Flu Tea

It finally happened. I woke up this morning with a stuffy nose and slightly sore throat. I really don’t have time for a cold so I need to kick this thing to the curb fast! Here’s what I’m doing.

First thing, I grabbed my cold/flu bomb and rolled it on my throat and the bottoms of my feet. The cold/flu bomb is a combination of Shield, oregano, and melaleuca. I have extolled the virtues of Shield before when I used it on Sunshine’s throat last year. You can read that story again here. Oregano has amazing antibiotic properties and melaleuca is known to fight bacteria and viruses. Mix together and you have something powerful.

Once I got the cold/flu bomb on me, I went to the kitchen and started up my diffuser with Shield, White Fir (for cleaning the air), and Oregano. Then I put the kettle on to make flu tea.

Flu tea isn’t really tea. It’s hot water with 3 drops of Shield and a generous teaspoon of honey. But not just any honey. I use Manuka honey in this tea.

Honey has long been known to have antibacterial properties. But the source of the honey determines how much of an antibiotic it is. The antibacterial component in Manuka honey (found in New Zealand and Australia) is called methylglyoxal, or MG. The higher the concentration of MG, the more potent the antibacterial properties of the honey. Manuka honey has a rating scale of UMG for Unique Manuka Factor to measure the amount in the honey. Ideally, you want to 16+ to get the maximum benefits. Manuka honey is used most often in the treatment of wounds. You can read here how I treated Cookie’s infected skin.

While Manuka honey is by no means the sweet honey that we’re used to eating, I’ve come appreciate it’s sharp taste because I know the benefits that will come with it. I won’t eat it on toast but melted in a big mug of hot water, it’s actually quite good. And you can always add some “regular” raw honey to sweeten it up a bit.

If you don’t have Manuka honey on hand, some good local raw honey will be just fine, too.

If you’ve got a cold coming on, here’s the recipe for Flu Tea to make yourself.

1 cup hot water
1 tsp (generous) Manuka honey (or just raw honey if you don’t have Manuka)
2-3 drops Shield
1-2 drops SN’s Lemon Mix together until the honey is melted and enjoy. I usually drink 2-3 cups of this per day when I’m feeling sick.

Use coupon code plainjane for 10% off your Spark Naturals order. This week (November 10-16), Spark Naturals’ Cold/Flu Bomb Kit is on sale. With my coupon code, you’ll get it for 20% off the regular price. Can’t beat that deal!
(Disclaimer: I am not a health care professional. I’m simply sharing what works for me.)

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Egg-Free Pumpkin Pie

I love pumpkin pie. Every fall, I make lots of pumpkin pies – I won’t wait for Thanksgiving. But when we found out about Cookie’s allergy to eggs, I didn’t know what to do. Eggs are sort of a big deal in pumpkin pie. I tried all kinds of allergy-friendly pumpkin pie recipes. Most of them were tolerable but not great. Since Cookie had never had real pumpkin pie, she didn’t know any different. But I did. So for those years I made regular pumpkin pie for everyone and an allergy-friendly pumpkin pie for Cookie. I love to bake but it’s crazy to bake a pie for one tiny child who will maybe eat two or three small pieces total over a few days.

So I started experimenting more and I finally have an egg-free pumpkin pie that tastes right. This recipe started from an allergy-free website and altered it to suit our tastes. I think it works pretty well.

I am using my normal crust – not gluten-free. GF pie dough is a nightmare to work with and I just haven’t taken the time to find one that I really like. Then, on our vacation this year, I found Wheat Montana. I don’t know why exactly but many people – including Cookie – who have gluten sensitivities have no problem with Wheat Montana’s flour. Fortunately I can buy it at my local SuperTarget so that’s what I use. One of these days I’ll share my pie crust recipe and tips for making it come out perfect – both tender and flaky. But today is just about the filling! Here’s how you do it.

