Interview With Melissa K. Norris



Jennifer: Today we have Melissa k Norris, and she is a homesteader. She is the real deal guys, she is out there doing the stuff. She is in the north, up in Washington, and she is the voice of the popular Pioneering Today podcast. She’s the author of The Made From Scratch Life, I’m reading here because I don’t want to miss anything. She has a book that’s just coming out called Hand Made. It’s the modern guide to the made from scratch living. This is the reason my asking you, tell me, what is hand made in your home? Because we want to know. Melissa inspires people’s faith in pioneer roots with old fashion skillsets and wisdom for a modern world. Welcome. Melissa, I’m so thrilled that you are here.

Melissa: Hey Jennifer! I am super excited to be on here because, like you, I love talking about all things self-reliant, and old fashioned, and it’s so much fun when you get a group of people together who are all of that same mindset, and you get to learn and visit with each other. Thank you for having me on!

Jennifer: Like I said, I’m just thrilled that you’re here. Of course I know all about you, but can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your family, your background, all of that sort of stuff, so you can inform the people that are just meeting you for the first time?

Melissa: If I have never met you before online, let me just say I’m thrilled to be meeting you now. As Jennifer just aid, my name’s Melissa K Norris and I have the Pioneering Today podcast, I’m an author, and I’m also a fifth generation homesteader, so I come from a long line of self-reliant people and homesteading. My husband and my two kiddos, we live in the Pacific northwest, so on the west side of the north Cascade Mountain Range in Washington state, and we have our own little house in the big woods, because I am a huge Laura Ingalls Wilder fan. In fact I blame my mother because she always read the books to me as I was growing up, and she is totally responsible for instilling all those old fashioned wannabes in me. We live on a fully functioning homestead. We have almost 15 acres, and we raise all of our own meet. We do our own pork, we have laying hens, meat chickens, and our own grass fed beef, and then we raise a lot of our own food via the vegetable garden and fruit trees and perennials and that type of thing.

We are definitely doing the modern homesteading, and using a lot of those old fashioned skillsets, but of course in a modern life. Which is really cool that we get to marry the two together, and that’s how we can be on the … I just think it’s so fascinating that the internet has opened up so much, that we get to visit and connect with so many people, that we would’ve never had the opportunity to do before. That is a little bit about me.

Jennifer: Is that what you mean by Pioneering Today? Can you expand on that just a little bit, in terms of what that really means? Because you think of pioneers as somebody that is going out to a new frontier and that sort of thing. Could you expand on that just a little bit and tell us what your thoughts are, or what your thoughts were, behind coining that term?

Melissa: Yeah. Exactly, it’s Pioneering Today, which is very similar to modern homesteading. It’s teaching a lot of those old-fashioned skillsets and mindsets first, because I think that homesteading and pioneering, or getting back to those basic traditional skillsets that the pioneers had. When they were raising a lot of their own food, you had the westward movement and the covered wagons, and the front tier and all of that. I think that in today’s world it’s a mindset first, and then you get the skillsets and you start acquiring them and learning them. It’s exactly that, it’s taking a lot of that old-fashioned wisdom on being self-reliant, or doing more things for yourself and not buying them from the store, getting back to those basic skillsets that the pioneers had, but doing them in a way that we can still implement into our modern life.

There’s definitely modern techniques and things that are going to make those skillsets easier. Some of them are safety. We know on food preservation with canning now, like pressure canning your non-acidic foods. It’s taking those old-fashioned skillsets and that wisdom, but being sure, with our modern part, that it’s safe, and that … Some of it we can still do, but we can definitely make it a lot easier on ourselves with using some of those modern technologies that we have. It’s kind of a marrying of the two worlds together for right now, so it’s taking the pioneering part but making what’s applicable and doable in today’s world.

Jennifer: Taking kind of the best of both worlds.

Melissa: Amen, yes. Both of best worlds, yes. You summed it up much more eloquently than I did.

Jennifer: That was after hearing you talk. I would not have been able to answer it as well as you. What are three skills, three really important skills, that you think are being lost in today’s society, and you just feel driven to save them?

Melissa: Only three? Only three.

Jennifer: The three most important.

Melissa: First off I would say, the first is learning how to do things from scratch. A lot of us do know how to cook from scratch, but there’s a big part of society, if you didn’t have a mom who cooked from scratch, or a grandparent, or people in your life who cooked from scratch, we’re very much a convenience type society. You go to the store, you buy a cake box mix, you buy Bisquick, a lot of people buy all their soups in a can, your condensed cream of soup. A lot of people don’t know how to cook or to make those items. Some people don’t even know that you can make those items at home. I think that the most important skill is learning how to cook from scratch, just having those base ingredients and learning how to make them yourself, and learning how to cook with them confidently, creating foods that your family likes to eat and will eat, and that you just incorporate into your everyday meal planning and cooking. I would say that that’s probably the very first step, and I think the most important, because I think that that is a gateway to the other skillsets.

For number two would be knowing how to raise some type of your own food. I realize a lot of people don’t have the acreage, they’re not going to be able to raise all of their own meat like we do. But everybody, even people who are in apartments, can raise something. It may be a small windowsill herb garden. You can literally grow basil in nothing more than water, and a windowsill that gets some natural light to it. I think that everybody can do that. Some people it’s going to be much smaller scale than others, and then others are going to go crazy and they’re going to be doing most of it themselves. Definitely learning how to grow your own food, and modifying it for whatever your environment is and where you live.

