What’s Going On…

August was a pretty busy month for us. As we prepare for our move this coming Spring, I feel that the coming months will be just as busy.

We continue to declutter and organize, being mindful of exactly what we’re taking with us. What really matters to us the most. What brings us joy. What will we actually benefit from and use.

I’m thrilled that we’ve cleared out our rented storage unit. Most of the items that we were storing were building materials and tools that we will need once we move to the homestead, so we went ahead and moved those items to our storage shed on the property. Even though our stuff just went from one storage area to another, it still felt good to move it “home”. Not to mention, it feels good to be able to out that monthly payment amount into our savings account each month now.

There were also off season clothes, various kitchen items, and “projects” that we’d been holding on to. Once we’d been without it for a period of time, it was easy to decide what we were going to actually wear/use/complete and donate the rest. Those items have served us well and now they can be a blessing to someone else.

Since Labor Day was a long weekend, we spent it doing maintenance around the homestead. Clearing silt from the drainage ditch that runs along the road, cleared brush and moved some downed trees. Moving downed trees will be the theme of our life over the next year I’m certain. Thankfully, the weather was perfect. Low humidity and cooler temperatures.

I just loved the way the sun was shining through these trees.

A clearing is emerging!
The woods are calling, and I must go!
That SUN! Love!

And I had a visit from my little hummingbird buddy! He seems to thoroughly enjoy the butterfly bush I’ve planted.

While I didn’t get food preserved each and every day of August, I was able to add quite a few items to our storage. As mentioned in my previous post, I canned fruit cocktail, cherries in light syrup, potatoes, chicken breast, chili beans, carrots, pineapple, and homemade chicken broth and veggie broth. Oh! And I found the most AMAZING baked bean recipe for canning. I will definitely be making another batch to add to the pantry! Much to my delight, I was able to find a few deals on ground pork, turkey and beef, so I added that to our freezer. I also tried my hand at dehydrating for the first time. I started simple – just did some carrots. 3 pounds dehydrated to about 12 ounces in a jar. Dehydrating is going to be an amazing space saver. I can’t wait to try more things!

~Blessings!~

August Food Preservation Goals

In a recent video from one of my favorite Youtube channels, Three Rivers Homestead, Jessica is reorganizing her pantry and working on cycling out her inventory. There’s just something so beautiful about a well stocked pantry of home preserved food. A pantry, shelf or cabinet becomes a beautiful show piece and part of the home decor. I could binge watch any of these type videos for hours!

Jessica is also participating in the #everybitcountschallenge on her Instagram page. The goal is to preserve/can something each and every day of August. Wow! With her busy family and farm, that certainly is going to be a challenge. But I’m sure she’ll rise to it. 🙂

It got me to thinking about my own pantry and setting some goals for myself. I know my limitations with time and budget, so to try and get something preserved each day is just setting myself up for failure. I currently don’t have my own garden, so I’m relying on the grocery store, local farmers market and excess from friends gardens for my fresh veggies. But, because “every bit counts”, I can make some realistic goals for myself and add quite a bit of food storage over the next month.

Here’s what I’m planning.

Fruit Cocktail

My inspiration for this comes from the fact that cherries are in season! They look so delicious, but I couldn’t think of anything to do with them outside of a cherry pie, which neither of us would eat. I opened a jar of my home canned pineapple a few days ago and then it occurred to me that I could make fruit cocktail! A quick trip down the Youtube rabbit hole, and I found this recipe. Cherries, pineapple, grapes and pears canned in the natural juices, just like I do my pineapple. I’ll omit the peaches since we don’t care for those. For around $10, I’ll have 9 pints of delicious fruit cocktail made from fruits chosen at the ripeness we like them preserved with no extra sugar or preservatives!

Kidney Beans

While this is not one of the beans we eat as a side dish or entree, I do use them in my chili recipe. I’ll go ahead and can these in quart jars, since I usually use two cans. Sams Club has 4 pounds dry kidney beans for around $6, so I should be able to get 5-6 quarts on the shelf.

Carrots

Perfect as a side dish or adding to recipes. I can buy organic carrots in bulk and get around 9 pints for roughly $6.00.

