Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Good Nosh

My Etsy.com shop is officially open for business! I'm starting out quite small and only have one item up for sale at the moment, but plan on adding a few more very soon. Check it out! I can't wait until some of my ingredients arrive (like the lovely coconut flour by Azukar Organics!) and I can play around with a few other ideas, and get pictures of foods I already plan on making so I can actually list them! There's almost no point in listing on Etsy without pictures. I know I would never buy a homemade food of any sort without pictures. I've got to work on pricing for some of my other items I plan on listing soon, too. It is no quick thing, figuring out precisely how much it costs to make some of these recipes. I mean, how much does 1 teaspoon of baking powder cost me, or 1/2 teaspoon of homemade vanilla extract? I can figure it out, but it will take time.

So what kind of baked goods would you consider purchasing online? Talk to me, people. My shop is young, and my ears are open.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Waste-Free Living

Waste-free living has been an intriguing topic to me of late. I am always looking for ways to reduce our waste, improve our health, and spend less money. Did you know, for instance, that the average American produces 7lbs of trash daily? Somewhere in Nevada people are producing a whopping 13lbs of waste per person per day. That is an incredible number! In our effort to avoid being a part of those abysmal statistics, for years we have been avoiding the use of disposable plates, napkins, and utensils on a regular basis. I don't keep paper towels in the house and haven't since I got married 3 years ago. Regular kitchen towels are perfectly capable of cleaning up spills, you know? Not only do these things cost you a lot of money over time and unnecessarily create the need for more landfills, but many of them are actually detrimental to your health. A recent study proved what many of us having been saying for years: plastics are dangerous to our health, and BPA isn't the only toxin in plastics we should be worried about.

 I am trying to get into the habit of bringing my reusable grocery bags on shopping trips, which are not only eco-friendly, but fun, too! Did you know those horrid plastic sacks they give out everywhere take well over 100 years to decompose? Sit in the Walmart parking lot for 30 minutes and watch the amount of bags that come out of there in a mere half hour. Remember that that is happening in millions of locations across the country as you sit and watch. And it happens all day, every day, without exception. It's horrific. And we each need to do our part to change that. We should be treating the world God created better than that. As an alternative to these horrible plastic bags, you can get plain bags like those to the left and have some fun decorating them yourself, leave them plain, or check out the many shops on Etsy.com, where you can find things like cute little birdy totes for smaller shopping trips and support small business owners in the process. Etsy.com even offers a search method where you can find nearby sellers, if you're particularly interested in supporting local small businesses, as well. You can also get Reusable Produce Bags to completely eliminate plastic from your shopping excursions, but don't forget to check out Etsy again, for reusable produce bags in fun colors!

Also consider reusable sandwich bags, if you do a lot of lunches on the go, or if you just don't want to deal with reusing, at least switch to the the good old  Brown Paper Bags, which you can recycle or compost.

Feminine protection is another area to consider switching to reusable items in. I keep a supply of reusable feminine protection (cloth pads/liners and a menstrual cup), which are of course, waste-free, eco-friendly, highly cost-effective, and safer for your health (no risk of TSS, etc). It's another area you can have some fun with, while doing something better for yourself and the environment -- these make your period just a teensy bit of fun. You can also make your own, if you're willing and able.

If you are blessed to have small children, a great way to reduce waste is by using cloth diapers instead of disposables. There are all kinds of places that sell them online, or you may be fortunate enough to live in a place that has a cloth diaper store, like Happybottomus, one of which I noticed recently in Overland Park, KS.

You can also reduce waste by giving up disposable food storage. Yes, I am suggesting doing away those handy plastic storage containers. Instead opt for reusable and safe (for your own health and the environment) glass storage. An easy to find and fairly inexpensive option for this is wide mouthed canning jars. You can get a whole case of them fairly inexpensively. If, however, you have the money and prefer a more "traditional" look, you can get things like Pyrex 6021224 Storage 10-Piece Set, Clear with Blue Lids. The lids are plastic, but that's still a big step in the right direction. If you really have the money, consider the really nice Kinetic Go Green GlassLock 1332 17-Ounce Square Glass Food-Storage Containers with Locking Lids, Set of 3 which has a glass lid as well as bottom.

Do you brew your own coffee? Consider purchasing one of these reusable cloth coffee filters, which will save you money, protect your health, and further reduce waste. Look for one made with unbleached and/or organic cotton. And on the topic of coffee, if you visit coffee shops, consider bringing your own mug from home to reduce your waste. Many coffee shops even offer small discounts on their coffee when you bring your own cup.

