Make Your Own Foaming Hand Soap!

This tip is a real winner: You can make your own foaming soap in about one minute by mixing just two ingredients.  Foaming soap will save you a lot of money because you’ll need less soap to get clean.  Refilling your foamer will save even more money and reduce the packaging you discard.  You can use plant-based soap, which is better for the environment and probably better for your health than soap made from petroleum distillates and undisclosed chemicals, without breaking your budget.  You can choose whatever scent you like!

This is not a sponsored post.  I’m recommending two specific products (a foamer and a soap) that have worked really well for me for several years.  However, if you already have a soap foamer and a plant-based liquid soap, try them together!  I’ve used several brands of soap and never found one that didn’t work.  You may need a higher ratio of soap to water if your soap is not as concentrated as Dr. Bronner’s.  Some soaps settle to the bottom overnight; just shake to re-mix. Read more of this post

All-Natural Vegetarian Non-Refrigerated Convenience Foods

This is not a sponsored post.  This is a recommendation of products I tried and liked.

Daniel and I try to make enough real, from-scratch, healthy food that I (working in an office) can take leftovers for my lunch every day and he (working at home) can get something ready to eat within a few minutes rather than spend time cooking at lunchtime.  It works out better at some times than others.  In the past year, with the additional distractions of getting our baby daughter ready to go each day, I’ve had more days when I didn’t have time to pack a lunch, couldn’t spare the attention to figure out what leftovers were available, or wasn’t able to carry a lunch because I was bringing something to work (like dish detergent) and there’s a limit to what I can carry along with Lydia and all her gear as we commute by bus!  I was grabbing Trader Joe’s meals from our freezer sometimes and eating in restaurants much more often than normal.  I like restaurants, but at $6-$9 per lunch, that gets expensive!

One day I was buying some milk for my coffee and mixed nuts for snacking at the CVS store half a block from work when I noticed a sale on foods in pouches and noticed that many of these were vegetarian foods.  I took a closer look and saw surprisingly unobjectionable ingredients.
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A Real-Life Menu (early summer)

I was recently asked by a reader to share what one of my family’s meal plans really looks like. I’ve previously described how I plan the menu even though Daniel cooks our weeknight meals, how from June through November I’m planning around the vegetables we receive from our share in a local organic farm, how I write the menu a few days at a time on a sheet of scrap paper held up with magnets on our steel kitchen cabinet door, and how each of the multi-week menus I’ve posted is based on the weeks that fit on one sheet of paper…but when I write those menu posts, I write out a lot of details about what we ate and why. My actual instructions to Daniel must be much briefer, to fit 3 or 4 weeks on a page–what do they look like?

Well, here you go! Since you’re not Daniel (who isn’t a mind-reader, but after being happily unmarried for 21 years we do think along the same lines) I’ll explain the things that I see need explanation, and I’ll be happy to do more explaining in the comments if you have questions! Recipe links are at the bottom. Read more…

Top 3 Veggie Burger Recipes

Daniel and I have tried dozens of varieties of veggie burgers in the past 15 years or so, since they started appearing in stores and restaurants.  We gave up meat for Lent in 2002, and since then we’ve never gone back to eating as much meat as we used to eat.  In particular, we really don’t eat hamburgers anymore, after learning that grinding meat causes any bacteria on the surface to be distributed throughout the meat and that ground beef and chicken are the meats with the highest risk of food poisoning.  But we do like to eat a tasty chunk of protein on a bun with ketchup and pickles!  We buy frozen veggie burgers sometimes, but they tend to cost around a dollar per patty, and they’re packed in plastic, and they’ve been shipped across the continent in a freezer truck, and many of them feature large amounts of genetically modified, isolated soy protein.

Here are our 3 favorite recipes for homemade veggie burgers, and then some tips on how to cook and freeze them.  All these recipes work well for making “meatballs” or nuggets instead of full-size burgers, if you prefer. Read more…

My Father Taught Me How to Be a Working Mother

When I was born, my mother quit her paying job so she could be home with me.  She did not take another job until I was almost twelve years old.

I resumed working outside the home when each of my children was twelve weeks old.  After Nicholas was born, I went back part-time and later gradually increased my working hours until I was back to 40 hours a week when he was four years old.  After Lydia was born (when Nicholas was nine years old), I returned to my job full-time.  It isn’t easy!  Forty hours, plus commuting time, is a long time to be away from home even when you’re only taking care of yourself; when you have young children, it’s a time-management struggle as well as an emotional struggle over being apart from the kids so much.  My mother–who’s been a great role model to me for things like breastfeeding, intelligent discipline, and making healthy food–was not much help as I figured out how to balance parenthood with employment.  It’s my father whose example has really helped me understand what’s important and where to cut myself some slack.

