Sunday, November 30, 2014

Other Remedies

     In a previous post I listed a variety of ways we use garlic to treat head colds and infections. When a head cold or a stomach bug goes through the house, everybody gets it. We share everything, germs included, and so if one of us gets sick, we can all count on getting it within a week or two. But contrary to what you might believe after reading that post, garlic isn't a cure-all for us - although we do use it a lot! There are other things we use to treat colds and such - things like salt water, plastic toys, and green grease.

     Sounds weird, huh?

     I know. We are weird.


Stuffed Nose

     You know when you've got that bad head cold, and when you go to bed at night your nose is all stopped up so you can barely breathe? We clear that up with a stinky-nose-rag.

     What, you don't have those?

     A stinky-nose-rag is just a kitchen washcloth, folded in thirds or quarters, with three or four drops of eucalyptus oil folded into the center. Snap a rubber band around that to keep it together, and put it near your pillow at night so you can smell the eucalyptus. Works like a charm. 

     Since I'm trying to give the why's of these statements, here's the layman's explanation of why eucalyptus oil clears up a plugged nose. It's a decongestant, which means the vapor helps clear up the mucus in your nose. Eucalyptus oil, like garlic, is an aromatic substance that quickly becomes airborne, so the scent of those few drops on the rag hang in the air and can be inhaled. As an added bonus, eucalyptus is antibacterial and can give a little boost to your immune system.

     Another trick that works during the daytime is to cut an onion and then inhale deeply. That stings like all-get-out, but it really loosens things up and gets the snot flowing, if you'll pardon the expression.


Sore Throat

     Gargle salt water, several times a day. Mix yourself a pint jar of drinking water with about a tablespoon of table salt dissolved in it and gargle this in the back of your throat as many times a day as you remember to. Spit it out afterward. This works really well.

     Oh, and label your glass, please. Otherwise some unsuspecting person is going to take a swig of your salt water, and they won't be happy.


Coughing

     There's that point in a your head cold when the fever has gone down, the infection is basically killed, and your body is ready to clean out all the dead bacteria and white blood cells. You're constantly blowing your nose, probably sneezing a fair amount more than usual, and coughing. Sometimes it can be hard to get to sleep because you're barking like a seal all night. In our experience, some of this coughing is caused by the way you're positioned.

     Don't quote me on this, since I've not really got any proof besides what we've observed over the years. But we've found that if you're laying on your back, you're going to cough a lot more than you would if you laid on your side or stomach. This could be caused by the mucus in your lungs not draining well and interfering with your breathing. That's all hypothesis - we don't know for sure. But if you lay on your side or stomach, there's generally less trouble with coughing.

     Most of the Clan doesn't have a problem with remembering to lay the right way at night, but Becca and Nah don't always get this part down. Instead, Mom takes a hard plastic toy - 
     - tapes it to the back of a white t-shirt - 
     - and has them wear the shirt to bed.
     I guarantee you won't lie on your back with that thing there.

     I'm not going to guarantee lying on your side/stomach as a cough suppressant, but it does work for most cases. Sometimes, though, its not enough. I actually just recently got through a head cold that had me coughing no matter which way I laid down, so I know how that works. The only way I could get my coughing under control so I could sleep - and everybody else could as well - was to use some cough drops.

     Mom doesn't like the conventional, sweet, sugary cough drops that taste like fake cherries. They might do the trick, but there is a tendency for people - ahem, that would include Clan children -  to treat them like candy and just want another one whether they actually need it or not. The cough drops we use now don't fall into that category. They're called Fisherman's Friends, and I have yet to meet a person who actually likes the taste.
     These little guys are really powerful cough suppressants, though, and they do work as well - if not better - than other cough drops. These are what enabled me to sleep while I was sick and coughing.


Plantain

     We keep bees, and getting stung is just a part of having bees around. Thankfully, none of us are allergic, but we still swell up if we get stung. Unless - don't you love unless? - unless you know about plantain and how to use it.

     Plantain is a broad-leaf weed that is found all over the world - including right here in Minnesota. It has many herbal properties, and just one of those is that it's a powerful anti-inflammatory agent and will pull out the poison of a bee or wasp sting. If you get stung, the first step is to remove the stinger. Then pick a leaf of plantain, chew it up to break the cells and let the juices flow, and plaster that lovely green goo onto the site of the sting. Keep it there for several minutes, maybe change it if it starts to get dry. The longer you hold it there, and the sooner you apply it, the more effect it will have, to the point where it can prevent any swelling at all.


