Our Christmas Gift for Mother Earth

ImageMerry Christmas, Mother Earth. For the past six months, we’ve been working on a little present for you, and it’s finally ready! From now until at least the end of January, our family will not be disposing of any sort of bread wrapper.

We started working on this gift this summer by making some cloth bread bags that allowed us to purchase homemade bread without wrappers. Our problem, though, was storing it without the bread drying out or getting that freezer taste. We looked at several products that were too expensive and tried several ideas that didn’t quite work—but we hope this one will.

A little Christmas shopping at Target led us to a sturdy looking container that is just the right size for holding seven to eight loaves while still fitting in our freezer. That container turned out to be a plastic box intended for wrapping up and storing lights. (So, for us, this was two purchases in one. We’ll use the plastic inserts to wrap our lights and the container to store our bread.) Since this container isn’t marketed for freezer use, we’re wrapping the bread in our homemade bread bags.

So, Mother Earth, we hope you’ll enjoy the extra space this will save you. Of course, the space saved by seven or eight bread wrappers won’t be overly noticeable, but our hope is that others will be inspired by our efforts. And since they won’t have to go through six months of trial-and-error research like we did, it should be fairly simple for them to reproduce what we’ve done. And since bread is the most commonly purchased packaged item, the end result could really give you some nice elbow room.

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The Best Christmas Stockings Ever

Last year, with my husband’s job coming to an end just before the holiday season, we told our kids we would be having a “Little House” Christmas. It was the most positive way we could think of telling them not to expect much. 

While planning for some creative shopping and homemade gifts, I was stumped as to what to do about stockings. Some of the gifts we were putting under the tree were about the size of what we would normally put in a stocking, and we certainly didn’t want to dip into our severely limited Christmas budget to get them items that would be quickly discarded. Going without a stocking wasn’t an option either as family tradition dictated that stockings would be opened on Christmas Eve (with the under-the-tree gifts waiting until Christmas Eve.) Granted, family tradition also dictated that cookies would be in the stockings, but what else? We knew our kids wouldn’t get as excited about an orange as Laura did.

Suddenly, I had an idea. “Kids,” I announced. “For our stockings this year, we are going to write each other notes.” I almost expected a groan, but instead I sensed a bit of excitement. 

Christmas eve came and we sat in a circle taking turns to pull out one item from our stocking and reading the notes out loud. There was quite a variety: lengthy sentimental letters (those were from me), poems, meaningful pictures, and cards with short notes. Tucked in beneath the notes were a couple surprise toys. It was less than we had ever had in our stockings before–and yet it was more. Our hearts were full of joy as we read the words of love family members. Yet, I didn’t realize what a success this was until my teenage son declared, “This was the best Christmas Eve ever!”

So now we have a new Christmas Eve tradition: stockings stuffed with love letters. As we have found, there is no more meaningful gift than letting your family know how much you love them.

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Gluten-Free Homemade Bread

This Thanksgiving, I’m coordinating a gluten-free meal, since two of our guests adhere to a gluten-free diet. 

I would say that of all the dietary restrictions, gluten-free can be one of the hardest to shop for. Gluten can be hidden in so many things that you wouldn’t even think of! Fortunately, because of the increased number of people eating a gluten-free diet, there are many products labeled as such. Unfortunately, those products usually come with a larger price tag.

That got me to wondering, would someone on a gluten-free diet be able to join me on my quest to reduce bread wrapper waste by baking or buying homemade bread? It seems that for someone on such a diet, this would make sense. Not only for environmental reasons, but also to save money.

Sure enough, a quick Internet search brought me to a nice sampling of gluten-free bread recipes. As I read through the ingredients, however, it seemed that these might be hard to find. Most of the recipes xanthem gum. Other ingredients called for include: almond meal or flour, brown rice flour, millet flour, potato starch, sorghum flour, or tapioca starch or flour. Many of the recipes called for several of these specialty ingredients. A few recipes suggested using a gluten-free all-purpose flour mix.

So here’s a question for my readers. If you’ve ever made gluten-free bread, what tips do you have for finding these specialty ingredients?


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Medical Payments in the 1800s

Today, after spending a couple hours researching which Medicare plan I want to enroll in for 2014, I started wondering how doctors were paid in the 1800s.

That’s actually a question I’ve always wondered as whenever I see a movie or read a story set in the 1800s, even poor people are quick to call for the doctor when someone is ill without any discussion of if they could afford it. Obviously this was before insurance programs had been set up, so how was it that even poor people could afford medical care? 

The answer to my question is that doctors of the 1800s were usually paid in-kind. The patient’s family would trade goods or services for the medical care he provided. 

I’m still mulling this over, but I’m curious what you think. Could this kind of system work in today’s society?

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Not Alone in My Bread Wrapperless Quest!

I have found another blogger who shares my interest in finding alternate ways to store bread! (Actually, my husband pointed this blog out to me.) Check out her post at http://myplasticfreelife.com/2010/02/bread-buy-it-store-it-keep-it-fresh-without-plastic/.

