Friday, April 29, 2011

Rage Against the Woodchuck

http://cbender.com
Warning, violence against woodchucks is rampant through this post. I am no longer apologetic about this.

I. Hate. Woodchucks. Specifically, the ones that live near my garden and feel that it is their personal salad bar. For those of you unfamiliar with woodchucks, they’re also known as groundhogs and they’re rabbit sized, vegetable eating, dirt digging, territorial rodents. Very territorial, don’t go near one. My great-uncle lost half a toe because it was defending its (his) garden. True story.

Before this last summer, I didn’t really have a strong opinion about them. I knew that my father and all of my other gardening relatives have had bad woodchuck experiences in the past, but I had never been blessed with their presence. Our new house came with a gorgeous 10x20 raised bed, and a woodchuck. The war my adventures began.

You know how you’re hormonal when you’re pregnant? And you can get weepy, or angry, or just in general overly emotional? I was pretty even-keeled through my pregnancy. Truly, I didn’t really have any emotional outbursts that I wouldn’t have normally. Except: I had rage against woodchucks. Seriously.

Dramatic incident #1: I was talking on the phone with my mother when I saw one hiding in the neighbor’s bushes. I said some nasty things. Many four-lettered things. Then it started toward my garden (again). I don’t specifically remember this, but my mother assured me that I started yelling before I got outside, and all 8 months pregnant of me ran out the back door and then started yelling and stomping on the deck to try and scare away the woodchuck. (It was after this that I was told about the territorial thing – but frankly a woodchuck would be crazy to mess with a pissed-off pregnant lady.)

Dramatic incident #2: I was one week overdue, we were having a heat wave, and my husband and I were walking near our house to try and inspire the baby to come out. A woodchuck ran across the road in front of us. Apparently my husband had to grab both of my arms and hold me back as I launched myself after the woodchuck, screaming obscenities at it. I think he’s exaggerating.

I even had dreams about getting rid of woodchucks in increasingly wacky ways, and the woodchucks getting the better of me. Think Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote.

I tried live traps, but of course the woodchuck would go nowhere near it. Poison or lethal traps would be dangerous for the neighborhood cats, and obviously my foot stomping was doing nothing. (Nothing hissy-fit about it, I swear.) I called pest control etc. and they recommend shooting them. This is what my dad and grandfather, lifetime gardeners both, had been saying all along. So I let dad “remove” the woodchuck. And the one that moved in a week after. The third one escaped with a ding in its hide, and has not been seen since.

I lovingly planted the organic heirloom seedlings that my family helped me grow as my belly grew: beets, tomatoes, melons, peas, cucumbers, rainbow chard, eggplants, peppers, lettuce, and strawberries. I had dreams of making food from vegetables I had grown myself for my beautiful baby. Instead, I watched as those woodchucks mowed the beets, peas, lettuce, melons, and cucumbers down to the dirt. They ate half of the chard, and put holes in the eggplant and pepper leaves. I waited all summer for the strawberries to ripen, and as that first strawberry became red, I went out to pick it and saw the woodchuck delicately eating the ripe strawberry. I had another hissy-fit discussion with the woodchuck. (Dramatic incident #3. I do remember that one.)

I harvested a lot of tomatoes. Apparently woodchucks don’t like tomatoes.

Next summer I won’t have the flood of hormones, but I am determined to win against the woodchucks. I will harvest what I plant, and they will not eat it all on me. I have a plan involving chicken wire, a tomato hedge, and use of a community garden.

How do you deal with garden pests? Have any tips or funny stories to share?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Garden (re)Plan 2011

Earlier this week we had our first Community Garden meeting of the year. It was a great meeting, the members are really nice, and the perennial (har har) members were very informative. I found out that it is very heavy clay soil (surprise, surprise – the whole county is like that) and can be very wet. Purely by chance I chose a plot that is in the dryer section, so hopefully between that and digging some shallow trenches around my plot I won’t have too much trouble with drainage. Some of the members have been around long enough to build up their plots with a lot of compost and should have great gardens this year – but those of us with non-amended plots will have a lot of work to do.

Since there are extra plots available, I decided to use the entire 20’x20’ plot for myself and my friend can get a separate plot if she decides she wants to. On recommendation of the people who have been there for at least a season already, I’m increasing the amount of beans, leafy greens, and corn, as well as putting in potatoes. They said that root crops (besides potatoes, which do very well) are a failure until the soil is built up properly. With that in mind, as well as a few recalculations on my end, I changed around my plan:

  • I’m going to keep all of my Hungarian heart tomatoes in my home plot to preserve a true seed to save for next year
  • I’ll plant my beets and carrots in my home plot, inside of the Hungarian heart tomato hedge
  • I’ve moved around the Community Garden (CG) plot to accommodate the addition of spinach and potatoes
  • I put pumpkins and zucchini under the corn instead of the acorn squash since I won’t use as many pumpkins as acorn squash, and zucchini is so prolific that I don’t need many plants
  • I changed my layout of the CG plot to allow more room for the acorn squash and watermelon to spread out
  • I moved all of the tomato plants in the CG garden to the outside edge for ease of harvest

A CG member made the point that there was produce theft last year. That is so unfortunate. I only hope that the people that stole were only doing so because they were in great need. In light of that, I’m going to be using inexpensive (and undesirable for theft) methods for keeping my garden in check, and just hope that if people take my produce that they leave enough for me and mine.

