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Ways to Build Your Immune System and Stay Healthy

No one wants to get sick. Whether it’s the flu going around or something more unknown like the coronavirus, everyone wants to avoid catching it. While nothing is 100%, there are a few things my family does to increase our chances at staying healthy when there’s something going around.

A few notes on supplements and essential oils

I am not a doctor. Everything we do may not work for you and your family. It’s important to consult with your doctor before taking any supplements, especially if you have other health concerns. 

In addition to supplements, I also use essential oils to a degree. While I do think essential oils are beneficial, I don’t believe they are a cure-all or always appropriate. If you choose to use essential oils, I recommend researching contraindications and general usage guidelines for each essential oil before using. Two of my favorite sites for essential oil safety are the Tisserand Institute and AromaWeb, particularly AromaWeb’s essential oil profiles.

There are safety guidelines to using all essential oils, such as proper dilution and not ingesting, that are important to know. There are also safety guidelines to using specific oils, such as knowing that eucalyptus essential oil should not be used on or around young children. These safety guidelines apply to all essential oil brands, regardless of whether they are “therapeutic grade”.

With that out of the way, here are my family’s tips for staying healthy when there’s something going around.

Eat right

Aside from proper hand washing, I think this is probably the most important tip of all. If you want your immune system to be able to do its job, you need to give it the proper fuel to work well. Sugars give you calories and energy but not much else. Eating a variety of fruits, vegetables and protein while limiting refined sugars gives your body energy and nutrients to keep everything working as it should.

With the coronavirus that’s going around, grocery stores are running out of some pantry staples like rice, beans and canned goods. Fresh produce and meat seem to still be readily available for the most part, though. With a little prep and planning, many fresh fruits and vegetables can be frozen to make them last longer. You can also make soups, stews and casseroles in bulk to freeze if you have the freezer room.

Get outside

Fresh air and sunshine are good for you mentally and physically. Sunshine helps your body produce vitamin D. Vitamin D has many functions in the body. In addition to helping build strong bones, there is some evidence to suggest that vitamin D helps to inhibit viruses, like those that cause the flu. (Sources here and here.)

In normal flu seasons, while everyone is healthy we frequent outdoor playgrounds unless it’s ridiculously cold or rainy. With the current recommendations regarding COVID-19, we will probably stick to hanging out in our own yard or open green spaces.

If you can, though, try to get outside every day. Children especially need an opportunity to run and play outside. Even if it’s raining, as long as it’s not too cold and there’s no lightning, let them play in the rain and get muddy.

Exercise is important, but even just sitting outside reading a book gives you the benefits of fresh air and sunshine. If you can’t get outside, at the very least open the curtains and windows to let a little of the outside inside.

Vitamins and supplements

During cold and flu season, we all usually take extra vitamin C. While taking extra vitamin C may not be a miracle cure for colds, it is important for proper immune function. The best way to get vitamin C is through eating foods, such as citrus fruits, that are naturally high in vitamin C. Since it is important for immune function, I feel like a daily supplement is worthwhile on the off-chance we’re not getting enough from out diet.

Vitamin D is another supplement I take, particularly in winter months. As I cited earlier, there is some evidence that it helps to inhibit certain viruses. We all began taking vitamin D at our doctors’ recommendations. Unlike vitamin C, vitamin D is more dangerous if you take too much. It’s definitely a good idea to consult with your doctor before supplementing with it.

Strategic use of essential oils

While more research is needed, there is some evidence to suggest that certain essential oils have antimicrobial properties. One of the more well-known and one of my favorites is tea tree, or Melaleuca alternifolia oil. I like to add a little bit of tea tree oil to my homemade cleaning products, especially in winter.

Another way I like to use essential oils is to diffuse a few drops in a diffuser. To be fair, I’m not sure how much, if any, antimicrobial benefit they have in that form, partly because of the high dilution and because I haven’t had much luck finding research on that specific method of use. I like the scents better than air fresheners, though. Also, if used properly, it won’t harm even if it does little, if anything to help. Proper usage in this case means keeping it away from pets, especially cats, only diffusing age and condition-appropriate essential oils for the people in the room it’s being used, and not adding more than a drop or two to the diffuser at a time.

