Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Thanks to My Computer . . .

. . . I will be on an unexpected blogging break while it is getting repaired. :) I dropped it off this morning at a computer repair shop, and hopefully it will be up and running again soon!

All the computer troubles is why I have not yet replied to your all's comments on the last post, and I am sorry it has taken me so long to do so! I hope to reply to them soon . . . thank you for your patience!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

How to Make Liquid Laundry Soap

We had been making our own powdered laundry soap for a number of years now which has worked well for us, yet not quite as well as we would like (our hard water certainly doesn't help!) And I wondered . . . would a liquid version work better?

The answer to that was 'yes!' I don't know why I had not tried making a liquid version earlier. :) It is so easy to make, easy to use, works well, and smells good, too! It uses the same ingredients as the powdered version only with the addition of water and optional essential oil . . .

The three basic ingredients

Let's get started! First grate a bar of Fels-Naptha (we use a cheese grater for this) . . .


Next, put four cups of hot water into a saucepan. Add your grated soap, heat over medium-high heat, and stir until all of the soap melts (approximately 10 minutes) . . .


Set mixture aside. Fill a five gallon bucket half full with hot water (the bathtub works great for this!)

Add in your melted soap mixture and give it a quick stir. Stir in 1 cup of the Borax and 1 cup of the Washing Soda.

Add 1/2 to 1 oz of desired essential oil (I didn't measure mine so I am not sure how much I used. I would guess it to be around 1/2 an ounce.) I chose sweet orange essential oil for our soap because not only is it one of the less expensive oils, citrus scents also smell so clean!

Stir again. Fill up the bucket with warm water within an inch or two of the top . . .


Stir together. If you do not have something long enough to stir with, simply put on waterproof gloves of some type (I used nitrile gloves which I have for soap making) and stir that way.

Next, put on the lid and let it set for 24 hours.

After 24 hours, mine looked like this . . .


A quick stir incorporated it all together. I had read that sometimes it gels and sometimes it doesn't, but either way it works just as well!

I put our bucket next to our washer and then use a cup per regular load. Mine tends to separate a bit after it sets so I just give it a quick swirl with the measuring cup prior to measuring out what I need.

It's pretty simple, isn't it?

And better yet, is the approximate cost breakdown per 5 gallon batch:

- Borax: $0.33
- Washing Soda: $0.54
- Bar of Fels Naptha: $0.97
- Orange Essential Oil: $0.39
TOTAL: $2.23

As the recipe makes enough for approximately 72 regular loads, the total per load is around $0.03 which is much less than commercial detergents and much safer and better for your skin as well!

If you try the recipe, have fun making it, and I hope it works as well for you as it has for us!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

An Evening Walk

Sunshine, a gentle breeze, and warm temperatures beckoned me outside with my camera one evening earlier this week. There isn't as much to photograph here this time of year (especially when there is no snow!), yet as I walked around our place and through the woods, fallen leaves crunching underneath my feet, evening sunlight breaking through the clouds, many things caught my eye . . . and a few were captured by my camera . . .








I do not know fully what it is about being out in the peacefulness and beauty of God's creation that is so refreshing . . . so restful. As I stood next to the fenceline looking out across our neighbor's pasture watching the sun slowly sink to the horizon, I soaked in the beauty and the quietness.



A noise down in the woods caught my attention, and before long, two deer came into view. Nervous, tails up, they slowly walked through the woods. Stopping once for a bit to glance up at me, before continuing on their way.
 

Rustles in the pasture grasses indicated little creatures of the mouse variety were scurrying around. It was so still out, that every once in awhile, I could hear their little teeth chewing!



There is so much all around us to see God's hand in, to see a reflection of His wisdom and power that created it all. And I am so thankful for that . . . and so thankful for opportunities like this to be able to enjoy a small part of His beautiful creation which indeed brings praise to Him.

"Wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well." Psalm 139:14b

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Snippets from My Week

It was a fairly uneventful yet profitable and enjoyable week here filled with various things such as working on getting my homesteading binder all ready and updated for the new year . . .



starting the garden planning by going through last year's records . . .

Last years' seed starting schedule


washing the two antique quilts . . .

Looking much improved after being freshly washed and dried


working on taxes (which I actually kind of enjoy! I think it might be the organizer in me :) . . .



experimenting with new soap photography ideas . . .

A quickly put together, slightly out of focus, and incomplete idea that I ended up liking and am going to work with


having a giveaway on my Niobrara Farms' facebook page for a pack of three bars of soap (and if you would like to enter, live in the United States, and have a facebook account, visit my page at Niobrara Farms Soaps and enter there before this coming Monday at noon!)

