Wednesday, November 26, 2014

DIY VANILLA EXTRACT


My daughter and I made some vanilla extract again this year.  We'll be giving these bottles away at Christmas time. 

Last time I made vanilla extract I purchased beans from Beanilla, I really wanted the Mexican vanilla beans at the time but they were all sold out so I bought the Madagascar beans instead.  I found that I really loved the way the vanilla turned out so I ordered the same this year.



I learned I could make my own vanilla from someone on Twitter.  Prior to that I would always buy the McCormick brand from the grocery store.  What I don't like about the cheap commercial vanilla extract is the ingredients tend to be vanilla bean extractives, alcohol, water, and corn syrup.  Why eat corn syrup when you don't have to?

So...I figured if I didn't know I could make my own then maybe others didn't know either, so here is a little tutorial.

What you need: vodka (40%), 4 oz. bottles (mine are from Specialty Bottle), and vanilla beans (mine are from Beanilla).  Beanilla also has instructions on making vanilla extract 





Once you've opened your vanilla beans cut them in half.



Then slice each one down the middle (do not cut all the way through, just slice the first layer)



Open the bean (the inside is where the good stuff is).



Put 5 of the cut beans into each jar.  I had a package of 10 vanilla beans so I ended up with 20 pieces after I cut them in half so I made 4 jars of vanilla extract)



Fill each jar with vodka, make sure you cover the beans.


When you are done filling the jars, cap and label them.  Put them in a dark cool place to sit for 6 weeks.



Here are the labels I made for my vanilla extract.  If you want to use them just CLICK HERE, print on sticker paper and cut out.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

LEARNING AWAY FROM THE CHAIR

We are trying to find creative ways of learning away from the chair.  Sitting down at a table for even a second isn't fun for either of us so we're exploring different ways of learning the essentials without having to be at a table to do it.

Yesterday we were working with measurements again.  This time we focussed on volume.  To help my daughter better understand cups, tablespoons and teaspoons, etc... we have dedicated one day a week as baking day.  Yesterday we made toffee bars.  To help my daughter remember the difference between each type of volume measurement I decided to include a little worksheet, then Aiyana could measure out the ingredients using cups, tsp and tbsp while also checking off what she used.  This is a great way to help her retain information.  Not all children learn this way but for her it works great.

I started with this worksheet that I created.


I added several measuring cups and several of the same measuring spoons because recipes always call for different ingredients of various measurements. So... as we made our toffee bars Aiyana would measure everything out and then mark off the exact measurement on the worksheet.


It's working out well.  The information is starting to stick so that makes me happy :-) Plus, she thinks baking is fun.




Wednesday, October 8, 2014

BUTTERFLIES, BUTTERFLIES, BUTTERFLIES




Who knew insects could be so fascinating but I'm finding myself more and more interested in learning about them, and not just the pretty ones either.

Yesterday we went to the Minnesota Science Museum to check out the Monarch exhibit.  If it wasn't for a time constraint I could have stayed in the butterfly house all day, as it was we had to bribe Aiyana with better things to come just to get her to leave.  

Mating pair.


Apparently I am the only one who thought this was fascinating. Mating butterflies. Maya kept telling me to stop taking pictures but I thought it was cool to see.



Monarch (male) - the swollen pouches (circles/balls) along the veins near the ends of it wings tells you it is a male.


Painted Lady Butterfly hitching a ride on Aiyana's head.

Maya and Monarch posing for the camera.

Painted Lady Butterfly

Monarch (female) having a conversation with my husband.  I think she had a crush on him :P





Thursday, October 2, 2014

FINDING OUR WAY IN THE HOMESCHOOLING WORLD

My daughter and I are into our 2nd year of homeschooling.  This year we are finding that we both need to spend less time sitting at a table and more time learning outside or at the very least learning through crafts or other activities.  Thankfully I have two books that have made getting away from the "sit down" work much easier.

