GF Isn't an Acronym for Bad Words

I've been mostly gluten free for the past two weeks.  I say mostly because I sort of cheated.


Ok.  Fine.  Technically three times.

The first time was this past Tuesday.  The kids wanted pizza night and I'd had a long day.  Not wanting to really cook, I got a couple of those cheap frozen pizzas.  The really cheap ones. The ones that taste more like the cardboard disk underneath then than the picture under the plastic wrap suggests.

Later that evening and through the next morning I had a migraine, along with inflammation and cramping in my legs and feet.  On Wednesday, since I had forgotten to prepare anything for that day's lunch and was in a hurry, I grabbed some of the leftover pizza, although I knew what might happen.  It did.  The migraine continued through the day and evening.  I could barely see.  Light hurt.

Did I learn my lesson?

Temptation is an ugly monster, my friends.  Ugly.

On Thursday a wonderful woman who works with our office brought doughnuts.  Among them was my favorite, a huge Boston cream.  My co-worker reminded me of the new eating style I'd adopted.

Are you kidding me?

I grabbed that doughnut and scarfed it down like it was going out of style.  Don't judge me.

Later that evening my feet were purple and hurt like the dickens.  Cursed temptation.  I mean really.

Tonight I'd had enough and decided to be good.

Tonight I made a wonderful Chicken Chickpea Pesto Salad, along with some fun Cheesy Baked Vidalia Dip that we had with gluten free tortilla chips.

Will I cheat again?

Be serious.  At least about a week a month.


My New Favorite Face Powder

As I've said before, I've got horribly sensitive skin. When I saw this recipe, which calls for colorants like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cocoa powder, I thought, "Are you nuts?" My next thought was that I'd smell like a bakery, but I decided that's not so bad.  I've been a big fan of mineral makeup for years, but that stuff is expensive and I'm finding out some of the additives aren't that great.

On Monday I decided to try pure cornstarch. While my face wasn't as shiny as going powderless, I did notice a couple of pimples had appeared.  Upon further research I found that cornstarch can clog pores. Bingo. Additionally, there's the GMO issue.

I looked around for some easy natural face powder recipes and came across arrowroot powder as a base ingredient. Since it's also got medicinal uses, I went out and scored some at the supermarket (baking supplies aisle) for just under seven dollars for a twenty ounce bag.

Since the recipe calls for only a few tablespoons per batch, that's a great deal.  I added cinnamon and nutmeg as colorants, but remember this is not going to be a full-coverage powder. This is more for anti-shine purposes.

Normally I wear sheer foundation along with eyeshadow, bronzer, and mascara. This week I went with strictly the natural powder and mascara. Simple and clean.

Mind you, I use coconut oil as a moisturizer and layer the powder over it.  When I asked my coworker/friend what she thought if the change, she said she actually hadn't noticed a difference between this and my normal makeup.  She's a pretty observant person.  This says two things:  YAY for looking natural in full makeup, but also, what the heck was I buying all that stuff for?

The end result of the experiment?  My oily-skinned face remained shine free throughout the day and I didn't notice any negative side effects.  Here's the kicker:  Those zits from the cornstarch? Both completely gone by the very first workday's end after they'd appeared. No sign they were ever there.  That's enough proof for me!


Natural Deodorant Recipe Review

This week I decided to forgo store-bought deodorant and try making a natural version.  Store-bought deodorants are loaded with unhealthy additives. It's just bad news. But since nobody wants to stink, what do you do?  I did some research and found a recipe using coconut oil, which is one of my favorite things, anyway.  The recipe calls for three ingredients total, but you can add essential oils according to personal preference.

The deodorant is a mix of arrowroot powder, baking soda, and the coconut oil. I didn't use an essential oil our any other scent.  Mine didn't really solidify, so I might have used a bit too much coconut oil.  The oil soaks right into your skin, though, so it's not really a problem.  UPDATE:  After a couple of days, it has solidified and is pretty firm.  I can get it out of the jar, but it would be very likely to work well in an old deodorant tube, if you wish.  I'm sticking with the glass jars, because, um ... plastic.

I put my arrowroot powder into canning jars.
I put my mixture into a pint canning jar and have used it for two days. Nobody at the office passed out, so that's a good sign. I told my coworker what I'd done and she said she really only smelled a faint scent of coconut, but said she knows I moisturize with it, anyway.

My little jar of homemade natural deodorant.

