Thursday, October 9, 2014

Try These Suds On Your Duds

I've written about replacing fabric softener with vinegar and, in August, I blogged about the new bleach I'm using, so it only seems fair I should write about my experience with homemade liquid laundry soap. I made my first batch in August and have been using it (along with homemade bleach, vinegar, and a favourite laundry bar soap), exclusively, ever since.

To say this new mixture is thriftier than store-bought is a huge understatement. But, as with everything, it's not solely about saving money but about how well the product actually does the job. A good laundry soap cleans and deodorizes. A good laundry soap doesn’t leave behind anything objectionable that might harm the body, or stiffen, abrade, and/or discolour fabrics. By all these criteria, I have to say the new detergent is working fabulously well. It cleans, leaves the fabrics smelling...well, clean...without any odor (good or bad) and it leaves everything SO SOFT.

When I first replaced fabric softener with vinegar, the laundry was rinsed well, and the fibres plumped up nicely, but sometimes the fabrics felt stiff. I thought the vinegar was merely limited in its softening ability – we do have very hard water here. I was wrong, though. The problem, it turns out, was the laundry detergent. As soon as I replaced the commercial detergent I was using with this homemade liquid detergent recipe*, the laundry has been coming out supremely soft. (*Note: some recipe measurements are slightly off, so the total volume is less than stated; also, given our hard water, I use more than the recommended per-load amount.)

Homemade Liquid Laundry Soap
Soft fabrics are delightful, but the real test for hubby and I is the effect the detergent has on our skin. Both of us, for different reasons, have sensitivities to ingredients in many commercial cleaning products. This new recipe has proven a "friendly" mixture for us both. Neither of us has suffered any of the rashes and skin irritations we had become used to dealing with. This result isn’t completely about personal perception, either. Ironing proves the difference. Where wrinkles in fabrics were once set so severely the iron was hard-pressed – literally – to straighten them, now, ironing has become a breeze. Also, after ironing, the fabrics remain soft and don’t have that “starched” feel they once had.

This is probably due to the absence of ingredients like builders, fillers, surfactants, emulsifiers and “optical brighteners.” While their omission might be reassuring, it does mean spending a little more attention to stain treatment prior to the wash cycle. For instance, surfactants attach to dirt and lift them from fabrics, suspending their molecules in the wash water and preventing their return to the fabric. The homemade detergent has no surfactants, so I use a favourite laundry bar soap for pre-treatment of any stain and our laundry is as clean as ever.
Just a few simple products now...
It seems the old adage, ‘less is more’ holds true with this cleaner, as with so many others I’ve made at home.  A simple mixture works as well as anything else we were using. No, that’s wrong. This laundry soap is better.  It’s very gentle on our bodies, on our fabrics, as well as on our budget!

Thursday, August 14, 2014


When I was a kid, my mother used to catch me in the bathroom, mixing up concoctions of lotions and perfumes.  It was horrible stuff; little wonder Mom objected.  That desire to experiment, though, probably explains my current passion.  It thrills me to take basic ingredients, common in our house, and mix up new recipes to create a wide variety of household and personal care products.  My most recent experiment led, ultimately, to an inexpensive, environmentally safe way to clean calcium-lime deposit from the showerhead.
The product I first sought to replace was chlorine bleach.  Years ago, I limited its household use to laundry, only (for ecological and personal health reasons.)  Even this limited use was too much, though, so I kept searching for an alternative -- something less toxic on the environment and less corrosive to fabrics and my hands than conventional bleach.  The substitute I found  is so mild I can wash my hands with it, yet it works as well (if not better) than chlorine bleaches, which tend to cause yellowing of many white fabrics.  This homemade bleach recipe is very quick to make, costs me pennies per use, and has even brightened those yellowed items.  This bleach leaves laundered fabrics free of chemical assault and refreshingly UNscented, as is the washing machine, also.
The most impressive result I got with this bleach, however, was not in the laundry room.  I had tried a number of household cleaners, both home- and commercially-made, and couldn’t find anything to clean the growing calcium-lime deposit from the showerhead.  Other people recommended bleach to remove the build-up, so I figured I’d try this new recipe instead.  After removing the showerhead, I soaked it, for a few hours, in a small measure (about 1 cup) of this mild mixture:
1/2       cup                  Hydrogen peroxide
2          tablespoons      Lemon juice (Or:  substitute 1/2 teaspoon citric acid)
3-1/4    cups                 Water
5          drops               Lemon essential oil 

Makes a little less than a quart.  Use approximately 1 cup per load of laundry – results vary depending on water hardness.