Potatoes

This is a vegetable that I’ve been on the fence about for a number of years. I’ve heard how terrible the texture of home canned potatoes is, how mushy they get, etc. and so that never appealed to me at all. But, the idea of being able to just grab a jar, heat them up and have mashed potatoes in less than 5 minutes does. I think the key is to choose waxy types -like yukon gold, or yellow or red potatoes – instead of baking types, like russets. Mashed potatoes is the way we eat potatoes most of the time anyway and waxy potatoes are typically what I buy simply because that’s our favorite type of potato. So I’m just gonna go for it and see what happens! The guesstimation is around 13 pounds for 9 pints. That should cost me around $7.00.

Chicken and Ground Beef

(No, not together of course!) While I would love to get a couple canner loads of each done in August, it’s really going to depend on the sale cycles. There was a really good deal on organic chicken a few weeks ago, so I’m hoping that will be coming back around soon. It is usually easier to find a good deal on quality ground beef rather than chicken in my area. Even on sale, it’s going to take me about $50 to get enough of each to fill 16 pints. But since each pint holds a pound, that will be a really good value in the long run. It will decrease our dependency on using the freezer and it will retain it’s quality longer than it would in the freezer.

Dehydrating

I have several things that I can dehydrate! They’re inexpensive and won’t take much hands on time. As follows: garlic, onions, green beans, corn, mushrooms, peppers, peas and kale. Shelf stable and ready to add to so many recipes!

In Closing

Well, there’s my basic list. I feel this is completely attainable and I will be so proud of it once I’ve completed it. I’m sure I’ll be motivated and inspired to add more to the list as I get going!

I hope you’re inspired to start a pantry or add to yours over the next few months as well. There are so many delicious fruits and veggies to choose from this time of year and I can’t wait to enjoy them into the months to come. The time and effort spent adding to our food storage pantry will all be worth it down the road with the time saved and the convenience of having a well stocked inventory.

Please be sure to check out the youtube links above and if interested, follow Three Rivers Homestead on Instagram and join the #everybitcountschallenge.

~ Blessings ~

An Introduction to Gray Water

WHAT IS GRAY WATER?

Gray water is household waste water from your bathroom sinks, tub and shower and dishwasher. It is also produced while camping by washing dishes, brushing your teeth, washing clothes and washing your body. In either scenario, careful consideration should be made with regards to the products used and disposing of the gray water responsibly.

GRAY WATER AROUND THE HOME

If you are fortunate enough to live in an area that allows gray water, considering installing one in your home would have many benefits. (Gray water laws differ from state to state, and in some areas it is entirely illegal. Be sure to check your local ordinances and laws.)

There are many uses for recycled gray water, from washing your clothes to irrigating your garden. And because you’re decreasing your usage of fresh water, you would save money on your water bill. Not to mention reducing the demand and wasting of the public water supply.

While installing a gray water system does involve a bit of know how and the ability to perform manual labor, it is not necessarily too complex, nor too expensive. The decision to do it yourself or hire someone to do it for you will depend largely on your actual water usage and the laws of your area. If you have the ability to live off grid and use a composting toilet, then the laws of your area more than likely allow for a gray water system as long as it meets certain criteria.

Gray water cannot simply be piped to your garden. It does have to go through a collection and filtration process. It cannot be stored either, as the bacteria in it will use up all the oxygen making it anaerobic and turning it septic.

IRRIGATING WITH GRAY WATER

These are just a few guidelines to follow when using gray water for irrigation of grasses, ornamentals, trees, fruits and vegetables.

  • Gray water should only be applied to the soil, never to any above ground portion of a plant.
  • Root crops that will be eaten raw should not be irrigated using gray water.
  • Gray water is alkaline. Do not use it on any plants that thrive in acidic soil.
  • Use only on well established plants, not seedlings or young plants.
  • Only apply it to flat areas where runoff is not an issue.

CREATING GRAY WATER DURING CAMPING

Some people may not think of “camping” as a way to create gray water. But think about it – when camping, you’re washing your hands, brushing your teeth, cleaning dishes and possibly washing your clothes. Camping or living off grid produce much of the same waste. In each case, we are responsible for dealing with said waste in a way that is not harmful to humans, wildlife or the soil itself. Soil is a living being, full of microbial organisms, worms and bugs that all exist in natures balance. Anything we do to the soil, or pour onto the soil, can affect that balance. We must be mindful and careful!

