Make a Soap Saver: neat, clean bar soap with no waste!

The finished Soap Saver hangs in the shower.Photographs by Nicholas Efran

This is a handy tip I learned as a Girl Scout that I still use in my home today.  It’s a great project for Girl Scouts (or any group of kids) as a follow-up to soap carving: kids can put their soap scraps in the Soap Saver and then add any bits of soap they have at home.

A lot of people have switched to liquid soaps, foam soaps, and body-washes instead of bar soaps.  One reason for this is that a bar of soap sitting in a soap dish accumulates a puddle of water underneath, which has an unpleasant look and texture, may harbor germs, and gradually dissolves the soap so that a lot of it ends up being wasted.  A soap dish in the shower really wastes soap if it’s positioned such that the shower water falls on it, causing the soap to melt rapidly and drip from the soap dish onto the shower floor, making the floor slippery.

The other problem with bar soap is that as the bar gets smaller and smaller, it’s more and more difficult to get the soap you need.  You end up turning it over and over and over in your hands, wasting time.  But it’s annoying to throw away perfectly good soap just because it’s a small piece.

However, most hotels still give out bar soap, and most of us don’t use the whole bar during our stay.  If we leave it, they’ll have to throw it away.  It’s best if we can take it home and make use of it.

Also, there are some nice soaps that are available only in bar form, not in liquid, that you might want to use if only you could control the slimy mess problem.

What you need is a Soap Saver!!

pack of 3 Other than soap, the only material needed for this project is a long, narrow mesh tube.  It should be at least 12 inches long; 18 inches is better.  You might happen to purchase some type of fruit or vegetable that comes in a mesh bag you can reuse.  If not, the best source is a scrubby-puff, like these, which I found in a 3-pack for $1 at a local dollar store.

intact scrubby puffOf course, if you happen to have a used scrubby-puff that you don’t mind destroying, that’s even better for the environment than cutting up a new one.  Each puff will provide enough mesh for 2 or more Soap Savers, depending on the size of the puff.

In addition to saving soap, this gadget saves time, because the mesh helps the soap lather up quickly so that you spend less time rubbing it.

Probe through the layers of your scrubby-puff until you locate the cord that holds it together. Carefully slide one scissors blade under the cord and clip it, being careful not to cut a hole in the mesh as you do so. (If young children are doing this project, an adult should prepare the mesh in advance.) Unravel the puff into a long tube of mesh. Cut it into appropriate lengths.
Scrubby puff is made of a mesh tube secured with a cord. unraveled mesh tube--enough for 2 Soap Savers Cut the length of mesh in half with scissors. Read more of this post

Costco vs. Gordon Food Service

It’s Works-for-Me Wednesday!  It’s also Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, so you might want to check out last year’s suggestions for Lenten fasts that help the environment or my musings on vanity and seeking help.

I’ve been a member of Costco for some time, and the money we save by buying some things in larger packages there more than makes up for the $50 annual fee.  Last year, I found out about another store that sells things in big packages, GFS Marketplace (Gordon Food Service), which doesn’t require membership; anyone can walk in and buy things there.  Which store is the better deal?  It depends on what you’re buying.

Last month, I bought the food for 115 Girl Scouts for a weekend at camp (I’m no longer a troop leader, but I accepted a call to volunteer as their food buyer and drive the car full of food to camp), and this gave me an opportunity to compare Costco’s and GFS’s prices more extensively than I ever had before. Read more of this post

Handwashing Experiment

This would be a fun experiment for any group of kids over 3 years old.  It is an activity for the Girl Scout badge Let’s Get Cooking, combined with an activity I adapted from the Junior Girl Scout Handbook.  My troop did it two years ago at the beginning of our work on the badge.  It helped the girls understand why it’s so important to wash our hands before preparing food, and even the leaders were surprised at the results of different hand-cleaning methods.

There are two phases to be done on the first day, then follow-up a week later.  My troop was so interested in the results that we had two more weekly follow-ups to see how things progressed.  (Phase Two could be done by itself, if you aren’t able to follow up.) Read more…

Girl Scout Snack Management

UPDATE in 2015: This article is about what I did with my Girl Scout troop, but it applies to any children’s activity–and a lot of it also applies to adult activities where you might want to serve a snack!  (I’m no longer a Girl Scout leader, but I expect to go back to it someday.)  After reading about what did and didn’t work for me in snack management, visit Works-for-Me Wednesday to learn about what’s working for other people!

In my six years as a Girl Scout leader, we always had a snack during each troop meeting.  We met from 5:00 to 6:30 p.m., so a few families fed their girls dinner before the meeting, but most families waited until after the meeting, and by the time they got home it might be later than their usual dinnertime . . . so we usually ate the snack early in the meeting to prevent girls from being hungry without spoiling their dinners.

We tried several different methods of snack supply: Read more…

Two Easy Indoor Games

Here are two games that are easy to set up, use minimal materials, and are fun for kids about 2-10 years old at a party or holiday gathering.  (See also these knee-bouncing games for entertaining younger kids!)

