Monday, February 29, 2016

clean up!

I started making my own laundry detergent a couple years ago. Not only does making your own detergent eliminate all those plastic bottles, it's also far, far cheaper than storebought, readymade detergent and you'll know exactly what's in there. All good things! =)

For my first batch, I made the liquid version found here, though there are directions all over the internet if that one doesn't float your boat. That first batch lasted me over 2 years! I mixed it up in December, 2013, and just ran out a week or so ago. Granted, I'm only washing laundry for one person and some critters so yours might not last quite as long, but still...

Now that I have a source for bulk laundry detergent (my local co-op), I can avoid the trash that way, but making my own still saves me a lot of money. Plus, I still had plenty of leftovers from making the first batch so this batch was basically free. ;-) This time, I went for the powdered version to see which I liked better.

All the ingredients necessary.
I chopped up the soap before breaking it down further in the food processor.
All mixed up and ready to use!
I found the soap broke down a bit smaller when I added some of the powdered ingredients to the food processor with it. I've washed a few loads now and it works just as well as the liquid batch. I was using 1/2 cup of the liquid detergent per load. With the dry, I'm using 1/8 cup and combining it with hot water before adding it to the washer because I don't wash in hot water. Not sure that's necessary, but there you go. =)

I still have enough washing soda for 2 more batches with enough Borax for 3-4 more batches. You can get a bar of laundry soap at almost any big grocery, your local co-op or health food store, but options are open. I chose to use an herbal bar from Wolfe Farms for mine. Check out their bulk soap deal - 4 bars for $10!

I keep the environmental and economical friendliness going after the wash cycle ends. Once it warms up enough, I use my clothesline and the power of the sun/wind to dry my laundry, but in the winter, I do use my dryer.

A set of felted wool dryer balls and a dried lavender sachet that live in my dryer.
I attempted to use my clothesline in the basement, but everything took forever to dry... days. So I went back to the dryer. There are ways to cut back on the drying time (saving electricity) and trash (avoiding dryer sheets). Using a set of felted wool dryer balls not only cuts drying time, but also helps cut back on wrinkles and static. And really, who wants to spend time ironing? ;-) I also sewed up simple cotton sachets and filled them with organic dried lavender. All the relaxing scent without the added chemicals! I made mine myself, but there are lots of alternatives to purchase a set of dryer balls and lavender sachets if you aren't up to taking the time and effort making your own. I've gifted a few sets of these now and everyone seems to love them!

Have you ever made your own laundry supplies?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

a craftsman's legacy

Thanks to a post on Instagram awhile back, I got hooked on watching A Craftsman's Legacy*. If you haven't seen it, check it out! It's awesome. :-) The host, Eric Gorges, highlights a different craftsman (or woman) each episode and we get to learn a bit about their craft right along with him. The highlighted crafts run the gamut so there's something for everyone to enjoy!

I love this sentiment shared by woodworker John Wilson in the very first episode:
Perfection is... the best you can do today.

In the technology-driven days of today, handcrafted items and the skills required to produce them aren't always appreciated as they once were and sadly, we are losing a lot of these skills that years ago were common-place. Thankfully, artisanal products have been gaining popularity in recent years as many yearn to go back to the basics so some crafts have been making a resurgence.

I love creating things with my hands, but I wouldn't call myself an expert in any of my crafts. I tend to do a little of everything, but I do love encouraging others to try new things and do what they love so maybe that's my legacy...

What legacy will you leave?

*Follow the link and join the Legacy Society (totally free) and you'll gain access to the entire first and second season online. :-)

Monday, February 22, 2016

vegan peanut butter brownies, anyone?

Ready for some more Monday munchies?

Okay, they're not so brown, but they are yummy! I tried out a recipe shared by my local co-op awhile back and they definitely make it onto my make-them-again list.

I cut the recipe in half and used an 8x8 pan, cutting the cooking time by around 10 minutes. I didn't have enough chocolate chips to make the ganache too but these are great without it. They are pretty rich so I won't be making them often, but for an occasional treat? Perfect! Maybe I'll even make the ganache next time. ;-)

The recipe can be found here. You're welcome. =)

Thursday, February 18, 2016

the paradox of choice

There's been a lot of discussion the past several years that supports having a lot of choices doesn't truly make us any happier. Having more choices actually more often results in dissatisfaction. Being faced with a lot of choices can paralyze us as we try to weigh out which is the "best" choice. Which features are most important? Is this brand better than that one? Did I pick the wrong one?? Even after we make our choice, we're less likely to be happy with it if we chose from a wide variety of options. Faced with only a few options, our choice is quick and simple and we're much more likely to be satisfied with the choice we made.