1 can pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups whole milk (I prefer whole milk but you can use something else – it might not be as thick and creamy)
6 1/2 Tbsp corn starch
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. salt
1 pie crust (unbaked)

Preheat your oven to 350. Line a standard 9″ pie pan with your crust and set aside (preferably in the freezer). Combine all your filling ingredients in a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat until it thickens. Stir constantly (it’s only a few minutes). When it’s thickened, pour into your pie shell and bake at 350 until set (30-45 minutes). You can check it with a butter knife – stick it in the middle and if it comes out clean, the pie’s done. Let it cool completely on a wire rack before cutting and serving.

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Pretty simple, right? You’ll never even miss the eggs. This is a great pie even for those who can have eggs but maybe you’ve run out and NEED pumpkin pie. And yes, there is often a NEED for pumpkin pie.

Chicken and Rice Soup

I am always thinking that I want to post recipes – especially gluten-free/allergy-free ones – and I need to get on it. But here’s my problem. The photographs. Let’s be honest – if a blog posting of a recipe doesn’t have pictures, you’re not going to take the time to read the recipe much less make it.

But I am not a good photographer. Even if I decided, “So what? Post the pictures anyway,” I still have another problem. And it’s a very hard one to admit.

My kitchen is always a mess. Always. It’s not like I don’t wash dishes. It seems like there are days that that’s all I do. Yet everytime I turn around, there’s another ginormous pile of dishes needing to be washed.

If all the dishes are done (ha!) and put away, the counter is usually full of art work, homeschool projects, mail, toys I’ve confiscated…the usual. I can’t take pictures of food in that mess. Too much clutter (actually that’s a problem everywhere in my house but that’s a different story).

Today I’ve decided that that’s going to have to change (well, there’s still some clutter but the pictures will be taken anyway). Because I need to share with you my favorite soup. It’s that time of year when I make soup A LOT and try lots of different recipes. But this is my favorite. My stand-by, go-to, fail-safe. It’s a great flexible recipe because you can throw it together fast when it’s 5pm and you need to get something for dinner. But it can also be a great plan-ahead meal too.

It’s also gluten-free and dairy-free because that’s what we do in this house. But if you don’t need to be GF and/or DF, feel free to use other ingredients as noted.

The girls wanted to help with the soup this time. I let Ladybug try her hand at chopping the chicken.

Ladybug chopping chickenThen they took off with the camera and here’s a sample of what I found when I downloaded the pictures.

Silly CookieBut I digress. On with the recipe!

Chicken and Rice Soup

1 medium onion, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 tsp. garlic, minced (about 2 cloves – use more or less to taste)
2 Tbsp butter (or olive oil/avocado oil/coconut oil/spray of nonstick coating)
1/4 cup sweet rice flour (if you don’t need to be GF, you can use the same amount of all purpose flour)
2 cans (about 4 cups) GF chicken broth
2 cups cooked rice
12 oz shredded or chopped, cooked chicken breast (usually about 2 chicken breasts)
1 cup milk (cow, rice, or coconut work well)
2 Tbsp. lemon juice

In a large stockpot, melt the butter (or heat the oil of your choice) over medium-high heat. Saute the onion, celery, and carrots till soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and let it cook for about 30 seconds. Sprinkle in the flour and stir to coat the vegetables. Slowly pour in the chicken broth and stir well.

Add in the cooked chicken and rice and stir well. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and let it simmer for about 15 minutes. Stir occasionally or you’ll end up with burnt rice on the bottom of the pan. (I would guess….I’ve certainly never done that. Ahem.)

Gradually stir in the milk and lemon juice and heat it through. Add salt and pepper, if needed. Enjoy!

Chicken and Rice Soup
The beauty of this recipe is that it works no matter what. I’ve left out each of the vegetables at one time or another (if I happened to be out of one of them), and it’s still delicious. I’ve used canned chicken in a pinch. Typically I put a cup of rice in the rice cooker and start that cooking right before I start chopping the vegetables. By the time I need it for the soup, it’s just finished in the rice cooker.

Quick, easy, pretty economical and healthy too. Plus gluten free and allergy friendly. What more can you ask for?

