranges and cinnamon sticks. And of course, there is all the holiday baking that will be waifing through the air. If you still want something a little extra then give these homemade wax tarts a try.

Wax tarts are great because not only do you get to control what goes in to them but they are also incredibly easy to make and quicker than making candles. I used beeswax but you could also use soy or vegetable wax as well. You can find these waxes online at Mountain Rose Herbs or in local craft stores.


You will need:


  • 1 cup of wax (bee, soy or vegetable)
  • 30 drops sweet orange essential oil
  • 25 drops cinnamon bark essential oil
  • 25 drops juniper essential oil
Supplies :

  • container to melt the wax in (Pyrex glass measuring cup, old/clean tin can or ball jar)
  • pan large enough to hold the wax container
  • silicone baking cup molds



Start by making a water bath: fill the pan with an inch or two of water and place the container with all the wax inside of it. Turn the burner on medium-low heat. Stirring occasionally, heat wax until it is completely melted. Take out of the water bath and let cool for five minutes before adding the essential oils.


Some of the wax may harden after the five minutes- just scrape down the sides and stir until it is reincorporated. If it doesn't remelt then stick the container back into the hot water (leave the burner off) to help things along. Add in all the essential oils and stir. Quickly pour into the silicone molds. Let cool and harden for one hour. This recipe will make 5 to 6 wax tarts.

Mountain Rose Herbs also has beeswax votive candles. Please never leave a burning candle unattended- especially with children and pets.

                                        Place the wax tart in your candle diffuser and enjoy!


Linked with the Simply Natural Saturdays series

Monday, October 27, 2014

No-Sew Reusable Dust Wand



There is a microfiber cloth that sits in my rag bin week after week as the Swiffer duster wand gets all the love. I actually feel that the microfiber picks up more dust but I'm able to reach more places (being a shorty) and maneuver the wand more without having to move objects. However, the waste this produces isn't very green- economically or ecologically. The trick was finding a way to put the microfiber onto the duster wand. The only problem- I don't sew. Like, at all.

The solution: using the same method as a no-sew fleece blanket.

What you will need:


  • 12 in. by 12 in. microfiber cloths
  • 1 duster wand with a tab to hold the cloth in place (shown in photos below)
  • sharp pair of scissors
  • 4 straight pins

Start by folding the microfiber cloth in half and place the wand directly in the middle. Slide the cloth underneath the tab to hold in place. (The generic brands will more than likely have this tab over the name brand.)

Using four straight pins, pin both layers along the wand. This will hold the fold in place when you start to cut the strips.



Take the wand out and make five cuts up to the straight pins. Depending on what side you start on the first or last cut will be along the fold of the cloth. Do not cut all the way across. You will have 2 layers of five strips on each side of the cloth.


Double knot the strips that are directly on top of each other, working down the row. Then do the same on the other side.


Take out the straight pins and slide the wand back in, securing the cloth in the tab to hold in place. Give it a good shake to get all the loose microfiber particles off from the cuts or you can wash it first before use.


Meijer has a six-pack of microfiber cloths for $5 that will last for years, even with multiple washings. The generic brand of duster refills would cost me $10 and only last about a month with disposables that drain the wallet and add to our increasing waste problem. This reusable dust wand is the best of both worlds: more green for the planet and more green for your wallet! Now all you have to do is wave your wand and watch the dust disappear.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Upcycled Loot Bags



This past summer I read The Zero Waste Lifestyle by Amy Korst. I love to read but for those of you that don't- this is a quick, short read and a complete eye-opener to what our waste-habits are doing to this world. She also had some really neat ideas to help cut back on your trash output. Since reading this book, I have been trying to reuse and even upcycle what would normally be trash and/or recycling. I even created a way to reuse the endless forest of empty toilet paper rolls that are forever sprouting on the top of my toilet tanks (because no one in my family seems to know where the recycling bin is).

It turns out empty toilet paper rolls make a perfect shell for a loot bag container. Just add some paint, sparkly tissue paper and curled ribbon and you have what looks like a large piece of candy that houses the real deal inside.