I wouldn’t have believed the results if I hadn’t seen them first hand!  The crust, now fallen away from the showerhead, was a slurry of scale at the bottom of the measuring cup[prose].  The liquid had changed from clear to a slightly green-blue tint, but there was no toxic fumes or odors.  A few persistent grains still clung to the plastic on the showerhead, but a quick brushing removed them.  The showerhead now looks as clean as it did when new.
The success of this “other application” for the new mixture proves there is often other potential uses for these homemade products. The ecological concern, which prevented me from using bleach as a cleaning agent, is no longer present and that opens up other cleaning possibilities.  Once again, the results of simple test has jazzed my experimental spirit.  This is what keeps me avidly seeking out new recipes, as well as finding new applications for the fantastic products already discovered!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Don't Break Your Bank!

I watched my granddaughter graduate this year, and got thinking what sort of advice I might offer those young men and women.  There are so many opportunities and endeavors ahead of them.  Being a textbook-case Cancer, my thoughts naturally turn to home, and that leads me, inevitably to my passions – caring for family, household management and thrift.  Then, I knew what I would say. Worry about your OWN bottom line, and the country will take care of itself.   Perhaps one of the greatest modern bug-a-boos is “If you don't shop, our economy will go down the toilet.”  This is an over-simplification of a complex issue.  In a FREE market, this is true.  In the highly speculative and “futures” market of today, this generalization, more often than not, hurts the individual.
Worry about your OWN bottom line, and the country will take care of itself.   Perhaps one of the greatest modern bug-a-boos is “If you don't shop, our economy will go down the toilet.”  This is an over-simplification of a complex issue.  In a FREE market, this is true.  In the highly speculative and “futures” market of today, this generalization, more often than not, hurts the individual.

Do not fall for it. Yes, there is absolutely a correlation between goods and services bought and sold, and the country's economic growth and stability. HoweverBut, coercive rhetoric is often employed to get the consumer to shop, shop, SHOP! It's all about the corporate bottom line, and their ability to pay desired shareholder dividends. It has little to do with saving the country’s economy, merely their own.  If individuals overspend and incur onerous debt, the country is far more vulnerable to economic meltdown and paralysis than it would be if everyone spent within their means. This fact will never satisfy the corporate appetite for ever-increasing profit margins, though.

The current trend is to sell. Sell HARD. Doesn't matter is the product is any good, or if it’s the ideal solution for the customer; it matters only that it is SOLD.  Good luck getting service, warranty or even technical support after the transaction is complete.  Despite all promotions to the contrary, know this before you purchase anything.

From time to time, I place an online order and really enjoy the ease of shopping, the variety of products, and the quick and convenient home deliveries. What I don't enjoy is getting an email, from the same vendor, a week later “wondering” why I haven’t made another purchase. Excuse me? If I need anything, I'll order. If I forget something, I'll re-order. Prompting like this is what I call anti-advertising:  the overt (to me) insatiability makes me never want to shop there again.

Perhaps the most irritating tactic by retailers is the buy "x" number and get "y" free. If a person needs only one, the others are superfluous, and thereby offer no savings, but waste. The only exception being, when those items store well and are intended for eventual use, then consider the extra items. Otherwise, the purchase supports the merchant’s bottom line, not your own. You're certainly not saving anything.

This first key to a balanced budget is to know the difference between want and need. Even necessary expenditures can entice us to spend beyond our means when we allow ourselves to get “up-sold” on features or modifications that are more flash than requirement.

The second key is to learn the value of your own work. In other words, how many hours did you work in order to afford that cool whatchamacallit? Would you so willingly spend those hours at work for it? If the answer is yes, then, even if it is a want, it will add to your quality of life, and that is important. However, more often than not, when you include "hours worked" in your mental calculations, it will more clearly define those wants and needs.

