Archive for Frugal Living

Summer Organization

As summer vacation approaches I find myself furiously planning out the days ahead.  Ninety(ish) days of total freedom.  No work.  No school.  Okay, maybe that’s a little overstated.  I tutor and work a very part-time job over the summer and I do a relaxed homeschool schedule with the boy-child.  But after that, baby, it’s all fun and sun.

Some people plan big vacations in the summer.  Personally, I find vacations to be stressful.  The packing, the traveling, the stress of navigating a new location, the spending exorbitant amounts of money.  In my opinion, there is a very short period of time in which said vacation is enjoyable and more often than not, it’s just not worth the hassle.  Thankfully, my husband feels the same way and my son, while he loves dreaming of going away and doing things, is really a dyed in the wool homebody at heart.  As a family, we decided a few years ago to compromise and do a larger family vacation biennially.  In the off years, however, we opt for a quiet “stay-cation” at home.

While the idea of having nothing to do and endless hours to lounge and laze around does sound appealing, it would get old after awhile.  Really.  Really.  Old.  In all honesty, I would go out of my mind.  I need some structure.  So, what in the world do you do with three months worth of freedom when you want to keep your budget reasonable but still have a memorable summer?

Early on I will typically spend some time researching special events that will occur throughout the summer and write them on the calendar.  Then, as a family we will sit down together and make a list of local attractions that we would like to visit.  This year we’ve also compiled a “100 Things of Summer” list, which includes some personal goals for each of us, home projects, day trips and fun free things to do at home.  Finally, we purchase season passes for places that we will frequent many times.  Every year our season passes include a State Park pass, Philadelphia Zoo and Plumpton Park Zoo a small, locally owned zoo where we sometimes volunteer.  While it may seem redundant, we get our money’s worth and then some from both of these zoos.  I love the Philadelphia Zoo pass because of its fantastic Reciprocal Zoo and Aquarium program.  In recent years we have also added a fourth pass to the mix though it has changed each year.  A local museum was usually the choice, however, this year we have decided to go with a private pool that is less than 5 min. from our home.  To say that they boy-child is excited would be an understatement.  I can’t even begin to count the number of times that he has asked, “how many days until the pool opens?”

At the beginning of the summer I lay out a basic template for each week:

Monday – library
Tuesday – park/$1 movie day
Wednesday – zoo
Thursday – stay-at-home, board games, movies etc.
Friday – misc. outings

Sometimes the weather dictates that we swap days here and there but this gives me a general idea of what I want to accomplish in a given week.  My husband has off every other Friday throughout the year and in the Summer, he will typically take off those other Fridays using his vacation days.  This gives us one day as a family to head off to places I might not necessarily drive on my own.  Making Thursday our “stay-at-home” day is perfect then since we are able to get the house clean before my husband’s day off.  The other days are pretty self-explanatory.  We go to the library each week for new books, CD’s and movies.  We hit a state or town park each week and sometimes participate in the $1 Regal Summer Movie Express.  I am excited since this year the theater will be playing plenty of movies that we haven’t seen in the Summer Movie Express.  On zoo day we visit our small locally owned zoo and oftentimes volunteer.  On weeks that we don’t volunteer we make sure to take bags of produce and herbs for the animals.  Last summer the boy child and I were able to feed Jimmie the Giraffe some of said herbs.

Something else that we do in the summer is a modified summer homeschooling but that is fodder for another post.

Until next time!

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The 100 Things of Summer!

I love lists more than any sane person probably should.  After reading a To-Do List For Summer 2012 at The Provision Room I was inspired to create my own list of 100 things to accomplish personally, around the house and with the family this summer.  I can’t wait to get started!

