The Dishwasher Ladybug

Many things in our home previously belonged to our relatives.  I claimed many books, dishes, pieces of furniture, and framed artwork from my grandparents’ homes after they died.  Daniel’s parents and grandparents have given us household items that they don’t need anymore but that are still useful.  Making use of these things in our home is a way of running them into the ground while also triggering memories of old times in another house and, in some cases, of people who aren’t with us anymore.

Daniel’s cousin Mike and his wife Barbara hosted the extended family for Thanksgiving for many years.  Barbara had a flair for decorating and a fondness for ladybugs.  In the breakfast nook of her red-and-black kitchen were shelves displaying the ladybug-themed gifts people kept giving her.  After Barbara died, Mike offered us our choice of ladybug stuff.

One of the items we brought home was a plush ladybug with a magnet in its belly.  It’s cute, but we found it didn’t work very well for holding shopping lists and so forth because it covers such a large area that you can’t see the paper.  It was just a decoration hanging on the side of our refrigerator for several months.

Meanwhile, we were using our dishwasher, which has an LED that illuminates when the cycle is complete and stays lit until you turn it off or you open and close the door.  It’s a convenient reminder that the dishes in the dishwasher are clean and need to be put away.  If we opened the dishwasher to grab just one spoon or something, we’d carefully push it almost closed but not latch the door, so the LED would stay lit.

This worked just fine until our daughter Lydia started walking.  She would grab the edge of the dishwasher door as a handhold, and if it wasn’t latched, it would swing down and bop her on the head!

ladybug magnetNow we needed a different visual cue to show us that the dishes were clean.  Many people use a magnet…and we happened to have this magnet that needed a useful role!

Over the past two years, Daniel and I and our 12-year-old son have adapted to this new house rule: When you open the dishwasher to take out a clean dish but not put away all the dishes, put the ladybug on the door.  When you have put away the clean dishes and the dishwasher is ready to collect dirty dishes again, move the ladybug back to the refrigerator.  Simple!

Of course, the plush ladybug hanging near floor level proved irresistible to our toddler sometimes.  We had to teach Lydia that it’s okay to play with the ladybug, but you need to put her back in place when you are done, because she is doing her job.  She is a helpful insect, not unlike the real ladybugs we see in the garden.  Lydia gradually became so responsible about keeping the ladybug on duty that I can’t recall when I last reminded her.

Using a cue like this helps us conserve water, energy, and money by running the dishwasher only when it’s full.  Because we eat different things from day to day, we have different amounts of dishes, so it’s hard to predict when the dishwasher will be full.  Many people have told me they run the dishwasher every night after dinner so that they can put away the dishes before bed and always have clean dishes in the morning and no confusion about what’s clean or dirty–but that’s so wasteful!  It’s also more total work to put away a smallish number of dishes every day than to put away a larger number of dishes every three days or so.

(I’d just like to mention that last summer, I proved to myself that I usually do, too, have time to empty the dishwasher now and get it over with: I put on the Genesis song “Abacab” and emptied the fully-packed dishwasher and even scrubbed that one dish that didn’t get clean before the song was over = 7 minutes, 2 seconds!)

Lydia just turned 3 years old.  The evening after her birthday, I filled up the dishwasher after dinner and turned it on.  Daniel told me that when he and Lydia came into the kitchen a while later, she immediately noticed the sound and said, “The dishwasher is washing.”  Then she took the ladybug from the refrigerator and put it onto the dishwasher.  She has learned the rule!

Our ladybug is very helpful in the household routine, and it also brings a little bit of Barbara’s ladybug-loving legacy into our daily lives so that we remember her fondly.

Visit the Hearth & Soul Link Party and To Grandma’s House We Go! for more home tips!  Visit Be Clean Be Green With Kids for more ideas for family cooperation to save the Earth!

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6 Ways to Unclog a Toilet without a Plunger or a Plumber [Infographic]

It happens to us all at some point: When we least expect it, our normally reliable toilet lets us down.

A few flushes and a poke with the toilet brush often will be enough to get things moving again, but when that isn’t enough, here are some great suggestions to tackle the problem easily with a few different methods–depending on the tools you have at hand.

Check out this great infographic put together by Legendary Home Services for the details:
https://www.legendaryhs.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Plumber-Phoenix-6-ways-to-unclog-a-toilet-without-a-plunger-or-a-plumber.jpg

So, unless you’re fairly sure your toilet is broken, we recommend giving these methods a try!  But a quick word of warning: Don’t try flushing repeatedly if the drain is still blocked, as there is only one place for the water to go, and that’s all over your bathroom floor.

