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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Simple Homemade Bread

If you have never made homemade bread, you are missing out on one of life's simplest pleasures.  It can seem daunting, but is really quite easy.  The following recipe and instructions should make your first loaves of bread an easy adventure.


Recipe: Honey Oatmeal Bread

4 1/2 teaspoons of yeast
1/2 cup hot water (between 110 and 115 degrees)
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup honey
2 eggs
1 cup oats
1 T. salt
6 cups flour

Step One
Dissolve yeast in the 1/2 cup hot water.  Allow mixture to sit for about 5 minutes.  Yeast will get sort of foamy.

Step Two
While yeast is working, mix honey, shortening and boiling water in a large bowl.  Stir ingredients so that they melt into the hot water.  Then let mixture cool to about 120 degrees.

Step Three
Add the rest of the ingredients including the yeast mixture to the honey mixture in the large bowl.  Add flour a cup at a time leaving about 1/2 cup for dusting of counter during kneading.  Toward the end of mixing, you may need to get your hands in there to incorporate all of the flour.

Step Four
Turn dough out onto floured surface.  Knead for about 8 minutes or until dough is stretchy and smooth.  Kneading is easy, and there is no real technique to it.  However, a popular mantra during kneading is push, fold, turn.

Step Five
Put dough back in bowl, cover with a towel and place somewhere warm (top of the stove is a good place) for about one hour or until dough doubles in size.

Step Six
After an hour has passed, punch dough in the center (it will deflate), then divide in half.  Roll dough into a rectangle about 1/2 inch thick.  Roll starting at one of the ends, and tuck ends under before placing into greased bread pan.  Repeat for other half of dough.  Cover and let rise for another 45 minutes.  You'll also want to preheat the oven to 350 at some point.

Step Seven
Place pans into preheated oven, and bake for 30 minutes.  Top of bread will be crusty an hard at the completion of baking.  Allow to cool and remove from pans.  This bread freezes well if you will not be eating both loaves quickly.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

24 Ways to Live More Simply

There are easy things that we can do everyday that make life a little bit easier to live.  This does not mean that you need another gadget, or that you need to schedule more into your day.  It often means eliminating some of the physical and mental clutter in your life.  Try out a few of these tips:

1. Redefine Success-There are many "successful" people who are terribly unhappy.  Define success by your happiness, not from outside sources.

2. Make your life your work instead of making work your life-Learn to leave work at work, and to live your life the best way you can during the rest of the time.

3. Be Mindful-Stay in the present.  Try not to worry and fret too much about what is coming down the road.  Spend more time in the moment and enjoy that time while it occurs.

4. De-Clutter-Do you really need all of that stuff, or can some of it go somewhere else?

5. Buy Less-Think about what you buy.  Are you buying it because you need it or want it? Will it add to your happiness, or will it just create more chaos?

6. Buy Smarter-Purchase products that serve more than one purpose. Buy what you need at a thrift store or garage sale.  Re-purpose and reuse when you can.

7. Get Out of Debt-Easier said than done, but fewer bills and less debt can simplify life in so many ways.

8. Choose Friends Wisely-Relationships with other people can complicate your life in a negative way.  Do not allow your relationships to take over your life.  They are important, but a few great friends is better than a bunch of mediocre ones.

9. Plant a Garden-At first this may seem to make life more complicated.  But a garden allows you and your family to connect with nature, and to unplug from other things going on.  A bonus is that it also puts food on your table.

10. Recycle-Feel bad about getting rid of clutter because you do not want to throw things away?  Check out www.freecycle.org for a great way to recycle your items that may still have use for someone else.

11. Buy Local-By doing so, you reduce your carbon footprint and support the local economy. It may cost a few dollars more to buy a book at your local book store, but take away the shipping cost, and you may find that you are saving money.

12. Prioritize-Having strong priorities will make life so much easier.  You will not spread yourself too thin, and will accomplish the things that are most important to you.

13. Volunteer-This only works if you can do it without interrupting your other priorities.  But there is something about volunteering your time that creates positivity in your life.  Doing for others feels great.

14. Learn Basic Skills-Teach yourself to sew. Build a garden bed, or make cheese.  Meet with a friend to learn how to knit a basic sock pattern.  The more that you can do for yourself, the less reliant you are on others to meet your needs.

15. Make Your Own Cleaning Products-A simple Google search will give you lots of websites with recipes for cleaning products. Make your own, save money and reduce chemical contamination in your home.

16. Exercise-Staying healthy simplifies your life as you will spend less time at the doctor and will have less down time.  A great way to do this is to exercise.  You do not need a gym membership, get out in the yard, go for a walk or play with your kids.

17. Eat Well-This does not mean diet.  It means eat good food.  The closer your food is to the way it came out of the ground, the better it is for you.  Avoid processed products to save money and for better taste.

