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Forever Wild

Three Generations of Ripple Afghans

Erin BaldwinI started crocheting several years ago. I learned one stitch from watching YouTube videos and have made dozens of wonky looking scarfs that no one wants to wear. Nonetheless, I find the act of crocheting to be extremely relaxing.

I had always wanted to learn to crochet ripple afghans. I have two ripple afghans in our home; one made by my grandmother and one made by my mom. I’m pretty sure that both are as old as me.

Earlier this year, I finished my first actual project and created a grey and purple lapped-size ripple afghan for my daughter. I found a YouTube tutorial that broke each stitch down into easy to follow steps and it just seemed to click. Line after line of stitches lined up perfectly to create a usable finished piece. It is heart-warming to have three generations worth of afghans draped across the couch.

Purple Gray Ripple Afghan

Although my free time to crochet has dwindled slightly with all the chores that summer brings, I have found time to completed a couple more blankets. It is just as exciting to finish each new one as it was the first.

Green White Blue Ripple Afghan

Making Mother's Milk Cold Process Soap

Erin BaldwinIn a blink of an eye, my sweet baby girl grew into a bouncing, giggling toddler. Recently, when it came time to clean out the freezer, I struggled to figure out what to do with several storage bags full of breast milk since my little one doesn't require expressed milk anymore. Throwing it out was not an option. As someone who struggled with breastfeeding starting out, every drop was like liquid gold. That’s when I stumbled across the idea of making mother’s milk soap.

When making cold process soap you can use almost any type of milk. I selected my favorite recipe from Soaping Essentials and substituted in the breast milk to replace the water ounce for ounce. In about 90 minutes I had five pounds of rich, creamy soap gently scented with DoTerra’s Serenity calming blend of essential oils.

My experience making breast milk cold process soap was extremely positive and it was great to find a way to use the excess expressed milk — especially one that can continue to benefit my little one. One recommendation I would make for those wanting to make their own batch of mother’s milk soap is to keep this batch for your family only as it may be possible to pass along any impurities, etc., that might be in milk.

How to Make Breast Milk Soap

Step 1: I always recommend that you double-check your recipe and run it through a lye calculator to make sure everything is correct. You can find lye calculators online; I use the one from Brambleberry.com.

Step 2: In order to keep the sugars in the milk from scorching, it needs to be very cold or even frozen before adding the lye. One trick is to measure out the amount of milk that you need ahead of time and then pop it into the freezer the night before you plan to make soap. 

Step 3: Now it’s time to assemble all of your ingredients, utensils, and safety gear that you’ll need.  I like to start with a clean kitchen, putting away everything that I’m not using for soaping to keep it protected, just in case. You’ll need some basic soaping equipment. All the measurements are by weight, not volume, so you will need an accurate digital kitchen scale so that you get precise measurements. You will also need some safety goggles and rubber gloves. I make my soap in large Pryex measuring bowls using an immersion blender. You can find detailed supplies list by doing a quick search online.  

Step 4: Prepare your mold. The options for molds are endless. I’m going to using a wooden ELF loaf mold from Brambleberry that I’ve lined with freezer paper. I like the appearance of soap from the loaf mold, but would recommend a silicon liner. The freezer paper lets moisture through to the wooden mold and can sometimes stick the soap. It also doesn’t lay very smooth especially around the ends. But right now it’s all I have, so we are going to go with it.

Step 5: Pull out milk. When you have all your equipment and ingredients assembled and ready to go, you should go ahead and pull out your milk. If you haven’t premeasured your milk go ahead and do that now. If you have, you are ready to add your lye.

Step 6: Wearing your gloves and goggles, weight out the lye. Then very slowly, sprinkle your lye into your milk. Once the lye begins to react with the milk it will quickly start to melt.  You want to stir constantly until everything is dissolved. This takes several minutes, and it’s important not to rush. A note of caution: the breast milk might turn a bright yellow and smell a little weird. That’s OK. Set aside the lye and milk mixture to cool and work on the oil portion of your recipe.

Step 8: In a container, combine your oils (I used coconut, olive and palm oil). In a double boiler, or microwave using short bursts to prevent scoring, melt your oils to combine. You want both your oil mixture and your lye mixture to be roughly the same temperature. I aim for around 90 - 95 degrees.

