Natural Living. What is it to me? How did I get started? How do I do it?
To me and my family, natural living is about eating and living healthy using natural and the least refined ingredients possible. From food to cosmetics to cleaners. Its also about teaching our girls how things are made with raw materials. I love it when our 4 year old says “when its all gone, we’ll just make some more, right mom?” They find joy in creating and doing and appreciate having, more. More than if we just ran up to the store and bought it. One of our favorite little activities is “going shopping.” This is really just a matter of grabbing a reusable grocery bag, or two and going downstairs to our basement where our overflow pantry is and we fill our bags with items we need in the next week to bring upstairs into the kitchen.
I got started on this adventure…Well, actually to some degree its always been in my DNA. I loved cooking as a kid, I tried to build my first garden as a teenager, my mother-in-law taught me how to use a sewing machine and follow a pattern to make a dress. I bought a Ronco food dehydrator in college. So, really its been decades in the making.
In 2009, we had our first kiddo. I was a nursing mom – oh, so many benefits for baby and mom. I worked full time and commuted an hour each way – so it can be done. I was lucky that my employer was very supportive and we had “privacy rooms” dedicated to nursing moms so we could pump during the day. I’ll write a post later about a how-to for hands free pumping and update this post with a link. If your hands are free you can keep working (email, documents, etc). Although you’ll get higher milk production if you’re doing something more enjoyable…reading a magazine, or a book or surfing the web.
Wow, I digress. SQUIRREL.
Anyway, when kiddo #1 was ready for solid foods, I was determined to make it myself. Baby food is expensive and we don’t eat a lot of canned, processed foods, so why should my little one? So, I bought this Super Baby Food book, its amazing, and I still reference it today and have given it as a baby shower gift too. So easy to follow. Great recipes and lists of appropriate foods by month of age. I also received this little gem of an item, BEABA Babycook – Sorbet from a group of co-workers, I still use this today and kiddo #1 is 7 1/2 years old. It steams, and purees food all in one container. I’ve also used it to make hummus for us as a family and salsa and toothpaste. Its basically a mini food processor when you don’t use the steam function. When kiddo #2 arrived, I discovered food pouches and started buying those as a supplement for my homemade food. Then I discovered these little lifesavers (wallet savers), Resqueeze Reusable Food Pouch 6 oz (4-Pack) and started using them with my homemade food. But, by then my kiddo’s were older and mostly we just use them for pudding, yogurt and applesauce in lunches or when we go on picnics and the likes.
In 2012, kiddo #2 arrived and I knew from our first rodeo, how difficult it is to find full fat, no sugar yogurt. Full fat dairy is vital to brain development and sugar should be avoided whenever possible. When was the last time you read the label on your yogurt? Personally, I was eating Dannon Light, but the artificial sweeteners! Oh my! So, I began to research how to make yogurt and started experimenting. I’ve used a few different cultures, but I like Natren Yogurt Starter, 1.75-Ounce best. We’ve also experimented with some different flavors, strawberry, blueberry, peach, cinnamon, lemon, etc. Now I make 3 pints of yogurt every week or so.
Six months after starting the yogurt, I found a book, The Naturally Clean Home: 150 Super-Easy Herbal Formulas for Green Cleaning and started experimenting with laundry detergent. First I tried a gel recipe I found on a blog, but it was a pain to get it to and keep it at a pour able consistency, then I found a powder recipe, but it included vinegar and the moisture often made it clump into rock hard pieces that I couldn’t break up. Finally, I settled on a dry powder recipe that we love. I make a batch about once a month.
Today, my list of homemade items in the kitchen include: taco seasoning, chili seasoning, butter, Bisquick mix, pancake mix, Hamburger Helper mix, peanut butter, granola bars, fruit rolls, bread mixes (yeast and quick), freezer cooking, canning, dehydrating snacks, yogurt, tortillas, and cheese. Some of these are part of our regular routine and some of them I can check off my bucket list of things I’ve tried but determined that the time it requires isn’t worth it. Outside of the kitchen the list includes: laundry detergent, dishwasher detergent, fabric softner, face wash, face mask, mouthwash, toothpaste, body wash, hand soap, shampoo, hair conditioner, and of course sewing clothes and mending existing ones. And, I just started making cat food. Because, hello, my four legged friends are part of our family too and we want them to be as healthy as possible.
Most of this was started while having two kids between the ages of newborn and 6 years old (the oldest is 7 now, but most of this I’ve been doing for over a year now) and I was in a demanding full time career and commuted an hour each way. So, you may be asking….how is this all possible? I know you’re asking this, because that’s the first question I get, followed by why when in talking to someone in person. Hopefully I answered the why in the first few paragraphs above. The how, can be answered with two words/concepts. Priorities and efficiency planning. First I made this a higher priority than having a spic and span house. My house is lived in and looks like it. Some days it is definitely messier than I’d like, but we’d don’t eat off the floor, we walk on it. So, I spend more time with homemade stuff than I do with cleaning. As for efficiency planning I do batch preparation as much as possible. Also, most things I make once a month or less frequent. Most recipes only take 15-30 minutes of actual hands on time.
For instance, what’s the most time consuming part of making bread? Yes, the rising takes the longest, but I can do other things while that’s going on. The most time consuming hands on part of making bread is pulling out all the ingredients, measuring everything and the clean up afterwards. So, I do this once a month, but I make fresh bread 1-2 times a week. I have quart size Ziploc bags labeled with what recipe it is and what additional ingredients are needed (mostly the wet ingredients) and the baking instructions. I think I have about 8 bags now in rotation. Once a month or so, I pull out the ingredients and measure them into the bags then I store the bags in the pantry. Whenever I need a fresh loaf of bread, I pull out a bag and follow the instructions written on it. For me, efficiency is key. On a busy weekend morning, I might spend 3 hours in the kitchen but during that time I’ve accomplished a lot, fed the girls breakfast, did a load or two of laundry, emptied and reloaded the dishwasher, made 3 pints of yogurt, made a loaf of bread, supervised school work, written out our meal plan for the week and grocery list prepped. All while cleaning up along the way. My kitchen is my center at home. I live in it pretty much all day. That’s the way I like it. We homeschool in the dinning room/kitchen, our computer is in here. We eat, we joke, we laugh, we cry, we live in our kitchen.
Amazon is my favorite store and you’ll find lots of links to the items I regularly buy through them. Where I can place an order and have it in a few days and not have to drag the little ones into a store (nightmare experiences are avoided, everyone is happy. Well, mom is happy, kids like to go to the store).
I hope you can see that its not that hard. You pick one thing you’d like to add to your routine and start doing it. Then once you’re confident and can do it without thinking too hard, then you can add another item. Or, you can pick one thing that you just want to try with no intent on it becoming a routine, but you want to feel good about knowing you could do it if you had to and your kiddo’s have learned what it takes to make things. Think of it more like a little science experiment.
Recently, my 4 year old asked if we could make our own cereal. After a few inquiring questions on my part, I learned that she meant specifically cheerios….my response went something like this….”well, the shape kind of requires a large machine/factory that is as big as our house.” Boy the eyes on her face at that response was priceless. But we went to You Tube and looked up “how to make cereal” and found some great videos from the TV show “How it works.” I can’t remember how many videos we watched that day, but it extended well beyond just cereal. This small lesson in how things are made helps them to also see why things cost money. Which can lead to a math lesson!