"If we hope to create a non-violent world where respect and kindness replace fear and hatred, we must begin with how we treat each other at the begining of life. For that is where our deepest patterns are set. From these roots grow fear and alienation or love and trust."
Suzanne Arms

Friday, December 23, 2011

DIY Gourmet Candy Apples!!

Candy apple w/ caramel, white chocolate, Reese's Cups and chocolate drizzle
A couple of years ago Charlie came home from work with what looked like a candy covered soccer ball on a stick, LOL!!  When I asked what it was he informed me that it was, supposedly, an apple (someone was giving them out as a promo thing).  Neither of us was convinced because, I mean, it was HUGE!!!  What I didn't realize was that 1/2 of that 'bulk' was candy, white chocolate and caramel.  So, not convinced, we cut into it and sure enough, there was an apple in there!!  With that first bite came a revelation . . . it . . . was . . . AMAZING!!  and . . . . I could totally make one of these! (you can find them online and in but they are fairly expensive).

I have been making them for several years, with trial and error of course.  I'll share with you how I do it.  It may seem complex but it is totally easy and not even very time consuming (unless you are making like 6 at a time, which I HAVE done before, LOL).
I wish I would have taken pictures of all the apples I have made (some were rather impressive) but alas, I did not.  But I did find a few pictures taken over the years (I included them all here).

S more's apple on the left, coconut and chocolate on the right, they are in plastic bags for transport

 OK here is what you need

  • 1 large Granny Smith apple (I have tried others, and granny smith is best, but if you can't find a big one then anything that is sour or tart and crisp will work better than a more mild flavored or sweet apple).
  • A sprinkle of baking soda
  • 1/2 pack of caramels (25 cubes of caramel)
  • 1 tablespoon of water (no more, no less . . .trust me, I have learned this from experience)
  • 1 pack of white chocolate chips (I have also used chocolate or a combo of both, but white is a good standby and easy to work with, quick and less messy.  White Almond Bark may work, but though I have used it for dipped pretzels and coated cookies, I have never used it on an apple) 
  • Cream (optional)
  • 1 stick (A regular Popsicle stick won't work, it is too small. In the past I have used large popsicle sticks, those square craft sticks, chop sticks, a couple bamboo skewers etc.  You just need something that is strong enough to hold the apple when it is coated and heavy).
  • Candy.  In the past I have used reeces cups, heath bar (those 2 are the best IMO) snickers, M&M's, coconut, peanuts, raisins, sprinkles, candy canes, candy corn, pretty much anything and everything.  Or you can do a 'themed' apple.  I have used chocolate, graham crackers and marshmallows for a Smores apple (seen above).  I have done Trail Mix, Or you can do crushed Oreos (for dirt) and gummy worms.  The options are endless!!  Google "gourmet candy apple" and you are sure to find plenty of sites online that sell them and there are tons of ideas! 
  • A handful of chocolate chips - optional (to melt and drizzle on top to make it look a bit more 'fancy') 
  • Cellophane and a ribbon - optional (for presentation if you want to impress).
Keeping it simple . . . The apple on the left is caramel and chocolate with white chocolate drizzle, on the right is caramel with white chocolate covered with chocolate and chips

Start by washing your apple.  This is where the baking soda comes in.  Most apples have this waxy film on them that makes it harder for stuff like the caramel to stick, so I wet the apple and rub it around in my hands with some baking soda in an effort to get as much of the film off as possible. 

Then rinse, dry the apple and put your stick in the top.
Put your caramels and water in a microwave safe bowl - 1/2 pack or 25 cubes of caramel, and 1 T of water OR 7oz of caramel with 1 T. of water.  If you can't find the caramel cubes and/or don't know the weight, then just check the package of whatever you buy and see if they have recommendations for making candy apples and how much water to add. (Too little or no water makes it very hard to chew, too much water and the caramel runs off . . . ask me how I know ;-)  Microwave for 30 sec, then for another 30, then stir, then keep zapping for 15 seconds till it is melted (sometimes it doesn't look melted but they will melt as you stir them up more).  You may find that if you stir it enough then you only need to do it 3 or 4x.  You want the caramel to be very thick, if it runs easily and quickly off the spoon it is too thin, so wait for it to cool for a minute.  You want it thick because if it is too thin it will run down the apple as it is cooling and you will end up with a thin layer of caramel on top and a thick pool at the bottom.

Spooning thick caramel over the top (this was one of those cases where I couldn't find a big Granny Smith . . . it isn't quite the same without the Granny Smith)
Hold the apple by the stick over the bowl of caramel and spoon it around the top of the apple, letting it run down the sides.  If it is so thick that it doesn't run all the way down no problem, you can then just use the spoon to spread it around till the whole thing is covered (using all the caramel).  Then I place it on a greased plate and into the fridge (or outside on the porch if it is cold).  I check it after a min or so and if too much caramel has run down to the bottom I pick the apple up with my hands and mold the caramel back onto the body (making sure to get it as even on top and bottom as possible).

Pasting on the white chocolate by hand
 While the apple sits in the fridge I melt the white chips (1 whole pack) on low on the stove, adding a splash of cream to them (maybe like 1T or so) which makes a ganache (this is optional). **while it is melting you can chop your candy if needed** Watch them closely, stirring occasionally (don't over stir).  I like to chips to be melted but only warm to the touch.  Sometimes I can catch them as they are just melted, sometimes they get too hot and I have to remove them from the heat and let them cool a bit till I can handle it.  Either way, once they are cool enough that you can reach in the pot and scoop it out with your hand that should work.  Then, I pick up the apple (you may have to use a spatula to pop it off the plate) and paste the white chocolate on with my hands till it is all on there and evenly spread.   