Step 9: Now, you want to pour your lye mixture into the oils. To help prevent splashing, gently pour your lye mixture over the bottom of your stick blender. Make sure to “burp” your blender, by giving it a gentle tap on the bottom of the pan to remove any air bubbles that might cause the mixture to splash when starting the blender. Begin stirring your oil and lye solution together alternating stirring with the motor on and then off to help prevent air bubbles and false trace.  It should take around five minutes for your soap to reach trace (when the soap mixture is thick enough to hold an outline when drizzled across the surface.).

Step 10: Once trace is reached, you can stir in any essential oils, colorants or add-ins. For this batch, I’m going to be using a kid-friendly essential oil blend, Serenity from DoTerra.

Step 11: Pour the mixture into your mold. Most of the time at this point you want to insulate your soap by placing a piece of cardboard over the mold and then wrapping it in a towel. However, when using milk the faster the soap cools the lighter the color will be. While you can go as far as refrigerating your soap to get it to cool quickly, I decided to use leave mine uncovered and room temperature. Allow it to set for around 24 hours.

Step 12: Unmold your soap and slice it into bars. You’ll want to allow the bars to cure in the open air for about four to six weeks.

Soap

Photo by Fotolia/joanna wnuk

Mr Fox and the Disappearing Chickens

Erin BaldwinHe is brave. Even with the sun high over the mountains and all the activity around the homestead, he isn’t afraid to make his presence know to us. After cleaning up from dinner a few nights ago, we went outside to stroll around and check on the animals. From just below us in the field, he shrieked. The chilling “YOW” echoed along the tree line and down towards the creek before ceasing.

Just a few days later, again after dinner as the kids where taking their bathes, he made an encore. The evening calm was broken by the sound of furious clucking and flapping wings as the flock flew up in all directions. I grabbed a sopping wet toddler from the tub and ran to let our salt and pepper black lab outside. He bolted towards the lower side of the hill to the massive brush pile that the fox was so slyly using for cover as he stalked his feathery prey. In seconds, Asterisk had flushed him out and a streak of rusty orange fur raced through our wooded lot, topping over the hilltop and disappearing. Although rustled, all our hens were accounted for. The havahart has been set and now it’s a game of cat and mouse.

As of today, two of our hens have gone missing during the daylight hours without a feather of evidence left behind. I suspect Mr. Fox has had something to do with it, picking off the girls one by one while we are away from the homestead. I suppose this increases the urgency to get our chicken run built and the hens secured away.

Where are the chickens? | Fotolia/Sidney Cromer

Where are the chickens? | Fotolia/Sidney Cromer

Goodbye, Winter

Erin BaldwinAfter such a long winter, I’m not even sure where to start. The temperatures have finally started to rise. The mercury settled in the mids-40s during the day and accompanying rain should take care of much of the remaining snow. The icy crust that has been covering our property is slowing retreating, leaving in its place soft ground and mud.

I’m ready to shake off the cold and focus more on the work that needs to be done around the homestead. I have big plans for the next three seasons. Fences need to be built, barns need to be finished and painted. Deep bedding needs to be mucked, and the compost needs turned. I want to expand the livestock we have, and packages of buzzing bees and piglets will arrive soon. I’m researching ducks and turkeys. I’m ordering soap-making supplies. The list seems endless right now. Despite the overwhelming amount of work that is waiting to be tackled, I find the promise of spring and manual labor energizing. I’m ready.

So goodbye, Winter.

Winter 1

Winter 2

Winter 3

She Is Going to Grow Up Thinking This Is Normal

Erin BaldwinI came home to my sister lounging on the grass in the front yard, sweet tea in hand. Surrounding her were several of our chickens; a palette of speckles, crimson and snow white, they pecked at the ground, clucked and strutted around indifferent to her presence. Stepping around them in hopes of sneaking a bit of chicken feed were our two friendliest goats, Willow and Juniper. I could hear Asterisk, our Labrador, panting in the heat under his black coat. He barked to greet me and then returned to his shaded retreat. Our cat Williams sat nearby switching his tail in annoyance at the whole scene.

I gingerly lifted Cora from her car seat and plopped her down right beside her aunt. She squealed in delight and took off crawling after the chickens. At just under 10 months, the sights and sounds of animals amuse her greatly. She let out another squeal as she managed to brush the tail feathers of a chicken before the hen quickly waddled off to another part of the yard in search of stray crumbles to devour. “She’s going to grow up thinking this is normal,” my sister said in reflection.