I do usually keep a can of Lysol and some bleach around in case something really disgusting hits our household. For the rest of the time, though, I think they are overkill.

Wash your hands to stay healthy

One of the best ways to stay healthy, of course is to wash your hands. One study showed that hand washing-even without soap-was more effective at eliminating influenza A on hands than hand sanitizer. Washing with soap further increased the benefit. According to the CDC, hand sanitizer is not as effective at removing all types of germs, such as  Cryptosporidiumnorovirus, and Clostridium difficile, making handwashing all the more important.

Any type of soap acts as a sort of emulsifier to allow oils on your skin and the germs within the oil to be washed away by water. (This page gives a more detailed explanation on how soap works.) If someone in my family is sick, I like using tea tree soap. While more research is needed, there is evidence to suggest that tea tree essential oil has antimicrobial properties. If that is the case, it may boost the cleaning action of hand washing.

Masks to stay healthy

With COVID-19, wearing a mask is recommended or even mandated in some areas. The main argument for them is that they help prevent the wearer from spreading the virus, especially before they have symptoms and know to self isolate. I’ve seen many arguments against wearing a mask. If you’re wondering about the effectiveness of homemade masks, this is a good site to review https://smartairfilters.com/en/blog/diy-homemade-mask-protect-virus-coronavirus/. They did several tests, including filtration of particles smaller than the coronavirus, effectiveness of homemade masks in general, which fabric works best, and how effective a cloth mask is if worn for an extended period.

I do think mask wearing is beneficial for staying healthy if done properly. I wear them when I go grocery shopping or am in a similar situation where keeping a distance isn’t possible. A mask isn’t 100%, though, so it’s important to use them with other healthy practices.

Even if you do everything right, nothing is a 100% guarantee against viruses and other types of infection. Sometimes, despite our efforts a doctor’s visit and medication is required. By taking measures to support our immune system with proper nutrition, fresh air and exercise, and limiting exposure to germs through cleaning and hand washing, though, we can increase our odds at staying healthy.

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Ways to Build Your Immune System and Stay Healthy
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Organizational Tools for Peace at Home: Ultimate Homemaking Bundle

Affiliate disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through any of the links on this page, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. All the statements contained in this post are my honest opinions of the product, the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle 2020.

With everyone spending more time at home, it’s easy to feel like you should be able to stay on top of everything. The house should be spotless, closets decluttered, laundry clean and put away, delicious home-cooked meals ready on time and the kitchen cleaned up promptly after. If you’re home all day, it should be easy, right?

What could possibly be difficult about having an organized home with these three?

The truth is, it’s not that simple. Being home all day, especially with children, means more time to make more messes. If you work from home, you’re technically at home, but still have similar time demands to working at an office. Homeschooling adds its own time demands. Even if you have the time, it’s easy to get overwhelmed looking at a mountain of tasks and not know where to begin.

Enter the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle

I absolutely love the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle because over 50 women have contributed their tried-and-true resources to help you have a home that’s calm, organized, and well-run.

If you’ve never heard of it, the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle has been around since 2013, and since then, over 139,000 women (and probably some men, too) have purchased a copy to learn practical strategies for decreasing stress and making a home (and life!) they love.

When you buy the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle, you’ll get access to:

  • 14 eCourses & videos
  • 9 eBooks
  • 9 workbooks
  • 8 planners
  • 8 printable packs
  • 3 membership sites & summits

The creators behind these resources are 50+ women who have struggled with the same things you do, but have learned (and will teach you) how to simplify homes, declutter & organize, put healthy meals on the table, and nurture strong family relationships.

Best of all, you can get the entire package, all for just $29.97. This price hasn’t gone up since it was first released 8 years ago – which is an amazing deal, considering the prices of most things these days!