I’ll get out the string (aka crochet thread) and make myself some stakes out of scrap wood. Those will become a few trellises for peas and cucumbers. Instead of purchasing more tomato cages I’ll use string (probably heavier than the crochet thread) and stakes to keep the tomatoes upright in the CG. At home I’ll use my existing tomato cages.

I already have a plan in place to get chicken poo this fall for my home garden. I asked if anyone had looked into getting manure from one of the many local farms to amend the soil. The CG Chair said that they had, and the farmers would be happy to provide the manure, but the problem is cost of transportation. I’m going to see what I can do on that front, if I can work something out for a heavy discount that would be great (we have a very small budget to work with). Or if I could even convince someone to lend me their pickup for a day I could transport quite a bit myself. I’ve done it before!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cooking a Turkey in the Crock Pot

Yes, you read that right. I cooked a turkey in the crock pot. A fourteen pound turkey. Don’t try this at home, folks. You’ll see why.


I thawed it and removed the giblets, etc. Then I put it in the crock pot.

It didn’t quite fit. (even with a lot of shoving)


So I covered the top with aluminum foil and stuck the lid on top for good measure (and to help retain the heat)


I set it on low to cook for 10 hours. I didn’t want to take the chance that it might come out raw, especially since it had to reduce a bit before the lid would rest properly.

I left it to cook overnight. When I came down the next morning, it was done.

And my countertop was covered with turkey fat.


While it was cooking and reducing, the turkey fat bubbled over and got all over the counter.

And the cupboard.


And the floor.

I mopped it up as best as I could without being late.


The turkey turned out thoroughly cooked, thank goodness. I was curious if it would or if I’d have to put it in for another cooking session.

I ended up with a lot of meat.

The two breasts went into the freezer for later, and the dark meat and bits and pieces went into the fridge for eating through the week.


The bones and misc bits that were too small to pull for the tupperware -


- went into a freezer bag for broth making later.


Next time I’ll make sure to only do this with a turkey that fits inside the crock pot. I’m thinking ten pounds, maximum. I hope I can find one that small, because it would be so nice to cook a turkey while I’m at work. Hubby loved that the whole house smelled like turkey. If you try it, make sure it fits in your crock pot.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Work Hack: Mending

Do you have some mending to do? Is it something that can be mended by hand? Do you get breaks at work? (You know, a real break. Not the supposed “breaks” where employers tell you your 15 minute break was taken up already because you went to the bathroom three times for 2 minutes each time. Yeah, I worked at a place like that. I didn’t stay long, I refuse to work for such a micro-manager that they time you in the bathroom and tell you that’s your break. OK, I’m done ranting now.)

If you’re like me and you want to stay as productive as possible when you have spare time (and you have an infant at home that makes it impossible to use sharp objects), do your mending on your breaks! You want to make it clear you’re on break and not slacking off on the clock. If you have an office, it’s easier - just close the door. If you’re working in cubicle-land or an open concept office, try hanging a sign on the edge of the partition or your desk saying something along the lines of, “Please do not disturb until 10:30 – I’m on break. Thanks!” Or if you drive to work, temperature permitting of course, take your break in your car (I occasionally take lunch breaks in my car for napping purposes). If you don’t have a desk but you do have a hook to hang your coat and a place to sit during break, bring a small bag of mending with you that is easily portable.
 

This works best with one small project at a time, so don’t bring in your whole mending pile at once. Just the one pair of pants with the tear in the inseam, or the shirt with the missing button. Or that pair of black leather gloves that you love dearly and that need some TLC and some carefully placed stitches. ahem Also try and keep your mending tools to a minimum – a spool of thread with a needle stuck in it and the needed button. If you have scissors at work use those, it’ll cut down on your chances of losing your personal pair. You don’t want to be lugging around a ton of stuff – not only is it annoying to carry, it clutters your work station with non-work related stuff.

I’ve mended these gloves a few times on my breaks, and as they get a bit older and more worn out I’m tempted to just carry a spool of thread and a needle in my purse with me next winter. This winter really did a number on them. 

Do you think you could pull this off? What are some other ways that you utilize your breaks to save you time at home? Or do you use the time to chat, read, or relax (or nap)?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Countertops?


image source
Blah. Blerg. Blech. Blah.

Yeah.

So, while I'm home doing at-home-from-work things (which, for me, usually means laundry and couch time), I'm also thinking about what to do with the kitchen countertops.

Less than $5/sq foot would make me happy. I'm not impressed by tile (I dislike grout, both for installation and for cleaning) but I'm willing to consider it.

Right now I'm thinking zinc countertops. I just love the way they patina to that mottled, warm gray. Galvanized is fine provided there aren't any chromates in/on it. I have a local guy working on quotes for copper, stainless, and zinc. If I got it to DIY, it'd be around $2.50 sq/foot. Not bad at all, but time intensive.

Thoughts? Do any of you have metal countertops? Or do you have other suggestions? Here's the latest photo of my kitchen to give you ideas. Envision medium toned wood floors and a white, 2" high tile backsplash.


