Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Frugal Fails

It has been a few months now since I left my part-time job at church to stay home. I have had time to get Christmas pulled together and volunteer obligations fulfilled. I even joined a Bible Study and bought a Groupon for yoga classes. And yes, I said bought the classes, not started them yet.

I cleaned out the garage and attic, organized our master bedroom closet, hall closet and laundry room cabinets. I sorted the kids’ clothes and cleaned up my craft room. I bought and laid down half of a pallet of sod in the backyard.

I am easing into some more writing and running a rudimentary Etsy store and trying to do better with eating out. I’m saying no to things that will fill up the space that work used to occupy-or at least trying to whittle down to those things that truly are the best thing for me and the fam. Dominating this stay-at-home thing, right?

Hold your applause. I’ve also eaten too much junk, ignored too many loads of laundry, adopted another dog, spent too much time on Pinterest and let the garage and craft room get messy again. 

C’est la Vie! I am undergoing growing pains in my life, and I kinda want to see where things go.

In navigating the new normal, I’ve tried to be more frugal. I also like less chemically options for our family. I figured I could put some of those Pinterest hours to good use and make some products myself. I already use vinegar, borax and baking soda to clean so I fancied myself well on the way to self-sufficiency.

I found about 650,000 tutorials to make your own dishwashing soap and laundry detergent. Considering that we do about 12 loads of laundry and 8 loads of dishes each week, that sounded like the place to start. The fact that these were “natural” recipes was even better.

I gathered my arsenal:

Washing Soda (it’s like baking soda on whatever Lance Armstrong took)
Castile Soap (grated a bar into powder)
Lavender Essential Oil (optional)
Sea Salt
Citric Acid (from the canning aisle at Wally World)
White Vinegar (for use separately as a rinse)

Supplies with some of the finished product in the center 
Allegedly, the $15.00 in supplies I bought would make 60 dishwasher loads and about 6 months of laundry detergent. Stellar!

I went with this tutorial for dishwashing soap. I mixed everything but vinegar. I added ¼ of a cup of the mix to the soap dispenser and poured white vinegar into the rinse reservoir. Good to go. I cranked the dishwasher and waited.

If this was a Vlog, you would see me in high-speed, fast-forward running around my kitchen preparing dinner, letting dogs in and out, trundling kids through the room and so forth and so on while letters at the bottom of the screen said “40 minutes later…”

It is not a Vlog so you saw none of that.

40 minutes later…

The dishes were clean and sparkling and smelled faintly of lavender. Ahhhh! As they dried, I noticed the teensiest bit of white film. Not too bad. The next load, I added a cup of vinegar to the bottom of the dishwasher instead of the rinse reservoir. Much better outcome. I think in the next batch of mix, I will use less castile soap.

Pleased with myself, I told the girls “This is so fantastic-we are going to make our own laundry detergent!” Enter Frugal Fail Numero Uno.

The girls were skeptical. Turns out, they were right. Here is a picture of the detergent:

Would you put that in your very lovely, space-age-ish, front-loading washing machine? I didn’t want to do it, but I had a bucket of the stuff so I felt obliged.

Note: I will not include the recipe here because it did not work. I will let you search the interwebs for one of the many recipes that turn out NOT to handle three active kids, a gardening mom and a running, basketball-playing dad. When you find a recipe you like try it for yourself-it may work for you.

So, back to the world of the ineffective homemade laundry soap. Even with the vinegar rinse, there were still stains, stinkiness and general dinginess after the load ran. Bummer. The plan seemed great. At least it didn’t cost a lot. I hope it did a better job cleaning out our disposal because that is where it went.

A few days later, I was looking for a great project to do with the girls. It was a Monday off from school but daddy still had to work. Enter Frugal Fail Numero Dos.

We had a bunch of Kool-Aid packets (remember the Easter project last year?) and several long-sleeved white t-shirts. I had the bright idea to try a dip-dye t-shirt project using just those. Now that our bucket was free from detergent I filled it with water. The girls picked out colors of Kool-Aid to dye their shirts. The fact that Kool-Aid always stains everything it touches made it seem like the best medium for shirt dying.

The middle child even volunteered, “Do you want me to use some of this mixed in Vaseline to make you a lip stain?”