  1. Start off with the empty toilet paper rolls, two colors of paint of your choosing, a straight edge paint brush, craft paper or newspaper to cover your workspace and masking tape.
  2. Wrap a piece of masking tape around the very middle of the roll so the ends overlap.
  3. Make two more masking tape rings on either side of the first one, leaving the width of masking tape of space between each ring.
  4. Paint the exposed roll in the color of your choice. Take off the tape as soon as either side of the tape has been painted. If you wait until the whole roll has been painted then the paint will come off when the tape does. Found that out the hard way (a few times) then it finally sunk in to take the tape off before starting the next level.
  5. Once all the masking tape has been removed do any touch ups to your first paint color and let dry completely. You could use painters tape but I didn't have any narrow enough for this project and I wanted to make these from items already on hand. For the second color use a straight edge brush and carefully paint along the first color on the roll. A steady hand is a plus but the straight edge brush will help keep you straight... enough. Again, let dry completely before going to the next step.
    The suckers are from Glee Gum and are just like blow pops but without the artificial colors! Whole Foods has them.
  6. Stack the candy on the tissue paper so that it will be able to fit into the toilet paper roll. Tightly roll the tissue paper up and gently push it into the toilet paper roll so that you have even amounts of extra tissue paper coming out both ends of the toilet paper roll. I had to give a couple of hard wiggles and shoves but it all ended up fitting. Tightly tie the ends of the tissue paper with ribbon, close to the toilet paper roll. Curl the ribbon and cut off any excess tissue paper. You want the end result looking like a wrapped piece of candy.
  7. Using lettered stamps and an ink pad, stamp each child's name onto the roll.
And now you have a cute, unique and upcycled loot bag! Reducing and reusing is rewarding on so many different levels: environmental, personal and economical. Before you throw out- think about what else it could be. You might just amaze yourself.



Monday, October 13, 2014

Maple and Sage Whipped Dip



So a certain organic, sprouted chip company introduced a pumpkin cranberry tortilla flavor this past month. They are insanely delicious and even a huge Costco size bag does not last more than three days in my house. I must be a chip snob because I just can't wrap my head around not dipping a tortilla chip. These were also being served at my kids' birthday party and chips without dip is like Bonnie without Clyde. Where's the fun?

Multiple recipe searches later I realised that what I looking for didn't exist. How in the billions of recipes online I couldn't find a maple syrup and sage savory dip is beyond me. Why maple syrup and sage? I don't know... it just sounded like a good idea with pumpkin and cranberry.

Cream cheese as a base was a solid choice in my opinion because messing up cream cheese and maple syrup is a hard thing to do. Not that I couldn't, mind you, just that the odds were stacked in my favor. You can definitely use a non-dairy cream cheese but since this was for a party I used the real stuff. For the savory aspect, I thought a small shallot sautéed in a little butter would complement the sage nicely. I whipped up all of the above ingredients in the stand mixer for about 6 minutes and son-of-a gun, the dip was really good. (Of course it was- right? Or I wouldn't be sharing this with you.)

The ingredients in color:


Maple and Sage Whipped Dip
Living Life Granola
8oz package of cream cheese or non-dairy substitute
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 small shallot, finely diced
1/2 teaspoon sage powder
Scant amount of butter

*Please use organic ingredients when you can.

For best results, let the cream cheese come to room temperature.  Meanwhile, sauté the shallot in just enough butter to not let in stick on the bottom of the pan. Do not let it burn- 2- 3 minutes should do it.

In a stand mixer bowl, combine the softened cream cheese, maple syrup, sautéed shallot and sage. Whip on medium speed for 6 to 10 minute or until desired consistency is reached. Best served right away but can be kept in the fridge for up to a week.


If you do store the dip in the fridge, make sure to let it soften a bit before you use or your yummy chips will break off in the dip. This dip would also be great on baked sweet potatoes or in a pumpkin soup. Be creative and have fun. If you come across a really scrumptious combo, please share below!

Linked with Simply Natural Saturdays.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Daily Habits to Naturally Detox



As knowledge of our increasingly toxic world is growing, so too are the number of detoxifying programs being marketed to consumers. The fact is, though, that the amazing human body you are walking around in is completely capable of naturally detoxing itself. We have the skin, liver, kidneys, colon and lungs working in some capacity in this endeavor. The best way to create a toxin-free inner environment is to limit toxic exposure in the first place. Eating organic whenever possible, drinking filtered water, using home-made cleaners (or safe store-bought ones), getting at least five servings of fruit and vegetables a day and staying away from processed grains, sugar and artificials will go a long way in keeping your internal detox system in tip-top shape.
However, there are some benefits to giving our detox organs a helping hand that can yield some great results in mood, mental clarity and physical well-being.