We all know that when spending is greater than earnings, there is deficit. Everyone concerned with balancing his or her household budget knows this. Only a rarified few, who rely on and indulge too heavily at the money-trough called ‘Consumers’ Hard Work’ fail to accept their own influence on the lingering economic malaise. Despite their fear mongering, however, restoring the economy will never depend upon your purchasing any whiz-bang thingamajig. It seems there is little any individual can do to affect this current trend of abuse and gluttony by community leaders, but there is no need to feed the beast.  So, whatever you do, don't fall for the marketing hype. Buy what you need when you need it, and save for things you foresee needing. Use credit as little as possible; save it for those emergencies when need is greatest.

The next time you feel pressured -- by corporations, by advertisers, by news broadcasters, by politicians -- ask yourself if you really NEED what they’re selling.  When shopping, ask yourself, who is best served by your purchases?


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Cut Back to Get More

Good weather has finally arrived here in Cache Creek.  Grass is greening and bulbs are sprouting.  I've spent the last two weeks alternating a day of yard work with three of recuperation.  During a recent achy day, while brainstorming ideas for this blog, I happened to look up “thrift.”  Here’s one definition by :  … “5. an obsolete word for prosperity.”  Huh.  That led me to their definition of prosperity:  … “3.  thrift - First meant acquired wealth, prosperity, success.”  The idea resonated with me more than the usual definitions.  Then I noticed one synonym of thrift is “good husbandry” and that’s when it hit me:  Why not share the thrifty-come-prosperous work I've been doing?

Mainly, said yard work, which was pruning.  The place we rent has several perennials and trees all of which were left on their own too long and had grown rangy and tangled.  They were more than unattractive; they were blocking the light for other plants.  Worse, their crops of flowers, buds and fruits had diminished in quantity and quality.  Some had stopped producing altogether.

Slowly, over time, I've pruned the plants, and now they are becoming strong and productive once again, not to mention attractive and pest-free.  It seems contrary to cut back branches, cut down stalks, or saw away boughs, but a carefully pruned plant will actually produce better when extraneous limbs are removed.

Pruning anything, whether it be a tree, a bush or a perennial must be done at its suitable time of the year, though.  Spring and mid-winter are the most common times to prune shrubs and trees.  Some plants benefit from pruning right after summer flowering.  Many perennials or canes produce more blooms or fruit if continually dead-headed and/or harvested.

Once you have research on each plant in your plot and their varying requirements for pruning and trimming, you can make notes on your calendar.  I like a quick review before pruning, though.  Some plants can be cut right down to the ground; others to specific limb-joints.  Some benefit from the old or main stock being preserved while others are cut back to allow new growth to replace it.  Far too much information for me to recall without a brief refresher referencing one of my gardening books.

Oh, and one little reminder – I seem to forget this each spring – before you head out to do any yard work, remember to do a five minute warm-up.  It’ll save you some Epsom salts.  : /

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Spice It Up This Valentine’s Day

Where I live, in western Canada, Valentine's Day usually comes at the coldest time of the year, almost without fail during the last wintry blast of the season.  While both Valentine’s Day and cold weather are excellent excuses for snuggling with your Sweetheart, when you both suffer arthritic pain, romantic gestures are just not as…cozy.  Hand-holding can be downright terrifying.  Hubby and I, diagnosed with Rheumatoid and Osteo-arthritis, have found a few home remedies that give us relief.

The best – and the most difficult – remedy was an exclusion, yet the results for Hubby were dramatic.  He once had a 1400 ml per day soda habit, plus he enjoyed candy and sweet treats.  When I showed him the research I'd found on the negative effects of refined sugars on arthritic pain, he began cutting back.  After a brief period of withdrawal, Hubby noticed a lessening in both the intensity and frequency of his pain episodes.  That convinced him.  Now, he rarely drinks soda, and continues restricting his consumption of sweets, candies, and alcohol (which is, essentially, another source of refined sugar.)  As a result he suffers only rarely, often during the most frigid days of winter.

