Simply Driftless bio picture
  • WELCOME!

    Welcome to Simply Driftless! My name is Rebecca and I'm so happy you are here. Joined by my husband Ben, we are on a journey towards a healthier, natural, DIY lifestyle... and we're trying to do it as inexpensively as possible.

    We have made our home in the beautiful Driftless Region of southwest Wisconsin. This area is full of local food and self-sufficiency and we're excited to continue our transition to this way of living.

Adoption Update: End of Year One. Still Waiting.

Note: this post is a little long and I apologize for the general wordiness of it. 🙂 Adoption is a complicated process and there are so many thoughts swirling around in my head.  Sometimes writing them down helps me organize those thoughts, and after the great response to our infertility story, I’m hoping that this update will continue to support others who are on the adoption journey (or even those simply contemplating it). 

I am so blessed.  As I sit here on my couch, drinking my coffee, my little dog is cuddled up next to me.  My husband is working downstairs.  We have a beautiful Christmas tree filled with ornaments we’ve picked up from all over the world. Our house is warm and we have good food to eat.  Our marriage is happy and we have family and friends that are simply amazing.  Life is good.

While I’m so thankful for what we do have, I’m sad that we still are waiting for a child to join our family and experience all of these wonderful things.

Photo above of us was taken by our friends Doug & Jackie at Doug Treiber Photography in Colorado. 🙂

As I shared at the beginning of the year, Ben and I are trying to adopt a child.  We desperately want to become a family of three and have been trying to start our family since Christmas of 2009.   It took three years and six miscarriages, until Christmas of 2012, for us both to be on board with the idea of adoption.  Now we’re here, and we are just about to enter our fifth year of trying to start a family.  After a year on the adoption path, I thought I’d fill you all in on what that year has been like.

At the beginning of the year, after deciding to adopt, we went into heavy research mode.  We looked at how much adoptions cost; turns out the national average is around $30,000.  Different agencies.  Types of adoption (international, domestic infant, foster-to-adopt, special needs adoption), and even surrogacy.  We looked at how long it would take. Even if everything went well, it would still take several months for us to finish up our home study, plus the additional time to actually find an expectant mother who would choose us to raise her child!  We assumed we were looking at a minimum of six months, but realistically 1-2 years.

Side note: you can follow our adoption journey on Facebook HERE.
Our adoption website is HERE.

So ultimately, we decided we’d use an adoption agency for our home study and attempt to find a match ourselves.  This is called an “independent adoption” for an infant.  There are some pros and cons to this.  The biggest pro is the financial side of things.  It is likely that our independent adoption will range from $7,000-$11,000.  Most agency infant adoptions start at $15,000 and can go up to $40,000.  The other reason this appealed to us is because we wouldn’t be presented to expectant parents along with 20+ other couples.


Photo above by my sweet friend Tamara of Poppy Photography in British Columbia

With that said, there are some downsides to this approach.  How successful you are really depends on how well you and your network can share your story.  In our case, I have a background in marketing, knew how to build a basic website, and how to run a Facebook page so it wasn’t terribly difficult.  We were incredibly fortunate that our story really resonated with our family, friends, and even complete strangers because it was shared quite a bit.  One of the most negative aspects of independent adoption is that it opens you up a lot more to potential scams.  We knew this and were watching for financial scams, but were actually victims of an emotional scam.  To be honest, I didn’t even know anything like this existed.  Basically, we were contacted by a woman with a newborn baby.  She said she lived 25 minutes away from us and wanted to place her child with us. We spent hours and hours chatting, Skyping, and messaging.  Two separate times we thought we were going to get to meet our “son”, and one of them was supposed to be an overnight visit.  We washed baby clothes, prepared the nursery, and basically did everything that parents do before they plan to bring home their children.  Only… both times, she never showed up.  Then she basically stopped communicating.  A month or so later, I was on an adoption scam board and her name popped up.  Turns out that she did this to several couples, and since she never once asked for money, quite a few of us were “emotionally scammed” by her.

I can’t even imagine what kind of sick things must go on in someone’s mind for them to play with hopeful adoptive parents like that.  Most of us have already been dealing with infertility or pregnancy loss, and then to struggle through an adoption scam where we think our dreams of parenthood will finally come… only to have her exposed as a complete liar who wanted to hurt us… well, that’s disheartening.

However, there have been some amazing things that have happened because we were so open with our story.  We were contacted by a couple of (real) expectant mothers.  For a handful of reasons, those matches did not work out but it was encouragement that we were doing something right. In fact, we are currently talking with a very sweet expectant mama who lives about an hour from us.  We’ve developed a great relationship with her and for this we are very grateful.  There are some unknown variables in this situation but we are hoping and praying that we are able to adopt her child though we won’t know for sure until much closer to delivery. With that said, even if this match doesn’t work, we’re thankful she’s been brought into our lives and don’t see her friendship going anywhere.