Ummm, no. I’m good. Thanks.

For a twist, I used white glue to “paint” a design on my shirt based on a few tutorials I had seen. I let it dry and then submerged my shirt in the Kool-Aid. The idea is to mask out the design, dye the rest of the shirt and then let it dry. When you wash the shirt later, the design should be white. The problem is that the tutorials all used real dye, not Kool-Aid. This turned out to be a key difference.

Two of the girls opted to dip-dye their shirts so we hung the bottom six-inches into the Kool-Aid and hung the rest over the edge of the bucket. Overnight, the color climbed up the shirt and created an ombre effect from the hem up.

The youngest child did an elaborate glue design and then dunked her shirt as well.

 Fast forward to the next day. When everything was washed, we wound up with some pretty faded, slightly pink shirts, not the dark maroon they had been. The middle child’s shirt was washed-out blue.

The gluey shirts were not great. Mine barely had any design and the youngest child’s actually got darker where the glue had been instead of holding the white. Weird. At least they smell nice and fruity.

Where did the glue hearts go?
Not exactly the plan

Lessons learned?

1. Some modern conveniences can be bested by old-fashioned basic materials and elbow grease.

2. Some are better handled by nasty, harsh chemicals.

3. If we want subtly-tinted fabric, Kool-Aid is the way to go.

4. My garbage disposal is really clean.

Have you tried any ways to save money or be green that juuuuust didn’t pan out? Let us know!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Ninjas, Potato Sacks and Garden Stalkers

So what’s going on? I have been pretty wrapped up in helping the middle and youngest children figure out their talent show skit. The event is over, the skit complete, success achieved. Besides a small prop placement issue, it went well. I was sweating it, due to the fact that the music had never worked prior to the actual show night. The kids and their friend did a skit/song/dance to the Barenaked Ladies kids’ song “The Ninjas” from the cd Snacktime. It was very cute.

Well, while focusing on the budding talents I was not paying attention to my garden. So it was with great consternation, while driving home from gymnastics Thursday night, that I saw them. The perfectly symmetrical and, more to the point, in the ground onion sets in HIS garden.

Side note here: My name is Emily and I have a problem. I stalk another gardener’s garden. I’m not proud of it but I don’t deny it. Plus, he leaves his garden lying around without a fence where anyone can see it. At any rate, I have known this guy since he was a teacher at my middle school and he has been gardening since I was knee-high to a pig's eye. This qualifies him to be a “master gardener” in my book (that and his dominating rows of tomatoes every year).

I tend to spy on the garden often as I drive behind his house to see what’s new in his world. What was new in his world on Thursday was hundreds of tiny onion seedlings. Ack! I had not even gotten mine yet! I was on the phone to Calloways as soon as I saw them.

“Yes, we have onion sets,” the lady assured me. “We have potatoes too.”

This was great news. I had a new method for growing potatoes that I was dying to try.

“Oh, yes! Potatoes are in,” I inadvertently blurted out.

“Yeeeees,” she replied cautiously. I doubt she gets that reaction to potatoes very often.

Off I sprinted on Friday morning as soon as the kids were at school. I was rewarded with three types of potatoes: Kennebec White, La Soda Red and Yukon Gold. I also got super-sweet Texas onions, white onions and red onions. There were a few chard plants and plenty of herbs. I bought those too.

My next stop was the Argyle Feed store for a bale of straw and, joy! They had more veggie transplants! Hooray for me! I picked up broccoli, collards and a few lettuces. Add those to the broccoli plants already growing in the garden (that actually survived the three hail storms we’ve had since Christmas) and a few sweet pea vines and we would have a solid winter garden.

For the total cost of $50 I had veggies and straw for both gardens-ours and the elementary school Garden Club garden. Excellent. I needed only to get things in the ground.

Fast forward to today. I decided to wait until a little warm-up to get everything done. I have mentioned before that I am a baby when it comes to cold weather. Yes, 48 degrees is cold. Yes it is. So, since today was warm, it was time to put my new potato plan in place.

Red, Yellow and white potatoes
I got out nine of the burlap coffee sacks I ordered a few months back. The bags were originally used to haul green coffee beans. I have used them to line the area around the school garden and top with mulch for weed control. I plan to fill a few with soil to make raised tomato planters. Right now though, I was going to use them for potatoes.

