Easy DIY Dryer Sheets

When we began our journey to a natural lifestyle, I wanted to switch everything to homemade. I knew eliminating everything quickly would overwhelm me, so I started small. One of the first things I made by myself was DIY dryer sheets.

Why dryer sheets? There is a lot of chemicals in those store bought dryer sheets that aren’t good for your body. They can seep into your body from your clothes. It is actually quite scary. For example, dryer sheets contain sodium lauryl sulphate, which is an industrial degreaser. When this chemicals breaks down, it release 1,4-dioxane, which is believed to be a human carcinogen. There are studies that show 1,4-dioxane leads to cancer in animal studies. That’s scary! I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to expose my children to these chemicals.

Of course, there are chemicals everywhere, but one step at a time is a great idea to follow. So, how do you make homemade dryer sheets? I promise it is easy!

How to Make DIY Dryer Sheets

You will need:

  • Fabric cut into squares or rags
  • 1/2 cup vinegar
  • glass jar that closes, such as a mason jar
  • 10-12 drops lavender essential oil (or whatever scent you want to give your clothes)

Remember, these dryer sheets will not reduce the static in your clothes. Dryer balls are a great choice if you want to reduce the static. These dryer sheets will just add a lovely scent to your clothes.

  1. Cut the fabric into strips or fold the rags. Put them into your glass jar. I was able to fit around 15 fabric squares into my mason jar.
  2. Mix the 1/2 cup of white vinegar with 10 to 12 drops of your selected essential oil. I like lavender, but combinations of lemon and tangerine, lavender and chamomile or spearmint would be yummy.
  3. Pour the essential oil and vinegar mixture into the glass container with the fabric. Close it up and shake.
  4. When you are ready to use these dryer sheets, wring them out and add four to five fabric squares per load. When the dryer is done, just put them right back into the jar.

How simple is that? The process takes 10 minutes at most, and you are protecting your family from harsh chemicals along with saving money. Nothing is better than that.

Have you tried homemade dryer sheets? Let me know what you think of them!

 

Why Does Acidity Matter for Canning?

While canning jellies and jams are one of my favorite activities, it is important to understand how to do so correctly. There are a lot of misunderstandings about what is safe for canning. Today, we are going to look at why acidity matters for canning.

The Role of Acidity in Canning

I get a lot of questions from friends and family about canning. Many people don’t understand the role of acid in canning. The fact is that you cannot can every single fruit out there if you plan to use a water bath canner.
To be considered safe, the fruit you selected must have a pH scale of 4.6 or lower. The lower the number, the more acidic! Why is acid important? Botulism cannot grow and thrive in an acidic environment. To safely can your fruits in a water bath canner, the acid must be present.

Foods that are lower in acids, such as meat or vegetables, must be canned in a pressure canner. Their pH level is higher than 4.6. A pressure canner heats the food to a higher pressure, ensuring all bacteria spores are killed, including botulism.

When canning jellies and jams, acid plays another role. It helps to set and gel. If you want to have an enjoyable, safe jelly or jam, you need acid!

What Fruits Aren’t Safe?

Luckily, most fruits are acidic, such as apples and strawberries. The fruits you cannot water bath safely due to low acid are bananas, figs, melons, dates, and papayas.

Tomatoes, which comes to a surprise for many people, can be borderline. They are considered a low-high acid food. If you don’t want to can your tomatoes in a pressure canner, try adding a form of acid, listed before.

Can You Increase the Acidity?

Sometimes, fruits will vary in acidity. For example, an overripe apple has less acid than an under-ripe one! There are a few ways you can fix your pH level.

·         Add some under ripe fruit to your recipe. For example, if you are making applesauce, add some under ripe green apples. If you are making strawberry jam, add some under ripe strawberries, which also contains more natural pectin!

·         Try adding 1 TBSP of lemon juice for each cup of fruit. If you are making strawberry jam with overripe strawberries, you would need 4 TBSP of lemon juice for 4 cups of strawberries.