So there are a couple fun things I’d like to share before I finish this post.

The first is that I am floored by the amount of support we’ve received from everyone, even complete strangers, for simply sharing our story.  At this point we’ve received hundreds of private messages and even more comments on our Facebook page from people who are praying for us, encouraging us, giving advice that helped them on their adoption journey, and offering to put us in contact with family/friends of theirs that have adopted.  If there was ever any doubt that people can be so amazingly GOOD… well, I would say it’s so completely true.  For these complete strangers to take the time to encourage us is an amazing blessing. It reinforces the fact that I shared our story for two purposes: to hopefully lead us to our future child AND to encourage others who are feeling very alone as they battle with their own infertility or pregnancy loss story.  It was hard for me to share such personal details but I have never, even once, regretted it.  It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

 

The second thing I’d like to share is that we’ve had some fun experiences this past year.  Our story has been picked up quite a bit – two front page news articles in regional newspapers.  We were asked to screen test for an adoption documentary series as they look for a couple pursuing open adoption for their pilot show.  (We won’t know the results of this until later in January). And we’ve made some fantastic friends, met some amazing people, and been introduced to some sweet adoptive families.  So this journey towards our adoption has been very bittersweet.  Mostly sweet, only a little bit bitter.

We are hoping and praying that 2014 is the year we meet our future child.  A few days ago I watched an adoption video and there was a line that really resonated with me.  It said something along the lines of, “We waited for years to meet our son.  But it wasn’t wasted time… we were that much closer to him than we were when we started”.  Thanks for your support this past year; you’ve made this time of waiting so much sweeter.  Have a great weekend, everyone!

 

 

Savor. Masala Tea (Chai Latte) Recipe

I spent the better part of August photographing an orphanage and traveling around Nepal.  It was an amazing experience that profoundly impacted my life.  While I was there, I survived on dal bhaat (rice and curried lentil soup eaten twice a day, every day) and tea.  Pretty much every family home, restaurant, and tea shop serve these two things.  So in this post, I’m going to talk about that wonderful Nepali tea called “masala tea”.

First, two little trivia tidbits for you:

  1. Masala literally indicates a spice blend.  So you can buy a chicken masala, meat masala, garam masala, masala tea, and more.  Obviously the variety of spices varies greatly depending on the type of masala you are talking about.
  2. Chai literally means “tea”.  In Nepal, they refer to tea as “chyea” (pronounced chee-yuh).  It doesn’t necessarily mean it is spiced, so this is where “masala” comes into play by spicing the tea.

 

Okay, enough trivia.
When I was in Nepal, I could walk into nearly any tea shop in the city or even in the very remote rural areas and ask for this tea.  it costs of four components: tea leaves, milk+water, sweetener, & spices.  There is no exact method to preparing this lovely drink but I’ll give you my method. 🙂


Above: this was one of the remote tea shops Nima & I stopped at while in Nepal.  We drove for hours and this was a beautiful place to stop and recover from riding a motorcycle on Nepali roads.  Yowza.  My backside was sore.  But anyway, back to tea.

For one cup of masala tea, I fill a mug with a mix of half milk, half water, then heat the liquid.  Personally, I use a pan on the stove but you could use a microwave.  While heating, I add the black tea and spices.  Right now I am using a premixed loose black tea/spice blend from Nepal that I strain out just before drinking.  But I have also used a tea bag plus spices (pumpkin pie spice works great, or you can use whole cloves, cinnamon stick, cardamom, grated ginger, etc.)  Basically, the best spices to use are whatever you have on hand! It’s not rocket science; if it’s a tasty spice that sounds like it would be good in pumpkin pie, I’d consider it suitable.  Haha.

With the tea bag and spices, steep until the milk/water tea mixture is a lovely tan color.  Remove the tea and spices, sweeten to taste, then drink.  Yum.  For sweetener, I typically use sugar or maple syrup but feel free to use whatever you prefer.  Some days I forgo my coffee in favor of this; it has about a third of the caffeine as coffee and it’s a tasty hot drink in the mornings.  Bonus: it will save you several dollars per cup to make this at home vs buying it at a coffee shop.

Above: early morning tea break at a tea house on the way from Nagarkot to Kathmandu.  The only thing that made 6am bearable was this tea.  And this view, below.

Have an amazing day, everyone!

