Backyard forts (or: let’s not overthink this)

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean.

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean.

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean.

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean.

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean.

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean.

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean.

I spent one evening this weekend searching Pinterest for the perfect backyard tent to make with my kids.

And I found some charming designs. Wooden frames, hemmed fabrics, grommets, twinkle lights – the works.

Every one was picture-perfect.

And as I closed my laptop I decided that we wouldn’t make backyard tents this weekend after all.

Because I had no bamboo poles, dowels, or 1×2’s. I only had two grommets, and no yard after yard of perfect fabric to cut and sew into a tent. And frankly, no ambition to take on a six hour craft project after weeding eighteen thousand thistle plants out of my strawberry bed.


Don’t get me wrong. I adore Pinterest. I find great inspiration there. But sometimes what I see is all a bit beyond my reach.


And then as I looked out on my kids playing in the backyard I realized what was happening.

It was the perfection myth bubbling up again.

The false idea that if it isn’t photogenic it isn’t worth doing.

That if it isn’t perfect it isn’t enough.


What nonsense.

I wasn’t going to play that game.

We were building forts, dang it.


So instead of going back to Pinterest I went to the linen closet. I pulled out some old bedsheets, blankets, and table cloths.

I went to the barn and gathered all the bailing twine we pulled off the hay bales last winter.

I grabbed my pocket knife and we set to work.

Not Pinterest-style, but old school. Like what I built when I was a kid with only my imagination to guide me.


And we did it. In one afternoon.

Two fabulous, simple – and yes – imperfect play forts.

Total cost: $0.

Total time: 5 minutes for Lupine’s, all afternoon for Sage’s as he tweaked and modified and tricked his out again and again.

And the play value? Fan-freaking-tastic.


Want to make one, too? It’s easy. Really.

You can squeeze it between the sidewalk and your garage, tuck one in the corner of your patio, or set it up in the woods. Be where you are and use what you’ve got.

Heck, you could even make one without a yard if you screwed a couple of lag bolts into your living room walls and anchored the corners with bean bags or duct tape.

And, of course, it doesn’t need to be perfect. (But you already knew that.)

So grab your kids, some old sheets, and get outside.

Here’s what to do:

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean.

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean.

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean.

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean.

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean.


  • Large bedsheet, table cloth, or other sturdy fabric
  • Rope, twine, or clothesline
  • Knife or scissors for rope
  • Tent stakes or a few strong sticks
  • Four small rocks
  • Clothespins (optional)
  • Blanket and pillows for the ground (optional)



1. Find the biggest flat sheet you can spare for the day or the week or forever. (You can still use them for sheets as for this basic version there’s not need to cut or sew it.)

2. Run a strongish rope, clothesline, or spliced lengths of bailing twine tightly between two trees, a tree and an eye bolt on your house, or your fence and playhouse. Whatever you’ve got that will hold the weight of a sheet. Be creative! Set the height based on the size of your sheet (smaller sheet = lower line). Ours is a full sheet and set set it at waist/chest height.

3. Suspend your sheet along this rope. The sheet above is centered but you could also hang it off-center for a more one-sided shelter. If needed use spring clothespins to secure your fabric.

4. Sage suggests tucking a small rock into each sheet corner and tie a rope or piece of twine tightly around the rock. (The rock will keep the corners from slipping out.)

5. Secure to a tent stake, root, tree trunk, or stick pushed into the earth. Angle the stake back toward the tent to keep it from pulling out.

6. Trick it out with doors, windows, walls, tree branch supports – whatever inspires you or your kids. (Optional)

7. Line with a blanket or pile of pillows if you wish, and get in there and play!


There. Now aren’t you glad you didn’t get disouraged by those pretty, fancy play tents?

Me, too.

Take that, perfection.


Originally published in 2014 on CLEAN.

Easy DIY play forts (that anyone can build!)

Iced Maple Cold Press Latte Recipe


Few things taste more like summer than an ice cold maple cold press coffee. (Okay, except maybe garden tomatoes, but we’re talking beverages here.)

If you’re new to cold press coffee, allow me to let you in on summer’s best kept secret.

Also know as cold brew, this concentrated coffee is easy to make at home. Ground beans are infused in water for 12 to 24 hours, then strained and stored in the fridge for up to two weeks. At the ready to be diluted with milk, cream, or hot or cold water water for your daily coffee craving, it’s our favorite coffee for summertime.

Cold press has zero bitterness and so much flavor. Think espresso’s laid back, friendly cousin. But I don’t recommend drinking it straight. It’s legit strong, and intended to be served diluted.

If you need more convincing, let’s talk price. If you make it into a fancy coffee shop-style drink instead of hitting the cafe, your wallet will thank you. Assuming you’re buying very best quality, fair trade/organic beans, organic cow milk, and grade B maple syrup, a pint jar full still comes in under $1.25.

