Natural Living Des Moines

Freezer Meal Groups
October 17, 2011, 12:26 pm
Filed under: Food

Good heavens, this one has been in Drafts for 2 years!!

Putting together your own freezer meal group is not difficult. I’m not going to pretend that I had anything to do with our group – I just show up and cook! But the steps to forming a group are fairly straightforward.

– Decide whether you want to cook together (which my group does, because we enjoy the fellowship) or just meet to exchange already-prepared meals. Cooking together requires at least one member to have a large kitchen and plenty of cooking stuff.

– Decide how many families you think is manageable. Our group has found five families to be just about right – it’s enough to get a nice variety of meals for the group, but not so many that we each end up cooking for an army every month.

– Decide if you want guidelines on what is and is not OK for your group. Our group encourages local and organic, but does not require it. We have certain convenience foods forbidden (“cream of” soups, for example).

– Decide how you want to handle food issues. Our group doesn’t include anyone who’s completely gluten-free, for example, because gluten-free cooking can be a challenge (and icky-tasting) for those not choosing/required to cook that way. When my son was having dairy sensitivities, I didn’t ask anyone to change anything for us, but leave out cheese toppings if possible, and to just let me know if a recipe had dairy in it so I could fix him something else on the night we ate that meal.

– Decide who you want to invite!

Of course, if you’re cooking at someone’s house, everyone should be sensitive to the chaos that brings to that person’s home. We’ve had varying levels of willingness to help clean up afterwards over the years, but I always try to make sure that all dishes are washed, all ingredients put away, etc. before I leave the hostess’s house. Also, each member is encouraged to remember their own freezer bags or casserole dishes, but of course there are times we have all forgotten, so we tend to take turns restocking our hostess’s supplies of these items.

And another point that should be obvious but I’ll point it out anyway – watch how you handle food! Assuming everyone in your group has at least rudimentary food handling skills, the main risk with a group that gathers to cook together is handling the completed meals after they are finished but before they hit the freezer at your house. Throwing warm meals into a cooler that won’t make it to your freezer for another several hours isn’t going to cut it! Either bring a boatload of ice or stop on the way home and get some!

The second point of risk comes when you’re reheating. Set your food in the fridge to defrost (not the counter) and make sure you reheat thoroughly.


Not sure what to cook for your freezer meal group? Do an internet search for Once a Month Cooking, Freezer Cooking, or similar. Most recipes for casseroles will lend themselves nicely to the freezer, but pasta and rice both need to be handled slightly differently if you’re cooking for the freezer vs cooking for eating right away. (undercook pasta, and undercook rice but add extra liquid.) Soups always make good freezer meals, and things like pot pies, hand pies, etc. are also delicious out of the freezer.


I love my freezer meal group! No, our family hasn’t loved every meal from the group, and we’ve eaten a few bits of some meals and thrown them away, but by and large, the meals are good, they’re a nice change from what we eat regularly, and it’s LOVELY to have a variety of dinners, pre-prepared, in my freezer for busy nights.


Calling all Urban chicken farmers
September 7, 2011, 3:52 pm
Filed under: Community

Attention all Des Moines Urban Chicken farmers!!

I’d love to put up a collection of all of our coops and chickens, so PLEASE send me (or send me the URL to) a picture of your girls and of your coop. I can post them with whatever details you wish to share. Thanks!!

Clothesline Bans
August 10, 2011, 7:20 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I don’t think any neighborhoods here in Des Moines ban clotheslines, do they? This blog post from EcoCentric discusses the problem, as well as a project to document the scope of clothesline bans.

Where’s all the Recent Content?
August 6, 2011, 8:01 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Where, indeed?

Life’s just gotten busier, and as I’ve been reducing the number of “extra” things I am willing to add to my to-do list, blogging at NLDM never seems to make it up to the “really important” list.

Want to see new content here?

We welcome your content!! Please contact us about becoming a writer for the NLDM blog!

Calling all Ankeny residents!
June 7, 2011, 9:49 am
Filed under: Community, Home and Garden, News

Do you think you might want to raise your own chickens at any time in the future? Or are you supportive of the idea in general, even though you may not want to raise them yourself? The city council is poised to pass a new regulation that would forbid chickens in the city limits. NOW is the time to make a difference! Please check out the Iowa Urban Chicken Farmers group on Facebook. If you’re not on Facebook, please contact me directly and I’ll get you in touch with the folks trying to persuade the Council that chickens aren’t disease-ridden, horrible animals. The Council needs FACTS to counteract the FEAR that they’re currently working from.

