Archive for December, 2008

A Satisfying Soak


Need some relaxation, some down-deep thawing of frozen extremities, some relief from soreness or tired muscles?

It might be time for a nice, hot soak!

Because the way our bathrooms are situated, I’m usually a quickie-shower gal, but whenever I have time and access, I love  a long, fragrant hot soak in the bathtub.  Candles, music, phone off the hook, the works… it’s one of the more basic and affordable luxuries to be had right at home. 

About a year ago, I ran across the “recipe” for homemade bath salts, and it was so easy I decided to give it a try.  My skin is very sensitive to detergents and certain fragrances, but seems to do fine with sea salts and such, so I gave this a try, and really loved its ease and end result.


Here’s the simple formula:

1 cup sea salt (not iodized regular table salt)

1 cup epsom salts

2 teaspoons baking soda (optional, for skin softness)

10 or more drops your favorite essential oil

That’s really how simple it is! 

(After a nice soak in salts, I usually do a quick shower rinse.)  The bath salts don’t produce any bubbles, so if you want them just add your favorite foaming gel or sudsing soap.

Or you might do like my Grandma and add a squirt of Palmolive liquid dish soap we used as bubble bath when we were at her house as kids ( “Madge, I soaked in it,” indeed).    She had a hard time getting me out of that warm bathwater after I’d filled it with a lot of hot water and drifts of suds.  (the bubbles were great for pretending we had old man beards or bodacious bosoms, ha!)

Water temps should be monitored for anyone with a physical condition it might aggravate…possible cautions are in place for those with heart or vascular conditions, blood pressure issues, pregancy, etc…according to your own doc’s recommendations.

Personally, I love my water as hot as comfort will allow 🙂

Anyway, the epsom salts/sea salt combination is wonderful for detoxifying the skin and really taking the ache out of sore muscles…there’s almost nothing like a warm soak in them before bedtime, sipping a favorite beverage and bundling up clean and fragrant and relaxed.  Playing around with the choices of essential oils is the fun part of stirring up these bath salts…last year I made patchouli (you either love it or hate it) for a friend and peppermint for my daughter.  With my next batches, I’d like to layer more herbal scents, citrus, green tea in the future.

Do you have a favorite fragrance?   Happy soaking!

Oh yes…and Happy New Year!

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Originally published at Women Not Dabbling by Gina

The big day after Christmas, I wandered down to the mailbox. The box was packed brim to the gills with the 2009 season’s seed catalogs. I excitedly gathered them up and ran back up to the house. ’Tis the season I’ve been waiting for since the first dark night of winter.

Now you may or may not have noticed here at the Dabbling blog, but we actually have structured weeks. One week is dedicated to food, another house and farm, one revolves around garden…this is not that week. If you haven’t noticed this pattern just chalk it up to us being a bunch of undisciplined abnormals who have a really hard time sticking to a syllabus. (Fortunately, we are quite flexible here!) Or maybe it’s just that most of our topics can easily fit into any of the broader categories.

This week, or the ’fifth” week of the month, we have declared to be craft week. This is not a good week for someone so incredibly uncrafty as myself (I covered this already!) I like to think I am okay in the food department and fair to good in the gardening and homesteading department, but that I come up empty in the craft department. So I have decided to think a little crafty in my own way which means I will be sneaking in a little seed and plant porn instead.

This time of the year I am full of thoughts about my upcoming goals. I am looking at my calendar, counting the days until I start seeds again. I am grateful for the returning sun. I write and draw up plans for the garden space and ponder what I want to plant and hopefully harvest. The other thing that floats between the garden rows in my mind is the fact I want to simplify my life…more. This means I will once again resolve not to spend, be thrifty, Reduce & Reuse, simplify, tread lightly, lower my carbon footprint, moe self-sfficiency…on and on. My general goals have been the same since about Y2K!

