Saturday, December 22, 2012

Homemade Laundry Soap

When I quit my teaching job to become a stay-at-home mom about 6 years ago, my husband and I found ourselves struggling to make ends meet, as we had literally cut our income in half.  I eagerly tackled the job of finding ways to squeeze the life out of each one of our pennies.  I reevaluated everything we bought and cut out any non-essential items.  For those items that were essential, I scoured books and websites to find ways to acquire these items for less.  Along the way, I discovered that making my own cleaning supplies could really help the budget. 

Money is not quite as tight these days, but I still make almost all of our cleaning supplies.  Now, instead of being concerned about money, I'm more concerned about what is in my cleaning supplies.  I discovered the companies that make cleaning supplies are not required to list the ingredients on the label.  I had no idea what toxic cocktails I was using.  So, once again, I decided to take matters into my own hands, since it seems there are few companies out there we can trust.  Commercial brand laundry detergents are often full of synthetic chemicals and fragrances, which can cause a host of allergy problems. Children's sensitive skin is often irritated by these detergents. 

I also started to think more about not only how the toxins could effect my family, but also how they effect the environment.  Think about this for a second - everything you flush down the toilet or wash down the drain ends up in our water supply (and then we wonder why we're all getting sick...).  When I lived in the city, it was easy to ignore this fact.  I would put whatever I wanted down the drain and let someone else deal with it.  Out of sight, out of mind.  But now, we live in the country.  Everything I put down my drains ends up on my land and I personally have to deal with the effects of whatever toxins I allow to accumulate there.  It's sobering.  We reap what what we sow on our land.  Now I am very careful about what I allow into my house and down my drains.  I wonder how different we would live if there were no landfills, no sewers or waste water treatment plants, if we had to take personal responsibility for ALL our waste, instead of letting someone else handle it... But I digress.

I discovered this laundry soap recipe and have been using it to wash our clothes for the last 5-6 years. It's simple, inexpensive and effective.  I make a batch of laundry soap about every 3 months.  With our dirty lifestyle (the kids are constantly covered in dirt, mud and manure... and I'm not much better), I end up doing about 10-12 loads of laundry a week.    I don't have the exact math figured out, but the bar of soap costs $4, the borax costs about $4 and the washing soda is about $4.  The soap will make nearly a years supply of laundry soap and the borax and washing soda will last about 2-3 years.  So that makes a whopping total of about $6-8 for a years worth of laundry soap.  Not bad, if you ask me!

This laundry soap could not be easier to make!  For years I followed online directions that told me to make a liquid laundry soap - grate the soap with a cheese grater, then dissolve it in water, boil it, add the powders, blah, blah, blah.  One day it occurred to me that I was making this a lot more work than it needed it to be.  Why not just use a powder laundry soap instead of liquid?  It's the same ingredients, just more concentrated.

You will need 3 ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup Washing Soda:  This product can be found in the cleaning/laundry aisle of most grocery stores. 
  • 1/2 cup Borax:  Also found in the cleaning/laundry aisle.  Most stores put washing soda and borax right next to each other.  Note: Borax is not the same as boric acid.  Check out this post here by Crunchy Betty for the lowdown on borax.
  • 1/3 of a bar of Soap:  You can choose what ever soap you want, as long as it's actually soap (check that label and make sure it says "soap", not "body bar" or something like that).  Many homemade recipes call for Fels-Naptha soap and that is what I used for years, until I began to question the safety of it.  I still think it's fine to use, but some other soaps might be a better choice for the environment.  I've tried using Ivory soap and Dr. Bronner's bar soap as well.  Dr. Bronner's is my favorite so far (and as bonus, Dr. Bronner's soap is available in all sorts of scents). 

Cut the bar of soap into thirds and place 1/3 of the bar in your food processor (perhaps a blender would work too?  Have not tried it...).    Now measure out 1/2 cup of washing soda and 1/2 cup of borax.  Dump those into the food processor as well.

Pulse the food processor to break up the larger chunks of soap into smaller chunks like this:

Now run the processor for about 30 seconds until you have a mixture that looks like fine cornmeal.


Done!  Wasn't that easy?!?  Now pour your laundry soap into a container of your choice.  I like to write the instructions right on the jar so I don't have to take the time to look them up.  This recipe makes about a pint of powder (I store it in a quart sized jar).  You could easily double or triple the recipe.

How much laundry soap do you need to use?  Well, that completely depends on your washing machine.  I have a front loading HE machine that uses minimal water, so I only use about a teaspoon or two of laundry soap.  That's right - a teaspoon.  I've always been convinced that soap isn't what actually gets clothes clean - it's the agitation that cleans them.  Using too much soap just causes soap build up in the clothes (and it's a waste of money).  If I have a particularly stinky or dirty load of wash, I'll add about a 1/2 cup of baking soda to the wash. 
I've been very happy with this soap overall.  But in the spirit of full disclosure, I must tell you that I have had odor issues with some synthetic fabrics.  All of our cotton and natural fiber clothes come our smelling fresh, clean and lovely.  I wish I could say the same about polyester clothing.  Sometimes the kids fleece pajamas get stinky, unless I wash them in super hot water .  I'm not sure what the issue is.  Makes me wonder if my kids fleece pajamas were always stinky when I used regular detergent, but the odor was masked by the heavy synthetic "mountain fresh" scent.  Anyway, it's not a big deal for me and if anything, it makes me realize that I probably should not be dressing my kids in synthetic fabrics anyway.  We're slowly trying to make the transition to all cotton/natural fiber clothing. 
So there you have it, folks.  If you're like me, always looking for a way to save a few pennies and make the earth a safer place for our children, then maybe you could give this a try!  If you discover you don't like the laundry soap, you can use the rest of the bar soap on your own body and the washing soda and borax can be used for all sorts of cleaning uses. You've got nothing to lose.  Happy laundry washing! 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Love Does No Harm

"Love does no harm to it's neighbor" - Romans 13:10, NIV

When I set out to begin this blog eight months ago, I had thousands of ideas swirling around in my head. I was told by several sources that a blog should have a niche or specific topic.  This made sense to me, but I was confused.  How would I ever choose a theme and narrow my focus?  What did I want to write about?  Farming?  Homesteading?  Sustainable living?  Environmentalism?  Healthy living?  Stewardship?  Nutrition? Animal Welfare?  How could I choose just one?  As I tried to sort out the ideas in my brain and put them into neat little categories, I began to see that all these topics are intricately tied together.  Try as I could, there was no way to separate them from the tangled web they formed. 

But I began to see a common theme for each topic - they all focus on love.  Each one of these topics is dear to my heart because they reveal to me ways I can express my love for God, for my neighbor and for His magnificent creation.  Love is what holds everything together.  Love is what motivates me to "live well, live wisely, live humbly".  Love is the greatest.  God IS love.

Lately,  I have found myself constantly meditating on these words of Jesus found in Matthew 22:36-40:

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

It was with great grief and sadness that I realized I have failed to follow the second commandment.  Wrapped up in my own selfish world, I repeatedly fail to love my neighbor... and in doing so, I also fail to follow the first commandment.  How can I love the Lord with all my heart, all my soul and all my mind when I'm so wrapped up in myself?

For the past few months, I have been living in a state of  deep repentance.  God has opened my eyes and allowed me to see how I was really living.  He revealed to me my selfishness, my lack of concern for the needy, my pride, my foolishness in seeking trivial, worldly things.  He crushed me, left me raw and ragged, stripped down to nothing.  Everything I once thought true was turned upside down.  All I knew was this - GOD alone is unchanging.  GOD alone is my firm foundation.  GOD alone brings life.  I clung to Him like a drowning woman.   