Notice that none of these methods requires any dangerous chemicals!  Click here for The Earthling’s Handbook’s tips on green cleaning for your toilet and everything else in your home!

Go Green in 2017: Clean Up Your Hygiene Routine!

Happy Earth Day!  What is your Earth Day Resolution?

I hope you’ve already switched to greener cleaners and started drinking better milk, and now you’re ready for something new!  There are many ways you could change your habits to reduce your environmental impact.  Let’s talk about the stuff you use to clean and care for your body.

You might think that the Food & Drug Administration is responsible for making sure (in the United States) that any product marketed for putting on or in your body is safe.  Unfortunately, that’s totally false.  The FDA does no pre-market testing of personal hygiene products and does not require full disclosure of ingredients!  (The term “cosmetics” used in that article does not mean just lipstick and nail polish; it includes more necessary products like shampoo, deodorant, and sunscreen.)  Even when a product causes serious injury to consumers and the FDA does intervene, it’s not allowed to issue a recall (that’s a voluntary action by the manufacturer), and other products using the same dangerous ingredients can remain on the market.  Cosmetic companies aren’t required to tell the FDA if consumers report that a product hurt them.

This means that when you buy, say, baby wipes for your newborn, they can contain just about anything, and the package may not tell you what fibers are in that soft towelette or what chemicals are in that sweet-smelling liquid.  The same is true of most personal hygiene products that don’t make enough medical claims to be classified as drugs.

Not only are your personal health and safety at risk, but many hygiene products also are bad for the environment.  Some of the chemicals common in body wash, deodorant, moisturizers, makeup, perfume, and nail polish are known to cause cancer or disrupt hormone production even in people or animals who don’t use them directly but consume water or air polluted with these chemicals by the user or by the factory.  A common ingredient in sunscreen washes off swimmers and kills coral reefs.  Here are 7 ingredients to avoid.

One of the most horrifying hazards found in hygiene products is microbeads, tiny pieces of plastic that increase the scrubbing effect of a facial cleanser or toothpaste.  They are too small to be filtered out of water, which means that plastic microbeads accumulate in our oceans and in the bodies of fish, and we’re drinking them ourselves, with unknown effects.  The environmental audit committee of the British parliament estimated that a person who eats six oysters has also eaten 50 particles of microplastics.

A great reference for checking the safety and environmental impact of your favorite products is the Environmental Working Group’s database.  It’s not perfect–they’re excessively worried about natural fragrant oils, in my opinion–but it gives you a lot of information to help make your decisions.  If you’re curious about a product that’s not in the database but that lists its ingredients on the label, you can search the ingredients in the database.

My family has been moving toward safer, more natural, less Earth-destroying, affordable options in hygiene products for about 20 years now.  Here’s what we recommend for many commonly-used types of products.  Many of our favorites (as well as other green options we haven’t tried) are available from Grove Collaborative; click here for $10 off your first order! Read more of this post

Why we had Banana Bread and Black Bean Soup for Easter dinner

We’ve never established a traditional Easter dinner for our family.  Partly it’s because we don’t eat lamb or ham, but the biggest reason is that for the past 15 years I’ve been heavily involved in the Easter celebrations at church.  The Easter Vigil service is late Saturday night, followed by a festive reception, and then there’s the Sunday morning service, followed by another festive reception!  As hospitality chairperson, I’m in charge of recruiting people to bring food for the receptions, organizing the array of food, setting up, and cleaning up.  Also, I’ve often read one of the scriptures in the Easter Vigil service, and this year I was a chalice-bearer (serving the Communion wine and, unexpectedly, lighting 14 candles–but that’s another story).

After all that, not only am I tired and burned-out on food management, but we’re not coming home hungry after church!  We eat during the reception, and then there are always some odds and ends left on the serving platters that are easier to eat than put away.  We don’t need another meal until Sunday evening.

We do have to eat then, though.  The extent to which I had planned that meal was thinking, “I’ll bake the last two sweet potatoes, and we’ll eat them with…something….”

I ended up not baking the sweet potatoes. Read more of this post

Darwinian Gardening

Tomato plant and squash plant in a pot, in the garden among morning glories, irises, spearmint, etc.

