Thursday, February 10, 2011

Reducing the Electric Bill

Now that we've been in our home for a year I am able to go back and compare electric bills. Last year, our electric bill due in February was our first full month's bill out on our homestead. Last year that bill was $259.43. When we received this year's bill due in February, the total was only $124.21. That's a difference of $135.22!!!!!

Needless to say, I was absolutely giddy to see the reduced amount. Especially since, last year at this time, we were freezing inside our home and this year we're been cozy and warm through the winter.

The first change we made to increase our home's energy efficiency was to have more insulation put in our attic. Early last summer we realized that there were spots in the attic that had ZERO insulation in them. So, we remedied that as soon as we were able. Then, in the fall, we invested in some custom-made insulated curtains for the south side of our earth-berm home. Just using these two improvements helped a lot because we were able to live comfortably in our home without any heat source until the latter part of fall. When we finally did have to have heat, we used our woodstove. This time last year, we were just moved in and we relied solely on the central heat for the majority of the winter. I cannot explain to you the difference between heating our home using central heat versus wood heat. Despite having vents in every room of the house, the central heat could run constantly and never get the chill out of the air. On the other hand, when we use our wood stove (which is in the kitchen at the opposite end of the house from the bedrooms), the entire house has a warm cozy feel to it. It makes no sense to me that the woodstove can keep the bedrooms at the other end of the house warmer than heating vents can.

We don't use the woodstove during the daytime. I think that our home is now well-insulated enough that the residual heat from overnight use, combined with the sunlight coming in the southern windows, keeps our home a cozy 70 degrees in the daytime. See all the sunlight coming in those windows! It's currently 15 degrees outside with a couple inches of snow on the ground, but the sunlight makes it so nice and warm inside. Our thermostat is showing that it's 73 degrees inside!

When Shawn comes home from work in the evenings he loads up the woodstove and we use it through the night. I've also stopped using our clothes dryer for the most part. I've started doing laundry in the evenings and setting up our dryer racks overnight so the clothes can dry in front of the woodstove. In the morning the clothes are usually dry.

All of these changes have really added up and I'm so happy with the investments we've made in our home. After being really disappointed in our earth-berm home last winter, I can now say that I am thrilled with the savings we're now seeing!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Making Vanilla Extract

Today I was due to make some more vanilla extract, so I thought I would share the process with those that are unfamiliar with it. I've made vanilla extract in the past, but I needed to make a new batch that matched up with our GAPS diet.

I began making our vanilla extract back when we took corn syrup out of our diet. The vanilla extract that I had been using contained corn syrup so, instead of searching for one that was pure, I decided to just make my own. It's really a simple process that takes very little time. The lengthy part is waiting for it to be ready to use.

I started off by purchasing a 750 mL bottle of vodka and 1 oz. vanilla beans. I'm not particular about the type of vodka I purchase, but I do like to get good vanilla beans. I purchased my beans through Mountain Rose Herbs.

I opened the vodka and poured out a bit of the liquid so I would have plenty of room for the beans.

Then, using kithcen scissors, I took each of the vanilla beans and cut them in half down the length of the bean. I left about an inch or so intact at the top of the bean. Then I placed each bean in the bottle of alcohol.

After all the beans were placed in the bottle, I poured in some of the liquid that I had previously removed. Of course, not all of it would fit, but most of it did. Then I placed a label on the bottle showing the date that I started the extract and the date I expected it to be ready for use.

I like to let my extract sit for two months before using it. I just sit it up in a cabinet and give it a little shake every so often when I open up the cabinet and see it sitting there.

Here is the newly made vodka-based vanilla extract next to a rum-based vanilla extract that I made back in August. (Rum isn't allowed on GAPS..that's why I needed to make a vodka version.) The extract will take on a dark color over time, so eventually my vodka-based extract will look like what the rum-based one does now.

Anyhow, that's all it takes. It's really easy to make your own vanilla extract and then you don't have to worry about any hidden "badness" in there.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

An Autism Improvement on Video

Hello strangers! Yes, our family is still in existence! Blogging has taken a back seat for a while. For the last month, our family has been strictly following the GAPS diet in an attempt to heal Sam of autism. It's very time-intensive, but very worth it in my opinion. Today I was looking back through old pictures and found some videos that I had taken a year ago. In those videos Sam had a lot of difficulty controlling his body. He couldn't focus well enough to answer simple questions. Then I took a video from today. I think the change in one year is pretty substantial.

Here are several of the videos from February 2010. In the first video, I was trying to get the kids to send a Valentine's message to Grandma Colette, but Sam was too excited to participate. When he watched the video today he just kept giggling at himself. I asked him why he was laughing and he said, "Because I'm clapping funny!" I then asked him why he was clapping funny in the video and he replied, "Because I was excited!"

And, finally, here's the one from today. There's been so much improvement in his ability to have a conversation and his ability to control his body better. He's certainly not healed of autism, but I'm so proud of how far we've come. Notice at the end of the video that he finally sends a message to Grandma Colette that I was trying to accomplish in the video from a year ago.

During the time of the videos from last year (February 2010), our diet was about 70-80% Weston Price. I was really just starting to feel comfortable soaking grains. We ate a lot of potatoes and corn and rice and oats. I baked a lot using soaked wheat for bread, pizza crusts, tortillas, muffins, pancakes, etc. The kids loved to snack on fruit and homemade yogurt with honey and berries. In April 2010 we went gluten-free. I did notice an improvement in Sam's social behavior at that time. He seemed to show more interest in playing with other children. However, he still didn't seem to understand exactly how other children played together. Unfortunately, that change didn't seem to last because I noticed a regression despite maintaining a gluten-free diet.

In October 2010 we went straight into the Full GAPS diet and stayed on it for 8 weeks. During that time I noticed a few small changes, but nothing that jumped out at me. At that time I couldn't justify limiting our diet for the miniscule changes that I saw, so in December 2010 I took us back to a gluten-free Weston Price diet. We were on that diet for almost a month and it was the most miserable month that I've had in a LONG time. Sam's behavior was awful. He lost control of his body. The humming and hand flapping and clapping escalated. He even started biting the other children, which had never happened before. Apparently Full GAPS had been helping, but I didn't realize it until we had abandoned it.

So, in desperation, our family started doing the GAPS Introduction diet on January 10, 2011. We've now been on the Intro diet for 4 weeks. You can see the improvement in the last video. Sam still has moments of humming and clapping when he gets really excited. He will occasionally have a meltdown over something insignificant but those instance have dramatically decreased. Before starting Intro, Sam would wake up at 5am every morning and lay in his bed for hours humming and clapping. I would have to get up several times and tell him to quiet down so he didn't wake the other children. Starting on Day 2 of GAPS Intro, Sam's room has been blessedly quiet in the mornings. He sleeps more soundly, often until 7am. His body is now capable of being still.

So, needless to say, I am IMMENSELY pleased with the outcome of doing the GAPS Intro diet. If, after only 4 weeks, we've seen this much change..what can we expect after four months on the diet? I am just amazed that all of this is possible simply by eating foods that God created.

This post has been linked to Real Food Wednesday with Kelly the Kitchen Kop!