Friday, April 4, 2014

Managing Your Dog's Allergies Naturally

There seem to be a shocking number of dogs out there who, like their human buddies, are struggling with allergies. Our dog was on antibiotics when we got him from the pound and we very quickly learned why. Grass, food, animals...he is allergic to just about everything. To be honest, I wouldn't be surprised if that is how he ended up in the pound, because his allergies are BAD, and without almost constant attention they take over his body.

Dogs, like all of us animals, have a very complex bacterial environment living in their bodies and on their coats. Just like a cow's ruminant systems, bacteria on one part of the body does its job wonderfully, but once it is introduced to another part of the body where it doesn't belong, it can wreak havoc. Such is the case with dogs and allergies. Our dog, like many has allergic dermatitis which just means his skin breaks out in reaction to an allergen. However, when his skin becomes red and inflamed it becomes easy for skin and fur bacteria to enter the body and the skin becomes infected. This is pyoderma*. So when managing dog allergies you are really looking at two problems: allergy and bacteria management.

*Not, I will be discussing chronic superficial pyoderma. Serious acute or chronic pyoderma is best treated with antibiotics.

This is typical spring and summer belly skin for him

As with any other allergy, it is a good idea to try to get a sense of what is causing the problem. It may simply be food (almost all commercial dog foods contain generous amounts of wheat and corn, both of which often cause allergies), or outdoor triggers, or even another animal in the house. For us, it is all the above.


  • Make homemade dog food. There are so many great recipes out there for dog food, but we stick to ones that contain few grains but many immune boosting vegetables. I essentially make a stew, starting with meat boiled in water, and adding in mushed vegetables, and finally brown rice to soak up all the liquid. DO NOT  THROW AWAY THE BONES. Despite what you have no doubt heard, dogs CAN and SHOULD eat bones. As long as they are raw or boiled, not baked, bones are perfectly safe for dogs. They only become brittle and sharp when baked, but they are a good and necessary part of a dog's diet, providing useful nutrients, and nothing is better than a real bone for keeping a dogs teeth clean and dental disease away (The only real exceptions to this are elderly dogs, very small dogs, and brachycephalic breeds.) If you still feel concerned about it you can always freeze raw bones to be chewed so that the dog it literally forced to chew, rather than swallow it. Bones should always be given at the END of a meal, not as a treat. You should also include organ meat in the food. A basic dog food recipe should look something like this:
  • 30% Meat
  • 20% Organ Meats
  • 10% vegetables
  • 35% Filler, like bread or rice
  • 5% Bones or cartillage (bone meal or shark cartillage are good bone substitutes)
  • You may also want to consider a vitamin or herbal supplement. We give our dog mullein and echinacea "tea," as well as omega-3 supplements.
  • A couple times a week you should give your dog some diary in the form of yogurt (unsweetetned), or milk. Frozen yogurt drops make a great treat. Raw or boiled eggs are also a good occasional snack.

Keep Their Skin Clean

  • Studies have shown that daily baths are just as effective against superficial pyoderma as antibiotics (which is good since it's good for no one for your dog to always be on an antibiotic treatment.) Unfortunately, I am not dedicated enough to give our fairly big dog a bath every day, so I focus on baths after he has been outside, particularly when he goes swimming in the creek or has been laying in the grass all day. You can really use any antibacterial soap but I recommend a chlorhexidine shampoo. We've had good luck with it. 

  • When flare ups occur oatmeal or peppermint baths can be soothing, and eucalyptus oil added to bath water will reduce inflamation.
  • Topical lotions for eczema or sensitive skin such as Aveeno Oatmeal Lotion work well in reducing the itching and inflamation. This is particularly important because any skin lesions from rashes or scratching can lead to infection.

  • A polic of mint, echinacea, and eucalyptus also works well, if you can get your dog to hold still
  • And most importantly, your dog must be kept free of pests such as fleas. Again, any kind of open wound, even as small as a flea bite, can become a problem in sensitive dogs.
  • When the skin dog become infected cleaning it with hydrogen peroxide or alcohol between baths helps to reduce bacteria.

