Saturday, December 2, 2017

Thanksgiving Challege, Week 1 - Ditch the Disposable Swiffer!

Last week, I talked about how convenience (and mom brain) has made it hard to think clearly when it comes to self-sufficiency. I challenged Francis to one year of blogging weekly tips for cutting waste, saving money, and helping the planet. But you know, none of that crunchy liberal hippie shit, just practical tips from the Olden Times. ;)

Let's talk about disposable cleaning products for a sec, shall we? I think many of my weekly tips will probably be on this topic. Disposable cleaning products may be convenient and reduce the ick factor (I get it, I have two big and rowdy dogs), but they don't breakdown in the landfills, nor can they be composted. Plus, every single box you buy is unnecessary packaging, shipping on trucks, etc. I'm not saying you have to throw away your Swiffer mop if you already have one, but consider some more environmentally friendly alternatives to those cloths. Contrary to marketing, they are not magic. A microfiber cloth or a crocheted reusable cover will do the job just as well.

If you are crafty, there are many patterns online for Swiffer Sweeper covers, and I even found one for the Swiffer Duster! If you're not very crafty but would like a reusable Swiffer Sweeper crocheted cover, I can hook you up! Just email me:

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving Challenge

Yesterday was one of those days that is depressingly common this past year, where the news just gets to be too much. We dropped Lil off at my parents and went out to dinner, and our discussion of gardening and landscaping plans for 2018 turned towards making our whole house and property more sustainable. We talked about hydroponics and aquaponics, vertical gardening and keyhole gardening, rainbarrels and ponds, extending our backyard fence to make room for chickens, solar for the garage to power the electric car. 
Fast forward to today. It's Thanksgiving, we don't have plans with family today, and there's plenty of food in the house but we didn't really plan ahead for lazy snacking. We have dip mixes but are out of mayo, I'm sad I didn't buy anything to make a pie, we don't have any frozen snacks besides Costco pizza rolls. HEIGHT of privilege happening in this house right now. Francis says, "Well, Target is open." Y'all, I love Target and I do give them a huge chunk of our monthly income, but no, I can't support being open on Thanksgiving. I just can't. Not because I need chips.

"Not because I need chips." That thought actually did go through my head and yet. AND YET. I thought about our conversation last night, and what would happen if there was a global catastrophe and I couldn't go to Target at the drop of a hat. We really like salty snacks in this house. What would we snack on that we could grow ourselves? Could I make crackers and chips? Yes, be embarrassed for me that it didn't occur to me for like 5 minutes that we have a bag of baby potatoes and yes, I can in fact make chips. Mom brain, it's no joke.

As Francis and I sorted through the bag of forgotten potatoes and sliced them for chips, I told him we should challenge ourselves from now until Thanksgiving 2018 to write a blog once a week about replacing one of our lazy or wasteful habits with a new sustainable skill that will save money and help the planet. I hope we can show others that anyone can learn these things and do better!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Mom Awakening

Lately I feel like I've come out of a mom fog and I wonder if this is common when your kid turns two. I feel like most people I know have another baby at this point, or are about to, and maybe they struggle longer with finding or retaining their identity. We are "one and done" and this month has been a big month of personal growth for me, which seems to hinge on the fact that Lilly is old enough to ask for what she wants or needs. Hugs, milk, snack, Sophia the First. Her needs are simple.

Since she has turned two I've been trying to maintain more of a schedule as we explore the idea of homeschooling. I'm not trying to be Rick Moranis in Parenthood, but I've been keeping a journal of what we are doing with our time, just to see if I, personally, can maintain this kind of discipline. The side benefit to this is that I'm much more aware of how I'm spending ALL my time, and have been working to find a balance when the scales are tilted. Being self employed requires an enormous amount of discipline as it is, but when your hustles are GemstraDisney vacation planning, and social media in general, it is super easy to slide into unproductive internet time.