And unlike the ices lattes at the mainstream coffee joints, there are no questionable or excessive sweeteners hiding in here–just a splash of pure, sweet maple syrup. Made with decaf, it’s one of my kids’ favorite summertime treats.

Ready to make your own? Never mind. That was a rhetorical question. Of course you do! Today, tomorrow… all summer long. Here’s how. (Afflinks follow.)


Tools and Equipment:

You don’t need any special equipment to make cold press coffee. Zero. That said, we were gifted a Toddy Cold Brew System years ago and we love it, so that is what we use, but honestly – you can make it just as easily in your ordinary french press or a large mason jar.

Using a mason jar? Bigger = better. Go for 1/2 gallon. (Since the concentrate keeps for 2 weeks or more, making a lot at once just makes sense.) If you don’t have a cold press insert for your mason jar, just strain your finished cold press through a very fine mesh strainer or a collander lined with a flour sack towel reserved for this purpose.

Now that you’ve gathered your gear, let’s get brewing! (Do plan ahead, as cold brew coffee takes 12 to 24 hours to make.)

Make your cold brew

Make cold brew coffee in any amount. The quantity you make will be determined by the size of your jar. You can easily fit the amount below in either a Toddy or a 1/2 gallon jar. To make in an average-sized french press, reduce the amount by half.

The batch below will yield approximately 6 cups of coffee concentrate, or enough for 12 pints (6 recipes) of the iced latte below.


  • 12 oz coffee, coarsely ground (we’re partial to our friends and neighbors at local-to-us Kickapoo Coffee who just happen to also be the friends who hooked us on iced cold press in the first place, the devils)
  • 7 cups cold or room temperature water (filtered or well water preferred)


  1. Place freshly ground coffee in the brewing vessel of your choice.
  2. Slowly pour water over coffee.
  3. Stir gently to combine.
  4. Cover and fridge if desired, or allow to steep on the counter. (The latter is our normal method).
  5. 12 to 24 hours later (longer = stronger, in both caffeine amount and flavor), strain your coffee. We normally go 24 hours. To strain, either remove the the plug from your Toddy and drain through the felt filter; remove the filter basket from your filtered mason jar, allowing concentrate to drain from grounds into jar before discarding; or pouring slowly through the mesh sieve or cloth-lined colander if you’re using an ordinary mason jar.
  6. Store in a covered mason jar in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Make your iced latte

Ingredients for two pint-sized lattes

  • 1 cup cold press coffee concentrate
  • 2 1/2 cups *full-fat milk of your choice
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup, or to taste


  1. Combine all ingredients in a quart jar or pitcher.
  2. Stir to combine.
  3. Taste and adjust if desired by adding more milk, coffee, or maple syrup.
  4. Serve immediately over ice.

* Regarding milk: fat is good for us. It tastes wonderful, our bodies and brains need it, and did I mention it tastes wonderful? That said, cow milk is not required here! Use whatever full-fat milk you love. The lattes pictured above are made with whole, raw cow milk, but I’ve had many a fine cold press made with whole pasteurized milk, raw goat milk (really!), and even some with a full-fat dairy-free milk with great results. If you’re going dairy-free though, here’s a tip: add part dairy-free milk and part dairy free creamer for a tastier drink. It’s worth it. I promise.

Oh, and one more thing…


About these snazzy mason jars…

I made them. I love them. I sell them.

Grab yours here for your summer iced latte habit, while they last!

Each jar costs the same as ~3 of those corn syrup-sweetened coffee shop iced lattes that don’t taste half as good as this one, so if you refill it just four times this summer with our homemade version, you’re winning by miles. You even get to choose your closure (steel straw cup lid or Cuppow coffee lid)!


Need more incentive?

Order one or more magical mason jars, and add a note to your mason jar order of “HAPPY HEALTHY” and we’ll throw in a sample-sized (1.5 oz) bar of soap for every jar you buy, just because.

Now get busy and make that cold press! Because summer is waiting.

Iced Maple Latte Recipe. Easy to make at home, plus you control the sweetener! #coffee #coldbrew #coldpress #summer

10% off LüSa outdoor essentials

20180508-DSC_1323 8.04.35 PM


Today only, enjoy 10% off of all LüSa Organics Outdoor Essentials!

Choose from our bestselling natural insect repellent, Shoo (for mosquitoes, ticks, and biting flies), our non-nano zinc oxide cream, Sunshine Butter, or even our new organic Nature Nurtures tees for adults and kids! web.jpgFind them all on our Outdoor Essentials page, and use coupon code “SUMMERFUN” for your discount at checkout.

Retail customers only, please. Offer expires 5/29/18.


Five steps to prevent tick bites


Nature is our happy place.

It calms our minds and soothes our hearts, and we do our best to get out and in it every day that we can. Our Wisconsin farm is 40-some acres of prairie, pasture, and woods, and there is hardly an inch that we haven’t explored.

