Reflections on my extended camping trip

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We’re home, after exactly 40 nights of camping, almost 6 whole weeks, 1/2 of summer! Phew. It’s hard to sum up what it means to me to be able to do this with my family. And I’ve had so many comments from friends, family, online friends, wondering how we are able to do this? A few things: in the spring, I work 7 days/week for ~8 weeks straight in the greenhouse business. The rest of my businesses are all online, so I can do them from anywhere on the road. Financially, the main factor allowing for this freedom is we live with practically 0 debt. I purchased a very cheap shell of a house when I was 20. I slowly chipped away at finishing, and eventually adding on to the house, as my budget allowed, often with free, upcycled, recycled materials. So I was able to pay off my mortgage at age 37. My husband and I have not taken out a loan for a vehicle in our 20 years together. We’re currently driving a Ford Explorer as our camper tow vehicle, which we purchased for $1000 from our neighbor. After ~$700 worth of new parts, all the work done by my Hubby, it was more than road worthy, and indeed did an awesome job on our trip, we put on just shy of 4,000 miles! We pay off our credit card every, single month. So basically, if we can’t afford something, we don’t buy it. Also, out of our 40 nights camping, 14 of them were at free campgrounds. We did spend 2 nights at a cabin mid-trip, which increased our nightly average, but our 40 night average came in at $23. Our biggest expense was food, but other than that, especially with Covid, we really kept to ourselves as much as possible and didn’t do a whole lot in activities that hit the pocket book. So really it is the time factor, I have always and will always maintain: time is more precious than money to me, and these 6 weeks spent traveling with my family, in our tiny little pop-up, are 100% pricless to me.
Okay, an additional bit of background, to make it even more interesting. I set off on this adventure with 2 broken bones (my foot and my ankle). When we left, it was barely 2 weeks post-break. Many people expressed disbelief that I was going through with our plans. But my main thought was: I have a limited amount of summer’s with my kids. They are growing up so quickly, and in a few years they’ll be saying what I did at 16 when my parents went to Canada and I opted to stay home and work and hang out with my friends… So no, laying around on the couch and feeling sorry for myself was out of the question. Here’s one post I did from the road about it: It’s been 24 days since I missed the bottom step in my home and broke 2 bones. The bruises are fading, although still visible.  It amazes me how quickly our bodies can heal, and how we also can learn to cope with pain. I can be heard saying “owwwww” at least 20 times/day as I get sudden, deep down, shooting pains. But they pass, and I know it’s my body healing itself back together. I’m so, soooooo grateful for my amazing Husband who has taken on his new role of caretaker with grace. It’s not easy setting up camp, and tearing down days later, on your own. I do what I can, but he does 90% of it all. And still, we’re having an amazing time and look forward to several more weeks on the road. Today is the 1st day I’ve sat an adventure out. Hubby and the kids went to one of our favorite fishing spots, but there is a super steep bank that is difficult even under the best conditions. So I’m chillaxing with my girl Shiloh, resting the foot, and reading 100 Things Pearl Jam Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die 🙂 And enjoying every second of my lazy Tuesday!

 

Updates from the road:

Night 13 of camping. No. It’s not all glorious. My son is especially prone to being hangry, unhappy over trivial things, inconvenienced. My daughter goes with the flow and is incredibly easy going and an amazing traveler. We definitely have some bumps in the road, but more often than not, we have awesome days. Today was 1 of them. Perfect 70ish degree day, with a breeze. Our dog started dock jumping along with the kids. This is something they do for hours on end, and I already lament the day that they think it’s boring. I gazed at the sky for hours. Looking back at this moment, I especially love the shadows on the dock. And for me, 1st day in 30 since my fall without crutches! Stronger by the day, and it feels ammmmmmmmmmazing!

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When I posted that we’d been camping 13 nights in my Eco-friendly USA group page, I had these comments, which is what spurred me to share my extended thoughts as I’m doing now. Comment: 13 days! Impressive! We only ever go for 2 nights (in tents). Just this morning around the fire my friend and I were discussing how we don’t think we could do 3 nights. Another comment from that post. 2nd comment: What do you all do? After hiking, kayaking, and swimming at the beach my children were getting restless and a bit bored.

A: We’re on a 30 night+ trip! We’ve upgraded to a pop-up, so that helps. The most we did tent camping was 12 nights. And yes, the older I get, the less enjoyable the tent was. But I feel like I could live in the pop-up! My kids (and Hubby) are fishoholics, they can fish morning, noon, and night. With a lot of swimming in-between. We drive a couple hours, stay 5-7 nights, drive a couple more, stay another 5. Each area leads to new day trips and exploring. There are a lot of waterfalls up here in northern WI, and a bazillion lakes and rivers. I WANT my kids to be bored. I want them to figure out what to do with themselves when technology isn’t an option. We have several board games, a bin of art supplies, books, for some basic entertainment. My hubby told them he made homemade bows and arrows when he camped as a kid, so the other night he helped them each make one. And they “hunted” squirrels and chimpmunks in the camp ground. Don’t worry, there was no chance they were actually going to hit one. But they spent hours trying. Then our black lab ended up eating most of the arrows they made out of sticks, lol  But honestly, being bored is the goal, and we can’t accomplish that in a couple nights…. There are definitely challenges, it’s not all pure bliss. But it’s important to me to make these memories with my kids, and see as much of our beautiful world as we can. My oldest is 9 already, I know those teenage years are coming and friends will be more fun than Mom & Dad…

They would absolutely be on their tablets all day long, if I let them. Once I tell them to put them away, they find stuff to do! I hear: want to go play at the playground Sissy? Want to go scooter? Want to take the dog for a walk? We literally spend hours upon hours swimming, jumping off docks, playing on play grounds, each place is new & exciting. They are now able to pump on swings by themselves, somthing my 9 year old Son just learned how to do this year actually. So I’ve turned into the Mom who was asked to give underducks and push, to the Mom who gets to sit on the bench and observe, something I actually NEED to do this summer as I’m nursing my broken bones. These moments of sitting and watching them run and play, when they don’t need me, are so bittersweet. This is a small reminder of how quickly they are growing, and why I’m so adament about maximixing our time together.