Yes, you can go green without going broke
December 11, 2010, 7:30 am
Filed under: How To, Waste

Welcome to my post for Des Moines’ Frugal Blog Tour. I hope you can visit all the blogs on the tour this week and next.


Too often these days, living “greener” seems like it has to cost us extra “green.” However, this certainly doesn’t have to be true! When you think about it, the original Environmental Mantra of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” could also be a Mantra for frugal living. It’s true! Living cheaply and living light on the planet go hand in hand. Read on to learn more!

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle


Reducing your use of resources is the best way to cut back on expenses, as well as on waste. As you go through your day, ask yourself at every opportunity, “How can I reduce my use of this product?” For example, do you use hairspray as you get ready in the morning? Perhaps you could use less spray but still achieve the same effect. Or maybe you’re willing to try a new hairstyle that would not require styling products.

As another example, do you use the amount of laundry detergent recommended on the bottle? Manufacturers who create those recommendations have an ulterior motive – to keep you buying their products! Try cutting back to half of the recommended amount, and then keep cutting back little by little until you start to notice a difference in the cleanliness of your clothes.

Reducing your use of disposable products should be fairly straightforward. Disposable products have permeated our society. It seems like every time I turn around, I find another new disposable product. I mean, disposable toilet brushes? Disposable bathroom hand towels?? Who would ever have dreamed?

Almost everyone can stand to reduce the use of wasteful disposable products. Doing so not only gives the environment a boost, but it helps save money, as well. To start reducing your use of the disposable, think through all of the disposable products that you use in your life. Here is a partial list of disposable products I found on a recent trip to the local “mega” store to get you started.

-Paper napkins
-Paper plates, cups
-Plastic flatware
-Facial tissues
-Toilet paper
-Paper towels
-Single-use razor blades
-Disposable diapers
-Baby food jars
-Cleaning cloths of all sorts
-Shop towels
-Baby bibs
-Baby placemats
-Changing pads
-Menstrual products

Which of these disposable products do you use? Now consider – for each disposable product you use, can you use a re-usable product instead? And will substituting that re-usable product be lighter on the planet, and also save you money? Not all re-usable products pay off in the long run, but most do. Let’s look at a few of the items listed above in closer detail.

Paper napkins and paper towels. The alternative is, of course, cloth napkins and towels. Generally speaking, using cloth napkins and towels is very do-able, and will definitely save you money! And, though I don’t know of any studies proving it, it stands to reason that it’s lighter on the planet, even after factoring in the washing. Our family has been using cloth napkins and towels for a while now, and we really don’t miss the paper versions. (If you’re interested in cloth napkins, make sure you get ones made from cotton or linen – not poly or other man-made fabrics, which are not absorbent.)

Paper plates and cups, Plastic flatware. I don’t think I need to argue the point that using real plates, cups, and silverware is a better choice. And I will admit that the disposable versions have their place. (Like when you have visitors for lunch on your first day with a new baby!) But there are ways to use them more responsibly. For example, when I was growing up, we had large family gatherings at holidays, and my grandmother didn’t want to be running her dishwasher around the clock. So she purchased a package of disposable plastic cups and a big Sharpie, and had each person label their cup. This way, cups did not need to be washed as often, but they weren’t thrown out after every use, either. It was a nice compromise!

Facial Tissues. Somehow, in the past several decades, we’ve gone from handkerchiefs to Kleenix without much thought. Most people my age have never even used a handkerchief! However, there’s nothing better when you’re sick than using cloth on your runny nose. You don’t get that red, dry soreness that you get from the paper tissues. It’s sheer luxury! (If you’d like handkerchiefs, they can be found in most men’s departments, or you may buy them from Wallypop.)

Toilet Paper. Now this one will really stretch some people! But flushable toilet paper is NOT the only option… Many people, myself included, happily use cloth toilet “paper.” It’s actually much softer, it feels almost sinful. Depending on what type of cloth you use, it’s much easier to get all clean, and for those of you who prefer to wet your TP before wiping, well, fabric won’t get all soggy and fall apart like paper does!

