Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A change in fabric softener, too!

This stuff is fun.  I'm talking about finding eco-friendly ways and means of getting the job done.  Any job.  All jobs.  Besides being good for the environment, it just appeals to the inner scientist in me.

This time it was fabric softener.  The homemade sheets that I have been using, you know, the washcloth sprayed with diluted fabric softener?  Well, they are leaving a softener coating on things, like rags, washclothes..everything...and it bugs me.  The stuff just isn't as absorbent as it should be. So I finally tried using vinegar as fabric softener replacement.

Bill absolutely can't tolerate vinegar smell, so I had been hesitant to even try it.  I figured the smell from the washer would be enough to have him holding his nose and giving me 'the look'.  You know 'the look'.  Strangely enough, neither one of us noticed anything.  I do have the dryer on right now, guess I was feeling too lazy to hang up clothes tonight.  My dryer is vented into the house, but I don't notice any vinegar smell at all.

The verdict?  It worked just like they said.  No static cling and clothes looked a bit brighter!  No nice perfumed smell, but no vinegar smell either.  I love this stuff.  My grocery list is getting shorter all the time!  And so is my grocery bill!

I have a Fisher Paykel washer that uses a lot less water than standard washing machines, so I used just half a cup of vinegar with a bit of water in the softener cup.  A lot of people use the Downy balls, and a full cup of white vinegar.  Another bonus is that it keeps your washer clean, too.  And for Pete's sake, don't buy that Tide HE cleaner they just came out with!  Use some vinegar instead.  I guess if you just want to mail a check to the Tide people, they'd appreciate it.

Edited on 9-7-11
Okay, I admit it.  I missed the nice, scented smell on the clothes.  I found myself doing a big sniff of our daughter's blouse, heck anyone's shoulder when I gave them a hug.  So I did buy a jug of liquid el cheapo fabric softener that I can use when I need a fragrance fix, plus I can use it for other things, too.  I was going to grab a jug of Downy until I saw the price!  So I got the $2+ store brand of concentrate instead and it's fine.  Anyway, I put a dribble of fabric softener into my big spray bottle, added some filtered water and use it to spray shirts that have been left in the dryer.  I just put them on hangers, give them a good mist on the front, back and sleeves and then let them dry.  I also use this mix for an anti static dust spray.  Spray lightly on a rag and then dust away!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Getting more from your oven

I love the forum at http://permies.com/ .  It's the greatest place to learn new stuff from some really hands on people.  The focus is on permaculture - alternative building and energy, critter care, wild crafting, that kind of thing.  Head on over there and plan on bookmarking that site as you'll want to check back.
Yesterday someone had posted that they kept their baking stone in the oven.  There was more even heat and the oven didn't kick on as much.  I have a large square baking stone that was re-gifted to me (hey, I'll take about anything).  I put it on the middle rack of my oven before I baked some vegetarian lasagna for supper.  I can't say that I watched or rather listened to know if the oven clicked on more or less, but what surprised me was how long that stone held the heat afterwards.

I always leave the oven door cracked after turning it off so the heat comes into the room.  I bet there was heat still coming from that baking stone half an hour later!  So that's the new storage place for that baby.  It won't help when you're baking something for a short period of time as it will take a while for that stone to heat up, so take it out if you're just browning a pie crust.  For long time baking, even half an hour, it makes sense that it would help.

Simple stuff, but it works!

Make your own Endust & Static Guard substitutes

My latest finds are substitutes for Endust and Static Guard.  I gave them both a try and they work great!  Saves me money, is earth friendly and I almost always have the ingredients!

The anti-static dusting spray is nothing more than one part of liquid fabric softener to maybe 5 parts water.  As usual, I tend not to measure, I just eyeball it.  Put it in a little spray bottle, give it a few shakes to mix, spray it on a cloth and dust away. I used this yesterday and by cracky, there is NO dust, and I mean NO dust on the furniture that I used this on.  Wahoo!  I wiped down one little table with a barely damp cloth so I'd have something to compare it to, and it shows some dust today.  I did some light sprays on the recliners and no static pops last night, too!  I do get a little nervous spraying fabric softener directly on upholstered furniture, so I'll probably get another spray bottle and water it down a bit more...maybe.  I'll see how long the anti static part of this trial lasts.  Label the bottle!

I also tried the homemade dust mop treatment this morning and I give that two thumbs up.  All that involves is 4 drops of olive oil (or any cooking oil, or lemon oil, etc) in one cup of warm water.  Again, into a little spray bottle, shake it up and spray on your dustmop, or in my case, a rag covered Swiffer.  It doesn't take much, just a couple of light mists, then dust those floors.  Worked like a charm!  Grabbed up cat hair and dust just like the purchased stuff.  I then took the rags outside, gave them a couple shakes and into the laundry basket. Label the bottle!

What's cool is that I'm not bring more plastic or aerosol cans into the house, thus keeping them out of the waste stream.  I'm almost out of spray bottles, so I'm going to ask friends and relatives to save them for me.  Some folks just don't want to get on board, but hey, they're willing to help out the eco-fanatic person they know and love.  Well, know, anyway.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Creative Re-Using instead of Recycling - Yeah!

Our daughter is returning some wicker furniture today.  I originally bought the set for our living room over 15 years ago.  It was on a summer clearance sale at K Mart and I was desperate for furniture at the time.  Years later, the set went to her when she bought her first house and was desperate for furniture.  The wicker is still in good shape.  It's needed a little glue a couple of times, but that's not bad for something that old.

When I look at my furniture, the best pieces are the oldest ones.  I have a wooden rocking chair that I bought new in 1976.  It doesn't even have a loose joint.  I have a two year old recliner that Bill has repaired twice and now it's sitting crooked again.  I hate that chair.  I'm not convinced that I should donate it, either.  I would hate to pass the aggravation on to anyone else.

A couple years ago we ripped up an old sofa that also wasn't worth donating.  That sofa had been the dog sofa for some time, so it wasn't worth trying to do anything with it.  It took some time, but we ended up with a pile of wood to use in the woodburner, metal to recycle, a pile of very dirty upholstery fabric and the dirty foam cushions.  I tried to wash them with the garden hose and soapy water, left them outside in the rain and sun...and got 'the look' from Bill more than once.  Okay, they had to leave.  It's all about compromise in a marriage, right?  At least it was less bulk in the landfill.  And these days, I'm all about not putting stuff into the landfill.  But I still didn't feel too good about it. 

Some things can be recycled only so many times, like plastic, before you end up with a glop of something toxic or unusable.  Perhaps the better course of action is to not put it in the cycle to begin with (especially plastic).  So save those plastic salad dressing bottles to use when you make a batch of homemade chocolate syrup.  The bottle will be perfect for that.  Then look at recipes for salad dressings, too.  You'll save money, have fresher ingredients without the preservatives and wa-lah!  No more plastic coming and going.