If you are curious about the pH level of your selected fruit, click here for my free chart! It contains the pH level of most fruits.

 

 

Brussel Sprouts Growing Guide

My husband and I are huge fans of brussel sprouts. We frequently make them as a side dish for dinners throughout the week. While our kids may not love brussel sprouts as much as we do, they are an essential part of our garden.

The first year that I grew brussel sprouts, I was confused. It doesn’t look or grow like any other plant. Brussel sprout plants are unique. As you watch the sprouts grow up the stem, it is an amazing plant. The stem becomes shockingly thick, and it rarely needs staking. That is shocking, considering our plants reach three to four feet tall!

Years later, I learned how to grow brussel sprouts. They aren’t as hard as I once thought. Here is what you need to know!

Growing Brussel Sprouts from Seeds

One of the disadvantages of brussel sprouts is they are a slow-maturing plant. It can take 120+ days for a plant to mature. Consequently, gardeners typically are not advised to sow seeds directly into the garden. You will want to start seeds indoors.

To grow brussel sprouts from seeds, you first have to determine your USDA Hardiness Zone and find your final frost date for the year. In Zone 5B, my last frost date is typically around May 10-15. Brussel sprouts can go outside two weeks before the final frost date. You want to plant your seedlings four to six weeks before the date you want to put them outside. So, six to eight weeks before your last frost, start your seeds!

Tips for Planting Brussel Sprouts Outside

Before long, the time to transplant your seedlings outside will arrive. By now, your seedlings should be four to six weeks old, and you spent a week hardening the plants off. Hardening is the process of slowly introducing your plants to the weather outside. I start by placing my plants outside for two to four hours in the shade or a cloudy day. The next day, I leave them outside for another hour long, more in the sun. Over the next days, I allow the plants to stay outside for a long time and in more direct sunlight.

Once you finish hardening your seedlings, here are some tips for a smooth sailing transplant for your brussel sprouts.

  • I add fertilizer to the soil before planting them outside. Compost is ideal because it gives a nutrient boost to the soil, which increases the plants’ growth. Brussel sprouts love nitrogen, so ensure you pick a fertilizer that is high in nitrogen. You can also add natural fertilizers like manure or grass clippings with additional nitrogen.
  • Scope out your planned location before planting. How much sun does the area receive each day? Brussel sprouts require at least six hours of sunlight each day. At the same time, the plants will appreciate some shade, especially during hot weather.
  • You will need to plant each brussel sprouts 12 to 24 inches apart. By the end of the season, you will be surprised at the size of your plants. They easily reach two to three feet!
  • Add mulch around the base of your plants. Organic mulch is an ideal choice because it helps to retain moisture, control soil temperature and add nutrients back into the soil as it decomposes.
  • The soil should have a pH level between 6.0 and 6.8, which is more acidic than average.

Caring for Brussel Sprout Plants

As I mentioned before, brussel sprout plants are slow-growing, slow-to-mature plant. It can be frustrating. You might think you did something wrong. Why is nothing growing? I know I felt that way a few times, but just have patience with your plant!

  • Fertilize your plant twice a season – once when the plant is close to a foot high and before harvesting. The second application may not be necessary! Slow-release fertilizers are a popular choice among gardeners, lasting an entire season.
  • If your plant becomes top-heavy, add stakes for additional support or mound dirt around the stem. If a brussel sprout plant falls over, it will break.
  • Your plant will slowly form sprouts, starting from the bottom and working upwards. As the sprouts form, break off the lower branches. This practice allows the plant to focus its energy on growing taller and forming the sprouts. Don’t toss out these stalks! They are edible and can be cooked down like any green.
  • Always remove any yellowing leaves that appear on your plant. The yellowing typically appears at the bottom of the plant as the sprouts mature.
  • If you need to extend the season due to unexpected colder temperatures, mulch around the base to protect the plant from the frost. Brussel sprouts are frost hardy, but you don’t want to leave them in temperatures too low, below 28 degrees F, for an extended time.