R.E.A.L Science Odyssey Curriculum

Both my daughter and I are loving the lessons in this book.  We are working on Level One Life Science and the hands-on work in the book is quite fun.  Here is a pic of the day Aiyana was learning about cells.  We used a raw egg (on right) to learn about a single cell and (on left) we were using jello and fruit to learn the difference between plant and animal cells. Can you tell which one is the plant cell? :D


We've also figured if we are going to run away from sit-down work and head outside that it would have to be for more than just playing so I pulled out the Nature Seeker Workbook, turned to the section titled "autumn" and started with the first lesson which is studying leaves.  

We took a 2 mile walk around the lake and examined practically every tree along the way.  We found over a dozen different types of trees and something we'd never seen before (pictured in lower right corner of bottom photo).  I thought it was some kind of nut when Aiyana first picked it off an oak tree but after looking it up online I found that it is called an Oak Apple Gall and inside is the home of a wasp (click HERE for more information).  The wasp in this one is already gone (See the tiny hole? That is a sign they've moved on).  Pretty cool! 


So stay tuned for the next post about ways we found to get away from the "study table" because we are going to be running away to learn a lot now that we've discovered how much more fun it is than sitting at a table for 3 hours :D

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

HERBAL MEDICINE: TINCTURES

For a simple elderberry tincture recipe click HERE. Unfortunately here in Minnesota the elderberry season is over.  I was lucky to find a bush that hadn't been picked over by the birds but not lucky enough to have my tincture ready before my youngest caught a respiratory infection :( 

Elderberries, when taken orally,  are best for treating both influenza A and B.  A lot of "anti-natural" medicine people point to the lack of research when it comes to using herbs to treat certain ailments but elderberry has been well researched and its potency proven.  The research conducted by Israeli virologist Dr. Madeleine Mumcuoglu used elderberry syrup and results showed it cut the duration of the flu by half and invitro tests also showed it was 99% effective at fighting the Avian and H1N1 flu viruses. Our family uses elderberry tincture as a preventative.

If you want to make an elderberry tincture but can't find the berries you can always order them from HERE and HERE.

NOTE: for anyone questioning whether all elderberries are created equal. There is more than one variety of elderberry and the research that was done was on the Sambucus Nigra.  Back in 2009 I was told not to use anything but Sambucus Nigra in my tinctures when trying to prevent the flu but herbalist have now changed their opinion on that.  What I've been told by several herbalists in 2014 is that you can use the berries from any variety of elderberry for a tincture to prevent the flu. 

This is the elderberry we grabbed this year. Notice they are still a little light.

These are elderberries we've picked in the past, this is the color you really want your elderberries
to be when you pick them.

So for the simple details on tinctures let's start with the best book I have found on making herbal medicines.  The Herbal Medicine Maker's Handbook has all the little details someone interested in herbal healing likes.  In this book you get the who, what, and why of herbal medicine and not just a bunch of recipes.  Tinctures are not the only thing James Green covers in his book, he also covers lotions & creams, oil infusion, syrups, etc...



Don't know what a tincture is? A tincture is an herbal extract that is taken orally; under the tongue or swallowed (< children often do this instead of holding under the tongue). 

Why under the tongue? Because it is the fastest way into your bloodstream. 

Example for those that may not understand why we put tinctures under the tongue: my sister has a seizure disorder and anytime she has a seizure that lasts longer than a minute we can give her a drug called Ativan.  It is liquid form and the drops go under the tongue, Morphine is often given this way also and the reason is because it's fast acting, faster than if you swallowed it. Swallowing medication requires it go through the gut but a tincture immediately goes into the bloodstream.  The best explanation I could find to share with my blog readers (for when you have time to read) is HERE.  The gist of it is just this:
"When you swallow a pill, it must go through your entire gastrointestinal tract. This means the stomach (with acid and bile), the intestines (where most absorption takes place) and then off to the liver, for some more filtering. And THEN it's delivered to where it's needed. 
Truthfully, it's the long way, when you think about it. Going under the tongue bypasses this entire route, and delivers the medication right to the bloodstream. No waiting, no roadblocks -- just right into the blood and off to do its job."
So tinctures are drops you place under the tongue so their beneficial properties can be delivered into your bloodstream quickly to do their job.  You usually take a specified amount of a tincture (ex. 2-5 drops) and then hold it there for about 10-20 seconds.  There isn't usually any swallowing because the tincture will absorb quickly. 

