MorphCostumes for Kids review #spon

Monday, April 20, 2015

Remember when costumes were made from random stuff you had around the house? You know - cardboard boxes, your mom's make up and accessories. Not anymore. For years, costumes have gotten so much more intricate and so much cooler!

They just took a quantum leap into a whole new world. MorphSuits. I dare you to look at the photo above and not want to get your family a matching set of lego costumes!

Some of the morphsuits are seriously realistic, some are downright freaky.
For this review, we tried out the kid's black morphsuit. My son modeled it for us.

He absolutely loved it. He slinked around corners, freaking out the cat. He tried on accessories so it looked like they were floating around on their own. And he claimed the suit gave him mad ninja skills that made him "boss at parkour."  This of course let to all sorts of couch jumping and rolling...
The Morphsuit was probably the coolest costume we've ever owned. It was unique and a lot of fun. He said he could see out of the costume much better than the masks we usually wear.

The package claims that you can even drink while wearing the costume. He tried this out and spilled everywhere - laughing like a hyena the whole time. That doesn't mean "normal people" can't drink while wearing it. He may have spilled on purpose. Stressing out mom is a game in our house....

I would definitely buy a morphsuit again, but there are 2 things that you should know about them. #1 - You need a decent bod to pull them off. It's kind of like wearing a giant pair of tights and any lumps in your body will be in plain sight. #2 The costume says Morphsuits in big letters across the rear. You can decide how you feel about that. I found it annoying.

It's fair to say that the costume was a huge hit and is going to be the favorite costume in our home for some time. In fact, I had to fight my son out of it so he could head to bed. He wanted to keep it on all night.
Disclosure: I received complimentary product for review purposes. All opinions expressed are my own and this article does NOT contain affiliate links. No compensation was received.

#Free WATER - Water your plants for free - #offthegrid #gardening #survival #prepping

If you have a rain barrel, you will most likely be able to water a small garden all summer without ever turning on a tap. 

My garden measures 6x20feet in growing space. I have a large rubbermaid rain barrel that collects rain water from the roof of my house. I use this rain water to water all my trees in the spring and fall, to mix with fertilizer for the same trees and to water my garden. 

Of course, my garden also benefits from "free" water when it rains, but having stored water can make all your water needs free. 
I have been gardening at this home with a rain barrel for 7 years and I only had one year where the barrel went dry. 

In addition to the rain barrel - I keep watering cans in my garden so I can give ailing plants a quick drink. I use these mostly on my blueberries.

You can see the three watering cans I keep in my garden. Now, as luck would have it, all three of these cans arrived in my yard by the wind. 

All sorts of junk flies around in the wind, but these were useful junk! That being said, they have a tendency to take off in the wind so I keep them at home and upright (so they can collect water) by connecting them with a large stick.

Watering cans connected with large stick
As a bonus - you can use the stick to carry the full watering cans all at the same time!

When the stick eventually drys and cracks - it's can be used to dib holes, mark distance, stake vegetables, or head to the fire.

Collecting and storing water is a good practice for many reasons. #1 - you are not dependent on utilities to water your plants #2 - you get a feel for how much water regularly accumulates in case you needed it for drinking/cleaning
#3 Rain water contains no added salts and chemicals from water treatment (no chlorine, fluoride, or water softener salts!) #4 It's free. Gardening should be a positive to your financial situation and your health!

2015 Garden Part 4 - The Tomatoes Move Outside!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

2015 Garden Part 4

Things change quickly as spring progresses. This week, I moved 10 of the indoor tomatoes out into the garden greenhouse. I had hopes to grow them inside until they were big enough to transplant but since I have over 19 tomatoes and space for just 12, I thought I'd do some experimenting.
Here they are before the move

I transplanted 10 of them into peat pots and set them in the greenhouse. 9 remain indoors.
Here they are after the move - transplanted into peat pots and put in the greenhouse

I potted them deeper into the peat pots and then hilled up dirt around the stems of those that were left. Some of the tomatoes had true leaves, some did not.
After transplanting

I booted the rhubarb and leeks from the greenhouse to make room for the new tomatoes. They should be hardy enough to make it outside on their own and I will soon dib holes for the leeks. I will wait until the rhubarb has at least 4 or 5 true leaves before I set them out. They are going in the forest garden and that is a dangerous (hungry animals) and shady place. So I am giving them a bit more time to develop.

Outside: 4 Rutgers tomatoes are growing wonderfully in the greenhouse and the cucumbers have started to pop from the soil. I dug around and saw evidence of butternut squash germination....but so far none of the melons or squash are above the soil line.

The pansies and coreopsis are finally germinated and sticking out of the soil. They took over 2 weeks! The packaging says 2-3 weeks, but wow! I am using these in containers around the house.

