Friday, March 28, 2014

Lovely Links: Garden Planning Edition

Spring is finally here and with that comes gardening again! I turned over my garden beds a few days ago and, man, it was nice getting my fingernails all dirty again.

I feel like I'm a little behind schedule in my garden, though, since I'm still in the planning stages. The only things growing in my garden right now are the Swiss chard that overwintered (yay!) and the 30+ heads of garlic I planted last fall (YAY!). Next week, I'll post about my garden planning process here, but I thought it would fun to give you some inspiration for your weekend.  Whether you're growing a windowsill herb garden, a few containers on a patio, a garden in a corner of your yard, or a full-fledged homestead, here are a few links I've come across to help you plan your best garden yet!

1 Really Great Reason to Grow Food this Year :: Gardening Jones
On the fence about even bothering with a garden this year? Planning to grow a garden but need a little more motivation to dive in? The one reason described in this post is motivation enough.

Organic Vegetable Gardening 101 :: My Humble Kitchen
Great, basic info with links to posts about ordering seeds, the different types of seeds, succession planting, and more -- though I prefer the milk-jug seed starting method to starting them indoors. I'm also in love with the vertical planter boxes in this post.

Our DIY Raised Garden Beds - Chris Loves Julia
$10 Cedar Raised Garden Beds - Ana White
I love my raised garden beds!  If you don't have them yet, here are a couple great tutorials for getting yours started -- or, if you're like me, to rebuild yours because the wood frames of your existing garden beds are rotting away.

The Living Jigsaw: Planning for Crop Rotation in Your Garden :: Designing Edible Gardens
I've known for a while that it's not a good idea to grow the same crops in the same spots every year, but until last spring, I had no idea that you should rotate what type of vegetables you grow in each area of your garden in a particular order. Now that I understand the concept, it actually makes planning my garden easier.  Leaves - Fruits - Roots - Rebuild -- this post explains it all.

How much you need to plant to feed your family :: New Life on a Homestead
This post has a list of how much you would need to grow to feed yourself and your family for a year.  It's interesting , but it's also a bit overwhelming. While I would LOVE to be that self-sufficient, I don't have enough room in my garden beds to grow all that. Instead of feeling overwhelmed and bummed, I look at this list as a good guide to how much to plan on growing in the space I do have.

Lawns into Gardens :: New York Times
Speaking of garden space, my latest fascination: turning lawns and front yards into gardens. I mean, my lawn gives me grief every year (dandelions everywhere and it won't stay green); why not grow food instead? My husband isn't on board with this idea and I guess my boys need some grass to play on, but a girl can still dream.

Front Yard Vegetable Garden :: The Art of Doing Stuff
Now, this is something I could do...

One last thing: as you're deciding what to grow, consider growing some of the bees' favorite fruits, veggies, herbs and flowers.

Hope your weekend is lovely!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

How to Make an Essential Oil Reed Diffuser

A couple fairly new developments, resulting from Christmas gifts I got a couple months ago:

One -- I'm kinda sorta falling in love with essential oils. I mean, I've dabbled in essential oils for the last couple years, but this past Christmas my mother-in-law gave us the Family Physican Kit from doTERRA and it's AMAZING. I've used every oil in that kit (except for oregano - I'm a little scared of that one.) and love them. Even my skeptical husband has become a bit of a believer. Balance (the oil pictured above) isn't in the kit but I love it (and I used it for the project I'm going to describe). Though I'm still an essential oil novice, I'm really impressed by how much punch these oils pack and the many, many ways they can be used.

Two -- For the first time in my life, I'm in possession of a bottle of vodka. My brother and his wife gave it to me for Christmas and everyone had a good a laugh about it when they gave it to me. Why? I'm a life-long Mormon and I've never so much as tasted a drop of the stuff, let alone owned a whole bottle. (It was a big deal for me when I bought my first can of beer at age 30 -- to kill snails, of course.) It's actually a really thoughtful gift because my brother remembered me mentioning that I wanted to try making my own vanilla extract and to do that you need vodka. Seeing as I don't frequent the liquor store and all, I've never gotten around to buying a bottle of it. So, for the last few months, I've had it up in my cupboard, next to all the jars of homemade jam and salsa.

So besides the fact that the essential oil and the vodka were Christmas gifts, what do they have in common? They're two of the things needed to make an essential oil reed diffuser.  

I first came in contact with reed diffusers about eight years ago when I was working at Pier 1 Imports. I mostly waddled around the place because I was pregnant with my oldest at the time and just working to fill some hours since I'd quit my full-time job at Barnes & Noble. Granted, the diffusers weren't always so pleasant with the pregnancy-induced superhuman sense of smell I had, but I thought they were cool. Instead of spraying chemicals into the air or using those scenty disks you plug into the wall, the scent of the oil emanated from these skinny sticks that you dipped in them. Who knew?

