diy-oatmeal-packets

There’s just something about oatmeal for breakfast in the winter that warms my insides and makes me happy…even if it is still winter. I had been using the organic, more healthy version of oatmeal packets, and was pretty happy with the taste but not the price. I decided my next project should be sorting out making my own, as I do love making my own things. It is incredibly cost-effective and doesn’t require spending 20 minutes making a pot of oatmeal every morning!

This took a few tries to get right, but the most important thing is to start with toasted oats. I put about 6 cups of old-fashioned oats in the oven at 250 degrees for about 15 minutes. You might stir them around a little once or twice in that time to make sure nothing gets too browned. This toasting gives the oatmeal a nutty flavor like it has peanut butter in it, but without the actual nuts.

Take about half of the toasted oats and put in the food processor to blend to a flour-like consistency. This allows the oatmeal to get thicker when you cook it in the microwave or with boiling water or milk.

Now, add 4 Tbsp brown sugar, 1 tsp salt and about ¾ cup flaxseed meal. I love the added benefits flaxseed bring to the oatmeal, and also the taste. I mix this up and put it in an airtight container in the pantry.

On the mornings I want oatmeal, I measure about 1/3 cup of this oat mixture in a bowl, add about 1/3 cup milk (of course, vary this depending on how thick you like your oatmeal and you could use water instead) and microwave for a minute and a half.

That’s it! So easy! You could also divvy the oat mixture up into Ziploc baggies if you want something portable to take with you to work in the morning. It’s warm, nutty, delicious and cheap—all my favorite things!

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fear-natural-health

One of the things I’ve noticed about those in the natural health world is that often proponents of holistic living tend to be big on fear. They talk about how you are going to get cancer from all the things that surround you, lecture you on whether or not you eat organic and generally keep throwing things in your face about how you are doing it wrong. I don’t find any of that incredibly motivating.

I started looking at natural living stuff because of this fear in the beginning, but that has not been the motivation behind maintaining it. I realize that this lifestyle is something I’ve decided I will do the best I can and that will be good enough for me. If I am to cut out all things that might give me cancer, I will have to live in a bubble.

However, there are a few things I can do that will help lessen my family’s exposure to some of the carcinogens, and that is worth it to me. My husband is a firefighter who is on the Hazardous Materials Team at his department. Firefighters are already at a much higher risk for cancer than the average person, and the additional exposure he has by being on that team makes it even worse. I will not let the fear of the “what-if” dictate our lives, but I can do a few things at home to help lessen the carcinogenic exposure for him.

I also want to keep my kids on as natural a track as possible, and this has incredible benefits. We generally visit the doctor once per year for their annual checkup, and that’s it. My oldest is in public school and exposed to all the usual things, but he doesn’t get sick very often. My youngest gets sick more often than her brother, but she gets over illnesses much more quickly than most kids.

I attribute this to attempts at limiting the destruction of helpful bacteria (no hand sanitizer at my house), focus on unprocessed food to aid in good digestion (many say health begins in the gut), addition of helpful vitamins and minerals (daily multivitamin and probiotic), use of immune-boosters to prevent sickness (elderberry syrup is our go-to when we feel like we are getting something) and focus on natural cleaning and home products.

Now, that said, my kids still get sick and they still could get cancer. I hate it when parents with sick kids feel that they are to blame—we already beat ourselves up enough as parents, right? My hope is that in trying some of these things, I’ll give them the best chance of avoiding some of the hard illnesses, and the rest I leave with God.

So, why not give some of the natural living a shot without participating in the fear-mongering? It frees you up to sometimes do dinner out of a box, to sometimes buy a cleaning product instead of making it and to sometimes use Advil. And this makes me much more likely to stick with all the other things I’m doing to help because the standard isn’t impossible!

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7-tips-gardening-beginners

Ever thought about starting a garden? Something about gardening makes everything in my heart happy—the smell of the dirt, the excitement of watching a tiny plant pop up, the delicious flavor of the harvest. I just dig it. (Pun intended, haha.) I know some gardening beginners are a bit scared to start, and I’d like to throw out a couple of tips that might help as you plan your garden this spring.