The verdict?  It's natural, it's safe, and it's inexpensive.  So far it works pretty well and I plan to continue with it.  Here's a list of other alternatives to store-bought deodorant.  The lemon one sounds interesting, and I'm wondering if it would work when blended with this recipe.


Cider House Rules - Vinegar, that is...

There are a number of reasons people around the web praise the benefits of Bragg's apple cider vinegar.  Some of these include for weight loss, clearer skin, and general detoxification.  A very detailed post about the many benefits can be found here.  

I've been curious about trying it for many of these reasons, especially given the fact that I have inflammation issues from my Hashimoto's.  All the positive reviews finally got to me and I decided to give it a shot.  

Ignore my crappy, discolored glass-top stove - and my crappy pictures.  
My first reservation was over the taste.  Let's face it, drinking vinegar doesn't exactly bring to mind thoughts of champagne glasses and sugar cubes.  The recipe on the bottle 1-2 teaspoons of the vinegar in a glass of water, and to sweeten it with raw honey.  Luckily, I'd just replenished my local raw honey stash at the farmers' market this weekend.

This stuff is awesome.  More on that later.

Supplies at the ready!
The honey is a bit thicker, so it took a lot of stirring to get it mixed well.  Then I was worried about it being slimy or something.  I'm a big chicken like that.  Once it was all stirred I braced myself and drank it down.

The finished product.
I have to say it's really not bad.  I'd probably use a little more raw honey next time, though.  It's got an unusual taste, sort of like a tart, unsweetened apple juice.  According to the bottle, you're to do this three times a day.  It's natural and not bad for you, so why not?  I'll give it a try and see how I feel after a week or so.
Gracie approves.  She actually drank a glass with me.


I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts

A couple of years ago I began to seek out more natural ways of living.  Harsh chemicals are in everything from cleaning supplies to the food we eat.  Since I have multiple auto-immune disorders, it's been a mission of mine to get rid of all of that junk and stick with the basics. I have a few natural staples for our home that we use for multiple purposes.  One of those staples is coconut oil.  Too many people are completely unaware of just how useful this stuff really is.  From soap-making and personal care to wood polish to cooking, coconut oil is truly amazing. I ran out today, and that's a big no-no around here.  After scouring several stores this afternoon, I was finally able to get my hands on some more.  I use only organic virgin coconut oil because it's being used both on our bodies and in cooking, and who wants to risk impurities?

I keep several jars.  Usually at least one in the kitchen for cooking, one in the bathroom for my body, and another for general purpose use.  Eventually I suppose I should just buy it in bulk because we use so much of the stuff!

On your body:  One of coconut oil's most amazing uses is as a whole-body moisturizer.  I'm one of those people who is sensitive to just about everything, especially anything artificial.  Almost every lotion and moisturizer on the mass market contains alcohol and other irritating ingredients - even the ones marketed for babies!  Coconut oil is less expensive and pure.  One simple ingredient.  As soon as I'm out of the shower, I moisturize with it straight from the jar.  (It can also be whipped with added vitamin E and essential oils, if you like.  Instructions for that can be found here.)  It soaks in very quickly, so you won't have a greasy, oily feeling after using it.  Be aware a little really does go a very long way, so you only want a dime-sized amount at a time.

On your face:  You might be surprised to find that coconut oil can also be used as a facial moisturizer!  I know you're thinking, "Oil? On my face?"  Yes, but coconut oil is different.  I have very oily skin that's prone to irritation and breakouts, as well as issues with redness.  Coconut oil has proven to be the best thing for even my sensitive skin.  I've used it for almost two years and have not once had a breakout from it.  Even better, I experience less irritation and redness in my t-zone when I use it regularly.  

On your hair:  Coconut oil is a wonderful hair conditioner, just be aware you should use less than a pea-sized amount for even very long hair.  You'll want to rub it between your hands until it's liquefied completely and then smooth it into your hair, starting at the ends.  If you use too much it'll look oily.  If that happens, just rinse your hair thoroughly to get some of it out.  You can use in while in the shower, if you prefer.  Your hair will love you for it.

For sun damage:  This year I took my kids to a music festival and oops!  I forgot sunscreen on myself.  Really dumb, I know.  I'm blonde and pale-skinned and of Irish descent, so you can imagine the sunburn I had.  I was out of aloe, so I just put coconut oil all over the burn.  It took half as long to heal, and didn't peel very much at all.

