There Is Such A Thing As Free Lunch!

I’ve always wondered how I would do stranded in the middle of nowhere with no food for days on end. I never did learn proper foraging skills (bad Girl Scout!) even though I know some wild plants are edible. I just don’t really know what any of them look like. Luckily, you can’t browse too many urban homesteading websites or read too many books without coming across a section on edible weeds. And then you can google pictures of those weeds. Thanks to modern technology, I’m about to eat weeds!  Totally free lunch. 

The other day this little plant I thought was clover grew little yellow flowers. Umm…. I have clover everywhere because, well, I planted it. And it spreads like wildfire. So when my pot with last years lettuce started growing this clover look-alike, I paid no notice-until the yellow flowers popped up. I had to know if I should pull it since it was growing next to my volunteer lettuce from last year’s bolting. 

Turns out, it’s just wood sorrel. 

Turns out, that’s edible. 

Even better, it’s really good!

Sorrel growing next to volunteer cut-and-come-again lettuce

When someone says something is “lemony” they almost always mean it “tastes like dirt with a lemon flavor” to me. Or maybe that’s just my experience with lemon herbal teas! This stuff actually tastes like a squirt of lemon juice!  I was shocked when I chewed up that first leaf. So, it’s going into tonight’s salad along with some of that volunteer lettuce. Totally free greens for my salad!! Didn’t plant it or water it or tend to it in any  way. I love free lunch!

I wonder if the wild violets in the back yard taste as good…

Things I may never teach my children

Things I may never teach my children

While trying to decide whether to leave the living room light on which has LED bulbs in it or switch to the light by our back door which has a CFL bulb in it, I came to the realization that we have been in this house over 5 years now and the next time I’ll have to change light bulbs will be when my future children are too young to remember it if they are even born yet. Knowing that I’ll install LED bulbs as the CFLs go out, that means I may not change light bulbs in my house until they’re off at college. When I was growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, we probably changed at least 1 bulb a month. It was such a common chore that bulbs were on the grocery list. 

The realization that I may not even have an opportunity to teach my kids how to change a light bulb until they are grown kind of freaked me out. It made me wonder what else I will never teach them thanks to technology. 

  • How to use a rotary phone-actually many people my age have only seen these on tv. I have actually used one. Since rotary phones don’t even work on land lines anymore, my kids will never know how awesome they were. 
  • How to record a mix tape-yes, I am a child of the 80’s when mix tapes were all the rage. While a tape recorder might show up in a thrift store somewhere I doubt they will even know what a cassette tape is. They’ll have to settle for sharing playlists. Ugh, so not as romantic. 
  • How to load 35mm film into a camera and how to get it developed-lets face it, with phones having awesome built in cameras only hardcore photographers even use a stand alone camera anymore and only the most nostalgic of us use film. They’ll think a negative is a filter in whatever replaces Photoshop and Instagram. 

What else are kids born in the next decade never going to learn or do?

Getting Soapy

Getting Soapy

In my efforts to eliminate icky chemicals in my home and on my body and become more self sufficient, I’ve decided to make soap. So, being me, I started to research because the only thing I actually knew about soapmaking was that I would need fat and lye. I think this knowledge came from some social studies discussion in elementary school about why people didn’t wash themselves but once a week on Sundays umpteen years ago. But it could have been something my great-grandmothers told me in passing as a child too…who knows? 

So I googled (I think it’s neat that when I started school that wasn’t even a word and now it’s a real verb) “soap making supplies” and got awfully confused. The top hits were all about melt and pour bases and the fun add-in bits. I’m an over achiever. I haven’t made cake from a box since I was 12, so why on earth would I want to skip the fun steps in making soap? I want to start from the beginning! 

Five google pages later I figure out that the soap I’m talking about making is called Cold Process Soap. New Google search with all the right words. I looked at all these web sites and got really really tired. I wanted a kit. Somebody please sell me everything I need to make some soap in one box under one price so I can get moving on this project! 

Enter Bramble Berry. Their Natural Soap for Beginners Kit came with everything I needed to start except a stick blender and a spatula. I ordered those on Amazon. Oh, and the kit had free shipping. Shipping oils is expensive! I already had a kitchen scale and gloves, so I looked into ordering the rest of the supplies individually but that shipping charge made the scale free. I ordered the kit. 