Amazing Shield

On Saturday, Sunshine came crying to me that there were bumps on her uvula. I know, it’s weird that she knows uvula. Anyway, when I looked in her throat with the flashlight, sure enough her tonsils were swollen and had little white spots on them. As usual with probably every child on the planet, this came on late in the day on a weekend when the only options are to go to Urgent Care or wait till Monday. Given that I’d just had Sunshine in the ER a month or so ago and the experience was not good and the fact that she didn’t have an elevated temperature or anything, I decided to wait and see what I could do for her in the meantime.

When I was a kid and had a sore throat, the first thing my mom would do was to make up a little cup of honey and lemon juice. It always felt so good on my throat and tasted good too. (Confession time. There may have been a time or two when I just really wanted the honey/lemon concoction so I’d say that my throat hurt when it really didn’t. Sorry Mom!) So that’s the first thing I did for Sunshine. I knew of a few other things to try but since I know this kid pretty well, I knew there was NO WAY I would ever get her to drink a shot of apple cider vinegar or gargle anything. So I grabbed my Shield essential oil which I have in a roller bottle with some sweet almond oil and rolled it all over her neck, concentrating on her glands, and rolled it on the bottoms of her feet.

Then I went to the store and picked out a bunch of different juices and smoothies to have since it hurt to swallow, too.

This all started at about 4pm on Saturday. I rolled Shield on her then and at bedtime (around 7pm). I rolled it on her first thing in the morning and when I checked her throat around 9am, the white spots were gone from her tonsils and the swelling had gone down a bit. I rolled the oil on again two or three more times during the day and right before bed. When I checked her throat again about 6pm, her tonsils looked completely normal. She felt great and was eating everything in sight.

I am continuing to use the Shield on her neck and feet, just to make sure. But I am amazed, again, at how effective essential oils are at healing.

What is Shield?

ShieldIt’s a “protective” blend of clove, cinnamon bark, lemon, eucalyptus, and rosemary from Spark Naturals. It’s the equivalent of doTerra’s OnGuard or Thieves Oil (either a homemade blend like this one from The Prairie Homestead or Young Living’s). Believe it or not, there’s a legend behind this particular blend that goes back several hundred years to the time of the Black Death in Europe. As a side note, we happen to be studying that time period right now in our homeschool so Sunshine was actually excited to get to use Shield! The story goes that there was a band of thieves who would loot houses and steal from the graves of those who had died from the plague. The thieves never caught the plague. Now if you’ve read anything about this horrific disease, you know that it was extremely contagious and a very fast killer. One of out three Europeans died of the plague. When the thieves were finally caught, the officials only wanted to know how they had managed to escape the catching The Black Death. And this was the blend of herbs and oils that the thieves used.

Among other things, these individual oils are:
Clove – Anti-Infectious, Disinfectant, and Antiseptic
Cinnamon – Antibacterial and Antiseptic
Lemon – Anti-Bacterial, Anti-Microbial and Antiseptic
Eucalyptus – Antiseptic, Astringent and Vasoconstrictor
Rosemary – Analgesic and Anti-Stringent

I have begun to use Shield on everyone in the house now that we’re entering cold/flu season. I plan to put a few drops on our furnace filter as well!

You’ll want some Shield for your family this winter too. Head over to Spark Naturals to Shield or the individual oils to make your own. Also check out their Cold and Flu Bomb kit. I’m expecting mine to arrive today and I can’t wait! Don’t forget to use plainjane as your promotional code to get 10% off your order.

Henna

I’m going to admit upfront that this post has nothing to do with homeschool, cooking, or essential oils. Those are three of my passions right now and mostly what this blog will be about. But it’s also about my life (it is called “Life” of a Plain Jane after all). And in life there are other things. Recently I haven’t been super concerned about my looks like I was in my teens and twenties. Yes, I have good hygiene and make sure my hair is presentable and that I have some makeup on and that my clothes generally fit and coordinate. But beyond that…well, I have other things going on around here that take up my time.

But lately I’ve been frustrated by my hair. I’ve done nothing with it and that’s just not like me. I’m the girl that will randomly decide I need a change and walk into a salon to change the color (varying shades of blonde) or go from shoulder-length to pixie-cut. Guts, right? No. Hair always grows back if it’s cut. Color always grows out and fades away. So it’s one area that hasn’t really scared me much. That’s not to say that I haven’t ever regretted some of those decisions. But the results are usually short-lived.