Next, while the white chocolate is still soft (but not so warm as to melt the chocolate in my candy) I take the candy and place it into the white chocolate.  If you are using something like graham cracker crumbs, coconut, sprinkles, or something small, you can roll the apple around it it to coat it completely, then you want to hand place larger chunks.  With cut up candy, usually I just sprinkle on the smaller pieces then I take larger chunks and piece them on.  When I have all the candy on there I stick it back in the fridge.

While it hardens in the fridge again, I melt a handful of chocolate chips in the microwave, pop them in a sandwich bag, snip off the end to drizzle over the top to finish it off.

Then I keep it in the fridge till I am ready to serve (or take it wherever we are going).  It will keep for a while, so you can make them days early if needed.

To serve, cut it in triangular slices from the top center (where the stick is) kind of like you are cutting a cake.

Apple slices
If you want it to look nice you can cut a big piece of cellophane, set the apple in the middle, gather it all at the top and tie it off (on the stick) with a ribbon.  Just makes for a nice presentation, especially if you are giving it as a gift (and they make a really nice gift for Christmas, or any other special occasion).  They are nice for parties, showers, or any type of get-together. 

Apple in cellophane, with ribbon and tag ready to be given as a gift at Christmas


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Christmas gift idea . . . wonderful children's books from Dreamland Books Inc.

Books, I LOVE books.  It is kind of weird considering I was never much of a book reader (love research reading) not to mention the fact that I so don't have time to read much at all right now.  But I do love books all the same.  And I try my hardest to avoid used book sales because I tend to buy more books than I should.  But I digress . . .

I have these 4 Children's books here from Dreamland Books Inc.  Melissa (the owner, author, and a friend of my dad) sent them to me because, well, I have quite a few kids and I am in the kid business (Kozy and all).  Of course I was THRILLED to get them . . . ya know, seeing as how I love books and all.  And after I saw and read them, I was even more thrilled because I LOVED them!!  She didn't ask me to blog about them or anything, but I wanted to because we have just enjoyed them so much over the past couple months that I wanted to share the love!!

 I don't know if y'all know but I have read my share of children's books.  I have a degree in English and have worked with children regularly since I was 12 (a kid myself).  Before having my 6 kids I was a nanny for 2 yrs, then for 5 years before that I worked at an Early Learning Center. I also taught children's church for 12 yrs.  Needless to say, I have been reading books to children for a LONG time.  I dare say I have read 100's maybe even 1000's of books (or, well, I have read books to them 1000's of times, LOL, you know kids, they often like to hear the same book over and over and over . . . . ).  Anyway, my point in all this blabbering is that despite having read so many children's books, I was really impressed by the quality and artwork of these books from Dreamland Books
Lets just say that unlike many books we own, these are going on the high shelf and will only be looked at or read under supervision because I don't want them to be torn by little hands that don't yet know how to be careful!  More work for me?  Yes, but that is cool as long as these books don't get torn up, because I do really like them a lot.

The first book I read was A Granny's Heart.  It is all about grannies and all the wonderful things about them!  As I was reading this book I just kept thinking . . . this is a feast for the eyes!  The artwork is so unique and the colors are subtle and beautiful.  I love how you can see texture in the background and how the words are almost a part of the artwork.  The story is precious and the kids really enjoyed talking about what similarities the grannies in the book had with their own grannies.  I think any child with a grandma would be able to relate to and enjoy this book.  I imagine it would be pretty special to their grandmas too!

Baby Animals was a favorite of my 2 yr old.  He was enthralled with it and refused to let anyone else hold it!  It is not only a counting book but teaches the months of the year as well.  My 2 yr old would find the baby animals and then my 4 yr old would count them (don't you love how they worked together on this) and I had to keep reminding the older kids that this was a book geared towards little ones, so let them do the counting, LOL!!  It is a simple book, perfect for little ones.  With beautiful artwork and all those baby animals, I can see why my 2 yr old loves it so much!

I dare say Faces may be my favorite of the bunch, though that is hard to say because I really did love them all.  I love books that get kids talking and discussing and this book definitely does! At each turn of the page we had something to talk about.  It goes through 16 different kids and talks, in very simple language, a little about each one . . . and they are all unique. Using rhyming words even my 2 yr old can understand, we learn about where these kids grow up, who they live with, how they look, their likes and dislikes etc.  Even some of their names are unique (which I can appreciate).  And then the question at the end of each page shows how, despite many differences, we may actually have something in common. They were also able to find similarities between the kids in the book and some of their friends.  A little precious and unique face innocently peeks at you on each page, and I found it a pleasure to read about each one of them!

Night may have been the favorite all around. It is a counting backwards book.  My older kids loved it!  There is something to be said for a book that can keep the attention of a 2 year old AND an 11 yr old (and all ages in-between).  There is just something magical about this book.  The artwork is very unique and my kids were drawn to it.  We loved the lone tree on each page, the giant greatly detailed moon in the corner, the subtle splashes of red amongst all the black, and of course all the stars!  It is beautiful, serene and almost quiet, like you can just hear the animals and bugs scurrying about on the pages.  The kids were fighting over who was going to do all the counting (I told the older ones they had to defer to the little kids). I think my favorite part of the book though is the very back page, where they have listed 14 quotes by famous people (Longfellow, Thoreau, Tennyson, Lincoln, Confucius etc.) as they pertain to each of the characters in the book . . . the stars, bunnies, tree, moon etc.  Beautiful!!

If you are looking for some last minute Christmas gifts check these out!!  You can find them HERE  It looks like they have a special, buy 3 get 1 free.

Lastly, here is Xian reading Animals to Thrace (2) and Dagyn (9mo)

 After a few minutes, Dagyn got a little excited and decided to tackle the book!!
(ack, don't let him rip the book!!)

 That is how it goes around here, well, when trying to read books with babies around LOL!!

Monday, November 21, 2011

This is how we do it - Winter Coats and Car Seat Safety

A friend of mine posted this video on facebook and it got me thinking about why I don't like winter coats and what we use for alternatives, so I thought I would share.