We love camping. Because our style of camping is “primitive” or “roughing it”, we are very mindful of the amount of trash we generate, conservation of our water supply and the cleanliness of our area. This includes the creation and disposal of our gray water.

When cooking, we don’t cook foods that are excessively greasy or require grease for cooking (like frying). Food residue is scraped thoroughly from our dishes, pans and cooking utensils and disposed of by being tossed into the campfire or put in the trash, thereby creating “quality” gray water. We use minimal amounts of soap for dish washing as well as body washing, and the products that we use are safe for the environment. Gray water, whether at your home or campsite, should never be poured directly into any natural body of water, such as a stream, creek, or pond.

PRODUCTS SAFE FOR GRAY WATER

As with food, just because a product states “natural” or “organic” on the label, you still need to look at the list of ingredients. While some products are perfectly safe and eco-friendly for household or bodily cleansing using a septic or sewer system, they could be harmful if used in a gray water system.

For a gray water system, look for cleaning products (both household and body) that are “biodegradable” and “biocompatible” products.

Ingredients to avoid:

• sodium and ingredients with the word “sodium” or “salt” in them
• boron/borax (toxic to plants)
• sodium perborate
• petroleum distillate
• anti-bacterial soaps and cleaners
• ”whiteners” and “softeners”
• chromium oxide
• artificial colors, FD&C colors
• synthetic fragrance
• artificial preservatives
• parabens (methyl, propyl, butyl, and ethyl)
• chlorine bleach / sodium hypochlorite (household bleach) Hydrogen peroxide is a safe alternative

Green Goo offers all natural, plant based products, for first aid and health and beauty free from harmful ingredients. Be sure to still read the label if considering for use with gray water.

Here are a sampling of brands that are safe for gray water systems.

BATH

LAUNDRY

  • Ecos
  • Dropps
  • Oasis

KITCHEN

GENERAL CLEANING

For simplicity, Castille soap can be used to make just about every product needed for cleaning your house, washing your body and hair and even doing dishes.

I hope you find this information informative and helpful. I’m not an expert by any means, but I’ve researched and practiced gray water usage and disposal for a number of years. The act of having to carefully consider the products that I’m using and being responsible for the disposal of my own waste (trash and water) is all part of living intentionally and purposefully.

~ Blessings ~

How I Created A Simple, Efficient Home Filing System And How It Changed My Life

OK. I’m going to talk about the elephant in the room.

You know the one.

It’s disguised as a big pile of papers in the corner of your bedroom or on your dining table. Maybe you’ve managed to tuck it away in a closet or a drawer.

It doesn’t really matter if it’s in plain sight or hidden away – it’s BIG. And it takes up a LOT of valuable space – physically and mentally – of your life.

And it’s not necessarily a friendly elephant either! It’s causing you stress and anxiety – probably a lot more than you even realize. The thought of dealing with it and ordering it out of your life is so overwhelming that you can’t even begin. And maybe the times that you have attempted to tackle it, it wasn’t long before you realized just how heavy an elephant can be.

I’ve been there.

I speak from experience when I tell you I understand. I know what it is like to be reduced to tears, completely defeated, drowning in a disorganized, chaotic mess of paperwork.

“I know that receipt is here SOMEWHERE!”

Three years ago, my husband and I downsized from our home, where we had raised our children to adulthood, to a one bedroom apartment. About a year before we moved, we got serious about de-cluttering our whole house taking a good, hard look at exactly what we needed and what we could do without. We also devised systems to effectively store and organize what we do need for the management of our home. There’s nothing like packing up a house that you’ve lived in for more than 10 years to make you realize just how cleverly you can tuck away clutter and things you’d rather not deal with! (Big ‘ol elephants can hide anywhere!) Absolutely shameful!

When it came to our paperwork, I knew two things:

1) I did NOT want to move all my paper clutter with me, and 2) the “filing system” I had was just not working,

My previous system involved a Pendaflex file box that I bought our first year of marriage (!), a cardboard box, a nightstand drawer, a 2 drawer vertical filing cabinet, an end table drawer and a stand up file.

You know where I’m going with this. As long as I had my paperwork “put” somewhere, I was organized, right? Yep!

Up until the point I needed something anyway.

Like the title for the car I was selling. Or the vaccination record my son needed to get into college. Or the receipt and warranty information for the washing machine that had quit working.

