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Erin SheehanI try not to use paper towels for environmental reasons and also because I don’t like paying for them. I know they are inexpensive, but we try to be frugal as much as possible. Sometimes you do need something to wipe up with in the kitchen, so when I came across the idea of making un-paper towels on Pinterest, I decided to give them a try.

I’m a beginner sewer, but with something that I’ll just use in the kitchen I figured I could make all kinds of mistakes and no one would ever know or care. It’s not like I’m wearing the un-paper towels!

I used extra drying towels we had and my mom provided some flannel for the backing. To make eight un-paper towels you’ll need two yards of flannel and two large drying towels or two yards of absorbent cotton fabric.

First, wash and dry your fabrics first in case they shrink.

Next, cut your fabric. To cut the cloths, I used a rotary cutter and mat. The cutter goes easily through both layers and you can cut them quickly. Line up both of your fabrics together (right sides facing each other) on the mat and cut to the size you like. I made mine about 9 by 8 inches. Because they will be more absorbent than regular paper towels, I thought a bit smaller than regular paper towels would work well.

Sew the fabric together with a straight stitch about 1/4 inch away from the edge. Leave a couple of inches open on one side so you can turn your towel right-side out.



Trim excess fabric so you won’t have bulky seams and pull the fabric through the gap you left so your towel is now right-side out.

Turn the edges under and sew up the hole you left with a straight stitch.



That’s all there is to it! We keep ours next to the “regular” paper towel holder, which I’m hoping we can let run out and never refill again!


Erin SheehanOur webbed chairs we use up at the lake finally gave up the ghost at the end of last summer. They didn’t completely give way, but close enough. Like my grandparents, I hate to throw things out, so rewebbing them made a good winter project.

at the start

broken webbing 

I ordered webbing from As it turns out, I got the wrong size, and the color certainly doesn’t match, but I think they will be serviceable at least. I was able to reuse the attachment hardware, so the only cost was some time and the webbing.

The first step is to remove the old webbing. I didn’t want to have to replace all of it, just what was worn through, but if you want it to match you’ll have to take it all out. It’s a good idea to take enough care when removing it that you can measure one of the pieces you take out so you have an idea what length you’ll want for your new webbing strips. You also want to take care to preserve the hardware.

There are different types of attachments for webbed chairs, so be careful to note how your webbing is attached so you can recreate it.

new webbing

Cut your webbing into the appropriate lengths. Longer is better than too short! Too short pieces have to be thrown out and that cuts into the money you’ll save by taking the time to do this project to begin with!

Fold one end back (look at the pieces you removed as a guide) and tuck the edges underneath so that the end makes a “V.” For the type of attachment hardware I had, I used scissors to poke a small hole in the center of the “V” for the attachment clip. Next I inserted the clip into the hole in the chair and wove the webbing through the chair.

The next step got a bit tricky. To figure out where to put the other attachment clip, I lined it up without the clip, pulled the webbing as tight as I could and then used the scissors to make another small hole where the clip would go. Then I pushed the clip through and inserted it into the chair. It takes some strength to get it in there taut – I had to have my husband do it for me.

finished - the new old lawn chair

Keep going until your chair is finished. It doesn’t look terrific, but at least I know I did it myself and I saved the chairs from the landfill!


Erin SheehanRoasted pumpkin seeds are delicious and good for you. They are high in Magnesium, Iron and protein. For years we discarded ours as we processed pumpkins from the garden. This fall we realized that we have been throwing away usable (and yummy!) food all this time, so no more!

Here’s an easy how-to for roasted pumpkin seeds. Next time you process a pumpkin or a squash, hold onto those seeds!


How to Roast Pumpkin Seeds:

  1. Cut pumpkin and remove seeds, working them out of the pulp as much as possible.

  2. Clean the seeds using a colander and running water. You aren’t going to get them perfectly clean, but at least get the chunks of pumpkin off of your seeds.