There are tons of possibilities online for fixing up and re-using old furniture, even for the handyman impaired.  Get to Googling and you'll see what I mean.  I have an old dresser that is slated to be a coffee table eventually.  I never liked the thing because of the legs, but cutting the legs really short, or completely off will give it new use. 

It might even look pretty cool with my 'new' wicker furniture that's being delivered today.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Dishwasher vs Hand Washing

Oh Bullshit.

That was my reaction when I first heard and then read on Treehugger.com that to conserve water, the winner was the automatic dishwasher.  I don't use mine too much anymore.

Researching the topic, I found that the Bonn study that reported the results was funded by manufacturers of dishwashers:
Arcelik
Bosch-Siemens Hausgeräte
Electrolux
Indesit

According to posts, they used the handwashing group from Europeans that tend to leave the water running constantly while rinsing. 103 liters of water?  That sounds kind of excessive. I use less than one sink full of water to wash and rinse most days (just a bit of soapy water in one sink, then rinse above that so the water accumulates in the same sink - turning the water on and off).  Then the clean dishes go into the dishwasher to air dry.  I don't have a drying rack, so that part works out pretty good.  In the summer, I use tepid water to wash, mostly cold water to rinse.  Most of the time, I'll leave the water in the sink to wash off my hands if they just need a rinse, to wash as I go if I'm cooking, or to soak pots.

Dishwasher or hand washing - Consider the energy consumption of your water heater while it's replacing the hot water used.  Consider the amount of energy used during manufacturing the dishwasher, and the freight from moving said dishwasher to a warehouse, then to the store, then to your house. 

In 15 years, we had three different dishwashers.  We just couldn't keep them going for longer than a few years.  Looking back, I see what a waste of money and energy to keep buying them.  During that time frame, I did dishes for two of those years.  I liked not having to bend over practically to the floor to unload the dishwasher, so it wasn't bad.  One cool thing is that you can really pile dishes into that top rack.  I have even laid the silverware in the top rack when I didn't have many dishes to do.   

So get in gear, save some money, electricity and water by washing those dishes by hand.  Just make sure you use enough water to rinse 'em, nothing worse than having your drinks taste vaguely of dish soap.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Save $$ by NOT Spending

A bargain isn't a bargain if you don't need it.  

I cringed when I recently read a blog about saving money.  The gal suggested that first you get organized to see what you actually had and then listed a few places where you could buy cheap plastic storage bins and containers to sort out and store all your stuff.  Wait a minute, wasn't the point to save money?  Ever hear of using a cardboard box?  You can get them free at the local grocery store or liquor store, or etc, etc.  They aren't as pretty, but hey, they work pretty well and cost nothing.  And if you feel like stocking up on the plastic bins because they're on sale, maybe you have too much stuff?  Just a suggestion...

Some people are compulsive buyers, especially if they spot a bargain.  My all time favorite experience with the compulsive buyer was an employer.  I had a job at a greenhouse a few years ago.  Great job, doing what I loved to do for minimum wage.  Time after time, the owner would tell me that she couldn't afford to pay me until next week.  Okay...she had always made good on what she owed me...and I loved the job, right?  Okay, so one time I took some of my pay in plants, but I loved the plants and it was still a great job...maybe just not the best boss.  A few weeks later, same tune.  She couldn't afford to pay me that week.  She was going to run to the bank, back in 20 minutes.  Two hours later, she comes in the door, all breathless and excited.  She had hit a couple garage sales along the way and stopped at the Dollar Store (damn that store and all their bargains!).  Bags and bags of Halloween decorations, including two statues that were 'only' $15 each, etc.  I guess she had forgotten about the 20 boxes of Halloween decorations that she already had stacked next to the cash register. You get the drift.  Suddenly the job wasn't so great any more.  I stuck it out a while longer, hoping to get actual cash for my labors, and finally told her that I'd take that nice wrought iron arbor for my pay.  That was the end of the great job and lousy boss who didn't know that a bargain isn't a bargain if you don't need it...and that you should pay your employee.

There is a blog that makes me smile, http://manvsdebt.com/ .  He's a real in your face kind of guy that's right up front about 'Sell your crap.  Pay off your debt.  Do what you love.'  That's it in a nutshell for him.  While his lifestyle isn't what I want, nor is it for everyone, he's got some pretty decent advice for the common joe.

For myself, I happen to like my crap.  I promise not to bring any more crap into my life since I'm trying to lower my consumerism.  Oh, that gold elephant plant stand over there?  It was a bargain, only $6.99 at the DAV.  I saw it when I was taking some of my old crap that I didn't need any more to donate.  At least I donated a lot more than what I brought back home, right?  Yes?  Hmmm......okay, a bargain isn't a bargain if you don't need it.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Making Hamburger Rocks

Hamburger rocks?  Ya, I said that, too.  But somehow I stumbled onto a survivalist (the sky is going to fall one day) type site.  While I do believe in being prepared and having knowledge to be self reliant, I'm not an extremist in that area...my extremist views lie in the 'let's all do our part to protect the earth' category.  :o)

Okay, back to the hamburger rocks.  This is the link to the actual page on how to do it:
http://www.endtimesreport.com/hamburger_rocks.html
It's basically frying your ground beef, rinsing all the fat from it, and dehydrating it.  From there, the author states that you can pack it in sterile jars, seal and keep it for two years or more!  This might be the ticket for you if you get a whale of a deal on hamburger, but don't have freezer space for it.

I have to admit that I have been feeling a little guilty about plunking everything into the freezer because it's faster, easier and not so dang hot.  Canning in the kitchen on a hot July day in Kansas is not a treat, even with air conditioning that's running non stop.  And I'd rather not be so green here and forego the a/c. However, I did read about someone who did a boatload of water bath canning at one time with a small metal stock tank over hot coals or fire outside.  I don't know if that would fly here at our house, but I'm sure willing to try it on a smaller scale..like the grill.  But I digress, the point here is that I have all the canning supplies and it would be the greener thing to do if I wasn't running a freezer 9 months a year.

A couple of great sites for canning and preserving are http://creativecanning.blogspot.com/  (put bacon in the search bar and see how she's canned bacon!) and  http://www.pickyourown.org/allaboutcanning.htm

Monday, November 22, 2010

When saving hot water is NOT a good idea

Have you ever been somewhere, turned on the tap and smelled that faint (or stronger) odor from the water faucet?  Maybe at your own house?  That's bacterial crud growing in your pipes. 

Years ago, I did the realtor gig for a while.  I always knew which houses had the water heater turned way down and that they didn't use the hot water tap in that sink often enough.  Yummy, mold stench...and someone is rinsing their mouth with that water??

We had the same problem here, but we plumbed our house with a Pex Manifold system, so we were able to disconnect each pipe, run a bit of bleach water into it and turn the faucet on to a dribble for a while to disinfect the pipes.  After that, the water heater went back up a notch and I started using the hot water tap more often.