Friday, April 22, 2011

Leftovers Quiche, and How I Got My Husband to Eat 4 Despised Foods in One Meal

On a side note: I found my camera! It was at the Indian restaurant that Max and I went to after work last Thursday. Yay!

My husband is a picky eater. He’s not as bad as he used to be, but it’s still a challenge sometimes. In an effort to get him to eat ‘strange’ foods, lately I just haven’t told him what stuff is. I just tell him, “Eat it, you’ll like it.” And, surprise, surprise, he does.

Wednesday night I served four things that normally he either turns up his nose at, or flat out refuses to eat.

  1. Quiche. Whenever I say we’re having quiche for dinner, my husband shudders and considers eating cereal for dinner instead. I admit – I’ve had a few less than stellar quiches (don’t use lime basil in quiche, it ends up tasting like Fruit Loops) – but overall they’re quite tasty, as several people will attest.
  2. Spinach. He flat out refuses to eat spinach, unless it’s raw in a salad and he drowns it in dressing.
  3. Potatoes. Yes, my husband hates potatoes. Unless they are in fry form and have lots of ketchup, or are homefries from this one particular diner that we go to every now and then.
  4. Chickpeas. He’ll occasionally eat hummus, but he’s got this thing about beans in general.

If you’re a quiche disliker, and the thought of eating one more bite of egg/ham/onion/cheese makes you gag, try making a quiche with things that you do like. Like pork fried rice. nummers Or macaroni and cheese. Or, stay with me here, cheeseburgers (think: ground beef, cheese, sautéed onion, stale bread, topped with ketchup and maybe some relish).

I made Leftovers Quiche with Aloo Palak and saffron rice from my dinner out last Thursday, spinach, and some shredded turkey. Aloo Palak is an Indian dish whose main ingredients are spinach, chickpeas, and potatoes. The spices are warm and savory, and take over the dish in a very satisfactory way. Yum. OMG, yum. Hubby initially fussed about the whole quiche business, but when he smelled it cooking he started to change his mind. And after the first bite he declared it “really good” and wolfed down the rest of his slice. I didn’t tell him until later that night what it was that he ate. He was skeptical, but supposed he could eat it again if I prepared it the same way.

Quiche is quick, easy (with the help of a frozen pie crust), and use up leftovers like no other dish I’ve come across. There isn’t a hard and fast recipe for Leftovers Quiche. Essentially you:

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. While your oven preheats, put leftovers in a pie crust, chopping/dicing things if they’re not already cut small. Rice, vegetables, meat, cheese, even bread works well. If it worked as a tasty dish in the first place, it will probably still work with the addition of eggs. If I only have meat, I’ll often add frozen veggies and just cook a little longer. Add spices, play around, find what works for you. This is a good dish to experiment with. Note: I don’t suggest using raw meat in this recipe. If you want to use meat, make sure it is cooked first.
  3. Beat eggs in a separate bowl and pour over the leftovers so it fills to ½ to ¼ inch below the rim of the pie crust. Generally I need 4-6 eggs. Add a little milk to the eggs if you want.
  4. Bake at 400 for 20-30 minutes or until the eggs are set and lightly browned around the edges and are set in the center.
  5. Let the quiche rest at room temperature for 5 minutes before serving.

That’s it! How easy, right?

Have you made Leftovers Quiche before? What’s your favorite?


Max loved it! (especially as a hair product)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Posts Worth Reading: How to Steal Like an Artist (and 9 other things nobody told me)

www.austinkleon.com
How to Steal Like an Artist (and 9 other things nobody told me) Written by Austin Kleon on AustinKleon.com.

Just a fantastic advice post. Well, not just a fantastic advice post. It’s more than that, it’s inspiring in a way that makes you think and gets your creative juices flowing. I’ve written out the list below, but you really need to read his explanations (complete with illustrations). A lot of it is things you’ve probably heard before, but if you’re like me sometimes you need a reminder or a more in-depth explanation/exploration.

  1. Steal like an artist.
  2. Don’t wait until you know who you are to start making things.
  3. Write the book you want to read.
  4. Use your hands.
  5. Side projects and hobbies are important.
  6. The secret: do good work and put it where people can see it.
  7. Geography is no longer our master.
  8. Be nice. The world is a small town.
  9. Be boring. It’s the only way to get work done.
  10. Creativity is subtraction.

Thank you, Austin, for taking the time to write and draw it all out.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

I Lost My Camera

If you're super observant about my photos, you'll probably notice that normally I use my own. However, the last few days I've had to use other people's photos because I've lost my camera. <insert cussing here> I know I had it last Thursday at work because I brought Max to a Dr's appointment and then back to the office where I took some photos and videos of him.

I went to find it this weekend to take pictures when my in-laws were up... and I can't find it. I generally keep it in one of three places: on the computer desk, on the side table in the living room, or in the kitchen. And I can't find it. I've got some great photos of Max on there, and several of a turkey-in-the-crock-pot experiment that I was going to post about today, but now I can't because it's so much less effective without the pictures (it was pretty funny, if you're into shoving too-large poultry into too-small crock pots type of humor).

It's not in the obvious spots, it's not at work, and it's not in my purse or jacket. I took Max out for Indian food (first time for him, he loved the saffron rice) after work, and know I had it there. I'm pretty sure it's either at the restaurant (I hope they still have it) or somewhere in my car.


