New Dollhouse Furniture: The Living Room Set

Hi, quick post today. I just wanted to share my new dollhouse furniture with you. I haven’t had much time to post lately, and I wanted to let you know I haven’t given up on blogging, but I maybe postponing it until January.

Without further ado, here is the furniture:

Living Room Dollhouse Furniture

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And remember to order your Christmas toys early. I don’t want anyone to be disappointed on Christmas Day (or whenever it is you celebrate your gift-giving holiday).

Happy Thanksgiving!

What Makes a Happy Home?

I was swinging in my hammock swing reading a book the other day and daydreaming about having enough vegetables and fruit to sell at the farmers’ market. I was thinking that I would need a name for my little enterprise. One of the names that bubbled up was, “Mama’s Happy Homestead” (in keeping with the Mama Made Them “brand”).

But immediately a sarcastic voice popped into my head and put left “Happy” dripping with sarcasm. It made me think of the emotionally scarred children of hippies and fundamentalists whose parents idealistic lifestyle ended up not producing the perfect home that they intended.

And it got me thinking: “what makes a happy home?” How can we conduct our everyday lives to ensure that our homes really are happy?

I know the quote, “Ask yourself whether you are happy and you cease to be so.” (John Stuart Mill) And I think there is some truth to that, but not entirely. If I ask myself whether I’m happy, the answer always comes back Yes. Sure there are details that are missing from my “ideal” life, but I always find myself so tickled that I can raise my son and do work that I love from my own home, that all the other stuff doesn’t really matter.

But just because I am happy, doesn’t mean that my son is (or if I were married and had other kids that the rest of my family is happy). What makes a happy home?

Well, what makes a happy human?

Ha, I am in way over my head, so don’t expect any philosophical treatises on the nature of happiness or anything like that. Let’s keep it simple.

Freedom

People need to be able to exercise their free will–even children! There are certain limits that we all live under, but children need to be able to feel like they have control over their lives. For us this means that my son doesn’t go to school unless he wants to (to date, he hasn’t wanted to), he isn’t forced to learn anything either. As a parent, it is a constant balancing act between the freedom we can allow and the things which we just can’t. But I have found that the more freedoms you allow, the more trust you gain that the kids can handle it.

Love

A happy home begins and ends with love. And with love we come back to the idea of freedom. A love that controls, that constantly finds fault, a love that doesn’t know when to let go, isn’t the kind of love we want for ourselves, so it shouldn’t be the kind of love that we give our families.

But love also means time together, in fact that is the main way that children (and even adult partners) experience love. Wanting to be around someone. Enjoying their company. Doing things that they enjoy. These are all ways to show love.

Love also means acceptance. How many grown men and women still feel threatened because they feel that their parents do not accept them? Whether it’s their career path, their religion (or the lack thereof), their lifestyle, a lack of acceptance equals a lack of feeling loved. Love means not trying to make your kids into what you wish you were or even what you are.

Safety

There can be precious little happiness where we feel threatened. Whether this threat is from physical violence (spankings included) or from emotional/verbal violence, it takes a toll on our mental health. Twice I have lived in situations (as an adult) where there was tension, and you always had to watch your back and be careful what you said, and it’s a terrible way to live. Think how many millions of children live like that their whole childhood.

Safety also means just that: That someone is watching out for us. That there is someone to catch us when we fall. As a believer in freedom, it’s a constant struggle to find the balance between protecting and enabling. The answer (though far from definitive) is to let the child determine your level of involvement. For a baby that means you will be holding them a lot, because that is what makes them feel safe. As a toddler, they’ll want you around. As they get bigger, they will take more and more freedom, but rarely more than they can handle. The important thing is being around to catch them when they’ve bit off more than they can chew.

I have found that allowing my son to determine on his own what he can handle (from climbing on the playground equipment as a crawler to weaning himself to walking over to his friends’ houses on his own to crossing the busy road) has allowed him to become stronger and more capable every day.  But I didn’t just throw him out there to figure it out on his own, which would have been scary and threatening. I spotted him on the jungle gym when he was just learning how to climb. I was there to nurse him or not when he needed it until he weaned himself. I walked with him many times to many different places before he started going by himself.

 

These are my top three things that make a happy home, and I feel that they encompass most other smaller things that I thought of as well.

Far from being a checklist, this list must be a constant reminder. Something we come back to again and again, especially when things are hard and busy, because they are a matter of course. Of course we want our children to be free and feel loved and safe, but we need to check and make sure that our actions are following our words. And as they get older (especially teenagers), check in with them and see how they perceive the happiness of their home and be open to what they say even if it is hurtful.

What about you? What do you think makes a happy home? Did I leave anything out?