If you don't have a way to clean those water pipes, you might want to consider different ways to save power.  Perhaps a timer on the water heater, insulating blanket if it's electric, pipe insulation over exposed pipes, or 'on demand' type water heaters in the bathroom and kitchen.  Beats mold in the pipes.

Going 'Poo-less?

I bet that caught your attention, but I'm talking about shampoo.

My initial reaction to the idea of going without shampoo was EEUUUUWWW.  I had visions of yukky, smelly hair, and put that idea into the mental file labeled 'too extreme for me'.

I guess I just needed a while to wrap my mind around the concept.  So I decided to take the plunge after watching the film, 'No Impact Man'.  I looked at a bunch of different recipes online and then started to look for traditional ingredients: Castille soap, glycerin, nice smelling essential oil.

We're rural, so had to do some searching for these things.  Here's what I found:
Castile: $14.99 plus shipping - couldn't find it within a 30 mile radius.
Glycerin: $9.99
Lavendar EO: $22.99 (gasp)

Besides not digging the idea of ordering something that had to be shipped, the thought of spending $48 for experimental shampoo just didn't sit just right, ya know?

Back to the drawing board.  I found another site that suggested Borax (yep, honest!) and vinegar for the primary ingredients  for shampoo and conditioner replacements.  I had both on hand already, so I was ready to go!
Shampoo replacement:  1 TBSP Borax mixed in 1 cup of hot water, stir to disolve, then allow to cool.  One cup Borax to one gallon of water if you want to make a jug of it.
Conditioner replacement: 1 part apple cider vinegar to 4 or 5 parts water - I didn't measure.

The verdict:  It worked!!  I was shocked. 

I put each in one of those little ketchup squeeze bottles.  Since I was in the shower, my hair was wet when I got started.  I just squeezed some of the now cold Borax/water around on my scalp and worked it into the rest of my hair... the whole time thinking that this isn't doing anything.  No suds, no cleaning, right?  Or so I thought.  When I rinsed that out, I was surprised that my hair felt softer than what it usually did after using regular shampoo.  It also kind of squeaked, you  know, when you rub something really clean and it squeaks?

Now the vinegar/water conditioner - I did the same thing, just squeezed some on my scalp and rubbed it in the rest of my hair and rinsed.  It didn't smell as bad as I thought it was going to.

After I dried my hair, it looked clean and smelled clean with no vinegar odor. The best things were no tangles, more volume and shiny hair.  I also had an itchy bump that had been there for a while, and now it's smaller and doesn't itch.  I think I like this stuff.

It's weird, washing your hair with something that is watery and non-lathering.  I'll probably keep using it, but I'm not taking the regular shampoo and conditioner to the other bathroom yet.  I might decide to lather up once in a while.  Even if I just use the alternative every other time, I'll still be cutting my 'poo and conditioner consumerism plus the plastic bottles in half.

Later:  I now have used it twice, and honestly, I do like it.  It rinses out so much faster than gobs of suds, and seems to dry faster.  My naturally wavy hair seems a little curlier, too.  The purchased shampoo and conditioner probably won't be in my shower much longer.

This Changed My Outlook

I recently saw the film 'No Impact Man'.  And here I thought I was doing a good job of lowering my impact.  I have to admit that it inspired me to try to do more.

Today I tried to watch 'Meat the Truth'.  Tried and failed.  I couldn't stick it out just because I knew it was going to put me in a sad mood and I already knew some of what she was talking about.  But mostly because I was getting low, really quick.  And I'm in a really good mood today!  I'm sure it's a great film to watch, so I'll try it another day.

Another really good one is 'The Story of Stuff'.  It gave me a new prospective with everything I buy (what little that is).

There is also one about  how farmers ended up fighting Monsanto (the bastards).  I wish I could remember the name of that documentary.  One thing for sure, it left a HUGE impression on me, and was quite enlightening.  I did some research and found that Monsanto (the bastards) own a boatload of seed companies, so I will always get heirloom plants and seed from organic outlets that have NO connections to Monsanto (the bastards).  Do some research and you'll see how they are helping to starve poor communities with their suicide gene in all their seed.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Toothpaste or Tooth Powder - Make Your Own

I recently stumbled upon an interesting website about homemade toothpaste -  http://mizar5.com/toothpst.htm  .  Generally, I navigate away from any site that is trying to sell me something, but this guy lists different 'recipes' for toothpaste and tooth powder.  There are some pages of dental related information that's a good read, too. 

There are some other sites out in cyberland that have more recipes - http://www.fatfreekitchen.com/teeth/mouth-wash.html  ,   http://www.buzzle.com/articles/homemade-toothpaste.html - some stuff is just funny, you know?

I have been using the 3 parts baking soda/ 1 part salt mix for a couple of weeks now.  And my teeth and gums look better!  I have to say that I was surprised that the salt really does make the baking soda more palatable.  I just added a full packet of stevia sweetener, and oddly enough, I can't taste any sweetness at all.  The salt is less pronounced, so maybe it's worth it.  I wonder if I can put a bit in my Water Pic...would it clog it up?  Hmmmmm.....probably.

I might try a toothpaste recipe whenever I find some glycerin.  The only stuff our little country store sells is glycerin suppositories, and I just don't think that will do it. 

What really surprised me was reading that making your own will cost less than $2 a YEAR for a family of four.  I'm sure that was just the basic baking soda and salt recipe.

This fits into the 'half challenge', too.  There's no way that Bill would even consider using the homemade stuff.  He'll continue using Crest, I'll continue using homemade stuff and that will cut our commercial toothpaste usage in half.  :o)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Not So Approved Freezer Containers?

Years ago, when I was visiting my mother in Denver, she asked me to go downstairs and get some lasagna out of the freezer.  Down the stairs I went, and opened the lid on her little chest freezer.  It was full, and I mean FULL, of little yogurt containers, butter tubs, cottage cheese tubs, etc.  So I'm digging around (I hate chest freezers), looking for my preconceived notion of a frozen lasagna.  Nothing.

So back to the bottom of the stairs, and I holler up that I can't find the lasagna.  She hollers back, "The LASAGNA!"  Like saying it louder is going to help me find it.  Back to the freezer, more digging and no lasagna.  So, back to the stairs, and I ask (maybe not so politely), if she's sure she had a lasagna in that freezer.  "The LASAGNA!"  Even louder. 

Back to the freezer, and I took a closer look at the various plastic tubs.  Sure enough, there were a few that were neatly labeled 'lasagna' on the side in permanent marker.  Some weren't labeled at all, so I guess those were mystery meals, I don't know.

Now then, back to the present.  It's official.  I have turned into my mother.

