The Art of the Barter

Today's guest post comes from Joshua Hatcher of JoshHatcher.com, and guides us through the finer points of the time-honored barter system.  What's that got to do with our 14 Days of Homemade Love series?  "Do unto others" pretty much covers it!
From ancient times till now, one force has driven economies and spared gazillions of people from ridiculous expense. One force has united communities, strengthened families, and put food on the table. It is THE ART OF THE BARTER.
My hometown is a very interesting place. Population of about 700. That might include a few bovines. And over the years, I've noticed something interesting. Rarely does anyone pay for anything.
When they need electric work done, they call a guy that knows how. When he needs to split fire wood, someone lends him their hydraulic splitter. They just help each other out when they need it! When someone doesn't reciprocate, they just don't get offered free help. Friendship and a deep sense of community drive this system, and it's kept in check by a wise and shrewd people who are willing to help, but can spot and rag a freeloader easily.

Not every neighborhood has this kind of friendship driving its economy, but that same art of the barter can be applied universally.
I've traded eggs for veggies, website for a minivan, advertising for credit at a restaurant, and even video production for upgraded computer equipment.
I think the reason I have had so much success with bartering is because I’m willing to do the hardest part...
1. The ask.
You don't need to be a sales person to barter, but youve got to be willing to stick yourself out there a bit.  Don't be afraid to ask about your purchase... Is there a way to barter for some or all of the cost?

2. Inventory
Take some time to regularly inventory what items or services you are willing to give away. Try to get a dollar value in your mind for them... So you know what they are worth.
I'm planning on making one day a week my "bread baking" day. Bake a bunch of bread and see who wants to trade what for it.
Is there something you do that others want?
Do you have any items lying around collecting dust?

3. Make friends.
I think this system works best in the context of relationships. If you don't cultivate relationships with like-minded AND diverse people, not only will you be lonely, but you'll be missing out on potential traders!

4. Be generous.
You will pick what you plant. Sometimes bartering just happens on accident. I have a friend that has fixed my lawnmower and cars more times than I can count. He is one of the most generous people I know! So because of that... If he ever needed anything... I'd be there in a heartbeat!

While it's not technically bartering, it often goes hand in hand, as we will have people giving and helping us in the same measure that we give and help others!

Bartering has the potential to be an amazing economy, but it works best in the context of friendship and community. It also helps if you know the value of the services and products you offer, and if you know the value of the items for which you are shopping. Most importantly though, the key to the good barter is just that willingness to ask someone if they would consider a barter!

Josh Hatcher is a blogger, graphic designer, musician, and creative marketing consultant from Pennsylvania. He enjoys his backyard mini-farm, cooking from scratch, and spending time with his family. Check out his websites. JoshHatcher.com | Manlihood.com | HatcherMedia.net


The Heart and Soul of The Creative Mind

Why do bloggers write?  Why do we spend hours looking up every detail of a project, doing hands-on research, and then pouring our hearts out to nameless, faceless, unknown readers online?

Why do we put so much effort into something we do for next to nothing (or free)?

Because we love to.  Because it's what we want to do.  Because it's important to us.

I came across an article by another blogger today that broke my heart for the blogger who wrote it.

So I'm going to be very clear about the rules for reading my blog.  The list is short:

  1. This is my space and I'll write about what I want to write about.  Yes, it's themed, and I'll try to keep to that theme, but on my own terms.  Nobody else will dictate that for me.
  2. Don't like it?  Don't read it.

I write about learning to do things the old-fashioned way because I love it and I'm learning to be braver, and maybe someone else who reads about it will become braver because I was.  

The end.


Little Valentines

Of all the gifts we receive in our lives, a handmade gift from a little one is without a doubt the most special gift of all.  Children are creative without the internal limits and fears we impose upon ourselves as we grow into adulthood.

Children don't worry about their craft when they're making it.  Their only concern is how creative they can be with it, and how happy they're sure you'll be with it.

They'll concentrate happily for sometimes hours on a single project, getting every detail the fathoms of their minds can possibly come up with.    They pour out their feelings into their creations.

It's sort of bittersweet, how self-critical we become as grown-ups, so certain of our own failure that we often sabotage our own success before it's even had a chance. 

But what if we let go?

What if we tried reliving those feelings of carefree bliss in creativity and trying something new?  What if we were brave?


The Great Valentine’s Cupcake Caper

Today's guest post in the 14 Days of Homemade Love series comes from Kris Albertson about a bit of Valentine nostalgia.  Motherhood is bittersweet - we get to nurture and watch these miraculous little humans grow into amazing people, but then have to learn to let go as they become more and more independent.  Oh, but those memorable moments we have with them while they're little!

It was sometime after dinner but before bedtime stories.  We were getting ready to wind down for the evening when my daughter announced it was her turn to bring snacks for her 1st grade Valentine’s Day party.