Cora

Hum, I thought to myself, I hope so.

I hope this is her normal. Creating this sanctuary is what is at the heart of my desire to homestead. I want her and her older brother to experience the joy and pain of living closer to nature; gain a sense of responsibility; learn teamwork and self-reliance; gain a knowledge and respect for the natural world and our inescapable connection to it; practice gratitude.  

Cora2

Tanner2

I want them to be gripped with fear and excitement while watching a baby goat being born; to witness a new life still warm as steam rolls up from its wet coat in the chilly spring air. I want them to wake up early and gather warm eggs from the coop for pancakes, which they slather in just a little too much maple syrup. I want them to dig in the earth and grow a garden. I want them to taste raw milk. I want them to do chores. I want them to play in the rain, skin their knees on gravel roads, climb trees and break sticks, build forts and flip rocks. I want them to step in poop, make mud pies and wear clothes covered in grass stains, catch crawdads and get stung by bees. I want them to breathe fresh air. I want them to depend on family and community. I want them to give back to the people and land that will give so much to them. I want them to fail. I want them to keep trying. I want them to create something better. 

Tanner

Most of all, I want them to love and depend on each other. I want them to know that they have a family who loves and supports them beyond measure.

Tanner3

As we sat there, Cora got another chance at a chicken. A brave one had gotten too close and Cora slowly touched its feet. You can see the sense of wonder as her tiny finger poked at the hen’s scaly feet. She looked up and smiled.

Yeah, I’m OK with this normal.

Novice Fodder Grower Seeks Advice

Erin BaldwinI first heard about fodder systems on a homesteading podcast last summer and couldn’t wait to try it. A year later, I’m making my first attempt at it.

Fodder systems convert grains and seeds into living fodder that can then be feed to animals to improve their food quality and help cut feed costs. Folks use a variety of feed grains, but in my research I have found that most people have the best luck with barley.

Fodder systems can be pretty expensive, but if you do a bit of digging around online you will find tons of information on do-it-yourself systems that can fit the needs of smaller homesteads.

Fodder is so appealing to me as a way to provide fresh microgreens to our diary goats, which currently don’t have access to pasture. Providing fodder will enrich their diets and make for healthier goats that product higher quality milk. It also will allow us to stretch our buck a little further, potentially turning what we pay for 50 pounds of feed barley into 300 pounds of fresh barley fodder.

So for my first attempt, I decided to go through the whole process with just one tray. Here’s what I did.

Soak Day: I put 1 pound of feed grain barley into a bucket to soak overnight (for about 12 hours). The grain we purchased was pretty dusty, so I gave it a rinse prior to soaking.

Day 1: In the morning, I strained the barley and gave it another rinse. I then spread it out about a half-inch thick into a black plastic seed tray with small holes punched in one end for drainage.

Day 1 Evening through Day 6: I simply rinsed the barley in the morning and in the evening, and sometimes mid-day depending on my schedule to keep the seeds moist.

Day 7: Harvested the mat.

Fodder

RootMat

I was a little disappointed that I didn’t have the super thick grass and root mat that I have seen others rolling up like carpet at the end of Day Six or Seven. Nonetheless, the whole process was pretty neat, and both our goats and chickens were pretty fond of the end results.

I’m ready to give it another try, and I'm hoping to reach out for some tips from the expert fodder growers out there. What types of things do you do to make your sprouting successful?

Egg in an Egg

Erin BaldwinWhat a surprise!

Yesterday evening on our trip to the coop to collect eggs from our flock of Black Australorps we discovered an unusual find. In the box was a gigantic, light brown egg, almost three-times the size of a normal egg.

Egg

We took it inside and placed our bets. One yolk, two yolk, or maybe it was even a triple-yolker? Tanner thought it might even contain a baby dinosaur (and I was a little wary to bet against him looking at the size of this thing). 

Yolk

The family peered over the bowl as Tanner gave it a crack. To everyone’s excitement out came a yolk and another small egg!

According to BackyardChickens.com, this egg variation is known as a double egg or “egg in an egg” and is “created when an egg with a shell is encased by the next egg in the oviduct and another shell is produced over the outer egg as well.”

It was such a neat discovery!