A few months ago, I noticed that my doctor's office had an essential oil diffuser that was pluged into the wall and I wanted one -- I loved the way it made the room smell! Turns out, the diffuser he had in his office costs over $100. I'd love to have one still and there are all sorts of benefits to diffusing essential oils into the air, but that's pretty expensive. Then I got to thinking about the reed diffusers from my days at Pier 1.

Of course I consulted Pinterest and found out you can make your own diffusers with essential oils. There are a bunch of different methods and ingredients people use. One big difference I found: some use alcohol and some use a carrier oil (like almond or safflower). I opted for the alcohol version because I happened to have some on hand and I like that if this diffuser gets spilled (or knocked over by a kid or cat), it won't leave a big oil stain behind.

After some reading and experimentation, I've found the recipe I like and I'm going to share it with you today!

To make your essential oil reed diffuser, you'll need:

  • a small glass jar or vase; the smaller the opening, the better
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2-3 Tablespoons vodka
  • essential oil 
  • bamboo skewers (how many you use depends on how many fit in your jar)

I scrounged around my house trying to find a container that would work well. It can be as fancy or plain as you like. I was planning on just reusing something from my collection of saved jars. I couldn't decide between a spice container from Ikea, a bottle from some yummy organic cream, and an old baby food jar (I don't know where that came from, to be honest), but then I remembered a little vase my mom gave me last summer. Though all the others would have worked all right, I liked the vase because it had the smallest opening; the smaller opening keeps the liquid from evaporating as fast.

Fill your jar/vase with the 1/4 cup water. 

Next, add the vodka. The purpose of the vodka is to help emulsify the water and essential oil. I started with two tablespoons but ended up adding a little more when I saw that the oils were still separating from the water.  (Photo credit: my seven-year-old actually used my DSLR and took this photo for me. I was pretty surprised that he got a clear picture!)

Add the essential oils. I started with 10 drops and then gradually added more until the scent was as a strong as I liked. 

Stick the bamboo skewers in the jar/vase and you're done. I read that some people think that you should opt for the actual reed sticks for your diffuser (and I think they're pretty inexpensive) because they work better, but the bamboo skewers work, too. It's what I had on hand so I went with them. So far, so good. Every few days or so, flip the diffusers to refresh the scent.

After I made mine, I was feeling pretty proud and I put it in a corner of my kitchen. Not the best idea -- the scent that is put out by this diffuser is subtle and seemed to be pretty easily overwhelmed by the various other aromas and smells that come out of the kitchen. So I moved it to my living room (it seemed like a good spot by that painting, in particular). I could smell it a little but not as much as I'd liked. I was totally bummed -- had my experiment totally failed?

Still not willing to accept defeat, I took it up to my room, thinking a smaller and more enclosed space would be better. Sure enough, that was the ticket. I put it on my dresser and gives off a nice, subtle smell. I'm sure if you used a bigger vase/jar, doubled the recipe, and used more skewers (or actual diffuser reeds), you could use this homemade diffuser in a bigger room. But to use what is pictured here, I suggest keeping it in a smaller, more enclosed room -- like a bedroom or bathroom.

Skip the chemical (and toxic) air-fresheners that don't really smell like anything anyway. Try out this simple air-freshener to give your home a pleasant and aromatic lift.

Note: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

{This post is linked up to The Homestead Barn Hop.}

Thursday, March 6, 2014

How I Get the Most Out of Our (smallish) Local Library

There are a few topics that once you get me talking about them, I pretty much can't shut up: Mary Poppins, natural childbirth (two babies sans epidurals, thankyouverymuch), the superiority of the A&E film version of Pride and Prejudice, beauty pageants (grrr!), and the flagrant use of pluralostrophes, just to name a few.

But, without a doubt, books are at the top of that list. Nothing gets me as excited, emotional, and passionate as the topic of books and the importance of reading. In fact, it's taking pretty much all the restraint I have to not go on and on about my love of reading: my bookwormy childhood and adolescence, my college experience as an English major, the time I spent as a Community Relations Manager at Barnes & Noble, how The Read-Aloud Handbook shaped a huge facet of how I parent, share my other all-time favorite books, refer you to my bibliophile Pinterest board, tell how I'm writing a novel....see, I'm doing it anyway. Stop, Heather, stop.

As you can imagine, I also have strong feelings about the importance of libraries as well. As Walter Cronkite said, "Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation." Libraries are absolutely essential

That said, my local library and I sort of parted ways for a while. Quite a while, actually. I could never find what I wanted. The selection seemed paltry. Granted, I live in smaller city, so I can't totally blame them. I didn't really even bother with the children's section because I'd had the same kind of luck there, too. So I fed my Amazon habit and bought a lot of books instead of borrowing them from the library. I used PaperbackSwap (an excellent resource) to curb my expenses, but I was still spending a lot of money on books. It wasn't my fault that I couldn't use the best money-saving resource for books there is -- it was the library's fault, right? Right? Riiiiight...