The reason I like this kit so much is that it comes with extra of everything except oil, fragrance and colorant. So for my second loaf of soap I only have to order those things. I’m still working on making those decisions, but I do know after round one, there will be more soap made in this house. 

Soaping is so easy! Here are some tips that aren’t in the instructions:

If you don’t mix your lye water outdoors, the range hood works wonders for sucking up the fumes. Mine is recirculating, but I’m short so it blew the fumes over my head. 

If you don’t or can’t go outside, or use the rangehood, put the bowl as far away as you can while still safely stirring. The fumes didn’t seem to have any odor but I sure started coughing when I got a whiff. 

Expect to not be able to move your lye bowl without oven mitts for at least half an hour. My lye got to 175 degrees F using cold water from the fridge which is set to 36 degrees. That bowl was straight from the microwave hot just from the reaction.   And it took forever to cool down. I had a full 30 minute break. Next time I’ll probably start my lye then measure everything else out while I wait for it to cool. 

Now if you have children or nosy cats, this may not be an option, but I let my soaping pot, stick blender and spatula hang out for a couple days and used the soap left on them to clean them. I figured it was safer to stick my finger in the stick blender head to wipe out the soap chunk once the saponification process was complete. Those blades are sharp so I didn’t want to risk a burn through a nicked glove-or ruin my gloves by poking holes in them. I feel obligated to mention that when you stick your finger in a blender head, make sure it is not plugged in, just in case. I got the Cuisinart with the detachable head. It’s pretty awesome. And I don’t have to worry about getting water in the motor while cleaning-totally worth the extra $20. 

When I get my next batch of oils, I’ll put up a full post on the process! 

The Bramble Berry link is not an affiliate link and they have no idea I posted about their products but they made my life a little easier so I’m a fan. I did not receive any compensation for mentioning their product, I just enjoyed my experience with it. 

Strange things that saved me money 

Strange things that saved me money 

It’s always fun to find that some accidental change in your lifestyle saved you money. Here are some things I have done, mostly by accident, that have saved me money. 

Using an electric razor to shave my legs cut my water bill by 10%

Yep, because my showers were 5-10 minutes shorter my water bill dropped. Now 10% of our regular water bill was only $7, but that’s lunch out one day. Over the last 2 years, that saved me $168.

I had a phase of super dry itchy skin and started skipping showers

Gross, right?  Except that I work an office job and really only need to clean those parts of my body that touch each other regularly and my feet. So I grabbed a soapy washrag and cleaned those and flipped my head into the tub to wash my hair and face. Skipping showers eventually led to skipping washing my hair too. I used some dry shampoo instead. My water bill dropped another 20%. Bonus: I’m not in the slightest bit oily or itchy. My skin adjusted and my hair is slowly getting used to less washing. If I worked out every day, this routine would obviously need tweaking but um…I don’t do that. 

I kept forgetting to buy dog food before we ran out so I set it up to be delivered to the house automatically

I’m a horrible dog mom. I was constantly running to the store at the last minute or feeding my babies extra cookies to get their bellies full when they didn’t have a full bowl of food left. Or my wife would leave the food in her trunk and they wouldn’t get their dinner until she came home from work-at 10pm. I killed both these birds with 1 stone and set up Amazon subscribe & save. My babies all have plenty of food & cat litter, I can’t forget anything and if I have 5 items delivered each month, I get a 15% discount on all of them. I saved $5 a month on cat litter alone! The program has free shipping too so there’s no extra cost to have everything delivered vs driving to the store. Add that to no impulse buys from walking through the pet store…well, lets say I’ve been know to drop an extra $30 on treats and toys. 

I quit using the brakes in my car-as much. 

I spend an hour each morning and each evening in stop and go traffic to get the 18 miles from my house to the office and back.  Eventually I realized I needed new brakes-badly. Instead of gassing just to brake 25 feet away, I just let my car roll slowly so I never gassed or braked in those long lines at the stop lights. I’m now able to get an extra 36 miles out of a tank of gas and my new brakes should last much longer than the last set. I save about $52 a year in gas just on my commute (at $2/gallon) plus the extra brake job of $120. 

There you have it folks. It may not be much, but when you’re on a budget, every little bit of savings helps!  What strange things have you done that saved you money?