How do you know how much to take?  Dosing of any med, whether natural or created in a lab, depends on several factors and those usually are your weight, age and ailment.  To better understand dosing and contraindications of herbal medicine I suggest this book HERE.  Herbalist Matthew Alfs explains proper dosing, what herbs conflict with others, when it is and isn't safe for someone to ingest a particular herb, etc... Since natural meds can be just as dangerous as some modern medications it is best to get a book like 300 Herbs to make sure you are being as safe as possible when ingesting herbs. (warning: don't follow info you find on the web, most of the sites online will tell you take 2-3 drops of pretty much any tincture and that isn't accurate information).  



If in doubt about the efficacy of herbal meds do a little research, what you'll learn is that most of the time when someone says they've tried an herbal remedy and it didn't work was because they just crushed up a bunch of leaves and made a tea or they grabbed something off the shelf at the local co-op without understanding the ingredients, how much to take and whether it was truly best for them.  Remember, once upon a time the use of herbal remedies was much more formal. 
way back when the eople paid a lot more attention to dosage and contraindications of plants until modern medicine took over, made everyone believe that plant medicine was quackery and now when people dabble in natural health modalities they do it without a lot of understanding of how it works and then they walk away with a negative opinion of it.  Herbs work, some are overhyped and some under appreciated but the more you learn about them the easier for you to pick and choose what is best for you.


Sunday, September 7, 2014

HERBS HERBS HERBS

Maya and I attended the yearly Herb Festival in Cannon Falls this weekend.  It was great to see Lise Wolff again (I have taken classes from her in the past) and it was fun to learn new things. I only had one negative experience, a single instructor that clearly didn't belong there (had her group drinking essential oils, putting several undiluted eos on the skin, referred to Robert Tisserand as Robert Tisserude and revealed she was a practitioner of raindrop therapy - among other things), aside from that though the rest of the festival was awesome.  Can never get bored learning and talking about medicinal plants :-)  (note: anyone that knows anything about the use of essential oils will know why I count that one instructor as a negative).

The day was beautiful, sun shining and temp was perfect.  Here is some pix from the day:


Farm in Cannon Falls

Maya: Farm in Cannon Falls

Plantain

Chickweed

Catnip
Stinging Nettle (or burn weed)

Lise Wolff educating the group

Wild Cucumber

Creeping Charlie
Mothers Wort


Wild Violet






Saturday, August 23, 2014

I AM STILL A MUD PUDDLE GIRL

Back in 2007 my friend Carrie over at Under the Willow presented me with a digital Mud Puddle Girl award (see original post about that HERE).




Carrie had her own line of Mud Puddle Girl products and the idea, I believe, came from having her own little Mud Puddle Girls (granddaughters). So... I was very honored when she presented me with the above award, so much that I still haven't forgotten about it. The other day I was standing at the screen door watching the rain pour down when it popped into my head.  I thought... when did I stop being a mud puddle girl and how can I be that girl again? I told my 7 year old to get her rain coat on and we headed outside to play in the rain. I had no idea how much she would love it. I told her how when I was a kid we'd always play in the rain and I didn't know why when we reached a certain age we stopped. As we played in the ankle deep water we sang and danced to the rain Gods, Walayka and Thul we named them (Aiyana said we had to combine water + lake and thunder + lightening), and we got soaked. I, being the old one, gave up before Aiyana did but it felt good to play outside and teach my daughter how great it is to be a Mud Puddle Girl.  Thank you Carrie!!