One of the photos for the giveaway post - one of each of the varieties of soap I have so far


enjoying watching the songbirds come up to the water that my Dad puts out for them . . .

It was a treat to see bluebirds come up!


and also going to the nursing home again yesterday.

In the meantime while all of these things and more were taking place, cold winter days continued to pass by. And much to my delight, the cold came to a temporary end starting yesterday with highs in the 50's and sunshine! The next few days look to be beautiful ones here, and I am looking forward to them!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Few Encouraging Quotes to Share

Do you ever have times when it feels like the Lord is directly speaking to your heart through different things that you read? Giving you what you need at the right time? (Though sometimes you might not even know you need it!)

The last week or so there have been so many encouraging things that I have read, whether it be online, in devotionals, or in a newsletter (and of course my Bible, too :), that have all been helpful to me in my walk with Christ. I thought I would share two of the quotes with you in the hopes that they will also be an encouragement and blessing to you!

This first is from an unknown author and was in the main article in the most recent Berean Call newsletter (which I would link to if it was online as the entire article was very good!) . . . 

“Just as you have left the whole burden of your sin, and have rested on the finished work of Christ, so leave the whole burden of your life and service, and rest upon the present in-working of the Holy Spirit. Give yourself up, morning by morning, to be led by the Holy Spirit and go forth praising and at rest, leaving Him to manage you and your day.

“Cultivate the habit all through the day, of joyfully depending upon and obeying Him, expecting Him to guide, to enlighten, to reprove, to teach, to use, and to do in and with you what He wills. Count upon His working as a fact, altogether apart from sight or feeling. Only let us believe in and obey the Holy Spirit as the Ruler of our lives, and cease from the burden of trying to manage ourselves; then shall the fruit of the Spirit appear in us as He wills to the glory of God."


And this one is from Institute for Creation Research's devotional "Days of Praise" (which can be read in its entirety here.)

"As we endeavor to follow God’s leading, we should proceed as best we can discern the situation (assuming there is no scriptural teaching to the contrary), all the while praying for wisdom and clarification. He may shut the door and redirect, or He may confirm our decision. We can proceed in the confidence that He will go with us, and when the time is right, He will lead us on."


I am so thankful for wise and convicting teaching from godly people like those who wrote these. And I hope that the quotes were able to be an encouragement to you as well!


(On a different note, can you tell by the photos I am thinking of spring? :) Only 64 days to go!)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

An Open Door

A month and a half or so ago when a door shut in my life, I found myself wondering, "what do you have for me now, Lord? What do you want me to be doing?"

I knew fairly soon one door God may want me to go through . . . for quite some time, ministering at a nursing home has been on my heart, but I had not yet started anything. Now, though, seemed like the right time. 

In preparation, the past several weeks found me playing the piano even more than I had been before. Playing through arrangements of favorite old hymns and also brushing up on my sight reading skills as if someone requests a hymn that I am unfamiliar with, I would like to be able to play it well enough for them to enjoy!

Right now what I am envisioning is to go to the nursing home once a week or so, play the piano (and sometimes the fiddle, too, with Leah accompanying on the guitar), and then visit with whoever is around. I am hoping for the music to primarily be an opening door to people's hearts . . . a door to being able to build relationships with them, to be able to share the gospel, to be able to love and care for them whether it be reading to them, listening to them, praying with them, laughing with them and enjoying their memories with them, or anything I am able to do.


So . . . I practiced, picked out hymns to play the first time, called a local nursing home and got things set up, and yesterday, I went and played for the first time. And it was wonderful.

When I first sat down at the old piano and began playing the familiar hymns, there were very few residents around, there was clattering and talking behind me as the kitchen workers cleaned away the lunch dishes and wiped down tables, and as my fingers glided over the keys, I prayed that the music would touch whoever could hear.


(just a note, all photos in this post were taken at our home, and not at the nursing home.)

People were coming and going and at one point, out of the corner of my eye I saw a lady come around the corner, I glanced up at her while I played and smiled, she frowned and looked away. Before long, though, I saw her sitting and tapping her foot along with the music!

Later someone else came and stood by the piano for a long time, so excited to hear the music, humming along with the hymns that he must have recognized. After each song, I would talk with him for a bit before playing the next song. After "Tell it to Jesus" I shared for just a moment about how wonderful it is to always be able to talk with Jesus about whatever is on our hearts. To which he nodded emphatically, a smile on his face.