Over the years, I’ve purchased several bundles offered through Ultimate Bundles. Throughout the year, they offer bundles for things like healthy living, DIY projects, photography, and blogging as well as the current homemaking bundle. They’re all offered for a limited time at a steep discount compared to purchasing the resources in each bundle separately. If there’s even one or two of the resources in the bundle that you find useful, it usually more than justifies the cost. They also offer a 30 day money back guarantee, so if you get it and find that it’s not what you thought it would be, you can easily request a refund.

Ultimate Homemaking Bundle 2020

I just got my Ultimate Homemaking Bundle yesterday, so I haven’t had time to thoroughly explore all the resources. Looking through them, though, there are several that I’m really excited about.

Ebooks

I love ebooks because I can load them onto my Kindle Paperwhite that I carry with me in my purse. That way, I always have something to read any time I have a few minutes of downtime. From this bundle, I’m looking forward to reading these:

  • Cleaning with Essential Oils: Your Guide to All Natural Cleaning by Kristyn Bango
  • Garden Harvest Recipes: A Plant to Plate Cookbook by Holly Bertone
  • Quick Start Guide to Water Bath Canning by Victoria Pruett

Planners

Printable planners are awesome because you can print and use only what you need. You can also take elements from different planners to create a perfect planner that works for you. This year’s bundle offers several planners, including ones for cleaning, homeschooling and reaching your goals. These planners are of particular interest to me:

Cleaning

  • Declutter in Minutes Planner by Tracy Lynn
  • Motivated Moms Classic Planner by Susan Cramer
  • The Confident Mom Weekly Household Planner and Supplement Kit by Susan Heid

Homeschooling

  • The Homeschool Planner: Simply Plan, Simply Homeschool by Sean and Caroline Allen

Goals

  • Dreams by Design 2020 Planner by Karen Schravemade
Ultimate Homemaking Bundle 2020

Ecourses

To be honest, I haven’t used the ecourses as much in the past. Even though they are totally at your own pace, I tend to start them, get busy with other things and never get back to them. There’s several in this bundle that look really helpful, though, so I will have to do better this time. From the ecourses, these are the ones I think will benefit me the most:

  • 5 Days of Cleaning Motivation: Get Motivated to Clean! Are you in? by Joanie Boeckman
  • Exercise Around The World: Explore The Geographical Roots of Fitness through Movement by Beth Learn
  • Inspire a Love of Learning by Kerry Beck
  • Not So Bummer Summer by JoAnn Crohn (geared towards children)
  • Take Ten Challenge by Laura Coppinger (meal planning)
  • Time Management Freedom by Deanna Dolbel (online business)
  • Uncomplicated Kitchen: 3 Step System for Simpler Weeknight Cooking by Ruthy Kirwan

Other Ultimate Homemaking Bundle 2020 resources

Those are just a sample of the many resources contained in this bundle. Not only are there more in each of those categories, I haven’t even mentioned the membership site access, printables, summits, and workbooks you’ll get. There’s also several bonuses that include gift certificates or products free for the cost of shipping.

If any of these resources sound like something that would help you, I urge you to take a look at the complete list here. Full disclosure: If you purchase through any of the links on this page, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.

Ultimate Homemaking Bundle 2020

On the other hand, if you’ve made it this far and don’t think this bundle is for you, don’t worry. My next post will be back to the content you’re used to from SubEarthan Cottage. I’ve been working on a few clothing refashions, and I’ve had to do another repair on my Kenmore sewing machine. Expect posts on those soon!

Time left to get your Ultimate Homemaking Bundle.

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Easy DIY Talc-Free Body Powder

With all the concerns in the news surrounding talcum powders again, many people are looking for a talc-free alternative to their favorite body powder. While you can purchase talc-free powder, making it yourself is simple, allows you to customize it, and is super inexpensive. Better yet, you probably already have everything you need.