Now, I am not as anal about car seats as some people online are (though I actually am more than many people I know), but I figure . . . if you are going to go to the trouble, time, and expense of using car seats, then  it is pointless if you are not using them correctly!!  Education and a little bit of common sense go a long way.

As you can see in the video, those padded kids coats can cause safety issues, which is why you are supposed to take them off your child before you buckle them in their seat.  But I have never even had to think about that because I have always hated those type of coats. They are bulky (take up so much space, and I have very little extra house and car space), ugly (sorry, but they are . . . well, 'most' of them are) and often they are loud!!

So if the kids don't wear the typical bulky ugly padded coats then what do we do? 

This is how we do it.

Most of the time when we go out we are heading from the car to the  store or house etc.  so we are only out in the cold for a few minutes at the most.  We are in VA so average temps in the winter are usually around 30-40's (though we get plenty of nights down in the teens or even lower).  We live on a mountain, so we will often have weeks where the temp doesn't get above freezing up here.  If we were up in Alaska or something I may have to re-think my objection to bulky coats, LOL.  Bottom line though . . . my kids are not used to being bundled up like that so they are used to getting a bit chilly on the way to and from the car, in fact I sometimes have a hard time getting them to wear their jackets!!

Instead of wearing think padded coats we like to use layers to keep warm.  In the winter we rarely do a long sleeve shirt without a t-shirt underneath (they like the option of being able to take their long sleeve shirt off if we are someplace where they are warm).  Then, on top of the long sleeve shirt we will do a sweat shirt or hoodie or something like that.  I keep a bag of jackets in the back of the car as well, in case we get caught out and it is colder than we anticipate (or we end up outside for any extended period of time).  If we are going out and I know we will be outside where the kids will want to play, I'll either dress them in a sweater and a jacket and/or take along hats and gloves.  Even if we are going out to play in the snow, a t-shirt, with a long sleeve shirt and then a fleece hoodie etc. over that (with hat and gloves) is enough to keep them warm.  A few layers go a long way (especially paired with a hat, gloves, scarf etc.)

I also try to warm up the car before we leave the house, so that they are going from warm house to warm car (duh, I think everyone does this, LOL).  I often keep a few blankets in the car too for times when I can't warm up the car ahead of time.  It is super easy to make a warm blanket (the perfect size for covering up in the car seat) out of a double layer of flannel.  JoAnn often has flannel on sale for 50% off (and they always have coupons).  We have made several of these and they are great for the car.  Throws work well too.  So if I am unable to warm the car up before we get in, and it is extra cold, the kids can just grab a blanket to keep them warm till the heat kicks on.  And if you insist on keeping them in that bulky coat and having them take it off when they get in the car, then you can just throw that over them after they are buckled.

I wish I had a picture of all the kids in their seats on a cold day but usually, when it is cold, snapping a pic is the last thing in my mind (maybe if I had a smart phone it would be easier, but alas . . . maybe for Christmas ;0)  Here is a picture though of newborn Dagyn buckled in and ready for his first outing (before I threw the blanket over him).

Anyway, I am sure everyone has their own way of doing these things that works best for their family, but this is just how we do it ;0)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thanksgivings Past

I really wish I had time to post some of the fun things we do for the holidays. But as it goes, usually we spend so much time making stuff (and me cleaning up after) that I don't have any time left to post about it, and by the time I do (if I do) then the holiday is over.  So in my effort to be proactive (if you can call sharing less than a week before Thanksgiving 'proactive' ;0) I will share what we did Thanksgivings past. 

I made a Turkey Cake and Pilgrim hats that year.  If you are looking for a fun and yummy treat to make with the kids then the Pilgrim hats are really easy for the kids to help with, and they are yummy too.  If you want to impress, then the turkey cake is MUCH more time consuming and involved, but it is totally cool!!

I never did share what we did last year.  We made these little guys . . . 

I got this idea for these Turkey Cupcakes from the same place I get most of my ideas . . . The Family Fun website.  I kind of mixed 2 recipes together.  The kids did the faces and put the candy corn in the oreos to make the tail feathers.  My MIL and I did the rest.  They were not as easy as the Pilgrim hats, but definitely easier than the Turkey Cake.  The hardest part was getting the cookes to stick in the cupcakes.  I cut slits in the cupcakes to fit the cooikes in (and in some cases cut the cookies too) but I think using a toothpick or something to anchor them in would have probably worked better.

I have some really cute ideas for this year too but I don't want to share them in case family is reading (I have this thing about wanting to surprise everyone with cute yummy treats, LOL).  But if you are looking for ideas, the Family Fun website is a great place to start (not just good recipes but craft ideas etc.)

A couple of pix from last year . . . (note, all 8 of us are here, only Dagyn is in the belly)

The fam in 2010.  Arah, Xian, Me (Dagyn cooking) Ever, Piper, Thrace and Charlie

Me and my 4 sisters in order by age (starting left) Kim, Kristi, Me (24 wks pg), Kathi and Karla (12 wks pg with her first baby Olive).  Kim is now pregnant with her 6th baby, due in April!! 
Me and Charlie
 Happy Turkey Day everyone!!!


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Get a Melissa & Doug 25% Off Coupon When You Take the North "Poll"

Melissa & Doug want you to tell them which of their educational toys you think is the best! Just click on the image below to place your vote in the North "Poll!" You'll Get a Melissa & Doug 25% Off Coupon** to use at MelissaAndDoug.com just for voting!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Popcorn Balls (with Candy Corn)

So I made these the other day for a Halloween party.  I loved them so much that I made them again a few days later and will make them again in a few days for another Halloween party.  
A few people asked me for the recipe so I figured I'd just put it in a post to share with everyone!