Green Grease

     Our green grease is a salve made from plantain, comfrey, beeswax, and coconut oil. At some point I'll probably do a how-to post on it, complete with pictures, for for now, I'm just going to do a run-down on how we use it.

     We use green grease on bee stings after the initial treatment of plantain (see above). We also put it on blisters, bad cuts, chapped lips, and any other minor abrasion that needs a little something. Really useful, really easy - green grease is just a handy thing to have around the house just in case we need it.


Epsom Salts

     We occasionally soak a swollen foot or hand in Epsom salts, or one that's got an embedded splinter or some other small wound that's hard to treat with our other tools. The salt solution is a ratio of a quarter cup of salts to a pint of warm water, and the soak can last for anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes several times over the course of a couple of days. That generally does the trick. But why does Epsom salts work? It's all about the chemistry.

     It's because of osmosis. When you have two liquid solutions, they will exchange water molecules until the concentration of the chemicals dissolved in them is equal. If you have a swollen foot and you soak it in plain water, your body will naturally try and absorb more water. But if you put salt in it and raise the salinity of the water to a higher level than the salinity of your own body, the water will be transferred from your foot and into the solution so that eventually both your foot and the salt solution have the same concentration of salt. This reduces the swelling.

     My Mom gets so excited about chemistry, and since we live here, we all get to hear about it. But you have to admit, osmosis is pretty cool.

*     *     *     *     *

     These are our go-to remedies for these kinds of common ailments. You'll probably notice that we don't actually use a lot of conventional medicine. No trips to the doctor involved. No cough syrup, no wound salve or shots. It's all pretty straightforward and simple, which is how we prefer it.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Laura Ingalls Wilder

     As you should know by reading one of my very early blog posts, we're a homeschooling family. My Mom does all the teaching, all the way out to high school graduation. As we get older, however, a lot of the direct teaching comes from textbooks instead of directly from Mom. Anymore, now that she's gone from pre-Kindergarten to graduation with two kids, she knows what parts of schooling she wants to be closely involved with, and what parts we can do independently. There's a period of time early in our homeschooling process when we do just about everything with Mom. And that starts with learning to read.

     Mom is the one who teaches all of us to read. I could do my own post on what tools Mom uses to teach us to read, how long it takes, how the process moves along, why it works, etc, etc. But since Mom wrote her own post on that on her blog, I'm just going to tell you to read that. Mom did a much better job that I would have done. So find her post HERE.

     Now, assuming you read that insightful post, you'll know more about how Mom has taught all of us homeschooling kids to read. Currently there are two Clan kids going through the reading process. Fro is just starting, getting through the 100-EZ Lessons book, and Fuzz is about halfway through. She's equipped with the skills, knowledge of letter sounds and understands phonics pretty well. Now she just needs practice.

     Mom makes sure we get that practice in reading before she forces us to rely on our ability to read to learn advanced math, grammar, history, science, and everything else. And to do that, she has us read two entire series of books. On our own.

     (And if you read Mom's blog post, you'll know what books I'm talking about.)

     The two series we read are the Little House series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which we read first, and then The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S.Lewis. The interesting thing about Little House series is that the reading level advances as you progress through the series. The first book is marked for ages 8-12, and the last book is for ages 12 and up. Our new readers might be 8 by the time they start the series, but they're not even close to 12 when they finish. Mom forces us to learn to read well by equipping us with the tools to do it, and then making us practice and practice and practice.

     Fuzz is currently about halfway through the Little House series, and she really, really likes them. She was very sad when Laura's dog, Jack, dies and goes to the Happy Hunting Grounds, but I think she'll perk up when they get their new cat in the 7th book. So, go Fuzz! I have a feeling she's going to turn into a bookworm like me. Good for her!

     And, for those of you who don't know it, today is Fuzz's BIRTHDAY!!! She's going to be 8, which means that she's halfway through a series intended for 8-12 year-olds and she's doing really, really well and reading like a pro.
 Happy Birthday, Fuzz!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Garlic

     This is a huge topic, because my family uses garlic a lot. Besides cooking with it - since Mom likes to add garlic to soups and pickles, etc, we also take advantage of the enormous medicinal value of raw garlic.