I’m writing a 3-part series on composting over at Kitchen Stewardship; here’s how to get started with my composting system using 3 ordinary flowerpots, and I also mention two FREE composting systems my family members have used. Here, I’m explaining my general approach to the garden I nourish with my compost.

The idea and the name of Darwinian Gardening come from my mom, who devotes a section of her large garden to “the survival of the fittest,” with lovely and sometimes surprising results.

You could just fertilize some soil and then see what grows there, being totally hands-off about it.  Mom and I intervene a little.  The basic idea is to plant the seeds you have and encourage the plants you like, to grow a uniquely beautiful garden that’s environmentally friendly, inexpensive, and low-maintenance.

I don’t have a big garden like my parents do.  My front yard is about 12 feet square.  My back yard (not shown in these photos) is on a cliff and very shady, so we struggle to keep anything growing there to control erosion.  One of my favorite things about Darwinian Gardening is that many species of plants intertwine, creating lots of variety in a small area.  My garden may be tiny, but there’s a lot to see here!

Morning glories, lamb’s ears, and purple vine working together to choke out “weeds.”

My garden combines things I planted on purpose with things that just showed up. Every spring, I plant whatever seeds I have, root cuttings from my potted plants, and maybe buy a few bulbs or seeds or seedlings.

A lot of my plants “grow like weeds” and are essentially invasive species, but I don’t consider them “weeds” because I like them!  I only pull up plants I truly don’t want, like poison ivy and burrs.

However, my most enthusiastic plants sometimes choke out other plants that I want to grow, so I intervene by digging them up and moving them to a bare spot.  Morning glory vines twine around other plants and block the sunlight; while I’m supervising my kids playing outdoors, I patrol the garden and carefully unwind morning glories from the other plants and wind them onto things I don’t mind them growing on. Read more of this post

Public Transit and Convenient Commuting

It’s getting harder and harder for me to believe that the majority of Americans who work outside the home commute by car.

I understand that many small towns and suburban and rural areas have no public transit at all, and that many cities have inadequate public transit providing infrequent service to just a few neighborhoods.  What I don’t understand is why so many people put up with it!  Of course there are situations in which people have good reasons for living and/or working in remote areas.  But there are millions more who just seem to be taking for granted that, as a grown-up, every day you get into your car.  It hasn’t occurred to them to try their local public transit or to ask why there isn’t any.

What really staggers me is when I hear people who live and/or work in the very same neighborhoods I do, talking about driving to and from work–especially if they’re employed by one of the local universities whose every employee/student ID card functions as a bus pass!  Seriously!  You don’t need a special card; you don’t need to sign up for the transit program; as soon as you get your ID, you can hop on a bus, tap it against the card reader, and get a free ride to anywhere in Allegheny County the transit authority goes, any time buses (or light-rail trains or inclines) are running!  You can use it all weekend, not just for commuting!

Pardon all the exclamation points, but I’m excited to be working for the University of Pittsburgh now.  None of my previous employers offered free transit, so I’m accustomed to paying slightly over $1,000 per year for an annual bus pass giving me unlimited rides all year.  It was convenient even when it was a series of monthly passes arriving by mail, even more convenient with the ConnectCard that lasted all year.  It cost much less than paying cash fare for my workday commute, with the additional bonus of free rides for other travel.  But it was a substantial expense each year, which I don’t have now, whee!

It took me until last week, my fourth week at the new job, to realize just how staggeringly convenient my new commute is: Read more of this post

DIY Vegan Bacon from Potato Peels!

I’m excited to share this recipe because it seems to be unique or at least not well-known.  I did some web-searching, seeking tips for perfecting my recipe, but all I found were recipes for making vegan bacon from other (more expensive) ingredients or for making stuffed potato skins using store-bought vegan bacon.

We had this idea when we were peeling a lot of potatoes to make cream-of-potato soup.  We were talking about how the tastiest potato soups have a little ham or bacon in them, and about how a crisp slice of bacon makes a delicious garnish on top of a bowl of soup, and meanwhile we were looking at all these long curly strips of potato peel . . . and someone, I think it was 12-year-old Nicholas, wondered aloud if maybe we could fry up the potato peels into something kind of like bacon.

potato peels fryingYes, we can!  Even our first try was pretty good.  After several rounds of experimentation, we’ve decided that we’ll never be able to get anyone to think this actually is bacon, but it’s a yummy, smoky, salty, greasy, crispy food that makes a better substitute for bacon than anything else you can make out of garbage in 5 minutes!