These are SO good . . . addictive actually (meaning that once I start eating them it is hard to stop).  I think it is the candy corn.  I like candy corn OK, but I don't like LOVE it.  But when you eat it in these popcorn balls you don't specifically taste the candy corn (which was surprising to me).  You get more of just the sweet flavor and texture and it is SOOO good!!

There are several different variations you can do with this, so I'll list all the options and you can play around with it.  This makes a fairly small batch, so for a party (or a large family) I double or triple it.

  • 5-6 cups of popped popcorn (you will use less if you add more 'extras' more with fewer extras)
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter
  • 3 cups of small marshmallows
  • 1 cup of candy corn
  • A few cubes of caramel (or if you don't have that you can add a squirt of caramel syrup or maybe sprinkle in some brown sugar)
  • 1 heaping Tbsp of peanut butter
  • 1 cup of chopped peanuts
*** You can make it with just the top 4 ingredients if that is all you have or if you just want to keep it simple.  However, I like to melt some caramel in with the marshmallows and butter to add a bit more sweetness.  With my 2nd batch I added the peanut butter and the caramel and it was EVEN BETTER!!  I haven't tried the peanuts in it yet but I would guess that they rock.

my 2nd batch with added peanut butter . . . yummmm

For the popcorn . . . you can use any kind of popcorn (I think that leftover movie popcorn would probably be SO good).  Microwave popcorn would be easy but I pop mine on the stove.  If you make it on the stove, I use a pot and do 1/4 cup of oil (olive, coconut etc) and 1/2 cup of popcorn. This gives you enough for the popcorn balls and some leftover to snack on.  I added just a touch of brown sugar when it started popping (not enough to make it full kettle corn but just to add a bit of sweetness) then I did salt it after it finished.  One thing to keep in mind . . . when measuring out your popcorn for this recipe, pay special attention that you don't include any unpopped kernels . . . they are not fun to eat in popcorn balls . . . very hard on the teeth!!

In a large pot, melt butter, marshmallows and the caramel and peanut butter if you choose to add those (keep in mind the caramel takes longer to melt).  Once everything is melty and gooey, remove it from the heat and dump in your popcorn and candy corn (and peanuts if you add them).  You can also dump the sauce over your popcorn in a separate bowl, it works just as well.  Mix it up till it is all covered.  It is hot so I will wait a minute before I start shaping it into balls.  Put them on wax paper to dry (they are sticky).

To shape the balls it is important to wet your hands with cold water or it will be very messy and sticky and impossible to work with!  I find I have to wet my hands after every few balls I shape (and don't forget to make sure that candy corn is included in every one).  When I had the kids helping me I gave them a bowl of cold water so they could keep dipping their hands.  Pack them nice and firm or they will fall apart when you set them down to harden.

I like to make them about the size of a golf ball, that way they are more snack size (less waste if someone starts to eat one and then doesn't finish it . . . however rare that may be ;0)  And it is a good size for the kids to help make too.  This recipe above made me about 20 or so golf ball sized balls.

Let them sit for a bit to cool and harden and then ENJOY!!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Halloween Crafts to do with the kids

We have been super busy around here lately (I know, what's new right?).  In the last month we have finished tiling our bathroom and shower upstairs (that used to be a closet) and we put in wood floors for the whole upstairs and hosted a birthday party and Brunswick stew for 60 people!! Sooo, I haven't been feeling too crafty lately (though I do plan to do at least 1 craft with the kids before Halloween).

I did want to share 2 cool crafts that we did last year for anyone looking for last minute ideas, something that is sturdy, long lasting and can be brought back out year after year.

Halloween Jars
Our Halloween lighted jars as I displayed them this year.  I only used a strand of 50 clear lights, though with this number of jars I realized that a strand of 100 would have worked better.

At the beginning of the month I pulled out our Halloween jars again.  We made them last year and I LOVE these things!!  I love how festive they are, I love how cozy they make the house feel and the amount of light they put out is perfect . . . they are just fun to have around.  Here is the post from last year where I talk about how we make them.  Lighted Halloween Jars

 Skeleton Door Man
I call him that because he sits at our front door to greet people

We also made a PVC pipe skeleton man last year.  He sits on the front porch.  I got this idea from Family Fun General Bone E Part    What I like about this craft is that you can take it apart, throw it in a bag, and put it back together next year.  Also though definitely not anatomically correct, you can use it to teach a little about bones and joints as the kids work it like a puzzle to put it together.  It is a bit more involved than the jars, well, meaning that you have to buy the pipe, pieces, and then figure out cutting and assembly (and we didn't follow the directions exactly, because we never do, LOL) but it was easy considering the result, and super easy to put away and pull back out for this year.

Now I leave you with a view of autumn at the Mason household

3 boys jumping on a wet trampoline, covered in wet leaves, in their bathing suites . . . I will not share how hard it is to remove crushed wet leaves from hair, clothes, carpet etc ;0)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Elimination Communication is better together!

Thrace 2, Dagyn at almost 6mo
I'm sorry, y'all may think I am weird but I just think babies sitting on potties are precious!! 

Thrace finally 'graduated' from EC at around 26-27mo old.  He was the oldest of all my kids to become potty independent.  The others were using the potty pretty reliably between 17-24 months. But that is OK, they are all different and admiditally, by the time I was on kid #5, I didn't have as much time to spend taking them to the potty as I did when I just had a couple kids.  It is about communication afterall. 

Dagyn is proving to be just like the boys.  Piper (my only girl) loved to sit and play on the little potty, not the boys!  They are anxious to get off and crawl around!  So needless to say, I am still holding him over the sink or potty when he has to go most of the time.  He has been naked bum around the house since he was about 6 wks old. As with the others, we typically only use diapers at home for naps and bed.  He is 7mo now and for the past month has been crawling around everywhere!  So far no potty strikes! (knock on wood)  He is still communicating his need to go and is still patient when I take him potty (often times, once they start crawling and walking they go through a strike and become impatient with having to stop to go potty . . . all of my kids have done this). 
We'll see how long that lasts!!