He ripped out my old, hardened selfish heart and replaced it with a new heart, a heart the breaks for what breaks His heart.  It hurt. Badly. This process has been awe-inspiring, gut-wrenching, breathtaking and painful all at the same time.  I've been a wee bit of an emotional wreck as I've sorted through these intense feelings.  My eyes have been opened to the suffering of those around me, the suffering of all of God's creation as it groans in pain, awaiting the return of Christ.  I've slowly begun to realize that every choice I make throughout the day can either heal or harm.  What I buy, purchase and use each day directly impacts others around the world. Did this $5 shirt I just bought cause harm to the person (child?) that was forced to make it in a sweatshop in a third world country?  Did that bag of apples contribute to increased cancer risk in the farmer who had to spray toxic chemicals on the apples to make them look pretty enough for me to buy?  Will my grandchildren's generation struggle to find clean water because my generation has polluted the waterways with all our trash and toxic waste?  It's enough to make your head spin, people. 

No longer am I living a life blissfully unaware of these truths.  No longer am I wrapped up in my self-centered, self-serving, me-first world.  No longer is life easy and carefree.  No, life is more difficult and complicated then ever.... but strangely enough, I feel truly alive for the first time.

I want every choice I make, big or small, to reflect my love for God and my neighbor.  And that,my friends, is why we at Third Day Farms choose to live with way we do.  Everything we seek to do is a tangible reflection of love - recycling, gardening, choosing to support organic agriculture, seeking out fair trade goods, treating animals with dignity and respect, striving to be careful stewards of what God's abundant blessings, being thoughtful about what we purchase and eat, attempting to keep our bodies free of harmful toxins.... all this and more, we do as a reflection of love for our God and our neighbor (and the future generations of neighbors).  "Love does no harm to it's neighbor".  Each act we perform each day can be a statement of social justice.  Each choice we make, each purchase we make, can help to bring God's kingdom to earth now, to display His goodness.  Each day we have the opportunity to live intentionally with purpose or to live carelessly, habitually and inattentively. 

Is this a lot to think about?  Yes.  Is this overwhelming?  Of course it is.  Do I make mistakes?  You bet I do.   Friends, I am far from perfect.   Am I hypocritical?  All. The. Time.  I can't help it - I'm a sinful human.  But my God is a God of grace, mercy and forgiveness.  He loves me just the same, regardless of my successes and failures.  All He requires is that I do my best and seek His will in all things.  There is no need to feel guilt, but I believe we should embrace conviction - it is good, it drives us to change.  Guilt paralyzes.  Conviction empowers.  We live in a world where we are told we should seek happiness at any cost... but I think we're short changing ourselves if we fail to grapple with the "hard stuff", those convicting moments.  Pain encourages forward movement.  Pruning results in increased and stronger growth. 

The verse below has become my mantra that I repeat several times each day.  I want to live well.  I want to live wisely.  I want to live humbly.  God has revealed to me that actions truly speak louder than words.  I'm sick of talking the talk, but not walking the walk, if you will.   Change is not easy, but nothing is impossible with God. 

"Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It's the way you live, not the way you talk, that matters." -James 3:13, The Message

So, what is the theme of this blog?  I wish I knew... all I know is there are several topics I feel called by God to speak about and it would be foolish of me to try to put them all in their separate boxes.  It's not possible.  So, perhaps this is simply a blog about.... living.  Thanks for joining us along the way.

Monday, December 10, 2012

My M.V.P.'s

It all started with a bottle of Windex. My son was about 18 months old and like every good parent, I kept all cleaning supplies locked up with the child-proof latches on my cupboard doors.  My son was a bit mischievous and I was taking no chances. 

One spring day, I decided to wash the windows.  I sprayed the windows with my trusty bottle of Windex and started tackling the dog slobber and sticky toddler hand prints.  Immediately, I heard a sucking sound behind me.  I whirled around to find my son with the Windex bottle nozzle in his mouth, eagerly trying to sucking it down.  A few weeks back, we had bought him a squirt bottle and filled it with water for him to play with - he liked to suck the water out of the spray nozzle.  Apparently, my son thought the Windex was a water bottle too.  I rushed over to him and snatched it away from his mouth... and to my relief saw he hadn't actually swallowed any.  Whew.  So fast.  I had turned my back for 2 seconds.  What if I had walked out of the room for more than 10 seconds?  What would have happened?  What if I had done the same thing with toilet bowl cleaner?

I'll admit it.  I freaked out.  It terrified me that something so commonplace could seriously injure and sicken my child.  I vowed right then and there to rid my home of these horribly toxic cleaning supplies.  Reading the warnings on the back of the bottle made me cringe.  WHY had I never considered this before?  Why did I wait until it was almost too late?  And WHY in the world do we think we need these horrid concoctions to have a clean home?  Our cleaning products are harming us!  This is ridiculous!

After some basic research, I learned that making your own cleaning supplies is incredibly simple, easy and cheap!  It made me feel stupid for believing all those advertisements for cleaning products in magazines.  The cleaning aisles are filled with hundreds of different types of cleansers, but in my opinion, almost all of them are totally unnecessary and some are downright dangerous.  After ditching store-bought cleaning products, I've become very sensitive to the toxic chemicals in them.  Just walking past the cleaning aisle (I can hardly make myself walk down the aisle - I actually hold my breath and walk as fast as I can) makes my eyes water, my nose burn and my head hurt.  And good grief,  please, please, PLEASE ditch the air fresheners, especially in bedrooms.  The last thing we need is constant exposure to nasty toxins in our homes.  I used to put them in our bedroom and wondered why my husband's asthma would suddenly worsen and he would get headaches.  I was poisoning him in his sleep!  Get rid of them.  Even the cute little plug-in ones from the cute store in the mall (I can't even walk in there anymore either...).  They are toxic.  They are hurting you.  Out, out, out!  If you want your house to smell nice, try some essential oil diffusers.  Ok..... rant over.  Where was I?

Anyway....over and over, these homemade cleanser recipes called for baking soda and vinegar.  And thus, my love affair with these two wonderful ingredients began to blossom.  Imagine my delight when I discovered that baking soda and vinegar have thousands of uses!  I began to call these two items my M.V.P.'s.  I want to tell you a little bit about the role these items play in our household.

You might say I'm a wee bit obsessed with baking soda.  Whenever I have a problem that needs to be solved "baking soda!" always comes to mind first.  Rarely has it failed me.  Here are just a few things I use baking soda for:

  • Washing my hair.  Wait, what?  Baking soda in your hair?!?  Yup, this seemed totally wierd to me too, but now I love it.  I no longer use shampoo. A quick scrub in the shower with a tablespoon of baking soda diluted in water leaves my hair shiny, clean and oil-free.  Way cheaper than shampoo and I get to avoid the nasty toxins in some shampoos. If you are intrested in this, try searching the internet for "No Poo Method" (no sham-poo).
  • Face cleanser/exfoliant.  Mix a bit of baking soda with water until it makes a loose paste.  Gently massage into skin to rub away dead skin cells.  Rinse off.  Ahhh!
  • Cleaning my toilet.  Sprinkle some in the bowl, follow with a splash of vinegar, watch it fizz (this never gets old, especially for kids.... or 32 year olds) and then scrub away.  Ta-da.  Clean toilet.  Now go throw away that nasty toxic toilet bowl cleaner.  That horrid stuff has no place in your home, especially if you have children!!!!  If your child manages to swallow some, it would burn a hole in their esophagus.  Is a sterile toilet worth that?!?  I didn't think so.
  • Degreasing/cleaning counter tops.  No need to buy Soft Scrub (and the yucky toxic chemicals that come with it).  Baking soda mixed with a drop of dish soap will do the trick.
  • Deodorizing carpets.  Sprinkle on carpet.  Let sit for a few hours (or the whole day).  Vacuum.
  • Cleaning up stains or spills on the carpet.  For wet stains, dump some baking soda on top.  It will absorb much of the stain and then you can vacuums it up.
  • Toothpaste.  In a pinch, wet your toothbrush and dip into baking soda.  Works great!  In fact, we ran out of toothpaste and have been using this method for a few weeks now.  Not sure if we'll ever buy toothpaste again!
  • Deodorant.  You can dust it onto damp armpits right after showering (it will keep you odor-free and fairly dry) or you can mix it with other ingredients to create your own deodorant.
  • Laundry.  Add baking soda to particularly stinky loads of clothes.
  • Baking. A staple item for delicious baked goods :)