Last night I was looking through a few of the new catalogs and thinking about my mother’s birthday which is in a few short weeks. I want to make her something, but I have that problem with not even being able to cut cloth straight let alone sew it (this is on my skill goal list for 2009). Suddenly, my brain thoughts collided with what my eyes were looking at on the page in front of me: gourds! One of the varieties I spied was called a “snake gourd” and it literally looks like a coiled, twisty snake. How cool (remind me to tell you the story of my mom and the western garter snake I caught her at 13 someday)! Smiling, I put a little X next to it and added it to the seed list.

Do you make this same goal as me at the New Year? The one that claims you are going to handcraft all your gifts this year?

Well, if you are still learning how to be crafty (like me) or you are too busy to do totally homemade (like me) or lack talent in this area (like me) here are just a small sampling of simple gift ideas that I came up with straight out of one the seed catalogs:

*Art Gourds

*Think Outside the Typical Jam Box

  • Ground cherries
  • Sour cherries
  • Plum
  • Rhubarb
  • Edible Flowers
  • Kiwi
  • Fig tree
  • Roses


  • Lavender
  • Sage
  • Mints

Spices & Herbs

  • Lemon grass
  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Chamomile


  • Peach Wine
  • Grapes
  • Dandelions



Wait a minute, I can’t plant a tree, harvest fruit and make jam by the end of the year. No, you’re right, however, thinking about future gifts from the garden will allow the time needed to get that tree to a point that it is fruiting and eventually the gift you dreamed up now just may become a tradition to give years down the road. Some, provided we are all blessed with a good growing season, you will be able to gift next winter if you plant them this spring. Many require a long growing season, so starting seeds early will really help out (e.g. some of the gourds are 120 days or more).

I have already penciled in some possible locations around my place for a kiwi vine and some of the gourds (also vines). If you are growing in a small space (or even a larger space that happens to also house livestock, thus making it a small space), think permaculturally. Where can I squeeze in a gift-bearing vine that is atypical to the rest of the garden. I bet you can find room (a shed wall, behind the garage, on a fence…). Think horizontally and go for one of the birdhouse gourd vines. I am also planting ground cherries to can for my mother-in-law who search high and lo at the farmers’ market this year and finally bought 1 pint for $8. They are easy to grow!

Despite the fact holiday fatigue set in a week ago for me, I am actually excited about my next year’s (or two or three) gifts. This New Year, I am once again looking at my goal to give all homemade gifts, however, I am challenging myself even further: I plan to grow most of the material.

Happy Seed Catalog Season, Everyone!

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Cornmeal Pound Cake

Our Monica is recovering from a cold and while I can’t possibly fill her shoes, I can at least fill this space with a wonderful recipe for you all to try.  This is a great recipe for any of those brandied fruits you may have put up over the summer.  It’s crumbly but moist and not too sweet.

Cornmeal Pound Cake

  • 1/2 Cup Applesauce (plain is fine, but spiced would be good too)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 Cup Sugar
  • 1/2 Cup Milk
  • 1 1/2 Cups Flour
  • 1/2 Cup Cornmeal
  • 2 teaspoons Baking Powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Grease an 8″ round cake pan.

Whisk together the applesauce, eggs, sugar, and milk until smooth.  Add flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt, mix until combined.

Pour batter into greased pan.  Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until sides pull away from pan and a tester comes out clean.  Allow to cool in pan for 20 minutes, then remove to cake plate.

To serve, cut a wedge and then slice that wedge into a top and bottom piece.  Pour some of your brandied fruit liquid onto the bottom piece to soak into the cake.  Place your fruit on top of the bottom piece, and top with the top piece of cake, pour more liquid on top of this top slice of cake, and place a few pieces of fruit on top as well.  Serve with whipped cream, if desired.  Enjoy.

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Repurposed Rug

I decided a week ago that the sink in the guest bathroom needed a rug in front of it.  There was a bath mat outside the tub/shower but nothing in front of the sink and I’m not sure why now, but I decided that just wasn’t good enough, so I got to thinking.