Things I Learned from Upsizing

This month marks our 5th anniversary in this house. It seemed great at first but about 2 years ago, I realized we never did, and never will, need this much space. 

We moved out of a cute little townhouse of about 1300 sqft. There wasn’t anything special about it-totally typical 2 bed 2 1/2 bath place built in 2006. By the end of our third year there we were screaming about how small it was and how we needed a bigger house with a yard for our dogs. Hysterical notion looking back. 

When we moved into our new place that was built during the same time period at double the size on a quarter acre lot, we rejoiced. The space we needed! And the same payment! 

Then reality set in. We didn’t have enough room. I figured we just collected more stuff so a thorough cleaning out was in order. So we donated a lot of stuff to Goodwill. Helped, but the house was still a mess.  I totally got how our old closet was overflowing, but the new closet was twice the size. There was no reason for this!  So I set out on a mission to better utilize the space we had. 

Lesson 1: Proper storage is key. 

I got some of those adjustable Rubbermaid systems for our closet. I was totally guessing on the layout when I started but when I was done, we were able to move out dressers into the closet. And it was tidy. And it mostly stays that way except for laundry day.  I was even able to roll my sewing station in there. That was the day I realized our house was too big. 

Lesson 2: One person cannot cook, clean and maintain this size house when other people and pets live there.

At least, not while working a full time job with 2 hours of commute time a day. Maintaining this property is a full time job. I spend every evening cleaning and most of my weekend either fixing something or keeping up the yard to HOA standards.  Rare is the moment I can relax and enjoy the space around me. Where’s the fun in that?

Lesson 3: People just wanna have fun. 

Nobody wants to spend all their days and nights living in a mess or toiling away their lives working on their living space (at least the sane people). Yes, I enjoy it to a degree which is why I’m always waiste deep in DIY projects, but this is just ridiculous. If I miss a day of scrubbing something then I’m already 2 days behind. I want to read a new book. I want to take my dogs to the park. I want to be able to get sick and not have to spend a week trying to put my surroundings back in order. (Let the universe please note that I do not want to get sick and that this was merely and example!)

Lesson 4: Nobody needs as much space as they think they do. 

We need less stuff and less space than we think. I went all Konmari and cleaned out a lot of things and that helped. There are empty drawers and empty shelves in our cabinets in our kitchen. The space is all wrong for what we kept, but that goes back to Lesson 1.  I’m working on a (DIY) plan for accommodating the awkward items. And yes, I’ll definitely share that project with you! 

The bottom line is I now know that the quality of the space we have is better than having lots of space. Awkward shaped rooms, long hallways and poor storage choices waste a lot of the house and keeping things simple and small allow for freedom of your time and money. Often,m when upsizing, we taking into consideration the mortgage and tax and utility increases in our budget, but not other things such as double the house means double the cleaning supplies and time to maintain it. If we choose multifunctional spaces instead of lots of individual rooms, we can live larger on less. And that is exactly what I plan to do in our next home. 

Phone upgrade time!

I finally upgraded my iPhone 5s. The poor thing’s battery was shot and the system was starting to freak out and no longer ran smoothly so when Verizon offered to give me oodles of money for my old phone to upgrade to the newest, I decided to take it. I had actually been waiting for the iPhone 7 to come out so I could take advantage of a price decrease on the 6s since it was no longer the newest technology, but it turned out with the trade in promotion, getting the 7 was a much better deal. I’m going to give you my thoughts on the fancy new phone here. 

Likes

Touch ID-if you’ve had the iPhone 6 or 6s, this is nothing new, but it’s a feature I really like especially since the passcode has been expanded to 6 numbers. It’s super fast to open your locked phone. 

Night Shift-I was first introduced to a feature like this in the Oyster reading app. The screen slowly reduces the blue light emitted so your sleep patterns are less impacted by after dark phone use. The Oyster app used shades of red, iPhone is using yellow. It’s not as good, but it is system wide and much easier on my eyes this evening. I don’t know if this feature is new the 7, but I like it. 

Hey Siri-I like being able to yell at my phone while driving to get Siri to call or text people for me. I don’t have to reach into the cup holder or dig around in the front seat or my bag to get to my phone. Now if they could get Siri to better understand my hodgepodge of accents so she got all the words right, it would be close to my favorite feature. 

