Musings from the Threshold

Category Archives: Homemaking

Time for a This-and-That

House stuff – we’re making progress! The main living areas are pretty much settled, except the library, which needs a ton of work (floor patched so that we can put up bookcases in a currently unusable corner, lots of books to unpack, etc). We are loving our expanded space, and are so thankful. Really, truly, I will get more pictures posted soon.

The garden is coming along. Slower than we’d like, but the ground is ready for planting now, so once the fence is complete, we can get some goodies growing. I did get peas planted this last week, and we lined up tomato cages along the row to protect them from the chickens. The chickens are the reason we need the fence; they adore scratching up seeds that I have planted. For instance, this afternoon I went out and planted some morning glories at the base of the windmill. I had more seeds than I could use there, so I went to the other side of the house, planted some near the garden, and watered them. When I got back to water the seeds by the windmill, the chickens had already decimated the area. Perhaps some will come up despite them. But you can see why we don’t want to plant the garden until it is fenced!

We will also be planting some things out in the yard, as the actual garden area is pretty small. Tomatoes and peppers will be in cages, and we hope to have our winter squash fenced in another area of the yard. Summer squash might fit in the main garden, but we’ll see.

Settling in to the neighborhood is a fun experience. Our closest neighbor, Bethany, has been a friend of ours for almost four years now and helped lead us to this house. She lives with her aunt, who is super sweet and has come over a couple of times to visit. Another aunt and uncle live on the other side of Bethany, and came to meet us/bring us a meal soon after we moved in. We’re looking forward to getting to know more folks in the immediate area as time goes by.

We are out in the country in between a tiny town and a shopping/business area, and are about 15 minutes from Hutchinson. It has much more of a “country” feel than where we used to live, and at the same time is closer to town. It is also closer to work for Jonathan, who is working for a company in the aforementioned shopping/business area that builds storage buildings/barns. What a blessing to be only a few minutes from work! He is working long hard days, and is adjusting to working for someone else again after almost 6 years of being self employed. I’m so thankful for his hard work and diligence.

It has been a blessing to be back fellowshipping with folks who are dear to us and who have known us most of our lives. There are actually three meetings in Hutch where we might have landed, each of which has many folks who meet the above description, but we feel that we have “landed” where we should be.

We had an educational and fun experience yesterday. A small town nearby has a monthly “poultry sale,” and we are eager to get some guineas to eat our ticks, so we headed out there yesterday. Many of the sellers and buyers are Amish or Mennonite, so there were many tractors pulling truck-bed trailers or horse trailers behind them (these are locally considered an acceptable alternative to a buggy or car for family transportation). There were rows of animals in small cages in the sale area, and we learned that it was an auction, not the type of seller-to-buyer type sale we were expecting. We filled out our registration, got our number, and set out to learn the ropes.

The auctioneer moved up and down the rows of animals and other merchandise, and folks would bid on each item in turn. There were lots of poultry – chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, guineas, peacocks – of varying ages. There were eggs for hatching and eggs for eating. Also for sale were an interesting variety of other animals and merchandise – goats, sheep, horses, ponies, cages of all sizes, buckets, fencing, even a hammock.

We had no idea what it would be like; we forgot the cage we were going to bring for transport; and the poultry seemed to go for a good bit more than we expected. Perhaps we were just being cheap, but we decided to mostly observe. Jonathan did bid on some guineas, but other folks though they were more dear than he did. Adding interest to the day were the 30-50 mph winds, which sent some of the Blessings back to the van to wait after walking around a bit. Over all, it was a very interesting and fun learning experience. We’re certainly planning on going again.

On a personal note, my weight-loss efforts have been greatly abetted by a great website, sparkpeople.com. When I started with them on 3/26, I had gotten down to 8 pounds under my pre-pregnancy (with Andrew) weight. I’ve taken off an additional 13ish pounds as of yesterday’s weigh-in. SP is totally free, has tons of helpful tools, and it is helping me make lifestyle changes, not just diet. I think the biggest impact has been from tracking every thing I eat and exercising more, and their tools have been a tremendous help in that. It also is a terrific encouragement that two dear Missouri friends are also on sparkpeople and inspire and encourage me.

