Dec 18, 2014

8 Tips for Painting Cabinets

I'm sorry I've been so absent this week. I'm in a mad rush to finish painting our tiny house motor home bedroom before Christmas! I should be able to post some before and after pictures soon, but in the meantime, I thought I'd pass on a few tips for painting cabinets - something the tiny house is packed with and the main reason it's taken me a while to finish the bedroom.

1. Start by taking off the doors. This is really the only way to do a decent job. Be sure to use painter's tape and a Sharpie to number the doors; put one label on the back of the door and one on the back of the cabinet. Not all doors have the exact same holes for hardware, so this is a step you don't want to skip! Speaking of hardware, you must remove that, too. Keep the hardware for each door in it's own bag, marked with a corresponding number.

2. Now get the cabinets good and clean. More than walls, cabinets tend to be greasy (from cooking or from human hands) and dirty. It's essential to remove all that gunk before you paint - or the paint will just slide off. Look for a TSP substitute cleaner. This shouldn't smell and really gets the grease off. It can cause contact dermatitis in some people, so be sure to wear gloves as you work. (Some brands claim you don't need to rinse off the cleaner, but I recommend giving the cleaned cabinets a good wipe down with a damp, clean sponge, anyway.)

3. When the cabinets are dry again, lightly sand with about 150 -180 grit sandpaper. This shouldn't take long; you just want to take any shine off the cabinets. Again, this is about making the cabinets less slick so paint sticks well.

4. Prime. Don't skip this step, even if your paint promises it has primer in it. As a very experienced painter I know says, "If the paint says it has primer in it, it's a lie. It's just a trick to make you use more paint - because without primer, you're going to need considerably more paint." Use a good primer; I use Gripper.

5. Buy paint made just for cabinets. I used Insl-x Cabinet Coat, even though it was a bit more expensive than other options, and I LOVE it! It doesn't show brush strokes and has a beautiful finish.

6. Use a decent brush. It doesn't have to be super-pricey, but it should hold up to multiple coats without loosing its bristles. A two-inch angled brush works best. (I used a Proform brush.) Some people like foam rollers for painting cabinets, but I found this caused too much splatter.

7. Consider skipping painter's tape. I used tape, but regretted it because it was very difficult to remove and took some of the paint with it. This may be in part because it stayed in one place for many days, because I was sick and short on time for painting. When I painted the walls surrounding the cabinets, I used a paint guide, which blocks the paint from trim and other surfaces you don't want to paint. It was so much quicker, and quite effective! Just keep a cloth handy so you can wipe the edge of the paint guide frequently. It's also handy to have a small artist's brush on hand for tight spaces (more of an issue in a motor home than a house, to be sure!).

8. When painting doors, put them on a flat surface (like a piece of plywood atop two sawhorses), and lift them off the painting surface somehow. I used three cans of store bought food beneath each door, and this worked great! When it was time to paint the opposite side of the door, I put a piece of wax paper between the door and the canned goods, for extra protection of the freshly painted surface. (Also, when it came time to paint the side of the door that had the painter's tape numbered label on it, I removed the label and put it on one of the canned goods beneath the door.)



Dec 10, 2014

Why Winter Squash is the Perfect Homestead Food Crop

This year, I've made a concerted effort to try as many different varieties of winter squash as possible - because I believe winter squash is the perfect food to grow on the homestead. I'll tell you why in a moment, but first I want to encourage you to try as many varieties as you can, too. I don't think I've ever met anyone who loved all varieties of winter squash - and many of the more common varieties are not among my favorites. Therefore, I recommend going to local farmer's markets and farm stands to buy and taste new-to-you winter squash. Who knows which ones will be your favorites and a great new addition to your garden? (Most grocery stores don't even begin to cover the very wide array of winter squashes that are available. This guide gives you an idea of the many types of winter squash, but even it is incomplete.)


Now, on to my list of why winter squash is the perfect homestead food crop:

Carnival squash.
1. Winter Squash is Prolific. Most winter squash has pretty high yields. For example, one butternut plant should produce 10 - 20 large squash, depending upon soil and sun conditions. And squash are one of  the easiest plants to grow. Just direct sow the seeds, add water, and watch the plant go wild! Oh, and did I mention that squash leaves shade the soil so you have to water less often? And weeds are naturally suppressed?

2. Winter Squash Is Super Easy to Preserve. While you can dehydrate, freeze, and can winter squash, you don't need to! It will easily last until spring if you keep it in a cool, dry location. Traditionally, that was a root cellar, but if you're not fortunate enough to have one of those, the garage or even just a cool cupboard works just fine.