  1.  Visit the Plumpton Park Zoo
  2.  Visit the Philadelphia Zoo
  3.  Visit Longwood Gardens
  4.  Visit Hagley Museum
  5.  Visit The Franklin Institute to see “The Dead Sea Scrolls”
  6.  Go ice skating
  7.  Sleep on the back porch
  8.  Make strawberry lemonade from the garden
  9.  Hiking at Lums Pond
  10.  Hiking at Iron Hill Park
  11.  Ghost Tour at Rockwood Mansion
  12.  Delaware Shakespeare Festival
  13.  Wilmington & Western Railroad
  14.  Cecil County Fair
  15.  Have a bonfire with roasted hotdogs and marshmallows
  16.  Make the boy child a root beer float
  17.  TCM Essentials, Jr. Family Movie Nights
  18.  Go-Karting
  19.  Batting cages
  20.  Miniature Golf
  21.  Walk 100 miles
  22.  Get certified as a NWF Wildlife Habitat
  23.  Make ice cream
  24.  Go berry picking
  25.  Watch a meteor shower (in July!)
  26.  Do at least 5 of the 77 Super Fun Date Night Ideas from Stay At Home Susie
  27.  Make Homemade Bodywash courtesy of Proverbs 2 Six
  28.  Brew my own Kombucha thanks to Delicious Obsessions
  29.  Make Homemade Natural Bug Repellant thanks to Frugally Sustainable
  30.  Make Homemade Sunscreen courtesy of Sustainable Life
  31.  Make an Important Documents Binder thanks to Your Own Home Store
  32.  Summer Reading program
  33.  Attend at least one extra activity at the pool this year (ie. Floating Movie Night, Wiggle Worm Night, Family Fun Night etc.)
  34.  Build a Fairy & Gnome House at the park on Sat. July 7
  35.  Pan for Gems at the park on Sat. July 23
  36.  Visit 5 State Parks
  37.  Have a sleepover for the boy child.
  38.  Camp out
  39.  Make sno-cones
  40.  Visit someplace we’ve never been.
  41.  Visit Booth’s Corner with DH
  42.  Make Strawberry Freezer Jam
  43.  Make a succulent terrarium
  44.  Stay in bed one stormy rainy day with the boy child watching movies and reading books
  45.  Picnic at the park
  46.  $1 Regal Movies
  47.  Watch fireworks
  48.  Go to a baseball game (the males)
  49.  Invent a new type of pizza
  50.  Make breakfast pizzas
  51.  Take flowers to mom’s, pop pop’s and Memi’s graves
  52.  Hooked on Fishing – Fair Hill July 11
  53.  Blackberry Festival – Milburn Orchard July 28
  54.  Read aloud 2 books to the boy child (titles to be determined)
  55.  Build a seed packet organizer
  56.  Make flashlight puppets
  57.  Stargazing and dessert at night
  58.  Let the boy child make dinner by himself
  59.  Take an exploratory drive to nowhere
  60.  Build a Mazon Bee House
  61.  Technology Free Day!
  62.  Take a walk in the rain… barefoot
  63.  Go bowling
  64.  Play race cars with the boy child in the driveway
  65.  Have a paper airplane race
  66.  Listen to 10 audiobooks
  67.  Swim… a lot
  68.  Lazer tag
  69.  Freezer cooking day at the beginning of summer
  70.  Make something for someone
  71.  Volunteer
  72.  Take an archery lesson with the boy child
  73.  Go to Washington DC
  74.  Go to Hershey Park
  75.  Start a gardening/herbal medicine binder
  76.  Read the Bible through in 99 days
  77.  Go out to breakfast
  78.  Write to my Compassion child
  79.  Spa day
  80.  Declutter every room in the house
  81.  Summer Home School
  82.  Watch the Olympics
  83.  Visit the museums in Old New Castle
  84.  Celebrate Christmas in July
  85.  Play balloon volleyball
  86.  Make banana bread
  87.  Set up Vermicomposting Bin
  88.  Have a picnic breakfast
  89.   Read 10 books from my shelves
  90.  Install a third rain barrel
  91.  Build and install rooftop garden boxes
  92.  Paint the bistro set and trellis
  93.  Install the bat box
  94.  Remove Weeping Cherry Tree
  95.  Plant Apple Tree
  96.  Have a garage sale
  97.  Finish the turtle pen
  98.  Organize photo albums
  99.  Whittle down the boy child’s clothes
  100. Pare down bookshelves

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Deodorant – A Stinky Subject!

Some people are utterly and irrevocably opposed to using deodorants or antiperspirants because they are unnatural; because they are cancer-causing; because we were designed to smell in such a way.  I believe that each person must choose for themselves instead of following the herd and if deodorant is where you draw then line, then I can respect that… just don’t be offended when I need to take a breather mid-conversation.

A couple of years ago there was a big stink – no pun intended – over the possibility that antiperspirants contain cancer-causing agents.  As of yet, there is no conclusive evidence that this is the case, however, there are a few facts that seal the deal for me.