I cannot tell you how many times I said, “I know I have it, I’ve just got to locate it.”

The next step is not easy. It’s just not. There’s no way around it. There are ways to make it manageable, but it can still be daunting and overwhelming. All that mess has to be sorted, gone through and somewhat organized before we ever get to the point of purchasing pretty file folders and a nifty label maker. But, you know what they say –

“there is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time”

I tackled each storage (ahem!) area individually. Sometimes I would set a time for 15 – 30 minutes, sometimes I would just work on it until I was completely disgusted and in tears. Either way I did it, I was still making progress. And the more I chipped away at it, the more motivated I became to conquer it and make sure it never consumed me like that again!

I armed myself with sticky notes, a pen and notepad and got to work.

I dumped the nightstand drawer onto the floor of my bedroom and did a quick “pre-sort”, just quickly glancing at everything and assigning it to a pile. Once everything was kinda sorta sorted, I was able to get an idea of what I actually needed to keep and began formulating my organization system. I labeled each pile with a sticky note according to category and if I found a receipt for something, I made a note to match it with the manual (wherever it may be!) and vice versa. With each stack labeled with a sticky note, I was able to create a stopping point for myself enabling me to walk away and save my sanity. If I needed to do something else, if my timer went off, or if I just simply needed to take a break, I could stack the labeled piles and pick back up when ready. Having an “In Progress” pile let me know that’s where I had left off.

I then moved on to the box, to the pendaflex, to the other drawer, etc. sorting in the same fashion until all my “put” places had been emptied and sorted. Next, I took each category (pile) and did a further sort. I was amazed at how much paperwork I was able to actually get rid of!

One of my curses is I love sub-categories. I also love to take a simple project and make it very complicated. My brain does not think in a straight line. With that being said, I’ll spare you the next several paragraphs it would take to explain how many times I created a system and dismantled the system to finally arrive at what works best for me. 🙂 Since we were downsizing, I had to take into consideration the amount of actual space I could designate as well as keeping it efficient and something that I would actually stick with.

I keep our bills in a folder until they are paid. Once they are paid, they are moved to the Tend To tray. This is a designated tray (just ONE!) that I keep on top of the Pendaflex file for incoming paperwork. I started the habit of clearing that tray each and every Wednesday. Receipts for purchases, paid bills, paystubs, recipes I print, etc., all go into that tray. By dealing with it on a weekly basis, I’m able to stay on top of it and easily keep everything organized.

I broke the actual filing system down into 3 key areas that satisfy my sub-category addiction while managing to keep it simple!

  • Current Quarter/Easily Accessible In the Event I Need to Grab It: Contained in the Pendaflex file, I have 3 hanging file folders for each month of the current quarter. Paystubs, paid bills, and bank statements are examples of what go into the monthly files. Also contained in this file box are our medical insurance benefits booklet, our auto loan paperwork and insurance dec page, apartment lease and storage unit agreement, a folder for each of our cats, a folder for financial or medical bill disputes, and a folder for each tool and piece of equipment we’ve recently purchased containing the receipt, manual and warranty registration card. These are the items I felt were important to keep within “arms reach” for referencing if needed.
  • The Archives: I purchased a file tub to store papers that were important enough to keep, but also didn’t need to be “front and center”. Since space is a premium right now, I wanted something that could go onto a closet shelf and not be too heavy or bulky to deal with. It holds letter size hanging file folders so I didn’t have to purchase any special supplies. At the end of each quarter, everything is moved from the monthly folders in the Pendflex box into one hanging file folder labeled for the whole quarter in the Archives box. This is also where I keep copies of the past 5 years tax returns.
  • The Vault: This is where our important legal and identification documents are stored. Car titles, birth certificates, social security cards and statements, medical records, advanced directives, life insurance policies, and our will are all stored in this locking fireproof/waterproof safe. My Person has a copy of all the pertinent documents contained in the safe as well as a spare key.

The beauty of this is all three of these storage areas fit in my bedroom closet. They are out of sight, but still on my mind. When I open them, they are neat and organized rather than a looming pile of “I’m not sure what’s in there”.