One day they started doing handstands in a lake, and asked me to judge. This turned into no less than 3 hours of judging. They both have a competitive nature, so it was non-stop diving, handstands, me scoring: 6.3, 8.2. Over and over, and over. When I’d find myself starting to get bored and about to say let’s go, I’d stop myself. Go do what, why, what’s better than this? Again, I know these moments are fleeting. By next summer, or the following, they’ll be beyond these competitions. And I have a feeling I’ll long for them.

One day we saw a black bear cross the highway while driving, so that started a game of animal I-Spy. We put monitary amounts on each animal. Common things like squirrels & deer were worth $.25. A bear was worth $5, moose and elk were worth $20 (suuuuper rare and I knew we wouldn’t see one), and adult had to verify siting. But basically, these are the types of strategies I used to keep them off their tablets (we did a lot of driving and they like to be on tablets during drive time), keep them engaged and interested in our surroundings.

It’s super interesting watching a campground fill up as a weekend arrives. We’re at a new to us spot in Salon Springs (used to be a state park, sold back to county a few years ago). There are only 30some sites total, maybe 10 were occupied when we arrived on wed, it was pretty dang quiet. Now, the place is hopping. It’s fine, but we definitely prefer the quiet! There are dogs barking (not our good girl), games of cornhole happening, ACDC blaring, an occasional train, all the smells of 30 dinners being cooked at once. We’re having pork tenderloin stir fry, can’t wait! And my kids, well, they’re practicing shooting chipmunks on homemade bow & arrow while the neighbor kids do rounds on their electric scooters….

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We know that one of these summers our kiddos will outgrow the playgrounds we frequent around the state. But for now, we cherish moments like this, we were all cracking up so hard, hooting and hollering on a swing that looks like kids probably hadn’t enjoyed it in quite some time. These are the moments of our long summer days that I cannot get enough of 💗

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After 13 nights camping, we decided to spring for an adorable little cabin for 2 nights. Not like we’re really roughing it in the pop-up, but all meals happen either over the fire, our 1 burner, or the Instantpot. So, having access to a full kitchen for 2 days means I’m prepping for the next week of camping big time! A quick trip to the local grocery store (I’m so thankful that I’m able to get around well enough to do the shopping again!), and a little over an hour in the kitchen, and all this is happening!!
I love the challenge of coming up with as many meal ideas as possible, with what I have on hand and what I can find at the local grocery store. Being up in the northwoods of WI reminds me of shopping in Belize: organic food is rare, which is hard to get used to… As I tell me kids, we eat what we have, not necessarily what we want. It’s over an hour drive to a decent sized town, so we’ll definitely hit that up once we get up that way.
So I looked in my food bin from home and had 3 cans of tuna and 2 packs of organic alfredo sauce, so tuna casserole is in the oven. I still had some organic purple carrots from home too, so shredded a bunch of those into the mix, the color is so pretty! The grocery store had a discounted veggie platter, it needed to get used up quick, so the cauliflower & broccoli from that went into the casserole, along with onions & garlic. Super easy, in the oven in no time!
I was able to find a bag of organic potatoes, so since the oven is going, I threw 6 potatoes in to pre-bake as well. Potatoes take a long time over a fire, so having them pre-cooked saves a ton of time, and they can be used in a breakfast scramble, or other side for dinner. I found some local, organic ground beef, score! So I have 2 packs of that cooking into Sloppy Joe’s/BBQ’s! I love making these because they’re super easy to make, as well as super easy to re-heat. We eat them on buns, with chips as a kinda’ dip, or even on a baked potato!
Not organic, but I grabbed a pork tenderloin which is in the Instantpot currently too, while all this other stuff cooks. We love carnitas, and we can also add BBQ sauce and make it into sandwiches. I have some steel cut oats from home, so after the pork is done, I’ll make a few days worth of those in the Instantpot, and will just re-heat them with some milk for a quick breakfast. And for veggies, tomorrow there’s a farmer’s market in town, so I’ll absolutely be hitting that up! I hope to get enough ingredients to pre-make a huge salad (and yes, I bring my Vejibags on the road), and then I will wash & pre-chop/prep whatever else I find.
For storage for all of this, we left with 6qts of Kombucha in glass mason jars. Those are now all empty, so will get filled up with the above. Once I run out of those, I will use Gal Ziplocs. No, I don’t love them, but while camping I do use plastic more than I ever would at home. Glass is heavy, and bulky, and I try to balance the use of both. So, that’s my update from the road 🙂 I’ll add this to my camping meal post from last year: https://ecofriendlymamausa.com/recipes/camping-meals-made-easy/

 

Random updates from the road: 2 broken bones can definitely slow my roll, but not stop me from enjoying the rest of my summer! This dip in Windfall Lake felt nothing short of baptismal!

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Putting my foot up after a long day of hobbling around without crutches (YAY!)

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One of the best investments that helps us cut costs (literally) while on the road is this electric chainsaw! Wood is super expensive, at least $10/ night if we have to buy it, $20 if we want to stay up after dark. TIMES 30 nights or more that more than pays for this @ $200! Rechargeable, quiet, lightweight, gets the job done!

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One rule of the road is ABC: Always Be Charging. And we were, especially when we were at off-grid sites. We drove somewhere daily, so my phone, the chainsaw, the kids tablets were always plugged in to be topped off while they could.

One of our other investments that we’re looking to cut out is ice. We have a tiny fridge in our pop-up, and the Instantpot actually blew all but 1 circuit (including the fridge) while we were on the road. Now that we’re home, my Hubby was able to fix it all. But, we lived out of 2 coolers for the majority of this trip. So we had to buy ice daily, running us ~$5/day. We mulled over several solutions, but ultimately have decided it’s time to upgrade to a larger, hard-sided rig with a decent fridge/freezer combo.