Reduce Exposure to Allergens

  • This can be done in two ways: By literally preventing them from being near the problem, or by allergy medication.
  • Normally, our dog receives two benedryl pills in the morning and one in the evening. You can use this, or another medicine prescribed by your vet. Although I prefer using more natural remedies, when it is for prevention of a much bigger problem (pyoderma and most likely another round of antibiotics), I am willing to make an exception. 
  • We have had to actively discourage our dog from eating grass, or even lying in it. I always try to make sure he has a soft surface to lie on (which he will eagerly choose over the grass since he is obsessed with anything soft and fluffy), and in the summer it is very important to give them access to cool, clean water, since heat can cause a flare up. 
  • We (unfortunately) have to avoid putting a collar on our dog since anything touching his skin can be a problem (I now write our phone number on the inside of his ear lol.) For the same reason I try to clean his ears, armpits, and toes regularly. These are the kinds of places bacteria loves to breed. 
You can still see a tiny bald spot on his neck. Last summer it was completely bald and swollen and just looked terrible. So, no more collars.
I see you in there bacteria! You can't hide from me mua-hahahaha
  • We also have to limit his contact with other animals. Being around them isn't a problem, but when our cat licks him, or another dog even playfully bites him, his skin will almost instantly become red and irritated.
  • The easiest thing to do is simply think about how a human allergy sufferer will adjust their life, and do the same with your dog. Even if he loves the outdoor, getting into an air conditioned environment for "breaks" throughout the day will go far in easing his symptoms.

When dealing with chronic problems it is necessary to try dealing without many medical interventions but it is equally important to know when you're beat and throw in the towel. Always have some antibiotics on hand.

How to Paint Your Cabinets from a DIYer

This is the ugliness that was our kitchen cabinets. Actually, they don't look nearly as bad in this picture, but they had this horrible pinkish stain that was chipping all over the place. In other words, they NEEDED to be redone, and they SHOULD be redone because of the ugly.

Worn to the bone. We bought the house from an older couple who had got it from their parents. The house itself is from 1925 but when they sold off a bunch of their farm in the early 2000s they updated and renovated a lot of things. Like the kitchen. So the cabinets are actually fairly "in style"...not that terrible handle-in-the-middle crap they did in the 80s but the kitchen was designed by a woman in her 70s so it looked pretty...old. They also had a bunch of fake pink tiles on the walls...which we replaced with wainscoting.

1-Anyway, so let's get started. There actually isn't too much prep work, expect removing the cabinets and hardware. I did mine in sections so I didn't bother labeling the cabinets but if you're doing them all at once you will want to.

2-Then you begin the sanding. To remove paint or stain and to buff the surface you should start out with 100 grit paper. Do NOT use a sander, it will remove too much. You really need to make sure to get every inch of surface, cabinet doors and frames, buffed or the paint will not stick properly. This is the hardest part of the project in my opinion.

3-You are really going to want to remove any existing paint or stain. Painting over paint on wood is a lot easier than sanding but it will not last. Little bits of paint will commit suicide and jump ship, leaving your finish constantly chippy and you'll always be sweeping up bits of paint. Don't be lazy. Get it down to new wood.

4-Lets talk paint. You really want a latex. Some people say oil is better but it's not. Don't listen to them. You're going to need to primer (Kilz is generally considered the best choice) and then also enough for about 4 layers of top coat. We used a little less than a gallon of Sherwin Williams Classic Latex paint. Also buy a new brush for this project. It's really important to get a smooth coat, which will not happen if your bush is even kind of dirty.

5-After you have completely sanded the surface you can apply the primer. The key to getting a nice tough finish is to apply many thin layers and sand smooth between each. I put on two layers of primer, applying each VERY THIN. When you have so many edges and varying surface heights like you do in cabinets it's super easy to have paint collect or drip. Thin layers mean there's not enough paint to accumulate at the edges and corners.

6-Once you have lightly sanded the second primer coat go ahead and apply your first top coat. Again, thin layers, and sand between each, this time with 150 grit paper. I think it goes without saying but let your cabinets dry completely before you sand. And don't go easy on the paint! If it's beginning to get thick and ripple sand it all the way back down if you need to. It'd better to get rid of the irregularities before they get worse.

Don't forget about all of the places that you don't normally see, like the edges underneath the cabinet, beside your stove and fridge, or the area on the inside of the drawer front.