The skin is our largest organ and whatever you put on it is, by default absorbed into your body.  The two heavy hitters in the deodorant debacle are Aluminum compounds and parabens.  Aluminum compounds are most commonly  listed as Aluminum  chlorohydrate or Aluminum zirconium tetrachlorohydrex gly.  The problem is that aluminum is absorbed and accumulates in the body.  Some research indicates that there is a connection between aluminum and Alzheimer’s Disease.  Parabens are those curious ingredients on labels that include methyl, ethyl, propyl, benzyl and butyl.  These little critters are derived from Toluene, a toxic petrochemical derivative.  It is common knowledge that toluene is toxic if swallowed or inhaled and can be caustic to the skin.  Think about other instances in which you find these -yl laden ingredients – plastics, oils etc.  That alone makes me a little suspicious of putting it on my skin.  Some evidence indicates a connection between repeated exposure to toluene can cause reproductive problems.  Additionally, research shows that certain parabens act like estrogen in animals and tissue cultures, a driving force in the growth of cancer cells.  These aren’t the only uglies you’ll find in deodorants and antiperspirants.  There are also pesticides and various carcinogenic compounds that can cause anything from skin irritations to allergies and even organ damage.  Do you really want to put this toxic soup on your skin?  On your KIDS?

Thankfully, there is a middle ground between going au naturale and smearing Aluminum zirconium tetrachlorohydrex gly, cyclomethicone, C12-15 alkyl benzoate, synthetic wax, PEG-8 distearate, hydrogenated soybean oil, fragrance and BHT under your arms in order to get that “oh so fresh” scent.

There are great commercially manufactured deodorants such as Terra Naturals, Weleda or Aubrey Organics that contain all-natural, non-GMO, petroleum free ingredients that are vegan and not tested on animals.  There is also a little gem called the Thai Deodorant Crystal made from alum, a completely safe and natural mineral salt not to be confused with aluminum.

Several years ago I started using the Thai Deodorant Crystal.  It was a revelation for me.  At the time I had no transportation and walked everywhere.  I would routinely walk 3 – 10 miles a day in the dead of summer.  Let me assure you that there is a level of sweat and stank there that is incomprehensible to those who are not outdoorsy types.  The Thai Crystal allows your body to sweat out toxins as our bodies are designed to, however, the alum neutralizes the odor causing bacteria on the skin.  How cool is that, right!?!?!  For two years I used the stone religiously and all was well.  The only problem I had was some slight stinging when applied immediately after shaving.  SALT Crystal + Underarm Shaving = OUCH!  Allowing a bit of extra time after shaving before application seemed to work well.  And then suddenly though, I developed a rash – a red, angry rash of blistered welts cropped up under my arms one day and I couldn’t even lower them down to my sides without pain.  I remember sitting with frozen washcloths under my arms for days trying to find relief.  To this day I don’t have a clue as to what actually caused the rash but I remember thinking at the time that perhaps it was some sort of yeast.  I decided to try a fresh stone but this time I got the Roll-On stone instead.  Like before though, all was honky dory in the land of the pits until – BAM – another outbreak.  This time, I was done.  I have to say that there are THOUSANDS of people out there who successfully use the deodorant crystal for the entirety of their lives.  I am still a big supporter of it if it works for you.

While all-natural deodorants can be purchased, I’ve come to see the value in choosing homemade whenever possible and so I set out in search of the perfect homemade deodorant.  One of my first attempts was a dry powder of baking soda and cornstarch.  That was an epic fail.  Not only is it messy and unsightly (really now, who wants white powder all over their clothes) but when you start to sweat it becomes a sort of paste.  I used this once and never again.

I won’t bore you with all the failed attempts at homemade deodorants, but I will tell you what did work.

Homemade Solid Deodorant

1/2 C. solid coconut oil
1/4 C. baking soda
1/4 C. cornstarch
few drops essential oil (I use eucalyptus)

Warm the coconut oil just enough to soften it.  Do not liquify.  Using an electric mixer, mix the coconut oil, baking soda and cornstarch until completely integrated and it looks like a thick cream.  Add a few drops of your favorite essential oil and mix thoroughly.  I chose eucalyptus oil because of its antiseptic properties and because I like the scent.

Once the deodorant is mixed, spoon it into a cleaned out roll-up (not roll-ON) type deodorant tube such as those from Lady Speed Stick or the like.  Use the cradle of the spoon to create a smooth and rounded surface at the top, replace the lid and store in the refrigerator.  One recipe has lasted me for two years.  I have not since had to re-make it.

After using this concoction for over two years I have found a couple of pros and cons.  I love that this is so cheap and easy to make and that there are no specialty ingredients that I have to store solely for this purpose.  We use coconut oil for cooking, essential oils for many purposes and the baking soda and cornstarch for cleaning and cooking.  The deodorant tube can be used over and over again.  Coconut oil is an excellent and natural moisturizer that is quickly absorbed into the skin.  It is also incredibly good for the body internally, making it the perfect binding agent.  Everything goes on completely clear and I have never experienced a white or greasy residue on any of my clothes.  Of course, the best part is that it works!