Then in 2012, when my oldest started kindergarten, I had an idea to listen to audiobooks with the kids in the car since we had a little bit of a drive to school (about 15 minutes each way). I knew the local library had an audiobook section for kids so I tried it out. Pretty soon, we started checking out some of the picture books in the section nearby and before I knew it, trips to the library were becoming a biweekly thing, if not a sometimes weekly trip, with us leaving with a stack of books. 

What I've learned is that I wasn't really approaching the library in very constructive way before. Sure, the selection wasn't great (for the record, it has gotten better), but I expected it to serve me, thinking I could just walk in, find exactly what I wanted easily, and leave. That doesn't always work with a smaller library like ours. It takes some advance planning, as well as use of all of the library's resources.

Here are five ways how I have finally made our local library work for us -- and save us money in the process:

1. Make a list.
There are so many great resources for finding reading suggestions! I love all the great lists you can find on Pinterest; Goodreads is also a great resource for book recommendations. I'm sure there are plenty other resources to find books that I haven't tapped into. I used to try to write them all down, but I found the best way for me to keep track of all the books I want to read and the books I want to get for my boys is through PaperBackSwap. Signing up for PaperBackSwap is totally free (you can read more about the program in a past post of mine here). I use the wish list and reminder list in my PaperBackSwap account to keep track of of the hundreds of books I want to read. (So many books, so little time...)

2. Check the library's website first.
When I've found a book that has piqued my interest, I head over to my local library's website to check their online catalog. If the book is in their catalog, I put it on the reminder list in my PaperBackSwap account; if it's not in the catalog, I put it on my account's wish list. This helps me know at a glance what my library has. If I think ahead enough, I'll check the library's website before we go to see if the books on my reminder list are available or if they're checked out.

3. Keep a list with you.
A lot of the time, my boys and I will just hit the library on a whim while we're out on an errand. Instead of trying to remember what I have on my reminder list, I just pull out the list I keep in my wallet. (Granted, I could log in to my PaperBackSwap account on my phone but the site doesn't really have a great mobile version -- at least last time I checked). I also keep a list in the bag I take to the library for our planned trips, just in case I'm in a hurry and don't have the time (or I'm too lazy) to check online. This list is just a bunch of titles that are on my reminder list, along with the last name of the authors.  I really like and often use this printable for a good pocket-size list, but your list doesn't have to be fancy. Take the picture above -- that pink pad of Post-It notes next to the stack of books is the list I've been keeping in my library bag. 

4. The library's waiting list is your friend.
I totally under-utilized the waiting list option back when I was frustrated with my local library. I would complain about the library not having what I wanted, but I never did anything about it besides leave empty-handed. Now, I'll get on the waiting list for books that I know I want to read, even when I'm in the middle of a bunch of others. It's always a fun surprise when I get an email from the library when I've made my way to the top of a waiting list. I do this with books for the kids, too; I'm off to pick a book for them up off the hold shelf today. 

I don't know how long my library has had OverDrive, but it's pretty new to me. And let me tell you -- I. Love. It. Basically, it's a way to download books from your library onto your computer, e-reader, iPod, and/or phone.  My first love will always be tangible books, but I'm trying to be flexible and open-minded when it comes to e-books.  Quite often, the library won't have the physical copies of some books I want, but they'll have the e-book version as an option.  The books are available for 1-2 weeks (depending on the limits set by your library) and when the time is up, they automatically return themselves. No need to worry about overdue fines or the library cop coming after you.  

I use OverDrive in two ways: 

I first learned about OverDrive when I read about it on this post about getting into audiobooks. Listening to books with my boys in the car had been so much fun, I wanted to do it just for myself. I followed this helpful tutorial to help me download audiobooks onto my iPhone via the OverDrive app. It's so easy! I love that I can take whatever audiobook I'm listening to with me everywhere. Unlike with CDs, I don't have to worry about losing my place or having a CD player. I just plug it into the adapter in my car or into my portable speaker.  I also love the feature that lets me speed it up -- lately I've been listening to the book pictured above at the 1.5x speed.

I resisted getting a Kindle for so long. However, once I realized how that there were a lot of books I could get via OverDrive, I was finally convinced and my husband got me a Paperwhite for my birthday. Like I said before, I definitely prefer holding a real book and turning real pages, but I'm digging this little Kindle. Today, I downloaded my first e-book via OverDrive and it was really pretty easy; I used this tutorial to help me do it.

I still have my book-buying Amazon habit and I still fully intend to keep buying the books I love for my home library, but I have saved quite a bit of money since the library and I got reacquainted. And I have to say, I didn't realize how much I'd missed that feeling of carrying an armload of borrowed books out of the library, because it is a pretty fantastic feeling.

Note: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 
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