     My Mom's a smart cookie, and she knows some pretty interesting things about garlic, and the things it can do. She's been treating everything from head colds to the flu in this family for as long as we've been around, and her first response to anything is garlic. There are some good reasons for that. Raw garlic contains a chemical called allicin. Allicin (pronounced like 'Alice in Wonderland') is what gives garlic its distinct smell, and it's a natural antibiotic, antiviral, anti-just-about-everything. It's very effective for fighting bacterial and viral infections, which cause things such as head colds. Here's my list of things we use garlic on, along with our method of getting the garlic where it needs to be to do its job.



Eye Infections

     Eye infections are easily treated with garlic poultices. Depending on how strong you want your poultice to be, you can mince, grate, or crush a clove of garlic onto a paper towel. To aid in getting the garlic juices into the eye, you can dip that paper towel into hot (not boiling) water. Then just apply that to the closed eye. This stings like crazy, and the length of time you apply the poultice depends on how much you can tolerate. If it hurts really bad, probably only twenty seconds is sufficient every time you apply the poultice. If it doesn't really sting at all, you can leave it on for a minute or two, which will allow the garlic to be absorbed through your eyelid as well. Applying a garlic poultice a couple times a day can clear up pinkeye in 24 hours.


Ear Infections

     Ear infections are also something we use garlic for. We don't blow our noses very consistently, to tell you the truth. The common practice is to just sniff it back and save it for later - gross, but true. Unfortunately, sniffing everything back into our heads can cause an ear infection, which adds a new dimension to the misery.

     The cure? Garlic. Of course. Garlic cures just about everything. 

     For most ear infections we take a clove of raw garlic and score one side of it with a fingernail, breaking the skin. The clove goes in the infected ear, scored side toward your eardrum. Garlic oils are aromatic - you can smell them in the air after the skin has been broken. Those oils are quickly airborne, so if you put the cuts in the garlic toward your ear, , they'll be sealed in where they can do their stuff. Slap some tape on that to hold your little buddy in, and if you change your garlic every 24 hours or so, you've got your ear infection licked.

     There's another method which doesn't look as stylish, but also works on ear infections. We'll put warm oil infused with garlic oils in the infected ear. This is a more direct treatment, because it applies the garlic directly to the ear drum, and it's pretty comfortable, too. To prepare this oil, we mince a clove of garlic incredibly fine and then mix it with warm oil. Our preference is coconut oil, but any oil will work. Be sure to strain out the garlic after you've let the garlic steep in the warm oil for a while, otherwise you'll get garlic stuck in your ear! This oil can be stored in the fridge for a long time, and if it was made with coconut oil, it'll even solidify in the fridge, so you don't have to worry about spilling it. 

     When you need to use the oil, warm a little in the microwave - don't fry it! As soon as you start cooking the garlic, the allicin will be killed, and then you're just putting oil in your ear, which maybe wins you style points, but won't make you feel any better. Also, if you heat the oil too much, you're going to burn your eardrum, which will hurt - a lot. So test it carefully before you put it in your ear. In fact, our preferred method of heating the oil is to warm a small bowl of water, and then float the container of oil in that. The result is warm oil, but not boiling hot, cooked oil.
     Once you've got oil in your ear, it should sit there for several minutes. You can even take a nap with it in there, if you are so included. Whatever floats your boat. When you're ready to be done, just get up and go. I'd press a rag to my ear before I actually got up, so that all the oil drains into the rag and doesn't run down the side of my face, but that's my personal preference. Again, whatever works for you. If you're really particular, you can actually wash your ear once you're finished - with soap, even. Again, whatever floats your boat.


Raw

     Taking raw garlic is also a good way to wipe out a head cold, because you'll have taken a massive dose of anti-everything that will get rid of whatever was troubling you on its way through. Mince up a clove of garlic and take it with some honey or applesauce or something to help get it down, and you're all set. 

     I only do this if I'm feeling truly desperate or truly brave. I prefer to rough out a head cold, but that's because I hate the taste of raw garlic. If you don't mind the taste, go for it. It'll clear things up amazingly.