Pass the Parcel
You will need a bunch of small toys, costume jewelry and similar trinkets, coins, and/or pieces of wrapped candy; a bunch of tissue paper or used-up gift wrap, in at least two different colors; and a source of music. Read more…

Learning from Old Clothes

Learning about the history of clothing fashions is an activity I’ve done with Girl Scouts several times.  It’s part of the Art to Wear Try-It and badge, Listening to the Past Try-It, and probably a few others.  It’s always been fascinating.  Clothing is so intimately a part of our daily lives that thinking about what people like ourselves wore decades or centuries ago is a way of getting right into what it was like to live then.  It’s especially effective if you have some genuine examples of old clothing that you can handle and even try on. Here’s a summary I wrote in 2003 after spending a Saturday leading this activity, several times over, for groups of Girl Scout Brownies and Juniors attending a Try-It/badge workshop:

First we looked at old Girl Scout uniforms, borrowed from our council office.  I had them hung up on the walls with signs that said e.g. “1956–47 years ago!”  We talked about how and why they are different from our current uniforms; I pointed out a few things and encouraged them to talk about their observations.  For example, the very first uniform was light blue, but it soon changed to brown, why? Because the original Girl Scout program was mostly about camping and doing things outdoors, and light blue showed dirt too much!  It used to be that “nice” girls didn’t own clothes that could get dirty!  Read more…

Donating Dish Detergent

Do you ever want to help an organization, but feel like you can’t spare enough money to make a real difference?

Are you an environmentalist, wishing that everybody would switch to plant-based cleaners to help conserve our irreplaceable petroleum, but feeling like nobody ever listens to your ravings about how great these cleaners are?

Buy a bottle of your favorite earth-friendly dish detergent and leave it next to the kitchen sink in the church, office, fraternal lodge, union hall, secret hide-out, or whatever is the headquarters of the organization in question. Don’t ask permission. Don’t point it out and tell everybody how much they’re going to love it. Don’t even tell anyone it was you who brought it. Just place it there for all to use, and when it starts running low, bring another one. Read more…

Send campers home with a bag lunch!

One very useful idea I’ve learned from Linda May, Girl Scout leader and camp director extraordinaire, is to serve bag lunches as the final meal of an event. Linda does this at the annual winter camp she organizes for our service unit, and my troop has done it at several troop camping weekends.

It’s wonderful because you can prepare the meal a few hours in advance and then clean up completely. Not only are there no dishes to wash, but you can have the girls clean the entire lodge or tent unit while their lunches are waiting on a table outside or near the door. Then they grab their lunches and eat outside or in the car on the way home, so there are no crumbs scattered on the clean floors. Dole out the lunches, fold up the table, and you’re done! Read more…

Hand Towels for a Crowd

Here’s a way to use washable cloth hand towels for a group too large and/or germy to share a towel hanging on a rack:

  • Get a bunch of small cloth towels or terry washcloths.
  • Stack the towels in a box or basket near the sink.
  • Hang a laundry bag or place a laundry basket or hamper nearby.
  • Hang up a sign indicating where used towels should go. This is necessary not only to get the towels where you want them but also to prevent garbage from being thrown in there. You may need to have a sign pointing out the clean towels, too, if your storage method does not make them really obvious.
  • Remove paper towels from the handwashing area–unless there is a high likelihood of people needing them for purposes so messy that you don’t want your cloth towels used in that way.
  • Periodically check the towel supply.
  • When the laundry bag is full, empty it into the washing machine.

I tried this last weekend at Girl Scout camp. There were 37 people in our group Read more…

Agent of Change: What a long, lame Journey it’s been!

When Girl Scouts USA first announced the development of Journeys, they made it sound like they would replace badges. By the time they released the first Journey for each age level last fall, they were saying these are just an *Exciting* *New* *Option* for Girl Scouts but we still can keep on doing badges as well. Now that my Junior troop has completed this first Journey, I’m extremely relieved that badges are still around, because we were very unimpressed with this Journey and the Journey model in general. Read more…

Fist to Five: A way to reach agreement

My Girl Scouts and I recently learned a new method for assessing group opinions so we can work toward consensus.  It looked useful in the book (it’s included in the Agent of Change Journey program) but it wasn’t until we tried it that I learned how amazingly well it works for me! Read more…

Patrol Power!

One of my favorite things about leading Girl Scout Juniors instead of Brownies is the patrol system.  We used it in my Junior troop when I was a girl, but I didn’t realize just how effective and useful it is until I tried it as a leader.  Patrols are small groups within the troop.  The girls split into patrols when an activity works best with small groups, when we have a big task that can be broken into several parts, or when we need to make several decisions that require discussion and/or research.

Setting Up Patrols

I always have at least three patrols.  The reason I don’t do two is that I’ve noticed that when people are split into just two groups, they tend to assume they are rivals and get very competitive or even hostile.  Read more…

Outdoor Fun skit ideas

One of the requirements for the Outdoor Fun badge is to do skits demonstrating that you know the necessary skills for outdoor activities.  My experience in earning this particular badge as a Girl Scout, and in doing similar projects with my troop as a leader, indicated that girls tend to jump on the first ideas that come to mind, and this results in a bunch of repetitive, obvious, relatively dull skits…so I brainstormed in advance and had each patrol draw a few slips of paper that assigned them topics for their skits: Read more…

Menu Selection System

Here is one way for Girl Scouts (or any other group) to agree on what meals to have at camp or some other occasion.  I’ve used it twice, with great success.