And if you're a regular tea drinker, consider buying your tea in bulk and reusable tea bags, too. The paper tea bags often contain the chemical epichlorohydrin, which is a dangerous chemical used as an insecticide and to manufacture plastics. When combined with hot water in steeping it forms a new chemical called 3-MCPD which is even more toxic and has been linked to cancer. This chemical is also found in most coffee filters, as it strengthens the paper when wet. Some tea bag manufacturers do claim that they don't use epichlorohydrin though, so if you're curious about your favorite brand, call the company up and ask.

What about all those great tools for cleaning, like the Swiffer mop and ReadyMop? Good news! You don't have to give them up. Just change the way you use them. Keep your wonderful Swiffer (I know I love mine!) and simply refill the bottle of cleaning liquid with a mixture of water and vinegar (adding some essential oils is nice, too, and one of my favorites is lemon for that fresh clean scent we all know and love!). This will protect your families health, and also reduce your waste because you're reusing the bottle constantly instead of buying a replacement each time it's emptied and tossing the old one. Also instead of those nifty disposable pads that you buy for them, stick a microfiber cloth on it, instead! They work even better than the disposable pads. Keep a few on hand that are designated mop clothes and simply toss them in the wash instead of the garbage when you're done.

We've talked in the past about making safe, economical, eco-friendly personal and home care products, and I've mentioned my homemade dryer balls. This is yet another way to improve your health and reduce your waste (by eliminating the use of the toxic sheets, and reducing dry time for your laundry which reduces energy consumption!). There is something very satisfying about tossing in a handful of wool balls with a load of wet laundry instead of a stinky dryer sheet. If you're not inclined to make your own (a project I enjoyed!), you can always buy some.

Another area to consider is having "extras". But that's not waste,  you say! Or is it? Can you go out to your garage and find only the items you need and utilize often, in quantities you actually need? Or do you have 15 hammers and 8 rakes for a family of 4? Do you have box after box of clothes you don't wear, and kitchen appliances you haven't used since you bought them sitting out there collecting dust? Do you have a pile of broken items you promise you'll fix someday, but haven't touched since the 1990s? This, too, is a form of waste, and we ought to consider giving away those excess items to people who truly need them, and bless them in the process of making your own life easier (and it does make your life easier than you might think; how many times have you been frustrated searching through a mess of a garage for that one truly important item buried under a horrific stack of "junk"?).

In an effort to reduce our "extras" I have a box in my hall closet that contains all sorts of small kitchen items I don't need. Extra salt & pepper grinders, an olive dish, some cooking utensils we haven't used since we got married, glassware we never use. After moving home almost 4 months ago and getting reacquainted with my own kitchen, I'm slowly discovering extras I don't need. I'm saving them up in a box and will try to sell a few of the larger items in a garage sale (I hope), and give the others to Goodwill, or give them away on FreeCycle.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


This past week has been devoted almost entirely to gardening. On Sunday I talked to one of the ladies at church who is an avid gardener and got some tips from her on getting a Spring garden started -- it's been so long since I did any real gardening, I felt excited but hesitant. She reminded me how easy it can be though, and by the end of our conversation I was even more excited and more than a little anxious to get started!

We decided to go with lasagna gardening, as the soil here is quite horrid without sufficient amendment, which we couldn't do in our time frame and without spending a large sum of money.

It was pretty disappointing though that our initial layer of soil was almost as bad as our own soil; we purchased it from Sutherland's and from a distance it looked great. It wasn't. Hopefully it won't be a hindrance to our success.

Layering our rows; far left is some topsoil on cardboard,
 middle row is getting it's first layer of straw, and I'm
spreading decomposed manure/humus on the far right layer.
As it currently stands we have completed three rows which will contain lettuce, kale, collards, and - ahem -- radishes (not turnips! NOT turnips. Why do I always call radishes turnips?!), and possibly onions, though I suspect I don't have enough space for all of them here. We'll expand the garden for the summer, but since we haven't gardened much in years, I felt attempting much more than this to start out with might be overwhelming.

We also planted some lovely potatoes by the house and will also plant some 2 year old asparagus roots somewhere soon. We also have garlic to plant but I don't know yet where I will put them either. I'm afraid I over-crowded the potatoes though, so I may thin those out once they start to grow.

I may still also try to find a way to add some cauliflower, and next month some carrots. We all love and eat lots of cauliflower, so we should at least give it a try!

Once the summer garden can be started I plan on adding tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, summer squash, cucumbers, and okra.


We're also hoping to get chickens soon! Not sure if that will work out, but we really want to try.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Today was The Great Day of Organization. David put up shelves in our furnace room/closet and due to this wonderful deed, I was able to finally put away our Christmas decor and get other miscellaneous items put away. It feels great to no longer be storing my KitchenAid mixer on the floor next to the barstools! While he worked on the shelving, I rearranged pre-existing shelving. I had read in a magazine a couple weeks ago that grouping books by color can help a bookshelf to look more organized, which perhaps shouldn't have been an amazing revelation to me, but I really hadn't thought of it before. I was excited to give it a try though and today I did it! Here is the before photo:
The bookshelf in our living room,
in all of its disorganized glory!