*     *     *     *     *

     As you can see we use a lot of garlic. Buying as much as we use yearly from the grocery store is pretty ridiculous, especially when you can grow your own garlic in your garden, and then store it through the winter. Garlic is in the same family as onions, so it grows underground with a green stem up top. We plant a lot, and then in the fall we dig it up and dry them before we braid the stems. This is very handy, and keeps everything together so we can hang it in the garage where it won't get stepped on.

     All that lovely garlic. Twelve big ol' braids of it, in fact, which makes Mom incredibly happy. She loves garlic.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Deer Chateau

     It's deer season!

    We eat a lot of venison - it's actually our primary meat for canning in chili, spaghetti, or just as meat for soup and sandwiches. Most years we have at least one Clan hunter out in the woods waiting for a deer to volunteer to stand at close range for a few minutes so we can get off a shot. My grandma has some property in the woods out behind our house, so we hunt on that property, and there are deer out there.

     This year we have two hunters, Skinny and Mom. We're hoping and praying they get something, because so far we haven't gotten a call to pick up any deer anyone else has shot and doesn't want for meat. That's how we get 2/3 of our venison on the average year, so things are turning out differently this year.

     Out in the woods we have three deer stands. A 1-man tree stand, a 2-man tree stand, and then my grandpa's deer chateau.

     In 2008, after my grandpa was diagnosed with kidney cancer, he and my grandma moved down from North Dakota to live closer to our family. Grandpa liked to hunt, but what with the cold and the long hours in the exposed tree stands, he didn't think he'd be able to hunt with us. So he asked one of our neighbors, who is a building contractor, to help him build an insulated deer stand in the woods so he could still hunt with the boys. 

     Not only did the contractor agree to help, but he and his crew supplied the materials and volunteered their time and labor to build it. It was a fun project to watch go together, and the deer stand has worked really well. It worked great for Grandpa to hunt out of, and we've enjoyed hunting from it since. It's much warmer than sitting in a stand in a tree from sunup to sundown. Especially on windy days, the 'deer shack', as we call it, is to be preferred.
     And the mice certainly prefer it during the wintertime. 

     The deer shack is about 7 feet off the ground, with a ladder going up to the mini-deck by the door for easy entrance. It's about 7.5'x3.5', with insulated walls, floor, and ceiling. The exterior actually has siding on it, and there are nice sliding windows on every side.
     After we'd hunted in the deer shack one year, we added a few additions to make it more comfortable and easier to shoot from. We put old carpet samples from my great-grandpa's barn along the walls and floor to eliminate some of the thumping noises that the gun makes when it's moved around. 
     Mom also sewed some bolsters out of polar fleece to stuff in the windows. This is because when you're got cold fingers stuffed in mittens, those windows are hard to open without making noise and startling that deer you were gonna shoot. But the alternative is to leave them open all day, and then it gets frightfully chilly in that shack. By stuffing the bolsters in the window, we can still see, keep in a bit of heat, and shoot if we see anything.
     Add a chair, and we've got a party. 
    
     I've noticed more and more insulated deer stands going up in the neighborhood, which tells me that apparently hunters are getting less and less tough. Either that, or deer hunters are finally getting smarter and realizing you don't have to rough it out in the below zero weather and cutting wind to get a deer.

     And by the way, to any disbelievers out there, the deer shack does work. We have shot deer out of it. My Mom shot her first deer out of it last year, a nice 8-point buck.
     Yay, Mom!!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Clan Does Fancy

     I know you're not going to believe this. I think some people think we do everything as plain and simple and boring as we can. But that's not so. We do things the fancy way every now and then.

     Like applesauce. 

     In my previous post, I talked about applesauce and the making of applesauce in the Clan household. But sometimes we like to have something a bit more special. So every year Mom cans up between 50 and 100 quarts of chunky applesauce.

     Chunky applesauce. It just sounds special and extra fancy, doesn't it?

     To make our chunky applesauce, we use our Apple Machine to peel, core, and slice the apples.The apple-peeler-corer-slicer, as we call it around here, is a really handy tool and generally can peel, core, and slice an apple in 30 seconds. Just crank.
     All those chunks of apple go into one of our biggest bowls. We probably about half fill it with apple slices, but I have no idea how many apples we go through to do this. Quite a few.
     Then we fill the bowl with applesauce. Fill it right up until it really shouldn't hold any more because we won't be able to stir it, and then add a bit more. That's just how we do things. Then, to make things really fancy, we add some flavoring. Cinnamon. A nice layer sprinkled all over the top. It's not necessary to measure. Add to taste or until you run out.
     And that's chunky applesauce. We can it just the same way as normal applesauce, and it technically saves time because we don't have to cook down as many apples. It does take a bit more labor, though, to crank the apple-peeler-corer-slicer for all those sliced apples, but we think its worth it. 