Early this summer we bought two large woven off-white rugs for a dollar a piece at a yard sale.  They went in the kitchen originally, which meant they needed to be washed often, the frequent washing was too much for the one rug which promptly showed all its wear and the reason they were only a dollar piece.

The rug has been sitting on a chair in the guest bedroom for a few months now, awaiting new purpose.  A new rug for the guest bathroom seemed most appropriate.  Here’s how I did it, in case you happen to find a deal on something like this and want to re-use for something new.

Obviously, first measure the space where the rug will go and cut the old rug to size.  Then you need to bind the edges to prevent unraveling.  There is a great binding tutorial over at Posie Gets Cozy, but her tutorial assumes you have a bias tape maker.  I’ll explain how to do it without one.  Though if you plan to do a lot of sewing, those bias tape makers are a God send and relatively inexpensive.

To bind the edges of this rug, I cut 4 – four inch wide strips.  The strips are 1 inch longer than the rug.  The rug was 29″ by 15″, meaning I cut 2 – 16″ strips and 2 – 30″ strips.  Traditionally bias tape and binding tape is cut on the bias, this uses more fabric and generally I find to be a hassle, so I just cut it straight, do what you prefer.

Now, lay the edge of your strip right side down on the right side (the side that will be facing up) of your rug.  Fold a half inch on each end of your strip, over, and pin into place.

Stitch using a 5/8″ seam allowance, locking stitches on both ends.  Now put the rug onto a table with the bottom side up and the strip of fabric pulled out.

Now fold the raw edge of your strip underneath the edge of the rug, so that the fabric is doubled over.  Do this the entire length of your edge.

Take the folded edge and pull it over and on top of the back of your rug.  Pull tightly into place and pin.

Traditionally, when quilting, you’d hand stitch this back edge.  This is a very nice touch and if you want to feel free.  I find that machine stitching is a little stronger and considering people will be walking on this I want it tough.  Machine or hand stitch along the edge of your fabric. 

Repeat the above steps on the next three sides, overlapping your edges.  If you’re really good at mitering, feel free to miter corners, I’m going for the most basic of approaches here for those new to sewing and binding.  Once you have all your sides down.  Seal your edges by sewing them down.

Simply tuck in the raw edges and stitch to seal the corners.  Cut your threads and you’re done with your new rug.

Don’t limit yourself to rugs.  Consider re-purposing those old, torn rugs into place mats or table runners, using the same method, just cutting to size.

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Originally published at Women Not Dabbling by emphelan

I have seen and heard a lot of talk about homemade soaps, body/dish/laundry, but not much on other homemade bathroom supplies. And this stuff is far more simpler to make than the soaps. Let’s go take a peek in my bathroom cabinet, shall we?

Hand care; working outside in all kinds of weather can make your hands rough, dry and the combination of the two can cause your hands to bleed, ok maybe that’s just me. To help with this use Bran water.
Boil 1 cup water and seep 1/2 cup natural bran for 15 minutes. Strain the bran out. Leave some of the water in a bowl next to the sink, and place the remainder in the fridge. Dip your hands in the water after you have washed your hands (like when you do dishes or cleaning all the poop/dirt/oil off of them) Do this at least 3 times a day. It also helps if you use a moisturizer at night. A traditional recipe for this is:

2 oz of honey
4 oz lanolin
2 oz of sweet almond oil

Melt your honey in a double broiler, stir in Lanolin, allow to cool, stir in the almond oil. Apply at night before bed. If you own your own sheep, or have a friend that does, you might think about making your own lanolin. As This is something I have yet to do, I will refer you to an article by Elaine Benfatto; The Scouring Post.

Toothpaste is another simple and necessary item to have in your cabinet. Fresh strawberries are a wonderfully pleasant way to clean your teeth, simply rub the fresh fruit across your teeth. Or you can combine 3 parts bicarbonate of soda with 1 part salt, then add 3 teaspoons of glycerin for every 1/4 cup of soda/salt mix. Add only enough water to make a paste, add a favorite oil to help with taste and smell.