I’ve been asked time and again how we can feel comfortable heading out into the tall grass and underbrush living in a region with such a high incident of Lyme Disease, plus our own family history of tick bites and Lyme Disease.

Lyme is scary. I get it. Our family has had more than our fair share of Lyme. But what I wrote about my tick philosophy here still holds true.

I can’t let the fear win. Not when the woods, when life, when childhood are waiting.


So we’ve dialed in our tick prevention game. That was the only reasonable answer we could devise. Since I wrote the post that is linked above, we’ve completely changed the way we approach tick season from a practical standpoint.

And it’s working.

Here is what we do these days to prevent tick bites and to keep our family safe and healthy, while we get out there and enjoy all that nature has to offer. Without fear, without anxiety, without reservation.


Five simple steps to prevent tick bites

1. Rose Geranium Insect Repellent

Even before mosquito season, we consistently spray our skin and clothes with our LüSa Organics rose geranium insect repellent. I formulate Shoo with ticks in mind, and it never ceases to amaze me. This is our first – and perhaps most important – line of defense. We use it from the time the snow melts until the first snow falls the next winter. Because unlike mosquitoes, ticks are active for all but the coldest season.

We bring a bottle of Shoo along whenever we go out, and if we’re outside for more than an hour or so we reapply. I also spray it on our dog when he heads out to romp.

2. Appropriate clothing

Light colors make it easier to see ticks before they get to your skin and have a chance to attach. Choose long pants, socks, and closed toed shoes. We pull hair back and wear hats as well. Bonus points for long sleeves.

3. Tuck in your clothes

Ticks crawl up to get to the skin, and by keeping tucked in they have fewer entry points. Tuck shirts into pants and pants into socks. It’s not the height of fashion, but it’s effective tick prevention.

4. Tick checks & laundry procedures

Back home after an adventure, we do tick checks, slowly and carefully looking over each other’s head’s and bodies for any interlopers. Then we each take a quick shower, being sure to shampoo well.

Clothes go straight into the laundry, and things that can’t be laundered (hand knits or other wool, for example) are checked for burrs; then they go into the dryer on hot for 10 minutes to kill any ticks before coming back upstairs. If woolens are wet line dry first, then throw into the dryer.

5. Sulphur Protocol

This last one is a little weird. But since we first gave the “sulphur protocol” a try three years ago we’ve had almost no tick bites. Really. We went from five bites for Lupine alone by mid April one year, to a single bite the whole next year. Yes, one bite is still one too many, but it’s certainly an improvement. (Afflinks follow.)

The protocol is as follows:

Week 1: Take 1/8 teaspoon of powdered sulphur (we use this kind) daily.

We stir it into water with a bit of Magnesium Calm instead of the molasses recommended in the link above (for flavor, and because we supplement with magnesium daily anyway).

Week 2: Take above dose every other day.

Week 3: above dose every third day.

Week 4: Take above dose once per week.

Week 5 through Autumn: Take above dose monthly.

(We originally found the sulphur protocol here.) I don’t know why it works, but I know that it seems to be working well for us, so I’m keeping with it!


What if you are bitten?

No protocol is fool-proof. We sometimes forget our bug spray, or forget to reapply, or miss a tick during a tick-check. In the rare event that a tick does become attached, stay calm and follow this simple course of action:

First, use a tick remover to gently lift off the tick (we use this type). Avoid squeezing or pulling.

Second, support your immune system response. For our family we choose to take ledum 30C and support our immune systems with elderberry and astragalus tinctures. What is right for your family may be different, but this is our approach.

Third, tend to the bite site. While still in the field we apply a fresh plantain poultice, and back home we keep the skin moisturized and happy with this favorite balm.

What about antibiotics?

Some people treat with antibiotics after each and every tick bite. Others treat only when Lyme symptoms are present. Still others don’t use antibiotics at all. Educate yourself to the benefits and drawbacks of each approach, and make your own best, well-informed decision.

What are the symptoms?

Whether or not you are aware of having been bitten, I believe it’s a good idea to watch for signs of Lyme Disease in all members of your family. Symptoms are widely varied, and include brain fog, aching joints, headaches, on-and-off fevers, and flu-like symptoms. I personally develop deep fatigue, digestive pain, word-finding problems, and spelling issues. Everyone is different. Know your body and listen when something feels off. For many people symptoms come and go. This checklist is a great place to start when your evaluating symptoms.

What about the bullseye?

Not everyone presents a bullseye rash when contracting Lyme Disease, so don’t let its absence lead you to believe that your symptoms are not Lyme.

If you are concerned about Lyme Disease in your family, I can’t say enough about the importance of finding a Lyme Literate Medical Doctor. This is one resource for finding a LLMD, but there are literate doctors who are not on the list.

All of that said, by following the protocol above ticks have become a rare problem indeed for our family. Give the five steps a try, and report back with your experience!


What are your family’s tricks for keeping the ticks at bay?