  3. Dry the seeds on a small towel. They don’t have to be totally dry, but not soaking wet either.

  4. Preheat your oven to 400 F. Place oven rack on top shelf.

  5. Spread the seeds onto a baking sheet in a single layer. If you have too many seeds to spread in a single layer use two baking sheets. Some recipes call for oil but I’ve never found it to be necessary and adding oil can even make your seeds chewy instead of crispy, which you don’t want.

  6. Sprinkle the seeds with salt to taste.

  7. Roast from 10 to 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so with a spatula. How long you roast depends on how large the seeds are and how crispy you want them. I like them very crispy and go the full 20 minutes, but you don’t want them to burn, so be careful!

I hope this inspires you to never throw away the good food lurking inside of your pumpkins and squash ever again!


Erin SheehanOur garden is covered in snow and the thermometer reads minus 10 F today. Winter has certainly arrived at our homestead. I know most of you gardeners want January to pass as quickly as possible so you can get your hands back in the dirt and start growing food. And we look forward to that as well, but we’re also happy to take advantage of the opportunity to sit back and rest up for a while.


From mid-March through early November, Jim and I are full-on and all-out, growing, harvesting and preserving food. We’re serious about self-reliance, which drives us to squeeze as much food as we can out of our home garden and our community garden plots. As long as the weather and the rabbits and insects all cooperate, our efforts are worthwhile …. We finished up 2014 with a full chest freezer, a full canning cellar, and apples, garlic, squash and pumpkins in the attic. It’s a labor of love and the rewards are tremendous, but I admit that we breathe a small sigh of relief when the garden closes for the season!

Winter lets us catch up on inside projects. Last weekend we re-webbed a couple of summer chairs that had nearly broken through. This weekend I have a sewing project planned, “un-paper towels.” Meanwhile, my “read” list on has been growing by leaps and bounds.

But leisurely reads of library books will give way to seed catalogs as January marches on. Although in a few weeks we’ll get out our graph paper and start planning the garden for real, for now we dog-ear the pages on the catalogs and talk about our gardening pipe dreams.


Growing our own food is hard but joyful work. Jim and I love the garden and we love growing food together. But for now, until spring rolls around, we will take time out to sew, read, play guitar, sing, bake, and cuddle the cats for a change.


Erin SheehanScottish novelist James M. Barrie wrote, “God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.” And as the temperature plummets and snow blankets the ground, how often do you find yourself closing your eyes and thinking of a warm August afternoon? If you are like me, you call to mind harvesting summer’s bounty from the garden under the summer sun.

As I get older and the years seem to pass more and more quickly, I find memories slipping away, and I realize I don’t recall the happy ones often enough. Even looking back at 2014, I find it hard to remember the triumphant moments, the highs, the good times.

Memories fade and grow worn with time, but we can keep them alive if we try. While everything around us changes constantly, memories remain constant. Especially if we have some help now and again to bring back the good ones.


For 2015, I have created a “Memory Jar.” Starting January 1, I will write down the good things that happen to me on scraps of paper and put them in the jar. On December 31, I will open the jar and relive all of the good times I had in 2015. Simple, right? American poet Elias Lieberman said, “Memories are all we really own.” And in 2015, I’ll rely on my Memory Jar to help me own a few more of the good ones. Happy New Year to you, dear reader!


Erin SheehanI needed a quick batch of cookies earlier this week to share with friends and relatives. Looking for inspiration, I picked up Grandma's 1931 Successful Farming Cookbook. In the cookie section she had many handwritten recipes that she had added into the book.

One of her handwritten recipes is for ginger cookies. The recipe is very simple but looking it over I realized that it would be challenging for me to try to make them.


First problem is that her recipe calls for lard, which I don't keep on hand. Next, the amount of flour needed, "enough to make stiff," isn't very specific. The recipe also doesn't include the oven temperature or the number of minutes to bake, and I couldn’t tell if I should grease the cookie sheet or not!

I searched around online to find other (more detailed) ginger cookie recipes and ended up putting together a few recipes with Grandma's. What I came up with is below. They came out very gingery! I wish Grandma could have tried one, but I did bring them to my mom and she gave a thumbs up.