So now I have this semi-independent child and I've just been feeling like I need SOMETHING. Maybe it is reading Harry Potter again and maybe it was the eclipse, but I started thinking about how I used to always meditate with the runes on Monday mornings, and I haven't had time for THAT in two years. It's an awkward thing to attempt when your "me time" tends to be from 11 to midnight, to be shuffling a bag of rocks when your spouse is trying to fall asleep. The set of runes I have from college feels like it's from a different lifetime, so I keep procrastinating while shopping for a new set.
This weekend Francis gave me the gift of an entire day to work in a silent house, and I found my old rune set and old journal, and did a reading that was very familiar to this impatient and ambitious old Slytherin. For me, the runes are a mediation tool that enables a conversation with myself, but it's always kind of uncanny to draw the same ones over and over, year after year. "Settle down, Beavis," is my most common theme. I get anxious, I get impatient, and I need to remind myself not to be the farmer who tugged on his new shoots to "help". The very next day I saw a new situation emerge as a result of taking a step back to evaluate my goals.

I think my Mom Awakening might need a night in a hotel to catch up on all the things that have been dogging my progress in the past six months or so. I need to start with a clean slate and remember my why: that everything I do is for more TIME. More time with my family, more time for myself, more time sharing happiness. I really feel like sharing joy is living my best life, and I can be more focused in my intentions if I just have one 24 hour period to clean out the digital and mental clutter.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Eclipse 2017

The eclipse didn't really hit my radar until we were planning a spur of the moment trip to Orlando and Francis said he wanted to be back in St Louis for it. Of course, I follow tourism news and knew that the eclipse path was expected to get a huge amount of traffic, and I knew it was a BFD that our house was in the path of totality, but I guess I didn't think about it much specifically because we did not need to leave the house to see it. We both work at home, so Francis simply shifted his lunch hour and we just have to walk outside.

I was a little concerned about managing Lilly, but I figured I could stick her on the front porch. and I would miss it if I had to. The leaves make cool patterns because trees create a pinhole camera effect, so at least I'd have that. As it turned out, I misjudged the position of the sun at that hour, and our giant tree in the front yard completely obscured the sun. After running into the back yard with glasses a few times while she stood at the back door, I knew I would not want to stay on the porch, and frankly, there was no reason to. We set her up in a chair at the back of the house with her "ABD" book while we watched on the south side, and she never tried to get up to see what we were looking at.

I saw so many parents in the weeks leading up to the eclipse saying they were not letting their kids go to school, not letting them go outside, not trusting their teachers to protect them. I even saw someone say the sun puts out negative energy during an eclipse that is magnified by the moon. And then on the other side I saw blogs from astronomers saying that seeing a total eclipse was the most amazing thing of their childhood, that it made them want to be a scientist, that it was the most literal definition of awesome. How could I hide her inside during such a primal connection with the cosmos?

I get that as a parent you want to protect your kids. But you have to let them fly! Risk can be managed. I don't know what Lilly will remember from her 3rd year of life, probably not anything that will determine her future career. Being self employed, I see the effects of taking risks and the results of playing it safe, every day. I hope that even if Lilly doesn't remember this specific day, her cumulative childhood experiences nurture her to find fun in flexibility and rewards in risks (within reason, of course).

Monday, August 14, 2017

Domestic Goddess - Almond Milk & Almond Flour

A couple months ago when I was at Costco, and had just recently read a sobering article about the living conditions of dairy cows, I picked up a case of almond milk. I didn't really like that there were more ingredients than almonds, water, and MAYBE a bit of flavor (vanilla, sugar, whatever). So right there in the aisle, I googled "How to make almond milk" and I was BLOWN AWAY at how simple the process is. Anyone can do it!

First, you soak the almonds overnight in a bowl. You'll have the best tasting almond milk if you change the water a couple times. I usually let them soak for about 24 hours. Two tips I have learned from countless Google sessions: Costco really does have the best prices (3lbs for $12-13), and you can also blanch the almonds instead of soaking. Personally, I liked to just dump 2c in a bowl and walk away.