Then I think that the third skillset, if I have to pick three, I’m going to say is going to be, especially a skillset that I feel is being lost, is I’m really passionate about heirloom seeds, and raising an heirloom garden, and seed saving. I think there’s a lot of people that raise their own food, and I think that that’s amazing. I’m very excited to see that. But there’s not as many people that know how to seed save, and really know the difference between heirloom seeds and being able to seed save. I think that’s one of those traditional skillsets that, just since about the 1940s, so just a couple generations back, has quickly been lost. I would say that’s the lost skillset, for sure, that I would love to see more and more people learn how to do. And they are, there’s a big interest that’s resurging in that.

Jennifer: Yeah, I see that too, and I think you’re right, that’s so important. Going back to the first one, cooking from scratch, I think you just really hit the nail on the head there, because there’s such a disconnect. When we see our food, and there are so many people, like you said, that don’t even know that that can be made from scratch. They don’t often times know where it comes from. Yeah, that’s a real problem, and I totally agree.

Let’s talk a little bit about your faith, because that runs through everything you do. You’re a strong Christian and you show that through your writing, through your blog, all of that. Can you tell us a little bit about that, how your faith guides you, and also, was that something that was also handed down, those five generations that you were talking about?

Melissa: Yeah. I’m really glad you brought that point up. I do want to say one thing real quick before I answer that question though, on going back to making it from scratch, and learning how to do it. A lot of the things, like buying a can of condensed cream soup for example, you’d think that that’s saving you a lot of time, but you can make a lot of those things from scratch faster than you can go to the store and buy it. When you take into account your time on the road, your time on the line, you can make condensed cream of soup at home in as little as four minutes. I think that that’s kind of a little bit of a misconception too. I just wanted to bring that point, that doesn’t necessarily … It can be very, very simple to make those items at home. Back to the faith. Yes, I’m [crosstalk 00: 10: 06]-

Jennifer: And cheaper to make them at home too.

Melissa: Yes! Yes, it is cheaper, it’s always cheaper, because you’re paying labor, and you’re paying for the convenience, when you’re buying it from the store. Yeah, I’ve never found an item yet, when I’ve price-checked things out in the ingredients, that has cost me more to make at home than it has to buy it at the store. That’s a great point. Yes, I’m a Christian, so I believe that Jesus Christ is my savior and died for my sins, and it does come across in my writing and what I share. When you believe something and it’s very ingrained in you, that’s part of who you are, and it comes out.

Another thing too, I’ve really realized, is when we get back to growing things, and we see nature, and especially with seed saving or you’re raising livestock, and you see that whole cycle, when I’m outside in nature, what God created is the way that I believe, instead of in stores, or even inside your home, there’s something that, when you’re outside, and you see that whole cycle, and the beautiful way that it all works together, you can’t help but feel closer to God, and to really see His hand, and the incredible way that He created everything to work together. It’s just amazing to me, and I really see it when I’m outside. Like I said, when you’re gardening you’ve got your hands in the dirt and you watch all that. It’s pretty amazing to see it unfold when you’re watching it grow yourself.

Jennifer: Oh yeah, I totally agree. It’s the way He intended. It’s interesting to me to look at the difference between how it’s intended and what we’ve made of it. It’s frustrating, and it’s disheartening sometimes, but even just to see the difference, just to see that there is one, is a big step. Yeah, I commend you for doing that, and for standing up for your faith. Because these days it’s not just super easy to do that. There’s a lot of pushback and politically corrections and all of that sort of thing. Thank you for doing that.

Let’s talk a little bit about your animals. Because we were talking before the show about your chickens, so tell us about the animals that you raise at your homestead.

Melissa: Like I said, we raise the majority of our own meat. We do get some salmon, that of course we’re not raising, and crab, that we are fortunate where we live. We live in the mountains, but we have a river less than a mile from our house, but the ocean’s about 45 minutes from our house, so it’s pretty sweet that we can go and harvest things too from the river.

As far as animals that we have on our homestead, we raise all of our own beef. We use organic grass fed pasturing practices, and we raise our own beef that way, and so we usually keep about two mom cows, and then we breed those, and we don’t keep a bull because I’m lucky enough that my dad has a huge herd, so I grew up raising cattle. My Father’s always raised beef, and so he has a decent sized herd and he does keep a bull, and so we can take our cows down there for the breeding, that part. That makes it nice and easy.

Then we also raise our own pork, so we do organic practices again with the pork. We use them to clear different areas of our pasture, to root things up. They’re great for tilling. In fact we added onto our garden space this past year, and so we put the pigs there and they rooted up all of what we … We had some lawn and grass there and so they tilled it up for us, which was fabulous, and also helped to fertilized it, so then when we went to plant we didn’t have to break new ground. We use those as part of our pasture rotation, and keeping the brush and stuff down. Then of course bacon, and ham and all of that wonderful stuff.