7-This project took me about 2 months to complete but that's because of my on scattered time-table and has no indication of the amount of time it should take you. If you work consistently it should only take about a week for 20 cabinets. The most important thing is to let the paint dry completely before sanding, which takes almost an entire day.

8-When I did three coats I had the cabinets put back up and gave them another coat while they were attached. You may not need to do this. I painted mine in the basement where the light wasn't as blazing as it is in the kitchen. Once they were in better light I thought they needed another coat, so just bear in mind that the lighting may affect how many times you need to paint. If you just have a florescent bulb in your kitchen you may be able to get away with only 2 coats.

And finally, measure and attach hardware.

Now to do the counters!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Weight Loss for Women Who Glisten, Not Sweat: Vintage Values

Ok, so I do sweat sometimes. In fact, I'm not shy about doing hard work at all. As long as it is hard work with a purpose. Running for the sake of keeping my bum trim doesn't really seem like much of a purpose. You could say that I'm just so humble that vanity is the last thing I'd want to put my precious time towards, but it's more like I'm just lazy.
I really hate when people talk about women getting married and having children so they "let themselves go."
1- I kind of feel like people "let themselves go" because they're happy! I love my husband, I love my current life, and as a normal contented person I don't feel like I need to compete. Other things like enjoying a meal with my family is more important to me.
And 2- I really hate when I hear people suggest that women getting plump after having a baby is somehow laziness and unnatural on their part. I challenged people who think visible muscles on a mother is natural to show me ONE PICTURE of ONE ABORIGINAL WOMEN who is not plump. And by aboriginal I don't mean Australian, just living a primitive lifestyle. Hint: there are no pictures of that. Because even in near starvation conditions mothers have "excess" plump. Because they need it. Because otherwise their babies would die. And they probably would too. Literally.

This winter has been very hard on my body because it was such a glum season the only thing I had to look forward to was mealtime. I'm not a junkfood person but contrary to what some people may tell you fat is fat and sugar is sugar, no matter if it comes in the form of a high-class pastry or a hillbilly twinkie. And I love my pastries...

So, the question is...what do you do when you're seeing the scale creep on up but you have zero desire to sign up for that crossfit thingie everyone is talking about on facebook?

  • Well, start small. I don't just mean ease into exercise, but also start with the small pounds. It's much easier to catch yourself at a 5lb weight gain than it is at a 10 or 20lb gain.

  • Eat slower. When you have kids it's so easy to get in the habit of scarfing everything down before you have to get up to refill milk glasses one more time (you know what I'm talking about MomFromAChristmasstory) but it is a terrible habit and must be broken! 

You need to ingest small amounts of food slowly so that your stomach has time to let you know when you're full before you over in-take and feel miserable.

(See 2:10)

  • Drop the coffee and pick up some water. I would say at least half of the time I'm hungry I actually just need water. Unfortunately, when I drink coffee or any kind of caffeine, it messes up my natural sense of thirst and I go days without water, by which time I start to feel more and more ill. And be sure to drink while you eat. Not only will it slow you down but it will ease digestion.

  • Take a walk. Taking a walk is one of the best things you can do after you eat. Again, it helps get rid of that gross bloated feeling in your stomach, helps regulate your sugar intake, and burns off some of those calories you just ate. Just feeling better and not like a fat slob is a mental hurtle that must be crossed!

  • Stretch. Lots of people tout the benefits of yoga and I completely agree! But you don't need to wrap yourself up like a pretzel to benefit from simply stretching your muscles once a day. Stretching is one of those things like walking or drinking water that simply helps your body to feel better and more energized. When you feel more energized, you are more motivated to not allow laziness to rule your life. When your knees aren't killing you, taking the stairs don't seem as daunting. When your back doesn't ache, going around the yard picking up sticks doesn't sound like something that would be perfect for the kids to do. So stretch like everyday you're about to run a marathon. 'Cause you are.