As I mentioned above, we spent 14/40 nights at free campgrounds. We got really lucky and found 1 that even had electricty, free + electric is pretty rare. There are websites/apps devoted to free camping in each state, for many, it’s a way of life. We like to do a mix of free and fee sites, as I have grown to like some ammenities. Potato Falls is our free, but no ammenity site that we’ve camped at for 4 years in a row now, and have really come to love. Here is the post I did when we got set up there, along with a few pics:

We’re all set up at Potato Falls! Always a gamble with just 6 sites, but we haven’t struck out yet in our 4 years of coming here (we always hit it on a Mon). 3 of the 6 sites were occupied, but we got ours. No electricity, 1 pit toilet, can barely see the next site, also free! It’s heavily shaded and always breezy. It rained a lot up here yesterday so all creeks and rivers are raging. There are more vehicles than we’ve ever seen here at the trailhead to the falls, you can hear them raging from our camper. Trent and kids just went to hike down to them now, something my ankle isn’t quite ready for yet. Feels great to be back at one of our favorite spots! NO electricity, so when it gets dark, we pull out lanterns, and generally go to bed fairly early, or sit by the campfire for awhile.

Going off grid means you need to simplify. We made cold brew coffee instead of using our electric perk. Instead of toast with eggs we’d make scrambles and use tortillas. Every problem has a solution, and you get creative when you need to. And believe me, we were just as happy, if not happier, off grid. It’s soooo quiet and beautiful, we really enjoyed feeling more connected to nature. I’ve found that when you lower your expectations, you are often pleasantly surprised!

Even as someone who has grown up in this state, and been to the northern part of the state several times, it still boggles my mind how much water is up here. Those blue specks are all lakes and rivers. Today we head north a couple more hours to the shores of THE greatest of all lakes, Superior!

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I don’t think we could’ve done this many weeks without our kids revolting had we not had 2 of our best families of friends coming to join us at the 1/2 way point. 2 families drove 6 hrs to spend a week on Lake Superior with us. And it was nothing short of epic. None of us had camped more than 3 nights together before. And we had THE best time. We each have 1 girl, 1 boy, and 1 dog, all very close to the same age. The kids played for a week straight. We fed and watered them, took them fishing and swimming, and they seriously just played together from sunrise past sundown. Each family has a dog, and they played so hard, so good, non-stop. The Dad’s took a day to go kayaking together, the Mom’s took a day to go out for lunch and to a casino (a 1st for all of us). We stayed up past the kids bedtime every, single night and laughed around the fire. My soul needed this so badly, and it was just amazing to share this time together, in one of my all-time favorite spots. I’m so grateful they took me up on my offer!

Our dog really did amazing too. This is our 1st summer with her, we adopted her last fall. She definitely felt the need to be guarddog of our site, but she adapted really well to all the moving, setting up & tearing down, and generally is just a true joy as an addition to our family.

Soooooooo much history up here. Every day is a lesson, for adults and kiddos. Homeschooling doesn’t take a break for summer vacation. One major lesson we’ve learned about our state is how important rivers were, vital to the fur trade and other early development.

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Update on my healing progress: 6 weeks ago today I broke my foot and my ankle. 2 weeks ago I weened myself off crutches. Yesterday my new crocs, 2 sizes 2 big, arrived at my friend’s house up north. I’m still taking it slow, but my body says it’s ready for this new stage, and it feels soooooooo gooooooood!

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So, here’s my conclusion:

I believe that just about everything has a silver lining, even a pandemic. Just about every, single thing we had planned for this summer was cancelled. We celebrated my Baby Girl’s 7th birthday with a campout, came home for 2 days, and headed out for what turned out to be 2 nights shy of 6 weeks of camping in this amazing state of ours. Normally, we’re lucky if we have 2 weekends in a row free, so something like this would never have been possible before. Our home, sweet home shows the signs of a birthday campout, turning around and leaving again. Of my nest on the couch, where I spent 2 weeks doing just about nothing while nursing my 2 broken bones. An office that I used my wheeled office chair to scoot around in, and fill my 90 buying club orders before heading out of town. Our yard looks like a jungle, what did we expect leaving it in July & August?
Yet, it’s home, and we are so grateful for this place on the banks of the Kickapoo River. When we left I was not even bearing weight on my broken foot/ankle, hobbling along on crutches. And during the course of our trip, I was able to start putting weight on it. I eventually ditched the crutches. I eventually ditched the boot. And here I am, walking with a lace-up ankle brace, climbing stairs even, instead of crawling on my knees and butt-scooting down. And it feels nothing short of AMAZING! And slowly but surely, everything is going in its place. We were greeted with a huge box of freshly picked veggies from my in-laws garden: tomatoes, potatoes, cukes, onions, YAY! Our kids are overjoyed to be able to play Minecraft with their friends once again. Our dog has slept in the coolness of the A.C all day. Grateful. Humbled. Blessed. Happy. Healthy. Home.
It was very interesting to see how attitudes towards mask wearing differed from county to county throughout the state. While we were gone the Governor put a mask mandate into effect. Yet 70/72 county Sherriff’s said they would not enforce the rule. And for sure, some counties we saw very high levels of compliance, other counties were very lax. When we went out to eat we tried to stick to places with outdoor dining. We went to a pizza joint towards the end of our trip and not 1 member of the staff, nor anyone dining inside had a mask.
My perspective on Covid was this: we have a chance of catching it anytime we leave the house. Am I willing to stay home for a few weeks, or even a few months, in isolation? Yes. Am I willing to stay home for months, even years, on end? No. As I think I’ve made pretty clear above, time making memories with my kiddos is precious, and they are growing super quickly. I don’t get a do-over on the summer of 2020. So no, I’m not willing to sit it out. I am willing to take some risks. WI is a rural state. We are not a hotbed for the virus. Camping allowed us to social distance, while making amazing memories at the same time.
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Homemade Kombucha How-To by Jess

So, I’m a newbie to the whole Kombucha world. I honestly hardly ever drank it before I started making it myself. I tried it a few times & thought, it’s okay, but honestly I really didn’t WANT to like it because it’s so expensive. I’m a huge fan of iced tea & have been making that by a gallon or 2 for years, always from loose leaf tea from Mountain Rose Herbs. But when a local friend asked if I wanted to try a couple of bottles of Kombucha that she had brewed, I accepted. One was ginger, one was blueberry. They were SO good! Then from there, she offered me a SCOBY, and the rest is history! That was right before Christmas, and I’ve managed to keep the SCOBY alive & thriving since, and am absolutely loving making this stuff! Now, it’s hard to imagine my life without this brew in it!