3. Winter Squash is Nutrient Dense. The exact nutrients and calories in winter squash depends upon the
All winter squashes can be pureed into soup.
variety, but all winter squash are high in nutrients - and very filling. All winter squash are high in antioxidants, vitamins A, B6, and C, and fiber.

4. Winter Squash is Versatile. Winter squash kept the pilgrims alive, inspiring the 17th century poem "We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon,/If it were not for pumpkins we should be undoon." But while the pilgrims may have grown tired of eating pumpkins and other winter squash, you should not. There are a great many ways to cook it. Our favorite method is to cut it open*, scrape out the stringy part and the seeds, add a dab of butter, and roast at 350 - 400 degrees F. until fork tender. If desired, you can sprinkle a dab of brown sugar over the finished squash. But other methods of cooking abound; try broiling, microwaving, adding to soups and stews, stuffed, or mashing like potatoes. For recipes, check out my Vegetable for Every Season Cookbook.

Roasted winter squash seeds.
5. Winter Squash Seeds Are Edible and Nutritious. Never, ever throw out winter squash seeds! They are rich in Omega 3s, zinc, maganeze, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, and fiber. Click here for instructions on how to roast pumpkin and other squash seeds. (You can also sprout winter squash seeds.) We've found the flavor of the seeds mirrors the flavor of the squash, so butternut squash seeds taste different from pumpkin seeds which taste different from sweet meat seeds.

6. Winter Squash Seeds Are Easy to Save. Just remove the seeds, let them dry fully, then store them. It will take only a few seeds for the average family to have plants enough to feed them for another year. Of course, if you save seed from a hybrid winter squash, it's a crapshoot as to whether or not they will sprout and produce decent food. So when you can, choose heirloom varieties for seed saving. (Do remember that if you grow other varieties of squash, or any plants in the cucurbit family, they may cross-pollinate, leaving you with seeds that may not be true to the parent plant. For more on this, click here.)

Roasted winter squash.
7. Winter Squash is Great for Homestead Animals. Many farmers and homesteaders feed their livestock excess winter squash. It saves money on feed costs and is good nutrition for many animals. Traditionally, pumpkin and winter squash seeds were fed to chickens, ducks, sheep, and goats as a de-wormer. (Chickens will eat the seeds whole; for other animals, grind them and mix into feed.) I haven't found scientific proof this works, but it's certainly easy enough to toss the critters some winter squash once or twice a year. In fact, I never compost winter squash; I give any leftovers, the stringy inner stuff, and the seeds to our chickens. They love it!

8. Other Parts of Winter Squash Are Edible. You can eat winter squash flowers, just like you would slightly more traditional zucchini flowers. Wait until you're certain the flower has been fertilized and is starting to grow a squash, then snip it off and cook it. Squash flowers are yummy! The Indians also used to eat winter squash leaves. I confess I haven't tried this - because where I live, squash leaves always end up at least somewhat affected by powdery mildew. (Click here and here for my natural treatments for powdery mildew.) But here is more information on eating the leaves.


* One complaint about winter squash is that some varieties are difficult to cut open. While the tough skin of winter squash is what makes it easy to store for long periods of time, it's true that a kitchen knife is no match against some varieties, like hubbard or sweet meat. The solution is to use a hatchet or sawzall to cut up these varieties. Not interested in doing that? Select winter squash with more tender skins, like butternut and delicata.



Dec 8, 2014

Herbal Remedies for Winter Illnesses

Cold and flu remedy.
No matter how great your immune system is, no matter how careful you are about hand washing and not touching your face, you will - at some point - get a winter sickness. At our house, my husband often brings germs home from work - and usually at this time of year. (Blegh!) But there are several natural medicines you can take to either help prevent illness or to shorten the amount of time you are ill.*

Apple Cider Vinegar

If taken as soon as the very first sensations of illness are felt, Dian Dincin Buchman's cold and flu remedy really works! I've never had it fail...unless I waited a day or more to start taking it. The remedy includes raw apple cider vinegar, cayenne pepper, and sea salt. You'll find the entire recipe is here.

Quite popular right now is something called the fire cider remedy, which is also said to wipe out sickness if you take it at the first sign of being illness. I've not tried it yet, but here is a good recipe. (Recipes do vary, but should usually contain raw apple cider vinegar, garlic, horseradish, cayenne pepper, and turmeric.)