I'm finding I really enjoy having fewer choices in both my food and my other purchases. By avoiding packaging, I'm limiting myself to foods sold in bulk which (very happily) cuts out most brand name choices. For most food items, my biggest choice is whether to buy organic or not. If there is a brand name item in bulk, there's likely only the one choice anyway. Food shopping is quicker, easier and costs less too. Always good! Most trips to the co-op, my biggest choice is which flavor of locally brewed kombucha to try (there are 3 on tap and change from visit to visit). To make it easier, I bring two bottles now. =)

Only shopping for previously owned items limits my choices there as well. While I could have many more choices using online forums like eBay and Amazon to find secondhand items listed from all over the country, so far I'm leaving it up to fate (and avoiding the shipping costs and packaging too) by only looking locally. The best part? If I find one good secondhand option, I'm happy with it. No time spent comparing brands and features, no hunting for the best sale price, no wondering if I made the right choice. One good option at a reasonable price? That works! And again, it's a lot more budget-friendly too. Who wouldn't love that?! =)

Check out this TED talk for Barry Schwartz's ideas on the subject:

Monday, February 15, 2016

vegan comfort food

Are you ready for some Monday munchies? :-) To avoid packaging waste, I'm cooking even more from scratch so I thought I'd share some of my favorite waste-free recipes with you all.

Buying food without waste (or as little as possible) doesn't mean it's all veggies and grains all the time. It does mean that "comfort food" might take a bit more time and effort than popping a frozen dish in the microwave though. ;-) So out came one of my favorite cookbooks - Quick and Easy Vegan Comfort Food by Alicia C Simpson.

Okay, technically, I have this in digital format, but anyway... I quickly assembled all the ingredients, most of which were sourced from the bulk bins, of course. =) 

All the makings for yummy vegan mac & cheeze!
Since I don't keep a ton of food on hand, I've managed to use up most of the trash-producing foods I had on hand prior to swearing them off. I finished off the little bottle of organic lemon juice with this recipe so it'll be fresh lemons from here out! The garlic will be around awhile, but once that's gone, I'll be buying fresh cloves. I really should use my garlic press for more than making hair for gingerbread men. (Yeah, you read that right.)

I've tried quite a few recipes for vegan macaroni and cheese over the years. Some get their cheesiness from nutritional yeast or packaged vegan cheeses. This one is by far my favorite! The "sauce" is nut-based, a combination of macadamia nuts and raw cashews (both of which my co-op has in bulk!). There are also veggies blended up in there. =) Once combined, it's finished off in the oven with a crunchy topping of bread crumbs. And yes, it's creamy!

can't recommend this cookbook enough! Check it out from your local library and let me know if you give any of the recipes a try! =)

Leftovers went great with homemade black bean burgers too:

 Yummy vegan black bean burgers with homegrown sprouts on a ciabatta bun from my local co-op.
The recipe for the burgers can be found here. The original recipe calls for canned beans, but you can avoid the plastic-lined cans and get bulk dry beans and cook them yourself like I did so making this recipe can be trash-free. :-) A can of beans is about 1.5 cups of cooked, rinsed beans. I also don't use my food processor for these. The processor results in too little texture for my preference so I simply use a potato masher to mash the beans and combine everything. So good!

I've been buying bulk bagels so when I saw the "Bagel Biter" in the pic above at Goodwill, I happily took it off their hands. It works great on buns too! It wasn't on my list, but it's getting lots of use here. :-) If you see one, snap it up! I picked this one up for only $3 (vs $20+ for a new one).

I've also used my new popcorn popper a couple of times. I LOVE it!!

Yum! Fresh popcorn!
Whoever donated it has no idea what they're missing! Super fast and so much better than what I recall microwave popcorn tasting like. I even made a little batch of kettle corn. Yum!

I'm so glad someone decided they wouldn't use these items and donated them! This is one reason I love donating my unneeded items. The money will go to support those in need and someone will get a great deal on something they will love. So much better than things winging up in the landfill or collecting dust at the back of a cabinet or hidden away in the basement. That's definitely a win-win to me. =)

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Thursday, February 11, 2016

practicing patience

I've been a little surprised at times just how quickly I've found secondhand items on my list! Sometimes, it's been almost like shopping in new stores (just with fewer options). A couple of times, I've added an item to my list and was able to take it off after my next shopping trip, but occasionally something takes awhile to find. That's when my patience and resolve may be tested.

