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Archive for the ‘Simple Living’ Category

REAL Vanilla Extract

I enjoy vanilla, and having already purchased whole vanilla beans because we like to use them in ice cream I was inspired by the Heavenly Homemakers post on making your own vanilla (extract).

In the end, I more closely followed the instructions at – but it’s all pretty similar. (I also liked the instructions at Vanilla Enchantment).

Sadly, we did not think to photograph the process… I guess I’m just not quite used to the idea of documenting everything I do!

We only waited a few weeks before we started using the vanilla, which isn’t long enough in anyone’s book.

It does have a strong vanilla flavor already, but it is rather harsh. Hopefully it will become richer and mellow out as it ages more…


What’s So Good About Instant?

A friend recommended a chocolate-chip recipe that several women in our online group think are wonderful, so I was anxious to try them. When I looked at the ingredients, though, I noticed that one thing called for was a box of Instant Vanilla Pudding.


I sparked an interesting conversation on my Facebook wall when I asked folks who might know how to make pudding from scratch – “What would I substitute in this recipe to do this naturally?”

The long and short of it, we decided, was that there are lots of (relatively) healthy, natural ways to make pudding, and even pudding mix… But they won’t work in that recipe without the “Instant” – which is simply something not found in nature.

What is it, you ask?

Well, the ingredients in a box of band-name Instant Pudding include a bunch of things like sugar and cornstarch, their various “natural and artificial” flavors and colors, and…

Disodium Phosphate (for thickening)

That’s exactly how it is listed in the ingredients – like they know it’s a weird thing, so they felt the need to explain…

Now disodium phosphate, it turns out, is not as un-natural, or as scary, as I had though the “secret ingredient” might be.

It is actually commonly used for such purposes, as well as sometimes in cheese making.
People even take it straight as a health supplement (especially for the liver, gallbladder, and overall pH balance)!
It’s also used to prevent calcium deposits in steam boilers… Hmmmm.

I feel better knowing.

But I think I’ll stick with pudding from scratch ingredients I have in my kitchen… And stick with my old favorite chocolate chip cookies, too.


No Shampoo Method – E-Book Giveaway

Recently, I have been inspired to carry my “simplifying” and “greening” past using vinegar and baking soda as cleaning products, and into the realm of personal care.

After reading about Natural Haircare on A Pondering Heart, and the No Shampoo Method on Feelin’ Feminine, I decided that was a good place to start.

Being me, I did a bunch of Internet searches, read a lot of articles, and got a lot of conflicting advice and recommendations.

I’ve been dabbling with some various things over last few weeks, but I was delighted to hear the announcement that Feelin’ Feminine has put together a brand new No Shampoo E-Book!

I was delighted to receive a pre-release copy of the e-Book for review, and was delighted by it for a variety of reasons.

  • The style is warm and friendly, with multiple authors giving their own unique voice and viewpoint
  • There is a terrific accumulation of information – about hair, and caring for your hair, as well as several ideas and “recipes” for substitutes for commercial shampoo, conditioner, and styling products
  • Many “testimonials” tell real-life experiences of different people, in different places, with different issues
  • The book is well written and easy-to-read, and is graphically designed and presented in a fun and enjoyable style. (So much nicer than so many straight-text e-books out there!)
  • A special section give advice on using essential oils. Not only can you smell great, but they will actually help with various hair issues!

In short, although most of this information is doubtless “out there” for you to find yourself, I think this book is well worth the inexpensive price, to have all the information gathered, organized, and at your fingertips.


Order it directly from Feelin’ Feminine (only $8.99!)


One lucky As For My House reader will win their own copy of the No Shampoo Method E-Book!

Make sure to leave your email address with each comment. (Used only to contact the winner. If your email is entered in the form it will be saved for me but not displayed).

1. Leave a comment here and sharing a funny hair story!! Okay, or just tell me why you’d like this book.

Extra Entries (leave separate comments for each).

Once you have completed #1, you can earn additional entries by doing any or all of the following.

2. Become a Facebook Fan of Feelin’ Feminine.

3. Subscribe to As For My House in your favorite feed reader, or by email. (Current subscribers count, too!)

4. and 5. Post this giveaway to your Facebook wall (leave your Facebook name), or Tweet about it (and leave the link)! Each may be done daily for extra entries.