Now let's assume you didn't catch your illness early on. You can still use raw, organic apple cider vinegar as a remedy. It is an antimicrobial (meaning it's generally considered antibiotic, antifungal, antiprotozoal, and antiviral), and I've been using it for years to help clear up mucus and prevent sinus infections (which I used to get with every cold). Here is a good recipe.

Honey

Raw honey has anti-inflammatory properties and is also antimicrobial. It makes a sore throat feel better and might even help you fight off a cold or the flu. You can simply place a tablespoon or so of raw honey in chamomile or Fight the Flu tea, or you can pour some on a tablespoon and eat it all by itself. Read more about honey as medicine here.

Mullein tea.
Mullein

If you have cough or chest congestion, you'll definitely want to take some mullein. Although you may not have heard about this common weed, it's powerful, traditional medicine. (In fact, I was shocked to discover I haven't blogged about it before. I promise to give mullein it's own post very soon.) The leaves of this plant have long been used to treat coughs, bronchitis, pneumonia, sore throats, tonsillitis, and fevers.

If you haven't gone out in spring, summer, or early fall to collect and dry mullein leaves, you can purchase them over at Mountain Rose Herbs. The easiest way to use the leaves is to make a simple tea: Crumple up some of the dried leaves, put them in a tea ball, and place the tea ball in a cup. Bring some water to a boil. Pour over the tea ball and cover the cup with a saucer. When the tea has stopped steaming, remove the saucer and drink the tea. The tea may make you feel sleepy.

Garlic

Some studies show that taking raw garlic can prevent colds - and certainly raw garlic is a well known as an antibiotic. But most studies indicate consuming garlic doesn't do much for colds you already have. Nonetheless, if you have swollen glands, or want to use garlic to prevent a cold, peel a garlic clove and cut it into small pieces. Swallow like a pill.

Salt

Here's one natural remedy even conventional doctors recommend: Gargling with salt water, or using salt water along with a neti pot. Natural salt (without iodine) is best. (You can buy special salt water packets for your neti pot, or use this recipe.) Also, when using a neti pot, be sure to use only distilled or sterilized water.

Black or Green Tea

Both black and green tea contain catechin, which some studies show may have antimicrobial properties. Plus, warm drinks feel comforting when your sick and can help break up congestion.


* I am not a doctor and this post should not be construed as medical advice. Be sure to consult your doctor if you have a serious condition like a sinus infection, bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, or strep throat, which can all look like an ordinary cold. If your cold lasts more than a week and a half, also be sure to see your doctor.



Dec 3, 2014

Get Your House Under Control - and Keep it That Way!

I'm sick this week with an exhausting virus, so I haven't had much energy to write. Or work on our tiny house motor home. Or anything else. But I've been thinking a lot about what life will be like in our tiny house - including what it will be like to keep it clean.

I've never had a spotless house, but I used to be much a better housekeeper than I am now. What changed? Over 9 years ago, I was put on pregnancy bedrest - right when I was in the middle of decluttering and moving things around in order to get ready for our first child. Due to our first born's months long hospital stay, some outside helpers moving things around, lots of therapy for our first child, the birth of our second child, my working at home...my housekeeping just never recovered.

So moving into the tiny house motor home will give me a fresh start. That's a good thing! It's my hope I can keep things tidier - and the fact that we'll be in such a small place will, I hope, help me in this goal. It's true smaller spaces get dirtier faster - but it's also true there is less to clean.

And so I'm mentally setting up my Mama Chore Chart for tiny house living. But even if you don't live in a tiny house, Mama Chore Charts are an excellent way to get your house under control - and keep it that way. Not sure how to set up your own Mama Chore Chart? Click over to my past post on the topic. There you'll find free printable Mama Chore Charts for daily, weekly, monthly, and seasonal cleaning. Plus, I offer advice on personalizing these charts to suit your family's needs. If you stick to your Mama Chore Chart, your house will become tidier.

And don't forget to have your children help you! I know it's an uphill battle getting young kids to clean, and trust me, I know it's easier just to do the cleaning yourself. Some days, give yourself a "break" and do it yourself - but most days, have the children help. Because as I lay around sick and see my 9 year old doing dishes and laundry, and I can tell you it's completely worth the effort! (Need help getting your kids started with chores? Check out Kids & Chores, Chores Teach Helpfulness, and Age Appropriate Chores for Kids.)