 

Saving Money by Canning/Shopping at the Farmer’s Market

You really can save money by shopping at the farmer’s market and canning/freezing/preserving your purchases. People often express doubt that farmer’s market shopping can really save you money. The problem is they are looking at it the wrong way.

If you shop at the farmer’s market as a typical consumer, you may save a little on grocery store prices (and the flavor will get you hooked), but you’ll generally be paying full market price for your purchases. BUT if you are serious about eating real, local food, you will start saving money fast.

1. You can save money by buying in bulk.

Ready for peeling

Ready for peeling

For my salsa endeavor, I contacted an organic farmer at one of the markets I go to. I asked her for a bushel of tomatoes. That bushel (roughly 50 lbs) cost me $24-about 50 cents a pound. And they were amazing tomatoes-red straight through, juicy, sweet. I also bought the onions and jalapenos from her at a discount as well. I spent a total of $40 on ingredients.

For my 29 pints of salsa, and the accompanying juice and sauce that I got from the skins of the tomatoes, I saved $60 on buying 29 jars of Tostitoes salsa 3.5 quarts of tomato sauce and 3 quarts of tomato juice. Sixty dollars is nothing to sneeze at. Plus the salsa I made was with all organic ingredients, unlike the kind I buy.

Even if I count the cost of the canning jars ($20 for 24), which I don’t, since I’ll be able to use those for the rest of my life, I still come out ahead.

2. You can save money by adding value to your purchases. 

 

The salsa is a case in point. Tomatoes-cheap. Salsa-expensive. I also make tomato basil soup out of the tomato sauce that I make. Buying canned organic soup (like Amy’s brand) is expensive. But if I make it myself, I can make it vegan, low fat, low salt and even more delicious than the higher fat, higher sodium, non-vegan canned version.

But this applies to all your purchases. If you cook it yourself, you will save money. You can buy all organic produce at a fraction of the cost it would cost you at the grocery store.

I now buy local, organic whole wheat flour. It costs a little over a $1 a pound, which is more than bagged flour at the grocery store (which is about 50 cents a pound), but much, much less than buying bread someone else made at the farmer’s market or the grocery store.

3. You can save money by having a relationship with the farmers. 

I am now friends with some of the farmers at the markets I go to, but even the ones that I am not actually friends with, they know me. Trust me, if you start buying food to feed your family (not just a tomato or two in August) at the farmer’s market, you will quickly get on your farmers’ radars.

I get discounts from practically every farmer that I buy from. They throw in extra apples. They save me bags of day old corn that they won’t sell. They give me an extra heads of lettuce.

I didn’t start buying at the market to get deals like this obviously, but it’s a natural byproduct of buying from real people, instead of corporations.

4. You save money by buying what is abundant at the time.

Tomatoes don’t keep more than 5 or 6 days. Lettuce and other greens must be refrigerated in order to last any time at all. Berries won’t last a day without refrigeration. When things are in season, farmers need to sell them, and if there is a bumper crop, they need to sell LOTS of them.

So when peppers are flooding the market after the first frost, you need to stock your freezer. When it’s tomato season, you need to be making sauce, salsa, juice, and whatever you like to preserve. Because that is when you can save money. Making tomato sauce from grocery store tomatoes in January isn’t going to save you any money, but making sauce out of tomatoes that are flooding the markets in August and September will (especially if you plan ahead and talk to your farmer about a bulk order).

 

I’ll be making tomato sauce this week from another bushel of tomatoes, so I’ll give you the breakdown on my cost and savings for that. How do you save money at the farmer’s market?

 

We have bees!

I have often considered getting some bees. It would be a homegrown source of sugar and beeswax, and they would help to pollinate my garden. But it was one of those things that I would do “someday” “next year” and probably never get around to it.

Well, my friend called me up the other day, and said, “How soon can you make a top bar hive?” (A top bar hive is the type of hive that I was planning, someday, to have.)

Um, today?

So I did. fortunately I was well stocked on wood, because I still don’t have my car back. I found plans online, and I built a top bar hive. It took me bits and pieces of most of the afternoon and evening, and I finished the roof the next morning. That afternoon, they brought over the bees.

We had to hack out a piece of our “jungle” of weeds and grape vines and level out a spot with a shovel and some cinder blocks, but finally we were ready for the bees.

You can see how steep a slope we're on in this picture.

You can see how steep a slope we’re on in this picture.

My hive is on the left. Their little top bar hive, that they were using to store the swarm is on the right.

My hive is on the left. Their little top bar hive, that they were using to store the swarm is on the right.

Caleb is keeping the smoker going.

Caleb is keeping the smoker going.

Our beekeeping friends at work installing the bees, tearing apart their old home, giving them a new place to build...