This blog post was shared at The Pink Momma Friday Blog Hop and Frugal Ways, Sustainable Days.

Behold: The Mighty Mason Jar

This next tip I’m going to share with you is kind of a no-brainer, but it took us years to start doing.  I didn’t think much of it until I was chatting with a friend a couple days ago and the simplicity/practicality of it kind of blew her mind.  So maybe it will help you out.  If you’ve already thought of this, well, consider yourself supremely intelligent and highly practical. 

These last few years, we’ve seen a huge influx of BPA-free storage containers, water bottles, and more.  BPA sounds like a pretty nasty thing that I want no where near my food, so we have been transitioning to glass products for our food storage and drinkware.  In fact, we’ve nearly eliminated plastic from our kitchen storage items!  We have a hefty supply of glass storage containers from Pyrex but they tend to get expensive and the lids crack over time.  Often, they simply aren’t the best shape for the needs we have. For example, soup or soup stock doesn’t work the greatest in a shallow, wide container with a top that isn’t exactly secure.

Enter mason jars.  We’ve found a plethora of uses for them but I will share two of my favorites today.

 

1. Food storage

I often make large pots of soup and needed a way to efficiently store the leftovers.  One day I decided to use a few mason jars in our cupboard for soup storage and wondered why I didn’t think of it earlier?  It was perfect! Perfect for the fridge, perfect for our wallets, and perfect for me to take to work for lunch because I could reheat it in a bowl or mug.  I also use mason jars for storage of homemade marinara, fruit syrups, chicken stock, and more. One thing I particularly love about glass storage is that they don’t stain or retain smells (hello, deep red cherry sauce that makes plastic permanently red and marinara smell that lingers in plastic containers!).

In the pantry, we have glass jars of all sizes. Some are fancy, some are more utilitarian.  But we use them to hold our rice, dried beans, dried herbs, pasta, and more.  Many of these jars have been purchased but a handful were repurposed from groceries that came in a glass jar (marinara sauce, oils, etc).  For marinara jars, we have good luck with the more square-ish round jars that have a wider mouth.  The completely round jars with a narrower mouth would work fine, but for us they tend to not come as clean in our dishwasher.  So your results may vary; this is just what works for us.

Photo above found HERE.  This is slightly more organized than our pantry. 🙂

 

2. Drinkware

Ben tends to drink a lot of fluids every day and a normal glass typically doesn’t cut it because he has to refill constantly.  We fill mason jars with iced tea, water, and on occasion, soda or Koolaid.  They get used as travel mugs (cold beverages only) as well as drinking glasses around the house.  Note – we have plenty of drinking glasses.  Ben simply prefers these jars to regular glasses.

One day I was in a little boutique store and found a fabulous little invention called a “Cuppow”.  This gadget is screwed on to mason jar and converts it to a travel drinking jar!  It comes in wide mouth or regular size and will screw on any standard sized jar, even pint jars if a mason jar is too big for you!  Plus, pint jars fit in car cupholders. 🙂  It’s awfully handy.

Cuppow photo from HERE.

For canning, you should use the metal lids/rings that are specifically made for canning.  But for re-using these jars around your kitchen, I recommend getting some screw-on plastic lids.  I’m linking below to the plastic lids.  They are easier to wash and use if you will be putting these jars into frequent use.  We have a bunch of them but I hadn’t discovered them yet when I took the above photo.

To sum up: mason jars are reusable, surprisingly durable (we’ve dropped several and they haven’t broken, though I don’t recommend testing this theory), and affordable.  Whether you repurpose marinara jars, buy mason jars, or dig out the dusty ones from your basement, they will stand the test of time!

Helpful Amazon links (affiliate links):
Regular Mason Jars
Wide Mouth Mason Jars
Plastic Lids

Cuppow (regular)

Cuppow (wide)

January 28, 2014 - 1:53 pm

Cheryl - I spent the weekend at your mother’s. I laughed when she opened her dishwasher and it was being used as a handy jar storage center. She said, “I just love using jars,” to which I replied, so does your daughter, she has a piece on her blog about it. I was surprised when she was surprised to learn that you too are a jar fanatic. I love that you both evolved to this independently of each other. Apple tree. 🙂

Wool Dryer Balls – Why and DIY

Wool dryer balls.  Have you heard of them?  I was pretty intrigued when I first heard about them.  They are used in place of fabric softener dryer sheets to soften your clothing in the dryer, to reduce drying time, and even reduce static. This makes them green (no harmful chemicals or scents coating your clothing) and economical (reusable for a loooong time).