Last year, I kept an eye out for a great deal on a weaving loom for about 6 months before finding the right one. Not a big deal. It's not like I use it everyday, right? It was something I knew I'd enjoy having, but certainly not a necessity. But what about something I do use almost every day that I suddenly no longer have the use of? Would I cave and buy it new if a good used item didn't turn up quickly? A couple weeks ago, my toaster oven went belly up. It was fairly inexpensive many years ago and I've used it almost daily for baking small batches and reheating leftovers (I don't own or want a microwave) without having to heat up my big oven so I'm certain I got my money's worth. Even so, it was a real disappointment to turn it on and... nothing. Boooooo. I played around with it to see if any settings still worked. Nope. Dead.

I discovered my sad, still-cold dinner when the timer went off. =(
I'd been on this path of not buying new for not quite a full month when this frequently used appliance took a permanent vacation, but my first instinct? Check craigslist. Not Amazon. =) I suppose my new way of living has officially stuck! I did check craigslist and found a couple of fairly reasonably priced options, but by the next day, I was reconsidering that route. I know I've seen plenty toaster ovens in the thrift stores in the past and at less than half the price these new ones are selling for on craigslist so... I decided to exercise my patience and wait for that great deal to come along. I'll keep an eye on craigslist too just in case. Until then, the stove top will just get a little extra work.

I'll admit, I love the empty space on the rack!
Would it be easier to hop on Amazon and order a new one? Yep! But easy isn't always the best way. =)

Monday, February 8, 2016

the imperfect environmentalist

My latest read is The Imperfect Environmentalist by Sara Gilbert. Sara would approve, I borrowed it from my local library. ;-) 

There is a lot to love about this book. Each topic is contained to only one page, making this a good, quick reference for anyone looking for the basics and not a long read full of dry statistics. Each topic starts with a super quick overview entitled Cut to the Chase, Hippie: What's the Least I Need to Know that is usually just a couple of sentences. This is followed by more information should the reader want to know more. Many topics also include suggestions of changes to make for those on varying budgets.

Topics are organized into sections on clean eating and drinking, clean house, clean home, clean garden, clean health and beauty, clean community, clean work and money, clean transportation and travel, clean parenting and clean rights of passage. 

A lot of the information was already familiar to me, but I definitely learned a few things and picked up some new tips from this book. She notes on the book/newspaper/magazine page that when considering an e-reader, one would need to read 23+ books a year on the device to offset the carbon footprint. The production (then recharging and hopefully eventual recycling) of e-readers requires significant amounts of energy, water and other often nonrenewable resources. Considering I already utilize the library's collection fairly regularly, I think a kindle will likely be coming off my list of things to look for secondhand unless I work out a swap with a friend who has upgraded theirs. For personally owned books, I do prefer digital copies for the space-saving factor, but do I read enough to make a dedicated e-reader a positive addition? I don't buy many books these days and those I already have can be accessed using the tablet I already own. I think I just need to keep using the library and putting in requests for additions to their collection for those titles not in their current collection. :-)

In some instances, I wish there was a bit more information included - statistics are tossed out with no backup - but if you're looking for a great entry into making more environmentally sound choices, I can definitely recommend this book to get started. Though it's a serious topic, Sara includes humor throughout to lighten things up. No one is perfect and we all have to decide for ourselves what changes are sustainable in our lives, but there are lots of ways we can all make a difference!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

why I budget... and a financial milestone!

For about a year and a half, I've been on a budget. A real, written, $0 based budget a la Dave Ramsey.

Like most people, I used to wing it with money. I was normal. I had a car payment. I carried a credit card balance month to month. I was putting some money away for retirement, but not a lot. As my income increased, I got better at avoiding debt and no longer carried a balance on my credit cards from month to month, but did still use them regularly. I paid off my Jeep and wasn't looking for an upgrade anytime soon. I sort of kept track of where my money was going, but too often I was a little surprised at my credit card balance each month when I went to pay it off. I really spent that much?? I was putting money in savings, but not always as much as I should have been able to. I was doing better... but it wan't enough. Then in October, 2013... I bought a house.

I started listening to Dave's radio show about a year after buying my house. I would stream an hour a day through a podcast app. (Now, all 3 hours are available as a podcast to stream or download.) I had already been paying extra on the mortgage so I could drop the PMI (private mortgage insurance) I was forced to pay because I hadn't had a 20% down payment, but I realized I could be doing so much more! Then I checked out The Total Money Makeover from my local library. Mistakes had been made that I didn't even know I was making. If I'd only had this great advice sooner! Since we don't have access to time machines yet, all I could do was work to remedy my past mistakes and move forward. Thanks to working massive amounts of overtime, I was able to refinance last February with no PMI and a lower interest rate (not to mention the new 15-yr loan term).