  • Pick a small exercise routine and switch it up regularly. I really hate when people say things like, "You can browse facebook for an hour but don't have 15 minutes to workout a day?" As if those two things are totally equatable. What they should say is, "I'm not surprised at all you would choose a leisurely activity for an extended amount of time instead of doing something that has the hardship and futility of Sisyphus pushing a rock uphill for eternity." Because that's what those 15 minutes feel like. Eternity. I really like to hike, so I try to make time for it as often as I can. I purposefully set a quick pace and often will pick off-trail paths, which involve a lot of climbing, ducking, and moving every which way. Exercise doesn't have to be a drag if it is something you love to do. Or if you can't commit yourself to something big like a sport, try a more simple exercise routine like Ballet Beautiful (you can view her videos online). Remember you want to lightly push your body but don't over-do it. There is nothing that ends faster than plans to drop so many pounds in such and such amount of time. A healthy body will look healthy when it is healthy. Don't just think about looking good in time for spring break but whether you will still be able to take yourself to the bathroom when you're 80. Trust me, you'll thank me for that advice some day.

  • And read French Women Don't Get Fat. Guiliano has so many more great lifestyle changes that will help remind you how to stay beautiful and trim forever.

Cinnamon Bundt Cake

This is one of my favorite cakes. I have absolutely terrible luck with coffee cakes. They always end up too gooey in the middle for my taste. This one however can out perfectly soft while still having a nice crumb. I did completely eliminate the sour cream. Didn't even bother substituting, just completely took it out.

Go over to Baked By Rachel for the recipe!

Aboriginal Dot Cookies

It all started with a craving for cookies. 
Which was a horrible feeling because it was literally freezing outside and I had zero desire to go to the store for cookie ingredients. Pretty much all I had was butter, sugar, and flour.
So we just made sugar cookies.
But those are so BORING. 
So we cut them into shapes.
But the children wanted to decorate them.
We had no sprinkled.
So instead, we painted.

We had been talking all things zoo, so the animals made sense, but I wanted to make them more fun than attempting a realistic painting on a cookie. And it had to be simple for the children.

We actually had recently talked about Seurat (dot dot Seurat as we call him) so we looked up and explored aboriginal dot paintings.

And then created our own.

I made a simple glaze frosting and dyed them primary colors.

Then gave the children paint brushes and let them mix and paint.
Although we started off with the dot painting the children quickly got creative and came up with marbling, large dots, and other kinds of painting techniques. All in all the cookies ended up being adorable. And yummy, as all cookies should be!

Thursday, February 27, 2014


I know, I know, spring is not here QUITE yet. But we had that magical moment this morning when I told the children is was spring outside because I saw the daffodils peaking up under dead leaves when I went to close the gate earlier. They began jumping up and down shouting "spring!" and demanded to be taken outside to check out the little buds. Our peach tree still has at least another month but it's little brown buds are already swollen and beginning to show just the faintest shade of pink. I'm always so concerned when I see my little ones coming up on a warm afternoon. I want to tuck them back in and tell them winter isn't quite over yet and they'd do much better waiting another few weeks. But they're just like my children and eager for even the smallest sign of spring to kick off their winter gear and enjoy the sunshine.

Every season has its good points and I really love them all. The hot lazy days of summer, the crisp golden smell of fall, the warm coziness of your house while you look at the white beauty of winter. But spring. OH SPRING! I'm not simply being cliche when I tell people I could never live in a warm climate because I'd miss spring too much. The Ohio spring when the grass is soft and dark green and you watch as every day things wake up. There is no other time when you feel as in tune to everything else as you do in spring. We're all tired of the winter coldness and humans, plants, and animals can all be seen happily enjoying the return of the warm weather and each other. Even the rivers seems to be happy and bubbling along...a sound that is missed under the ice and snow.

Here's one of my favorite new winter soups. Butternut soup is typically infused with Indian spices but this one is a bit more creole and the tomatoes add a nice sweet and smokey flavor. It's really wonderful.

So we are all beginning to wake up from our winter blahs (and not a moment too soon!) and start the great project that is the garden. I'm not one of those analytical, organized people. I tend to do something as poorly as you possibly can and then work my way up to how little I can do to get by. I'm not lazy as much as easily distracted. Its a stretch for me to remember what day it is. So after 4 years of living in our house and having a garden I've finally come to the realization that I have to keep a garden log. Don't tell my husband, but I've wasted so many seeds (and money. yikes) simply because I can't remember where I planted what and how long it's supposed to take to come up and what it looks like when it does come up. And some other things, like broccoli and cauliflower, I have had absolutely terrible results with. Turns out they need a lot more space and a lot more fertilizer than I've been giving them. The things I could learn by simply reading descriptions.