6. Enter any of the other giveaways posted here, or over at Life on the Road, and comment back here telling me which one.

7. Leave a (reasonable) comment on any non-giveaway post, and comment back here letting me know which one(s).

In additon to these, there are MANY more ways to earn extra entries. You know, all the usual stuff like sharing on Facebook, Tweeting, and so on? Just click over to our Giveaway Policy page for all the details!

This giveaway ends 1/6/2011 at 11:59pm (Central), or more likely some time the following morning when I log in again.

The winner will be chosen using and announced on the blog, as well as contacted by email. Winner must respond within 48 hours, or a new winner will be selected.

I received a draft copy of this e-Book free from Feelin’ Feminine; I was not compensated in any other way for this review. This review has not been approved or edited by anyone.
I was “disclosing” before it was cool. See my Review Policy for the full scoop.

** Comments are now closed. Look for the winner to be announced soon in a separate post! **


Local Food

My desire to eat real food has been re-ignited, thanks to my latest read.

I’m looking forward to a more earnest drive towards homegrown, of course, when we move up to Contentment.

In the meantime, though, I decided to go check out what might be found at the Biloxi Farmer’s Market in this chilly weather.

Ignoring anyone with bananas and other obvious imports, we asked the vendors what was grown locally, and tried to gather a little something from everyone. We came home with:

  • Snap peas
  • Mustard greens. (What’s something yummy to do with these?)
  • Green onions
  • Butternut squash
  • Kumquats

Not bad for this time of year. Apparently if we had gotten there earlier, we could have picked up some salad fixin’s, too.

So tonight we’ll make up our favorite Butternut Squash casserole and some snap peas with our kielbasa…

It may not be much, but it’s a step in the right direction!


Learning to Sew

First in a series of ramblings on the perils of being a “first generation homemaker.”

That’s not to say that my mother didn’t clean our house, or feed the family. There were even stretches of years when she was a “stay at home mom.”

But she never considered “homemaking” a vocation. She didn’t have more than a curiosity or hobby interest in crafts, sewing, gardening or serious cooking; she would never even have thought of canning food, making soap or candles, or baking all her family’s bread.

So I am trying to return to some of these activities, which would have been considered strictly “normal” as recently as two or three generations ago.

Learning to sew has been particularly frustrating for me lately.

Much more so than, say, cooking, sewing defies the simplicity of following the steps of written instructions.

There’s only one way (at least as far as it matters) to add 1 cup of flour and 1 teaspoon of baking power to the bowl.

With sewing there are things that are hard to describe, things that are assumed “common knowledge” that may not be mentioned, things about your particular sewing machine or situation that may change what is needed…

I’ve wished many, many times that I had a “mother figure” here to show me how to do certain things.

Practice makes perfect is okay with me, but hardcore trial and error is tough. Even more so when your funds for supplies are limited, and your time for projects is restricted by family needs.

How quickly these skills have passed out of common usage!

Hopefully I can learn enough to start Jewel off on an easier homemaking path…


Simplify Your Closet: The 15:30 Challenge

I recently ran across a post by Felicia Sullivan called The 15:30 Challenge, based on a Halogen TV Clean Out Your Closet idea.

Her “Rules”:

1. Select 15 items from your closet: These can include shirts, trousers, jeans, cardigans, dresses, etc — in short, clothing. Make your final selections by August 30th.

2. Use unlimited accessories: Remix your outfits relying on all of your jewelry, shoes, scarves, outerwear (blazers/suit jackets do not equal outerwear!), and belts.

3. Captain Obvious: your pajamas and lounge-at-home clothing do not count, undergarments do not count, gym clothes do not count.

4. Make the COMMIT LIST: Document your list on your blog, iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, loose-leaf paper, etc. Feel free to snap photographs of the items, list them — get creative! This is your commit list, and you can’t stray from it. Stain on shirt? DEAL WITH IT. Cat ripped your pants? Get a SEWING KIT.