Drinking Water

Water is part of every function of the body including the removal of toxins. Even being mildly dehydrated puts stress on the kidneys and can cause constipation. If you wait until you feel thirsty to drink you are already dehydrated so make sure to bring water with you and drink it throughout the day. The type of water you are drinking will also determine if you are helping your body remove toxins or are actually adding more to the load. In our part of the world, we are lucky in that we don't have to worry about bacterial contamination. However, the chemicals that are being dumped into our water supply to combat potential contamination is causing a whole host of other health issues, in addition to all the industrial and agricultural waste as well. Bottom line: invest in a water filter. Check here to find your local water contaminants and the best water filter for your area.

Sweating

Through sweat the body eliminates salt, drugs and various other toxins. By utilizing the largest organ- the skin- it takes the pressure off of the liver and kidneys to do all the dirty work. As most of us don't have access to a sauna or steam room and we are supposed to be getting 20 to 30 minutes of exercise a day, getting sweaty to your favorite work-out is the perfect alternative. Make sure to be well hydrated before and after your sweat session otherwise it will not be as effective.

Dry Brushing

Dry brushing is a European practice of brushing the body with a natural bristled, long handled brush. This simple yet effective exfoliation technique stimulates the lymphatic system that is the body's pathway for removing toxins. It also stimulates the sebaceous glands (oil glands) that will help naturally moisturize the skin in addition to improving blood flow and circulation to the area. Super bonus on this one: it helps to diminish cellulite, ladies! I can actually attest to this- dry brushing is amazing. Take a few minutes before a bath or shower and starting with the bottom of your feet, brush towards your heart with gentle pressure. Brush the abdomen in a circular, clock-wise direction and don't forget in between your fingers and underarms. Skip the genitals, breasts (for women), neck and face. It's also a good idea to wash the body brush in mild soap once a week to keep it clean of dead skin debris.

Eating Algae

No, really, it's not as disgusting as it seems. Just throw some dried powder in your smoothie and call it a day. There are tens of thousands of different kinds of algae but spirulina and chlorella are the best known. Their chlorophyll content beats the pants off of other leafy greens which means they are potent detoxifiers. Chlorophyll is able to remove heavy metals from pesticides, environmental toxins or radiation from the body. It also is very alkalizing by balancing the internal pH. It is believed that disease cannot develop in an alkaline inner environment. Spirulina is so ancient that it actually doesn't have a hard cellular wall so the body can easily assimilate it unlike chlorella that needs to have the cell walls cracked or it will pass right through your system without being utilized. Look for broken cell wall on the packaging before you buy chlorella.

Fasting

Our digestive organs require huge amounts of energy in order to break down food. By refraining from eating solid food for a certain period of time, that energy can be directed towards repairing and healing the body instead. Rats and humans have been shown to have longer life expectancies when their calories are restricted. Fasting has also been reported to make the senses sharper, the head clearer and feeling more energetic. There are many different ways to fast. For my own every day purpose I do not eat anything after dinner but continue to drink water or herbal tea until bedtime. Upon waking in the morning I will drink 12 oz of fresh juice. My current juice recipe is 1 cucumber, 2 large carrots, 1 - 2 inches of ginger and 1 apple. Juicing is great due to all the vitamins, minerals and enzymes being absorbed by the digestive system right away without having to exert a lot of energy to breaking down solid food. A smoothie for breakfast is also easy on the digestive system. Drink plenty of water or herbal tea until lunch when a normal solid meal can be eaten.

Basically, how I incorporate all this into my day looks something like this:


  • Wake-up and make my juice. 
  • Do thirty minutes of exercise, making sure to drink water throughout. 
  • Before showering, dry brush (make sure your skin is dry before doing this).
  • Make a breakfast smoothie including chlorella powder. 
  • Drink tea and water until lunch. 
  • Lunch as usual.

This is what I have found to work with my schedule and that is how I am able to stick with it. Waking up a good ninety minutes before my kids helps too (like immensely). Go with what works for you, although, everyone should be drinking plenty of filtered water! Remember to not purposely fill your body with toxins and not freak out over the ones that do get in... your body's got it covered.





References:

Weil, Andrew, Natural Health, Natural Medicine: Houghton Mifflin, 2004. Print.

Tourles, Stephanie, Organic Body Care Recipes: Storey, 2007. Print.

Morris, Julie, Superfood Kitchen: Sterling Epicure, 2012. Print.