When and How to Harvest  

       

You’ll know that it is time to harvest your sprouts when they are two inches in diameter. Some people prefer to harvest them when they are one inch in diameter. The sprouts feel tender and are bright green. Most sprouts are ready 120 to 180 days after planting. That requires a lot of patience on your end!

Harvesting sprouts are easy! You can twist or cut them off. You need to remove the outer leaves and then store the sprouts. They do great when stored in the refrigerator or freezer. Don’t wash the sprouts after you harvest them. The best time to wash them is right before you eat, cook or freeze them!

Brussel sprouts are a fantastic fall crop. You will want to harvest them after a light frost. The sprouts have an amazing flavor after a frost! You might notice a second crop developing at the base of the stem. That is normal, and those sprouts are edible!

 

Brussel sprouts are one of my favorite vegetables to grow. I love the look of the plant as it grows, with dozens of sprouts dotting the stems. Brussel sprouts are a unique plant, making them an awesome addition to your vegetable garden. Just remember they are slow growing, but also heavy producing! Each plant produces, on average, a quart of sprouts. You will have plenty for the months to come!

Do you grow brussel sprouts? If so, leave some advice for other gardeners!

Meal Planning for May 8th

Meal planning is a task that I love to avoid. Grocery shopping and hitting the stores typically results in a headache, as a I drag 3 kids around to multiple places. Thursdays are busy around here!

Payday falls on a Thursday for us. So, every other week, we hit up the grocery store, list in hand.

Meal planning is a necessary evil for our family. Yet, we do love finding new recipes that are exciting and delicious. Instead of putting a meal for each day of the week, I create a list of 14 meals for the two week period.

We tried to put a meal for each day. It didn’t work. We felt trapped. Sometimes, we don’t feel like spaghetti that day. My personality doesn’t allow me to feel comfortable altering the plan that is set. So, we go with a laidback plan.

So, let’s take a look at the 14 meals we have planned! I loosely follow the Trim Healthy Mama plan. I fell off the bandwagon, and I’m slowly climbing back on. Some of these meals I labeled THM meaning that they came from the cookbook. If you don’t use Trim Healthy Mama, you could still make these meals or adapt them to your own eating style! Another point is that our budget for our family of 5 is $300 for two weeks.

  1. Chicken and Dumplings
  2. Chicken fajitas with rice and broccoli (uses leftover chicken from meal #1)
  3. Potato Soup (uses broth made from meal #1)
  4. Grilled cheese and tomato soup (canned for kids, THM for adults)
  5. THM Balsamic Chicken with Brussel sprouts and salad
  6. Instant Pot Hamburger Helper
  7. THM Cowboy Grub (a meat and bean mixture below with cornbread on top)
  8. Sloppy Joes with fries and corn
  9. THM Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup
  10. BBQ Chicken on the grill with a tinfoil pack of veggies
  11. Turkey burgers with broccoli and cauliflower & fries
  12. Instant Pot Whole Chicken with Parmesan Potatoes
  13. THM Meatloaf, mashed cauliflower and salad
  14. THM Creamy Herb Chicken, green beans with mushrooms and salad

Many of these are our normal meals or ideas. Tinfoil packs on the grill are a family favorite. We toss in whatever veggies we want to cook with some olive oil and seasoning. It is delicious and easy!

The Instant Pot is one of my favorite tools. If you don’t own one, run to the store and purchase it right now. It might have revolutionized my life.

Do you have any favorite meals? Meal planning for the next two weeks will come before we know it, and we love new ideas! Leave them in the comments!

Life Doesn’t Go as Planned

Psalm 127: 3-5 – “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court.”

It has been nearly two months since my last post, an upsetting fact because I have so many plans for this blog. Unfortunately, a miscarriage rocked our world, shattering the goals and dreams for our family. Before I get too far ahead of myself, let me back up.