Apple Pay-I haven’t actually been able to use Apple Pay at the store yet but as more stores pick up the technology, Apple Pay will make up for my new phone case not having a slot for my debit card. Digging around for my wallet is not fun and my phone has a dedicated pouch on the inside of my bag that’s so much easier to reach. Better yet, Apple Pay is approved using my fingerprint through Touch ID so I don’t have to enter any long passwords. Life made simple folks. My finger on my phone while I hold it next to the cash register is as secure as it gets these days. More sanitary than passing around cards and cash too. I mean, does anybody ever think to sanitize their credit cards besides me? 

Swipe right for camera-This is great. I can’t tell you how many times I managed to miss the little camera icon to take a quick picture and by the time I got my finger in the right place the photo op was over. PS the pictures are clear. Really good camera on this phone. It’s not going to replace my DSLR any time soon, but perfect for snapshots. 

Dislikes

Apple products are pretty intuitive so I have a hard time really disliking anything, but some subtle differences in iOS 10 are annoying. My music quick button has its own page now. I used to just swipe up and click play; now I swipe up and right and click play. More work? Why? What was wrong with the old layout? But that’s probably just me. I’m the girl with all the folders on my home screen so I only have 1 page of apps. 

It’s a big phone. I resisted upgrading when my old phone first started going bananas because the phones are all so big. I can no longer have my phone securely in my back pocket. The extra screen space is nice and all and yes, there are bigger phones out there, but my hands are small and portability without a clip of some sort is no longer hands free and I’ve never had good luck with clips staying on the waist band of my pants-most of which do not have belt loops. 

The Health app still doesn’t sync with my Fitbit. Hello Apple, fix this!

They moved the power button-iPhone 6 and 6s users are used to this by now but since my power button has been on the top for the last 5 or so years, it’s a little confusing for me and I keep accidentally pressing it. The volume buttons take up more room on the left side too so I’ve been accidentally squeezing those as well. It’s going to take some getting used to. 

Other Notables

No dedicated headphone jack-I haven’t used the headphone jack since I got my LG Tones Bluetooth headset and a Bluetooth stereo for my car, so this is not an issue for me, but others might find the inability to charge the device while listening to music or talking with the wired headphones very inconvenient. 

Water resistant, not waterproof-I’m just glad if somebody dumps their drink over or my phone slips out of my hand during a bath I no longer have to seal it in rice and pray it still works afterward. I have no desire to use it underwater and if I want an underwater photo, I have an Olympus camera for that. 

There you have it folks! The iPhone 7 is mostly user friendly and is definitely a worthwhile purchase if you have an older iPhone to trade in right now. I suspect that since there weren’t that many new features, the great trade in deal was sponsored by Apple to drive sales, but that’s just fine by me. 

The New Lawn

Ever since I bought my much loved reel mower, I’ve been on a search for a new lawn. Frankly, ours is full of weeds and grasses with thick seed stalks that the poor mower can’t cut. In the last 5 years, we have tried 4 times to grow grass in our front yard and are always thwarted by the weather. It’s either too rainy or too dry or too hot here in the summer and our yard looks like this by fall:


Dead as door nail. Gross.  No matter how pretty it was last fall and in the spring, that stuff isn’t dormant, it’s dead. 

Of course, I absolutely refuse to use chemical fertilizers and weed killers and I know there has to be a better solution. Enter our faithful clover patch:

This clover patch moved in the spring after we did 5 years ago. Notice the nice black soil underneath. It started with this:

The clover withered after sustained 98 degree highs and almost no rain for the last 10 weeks. After a single thunderstorm it was back. 

The goal is to plant the clover with fescue to crowd out all the less savory plants and rebuild the topsoil. I won’t need much seed. And $30 got me enough to do the whole yard 4 times over ( which is fine because I will spread it again come spring.)

Clover grows great here. In fact, despite the brutal temperatures and lack of rain, we sprouted 2 more large patches of wild clover this summer. 

My little mower cuts it just fine. Even the flower heads. And I would do almost anything to get rid of those awful seed stalks in the yard. Keeping a “neat” appearance is an HOA requirement and those blasted stalks are definitely in violation. 

Bonus: the clover stays green here 9 months out of the year or more so when my neighbors’ yards are yucky brown, ours will still be pretty. 

I’m crossing my fingers this works. I’ll keep you updated!