I used to ladle cooked tomatoes into quart size plastic freezer bags, lay them on a big pizza pan until frozen, then try to stack them in the freezer.  They usually slid all around until I had the shelf fairly full.  Later I learned the hard way that you can not microwave-thaw them.  Trust me, I tried it twice and ended up throwing two bags away because of melted plastic.  Thawing was definitely better in a big bowl of water.  A couple of times I lost some of the tomato juice because the corners of the bag was poked by sharp, frozen edges.  That annoyed me, I want to wash that bag and use it again!  All in all, it was not an ideal situation.

I tried canning jars with limited success.  In the microwave, the outer layer of tomatoes would be boiling hot, while the inside was still too frozen to be able to pour out of the jar.  Planning ahead was important - put the jar in the frig the day before, put it on the counter to thaw in the morning, or plan on some time in the bowl of water... oh, or microwave s-l-o-w-l-y.  I also learned the hard way not to fill it above the shoulder of the jar. 

Go buy gobs of  'freezer approved' containers?  Perish the thought! 

But I did have bunches of quart size cottage cheese and yogurt containers.  Actually, they worked out the best.  I could sit it in a bowl of tap water (didn't have to be warm) and in a bit, it was thawed enough that the frozen tomatoes would slide right out and into the pot.

I originally labeled them in my low tech method (masking tape and a permanent marker), but eventually went to just the marker when I had the tomato overload.

Quart size plastic mayo jars and big peanut butter jars are the right size for soups and chicken broth.  (Gotta label those soups, they all look alike in the freezer after a while.)  They're also the right size for dry cake mixes when I make that in bulk.  I have a few gallon size plastic containers that I use for baking mix (like Bisquik or Jiffy) and self rising flour mix.  All the dry stuff goes in the freezer, too.

I had to go take a peek at what I had in the freezer.  I also have a couple containers of homemade mashed potatoes, a jar of instant potato flakes and a jar of instant rice that I acquired when our youngest son moved out of state.  I try to make everything from scratch, but having something that I can use quickly comes in handy.  There are several mayo jars of spaghetti sauce, some with meat, some without.

I still use freezer bags for potatoes, onions, garlic (I don't care what they say, you CAN freeze garlic and then chop it while it's still frozen - it doesn't freeze rock hard) carrots, green beans and peppers.  The garlic, peppers and onions just get chopped and into bags.  My carrots are embarassing, so I clean them and pop them whole into the bag.  A quick rinse in warm water thaws them enough to chop for soup (same with the garlic).

When the kids visit and I'm making soup, spaghetti or whatever?  If I need something from the freezer, I go get it myself.  I still hear my mother's voice yelling 'the LASAGNA!".

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Meatless Monday and the PB&J Campaign

Bill and I are carnivores.   And we rarely eat in restaurants.  When we do eat out, it's good advice not to get caught between me and the buffet tables.  But for an everyday life style, I don't need or want the Hungry Man size portion of meat.

If you haven't already heard about the Peanut Butter and Jelly Campaign, stop what you're doing and head to http://environment.about.com/od/greenlivinginthekitchen/a/peanut_butter.htm or PB&J Campaign .

As members of the PB&J Campaign  like to say, “You don’t have to change your whole diet to change the world. Just start with lunch.”

So in an effort to eat healthier with more plant based meals, we have Meatless Mondays.  We have our own hens, so eggs are a good fit in this plan.  So are bean burritos, salads, vegetable soups, etc.  There are great vegetarian recipes online.  The rest of the week?  I cut back on the amount of meat and see if I can add beans or veggies instead.  It works out pretty good.  Instead of getting 2 meals from that pot roast, I can get 5.

I also try to use as much as I can that has come from our own property -  potatoes, onions, garlic, tomatoes, etc.  But not my chickens.  I can't eat Ozzie and Harriet (hens don't care what you name them).

Bill and the Country Bumpkins

Bill has been following my posts regularly.  He wants to make sure that I'm not going to blog anything bad about him, I guess.

He's been fairly amused by most of the entries.  Of course, he's living the life with me, so he knows all the details not posted.  But he also is nervous that people are going to think we're country bumpkins.  I think it was writing about cooking on the wood burning stove that prompted that.

No, we're city people that foolishly thought that living in the country would easy.  Har.

It's not that country living is hard, it's just lots of hard work.  There's always something that needs to be done.  Of course, we're always behind on something as we continue to work on building the house.  But overall, it's a great life.  You couldn't pay me enough to move back to the city.

I also think it's important to share all the things that went wrong, not just the successes.  I'm thankful that I am constantly learning new things.  And I'm really thankful that I can see a sunrise like I never did while being a city dweller.  It kind of makes all the chores worth it.

Considering Full Time RV Life

The thought of living in an RV for the rest of my days is weighing heavily on my mind.  Of course, Bill was excited when we were first discussing it.  He was talking, I was listening (in a state of panic)...this being the exact opposite of how it usually is at our house.  I continue to research on the Internet about the pros and cons of such a lifestyle.  The funny thing is that there are so many blogs about people that love it, but I have yet to read about anyone who tried it and then hated it.  I'm sure there are some, maybe they just don't write about it.

What has surprised me over the past couple of months is that I hear of more and more people that we actually know that are either considering it or actually planning to do it. Are the baby boomers growing up to be nomads in their old age?  Apparently some of them are.  Kinda makes you want to keep a sharper eye on the road when you're driving.

The one thing that no one misses with this life style is a snow shovel.  They probably don't miss pulling weeds, either.  But I do like to garden.  Bill suggested that I could grow potatoes in the back of the pickup truck, but it just doesn't seem ...well, right.  I don't know that one tomato plant in a pot would do it, either.

Some of us have roots and we like them.  I like the sense of 'home' and everything that's associated with that.  And I like my 'stuff'.  Could 'home' be wherever I hang my hat?  Maybe it could.  Maybe it's just different, something that I would love if I gave it a chance.

I did tell Bill that I would commit to one year RVing, but I would want an actual house if I didn't like it after that period.  I actually was okay with that at the time.  The next morning my mind was hitting the brakes with all kinds of 'what if's'.

Yes, today I am considering it.  That kind of move is at least two years away, so I have time to change my mind, too.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Passing through the Paper Aisle in the Store

I keep asking myself what people did before we had all these modern convenience things that we take for granted.   I also ask myself what I would do if this was the very last time I would ever have ____.  How would I use it?

The first product in this aisle that I stopped buying was paper towel.  Actually, it was pretty easy and painless.  Most of my 'rags' weren't even decent enough to keep around as rags.  So, into the trash they went and out came the scissors to make new rags of varying sizes out of Bill's old T shirts (shhhhhh) and some ratty old towels.  I keep them in a kitchen drawer, handy to grab whenever I need to clean up a mess.  Give it a rinse, and into the laundry room, no problem.