Again, let me say I’m a newbie. But I’ve shared my love of this brew with my online group over the past few months, and many of you have asked me to share my tips & experiences with you. So, here’s my post based on my experience. There are TONS of other blog posts out there. So if you want more background on the history,  health benefits, etc, Google away. My goal is to keep this on the brief, basic side. It’s SUPER easy, SUPER cheap, and SUPER delicious!

TO START: Ideally you need to find someone local with the starter SCOBY, it’s a weird-looking gelatinous blob, and it should come with ~1cup of starter tea (remnants from the last batch, you always save a little). I see Amazon and other online sites do have it for sale if you can’t find something locally. I have no idea which brands are better than others (if anyone has experience ordering online, please let me know). I have been doing 1 gal at a time, going to up it to 2 because I love it so much.

Tips on what tea to choose. It’s my understanding the SCOBY does best with some caffeine. I do see that some use green tea, but the advice from my friend who I started from, and the bit that I read before getting started myself was that black tea is ideal. You can do loose leaf, but using bags just makes it super easy.  I’m using Newman’s Own Organic Black. I get a box of 100 for ~$6 at my food co-op. I use 8 bags/gallon, so that’s ~$.50 for tea. The recipe I’m following is this: 8 black tea bags + 1 cup of sugar per gallon of brew. I use organic turbinado (raw) sugar (for everything in my home). I need to weigh/price 1 cup next time I fill up my jar at my food co-op, but my guess is that it’s around $1/cup. So that means 1 gallon of kombucha comes in at around $1.50/gallon. Read that again, especially if you’re buying it regularly in a store. $1.50 PER GALLON!

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DIRECTIONS: Here’s what I do–bring 1 gallon of water to boil in my stainless steel stock pot. Add 1 cup of sugar, stir to dissolve. Add 8 black tea bags, steep for 3-4 hours, until the brew has cooled down to room temp. Temp is important with kombucha, too hot & it can kill the SCOBY, too cool, it will take much longer to brew. Taste it after 1 week, do you like the basic flavor? If you let it sit too long, it will have more of a vinegary bite to it. Room temp is ideal for brewing, 70’s is great. We heat with wood, so parts of our house are frequently in the 80’s. I settled on our back utility room as the ideal spot, and it has worked very well. Now that we’re getting out of wood heating season, I think I’ll just leave the 2 jugs on my kitchen counter in some dead space under the cabinets.

It’s a 2 step process of fermentation. The 1st step needs to have aerobic (with air) activity. So you need something like a towel or pillow case as a lid for your container. Fruit flies can get through cheesecloth. 1 of my jugs has a pillow case as a cover, the other has a towel. I let the 1st ferment sit ~1 week. Your 1st brew you might want to let sit a bit longer, as your SCOBY is growing in health.

The 2nd ferment is when you add the flavors you want!  This process requires anaerobic (without oxygen) activity. So after letting the tea sit with the SCOBY for 7-10 days, you transfer it to an air-tight container with some fruit. My friend sent a bunch of Grolsch bottles with my starter SCOBY. I used those several times when I was just brewing 1 gallon at-a-time. Once I decided to up my production, those bottles seemed too small. So I started using quart jars, and they are working perfectly! I started simple, a jar of blueberry, a jar of strawberry. Then I started doing combos: straw/blue. Then I added ginger to those. Basically I do a layer of each fruit. The more brews I do, the more I experiment. I LOVE blue/straw/ginger, then I added pineapple to that, THE best! But I also love ginger/raspberry/aronia.

The sky is the limit when playing with flavors. So you fill your jar to the tippy top and let that sit at room temp for ~3 more days. The longer you let it sit, the more carbonation you will have. Also, certain berries/fruits ferment quicker. Again, temp plays a role too, so a winter brew will ferment slower than a summer brew. My friend told me a story about opening a strawberry ferment & it shooting all over her kitchen, soaking her ceiling. I’ve not had this happen YET. But wise advice is to open with a towel over your lid. The awesome thing is, you can totally customize your brew to your liking. Like it sweeter? Add a bit of sugar to the 2nd ferment. Like it really fizzy? Let both ferments sit longer. I prefer mine on the flatter vs fizzier size.

It is possible to kill your SCOBY. When you handle it you have to make sure your hands are super clean. My friend who I got mine from killed hers once while dividing it for a friend in the past, it grew mold after she separated it. She assumed her hands weren’t clean enough. It is ideal if you have a friend locally who knows what they’re doing, as I was able to have my friend come look at mine several times & assure me that it was healthy looking and as it should be. If you start googling healthy scoby vs moldy ones, there are tons of pics.

Did I mention it’s SUPER easy, cheap, delicious & actually good for you?! Below is my prep for the 2nd ferment, get a bunch of jars ready. Wide-mouthed quarts are PERFECT!

After 2-3 days, I’m itching to get drinking my brew! The fruit floats to the top, so I usually scoop a bunch of it out with a spoon (and save it for a smoothie!) then pour the rest of the jar from the full quart, to an empty quart, straining anything that I didn’t scoop out. Then I refrigerate & start enjoying!

I love it on ice. I store it in quart jars, but usually drink it out of my favorite Mason jars, the 22 oz tall, wide-mouthed jars! I rarely drink coffee anymore, this is my morning wake-up. So refreshing, hydrating, delicious!

My 2nd Kombucha jug arrived & is working on its 1st continuous brew. My Hubby & Son are loving these brews so much too, I went from doing 1 gal, to 2 gal, now I’ll alternate between always having a 2 gal batch going and the 2nd ferment of the other happening. I LOVE this stuff, one of those things that wasn’t even on my radar a few short months ago, now I can’t imagine the before time!

Dispenser by Anchor Hocking: https://amzn.to/3aMO3XT

Spigot: https://amzn.to/3dIN2BQ

I’ve had the exact same dispenser since 2014 and it has held up great. I routinely used it for iced tea before my recent Kombucha days. The only thing I wish was slightly different would be that the hole would be down closer to the bottom a bit more. You have to tip it towards you to get the last few quarts out. But it works, and I’ve not had any issues with leakage.