Wish me luck.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Work Hacks: Exercise During Breaks

image source
So in my attempts to exercise more, which I don’t really like to do, I’m exercising at work during breaks. This takes care of the distractions issue (no baby, no hubby, no chores, no projects). And I find that when I get up and move away from my desk during the day I feel better – less muscle tension, less eye strain, less headaches. That helps with the motivation part.

Now that summer is coming, I’ll have ample opportunity to get out for walks which is great for my longer lunch break. But what about those 15 minute breaks when I want to do only a few minutes, or days when it’s rainy, or when I just want a more intense workout?

I had a major light bulb/ah-ha moment: YouTube + Zumba. Genius.

I searched YouTube and found that there are several instructors who have either recorded their classes or have made little instructional videos. I saved the ones I liked to a playlist and viola! Instant personalized exercise “video.” And since it’s saved virtually I can access it from any computer. Like the one at my desk! How handy!

I chose Zumba, but if you love kickboxing (don’t break anything), yoga, Pilates, step aerobics, or whatever, give a look around and see what you can find that you can modify to work for you. If you can’t find what you want on YouTube, and you know the moves already and just need the music and/or verbal instructions, see if you can download an audio workout. Bas Rutten is my husband’s favorite – though for home, not work.

I have very little shame, or rather I don’t embarrass easily, so I have absolutely no problem exercising at my desk where people could walk by my door and see me. If you do, you may want to close the door or hang a curtain across your cubicle opening. (speaking of no shame at work – remind me to tell you about the time I was a student worker and sent across campus with a box of empty Tupperware to pack up the extra food from some other department’s luncheon lecture)

Some tips:
  • Wear headphones with a long cord
  • Move your chair and other obstacles out of the way before hitting play
  • Do the moves in place rather than moving around
  • Change first if you want/need to (don’t do this in heels!)
  • Let your neighbors know what you’re up to, and stay confident when they look at you like you have two heads (maybe that’s just my paranoia)
  • You may want to get a little fan or a towel to keep the sweat in check, and reapply deodorant

This can be done at home too, of course, and I plan on doing that as well at some point. But working out on my breaks is a great first step in getting back into exercising.

And, Liz, if you’re reading this, sorry for the thudding coming through your ceiling.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Weaning

image source: http://www.newbornbabyzone.com/
This post talks about weaning my son from breastfeeding – so if you don’t want to read about things that go along with that, like boobies, and in particular my boobies, I suggest you stop reading now.

I’ve weaned my son from breastfeeding at 9 ½ months old. (I know that’s young, but he still gets formula bottles so it’s not like I’m totally depriving him.) And I have a really good reason: He bit me. With teeth. While nursing. On my nipple. Not only did it hurt (a lot), but it bled and has taken over five days to heal. That wasn’t a little love nip, that was a full-blown bite.

I swore (loudly, at daycare no less, but it was more of a take-the-lord’s-name-in-vain type of swearing, rather than an actual naughty word), gently but quickly removed him from my nip, decided if he was feeling spunky enough to bite me then he was done eating, showed the war wound to hubby for sympathy (who was with me to pick up Max that day), and realized that the day had come. The last day that Max would breastfeed.

This has been coming for a while. Max is very food oriented. He was lunging for Spaghetti-O’s at three months old, before he’d even had a taste of puree. By his choice he moved on to finger foods well before his teeth started coming in. Sometimes the only gentle way to wake him up is to eat around him (true story – I usually use yogurt).

Even though I’ve been pumping daily since going back to work, I stopped getting any milk over a month ago. I wasn’t dried up, but I didn’t have the production I used to – mostly because Max was weaning himself. He only wanted to nurse before going to sleep, or in the middle of the night. He wasn’t really eating; it was more for the comfort.

So not only has he been weaning himself, but he’s been a nipple biter from the start. I’m not talking a gentle squeeze of the gums. I’m talking full-blown-chomp-down-and-leave-a-big-old-bruise nipple biting. It wasn’t daily, or even weekly, but every once in a while he’d surprise me. Knowing this, I was prepared that when he teethed, I was going to have to watch closely because I’m not prepared to have a nipple severed for the sake of him breastfeeding. Ok, severed might be a little bit of an exaggeration. But, you see my point. It took more than five days for that one, relatively small (compared to what it could have been) bite to heal.

So that’s two big reasons to wean, one spurred by him and the other spurred by me (though by his actions and my own self-preservation). I wish that it had been otherwise, and that we were able to nurse through at least one year. But, that wasn’t meant to be.

He was pissed for a couple of days, but it’s been over a week now and even though he still likes to check out down my shirt and he’s still pretty hands-y, he’s doing fine.

And me? I’m doing ok. The hormonal re-balance is interesting. My hands have swollen to sausage-esque-ness (I hope that goes away soon), and I’m still leaking a bit, but I haven’t gotten super engorged (thank goodness). I miss that closeness, the skin-on-skin time. But it was the right choice for us.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Frugal Luxuries: Hair Care Part 2 – The Thee C's

Ah, the three C’s of hair care that you have to take care of every so often: Cut, Color and Condition.