After playing for around thirty minutes, I was putting my books away when a lady who had been listening wheeled by in her wheelchair. I smiled at her, and she quickly turned in and came up by me and we ended up talking for quite awhile. She seemed like she just wanted someone to listen as she shared special memories from her past, friends that she had known and now missed, and more. We laughed and smiled together as she shared.

Before long, another lady came up in her wheelchair and joined us. After talking with her for a bit, too, she excitedly asked me if I had come to play. I shared with her that I already had, but that I had time to play another song for both of them. I asked if they liked "Amazing Grace" and both of their faces lit up as they answered with an enthusiastic 'yes!' So once again, my fingers found the familiar notes as I played for a sweet audience of two.



I finally said my goodbyes, letting them know that I would be back. And I am already looking forward to it! Which if all goes as planned, will be next week. :)

It was such a special time there! I do not know who was more blessed . . . the residents, or me. I heard someone say once, that as we pour out to others, we ourselves will be filled. And I think that was in part what God was doing for me during my time there. I am so thankful to Him for that and how He is opening doors for giving, serving, loving, and prayerfully, helping draw hearts to Him. I am excited to see how He will continue to lead!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Natural Cleaner ~ Toilet Cleaning Fizzies

It is always fun making ones' own household cleaners! At least for me it is. :) Not only is the process enjoyable, but I really like knowing that what we are using in our home is not harmful to us. Most of what we use to clean with so far is simply vinegar and baking soda which work well for many things. I have also been making other natural cleaners such as furniture dust spray (the recipe of which will be coming eventually) and fairly recently: Toilet Cleaning Fizzies.


These are so easy to make! And they work well, too. I found the original recipe on the Wellness Mama blog, and took some ideas from other recipes as well (they are all pretty similar.)

Here is the recipe and method I came up with which makes approximately 40 . . .

Toilet Bowl Cleaning Fizzies

- 2 cups baking soda
- 2/3 cup citric acid
- 40 drops lemon essential oil*
- 40 drops lavender essential oil*
- Water in a spray bottle

*I chose these essential oils for their antimicrobial properties . . . and plus, I just like the smell of lavender, and lemon just smells clean!
 
 Combine the baking soda and citric acid into a glass bowl. Stir together well, breaking up any clumps (when working with the citric acid and baking soda, it is recommended to wear gloves and a face mask to keep from breathing in the powders as you stir.)


Scatter the drops of essential oils across the top of the baking soda/citric acid mixture . . .



Stir/cut in the essential oils with a fork until well mixed (kind of in the same way you would when using a pastry blender to cut in butter when making a pie crust.)

Mist the top of the mixture with water (I did two sprays.) Stir/cut in water. Repeat until the mixture is just moist enough to clump together when compressed.

There is a delicate balance here as if too much water is added, your mixture will do its 'fizzing' in advance and won't work as well when the toilet fizzies are actually ready to use. Each time that I have made mine, I ended up using around 10-12 sprays to achieve the right consistency (and one time making them, I could have used a little more.)

When the right consistency is reached, scoop a tablespoon of the mixture up and with your fingers, compress the mixture into the tablespoon, smoothing the top with your fingers.


(Just a note for the curious, I had been wearing gloves, but took them off when taking photos so as not to get any powders on my camera.)

Carefully turn over onto a sheet of wax paper, and tap the tablespoon on the paper to release. Repeat until all of them are made. (Or you can use decorative silicon molds instead of a tablespoon and simply press the mixture into those.)





Let them dry at least overnight (I prefer letting them go a couple of days just to make sure they are fully dry.) Once they are completely dry, store them in a glass container or a sealed plastic bag and use them as needed. Pretty simple, isn't it? :)

And just a little tip, if for some reason yours end up too powdery after setting (mine did once!), you can mist them lightly with water. They will fizz a bit on the outside, but then will harden enough to store. The ones in the jar in the photo had been lightly misted in order to make them harden just a bit more.

The way I use them is to drop one into the toilet bowl, let it fizz and then set for maybe 15 minutes or so, and then scrub with a toilet brush. Since we have quite hard water, I always spray vinegar up around the rim, too, which helps get rid of any hard water deposits. For us, these work just as well or better than commercial cleaners, are natural, and are relatively easy to make!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Tips for Simplicity and Organization

Simplicity and organization are two things that I really like to have, and they can also make life go more smoothly, productively, and enjoyably! I know I still have a lot to learn in these areas, though I have learned a few things over the years. :) Some that have been a help to me are . . .