 

That is my basic how to. Did I leave something out? Still have questions? Let me know! Again, I’m a total newb, but find this super easy, delicious, and cheap!

 

 

Eco-friendly USA 8 year blogiversary!

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Tomorrow is the 8 year anniversary since I took the plunge and launched my original Facebook page: Eco-friendly baby/family products MADE in the USA (I’m not good at being concise)… Since I have a super busy day out of the house tomorrow, I wanted to mention it today while I’m thinking of it.
 
On 2/22/12, as my 1st born was 3 weeks from turning 1 year old, I thought: maybe I should launch my own page to share these lists of great companies/products I’ve found while staying up late researching. Maybe others care about safe products made in the USA too? And I went for it. And I got my 1st ‘like’, then another, then another. That original page is just a couple likes shy of 14K, this closed group came several years later and is approaching 6K members, and my website averages 100K unique views annually.
 
I just want to remind y’all that this Mama of a 9 (almost) & 6 year old, who lives out in the woods of rural Wisco, with no neighbors, continues to count her blessings that y’all value what I have to say. That we share similar values. That you take the time to contribute knowledge you have on particular subjects. I firmly believe it does take a village to raise the next generation. And for many of us, a big part of that village is online. I’m feeling extremely grateful, blessed, and excited, about 8 years of sharing my beliefs and values with others that care. Here’s to another 8, 18, 28 🙂 ♥

Poofy Organics now available in Canada!

BIG DEAL ALERT: Canadians can also enroll as Guides! I’m going on 6 years as a Guide, 7 as a customer and I have never been happier. There are many great changes coming in 2020!! Any questions, let me know! https://ecofriendlyausa.poofyorganics.com/

Black Friday-Cyber Monday SALES!

Here are a few sales I wanted to draw your attention to:

POOFY ORGANICS: 15%, No code needed, but you must be logged in as a customer to see those 15% off prices reflected. On top of that, I am offering a 5% rebate off your subtotal if you use my link. Create a customer account by going to login>create account. Shoot me a message or email after you order (ecofriendlymamausa@gmail.com), and let me know if you want your additional 5% back via: check, PayPal, gift certificate. I will also be giving away 10 $20 gift certificates, selected randomly after the Black Friday-Cyber Monday sale weekend is over. My link: https://ecofriendlyusa.poofyorganics.com/

POOFY CBD: Poofy CBD is having a ONE DAY sale, Cyber Monday, 15% off all CBD products, again, must be logged in as a customer. I will add all these orders to the Poofy gift certificate drawings: https://ecofriendlymamausa.poofycbd.com/#

PURE PLAY KIDS:  Will I be having a Black Friday weekend sale via Pure Play Kids? No, I will not. I strive to offer items NOT available on Amazon. I take pride in signing Minimum Advertised Price (MAP) agreements with my vendors. Meaning we all agree to the same price, no one undercuts to gain more sales. I offer $6.95 flat rate shipping, always, and at that rate I lose on every order as only a flat rate envelope can ship for that much.

I have what I will have for the holiday season stocked. I will not be ordering anything else. The Pure Play Originals are all extremely limited, once those are gone, they are gone forever, almost all are down to less than a dozen items.
So, I hope you’ll keep me in mind when you’re doing your holiday shopping. Your purchase helps ensure other small businesses keep doing what they’re doing. It breaks my heart when I go to re-order from a business that the former Pure Play owners used to order from, and I learn they no longer exist… Every purchase is a vote, and I appreciate YOUR vote for made in USA quality items. https://pureplaykids.com/

BAREFOOT BOOKS: I am hosting a Barefoot Books online event. This weekend will feature 25% off + free shipping on orders $60+. The books are not printed in the U.S, but they have a strong sustainability mission, and I ADORE the books. We have a lot of them, they make up most of our curercnt library, and I cannot wait to add more. Here’s my link: https://www.barefootbooks.com/events/view/22890/jess-brandt/?bf_affiliate_code=000-25ae-22890&fbclid=IwAR2WyAMCfc3l7peA0I4KDf6RizRMP5qzJesBTExVleo0jSUn8pGlHa–fjs

 

OCTOBER BUYING CLUB IS UNDERWAY!

Please do not miss out on this 23rd order of my Eco-friendly One-Stop Shop!! Early bird specials end at 11:59pm central on 10/7, final deadline is 10/13 at that same hour. All details here: https://ecofriendlymamausa.com/made-in-usa-2/eco-friendly-usa-buying-club-2/

A small, organic, family farm needs help ♥

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My best friend is in need of help. Her certified organic apple orchard has 10% of the crop it should, if that. We’re talking maybe 3,000 bushel instead of 30,000. It sucks so bad because there is huge demand for her apples, especially as vinegar.  But this year, out of nearly 20 she’s been there, the crop is not there. You can see it when you drive up. Some trees have a few apples, many have none. Some will have one branch that looks great, the rest of the tree is bare. It is so sad.

 

This woman is my inspiration to always do what I can, when I can, where I can. To do better, to do more. She truly lives her life as an example of being a good steward to the land, an amazing Mom, a fantastic friend, a surrogate Auntie to my kids. Many don’t realize that there is a small list of approved sprays that can be used on organic crops. She refuses to use ANY spray for anything. Instead she relies on beneficial gardens and bugs, pigs who root up the ground and eat insects, she understands and values the complete ecosystem she has on her ridge, and understands how it works together. This year, something happened, and the apples aren’t there like they have been every other year since the orchard was planted. I know our local community is going to band together & help as much as we can, but I also know some of you have a few extra bucks that you are willing to send to a good cause. And I assure you, there are few causes I will ever feel better about supporting than this one. I have already made a cash donation, and will be donating as many hours as my time as I possibly can to help her produce items for the boxes she will be sending out.