Friday, September 23, 2011

DIY Plantain ointment for diaper rash and skin ailments

Homemade Plantain ointment
Being of natural mind (and being a die hard DIY'er) I jumped at the chance to make my own skin ointment that would not have antibiotics or petroleum or other crap in it.  Here is info on a simple ointment you can make at home.

I remember when I was a kid my mom always had a tube of Mycitracin handy, and any time we had a cut or anything like that, she would reach for it first.  Actually we used to joke . . . "oh, your arm got cut off . . . it'll be OK, just put some Mycitracin on it" LOL!!  The kids would probably say that now about the stuff I make.

I started out when Xian was a baby (11 yrs ago) making a simple Plantain ointment that I read about in Susun Weeds Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year.  Since that time I have added other locally grown herbs that I find in the wild and have come up with an ointment that my family lovingly called Kelley's Bum Rub (a name that stuck).  We use it for absolutely EVERYTHING!!  In fact, since having kids, I have never bought any other type of ointment to use for any of their skin issues . . . from cuts to stings, burns, diaper rash etc.  And others who have tried it love it too.  Plus, I know what is in it and I don't have to spend an arm and a leg to buy something natural.  And besides, I can just walk out the front door for the important ingredients!!  How cool is that!

Making your own herbal ointment is not only very useful but it is a great way to include the kids and let them help out.  They learn about herbs, how to use them, how to identify them, and how to turn that knowledge and a simple plant into something extremely useful.  Plus they make great homemade gifts for family and friends with children or new babies.  My family members can count on a jar every year for Christmas (and of course any other time they run out and need more).

My 3 oldest kids, in the front yard, gathering Plantain
 Plantain ointment is easy to make.  Well, I say easy because it is just one herb, Plantain, that is easy to find and identify and it is just a matter of infusing it with oil, then melting in some beeswax to make an ointment.  But it is also time consuming as the whole process takes like 6 wks.  So if you want to make them as gifts then you need to plan ahead.

Why Plantain?

Plantain growing in our front yard
 Some of you may be clueless as to what Plantain is, but you will know it when you see it (and no, it is not the banana shaped fruit you sometimes find at the grocery store).  It is sometimes called the sidewalk herb because it is often found growing in the cracks of sidewalks.  It is a common yard "weed" and the flower stalks are unmistakable (in fact, you probably played with them as a kid, wrapping the stem around the flower head and shooting it across the yard at friends).  If people only knew the healing powers found in that little weed that invades their yard!  
It has far too many uses to mention here, but to name a few . . . plantain can be eaten in a salad, used internally for mouth issues, colds, kidney issues, blood purifier and has even been used as a folk remedy for cancer.  Externally Plantain is a powerful skin healer (great for diaper rash).  It helps stop bleeding, it takes the sting out of bug bites, it reduces swelling and inflammation, it is astringent, antimicrobial has mild antibacterial properties and is anti-inflamatory.  It contains allatonin and is wonderful for hemorrhoids as well (I hadn't realized at the time and had to research it when a friend told me that the Bum Rub I gave her when she had her baby, worked amazingly for her hemorrhoids)

Making Plantain Ointment

First thing you need to do is identify the plant.  There are 2 main types of Plantain that I use, the Broad Leaf and Narrow Leaf.  Their healing properties are pretty much the same.  I am sure you have seen both of these, though you may not have recognized them.  

broad leaf plantain
narrow leaf plantain

They are common and can be found from spring to fall pretty much everywhere.  Both types are useful in this ointment (I usually try to get some of each if possible).  I don't want this post about making ointment to get tied up in how to identify Plantain.  Instead, a quick google search resulted in finding an excellent post with wonderful pictures and info on Plantain identification HERE

Identifying the flowers makes it much easier to identify the plant. Here you see both broad and narrow leaf plantain flowers

Making the ointment is a 2 step process.  First you need to infuse plantain in oil, then you make your ointment from the infused oil.

Infusing Plantain in Oil

You will need . . . 
  • Plantain herb
  • A clean, dry jar with lid
  • Olive Oil
First collect your plantain.  I like to pick it when it isn't too hot, you don't want it wilted by the sun.  It is important that it is dry as well.  Choose herbs that are bright and healthy looking.  If you have a lot of choices then try to get leaves that are free from damage.  Also, I prefer not to pick any herb from the side of roads where they could have been exposed to run off or exhaust etc. You are going to want to collect enough that after chopping it up, it will fill your jar.  The size of your jar of course will determine how much ointment you can make.

*a note on using fresh herbs.  Some will say you can make infused oils with dried herbs and this is true, but I am of the opinion that fresh herbs make a more potent, healing oil, so I have only ever used fresh herbs to make oils and ointments* 

Newly collected plantain . . . narrow on the left, and broad on the right
After you have collected your Plantain you want to get it into oil as soon as possible.  Start by chopping the plantain coursly.  If there is any dirt on the leaves just brush it off.  It is important that the leaves are DRY as you prepare to put them in the oil.
Fill your jar to the top loosely with the chopped plantain.  Pour Olive Oil in till it is about 3/4 full (almost to the top).  Take a knife (or something similar) and poke and stir the herb into the oil.  The purpose of this is to dislodge any air bubbles that are trapped in the herb.  After you have gotten as much air out as possible fill the bottle to the VERY TOP with oil, then cap.  You want as little air in the jar as possible.

Let sit for 6 wks. keeping in mind that oil is likely to seep out (so you may want to put something under it, or place it on a surface that won't be harmed by oil).