Napkins?  Well, I don't use many, and I can live without them.  I have some designated washcloths in the kitchen drawer that I'm comfortable using as napkins.  Bill?  Not so comfortable with that system.  Most of our friends and family?  Really not okay with that system.  What's the big deal here, people?  Granted, I don't expect you to carry washcloths or cloth napkins so you can wipe special sauce off your chin at the local burger place during your lunch hour, but is it so bad to use cloth instead of paper at my house or (gasp) at your own house?

Plastic wrap - I have a roll that has lasted several years.  Most of the leftovers go into refrigerator dishes that have lids.  If it's staying in the serving bowl, often times a plate will fit as a lid.  I haven't decided if I'm going to buy those reusable plastic things with the elastic yet.  For some reason, they remind me of my mother's shower cap.  I remember her using them when I was a kid, though...and I hated washing them.

Aluminum foil - I now buy the recycled foil, and I recycle it, too.  I use it as many times as I can before it heads to the recycle bin.  I still try not to use it though.

Freezer bags - When I have to buy them, I usually buy freezer bags. They are thicker, and I can use them many times before they spring a leak.  I had some that were almost three years old before they ended up in the trash.  I wash them and put them in the empty dishwasher to air dry (with the door cracked), or hang them on the Indian clothesline.  If they have had raw meat in them, they go into the trash.  But I try not to use them for that.  I usually keep a few plastic bread wrappers around here for when I bake bread, so sometimes other things can go in them, too.

Paper plates, cups, bowls, plastic spoons, etc. - I don't buy them, won't buy them.

Toilet paper - Ehhhhhhh, this is one thing that I won't ration or go without.  If I had to, I could do something else, but you know?  As long as I don't have to use rags, or leaves and grass, I'll probably keep buying this.  Ditto with personal products.

Tissues - I don't have a stash of hankies.  Bill does have a stack of hankerchiefs, but we both use tissues.  Funny, now that I think about it, it's been a while since I saw a hankerchief in the laundry.  I had to ask him  about it just now.  He said that he still carries one in his pocket for emergencies when he's working.  Like when he feels a sneeze coming on or thinks he has a booger hanging.  Ahhh, that's my Bill, he's very tidy.

Trash bags - I almost forgot about those.  I use plastic grocery sacks in the bathrooms and laundry waste baskets.  We take our cloth bags when we get groceries, but still end up with some plastic bags.  We also have friends that refuse to recycle, so I can get a mountain of plastic bags from them if I need to.  I do buy cheap kitchen trash bags, but since I recycle and compost everything, it takes a while before it's full.  Often times, I can just empty the trash and use the bag again.  I'd like to use a waste basket in the kitchen, (and of course, the 'free' plastic bag) but Bill thought he was taking out the trash way too often.

Did I miss anything?

The Quest for the Perfect Oatmeal

Bill has high cholesterol.  Period.  He was on the usual run of statin drugs, but had side effects so badly that he was miserable.  So now, we're doing the herbal thing.  I spent days researching on the internet, looking for proven OTC (over the counter) supplements and a better diet.

Most of us know that a high fiber diet is important, right?   We always had oatmeal around here, but Bill seemed to pick up the packets of flavored oatmeal when he made the grocery store run.  In my never ending journey to lower my consumerism, I kept thinking that I could make them for him, cheaper and they would always be on hand, right? 

It seems that he has a higher standard for what is acceptable oatmeal than what I do.  I'm perfectly content throwing a handful or two of old fashioned oats into a bowl, guessing at some water, nuking it, then adding whatever suits me at the moment - cinnamon and sugar, maple syrup or brown sugar, nuts, pour on some milk if it's too thick.  I guess I never really paid any attention to how he made his oatmeal.

So, I did my usual looking at recipes and then mixed up a single serving of oatmeal the way that I would eat it.  He said it was too much oatmeal.  The next batch had less oatmeal, but everything else was the same.  Not sweet enough.  Another batch - he likes the quick oats better than the old fashioned.. and on.. and on.  He's so polite about it, too. I guess he doesn't want to hit me with too much at one time.

This morning was the best so far.  He just had to add a little more brown sugar and it was fine.  So I'll make another serving in a little snack baggie for tomorrow and see how it goes.

What scares me is that this was just for ONE flavor - cinnamon bun. 

The final recipe:
1/2 cup oatmeal (quick oats)
1 Tblsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. powdered coffee creamer
pinch of salt
a few pecan pieces

Makes one serving in a little snack baggie. Your taste may vary.
_________________________
10-12 - I got the appoval for this one, also:

Maple Brown Sugar Oatmeal

In a quart bag, I gooshed up 1 cup of brown sugar and 1/4 tsp. Mapleine (maple flavoring) until it was well mixed.
For single serving bags:
1 Tbsp of this brown sugar/Mapleine mix
1/2 cup oatmeal
2 tsp. powdered coffee creamer
pinch of salt
a few walnut pieces
__________________________

The only reason why I use the powdered coffee creamer is so it seems to have a little 'milk' for when he's out of town and only has water.  You certainly could leave it out.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Paring Down the Grocery Bill

My goal is to stay at $200 a month for groceries for the two of us.  We have grown kids and friends that visit, so there are snacks, desserts, and extra portions included in that goal.  To me, it sounds like a lot of money.  I have read that other families have kept their food budget that low, but I have yet to reach it...and eat what we like to eat.  Our grocery bill usually runs $225 a month.  I do stock up when something is on sale, but on the flip side, I'm using from my pantry on a regular basis, too.  A friend, who is really struggling financially, recently told me that she spent almost $350 for groceries for just her last month.  I don't know who gasped louder.. me, when she told me that, or her, when I told her what I usually spend for two people. 

I tried the OAMC (once a month cooking) and it just wasn't for me.   I don't have a Sam's or Cosco a block away.  We live in a rural area, with a little grocery store about 15 miles from here.  Running to the store for just a couple things...how do I say this... just ain't gonna happen.  I can't remember what I needed but didn't have when I started searching 'make your own _____'.  Wow.  Wasn't I surprised!  There are decent substitutions for practically everything you would use in every day cooking. You really can save money AND eat well!

I buy almost no convience foods at all now.  I do buy some things that I could make, but don't want to, like tomato soup (my homemade was so-so at best) and cream of mushroom soup (I don't use enough to warrant trying to keep mushrooms in my frig or yard, either). But I make a pretty good cream of chicken and cream of celery soup.  Soooo simple, too!  Oh, I do buy various cereals and some breads. I don't want to try to make crackers, but I have made flour tortilla chips.  The bulk of my cooking is from scratch...really scratch.

The point here is that there are tons of recipes for making about any convience food that you would buy.  You don't have to do it all at once, either.  I started out with cream of chicken soup mix.  The batch of mix equals 9 cans of soup (and only cost $1.25), so I didn't have to make it again for a while.  When I make noodles, I make enough for several meals and pop them into the freezer. Ditto with soups.  Most of the time I plan for leftovers that I can put in the freezer.  Then I have easy meals for when I don't feel like cooking. Make sure you label everything that goes in the freezer.  Things, especially soups, have a way of looking alike after a while.  I have a cool, low tech labeling system - masking tape and a permanent marker.