  1. Only plant things that you and your family will actually eat. Or might learn to eat. Planting something just because someone else suggests you should or you think you should is pointless and you will probably end up wasting it.
  2. Plant things that you can preserve if necessary. I do plant regular cucumbers because my kids love them and will eat them as fast as they can produce, but pickling cucumbers make more sense because I can save them for later with pickling. Most things can be frozen (tomatoes, kale, squash, spinach, carrots, etc) so that makes it easy. I don’t plant a ton of lettuce though because we won’t be able to eat it fast enough and there isn’t much of a way to preserve lettuce.
  3. Try something new each year. I have made it my goal to try a new plant each year, but not more than one. If it fails, at least I have my other stand-by’s to make me feel the whole growing season wasn’t a waste, and I won’t do it again next year. Or I’ll try to learn more about it next year before I try it again.
  4. Make use of the wisdom you’ve got around you. One of my friends has taken the Master Gardener class here in Denver and she helps people who call in with garden problems. I, of course, can just text her and she will research the issue until we resolve it. You probably have something similar with the Agricultural office in your area. They can help you know when to plant things, what to do about bugs and disease and why your plant might not be doing well. Or find a friend who already gardens well and ask them.
  5. Make it automatic. Watering is key to garden survival and the only way mine survives is by having a drip system. I order from dripworks.com and can irrigate all my beds for a one-time price of about $100. I get a timer to put on the hose bib and my garden is watered every night by drip system, and I actually get veggies!
  6. Make it work for you. If you have only a small area, find plants that can be grown in pots. I’d start with tomatoes, kale and maybe some herbs like basil or cilantro. I swear kale will grow anywhere and through anything in the Colorado climate. I tell people if the world ever goes crazy, I’m planting a ridiculous amount of kale to support the family’s food needs.
  7. Trial and error is ok! Just get in there and start somewhere. You might actually find that you love it. Gardening is my therapy—it helps me clear my head and feel fulfilled when I see lovely bowls of produce I can bring in and cook.

Hope you will try a garden this year, or plan some new things in your current one!

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keep-sanity-cleaning-schedule-busy-moms

Mothering is important business, and it usually comes with a side of housework that can make your head feel like it’s always spinning. I have tried so many different techniques to sort out the cleaning in my house, and read countless blog posts, books, courses and such to try to get a handle on it. So, in honor of all the research I have done on the subject, I am sharing my current cleaning plan for the overworked, overstressed mother who is just trying to feel less like a failure. Isn’t that a sales pitch? Here’s how it works:

  1. Analyze your cleaning list (even if that list is in your head) for the major things each week that have to happen to maintain your sanity. This will probably be pretty specific to the individual. Mine are clean bathrooms, vacuum carpets, sweep and mop wood floors, trash and laundry. Now, if it were a perfect world and I had endless time, I would probably do a lot more cleaning (not true, actually, as in a perfect world I would hire someone to clean for me) but this is what I need to do to keep things sane around here and to keep me from feeling super stressed.
  2. Analyze your cleaning list for the major things that need to be done each day. I have slowly trained myself (after much kicking and screaming) to make my bed, clean off the kitchen counters, wash all the dishes and pick up things as I walk around the house. These are my everyday things, and they keep my sanity to a normal level. I protested them at first because I thought it sounded too hard (I sound like a real whiner, don’t I?), but I’ve realized I’d rather do them throughout the day and not have to get up in the morning and start a whole pile of things I wished I had done the day before.
  3. Assign a day each week for your major weekly duties. Here’s how mine looks:

Monday: Clean bathrooms and gather all trash

            Tuesday: Sweep and mop wood floors and put trash out on curb

            Wednesday: Vacuum carpets

            Thursday: Laundry

            Friday: Pick a chore (dusting, deep cleaning a room, reorganizing or decluttering a room, etc.)

Now, the key to this is that if I miss a day, it’s ok! This week I did clean the bathrooms on Monday, and I swept on
Tuesday, but I vacuumed on Tuesday as well because I had an extra minute. Now, I don’t worry about too much
on Wednesday because I’m ahead of the game. Or, if I have a big day of work on Monday, I’ll try to fit the
bathrooms in later in the week—Friday is very helpful because it is a day to catch up as well.