After 6 wks is up you can strain out the herb (though I have let mine sit longer).  I use fine mesh strainer and strain the oil into another clean, dry jar.  After the oil has been transfered I take the saturated plantain and squeeze out any excess oil from the leaves into the oil jar as well.  Place the cap on and let it sit for a few more days so that any water left in the oil is separated out.  After a few days you will notice water and sediment at the bottom of your jar, so simply pour the oil into another clean, dry jar, leaving the water/sediment behind.  And there is your Plantain infused oil!!

Making Plantain Ointment

Making an ointment is simple as it just involves adding some beeswax to make it more solid. You can often find beeswax at the local health food store, but if you have no luck there, there are plenty of places online that sell it.  
Start by heating the oil and beeswax over low heat until the beeswax is melted.  I have heard it recommeded to do 1 Tbs of beeswax per ounce of oil, but I found that to be way too much.  I do 1 Tbs of beeswax per 3oz of oil.  You can experiment with it to see what works for you.  If it cools and is too hard then remelt and add more oil, if it is too soft then remelt and add more beeswax.  

When it is finished pour into jars.  You can use babyfood jars, old cosmetic jars, pimento jars etc. To use, simply apply liberally to any skin ailment imaginable.

You can use label paper with the sticky back, or Mod Podge to attach labels to your jars
 ***If you want to give your oil extra healing properties you can do what I always do and add some Lavender Essential oil and Vitamin E (which also works as a preservative).  I'll typically do around 5 drops of Lavender EO and a few drops of Vit E per ounce of oil.  Add them in after the beeswax has melted and you have taken it off the heat.

Shelf Life:  My ointment (with Vit E added) usually lasts years at room temperature without going bad since olive oil doesn't go rancid very easily.  But since we are using fresh herbs (which have more moisture, if you want to make it in bulk to store I would recommend refrigerating what you aren't going to be using, just in case.)

If you are giving as gifts don't forget to make labels.  And if the kids helped then letting them name the ointment after themselves adds a personal touch!

Healing herbs right outside my front door.  In this picture I spy plantain, burdock and dandelion!

Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year - Susun Weed
Petersons Field Guide - Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs by Foster and Duke
Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants - Tom Brown

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

You might be an [instinctive parenting] redneck if . . . . .

When a car drives by your house they see your pantless, long haired, 4 yr old boy doing this . . .

Ever shooting a BB gun . . . pantless
 And then when they walk up on your porch, they see this . . .

Baby in a box.  And notice that blur behind him, a cage of chickens . . . yes, on the front porch!!
 Of course those who know me know that I am not a redneck (though I have some family members who would proudly claim that title!!).  At least, I don't *think* I am, LOL!!

This was just the scene from our house this evening.  The kids were wanting to shoot the BB gun so I set up a box as a target for them.  They were shooting when a car drove by (we are in a fairly secluded area so cars don't drive by too often).  That is when I noticed the scene in front of me and what I can only imagine those people (who were obviously sight seeing on the mountain) must have thought.  For me, parenting by instincts often means I usually just go with the flow, which I am sure may look a bit odd to some.

I had 2 long haired boys shooting a bb gun . . . and I had to tell them to stop so they wouldn't hit the car driving by.  One of them had no pants on (they had gotten wet, and he can't stand wet clothes).  Another long haired boy with the water hose spraying it towards the road.  I had to holler for him to stop too as he totally would have soaked them inside their car . . . as their windows were down (hey, just noticed I used the word "holler" . . . very redneck of me).  I also had a toddler running around the yard butt naked.  His clothing of choice is no clothing at all.  He is ALWAYS naked, and he likes to run down the yard when cars drive by yelling "car, car, car, car, car", oh and of course there was a baby sitting on the porch in a box.

Dagyn, my box baby, 5mo old.
Yes I put him in the box with toys (I was doing lots of bending over picking stuff up which is hard on my body when wearing him, and he was happy to sit and play).   We are always putting Dagyn in boxes and various other containers to play and the kids love to push him around in them.   I have no clue where Piper was, but she was not interested in the gun (surprisingly since when she was younger she expressed an interest in hunting, which is interesting as we have never hunted).

more bb gun fun
 Hey, we were having fun which is what matters.  And I was really proud of 4 yr old Ever.  It was his first time shooting the bb gun and he was able to hit the box after about his 5th try.  I showed him how to aim and he maneuvered his little body to line up the sight!  Actually, they were all really good at aiming. 

It was quite the humorous scene.  I felt better though when I recalled events from earlier in the day. It was calm and peaceful.  All the kids sitting on the screen porch eating 'dang quesadillas', chips and salsa. That isn't quite as 'redneck' is it? (though I still had 1 naked and 1 without pants ;0) 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Where in the world is . . . . ??

Oh wait . . .here I am!!  

Sorry I have been MIA.  
I blame these people

Can I say that having 6 kids has kicked my butt?  I mean seriously.  I have started maybe 1/2 dozen blog posts (and have like another couple dozen topics I want to cover) and I get online to work on one and I either have e-mails I have to answer or some child is hungry, or needs to nurse, or needs to be wiped or is hurt (or is hurting someone else) or is standing on the counter (sometimes standing on the counter AND needing to be wiped) or is getting in to the fridge . . . or getting into the fridge and dumping food on the floor, and often it is multiples of these happening at the same time!

I know I don't have to tell you, anyone with little ones knows what I am talking about.  And then in the evening after they are asleep (which is actually when I usually get any real computer stuff done) I often have stuff to clean, or I get called back to bed by a crying baby or dh wants my attention (that is our "alone" time ya know) or I am just mentally ready to veg out infront of some mindless show with ice cream!  Yes I love my ice cream!!  I love it so much I try to spend some time with it every evening!  And we had been rewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer recently (it is amazing how much you can forget it 10 yrs) and now that we finished it, we are rewatching Angel.  Fun times!!  Ice cream and Vampires . . . does it get better than that . . . maybe zombies?  (actually I just really like watching Spike . . . those of you who have seen Buffy know what I am talking about ;0)  And for those who don't . . . . here is a photo . . .