Body Powder Recipe

Ingredients:

3/4 cup of Cornstarch

1/4 cup of Baking Soda

10-ish Drops of essential oil (optional)

Make it:

Combine the cornstarch and baking soda in a bowl or jar. Give it a stir or shake to mix. If you’re using an essential oil, add it now, then stir or shake some more to distribute.

Use it:

I keep mine in a jar and use a fluffy makeup brush to dust it where I need it. It works great as an all-over dusting powder, deodorant and shoe deodorizer. You can also dust a little in your hair in place of dry shampoo. For that, I like to put it in my hair at night and then brush it out in the morning.

Customize it:

The basic recipe is 3 parts cornstarch to 1 part baking soda, so you can use that 3:1 ratio to make as much or as little as you need. 

Add more or less essential oil based on your preference. You can also use your favorite perfume to make a coordinating dusting powder.

If you find this formula too drying, reduce the amount of baking soda, or omit it all together.

Not a fan of cornstarch? Try using arrowroot. I personally haven’t tried it, so if you do, let me know how it works.

For babies, I recommend just plain cornstarch as baking soda might be too harsh. If you want to scent it, add a couple of drops of lavender essential oil. Essential oils aren’t generally recommended for babies under six months, so take that into consideration. 

If you like using this as a dry shampoo and have dark hair, you can add a little bit of cocoa powder to the mix to make it less noticeable if you don’t get it brushed out completely.

Re-purpose a shaker jar, such as a spice or Parmesan cheese jar, rather than using a brush or puff to dispense.



Find more of my tutorials here: Tutorials.

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Another Cloth Mask Pattern Post

Over the last few weeks, I’ve made many cloth face masks using a variety of patterns. Here’s a rundown on the different mask styles I’ve tried, and the one I find overall the most useful.

Contoured masks

The first are heavily contoured, shown here. If they fit they work well, although even without an added filter they make it hard to breathe. The downside to them being contoured, though, is that, if they don’t fit just right, they gap worse than the pleated-styles of masks I’ve tried.

Pleated mask with pockets

Another style of mask I made is a simple pleated mask with two layers of cotton fabric. One piece of the cotton was interfaced and had a wire in the top to shape around the wearer’s nose. Interfacing offers some added filtration on its own. The two layers were left open at the top to form a filter pocket. You can find the complete tutorial for this style here.

I’ve worn this style for the past few weeks on my weekly grocery shopping trips without an added filter. I’m generally healthy and don’t have any breathing problems, but I find these masks difficult to breathe through. Some discomfort is tolerable for safety, but every time I’ve worn one, I’ve had moments where I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to finish shopping while wearing it. On one occasion, I felt sick from it and actually had to stop and briefly remove it to get a few deep breaths.

Basic pleated mask

The final mask design I’ve tried is a simple, pleated mask. I use the pattern provided by Deaconess Hospital. They have variations for using elastic or fabric ties. In addition to the pdf instructions, Deaconess filmed a video tutorial that is easy to follow.

Mickey Mouse mask from the Deaconess pattern.
Masks made with the basic Deaconess pattern.

There are a few downsides to this pattern. Depending on the wearer, these may gap. On some, I added a small dart at the nose and chin. This helps provide a better fit. They also lack a filter pocket or interfacing. Even so, this is my preferred mask pattern for the following reasons.

They are easy to make.

This simplicity makes it easy to make multiples in a short amount of time. Once I have my fabric cut, it takes me about 15-20 minutes to make two in assembly line style. Having several means you’re more likely to wash them after every single use. It also means you can keep a backup in your car or bag so that you always have one to use.

They are easy to customize.

If you want to add a layer of interfacing, or nose and chin darts, you can without much additional effort. Searching Deaconess mask plus nose wire or filter pocket yields options for those as well.

They offer some protection while being more breathable.

Depending on your fabric selection, even a simple two fabric layer mask like these can offer up to 79% filtration, according to testing. Breathability also means you’re more likely to wear them and less likely to remove them during use.