  1. Start requiring yourself to do your daily duties every day. I hated it at first, but after a while it became habit and now it feels weird not to do it. I can’t believe the reduction in my stress level when I wake up to a clean-ish house, though! And every time I walk in my bedroom throughout the day, I see the bed is made and realize I have at least had one accomplishment today! We are aiming small, people!
  2. Remember that for your season of life right now, you may have to reduce your standard a little. My bathroom cleaning is not deep cleaning every time. I only clean the bathtub every other week (if that) and I vacuum the upstairs carpets every other week or so as well. The downstairs carpets need vacuuming at least once a week, so that’s what I focus on. If there is very little time, I will pick the piece of the cleaning task that really needs to be done and focus on just that. So, maybe it would be nice to mop the floor but if I at least sweep it, things will be better—so I do that. This is about your sanity and what you feel needs to be done. If the dusting is the thing that bothers you more than anything, make sure that is done every week. That is so not my issue, so I focus on bathrooms and floors. Figure out what works for you and what helps you to feel more relaxed in your home.
  3. Reevaluate as you go and make sure this isn’t adding to your stress. My loose cleaning schedule is something that I’ve realized helps me to be better prepared when people come over (of course, my close friends have just learned to deal with my house in whatever state they find it) and it leaves me feeling very productive even if things are not perfect. My standards have been lowered, but I can still keep my house somewhat clean without cleaning for hours at a time or stressing myself out constantly about it.

Hope this makes it easier to get through the cleaning and allows you to relax more in the place you call home!

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honest-review-essential-oils

Essential oils can be such an overwhelming and trendy predicament. You have to figure out what the heck they are, where to buy them (and everyone has a scary story about that) and how to use them. I don’t work for an essential oils company, so I feel I can talk about them without a bias. I do have affiliate links to them on Amazon, but I am not particular to one brand as you will soon find out. So here we go!

What Are Essential Oils?

They are a highly concentrated form of the oil from a plant that has many great uses for health, beauty and home.

Where Should I Buy Them?

Ok, you probably have four friends who are selling different brands, and they all get a little crazy about how their company is the best, purest, most amazing thing that ever was. I have used a lot of different brands, and there are some I can tell a difference with and some I think are about the same. So, really honest truth here, most oils seem to be pretty good and try to be diligent about purity. I started with Edens Gardens on Amazon. I don’t think they are the best as I haven’t seen the results I have had with others, but if you want to start slow they are cheaper.

I love Rocky Mountain Oils (most of which you can find on Amazon), Doterra (also on Amazon), Young Living and Plant Therapy. They all seem to be very high quality and work well. There are probably lots of other brands that do as well—these are just the ones I’ve tried.

The issue I have with a lot of essential oils companies is that they make you buy into the membership somehow to gain access to cheaper prices. Why can’t they just let you buy them, I ask? I did the Doterra thing for about a year and finally got sick of feeling like I had to buy stuff all the time. This is why I go back to Rocky Mountain Oils often (free shipping and no membership!) and buying on Amazon if I want Doterra.

How Do I Use Them?

You can diffuse them (check out this amazing deal on this cute diffuser here) in your bedroom, living room, office, kitchen, etc. You can put them on your feet or other body part depending on the use, and often you need some sort of dilution with another oil.

Remember these are super concentrated, so you don’t want to go overboard. Some people use them orally but I haven’t done that besides the one time I threw back a drop of On Guard from Doterra and felt like my throat was on fire from inside—please don’t do that. Listen to what the bottle tells you about how much to use. Don’t go crazy here as a little is all you need—often just a drop or two.

I also make several beauty recipes with essential oils including miracle skin serum, body wash, shampoo and conditioning rinse.