Our beekeeping friends at work installing the bees, tearing apart their old home, giving them a new place to build…

We saw a bee hatching!

We saw a bee hatching!

Caleb wanted to get closer, so he bundled up best he could and got right next to the hive.

Caleb wanted to get closer, so he bundled up best he could and got right next to the hive.

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All safe and sound.

There was only one bee sting, and that wasn’t until they were about to leave and were shooing the escaped bees out of their car. The bees were surprisingly calm about their home being torn to pieces. Maybe they just know they are going to love it here.

It’s pretty late in the year to start a hive, but the bees couldn’t winter over where they were, so we hope they’ll have enough time to get established this year. We’ll have to feed them through the winter to be safe, but hopefully next spring we will have a thriving colony of honeybees!

It was all so sudden. One day we were just gardners, and the next, we’re beekeepers too! I guess that’s the way life is. You think and you plan and all the sudden, life drops an opportunity in to you lap, and you have to grab it.

Bait Your Slugs

I love strawberries. In my coming garden expansion I have several of the new (as yet unformed) beds earmarked for strawberries. Strawberries are basically the perfect fruit, particularly for the gardner. You don’t have to wait 5-10 years for them to bear fruit or even 3 or 4 to have a significant crop like a raspberry.

Strawberries are the fruit for instant gratification. They are perfect fresh in any way imaginable. They freeze wonderfully. You can make them into the best jam of any fruit. They’re delicious in smoothies.

I have a 6′ x 6′ bed filled mostly with strawberry plants. There are some pepper plants on one side, but the strawberries are slowly taking over the bed. Another great benefit of strawberries- they reproduce themselves!

But every year, the slugs get more fruit than I do!

But not anymore.

I have heard of baiting slugs with beer before, but I couldn’t see wasting alcohol on slugs, and I doubted it’s effectiveness.

But not anymore.

I had some Corona leftover from last Thanksgiving. I bought too much, didn’t have room for it in the fridge, don’t drink much myself, especially in the winter, and it got skunked. So it’s been sitting around for months and months, because I’m too lazy to dump it down the drain.

I remembered that a few days ago, and decided to put it to work in my garden.

You fill a shallow dish with beer, and bury ground level in your garden. Well, you should bury first, and then fill it with beer. Then wait until morning….

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BOO YAH!

If I had chickens or ducks, they’d be having dessert. Alcohol soaked slugs! Yum.

I’ve done this for four days in a row and had a nice crop of slugs every day, though never as many as the first day. And for my pains, delicious strawberries with no slug holes!

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After some internal debate, I decided to consume them all in an orgy of self gratification.

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Project Tuesday-Make a Slingshot

So yesterday was the second week of Project Tuesday-the day my son and I make a craft project together. I have rules for these projects-not set in stone rule, but serious guidelines.

First and foremost: NO JUNK. No useless, waste of time “craft” projects that you want to throw out as soon as they are finished. You know, the kind you used to do in elementary school or sunday school.

Second and corollary to the first, it must be useful or beautiful. Mostly useful. :)

Sling shots are very useful for a kid. They can be used for target practice, “hunting”, fighting off bad guys, and all manner of defensive and offensive maneuvers. We used instructions from this blog. But it’s pretty self-explanatory.

Cut a fork out of a tree banch, not too thin a branch, or it will break. Let the kids do the sawing, because that’s the most fun part of this whole project. (sorry no pictures of this step, since I didn’t bring my camera down to my neighbor’s stick pile (they have all the trees).

Come back up the the house and cut out a rectangle piece of leather or heavy duty felt or fabric, and poke/cut/finagle a hole in each end.

don't worry, he washed his breakfast dishes later :)

don’t worry, he washed his breakfast dishes later :)

Then attach 2 rubber bands together, and then attach each set to the leather piece. I found it works well to use broccoli rubber bands (the really thick kind) for attaching the pouch part to the wood. And we used 2 thin hair elastics type rubbers to attach to the leather, because that was all I had handy.

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Caleb felt the need for a target, so we got a large cardboard box, and he painted a target on it.

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Ready, Aim, Fire!

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New Toy-Crane/tow truck!

Just stopping by to share my new toy.

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This is a simple little crane for your little one’s construction site. It’s made of cherry and walnut wood and is six and 3/4″ long. The boom swivels 360 degrees and goes up and down. It’s finished with my homemade beeswax polish.

The construction worker is 3/4″ in diameter and is painted with watercolor paint and finished with a water based lacquer.

It also doubles as a tow truck! 

Enjoy!

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Salsa

Life is funny. You can be humming along, just fine and dandy, feeling like you’ve got it all under control, and then all the sudden, the transmission goes out on your car. Two days before a craft show. In the middle of the road. When most of your available funds are tied up in fall craft show fees. Worst timing ever.