Have you made masks lately? What is your preferred pattern? Please share in the comments.

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Kombucha Frequently Asked Questions

Here’s a few common questions about Kombucha. I’ve answered them based on my research and personal experience.

Kombucha questions

How much should I drink?

If you’ve never had Kombucha before, you’ll want to start slowly. Kombucha can have a detoxifying effect that can be unpleasant if you rush it. It is recommended to start with about an ounce per day at first and gradually increase until you reach a comfortable level for you. If you notice any ill effects cut back or stop for a few days to let your body catch up. Drinking lots of water can help, too.

Of course, you should always listen to your body. If you feel like you can’t tolerate kombucha don’t push it. There are plenty of other ways to get probiotics. Also, I’m not a doctor, and the above might not apply to everyone depending on your personal health. If you have any concerns, definitely consult your doctor.

Can I use metal utensils when making Kombucha?

Metal tea kettles for boiling the water are fine. It’s fine to stir the tea and sugar together with a metal spoon before adding the SCOBY. What you want to avoid is the SCOBY coming into contact with metal as that can damage the SCOBY. Even then, I have heard very brief contact is ok, such as when cutting up a giant SCOBY. I prefer to peel apart the layers and avoid metal touching my SCOBYs, though.

Can I use honey/stevia/coconut sugar/some other sweetener?

The sugar is food for the SCOBY and plain white sugar is recommended because it is easy for the SCOBY to digest. I have heard of some people having success with other sugars, but I haven’t tried it myself. If you want to try another form of sugar, I would start with a small batch and keep another SCOBY in a tea/white sugar brew as backup.

Stevia or other zero calorie sweeteners will not work because they don’t provide food for the SCOBY.

Can I use flavored teas?

Not for the main brew. You can use flavored teas to add flavor in a second ferment.

Can I use decaf teas?

This is another one where I’ve heard conflicting information. Most say not to use decaf tea. If you want to try decaf, as with different sugars, I would start with a small batch and keep another SCOBY in a regular tea/white sugar brew as backup.

My SCOBY looks funny. Is it bad?

Most SCOBYs look funny. They can be smooth and creamy colored or have air pockets and brown spots. The bottoms usually have brown stringy tentacle things hanging down. New SCOBYs grow on top of older ones until they look like a stack of slimy pancakes. (Eww.) All of this is normal, and there’s probably a million variations I haven’t described.

There are two main things to watch for: mold and black. If your SCOBY molds, it will look like blue-green dusty mold, just like what grows on bread. If you get mold, throw it all out and start over.

Black means the SCOBY is dead or dying. Toss it.

My Kombucha tastes like vinegar. What happened?

Kombucha is supposed to taste vinegary, but if it’s too strong you can always mix it with something like juice to make it more palatable. You can also use super-vinegary Kombucha in place of apple cider vinegar in recipes. If it’s straight vinegar with no sugariness left, you could use it as a hair rinse or for household cleaning where you would use ACV.

To make future batches less vinegary, there’s a couple of things to try.

1. Kombucha brews faster in warmer weather. If it’s been hot, try a shorter brew time and/or increasing the amount of sugar in the brew.

2. If your SCOBY is getting super thick, split off some layers. More SCOBY = shorter brew time.

My Kombucha is too sweet. What happened?

The easiest fix is to let it brew longer. If it’s cold, moving your jar to a warmer location may help. I think the ideal range is somewhere around 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit.

You should also check the condition of your SCOBY. If it is turning black, you’ll want to replace it.

Should I store my SCOBYs in the refrigerator?

No. You want to avoid extreme temperatures because they can damage the SCOBYs. The best range is between 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit.

To store your extra SCOBYs, place them in a lidded jar with at least enough Kombucha for them to float and store in a cool-ish location, such as a pantry or shelf out of direct sunlight and away from heat sources.