Some Favorites of Mine

I know you didn’t ask, but I am always happy to offer my perspective on the best ones for the job. I love Deep Blue for muscle aches and headaches that start in your neck. I get the premade lotion because it’s just easier than mixing drops of the essential oil with something else. I use On Guard or Immune Strength for when I feel a cold descending on our house and am trying to get rid of it (usually by diffusing). I love Balance from RMO—it’s my perfume and it makes me so happy. On particularly stressful days you can watch me sniffing my wrists like an addict to find some stress reduction. I have used Ginger to alleviate motion sickness (mine is terrible if I’m not driving and I’m riding in a car up in the mountains) and just sniff the stuff the whole time I’m in the car so as not to…well, you know. I use Lemon in cleaning products that I make and it lends its lovely clean scent and helpful cleaning powers to them. Another favorite is Serenity which I use on the bottoms of my feet whenever I can’t sleep deeply (although my magnesium oil has made that less frequent). Rocky Mountain also has these great premixed kid rollerballs that you don’t have to think about when using on your kids. They aren’t on Amazon that I’ve found, but you can get them on their website directly. I love the Tummy Rub (I get the big bottle of this too for adult stomach issues) and Counting Sheep.

An Honest Review

So, no, essential oils will not solve every problem you have. And they may not even work on you like they did on your friend who loves them. But they are definitely worth a second look, in my opinion, as they can really have some great effects and provide you another way to really do some preventative care and take your health into your own hands. With the increased costs of healthcare these days, it’s worth checking into some of these little bottles to see if they might help deal with your issues before going to the doctor. (Of course, I am not a doctor and do not offer medical advice.) So, maybe hit up one of your friends who does this a lot and ask for a little sample. Or take the plunge and buy a bottle of your own. If you are going to start with something, I’d go with Lavender. That stuff is fantastic—relaxing (put some in your bath), soothing (for burns or cuts) and delightful. Give one a try and let me know what you think!

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real-food-snacks-trail-mix-snack-bags

One of my new favorite ways to make snack bags for my kids is make-your-own trail mix. I do realize this is an old trick, but it’s made me very happy recently as I can use up all sorts of random things from the pantry and still make my kids a nutritious and yummy snack.

Today, I pulled out a few things I thought would be fun together and made a mix of pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, raisins and sunflower seeds. It was a hit! The sky is the limit on prepping these bags. If you can do nuts (we can’t do nuts in the kids’ classroom so I didn’t add any here) you can throw in cashews or almonds. You can also do coconut flakes, dried apple pieces, or chocolate chips (especially if you are going to the movies—a tiny bit of candy of some kind makes it super special).

 

I prep these as my own snack bags in little Ziplocs that go in my snack box. That’s a box that lives in the pantry and contains things that the kids can pick from for snack. I often make or buy things in bulk and divvy them up into the little snack bags for grab-and-go snacks for the whole week.

Other things that work well like this are popcorn, crackers, raisins, and pretzels. It’s so much cheaper to buy a bigger bag and divide it up yourself. And if I make the kids popcorn, there is always a bunch leftover that I can throw into snack bags for the next few days. Easy, cheap and delicious!




 

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diy-fruit-leather

My latest fun project in the dehydrator is fruit leather. It is SO easy! And delicious! I took some on a hike the other day, and they are portable (something I struggle to find often in real food snacks) as well as being something the kids will actually eat and enjoy.

The possibilities for fruit combinations are endless. I have done a banana/apple, a strawberry/banana/orange, and a blueberry/banana. Keep in mind they might have different consistencies depending on how the fruits are so some will look prettier in the end than others. Some will also take way longer to dry. In my experience, go easy on the banana involved as it will take a really long time to dry if you have too much in there. I think my best mix has been one banana with strawberries and an orange.

This is the dehydrator I use, and so far I love it! I use the fruit rolls trays (they included two with mine). Whatever fruits I am combining go in the blender to be pureed. I didn’t measure for any of them (I know, shocker!) but the only variable will be that the thicker the fruit leather is, the longer it will take to dry. I would guess it was 2-3 cups of puree for those who are having anxiety thinking about not measuring.

Please don’t forget this step! Spray the fruit leather trays with some kind of oil or nonstick spray. I use my little Misto oil sprayer with olive oil. I forgot this once and I had to soak the trays overnight to try to get the fruit rolls off and had to throw the whole batch away.