Oddly enough, it was an insensitive comment my father made that led me to realize his value as a role model for me. Read more of this post

Technology to Help You Be Energy Efficient and Environmentally Friendly This Summer

This is a guest post by Maria Ramos, who offered to share her research on these new technologies with my readers.  I’m not a smartphone user myself and don’t carry any other high-tech device routinely, which is one way to conserve energy…but if you’re already carrying a device or you’re considering getting one for other reasons, adding energy efficiency to its tasks is a great idea!  Also, some of these products are things you set up in your home that don’t require a “smart” device to control them.  It’s interesting to learn what’s new in climate control!

Maria is a freelance writer currently living in Chicago.  She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a minor in Communication.  She blogs about environmentally friendly tips, technological advancements, and healthy active lifestyles.

With summer just around the corner, many people expect to use their air conditioners heavily in order to stay cool during sweltering days. Doing so, however, traditionally consumes a lot of electricity, costing a pretty penny and harming the natural environment. This situation is changing with the development of new technological products that aim to cut energy consumption with consequent benefits both to the earth’s ecology and consumers’ pocketbooks.

The Apple Watch and HomeKit app aim to make it easy to control devices from different manufacturers from a single interface. As long as they use compatible products in their homes, people will be able to adjust their thermostats, dim and raise lighting levels and manage a lot of other functions right from their Watches. They can thus turn off appliances when they don’t need to use them, reducing energy consumption. Many smart home devices from different producers haven’t worked well together in the past, but now they’re being brought together through the HomeKit interface.

Those who are put off by the Apple Watch’s high price, starting at $349, may be interested in the Misfit Flash fitness band, which only costs $50. Although it’s primarily designed to help users exercise more efficiently, Misfit has extended its capabilities through partnerships with other companies. Users can use the Flash to control thermostat equipment from Nest, smart home systems from Logitech, and many other devices. With the right products from partner firms, users of the Flash will be able to lower their energy usage by finely controlling the performance of their home equipment. Read more…

Book Reviews: Mysteries and Mars

These aren’t the only books I’ve read in the past few months, but I noticed two themes that led me to group these reviews together.

A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin

P1020132This classic mystery was written in 1953, and reading it in the original edition (courtesy of Daniel’s mother) helped me get into the mood.  I’ve never seen either of the two film versions, which is good: This story is best if you have no idea what to expect from it, and some of the twists just simply wouldn’t work if you could see who’s who rather than relying on the viewpoint characters’ perceptions.  I won’t give away the plot except to say that you may want to avoid this one if you’re pregnant or have a new boyfriend.  It’s really fantastically written, with plenty of clever tricks that prevent you from noticing that you’re making assumptions until some of those assumptions are suddenly overturned.

Although the story is set on Earth and all characters are humans, the book will be enjoyed by readers from all worlds, as indicated by this symbol on the cover of the Inner Sanctum Mysteries hardcover. Read more of this post

Grildebeen Burgers (homemade veggie burgers)

Most supermarkets these days sell convenient frozen veggie burgers.  We’ve eaten a lot of these, and most of them are quite tasty and nutritious.  But they tend to cost around a dollar per patty, and they’re packed in plastic, and they’ve been shipped across the continent in a freezer truck, and many of them feature large amounts of genetically modified, isolated soy protein.

This is one recipe for homemade veggie burgers that we really like.  Four years ago, I explained how we were still calling them by the original recipe’s name even though it didn’t make sense with our modification of the cooking instructions…and how that made me think of a future animal, the Grildebeest.  In the comments, my brother asked if we’d now be calling the burgers Grildebeens.  Ultimately, yes, we modified the recipe to be a little more to our taste, and we are still making these burgers regularly and calling them Grildebeen Burgers.  So here’s our recipe! Read more of this post

‘Becca Misinterprets the Signs

After a discouraging morning at work, I journeyed to a slightly farther-away restaurant than usual, in search of an invigorating lunch.  (By this I mean that they have free refills on coffee.)  After eating, feeling much perkier, I noticed for the first time that one of this restaurant’s signs is missing a letter, so that it was directing me to The Restooms.

I was happily distracted from the boring biological activities of the next two minutes by imagining my vacation to The Restooms.  These must be a series of interconnected caves of unusual smoothness and beauty, furnished with embroidered silk pillows for lounging.  I think they’re in North Africa somewhere.  I felt more relaxed just imagining being there.

Then, on my way back toward work, I noticed a new restaurant with the highly disturbing name of Chick’n Bubbly.  Their signature dish must be horribly fermented chicken–no, maybe it’s one of those highly engineered vegan chick’n products made of genetically modified soybeans or filamentous fungus.  As I drew closer, I could read smaller words on the sign, which explained that this establishment offers “chicken bites & bubble tea.”  So you go in there to get a bubble tea, and a chicken bites you.  Fun for the whole family!

Earth is quite an entertaining place if you just read the signs and let your caffeine-fueled mind roam freely.