Tuesday, June 26, 2012

It's a Stain Removing Miracle!

It was pretty much a perfect afternoon.


My parents decided to take all the grandkids to a gorgeous local garden. They ran all over the place -- Max and his cousins were busy smelling flowers, sticking their hands in fountains, rolling (repeatedly) down an enormous hill, bathing their feet in a stream, playing in the sand, looking for birds and bunnies. Grandma even treated all of them to chocolate ice cream cones.

My boy got chocolate ice cream all over his shirt.

It wouldn't have been a big deal, but that shirt just so happened to be one my favorites. I splurged on that shirt -- it has the original cover art from The Wizard of Oz on it and I got for it him after we finished reading the book together (it was our second time -- such a great read-aloud). What can I say? I get sentimental about clothing.

Oh, and did I mention it was yellow? Pale yellow. I have since learned my lesson that you don't buy light colored shirts for little boys.

I took it home and used my arsenal of stain-tackling techniques: a diluted dish soap solution, then vinegar, then hydrogen peroxide. I soaked it. I scrubbed it. It went through multiple wash cycles. I let it hang on the clothesline for hours, hoping the sun would bleach it away. None of it worked.

A few days later, just as I had decided to wave the white flag and give up on the shirt, I saw a recipe for a miracle stain remover on Pinterest.

The recipe is simply one part Dawn dishwashing soap (the original blue kind -- I actually already had this on hand since it makes the best homemade bubble solution), one part baking soda,  and two parts hydrogen peroxide.


I mixed it all up and started brushing it into the chocolate stains. It came up easily. It made me a little giddy, I won't lie. Like I've said before, I love me a good homemade cleaning concoction.


There was one spot on the Cowardly Lion's face that was particularly stubborn. Even when the chocolate stains had faded slightly with my previous attempts, this spot didn't budge. Armed now with my miracle stain remover, I channeled Lady Macbeth and scrubbed. "Out, damned spot! out, I say!"  It may have faded some of the lines on the Lion's face in the end, but the spot washed out as far as I could tell. With that, I put the shirt into the wash, the whole front of it soaked and covered in soap suds, and crossed my fingers.

A wash cycle and some time on the clothesline later...


Not a single chocolate ice cream stain to be found!  Like I said before, all my scrubbing may have faded the Lion's face a tad, but it still looks much better. Plus, it works with the worn, vintage feel of the shirt anyway.

Ah, Pinterest saves the day. Again.

Note: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have disclosed.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

How We Made Our Chickens' Water Poop-Free

I've learned a lot about chickens in these last three months. Like how chickens have personalities. They're also good at weed control (my baby loves to feed them dandelion leaves). Beaks can get cracked (freaked me out at first, but it has since healed). Pecking order squabbles are kind of funny to watch. Chickens like to take dust baths (at least that's what I've heard -- mine won't go near the one I made for them).  Even yesterday, I learned that chickens love yogurt. Since the temperatures were in the 90s yesterday, I put some cold, plain yogurt in a bowl and they gobbled it up (and got it all over their faces -- Max thought it was hilarious).

One other thing I've learned in the three short months I've been keeping chickens:  they have terrible manners when it comes to food and water. Given the chance, chickens will poop in their food and water without a second thought.


This was my chickens' water on a good day, not too long after it had been changed.  It never took too long for the ladies to get poop (either fresh or kicked up from a spot nearby) into the waterer.  I changed their water frequently mostly because I just felt bad for them. They might not know better, but I knew they were drinking poopy water. Ew. Plus, it doesn't take an expert to know that drinking contaminated water isn't healthy for them.

I elevated their waterer for a while and that kept it poop-free, but before long, the ladies started tipping the thing over. I can't tell you how many times I'd be in the kitchen and look out the window to see their waterer on its side, completely empty. Max got pretty tired of being sent to refill the chickens' water again and again.