Dec 1, 2014

Learning More About Christmas Carols this Advent Season

How many Christ-centered Christmas carols do you and your kids know? How many verses to them? Do you and your children truly understand them? This Christmas, I want to instill a better knowledge of  Christmas carols in our family - an activity that furthers our desire to focus on Jesus during the holiday season. Thankfully, accomplishing this is ridiculously easy. Here's how we're doing it:

1. Pick some Christmas carols. Choose them out of your head, or do an Internet search for a list of favorite carols to come up with ideas on what tunes you want to learn more about. Be sure you're picking carols (hymns, or spiritual folk songs) or songs focusing on Christ, not just popular Christmas songs that have nothing to do with the true meaning of Christmas.

2. Do an Internet search for lyrics - the more verses you can find for each song, the better. There are tons of websites designed just for song lyrics. Any one of them will probably work; here's one that has a nice list of Christmas carols.

3. Do another internet search looking for the story behind the song. This is an optional, but a really interesting addition to this project. We are actually using some books - Ace Collins' Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas and More Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas. Another wonderful resource is Christmas Hymns for a Kids' Heart, which includes a beautifully illustrated book with stories behind Christmas carols, lyrics and vocal lines for the songs, and a CD of the songs. If you want Internet sources, I recommend beginning with "Stories of Famous Christmas Carols and Hymns" or "30 Favorite Christmas Carols - their Origins and History."

4. Now pick one Christmas song, read the story of it's origins to your kids, and read through all the lyrics. Sing the Christmas song at least once a day until everyone knows it well. It's up to you how many verses you memorize. For younger kids, I recommend memorizing one verse, but reading them all the verses and discussing what the words mean.

5. As soon as you know one song well, move on to another!

Nov 25, 2014

Last Minute Thanksgiving Recipe: Tender, Crowd-Pleasing Dinner Rolls!

Most Thanksgivings, my mom-in-law does most of the cooking, and I'm only responsible for one or two food items. This year is no exception. What am I bringing? The soft, delish dinner rolls I brought last year! This is a simple enough recipe, and the resulting rolls are tender and a real crowd pleaser. I've given instructions from easiest (partially made in a bread machine), to slightly more time consuming (partially made in a Kitchen Aid mixer, or made entirely by hand).

Crowd Pleasing Dinner Rolls Recipe

1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 1/4 cups bread flour (yep, it has to be bread flour)
1 egg2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature + 2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon salt

Bread Machine Method:

1. Grease a 9x13 inch baking pan. Set aside.

2. Place the flour, water, egg, sugar, room temperature (unmelted) butter, yeast, and salt into the pan of your bread machine. Make sure to put them in the order the manufacturer recommends. Close the lid and select the dough cycle. Press start.

3. When the cycle is finished, remove the dough from the pan and punch down. Divide into 15 pieces of about equal size. Place in the prepared baking pan.

4. Brush the rolls with the melted butter. Cover pan with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm location until doubled (about half an hour). (If you prefer circular rolls, instead of squared ones, use two pans and set the rolls well apart from eachother.) In the meantime, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

5. Bake rolls until golden, about 12 - 15 minutes.


Mixer Method:

1. Grease a 9x13 inch baking pan. Set aside.

2. In a small bowl, combine the warm water, sugar, and yeast. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of a mixer with a dough hook, place the flour, sugar, egg, and butter. Mix until just combined. The yeast mixture should now be foamy. Add it to the flour mixture and mix until the dough no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl.

4. Place the dough in a greased bowl and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Put in a warm location and allow to rise for bout 30 minutes, or until doubled in size.

5. Punch down the dough and divide into 15 pieces of about equal size. Place in the prepared baking pan.

6. Brush the rolls with the melted butter. Cover pan with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm location until doubled (about half an hour). (If you prefer circular rolls, instead of squared ones, use two pans and set the rolls well apart from eachother.) In the meantime, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

7. Bake rolls until golden, about 12 - 15 minutes.


By Hand Method:

1. Grease a 9x13 inch baking pan. Set aside.

2. In a small bowl, combine the warm water, sugar, and yeast. Set aside.

3. In a large mixing bowl stir together the flour, sugar, egg, and butter until just combined. The yeast mixture should now be foamy. Add it to the flour mixture and mix until well combined.

4. Lightly flour the countertop and knead the dough until elastic. Place dough in a greased bowl and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Place in a warm location and allow to rise for bout 30 minutes, or until doubled in size.

5. Punch down the dough and divide into 15 pieces of about equal size. Place in the prepared baking pan.

6. Brush the rolls with the melted butter. Cover pan with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm location until doubled (about half an hour). (If you prefer circular rolls, instead of squared ones, use two pans and set the rolls well apart from eachother.) In the meantime, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

7. Bake rolls until golden, about 12 - 15 minutes.


Makes 15 rolls.