It’s especially practical if you want something bacon-ish to go with your potato-based meal.  But if you’re peeling potatoes for something else, and you want the “bacon” for another meal, just stuff those clean peels in a glass jar and refrigerate for a day or two until you’re ready to cook them–or cook them right away, refrigerate, and reheat in a skillet when ready to eat . . . or just eat some out of the jar with your fingers every time you open the fridge, because they really are that good.

What you see here is a 12″ skillet containing the peels of 4 medium-sized potatoes.  This produced a little over 1 cup (loosely packed) of finished “bacon.”  This recipe is not written with specific quantities because the amount of peel we’ve been working with has been different each time, and the seasoning is really a matter of taste. Read more of this post

How to Approach Life Planning to Secure Your Children’s Futures

This is a guest post by Jackie Waters. Ms. Waters believes balance and diligence can help you achieve a beautiful, clean home. She runs hyper-tidy.com, providing advice on being…Hyper Tidy!

If you’re not an attorney, accountant, or financial planner, you may have anxiety about life planning and making the right decisions to secure your children’s futures. You’re not alone. Many parents are not sure where to begin with planning for contingencies in relation to their children, making financial considerations, and knowing where to go for help. Our guide will help get you started.

Do Estate Planning Now

You need to do some basic estate planning regardless of your age and the ages of your children. The first step is to write a will to determine who will serve as guardians for your children if they are minors. Even if your children are not minors, you should have a will so that you can rest assured that your final wishes will be carried out and that your property, possessions, and assets will be divided as you desired them to be.

You don’t need to spend a ton of money on attorney’s fees in drawing up a will; many online resources are cost-saving alternatives that produce binding legal documents just like attorneys do. However, if you have a large estate, several specific requests, or questions about guardianship, it may be better to meet with an attorney. Read more of this post

How to make it from scratch instead of a package: Chipotle Simmer Sauce

My son Nicholas is 12 years old and often tells us about meals and snacks he enjoyed in his friends’ homes.  Last month, when we were shopping at Target, he pointed out a package of sauce that was the exact type his friend’s mother had used on the delicious fajitas.

I told him I wasn’t going to spend almost $3 on a plastic pouch containing one meal’s worth of sauce.  We could make it ourselves.

“Oh really Mom,” he said with a contemptuous eye-roll, “You don’t even know what it tastes like.”

“But you do,” I replied.  “I will write down all the ingredients that aren’t preservatives.  The first ingredient is the one used in the largest quantity, so I’ll start with that and reduce the amounts as I go down the list, and then you’ll taste it and tell me what it needs.”

He was very skeptical, but I held firm and did not buy the sauce.  I brought home the list of ingredients.

UPDATE: I had not written down the name of the product: Frontera Classic Fajita Skillet Sauce.

This interesting sauce, although designed for Mexican food, contains ingredients I don’t associate with Mexican cooking: soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, fish sauce, tamarind paste, ginger, and thyme.  I was curious to find out what it would taste like!  I’d recently bought fish sauce so that we could try making our own pad thai, and we also needed tamarind paste for that.  The only other ingredient in the fajita sauce that we didn’t already have in our kitchen was chipotle chili powder, which I was glad to buy.  I found the fish sauce at the Korean store on our block, tamarind paste at an Indian food store, and chipotle powder in the bulk section at the food co-op.  We finally made the sauce last week. Read more of this post

Go Green in 2017: How to Clean

Photographs by Nicholas Efran.

It’s time for New Year’s resolutions!  There are many ways you could change your habits to reduce your environmental impact.  One change you could make is replacing cleansers that harm the environment with cleaning products or cleaning methods that are safer for your family as well as the wider world.

rubbing alcohol, peroxide, baking soda, vinegarWhat’s wrong with conventional cleaning products?

These health risks don’t affect only people who are in direct contact with the cleanser; many cleansers leave a residue on the surface or in the air that can be absorbed through our skin and/or lungs, and some of these chemicals are bioaccumulative–our bodies can’t get rid of them, so over time our repeated exposures can build up to toxic levels.

p1040148Here’s our complete guide to cleaning a typical Earth dwelling.  We’ve tried many environmentally-friendly products over the past 20 years and have found more good ones than duds.  Here, we recommend some brand-name products that work especially well and some inexpensive basic materials that are great for various cleaning projects. Yes, it is possible to make more homemade cleaning products than we do.  We’ve struck a balance between purchased and homemade products that works well with our cleaning habits and the amount of spare time we have.  If you use an awesome homemade cleanser, feel free to share details or a link in the comments!