5 years oldQuick background. I have a sister who was born a brunette. I was born a blonde (that picture is me at about age 5). For 20+ years, it was this way.

Then about 20 years ago, my hair started coming in darker. Not really brown but definitely not the light blonde I was used to having. I colored it and highlighted it for years to keep the blonde. But once I started having kids, I couldn’t color it anymore (I still occasionally did highlights though).

About 8-10 years ago, my sister went from brown to blonde. She looks beautiful as a blonde, too. So for a few years, there were two (unnatural) blondes in my family. But then, somewhere around baby #3, I decided that it was easier on my hair – and my wallet – to leave my hair alone. And admittedly I took it a bit far. No color of any kind or cutting for about two years.

Now my hair is quite long but I would hard pressed to tell you what color it is. I still feel like I’m blonde (I don’t mean in the ditzy way – no comments from friends on this, please) but my hair isn’t quite blonde and it isn’t quite brown. I know now that I don’t want to use commercial colors on my hair (as I’m trying to live a more natural life). So what could I do?

I started researching a few months ago and finally settled on natural henna. You can get a variety of colors from henna. Almost any color except blonde. So this will be first time in my life that I truly will not be able to call myself a blonde. (It’s a bigger deal in my head than I thought it would be. I’m quite nervous, to be honest with you. But I’m also really excited about it.)

I went to Lush this past weekend and talked with the lovely girls there about what color I wanted and the process to get there. I finally settled on their Caca Marron. Should give me brown with some reddish tint to it. I was told that if I wanted to red, I needed to put the plastic wrap over my head after the henna was on and if I just wanted the brown to leave the plastic wrap off. I do want some red, so I getting out the plastic wrap!

I’m going to share my experience here before, during and after. But first, a little homeschool interlude.

Since we’re homeschoolers, my girls and I are learning exactly what henna is, how the dyes are made, and so on. Pretty good science lesson, actually! The short version is that real henna dye comes from the henna plant (Lawsonia inermis) which is a flowering plant found in regions of northern Africa and southern/western Asia. Henna has been used for thousands of years for cosmetics, including dying hair and tatooing. There has been evidence found of its use in ancient Egypt. So it’s natural and has stood the test of time. Works for me!

Then we get to the trickier part. Getting the color you want is not as simple as going to the grocery store and choosing a color on a box. This isn’t a mixture of chemicals that will produce one shade. Each batch of henna powder will be slightly different. Then it depends on what your current hair color is, how long you leave the henna on, and what you mix with it. I’ve heard that some people add coffee grounds to get a richer brown, for example.

One nice thing about henna is that, unlike commercial chemical dyes that leave your roots showing, henna will just fade away.

Keep in mind that this information applies to natural henna and you’ll want to research and make sure that that’s what you’re getting. There are quite a few companies out there that claim to be henna but read their labels! Many include henna as an ingredient along with other chemicals that you don’t want to be putting onto/into your body (those chemicals will be absorbed through your skin, remember). Lush does include some safe synthetics but nothing like I was reading on other brands. And some of the guesswork for color is taken out by using Lush as opposed to buying the powder and mixing in lemon juice, coffee grounds, etc. since they have it premixed for you in varying colors (mostly red, mostly brown with some red, mostly brown, and black).

Ok, here goes!

Before HairBefore

Lush Caca Marron barsThe salesgirls at Lush suggested I start with three of the squares.

SmashedThen smash them up.

Henna mudMix with boiling water to get to a brownie/cake batter consistency.

Henna and plastic wrapDuring (left it on with plastic wrap for 2.5 hours)

Gross tubThe tub after rinsing some of the henna out. Yikes! I had to do the rest in the shower. But I was told to use the coolest water I could stand. Not a fun shower for me!