After you soak, you can leave the skins on, or you can peel them. If you leave the skins on, after you strain it, you'll have almond meal from the pulp. If you peel them, you get almond flour. I have tried it both ways, and in my opinion the milk tastes better when you peel them, it's much easier to strain, and almond flour is more useful than meal in my kitchen. Peeling sounds tedious, but once you have soaked the nuts, it's very easy to pinch the almonds right out of the skin. Takes me no more than 15 min to pinch 2c of almonds... if I am not trying to play Kingdoms on my phone at the same time.

Once you have peeled the nuts (or not), just put them in the blender. With 2 cups of nuts (pre-soaked), I fill my blender up to the top line. I was drinking whole milk before I switched, so your taste may vary. Pulse a couple times and then let it run for a couple minutes. Sidenote:  This old Emeril 3-in-1 BAM food processor/blender/juicer that has served me well for more than a decade but is probably on it's way out. I need recommendations for space saving multi-use appliances!

My third tip: for the love, buy a nut milk bag (affiliate link). You may not even make almond milk twice if you try to use cheesecloth instead, ESPECIALLY if you don't peel the nuts. The Ellie's Best one I linked to truly is worth every penny.

Here's where you start channeling your inner Caroline Ingalls: What is left over in the bag after you've squeezed out all the milk is NUT PULP and all you have to do is dry it in the oven and send it through the food processor (coffee mill?) for a couple minutes to have almond meal/almond flour. As I mentioned earlier, I prefer the texture of almond flour. I just spread it out on a cookie sheet in a 200 degree oven for 2 hours (I stir it up - carefully - halfway through) and when it's done I just buzz it through the food processor long enough to break up any big chunks.

And here's where you go next level: try to find an almond flour banana bread recipe (to use up those 3 black bananas we have every week) that ISN'T full of insane paleo/keto/gluten free ingredients you don't have on hand. Look y'all: I just want to avoid food waste. Let's not get crazy. Lucky for you, I managed to find one, which IS paleo but is NOT full of crazy ingredients, and it makes a delicious loaf of bread. So delicious, in fact, that Stella (our Great Pyranees/Border Collie puppy) ate the whole first loaf I made, and let me tell you how many tears I shed over how all my pioneering skills had been wasted on this stinkin' dog. The recipe is super easy, though, and a few days later I had enough almond flour for another loaf. The whole family gave the second attempt two thumbs up!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Science at Sunset

A friend said I should do a "What is Lilly Doing Today?" blog, and it reminded me when I closed Craves, Caves, & Graves, one of the things I wanted to do with a new blog was to keep that focus on learning and discovering new things to do around town. Since before Lilly was born, I've always had the idea of homeschooling/unschooling/road schooling in mind, and now that she's a toddler it's a constant buzz in my head. We still have some time before making a final decision, but I'm always looking for educational opportunities outside of the house. We have memberships to Missouri Botanical Garden, St Louis Science Center, St Louis Zoo, and the parking pass for Grants Farm, and when it's not ungodly hot (I wilt) we try to take advantage of the family nights/member nights during the summer.

Last week we went to Science at Sunset at the St Louis Science Center! The Science Center is open until 8pm on Thursdays during the summer, and you have time to catch ONE MORE on August 10! There are food specials and live music outside in the Grow pavilion, and all kinds of fun activities, and a special price for the King Tut exhibit. This week you can learn beekeeping basics!

On our visit we learned about milk and cow burps, aka "why I have started making almond milk at home." Methane from dairy farms is a huge contributor to greenhouse gas (not sure they mention this since it's sponsored by Prairie Farms). We do still buy cows milk for Lilly but cutting out my daily chai latte with whole cows milk cut our consumption by 1/3! 

