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A mom’s number one fault is probably lack of self-pampering. In our hectic lives, we often find ourselves rushing around to get a massive amount of work done & we put our family above our own needs. It’s important to remember, that to be the best parent possible, we need to make sure that we are in good spirits too! And it doesn’t take the time or money that you might think! We can be wise with our time & frugal in our choices. Pampering doesn’t mean lots of money & hours of time alone!

Make your home less stressful – Right off the bat, the easiest thing to do is remove as much stress as possible from our lives. You know your family – you can predict the things that keep you running around & stealing your time to just BREATH! If you have young children – baby proof! This will prevent accidents before they occur. When you know this are none (or no foreseen) obstacles in the way, you will feel better about taking a few minutes to sit alone and meditate, read your favorite blog or newspaper article or have a quick chat on the phone. Have your children learn the rules about interrupting during your personal time (barring emergencies). I’m not suggesting locking yourself away for five hours a day. Just a few minutes can be all that your spirit needs to restart fresh.

Have friends – This can sound difficult in the midst of daily activities, grocery shopping & more. Just trying to squeeze in a few hours of sleep (and likely interrupted at that) can sound like a daunting task! But friendships are important – they can assure you that you are not the only one in these stressful parenting situations. You can be assured you are not the only one with a crazy child or that other people out there have to wake up 4 times a night just to calm a fussy toddler. Friends are important for support, advice & just non-Elmo based conversations.

Help is not a four letter word – Don’t be afraid to let the words “I need help” fall out of your mouth. It’s ok to ask for help when you need it & I truly believe it takes a strong & good person to admit when they are lacking all of the necessary ingredients to accomplish something. Be it asking for help with a specific chore, to resolve a situation or just to have a break, it is alright to ask!

Teach your family to give you time – Children can be taught that you need your alone time. They can also be taught that certain areas are off-limits. Be it your bedroom, the master bath or another area – it’s ok to set limits and let people know that a certain space is for adults only.

Once you create a path for yourself that includes a moment or two of “only for me” time, you’ll find yourself functioning at higher capacity & you will smile more often. Just remember – pampering and selfish are NOT the same things.

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Self-sustainment is something that our family is always working on. We make an effort to grow our own produce to limit what we need to buy (as well as in effort to assist in a more frugal organic diet). Part of the sustainment is a realization that to limit waste & last ourselves through winter, we will need to freeze, can or dry as much as possible before the white fluff starts to blanket our yard. Since growing season started, I have added many additions to the freezer, but it’s just recently that I’ve begun to can. It’s somewhat of an adventure as I am still learning a lot but with some searches on the internet or help from a friend, it can be easy peasy!

I decided that there’s nothing better to start off these next few weeks of canning than a tasty and sweet strawberry jam. Not only will it be more appreciated due to the homemade aspect, but I can control the ingredients and ensure that there are no voodoo “things” that I do not wish my family to ingest!

Before you begin, be sure to get your ingredients and tools ready. It makes life much easier when everything is ready & within reach!

You will need:

4 quarts Strawberries

4-6 cups Sugar

1/2 cup Lemon juice

Large pot

Spatula

Sterilized mason Jars

The first thing that you need to do is gather all of your ingredients. Hull, or remove the green stems, of all strawberries & toss then into a bowl.

You can mash them up or do what I do – toss them in the food processor! This makes for a smoother jam & in my opinion, is faster and easier. And heck, my husband bought me a food processor so I use it every chance I get!

Once that’s done, pour your mixture into a large pot. I suggest the biggest post in your house. I used a stainless steel stock pot. While your berries may look like nothing much right now, they will bubble up significantly and cause a great mess if they overflow in a smaller saucepan.

Heat the berries on low & add the sugar. You can use discretion at the amount of sugar you like. I am finding that somewhere between 4-6 cups is appropriate. The heat is on low, so go ahead & taste & add until you’re satisfied with the amount. Pour in your lemon juice & stir.

Once all three components are in, you’re ready to turn up the heat! Bring the temperature up & stir constantly. You want a rolling boil & I’d suggest not planning to do anything during this process. You will want to maintain an almost constant stirring to avoid burning on the bottom as well as for even heating. You’ll see countless bubbles forming in the pot & that’s fantastic! That is exactly what you are going for. Continue to heat & stir for approximately 20 minutes, longer if needed.