Then, we raise our own chickens. I’ve got my laying hens, which of course give us eggs, fresh eggs, which is wonderful, and then we also raise our own meat chickens, so we have meat chickens that we raise, and the meat chickens we actually harvest and butcher ourselves. We do the whole process here on our homestead. We don’t have a large refrigerator hanging space, so we don’t do our own butchering of the cattle, because bees. If you butcher it, after it’s butchered, and you can let it age or let it hang in a cold storage for at least 14 days, preferably 21 days, then that meat ages, and there’s actually some enzyme breaking down that happens, and you get a incredible flavor and a lot more tender meat. We have a local butcher, and actually her and her husband went to school with my husband, so it’s still local. They actually butcher the cattle for us. Then we do have them do the pigs most of the time, but we have butchered our own pigs. With the weather here in the Pacific northwest we don’t always get those really cold temperatures early in the fall, cold enough where it’s safe for the meat to be without having some type of big processing area, which we don’t have.

Those are the four things of livestock and meat that we raise here ourselves, that take us through the whole year. That’s pretty cool, I don’t ever have to buy that from the store, which is really amazing, I have to say.

Jennifer: That is amazing. That’s wonderful. Then you were saying that you also harvest crab? You go and hunt for crab? Can you tell us about that?

Melissa: Yeah. My husband, it’s very interesting, my husband, we grew up in the same area, small town, that I was raised, like I said, on a farm, with raising our own cattle, and vegetable gardens and all of that. He was raised, even though it’s a little tiny town, he was raised in town, but they did a ton of boating. He’s the seaman and I’m the mountain woman. He was fishing and crabbing. We have a small boat, it’s actually a ski boat, like a pleasure boat, but as long as we stay in the bay where it’s sheltered we’re able to go out and go crabbing.

You have pots, and of course for our little boat … And we’re not commercial. A lot of people have watched The Deadliest Catch and those big shows on TV. You just have these little smaller sized crab pots, and then you put your bait in them, so when we butcher or when we go fishing, we save the heads and the type of stuff that you’re typically not eating because it makes excellent crab bate, and we just feeze that. That’s what we use as our bait in the crab pot. You toss your crab pot out and let it soak, which just means it’s literally in the ocean, and so you’re letting it set for long enough for the crab to smell the bait, and come in and smell the pot. Then you pull it up, and then you have to check your crabs for the size, and you can’t keep any of the she-crabs. All that fun stuff. That’s how you harvest them.

It usually opens, the beginning of July is the season here, and then goes through … It actually goes through October but we do the majority of ours through July, and we usually, if the Lord has blessed us, we usually harvest enough, then we bring it home and cook it and freeze it, enough to take us through so that we have crab pretty much through the whole year. You do need a boat, you can’t really do it from shore.

I have to say, if you’ve never had, especially with the beef and the pork, if you’ve never had beef and pork, if you’ve only had it store bought, when you have it raised, even if you can find a local farmer or someone like that to buy it from, the taste difference, I can’t even tell you. I really can’t eat, this is going to sound so spoiled, but I can’t eat regular ground beef from the store. I can’t cook it. There is a flavor difference that I can’t even describe for you. If you ever get the chance, totally do it. It is amazing, the difference.

Jennifer: Yeah. I don’t doubt it. I have things that I make from scratch, and my kids won’t even eat the store bought version. Of course so I don’t buy it. They’re, if you want to call them snobs, I guess that’s what they are, but they turn up their nose and they just … Seriously, they push it away, they’re like, “I’m not eating that.” I totally get that. Yeah, so people should check that out, because it’s true. The taste difference is just phenomenal.

You have your newest book coming out, Hand Made, I’m so excited for you. It is coming out soon. Can you tell us a little bit about this new book? Because you are the author of The Made From Scratch Life, so could you tell us a little bit of how you took that first book, and then now you’ve made, is this a sequel? How are they different, or how are they similar? Can you tell us about it?

Melissa: Yeah. This is the copy of my new book, which is Hand Made. It releases, it’ll begin shipping on October first, so super quick. Hand Made, The Made From Scratch Life. My first book, Simple Ways to Create a Natural Home, was really the journey that I had taken to kick out processed stuff and really start making a lot more things from scratch. Hand Made is a continuation or a sequel, and it’s very similar, but of course it’s all new. All new recipes, all new tutorials that are inside. It is thicker, and it has some pictures, so this one actually is a little bit of a bigger book, there’s more information in it. I am super, super excited about it, because in this book I get to share a lot of the wisdom that was passed down throughout the generations.

My dad, and this is probably going to sound kind of funny, but my dad was actually born during the great depression. My mom is his second wife, so he had me later in life. I feel like I was really blessed that I was raised from someone who, like I said, was born during the great depression, he was raised during the great depression, but even after the great depression it didn’t really change the way that they lived, because they had always … My dad didn’t have electricity or indoor plumb until he was in his very late teens, so the depression ending didn’t really change their way of life. It was, you raise almost everything yourself, and that’s how you got through the winter months. You didn’t really go to the store for a whole lot.

When I was growing up I always didn’t feel necessarily blessed by that, because we made a lot of the things from scratch still, and we didn’t have a lot of extra money. There was things that I really wanted to do, and my dad was like, “No, we’re not going to spend our money on that.” As I grew older, it’s always the case, the more wisdom your parents develop, or so you think, I realized how fortunate I was. Because so many of my peers didn’t know … I just assumed that everybody grew up doing what we did. I thought everybody raised most of their own food, I thought everybody canned, I thought everybody real just cooked from scratch, and my mom sewed. I had no idea until I got older and started visiting other people’s home, or then as an adult and married, that that wasn’t the norm.