For basic home cleaning, you will need:

  • dish detergent
  • laundry detergent
  • white vinegar
  • baking soda
  • hydrogen peroxide
  • toilet bowl cleaner
  • all-purpose cleaner

Other items we use regularly that you may or may not need, depending on your home furnishings and cleaning standards, are:

  • dishwasher detergent
  • hardwood floor cleaner
  • furniture polish
  • antibacterial spray
  • rubbing alcohol

Look for these items in your local stores where you shop regularly. If you can’t find them there, encourage your stores to make them available; meanwhile, order online. Many of the brand-name products are available from Grove Collaborative–click here for a $10 discount on your first order!  Here is more information about Grove (formerly known as ePantry).

Here are the details on how to use each type of cleanser. Read more of this post

4 Easy Homemade Sauces for Instinctive Cooking

Are you good at following recipes but wish you had the knack for just throwing together a meal from ingredients you happen to have?  The way I got started on developing that knack was to learn to make a basic sauce from scratch.  Over at Kitchen Stewardship, I explain how to learn 4 sauces and how to use them:

  • Marinara sauce for Italian pasta dishes
  • Teriyaki sauce for stir-fry or salad
  • Herby olive oil sauce for awesome vegan food that’ll satisfy chicken cravings
  • Spicy peanut sauce for Thai-style noodle/rice bowls

All of them are flexible, easy to customize to your taste.  Two of them are ready in 5 minutes or less.  They’ll save you a lot of money, compared to buying ready-to-use sauces in bottles, and they may be healthier!

p1030961Here is a recent meal I made with the teriyaki sauce.  (Food styling and photography by Nicholas Efran.)  We had a cauliflower from our farm share, complete with all its leaves, and I stir-fried both the flower and the leaves while marinating tofu in the sauce, then added the tofu and sauce to the wok and cooked until bubbly.  Delicious!

Visit the Hearth & Soul Blog Hop for more great food ideas!

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

Has Your Favorite Soap Been Banned?

The United States Food & Drug Administration banned 19 antibacterial chemicals from hand soaps and body washes.  By September 1, 2017, manufacturers need to reformulate their products or remove the products from the market.  If you’ve been using an antibacterial soap, you may not be able to get it anymore.

Don’t despair!  The reason for the ban is that years of research have shown that antibacterial soaps aren’t as great as advertising has suggested:

“Consumers may think antibacterial washes are more effective at preventing the spread of germs, but we have no scientific evidence that they are any better than plain soap and water,” said Janet Woodcock, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER). “In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long-term.”

Here’s some detail about the risks of triclosan, the most popular of the newly-banned ingredients. Rather than breed resistant bacteria, breathe chloroform, harm your liver and thyroid, and contaminate your drinking water, why not switch to a new soap?

This is your opportunity to not only get away from triclosan but also do even better for the Earth and your budget by switching to a plant-based soap that will save you money!  I previously explained how to make your own environmentally-friendly foaming hand soap in just one minute using two ingredients at a cost of just 69c per bottle.  If you didn’t do it then, do it now!

If you don’t want foaming soap, just a nice liquid soap to use in the shower, skip the foamer and buy Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap, available in 7 delicious scents and unscented.  It’s not only plant-based and all-natural, it’s certified organic, fair-trade, GMO-free, vegan, and packed in a 100% recycled plastic bottle.  This soap is safe enough to brush your teeth with, and you also can use it to wash dishes, hand-washable laundry, household surfaces, etc.

Click here for a $10 discount on a method foaming hand wash and a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap to refill it–you’ll pay just $10.88 for your first 33 foamers full of soap!  This link will take you to Grove Collaborative (formerly ePantry), a household products subscription company that does not force you to buy anything you don’t want; each month’s order can be customized as you like, and you can quit at any time.  But if you don’t want to join Grove, you can find method and Dr. Bronner’s products in many other stores.

Happy washing!  Visit Real Food Friday for more articles on keeping our lives real and the Hearth & Soul Blog Hop and Works-for-Me Wednesday for more great tips!

Houses Built from Plastic Water Bottles!