Here was the plan: A few years back I made a wire circular bin. I added a few inches of straw and buried seed potatoes. As the potatoes sprouted and grew plants, I added straw every week or so. After about ten weeks, I could pull new potatoes out of the bin. This year, I wanted to make potato planters out of the coffee sacks. I figured it should work the same way and be slightly portable if I needed to move the potatoes to a different location for sun or shade.

First I cut the seed potatoes into chunks, making sure a sprouted “eye” was in each piece.
I then rolled the sides down on the coffee sacks to make shallow sack-trays. I added about four inches of straw to the bags then tucked several potato pieces in each sack, eye-side up. I covered each piece with about four more inches of straw. As the plants grow and I add straw, I can roll the sides of the bags higher and higher.

Roll down sides
Fill with 4" of straw
Add seed potatoes
Cover with more straw
Planted bags
Once I carried the bags to the garden, I arranged them near the fence. I plan to plant the sugar snap peas alongside the bags, growing up a trellis. Our new fence is taller than the old one and now blocks some of the sun. I have to grow the onions in as much sun as possible so the potatoes can go here with no problem.

In their new garden home
I watered the sacks well and crossed my fingers. Experiment underway.

The whole garden has wintered under a thick layer of alfalfa hay and oak leaves and is so perfect for veggies. With the rows of onions, collards, broccoli and lettuce going in tomorrow, I can’t wait to see how much better our diets will get in a few weeks!

Check back to see how the planters work out and my new sugar snap pea trellis ideas!

I love being back in the garden in my boots!

******Update 4/17/13*******

After a very sad dog-got-in-garden-and-dumped-every-potato-sack-upside-down-and-ate-some incident, I had to get some new potatoes and replant the ones I could salvage. to try to speed things up, I added a small bit of organic compost and potting mix to the hay to help the potatoes germinate quicker and catch up. We are still a bit behind the control potato I put in the ground, but I don't know if it is due to the extra cold we had late here, the burlap sacks or the great canine injustice of 2013.

Here are some new pics. You can see the first leaves poking out of the bag on the lower left. So they are all growing. Will keep you posted!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

NotaSnow Day

I want to start by pointing out, very clearly, that fluorescent lights and I function about the same way in cold weather, i.e. not very well and extremely slow starting. Don’t get me wrong, when I woke up this morning to thunder and lightning and…snow…I was happy about the snow. I like it, it’s pretty, and it makes everything look clean. However, I like it better when the school system agrees with me that school should be cancelled or delayed. I live on a slanted driveway with a steep street and I am a baby.


Go ahead, snow-state friends, bring it! I fully admit I don’t like slip sliding away with my kids in the car. No excuses here. The school district did not agree, however and after enough neighbors had soldiered through the slush to clear the street we headed on our merry way.

The kids complained, whined, fussed and tossed a little snow around, but were mostly bummed that they didn’t get to stay home and play in the stuff. I did the Mom thing and told them it was too darn bad, and get in the car.

Warning-Whiner Alert!!!!!!!

Some things that make this notasnow day irritating are:

1.  School is still in session. I actually love the hot-cocoa-jammies-snuggle-under-blankets-with-a-movie time with the kiddos.

2.  The weather should warm up juuuuust enough to melt most of the snow before they get home.

3.  My house is cold, even with the heater at 70 (I told you I am a baby).

4.  The middle child sprained her ankle at gymnastics last night and has it wrapped and can’t run around.

5.  I drove straight to the coffee mecca from school drop off because I am brave when it comes to my caffeine needs and I deserved it for braving the snow. I got there finally to discover I had left my purse at home so I paid for my coffee with dimes. Yup, dimes. Ha! A lesser person would have just gone home, not foraged through the door-side cup holders. But I’m no quitter.

All-Clear, Whiner Alert is over. You may return to normal reading!

Well, I got home from my icy excursion and decided our little neighborhood friends were somewhat worse off than me, seeing as how I really do have a warm house to go into. In Garden Club this month, at the girls’ school, I taught the kids how to make suet balls for the birds to eat in the winter. Not much going on in the ol’ garden right now so we decided to focus on being good hosts to our wildlife buddies.