Vinegar is my other M.V.P.  There are two main types I use around the house:  white vinegar and apple cider vinegar. White vinegar is used mostly for cleaning and baking.  Apple cider vinegar is for body care and cooking.   I use vinegar for:
  • Conditioning my hair.  After washing my hair with baking soda, I pour a bit of apple cider vinegar into a small cup and dilute it with water.  Then I slowly pour it onto my hair and scalp, gently massaging it in.  Rinse and you're ready to go.  The vinegar smell completely disappears when your hair dries.
  • Facial toner/astringent.  Pour a bit of apple cider vinegar (organic is best) in a bottle and dilute with water, about 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water.  Wipe on your freshly washed face to adjust your pH (soap is alkaline, vinegar is acidic) and remove dead skin cells.  Who needs expensive alpha-hydroxy creams?!?  Vinegar does the same thing for much less.
  • Cleaning my toilet.  See instructions above in the baking soda comments.
  • Cleaning my coffee maker or tea pot. Fill tea kettle with vinegar and bring to a boil.  Dump the boiling vinegar down your sink drain (sprinkle with baking soda before hand for extra cleaning power).  For coffee makers, fill the pot with vinegar and pour it into the coffee maker.  Run one cycle with vinegar and then two cycles with water to rinse the machine.
  • Deodorizing sinks.  Pour baking soda and vinegar down the drain, followed by boiling hot water. 
  • Washing windows.  All you need for clean windows is vinegar and newspaper.  Put the vinegar in a spray bottle and go to town.
  • Washing/mopping the floor.  Fill a bucket with hot water.  Add about a cup of vinegar.  The vinegar will clean and disinfect the surface.
  • All Purpose Cleaner.  No need for that toxic 409 stuff.  Simply fill a spray bottle with 1 part vinegar, 2 parts water, a drop of dish soap or Dr. Bronner's soap and 3-4 drops of Tea Tree Oil.  You now have a bottle of non-toxic disinfecting cleaner.  I use it on everything - counters, sinks, windows, wall, carpets, bathtubs.  Hasn't let me down yet.  Sprinkle the surface with baking soda first if you need a little scouring action. 
  • Removing lime buildup or calcium deposits.  Spray area liberally with vinegar, or better yet, soak in vinegar overnight, if possible. 
  • Fabric Softener.  Ditch those nasty fabric softeners and toxin laden dryer sheets! Do you really want to be wearing and rolling around in toxins all day? Instead, add a 1/2 cup of vinegar to your wash cycle.  Dry as usual.  Or better yet, line dry/air dry.
  • Rinse aid for dishwasher.  I use a splash of vinegar instead of JetDry.
  • Culinary delights.  Vinegar adds flavor and bite to delicious dishes. 
  • Egg substitute.  You can omit the egg in many baking recipes by adding 1 tbsp of vinegar instead.  If the recipe doesn't already include baking powder or baking soda, you might want to also add a tsp of baking soda. 
These are just the few uses that came to the top of my head!  Do you use baking soda and vinegar?  Anything new to share with me?!?

Friday, November 30, 2012

Bring it on, Winter!

Winter.  It will soon be here, like it or not.  I've always enjoyed winter (good thing, because we live in Michigan and it can get pretty brutal), but I'm looking forward to winter more than ever this year.   After a long, hot summer, filled with days of working from sun-up to sun-down, I am ready for a break, ready to hibernate.  Bring on the evenings of dimmed lights, cups of hot tea and cozying up with a good book (or two or three - my reading list stack is starting to teeter).  We are ready for slow days, long nights and comfort food. 
The animals are preparing for winter as well.  I'm actually quite proud of us.  For once, we've worked ahead and made preparations well in advance.  There will be no scrambling when the snow finally comes, no "Oh crap!  It's snowing!  What are we going to do with the chickens?" 
 Our chickens live a  portable coop all spring, summer and fall, but they need a more permanent home for the winter.  Last year, we simply rolled the coop into the barn, laid down straw on the floor and left the birds in there for the winter.  It was not an ideal situation.  The birds were obviously bored and we felt bad they didn't have much space to move around.  However, we had such an unusually warm winter that we were able to let the birds outside to free range a large chunk of the season. Chickens are not fond of snow, but they will tolerate a small amount. 
We decided we needed a better solution.  After much consideration, we decided to turn the milking parlor in the barn into a winter-time coop.  Our barn has a partially underground room that is set up for milking cows, about 4 at a time.  I don't think it has been used in over 40-50 years.   We won't be getting a milk cow anytime soon, so in the meantime, it makes a dandy chicken coop.

The chickens get their own door knocker on the door to the coop

The floor is cement, so we covered it with a thick layer of straw.  We'll keep adding to that layer, throwing down more straw every other day or so.  The chickens will scratch in the bedding, essentially turning it over and starting the composting process.  Composting creates heat, so the bedding will eventually become warm and help to heat the coop.  This is called a "deep bedding" system, as opposed to cleaning out the coop/stall each day and replacing it with fresh bedding.   When spring comes, we'll haul out all the bedding and let it compost a while more before we put it on the garden. 

Inside the milking parlor/chicken coop

For the nesting boxes, we used an old Sauder, cheap-o particle board bookcase we had in the basement.  John made partitions, so now we have 6 nesting boxes.  The ladies hop onto the saw horses to get into the nesting boxes.  They also roost on the saw horses at night.

Nesting boxes and roosts

The goats are located right next to the chicken coop.  We figured they could all keep each other company over the winter, along with the barn cats.

View into the milking parlor from the goat stalls
The goats are kept in the old horse stall, which is connected to the milking parlor.  They have plenty of room to move around and cozy places to curl up at night.  We're going to use the same "deep bedding" system with the goats.  I can't wait to put the goat compost on the garden in the spring - we bought some from a neighbor this past spring and I credit it for the smashing success of our garden this summer!

Toro, our Alpine goat continues to amuse us with his antics.  He is very much a teenager, full of spunk and mischief.  He doesn't seem to realize how big he is (and he's not done growing yet!).  When I go in the stall to feed and water them, he tries to jump up on me and get attention.  This would be cute with a little goat, but he's almost taller than me and those horns can be unfortunate.  I feel like I'm training a dog, constantly telling him "Off!"and having to correct him.  He's starting to catch on!  He a fun animal to have around, full of personality.


Toro and Lacy

Lacy seems happy with her new home.  I often catch her laying out in the pasture sunning herself.  She is very easy going and a joy to have on the farm.  We are so thankful her owner loaned her out to us for the winter.  Toro would be a wreck without a friend to keep him company. 