18.  Read-When you have time, read a book about something that you are interested in.  It is good to stimulate your mind and to relax at the same time.

19. Unplug-Do you have an electronic device in your hands at all times?  It may be time to unplug for a few hours.  Schedule time in your day that is technology free.

20. Connect with Nature-Take a walk around the block as spring approaches.  Notice what is in bloom, say hi to your neighbors, teach your child about a bird he sees. Nature is healing.

21. Give Things Away-Having a yard sale is a great idea if the timing is right, but if you are clearing out in the middle of winter, do not save those items till summer.  Pack them up and donate them.  Ask around with your friends to see if anyone can use what you have.  Giving, like volunteering, is good for the soul.

22. Do What You Love-You cannot always make a career out of what you love, but you can find ways to fit your passion into your life.

23. Have a Routine-Routines are one of the best ways to keep life simple.  This is especially true if you have children.  Remember however that it is okay to break a routine for something special.

24. Keep a Journal-This is a great way to stay in touch with yourself. If something needs to change in your life, you will probably find out about it in your journal.  It only takes a few minutes a day and is very valuable.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Letting Go of Perfection

Striving for perfection is the quickest way to a more complicated lifestyle.  I have never claimed to be perfect at anything, or even anything remotely close, but I do find myself caught up in wishing that I could do better, be better, or have better.  Then I try to check myself.  Stress is not good for me, and constantly comparing myself to an ideal is an exercise in futility.

What this means is that I forgive myself on a daily basis. I should not have to do this, because I should be okay with being less than perfect.  But this is not always how I feel.  So I try to give myself permission to just be what I am.  I know that others have this affliction as well, but I am not sure why we keep beating ourselves up.  My call to myself and to you is to prioritize what is important in your life, and give each of those things the attention you can, and let the rest go.

Sometimes this means saying no, and that is often hard.  This is especially true if you have always been a yes person.  People get used to that, and come to expect it.  But it is okay to say no, in fact it is often imperative.  You do not have to go to every committee or meet with every one of your friends on a weekly basis.  Your kids will survive if you do not help them make every project, and your church will not shut down if you don't volunteer for something.  Doing for everyone else before doing for yourself is a recipe for disaster.

For me, my most important roles are wife and mother.  That's right, wife first, mother second.  My family will not function well if my relationship with my spouse is falling apart.  Because these are my most important roles, they are the things that I focus on first.  If there is time after that, I say yes to other things. Perhaps I sit down to wright a blog post, or spend more time working on my business.  I might work on a volunteer activity, or spend time with a friend. These things are also important to me, but not as important.

I have learned that if I don't feel like making homemade bread and we are out, it is okay to buy a loaf from the bakery, that the housework can wait, and that we will survive if we don't socialize with everyone who makes a request.  These can be hard things, but I have also learned that friends will not judge me for a messy house, or if I skip out on a playdate.  Sometimes my house looks like a tornado has been through, and I let it lie if there is something more pressing to be done.

Another important role in my life is that of gardener.  This is another area where it is easy to get caught up in the idea of perfection.  However, anyone who has gardened knows that a garden sometimes thrives the less that you fuss with it.  If things get a little wild, or the weeds start to overrun, I find that my garden can usually survive.

Living a life of simplicity is threatened by the idea of perfection. The pursuit of perfection creates chaos in my life, which is not a very perfect way to live.  I have learned, for the most part, to sit back and let things happen as they will.  This almost always leads to more happiness in my life.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Spreading the Love

One of my favorite ways to practice my own simplicity is to give to others.  It makes me feel peaceful, and like I am making a difference in someone's day.  By reaching out to friends and neighbors, I am able to model the behavior of slowing down and appreciating the blessings around you.  I know that my community is a blessing, and it is important to connect to that community.  Eventually, friendly relationships with those around me is going to come in handy.

So I have been sharing some of my handmade things with people.  I do this first to be nice, but also to open the door to teaching them how easy it is to learn skills that will come in handy, save money, and sustain their families.  Perhaps this makes me a guerrilla homesteader.  In the last couple of weeks, I have given away three bottles of homemade laundry detergent, 4 bars of homemade soap, and two loaves of homemade bread.  A friend and I have been working on the art of making recycled paper, soap and lotion.  Another friend is already preparing to make her own laundry soap after trying mine.  And soon, I will be teaching another friend how to sew.

I know that they think that I might be a bit kooky, but so far gifts have been accepted, and interest has been shown.  It is my hope that these folks will get the self-sufficiency bug and may pass on some of what they know on to others.  It is my strong belief that we will be a stronger community when people are growing food, learning basic skills and talking to their neighbors.

Come spring, I'll be handing out tomato and cucumber plants in containers so that even my neighbors with the brownest thumbs can grow something good to eat.