Diapers. Do I really need to sell you on cloth diapers? There are so many articles scattered around the internet on why Cloth is a better choice, including several that I have written, that I’m not going to try to duplicate them here. Cloth diapers are more economical, they are better for the environment, and they’re much better for babies, too!

Baby Food Jars. To reduce use of throwaway jars, you can easily reduce your use of commercial baby food. Making baby food is so easy (and fast!) that there’s really no reason not to do it! Even the worst cook can make baby food. Steam some veggies or fruits until well cooked, then mash up! How easy can you get?? Commercial baby food does have its uses, though. When on a week-long trip with our oldest, we supplemented homemade food with store-bought little jars of sweet potato, blueberries, and other treats. Instead of just tossing those jars out, though, consider whether you or anyone else you know can use them. When my nephew was eating baby food, my sister in law saved a large number of her baby food jars for our family – we use them to store nails, screws, bolts, nuts, and other small items that we want to keep together. If you want to get really fancy, you can nail the lids to the underside of a shelf, then screw the jars on and off as you need to access the contents.

Cleaning Cloths. How did we become a society that can’t stomach the idea of spraying cleaner on a rag, then washing the rag when done? There are wood polishing cloths, glass cleaning cloths, bleach cloths, kitchen cleaning cloths, bathroom cleaning cloths, car cleaning cloths, even disposable facial cleaning cloths. The obvious alternative here is to get a rag, get some cleaner, and go at it the old-fashioned way! Definitely cheaper, and actually better on the environment, too. Not only because you’re not throwing away the cloths, but because you will use less cleaning product in the process. Buy your cleaning products in bulk and use old towels or T-shirts as rags and the impact is even greater.

Baby Bibs. I’ve never been too sure of the reasons behind this product. You have enough room in the diaper bag for the disposable bib, but just not enough room to take it home? You just can’t stomach the idea of taking a dirty bib home and washing it? The obvious alternative here is fabric bibs, which are widely available.

So you see, finding acceptable substitutes for disposable products is often not difficult. Start with just one or two products, and move on from there.



This step so often gets overlooked in our enthusiasm about recycling, but reusing something is so much better for the environment – and the wallet – than recycling.

Reuse is actually my favorite part of living greener, because I’m a big fan of World War Two pop culture – and during WWII (as well as during the Depression), they had their own saying – Use it up, Wear it out, Make it new, or Go Without. What they couldn’t or didn’t use up or wear completely out (and I do mean completely), they would fix up, repair, or reinvent. I have several sewing books from the era, each with large sections devoted to remaking clothes or housewares using worn out clothing. A man’s suit becomes a woman’s suit or children’s clothing. Two worn dresses are made anew by combining the good parts of each to make one new dress, and the leftover parts made into children’s clothing.

So, with the pioneerish spirit of our grandmothers, here are some ideas to get you started Reusing your worn or broken items.

Wally's batman shirt

* Clothing. Clothing is the easiest item to reuse – at least for me, since I can sew! Plain T-shirts, T-shirts with with small stains, or T-shirts with smallish designs that you’d rather not see any more can be decorated and remade using the simple technique of raw-edge applique (ADD A LINK). Bonus: This technique requires very basic sewing skills, and the stitching doesn’t need to be perfect at all – it’s just “art-ier” if it’s all crooked! Most other clothing items can also be embellished – skirts, jackets, coats, pants, jeans. Pants and jeans can also be decorated with trim, which is especially useful for adding just a smidge of length when your daughter shoots up 3 inches overnight or for those pants that you love that are getting a bit worn around the hem. Clothing can also be cut up and sewn, tied, woven, or braided into quilts or rugs. I made a neat denim rug when I was in college by cutting up denim scraps that would otherwise have been thrown away. I braided them into a long, long rope, then coiled the rope into a circular rug that we used to wipe our shoes on before entering our dorm room.

My favorite use for old clothing is simply to cut out all the seams and then see what else I can make with the remaining pieces. Patchwork skirts are always easy, but most children’s clothing items can be made with parts of old adult clothing. An old skirt could yield a nice ring sling. Cotton clothing can be remade into diapers or mama pads. Once you start seeing old clothing (or towels, sheets, etc) as fabric instead of clothes, the possibilities are endless!