     And there's the added bonus of having all those apple peels around while we're running that apple-peeler-corer-slicer. We like to eat those on the job. Sorta like enormously long noodles.
     See? We can do fancy just fine. But it's generally more work, and anyway. At this house you eat when Mom cooks, and that's it. And Mom doesn't always have time for extra steps. Chunky applesauce is probably the fanciest thing we cook, and the only fruit or vegetable that we season before canning it. And since all we did was add cinnamon...well, that says just about everything. We don't add seasoning to the fruits and vegetables that we can. The exceptions are the chili and spaghetti sauce we make. And that's it, folks.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Applesauce Marathon

     It's that time of year. The apples are ripe, our neighbors have picked all they want off their trees, and now they've given us a call and asked us to come get the rest.

     So we have. Several times. I'm not even going to guess how many bushels of apples we've picked this year. I measure our harvest in jars of applesauce canned. And that comes out to 250 jars of applesauce this year. 250 jars.

     Making that many jars of applesauce is a long job, but we do it in steps. We've found that taking things one step at a time is the best way to getting it done.

     There's no rule that says we can't try to do all those steps all at the same time, though. That could explain some of the craziness around here.

     We cook down our applesauce in a big pot. It's actually very slow and inefficient to cook down whole apples - it takes a long time to get the insides soft enough. Instead, we slice all our apples and this saves a bunch of time. 
     Then we pack as many slices into our biggest pot as we can, add about a pint of water, and put it on the stove. It takes something like 20 minutes to cook down a pot of apples. Sometimes it takes longer, other times it's shorter. That generally depends on the kind of apples you're cooking. We cook down a variety of apples, so the cooking time differs. 
Before
After
     As you can see, we leave the peels on and don't take the cores out. The entire apple gets cooked down because we used a Squeezo to make our applesauce. 
     The apples go in the hopper at the top, then a small person turns the crank, and the applesauce comes out the screen and drips down into the pan. The peels, seeds, and hard bits go out the end into the brown pitcher. Presto, you've got applesauce!
     A bit of advice: It's important to cut your apples fairly evenly and cook them until they are soft. If they're too thick or don't cook down enough, most of the apple will actually go out the end into the compost bin and go to waste. And that makes the job pretty much pointless.

     The job of cranking the squeezo generally goes to a little kid, and by the end of the day everyone has gotten a chance to be 'cranky' at least once or twice.
Becca being cranky.
     We don't sweeten our applesauce, so from the pan it goes straight into jars and into the canner. Because applesauce is high in acid, you can can it in a steam canner, which is much faster and easier than canning in a pressure canner. We can our applesauce for 35 minutes, not because it's the official number but because that's what Mom can remember. The official time is 20 minutes. Just another reason why Mom isn't USDA approved. 

     There was a time when we would devote an entire day or more to making applesauce, and we kids would fill every single large bowl we had in the house with sliced apples. Mom would spend all day cooking these down and canning them up, and that would be the entire day's activities. In the past two or three years we've started just filling enough bowls to keep ahead of Mom by a load or two. This takes much less time than filling all the bowls, and means we don't get so far ahead of Mom that she's canning applesauce until midnight. She used to go a little crazy doing that.
     And the other advantage of only filling a few bowls at a time is that it gives us a bit more time throughout the day to do other things. So now on applesauce days we also do all our schoolwork and a million other jobs Mom has in mind which may or may not be impossible to complete.

     And when we've finished the applesauce marathon - which starts in September and ends in October - we have between 250 and 300+ quarts of applesauce. Just about enough to get us through the year, believe it or not. This year we're a bit short - we recently hit 250, so we could be a bit tight for applesauce come May. But for a change this year we stored more nice apples for eating fresh during the winter, so there are 100 pounds of apples in the rafters downstairs right now that won't be made into applesauce. Hopefully between those and the canned applesauce we'll have enough.
Look like enough to you? It's not. That's not even half of what we've got downstairs.