Pour the puree into the fruit roll trays on top of the regular dehydrator trays, and turn it on to about 135 degrees. I let them go for about 4 hours and check to see if they are dry on top. If they are, I cut them into sections like a big pie piece and flip them over to allow the other side to dry more quickly. This takes anywhere from another 2 hours to another 10. I did a blueberry/banana combo the other day which I made too thick and put in three bananas and the thing still wasn’t really dry after 14 hours. I won’t do that again! The banana/apple one I made was too thin, I think, so it didn’t really roll as it had separated in the middle as it dried. I just pulled off the pieces, though, and they are so yummy!

You can roll these up into little fruit rolls or leave them flat. I keep them in the fridge until we want to take them somewhere—this helps them last a little longer. It is hard to make them last, though, as everyone eats them rather quickly around here!




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real-food-snacks-dried-apples

In my desire to eat more real food and fewer processed ones, I became interested in dehydrators to make jerky, dried fruit rolls, and dried apples. My first experience with a dehydrator was with one I had purchased from a garage sale for $5. It had no directions and I was too excited to look any up online, so I just went for it…and ended up melting things inside and destroying any chance of using it again!

So, for Christmas, my dad got me a new dehydrator (this one which is pretty inexpensive compared to a lot of them!), and this time, I pored over the instructions multiple times to make sure I had it right. (I sometimes learn from my mistakes.) I wanted to make fruit rolls but thought I’d start with something a little easier and do dried apple slices.

I used a mandolin to slice these apples after coring and peeling them. Quick public service message: Do not get comfortable with a mandolin ever! The thing will try to bite off your thumb.

 

I think I might just stick to slicing with a knife from now on. The slices are supposed to be about ¼” thick, but mine had large variety in slice size and it didn’t seem to matter. They won’t be as pretty as the store-bought variety, but the ones I make are literally gone within a couple of hours so the look of them doesn’t seem to matter.

I just laid out these slices on the dehydrator trays, trying not to overlap at all. Then, you pop the top on, turn it to 135 degrees and let the drying commence. I started checking them after about 4 hours, and pulled off any that were obviously dry. They aren’t supposed to have any moisture beading up when you rip one in half. I know that some recipes for these will suggest dipping them in lemon juice first to avoid discoloration, but I didn’t and really wasn’t bothered at all by the color they ended up being.

 

You can store these in the fridge to help encourage longer life and then pop them in a storage bag or lunch box when you are ready to use them. Of course, I have yet to see how long they keep as I haven’t had the opportunity to allow them time to sit—they are eaten by my family and me almost immediately. They are delicious!

 




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real-food-snacks-protein-bites

One of the hardest things for me in this journey to eat more real food has been finding snacks that are not processed and prepackaged. These little protein bites are a lifesaver in that department. My kids eat them at breakfast for a little punch of energy-rich foods, and also for snack in the afternoon. I have made them several different ways and they always seem to love them. They are easy to make, so mom loves them too!

You start with 1 cup of oats (I use these old-fashioned oats from Amazon) and 1 cup ground flaxseed. I usually add about 3 Tbsp chia seeds if I have them (did you know they have chia seeds on Subscribe and Save at Amazon?). You also need somewhere between ½ cup and 2/3 cup nut butter. I use almond butter because of my son’s peanut allergies, but you could easily use peanut butter, sunbutter, cashew butter—whatever floats your boat. Then about 1/3 cup honey.

After this, you can use what you have to round out the ingredients. This batch I made with ½ cup pumpkin seeds, ½ cup sunflower seeds, and ½ cup butterscotch chips. In the past I’ve used coconut, ground nuts, chocolate chips, and vanilla extract (make your own using this recipe).

I mix this up with my hands as I can’t get it mixed well enough with a spoon. Squish it all together for a bit and then roll into balls. (I really wanted to call these energy balls or protein balls, but there were too many giggles in my head.) Some people like to refrigerate it first and then roll it, but I prefer the texture like this. I then pop them in the fridge to let them harden up a little.

These little protein bites are tasty and healthy—they even can get you through a dessert craving when you just need a little something sweet. Use dark chocolate chips and you will really feel better about them!

 

Protein Bites

1 cup oats
1 cup ground flaxseed
3 Tbsp chia seeds
1/2-2/3 cup nut butter
1/3 cup honey
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup butterscotch (or chocolate) chips

Mix together with hands and roll into balls. Refrigerate.




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