I moved one of the sunflower seedlings to replace the one that was eaten, and the next day it was eaten. There are 7 sunflowers outside - all near each other -yet this one location keeps being eaten. Sheesh.

I removed the herb milk carton from the greenhouse and transplanted them to the herb planters in my porch. The basil will probably suffer, and I will replant it and new cold tender herbs in the rest of the planters in mid May.
Purslane, Sage, Lemon Balm, Thyme, and Basil + 3 empties to be filled later....

In the garden: buckwheat is growing in the rows, garlic chives have finally shown themselves, radishes are up and a few beets are sticking out of the ground. The bokchoy and sunflowers are still growing slowly but surely. The grocery store onions are still alive and well - growing? Maybe not, but not dying either. No sign of peas or fava beans...

More articles from this year's garden:
19 Tomatoes and counting
Growing Heirloom Tomatoes without electricity
2015 Garden Part 1
2015 Garden Part 2
Growing Potatoes from the Grocery store 

WEDGiTS Imagination Set Review #spon

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Every time we go out, I see little children playing with smartphones and tablets. YOUNG children!! This isn't healthy for future generations. They not only lose important hand/eye coordination skills, but key social skills, the ability to slow down and exist without constant stimulation, and the ability to use their imagination.

The best toys are those that let you use your creativity, so I am always willing to try out new "imagination based" toys. We recently received a box of WEDGits to review.

They are recommended for ages 2-6. My children are 9 and 10 but they had a great time creating and imagining with these blocks. They didn't play with them for hours and it wasn't something they ran to every day, but it was still okay for them.

We took them with us when we went out to dinner with friends because our friends had 3 children ranging from 1 to 4 and I thought they would be a great toy to bring to a restaurant where little children can get figity.

They loved them!! They built all sorts of wacky robots, towers, buildings, dungeons...

Even the 1 year old could play with them and the pieces are all large enough to be safe (they can't fit down a child's choke tube.)

There are so many ways to configure the pieces that you are only limited by your own imagination - and the number of pieces you have. The starter set comes with 15 pieces and is perfect for taking along to sporting events, restaurants, or visiting adults so children have something to entertain themselves.

If you have younger children, then you will want to invest in a larger set so they can keep building and make big creations.

Disclosure: I received complimentary product for review purposes. All opinions expressed are my own and this article does NOT contain affiliate links. No compensation was received.

Transplanting Wild Alpine Strawberries from a Forest

These wild strawberries were transplanted from our forest to a container in the yard. My daughter saw them and wanted to see if she could get them to grow and produce berries. She dug them up and transplanted them herself.

Wild strawberries are alpine strawberries - little and white or red. They have never expanded or produced berries in our forest. This is most likely do to competition with the trees for sun, water, and nutrients, but also because the deer/rabbits regularly mow down our strawberry patch and most likely do the same for the wild ones.

If they are successful, she will be very excited. I will too. I had been thinking of buying alpine strawberry seeds to diversify my patch - they grow all season and don't die down with age the way regular strawberries do. Here's hoping they expand and eventually make berries. White or red? We'll have to wait and see.

BBQ Grill Light Review #spon

After spending many late nights at the fire making maple syrup, I started thinking about how to make late night cooking more safe. Around this time, I ran across this BBQ Grill Light.

This light is amazingly bright - with 11 ultra bright LED lights! It turns on and off with a light touch or wave of the hand and has a universal fit C-clamp mount.

Because it has a C-clamp mount it should fit on any grill.

To be honest, I might not use it on my grill all that often. But I will clamp it onto the grates at our fire pit. That's where we do a lot of late night cooking (smores, hot dogs, maple syrup...)

It clamps on nicely. Since it's adjustable you can pretty much clamp it anywhere. You could even clamp this onto a desk, a bunk bed, a counter top, or many other places. The light is adjustable once you clamp it on, and as I mentioned before the light is really bright and will last for 50,000 hours of use.

This is a great gift idea for Father's day and might even be a good idea to give to the new graduate (for reading at night in their dorm - this would clamp perfectly on to most bunk beds!)

Disclosure: I received complimentary product for review purposes. All opinions expressed are my own and this article does NOT contain affiliate links. No compensation was received.

An Updated Greenhouse! #organic #gardening #offthegrid #diy

Friday, April 17, 2015

I started a greenhouse for the first time in 2015 - for the sole purpose of growing seedlings without electricity in zone 4 - an attempt at self-sufficiency.

You can peruse through that saga in the following articles:
Winter/Spring Seed Starting without Electricity - Part 1
Winter/Spring Seed Starting without Electricity - Part 2
Growing Food on the Edge of a Forest
How to keep indoor plants and seedlings for getting leggy while grown in a window
How to grow seedlings in winter in northern climates
DIY self watering planters from recycled materials 
Growing Heirloom Tomatoes without electricity
2015 Garden Part 1
2015 Garden Part 2
Growing Potatoes from the Grocery store 

Long story short, our original solar greenhouse (which worked great by the way!) was blown to shreds by the wind and we went through a few stages of DIY greenhousery and with pressure from nosy neighbors buckled down and purchased this new greenhouse from Amazon (just under $30 with free shipping.)