I feel really fortunate that I got to have all of that wisdom, and I saw how quickly just having a couple of generations in between my dad’s, that older generation and my generation, how so many of those skillsets were lost. Really wanted to bring a lot of those into this book that I was fortunate enough to learn, to share with other people, and how you can use those in today’s world and still make it work, even when we’re super busy and with all our modern conveniences and that type of thing. That’s kind of what Hand Made is. It’s a little bit of a bridge between those two eras.

Jennifer: Wow, that’s wonderful, in that it kind of answers already this question that I’m going to ask you, but let me take it a step further. Let me ask you the question first. All throughout your book, because I have had the privilege of looking through it and reading some of it, but you have these tips. It’s great depression era tips, and it’s all throughout the book. My question was going to be, why is this era so important to you, but I think you’ve answered that with, that’s the era that your parents came from. How is it that we can apply some of these things now? Because there are some people that would argue that we’re kind of going through the second great depression. It’s not quite as bad as it was then, but in a lot of places it is. Can you elaborate on that a little bit in terms of how you can take some of these things, and maybe pick out a specific thing or two, maybe your favorite tip, and tell us how you can apply it today?

Melissa: Yeah, absolutely. You’re right. How it came to be is, I had written a post that was sharing a lot of the tips that my dad had shown me, because I love stories. I don’t know if everybody else loves stories, but I love listening to people’s stories, and reading stories, and my dad would tell me a lot of stories about when he was growing up, and the things that they did, and I was fascinated by those. I just thought it was really interesting. I did a podcast episode and a blog post on it, just sharing a lot of those tips, and the reader comments, I had never gotten more reader feedback than I had on that first one. It was amazing. So many people were sharing either things that their grandparents or great grandparents from that era, or similar tips had taught them, stories from that time period, and everybody was sharing all of these tips. It was so fun to see the stories.

Then there was the other side of people that said, “I wish that I had written down the things that my great grandma said, like my mom would tell me that great grandma, great grandpa said such and such thing, but now they’re gone,” or, “My mom doesn’t remember them,” or, maybe all the people that remember them were gone, so they were lost. I thought, this is so important for us to save, because it is our heritage and our history, but not only that, like you just said, a lot of people are going through … Especially now even, with, we’ve got the hurricanes, and we’ve had the flooding, and so a lot of that is taking away our normal way of life. And of course we’ve got economic depression and that kind of thing too. Learning how to do these things stretches your dollar for sure, and takes away you needing to have all of these things from the store. That’s what I really love about them. They’re sprinkled all throughout the book.

Some of the things is just learning how to take what you have, and then to stretch it into other meals. For example is, how to take corn meal, or a lot of your basic foods, and create lots of different meals from them. One of my favorite recipes actually, it’s called chocolate gravy. When they were growing up my grandma didn’t bake a lot of bread, because the bread took more time, and they were super busy growing and harvesting and doing everything themselves. They had their milk cow and all of their animals. Yeast was something that was an expense from the store. My grandma didn’t do traditional sourdough where you’re obviously making your own wild yeast. I do have recipes on how to make your own sourdough starter and a whole bunch of recipes using sourdough starter and regular yeast recipes as well, and how you can adapt them either way. A lot of bread baking wasn’t something that happened during that time, because you had to have yeast and you had to have time, and that just wasn’t an option for a lot of people. So it was traditionally cornbread and biscuits, were the main breads or the mainstays that they would do, because those could be made very quickly, and you didn’t need to have the addition of yeast.

So my grandma would make biscuits, and of course that would be for breakfast, and it could also be for lunch, a snack, and into dinner. But one of her really special treats that she would make, it’s called chocolate gravy. You’re basically making a rue, so it’s some butter and flour, and then you’re adding milk and sugar and coco powder, but it was a very, very special, special treat. My dad had not had it since he was a kid, and my grandparents came from North Carolina, out of the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina when my dad was four, it’s where we live now, and so it’s kind of a southern thing, I’ve since learned. He’d not had it since he was a kid. My grandma passed away when I was about 13, and he hadn’t had it since he was a kid. I found a recipe, one of my good friends had a recipe from her family that had come from the south, and so I made it for him as a surprise, and he came down and had breakfast. That was just … He was so ecstatic, it took him right back to being a kid.

Those tips, learning how to do those simple meal things, and then time-saving as well, like I said with it. There’s cornbread and biscuits and all that kind of stuff, totally from scratch, they’re in here. That’s probably one of my favorite recipes, is that one.

Jennifer: Of course, that just has such sentinel value, I can imagine. That’s wonderful. I can remember my dad, he talks about his father, and when he was younger. They would just have corn meal and a little bit if a syrup, like a sweetened syrup, and mixed together, and that was kind of their dessert. I think that’s a thing, with the corn meal, from that era. Let me ask you this, because you have an herb section in your book, and you call it Thrive. Why did you pick that name for the herb section in your book?

Melissa: I picked that for a couple different reasons. One, to be able to grow things, and we love to see our garden thrive and flourish, so if you ever have any type of garden you know that if something starts to go wrong, and you start to see something that’s starting to wilt, or any type of disease comes in, you’re like, “Oh my goodness!” We want it to thrive, we want it to grow, and it kind of takes great pride. When the garden is going and it’s at it’s height, I love to go outside and just watch things grow as they begin to flourish. I wanted to pick the Thrive with medicinal herbs, and culinary use as well. Not just because we’re learning how to grow things and we want to see those things thrive that we’re growing, but also Thrive is really important for me from a health standpoint.