As a natural deodorant:  I've read fantastic things about natural, homemade deodorant made with coconut oil.  I got all the ingredients today and will make up a batch tonight.  I'll post the recipe (with proper credit, of course) and tell you how well it works within the next few days.

On wood furniture:  Last year a friend of mine brought me a couple of old bookshelves he'd had sitting in his barn for quite some time.  They were handmade and very primitive, and covered in cobwebs and dust.  After cleaning them up with some orange vinegar solution (I'll go into that in another post), I grabbed the coconut oil and rubbed it in well.  They looked good as new, and really looked completely different from when they'd been dropped off. A year later, and they still look fantastic.

For cooking:  If you've heard coconut oil isn't a healthy option, you'll want to read this.  That claim is completely false, and coconut oil is a very healthy food product.  It's pure, and it even has some wonderful healing properties.  You haven't lived until you've had homemade pancakes cooked in coconut oil.  I don't use it in everything, though, because you can taste it in the food.  I like it in both sweet and savory dishes, so just be creative with it and figure out what works best for you.

Coconut oil has myriad other uses, which you can read more about here.  


Unintentional Tiny House Living

Last year I'd come fairly close to living my dream.  We were renting a big, 200 year-old farmhouse in the country on a few acres with a gorgeous view, a huge garden, and some very large, well-established grape vines.  It wasn't perfect, but it had possibilities.  It was peaceful.

Then some necessary but painful things happened and everything changed.  We moved a few hundred miles into the tiny house we are renting now.  Our home here is very small.  It's not terribly cramped, but the quarters are tight.  We've had to make some sacrifices and pare down quite a bit.  None of these things are negatives, though.  "Stuff" is not what makes us who we are.  Living more simply is a good thing, and will prepare us for bigger and better things later.

The bills are cheap, which means I'll be out of debt much sooner; quite likely by next spring.  There isn't room (or decent soil) for a garden here, so mine is limited to containers.  For now, I have started some herbs in my kitchen and make due with what we have in exchange for the joy of the dreams that will come true in the future.


Fun Saturday at the Home Depot and Local Farmers Market

We had such a great Saturday morning!

Our first stop was the monthly Home Depot kids' craft.  This is a free event for kids, which Home Depot hosts on the first Saturday of every month.  It's a great family outing for those of us with limited funds.  You can register online, or just show up.  It's really for kids age 5 to 12, but that's more of a guideline.  There were even toddlers working on the projects with their parents.

When you get there, you're given a kit for each child which includes everything you'll need for your craft.  There are tables set up with tools, sandpaper, and safety goggles.  The children build their project from the kit, using the included instructions.  My kids are pretty crafty, so they had a great time with this.

I'd forgotten my chicory coffee in my rush out the door this morning and had to settle for  the fast food kind.  Not nearly as good.

Each child is also given an apron they can keep, in case things get messy.  It was very warm and a little muggy today, so my kids opted to wait for their aprons until they were ready for the painting station. 

Meticulously detailing their cars.

This month's project was courtesy of the movie Despicable Me 2!  It's a cute little wooden replica of Lucy's car:

Isn't it adorable?  I just love the Minions.

For every project they do, each child also receives a certificate of completion and a special collectible pin pertaining to the project:

The Home Depot Kids' Craft Day lasts from 8 am until noon, but they were already set up around 8:30.  It's not rigidly structured, so you can just leave whenever you finish your project.  We finished up around 9:30 and were off to our first ever visit to our local Farmers' Market.  

While the kids snacked on fresh strawberries and blueberries, I scored some rosemary, basil, and sage plants to start a little kitchen garden.  Please excuse the mess, I was having far too much fun playing in the dirt.

Those are red onions in the jars.  As soon as the roots are long enough, they'll get planted to keep us in fresh green onions for a long time.  I also picked up some chocolate mint and apple mint plants.  The kitchen smells amazing!

Our other wonderful finds included this gorgeous bunch of fresh radishes, as modeled by Gracie,

as well as some incredibly good dill pickles, apple butter, and local honey.  

Soooo good!

Our local farmers' market is over half a mile long.  Several downtown city blocks are cordoned off every Saturday morning from June through November.  It's almost like a mini-festival with food vendors, arts and crafts booths, street musicians, in addition to the farmers' tents.  November through March the city continues the farmers' market inside the local City Center Plaza.  Year-round healthy, fresh goodness!