I will keep the items I used to make the DIY greenhouse in case of a true grid down situation because I know it works (ugly or not!) and in that case, I would have two greenhouses - or I could combine them for a double walled greenhouse for growing during the winter season.

Multi Binder reusable plant tie Review #spon #gardening #garden

Every year, another gardening lesson. That's how it feels at my house. I have an itty bitty garden (6ftx20ft of growing space) and I have grown tomatoes, melons, squash, cucumbers and all of the others that take a ton of space. The trick - go vertical.

In the interest of learning something every year, I have found that my horrible - ugly string "web" works best for tomatoes. I pack them in tight - in a square foot fashion - and they grow their way through the supportive "web" and all is great - except for the aesthetic aspects.

Cucumbers and squash are a different animal. They need strong support.

I put up two trellises for the cucurbits. They make my garden beds look like graveyards. But I needed something to anchor the cucumbers and squash. I tried plastic clips last year but they kept breaking!

That's when I found the Multi Binder reusable plant tie. These are made of rubber so they flex and should allow the plant to grow without squeezing the life out of the stems. They are also supposed to be able to tolerate weather extremes. (from -20 to 150 F)

I had a hard time figuring out how to use them at first. They look like a normal zip tie, but they are bendy and have 2 slots to thread the end into. This confused me until I realized this 2 part threading system allows you to connect the plant and the post in two separate loops so they aren't touching each other.

See if you can figure out what I mean by this photo:
You can also use them as a regular zip tie. The bonus over a regular zip tie is they are reusable. You can open them back up over and over again.

I'm sure you could also come up with plenty of other uses for these - basically anywhere you would use a zip tie.

They come in a pack of 5, so you might actually need 2 or 3 packs depending on what you're needing them for. I just bought  a 2nd pack on ebay so I have enough for both sections of my garden.

Disclosure: I received complimentary product for review purposes. All opinions expressed are my own and this article does NOT contain affiliate links. No compensation was received.

Two Day Bread Recipe #natural #scratchbaking #diy

I have struggled to make quality homemade bread for......years. My goal is to make bread with as few ingredients (read: no preservatives, dough conditioners, artificial flavors...) as possible and with as little technology as possible.

Ideally, I would be able to transfer my bread making skills to bread made over a fire or in a solar oven - without use of electricity or gas.

I may have finally found a fool-proof recipe that works every time and actually tastes good!

It's a 2-day recipe.

My biggest issue with making bread is getting it to rise in a cold house without using an external heat source (oven light, heating pad, etc.) and when using "older than ideal" yeast.

In an emergency, will you always have fresh yeast? Probably not. Yeast expires very quickly.

Stirring the Poolish for 100 strokes, a dough whisk really is better than a wire whisk 
Here is the recipe (makes 2 loaves):

First make a Poolish:
1/2 tsp yeast
1/2 cup warm water
3/4 cup whole wheat (or all purpose) flour

Mix for 100 strokes - then let sit for 12-15 hours or overnight in the refrigerator. You can let this sit on the counter and I usually let it sit on the counter for a few hours then the rest overnight in the refrigerator.
The Poolish - Al bubbly and alive!

The next day, add:
2 1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp yeast
1 Tbsp salt
6 cups All purpose flour

Knead for 10-15 minutes then let it rest for 5-10 minutes. Divide it and shape it into 2 balls. Let it rise for 2-3 hours or until doubled. Form into loaves.  Let it rise in the pan for a few hours (or doubled again).

Bake at 375F for 20-30  minutes. Check at 20 and see if it is golden brown on top and thumps when you tap it.

If you want a really crusty outside, stick a pan of water in the oven while it preheats and allow the water to steam during the cooking process. When you take the bread out, baste the top with butter and pull the loaves out of the pans and put them on a cooking rack (or the bottom could get soggy.)

Then wait a few minutes for the bread to cool down and slice it up.

Cooking without Electricity

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Just like the conspicuous increase in plane tragedies, the electrical grid seems to be acting up more frequently. On February 26, 2015 - someone cut the internet cables for northern Arizona, the power went out for more than half of the country of Turkey on March 31, 2015, and the electricity went out for the D.C. area on April 7th.

None of these were storm related incidents.

Sometimes, things happen in series out of pure chance, and sometimes they don't. Regardless of whether these incidents (and likely others) are coincidence or a planned event, you don't want to be unprepared if a major electrical outage hits your area.

Electricity is essential for heating/cooling, medical/hygiene, and for cooking. Since a real emergency strips us all down to the basic necessities, I thought I'd give you some ideas for cooking without electricity.