By way of disclaimer, sparkpeople does not “allow” nursing moms to use the site, and, at the risk of the SP police coming after me, I will admit that I skipped that box when I registered. They want to avoid promoting weight loss at cost to babies, and I appreciate that! Not all moms are well enough educated nutritionally to be trying to lose weight while nursing a baby. I didn’t sign up with them until Andrew was almost 11 months old and eating solids in addition to nursing. I also aim for the upper end of my “calorie range” to insure that I’m getting enough. If I’m hungry, I eat. I am motivated by tracking my food to eat stuff that is good for us, instead of just filling. That’s how I’m making it work for me and Andrew. I think I’m honestly giving him much better nutrition now than I was before I started SP, when I was still eating way too much junk. Also, I will not eat fake “low fat” food. If the real thing is worth the calories, I eat it. If not, I don’t. (*steps away from her “fake food” soapbox before she gets wound up). I don’t want to encourage moms toward weight loss that in a way that is going to cost their precious babies the nutrition they need. Nourishing babies with good quality milk is soooo much more important than losing weight.

While I’m sure I’m leaving out many things that have been on my mental blog-about list, this hopefully gives you a little taste of our “new” life. No pictures, but they’re coming!

We’re Here!

We loaded up trucks on March 30…

drove to our new home in southcentral Kansas on the 31st…

and unloaded trucks on April 1st.

We were blessed by a fabulous amount of help from loving friends and family on both ends of our journey, and are so very thankful.

Jonathan spent this week back in Missouri, finishing up work for Lowe’s and working on our old house. Tina and Sue had come and cleaned the house, shaving many hours off of his work time there (thank you again, dear ones!). Alan came out and helped one evening, and Dad and Mom Smith made a big contribution to finishing up things at the old place – thank you! Jonathan got home in the wee hours of the morning this morning, and we are all thrilled to have him back.

The Blessings and I spent the week organizing and unpacking boxes and getting a little bit settled – they are wonderful helpers. We had visits from friends several times, and got to meet some of our neighbors (who brought us food!). And we took some lovely walks.

It has been a joy to see the Blessings’ growing appreciation for the beauty of this area which is so dear to their parents’ hearts. For instance, one evening Katie and I walked out in the field to see the sunset. She took a deep breath and sighed out, “I just love the open land.” Me too, sweet one. Me too.

While we all are missing our Missouri friends, it is also a joy to begin to reconnect with friends from the area. Many folks we haven’t yet gotten to see, but it’s a blessing to move and to already have a network of familiar faces, and friends eager to help and fellowship. Becki and I got all teary yesterday hearing our children laugh and play… so many years of missing each other and longing for our children to grow up together.

There will be more pictures in the coming weeks, I’m sure, but here’s a glimpse of our new place from when you turn into the driveway.

Giveaways

I have, over the years that I’ve been reading blogs, entered a multitude of giveaways. I’ve pouted inwardly more than I’d like to admit over not ever winning one.

Well, for reasons beyond my ken, my losing streak has been broken, and broken soundly.

I’m not wanting to brag about winning, but I am wanting to brag on these wonderful people who have hosted and given. Please check out their blogs and products!

On October 24, I won a cloth diaper giveaway hosted by Tsh at SimpleMom.net. When Tsh sent me an email asking me which of the four sets would be my preference, I chose SustainableBabyish after much deliberation because the set that they were giving away had an option for either a regular/short wool cover or some wool longies (be still, my heart!). As it turned out, I was able to have my first choice of companies, and heard from the folks at SB within a few days. Unfortunately, at the time, the page for the starter kit being given away did not note the additional charge for the longies (a charge that makes total sense, just one that I couldn’t fit in our budget at the time). After some emailing back and forth, the kind folks at SB offered me the option of a pair of “seconds” longies if I would prefer them over a short wool cover. I was all over that. And, incidentally, the product page for the starter kit in question now reflects the price difference, for which I’m relieved for future customers.
So, on November 17, I received my package. And oh my. These diapers. They are the softest ever. Every time I come to one of them in the diaper rotation, I get all excited because they are just so soft and cushy. I wish I had clothes that soft! I just think they’re wonderful. And the pair of longies? I sure can’t find any flaws in them. A little lanolin sample would have been a lovely touch since their covers are not pre-lanolized. I finally bought some lanolin and it is in transit. So looking forward to getting this pair of longies in use!
Honestly, my experience with this company’s representative was less than stellar. But I think it was an individual thing, not a company-wide issue. And oh the diapers! They make the negatives fade in my mind. I would (obviously, from my gushing) highly recommend them. Thanks for the fabulous gift, SustainableBabyish! And many thanks to Tsh for organizing/hosting such a generous giveaway.