I really watch pricing in the grocery store.  When they first started coming out with bulk foods and bigger packages, it was cheaper per ounce to buy.  Now -  ain't necessarily so.  A 2 lb. bag of brown sugar is the most commonly sold size.  Two 1 lb. boxes are cheaper than the 2 lb. bag now.  But, it's cheaper yet in the 4 lb. bag, and I use enough of it to warrant buying that size.  (Edited on 1-4-2011 - I don't even buy brown sugar now, I just make it when I need it, really cheap!)  White sugar is cheaper per pound to buy 4 lb bags where I live.

I also have a garden every year and in a perfect world, I'd can/freeze enough goodies to last an entire year.  I keep trying, but Nature has a way of keeping you humble.

If you haven't tried looking at everything you can make from scratch, get your mouse clicking and head over to http://busycooks.about.com/  for a starter course.  Just type 'make your own' into their search bar and you'll be on your way to pages of money saving ideas.

Green Cleaners in the Kitchen

Baking soda is my best cleaning friend in the kitchen.  I use it to clean stains, cooked on crud on my glass top stove, in the frig to absorb odors (when I remember to do it) and down the drain before I pour the hot vinegar from cleaning my coffee maker into the sink.

I used to make dishwasher detergent when I made laundry soap - equal parts of washing soda, borax and powdered automatic dishwasher detergent.  Everything gradually started getting cloudy.  'They' say to use less if that happened. (Who are 'they', anyway?)  So I used less.  But Bill is from the 'if some works, more works better' school, so the glassware was getting really cloudy.  Not that I'm going to complain about him doing dishes every so often, but I had to come up with a better plan.  So now I have switched to 1 part baking soda to 1 part automatic dishwasher detergent and everything is getting sparkly clean again.

Automatic dishwasher detergent is good stuff, too.  When the baking soda won't remove cooked on food on the stovetop, a little detergent with a hot, wet cloth on top will do the trick.  I left it on overnight before on a particularly bad one, but it all wiped right off the next day.  I have also soaked dishes in hot water and dishwasher detergent to remove baked on stains.  Great stuff.  But next time I'm going to try something 'greener'.

I keep my labeled sprayers of vinegar/water, bleach/water and Dawn/water under the kitchen sink.  Then they're handy when I need them. I spray the cutting board, sink and my hands with bleach/water after I have been cutting up chicken.  I use the vinegar/water to help remove hard water stains, and the Dawn/ water for cleaning anywhere.

I have a foaming pump dispenser in the kitchen, too.  (1 part Dawn or dish soap of your choice, and 4 parts water).  Besides using it to wash my hands, I also use it when I need just a little soap on the dishcloth to wash a big pot.

Simple stuff, but it works.

The Cost of Green Cleaners and the Bathroom

I love making green cleaners.  They are so easy to make and work well.  I also feel so virtuous, doing what's right for the earth, and hey!  The added bonus is that they're cheap to make!  In one calendar year, I spent about $25 to make a years supply of:

Laundry soap
Laundry pretreat or stain stick
Fabric softener
Dishwasher detergent
Bathroom cleaner
Daily shower spray
Hand soap in pump foam dispensers for kitchen and bathroom sinks
Eyeglass cleaner
General cleaning
Wasp spray
Non toxic bug spray for plants

What I bought:
Zote laundry bar
Washing soda
Borax
Bleach
Vinegar
Baking soda
Dawn dish soap (I'm a huge fan of this stuff)
Rubbing alcohol
Peroxide
Cheap brand of 'Jet Dry' type product


Now then, for the bathroom:

I have labeled spray bottles of the following that I use to clean the bathroom and general cleaning:
Dawn and water - tub, shower, sink and pot
Bleach and water - pot and to spray the shower pan and liner in between washings
Vinegar and water - ceramic tile floor

If there's something that needs a little extra attention, I have a designated box of baking soda for cleaning.  I usually keep some in the bathroom cupboard brush my teeth occasionally, too.

In a closet, I have several bars of bath soap unwrapped so they dry out.  I put them in a basket with a washcloth over them.  They gradually dry out and last longer when you use them.

Daily Shower Spray
The daily shower spray has been a big time saver!  I only have to actually clean the shower about once every 6 months if the spray is used faithfully.
Mix together one-half cup of hydrogen peroxide, one-half cup of rubbing alcohol, about six drops of Dawn, a capful of Jet Dry and twenty-four ounces of water. Using this on a daily basis will keep your shower and liner clean for a long time.

I'm experimenting now with just some Dawn water with alcohol in a spray bottle.  I still haven't decided if that works as well as the other formula.  You can use your regular cleaner that's diluted, too.

The easiest way for me to clean the shower?  Right before I get in it.  I spray the walls with Dawn/water mix, hit it w/ a wet cloth, then turn the shower on.  Undress, hop in to finish rinsing the walls and get to showering.  I wonder if Bill knows that I do that...  I wonder if I can get him to do that in the other shower...probably not.

Foaming Pump Dispenser Refill
Fill it 3/4 the way full with water and give it a good squirt of dish soap.   I like Dawn Green or 7th Generation, but use what you have.  My dispensers have the pump gadget inside the bottle, so I ended up overfilling it the first (two?) time I did this.  What didn't work for me was diluting the 'pearl' looking liquid hand soaps, or melting my own bars.  I put them in the blender and still ended up w/ pieces that would clog up the pump dispenser.  For a regular pump dispenser, the ratio is 4 parts water to 1 part liquid soap.


Eyeglass cleaner:
A safe formula no matter what type of eyeglasses or coatings you have on your lenses:
Fill a spray bottle (any size will do) with 3/4 rubbing alcohol and 1/4 water. Put in a few drops of dish soap.

Laundry Day and the Indian Clothesline

I make my own laundry soap.  I don't plan on ever buying expensive laundry soap from the store as long as I'm able to stir a pot.  There are a million recipes online, but they all use basically the same ingredients.  It's also not rocket science, so variations are allowed.

Our well water here is very hard, even with a water softener.  I wash almost exclusively with cold water, too, so decided to go with a liquid soap instead of the powder.  I also didn't want to mess with a five gallon bucket of glop.  I have used gallon milk jugs, the blue water jugs (from when we had to buy water from the grocery store) and vinegar jugs.  Use whatever you have.