This grew out really well
Cut
I’ve had variations on the same haircut since I was in high school – between chin and shoulder length with long layers. If it works, go with it, right? I occasionally go a little crazy and get a short A-line cut, but that’s mostly so I don’t have to cut it again for a while. Like, a year. I always ask for something that will grow out well. If you can reduce the number of times you go in for a haircut, you save money.

Ask around, you might know someone (or have a friend of a friend) who can cut hair and is willing to do it for a reduced rate. I know of a few people around that used to professionally cut hair, but the economy has forced them to get other jobs so they cut hair out of their home. Maybe you can even barter a cut for services or stuff – put your crafty side to use and make something to trade!

Color
Blue hair!
I like my natural hair color (minus the white hairs) so I’m not that interested in dramatically changing the color. (Unlike high school and college… oh boy did I go through a lot of hair colors. Including blue. No, that photo is not retouched. I really had blue hair for a few months.) I find that having a hair color close to your natural color is the best solution – it’s bound to look good with your skin tone, and there must be some reason you have that hair color, right?

Because I’m not trying to really change my hair color, I’ve been using henna based hair color. It doesn’t lighten hair, so by using a color a shade or two lighter than my brown it dyes just those pesky whites and makes them look like highlights. Which I suppose they technically are when white, but I don’t want them to be quite so highlight-y. The brand I use has lots of shades, and a lot of them don’t have the red undertones usually associated with henna. The best part? The gorgeous hair. The second best? The cost – less than $5 on Amazon.

And do you know what’s free? Letting it go natural. Be brave and let those whites show. Maybe you have gorgeous hair and didn’t know it!

Condition
Ah, conditioning. I use two methods for intensive conditioning, and unfortunately neither of them are quick and easy. But they are so, so worth it.

Method 1: Henna. Yes, I already mentioned henna, but that was as a color. Henna also does a great job of conditioning hair, and I like it because it kills two birds with one stone (color and condition). If you don’t want to color, there are “clear” henna options – check the label, you want an option that has the henna plant in it, just without the pigment.

Method 2: Oil. A few times a year, generally when the weather changes dramatically, I’ll put on an old shirt and slather my head in olive oil. I’ll leave it on for hours – combing it out and pulling it back under a bandana. If I can, I’ll leave it on overnight and wash it out in the morning (don’t forget to cover your pillow with an old towel). You can use other oils as well, I have used cheap vegetable oil with good results. Others have reported good success with jojoba, avocado, and coconut oils.

That wraps up my week of frugally luxurious, natural solutions from the neck up! Dear readers, do you have some more suggestions, or things you want covered further?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Frugal Luxuries: Hair Care Part 1 – The Daily Grind

Not bad for no-poo!
I’m a low-maintenance hair type of person. Wash and go is my favorite “style” if you can call that a hairstyle. Except for winter, I blow dry almost daily in the winter (I can’t stand going out in the cold with wet hair). I don't even shampoo. No-Poo for me!

For daily care I wash my hair with soap. Yup, bar soap. Oatmeal and Almond natural bar soap, to be particular. And I condition with cider vinegar. I’ve been doing this routine for well over a year, and my hair and scalp has never been healthier.

How it works: Soap cleans your hair, but if you have hard water the soap doesn’t rinse thoroughly. That leftover soap can damage your hair and can leave the cuticles of your hair open. The cider vinegar rinses out everything and closes those scales, and neutralizes any residual soap. The cider vinegar also helps to keep dandruff under control. (I’d always had a nasty scalp until I started using this method, now it's nice and healthy!)

Directions:
  1. Wet hair
  2. Rub bar soap all over hair
  3. Scrub scalp with fingers
  4. Rinse with water
  5. Don’t panic, yes your hair will likely be feeling really odd by now
  6. Put a few tablespoons of cider vinegar on your hair and work in with your fingers, running your fingers through like you would with conditioner. Yes, it’s harder to work in than conventional conditioner, but it’s worth it.
  7. Rinse with water again
  8. Dry and style as usual

Tips:
  • Make sure it’s soap, not a beauty bar.
  • Put the cider vinegar in a squirt bottle, you really don’t want to have to mess around with a big ol’ container or an open cup. If you want to reuse/recycle, use a clean condiment container.
  • If your hair is ending up too dry, try using a little more cider vinegar, or try just washing every other day.
  • If it’s too “greasy,” use more soap, or soap up twice. Unless you have soft water (lucky you), in that case try using less cider vinegar.
  • I don’t recommend using a ton of styling products, but if you do then the washing method outlined above will wash out mousse, hairspray, etc.
  • If I find that I need a little definition I’ll smooth just a couple of drops of olive oil on my hands and run my hands through my hair, starting at the ends and working my way up. Don’t use too much to begin with, you can always add a few more drops if needed.

Cost: A bar of soap lasts months and generally costs anywhere from $1 to $5. A gallon of apple cider vinegar locally costs around $3. And drops of olive oil don’t really count. That adds up to… less than pennies a day? (Excuse my less than stellar math.) Either way, it's definitely frugal!

If you're interested in going a step further and washing your hair with baking soda, check out this article!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Frugal Luxuries: Sugar Exfoliating Scrub

I’ve always loved exfoliating my face. I don’t know why, maybe it’s because there’s such an immediate brightening result. Maybe I just like the itching. More likely it’s the feeling of doing something special, that once or twice a week pampering, unlike the daily routine that gets so hum-drum.