5. Keep a diary: Document your outfits each day, whether it be via an “outfit of the day” photo or a log of what you’ve worn and how you’ve mixed it up.

6. Ask for help!: Call your friends, pen a blog. Don’t be afraid to ask friends for help on creative ideas on keeping your wardrobe fresh!

Could you do it?

I had a good laugh when I went to my closet to see what 15 items I would pick.

I started listing things:

  • Denim jumper
  • Flower jumper
  • Camo jumper
  • Blue print church skirt
  • Denim skirt
  • Black print church skirt
  • Blue blouse
  • Tan Blouse
  • White button shirt
  • Green button shirt
  • Black print church blouse
  • Long-sleeve blue shirt
  • Other white button shirt (pattern)

Okay, that’s really pretty much everything I wear, barring the weather getting colder and needing warmer things.

Ummmm… That’s only 13 things!

Laughing. Much laughing.

I guess the only cleaning out my closet needs is to get rid of the things hanging back in the back collecting dust.

Since obviously I’m not using them…


Back-to-Basics Cleaning

Nick and I have been growing in our green housekeeping practices… Sometimes intentionally, sometimes more or less coincidentally.

We have *still* not found any of the cleanser, window cleaner, or toilet cleaner from our move. Obviously, at some point you can’t put off cleaning the bathroom anymore.

Rather than go out and buy what I was certain would be duplicates, and furthermore a strain on our budget, I decided to improvise.

A quick online search revealed some “recipes” people use for cleaning with vinegar.

Here’s the window cleaning solution we tried:

  • 2 c. water
  • 3 T. vinegar
  • dash of dish-washing soap

And it worked… like a champ!

Showing a delightful bit of initiative, Nick just added a little more dish soap, and the formula became a perfect general cleaner for the sinks, counters, shower, and toilet.

So cheap, so easy – and so non-toxic.

Why would we ever go back?


Finding Contentment

Now begins the quest for a simpler life.

My wife and I have been wanting a simpler lifestyle more and more over the past few years. We are both used to the big cities of California.

She has come to long for a simpler life for us and our children. I was born and reared in northeast Mississippi and hunted and fished and heard stories of farming and having animals.

We felt that if we could ever buy a decent-sized plot of land with running water it would be a dream come true.

I grew up spending lots of free time at “the farm”. My uncle had purchased upwards of 80 acres of land outside of town. After he died in the Air Force the land went to my grandfather, and when he passed away my dad got the land and eventually built a house there.

My father passed away on August 16th, 2010 and my brother asked if I had any desire to move onto the land when our step-mother moved away. She will stay for a while, but eventually retire to the town further north where her family lives.

I thought about the 80-plus acres with a creek running through it.

I think our dreams have just begun to come to fruition.

Our plans are to have an essentially self-sufficient life on a small homeplace. We have planned out little bits and pieces of it over the years; we have lovingly come to call this place “Contentment” after Paul’s description in the Bible.

I plan to document and pass on the things that work and the things that don’t.

The journey will begin now for me and my wife Tiffany (in our 40′s), oldest son Nick at 16, Jewel at 5, and R.T. at 2 years of age.

The following months or years will be planning and preparing the land.

On some undetermined date in the future we will move to the homeplace and start our new life … one step at a time.

So, here we go … on the road to Contentment.


Not Just Used – Used UP!

Wolf and I have a lot of funny conversations… It never ceases to amaze me how the Lord brought us together, across the country, in the midst of a culture that is so different from us!

It all started when he had worn down the heels on his favorite pair of cowboy boots, and also worn out the sole of his Redwing work boots.

I was shocked how hard it was to find a shoe-repair shop. Wasn’t there always one on every corner, one in every mall?

Wolf and I began to speculate on the decline of shoe repair as a symptom of the rise of consumerism and the disposable mentality. Can’t you just hear it now:

After all, if I’ve worn these flats for, say, a year, and they get to the point of needing new heels… They are hopelessly out of style, and I should just throw them away and buy myself a new pair! I deserve it, right?

We laughed when we asked our Facebook friends where to find a Shoe Repair shop, and someone said almost exactly that!