We'll be spending our Saturday mornings here from now on.  It felt good to walk around the entire market (several times) in the warm sunshine, discovering lots of healthy offerings from our local farms and merchants.  


Why Pressure Canning Scares the Be-Cheezits Out of Me

For most of my life I have had an intense fear of pressure canners.  It's not that I'm afraid of the sight of them, but the thought of actually using one sends me into panic mode.  I've been researching and will probably try it eventually, but since my rental home only has a glass-top stove, I can't use one anyway.

My playroom at my grandparents' home was just off the kitchen.  I'd often watch while my grandma baked or canned.  She would hum a sweet song while she worked.  I'd have cartoons on the playroom T.V. while playing with my Weebles or Barbies.  Totally soothing and traditional mental picture, right? 

I loved when my grandmother would can soup.  Split pea soup is my favorite, especially when it's very thick.  My grandmothers was filled with fresh minced onion, sliced carrots, green peas, and the ham hock leftover from her pineapple glazed ham roast.  Whenever we had a ham, I knew what was coming, and looked forward to the resulting soups.

Until it all went horribly wrong.

The nightmare happened when I was about five or six years old.  One bright, sunny day as I was watching the playroom television, Grandma was just finishing up a batch of fresh split pea soup.  I was vaguely aware of the clanking coming from the kitchen as she set up the pressure canner and filled it with the big jars of soup. 

The pressure canner was enormous and always made a slightly disturbing noise.  It would wobble and clank on the burner, hissing and shaking and shooting steam from the top like an angry dragon.  It had always worried me a little, but I'd gotten fairly used to it since Grandma canned with it quite often. 

Grandma had sternly warned me many times to stay out of the kitchen when she was canning, so I timidly peeked around the doorway at the seething metal monster on the stove.  Today it wobbled and shook and steamed a little harder than usual.  I'd never seen the steam come out from around the edges before.  I stared with wide eyes and a slight tremble as it shook harder and harder.  It was even scarier than when the washing machine was off-balance.  This time the pressure canner was thumping up and down on the stove, as if it was about to jump off of it.

Grandma had started yelling by the point.  She had on her oven mitts and was trying to get to the knobs on the back of the stove, but she couldn't get past the angrily billowing steam to turn off the heat.  There was a very loud CLANK-CLANK-CLANK, followed by a huge BOOM as the lid flew into the air, struck the ceiling with a bang, then slammed onto the floor.  Pea soup had erupted in a tower of green slime along with the lid, covering everything from the floor to the ceiling within a five-foot radius.

 I was left with pea soup-induced nightmares for years afterword.


I'm Gonna Miss Ya, Home Slice

I've been reading for a while now about the possible link between Celiac and Hashimoto's.  I've been working hard to ignore that link.  What fun is giving up gluten to someone who adores baking bread?  Not to mention the extra hassle of checking every ingredient on everything I buy.  Yuck.

Fortunately, there are a large number of gluten-free bread recipes.  Unfortunately, most of them call for things I'm not yet familiar with.  Xanthan gum sounds like alien vomit.  Yippee!

"Kids, get excited!  We're having alien spit biscuits for brunch!"

Yeah, not so much.

I haven't plunged into this with reckless abandon.  The recommendation is to try it out for two weeks and see if it has a positive effect on your symptoms.  It's definitely worth it if it takes away at least some of the fatigue and daily pain.

I'm looking for simple, healthy ways to make the switch.  The good news is that aside from the breads, it's really not that hard.  Fresh fruits and vegetables are familiar and comforting in our current menu.  Pastas and pies will add a bit of a challenge, but I'm certain there are a number of alternatives.  This recipe looks promising.

I'm saving the big switch until I get paid next week, and will have to adjust the grocery list.  The farmer's market will be a huge help.  I'll keep you updated!


That first step is a doozy!

I've lived a very sheltered life.  Until I was a teenager I thought the wrappers on burritos were some sort of edible paper.  That sheltered.  Being afraid to stretch my wings and explore the possibilities did have its upside, since I never did get into drugs, and my wild young adult days weren't all that wild and were certainly short-lived in comparison to some.  The downside of being sheltered and afraid of my own shadow is that I've done much more dreaming than actually experiencing life.