But at least I made it to the farmers market first! My car was towed home with a bushel of tomatoes on the seat ready to be made into salsa.

Ready for peeling

Ready for peeling

Making salsa from a whole bushel of tomatoes is a great way to keep your mind off your troubles. For one thing, it’s such an insanely huge undertaking, it’s going to take you the better part of 2 days to get it all accomplished.

For one thing, salsa is serious business around here. I may have mentioned my Tostitos addiction at some point? And runny food processor made salsa is not going to cut it. I’m sorry, it’s just not. This recipe is the best homemade salsa EVER.

At least I had help with the peeling...

At least I had help with the peeling…

So you’re going to have to hand chop all those tomatoes that you just cored and peeled. Then you’re going to have to let as much of the juice drain out of them as possible before you cook them down to a nice chunky salsa texture.

the assembly line

the assembly line

And of course salsa doesn’t just have tomatoes. There’s 18 green peppers to chop, 20 or so jalapenos, and 12 cups of onions, not to mention all those limes you have to juice to get 3 cups of juice (which you never manage to buy enough of, and always end up substituting bottle lemon juice for the extra). And of course you forgot about peeling 30 cloves of garlic as all the paper is getting stuck to your fingers.

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This gadget makes nice square diced peppers. And it's fun for your kids too!

This gadget makes nice square diced peppers. And it’s fun for your kids too!

So yeah, you really don’t have time to worry and feel sorry for yourself. Especially when you have to bike (car is busted, remember?) down to Dollar General to get the tomato paste, because you don’t have enough of the homemade stuff from last year left. But at least you can pick up some chips and beer while you are there.

By the time you actually get the salsa finished, it’s around midnight, and there is no way in hell you are canning it tonight, so that gets left until tomorrow.

I mixed all the pots together in here to get even distribution of spices and vegetables.

I mixed all the pots together in here to get even distribution of spices and vegetables.

The next day you get canning first thing (around nine, because you woke up late, because you were up until after midnight, remember). After you have your 29 pints of salsa canned, you get to work on the skins and cores, because there is no way you are wasting all that free sauce. (check out how to make sauce from your skins on northwest edible life)

And then there is all that juice that you drained from the raw tomatoes, which really must be cooked down and canned…

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Once you are done with all of that (3.5 quarts of sauce from the peels, 2.5 quarts of juice), the kitchen is a disaster and you have no desire to clean it up. That can wait. 2 days later you finally manage to get ever last pot done and the sink scrubbed out, and you vow to never make a sextuple batch of salsa again. At least until next year.

Yum.

Yum.

Project Tuesday-Lego Shelf

Being September and all, I feel the need for added structure and organization. Something about “back to school” time is ingrained in me now. Maybe it has to do with wanting to get serious after the care free days of summer.

Anyway, just because we’re unschooling here, doesn’t mean we don’t have any structure, but we do very little on a weekly basis of our own accord. Until now…

Enter Project Tuesday! Every Tuesday, we’re going to do a craft project together and post about it here on the blog.

Today’s project was making a lego shelf for Caleb’s houses which are generally just piled in a heap on top of the shelf that we keep the larger baskets/boxes of toys on. It’s been bothering me for a while, and I got the idea for this shelf about a year ago.

But you know that saying about the shoemakers children always going barefoot? Yup, that’s us. I do so few woodworking projects to benefit us, it’s embarrassing.

Anyway, for the lego shelf, we took boards that were too warped or cracked to use for making salable toys and used them for this project. We used 1×12’s and cut the shelf boards just long enough to fit the large square green plates on. For the side pieces we also used 1×12’s and cut them about 3 inches high, which was tall enough for the tallest buildings that he had (we usually build buildings to 3 blocks high, but there was a castle that was about 5 or 6 high.

After Caleb (with much supervision and help and only one heart attack by his mother), cut the boards himself on the miter saw. He was quite proud of this. If it had been a smaller board and a smaller project I would have had him cut it with a handsaw, but this would have taken too long.

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After the pieces were cut, we both hammered them together (he did one side, I did the other). I would have been fine with gluing the whole thing, but hammering is fun for little boys so that’s what he chose. We did end up gluing the parts together that we couldn’t hammer, but there was much hammering before then.

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It could use some sanding, and he wants to paint it navy blue (his favorite color), but it looks pretty good–much better than a messy jumble of houses that are always falling off and breaking.

And after lunch we had a story about Mr. Butter Nut aka SQUASH MAN!

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Mr. Nut was then joined by Mr. Pumpkin, Mr Onion, Mr. Carrot, and Baby Tomato. Hardneck Garlic joined the party from the fridge and Apple Man came with him.

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Keep your sense of humor and have fun!