 

If able, you can PayPal donations in any amount (please click on photo below & read details). If able to donate $150, you can choose to receive a gift box full of goodies from the orchard this fall, in time for Thanksgiving, all certified organic. She has worked her butt off, as always, to harvest all the bounty the orchard provides all year: berries of every kind get made into jelly, garlic gets ground into powder, herbs get harvested & dried, elderberries into syrup, etc. What apples they are able to harvest will be made into pie filling & vinegar. And if you can’t donate, I 100% understand! Please offer well-wishes, prayers, good vibes, whatever you believe in, up to the Universe so that this family can stay on the land they love & see another, better apple season ♥

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A Go Fund Me page has now been created too. They have a huge goal, but together, many small donations will get them there! https://www.gofundme.com/f/turkey-ridge-organic-orchard?utm_source=facebook&fbclid=IwAR0gLSKxg8qbfXl-b-Yq72mEZsGFP3cv_oPBHR9VgRi29YPavifdCNpF-GQ

 

Pure Play Kids FREE SHIPPING weekend

I’ve never done this before, but I’m now offering FREE SHIPPING on all orders placed now through Monday evening! https://pureplaykids.com/

You can claim buying club extras and have them ship together as well: https://ecofriendlymamausa.com/2019/07/16/june-2019-buying-club-extras/

Be the change you wish to see….

It makes me so happy to know that the next generation(s) are being raised to refuse single use plastic. For my kids, bringing our own straw and refusing a lid is the norm. A month or so ago, I had taken our straws in to wash them and forgotten to put them back in the vehicle. We went out to eat and I accepted a straw, as I tend to dump ice water all over myself when the ice shifts if I try to drink out of a cup. My Son: MOM, you taught us to say no to straws, what the heck are you doing?! Total straw shaming, and it made me SO proud!

While shopping, my Son helps find the option with the least amount of plastic. We needed bunny food today. I grabbed a medium sized bag, but it was plastic. He says: Mom, the larger bag is paper, and then we won’t need food for a very long time too. Yes, yes Son, you are absolutely right! So, SO proud.Oh, and he’s 8!

 

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Here’s our set-up. Not cheap for the 4 Decorative Dots straws + the hemp carrier (from GlassDharma), but as a family of 4, this is perfect for us! I’m a firm believer in making quality investments that will last many, many years. 100% made in USA, reusable, eco-friendly materials, win-win-win! And seriously, while I feel like my kiddos don’t listen at times, when I really want them to, they show me they are paying attention… Be the change you wish to see in the world!

 

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Reflections on a mental health crisis

I decided to gather up the many posts I’ve done since my Dad had a “nervous breakdown” on April 15th. I, and many others, knew he was having a rough spell. Record breaking floods damaged his shop a few months prior, and looking back, that was the beginning of a downward spiral. He slipped into depression, and as the stress and anxiety of his super busy season in the greenhouse business started skyrocketing, one day he walked in and said he could not do it anymore. Those of you in my closed group page have been following along, and the kind words of support and wisdom from your own life experiences that you’ve shared with me are priceless. I felt like I should gather all those posts up, so that’s what is below.

4/9/19 6 days before my Dad’s breakdown, I posted this…

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I’m feeling the effects of being part of the “sandwich generation”, and I know I’m not alone. My Dad isn’t super old, just 61, but is suddenly starting to grapple with retirement, passing on his business (and I’m not interested), major life decisions & I’m his go-to for helping grapple with it all. That, combined with homeschooling my 2 kiddos, no day care ever, full-time family + managing my multiple small businesses, planning an addition on our home… I’m feeling like a sandwich, maybe a grilled cheese, all smooshed, gooey, and melty 

The next 6 weeks are super, super busy for me. I work in my Dad’s greenhouses pretty much daily, trying to help him keep his shit together, lol. Then home to the family & all that entails. So, if you only hear from me once/day, don’t worry, all is okey dokey here. Just doing my best to keep this sandwich together 

4/17/19:

This is a very tough post for me to share, and I’ll keep it brief for now… Many of you know how close I am with my Dad, and I recently mentioned that he was having a pretty rough time grappling with major life decisions. Monday morning he had a complete breakdown & is currently in the hospital receiving much needed psychiatric care. I’m so thankful he was able to get in and that he is getting cared for, and I’m not talking about him in past tense. It is absolutely heartbreaking to see a loved one, and especially your Father, completely losing their shit. Thankfully, he is very loved by soooooo many people, and we’re all here for him & to see his business through the busiest month of the year in his absence.

If you’ve never experienced mental illness or true, clinical depression 1st hand or 2nd hand, you can’t even imagine how painful it can be. I’ve seen sad people, people in a funk, but OMG, true depression is awwwwwwful. I never, ever, evvvvvvver would’ve thought of my Dad as someone capable of ending his own life. But seeing him in the state of mind he was on Monday morning, I see how people do it, and I’m thankful he didn’t have a gun in reach. The despair is so great, and they can’t think clearly for 1 second, they just want it to end.

I could go on & on, and I will share more over time. But for now I need to let you know that I have to step it up big time & run his business for him for the next 2 months. When I get home, I want to spend every waking second with my family. And that means I’m going to be MIA from my beloved group(s) for the most part. Keep on being awesome to each other please, and know I’m thinking of you, and it will keep me going knowing you are thinking of me too!

4/25/19:

My mind has been blown after learning that I’ve been peeling a banana all wrong for my almost 40 years on this planet. Some of you surely know this, but the thought never crossed my mind that there was any other way to get into a banana than from the stem end. But as you know, often you smoosh up a good chunk of the top of the banana trying to bust into the stem, we all like our ‘nanas on the green side. I usually grab a sharp knife and cut into the top if I’m near the kitchen. My kids refuse to eat the smooshy part so give it to me or toss it if I’m not around.
What blows my mind about this new revelation that peeling it from the bottom side works perfectly, every time, is I feel it’s an incredible analogy to life in general. We spend decades doing something one way, and think there is no possible other way to do it. Then one day, you see that banana in a new light, and spend the rest of your life doing it the new way. This has been a huge reminder to me. Think outside of the box. Question everything, even something as simple as how to peel a banana. There is ALWAYS an alternate way of looking at a problem,and usually multiple solutions. Just because you’ve done something one way for 40 years, doesn’t mean it’s the only way, or the best way.
And guess what, I learned this banana hack from my kids who saw it on a YouTube video! But turns out, it’s how monkeys do it, of course!! https://www.thekitchn.com/why-you-should-peel-your-banana-like-a-monkey-206322
4/26/19:

I cannot thank y’all enough for the kind words of support during this difficult time with my Dad’s health. I have had so many stories shared via pm and email from this group, as well as numerous stories shared from local folks here in SW Wisco who have learned of what we’re dealing with… I swear, you’d be hard pressed to find a family who has not had a Son, Daughter, Brother, Sister, Mom, Dad, Aunt or Uncle who has dealt with a mental health crisis. And it truly is a crisis until we figure out how to best get that person back to the best semblance of their former self.

