Phoenix rising

It's been almost one year to the the day since I last posted, and honestly, my head is still reeling a bit from all the changes in my life since then.  It's finally starting to settle into a "new normal", so I feel comfortable sharing a bit here again.

Authenticity.  It's a concept I've been thinking a lot about recently.  I've always striven to live an authentic life, one true to my belief system and morals.  I've always been a bit of a non-conformist, at least according to society's definition of normal, but I thought that my life was authentic and true to what I felt was important.  And while that may have been true for me, that wasn't true for my husband.  He was living a double life, hiding an addiction that, once revealed, shattered our marriage.  Sexual addiction isn't the party it sounds like.

While many things in my life feel like a struggle right now, especially work, in most ways I feel like a phoenix rising from the ashes.  I've lost so much in the past year: my marriage, my career (by my own choice; I had decided to stay home with the kidlets), the life I thought I had, and the dreams I thought we shared.  But I've also gained.  I'm now free from a relationship that had damaged my self-worth and skewed my perceptions. I'm free from trying to live up to someone else's expectations.  I'm free to be the me I was always a bit afraid to be.

God often provides blessings that come disguised as tragedies.  This is one of them.


Making things!

I think I've become addicted to making things.  In the past few weeks, I've made several batches of soap.  I'm using hot process in my crockpot (instructions and photos to come), and I've made a darn good imitation of Dr. Bronner's peppermint soap.  I toyed with a few other recipes and scents, too.  The lavender came out a bit iffy, but the lemongrass/clary sage oatmeal soap is nice, as is the oat and honey.  I haven't quite gotten the hang of adding enough essential oil to properly scent the soap, but it lathers really well in my hard water - which is far more important to me.  So many handmade soaps I've tried just don't have long-lasting bubbles, and I need to re-soap my pouf or washcloth halfway through my shower.  But my soap bubbles, so I'm ecstatic.  :)

Tonight, on a whim, I whipped up a mini-batch of chapstick.  I'm utterly addicted to Burt's Bees peppermint (hmmm, I'm noticing a minty trend here...), but I'm on my last tube.  I'm also not addicted to the $3.50 per tube price tag.  After a bit of Googling and a peek at the ingredients on the real thing, I got busy. Here's my recipe:

.2 oz beeswax
.3 oz coconut oil
.1 oz shea butter
.05 oz avocado oil
peppermint essential oil, "to taste"

I melted all the ingredients, except the peppermint EO, using a 2 oz mason jar in my cast iron skillet with some water (sort of a mini double boiler).  After the beeswax melted, I dipped a knife into the mixture, removed it, and allowed the chapstick to cool so I could check its texture.  It was perfect; not too oily and not too hard.  I removed the mason jar from the heat, added about .2 mL of peppermint EO, stirred, and poured the chapstick into 2 little tins I'd ordered from Mountain Rose Herbs ages ago.

Broke and Healthy, one of the sites I used while coming up with my recipe, breaks down the cost of making this chapstick from scratch.  By their calculations, each .15 oz tube of chapstick costs $.08 to make.  My recipe weighed about .6 oz, making each tin cost approximately $.16.  My tins cost about $.70.  Even including them, which is kind of silly since I'll use them over and over, the cost to make this at home was about 25% of retail.  And it took less than 10 minutes.  You can bet I'll be doing that again!

I love the feeling I get when I replicate something I usually buy.  Yes, I'm still a consumer, because I have to buy my oils, beeswax, and other ingredients.  But the "value added" part of the equation?  That's me!  I have total control over the ingredients; no petroleum products, preservatives, or artificial anythings.  And, I'm not giving any of my money to corporations with questionable ethics or business policies.  Good stuff!

EDIT - I sat down a few nights ago and figured out my actual costs, based on the real ingredients I had purchased, including tubes, which I didn't originally have.  As made, it cost me $.20 per tube (of that, the tube cost $.14, so my chapstick was only $.06 per tube!!).  If I were to make it using all organic ingredients, which I plan on doing when I sell these and/or run out of my current stock of oils, it would cost $.24 per tube.


The fall pantry

Last year at this time I posted about how important it is to prepare for winter, both literally (when there is little to no fresh, local food available), and figuratively (when a crisis, personal or environmental, may prevent you from buying or acquiring food).  This year, at almost the same time, I find myself thinking the same thoughts.  Deja vu?  Maybe a little.  We've been living without my paycheck for just about 4 months now.  We are solvent, but it's tight.  Really tight.  In spite of our simple lifestyle, it has still been an adjustment, and we have to watch every. single. penny that we spend.