Going back about nine, 10 years ago, I had really, really bad stomach acid, stomach ulcers, and GERD, and actually my daughter, my youngest child, was just in her first year after having her, and I had to go and have my upper stomach and my esophagus biopsied for cancer. Because they thought it was cancer actually, because it was so bad, I was on every type of prescription you can imagine, up to six times a day taking this different stuff at max doses, and the erosion was just really bad. It wasn’t controlling it, and it was really interfering and affecting with my life. Anyways, I went in and had the biopsy, and thankfully it came back as not cancer, so I did not have cancer, but I did have cellular change that was beginning to happen. When the cells begin to change, it wasn’t precancerous, but the stage prior to that. The doctor was just really blunt with me and he said, we already exhausted all of the prescriptions that were available, and he said, “You’re going to have to make drastic lifestyle changes. We’ve got to get this fixed.”

So we did. We already raised most of our own meat, and I thought that I was cooking a lot from scratch already, making meals at home, but there was so much more that I could be doing. That’s really where the Made From Scratch Life books started from, because it was all of those changes that I began implementing, and they worked. This is not medical diagnosis, or telling you what to do, or anything like that, but I thought that I would be able to get off all of the prescription medications. It’s been over eight years, nine years now, and I’ve not ever had to go back on them. Just the drastic change in my health that I saw by making these changes, and cutting those things out, and really going back and making it from scratch so it’s wholesome, and nourished ingredients, not processed ingredients, it just made such a huge difference.

Fast forward then with using the herbs, and so I started really looking at the things that my family was using. Not just the foods we eat, but what we were using in our home ease far as cleaning products, what I was using as far as beauty products. Because I will tell you, I’m a homesteading girl, but I like makeup, I like lip gloss, I like all that girly-girl stuff, but I couldn’t in good conscience continue using the same products. Because whatever we put on our skin gets absorbed into our body. I just really started looking at things. I started going back, and started looking at herbs, and just how the pioneers did things before we had all of these processed ingredients, and all of these chemicals, and all of these different compounds and everything, that when you read an ingredient list it’s like 50 things long, and it’s words and numbers and symbols, you don’t have any idea what they are. You get a dictionary, you literally have to go look them up. I thought, there’s got to be a better way. I just started, one item at a time, replacing those store-bought things, or the different things that I was using, with home-made versions, and more healthy versions, including looking at herbs.

I started growing my own herbs, and using herbs and natural remedies before going to the doctor. I will tell you, I still believe in going to the doctor. I’m not one or the other. I think the modern part, we’re so fortunate to live in a time where we have got the benefit of both using those old fashioned remedies, because some of them work really well, but also having the modern technology and the modern medical, and balancing them and using them together to have really good health. That was where I really wanted to get back to looking at the herbs, and growing your own herbs, and different ways that you can use them and our own home made products. Because one of the awesome things about herbs is, we can grow them ourselves. It’s not something that we have to purchase from the store. Then, learning how to use them. And because I notice such a big difference in my own health. Literally, my life was changed when I started making those changes, and so I wanted to share that and give easy applicable things that I had learned in those tips, and to put them into that chapter.

I hope that that makes sense. I get so excited and I just want to go.

Jennifer: I love that. Again, the best of both worlds with the medical and the herbal, and bringing those together. I love that. Of course you had to name this chapter Thrive, because that’s your story. I love that. Let me ask you this. Is there anything that you wouldn’t recommend making from scratch? Then, even more than that, is there anything that you’re not good at making from scratch, or making home made? Because in part you dedicate this book to your husband, and in the book you’re telling us that he’s always telling you the truth, for better or for worse. If a recipe is bad he’ll tell you, if it’s good he’ll tell you. Is there anything that you would recommend not making from scratch?

Melissa: I love this question for so many reasons. I can’t say that there’s anything that I don’t recommend making from scratch, but there’s definitely things that I have not conquered making from scratch, so we’ll put that in there. One of the things, it’s my goal, I’m one of those people, when I can’t do something, it makes me want to do it even more. There’s this determination factor like, “I’m going to figure this out.” Right not my nemesis, I really wanted to put in, in the book I wanted a recipe for hand made marshmallows, because I love marshmallows. I love smores. In fact when my husband and I were first married, in the winter time he would make me smores in the oven just by putting the broil on low, because they’re just my thing, I love them. But as we started getting into more and more unprocessed foods, and really watching especially high-fructose corn syrup, and different ingredients … Store bought marshmallows have corn syrup in them, and it’s a big genetically modified crop, so I really wanted to find out how to make my own hand made marshmallows without using corn syrup.

That’s one thing in our family. When I kick out a store bought item and I’m making it from scratch, my family’s rules are, it has to taste as good or better than the store bought version or they rebel. I tried using maple syrup, and I tried using honey, and they were good, but they weren’t the marshmallow. I do not have a recipe for marshmallows made at home that are really close to the store bought version. Like I said, they were good, but they weren’t quite there, so I’m still on the hunt to perfect, or find, the perfect recipe that doesn’t use corn syrup. I might just get some organic corn syrup, but I really wanted to make a non-corn-syrup variety. That’s one thing that I personally haven’t done to my own satisfaction. Candy making is something I really want to learn a lot more about. I just find it fascinating. That’s where I want to be headed next, is to learn how to make that.