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

1) Have a regular morning routine

This can make a great difference in the flow of the day! During the month of December, I had gotten off of parts of my normal routine and am in the process of getting back on track with it. It can be so helpful to have the same routine every morning as it gets to be a habit and the more one does something, the faster they are at it (sometimes anyway. :)

And for me, I also really like to get the house all in order at the start of the day so routinely fitting in the daily cleaning tasks fairly early in the morning is very nice!

 A section cover page in my homemaking binder

After getting up and ready for the day, my morning routine as of right now looks something like this (though the order can vary somewhat) . . . .

~ Read my Bible
~ Check a few things on the computer
~ Start laundry if needed
~ Either make breakfast or have what's already made (waffles in the freezer, granola, etc.)
~ Start bread if needed
~ Wash dishes or do morning animal chores (Leah and I take turns)
~ Tidy up the downstairs
~ Shake out the rugs and sweep the kitchen, dining room, and entryway floors
~ Vacuum the living room if needed
~ Clean the bathrooms as needed
~ Plan out the rest of the dinner menu (more on this in just a bit)
~ And at some point, go for a walk/run with Leah (4 times a week)

This is pretty much what my weekday mornings look like (when I keep up with my routine, that is!), though it is very fluid. On days when there are things like a big project to do or we are going somewhere or there is something else that needs to be done in the morning, the housecleaning can wait and the walk/run will be squeezed in later in the day if possible.

As helpful as it is to have a schedule/routine, it is something I follow loosely as I want to be available for whatever needs or circumstances come up such as if a family member wants to talk, needs help with something, etc.


2) Plan a weekly menu

In our home, my Mom will cook for two weeks and then Leah and I do two weeks. At the start of our two week cycle, we plan out the menu and make a grocery list. We always used to plan out the meals in detail with what sides, salads, and breads to make along with the main dishes.

For me, though, that didn't work quite as well as I would like as some days there would end up not being enough time to make what was planned, or during the garden season, we couldn't know two weeks in advance what produce or how much of it would be ready, etc.


Planning in process - my recipe binder on the left and the start of a menu on the right

Now I found a method that works better! Still plan out the main dishes to have for two weeks (and these are always flexible), then in the morning of each day, plan out the sides, choosing what will fit best with what is planned for the day. For example, if I know I will be gone during the day, something like rolls would likely not be on that day's menu. :)


3) Make a daily to-do list . . . the night before!

This is so helpful to me! I keep running lists of things that need to be done whether it be: out of the ordinary cleaning tasks, making household products, writing someone, outdoor work, garden tasks, etc. I also have a list of fun projects that I would like to do such as furniture pieces to refinish, clothing to sew, and more.

My Current 'Fun' Project List :)

Most every evening, while referring when needed to both of my running 'lists of things to do', I will write down what all I would like to, or need to, get done the next day. Many times, I will also number them by importance. The next day then, once the morning routine is finished, I don't have to take time trying to figure out what next to do as it is already planned out! (And again, this is fluid and always subject to change.)

This takes just a few minutes to do and is so helpful to me in being able to remember and accomplish what needs to be done the next day!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~

What are some things that you all have found helpful to be more organized and for simplifying your day to day life?

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Welcoming a New Year

And so the chapter closes on 2014 . . . with all of its joys, sorrows, special times and memories, heartaches, learning, growth, changes, fun times, new experiences, and more. I cannot put into words what all is on my heart as we leave this past year behind and enter the new year.  I never would have guessed where all God would end up leading me, or my family, in 2014 . . . and now another year is before us with only He knowing what lies ahead.

There is a passage from Proverbs that I have been thinking a lot about this past month . . .

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

If I were to pick a ‘theme verse’ for this coming year, I think this would be it! It is a very encouraging and convicting reminder to lean not on my own very limited understanding and perspective of things, and to trust instead in our all-knowing and wise Father, Who sees everything from the beginning to the end and Who knows what is best for us.

And as we trust in Him with all our heart and “acknowledge Him in all [our] ways”, then “He will make [our] paths straight.” Isn’t that an incredible and encouraging promise?

As I step into this empty new year that is just waiting to be filled, I look forward to wherever God will lead. It is my heart’s desire that with whatever lies ahead, to moment by moment, day by day, trust Him fully, acknowledging Him in all of my ways, and letting Him guide me down the paths He has for me, embracing whatever He gives “as from a Father’s hand”, as the old hymn goes.