* Clothing again. Clothing that’s too worn (or ugly) to be reused can always be cut up and used for toilet wipes, rags, or washcloths. These items don’t have to be aesthetically pleasing.

* Interesting but clean garbage. Things like toilet paper tubes, egg cartons, meat trays, cardboard boxes and inserts, cans, jugs, and just about any type of container can be used in craft projects for your children. We throw any broken or unwanted gadgets (broken remote, old calculator) into a box labeled “cool stuff” that our six year old uses for projects. Don’t have children? Contact your local church, preschool, or daycare. Most of these facilities will gladly take donations of craft supplies such as these! But don’t stop at children’s crafts. Egg cartons can be used to store small, fragile Christmas ornaments or as a palette for your next painting project. Aluminum cans can be used to store pencils. Baby food jars can be used to store nails and screws, or bobbins for your sewing machine, or hairpins.

* Paper. What do you use for jotting down quick notes? Taking phone messages? Writing grocery lists? How about using your junk mail? Most envelopes have plenty of space for notes or lists. Not to mention that many business letters are printed on one side only, leaving the entire back side empty! And what about those pages that you printed on your computer, but didn’t need? Or that your printer screwed up? If you keep animals, consider shredding unwanted paper and using it for bedding – this is what we use for our chickens.

Little Places for Little Boys: Cardboard Playhouse

* Cardboard boxes. What can’t these be used for, really? Besides the obvious – mailing out packages – these workhorses of the reusing world can be used to: make a playhouse, make a sled (my dad used to pull us around the yard in the winter on a giant, flattened box), protect your garage floor, store off-season clothes or anything else, or provide a giant easel for children to draw on. With a few cuts and some tape, they can be made into magazine holders or smaller boxes. I cut the sides from an old, large cardboard box, painted them to match my office, and stuck photos to them to make collages to decorate my walls. Another large cardboard box, with a few windows cut out, provides a nice play house. A third box provided me with a bulletin board on which I plan upcoming projects.

* What else goes in your garbage? Just a few miscellaneous examples from my own house: I use two old mugs to hold my pens and pencils in my office. An old desk drawer organizer from work (they were remodeling and throwing out – throwing out!! – all our old desk supplies like orgnizers, magazine files, photo frames, and the like) helps me organize my sewing cabinet. Some old shelving provided some of the wood we used to make built-in bookcases in our basement.

If you can’t reuse something yourself, take a minute before you throw it away to consider whether someone else could use it. Maybe someone in your family or your circle of friends could really use that old pan. Or perhaps you could freecycle some of your items or donate them to Goodwill or the Salvation Army.



Though recycling is what most people think of first, it should actually be the third thing you consider, after reduce and reuse. If you can’t reduce your use of an item, and it can’t be reused when you’re finished with it, try to recycle it if you can. Our local area offers limited recycling pickup with the garbage pickup, but citizens can take other recyclables to area drop-offs. There’s nothing particularly money-saving about recycling, except remembering that it’s the LAST step, not the first!

Respect those who make choices different from you!
October 4, 2010, 10:45 pm
Filed under: Food

I had been working (mentally) on a post about respecting the choices of others, particularly with regard to farming practices. Between The Big Show (on WHO Radio, which I do listen to on occasion), green bloggers, a few farming/ranching blogs, and a lot of foodie blogs, I’m starting to get very, very tired of all of the bashing going on. Conventional farmers feel they have to put down natural/organic farmers to stay competitive. Natural/organic farmers feel they have to put down conventional farmers as part of their marketing to promote their own product. Foodies inevitably prefer the natural/green products and end up criticizing the conventional farmers.

The question I’ve wanted to ask many of these people, particularly the natural/green folks (of which I am one) has been “Have you ever met a conventional farmer and discussed farming with them?” Because, if not, then maybe you ought not be sitting there saying “conventional farmers this” and “conventional farmers that.” Conventional farmers are not evil incarnate. Most conventional farmers are doing the very best they can to produce a high quality product – and they succeed. They are hard working men and women trying to earn a living and support their families. They are, in fact, my two uncles, my grandfather before he died a few years ago, several of my cousins, my great-uncles, my second cousins, my aunt’s in-laws, and the entire community in which I spent my summers as a child.

As I was working on this, Shanen Ebersole over at Ebersole Cattle Co posted a very excellent article titled Rancher Respect.

Go read her post, and then I don’t have to finish mine!