We had a sad event a few weeks ago.  When the kids and I were crossing the street to visit the neighbors, my son started yelling and pointing at something on the road.  It was our mama cat, Harriet.  She had been hit by a car.  It was a bit traumatic for the kids and we were all so sad to lose sweet Harriet.  Now we are down to Harriet's three kittens - Lucy, Grayson and Tiger.  We hope they survive the winter.  We need cats in the barn to control the mouse population. 

Grayson. Isn't he handsome?

The chickens are slowing down with their egg production, as the days get shorter and shorter.  We currently have 16 hens, but only get about 8 eggs a day.  If production drops much more, we may install a light bulb in the coop and turn that for about 2 hours before the sun comes up, to make sure they are getting enough light.  Chickens only lay if they they get about 12-14 hours of light each day. I'm not sure how I feel about artificially altering their hormones... but I also don't want to have to buy eggs at the store.  We'll see... 

One of the Aracaunas (Easter Eggers), posing for her headshot. I love her "earmuffs"!

Hope you are all doing well and preparing yourselves for winter too!  Bring on the snow!

P.S.  Speaking of light bulbs in chicken coops... for all my chicken friends, be careful what kind of light bulb you put in the coop. GE and Sylvania make a light bulb called "Rough Service Worklight", which sounds like a great choice for a coop.  The bulb is coated in teflon to keep it from shattering. Good, right?  NO!!!  Teflon, when heated,  releases a compound that kills birds. There have been unfortunate cases where people installed these in their coops, only to find all their birds dead the next morning. If it can kill birds so easily, I wonder what it does to humans... which is why we don't use Teflon pans anymore and avoid items that have Stainguard or Scotchguard on them (teflon). Sylvania light bulbs has a warning on the label to avoid use around birds, but GE has failed to put this warning on the label.  The more I learn about teflon... eek! 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thoughts on "Eating Animals"

I just finished reading the book "Eating Animals" by Jonathan Safran Foer (he is also the author of the book "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close").  Gulp.  Not for the faint of heart, but if everyone in America read this book, I'd like to think our world and the health of it's inhabitant would look radically different. This is quite possibly the most powerful and convincing book I have read about earth stewardship.  I cannot recommend it highly enough. 

 I went into the book thinking I already knew all the evils of factory farming and doubted that I would learn anything new.  Wrong.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.  Turns out eating animals is not as simple as well... eating animals.  The whole process of eating animals from factory farms creates a ugly tangled web of animal rights issues, social justice issues, environmental issues and moral issues that many of us (myself included) are blind to...or would rather ignore.

 In this book, Safran Foer spends 3 years exploring factory farms and their accompanying slaughterhouses, talking with farmers and employees, getting first hand accounts of what really goes on behind closed doors.  This is not the rant of a lunatic PETA protester.  Safran Foer writes with calm clarity and insight, on a quest for the truth, presenting the reader with facts and allowing us to come to our own conclusions.  What sets this book apart from other animal rights books I have read is the author's focus on how animal suffering creates human suffering - for the farmers (who are often trapped in the system - they are not bad people, they're simply trying to make a living and the food giants told them this is the way of the future), the slaughterhouse employees (who work in inhumane conditions), and for us, the consumers (who eat the flesh of sick animals).  This quote from the book stopped me in my tracks:

"Our sustenance now comes from misery.  We know that if someone offers to show us a film on how our meat is produced, it will be a horror film... When we eat factory farmed meat, we live, literally, on tortured flesh.  Increasingly, that tortured flesh is becoming our own."  -p. 143

  The more I learn about the truth behind factory farming, the more uncomfortable I become.  That's the thing about knowledge, friends.  Once a truth has been revealed to you, how can you forget it?  In the past, I could claim ignorance about factory farming.  I had no idea what it involved, and quite frankly, I didn't care.  But now... now that I know, what will I do?  How can I knowingly support an industry that goes against everything I believe in, an industry that knowingly harms people, animals and the planet?  I cannot imagine that this is what God intended when He commanded us to "rule over the fish of the sea and birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."  He said rule, not torture, destroy or oppress.

One solution, many will point out, is to become vegetarian.  I now understand why so many people choose this path, but it is not for me.  While I agree that meat is almost unnecessary in our modern culture (which has a wide variety of foods available to us at all times), I still feel that meat can be part of a healthy diet, when consumed in moderation (you also should be aware that after his 3 years of writing this book, Safran Foer is now a vegetarian).

The only other solution I can come up with is to essentially become a vegetarian when I'm in social situation where I don't know where the meat came from.  I'm adopting the term "flexitarian" to describe this type of eating - I still eat meat, but only in special circumstances (like the safety of my own home, where I know the meat is humanely raised).  Hopefully, this will placate people who are curious why I'm eschewing meat, because I fear if I explain to people that I don't want to eat factory farmed meat, I will be labeled a "snob".  Why is this?  Why is it perfectly acceptable for people to be vegetarian, but if someone chooses to only eat humanely raised meat, they are considered a high-maintenance snob?  Is there something wrong with wanting to opt out of inflicting horrific suffering on animals?

How do I explain this to people without offending them?  Is it rude to refuse what a friend serves me?  If so, then why is it not considered rude when vegetarian turns down meat or a person of Jewish heritage declines eating pork?  How do I find out where the meat comes from without asking the host/hostess and starting a whole string of questions, without seeming disrespectful?  Am I ready to deal with the social and relational implications of this choice?  Blah.  I don't have answers.  All I know is this:  knowledge calls for action.  What good am I if I learn about suffering and do nothing about it?  I know I'm only one person.  I cannot change the world.  But maybe, just maybe, I can plant a seed... and we all know what marvelous things can come from one tiny seed. 

I take comfort in knowing that factory farming is a fad and will soon dissolve.  It is so ridiculously unsustainable, it will never survive.  In fact, it may be breaking down sooner than later, as droughts hit and feed costs rise through the roof.  When will we realize that animals were not created to eat this way, to live this way, to grow this way?  Someday, our children and grandchildren will ask us what it was like eating meat from factory farmed animals.  "You mean to tell me that you guys actually ate meat from sick, suffering animals that were jammed into stuffy barns, that were pumped full of antibiotics, just to keep them alive long enough? You supported farming practices that polluted our land, lakes, and rivers? You destroyed the livelihood of small farmers, put small town slaughterhouses out of business and ruined entire towns just so you could buy meat a little cheaper?  Thanks for leaving us this legacy, this giant mess that we have to deal with. What were you thinking?"  Obviously, we were not. 

"I felt shame for living in a nation of unprecedented prosperity - a nation that spends a smaller percentage of income on food than any other civilization has in human history - but in the name of affordability treats the animals it eats with cruelty so extreme it would be illegal if inflicted on a dog." - p. 40

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Goodbye Cheryl

It was not a surprise.  When Cheryl fell ill over 2 weeks ago, we knew it didn't look good.  In general, when a chicken gets sick, that is their death sentence.  Very few of them recover from illness.  We were fully aware of this, and expected her to die.  But it's human nature to cling to hope, right? We just never know how things might turn out.  We hoped for the best, but had realistic expectations. 

So why am I still so upset about the death of a chicken?  Chickens are not cute, they are not cuddly, they are not particularly endearing creatures.  And if I'm being honest, I don't have a real connection with most of our chickens.  I enjoy caring for them, but most are nameless birds wandering around in my backyard.  Cheryl, though.... she was different.  Her outgoing and friendly personality made her a pleasure to be around.  I spent many hours this summer working in the garden or yard, with her at my heels.  She kept me company, following me around, waiting for me to pet her or dig up a worm for her to eat.  Somehow, she gradually became elevated from "farm animal" status to "pet" status.