Jennifer: If you have a really good recipe for marshmallows, send it to Melissa. Because she’ll test it, right?

Melissa: Yes, please do. Please do.

Jennifer: We touched on this just a second ago, about how your health is so much better because you live this lifestyle now. Could you just elaborate a little bit more? Because you mentioned the toxins and things like that, that are in cleaners and makeup and that sort of thing. Can you talk about that a little bit more? Because I think that it’s easier to grasp that if you eat toxins, then that’s a bad thing. I think a lot of people understand that and get that, but I don’t think as many people maybe get that for being exposed to toxins through cleaners and makeup and that sort of thing. Could you talk a little bit about that?

Melissa: Yeah. As I said, your skin is definitely your biggest organ, and so anything that it comes in contact with we begin to absorb into our body, into our bloodstream, and all of that type of thing. A lot of us do think about the foods that we eat, and a lot of people start with diet first when they’re looking to become more healthy. There’s many, many studies out there, but there are over 80,000, I believe, chemicals, that are just kind of out in the products, in our homes and things, that we’re buying and we’re bringing home. Only 1% of those have been studied for safety. That is a huge discrepancy.

In the same study, it was really interesting, 25% of women are using 15 or more products a day, or things that you’re putting on your skin. At first 15 kind of sounds like a lot, but when you stop to think about it, you wash your face in the morning, so that’s going to be one product, we wash our hands with things, we use moisturizer, usually we use a different moisturizer for our face I believe, especially, than we do on our hands. Then you’ve got deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, and then if you’re using makeup items go even further. Then if you’re cleaning your home you use one cleaner, usually for the counter tops, then you’ve got laundry detergent, fabric softener, and those of course are on our clothes, which we put on our body. You may have candles that are burning, just all different kinds of things when you’re cleaning your house. Air fresheners, things you’re using on your carpet, furniture polish, just all kinds of things that we come in contact. Really 15 products a day isn’t really that many when you start to think about all of those things. If you’re just doing 15 products a day, they found in this study, you’re exposed to 168 chemicals in a day, which is kind of mind boggling.

What my goal is, we’re never going to escape all of the chemicals. That’s just not realistic. It’s even the same with healthy eating. I think if we get too dogmatic about it we’re going to make ourselves crazy and everybody around us. I try to just do the best I can and eliminate when and where I can, and we kind of have an 80-20 rule especially with our food. 80% of the time I want us to eat as clean and healthy as possible, but my kids are in school, and they’re young, and I’m not going to worry about the other 20%. I kind of do a little bit of a moderation there.

So I started looking at all of the stuff that I was putting on my skin, and one of the things that really hit me is, when I was in high school I had never cleaned an oven before, and so you know how you have that oven spray that you spray on the oven. I was cleaning house for an elderly friend of ours, and she asked me to clean her oven. I was 16 and I was not about to tell her that I did not know how to clean an oven, because I’m 16 and I know it all back then. She hands me the spray, and she didn’t give me any instructions, she just handed me the spray and so I sprayed. That oven was dirty, so I sprayed and coated that sucker down with this spray, and let it sit while I did the other stuff, and then came back and wiped it all clean. It was gorgeous, it was sparkling when I was done. Looked phenomenal.

I went home, and about four or five hours later the skin on my hand started turn really, really red, and it started burning, and it started itching, and it started cracking, and literally layers of my skin started coming off. Well I didn’t read the spray she gave me, and she didn’t tell me, I didn’t know you were supposed to where gloves. I basically had a chemical burn reaction, and so my skin … It took it about a week, it was really irritated and hurt, and my mom was like, “You didn’t wear gloves?” I’m like, “No, she didn’t tell me to wear gloves!

Anyway, that was my really first lesson on learning that what touches our skin can have a huge impact, and so I’ve never used that oven cleaner again like that. I really started looking at things. Then makeup-wise, my little girl is eight right now, and she loves to get into her mama’s makeup. When she was really little she would get into my purse, and like I said, I like lip gloss and lipstick and all that girly-girl stuff, and so I thought, oh my goodness, she’s like two, and she had gotten in there. I’m like, oh, I don’t want that on her. Okay, well if I don’t want it on my little girl, why on earth am I putting it on myself? Especially on my lips, it’s right next to my mouth. Then began the next venture of looking that.

In Hand Made, and like I said, make your own lip balm at home making herbal infused oils, and using that for chapped lips, and for the guys in my family too, but I’m a girly-girl. I wanted color. So I’ve shared how to make … I’ve got a color guide actually, because I want choices too, I don’t want just one color. So I have a custom color guide on making five different shades of your own home made lip balm using natural colorants, so iron oxides and carmine and things that are on the skin safe scale that are a two or below, as far as being safe for our skin. That’s kind of a little bit of my story, and some of the other items that you’ll find within Hand Made too.

Jennifer: That is awesome. Oh my goodness. In the comments we’re getting a lot of people that say they know about the chocolate gravy, so that’s awesome.

Melissa: Oh, good! I’m so excited to hear that.