With that said, I didn’t want to pony up $20 for a set of three.  So I set out to make my own.  I had some experience felting wool sweaters last year and figured it wouldn’t be *too* tough to make my own wool felted dryer balls! Last summer I was in the local thrift store and ran across three skeins of 100% wool for .75 each!  After snatching them up and running toward the cash register, I then proceeded to let them gather dust for six months.  But hey, such is the life of a wedding photographer with no free time in the summer. 🙂

Anyway, yesterday I decided it was time to create them.  So, here is my tutorial.

Step 1: Find 100% wool yarn.  Make sure it’s not one that is safe for regular wash.  In my case, it said “Dry Clean Only”… this is good because then you know it will felt in the wash! With that said, most wool yarn will felt properly- it’s just the” specially treated for easy washing” variety that you may have issues with.  You can also unravel an old 100% wool sweater or buy new yarn – it will still save you money.

Step 2: Each regularly sized skein of yarn (as shown above) should yield around three wool dryer balls. To begin the ball, start wrapping the thread in a loop around your fingers.  I’d estimate 40-50 loops.

Step 3: Wrap a loop in the middle of your 40-50 loops.  Make sense?  See the above photo. You are basically making it look like a bow.  Then start making the whole thing into a ball by wrapping yarn every which-way you can.  There is no particular art form for this. Just have fun with it.

Step 4: Realize that this will take a while.  Pull up Netflix or pop in a movie.  I chose Law & Order SVU.

Step 5: Continue wrapping your ball until it’s approximately a 3″ diameter.  Then cut your yarn and tuck the end in the ball – I wrap it around several strands so that sucker won’t go anywhere.

Step 6: Continue until you have the desired number of balls.  If only I had a nickel for every time I…. never mind.

Step 7: Find an old pair of nylons.  Insert a ball, then tie off the nylons in between each ball.  I try to pull the nylons pretty taut so the balls can’t move much.  (Am I the only one with the maturity of a five year old boy? )

 

Step 8: FELTING.  Throw your nylon and wool balls into the washer.  Add some detergent (storebought is better than homemade from what I read).  Wash on the hottest water you can and do a cold rinse.  I add a towel or two so it will really agitate the wool fibers.

Step 9: Repeat step 8.  Maybe 2-3 times is what it took for my wool to properly felt.  Basically, the hot water will open up the wool fibers and the cold water will “shock” it back into intertwining it within the other strands of yarn and thereby prevent unraveling.  Then throw the whole thing in the dryer.

Step 10: I considered the process complete when a few of the nylon balls started to show fibers outside of the nylons.  (Note – not all of the wool balls were visibly felted at this point… I just needed to see a few before I was comfortable cutting the nylons apart.)

 

Step 11: Cut/pull the nylons apart from the wool balls.  That’s it!  They are done!  Even though you can still see the wool strands, they ARE felted – you can see the fuzzy fibers and the strands are not loose.  They are stuck together.. felted.

To use these dryer balls, place 3-5 of them in the dryer with your wet clothes and reduce your normal drying time.  Enjoy!

If you prefer to buy your dryer balls rather than make them, you can check them out HERE (affiliate link).

December 11, 2013 - 10:00 am

Cheryl - Fantastic! I never knew about dryer balls and now I want! This would make a good project for the new year for me.

December 11, 2013 - 8:12 pm

Corri - Good way to do a little stash busting too 😉

The $100 Nursery Project

These days, I’m having a lot of fun working on our nursery and getting ready for a baby.  (Side note, in case you missed the story, we’re planning on adopting.  Soon, hopefully.  But no updates on that yet.) Part of me thinks I should wait until we get matched with a child, but part of me thinks we should be prepared.  And, let’s face it.  It’s a lot of fun to work on getting prepared for a baby!  While it’s more common to have a few months to get ready after being matched with birth parents and a child, it’s also possible that we could get a call tomorrow and have a baby within a couple weeks.  Crazy, huh?  So while I don’t want to get too carried away, my hopeful practical side says it would be nice to be prepared sooner rather than later.  Just in case.

 

Well, being prepared has a few logistical issues.  I mean, since we’re hoping to adopt, we don’t know if we’ll have a boy or girl.  We don’t know if we’ll have a newborn or a toddler.  So this nursery needs to be able to fit a range of ages for either gender.   There are just so many unknown things… luckily, both Ben and I prefer gender-neutral things.  We don’t particularly care for nurseries will really strong themes.  Noah’s Ark or Farm Animals or Princesses?  No.  Thank you.  And, along those lines, that is good that we don’t want a theme, because we’re pretty frugal and I just can’t picture us spending several hundred dollars on a matching nursery set.  I predict that we’ll have a very DIY, second-hand, but adorable nursery.   🙂

 

(Note – I’d like to add… we know we could spend more on this nursery.  We aren’t broke.  But this is a fun challenge, and I enjoy getting creative to see how great we can make things while saving our money for more important things.  Like adoption.  Or travel.  But anyway… back to the blog post.)