Cheryl was sick for a little over 2 weeks.  During that time, we kept her in the house so I could care for her.  She never laid an egg during that time, but did pass the weird looking thing called a "lash", as seen in my previous post.  A few days ago, we started putting her outside during the day since the weather was so nice.  Sunday night she didn't come to the door be brought inside.  Today my husband found her dead in the barn.  I think she basically starved to death - I could hardly get her to eat anything these last 2 weeks.  Poor thing. 

I wish I knew what happened to her and if there was anything I could have done to help her.  As much as we loved her, my husband and I had decided long ago that if any of our chickens fell ill, we would not spend the money to take them to a vet.  It's simply not in the budget.  We did out best to care for her and make her comfortable, so that has to be enough. 

The only upside to this whole situation is that now we don't have to agonize over the decision to butcher her someday.  As laying hens approach 2-3 years old, they stop laying regularly and it becomes more expensive to feed them than what they are worth in eggs.  There is no free lunch on the farm - animals need to earn their keep.  Our chickens have to lay enough eggs for us to sell, so in essence they pay for their own food. Next fall, we most likely have to butcher our 2 and half year old hens.  I was already dreading having to make the decision whether or not to spare Cheryl.  Now I don't have to decide. 

I wanted to share this photo of her I took this summer.  It's she stunningly beautiful?!?   Oh Cheryl, you will be missed.  The farm is not the same without you.  I'm thankful we were chosen to care for you during your short time on this earth.  I hope you enjoyed your days at Third Day Farms. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Strange Things: An Update on Cheryl

*Warning:  This post contains some gross (yet fascinating) photos.  If you are eating while reading this, STOP.  Read it later.  Just sayin'.  You've been warned.

Our beloved Cheryl, an ISA Brown chicken, has been ill almost 2 weeks now.  I know some of the blog followers also have chickens (and know how much we love these silly creatures). Perhaps someone out there can help us. 

Here's the scoop:  We noticed Cheryl looking a little "droopy" about 2 weeks ago.  She has been living in the house in a dog crate since then.  Cheryl barely eats, only a few bites a day (she likes yogurt or quinoa best).  She will drink, but only if I hold the water right up to her. Her comb has fallen over. She can walk, but prefers not to (probably because she has no energy from not eating).

At first, I suspected she was egg-bound (stuck egg - ouch!), as I noticed her abdomen seemed swollen.  I tried everything I could think of to help her.  I oiled her vent to make the egg easier to pass, I tried reaching a gloved finger up her vent to get things moving.  Goodness, I even gave her several warm baths, hoping to relax her muscles.  Nothing (she seemed to enjoy the bath and being blow dried, though!). 

And then last Friday morning when I went to check on her, I found this:

Ahhhhhhh!!!  What in the world is THAT?!?  She obviously passed this "thing" sometime in the night.  I picked it up to find that it was firm and rubbery, like a bouncy ball.  It looked just like a piece of breaded sweet and sour chicken, darker brown in some places, like it had been fried (....and now I can never eat that again, thank you very much).  It was soft, but not slimy.  Very, very bizarre.

So, of course I put photos of it on Facebook.  And of course everyone was curious what it looked like inside.  I succumbed to peer-pressure and decided I better cut it open.  Deep breath.  Slowly sliced it open.... to find this (are you sure you want to look at it?!? I'm giving you space to change your mind):

Scroll down....

Whoa.  I don't know what I was expecting, but not this.  What IS this?  At first I thought maybe it was a weird egg, but after cutting it open, I don't think it's an egg at all.  It looks like body tissue, not embryo. 

So, I jumped on some chicken forums (you would be SHOCKED how many chicken forums are out there!  Crazy chicken me...) and discovered a few people with similar situations.  Turns out this "thing" has a name- it is called a "Lash".  Ok, great, I know what it's called.  But what IS it?  I still don't really know.  Some sources say a lash is layers of reproductive tissue, or parts of the reproductive tract.  I cannot find any information that will tell me if this life threatening or not.  Seems there is very little known about lashes, what they are, how/why they are formed and what they mean. 

It's been nearly a week since Cheryl laid the lash.  She seemed to perk up a bit after she laid it, but still has not been eating much at all.  We've been giving her vitamins and electrolytes.   Her abdomen felt better the few days after the event, but today she felt lumpy again.  I fear she has more weirdness inside her. 

We're getting to the point where we ask "What now?"  She's no better or worse than she was almost 2 weeks ago.  Do we keep trying to nurse her back to health?  Do we turn her loose outside with the rest of the flock?  Will she ever lay eggs again?  As much as I love her, I'm not super thrilled about having a chicken living on the kid's play room.

What to do, what to do....

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Pat's Bread

Pat has been a family friend for as long time.  Even as a small child, I remember being in awe of her kindness, her generosity, her creativity... and her energy!  The woman is unstoppable.  Despite the fact that she always seems to be on the go, she also has a special talent for hospitality and thoughtful gift-giving.  I've never seen her arrive anywhere empty handed.  She never forgot birthdays and alway sent the "coolest" gifts when we were children.  When I think of women of faith that inspire me, Pat is on my Top Ten list. 
This past summer, Pat and her husband were able to make a trip to our farm for a tour. It was wonderful to see them again!  They had many words of wisdom to pass on, as she and her husband have been gardening and preserving food for many more years than I have.  I delighted in hearing Pat's stories of growing up on a farm herself.  These are memories and stories that need to be preserved. 
Of course, Pat showed up with gifts.  Of course!  She brought small toys and books for my children and canning supplies for me (she knows me well!).  Also, she brought a loaf of sandwich bread, which was quite possibly the best bread I have ever devoured (yeah, I may have eaten the whole loaf myself...).
I simply had to have the recipe, so Pat kindly sent it my way.  For the past few months, I have been tweaking the recipe a bit, sometimes sucessful, sometimes not.  I wanted a bread that was made of 100% whole wheat, but I've discovered it's difficult to make a soft, tasty whole wheat sandwich bread.  I figure mostly whole wheat is better than none.  I still have not perfected the recipe (I think Pat has magical hands that make everything taste fabulous), but I'm pretty happy with it.  Here is the recipe, with my changes:
  • 8 cups of flour ( at least 1-2 cups of bread flour AND then the remaining flour either whole wheat flour OR white whole wheat flour OR a combination of the two)
  • 2 tbsp yeast
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 3/4 cup warm water
  • 1/3 cup honey OR brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp melted coconut oil OR butter
  • 1/4 cup ground flaxseed
  • 1 large egg
1.  Mix the whole wheat flour, yeast and salt in a large mixing bowl (I use my KitchenAid mixer).  Slowly stir in the water, honey, coconut oil/butter, and egg.  Then add the groud flaxseed and half of the bread flour.
2.  Stir all ingredients until mixed.  Knead dough on a floured surface, using up the remaining bread flour.  Knead until smooth, about 5 minutes in a mixer, 10 minutes by hand.
3.  Place dough in a greased bowl, cover with a towel and let rise for 1 hour (or until doubled in size).
4.  Punch down dough and divide into thirds.  Shape into loaves and let rise in the bread pans for 30-45 minutes (or until the dough rises above the top of the pan about an inch or two).
5.  Bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes. 
-End results depend on the flour you use.  You can use more bread flour if you're not a huge whole wheat bread fan. I had the most sucess using King Arthur Whole Wheat flour.  The King Arthur White Whole Wheat is nice too (white whole wheat is still 100% whole wheat).  Recently, I purchased a 50 pound bag of Whole Wheat Pastry flour and was disappointed to discover that it did not work well for the bread, despite my many attempts.  Oh well!  It's fabulous for for everything else - cookies, pancakes, biscuits, tortillas, etc.
-This recipe makes 3 loaves of bread.  I've found that the size of the bread pan can make a big difference.  I prefer smaller bread pans, which are hard to find (I found mine at a garage sale).  Smaller pans create a taller loaf, more like bread you would buy at the store.
-Dinner rolls - Often, I will make make 2 loaves of bread and turn the third piece of dough into rolls.  Simply pull apart the dough into pieces and roll them into balls.  Place the dough balls in a baking pan to rise alongside your bread.  Reduce the baking time by about 10 minutes (keep on eye on them, as oven temperatures and times vary.  They are done when golden brown on top.)
-Cinnamon Swirl Bread - A special treat!  This bread makes stellar french toast, or just eat toasted with butter.  Simply follow the bread recipe from above, but add an extra egg yolk to the dough.  After the first rise,  punch down the dough and divide into thirds.  Take one section (1/3) of dough and roll it out on a lightly floured surface, about 8 inches wide and 24 inches long.  Spoon all of the filling onto dough and spread evenly.  Starting at the short end, carefully roll the dough, tucking in the sides to keep the filling from spilling out.  Pinch the seam and place dough in a greased pan.  Let rise again before baking.
Filling Recipe:  Combine the following ingredients-
-1 large egg white (you already put the yolk in with the bread dough)
-2/3 cups brown sugar, sucanant or maple sugar (our favorite!)
- 2 tbsps flour
-1 tbsp cinnamon
-1 tsp vanilla extract