Yes, I just put a photo of Spike from Buffy on my blog, LOL!!

 So our summer this year was not nearly as busy as our summer last year (when we went to the BW conference in Idaho and to the beach in FL and OBX).  And last year I had morning sickness most of the summer . . . but I still think having baby #6 here has made it a bit harder to keep up.  Since I last checked in here we have
 ............................made a trip to Hershey Park in May, made a trip to GA to see my gorgeous niece Olive who was born (in a natural hospital waterbirth) to my little sister Karla in June (her first baby).
Me and newborn Olive

Olive and 12 wk old Dagyn
We also got some baby chicks, painted the front porch (yes, the kids and I spent 2 wks painting all the railings, it was a bit crazy but it turned out great) we had a big birthday party, we had some pets pass away, We got a trampoline . .
In the morning (as you see they are in their PJ's).  They couldn't wait, this is right after we put it up, before we could level it and put up the net and padding
 . . .we had a fun long weekend with family in Lynchburg, built and tiled a shower in the upstairs bathroom (that actually used to be a closet, we are just finishing it up now, just a bit more grouting to do) we got more baby chicks and have spent several days at the lake and with friends.  But I don't think anyone has been doing as much work this summer as this little guy . . .
Dagyn 5mo . . . growing, and growing, and growing . . .
 But I promise.  I am going to try desperately to get back to the habit of blogging, because I always have so much on my mind to share.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Low Water Immersion dying (tie-dye look) with Dylon

 I posted a few weeks ago HERE about how I was taking all my stained baby clothes and dying them.  Duh, I don't know why I hadn't thought of it before (especially considering that my brain functions so well most days).  I did the baby onsies, t-shirts, and then the kids tees and some prefolds too.

So as promised, I am sharing how I did it.  It was super easy really.  The look is that of tie dye, but it isn't technically I don't think.  It is called low water immersion dying or LWI (detailed instructions below).

Those of you who are reading and dye clothes often (or even to sell) know that Dharma and other fiber reactive dyes you get online are superior to anything you can find in the store.  But I was looking for something that I could just run out to the store to buy. Actually I was trying to keep from having to spend too much money all at once, and I could pick up a few colors here and there as needed.

I used Dylon.  You can get it at craft stores like JoAnns (that is where I got mine).  Stay away from Rit, it is a different type of dye and will bleed with every washing . . . no good.  After a couple washes Dylon doesn't bleed and so far the colors have held up and still look great after several washings! 

There are 6 basic steps
  1. Wet your fabric (or if it is new wash and leave damp)
  2. Scrunch in a small container
  3. Mix up dye/salt etc.
  4. Pour on dye
  5. Wait
  6. Rinse/wash
What is Low Water Immersion Dying?
It's easy . . .basically you are dying your fabric using much less water than instructions call for and the fabric doesn't free flow in the dye bath, rather you pour it straight on the clothes in a more concentrated form.  In order to get the contrast in colors/shades with LWI dying you take your fabric and scrunch it up and stuff it into a small container, something that leaves little room for the fabric to move around.  Then when you pour on your dye it soaks into fabric at different intensities since it is all bunched up.  Some fabric will get a direct hit with full strength dye, the crevices and folds will just get a hint of the dye and will be much less intense.  If you use 2 colors poured on separately they will blend where they touch each other making wonderful variations in color and contrast. And best of all . . . did I say it was easy?

Choosing colors
With LWI you can use just 1 color if you like.  If you choose 1 color you will get the same look, with a lot of contrast and swirly patterns, but with, well,  just 1 color (so you will have lighter and darker shades of the same color). I have done it with wonderful results, but unfortunately I didn't get a picture of it (it was a gift for my sister).  If you choose 2 or even 3 colors you will get beautiful contrast and mixing of colors where they meet each other.  You want to choose colors that will complement each other.  For example the first one I did was red and blue.  In the areas where the colors combine they will mix together, so my final product looked like it had 3 colors . . . red, blue and purple. I have also done 2 of the same color (light and dark blue) which was Ever's idea and I loved it!  And some combos (pink and green) didn't turn out that hot.

Some examples 
(click any picture to view it larger)

Red and blue
blue and yellow

prefolds, one with green and pink (not so hot together) the other 2 shades of blue (much better)
When doing black with any color remember that the black is so dark that it will completely cover any other color you add.  I used the same amount of the black and red (1 cup each).  Some of the shirts turned out great, with great contrast, but others in that batch were mostly black.  It just depends on how much of the black got to them.  So next time I'll probably use more color and about 1/2 the amount of black.

Black and Red
But enough of my blabbing on about it lets get to the specifics 
Lets Go Step by Step 
(so you won't have any excuses not to try it, because it is SO easy!!)

1. Wet or wash your fabric
Follow the directions on the back of your Dylon dye packet (as to washing and the type of fabrics recommended).  I mostly used old/used shirts so I didn't need to wash them, they were clean and had been washed MANY times.  I just wet them and rang them out.

2. Scrunch your fabric into a small container.
The idea is to get the fabric as scrunched as possible, so considering what you are dying, try to choose a container where the fabric, when scrunched, takes up the whole bottom surface.  If you are doing just 1 small shirt then you may be able to use a small bowl or even a cup for a baby shirt.  I was doing several small shirts/onsies etc. so I used glass baking dishes.

wet fabric, scrunched into a baking dish and ready to dye, this is several baby t's and onsies

3. Mix up your dye
(First, be mindful that if you spill any of this on your clothes, it will dye them)
This is where it gets a bit tricky (though I have done all calculations, so it should be easier for you).  1 pack of Dylon is supposed to do 1/2 lb (8oz) of fabric.  Yes, I do have a postage scale, no I am not taking the time to weigh all my fabric.  They say that 1 adult T-shirt is approx 1/2 lb, and I figure that what I am dying in this batch (onsies, kids t's etc.) probably equals 1/2 of an adult shirt, so I am going to want to use approx 1/2 a pack of dye.  I am winging it here (no worries, they turned out great).

