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Soapmaking tutorial

I’m thinking about making my own bar soap for my house and to give to people as gifts. Today I researched YouTube to figure out how hard it would be to make soap. Here’s a comprehensive tutorial I found.

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Calendar thwarts “march of numbers” for nature

In early August, I received a direct message on Twitter from @ECOLOGICALCAL asking if I’d review the company’s ECOlogical Calendar if they sent me a copy. I agreed, and my calendar came in the mail shortly afterwards.

The vibrant artwork immediately caught my attention when I opened the calendar. The envelope that holds the calendar is decorated with a hand-drawn picture of bees pollinating pink flowers as the sun rises on the horizon. The cheerful, colorful artistic style continues throughout.

I became confused when I took the calendar out. I was not sure how to read it. An informational brochure in the package explains that Chris Hardman, an artist, decided to create a new type of calendar because he wanted to bring a greater understanding of nature’s cycles into modern living. The brochure says:

… as societies have grown increasingly urbanized and diversified through industrial and technological progress, the calendar has become more like a continuous, ineluctable march of numbers, a business machine telling us when to be where …

This new calendar gives a glimpse of the multitudinous interlocking phenomena that make a year on this planet the amazing event that it is: changing seasons, phases of the Moon, fluctuating tides, significant weather activity, the shifting biological behavior of flora and fauna, to name a few.

The brochure also explains how to read the calendar. There are different “bands” from top to bottom that give the user information about the sun, moon, tides, etc. The largest and most visually stunning band is in the middle: It contains colorful illustrations of different plants and animals that thrive during the seasons. At the very bottom you will see the months and dates from the traditional calendar.

Each of the four seasons is illustrated with one rectangular panel. I’m not sure if I would have room on my walls to hang up all four at once, so I would probably change them out as the year progressed. Even that way, it may be difficult for some people to find a convenient place to hang the calendar, since it’s an odd shape.

I think this product would be great for school rooms because the children would be able to visualize concepts they may otherwise find difficult to understand. The artwork would definitely catch the students’ attention.

Overall, I think this is a pretty cool idea. I especially like having a visual reminder about the length of daylight during different times of year, and the dates of the full moons. I’m happy to have a copy and I plan to hang it in my office as soon as 2012 begins.

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Our super-duper fizzy-water machine

Aaron and I splurged recently and purchased a SodaStream soda maker. I have to admit I learned about this device through an ad on my own blog … They got me!

SodaStream

Photo by Angela Morris

We’re completely enthralled with our soda maker and we’ve been drinking sparkling water nonstop since we bought it. You fill up the bottle with water, screw it into the machine, and press a button that inserts CO2 into the water. Afterwards, you can add flavor syrups to create real soda–Something we haven’t done yet.

We decided to splurge and buy our SodaStream after I did some research about the cost. We had been buying Topo Chico and club soda from the grocery store. We drank it so fast that we were spending a pretty penny keeping our stockpile up. We bought our SodaStream for about $90 at Sears, which seems like a lot of money. There were much cheaper soda makers on the market, but I decided to go with SodaStream because its CO2 canister will carbonate 60 liters of water; when it’s expired, you simply get it refilled (green). The other soda makers use small CO2 canisters that carbonate only one liter per use (wasteful). Over the long-term, I figured out, the SodaStream will actually save us money we would be spending on CO2. It definitely saves us money compared to buying sparkling water at the grocery store (and cuts down on garbage).

We have been so well hydrated since we bought this!

sparkling water

Photo by Angela Morris

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He’s a hard-working man

Photo of man on bike towing tiller on trailer

Photo by Angela Morris

A while back, Aaron rented a tiller from Home Depot and he towed it back to our house using a trailer attached to his bike. I’ve got a hard-working man! Aaron actually prefers riding his bike instead of taking the car. This was a very unusual trip, though, considering he was pulling 200 lbs. He used the tiller to prepare a new garden area in our backyard.

“There is no substitute for hard work.” – by Thomas A. Edison.

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What to do with a summer tomato crop

Okay, here’s the dilemma:

photo of bin full of homegrown heirloom tomatoes

Photo by Aaron Morris

We have a healthy crop of homegrown, heirloom tomatoes that all ripen simultaneously. It’s impossible to consume all the tomatoes raw, so we must preserve them before we lose all our hard work. It’s a great problem to have. But we still need a solution.