Several things that I found interesting in this blog:

1. There are more reasons than avoiding waste to refrain from disposable bags, one of which is not chocking on bread bag closures!

2. Apparently at least some local bakeries will let you purchase naked bread and put it in your own bag. That is something I have been wanting to try (once I get the storage situation nailed down). I wonder if bakeries in the South will be as accommodating? I also wonder about chain stores like Panera.

3. She shared the idea of wrapping her bread in a cloth bread bag and putting it in a tin. I did spend an awful long time looking at tins during our school’s annual rummage sale last summer wondering if these would work. In the end, we decided against them because they would take up so much space in our small freezer, but now that we have a large freezer, I think this might be the perfect solution for us, and as the author mentions, they should be pretty easy to find at a thrift shop. 


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What’s So Cheesy?

Last week we made cheese. How was it? I’ll let you know in March. Yes, for a nice sharp flavor, we’ll have to let it set until March.

It’s hard to imagine waiting that long to taste something we made. But waiting is only part of the challenge of making cheese the old-fashioned way. In our cheese-making efforts, we didn’t experience quite the same sacrifice and perseverance that were required of Laura and her family if they wanted to taste some cheese.

For one thing, with easy access to vegetable rennet, we didn’t have to kill a cow. That’s right, whenever Laura’s family wanted cheese they had to sacrifice the life of a cow, but not just any cow. A young calf had to be killed in order to extract rennet from his stomach lining. A calf that might have grown up to be a plough-pulling bull or a milk-producing cow. A calf that might have grown to father or mother more cows and/or provided a substantial amount of meat for the family. Certainly the decision to kill a calf for rennet was not lightly made. In order to enjoy some cheese, the family would have to close the door on other opportunities the calf might bring them.

So what kind of sacrifices do we make today? Well cheese is just about everywhere and not super expensive either. Even a minimum wage worker only trades in about half-an-hour of labor for a pound of cheese.

Speaking of labor, the cheese we made took us all day to make–and that was just the start. After making and molding it, we had to spend several days curing it–and then of course their’s the wait for several months until it is ready to enjoy.

As I’ve been reflecting on our cheese-making experience, I’ve wondered if this process didn’t teach our ancestors two character traits that we seem to struggle with so much today: sacrifice and perseverance. When we really think about it, nothing worthwhile is achieved without a little bit of both.

Want a successful marriage? You’ll have to sacrifice other relationships and even some of your own wants. Perhaps a you’ll pass on pet your spouse is allergic to or agree to a relocation that means leaving loved ones behind. You’ll have to persevere through the rough times, committed to making it through the long haul. But will it be worth it.

Want to be a successful parent? You’ll have to sacrifice your own time and freedom. You’ll spend money on things for your children that could otherwise go toward things you would want for yourself. You’ll choose your activities based on what the kids enjoy rather than what you’d really like to do (although if you’re like many parents, what your kids enjoy becomes what you’d like to do). And talk about perseverance, you won’t even know for a couple decades if all your efforts will pay off, but you’ll push through, recognizing that rough spots don’t mean you’re a failure. As your friends with older children will tell you, it will be worth it.

Want a successful career? You’ll have to sacrifice the time you could be pursuing your personal interests, and, in some cases, you may end up sacrificing relationships. (You may be faced with your own “baby cow or cheese” dilemma.) And you certainly won’t be able to measure your overall success by your first few steps. You’ll have to persevere, believing that sometime after the next 1,000 photocopies, your dream can be obtained.

Want a successful spiritual life? Oh yes, there’s sacrifice there too! The Bible tells us we may be called to sacrifice any or all of the things mentioned above to follow God’s will for our lives. And even if we are blessed with a balance of marriage, family, career, and spirituality, there are things the world chases after that we’ll sacrifice for the sake of growing closer to God. Yes, you’ll also have to persevere. You’ll persevere through those days when your doubts seem stronger then your faith, when you cannot seem to overcome that sin that you want so desperately to rid yourself of, when you cannot feel God’s goodness but you can only trust that what you know is true. But like everything above, no more so,  it will be worth it.

And so, although I’ll probably never make cheese again (unless it tastes a lot better than I’m expecting), I’m a little sad that we seem to have lost something when we stopped making it ourselves. Sacrifice and perseverance are not the norm for our generation. Marriages are traded in for something of less value. Kids are left to be raised by media outlets. Workers bounce aimlessly from job to job, unsatisfied and unmotivated. And souls that were created for eternity trade their destiny in for cheep momentary pleasures.

We have sacrificed nothing. We have persevered through nothing. We have gained nothing. Pretty cheesy, don’t you think?


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Bee’s Wrap

Here’s a product I found interesting: bee’s wrap

It’s too expensive for my project of finding an alternative to bread wrappers, since I order a month’s worth of homemade bread at a time, but it might work for another waste-saving project in the future (once I get past this bread challenge!).

What I particularly like about it is that it that this seems like something Ma would have done–except Ma would have made it herself. Now, if only I could figure out how to do that!

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