“Oh, that sounds like fun!”  When is your party?

She didn’t even look up from her Lego monstrosity when she said, “Tomorrow.”

“What!?  Tomorrow?!  Morning?  Honey, why didn’t you tell me earlier?”, I said, trying not to sound panic stricken.  

“I don’t know.”  -Her favorite response.

My mind was spinning, mentally searching the contents of my kitchen cabinets for something I could pass off as snacks.  In the back of my mind I could hear my own mother’s voice putting The Curse on me.  “I hope when you have children of your own, they act just like you.”  I’m here to tell you, Curse works.

“I’m supposed to bring cupcakes”, my little absent minded angel added, still not breaking her concentration with the Lego construction.

Cupcakes?  Wow.  Okay, we can’t show up to a Valentines Day party without cupcakes.  

No, Sir.  That kind of snafu would certainly ruin the rest of her elementary experience, not to mention what it would do to me, a single, capable, making-it-on-my-own, kind of mom, hell-bent on beating my mother’s curse.

And so, with no time to spare, we threw on some clothes, pulled our hair back in pony-tails and off we ventured to the only store in our little town.  The one that closes in….oh no…ten minutes!

We slide sideways into the parking lot and make a bee-line for the door.  The lights are already dimming, the country music normally blaring over the loudspeaker is absent, and the pressure is on!

Small town stores don’t have a bakery, so finding store-bought cupcakes here is as likely as finding caviar.  I locate the aisle marked “Baking Goods” and feel a sense of accomplishment.  

My daughter skips along side me, singing a song about the letter “H”, as I frantically scour the shelves for cupcake mix.

Let’s see.  Baking goods.   I don’t think I’ve ever traversed this aisle in my life.  The only thing I’ve ever “baked” is a frozen pizza.  I don’t even bake potatoes, for crying out loud.  

Okay-focus.  Cake mix, brownie mix, flour, sugar, chocolate chips, frosting…better grab a can of that.  Birthday candles, little candied sprinkles…Have they sold all the cupcake mix?

After going up one side and down the other and still not finding the mix, I reluctantly flag down the cutest little stocker-boy.  He couldn’t have been a day over 14 or 15.  I’m sure his folks were out in the parking lot waiting to take him home, or maybe he rode his skateboard to work.  Poor little guy had his arms full of cardboard boxes and I know he was ready to go home to finish his math homework, but I asked him for help anyway.

“Sorry to bother you, honey.  Can you tell me where I could find the cupcake mix?  I’ve looked all over the baking section, but haven’t found it yet.”

Little Stocker Boy looked at me with a sideways grin as he bent to set the boxes down.  He adjusted his ball cap as he questioned me, “Cupcake mix?”

“Yeah.  Valentine’s Day party tomorrow, ya know?”  I said.

“Well” he said, “I’m not sure, but I think you just use regular cake mix and pour it into those little cup things.”  

“Hmm.  Well.  That does make sense!  Thanks.”  

I am happy to report the cupcakes were a success!  Sadly, my baking career did not launch.

The Great Cupcake Caper was over twenty years ago, but I still remember this like it was yesterday. 

For me, the best part of the was hearing my Mom roar with laughter when I told her about it!  

Kris Albertson is a retired detective turned freelance writer.  You can check out her blog at http://LineUpPay.com.

Photo Credit: rock_rollheart via Compfight cc


Be Your Own Valentine

Today's guest post has a very different twist to our Valentine theme, but still carries a strong message about self-sufficiency:  Being independent and brave enough to venture into unknown territory also means having a heart strong enough to carry us through the rougher times.  Genevieve West is a friend of mine with a sincere and open heart, and one of the most refreshingly (and blatantly) honest people I know.  You can find her at her website and follow her on Twitter or her Facebook page for great relationship advice.

Valentine's Day seems to be a controversial holiday, particularly among singles. Instead of sticking your head in the sand and pretending like the day isn't coming and then panicking and crying into your pint of chunky monkey, decide to make this day awesome. Being single doesn't have to ruin your Valentine's Day!

Most importantly, you need to plan ahead. Here are some ideas on how to do just that:

·         Know what you're eating so you don't have to order take out from a restaurant watching couples on Valentine's Dates, or go to the grocery store with all the men shopping last minute for flowers and chocolates.

·         Decide not to be bitter or bitchy just because other people are enjoying the made up holiday, or pity you and your singleness.

·         Think about someone other than yourself, like the widow who's Valentine died, or a relative who's spending their first Valentine's Day as a "divorcee," and do something kind for them.

·         Volunteer to babysit your married friend's rugrats so they can spend the babysitting money at the ridiculously expensive movie theater.

·         Invite all your Valentine's Day hating single friends over for an Anti-Valentine's Day party, or a prohibition-themed St. Valentine's Day Massacre Party, complete with a Speak Easy and Great Gatsby costumes.