Then in November, I was surprised by a second giveaway notification – this time from The Grocery Shrink. She was giving away not one but three of her ebooks. I’d looked longingly at her books before and been so impressed that she helps you shrink your grocery budget while eating real whole foods. She also was including a hands-pampering set from Mary Kay – fun bonus.
We had some miscommunication, and then there was my horrid memory and holiday busy-ness. I totally forgot about downloading the books. And I didn’t receive her email about the hands set. I finally emailed her tonight to thank her and apologize for not doing so earlier. I’m going to download the books as soon as the Man isn’t playing on online game in which he might die if I clog up the satelite connection. 🙂 I’m sure that you’ll be hearing about them, because I plan to make use of her ideas.

On December 7, I won this giveaway at Adventures of a Gluten Free Mom. It was for a copy of the cookbook Go Dairy Free by Alisa Marie Fleming and (bonus!) a potato ricer. I’d been thrilled about getting a digital copy of the book, but was delighted when Heidi informed me it was a hardcopy.
I haven’t had a lot of time to examine the cookbook, but it is definitely more than just recipes. It looks like a wealth of information on this world that sometimes still feels new to me. Alisa’s blog, Alisa Cooks, has been a tremendous help and encouragement as I’ve learned the ropes of eating without dairy, and I’m thankful to have this hard copy resource as well.
I’d never used a potato ricer before, but I have been glad to have it. Perfect timing with Andrew beginning to try some veggies. Besides making mashed potatoes with it for the fam, I’ve run sweet potatoes and carrots through it for Andrew (freezing them in half cup portions for easy use). Works like a dream.
Oh, and the dairy free fudge recipe Heidi links to in the giveaway post? Fabulous. Totally made my Christmas season, as far as treats go. And my family said they thought it was just as good as “their” fudge.
Thank you, Heidi, for the gifts, and thank you, Alisa, for letting your readers know about the giveaway!

Also on December 7, oddly enough, I went visiting some new blogs after posting my Sweet Shot Tuesday picture. I like to visit some of the other bloggers who have posted pics and give enouragement, so I picked a few that I liked from the thumbnail linkies and went to comment. I loved the hands picture at the end of this post at sandwichINK – it reminds me of my dear grandparents. I dashed off a note to Kaye letting her know I appreciated her pics and post, and thought no more of it. Totally missed the giveaway business.
The next week, I received an email about having won a giveaway. I had to follow the link to Kaye’s blog to figure out how that had happened. What a fun and wonderful surpriseto have $15 to my credit at Amazon! Thanks, Kaye!

So that’s my giveaway roundup. Please visit these fine folks and, if they have products that would be a help to you, consider purchasing from them.

An update on Andrew’s diet

I mentioned near the beginning of the month that we had discovered that Andrew does not deal well with the bovine milk protein that comes through in my milk (a condition called allergic colitis), that I had gone off dairy, and that he seemed to be improving.  I’ve now been off dairy since around 1pm on Thursday, September 30 (not that I’m counting or anything) and thought I’d give an update on how Andrew and I are doing.

Andrew is doing much better.  Over the first couple of weeks, we saw a dramatic improvement in his comfort level, cheerfulness, and the quality of his stools.  About three weeks in, however, it seemed like he was moving backward.  I felt quite unsettled about him, and called wonderful Mary, our midwife.  She connected me with a friend/client who has dealt with allergic colitis with a few of her babies and who has, through necessity, become an expert.  It was very helpful to talk with her, and I tweaked a couple of things after our conversation, including dropping goat cheese, as her experience indicated that it is any dairy, not just cow dairy, that causes trouble.  That helped a bit more.

Early this week, with Andrew still having the occasional pre-bloody (I can explain that in more detail if you really want) or blood-tinged diaper, I became more convinced that Andrew is one of those babies who cannot handle dairy or soy.  I have generally avoided soy products for years now, but I had not realized how many innocent looking foods have soybean oil in them.  I’ve peeled off a whole other layer of the dietary onion this week. And it seems to be paying off.