That's when I employ a few soothing foods and there are several which have been shown to either exacerbate or alleviate symptoms of arthritis.  Long ago, we eliminated or restricted those aggravating foods, and being a firm believer in the healing benefits of whole and natural foods, I was eager to use foods shown to have healing or soothing properties.  Really, it was an easy choice.  Since I have limited my intake of salt/sodium, the task of heightening flavours has been taken over by spices and herbs.  So, garlic, ginger, turmeric and cinnamon, (along with many other spices) were already ever-present in our diet.  Learning of their arthritic pain-relieving properties, we quite happily bumped up our use of those four powerhouse spices.

The most common home-remedy we use is a Cinnamon spread:  one part organic cinnamon to three parts
pure honey.   Some sources recommend a twice-daily cinnamon and honey hot drink, while others debunk it as ineffectual.  We use good quality organic cinnamon mixed with pure honey from a known and reputable source, and enjoy the mixture regularly, if not daily, slathered on morning toast or dolloped into tea.  In doing so, we find joint stiffness and swelling are reduced and we maintain relatively smooth ease of motion.

Ginger and garlic have long been staples of our diet, but when the situation calls for it, I’ll use massive amounts of both to “dose up” a batch of my "Healing Soup" -- a home-made ramen-style soup loaded with veg in a hearty and spicy stock – to alleviate bouts of Arthritic pain, or even to ease an upset stomach.  We're also big fans of curries, so turmeric and garlic are also used in similar Asian-style dishes, but turmeric’s effect seems more subtle than cayenne.

Ahh…that little red chili pepper!  Cayenne has quickly become our drug of choice, though we don't use the capsaicin cremes or ointments.  We simply add minced pepper, fresh or dried, to whatever we're cooking.  Its pain-relieving effect was so pronounced, I grew a few plants last summer.  Prior to that, we rarely consumed spicy foods as we both suffered heartburn.  However, when eaten in moderation – I use about 1/3 to 1/2 of a cayenne pepper for a 2-4 portion meal – there is only a mild and pleasing heat, a brighter flavour than black peppercorn, and no heartburn.  Not only does it relieve pain, it also warms the body!

There are other foods said to help with Arthritic pain -- cherries (fresh, canned, or dried), borage, fish oils high in omega 3 & 6, alfalfa seeds, and Ginkgo Biloba -- but we have little or no experience with these.  Well, we eat fish, regularly, and some of it (when we can get it) is high in those omega fats; and we do eat cherries, occasionally, throughout the summer; but we haven’t noticed any marked difference in our levels of pain or mobility after eating either.  That, however, could be due entirely to our infrequent consumption of them.

Regardless, there are many ways a person can relieve symptoms of arthritis, and not all of them come from a medicine cabinet.  If you or a loved one is suffering with stiff, sore, arthritic joints, and the thought of holding hands makes you want to run screaming, try warding off the chilly with the chili.  Or perhaps some Cinnamon Spread instead of the usual Valentine sweets?  Maybe a romantic dinner at a Thai restaurant where they use plenty of garlic, ginger, and chili peppers?

You know…spice things up a little!  ;)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

8 Ways to Save Bread

A Canadian Grocer article caught my attention.  It’s about two film makers’ experiences with dumpster diving and food waste.  What an eye-opening read.  One shocking statistic, I thought, was the amount of wasted bread.  That 13% includes waste from bakeries – not just food from households – but that amount of baked goods thrown away is still alarmingly high.

Our own kitchen was once an example of why.  When our children left home, we couldn't get through a loaf of bread before it dried out or went mouldy.  Week after week, we would waste another partial loaf.  After a few months of that, I was looking for better ways to store bread.

The solution was simple and is still in use.  We freeze fresh, sliced loaves of our favourite breads and remove slices, only as needed.  It takes some forethought as the bread requires about half an hour to thaw, but then it’s as soft and tender as it would normally be -- although, thawing should be done in a sealed container to prevent drying.  We haven’t wasted a loaf since!