As for breath fresheners, eat more veggies! or make a rose water to gargle with.

Deodorants (not antiperspirants)

few drops of lavender oil
1 teaspoon lavender water

mix and apply to underarms after a warm shower or bath.

You can just add lots of lovage or sage to your bath water or use cider vinegar under your arms. No worries, the vinegar smell dissipates after a bit.

A basic shaving cream:

8 ounces glycostearin (diglycol stearate)
8 ounces heavy mineral oil
40 ounces water

Using double boiler, combine the heavy mineral oil and glycostearin and heat to 150 F. In a separate pot, heat the water to 150 F, and then slowly stir in the glycosterian/mineral oil mixture. Once mixed, remove from heat and allow cool. When the mixture is cool, you can add perfume if desired. Store in tins or canning jars.

There you have it, a quick peek into the homesteaders bathroom cabinet.

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Compost Piles

Originally published at Women Not Dabbling by Howling Hill.

Howling Hill is a very small homestead. Honestly, I’m not sure it can be considered a homestead because the only animals we have are our cats Harley and Francesca. However, Wolf and I endeavor to have a farm of vegetables and small livestock. We’re leaning toward goats, sheep, chickens, rabbits, and pigs. I know pigs are not “small livestock” but we eat a fair amount of pork. We don’t eat beef so getting a cow or two just for cheese seems a little … too much. And horses, as beautiful as they are, are just to big and expensive. I can’t imagine Wolf and I will have a lot of time to ride horses if we’re caring for our farm of livestock.

Despite not having a homestead, we embrace homesteading’s values: reduce, reuse, recycle. Our mindset regarding what’s important has radically changed the way we think, the way we buy, they way we eat, what and how we throw out, and the way we view politics, religion, and society.

Howling Hill is a one acre lot heavily wooded with trees, predominately pines. There is not a lot of sun on our patch of Earth. I’ve talked about wanting to cut down trees on my own blog many times but I’m reluctant to for a couple reasons. First, the expense. It’ll be about $1000 to cut down the trees I want down. Because the majority of those trees are pines I don’t know what we’d do with the wood. Pine is not good to burn because it’s a soft, wet wood. Second, I don’t want to put a ton of money into Howling Hill because Wolf and I won’t live here forever. We’ll stay in the town we live in but not on this plot. Because HH is on a hill (hence the name) most of the lot is unbuildable.* We never thought of Howling Hill as our dream place merely as a stepping stone to our dream place.

That said, we still learn as much as we can about homesteading, animal care, reducing and reusing, etc. And one of the things we put a lot of time learning about is composting because that is one component of homesteading anyone can participate in no matter how small or large the plot of land you live on is.

One of the first posts I wrote on Howling Hill was about composting. Wolf built compost piles at my request. — I’d show you a picture of them today but it’s a little snowy out there right now thus you can’t see anything. — The compost is predominately food scraps from our dinner table. We don’t put any meat or meat products into the compost because that will attract the wrong sort of critters, though surprisingly I don’t see many critters out there to begin with. Because the compost is behind some fir trees it doesn’t get a lot of sun. The food begins to pile up, I’d say with an average height of two feet. I don’t fluff the pile too much because I don’t want to release too much of the heat the compost creates but I do fluff on occasion.

The best way to fluff your compost pile I’ve found is to get some chickens. Wolf and I were amazed at how rich the compost was when the Chicken Ladies did their thing. It was obvious their bodily waste increased the temperature of the pile while they simultaneously aerated the fruit and vegetable matter while hunting for yummy bugs.** Because the compost has never broken down the way it should — I think it’s never really gotten hot enough — we’ve not been able to use it on our garden which really sucks. However, now that we know the chickens are fab compost-maintainers we’ll put them to work. Next year we plan on fencing in part of the yard, including the compost pile, so we can keep the Ladies alive and well fed while making them work for us by aerating the compost. Then we’ll be able to use it for our garden come fall 2009.