Yes, this was a tough area to tackle and deal with. This is one of those organizing projects that can be not only physically exhausting, but mentally as well. I don’t know why, but for some reason I had a certain amount of guilt, and even shame for just how out of control this area of our life was! I felt like I had been lazy and inattentive. And i would get downright ANGRY when I couldn’t find paperwork that I knew I had!

Was all the pain worth it?

Absolutely!

I cannot tell you how much better I feel since taking that last bite of elephant and creating a system that works with me and for me. It literally takes me about 5-10 minutes TOPS each Wednesday to deal with the paperwork from the week before. I have mental peace, knowing that should I need a document or receipt, I know exactly where to go to get it. Stress is one of those “death by a thousand paper cuts” things. And often times, it’s the stress that we don’t even know we feel that does the most damage. I truly felt like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders once I started using my system and seeing how well it worked.

So , really the only advice I can give is just start. Work on things a little at a time. Get help from a friend or family member if you’re comfortable in doing so. Any little bit of progress is still progress. Remember, this is YOUR system and it has to work with YOUR personality and YOUR family. No one else!

~Blessings!~

Keeping calm and canning on

Growing up, I heard countless horror stories about the dangers of pressure cooking and canning. That distant relative that had a canner explode, impaling the lid into the ceiling. Someone’s sister got third degree burns and horrible cuts from a jar that exploded. And that aunt whose kitchen was ab-so-lute-ly COVERED in beans that they never really were able to get clean. Oh, the drama!

Now, once I started gardening, I really got into water bath canning. Pickles, relish, salsa, apply butter and jams, and oh so many jars of stewed tomatoes. It was so thrilling “putting stuff by” and decorating my pantry shelves with my treasures. I just knew there had to be a way to conquer my fear of the pressure canner and really get into some serious food preservation. There’s only so much freezer space that can be dedicated for long term storage.  And it’s not necessarily the best option for long term to maintain the quality of many vegetables.

I liked the idea of being able to store various items that I didn’t grow myself. Buying them in season and preserving to have them year round. It also appealed to me to have items that take a long time to cook – like dried beans – ready to go simply by opening the jar and heating them up. Not to mention the huge savings of buying items in bulk and canning myself.

Over the years of watching countless Youtube videos and reading blogs and tutorials, I usually found myself left with more questions that I couldn’t find the answers to. I’m sure most of it was my over thinking and paranoia. But still. It paralyzed me and I couldn’t seem to get over it.

This past year I too became concerned about food shortages and the increase in food costs. Having a store run out of toilet paper is one thing, but the dried beans and rice shelves bare – that’s a whole ‘nother level of concern.

This Summer while at Walmart, I ended up on the canning supply aisle. I wasn’t there for canning supplies, but when I saw the shelves, I was gobsmacked. These shelves were just as ravaged as many of the grocery and cleaning supply shelves! I had heard about the stores – online too – selling out of canners and supplies. I had also witnessed that once those items were back in stock, the price was increased, sometimes ridiculously.  There was one remaining Presto weighted gauge canner and it was a decent price, so I went ahead and got it along with a flat of pint and quart jars and a pound of dried pinto beans.

I re-watched a few videos, re-read a few blogs and read my canner manual very carefully. I unboxed, inspected and washed my canner and supplies. I carefully and methodically followed the directions EXACTLY as written, took a deep breath and locked the lid down on my canner. I kept reminding myself that I had followed all the directions and I just needed to practice to gain confidence. It’s gonna be fine.

That first batch,  I was a nervous wreck! Was there supposed to be steam coming from the petcock, was I supposed to actually smell the beans, should I hear the water boiling, is the weight rocking too fast, is my temperature too high? Finally, the timer was done and I could relax.

Once it was time to remove the jars from the canner, I was so excited! They were beautiful! Ping! Ping! Ping! I’d done it. Not only had I stepped outside of my comfort zone and overcome a paralyzing fear,  I was on my way to mastering a new skill. Currently on my pantry shelves, I have a variety of beans, vegetable and chicken broth, and butternut squash. I’m hoping to add a greater variety of vegetables this coming spring and summer.

So, if you’re wanting to try pressure canning, go for it!

Do your research. Follow all the safety guidelines of your recipe. Read your canner manual and inspect the canner itself carefully. While it’s not hard, you do have to be mindful of the correct and safe way to do it.  Believe me, I wish I had started years ago!

~ Blessings~