Preg

Our youngest was only 11 months old when we discovered another child was on the way. It is painful to write this in past tense, but it is a reality I must face. On February 9th, I went grocery shopping alone, an enjoyable experience as a mother of three kids, and picked up a few pregnancy tests. I was late, but since my postpartum cycles had just returned, I didn’t expect it to be positive.

I was totally wrong. Walmart tests seem to take forever, but once I stood up, I saw a light line that only darkened. I quickly texted my best friend a picture who freaked out along with me. Another child?! The babies would only be around 20 months apart; that seemed insane.

Unable to wait any longer, I told Andrew, as he ate take out hibachi. The fork stopped before he could finish his bite. We hadn’t planned another child, especially so soon. Yet, it was our reality to face.

What would any sane mother do? I took around 10 pregnancy tests, one each day, to ensure it was real and that the baby was growing. It isn’t a foolproof method, but the line darkens as the HCG rises.

preg2

Time went on. We told our parents, who were as delighted and shocked as us. We told our close friends, but didn’t announce to the world. We had plans for that.

As the fourth baby, my body reacted immediately. Cramps, back pains and food aversion rocked my world. I was more tired than ever before, not a good thing with three kids always at home. Yet, my body started to grow within a few short weeks. The human body is amazing! My body seemed to say, hey we remember this! Let’s get this show on the road.

Preg3Preg4It was a lovely thing, to see my body responding as it should.

However, something felt off. I couldn’t shake the feeling that was something wrong. So, I booked an appointment for an ultrasound. I don’t typically rush to my OBGYN, opting to wait for the 10-11 week mark to have my first appointment.

It was the day before St. Patrick’s Day, the day we wanted to announce the 4th leaf to our clover. Caelyn and I zoomed up to Pittsburgh, eager to see the baby and get a picture for our announcement. At that appointment, the world crashed around me as I learned the baby had passed away.

How could that be? How could my baby be gone when I’m still nauseous? The smell of coffee turned my stomach and nothing tasted right. My womb was growing but the baby had stopped. They encouraged me to call my OBGYN, who got me in the very next day.

He confirmed the findings. The next week and a half was a never-ending cycle of bloodwork and ultrasounds. Waiting is horrible, especially for someone who lacks patience, but waiting to lose your baby is a burden I wish none to face.

On one hand, the final end means nothing is left. The baby is gone, and the womb is empty. On the other hand, carrying a child that is no longer alive is another type of torture. My symptoms continued as my HCG very slowly declined.

Finally, almost two weeks later, my physical miscarriage began. Apparently, it is a missed miscarriage when it takes so long to take place. Nevermind the name, it is horrid. On a Wednesday afternoon, the bleeding began, followed by five hours of heavy bleeding and cramps that resembled contractions. It slowed down by that night, allowing me to get some much needed sleep.

Many people asked me why I opted not to have a D&C. Wouldn’t it be easier just to end the process? For some, yes that would be true. I know myself, and I knew I needed the physical side of it to truly grieve, unless I medically needed a D&C. Despite the mental and physical trial I faced, I am glad my body did what was needed.

That Friday, I headed in for more bloodwork and an ultrasound that confirmed the miscarriage was nearly complete. My doctor prescribed me Cytotec to help finish the process. That evening, I watched Moana with my kids, eating pizza and laughing at the songs. Oh, how my heart needed that joy in the midst of sorrow.

Over the next few weeks, the bleeding slowed, and life slowly picked up its normal pace. Yet, our lives will never be the same. At the time of my miscarriage, I was over 11 weeks pregnant. I yearn for the child I should feel kicking at this moment. We should’ve known the gender at this point, as I would be over 16 weeks. While the tears have subsided, multiple times a day I think of what should be.

Now, a month after the miscarriage, I knew I had to write. Maybe you skimmed this or read it straight through. If I am totally honest, the sharing is more for myself than anything else, a type of closure. Part of the reason I chose to name this blog is because our family was growing to grow and expand. Now, it takes on a new meaning as the pain portion is very more clear.