Realizing that this problem would only get worse as the chickens got bigger and the days got hotter, I decided to look into different methods of keeping hens hydrated. I don't know how I found the site, but I came across the Avian Aqua Miser. After a little bit of reading, I was sold. I had to get a kit. It might just save my sanity (at least when it comes to the chickens).  {Quick sidenote: I think I should mention that I'm not being paid or given free stuff to sing the praises of the Avian Aqua Miser. This is all just my happy, not-endorsed opinion on it!}

The Aqua Miser is different than other waterers because it is completely enclosed and doesn't touch the ground, thereby removing any chance at all of poop getting into the water. It couldn't be simpler to make -- all you need is a plastic container that can hold at least one cup of water per chicken and the kit.


The kit I ordered is enough to water up to five chickens and it includes a chicken nipple (or, as Kevin and I call it, a 'chipple'), a wire for hanging, tons of information about waterers (like how to make a heated one -- something I'm sure we'll need to make), and a drill bit. The drill bit costs an extra $5. The drill bit size you need to have to make the waterer (this makes the nipple fit best so it won't leak)  is an odd size and isn't in most kits, so I figured we'd save ourselves a trip to the hardware store and order it from them.

The day after the kit arrived, I got a container we didn't use very much and the husband and I went to work on it.



Easy peasy.

And then we came across a problem. In my haste, I didn't take into account that the end of the container, where the nipple is, is supposed to hang 18 inches from the ground so the birds can access it easily. The bottom of ours was maybe only a foot or so above the ground. Oops. I was ready to head to the store to buy another container (I was feeling pretty dumb for missing that instruction), but my ever-creative husband took over and made it work.


Kevin got some scrap wood (probably leftover from building the chicken tractor), some strips of aluminum, some washers, and screws, and made this cool little mount for it. It's even better this way because it's so easy to change the chickens' water. I don't even need to open the tractor to fill it. That guy I married is awesome.

Once the waterer (and the necessary mount) was assembled only one question remained: would the ladies know how to drink from it?


"What is this thing??"


Betsy wasn't so receptive of it. I'd say she even looks a little suspicious, what with that sideways glance and all.


Foxy was a little more open-minded.



Success!

Once Foxy drank from it, the other two soon followed suit.  This whole process of getting them to drink took only a few minutes. The chickens are drawn to the color red naturally and once I tapped the 'chipple' to get some water dripping, the ladies soon figured it all out. They've been using it for over a week now with no problems.


Let me tell you, this simple project has saved us a lot of hassle and makes keeping chickens even easier. No repeat trips to change or fill the water -- just a check and refill in the mornings. I wish I had done this sooner. Although the ladies might not fully or consciously appreciate having poop-free water, they seem to like the new waterer. So really, in this instance, the humans and the chickens win.

Note: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have disclosed.

{This post is linked up to Homestead Barn Hop and Little House Friday}

Monday, June 11, 2012

Sage Advice: The Many Uses of 'Salvia Officinalis'


Back in 2005, during the first summer at our current home, my husband built a couple garden boxes for me. I was so excited to have a garden -- so many plans, so many high hopes. Anyway, I decided to plant a few herbs in one of the boxes. Nothing fancy, really, just some cilantro, chives, thyme, rosemary, and sage. Seven summers later, the chives are still growing and that small little sage transplant I bought (on a whim, mostly) at Walmart has almost completely taken over half that 4' x 4' garden box.

I've tried to dig part of the sage up and clip it back, but it is a tenacious plant. I even divided it and gave half to my mom to transplant in her yard a couple summers ago. It's bigger and stronger than ever. You'd think I would be thrilled, but I actually started to hate that plant that was taking over my garden box. I mean, I like a little sage when I cook, but there's no way I could possibly use that much sage.

So, in the chilly and muddy days of early spring, as I was making plans for my garden, I made the decision to dig up the sage completely. It was taking up precious space, after all. But then something changed my mind: the BBC show, Victorian Farm

Victorian Farm is this fascinating show featuring a historian and two archaeologists who lived like Victorian farmers for a year. I'm such a history geek as it is, but when you add in self-sufficiency, gardening, and homemaking to the mix, well, it's nerdy girl heaven. Anyway, in one episode, the historian, Ruth, shows how various home remedies were made during the time and she started talking about all the benefits of sage. Who knew? I certainly didn't. Since then, I've decided to keep my ever-thriving sage plant (though I'm going to divide it again and give some more to my mom since hers -- oddly enough -- struggled and died), learn more about it, and devote the entire garden box to herbs, both for cooking and medicinal purposes.