Did you know that 30% of landfill trash in the City of St Louis is yard waste and food waste? We recently started composting (and got a Great Pyrenees/Border Collie pup who loves fruit & veggie scraps) and the reduction in our trash has been huge. It DOES matter which dumpster you use!

We have been talking about redoing our landscaping to get rid of grass and plant more native/useful plants, so I was very interested in this native prairie strip. We also talked about visiting Epcot Flower and Garden Festival next year for more landscaping inspiration, because they always do amazing things with edible plants.

Another thing that reminded us of Epcot is the greenhouse aquaponics area, just like Living with the Land! Aquaponics is a system of aquaculture in which the waste produced by farmed fish or other aquatic animals supplies nutrients for plants grown hydroponically, which in turn purify the water.

Don't forget to stop by the fermentation station for beer & wine, plus fermented foods! The pretzels are the best! There is much, much more to see in the Grow pavilion, and it's always accessible whenever the Science Center is open.

Monday, July 31, 2017

I'm Killing It Today!

I need to pat myself on the back for a minute: It's Monday, and it's the last day of the month, which is double cray when your business is sales. Despite this, I got us to story time at the library (EARLY EVEN), made almond milk, and also have the pulp drying in the oven right now for future almond flour needs. I found a great banana bread recipe for almond flour, so I can use those last couple bananas from every bunch. Yesterday I managed to cut up a watermelon and 2 lbs of strawberries for snacking. I'm feeling like I leveled up as a WAHM, and it's only taken 2 years!

We've been talking a lot about homeschooling, because it is just a really good fit for our family, so I've been following lots of homeschooling parents and resources on Instagram. Here's something telling: when my amazing day of productivity sent me to Pinterest to keep track of some of these things, I realized I hadn't used my account since before Lilly's first birthday. Maybe that first birthday Pinterest pressure is what drove me away. Ha!

The "Pinterest Mom" pressure is one of the things that has made me nervous about committing to the idea of homeschooling. I'm a field trip mom, not a craft time mom. But some of her school has to be at home, and do I have what it takes to make learning fun? All those different ways to use pom poms and macaroni. I'm just not crafty-creative. When I do a spontaneous craft, it's to solve a problem and usually involves math. I was beside myself with excitement when I discovered M is for Monster on Instagram last night! I immediately subscribed to the mini box and can't wait to share it. I've miss blogging to share fun!

Speaking of craft time, though, I am working on a Craft-a-Thon event for October where people can get together to work on a project all day, get some adult conversation, not be interrupted by their kids every 5 min, and have lunch and snacks included. I have a request in for a St Louis hotel conference room I've used before that is conveniently located across the street from Joanns. If that sounds good to you, let me know that you want to get on my list!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Missouri Botanical Garden Chinese Lantern Festival: Magic Reimagined

Big news! The Chinese Lantern Festival has been extended through the end of the month! Fans of Craves, Caves, & Graves may remember that we covered the 2012 Chinese Lantern Festival, and heck yes, it was amazing at night time! A once in a lifetime opportunity, until they decided to do it twice! But.... when you have a new baby, maybe $52 for two adults is a bit rich for your blood and you're wondering if visiting in the daytime is just as good. Honestly, if you can swing it you should see it at night. HOWEVER,  the Garden is free on Saturday morning, and the lanterns are really quite impressive in daylight. I was happy to spend the money we saved on lunch at Sassafras, because their chicken salad is soooo good.

The Botanical Garden on Saturday morning is very much the stroller and gray hair set. I was surprised that even though the parking lot seemed full, the garden didn't seem crowded at all. It was very peaceful, and that may be compared to my memory of seeing the first lantern festival at night. Expect the evening to be crowded!

I have to give a shout out to the Flap Happy hats they sell in the gift shop. We've had a heck of a time finding a good sunhat to fit a newborn and with SPF 50 protection, this is worth every bit of $20. Lilly wears it every day, and it's funny to see the reactions of people who see a big floppy hat sticking out of a ring sling!