A special thanks to Pat for sharing this great recipe!  Happy bread baking!

Friday, November 9, 2012


* Bear with me.  This post is not about farming, animals, food, gardening or health.   I promise to get back to our regularly scheduled programming...

You are the potter.  I am the clay.

There I rest on the table, shapeless, formless, blissfully comfortable.  I know life no other way.  I have been in this state for as long as I can remember.

You approach the table.  Picking me up in Your hands, You roll me between Your palms, examining me, observing me... then slam me down onto the table.  Over and over again I am smashed, no trace left behind of my previous form.  Then comes the kneading, the pressing, stretching, pulling, as You work to eliminate air pockets from me, worthless space, excesses that cause me harm.

Battered and bruised, You carry me tenderly to the potters wheel.  You take my limp, pliable body and carefully place me in the center of the wheel.  The wheel begins to rotate, faster and faster, until I am spinning wildly, out of balance, flailing about.  Then I feel Your powerful hands surrounding me and I am overcome by the pressure - oh, the pressure.  I don't know if I can bear it.   Your strong hands gradually smooth my lumps, remove my wobbles, move me precisely to the center of the wheel.  Slowly, You remove Your hands to reveal me spinning smoothly, beautifully, perfectly centered by You.  I am an object of beauty, full of possibilities, hopes, futures, dreams, expectations.  I wait eagerly for You to transform me from a simple lump of clay into a vessel, a vessel to suit Your purposes.

You begin to prepare me for more stretching.  Slowly, methodically, You pull me upwards, applying pressure from all sides.  I cannot escape it.  Gradually, I begin to take form.  You ruthlessly shave and scrape away excess clay, anything that does not compliment the form You intend for me.  More pushing, more pulling, more thinning, more shaping, more scraping.  Finally satisfied with my form, You slow the spinning wheel to a stop.  I am complete... yet not finished.  I am still terribly fragile, easily broken, able to revert back into my former state of nothingness. 

No, I need to be fired in a furnace, baked by heat until I am solid and strong.  You carefully place me in the furnace and I am slowly enveloped by the searing heat.  The inferno changes me, renews me.  When I finally emerge, I am transformed.  Though I may look similar, I have been permanently changed.  There is no going back to who I used to be. 

You gently pick me up, stroke me lovingly, and give me a nod of approval.  I'm ready to be a vessel for You, one of the many vessels You use each day for countless purposes.  It is the ultimate honor to be used by You, my loving, tender Creator.

You are the potter.  I am the clay.

For the past few years, I have been undergoing a slow transformation.  After years of crying out, asking God to change my heart and transform me into who He wants me to be, I'm finally beginning to recognize His work in my life.  There have been many deeply personal issues weighing on my heart lately, things that I cannot even begin to find the words for.... I cannot describe them if I tried.  I find comfort knowing that God understands these groaning of mine, these things I cannot utter. 

I sensed a change about to overcome me.  Often, I had the oddest sensation that I was standing on the edge of a cliff, contemplating jumping.  This past week, I felt God give me a gentle push off that cliff.  I am in the free-fall right now.  What does this mean?  I don't know.  How will I land?  I don't know.  I just know that I'm going to hit bottom soon... and once I hit bottom there is nowhere else to go but up. 

This week, I was weeping to God in the morning, pouring out my feelings, telling Him how I was feeling pulled, stretched and shaped, so much that it hurt.  I was having trouble finding balance, feeling totally uncentered.  I was pleading with Him, asking Him to remove this pain... and then it hit me that THIS is what I had been asking for.  I had BEGGED Him to transform me, to change me. God is answering my long-suffering prayer. When I realized this, I had to laugh through my tears.  Change is hard.  Change is painful.  Change requires removing parts of our old self and taking on a new self.  It reminds me of that old saying "Be careful what your ask for".  I asked for this.

As I was wondering how God will transform me, the imagery of a potter working at the wheel kept coming to mind.  In my former life (before I became a stay-at-home-mother), I was a high school Art teacher and I taught countless students how to "throw pots" on the wheel (that is the technical term for making something on the potter's wheel).  There is something grounding and powerful about working on the wheel, watching something come from nothing, participating in the joy of creating as God does.   I remember teaching my students that one of the main reason humans create art work is to express emotion.  There are some things in this life that words simply cannot contain.  Art is taking the internal and making it available to all to see (and this is why artists are so sensitive about their art - we're literally putting our inner thoughts on display for the world... talk about putting yourself out there...).

  I remember the day there was a tragedy in our school, announced during a school gathering.  The father of one of my students had suddenly died the night before. We were all overcome with grief and shock.  I vaguely remember stumbling back to the classroom and my beloved students found me sobbing in the kiln room. Some students solemnly began working on projects, others cried, while many sat unable to move, painfully aware that we were missing a classmate that day. I could not speak - one of my dear students took the reigns for me and lead us in a time of prayer.  Afterwards,  I wandered over the to the potters wheel and found a piece of clay waiting on one of the potters wheels - it had been placed there the day before by the student who father had died.  Sensing God's direction, I sat at that wheel, fought back the tears, and began to transform that lump of clay into something of beauty, finishing the work my student was not able to do.  The feel of the clay in my hands soothed me, centered me, smoothed my raw, jagged edges.  That clay seemed to absorb my grief and sadness, and out of it rose something beautiful. I desperately needed to create that vessel, to feel that connection to God, to be reminded of His promise that He will make all things beautiful - I had no words to express my sorrow, but my hands knew how.   When the vessel was finished, I fired it, glazed it and presented it as a gift to the suffering family.  Even on such a terrible day, God's wonder, goodness and beauty were still present.. 

  I have begun to see myself as the clay and God as the potter.  God takes my grief, my sadness, my failures, my inadequacies, my rough edges... and He transforms me into something beautiful, something that has purpose.  Right now I feel as though I am in the kneading stage - God has taken me from my complacent life and is in the process of stretching, smashing, pulling at me. It hurts.  It's making me question everything I accepted as "normal" (and this is big, because I'm not used to asking questions... I always simply accepted things).  My world is being turned upside down.   God is removing things from me, taking away what harms or hinders me from being who He wants me to be.  Soon, He will place me on the wheel and center me.  He will form me.  He will place me in the furnace to change me.  Yes, this is what I desire - center me, form me, change me.  I am an expression of God's heart, something words cannot describe. 