Here are a few uses for common sage (or salvia officinalis, if you want to get all scientific) -- some I've tested, some I've been meaning to test for a while, and some that I just learned about!

Cooking:  This is the only way I've really used sage, at least internally. It's a great herb for poultry dishes. At Thanksgiving, my mom always asks me to bring some of my dried sage for the stuffing and as a garnish for the Thanksgiving turkey. I also use dried sage when I'm making chicken stock. Poultry isn't the only food goes well with this herb -- check out this great link I found with lots of recipe uses for fresh sage.


Medicinal Uses:  I'm not a doctor nor am I experienced in herbal remedies, so take all of this advice at your own discretion. As of now, I'm just curious and learning all about all the ways to use herbs for common maladies. Here are a just a few medicinal uses for sage that I've read about, both in books and online:

  • Sore throats: This is what sage was being used for when it was mentioned on Victorian Farm (I wish  I could include the YouTube link, but, unfortunately, all the episodes were removed). Sage leaves contain a natural astringent and antiseptic tannins that are said to bring relief to sore throats. In the show, she made a simple tonic out of hot water, sage leaves, a little vinegar, and some honey. She let it steep for a little while, gargled with it, and spat it out. Simple enough. Around the same time, I read about making sage gargle in a book called Roots, Shoots, Buckets, and Boots (it was like the universe was sending me a sign to not kill off my sage plant or something).  The recipe is similar to the one I watched on Victorian Farm. In the book, the author suggests packing a wide-mouthed jar with dried or fresh sage leaves, then covering the leaves completely with apple cider vinegar. Adjust a lid and a ring and close tightly. Store the jar in a cool, dark place and shake the mixture daily. After a couple weeks, pour the mixture of sage and vinegar through a strainer and store the liquid in a bottle. Gargle when a sore throat strikes. I plan on giving this one a try, for sure. 
  • Dandruff:  Apparently, you can use a variety of herbs to get rid of dandruff. Check out this link for a recipe for natural dandruff shampoo using sage leaves, water, castile soap, and essential oils.
  • Womanly Issues:  From what I've read, sage has been used since ancient times for various female needs. Sage tea is said to help with symptoms associated with menopause, especially hot flashes and night sweats. It's also said to help regulate irregular menstrual cycles. However, everything I've read so far has said NOT to drink sage tea while pregnant, since it can cause uterine contractions (unless you want them to happen at the end of your pregnancy - I'll need to keep that in mind since both of my boys were born at 41 weeks. Be sure to check with your doctor or midwife first, though). Sage is also said to help dry up your milk supply when you're done with nursing. Ah, the joys of being a woman...
From everything I've read, sage should be avoided in large doses, especially if you have epilepsy. Just because something is natural that doesn't mean it doesn't have side effects. As I mentioned previously, I am certainly not a doctor (I have a degree in English, people), so do some research of your own and/or consult a pharmacist or doctor. 


Bug Repellent: I'm excited to test this use for sage next time we go camping or when we use our backyard fire-pit this summer. Mosquitoes are attracted to the carbon dioxide released from campfires and grills, so a bundle of dried sage tossed into a campfire is supposed to help keep mosquitoes away. (Sidenote: Sage is super-easy to dry. You can find my how-to here.) I also learned that besides mosquitoes, other bugs that particularly don't like sage are flies, cutworms, and ticks. 