In spite of our financial constraints (we spend less per week on groceries than a family of four could receive on food stamp benefits [$167, in case you're curious]), we've been able to really stock our pantry.  Please excuse the cruddy pic; our camera broke and I can only take pics with my phone now.

In contrast, here are the same shelves in January of 2011, when Shayne had just built them:

At first glance, the thing I notice most is that the shelves are much, MUCH more full in the first picture.  All canned/jarred goods are at least 5 jars deep (for quarts) or as many as 7 deep (for half pints).  That's really a lot of food we have stashed on those shelves.

The second thing I noticed is how much less processed food we now have.  Yes, there's storebought cereal - I'll get around to making my own granola one of these days - and crackers, noodles, and some soups.  But there are a lot more "staples" like dried beans, canned veggies and fruits, oats (in mylar bags in the kitty litter tub), wheat (in buckets, not shown), and flour (also not shown). 

I did a bit of an inventory the other day, and found that I have nearly 3 months of food stored up.  Here's what that looks like (items with an asterisk are things I preserved myself):
  • 50 lbs of wheat
  • 20 lbs various flours
  • 2 jars of yeast
  • 20 lbs oats
  • 4 lbs of mixed beans for soup
  • 3 lbs pinto beans
  • 3 lbs navy beans
  • 8 lbs kidney beans
  • 8 lbs lentils
  • 4 lbs split peas
  • 3 lbs black beans
  • 15 lbs brown and white rice
  • 2 lbs wild rice
  • 8 pints canned tomatoes*
  • 5 quarts tomato juice*
  • 12 quarts pasta sauce*
  • 20 lbs pasta
  • 8 pints applesauce*
  • 6 pints pear sauce*
  • 17 pints sliced pears*
  • 7 20 oz cans of pineapple
  • 10 pints peaches*
  • 4 pints pickles*
  • 9 pints corn*
  • 2 pints maple syrup*
  • 5 pints chicken*
  •  Plus various canned soups, cereals, spices, flavorings, and cooking essentials (baking soda, baking powder, cornstarch, olive oil, etc).  And coffee, which is certainly an essential.
And then there's the freezer...
  • 25 lbs ground beef
  • 7 lbs roasts
  • 10 lb ham
  • 5 lbs salmon
  • 5 lbs green beans*
  • 7 lbs corn*
  • 5 lbs mixed veggies
  • 10 Freedom Ranger chickens*
  • strawberries*
  • blueberries*
  •  raspberries*
  • orange, yellow, and red peppers*
  • butter
And the "root cellar" in the garage...
  • 50 lbs potatoes
  • 50 lbs onions
 Hungry?  :)

So...  How did we amass all this food on such a limited budget?  The wheat, oats, potatoes, and onions were bought in bulk.  The wheat and oats came from Country Life Natural Foods, a co-op nearby with great prices.  A 50 lb bag of wheat was $25 (compare to King Arthur flour, which is $3.29/5 lb bag at Meijer - $.65/lb.  Which is actually still a great deal on premium flour, but wheat berries are cheaper and more versatile).  The potatoes and onions came from Shelton's Farm Market, which offers pretty amazing deals on in-season produce, especially when you buy in large quantities.

The frozen and canned produce were bought in-season from either the farmer's market or Shelton's.  Every time I've calculated the cost of my home preserved versus store bought, the home canned/frozen comes out cheaper.  It's obviously more work, but I love knowing where my food has come from and what is in it.  Plus, I enjoy it!  For me, it is worth my time.

The rest was bought through watching sales.  Meijer really has some good sales on staples, so when I see them, I stock up.  Recently all olive oil was 25% off, so I bought a gallon jug.  Their brand of pasta goes on sale for $.89 per 1 lb box.  And strawberries (though I much prefer local, we didn't freeze enough in June) can be gotten for $1/lb. 

Our fall preparations have also included storing more water and fuel.  Especially with little ones, if our power should go out for an extended period of time, I don't want to be too uncomfortable.  We still need some oil lamps and lamp oil, but I feel we could be reasonably comfortable in an emergency.  And considering that the average American doesn't have any sort of preparations or much of a pantry, I feel like we're a bit ahead of the game!


My week, in pictures

Picking apples

Pear sauce

The pantry is filling up!  Look at all my jars (the shelves are 5 jars deep)  :)

I promised myself a nice grain grinder if I started making my own bread...

Trains, trains, trains...


Under Construction

Please excuse the bare-bones layout.  I suddenly decided I hated the old one and wanted it gone.  Now.  :)