Transform me, Lord Jesus. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012


Just a quick post today.  I'm hoping someone wiser than me will have some words of wisdom to impart. 

Our dear Cheryl is not doing well.  I noticed on Saturday that she looked a little "droopy" - not moving much, standing around with her body all hunched up and her head down.  We didn't think much of it, but when I went to open the coop Sunday morning, she didn't come out.  Poor thing stood there and as I watched her from the kitchen window, she didn't budge for over 45 minutes.  So I pulled out the "chicken hospital" (a.k.a. the old dog crate) and put her into the Intensive Care Unit (our house). 

Upon examination, I discovered that her comb had drooped over and was starting to turn dark purple.  Her abdomen felt slightly swollen.  She would not touch food, but I was able to get her to drink by holding up the water right to her beak. 

She has now spent 4 days in the ICU.  Her comb is still droopy, but no longer purple (maybe it was the cold weather?).  She abdomen feels more or less the same. There is evidence of poop in her cage, so I know she is not completely blocked up.   I'm wondering if she is egg-bound (the egg is stuck inside her), since she has not laid an egg in 4 days and she normally is a reliable layer.  I even went so far as to lube up her vent with olive oil and have a feel around inside her (with gloves of course!), but I can't feel anything resembling an egg.  Most websites say that an egg-bound chicken usually dies in about 48 hours.  Is that really what is bothering her?  And if not, what is?

I've given her two baths in warm water to help relax her vent muscles, hoping it would help her pass an egg, if indeed that is her problem.  No such luck, but she did seem to enjoy her warm bath, along with the towel rubdown and feather blow drying.  Let me tell you, it takes a loooooooong time to blow dry a chicken.

I'll be the first to admit I feel a little silly spending so much time caring for a chicken.  The farmer in me says that she will most likely not improve and it would be more humane to put her out of her misery.  But the other, more sentimental side of me can't bear to do that if there is hope she might get better.  She doesn't seem to be in pain.  She perks up when I come to check on her and help her drink, or offer her food (I did get her to eat a little yogurt and oatmeal).  I know I should not be so attached to a chicken... but I am.  Cheryl is special and we all love her dearly. 

If anyone has advice or suggestions, please share! 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Homemade Deodorant

I am often asked about my personal care products.  People are curious what I use and why.  When I started down the path to more natural body care, Antiperspirant  was one of the first products I tackled (I'm still in the process of figuring out other products).  Why Antiperspirant?  Well, I had two major motivators.
First, it occurred to me one day, as I thought about the function of our skin, that the skin is one of the body's foremost agents of detoxification.   Ever noticed how your skin smells like garlic if you eat a lot of it?  Or how you can smell a drunk person a mile away?  Your skin helps your body rid itself of impurities.  It seemed odd to me that I would willingly slather Antiperspirant on each day, trapping in bacteria and toxins that my body was desperately trying to expel.  What happens when we clog those pores day after day?  Who knows...
Second, I found several sources indicating that high levels of aluminum in the body are linked to Alzheimer's disease.  Aluminum is often found in pots and pans, cooking utensils, some baking powders and you guessed it, Antiperspirant.  There have also been several studies linking aluminum with breast cancer.  Whether or not these studies are accurate, I'm not keen on being anyone's guniea pig.  After thinking long and hard, weighing my options, I decided that being slightly less sweaty (I never did find an Antiperspirant that was effective for me) was not worth the potential risks.
So I took the plunge.  I stopped using Antiperspirant and switched to a "natural" deodorant (deodorants simply make you smell better, they don't keep you from sweating).  And....  my arm pits sweat like there was no tomorrow.  A monsoon.  It's almost like I had 20 years of sweat and grossness piled up in those pores.  Oh wait, I did.  It made me want to go running back to the Antiperspirant, but I realized my body was simply detoxing itself.  I gritted my teeth and kept my arms low for a few days.  Lo and behold, within a week or so, the sweating slowed down...the odor lessened... and  I felt fresh and clean, cleaner than I had felt in years.  My arm pits breathed a sigh of relief. 
Unfortunately, I was none too thrilled with the store bought "natural" deodorant.  It did a nice job eliminating any odors, but it made me feel slimy, or as my husband says "swampy".  Not a good feeling.  After some trial and error (and many tubes of deodorant from the store), I stumbled upon this homemade deodorant recipe.  By golly, it worked for me! 
I have been using this recipe for the past 2 years and I love it.  For a year, I kept a tube of Antiperspirant in the bathroom "just in case", but I found it completely unnecessary.  No longer do I have arm pits full of white, gunky stuff.  No more ruined shirts.  I tossed it in the trash and have never looked back. 
I can't guarantee this recipe will work for you, since we all have a different body chemistry, but it might be worth a shot and it's MUCH cheaper than store bought deodorants.  Here is what you need:
  • 2 tbsps baking soda
  • 2 tbsps cornstarch or arrowroot powder
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1-2 drops of essential oil
  • Container for the deodorant
    1.  Make sure the coconut oil is soft, but not melted.  Coconut oil is a solid below about 76 degrees.  Above that temperature, it turns to liquid.  You want the oil to be right around 75 degrees or so.  You may need to warm it (stick the bottle in warm water) or cool it (in the fridge), depending on the temperature of your house.
    2.  Place all of the ingredients in a cup or bowl.  Stir to mix well.

    3.  Pour the mixture into your container of choice.  I like to reuse an old deodorant tube.  This recipes makes almost exactly the right amount to refill a tube.  Or you could pour it into a small jar.  To apply the deodorant from the jar, simply dip your finger into the container (or scrape some off with your thumbnail if the deodorant is cold) and massage into your armpits.

    4.  Since coconut oil melts at 76 degrees, you will need to keep the deodorant in the fridge during the summer.  I know, that seems really weird.  It is.  But chilled deodorant on a hot summer day is a simple pleasure!  I keep mine right next to my coffee cream, so I see it every morning and don't forget to put it on. 
    *I like to use arrowroot powder instead of cornstarch.  The cornstarch gave me a mild rash.  You can find arrowroot powder at a health food store in the baking aisle. 
    *My essential oil of choice is Tea Tree Oil.  It smells fresh and clean, with the bonus of being highly anti-bacterial.  

    Remember, one of your skin's roles is to detox the body and remove impurities.  If you are eating lots of processed junk foods, you might smell, well... junky.  You are what you eat.  I wonder how much of our "body odor" is actually diet related.  Try switching to "clean foods" and see if your body starts feeling and smelling clean too!

    If this all sounds like too much work, you can take the route my husband does.  I bought him a large cosmetic powder brush and dumped some baking soda into a small jar.  After he showers, he dips the brush in the powder and dusts the baking soda on his damp arm pits.  Works great for him.  Or you could just do nothing - no deodorant, so baking soda, nada.  I end up doing that more often than not, when I forget to put on my deodorant in the morning! 

    Have you tried giving up Antiperspirant?  What worked for you?!?

    Wednesday, October 24, 2012

    How Sweet It Is... To Bee Loved By You

    Oh, my beautiful bees, how do I love thee?  Let me count the ways...

    First, you did a marvelous job pollinating my garden.  We had an outstanding first year with the garden, produce overflowing.  I credit you for our success.  You have more than earned your keep at Third Day Farms.