I’ve tried so many facial exfoliating scrubs since the first one when I was a teenager (it was the original formula, back then). That one stayed my favorite for many, many years, up until a few years ago when I started converting to natural solutions and started experimenting with mixing up my own concoctions.

After a few failed attempts with cornmeal (too rough), and staying far away from salt (that stuff burns, why would you want to exfoliate with it???), I fell back on sugar. I really like the combination of regular white sugar and brown sugar, the brown sugar is softer and makes the scrub less harsh. Also, the sugar dissolves so easily that rinsing is a breeze, and it tastes good if you get bits in your mouth unlike all of those store-bought kinds. Though I do not recommend eating it. Even if it is kinda tasty.

The ingredients are so simple: white sugar, brown sugar, olive oil. That’s it! How much cheaper can you get? The sugar and tea comes to maybe $0.75, the oil is less than a dollar, and even if you buy some of the more specialty oils it still is a bargain.

Don’t worry about the olive oil clogging your pores, most of it is wiped off when you rinse and what is left acts as a gentle moisturizer. I have combo/oily/patchy dry skin, and the scrub helps to keep my skin clear and looking great. I can definitely tell when it’s been too long without using it!

I also use this as a body scrub. After doing my face and before rinsing I’ll use the extra left on my fingers to exfoliate my hands, and they feel soooo nice after.

In my latest batch I decided to add some loose leaf tea – a few years ago it was all the hype to use caffeine in your beauty routine. Why not? It won’t hurt anything, and it smells divine. You could also try a couple of drops of essential oils – but be careful, a little bit goes a long way!

Note: This isn’t going to be the best solution for everyone, and you may have to tweak it to fit your particular skin type. If you have sensitive or delicate skin, try putting a little of the scrub in your palm and adding a few drops of water to make a paste and melt the sugar crystals a little, making it less abrasive. You can also try other types of oil, such as almond, flax, sunflower, or grapeseed.

Sugar Exfoliating Scrub
makes a little over 1 cup

½ cup white sugar
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup olive oil, plus a Tbsp or two
1 Tbsp ground loose-leaf tea, optional (I used chai)

Combine the sugar, ¼ cup olive oil, and tea, mix thoroughly. I use the whisk to pound the lumps out of the brown sugar as well as for stirring. You want the mixture to resemble damp sand. Add additional olive oil 1 Tbsp at a time until the desired consistency is reached. Store in an airtight container – like a pretty glass jar. It should last 3-6 months. You may have to add a little more oil every now and then and/or give the scrub a stir to keep it moist.

For your face – Using a teaspoon or two of the scrub, massage it on the skin in small circles avoiding the eyes. Rinse with warm-to-hot water. Use once or twice a week.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Frugal Luxuries: Oil Cleansing Method

two finished cleansers - one lavender and one grapefruit
You can wash your face with oil. And your skin will thank you.

Seriously.

I have combination skin, the kind of combination skin that not only is dry in the dry areas and oily in the oily areas, but will also flake and peel in the oily areas and break out in the dry areas. Blessed, I know. I’ve been trying to find a good skincare method since I was 12. I’ve spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars trying this and that wonder product, I’ve listened to consultants, I’ve done it all within reason and available budget.

Over the years I’ve found a few things to be true about my skin:
  • “Professionals” would tell me my skin is oily, and I know there was an oil slick going across my forehead, but it still felt tight and dry
  • Exfoliation does wonders for my peeling areas
  • I tend to get hormonal/stress related acne, which I can’t do a lot about
  • Undiluted witch hazel was my best defense against acne, and still is
  • I have freckles, and I choose to embrace them
  • And the best thing I’ve ever done for my skin is slather it in oil

Really? Oil to cleanse your face? You may ask. Yes. Our faces produce a lot of oil, and the best thing to dissolve it is oil. Think of it like cleaning oil paint out of paint brushes – harsh chemicals will work, but oil will too. Oil to clean oil. It’s even recommended by acne.com members. And, if you have dry skin oil is of course going to help moisturize.

My basic method is this:
Mix equal parts canola oil and olive oil. Massage a dime to nickel sized amount all over my face. Place a hot, damp washcloth over my face, let it sit for a minute or so to steam the pores, then wipe off the oil. If my face feels too dry (yes, that can happen), I moisturize with a little extra oil. I do this every day that I wear makeup. Sometimes when I’m in a rush I won’t steam my face, I’ll just wipe it off with a warm washcloth.

The basic rule of thumb recommended by people using the oil cleansing method is to use equal parts castor oil (which is a drying oil, don’t use it alone) and olive oil. I use canola and olive, and I find that works great for me.  This last time I added a few drops of grapefruit essential oil to a 1/3 cup batch of cleansing oil. Smells amazing, and has astringent properties. 

The key with doing the oil cleansing method is finding the right combination of oils for your skin. You can use any type of oil – some are more moisturizing, some smell better, and some are a lot less expensive than others. Common ones are olive, sunflower, almond, grapeseed, jojoba, hazelnut, flaxseed, and evening primrose. You can use vegetable oil if you really want to and it works for you, you can’t get much more frugal than that! Play around with the types and proportions until you find a combination that works well for you. And remember to give it a few days – some people have a bit of a transition time where their face can purge old ickiness, but it does get better.