In these last few weeks of winter I've been working on getting my act together for what will hopefully be a much better planting year. I already know that we're supposed to get pretty dry and hot during the summer so I've been planning on installing some rain barrels and hording some of the incredible amounts of rain we're getting this spring. I've also started my garden log to help me know what I should be doing, as well as to keep track of where things are. Last year wasn't terribly great but I kind of came right up to the brink where I could clearly see what my problems were. We still haven't had a good peach harvest, last year they only grew to about the size of a small plum, but I've found their problem, as well as deciphered the fungus infection our plum tree has. Hopefully I'll be able to get my act together and give these plants what they need so we'll be able to finally have what I would call a really successful harvest.

Last year I spent 70 some dollars on seeds and we got back approximately 300 dollars worth of produce. Not including the fact that it was "organic," which would bump that price up even more. So even if you're not particularly good at gardening I would definitely encourage you to give it a try. Planting from seed is well worth the money.
I'll definitely be posting more about gardening as the year goes on but here are some of my past posts to get you started:
How to Start Seeds Indoors
More on Starting Seeds

And if you haven't already you should really sign up for the Food Growing Summit, which is held online from March 3rd-7th. It has some pretty big names like Joel Salatin, Will Allen, and Vandana Shiva holding lectures on home food production. Here is the full list of presenters and topics.

Monday, January 20, 2014

How to Grind Your Own Beef

I was very pleasantly surprised at how easy this was. I asked for a meat grinder for Christmas because there is no place close that sells quality sausages and I wanted to make my own, but I figured while I have a grinder I might as well go ahead and make my own ground beef as well. All of that stuff about pink slime really freaked me out, not to mention the fact that I've often gotten ground beef that had lovely red meat on the outside but was brown on the inside, which means the meat was exposed to air and was probably older and just covered in pretty fresh meat so they didn't have to discount it for looking bad. Now I know that I am having fresh, 100% ground beef. Well, more like 95% beef, 5% fat, but still...

About half an hour before you grind put the meat and the grinder in the freezer. It's much more sanitary to use it partially frozen.

Cut the beef into cubes. I used a thick steak with some nice marbling that I got for about 5 dollars and it's a little over a pound. A little bit more expensive than preground beef but since I'm getting all beef and no fillers, it's probably actually about the same. (Side note, see what my pink counters do to my pictures. They make everything look pink. Yuck)

I have a kitchenaid attachment which for a home cook is probably all you need. If you are a homesteader and processing large amounts of meat, obviously you'll need more. This one is so handy because it works well but it's small enough to not take up a lot of space. Feed the meat into the hole.

You can adjust the size of beef that come out. Also, don't put in whole chunks of fat because it will clog around your blade. I just ground it straight into the skillet. Kitchenaid recommends to put the setting on 4 and it look about a minute for it to get everything out. I did turn it up to 6 at the end to help push out the rest.

Cooking freshly ground beef was an entirely new experience for me. It smelled like a steak. I know you may be thinking, "Of course it does, it's beef isn't it?" but ground beef rarely smells like cooking meat. It doesn't small a whole like anything except the times I've gotten meat (especially when it's organic for some reason) that smells almost like oatmeal. I assume that this is the filler. But this beef smells so incredibly good. 

Even on the smallest setting the meat was in much wider strands than you get at the grocery. I was a little iffy about that being a problem but it wasn't at all. The meat didn't clump together but cooked into nice perfectly sized chunks. I assume that groceries grind it so much smaller because they're using discarded bits of meat that need to be blended. In my beef each strand had the same red and white marbling that the original steak did.
And it was not cooking in a small pool of fat. I didn't even bother patting it dry, unlike the spoonfuls of fat I usually have to scoop out.

Grinding my own beef cost me about 1 additional minute, although I did have to remember an half an  hour ahead of time to put it in the freezer. It was not messing, or bloody...It looked and smelled so much better, and I feel a lot better about feeding it to my family. I think the days of buying pre-ground beef are done for us.