So while David worked on his project, I worked on mine. I started with the obvious shelf; Calvin's Commentaries offered a "no-duh" place to start lining up all of our brown books! 

From there I hopped from shelf to shelf in no particular order. I did end up with two blue sections, but I did that on purpose; one of them is navy blues, baby blues, etc., while the other is really more of a teal shade, though it is difficult to make the distinction in the photo. 

3/23/11 Revision: The short story that once filled this space has been removed, because someone was overly concerned that someone else who is highly unlikely to ever read this blog, may in fact read it, or be told about it, and feel offended by something that happened in the ancient past. The person in question is not the type to be easily offended, and was not acting in an un-Christ-like fashion through the course of the story, and would therefore have no reason to be offended or otherwise upset, so I honestly don't understand the concern. Out of respect for others though, the story has been removed, though it's removal upsets me just because it was so unnecessary that it was a concern in the first place, and I am truly tired of the drama (however mild) that is so often associated with blogging in general.  

We don't use these books nearly as often as those in the office, so I felt free to disorganize them in order to organize them. Oh, it makes perfect sense in the female mind! But actually, my husband liked the end results of my labors, too. So without further adieu: 
Once again, our living room book-
shelf, this time in all of it's color-
coordinated glory!


So over a week ago I received an email from Google AdSense informing me that my account had been shut down. I hadn't noticed any changes in my earnings, no suspicious trends upward, nothing. But what can you do? Appeal the decision! So I filled out their appeal form and sent it in, confident that they would give me another chance since I'd never had any infractions in the rules prior. Sadly, I was wrong, and a small (yet at once significant) source of income has disappeared for good. They will not reconsider once you appeal their decision once, nor will they ever allow you to set up a new account. This has put an end to my writing for Natural News, and really dampened my enthusiasm for blogging (which I know is sad and pathetic because I'm not blogging to make money, that was just a nice little aside). We are allowed to use David's code on my sites, but I'm hesitant to do so in case the "click-attack" that ended my account was malicious and somebody, somewhere has it out for me.

This isn't all bad news though. As much as I will miss writing for Natural News, it has forced me to reconsider other options for bringing in a little extra income each month. Right now my focus is on Etsy.com. I have had a shop there in the past but had little success. I made jewelry at first. It was fun, but not a passion, and not really good enough. Etsy.com is just packed with unique, amazing items, and my jewelry was mediocre at best. I was careful to make everything to the highest standard of quality I could, but it was nothing special or  unique. Anybody could make what I made with a trip to Hobby Lobby or Walmart. I also tried to sell prints of some of my photography, and even had one of my drawings up for a while (incidentally it never sold, and a good thing too; during the move from Texas to Missouri it got left in a storage pocket in my in-laws car after they picked us up from the car rental location and somehow it was torn before I got it back). I also made felt ninjas, which were fun, and I actually sold enough of those to cover a fair portion of our Christmas gifts we purchased last year. But that died off after the holidays and it was back to never making sales. So now my focus is on setting up a new shop, which will be devoted to low-carb, sugar-free, grain-free treats! My older sister has had amazing success with her shop Softly Sweetly, and while I have no expectations of enjoying the same level of success, I do think I could be moderately successful since the sort of healthy diet David and I follow and promote is growing in popularity. And if there's one thing people on this sort of diet miss, it's the sweet treats! Cookies and cakes and candies. I'm not sure how extensive my shop will end up, but time will tell. I've already tried a fantastic peanut butter cookie recipe and sent half a dozen off to a friend for her to critique them for me.

And they do taste as good as they look, so the challenge is going to be whether or not they ship well and still taste good and fresh after a couple days in the mail! They have never survived around here long enough to know what they're like after 3-4 days.

I also spent all day yesterday in the kitchen, making up a new grain-free, sugar-free bread recipe. I can't wait to try it again once I get to the store for more yeast though. I did a similar recipe with yeast a few days ago and it gave it a nicer crust, though this one did turn out quite yummy, especially toasted and with a bit of cinnamon-xylitol sprinkled on top. I'm running low on my healthy baking ingredients though, so I may have to postpone further experimentation for a while. I also made a chocolate cake yesterday, but that was nearly a disaster it came out so strange (though the icing was GREAT!). Perhaps I need to just stick with my usual method of not using other peoples recipes. Apparently I have a very unique style in the kitchen as I seem to have much better success when I "wing it", versus using someones written out recipe. This is even true for baking more often than not, which is unusual, considering baking really is a science, and easy to mess up!