So now, over 40 and a single mom in need of every spare penny, I have begun to seek out ways to become more self-sufficient. The problem is that I've been a little lost in the whole process.  How does a very low-income working single parent with arthritis and auto-immune thyroid disease and living  in a rental home that would make tiny house connoisseurs jealous possibly find the time and space to do things like canning and homemaking crafts?

One step at a time.

The most logical step when entering new territory is always research.  I've spent the better part of the past couple of years poring over homesteading and even prepping blogs, how-to sites, and maker forums.  I've collected as many books as I can on canning, homesteading, and natural healing.  I think I've got the idiot's guide to just about everything, but there is always something new to learn.  When you haven't been physically exposed to the basics, it's difficult to know where to begin.  I need step-by-step guides.

I've also decided to begin collecting as many manual implements as I can.  I've been scouting out things like hand-crank mixers and even looking for a good treadle sewing machine.  It's less a doomsday theory thing than a money-saver.  When your budget is as tight as mine, every cent saved on the electricity bill is a good thing.

The first project I took on was laundry soap.  Yes, even something so small and simple seemed daunting.  Would it get my clothes as clean?  Would it be safe for my washer?  How the heck would I find the five-gallon pails for the finished liquid soap without spending an arm and a leg or have someone else's used buckets that smelled like pickles?

One day I decided to take the leap.  I went out and bought the supplies.  I figured out that with the regular-sized boxes of Borax and washing soda, you can get about 6-7 batches, using a bar of soap for each batch. Each batch is about 50 loads, depending upon how much detergent you use per load!  Since it only costs about $5 each for the Borax and washing soda, plus the cost of each soap bar, my first attempt cost only $12 for enough detergent to last about 6 months!

I began with the Fels Naptha laundry bar, since that was the one most called for in the instructions I was able to come up with.  I'm now using a glycerin soap bar, but I'm going to try the more organic castile soap bar next time.  I haven't tried any essential oils, which I can't really afford to stock up on right now, but I'd like to use a combination of lavender, citrus, and tea tree when I can afford to.

The first time I tried it, I decided the need for all those big buckets was only because of the addition of all the water most recipes called for.  Since the washer added its own water, it seemed like a waste of time and resources to follow the extra steps involved.  I just add a cup each of Borax and washing soda to a shredded bar of soap, mix it all up and put it in a little container.  I use two tablespoons per load, and three on the larger loads.  My clothes are clean, and using vinegar instead of fabric softener keeps them just as soft.

Here's another interesting tidbit:  Did you know that using fabric softener makes your towels less absorbent? Vinegar eliminates that problem and cleans all that residue from the fabric.  Have you ever used the tail of your shirt to clean your glasses and gotten a weird film on them afterward?  That's the massive amount of residue from commercial laundry soaps and fabric softeners.  Imagine what that's doing to your washing machine!

Eventually I'd like to make my own soap, but the lye issue freaks me out a little.  Ok, a lot.  Watching that scene in Fight Club was probably a bad idea.

I'm now looking into CSAs.  Community Supported Agriculture was a term that until very recently I'd never come across.  I first saw it after a friend of mine posted on Facebook about the great haul she got from her local farm share.  I got curious.

"What the heck is a farm share?" I thought.  Whenever I hear or read a term I'm not familiar with I have to look it up.  Turns out, there are several of them locally.  The cost around here is somewhere between $300 and $600 per growing season.  It sounds like a lot at first, but that's spread out weekly from about June through October, and each weekly share can feed up to seven people!  Some CSAs even have work programs where you put in 4-6 hours a week to help out and they pay you with a free share that week.  It's not ideal for everyone, especially when your schedule is already full, but worth it when you have an extremely tight budget and need to save as much as you can.  Some CSAs offer meat and dairy products, as well.  Think of the savings!

So what do you do with all the fresh produce you don't want to go to waste?  I'd gotten all the basic supplies I'd need about a year ago, but between a big move and a lot of other major life changes I'd never gotten around to trying to can anything.  The discovery of farm shares is a pretty good incentive to start.  I got a food dehydrator free from Craigslist, and it's really psyched up to get going on some dried fruit and jerky.  I'm not sure yet how to go about storing the dried goods long term, so that'll be my next research project.

Right now my credit sucks, but my total debt is very low.  With diligence, I should be completely debt-free within the next couple of years.  My goal is to eventually buy a little house in the country somewhere (hopefully with a barn) and go into this full force.  How can I possibly do that on my minuscule income and current situation?


Little by little and with determination, anything can be accomplished.