You can see the difference between the previous picture and the one when the bubbles start sneaking up on you:

How do you know you’re done? Take a little of the would-be-jam & pour onto a plate (I actually used the same measuring cup I was using earlier as to avoid dirtying more dishes). Toss it in the freezer and wait a few minutes – this cools it quickly. When you take it out, see if it moves around or give it a touch with your fingers. Take a taste even! If it meets the criteria of a nice jam for you, then it’s ready! If not, continue the rolling boil process. Keep in mind, however, that there is NO pectin in this recipe. It will never be completely gel-like. Think more along the lines of preserves.

When you’re satisfied with the consistency, remove the pot from the heat & begin spooning the concoction into already sterilized mason jars.

Be sure to leave approximately 1/2 inch of space. Secure the lids and let stand both upside down & right side up for several minutes each. Once they are sealed, hide them away in cabinets or decorate & give as gifts! If they are not sealed, toss them into a hot water bath until they do seal.

A note about ingredients:

I highly suggest organic whenever possible. This time of the year, you can either dig from your own garden or find produce at local stands. In my area, I am lucky to have local Amish neighbors that are firm believers in the organic practice. Organic not only tastes better, but it’s better for your family.

Sugars are more nutritious when they are processed as little as possible. I suggest Sugar In the Raw, or another minimally processed sugar. It not only is better tasting, it actually contains nutrients that your body can use!

For lemon juice – of course fresh squeezed is best, but bottled will work just fine too! I forgot lemons at the store, so a quick knock at the neighbor’s door helped me out!

Have a tip? Know of a recipe you want me to try out & share tutorial style? Be sure to reply and let me know! I’m always up for a challenge & love helping others learn new things!

While there were several fantastic ideas, I narrowed our winning entry based on a combination of two essential things – Did my kids eat it (willingly)? Was it easy enough to whip up? If it answered those two questions, then it caught my eye, and taste buds, a little more. In the end, our winner is Mel, for her arrestingly delicious idea of Apple Salad Sammies. In recap, her recipe was simple:

We like apple salad sandwiches. Toasted walnuts, golden raisins, and sweet red apples, celery, red grapes all diced. Mix that up with a spoon of miracle whip an a little pepper and stuff it into a warm pita. OH, yum.

Admittedly, we did omit the Miracle Whip, as that is not a favorite in our house, but I will say that Mayo words fantastically. It was tried both crammed into a pita and on bread. Another fantastic snack variation would be to slice the pita into little chip-sized wedges and bake them. Then use them to scoop up the mouth-watering apple goodness. I think next time we will try them with Craisins for a fun twist!

So, thank you Mel! And thank you to everyone else that participated, even if only by way of reading this blog & learning. Be sure to continue with your PB&J campaign in spite of school being out for some months. It’s just one more little thing you can do to help jump start our wold into a greener tomorrow.

Peanut butter & jelly – it’s more important than you might think! It’s the premise to a campaign that I’ve read a lot about and begun to incorporate into my family’s mealtime rituals. And it’s not just about the old- fashioned & long-loved PB&J sammy. It’s about taking the time to make a small difference in your meal planning, yet have a monumental impact on the world around you.

You can read more in-depth here at the PB&J Campaign’s website. Personally, I’m glad that I was directed to this site by a friend. I realized that, while I recycle, eat many organics, cloth diaper… I could go on here forever with my list of super-crunchy habits, yet I realized that I can still do more. Even the simple task of packing a lunch for my son to take to school & being sure to replace a traditional cold-cut sandwich with a PB&J can put us on our way to helping in the conservation of water, reduction of water pollution, and the elimination of some would-be expelled greenhouse gases. If you find yourself wondering how a homely looking PB&J became such a superpower in the modern lunch box, be sure to read this page to become more informed. Personally, I was in shock at the difference that could be made by making the choice to change the star of my son’s cafeteria meal, but I worried that he’d become easily bored & then I found additional options on the same website. So it’s not all about PB&J and even those families with nut allergies can easily participate.

But why end your efforts there? Make that meal have the biggest impact that it can. Forgo the extra garbage created by individual serving size snacks that are often unhealthy to boot. Replace them with mama nature’s juicy apples, oranges or bananas. Get rid of the notion that a juice box is the only way to hydrate on the go. Instead, make a small investment in reusable container such as the Klean Kanteen or similar. And definitely get rid of plastic baggies for packaging that now famous PB&J. Use a Wrap-N-Mat instead. It’s reusable & easily cleaned with the simple wipe of a wet washcloth.