Jennifer: What is your favorite thing? Because you are also about growing your own food, we talked a little bit about that. even if you’re in a little bitty space you can grow some tomatoes or some herbs or something like that. But you do a little bit more than that. What is your favorite thing to grow, and what is your favorite thing to make, to make from scratch? Then I want to go on and ask you, what’s the best hand made gift you’ve ever given, and what’s the best you’ve ever received?

Melissa: Oh my goodness, okay. There’s quite a few questions there, so I hope I remember them all. First one, what’s my favorite thing to grow. My favorite thing to grow is my family’s strain of heirloom, Tarheel green pole beans that my grandparents brought with them from North Carolina out here, and we’ve been growing ever since, every year. I’ve never bought bean seed from the store, we just seed save it every year, and then when I moved out and got married and we started our garden I got some from my dad, and the same thing, we grow it every year. That’s my favorite thing. One, because it’s been something in my family, it’s our own strain that we’ve been passing down, but two, it’s the flavor of it. I had never had regular, I should say store-bought, or regular green beans, until I went to a friend’s house or went to a restaurant, because that’s all we had growing up, and I’m like “Oh, these don’t taste very good. They don’t have very much flavor.” I feel like such a culinary snob, listen to me. I’m really not, I promise. But the flavor difference is so different. That’s my favorite thing to grow, because it’s a tie back to my great grandparents and further back. That’s definitely my favorite thing to grow.

My favorite thing to cook, there’s so many. I have to say I’m a baker at heart, I love, love, love to bake. Mm, I love to make berry dumplings, is one of my favorites, probably because it’s one of my favorites to eat. Goodness, my … And cheesecake. Let’s be honest, I love cheesecake.

Jennifer: I hear you.

Melissa: Yeah, right. Definitely some of those baked goods. Probably my really truly favorite now that I’m thinking about it is probably pumpkin rolls. One of the reasons for that is because … So my husband’s grandmother always makes pumpkin roll. In fact she makes a ton come October, November, and December, because so many people request it from her, because it’s really, really good. There’s this thing in our family, whenever Grandma gives me one of her recipes, even though I follow it to the T, my husband swears it does not taste as good as hers. Then I’m all kinds of determined like, mine is going to taste as good or better than hers. It’s like gauntlet’s been thrown type thing. She gave me her pumpkin roll recipe, but I had to go down and take a lesson, because I’m like, I’m not even going to attempt this thing until I’ve watched you make it, because I don’t want to hear that it’s not as good as Grandma’s. It’s all done in good fun. I went down and she walked me through her recipe and how to make it, so now I’m making the pumpkin roll.

A pumpkin roll, if you’ve never had it, it’s kind of like a cross between cheesecake, it’s the filing, and then you’ve got this really awesome cake within the roll. It’s kind of a marriage of two of my favorite things between there. Whenever I make that, and that recipe, with picture tutorials, is in here too, it’s Grandma Lucille’s pumpkin roll recipe, that’s probably one of my favorites. I’m noticing it’s these recipes that have a tie to stories or events or to people in our life. I think that’s one of the things about recipes, is they really are a connection to whoever we got it from, or to people past, or times past, or even generations past. But you don’t get it when you buy it off the store. You only get it when you’re making it from scratch.

Jennifer: I totally agree. Yes.

Melissa: Okay, so now you’ve got to remind me, I forgot. I’m sure there was two more questions [crosstalk 00: 47: 19].

Jennifer: There was. Your favorite hand made gift that you give, and then what’s the best one you’ve ever received?

Melissa: Oh, goodness. That’s a hard one. I think probably the best one that I ever received was, when I was a little girl, I had a little baby doll. In fact her name was Tiny Baby, was my baby doll’s name. My mom made almost all of my clothes when I was really little, my mom sewed them and made them for me. She took the same fabric that she had made my dresses from, and she made Tiny Baby matching dresses so my baby doll and I had matching clothes, and she made all of these itty-bitty dresses. In fact, I don’t know if I can see it … These clothes have held up. Let’s just say they’re 30 years plus old. They’re still all in existence. My daughter has my doll, and she has all of those clothes that my mom made. They’re a little bit faded, the color and the fabric, but to me that’s just amazing. My goal was to save it, and then someday my grandchildren, hopefully, will get to play with those clothes. One, it was the time that she put in to do all of that, to make it, because she had to make it when I wasn’t there so it was a surprise for Christmas. When you’re sewing them little tiny things it’s way harder, I think, than doing a larger thing. It’s much more intricate.

That was probably my favorite gift to receive. As far as my favorite gift to give, on my goodness … Every year we give hand made gifts. One of my favorites is definitely hand made soap, so I did that this year for Mother’s Day, and we’ll be doing more for Christmas. I do enjoy giving the hand made soaps, but probably one of my favorite things is, my husband, when we first got married, his same grandmother who gave us the pumpkin roll recipe, every year she would make up a box of goodies. There’d be home canned strawberry jam, home canned pickles, hand made popcorn balls, and every family would get a box from Grandma with all of these goodies in there. It was like the thing, every family was like, “I can’t wait for Grandma’s box.”

Then she got to be the age where she just physically could not make all of that stuff any more, and there was more people added to the family, and so she retired from doing that. So I picked it up, and make the strawberry jam, and the pickles, but I’ve learned that when I give it out Christmas morning, that I have to hide a couple jars in reserve. Because they will open the jars of pickled asparagus and eat them all before they’ve even gotten out the door. I have to save a jar to give them so they actually go home with something. I think that’s probably my favorite thing to give, is those items. Again, it’s kind of following in those relative’s footsteps, those traditions, which is fun.