These days, I have no credit cards at all -- yes, I had that irrational momentary panic when I closed the last account over a year ago, but now? I don't miss them one little bit! There are no surprises! If there's no cash in my wallet? I don't spend anything. =) I'm still driving that paid for Jeep and I use cash for most things (aside from mortgage and utilities paid online). I built up an emergency fund and have other savings for non-emergencies that come up. Those unexpected expenses? They may be a little annoying, but they aren't crises anymore. No need for a credit card when you're prepared!

Thanks to the changes I've made this year, buying only secondhand and shopping without waste, I've been able to cut my spending even further which works well with my much more relaxed work schedule. In the past, I'd worked overtime whenever possible and too-often, as much as allowed. Now, I work a nice 40-hr week and have time to enjoy life again. I get to enjoy my down time because I'm prepared, I'm not stressed and I actually like the people I work with. And that overtime? I don't miss that either. Sure, overtime would mean a bigger check and quicker progress, but is it worth it to give up all my time?

And thanks to sticking to a budget, look what I got to do this week!

Woo hoo! I've officially paid off 1/4 of my original mortgage total! And... my next payment will leave me with less than 6 figures in debt which makes me even happier! Progress may have slowed a bit since reorganizing my priorities and making time for a life again, but it's all good. I'm still on track to pay off my home in only 10 years (versus the 30! I originally signed up for) and that is enough. Debt is bad, but so is not having time to relax and enjoy life. =)

If you're looking for a plan to get out (and/or stay out) of debt, I can definitely recommend Dave's plan. He's full of common sense advice. There are no quick-fix promises. It takes work and time, but becoming debt free is definitely possible! And absolutely worth it. I'll get there and so can you!

Monday, February 1, 2016

January craftiness

How is it February already?! January just slipped by me. I didn't do much crafting the past month, but I did have a few of finished projects and another project started.

First up, a shawl design by one of my favorite designers using a skein of indie-dyed yarn that's been in my stash far too long:
Trillian by Martina Behm
The yarn is 100% organic merino dyed by Gynx Yarns in the Cancun colorway. I love how this yarn worked up and the design is super simple to knit without referring back to the pattern much at all. The garter stitch makes this fingering weight shawl nice and squishy but the border adds a bit of interest to an otherwise simple design. The pattern is written so that any amount of yarn may be used, designating the minimum percentage you must have remaining to complete the shawl so you can resize the shawl to fit the yardage you have. I had only one skein of this yarn and was happy I could use nearly all of it without fear of running out and having to rip back. :-) I've knit several of this designer's pattern now and can certainly recommend them! They are simple, fun knits and perfect when you don't want something complicated.

My second knitted item finished in January was a scarf:
Gallatin Scarf by Kris Basta
Another simple knit using less than one skein of worsted weight yarn. I chose a basic wool in a tonal green from my stash and am really happy with the result. Knit on larger needles (US 10.5/6.5mm), this scarf practically flies off the needles! This was another design that required minimal pattern checking as I knit. The result is a fun, reversible scarf with lots of texture. This works up into more of a scarf than a shawl, but the design would be easy to adapt if a shorter, deeper shawl were wanted. I think it's great as is though and hope whoever receives it enjoys it. I'm adding it to my bin of shawls to be donated this coming Fall.

My batch of bulk bin bags were the only sewing I did this month, but I have plans to spend more quality time with my sewing machine soon! I did start a new weaving project:
warped and ready to go!
"Start" is about as far as I got. I got my loom warped with this bright, summery cotton/acrylic blend (you can't see, but there's sparkle too!) and then realized I needed two pick up sticks to make what I'm planning work. Yeah... I really should have read some directions first! lol I refuse to pay $10+ per stick and since I'm not buying new, those were out of the question anyway. So for now, the project waits patiently on my loom while I hunt for secondhand yard sticks. ;-)

Were you wondering what my last "new" purchase was last year? Wait no more!
a second heddle kit for my secondhand loom
Of course it was craft-related! I bought this (along with the 2nd heddles to match the two that came with my loom) on December 31st when my local yarn shop had 25% off for their year end sale. I knew these had the potential to help me burn through a lot of my stash yarn and I also knew they'd be tough to find secondhand, especially for the price I paid. So I splurged a bit. Nice way to end the year, I think. Once I find those yard sticks, expect much more weaving! I'm super excited to try double weaving! :-)

I'd get more accomplished if I stuck to one craft, but what fun would that be?!? ;-) Everything will get done when it gets done. No pressure. I craft what (and when) it makes me happy. :-) Are you multi-craftual too? Or more disciplined than I am? 

(links for fibery projects will take you to my Ravelry project pages - if you don't know, Ravelry is free... and awesome!)