"New" Old-fashioned Ginger Cookies

1 cup butter or margarine
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 large or extra-large egg
1/2 cup molasses
1 heaping tablespoon minced fresh ginger root (I used jarred)
3 3/4 to 4 cups flour
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter or margarine and brown sugar. Beat in egg, molasses and minced fresh ginger root. In a separate bowl mix together 3 3/4 cups of flour, ginger, baking soda and salt. Add to batter and stir well. If dough is sticky and not stiff, add an additional 1/4 cup of flour.

Cover dough and refrigerate for at least two hours.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Shape dough into 1-inch balls and drop on ungreased baking sheet at least 2 inches apart. Bake 10 to 12 minutes on a conventional pan or 15 to 17 minutes on an air-bake pan. Wait one minute after removing from the oven so they firm up a little and cool on a wire rack.




Erin SheehanMy grandmother’s recipe box has several wine recipes, including dandelion, rhubarb, gooseberry and grape. As soon as I laid eyes on the rhubarb wine recipe I knew we had to try it as well. Our backyard rhubarb patch supplies us with more than what we need for pies and jam. No better way to use the excess then in wine!

Because we have a friend with a large blueberry patch, we also have an excellent supply of blueberries every year. Straight rhubarb wine seemed like it might be a little rough, so we modified Grandma's recipe by substituting blueberries for half the fruit.

Grandma's recipe

Making wine takes at least 10 months. But with lots of care, some skill and a little luck, it can really be worth the wait.

If you’ve never made a fruit wine, you’ll want to visit a beer/wine making supply store for equipment and help.

'Bluebarb' (Rhubarb/Blueberry) Wine
2  1/2 pounds rhubarb
2  1/2 pounds blueberries
5 pounds white sugar
1  1/2 gallons water
2 Campden tablets
1 teaspoon acid blend
1/2 teaspoon grape tannin
1 package Red Star Cote des Blanc Yeast (dry wine yeast) plus another 1/2 cup warm water

Make sure to start with frozen, chopped rhubarb. When rhubarb is frozen and thawed it releases its liquid a lot easier, which is your goal, so make sure your rhubarb has been in the freezer for at least a few days before you start. We also started with semi-frozen blueberries. The blueberries need to be chopped just a bit in your food processor, otherwise they are very hard to burst. We found it was best to chop them slightly frozen so they don't completely turn to mush.

Line a plastic fermenting bucket with a straining bag. Put your thawed, chopped rhubarb and roughly chopped blueberries into the bag. Add a 5 pound bag of sugar. Mix well. Cover and let stand for 24 hours.

pressing the fruit from the bag 

Use straining bag to drain as much liquid out as possible. Pour about a half a gallon of water into bag at a time to rinse the pulp repeatedly until your remaining pulp is as well-rinsed as possible.

After rinsing and discarding pulp, add Campden tablets, acid blend and grape tannin. Cover bucket with lid and place air lock in the hole on the cover. (Air lock relies on a small amount of water to operate.) The Campden tablets will kill all of the wild yeast present on your fruit and any other accidental contamination. You need to wait 48 hours so that the tablets dissipate and don’t kill the yeast you are about to add.

Start your yeast (any good wine or Champagne yeast will work) 48 hours after straining fruit by stirring it into  1/2 cup warm water. Open your fermenter and add the yeast. Cover and replace fermentation lock.

Allow to ferment three months or until the float in the air lock has settled.

yeast has been added and the mixture has been sitting for three months 

Open fermenter and transfer wine to a glass carboy using a siphon tube and 1/4-inch tubing, being very careful to limit the amount of oxygenation. Replace air lock and let rest in carboy for another 2 to 3 month at which time the wine can be bottled.

Siphon off from carboy, bottle and cork.

bottling the wine   bottling the wine

Age in the bottle at least six months. Open a bottle and toast the success of your efforts.

the finished product 

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