Below I’ve listed a few additional resources on oil cleansing:
The Oil Cleansing Method
How to Clean Your Face Naturally and don’t forget to check out the comments
WFMW: Facial Cleansing
Skincare 101: The Oil Cleansing Method

Have you tried cleansing your face with oil? If so - What did you think? If not - Will you give it a shot?

Stay tuned - tomorrow I'll be covering exfoliation with sugar!

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Week of Frugally Luxurious, Natural Solutions from the Neck Up!

This week I’ll be discussing ways to care for your face and hair with natural products – most of which you can make for yourself from things you have in the kitchen!

I’m covering:


  • Cleansing your face with oil (no, I’m not kidding)
  • Exfoliation with sugar
  • Going poo-less, shampoo-less that is
  • Hair color without the harsh chemicals

Have you thought much about what you use in your beauty routine? I hadn’t. I used whatever looked like it might work, and those things always had lots of chemicals that I had no idea how to pronounce and no idea what they did. Sound familiar?

When I was pregnant with Max I had an ah-ha moment. I didn’t want to use potentially unsafe chemicals while I was pregnant because they might be transferred through my skin to my unborn son – so if I disliked these chemicals so much why would I want to continue using them after he was born? Am I not worthy of the same chemical-free treatment as my son?


I started researching safer methods to keep myself clean and pretty. I’d already been going poo-less for over a year, why not continue the trend? I found
Skin Deep: Cosmetic Safety Reviews at http://www.cosmeticdatabase.com/ and had a major eye-opener. You can search for your favorite products and find out how they rate on a scale of 0 (safe) to 10 (toxic). I was really surprised at a few of my favorites, and I immediately threw out half of the stuff sitting on my bathroom shelf (most of which was collecting dust anyhow).

I’ve been using these methods for at least a year now, some of them much longer, with a lot of success. What changes could you make in your beauty routine? Not only are you being friendlier to yourself by cutting out harsh chemicals, you’re doing it inexpensively. Don’t pay tens (or hundreds) of dollars on facial care. Pay twenty dollars. A year. Oh yeah, baby.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Coming Up: Natural Beauty Week!

Coming up next week – a full week (well, work-week) of natural beauty solutions from the neck up! I’ll be covering the oil cleansing method (for face), sugar exfoliating scrub (for face), and hair care.

Jessie tested, Jessie approved.

Tube Pans and Irrelevant, but Useful, Search Results

image source: Amazon.com
You know that commercial where the people will start spouting off search results? (And after a quick search on YouTube – it’s the Bing commercials for search overload. There we go.)

Even though it can be frustrating to get a ton of irrelevant results for your one search, if I’m not in a hurry I often really like that part about the internet. Or rather, how when you search for something – like for “tube pan” – you can find out all sorts of interesting things due to different people interacting and having discussions.

So, as you can guess, I searched for “tube pan” after reading a recipe that calls for using one. I was pretty sure she meant a bundt style pan, but I wasn’t sure. So I did a search, saw a few photos confirming the type of pan I was thinking of, and in the process found this link at Chowhound: Bundt Pan vs. Tube Pan? The comments supported my theory – that a tube pan is essentially the same as a bundt pan, minus the fancy curves.

AND, as a bonus, in the discussion I found out a handy way to cut corn from the cob. Set your corn cob butt-end-down in the center part of the bundt/tube pan and then slice down the edges, allowing the kernels to fall into the pan. Waaay easier than my slice-your-fingers-as-you-hold-the cob-on-the-cutting-board method. I don’t plan on growing corn this summer, but I do plan on buying a bunch when it’s in season and local corn goes for 10 cents per cob (if I don’t just get it free from friends). This will make prepping it for the freezer so much easier!

I love learning random, unexpected tidbits of information. Especially when they can be useful.

Oh, and this is a tube pan. This is a bundt pan, aka fluted tube pan.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Garden Plan 2011

click on picture for full size
I like to plan out my garden. As in on graph paper. With details, and codes, and number of plants. (yeah, I’m a little obsessive, but I blame the long winter) This year I’m expanding my gardening square footage with a community garden plot, woo! My 10x20 home bed is being partially used for bulbs and perennials while I re-do my flower beds this summer, so I needed a bit more room to stretch out. I’m also hoping that the woodchucks won’t frequent the community garden too much, or if they do that they have so much produce to choose from that they won’t totally decimate my crops like last year. But that’s another story…

I’ve reserved my 20’x20’ community plot, which handily is within walking distance of my house. We’ll even be having a community garden meeting in April. How fun! I may be splitting it with a friend, M, who doesn’t currently have gardening space, but if she is unable to I’ll just have to plant even more. Oh darn. <giggle>

These plans are just for my vegetables, the flowers will either be planted in pots or, in the case of the sunflowers, along the gardening shed. If M doesn’t use the other half of the community plot then I’ll just plant veggies there and reserve my home bed as a temporary home for flowers as I change the flower beds around.