Alternatively, I do find it to be a bit “damp” when I put it on but a bit of air-drying allows the coconut oil to be fully absorbed into the skin.  Avoid over applying.  There is also the issue of coconut oil liquifying at mid-range temperatures.  For home use it is perfect to store in the refrigerator but I would not recommend carrying it on a long trip where it would be stored in a hot baggage area, tent or cargo-hold.  The alternative here would be to carry it in a sealed jar or tub to be applied with your hands or to use all-natural store-bought deodorant to be used for those special occasions.  I am told that some coconut oils have a higher melting point and that is an option, however, I haven’t researched it.

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Laundry Day

Laundry is not a sexy subject so I’ll get right to the point, traditional laundry detergents are both expensive and extremely unhealthy for both you and the environment.  Additionally, they can be pure hell for those with sensitive skin and severe allergies.

With the exception of some expensive eco-friendly, allergen-free types, detergents contain an awful lot of nasties that are quite harmful to humans.  For instance, synthetic surfactants like alkylphenol ethoxylates are used to loosen soil from clothes, help water penetrate fabric and produce suds.  They can also disrupt your endocrine system, affecting metabolism, reproduction and growth.  Hey, maybe your laundry detergent is making you fat!!!  🙂

Environmentally speaking, inorganic phosphates are a big problem.  While they are used in detergents as a “builder” to build the detergent’s efficiency by removing hard-water minerals, they also create a condition in fresh water called eutrophication.  Basically, excessive amounts of phosphates get into the water system where algae and phytoplankton feed on it and reproduce in massive numbers causing algal bloom.  Algal blooms block out sunlight and deplete oxygen levels creating the inability for the water to sustain aquatic life.

So, what’s a conscious homesteader to do?  Well, you can wash your money down the drain buying those eco-friendly detergents or you can use nuts.  WHAT?   Okay, so you’re not going to throw a handful of peanuts in the wash and call it a day.  These little gems are aptly named, Soap Nuts and they are the dried fruit of the Chinese Soapberry Tree containing the “active ingredient” saponin.  Soap Nuts are all-natural biodegradable, hypoallergenic, low-sudsing and completely safe to both the environment and your body.  In fact, they are so safe they can even be used as a toothpaste or fruit and vegetable wash.  The spent nuts can be reused a number of times before finally adding them to your compost pile.  If you don’t have a compost pile, you should.  At the very least, you can just toss them outside to biodegrade naturally.

There are a couple of ways to use Soap Nuts in your laundry.  First, you can simply place a few nuts in the drawstring bag that comes with them, tie it up and chuck it in the washer.  For years I used this method, however, since the nuts  can be reused for multiple loads of laundry, there was always the issue of digging through a washer full of wet clothes to find the bag for the next load.  Can you say, needle in a haystack?

The other option is the one I’ve been using for awhile and it is beyond simple.

Liquid Laundry Soap

12 soap nuts

6 cups water

old 1.5 qt. detergent bottle
Boil 6 cups of water and soap nuts on the stove.  Remove from heat, cover and let sit overnight.  Strain out the soap nut pieces and funnel the liquid into an old detergent bottle.  Add a few drops of pure essential oil if you choose or leave it as is.  Use 1/4 – 1/2 cup in each load depending on size.  Increase for excessively soiled laundry.

This mixture can also be added to a spray bottle and used as an all-purpose cleaner around the house or as a fruit and vegetable wash.

You will find the color of the liquid to be nearly clear with a hint of a yellowish brown.  The smell of the berries themselves and the resulting liquid is pleasantly earthy though I have found that no trace of their natural scent is ever left on my clothes.  Their natural smell is so light that it easily washes out in the rinse cycle.  Something you will notice in the wash is just how little your soap nuts will suds compared to traditional detergents.  Low-sudsing means that there will be no residue left on your clothes to irritate your skin and that it can be safely used in High-Efficiency washers, which require low-sudsing detergents.  Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t the suds that cleans the clothes.  Sudsing agents are added to commercial detergents to give the appearance that they are doing their job.

For the economically conscious homesteader, soap nuts are a bargain.  In 2008 I bought a 1-kilo bag of Soap Nuts from Amazon.com for $40 (that includes shipping).  Three years later, washing at least 5 loads a week for a family of 3, I have only used about half of the nuts.  I can’t even begin to tally their savings over using commercially available eco-friendly detergent.

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