This guy in Panama is building a village of houses whose walls are insulated with empty plastic beverage bottles!  Click through to watch the video.  This is a really great idea for making use of garbage, reducing construction costs, and building well-insulated homes that will require less energy to cool or heat.

BUT!  This is not a reason to drink bottled water!  Don’t think that because somebody’s found a use for the empty bottles, it’s perfectly okay to buy and discard them.  Bottled water has a huge environmental impact and on average is not as clean and safe as tap water.  Drink from the sink, refill a reusable bottle when you need to carry water, and if your local tap water is not safe, keep fighting until it is!  Bottled water should be for emergencies only, not an everyday thing.

Peek Into My Pantry!

This rare glimpse into an actual Earthling habitat shows you what foods we keep on hand and how we organize them!  Get all the details in my article at Kitchen Stewardship!

Exclusively in The Earthling’s Handbook, play “Find the differences between these two photos!”  The one on the left was taken first, but then I noticed a few organizational flaws and made some small adjustments before taking the photo at right.  How many differences can you spot?  Let me know in the comments!

p1030408 pantry-version-2

This practical pantry isn’t slick and beautiful, but it’s functional.  We are able to

  • keep extra stuff on hand
  • save money by stocking up at the sale price
  • buy bulk foods and big packages that wouldn’t fit in our kitchen cabinet
  • plan menus using mostly what we have
  • reduce the temptation to eat poorly by having healthy ingredients handy
  • save time and gasoline by shopping less often
  • be prepared if weather or illness stops us from shopping

Our pantry’s basement location also helps us to stay fit and resist unnecessary eating!  If you have to walk across the dining room and down a flight of stairs to get a box of cereal, either you burn some calories doing it or you decide you’re not so hungry after all.

This is the pantry that works for me!  Visit the Hearth & Soul Hop and Real Food Friday for more food-related posts!

Drowning in Veggies? 5 Steps for Using a CSA Farm Share

It’s dinnertime on a Wednesday, and you’ve just been handed 10 pounds of fresh, organic, locally-grown, assorted vegetables!

You’re eager to get some of them onto your family’s plates tonight and make sure you use every bit as wisely as you can before next week—when another load of vegetables will arrive—and you never know what kind of veggies they’ll be until you get them. How will you work your way through such unpredictable abundance?

I’ve got 15 years of experience in utilizing the weekly crate of vegetables from our community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm.  I explain my approach in 5 basic steps and explain how it applied to one week’s actual food for my family, in my first post as a contributing writer for Kitchen Stewardship!  Click on the image to read the article.

CSA Overload!

Visit the Hearth & Soul Blog Hop and Real Food Friday for more great food-related articles!  Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday for more great tips on many topics!

HVAC Hacks: Energy-Saving Improvements You Can Make Yourself

HVAC=Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning–the system of ducts that brings hot and/or cold air to the rooms of a building. The advice here applies to systems that deliver only heat or only AC, as well as those that do both.

This is a guest post by Ryan Martin at Home Improvement Leads, who connects quality contractors to homeowners to give them the best home improvement experience possible. They specialize in solar, roofing, and HVAC lead generation for contractors.

We all want to spend less money on energy at home, but sometimes costly HVAC updates and repairs aren’t quite worth the savings they provide over time. Thankfully, there are improvements you can complete yourself for a fraction of what it would cost to have them done professionally. Home Improvement Leads offers a few suggestions for making your home more energy efficient on a budget.

Add Insulation in the Attic

Proper insulation in the attic or the area above the garage is crucial. Since these areas are not climate-controlled, you must use a thermal barrier to stop heat transfer between the attic or crawlspace and your house. If you don’t, heat will more easily enter your home in the summer and exit your home in winter, making everyone uncomfortable and forcing your HVAC to work harder. Read more of this post

3 Super-Simple Homemade Frosting Recipes

I’ve seen many recipes for cake frosting that require separating eggs, using ingredients unfamiliar to many people (like cream of tartar), cooking for 7 minutes whisking constantly, using a double boiler, or some other complicated technique.  It’s no wonder that so many people have the idea that homemade frosting is very difficult to make!  Even when I was growing up, most of my friends’ birthday cakes were decorated with store-bought frosting, or the entire frosted cake was purchased from a supermarket bakery.  Manufactured frosting is even more prevalent now at the birthday parties my kids attend–yet their friends always enjoy my homemade cake with homemade frosting, and at some parties their cake-time conversation has been about how gross the supermarket cakes are!