Just to give you an idea of the changes I’ve made, here are some of the things that are in the works in our kitchen:

Things at which I feel the need to develop proficiency/for which I need to find recipes that are dairy/soy free –
~ Tortillas
~ Mayonaise
~ Biscuits
~ Potato soup – a fall/winter staple in our home.
~ Popcorn. I tried it tonight with seasoned salt (and olive oil to hold the salt on the popcorn). It was passable, but nothing to hoot and holler about. I’m looking for ideas.
~ There are more on my mental list, but I can’t find the mental paper it’s on. I guess that’s a sign that I need to write it down with pen and paper.

Things I’ve tried/am trying –
~ Experiments in substituting for butter in various recipes. I have some coconut oil, but it is quite pricey, and I’m definitely not going to be making cookies with it at a cup or cup and a half per batch.
~ Today I tried an idea suggested by a friend – using mashed up white beans as a substitute for butter. I found a recipe for oatmeal cookies using beans and they were quite yummy. I’ll post more about this on my Love You Can Eat blog, because, well, it qualifies!
~ I have a batch of artisan bread dough in the fridge so I can start making bread again. Need a carrier for my homemade apple butter, you know. (Store-bought bread is pretty much an automatic fail)
~ I made cornbread last night. I generally use bacon drippings for the fat in my cornbread, so the only sub was almond milk instead of buttermillk. Quite tasty.

Foods for which I’m developing appreciation (read: my sanity savers) –
Almond Milk
Dark Chocolate Almond Milk
Dark Chocolate that doesn’t use soy lecithin as an emulsifier
Almond butter on gala apples
(Do you see an almond theme here? I’m extra grateful that almonds are an alkalizing food, or I would be in a world of hurt!)

In the midst of our food journey, I am thankful that we do not have to be concerned about one of the most common side effects of allergic colitis, failure to thrive.

Our developing laundry system

I mentioned in my last post that I’ve finally figured out a laundry system that we seem to be able to implement with some consistency. Here is more about that system and its evolution, in hopes that some part of it will be helpful or inspiring to you.

I should start by saying that the whole laundry thing has been a blight on my homemaking existence for years. I’ve often thought with a bit of (naive, I’m sure) jealousy back to the times when folks just had 2 or 3 outfits to wear and wash. Nine people worth of clothes and laundry just adds up! I never know whether to laugh or cry when one of my friends on Facebook mentions in their status that it’s “laundry day.” Every day but Sunday is laundry day here, or else Mt. Washmore raises its smelly head in our laundry room.

Several years ago, one of those miracle moms with 10 children and an immaculate house talked at our home school support group about home management. She had a lot of great ideas, some of which I have implemented with varying degrees of success. One idea we adopted was that of giving each child (that is old enough) a day on which it is their responsibility to do their laundry (and for the older ones, the laundry of an assigned sibling, who would be taught more responsibility as they grew). We bought stacking plastic laundry drawers per her suggestion as well.

Over the years, we’ve tweaked the system here and there. Last year we bought two three-bag laundry sorters, one for the girls’ room, one for the boys room. For some reason, this did not work for our Blessings. I’m not sure why, but it just didn’t.

Several months ago, we moved the laundry sorter to the laundry room and all the Blessings bring their dirty clothes and put them in the appropriate bag (we have two bags for darks, one for lights/whites). The children still have their day to do laundry, but the requirement has changed to doing two loads of laundry from start to clean and folded, choosing whichever bag(s) most need to be done.

This was a big improvement, but Mt. Washmore still had a tendency to rise, because we didn’t have a spot for the towels/sheets/blankets. This “other” category seemed to spread all over the floor AND inspire children to drop their dirty clothes on the floor instead of in the proper bag.

So, a couple months ago, we bought two large sturdy (and cheap!) laundry baskets, one white, one blue. The dark “other” laundry goes in the blue basket, the light in the white basket. These baskets are now included in the “what most needs to be washed” selection process. This seems to have been the piece of the puzzle that we’ve been missing!

I haven’t posted about the evolution of our laundry system for a while because for so long it just wasn’t working! But this incarnation has been in place long enough that I think I can say with some confidence that it’s working for us.