I want to mix 2 colors so I am going to use 1/4 pack of dye for each color.  The instructions say to mix 1 pack of dye with 4 T. salt and 4 cups of water.  I measured the dye and each packet has approx 4 T. of dye.  So that means that when dying with Dylon, per packet, you will have 4T. of dye, per 4T. of salt, per 4 cups of water.   So you decide how much of each color you want to use. 
Not to get too crazy, but since there are 3t. in 1T if you were doing something smaller, like just 1-2 onsies, and you wanted to use 2-3 colors . . . you could go as small as 1t. dye, 1t. salt per 1/3 cup of water (you get the way it works).  You'd also probably be using a much smaller bowl or a cup even to scrunch them in.

So when doing LWI with Dylon, for the amount of clothes I am dying in these pictures (approx 1/4 lb, give or take) I am using 1 cup of dye per color (each cup containing 1T dye and 1T salt).  That is pretty much the formula I use.  If you are doing more than I am here, and want to use 2 colors, you may want to do 1/2 packet per color (2 cups per color, each containing 2T dye and 2T salt).  So, is that as clear as mud?

I am cheap so I wanted to use as little dye as possible, and though I am pretty sure I used less than recommended for the weight of the fabric they still had vibrant color, I think in part because I was just pouring it straight on.

I mixed my salt directly in my water, and I use HOT water. Once the salt is mixed I added the dye.  MIX WELL, sometimes the dye doesn't dissolve well and if that happens and you pour it on your clothes it will leave speckles (ask me how I know ;0)

Note . . .the packet says to add your cup of dye to a basin of water, but just skip that part, we are pouring the dye directly on the clothes we do NOT want to dilute it further because we are not dying the whole article 1 even color (and that is what the instructions on the packet are for).

So to recap this step
(since I am so long winded above and probably confusing you)
  • Choose your colors and how much dye you think you need for the fabric you are dying
  • Depending on the amount of fabric you are dying and number of colors you want to use, mix 1T dye and 1T salt per 1cup of hot water
See, simple when you put it in just a few words ;0)
dyed baby tee and prefold
4. Pour on your dye
If you are doing only 1 color cover all the fabric, if you are doing 2 or 3 colors you want to pour them on 1 at a time, leaving some white areas for the next color (so that each color hits the fabric directly, and they can then blend where they overlap).  
When doing 2 colors, I do the lighter color first, then the dark.

Red dye first

then I added the blue

Yellow dye

yellow with blue added

For the batch above I did more shirts, so I used a larger container and 3 cups of dye, a different color each (1T of dye and 1T of salt per 1 cup of water for each color).  I used 2 blues and a green.

You want to make sure the fabric is completely covered with dye, and no white showing. There should be plenty of excess dye water surrounding the fabric (it won't soak up all the dye, it should be mostly submerged in it).  I liked using glass because I could look underneath to make sure the dye got all the way to the bottom and that the fabric soaked it up well.  If you feel that you haven't used enough dye to completely soak into all the fabric, then you can either add more dye or add a little water to mix with the existing dye in there and get your fabric submerged a bit more (I have done both and they worked just fine).

Most people recommend not moving the fabric much at all, so that the colors don't mix too much and you get more contrast.  However, I noticed that some of my fabric had white spots where the dye didn't reach it at all, and I didn't want that.  So now I will poke the fabric down into the dye and even maybe lift it up just a tad and drop it back down, to help the dye get into the folds a bit better.  This is something you have to just experiment with.  You have no guarantee how it will come out, you just have to wait and see.
Which brings us to our next step . . .

5.  Wait
When leaving the dye to sit in the dye water, I put a weight over the fabric to submerge it, most anything that fits inside your container will work. I used a pie plate that fit inside the baking dishes and then I put something heavy on it.  That pushed the fabric down in the dye more.  I think it would still work fine if you didn't do this, but a lot of people recommend it. 

My fabric being weighed down, and that is a jar of kefir brewing on top ;0)
 I like to let it sit like 4-6 hrs.  I have not experimented much with the time and the results but I figure longer won't hurt. If I couldn't leave it as long I would probably microwave it in like 30 sec increments for a couple minutes, just to make sure that the dye took well.  I did it for one batch that I did before bed so it only sat for an hour or so, and the results were fine. I figure it can't hurt.  Well actually it could hurt if your fabric was dry.  Make sure to only microwave WET fabric!!

6. Rinse
After you let it sit for the length of time you decide, it is time to see the final results!!  Just follow the directions on the Dylon package.  Rinse, rinse, rinse . . . wash and voila! A tie dye look that only took a few minutes to do (seriously, I am long winded when typing but once you get down to doing it, it is super quick and easy)

The results from the above pictures
My first batch, red and dark blue, just rinsed

The blue and yellow

After washing and drying
Washed and dried

So, to recap . . Wet, Scrunch, Mix, Pour, Wait, Rinse

And your done!! 
And you have now saved all those stained t-shirts that would have otherwise been thrown away (or used as rags) and THAT saves money!!  OR you can dye your diapers, cloth napkins, slings or carriers, curtains, sheets or pillowcases. Let the kids design their own clothes (if they are like mine they are particular about the colors they want) or do matching shirts for the kids or family.  We like to wear the same color shirts when going to like an amusement park, to help us keep up with each other, and I try to dress the kids in bright colors at the park so I can find them amongst all the kids easier.

If you end up trying this out, feel free to send me the pictures (spiraldane@yahoo.com) and I'll post them here!!
Some random kids . . . no clue what their deal is but they look like trouble to me!!


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