You can practice these now so you're ready in the event of a real emergency, or  you can work this into your regular routine as a way to conserve energy.

#1 - Cooking with wood or gas. Obviously, these two options require outside materials - either gas or wood. In a true emergency, you either have these stocked or you don't. But if you do happen to have them, you want to conserve them as much as possible so you don't find yourself eating raw rats in an effort to survive!

If you cook with wood - I recommend you make or buy a small rocket stove. There are many diy videos on youtube for making small rocket stoves and they might be all you need to get through a situation.

Rocket stoves are great because they only use small amounts of twigs and brush. You could boil an entire pot of water in under 20 minutes using just a handful of twigs. You could use it to quickly boil water or make an entire stew.

Personally, I bought a Stovetec rocket stove and it arrived at my home broken inside! I am still on the lookout for long lasting, efficient, and large enough to hold my big 8 quart cast iron dutch oven.

You could also build a mud oven or build a Dakota fire pit to make your fire more efficient and increase the options of food you can cook. Investing in a solid cast iron dutch oven will allow you to use the coals from a fire to cook long after the fire has gone out.

#2 Cooking with the sun. You can create an inexpensive (and inefficient) solar oven out of cardboard and tinfoil. It could be all you need if you live in a sunny warm area. In the northern climates, you will need a better insulated system and I recommend you start working on one now.

A parabolic shape harnesses more heat but can also burn things down, so experiment now while the grid is functional.

You can also sterilize water by placing it in clear plastic bottles and letting it sit in full sun for 6 hours to 2 days depending on cloudiness of the sky.

The sun is also useful for drying and curing foods.

I have built two solar ovens and made cookies in one of them and smores in the other. They both had issues that I am currently correcting.

I have the materials and plans in place for a solar dehydrator. This is going to be a multi-year work in process and when I get the designs perfected, I will post them on this site. The goal is to make them out of throw-away materials or items everyone has on hand - so they are able to be made in an emergency and cost very little.

#3 Cooking with a Thermos. If you own an electric yogurt maker - give it away. All you need is a thermos. A good thermos.

I have these two:

The Thermos brand is 40 oz and keeps food hot or cold pretty much all day. It rocks. I use it for yogurt exclusively. I say exclusively because it sucks for everything else. The top is soooooo small and it's hard to get yogurt out! It's also really hard to clean. I found a really long bottle brush that does a fairly good job but it's still a pain.

The Stanley brand is 32 oz and keeps food hot for 15 hours. I use it for making steel cut oats and in an emergency I would use it to make rice, oats, pasta, beans, and rehydrating vegetables and soups.

Steel cut oats take forever to make, but in a thermos they only require the energy necessary to boil a few cups of water. Right now, that's 4 minutes in the microwave, but in an emergency that could be 15 minutes and a handful of twigs in a rocket stove.

Quick recipe: The night before you want to oatmeal for breakfast, put 1 cup of steel cut oats in the thermos. Add cinnamon  or whatever spices/sweeteners you typically add and mix it up (it will not mix well later so do it all first.) Heat your water to boiling. Add 3 cups of water to the thermos, close the cap, give it a shake and lay it on it's side. Go to bed and wake up in the morning to perfectly cooked and still HOT oatmeal.

**If you have the Stanley thermos - it can not hold the entire volume. I just add 1 cup oats and then fill the thermos to the fill line (somewhere around 2 1/2 cups) and it still turns out fine. If you use one like the Thermos brand, you will have to fight the oats out of the skinny top with the longest spoon or ruler you can find! I don't recommend it!

**You can cook quick oats or old fashioned rolled oats in the thermos too, but if you let them go all night they will be mushy like gruel in the morning. Entirely edible and still healthy in an emergency but steel cut oats hold up much better and store for a longer period of time in the pantry.

You would follow this same procedure for pasta, rice, and beans. I have read that people cook chicken and full soups in their thermos. I have not done that, but it is an energy efficient way to cook and I would not be opposed to trying.

For yogurt, just follow your standard yogurt recipe. Instead of  putting it in a water bath device or crockpot that you plug into the wall. Just put it in the thermos when your milk is at the right temperature and close the lid. Come back 10-15 hours later and your milk will be yogurt. No extra electricity!

You can not cook with a junky thermos. You need a good double wall insulated one. Mine were in the $20-$30 range. There are pros and cons to both but they are still really good  for the price.

#4 Build a solar array, connect a battery, inverter, and crockpot. Google this one because there is a guy on youtube that has done just that. I have most of the parts necessary for this set up but not quite yet. This is a way to have electricity (sun permitting) to use like normal. Small solar generators can not handle appliances that take big electric draws (microwaves, refrigerators, dishwashers...) but they can usually handle toaster ovens and crock pots.

Any other tips for cooking without electricity or using minimal electricity?

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