Here’s a picture of the laundry room yesterday morning, in a pretty typical state for a Saturday:

It’s not perfect, which is fine with me. There is no mountain, no stench, and no shame. A couple of notes:
~ The laundry sorter’s usual home is to the left of the washing machine, so that children can reach the washer. I moved it for a more compact picture. And so that you can’t see the mess on my sewing desk.
~ The tan basket on the dryer is the sock basket. It’s supposed to have only unmatched socks, but often a whole load worth of socks gets dumped there. It’s a process, right?
~ The white laundry basket on the dryer is a rest stop for clothes that no longer fit anyone, but that are nice enough to save. There is a larger tub on top of the big freezer that I can empty this into occasionally, and which I sort through at the seasonal clothes changeover. This is another recent addition which I like much better than the accumulating pile of too-small clothes in my bedroom!
~ I noticed when I looked at this picture that I need to remind the Blessings to throw the bag into the washer when they get to the bottom!
~ Jonathan and I have a blue basket and a white basket in our room. I throw our laundry in in the evening and/or on the weekend.
~ With baby will arrive daily diaper laundry. This will require more diligence at prompting the Blessings to start their laundry early in the day and finish it in time for me to put in diapers in the evening.

So tell me here or post on your blog and share a link. What laundry ideas work for you?

Hand Washing

Though I want to be a good steward, I’ll be frank and state that I am not overly concerned about “saving the earth.” After all, it’s all going to burn one day and be replaced.

The interesting thing I’ve found about some “earth friendly” thinking is that it relates closely to “people friendly.” The anti-bacterial soap ingredient that gets into lakes and kills fish? It’s the same thing that makes me more likely to get sick by promoting bacterial resistance; the same substance, classified as a pesticide, that can make its way into breastmilk for my precious babies!

So while “being gentle to the earth” isn’t one of my main goals, being gentle to my family’s bodies is. And I’ve found those two goals overlap more often than I used to think they might.

All that is an introduction to this post on Hand Washing at Simple Organic. Very informative and practical. Anti-bacterial soap is bad for you, dear ones, and this gives a great explaination of why, with links to additional resources. It also answers the “what do I do instead?” question.

My First Furniture Re-do

From this:

To this:

I have no experience, and this project is proof that if you’re content with imperfection, you can have beauty! This is a chair that came out of my G’pa and G’ma Byrd’s attic. The original cover was totally torn up by our sheltie when the chair lived out on the front porch for a while. The chair itself has been extensively repaired by Jonathan as it had taken several injuries. It’s been sitting in our room, too ugly/messed up to use, just taking up space. Time for it to be lovely again!

One of the boys and I unscrewed the seat from the chair and I ripped off all the old stuff. I didn’t have any padding, but I thought of this old worn out mattress cover. I folded it over and over, and cut it to the right size. I think I ended up with seven layers.



Then I took a jumper a friend gave me several years ago. I love the fabric, but it had several worn (or burned?) spots that made it unwearable. So I very roughly cut it, leaving plenty of room to bring it to the underside of the seat.


At this point, I checked the stapler and found it empty, so the project was put on hold until we could pick up some more staples. Today, as I prepared to load the staple gun with new staples, about an inch and a half of staples fell out of the gun. I think God just knew on Saturday that I’d done too much and needed to stop.

So, I have no idea of the “right” way to do this, but I stapled the sides first, pulling the fabric snug, then trimmed the side fabric. Next I did the front and back, also trimming after stapling. Last came the corners, which I pulled together rather haphazardly. But it worked!



Now it waits for Jonathan to come home and screw the seat back on the chair.

The fabric is just cotton and not super sturdy, so I’m sure it will wear more quickly than official upholstery fabric. But it was free, I think it’s lovely, and I can find something else fun next time it needs to be redone. Or whenever I get in the mood to change it!
Thanks, Nester, for telling me over and over that IDHTBPTBB! I don’t think I would have tackled this otherwise.

The Clean Up Project

In mid-December, amidst the joys and busy-ness of the Advent season, a nice gentleman showed up at our door. Unfortunately, he was the J. County Solid Waste Division Field Inspector. Near the beginning of November, someone had called in a complaint about the state of our property. (Isn’t the response time impressive??)