But thanks to my mom, I’ve always known several frosting recipes that are so simple you don’t even have to measure the ingredients!  Just use your common sense to work out the proportions and obtain the consistency and color you want.  The measurements I give here are suggestions to get you started toward making approximately the right quantity of frosting for your cake.  (It’s always better to make too much than too little.  If you have too much, you won’t have to skimp on your cake, and then you can put the extra in a tightly-sealed container in the back of the refrigerator, and after the cake is gone you can spread frosting on your whole-wheat toast, if you have been very good.)

These recipes use ingredients that are easy to find in any supermarket.  I know, powdered confectioner’s sugar is not a health food!  Cake frosting is a special treat, not a staple food that we eat regularly.  I make plain white frosting unless the birthday celebrant requests colors–but if he does, I use conventional, artificial food coloring because it’s easy to buy and works reliably.  Again, it’s a special treat that only lightly undermines our generally healthy diet.  Compared to the crappy ingredients in purchased frosting, these recipes are healthier!

Citrus Frosting is vegan.  Basic Creamy Frosting can be made vegan, using coconut oil–refined coconut oil, if you don’t want it to have a coconut flavor–but mixing and spreading it and keeping the consistency firm in warmer weather are difficult; I don’t have enough experience with it to give complete advice. Read more of this post

That Time We Ate Million-year-old Dust

This is a story my cousin Tiffany recalled during a recent family gathering when my mom asked us what we remembered from the summer my parents were away a lot, leaving me and my brother and cousins to fend for ourselves.  As soon as she mentioned the dust, I remembered that picnic too, and we were able to reconstruct the story.  I decided it’s entertaining enough to tell in public.

Twenty-seven years ago this month, I was 16, my brother Ben and cousin Tiffany were 13, and Tiffany’s brother Mark was 10–and our grandmother (Janmother) was hospitalized suddenly.  My dad, Ben, and I rushed to Oklahoma City, where she lived (a 3-hour drive from our home), to be with her while she awaited the test results that showed her cancer had recurred.  She would spend the rest of that summer in the hospital having treatment.

Meanwhile, Tiffany and Mark, who lived in Tennessee, had non-refundable plane tickets to visit us–arriving just a few days after Janmother went to the hospital!  We drove from Oklahoma City to the Tulsa airport to get them and took them right back to Oklahoma City at first.

Then we began the pattern that defined the rest of the summer: My dad, who couldn’t take much time off from his job, spent weekends in Oklahoma City.  My mom, whose work was mostly during the school year, spent weekdays there.  Every Sunday night and Friday night, they switched places.  This meant that one of them was always on hand to supervise Janmother’s care–which proved frighteningly necessary in that hospital!  In order to overlap so that they could update each other on Janmother’s condition and the state of things at home (and have a little time together, for gosh sakes!), they left us home alone for 7 or more hours each time.  We also were alone every weekday while my dad was at work.

We were responsible teenagers!  We didn’t have any wild parties, burn down the house, or get seriously injured.  We just got a bit more silly than we might have been with supervision. Read more of this post

Did you find Jesus anything to eat?

Eleven days ago, I launched a challenge to my readers to prevent food waste in some way, big or small, and report back after Easter.  Now it’s the Tuesday after Easter, and I haven’t heard from anyone yet.  Did you accept my challenge?  Tell me about it in the comments, or link to your own post on conserving food.

My own plans went differently than expected.  I knew that Holy Week and this week would be a very busy time for me because these are my last two weeks of full-time work, so I have a lot to do and thought I might need to work some overtime . . . but I was still involved in coordinating the food for my church’s receptions after the Easter Vigil and Easter morning services, which always includes some repurposing of leftovers.  Life threw me a curve ball of digestive mayhem that initially seemed to be just a symptom of the migraine that struck on Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week, but then as the headache got better my stomach continued to get worse.  From Friday through Sunday, I wound up preventing food waste by not eating much!  But I couldn’t resist eating small amounts of reception food, including grapes and raw veggies with hummus–and apparently those were just the foods to anger my innards.  Instead of making an innovative Easter dinner out of leftovers, I spent Sunday night in misery, and yesterday I ate only rice and yogurt.  Blah.  I’m finally getting better today.

It wasn’t a superstar week, but I can tell you some things I did do to use food wisely: Read more of this post