Goodby blonde. Hello Redhead!After

I am pleased overall. I know that everything I used was pretty natural and safe. And I know that the color will continue to change/deepen over the next few days. Right now I think I could easily blend in in Ireland. Super coppery red. But I think I like it! Sunshine hates it right now. So far everyone else in the house is a fan.

Will I henna again? Most definitely! Are you ready to give it a try????

Homeschool: Reading

I have been asked quite a lot over the last couple of years how I taught Ladybug to read. She’s quite a good reader and has typically been assessed at one to two grade levels higher than her age. While I don’t believe there’s a one-size-fits-all way to teach reading (is that shocking coming from a homeschooler?), I thought I’d share a bit of my experiences with you.

First and foremost, I think you need to read to and with your kids. I mean from birth. I’ve always read to my kids – naptime, bedtime, quiet time…you name it. We read silly books; we read Bible stories; we read chapter books (like Magic Tree House); we read classic literature. And everything in between. We listen to books and stories on CD. We have developed a love of stories in our home. A love of reading has been a little more difficult. I’m not going to say that we’re there yet, either. But Ladybug is getting closer to it.

Back to reading skills, though. Ladybug went to preschool when she was three. She went in knowing her letters already. But her preschool used a phonics program that I really loved. It combined auditory, visual and kinesthetic learning so each child could (hopefully) find a way to connect. It’s called Zoo Phonics. Perhaps you’ve heard of it or even used it yourself. I liked it enough that I bought the CD of fonts to use in our homeschool.

The basic idea is that each letter is represented by an animal that starts with that letter (a – alligator, b – bear and so on) and is then shaped like the letter. The child is taught the sound and a motion to go with the animal.

Zoophonics A

For instance, the letter A is represented by an alligator who says the short a sound. The motion associated with the letter is A is holding your hands out, wrists together, to make the alligator’s snout and then opening/closing your hands as if it’s the alligator’s mouth.

If my child was going to have an apple for a snack, I might ask, “what letter does apple start with?”
Child: “Um…..”
Me: “Apple…a….a….a” while doing the hand motion for the alligator mouth.
Child: “Oh! A!”

You get the idea. It was great to be able to give various cues to my child to help her remember the letters and sounds whether we were reading or not.

Moving on from Zoo Phonics though, we struggled to find the right thing for Ladybug. We tried Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.

I had heard stellar reviews from friends and read great things online. So I bought the book and we gave it a try. I think it’s a great approach to teaching reading for some kids. But for Ladybug, it wasn’t right. Sitting still with a book for 10-15 minutes, reading the sounds s l o w l y and then saying it fast while pointing to the sounds wasn’t interesting to her. Mostly the sitting still part (she may have been too young but I tend to think it was a personality thing). Many days she flat out refused to do it. After a couple of weeks of fighting, I decided we could find something more suited to her and put the book away. Again, I know lots of people who’ve used it successfully and, who knows, I may try it with Cookie when she’s older. But it didn’t suit Ladybug. And, as I have said before, that’s one of the things I love about homeschooling. If you try something and it doesn’t work, you can try something else. No harm. No foul.

We finally landed on the Bob Books.

It’s a terrific little series of phonics-based books that steps the child up one book at a time. Volume 1, Book 1 is simply called Mat. Aside from a couple of basic “sight” words like the and on, the only letters used are M, A, T, and S. The drawings are cute little shape people (Mat is a square, Sam is a triangle, and so on) which my kids love. Once they are able to master the first book on their own, they move on to book 2. The sight words aren’t challenging like you’ll find in many of the “I Can Read” type books out there. Nothing about the Bob books are scary. Sunshine just started on volume 2 of the Bob books and is doing pretty well. But she thinks that Bob books are the only ones she can read. She completely lacks confidence in trying anything else. That’s another issue altogether, though.

I’m not quite ready to do a full review on our latest curriculum choice for reading/spelling/grammar. But all indications so far are that it’s going to improve Ladybug’s spelling (she can read but not write very well) and Sunshine’s reading ability and confidence. If you want to jump ahead of me, the curriculum is called Logic of English (Essentials) and so far we absolutely love it. Check it out on your own, if you like, and in a few weeks I will have my full review.