 

Why the extreme frugality, you may wonder?  Well, adoptions aren’t cheap, folks.  The average adoption in the US runs around $30,000.  Seriously.  So I decided to set a personal challenge of $100 to decorate the nursery.  While the nursery is not completed, it’s definitely starting to take shape.

 

So.  As much as I’d love to go out and buy a brand new Oeuf Sparrow Crib (le sigh),  the sad fact is that would pay for 25% of our adoption home study, which is a bit more important.  So, we’re keeping our existing sleigh crib in natural finish, purchased second-hand during my first pregnancy over 3 years ago.  We also have an antique dresser that I repainted a couple years ago, so I pulled it out of our closet and moved it to the nursery.  Lastly, I grabbed a chair out of our bedroom and moved it in here.  So far, we are up to $0 on our nursery renovation and have already acquired our major furniture items. Sweet.

Here’s a quick photo of my favorite corner:

And that’s all you get for now. 🙂  The rest is a mess because it’s also my home office for my photography business AND my sewing headquarters.  Nothing screams “disorganized” like a 27″ iMac and a Macbook laptop fighting for space on my desk, with a serger and sewing machines fighting for space on the dresser.   Oh, and a dozen unfinished projects floating around every open space and yards of fabric siting in the crib.  But soon, I promise, you’ll see more photos. 🙂  However, here is the breakdown of my $100 nursery budget SO FAR.

 

  • Crib – $0  (It was purchased years ago.  So it doesn’t count, right?)
  • Chair – $0 (Also purchased years ago, on Craigslist.  For $15.  Probably the best $15 I have spent in a long time.)
  • Dresser – $0 (Acquired years ago from a family friend.)
  • Ivory colored hand-knit afghan – .50.  Yes, as in fifty cents.  I found it at a rummage sale and snatched it up.  I can’t imagine how many hours went into this blanket, and it looks untouched. And gorgeous.
  • Colorful pouf ottoman – $0.  This was a gift from my friends Matt and Katie
  • Artwork on the walls – $40.  I scored these four lovely prints on Craigslist, and they are by UK artist Sam Toft.  Love her stuff.
  • Curtains – $10.  A friend was clearing out her fabric stash so I scored 3 yards for $10.  I quickly sewed up some curtains, and had to add an ivory panel to the bottom to make it long enough. But I’m happy with them. 🙂
  • Changing pad and cover- .50 – this was a DIY attempt.  I’ll share photos later, if I decide it’s up to par.  Jury’s still out on this one.

 

In case you are counting, that brings the grand total up to $51.  I still need to figure out shelving and a bookcase/some sort of storage.  But, I’m pretty sure it can be done for $49 with a little creativity, and maybe some help in the construction department from my darling husband.

 

In the meantime, I’ll share two photos of one of my recent projects.  Admittedly, I am not a skilled seamstress.  I can barely sew a straight line.  But I have been making burp cloths and baby washcloths.  I realize I could probably use any old cloth, but it’s been fun to do something productive and cute.  Here are the burp cloths:

 

And a different style… I was playing around with my new (well, used), very complicated serger machine.  I love it, but holy cow.  It’s not easy to thread or use.  Plus, I broke something so now I have to figure out how to fix it.

 

Grand total for the eight burp cloths is about $1, maybe less.  I used fabric we already had (an old striped cotton dress shirt of Ben’s that had a few holes, an old flannel pillow case, some fabric from Ben’s mom’s stash and my stash, and an old cotton tank top), plus some receiving blankets that I traded two bars of homemade soap for.  For the washcloths, I found a pair of cotton terry pants at the thrift store for a quarter, so I cut them into squares and started serging them into little washcloths.  I estimate them to cost .02 each. 🙂

There you have it!  We’re still going to make a wooden baby play gym, wall shelving, bibs, stuffed animal, a rag rug, and a crib skirt… but it’s fun to see some progress.  Especially knowing it has cost so little!

March 20, 2013 - 8:54 pm

Agi - So exciting!

March 22, 2013 - 9:44 am

erin - we have artwook by same artist in Leo’s nursery! Don’t fill that nursery too full–rememember you have tons of friends waiting to shower you with special gifts as soon as we hear the happy news.

December 11, 2013 - 1:14 pm

Merks - This is adorable! Love your site 🙂