Needless to say, I did find one, and both pairs of boots were restored to their former glory. Both have years of use left in them, and would only have been replaced with identical (and costly!) new ones…

I got to thinking, later, that there are a lot of things around the house that we use longer than many people might. We don’t throw something away simply because it starts to look worn.

Some things can simply continue to be used until they wear out totally. Other things can be repurposed or converted, and then used until they wear out totally.

Here are a few diapers that we are still using, for instance, as they disintigrate…

Shortly after taking this photo, that top layer fell off entirely. As thin an scraggly as it was, I couldn’t think of a use for it, and it did get thrown out. But the diaper is still in use!

A friend made this diaper for me, and I had no idea it had a red layer underneath…

This diaper was a lovely, soft bamboo velour. Amazingly, once all the “fuzz” wears off it is a thin grid, and you can see the underlayers right through it!

This diaper was actually retired shortly after this photo was taken. After a certain number of layers wear away, and the elastic loses it’s spring, it just doesn’t do its job anymore.

The first step! The end of the elastic wore through the casing, and came loose.

This is a “diaper service quality” prefold. Heavy-duty. The top layer is disintigrating…

…and a close-up…

Yeah, that flat-in-patches fabric is terry cloth – the loops just plain wore off!

And I’ve already mentioned where worn-out socks go in our house!

It just doesn’t make sense to discard and replace things that have plenty of life left in them.

Whether we do it because of laziness, carelessness, pride and vanity, or some other reason… It’s neither “green,” nor good stewardship.


Spring Cleaning Challenge – Intro

Okay, I’m going to jump on a bandwagon.

It’s something I typically avoid, but in this case I think it’s a good thing.

Crystal, over at Money Saving Mom (click the graphic above for the link to her) is doing a “Clear Out the Clutter Challenge”.

This fits in perfectly with what we’ve already begun – paring down our STUFF load.

I won’t be able to follow Crystal’s “assignments”, since our crazy RV “home” and the storage unit issues makes a lot of things irrelevant (“coat closet”?)… But I am going to use her challenge as a motivator, and even follow long as I can.

In addition to getting the clutter out of the RV (more of a challenge than it would seem, I assure you), we are faced with the daunting task of cleaning out the storage units.

We are not young folks just starting out in life, and we do have more “storage stuff” than is necessary, having accumulated it over the years. There are Wolf’s comic books and collectibles, lots of books, camping gear, Renaissance Fare and other costumes, far too many Christmas decorations, and so on.

In addition, we currently have in storage a bunch of normal home things: Jewel’s bedroom furniture, our King mattress set, Nick’s desk, a cute western “chuckwagon” dinette set, a few other pieces of furniture, Wolf’s garage full of power tools, all “surplus” clothing, kitchen goods, and even kids toys and books and games (ideally to rotate out with what’s here), the kids’ bicycles, etc.

The result is that we have two storage units, each 10′x17′. And they are packed. No, really. Solidly packed, high up there…

Part of the problem we’ve had in previous attempts to sort things out is the lack of accessibility this creates.

Say I pull out a box from the first row – office supplies. It has 10 envelopes, 1 clip-board, 1 ream of printer paper, 2 highlighters, 3 ball-point pens, and a box of paper clips. I toss out a few crumpled up things, but basically I look at it and think it’s a pretty reasonable quantity of office supplies to have on hand.

What I have no way of knowing, at that moment, is that there are ten other “office supplies” boxes scattered throughout the storage, with a similar smattering of stuff.

We have things that have been packed over the course of several moves, now, and they are not all stored handily together.

So we finally decided to get serious. We got a terrific deal renting a smaller unit right near ours for a month, so now we have some “sorting space”. Now we can pull out enough boxes at once to make some room, and sort things into piles.

Once I get all the “office supplies” boxes together, I’ll be able to assess just how many of those dozens of pens we actually ought to keep.

We spent most of our spare time over Easter vacation last week working on it, and we really made some great headway.

Just from this preliminary sorting, we already have about four boxes of things for a garage sale, plus a few bigger items we’re putting on craigslist, and several large trashcans of trash gone! Whew!

So, onward…

Are you with me? Come on, I’ll even post some embarassing pictures, so you won’t feel bad!

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