 Already there are exciting opportunities for ministry and service which could end up being a big part of Leah’s and my year (I look forward to sharing more about these in the coming weeks!) . . . before long it will be time to start planning the garden and starting seeds (already?!) . . . spring and summer days with all their busyness will come again . . . and this precious life that God has given to each of us will, Lord willing, continue to be lived out in the coming weeks and months.

May each of us embrace whatever God gives us or allows in our lives in the year 2015 . . . using this year to grow in Him, to serve others and share His love, to be a bright light for Christ, and more . . . not getting caught up in the temporal, but having our hearts and minds fixed on “things above” and seeing every moment as a gift and as an opportunity to glorify our Lord.

Over this next year, I am looking forward to continuing to blog and share glimpses with all of you of some of what will take place in this next year for us . . . and I look forward to hearing from you all, too, and perhaps seeing in part as to how God will lead each of you in your lives as well!


From our family to yours . . . have a blessed New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Homestead Update

There was a lot that happened on our little 'homestead' the past months! Some of which was . . .

The winter squash and pumpkins were all harvested . . .

Some of them

The strawberries were mulched over with straw . . .


The garden was put to bed after a total of 216 jars of produce were canned (salsa, ketchup, tomato sauce, jellies, carrots, beets, pickles, and more), 232 + lbs. of potatoes were dug and stored, and many, many bags of beans, corn, etc. were put up in the freezer.

The remaining celery plants that were in the garden were covered with a makeshift cold frame . . .


They got hit a bit on some of the really cold days, but overall are doing well!

The beehives were all prepped for winter . . .


Five of the eight hives

. . . and much more.


A peach tree


Dad in the process of hauling woodchips (that we get for free!) to the goat pens

Some changes have taken place as well. For awhile, it had felt like we needed to cut something out of our lives as things were just so busy! When we began evaluating everything, the dairy goats were one of the top things we were considering. Not only was the time investment with them a factor, but when we considered how they tied us to home with needing to milk twice a day and how we were needing and/or wanting to travel more to visit family and friends, go to conferences, etc., we made the big decision to sell our dairy goat herd.

Leah's last doeling that we sold

My last doeling that we sold

The selling process started in August, and in November, the last goat went to its new home. It was bittersweet! While Leah and I miss our Alpines (they had such fun personalities!), we are enjoying having less on our plates and the new, less busy routine we have been able to settle into. As a family, we have also been enjoying being able to travel more when opportunity arises. Like when we went up to Nebraska for Thanksgiving as that wouldn't have been possible if we still had the dairy goats!  

(And in case anyone was wondering, as far as milk for my soaps, I froze enough to last me awhile, and then will be purchasing it locally. :)

One thing we really wanted to do, though, if we didn't have our own milk, was to find a source for raw milk. And . . . we did! Once a week we have fresh, raw Jersey milk delivered to our door from a family farm.



 There are many things we really like about it including that the milk is SO delicious (we like it better than the goat milk!), there are nearly 2 cups of cream per half gallon which means real ice cream :), and we are able to support a small family farm.

So the animals we currently have now on our little homestead are the Boer goats and here are some of them . . . .

Aurora

One of our bucks, Rimrock, 'asking' me somewhat politely for some attention

Sienna munching on fallen leaves

We also have our meat rabbits . . . 

Some of the rabbits

And Leah's two dogs . . .

Mandy and Kymber . . . Kymber stays outside during most of the day and then comes inside during the evening and night.

And a small flock of twelve laying hens . . .



Earlier this year when we reduced the number of hens we had, we moved the ones we kept to a smaller place, and Dad built nestboxes to go on the outside . . .


One of the hens in the nestbox . . . this fall, the egg laying had gone down to only one or two a day (and sometimes none!), but thankfully, it has picked back up again.

This new setup has been really nice! Their previous, big coop is now used for storage of feed, the beekeeping equipment, etc. 

Whenever I go over by the chickens to take care of them, Kymber always wants to play! 

 And of course, we still have tens of thousands of honeybees, too. :)

Speaking of honeybees . . . on the warmer days that we had this month, they were busy out and about bringing in water and cleaning out their hives . . .


Last week, I took the last feeder off of one of the hives, put dry sugar on the inner cover, checked a few of the other hives, and now we just wait until spring! (Though on the warm days, I'll check periodically to see if they need any more dry sugar.) So far, all eight hives are looking great!

This time of year, not nearly as much is happening here homestead related, other than routine chores . . . but before long, garden planning will begin, it will be time to start seeds, in the spring it will be kidding season, and more. In the meantime, we are working on many different indoor projects and some outdoor ones, too, and are enjoying this somewhat more 'restful' season!