Solution one: make tomato sauce

photo of tomatoes cooking in pot on stove

Photo by Aaron Morris

Roughly chop the tomatoes, or you can leave them whole if you want to save time. Place oil in the bottom of a stock pot and cook the tomatoes over medium-high heat for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Puree the tomatoes with a hand immersion blender. Simmer the mixture over low heat until it’s reduced by half, or until you’ve gotten rid of enough water so the tomatoes are the consistency that you want. Now you can store the sauce in mason jars and can it (or freeze).

Solution two: make fire-roasted salsa

photo of homegrown tomatoes and peppers in pan on grill

Photo by Aaron Morris

Roughly chop the tomatoes. Also chop some peppers: we use a mixture of both red and green jalapenos and serranos, but you’ll have to decide based on the spiciness you’re looking for. Add some garlic and onions, too! Place the produce in a pan and roast them on a low-heat grill for about one hour. Cool the veggies to the touch, peel the skins and remove the seeds. Blend the salsa in a blender with some water, lime juice, salt, pepper and cilantro.Now you can put your salsa in mason jars and can (or freeze) it.

Solution three: can the tomatoes

photo of three canned jars of homegrown tomatoes

Photo by Angela Morris

This is a little more complicated, but it’s worth it because you’ll be able to use the tomatoes for any recipe. Immerse each tomato in boiling water for about one minute, and then transfer it to an ice-water bath. Cool the tomato to the touch and then peel off the skin. Chop the tomato and remove the seeds. Now your tomatoes are ready to can.

Canning is a complicated process and it should be the subject of its own post! In the meantime, check out this awesome website by the National Center for Home Food Preservation at the University of Georgia.

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Flowers attract the bees to pollinate the veggies

Pink and white poppy flower picture

Photo by Aaron Morris

We have a gorgeous wildflower patch on the side of our garden. Aaron grew flowers to attract bees, nurse which help pollinate the veggies in our garden. The photo shows a springtime poppy.

Earth laughs in flowers. – by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

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Are you lookin’ at me?

A Red Sexlink Hen peers out of the hen house grate.

Photo by Aaron Morris

Martha Washington, one of our Red Sexlink Hens, peers out the hen house door as Aaron snaps a photo.

“Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched.” – by Aesop.

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Tips for “no-work” garden

Greg Seaman of Eartheasy.com writes that he and his wife experimented with several techniques to make working in their garden easier. For example, unhealthy his family uses the no-till method of gardening, pilule spreads mulch liberally, plants cover crops in between seasons, plants only in raised beds, and uses an irrigation system for watering. “It took over 20 years of gardening to realize that I didn’t have to work so hard to achieve a fruitful harvest. As the limitless energy of my youth gradually gave way to the physical realities of mid-life, the slow accretion of experience eventually led to an awareness that less work can result in greater crop yields,” Seaman writes.

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Garden photo of the day

photo of backyard vegetable garden

Aaron & I are swimming in tomatoes right now from our backyard vegetable garden.

Aaron & I enjoy walking around on evenings after work, view checking on new developments in our backyard vegetable garden. In the background of the photo, you see the chicken coop Aaron made from recycled materials.

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Our chicks are growing fast

Aaron and I bought nine baby chickens a couple of weeks ago, and two turkey chicks. Our six adult chickens in February 2012 will reach their one-year anniversaries of laying eggs, which means their egg production could begin to decline. We bought the chicks now to begin growing them so they will be ready to lay by the time our adult chickens are decreasing their production. We bought the turkeys to eat at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Because it’s so hot in Texas in the summertime, it’s a good time to raise chicks. Otherwise you must keep them under a heat lamp so they don’t get too cold. The chicks are growing so quickly! Here are some delightful photos.

photo of one turkey and five chicks

Curious turkey and chicks

photo of one americana chick

Americana chick

photo of one Americana chick

Americana chick

Photo of adult Americana chicken

Hawk, our adult Americana chicken

photo of Barred Rock chick

Barred Rock chick

Photo of adult Barred Rock chicken

Booker, our adult Barred Rock chicken

Photo of four sleeping chicks

Sleeping chicks

photo of Rhode Island Red chick

Rhode Island Red (left)

photo of two Cuckoo Maran chicks

Cuckoo Maran chicks

photo of turkey chick

Turkey chick

photo of two baby turkeys

Turkey chicks

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