Jennifer: Oh yeah. Then you’ve got the story of his grandmother that did that. That’s awesome, I love this. So it’s one thing to read about how to do all of these things, and if you’re interested in doing that then you definitely need to pick up Melissa’s book, her new book, Hand Made, which goes on sale officially … It’s October first or second, Melissa?

Melissa: October first is the official, official launch date, yes.

Jennifer: Yeah, and you an pre-order it now, correct?

Melissa: Yeah.

Jennifer: Yes.

Melissa: Yes, in fact I’ve got going right now, which I think Jennifer has links for, if not I know that she will get them for you, but we’ve got Hand Made the master class. Because like I said, it’s okay to read it, but sometimes, I’m a visual person, like I said, Grandma gave me her recipes, I had to go down to Grandma’s to get the tutorial, or the instructions, to walk me through how to make it so it turned out how hers did, even though I had her exact written part. There’s just something in that visual, and someone teaching you, that’s a little bit different than reading it.

With Hand Made, I have Hand Made the master class, which just launched yesterday and goes through October third, so it’s seven days total only. Within that there’s five master class videos that walk you through, step by step, how to make different types of soap. We’ve got melt and pour, which doesn’t have the active lye in it, for people who are not ready to take that step yet, but we teach how to use natural color incense scents to make that. Then for those of you who really want to dive in and do it totally from scratch, then I show you how to make your lye water and how to do cold process soap saponification. The fun thing is, we only use natural colorants, so I teach you how to do a layered bar … This one’s actually wrapped up. Let me pop that off real quick. I show you how to do a layered bar just using natural spices and things that you’ve already got in your clipboard, and how to do herbal infused lip balm with, like I said, the five color guides, so we’ve got that in there. How to make your own beeswax candles in a jar. Hopefully none of my family members are watching, because y’all are getting this for Christmas.

Jennifer: This is the stuff that’s going into the box, right?

Melissa: Right, it is, yes. So these are candles in a mason jar, share how to make that. Herbal infused whipped body butter and moisturizers. Then we’ve got bonus videos that teach you, actually it’s one of my other favorite recipes to make, and it’s hand-made donuts. My mom actually came down with my kids, and we walk you through how to make donuts from scratch. That was super fun. In fact we were having a discussion just a few nights ago, and I asked my kids, we were talking about what your favorite food is that you have to pick. The donuts were brought up, and my kids were like, “Mom, we’ve got to make those again. That’s one of our favorites.” Video lessons on that, sourdough starter, fermenting vegetables. The cool thing is, you get a physical paperback copy of the book, and a digital copy. You actually get access to the digital copy now, before it even releases, and you’ll get the paperback copy sent to you when it can start shipping, which is going to be October first. That is on really special, 80% off right now, and so I think Jennifer has got links, but [crosstalk 00: 53: 31].

Jennifer: We do, we have a link. Is the chocolate body butter included too, a video for that?

Melissa: Yeah. Yeah, there is, yes. It’s chocolate peppermint whipped body butter. Get my lid off here. That’s this right here. I’m not sure how well the camera picks that up, but it is … I love chocolate, but it’s divine. Yes, that is included, how to make that as well, is in there. Again, it’s in a mason jar, because I don’t know about you, but everything just looks better and tastes better when it’s in a mason jar. It’s like my go-to … My whole house.

Jennifer: Yes. I was looking through your book last night, and actually I came upon that recipe for the chocolate body butter, and I was like, oh please, please, please, let this be in the master class. Then I went and looked at the master class and I was like, yes! It is! It’s in there! So yay! It’s one thing to read about all of this stuff, and certainly I feel like you would need Hand Made as a reference, but then to actually have the tutorials, the videos, the step-by-step, then that’s just something special. Like you said, it’s what, 80% off right now, and Bill’s putting a link up there I think. It is If you go there you will see the book, you will see the classes, and you’ll see all the information about it, and how to take advantage of this offer because it’s special, special, special.

Melissa, tell us, if we want to know just more about you, where to find you, social media, Facebook, all of that stuff, where can we find out more about you?

Melissa: My website,, and then on there you’ll see a link to the podcast, so I’ve got the Pioneering Today podcast. We have over 100 episodes, and of course on Facebook it’s, and we have videos and live shows in there. I would love, love to connect with everybody there. Of course within the pages of both Hand Made and The Made From Scratch Life.

Jennifer: Thank you so much for being with us, Melissa. It’s just been a real treat.

Melissa: Thank you! And I’m so, so happy that my internet held. When you live way out in the boonies you never know.

Jennifer: I think it was great. I think it went well. It went good. I want to thank Melissa K Norris again for being with us. If you are just joint us, if you joined us in the middle of the show, then that is who I was talking to, Melissa K Norris, and you can learn more about her by going to Also, please take advantage of the Hand Made Masterclass. It is only up for a limited time at this really, really special price. You can go to to find out more about it. You actually get a physical copy of the book, and then you get some video tutorials, like I said, that just make the book come alive. It is a super great deal, and I think Bill is popping the link up on the screen, and I will be sure to put it in the show notes as well.


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