    Second, my husband and I were humbled that you allowed us to work along side you all summer.  You permitted us to see the inner workings of your hive and taught us beautiful lessons about our amazing God and creator, a God of order and wonder, a God who cares deeply about even His tiny insects.

    And third... you blessed us with 5 gallons of honey.  5 gallons!  We were told by other beekeepers that this was the worst year they could remember for beekeeping and not to expect much honey at all, if any.  Those 5 gallons will save us almost $200 on our food bills this year (we use a LOT of honey, mostly in baking as a substitute for sugar).  Never mind that we invested almost 4 times that much money buying the equipment we would need to get started beekeeping!  Most of those items were one time expenses that will soon pay for themselves. 

    When we decided to embark on our beekeeping adventure this year, we had no idea what we were doing.  Some days I still feel like we have no idea!  I'm sure we made countless mistakes.  I can't tell you how many times I would read another beekeeping book and say to my husband "Oh no!  We forgot to  _________!  I hope we didn't kill the whole colony!"  Good grief, I could work myself into a tizzy worrying about what we did/failed to do. Oh well. We did our best, and I keep telling myself, we learn by making mistakes... and making sure we don't make the same mistake twice!

    We were not sure if we would be able to harvest any honey at all this year, so we were delighted to discover that our bees did indeed have some to share with us.  In order for the bees to survive the winter, they need about 60 pounds of honey to eat.  Any surplus honey beyond that is available for the taking.  Each of our hives had 2 "brood boxes", which could be described as the living quarters for the bees - the queen lives here and lays her eggs.  The main food supply is also stored here. Stacked on top of these brood boxes, we had a "honey super", which is where the bees store their extra honey. A strong bee colony can fill 2-4 supers over the summer.  A brood box contains about 40-60 pounds of honey and the supers hold about 30 pounds. 

    We left the brood boxes for the bees and took the supers for us.  Here is the tale of how honey makes it from the hive to your table!

    1.  Remove frames.  John and I headed out to the bee yard with the smoker and a large lidded plastic storage container.  We gently smoked the bees (don't want to use too much smoke or it make the honey taste "smokey") to calm them, and then removed the lid of the hive.  The frames in the supers were full of honey... and bees.  We gently brushed the bees back into the hive and quickly transferred the frames to the lidded plastic container. 

    Once we had all the frames we wanted, we closed up the hive and made a bee-line for the garage, where we had the honey equipment set up.  It's important to choose a bee-proof place, as the bees are drawn to the scent of honey!

    Pulling the last frame out of the super

    Frames in the plastic container, ready to be carried to the garage
    2.  Cut off wax cappings.   The frames are held over a basin or container to catch the wax cappings.  A bread knife is dipped in boiling water and then used to quickly cut off the wax cappings, releasing the honey.  As you might imagine, this was a hot, sticky mess. 
     Cutting off the wax cappings with a hot bread knife
    Wax cappings.  These are saved to be melted down into beeswax
    3.  Place uncapped frames in the honey extractor.   Honey extractor are essentially centrifuges.  The frames are loaded into the holders and then you turn the crank, flinging the honey out of the frames and onto the wall of the extractor.  There are several different styles and models of extractors, but they all perform the same basic operation.  Some, like this one, hold 2 frames, some can hold up to 20!  Extractors are expensive, ranging from $300 - $1,500, depending on size, quality and capacity.  Thankfully, a friend had a extractor we could borrow.  It had been stored in a barn for the last 20 years or so, but it cleaned up nicely and worked like a charm!
     A peek into the 2 frame honey extractor

    My husband and my dad spinning the extractor

    Honey flinging onto the walls of the extractor

    My son sneaking some honey - it was irresistible!!!  Notice some of the combs look a little funky. We're not sure why they built some of them that way...
    4.  Strain the honey. Once we had uncapped and extracted all 20 frames, we were ready to strain the honey.  First, we picked up the extractor and set in on a low table.  After that, we simply stuck a 3 gallon water cooler under the spout at the bottom of the extractor and allowed the honey to flow down, using a fine mesh sieve to strain out any pieces of wax.  Easy peasy.  Unfortunately, the weather turned on us during our extracting time and dipped down into the 50 during the day and 30's at night.  Let me tell you, cold honey drains sloooooooooooooooow.  The whole process of draining the honey from the extractor took us a few days.  Next time, we'll pay closer attention to the weather and choose a warm spell.
    Straining honey into the water cooler
     5.  Bottle the honey.  We could have bottled the honey directly from the extractor, but since it was so cold, we found it easier to drain into the water cooler, then bring it into the house to warm up.  Again, this process took a few days, but we end up filling 3 gallon containers, 5 quarts and 4 pints - just shy of 5 gallons total!
    Filling the bottles
    6.  Reserve wax cappings for use.  After straining all the honey out of the wax cappings container ( I placed them in a colander lined with clean cheese cloth), I was left with about 3-4 pounds of wax bits, enough to fill a shoe box sized container.  They have been washed and strained again.  Now I need to figure out how to melt the wax and what I want to do with it.  So many options!  Candles, lip balm, furniture polish, mustache wax (wait, what?), base for lotions and cosmetics...  I predict that my friends and family may be receiving some homemade lip balm, solid perfumes or candles for Christmas, seeing as how we spent all our money on the farm endeavors this year.  Put in your requests for lip balm flavors now! 

    Straining the honey from the wax cappings
    There!  That wasn't so hard, was it?  We found it just takes time.  It's not very much hands on work, just many hours waiting for honey to drain and refilling bottles.  We are excited to have this honey on hand and look forward to expanding our operation little by little so that we will have honey to sell someday (sorry, folks, we're going to use all this year's harvest).

     How do we use so much honey, you ask? Well, I use it in many of my baking recipes, such as granola, bread and muffins.  We try our best to limit our intake of cane/beet sugar and use honey and maple syrup as a substitute whenever possible.    We also use honey as medicine for sore throats, coughs and colds.  For a nagging cough and sore throat, there is nothing better than a spoonful of honey and some hot tea.  Honey coats and soothes the throat wonderfully.

    My husband eats raw honey (honey that has not been heated) on bread or toast to combat allergies.  I have shared this before, but since we started buying raw honey and cut out processed foods, my husband's seasonal allergies have disappeared.  Completely.  We gladly threw away all the allergy pills that he had been popping like candy.  He still struggles with asthma in the winter time (the dust bothers him), but no more hayfever!  My sister who is in med school told me consuming raw honey is like getting a vaccine for potential allergens.  Ingesting a small amount of local, raw honey might help you too!  Look for honey harvested as close to your home as possible (so that it contains pollen from the plants that bother you) and make sure it's raw (direct from the extractor, not heated).  Sure beats popping pills!

    We also use honey on minor cuts and scrapes.  Honey has natural antimicrobial properties (bacteria cannot survive in honey) and can be used to heal and protect small wounds.  I peeled a few cloves of garlic and let them steep in a small jar of honey for few months.  When it was ready, I pulled out the garlic and now I have garlic infused honey that I use on our cuts and scrapes (garlic is great for fighting bacteria, fungus and viral infections).  Not only does it work great, but it also tastes good :)  In fact, I think it would be a great topping for chicken breasts or pork chops!  You could also use this garlic infused honey as a sore throat remedy.  Goodness, I love finding multiple purposes for items! 

    When I think of all the uses and purposes for honey and it's byproducts, I become overwhelmed by God's goodness and creativity.  What a gift He has given to us!  Insects that make good things for us to eat... and heal us?!?.  Absolutely brilliant.  You surely outdid yourself on this one, God!    How sweet it is...