It really sucks to see a human spirit truly broken, and that’s what I’m dealing with currently. The stories shared make me cry, sad and scared, but also happy, hopeful, and grateful. Life. Is. Tough. But broken pieces can be put back together with the right glue…. I’m working so hard to be that glue my Dad needs. And I so appreciate the positivity and love that the Universe is sending my way as I do the very best I can 

5/2/19:

A glimpse into the place I’m spending more waking hours than my home these days: the 2 greenhouses I’ve grown up in. The thing that’s hard to swallow for me is that just about every person that comes here raves about how this is their happy place. They have their own stories of rough times, heart break, loss, depression. But flowers make them happy. It’s sad that the man (my Dad) responsible for all this (with my help) has lost the spark himself. Tending to all this for 35 years got to him. We’re trying so hard to help him find that passion & spark within him still. In the meantime, I’m here, surrounded by all this beauty, 8 hrs/day, 7 days/week, for the next month (so why you’re not hearing from me much, I hardly have a minute to sit down!).

One of many things I love about home-schooling is it allows my family to be together in many different situations. It hasn’t been easy for me to go to what would normally be a few hours/day here, to full-time. But with our flexibility, they are able to spend time with me here, and really, truly help doing many tasks. Just like I did when I was their age (my Dad has been doing this since I was 4!). I have so many fabulous friends and family members who have, and will continue to, be down here in minutes flat if I need them. It really reminds you how good the world is, even in times that seem desperate!

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5/5/19:

It has been very interesting seeing the different reactions to my Dad’s mental health crisis. Those who have been through a crisis themselves, or seen a loved one go through a total, complete breakdown get it. They completely understand. There is no pill that works overnight. A few days or weeks off does not suddenly make you back into the person you used to be. Something inside my Dad’s brain broke….

Those who have no 1st, or 2nd hand experience with it can’t comprehend it. I wouldn’t have been able to comprehend it prior to seeing it myself. Many in the community don’t know all the details, they just know he is taking time off. Random person, as an example: it’s cancer, isn’t it… He had a heart attack, right? Me: no, he is just completely burned out, he’s taking some time off to refocus on the future of this business. Them: oh, well it must be nice to have that time off, I’m burned out in my job too, tell him to get back here if he’s not physically ill… They just do NOT get it that mental illness is as real as if he had a heart attack, or cancer. He needs serious time to heal. Part of me wants to say: Yes, he had a heart attack, he’ll be off for the next 3 months at least, comprende!?

For those that don’t know: telling someone experiencing extreme, clinical depression to “suck it up”, “just deal with it”, “everything will be okay”, “we’re all going through it, it’s just the way of the world”… Those are the absolute worst things you can say. What you can/should say: I’m here for you. I hear what you are saying. I agree, everything may not be okay, but I’m here to help any way I can. I love you no matter what.

I’ve learned SO MUCH about human nature in the 3 LONG weeks since something in my Dad’s brain broke. For the most part, I’ve learned that humans are extremely kind, caring, compassionate. And that has been extremely wonderful to see 1st hand! 

 

5/10/19:

I want to wish all the Mamas in the group a super awesome weekend full of love. Those that aren’t Mom’s, just have a great weekend still 

I share the SuperMom cartoon every year at this time, it makes me chuckle. But as we know, there is no cape, no magical powers to get through life day in and day out. Some days are rough. Some are glorious. Some are both combined. The last few weeks have been very tough for my family, but we’ve found our groove, my Dad knows I’ve got this, and that is allowing him to do what he needs to do to heal. It truly feels amazing to be able to able to step up to the plate, and give life your all, when life needs you to. And I know someday I will be in need, and my community will be here for me.

All right, time to sell, sell, sell these plants we’ve been tending to for months. 1st customers of the day just walked in, it should be non-stop until Sunday at 5pm. Much love group friends!

5/11/19:

I’m taking care of all my Dad’s bills at the moment, today, the bill from the hospital arrived. He spent 5 nights in the Psych Unit. The damage… $16,500. $11,000 for room & board for 5 nights + a bunch of misc. charges. His insurance paid for all but $15, that is what he owes, thank goodness. But can you imagine if someone in his situation, the lowest, most desperate time in their life, did not have insurance?? They are a couple weeks post-hospitalization, and they get a bill for $16K for their stay. It’s really, really hard for me to comprehend that we can’t take better care of people in desperate times of need. I don’t have the answers, but I know I have a lot of questions…

5/17/19:

I’ve had so much support in getting through the last month since my Dad’s “nervous breakdown”, it has come in many forms. My Auntie’s who live several hours away have wanted to help, but weren’t really sure how. Well, yesterday they each drove 4 hrs to my cousin’s home nearby and spent the day making freezer meals for my family. I’m so, so excited about all this goodness that was just delivered: chicken curry, stroganoff, zuppa tuscana soup, vegetable pesto soup, thai chicken, turkey/black bean chili, meat loaf and mashed potatoes, stuffed peppers!

If a friend or loved one is experiencing a difficult time, and you want to help but don’t know how, consider just making a double batch of whatever you’re making that night, and deliver a meal. It really means a lot to have one less thing to think about when I go home tonight!

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5/22/19:

I feel like I’ve gained such a valuable perspective in the 5 weeks since witnessing my Dad’s complete mental breakdown. Those of us around him knew he was completely stressed out, and feeling overwhelmed with even small things, but we just keep telling him: it’s going to be all right, everything is fine. But no matter how many people who love you dearly tell you that everything is fine, that doesn’t make it true if you don’t feel that way yourself.