The recipe I use is:
1/2 bar of Zote laundry soap (pink, grates easily)
1/2 cup Washing Soda (not baking soda, found in the laundry aisle)
1/2 cup Borax (20 Mule Team is a popular brand, also in the laundry aisle)

I put 6 to 8 cups of water in a big pot on the stove.  I tend not to measure this.  Heat it until it's really hot but not boiling and stir in 1/2 bar of Zote that you were grating while the water was heating.  Turn the stove off, and walk away for 10 to 15 minutes. 
When the soap has all dissolved, stir in the washing soda.  Then stir in the Borax.  Carefully pour half of this into each of your two jugs.  I use a big measuring pitcher for this, but you can eyeball it in the jugs.  You just want to divide the mixture between the two.  It won't matter if you have a bit more in one jug.  Be careful, it's still pretty hot at this point.  Add a couple cups or more of hot tap water to each jug, put the lid on and shake.  Let the steam out a couple times.  Keep adding hot tap water and shaking until the jug is most of the way filled.  You may have to let the suds settle a bit before you add the last bit of water.  Then just leave the lid off of it until it cools, and Wal-la!  2 gallons of laundry soap!

This will jell somewhat in your jug.  I usually have to take the handle of my wooden spoon to break it up a bit the first time I use each jug.  You need to leave some room in the jug to allow for shaking that first time, too.  After that, it's just a couple of shakes before I use it, measure out maybe 3/4 cup for each load.  Our clothes get pretty dirty here so sometimes I use a full cup.  Clothes that aren't grimy would only require less.  Don't expect to see a lot of suds in your wash water, but it's still working.

I have used the bar of Zote for a stain remover 'stick'.  I also just pour some of the soap onto our jeans that are really grimy for pretreating.

I have to admit, I was a little surprised after I did that first load of clothes.  I was so used to the perfumed scent of commercial laundry detergents, and I wondered if the clothes were actually clean.  They were.  They just smelled like clean clothes with a faint 'Zote' scent that was gone when the clothes were dry. 

Edited to add: And the cost?  At our little country store today (12-1-10), Zote was $1.05 (I'll get two batches, or 4 gallons), the Borax was $3.75 and washing soda was $2.55.  Using 1/2 cup each of Borax and washing soda for every two gallons of finished product...well, I'll get gobs of laundry done.

I don't buy fabric softener sheets, either.  I bought a jug of liquid softener, measured out one cup and added two cups of water.  I dampen a designated washcloth with this solution and toss it into the dryer for the 10 minute drying time before I hang them up.  Most of the time I can use it a second time before I dampen it again.

You might want to start labeling these jugs in case someone else does some laundry.

The Indian Clothesline

Our oldest son, Dan, has traveled overseas a lot.   He spent quite a bit of time in India on one of his first journeys.  Carrying what he needed on his back, everything had to have several uses.  He has a length of para-cord in his pack and he would use that for his clothesline.  He would tie loops, knots, whatever it took to put up a clothesline in whatever was in his space at the time.

While he was here one time, he asked if he could put a couple of small nails on the sides of the window trim in a room to string up his clothesline.  He tied a loop on one end, hooked that over the nail, stretched out the cord across the room to the other nail and made the other loop where it was needed.  Ta-da!  Portable clothesline, easy to put up and take back down.  That's the Indian Clothesline, plain and simple.

He doesn't use clothespins, even when he's here.  He straightens the clothes out and drapes them over the line.  A couple hours later, he'll take the clothes off one at a time and drape them the other direction so there's no crease in the middle.  And do it again.  By the time he takes the clothes off the line, there's no wrinkles and no crease.  I guess he's had a lot of practice.  I'll probably just keep using clothespins.

I wash only full loads, so one line wasn't enough for me, even with draping socks over the sides of the laundry basket.  I can get by with two lines by staggering.  I hang T shirts on the back line first, then go back and hang shorter items on the same line, staggering where I put the clothes pins.  If I run short on line space, I'll hang socks, etc, over the shirts.  If I want to do two loads, I'll put work shirts on plastic hangers and hang them on the line.  If there's shoulder bumps, I'll pat them down with a damp hand when I put it on.

What I like best about doing laundry this way?  I'm saving a boatload of money, doing the green thing, don't have wickedly stiff clothes (read post below and see how) and I can take the dry clothes off the line when it suits me.  I don't have to worry about rain, sun bleaching, blowing dirt, dogs, or wrinkles from sitting in the dryer.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Putting our Electrical Usage on a Diet!

After the ice storm, Bill's thoughts of a pretty fireplace disappeared and he was okay with installing a basic wood burning stove.  The new ones all have blowers, but if the power went out again, we'd still have some heat.  I had read up on firewood, so I knew that in our area, Osage Orange (we call it hedge) was the hottest wood locally grown.  But no one had any for sale.  Go figure, everyone else got it before or during the storm.  Okay, so we toughed it out with whatever we could find and made plans for securing cords of wood for the next winter.  It was a good, steady heat..and dry.  So, a big pot of water went on top of the stove for humidity (no extra power used, right?).  Then the light bulb went on.. cook on it.  Okay, so a lot of people have already figured out that you can do that, but hey, we're new to this kind of stuff.  So I tried some soup.  I put it on the stove in the middle of the afternoon.  At supper time I had half cooked rice and not a quality soup by any means. 
That night in bed, I had the 'ahh haaa' moment - think slow cooker.  I put a frozen roast in a pot, hotter burning wood in the stove and started it in the morning.  At supper time, it was falling apart tender, complete w/ spuds, carrots, onions..and no extra power used.  Wahoo! Victory!

Now my friends are used to seeing a variety of cookware on the woodburner - the water pot for humidity, another pot with supper, maybe potatoes wrapped in foil, roasting in the coals and a little metal coffeepot keeping coffee hot - which is pretty nasty tasting when I forget about it and it burns.  I did a search for campfire recipes, camping recipes, that kind of stuff, and have several printed out to try this next winter. Overall, I love the little woodburner and I'm glad we live in an area where we can use it.

On the subject of burning wood - It's considered to be 'carbon neutral', meaning that the carbon produced by clean burning wood is no more than what the tree converted while it was growing.  Carbon is also produced while dead wood is decomposing, too. We try to use as much storm downed wood as possible, wood from trees being removed, but some wood we have to cut ourselves or buy.  Every year we plant more trees than we have used in burning.  I just feel a little better about it that way.   And the ashes?  I started spreading them out in our rock driveway last year.  It raises the Ph of the dirt, so weeds have a hard time growing.  Since I don't like to spray, this seemed to be a good idea.  The areas that had the highest amount of wood ash did have less weeds this past summer.

Other things I do to cut back on electricity:

1)  I have an electric clothes dryer, so when it's getting cooler, I vent the dryer into the house.  I don't put any kind of screen or filter on the hose any more.  The heating element burned out really fast when I used some old panty hose to catch the lint, and I was faithful about cleaning it every time I used the dryer.