Here are seven more ways to reduce bread waste (crusts work well for a few of these):

1)      Stuffing:  use day old or dry bread – absorbs flavours without loosing body.
2)      Melba Toast:  use dry bread from uncut loaves; cut into thinnest possible slices; remove crusts; bake in a 250 degree until crisp and golden and all moisture is withdrawn; store in cool, dry, place.
3)      Panade (soup thickener):  fresh or dry bread; blend into soups or stews to thicken; combines well with leek, celery, sorrel, watercress, spinach and cabbage soups.
4)      Bread sauce:  dry, finely-ground bread crumbs are substituted for flour in pan sauces; best served with wild bird or roasted meats.
5)      Bread pudding:  use dry bread or stale cake.
6)      Bread crumbs:  use dry bread – if not dry enough, bake in a 200 degree oven until crisp; grind and then store in a cool, dry place in a container not too tightly lidded (to prevent moulding.)  A rotary hand grater works well when only a small amount of crumbs are needed.  Cookie crumbs can be made similarly and are a tasty addition to some desserts. 
7)      Croutons:  dice fresh or dry bread, sprinkle with your favourite cooking oil, herbs and spices and bake in a 375 degree oven until crisp and golden.

With the holidays coming, I’ll be employing a few of these uses.  My “crust collection” from various breads will stuff the turkey, and I have plans to make Melba toast from the heel of one of the Pumpernickel loaves I’m baking.  It’s time to refill our bread crumbs, too, for topping the turkey casserole, so I might just grab a loaf from the clearance rack at our local bakery – we rarely have enough dry bread at home anymore.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Cleaning Up

Fall cleaning is the absolute worst.  Something about having windows and doors open through the summer
adds an extra-stubborn layer of desert dust and sagebrush pollen to the house.  This year, I’m experimenting, using home-made cleaners, exclusively.  Along with old standbys like this glass cleaner and these furniture polishes I've added a few new cleaners.  The results, so far, are astonishing!

Though this blog deals with thrift, the monetary savings, of using homemade rather than my usual store-bought cleaners, are not huge.  The cost of homemade cleaners varies based on cost of individual ingredients and the quantities used of each.  Regardless the formulation, though, all the homemade products I’m using cost less, per use, than their store-bought alternative – which I (once) bought in bulk for maximum economy.  Despite modest savings, that’s not what prompted the switch.  This year, I was interested in using milder ingredients which might prove gentler on sensitive skin and the environment (both indoors and out.)

The problem is, I’m a bit of a clean freak and if these homemade products didn't work, I’d likely break down and buy some environmentally friendly commercial product which would.  It turns out, I don’t have to make that choice.  The cleaners and polishes work as good as or better than all the old products I previously used.

For example, our bathroom had accumulated calcium/mineral deposits dating back prior to our arrival.  I've been working at them, scrubbing furiously, trying to remove that dull coating.  Nothing I used touched it, though.  Then, a few weeks ago, I tried this tub & tile cleaner and, with far less hard work, our tub is actually glossy.  Short of a tub replacement, I thought that was impossible.  Not only is this cleaner a snap to make it makes cleaning a snap!

I had a similar experience with the all-purpose cleaner.  Without any soap, this solution cleans grime with a swipe.  Stubborn gunk, stuck on the window frames – another rental inheritance which also seemed hopeless – scrubbed off this time.  Amazing!  My old cleaners didn't touch the build-up, yet this mild solution was a true performer.  Best of all, after a full day, with bare hands in and out of several batches of this all-purpose cleaning solution, my hands remained soft and suffered no burning sensation.

By far, the most stunning discovery was the distinct lack of allergy symptoms.  I had always assumed the reactions both hubby and I endured were due to all the flying dust, dirt, and pollen while spring- and fall-cleaning.  Imagine our surprise when, after using none of the usual cleaners, after using only home-made cleaning solutions, we've suffered  none of our usual symptoms.  This has never happened before!  Then, it occurred to us:  the lingering odours, so prevalent when using store-bought cleaners, were absent and yet the airborne detritus had been more plentiful than ever.

The chores aren't over yet.  Fall cleaning is still ongoing.  I’m not as swift at it as I once was.  Aching muscles need a day or two to recover before tackling the next room or project.  Good thing I have an arsenal of cleaners that make the workload just that little bit lighter.  Without burning skin and thundering sinus headaches, the process should move along much more quickly, too.  For us, these are reasons enough to switch!