FlowersTonight, as Andrew and I read through James 1, a particular verse caught my eye:

17: Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming from down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

Our child, yet only here for a short period, was a true gift for our family. We don’t know the future of our family, but we do know that God is faithful and loving. Our trust is in Him fully during this period of time. I have cried more tears than I knew was possible, yet spring brings hope for the beautiful future ahead.

It felt wrong to start writing again, with no mention of our life in last two months. Now, we can move forward, because I have plenty of goodies in store.

Using Pen and Paper for Budgeting

Chances are you have seen numerous budgeting software that lets you track your spending. While I do love Mint.com, all of the other choices have fallen short for me. Add in the fact that they want me to PAY to track my SPENDING, I think I will stick to pen and paper.

This blog might seem obvious to you, but there are many people in need of serious budgeting help. If you are like me, creating a budget doesn’t come naturally. I am NOT a math person. I would rather watch paint dry than have to solve mathematical equations.

I wanted to give you a low down on how I set our budget, with a varied income. My husband has a fairly consistent income with a base pay. So, creating our budget with his income is quite simple. As a server and a freelance writer, my income varies greatly. I have really good months and low times. These are my simple steps for creating a budget with just pen and paper.

  1. Create a Total Income Assuming the Lowest Amounts: What is the lowest amount of money you typically bring in each month? This is the amount you should use to create your budget. If you use anything else, you will struggle each month.
  2. List Out Your Bills: In one column, write out your bills. In another column, write out your debt payments. If you have the space, it is a great idea to put your total debt owed along with the payments to give yourself motivation. Some people prefer to write out bills in order of “importance,” but I opt to do so based on payment deadlines.
  3. Check the Calendar: The day before payday, I take a look at my calendar. I keep deadlines for each bill in a planner. Look at the bills due during this pay period. It may be 5 or it could be 10. Either way, go down the list and pay each one accordingly.
  4. Subtract Budget for Groceries, Gas and Essentials: It is wise to create a budget for your groceries, gas and other essential items you purchase each payday. If you save for clothing or have a sinking fund, subtract that from your total after you pay bills.
  5. Budget Down to Zero: If you have extras left over, the fun comes! Maybe not the type of fun you were wanting. It is time to decide where these extras need to go. If you follow the Dave Ramsey plan and have your $1,000 emergency fund, the extra should be applied to debt. Only you can decide where to put the extra money, but don’t forget to give it a place! You control the money, not the opposite!

It can’t get more simple than this! There is no reason to spend extra money on budgeting software when you are totally capable of controlling your money.

If you typically overspend in areas such as groceries, it is time to start a cash envelope system. I will discuss this later, but everything that can be bought or paid for in cash should be. This simple method drastically decreases overspending.

I hope this is helpful for someone! While budgeting seems like a simple process to some, many are stumped as to where to start.

XOXO,

Bethany

Introducing Our Family

DSC_7593.JPGHi y’all! I am so thankful that you stumbled upon my little blog. It is just in the beginning stages, but I have many wonderful plans. I hope you check out and see all the great ideas.

I want to introduce you to my family. My husband, Andrew, and I were married in 2012, after dating throughout high school, which was 10 years ago. That makes me feel old! Our youngest, Caelyn, was born in 2010. Our middle child, Brayden, came along in 2012, a few months prior to our wedding. Our third baby, Connor, is our sweet little rainbow baby. He joined our family in February 2016.

Aside from having three wonderful kids, our lives stay busy on a regular basis. We are a homeschooling family, a passion I love to discuss. Later, throughout the blog, we will talk about our homeschool plans and lessons. I garden throughout the spring and summer, focusing on preserving many of our foods.

Don’t worry; you are going to find out so much about our family before long. I can’t wait to jump into the most important topic of this blog: living on a budget.

Do you struggle to live on a budget? Is it as frustrating for you as it is for us? For us, 2017 is geared towards knocking down debt as we aim towards purchasing a new (to us) home this summer.

I don’t want to spill the beans too much. I have too many good tips to share. Check out soon; March is going to be a fun month!