Aesthetic Appeal:  Sage is really pretty when it flowers. That section of my garden where the sage is taking over has a pretty splash of purple in it (and bees love it -- I'm more than happy to draw bees to my garden!). I use flowering sage often when I make arrangements to display in the house (pictured above is a bouquet from my yard filled with sage flowers, yarrow, and Jupiter's beard). Sometimes I'll only use sage and put a big bunch of it in a vase. Not only does it give a room some color, but it also gives off a nice, earthy smell. By the way, if you're in my neighborhood and you want a sage bouquet, let me know (though it's getting past its prime now). Believe me, I've got plenty.

{This post is linked up to Homestead Barn HopYour Green Resource, and Little House Friday.}

Monday, June 4, 2012

Meatless Monday: "Navajo" Tacos

I put the word Navajo in quotation marks for two good reasons:

1.  I'm not sure how authentically Native American my recipe for them truly is. I mean, I do happen to be 1/32 Native American (Cree, to be specific), but the recipe I follow is more like the Navajo tacos sold in my beautiful hometown of Midway, during the annual festival called Swiss Days. Yes, there is actually a booth there (and the line is usually really long) that sells "Swiss Navajo tacos".  In fact, I spent hours in that booth every Labor Day weekend as a teenager, working in the assembly line, either stirring hot vats of beans, scooping salsa, or placing sliced tomatoes on top of the steaming fry bread (which my dad still helps make every year. If you peek inside, he's the handsome, bearded guy by the fryer.). Nothing says, "Let's celebrate our European heritage!" like a ginormous Navajo taco and a soda. Mmmmm.

2.  My neighbor and friend, Teresa, is Navajo. She makes the fry bread the way she was taught: using her hands as her only measuring tools. She even uses a special flour you can only buy in New Mexico. Teresa made Navajo tacos for my family after my baby was born last year. A-MAZ-ING.  The ones I make are not as good as hers. I've found myself tempted to sit across the street from her house with a cardboard sign that reads, "Will work for Navajo tacos". They were that delicious.

Anyway....

Navajo tacos are a great meatless meal because they are filling! The combination of the fry bread, beans, cheese, and vegetables makes a complete meal. It's also really easy and adaptable.

Let's start with the fry bread (or, as they're called in Utah, scones. Don't ask me why.):


To make the fry bread (adapted from this recipe I found a while back), you'll need:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup milk (not too cold; lukewarm is best)

Mix the dry ingredients and then add the milk. Once the dough has come together in a ball, turn it out onto a floured surface (if you need to add a little more flour to get to this point, add it).


Knead the dough until it is smooth and then divide into chunks. I split mine into four good-sized pieces. You can make yours as big or as small as you want or need to. Shape each chunk into a round, flattened piece, with the center stretched out thinner than the rest. (If you make a hole in the center of the dough while doing this, it's still fine.)


Lots of the recipes I've read recommend using shortening to fry the bread. Since I avoid the stuff as much as possible (though I do use non-hydrogenated shortening for a couple recipes that absolutely require it), I used canola oil and they turned out just fine. Heat the oil in a deep pot (no specific amount since it depends on the pot or pan you're using. My oil was around 2-3 inches deep).  I always use a trick I learned from Rachael Ray to tell if oil is hot enough for frying: stick the handle of a wooden spoon in the oil and if the bubbles rapidly roll away from the handle, it's ready.  Fry the dough until golden on both sides. Let the fry bread drain on paper towels. If you don't use paper towels (we haven't used them for years, but we happened to have some from my husband's stash that he keeps for oil painting), you can put them on a wire rack with a plate underneath.

Once your fry bread is ready, the next step is the toppings!


This is where this dinner gets really easy and adaptable because can you use whatever you have on hand, whatever your family likes, or whatever sounds good to you. For ours, we top the tacos with warmed beans (I've used meatless homemade chili, canned chili, and canned beans mixed with salsa, all with great results - again, use what you have), grated cheese (we like Colby-Jack), lettuce (this latest batch, though, had some spinach and Swiss chard from the yard on them), tomatoes, salsa, sour cream, and guacamole.


They may not be authentic, but they sure are tasty!

{This post is linked up to Homestead Barn Hop, Your Green Resource, Adorned from Above Blog Hop, and Little House Friday.}
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