The short of the Inspector’s visit was that we had some cleaning up to do.
Two major projects were our direct responsibility:

1) Cleanup of the pile of lumber that we brought over when we moved from our old house. Good lumber that the boys and Jonathan had been working on getting de-nailed and stacked neatly. The progress was slow, and the sprawl resulting from sorting through boards was unsightly.
Here the boys are working on de-nailing-

2) Cleanup and disposal of various appliances and such that Jonathan had taken out of folks’ homes when doing installs of new stuff. We had several working appliances that we just hadn’t gotten to their new homes yet, as well as plenty of “stuff” from work that needed to be cleaned up.
No, I don’t have before pictures of this part. It was always an embarrassment to me, and I purposely avoided taking any pictures of the appliance mess.

Another major project didn’t have anything to do with us or our friends/landlords, but needed to be taken care of anyway. The folks who had lived here before the Duchene’s bought the house had indulged in the common rural habit of dumping old appliances, furniture, trash, tires, etc., in an “inconspicuous” place.

Inconspicuous? Not so much, if you walk around by the creek…

Jonathan getting started:

We had extremely cold weather here in December and January which followed a lot of rain. So the junk in the dump was solidly frozen into the mud. It was very tough work! At one point, Jonathan’s dad pulled his van around and they tried using it with a tow strap to try and pull out one of the washing machines. The tow strap broke. Twice.

Nonetheless, there was a great deal that they managed to get out. Here are a couple shots a few days later of some of the stuff that was hauled out of the “dump”:


We passed inspection and they closed the complaint against us, but as you can guess from the following picture, we’ll be continuing to work on cleaning up the area. Hundreds of trash bags, the contents of which have long since disintegrated, were pulled to the surface of the dump as the guys pulled out the larger items. There are also some things that were still too frozen to move.

Come warmer weather, we plan to work more on getting this area cleaned up. It actually could be a lovely usable space.

Book Covers Tutorial

Making book covers is something that my family did a lot of through Eric’s and my Jr. High and High School years. We attended a small Christian school where textbooks were used over and over, and the students were required to have covers on their books to help them last longer. Most of the covers I remember from school were either made from paper bags or from heavy duty paper the school sold for that purpose.

Today I made covers for the Bibles our children got for Christmas. No paper sacks this time! I recently acquired several discarded books of wallpaper samples, and one of the projects I had in mind when I requested them was making book covers. If you’d like to acquire some wallpaper sample books, just visit the home decor department of your favorite home improvement store and ask for them to save some for you when they next get new books.

On to the cover making! If you’re nervous about cutting into pretty paper on the first try, you can always use a brown paper bag for your first try. Or you can do them all with brown paper – it has it’s own charm and I’m not knockin’ it.

Measure the height of the book and add 4-6 inches.
Measure the width of the book (both covers and spine) and add 4-6 inches.

Due to the width of the Bibles I was covering and the width of the wallpaper, I opted for adding 4 inches, 2 inches overlap on each side. If I had larger paper or smaller books, I would have chosen to have 3 inches overlap. But the 2 inches looks like it will be sturdy enough.

Cut the paper according to your measurements.

Center the book on the paper, pull the paper snug and fold over the sides.

Mark the top and bottom of the book, a smidge away from the book itself, and going up the side just a bit (click to see a larger picture if the mark is too hard to see in this one).

Now you’ll have your sides folded in and the top and bottom marked.

The step I don’t show here that I highly recommend is to go ahead and unfold the sides and use your mark to fold the top and bottom edges all the way across, being sure you fold evenly (it should square up on the sides). This will give you a helpful guide for later.

Unfold the top and bottom again and cut up to your mark at an angle.

Fold over your isoceles trapezoid (yes, I had to look that up) at the top and bottom.

Place your book back on the paper, wrap the sides over, and check to be sure you’ve measured, cut and folded correctly. The folded edge should come to just below and above the spine of the book.

The next few steps are easiest if you have a helper hold the opposite cover and the pages upright while you work on one cover at a time.

To reduce bulk, trim off a triangle from the side fold-over.

Fold over the corner as if you were wrapping a present. Note that there is space for the existing cover; this may vary according to the thickness of your book’s cover.

Now fold the flap over and tape or glue. The fold should line up with the folded-down piece on the spine. This is where folding the top and bottom all the way across helps, because you already have a crease.

Repeat this for the other corner on that side.

Repeat for the other side and you’re done!

Here are the covers I made this afternoon. I didn’t think to time it, but was a pretty quick project.