Do you have a recipe to share that abandons the cold cut? Share it with us & we will test it out & choose our favorite one & reward the winner with a fabulous t-shirt from Cotton Mamma! We will pick the winner on June 20th, so that we have plenty of time to test them out.

Want a chance to win another shirt?  Place a link to this blog on your blogroll.  Contact me via e-mail with your information & website so that I may see your link.  Bing-bang-boom!  You’re entered into a random drawing to win a shirt!  So you have TWO chances to win this eye-pleasing shirt!

It’s that time of year! Time to till the soil and plant away! This year, why not try a more natural approach? The benefits of organic gardening are extensive – and easier than you might think!

The first thing to do is get your beds ready and have some plants that are popping up – either grown inside by you, or purchased from a local greenhouse (buying local cuts down on toxic emissions from trucks to bring them to you as well as supports your local economy). Once you’re all set to plant, be sure to mix in some of that compost that you’ve been brewing up with kitchen and yard scraps! Mixing it into your planting soil adds wonderful nutrients to the soil that plants can feast on! Once this is done, you can begin planting away! Be sure to consider things like companion planting and intensive planting. This can allow your plants to “use” each other for their benefits together and keep wasted space to a minimum! This also makes your job easier, reducing garden space and providing you with more fruits for less labor.

When you get all of your plants in their appropriate places, be sure to find preventative methods of keeping weeds at bay. Things like layered newspapers on the entire floor of the garden, covered with grass trimmings will not only keep weeds from invading before they get a chance, but it will also promise to keep moisture in the soil, where the plants need it. In addition, using this method recycles otherwise discarded reading material and yard waste, but it keeps you from having to water, in most places, or at least as much as you would. You may have to dig out a few weeds & lay down more newspaper as some of it tears or breaks down, but I can assure you that little effort will far outweigh not using it at all!

Bugs… you can keep them away without pesticide intervention. With a little research and some non-toxic efforts, your food will be grown without poisons and your environment will be thankful. Did you know that some pests are good? Learn which ones are beneficial and which ones are not. Allow nature to work for you and discourage only the pests that truly cause damage. To rid yourself of deer feasting on your garden, try alternative things like leaving slinkies stretched across the outside of your garden – the metal look and sound will scare them away. Human hair sprinkled about will also deter them (a great way to help recycle an otherwise discarded item from your local barber shop). Slugs or snails a problem? Instead of spraying with chemicals, try leaving sandpaper rings around your plants – cut out circles with holes in the middle (think an “O” shape) and place them around the base of your plants. The rough surface will deter them from nibbling your greens and they will turn away. Try sprinkling salt lines around your garden to kill them before they have a chance to enter.

When it comes to harvesting, the more you remove, the more will grow. Take advantage of this. Invest in some freezer bags or canning jars and every time you bring in some veggies for eating, bring in a few for canning or freezing. By the end of the warm season, you will have a freezer or cabinet full of nourishment, and picking ripe will provide the most nutritional benefits! This will save you money as well a allowing your garden to work for you.

What do you get out of these efforts other than some yummy food? You get safer consumables, a deeper pocket and some good old satisfaction from your efforts. Less gas is wasted too because you are supporting your own efforts and not the efforts of a farmer in another country, or at best, the other side of ours. And you’ll have plenty to share with your family and friends!
Have a great gardening related tip? We’d love for you to share!

Too many times, I am amazed by the overflowing shelves of toxic cleaners displayed, proudly, in an isle all its own at supermarkets and chain stores. If a person is lucky, they will find a cleaner or two that boasts of supposed “all natural ingredients” or has a blurb about the fact that it’s “better for the environment.” Well, I doubt that most cleaners, claims or not, are healthy to have in your home. I also doubt that most of them are as great for our planet as they claim to be. With a need to keep our houses clean, but also a responsibility to be stewards of our environment, what can we do? Ahh, I’m glad you asked – there are oh-so many things.