·         Get that mani-pedi you've been talking yourself out of. Or go all out and get an entire spa package!

·         You have permission to binge eat and sulk... but don't do it alone! Call all your other single friends, coworkers, and acquaintances and host a slumber party!

·         Shed the sweat pants and turn off Netflix! Grab a friend or go stag to a singles mixer, speed dating event, or singles cruise.

·         Don the sweat pants, turn on Netflix, and have a date with your favorite celebrity crush, watching everything they've ever been in.

·         Start a Secret Admirer Gift Exchange with your friends or co-workers where you draw names and be that person's Secret Cupid, leaving little gifts them.

Valentine's Day is just another day. And just like every other day, it is what you make of it. So go make it awesome!

Genevieve West is a wine-drinking, coffee-chugging, domestically-challenged, Relationship and Dating Consultant, author, wife, and homeschool mom, saved by grace. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and their three children. 


Cooking with Love

Today's guest post comes from Audra Rogers, a wife and mom of two young boys, from rural Tennessee.  Audra shows us some lovely family-oriented Valentines, straight from the kitchen.  You can find Audra at her blog, Real Honest Mom, and on Twitter @RealHonestMom.

My love language is cooking from the heart, especially when it comes to my family. We cut out a lot of extra spending to get out of debt, and I learned to get creative with the things I already have at home.

The quickest way to a man's heart is still undoubtedly food!

You don't have to make everything from scratch or be a master chef to pull these off. In my book, less is more and simple is best.

For my husband's birthday one year, I made him this Meatball and Mashed Potato “Cake” and he loved it!

The meatballs are homemade (I made a large batch beforehand and froze them) and the mashed potatoes are real. I don't like to peel potatoes, but it was his birthday so what the heck.

There are green beans underneath the potatoes because veggies are important! And I made the little Happy Birthday note out of construction paper and a red marker.

I was nine months pregnant at the time. Believe me, I know I could've just tossed a value meal at him, but I wanted to do something special for his birthday. At that time it was defintely the thought that counted! And he appreciated that. He also had plenty of leftovers to take for lunch.

I also made this for him for Valentine's Day last year.

It is a flat iron steak, a baked potato, and a turkey bacon “bro-quet” on skewers that I cut down to size. I stuck the skewers in the baked potato and the I had the little sticky foam heart in our art supply box at home. 

We don't eat steak very often, so it was an extra special treat. And you can never go wrong with bacon!

I like to do fun things with breakfast foods for the kids too. I just did this once on a whim and the kids love it (they are 6 and 1)

I was trying to sway my oldest away from syrup by using fruit, and this is what I came up with. Bad bento, if you will!

Yes they are terrible, but the kids love it and I don't have problems getting them up in the morning to eat breakfast.

This is something I do in the morning pretty often now, it doesn't have to be a special occasion. I try to squeeze in as much quality time as I can.  

I also like to make the kids' birthday cakes myself. I found this idea for a Toy Story cake and it was a big hit.

It's a box cake mix made in a 13x9 pan, homemade baker's frosting (blue food coloring for part of it), and an easy gingerbread recipe for the headboard and footboard.

I used a table knife to lightly criss-cross lines into the frosting on the bedspread and used yellow star sprinkles at the points.

I drew a headboard and footboard pattern onto computer paper to cut out the gingerbread. It took me several tries to get the pattern right.  I also made extras in case they broke, since I had never worked with gingerbread before.

I got a small pack of Toy Story figures to go on top. He absolutely loved it!

I like to take the time to create something special when I can. I take note of upcoming occasions on the calendar when I do our budget, and adjust my grocery list ahead of time for what I'll need.

Store-bought gifts have their place, but sometimes all you can give is what you have at home, and it really is the thought that counts.

Please share any ideas you have to show the love!


Easy Felt Valentine Hearts

Today's guest post from Lynn at Not Drinking Coffee is a fantastic, flexible, and fun project you can do with your kids.  Lynn has put together a great step-by-step tutorial, along with a helpful video to get you started.

Easy Felt Valentine Hearts

Share your heart with those you love. This is an easy and fun project that doesn’t cost a lot.

For younger children, you can do this project with construction paper, glue, and markers/paint.

What You Need:
·         1 piece of felt – red, pink, or white
·         Coordinating DMC thread
·         Needle
·         Scissors
·         Ribbon or cord (optional)
·         Poly-fil or potpourri (optional)

Step 1:
Pick out your colors for the felt and thread.

For Valentine’s, I’d suggest red felt with white thread, pink felt with purple or red thread, or white felt with red or purple thread.

Step 2:
On your chosen color of felt (or construction paper), cut out 2 hearts, approximately 3” x 3”.  (One sheet of felt should be able to make 4 hearts.)