First, have the girls brainstorm menu ideas.  Then, between meetings, leaders sort out the ideas that are affordable and feasible for the cooking equipment, budget, and time available, narrowing it down to two options for each meal.  (If you have been with the same troop for a while and have a good sense of what they like to eat and what kinds of cooking they like to do, you can skip the brainstorming part.)

Write the two possible menus for each meal on a sheet of scrap paper: one option on the left, one on the right.  Tape these sheets on the wall in a stack such that one meal at a time is visible.

Present the choices for one meal.  Call on girls for “discussion”, which means statements based on something other than their personal tastes, for example, “Cereal would be easier to clean up than eggs.”  Girls need to raise their hands and listen to the one who has the floor.

After discussion, girls vote.  Tear the paper in half, put the winning choice in your binder, and put the losing choice in the trash.  If girls are evenly split, leaders cast the deciding votes.

Organizing Girl Scout Troop Information

This is by no means the only way to organize the paperwork for a Girl Scout troop!  It’s just the way I do it.  Apparently some people think I’m good at it, because I’ve been asked to give a presentation on the subject at an upcoming leaders’ workshop.  I hope this system is helpful to other leaders–try it out and adapt it to make it your own!  UPDATE: Six years after publishing this article and five years after ending (pausing?) my stint as a troop leader, I responded to Kim’s request (in the comments) by cleaning out my file cabinet and posting a few photos of specific forms.  Sorry I don’t have anything like complete visual documentation, but I hope the photos add some useful guidance!

The most important thing I’ve learned about organizing my records on individual girls is that putting the girls in alphabetical order by first name makes a lot of sense. Read more…

What Do You Reuse?

This question was posted on a discussion board recently.  Not only do I reuse many physical objects, but I can reuse the list I made for that discussion as an article on my own Website! 

I love reusing glass jars so much that my ravings on the subject got too long for this article and were moved to a new glass jar glorification article!  The same thing happened with scrap paper.

Glass juice bottles are wonderful, too. I snagged 7 of them during my big recycling project in 2002, and I’m still using them daily for juice to drink with my lunch at work.  Refilling them from a half-gallon pitcher mixed up from concentrate at home costs less than half as much as buying new single-serving bottles of juice.

We reuse various types of food containers to buy food from the bulk section Read more…

Calming Chaos in Girl Scout Troop Meetings

I can’t, by a long shot, claim to have solved the problem of a group of Girl Scouts (or anybody!) dissolving into chaos when everybody is excited, we’re trying to do one or more activities, there are various supplies and logistics to be coordinated, and/or there’s some type of distraction!  However, over my five years as a leader, I’ve learned a few tactics that sometimes help to stop the troop from spinning out of control: Read more…

Supermarket Field Trip

My Girl Scout troop did this activity with Brownies earning the Penny Power Try-It and Daisies earning the Make the World a Better Place petal.  It also would apply to several Junior badges that have an activity about caring for the needy, about nutrition, or about comparison shopping.

Divide into teams of 3-5 girls and 1 leader/parent.  Assign each team a general category of nonperishable food: canned vegetables, soup, boxed meals (mac&cheese, etc.), fruit juice.  Give each team $5 of troop money to spend.  Go to the supermarket.

Each team tries to get the best value for the money, considering both price and nutrition. Read more…

Consumer Taste Test

This educational activity is suitable for school or any type of youth (or even adult) group; I did it with Girl Scouts.  It is a great way to teach the principle that brand-name products aren’t necessarily any different from less expensive store brands.

Sometimes I add an activity to a Girl Scout badge, something that isn’t spelled out in the badge book but is thematically consistent and interesting.  I count it as one activity, along with the “official” ones, toward the total of four activities needed to complete a Brownie Try-It or six activities needed to complete a Junior badge.  I usually plan to do extra activities so that girls who miss a meeting still earn the badge.  We did this one as an added activity for the Penny Power Try-It:

Choose two kinds of food that are available in several brands and require minimal preparation. We picked O’s cereal and applesauce. Read more…

Girl Scout Troop Budgeting Process

This is one method for deciding how the troop will spend its money. I used it very successfully a few years ago with a Daisy/Brownie troop of 18 girls ages 5-9. Deciding how to spend the cookie sale profits is an activity for the Penny Power Try-It or Cookies Count badge.

First, in a troop meeting, brainstorm some things the girls would like to do that cost money and some things they’d like the troop to own (new crayons, a flag for ceremonies, etc.).

Between meetings, leaders research these things and determine what it would cost for the whole troop to do/own each one.

Take a bunch of sheets of paper that are blank on one side and fold each one in thirds. On the middle third of each sheet, write one activity and the cost.

Bring these to the next meeting, along with a set of play money from a Monopoly game or similar. Read more…