Find more of my kombucha posts here:  https://subearthancottage.com/search/label/Kombucha

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Flavoring Your Kombucha Tea

When you get your homebrew timing right, kombucha is pretty yummy on it’s own. Sometimes you want something a little different, though. Or maybe straight kombucha just isn’t your thing but you still want the probiotic benefits. Luckily you can easily change the taste of your kombucha to make it more palatable or fix a soda craving. Here’s my tips for flavoring your Kombucha tea.


Mixing with juice


The simplest way to flavor kombucha is to mix it with juice or another beverage. This is a great way to get started drinking kombucha. To start, add 1-2 ounces of kombucha to a glass of your favorite juice. As your body and tastes adjust to drinking kombucha you can increase the kombucha to juice ratio.


I like to dilute 3-4 ounces kombucha with sparkling or still water, add a splash of lemon or lime juice and a bit of stevia. This makes a refreshing summer drink when served over ice.

Kombucha is also nice as an add in for smoothies. It can be fizzy on it’s own, though, so make sure to account for that when adding it to blended drinks. Leaving a little extra headspace in the blender is a good idea. Or, stir it in after everything else is blended.

Flavoring your Kombucha Tea
Flavored with peach and cherry teas in a second ferment.

Flavoring your Kombucha with a second ferment

You can also add flavoring in a second, shorter ferment. Basically you’ll put your flavorings in a bottle or jar (I like canning jars), fill almost to the top with your brewed kombucha and cap the jar. Leave at room temperature for 2-4 days and then refrigerate or drink.


The second ferment can increase the carbonation in your kombucha, so it’s a good idea to be cautious when opening and storing the jars. I’ve never had a jar break from the pressure, but I have had the metal disks on canning jar lids pop up in the middle. If I think too much pressure is building up, I “burp” the jars by opening them just enough to release some of the pressure and recap.

There’s a variety of things you can add for the second ferment. Really, any herbs, spices or fruits can be added. If you want to increase the carbonation, add a little bit of sugar, honey, raisins or a sweet fruit. My favorite thing to do is put enough orange peel to fill the jar halfway, add a teaspoon of sugar or honey, top with kombucha and let it sit for two days. It makes a kind of healthier orange soda and uses something that would normally have been tossed.

Flavoring your Kombucha orange and honey
Orange peel and honey Kombucha

Other flavorings I’ve tried:

  • Lemons and limes cut into wedges, sliced or just the peels. You can also use a lemon or lime half after juicing it for another recipe.
  • Fresh sliced ginger, plain or with a dash of chai spice and squirt of honey.
  • Fruit flavored herbal teas, one bag per quart jar.
  • Blueberries.

If you brew your own Kombucha tea, I would love to hear your tips for flavoring your Kombucha. Please share them in the comments below.

Next week I plan to do a FAQ/kombucha myths post. If you have any questions please share them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.

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Continuous Brewing Your Kombucha Tea

Making Kombucha using the continuous brewing method means you’ll always have plenty of Kombucha ready to drink or flavor in a second ferment. Here’s how to do it.

Supplies for continuous brewing

In addition to the basic Kombucha ingredients listed here, you’ll want to have a jar with a spigot. There’s some debate over the best materials for the jar and spigot. The biggest thing to watch for is something non-metallic, although I think I’ve heard stainless steel is okay. Most people like to avoid plastics to prevent any weird chemicals from leeching into the KT. I went with the cheapest, most available option of a glass sun tea pitcher with a plastic spigot.

Continuous brewing kombucha


Keep about half of the finished KT and the SCOBY in the jar and bottle the rest. Brew about half a gallon of tea. I use two black tea bags, one green tea bag and one half to one cup of sugar. Let it cool and add it to the jar with your finished KT and SCOBY. Since you replaced half of the KT, you’ll want to wait a couple of days before drinking from the new batch. After that, you can drink some fresh from the tap every day. Just replace what you drink with fresh sweet tea. Because you are only adding a small amount of fresh tea in relation to the KT, you can drink a little every day without the wait time. I like to keep a small pitcher of sweet tea in the refrigerator to replenish what gets taken out each day.

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