My husband is currently putting up shelving in our furnace room/closet. Organization, here I come! I'm also planning on reorganizing one of our bookshelves today, and there may be pictures to prove it if my method is successful. We shall see.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Xylitol, People, and Pets

I would like to to talk to you briefly about xylitol. You've probably heard the name at least once or twice if you're trying to lead a healthy lifestyle and avoid sugar, but still enjoy the occasional indulgence. Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that occurs naturally in certain plants. It can be harvested from a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as the bark of birch trees. A common source of xylitol these days is corn and corn fibers though, so be careful when purchasing xylitol to look for one labeled "non-GMO"!

So what makes xylitol so great? Unlike sucrose (table sugar) and some other sugar substitutes, xylitol has a very low Glycemic Index (7, versus sucrose at 65). Other sugar substitutes such as maltitol, which is also a sugar alcohol and found commonly in pre-made "sugar-free" foods has a glycemic index nearly identical to that of table sugar (50), making it a much poorer choice than xylitol if good health is your goal. Xylitol contains 40% fewer calories and 75% fewer carbohydrates than sucrose, and is absorbed more slowly than sugar. It doesn't need insulin to be metabolized by the body, either, which means it doesn't raise blood sugar. For anyone looking to maintain good health, this is great news, as high blood sugars damage the body over time (heart disease risk, for example, goes up with postprandial readings greater than 100 ng/dl). For these reasons, xylitol has been used in countries like Japan, Russia, and Germany as a diabetic sweetener since the 1960's! Xylitol is as sweet as table sugar, making it a perfect substitute for baking with.

Aside from the fact that xylitol doesn't cause insulin spikes, it has some other health benefits. It can help to prevent tooth decay by maintaining a more neutral pH balance in the mouth and preventing bacteria from sticking to your teeth. It has also been shown to repair damaged enamel on teeth. Because xylitol can help prevent the growth of bacteria, it has also been used medicinally (though this is not approved by the FDA) to treat ear and sinus infections. Some research suggests that it can also help maintain bone density, and slow the growth of Candida Albicans.

Recently xylitol use has come under attack from some veterinarians and pet lovers after a report came out in 2006 suggesting it may be toxic to dogs. I have even been asked to revise one of my recipes to remove the xylitol from it due to it's potential for insulin spiking in our furry friends. I have a simpler solution than that we quit using a product that is not only safe but actually healthy for human consumption. It's called not feeding it to your dog. There is always the chance xylitol consumption may occur if a dog finds something that has been dropped on the floor by accident or left within reach somehow. But why single out xylitol? There are other healthy human foods that we don't eliminate from our diets because of their potential dangers to pets. Some of these foods include chocolate, grapes, raisins, avocado, and onion. Many of the reports of "xylitol poisoning" haven't in fact been proven to be due to xylitol at all and when toxicity is seen in dogs it is often after an animal has eaten an exorbitant amount of something, like when a news story reported on this issue after a dog ate 100 pieces of sugar-free gum that contained both xylitol and aspartame. The American Veterinary Medical Association reported on this as well when another dog ate 4 large, chocolate frosted muffins which, combined, contained around a pound of xylitol. Often times, these warnings about the toxicity of human foods to dogs are blown out of proportion after some freak cases where pets consume massive quantities of something, so to suggest that we should exclude these healthy foods from our diet because of this potential problem for pets is ridiculous. The ASPCA, for example, includes raw and undercooked meat, eggs, and bones on their list of dangerous pet foods. The fact is raw foods and especially raw meat and bones are dogs and cats natural foods. Did God dump a bag of kibble in The Garden for Adam to feed to the cats and dogs? Nope. It has only become the "norm" for pets to consume grain-based, man-made food over the last 100 years (a mere breath in the history of the world!), and the truth is, we're not doing them any favors with this type of diet. It's like pediatricians who tell mothers that formula is just as healthy for their babies as breastmilk; it's simply not true, and that has been proven over and over with scientific research. We are made in the image of God. As such, we are naturally inclined to create. But we can never create anything better than God did, and this applies to every area of life, whether it is the ideal food for ourselves, our babies, or our pets (or anything non-food related).

I have really stumbled off topic here. But that's one of the benefits of having your own blog. You can write whatever you want and follow as many rabbit-trails as you please.

So the bottom line is: Eat xylitol. It's good for you. Don't let Fido eat xylitol. It might be bad for him. If you're new to xylitol, however, keep in mind that xylitol has a moderate "laxation threshold" -- that is, too much can cause abdominal discomfort (gas, bloating, and diarrhea). It's not harmful and your body will adjust in time, but starting with a small amount daily and slowly working your way up will avoid the discomfort altogether.