This realization has helped me understand how important it is to truly listen to others, let them know you hear them, and you empathize. Sometimes everything is not okay, and admitting that is necessary.

Today I took my Son to the dentist for his 1st cavity, getting numbed up and all of that. He was SO nervous. The old me would’ve said things like: it’s no big deal hunny, there’s nothing to be scared of, you’re worrying for no reason. But the new, more understanding me said: I hear you, I understand you’re scared, it’s your first round of work and it’s OK to feel nervous, I’m here for you. And I reminded him how we walked out of the last dentist who said I could not be there to hold his hand during the procedure. That we were at this dentist because I understood how scary the uncertain can be, and I would never not be there for him.

And he did super great. And I felt great about really, truly hearing him & not dismissing his concerns. Dismissing the concerns of others is ridiculous. Their concern is REAL to them, and that’s all that matters.

5/23/19:

I’ve been sharing insights as I have them over the last 7 years since starting “bloggin”. I feel like I’m having them more than ever in my life in the 5 short weeks since my Dad had a “nervous breakdown”. It’s crazy how so much can change in a short time. Also, as I live in a small town, people have been coming to me and sharing their stories of tough times & hardship. Of overcoming them, and of failures they’ve witnessed in their family in trying to overcome them. It has been a very intense few weeks, to say the least.

My latest revelation is this… I have been searching for 4 leaf clovers my entire life. In high school and the few years after, I worked on a flower farm where we spent all day outdoors cutting flowers that went to Farmer’s Markets in larger cities and wholesale florists across the country. During our breaks we’d always sit in the grass and look for 4-leafers. I had a very good friend who would regularly find them. Me, never, ever. Last Summer, we were on a hike during a camping trip and just entering the trail head, my Son, 7, says: there’s a 4 leaf clover, as he plucks it. Not trying at all, just observed that there it was. My Hubby caught the 1st ever Musky (huge fish) of his life later that day.

Lately, my Son has been coming to work with me in my Dad’s greenhouses, for entire 8 hr days! In-between customers we head out to the grassy space in-between our building and the next, and lay in the grassy clover patches looking for 4-leafers. It is truly blissful, I cherish these moments, yet we haven’t found a single one, out of thousands, and thousands of them. Yesterday I took him to the dentist. We were 1/2 hr early so went to a park down the road from the dentist. We laid on our bellies & looked for 4-leafers for 1/2 hr. It was super, super fun. But we didn’t find a single one. Fast forward a few hours later & we get home and my daughter wants to go for a bike ride. I walk down our quiet road while she peddles. It is lined with clover, and when I’m totally NOT looking, there it is. My 1st ever 4-leafer (in memory at least, since childhood), I’m a few months shy of 40 years old.

The reason I wanted to share this is: I really, truly feel like us humans often try too hard, we overthink everything. When we just be, just exist, and disconnect and be one with nature, that is when we experience the real deal. I know I can stress and stress over something. When I finally disconnect from it, I see it in a new, more clear light. And this is what I’m trying SO hard to relay to my Dad 

 

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5/29/19:

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I’ve had many emails and pm’s asking for updates on my Dad and it is so, so heartwarming to know how many of you are thinking of him & I, as he heals from his “nervous breakdown” for lack of a better description….

Honestly, I’m still very, very concerned about him. More than ever actually. I spent the last 6 weeks ensuring that his business was taken care of, those were his immediate overwhelming concerns. Like every, little thing was completely overwhelming. Well, now the crop is all but sold, his other part-time employee is able to handle it from here until the final plants are sold. Turns out, that was the EASY part…

The “what’s next” is the extremely difficult and worrisome part. He absolutely, positively is completely burned out still, and showing every sign of major depression. He has ZERO love or joy for what he has made his life for the past 35 years, like he hates it. But starting a new job at 61 is, of course, completely overwhelming. He feels like the only viable option is to force himself to go back there and keep on doing it. And it is so concerning. For the 1st time in my life, I can see how others consider taking their own life as the “easy” way out. And it’s terrifying.

Tomorrow is his 6 week follow-up with his Primary. He has no refills on his anti-depressants or anti-anxiety meds. They honestly don’t seem to be helping. So the roller-coaster of adjusting/altering meds begins… And I’m terrified for him. His partner can’t be there tomorrow so I’m going with him. Here’s a prime example of the sandwich generation: going with my Father to an appointment at 11:15, taking my Son to the dentist at 2. I wouldn’t trade being here for him for anything in the world, but I will absolutely admit that this is a very, very tough time to keep my spirits high.

I saw the following quote recently, and it hit home. You can be surrounded by people who love and care for you immensely, but depression robs you of feeling that love. It is truly heart-breaking.

6/8/19:

Today was a tough day. My Dad came into his shop for the last time for the foreseeable future. Right now we’re saying closed for the Summer, but in reality, it might be sold by Fall, and today truly could have been his last day in the place he’s practically lived for 35 years. It was emotional for both of us for sure. He continues to apologize for all he’s put me through in the 7 weeks since his “nervous breakdown”. And while yes, it did put many extra duties on me, it was no biggie. Mainly all I’m worried about is him. I went to the shop a bit ago to water some plants at the end of the day and found this note lying on the counter….

Honestly: true, unconditional love is all he’s ever shown me, and it makes me so, SO happy that I’ve been able to pay that back during the absolute lowest time in his life. This note is more than enough “payment” for what he’s put me through in the last 7 weeks. And he IS getting better. One day-at-a-time. Slowly, but surely, were seeing it. My advice: love unconditionally, it rewards the giver as much as the receiver!

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UPDATE 6/18/19: At his 6w follow-up with his Primary he requested the Western Blot to test for Lyme Disease, thanks to my urging. I cannot believe this was not done previously. Well: POSITIVE for 5 out of 10 bands on that test. Finally, we have some answers. Many of his symptoms correlate to those of Lyme. So now he is beginning a 30+ day course of antibiotics to beat it down, and we take it from there. Stay tuned….

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