First of all, we can get out of the rut of purchasing the latest and greatest cleaning products just because a commercial or printed add in our favorite magazine tells us to. We can investigate the ingredients in our favorite cleaners, “natural” or not. It’s important to remember that words such as natural are not regulated. Also, phrases such as “better for the environment” can be misleading. Just because a product makes claims, that does not mean they are true. Also, many a product claiming to be Earth-friendly have but one “natural” ingredient. Perhaps they replace bleach with the cleaning power of orange – well yes, orange is better for the environment, but are the remaining ingredients still safe? When I find myself considering a new cleaner I ask myself questions like “What if my child ingests it? What if the dogs lick the surface of something that has been sprayed with it? What if I breath in the fumes from this cleaner while spraying? What if I accidentally spilled the bottle while cleaning?” There are many other things you can consider, but this is just a start… if any of your answers to these questions are cause for concern – perhaps resulting in a sick child or pet, then maybe your consideration of that new product should end there. If accidentally spilling the bottle down the drain or elsewhere would be bad, again – perhaps your shopping trip is over. If you are cleaning your counters with a product containing chemicals that you would be uncomfortable ingesting, then it begs the mind to wonder, what can I clean with?

In our house, we clean with green products – be them store purchased after careful consideration and investigation of the ingredients, or ones that we make ourselves. They are safe for us and safe for the world around us. Since I love to be frugal and green, I will discuss how a person can easily make their own cleaner that will not add worry to our already hectic lives!

The recipe below can be modified easily based on your scent preferences. It’s the cleaner that I use the very most, capable of cleaning most any surface.

All-Surface Cleaner:

You will require a spray bottle (easily found at most stores – check your dollar store for a great deal!), vinegar (I prefer white), water, essential oils of your choice (my favorites are lavender or tea tree oil) and grapefruit seed extract. All of these ingredients can be found at a local health store, online or, surprisingly, at most drug stores.
Fill your spray bottle halfway with vinegar. Fill almost the rest of the way with water, leaving some room to add your oil/s and extract. I add my essential oil/s based on scent – generally around 10-15 drops. As for the grapefruit seed extract, I find that it’s very thick/stick and I just pour it from the bottle rather than messing with the dropper. I would guess it’s approximately 2 droppers full. Give the bottle a gentle shake and you’re done! Ready to clean – and it will clean! Did you know that grapefruit seed extract is more effective than bleach at killing off the bad things in your kitchen?

What’s so great about this cleaner? Everything! It will clean hard surfaces in the kitchen and bathroom. You can use it (same mixture) in a bucket to mop your floors – have wood floors or furniture? No problem! You can always add some olive oil to help give the wood an extra glow. We keep a bottle of this in our bathroom – after each shower, you can spray down the surfaces and it will keep soap scum at bay – even on the glass! Also, it’s great for spraying out the bath after you’re finished to avoid that unwanted ring around the tub that can quickly build up and become visible.

This is also an excellent glass and mirror cleaner – just spray and wipe clean with a microfiber cloth or newspaper (which can still be recycled after using to clean!).

Do you have a favorite tried & true natural cleaning recipe you’d like to share? We’d LOVE to hear it!

Remember, the more green we can be, the better for all of us – both our Earth and our bodies will be healthier, happier and more thankful each day!

It was truly a difficult task to choose a winner for the recent “Reducing Clutter” contest. But, alas, I took on this difficult job and picked a winner. But before revealing the name, I am compelled to give some detail as to why I chose this particular tip.

While all tips were great tips, my mind kept hugging to the one that sounded like the most fun & convinced me that it was not only reducing clutter, but a hidden recycling effort as well. This tip not only removed clutter for her own house, but it offered items another chance to find use in someone else’s life. As mentioned, perhaps it would only be a “shift in clutter,” I came to the realization that once it arrived at it’s new home, and it was not needed there, it could still be passed on to a resale shop, neighbor or be reborn as a donation somewhere. It also aides in keeping friends or family in touch in a fun way. And I also think to myself, “Who doesn’t love a surprise in the mail?” So, yes, our winner comes from Jennifer, perhaps better known as Zillabaubles. And just in case you didn’t read her tip in the comments, let me share it for you here!

My sister and I keep an empty box at our houses. When we are picking up around the house and we find something that we no longer use and we put those items in the box. Once the box is full, we tape it up and ship it off. It is always fun to get a package and see what has been cast off from my sister’s family.

It really keeps us connected or at the very least some really funny conversations when a package shows up and we look inside to find treasures. This could be considered shifting of clutter, but there are things that I no longer need/use and she can or vise versa.”

Thank you to everyone that played! And we’ll have more contests, so don’t you worry. Just because you didn’t win this time, that doesn’t mean you won’t have a shot at it again!

What’s next? We sit and we wait to see just how long it takes a certain someone to realize that her tip has paid off!

Peace.