In the first diagram I’ve listed out the veggies I’m growing this summer. I pretty much kept it to things we eat, things that produce well, and things that sell well. Since I’m starting all of my plants from seed, I needed to know how many to start. I’ll go with the maximum number (the one on the right), because I can always give away or compost extra plants. It may seem like I’m missing a classic: I’m not planting regular corn because when it’s in season I can get it for free from friends in exchange for tomatoes. I’m really good at growing tomatoes, which is good because the last few summers have been hard on tomatoes and I had a lot of people asking for them.

Which, in part, led to this year’s decision to expand my garden: I’m going to have a little produce stand to sell my extra veggies at. I’ll probably have a table outside my house and/or one at my parent’s house with honor-system payment. If I can figure out a schedule at work (working extra hours other days of the week) I’m going to see if I can get out early on Farmer’s Market days and set up a little booth. Hubby’s already approved of this plan, and is willing to pick up Max on those days. He’s happy for me to have an outlet that doesn’t require him eating massive amounts of chard. I’m sure the chance for a little extra spending money doesn’t hurt. If I can make back what I spent on the garden (a little less than $50 so far this year) then I’ll be happy.

click on picture for full size

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Making Toys


Max loves toys. Thank goodness, because otherwise he’d spend all of this time using me as his personal jungle gym. And I’ve found I love making him toys.

Knitting:
Lately I’ve been knitting teddy bears, and they are so cute! The patterns are easy too – knit, purl, increase, decrease. I can handle that. I also like that they’re small projects so they don’t take as long. Max isn’t into stuffed animals yet, unfortunately, but he was intrigued by the blue sweater. I’m currently working on a monkey for a friend who is going to be a grammy for the first time. Traditionally I’d make baby sweaters for new arrivals, but I’m having so much fun making toys that I think I’ll do that now instead. If you want to give it a shot, but don’t want to spend money on patterns, try looking up free patterns online. Or do what I did and request books from your inter-library loan.

A few tips on knitting (or crocheting) toys:
  • You want a tight knit so it doesn’t show the filler when you stuff it. Follow the suggestions in the pattern, or if you want to use the yarn you have (and you’re totally allowed to do that) and you don’t have the recommended gauge, I’ve put together a little cheat sheet. This is based on my knitting tensions, so you may have to adjust needle sizes depending on how you knit.
    • Needle size (US sizes):
      • Sock/Fingering/Baby – 2
      • Sport/Baby – 2.5
      • DK/Light Worsted – 3
      • Worsted/Aran – 4
      • Bulky – 6
      • Super Bulky/Roving Yarn – 8
  • If you use buttons make sure to attach them really, really, really well! You don’t want them to come off, even with some chewing, as they can be a choking hazard. You can use safety eyes or use yarn or embroidery floss to fashion eyes as well.

Sewing:
I haven’t done much toy sewing, but I did make a fish. It’s a little weird looking, but it’s soft and Max likes it. I also did a multi-colored pumpkin style pillow using scraps of flannel. My (adult) cousin likes it more than Max does, and when he comes over he grabs it to toss around squish. I may have to make him one too.

Building:
I’d love to make a kitchen set like Regan did over at A Day in the Life. I don’t have all of the tools, but I might be able to borrow them. Another neat idea is to repurpose furniture into a kitchen set like Pure and Lovely.

An easier woodworking project I might try are blocks. Just cutting up a 2x4 into chunks, sanding them down and maybe painting them. Maybe add in some thick dowels for round blocks. Super-duper easy.

Miniature bear!

Have you made toys? What have you done? What would you like to do?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Frugal Luxuries: The Library

I’m a reader. Or, I was a reader until I became a mommy. Now I’m a fugitive reader, reading on the run.

My husband’s a reader also, and we have a pretty extensive personal library. At last count it was between 1500 and 2000 books, and maybe 50 magazines (mostly his, I chop my magazines).

That’s a lot of cash sunk into books, I know. We seldom purchase them at full price, and we’ve been collecting them since we were teens, but it’s still a lot of money over the years. Lately we’ve been trying to be good and kick our book buying habits, reserving purchases for books that we know we will re-read by authors that we love.

So, what are the options besides purchasing books? Borrowing them, of course!

Most libraries are public and free for residents, and many have audio books and movies as well! Some are even coming into the digital age, allowing patrons access to e-books and digital audio books. And if your library doesn’t have a book you’re looking for, ask if they have an inter-library loan system so you can borrow books from other libraries.

I love our local library, it’s an old building with beautiful character, and I grew up using that library. We even had our wedding in that library. But their choices are a bit limited. They have fantastic children’s and young adult sections, and personally I love their sci-fi/fantasy section (it’s very much to my taste). But, the rest of their selection, while very good, is small and once you’ve read through it you’re a bit stuck.

To this end we purchased a one-year subscription to a much larger library in the town I work in. It’s $45 a year for a single person, and they belong to a large network of libraries which expands the selection even further. We’re able to get e-books and digital audio books, and the audio books are great for when I’m busy with Max but still want to “read” a book!

If you haven’t been to your local library lately, give them another look. Maybe they’ve been busy upgrading since the last time you visited. Or, if you’re in need of more selection go the next town over. Do a little research and find out what library is connected to a network and has access to digital selections. It opens up a whole slew of options.