Nov 24, 2014

What Groceries to Buy When You're Broke

"Too Tired to Cook" is frugal, especially if you omit the ground beef.
Sometimes, no matter how close you stick to your budget, you end up with too little money at the end of the month. If you keep a well stocked pantry, this usually isn't the end of the world - but, if money has been tight for a while, you might find your pantry lacking, too. This can make it difficult to find cash to feed your family. But if you shop carefully, you'll find some items are definitely more affordable - and stretch further - than others. Here's what I buy when money is tight:

* Brown rice. Unlike white rice, brown rice gives you a good dose of nutrients. It's also fairly cheap and can really stretch a meal. Saute up some veggies, season them, and serve them on a bed of rice. Or serve plain rice as a filling side dish. Or add it (cooked) to a soup. If you're really struggling, go ahead and serve it all by itself. (Been there, done that!) But don't go in for minute-style rice; it's more expensive and most of the nutrients have been removed.

* Dry beans. Not only are dry beans cheap, but they are packed with nutrients, are a decent protein, and are quite filling. Some beans - like lentils - are great "fillers" for other foods, too. For example, you can use lentils with just a little ground beef (or entirely in place of ground beef) in things like enchiladas and casseroles. Other bean ideas include adding them to soups and stews, my "dump it" meal, lentil soup, and my  too tired to cook bean dish. Incidentally, don't be put off beans because they cause - ahem - flatulence. This is easy to combat with dry beans; just change the water frequently when you are rehydrating them. Also, make life a little easier for yourself by soaking at least one package of beans at a time, then freezing the leftovers. For more on using dried beans, click here.

* Flour. If you know how to cook from scratch, you can make all kinds of things with flour - including pancakes, waffles (learn how to freeze them here), bread, biscuits, tortillas, pizza crust, and pasta. I recommend whole wheat flour because, while it's more expensive than white flour, it's also more nutrient dense - and more filling. However, unless you're used to 100% whole wheat products, you'll want to use some white flour mixed into your recipes. I recommend using half - or a wee bit less - of whole wheat flour.

* Pasta. Pasta is relatively cheap and filling. You can make it yourself, but if you're new to from-scratch cooking, you'll probably want to buy it. I recommend whole grain pasta  because it's more filling and nutrient dense - although, granted, more expensive.

* In season vegetables. They are cheaper than veggies that aren't in season. You can learn when veggies are in season from my ebook A Vegetable for Every Season ($2.99), or here. Also consider frozen vegetables.

* Popcorn. The cheapest snack food around is probably popcorn - but only if you don't buy it in microwave bags. Either pop it in a pan on the stove, or use a paper lunch bag to pop it in the microwave.

What groceries do you buy when money is tight?

Nov 21, 2014

Free Art History Curriculum: Mary Cassatt

One of Cassatt's most famous paintings is "The Child's Bath"
Mary Cassatt: b. May 22, 1844 in Allegheeny City, Pennsylvania (find it on the map) d. June 14, 1926 at Ch√Ęteau de Beaufresne, near Paris (find it on the globe)

Style: Impressionist

See some of Cassatt's most famous paintings. (You may also view her complete works here.)

Be sure to give your child plenty of time to study each work of art. Ask: Mary Cassatt is the first woman artist we've studied. Why do you think there are fewer famous women artists than there are men? What were some of Cassatt's favorite subjects? Why do you think she painted so many children? What do you feel when you look at Cassatt's paintings? What do you think the people in her paintings are feeling? What do you notice about Cassatt's use of brush strokes, color, and light?

* Biography of Mary Cassatt
* Another bio of Cassatt
* National Gallery of Art: Mary Cassatt
* Mary Cassatt at the Louvre, c. 1880, by Degas. (Degas and Cassatt were friends. What does Degas' pastel tell you about his thoughts on Cassatt?)
* Coloring page: The Boating Party (see also)
* Coloring page: Young Mother Sewing
* Coloring page: Susan on Balcony Holding a Dog
* Coloring page: The Family
* Video: Mary Cassatt: American Impressionist
* Video: The Boating Party
* Activity: Monoprinting (also called monotypes), like Cassatt (also here)
* Activity: Mary Cassatt hats
* Activity: Painting mothers and children


Learn more about this free art history curriculum for kids, plus a list of all artists covered so far, by clicking here.