I simply hand drew my heart using chalk.  However, google “heart cut-out” and search for the images and you’ll pull up tons of printable templates.

Step 3:
Using your chosen thread color, cut a length about 10"-12" long.

DMC thread has 6 strands. Separate out 2 strands from the length you just cut. Take those 2 strands and thread your needle.

Sew ‘LOVE’ onto 1 of the hearts. (Or stitch the word of your choosing.)

The stitch I used is a simple backstitch.

Step 4:
Line up the 2 hearts. Use another 2 strands of DMC thread and begin sewing around the edge.

I used a blanket stitch because I think it has a nice finish look to it. But you can use a backstitch, overcast stitch, running stitch, catch stitch, or whatever stitch you want.

For instructions on the blanket stitch, check out this video by Gulf Coast Cottage, who does a fabulous job explaining the stitch:

Step 5 (Optional):
You can do either, both, or neither of these options:

First, leave at least a 2” opening around the second hump.

Option 1: Attach an 8” length of ribbon or cord to the top.

Option 2: Stuff with poly-fil or potpourri.

I chose to fill mine with poly-fil. And I spritzed it with a lavender spray.

And voilá:

 Happy Valentine’s Day from Not Drinking Coffee


Filling the Cookie Jar

I have always been absolutely infatuated with the 1940s era. I love everything about it, from the brilliant technicolor designs to the waterfall-style appliances and furniture. Becky from The Last Jar is one of my favorite blogs, in which she recreates life from that era, through a well-loved cookbook. Today's guest post is just a taste of the wonderfully nostalgic confections to be experienced through her blog.

”Grandma, can I help make cookies?” asks my son.

Today is a day off from school for my three children, and in our blended household, Grandma’s cookie jar has been empty for far too many days. So my mother pulls out an old cookbook, with pages falling out and fingerprints marking the favorite recipes.

It’s cookie baking day with Grandma.

She tells them “This is the cookbook that your Mom used when she was your age. Why don’t you pick out something you’d like to bake?” They run the book to their room for a conference and serious debate, and return with their decisions. Each dons an apron, and each in turn shares time with Grandma for a lesson in math, ingredients, chemistry, and cleanup, all evenly balanced with sprinkles and bowl licks.

It’s noisy and more than a little chaotic. The kitchen is soon dusted with flour and spilled milk, the counters and floors wearing the evidence of overflowing cups and bowls. The cookie dough makes it into the oven, and a lull shushes the house as we wait.

This is love to me. Time spent, attention paid, gifts shared. Connecting my children with something bigger than themselves, a story that tells them they were loved before they were known.

They are a part, not apart.

“Grandma, this cookbook is OLD”, notices a small voice. Thank goodness.

I encourage you to share a favorite cookie recipe with a young person in your life. Any recipe will do, but this one is fun if you’d like:

Sparkling Sugar Cookies
From Betty Crocker’s New Boys and Girls Cook Book,

Heat oven to 400°. Lightly grease a baking sheet.

Mix thoroughly in bowl:

  • ½ cup soft shortening
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. grated lemon peel

Blend in:

  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tbsp milk

Stir together in another bowl:

  • 2 cups Gold Medal Flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. soda

Mix these dry ingredients into shortening mixture. Drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls about 2 inches apart on baking sheet. Grease the bottom of a glass. To flatten each cooky, dip glass in sugar and press on dough. For gay cookies, use colored decorators’ sugar.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes, or until a light golden brown. Cool on wire rack.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies

At The Last Jar, Becky translates her passion for cooking, collecting vintage family recipes, and storytelling into a business that inspires people to use timeless food preparation methods. Connect with her on Facebook and her website, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.


14 Days of Homemade Love

Valentine's Day means different things to different people.  

Commercially, the holiday is mainly focused on those with significant others in their lives.  For those of us who aren't married or wading through the dating pool, all the focus on the lovey-dovey crap can get more than a little annoying.  

I love holidays, and will find any excuse to celebrate.  Why stop at stockings at Christmas, or baskets on Easter?  Cupid leaves my kids treats on Valentine's Day, and a leprechaun visits on St. Patrick's Day.  

Being single doesn't stop me from loving Valentine's Day, either.  I love putting together unique and creative ideas to celebrate with my children.  This year, I'm asking for some creative ideas from you, and I've got some fun guest post submissions scheduled already.  I'd love to hear about yours, too!

The title picture is another fun and easy project.  All we did was use a mandolin to slice up some citrus and small pears (the pears are from a tree our back yard), dehydrated them, sprinkled them with spices, and put it all into canning jars with a cinnamon stick.  We covered the tops with some scraps of lace we had left over.  

As simple as it was to do, the kids really enjoyed everything from the messiness of organizing the sliced fruit into the dehydrator trays to arranging the dried pieces just right in the jars.  The finished project made cute additions to gift baskets, too.