Composting is easy and low cost. It cuts down on the amount of trash in a landfill. You can go out and buy one of those composters but I don’t think you want petroleum based chemicals mixed in with your compost. Besides, why spend over $200 when you don’t have to? You don’t have to build something like Wolf did though I’m sure he’d be flattered if you did =). At our last home (in the suburbs) we just had a pile in the corner of the yard of fruits, vegetables, and grass clippings. There wasn’t any wood surrounding the pile and though it became the neighborhood dog magnet it composted just fine.

One note too keep in mind is this: don’t make your compost pile too big. Wolf and I made this mistake. If the pile is too deep it takes too long to breakdown. Fluffing is good but you don’t want to do it too often. Throw some manure (horse or chicken works best) onto the pile every now and again to heat up the pile and to allow the feces and urine chemicals to do their breakdown thing too.

I’m not going to say composting is “fun and easy” because it’s not particularly fun though it is easy. But it’s a good way to create free fertilizer for your garden and to cut down on the amount you throw away. It feeds the local bird population and possibly the local dog and cat population to as the pile often attracts rodents. Chipmunks and mice seem to love running around the pile picking out what they can. The cats see the pile as their friend. I’ve never seen bears hanging around the pile, nor have I found evidence they do, though that may be our bears here in New Hampshire. If I were you I’d know my local animal population before creating a compost pile because you don’t want to attract animals who will destroy your pile, yard, garden, etc.

Don’t put the pile too close to the house because of the rodents and get some worms to throw in there if you don’t have any.*** It’s better if you have it in a semi-shady area as direct sun isn’t good. This is why our pile is behind fir trees. Certainly it get partial sun during the day but not direct sun all day. Adding water every now and again is also good because it you don’t want it to get too dry but don’t make it too moist either. I don’t think I’ve ever put water on the pile but the Northeast is fairly wet so that’s why I haven’t. If you’re in a dry climate some moisture every now and again is a good idea.

Overall composting is a great way to participate in homesteading if you’re like us and can’t have the farm you dream of.

*Don’t you love making up words?
**Not yummy to me, yummy to them.
***Wanna send me some worms come spring? If so email me and I’ll send you my address.

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the family medicine chest will be an ongoing series on the fourth thursday of each month.

This month, I am going to focus on syrup making. Syrups are very versatile. You can use them in the traditional sense for taking straight as a cough syrup, or you can be imaginative with them and use them on pancakes or even make soda with them.

To make herbal syrups, you’ll need the herb of choice, water, honey and brandy (optional, used to preserve it).

Start by making an infusion. Typically, I match herbs and water cup for cup. In this lesson, I will use Ginger as my herb.

First, I would chop up 2 cups of ginger. There is no need to peel. Add 2 cups of water to a sauce pan and bring it to boiling on the stove top. Simmer for 10 minutes. Cover and let steep for 1 hour. Strain off the root.

Return the infusion to the saucepan and add 1 1/2 cups honey (or if using raw sugar, 2 cups) to the pan. Heat to thin honey and stir until thoroughly mixed. Allow to cool. (If using sugar, you’ll need to cook it down a bit to thicken the mixture). You can add 1/4 cup of brandy to the mixture to help preserve it longer but I rarely do, unless it is a syrup reserved for coughs only and I want it to last more than 1-2 months. Pour into a bottle and label. Store in the fridge. Use up within 1-2 months.

This syrup can be taken straight for upset stomachs and sore throats (1-2 teaspoons at a time). It can be added to teas for flavoring, poured over ice cream or pancakes or made into soda. To make soda, add 2 oz. syrup per every 8 oz. of seltzer water (adjust the amounts to match your taste). Yum!

(sorry, no photos today, i will try to find them later and add them but I can’t remember which computer they are on and i have a squirmy toddler in my lap who’s not letting me get much done right now).

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