Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Homemade Lotion

Now that Christmas is over and the gifts have been given (I hope you girls enjoy), I can share the latest family project we've been working on: making lotion at home from natural ingredients. I found several recipes online (check out here and here if you'd like to see the inspiration for this recipe), and have outlined our "personalized" approach below. The results are a bit greasier than commercial lotion, but I have loved putting it on my feet at night with a pair of socks to cover it. Resulting skin is smooth and smells great. :)


1 cup filtered water or cold brewed tea
3/4 cup oil (olive, almond, or coconut)
1 tsp vitamin E oil
3 Tbsp. beeswax (grated or pellets)
Optional essential oil for fragrance

Add beeswax to oil of choice in a glass measuring cup or mason jar. You can use pellets or, if you have beeswax from a hive or block, you can shave it. Also add vitamin E oil now.

 Heat the oil and beeswax (still in the measuring cup or mason jar) in a pot of water on the stove. Heat it until the wax has melted. You'll know this has happened when you can't see shavings or pellets anymore.
 It looks like this when it's completely melted. Remove from hot water.
 Add the oil/wax mixture to the water/tea already in your food processor or blender. Keep the water moving as you very slowly add the oil mixture. You'll see the oil mixture begin to congeal (that's the white looking stuff in this picture). If you're adding essential oil for fragrance, do it now. I added lavender to this batch.
 This is how it will look once the oil mixture has been mixed for a minute or so.
 This is a horrible picture, I know. What I was trying to show here was some water along the sides. Do you see it? You can just pour off the extra water, mix again, and pour off the extra water again until you don't see much water separating anymore.
 Once the extra water has been poured off, this is how it will look.
 You're ready to put your lotion into jars when it reaches this consistency. Notice the clean glass jar in this picture? You'll want to keep the lotion in glass because so many plastics can leech nasty chemicals into your lovely natural product.
 Here's how they look when finished. These are 4 oz jars, and this batch filled them up pretty well. The recipe makes about 2 cups, but remember that it's going to be very hard to get all of it out of your blender or food processor. I filled these jars and used the rest to give my husband and myself a nice foot rub. :)
Note that this is a natural product made without preservatives. Store it at room temp for 3 months or up to 6 months in the fridge. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Making Homemade Vegetable Stock

I can't take credit for knowing how to do this- my mother in law (via my husband, I think) taught me how to make the most of veggie scraps by making stock. I use this method now all the time because it not only makes the most of the wonderful organic vegetables we get from our local farm, but because it avoids buying the sodium-ridden stuff you can buy at the store. It's fast, easy, freezable, and healthy. Can't beat it!

First, you must save some veggie scraps. Of course you can use whole carrots, celery, onions and the like, but why? As I'm cutting veggies for other meals, I put the usable scraps (that's the edible, clean pieces that just don't make it into my dish du jour) into a repurposed yogurt container in my freezer. Flavorful veggies are best, but they all can go in. When the container is full, it's time to make stock.

Pour the veggie scraps into a large pot and cover with water. You should aim for about 4-6 cups of veggies, and you can always add a whole onion or garlic for flavor. There are no exact measurements- just put the veggies into the pot and cover with water (how much will depend upon the size of your pot- I use a 6 quart). Then turn on the burner and let it come to a boil for an hour or and hour and a half. That's right, no specific time requirement, either. Just boil the mixture until the water becomes, well, vegetable stock. You'll know it's happened when the liquid is dark and tastes like stock. Feel free to add salt and pepper to taste, although I don't bother. Then let it cool completely because it's easier to measure out when it's cool.

Regrettably, I don't have a picture of the last step, but it's pretty straight-forward. You strain the liquid from the veggie scraps. I do this through a strainer right into a large measuring cup. I measure out several one-cup, two-cup and four-cup containers (make sure they are freezer safe because you keep the homemade stock in the freezer). Label the containers and stick them in the freezer- they are good for about six months. Don't forget to reserve the remaining veggie mush for your compost pile- because it's soft and cooked down it will be a quick compost additive.

Then make your vegetable soup! The picture below is the product of the homemade veggie stock, some cubed potatoes, green beans, cubed sirloin beef, tomatoes, carrots and kale. I make this soup by adding the listed veggies to the stock (already in the pot) and boiling them until tender. Again, salt, pepper, garlic, etc. can be added to taste.

You now have a completely healthy, homemade, frugal family meal! Serve with homemade biscuits for extra yum. :)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Lessons Learned in Homeschooling

"Too often we give children answers to remember rather than problems to solve." - Roger Lewin

I have been thinking a lot about this quote lately. I saw it on a friend's blog (who happens to have a home preschool) a few days ago and it struck a cord with me. I used to complain bitterly about kids in my public school classroom (when I taught high school) not being able to really question; rather, they were experts in discerning what the teacher wanted to hear and regurgitating it. We even reduced critical thinking problems to exercises in rote memory by doing the problems "together" on the board, having students copy the process, then testing them on it. Seldom did I have a student in class who was capable of hearing information, interpreting it, sharing their values and opinions, and creating a plan of action to address the problem/information. I blamed a lacking school system (and social structure, but let's not go down that road). It was so frustrating- and alarming.

Yet, what did I do when I began to teach my own children at home? What I had been taught to do in school myself- tell the children the fact, make them learn it, make them repeat it... the very same approach which had created the capricious students I taught in the public schools. Without thinking about what I was doing, I created specific hours when the children and I would sit at the kitchen table to "do school" and I mandated that we finish each lesson, each day so we didn't "fall behind". Sure, I finessed a lot more than I could in the mainstream classroom, and we often ate while we worked or wore our pajamas... but the fundamental approach was the same. Worst yet- the assumption that I was the one with all the answers to impart to the children- was the same.

At first it seemed OK because we were all excited to be embarking on this homeschooling journey together. But after a month or so the kids were complaining about doing school and I wasn't enjoying it, either. Suddenly, this freeing and exciting process wasn't either- it was plain, old school and I wondered what I was doing wrong?

So we took a break... for the month of November. Yes, the whole month. We did only the things that inspired us- when a child wanted to pull out one of the math books to do a few problems, we did. We learned to count by baking a lot. We did some fun looking science experiments we found on the internet. I set up a bulls eye with the alphabet in my kitchen and challenged the kids to hit the correct letters with a Nerf gun as I called them out. We learned how to say "I eat spinach!" in Japanese by watching dubbed over Popeye on YouTube. Don't misunderstand- we did a lot of learning, just not the way that I had learned how to learn.

Again I find myself at a crossroad. So short a time after I began my homeschooling journey I find that I must stop and re-evaluate. Typically I would see this as failure, but somehow that's not the case this time. The one constant that homeschooling has provided me and my family over the past four months has been forgiveness and flexibility, even as they apply to our perceptions of ourselves. I am slowly- oh, so slowly- beginning to realize that there is more than one way to do this well, and that the ways may change over time. I'm not failing, I'm just learning right along with the kids. I used November to read a lot of books about homeschooling, and to brush up on approaches I'd learned about in graduate school but never had the chance to practice. I am so looking forward to trying them out, scrapping some, embracing others, and discovering our own unique family blend of "school."

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