2)  For the most part, I line dry clothes, but I don't like stiff clothes.  So I throw wet clothes in the dryer along with a couple of odd size dry towels designated for that use.  I set the dryer on low heat, let it run for 10 minutes, then hang them up to finish drying.  The dry towels in the load make a huge difference!  My washer spins clothes pretty dry and that helps.  Jeans and towels need a couple extra minutes in the dryer and actually, I prefer towels from the dryer.  I don't have a clothesline outside yet, but probably wouldn't  use it too much even if I did.  I live in the middle of Kansas farm ground, and constantly deal with wind carrying seed, topsoil, grain dust, etc.  So I have an Indian clothesline in the house.  More on this later.  Of course, I use cold water to wash.

3)  When I make coffee, I try to put it in the carafe or thermos right after it's done and turn the coffee maker off.  One report I read said that the electricity cost for the coffeemaker was $80 a year.  Uh, was that for 2 hours?  All day long?  Some of us really, really like coffee.  I don't use the dry cycle on the dishwasher, either.

4)  I love my slow cookers!  There are some great blogs and recipes online for slow cookers.  In the summer, I have taken it outside to plug it in so there's no extra heat in the house.  Other times I wrap a towel around it, turn it on low and it cooks like it was on high heat.  If you try this, watch carefully!!  I can do that with one cooker, but I almost melted the cord on the other one!  Scared me half to death, too!

5)  CFL's of course and energy efficient appliances.  I'm not afraid to do low tech, either.  I don't have an electric can opener, do have a bread machine, but usually I knead bread dough by hand and bake it in the oven, 3 or 4 loaves at a time.

6)  Unplug stuff!  I was amazed when I went room to room, looking for everything that could be unplugged.  There was a ton of stuff that I hadn't thought too much about, meanwhile it all was using electricity.  Bill was less than enthused about having to plug in the microwave everytime he wanted to use it.  Even less so when he went to get a newly charged battery for his drill and every battery was drained.  Okay, I didn't know that I should have pulled them out of the chargers, but now I do.  And I quit flipping the shop breakers off after he gave me 'the look' a few times...you know 'the look'.  Sometimes you just have to compromise.

7)  Turn off that office equipment!  Some will disagree with me, but I have not had one computer last longer because I left it on 24/7.  And there's no reason to leave the printer on when you are not using it.  I read a detailed article about the cost of the typical home office set up.  The annual electrical cost was over $200 if everything was left on.

8)  Cooking  - woodburner or solar oven first (I need to build a better solar oven!), slow cooker next, microwave after that, the George grill (George Forman type grill), toaster oven and then big, energy glut range last.  And cranking on the oven in the summer?  Hmmmm...no.  But we both love the scent of bread baking in the oven, and slabs of hot bread and butter, so I do use it when the weather is colder.  I just try to bake several things at once.  It uses just as much energy to bake four loaves of bread as it does to bake one.  Same with chicken, do at least two at a time.  Then bone the other one and pop it in the freezer for a future meal.  Then put the bones in a pot of water and cook up a batch of chicken stock to freeze.

9)  Landscaping or working on the micro climate  - We have planted a lot of deciduous trees on the south side of our house, but it's going to be a while before we reap the benefits.  We live in a windy area, so we're working on the windbreak trees on the north.  Did you know there's such a thing as a 'death hole'?  Three different trees, three different years, and all kicked the bucket.  Plenty of grass and weeds there, so it's not poisoned soil...the death hole.

10)  Wood burning furnace - Yes, another wood burner.  This is a big unit with ductwork to various rooms of the house.  Last winter was the first year in use and hey, it's great.  Lots of heat for the cost of running a couple of blower fans.

11)  Window coverings - Since we're still living in a construction zone, regular curtains are a long ways off.  So I made some 'shades' from a Velux blanket.  Worked great, added a layer of insulation over the glass of our windows.  The windows are Pella, but not their top of the line.  They do have the UV coating, so my houseplants just barely survive in the house during the winter.  The windows also are double hung, so there's an air infiltration in the channels.  I cut up a leftover piece of pipe insulation to make a little plug for each one.  Oh, the shades?  They really did work well until they were a year old and I washed them.  Then they turned into shreds and a million little pieces of fuzz and foam bits.  I'm working on Plan B.

12)  You already have your water heater turned down a notch, don't you?  And an insulated blanket around it if it's electric?  Everything caulked and insulated, like water pipes?  One of the hardest habits I have been trying to acquire is to not use the hot water handle on the sink when I don't really want hot water.  I'll have the cup/pan/whatever in my right hand and automatically turn the hot water handle with my left hand.  I'm just to give it a quick rinse, but it's still a little awkward to reach across to the cold water handle.  Sometimes I'll put the plug in the drain and leave the 'quick rinse' water in the sink.  Pretty soon it's full enough to give other dishes a quick rinse without using any more water.  Since we're on well water, every time I use water, I'm using electricity. 

Soon to come - my passion!  Passive solar!  Love the website http://builditsolar.com/ !  If you haven't been there, get on over fast.  Tons of projects and information.

Going Green and Saving Greenbacks

Winter here in the the middle of Kansas can be brutal, I'm telling ya!  Trying to heat a big house that's all electric is a challenge...especially when you don't have all the drywall on the walls.  We had heard that elecricity was very expensive in this area, but that was an understatement. Two years ago, our electrical bill was over $500 in both January and February.  It was not balmy in here.  I wore wool socks and was bundled up so much that I looked like a bag lady. We also had an ice storm in early December that left us with no power for 8 days.  We aren't on rural water, and for the most part, I love having well water, but when there is no power, there is no water, either. Hey!  No one told us that!  Talk about a wake up call!  Nothing funnier than city people moving out to the country...

So it was time to really start acting on the information I got from blogs, online articles, forums, anything I could find to read online about saving energy, simple living, sustainable living, frugal living, passive solar.. you name it, I was Googling it.  Then I discovered that I could make my own laundry soap!  And cleaners!  And cream of whatever soups!  My obsession grew.  The changes in our lives started gradually, and now are second nature.  We eat better than before and put the money saved into our pocket instead of giving it to Proctor and Gamble.  Our monthly grocery bill runs around $225 a month for the two of us.  I still stock up whenever something is on sale, but my goal is to get it to $200 a month...without Bill noticing it. And our electric bill?  Last January and February, the bills were around $119 each month.

How did we do it?  See 'Putting our electrical usage on a diet'.

Finding the Balance

Bill and I have been married for 38 years.  He's your basic, three bedroom ranch house kind of guy that's married to an extreme home, should-a been a hippie kind of gal.  So, about 5 years ago, we finally agreed on a 4 acre bit of neglected farmland and moved, determined to build a nice house by ourselves. 

I wanted something more 'green' and sustainable, like strawbale, he wanted something that he was familiar with  - like the building process - and more like what everyone else had. It's not that either one of us was right or wrong -  it was all about finding the balance that worked for us.

My passion is to live a more sustainable life, be kinder to the earth and lower my consumerism.  I do believe
whenever possible, use what Nature gives you.  Recycle, repair, reuse, rethink, repurpose - and reusing is more important than recycling.