We mixed Crisco (I opted against lard this time), chunky peanut butter, sugar, oats and yellow cornmeal into a crumbly dough and then rolled it into balls. The kids each took some of them home for their own yards, we put some around the school and I had some left in my big Tupperware bowl. This morning, I scooped some out on top of the snow and also scattered some seed around. The suet is really good to help the omnivorous birds-like bluebirds (yes, they can be carnivorous sometimes) get the fat and protein they miss in the winter. For more on this, go to That is sialis with an “S” and it is about bluebirds, not bathtubs…

Ornithology lesson over.

Anywho…as I was scooping out suet, a wind gust hit a tree across the street and the whole thing shivered, like the Whomping Willow in Harry Potter, and snow cascaded down and blew across the yard. It was beautiful. I wish I could show you. I wish the girls had seen it. As I was looking around at the quiet majesty of a winter’s morn, bemoaning that the girls couldn't enjoy it, I had a great thought.

“Self,” I thought, “Why not save some of this for the girls?”

“But self,” I thought, “How?”

I decided to scoop up some snowballs, put them in a big tub and stash them in the freezer. Then, later, when they get home and the snow is all melted, they can have that snowball fight they begged for this morning (they did look really cute all bundled for the weather and wanting to play in it. I didn’t take a picture but here are some from Christmas Day-they pretty much look the same!) Also, after school it won’t be too icy for the wounded one to participate. I am a super-genius. Just wanted to put that out there.

I made a batch of chocolate chip cookies to add to cocoa for a post-fight treat so I’m all set for 4:00. Meanwhile, I am bundled in fleece and blankets, two furry pooches at my feet and coffee by my side and I am happy.


I hope you make the most of your notasnow day!

What Snow???

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Oklahoma, Where the Wind Comes Sweeping Down the Plains...

What do you do when you have one more day of Christmas break and you have seen all the Redbox/dollar/regular movies acceptable for kids, it is about 40 degrees and grey/cloudy outside, you have a ton of cleaning to do, decorations to put away and thank you notes to write?

Obviously you hop in the car with all the kids and drive north to Oklahoma. Yeah, maybe you don’t, but I do. I can come up with anything to avoid cleaning! This morning I was reading a book on historic day trips from the Dallas area that the hubby gave me for Christmas.

One of them was to Fort Sill and Mt. Scott in Oklahoma, north of Wichita Falls. At this point it was about 11:00 a.m. I decided that we needed to go to a mountain of some sort. Why not? So I looked closer, to the Arbuckle Mountains due north. I landed on Turner Falls, located in Davis, OK. This seemed like an easy road trip, less than two hours and straight.

“Go get in the car, we’re driving to some mountains.”


I was met with blank stares and incredulous, gaping mouths.

“Oh just go get in the car. Spontaneous Mommy craziness.”


I grabbed some snacks, gloves and hats and off we went.

We made it all the way to Gainesville before needing to take a break and grab lunch. Not bad for our crew of ladies. Being the generous, last weekday of break Mommy that I was, I stopped at three different fast-food joints for lunch. Yeah, that doesn’t happen ever, so savor it younglings!

So we soldiered on, over the Red River, past the behemoth casino, through the prairies that gradually gave way to rolling hills and then rocky cliffs.

We started watching for different license plates as we drove. We passed a lot of Texas and Oklahoma, predictably, but then we passed a truck with Alaska on the plate. Pretty far from home.

We saw a ton of Kansas and Nebraska and even a Colorado then the next plate we saw was South Carolina.

“Wow, they drove here all the way from South Carolina,” said the oldest as we passed the car.

South Carolina got that response? Not Alaska? Okie Dokie!

We pulled off the freeway and down the snaking drive to Turner Falls State Park. I forgot how beautiful the Arbuckle Wilderness was. The surroundings were the most barren I had seen them, being winter, but the rocks formations and bare trees mixed well with the dark green evergreens and the occasional white glints of snow.

After the obligatory photo at the entrance to the park, we headed in to see what mischief we could manage.

We paid and forded a couple of small water crossings in the family truckster before stopping to hike the rest of the way to the falls. Let me clarify that “hiking” was a loose definition at this point. They have paved a sidewalk that we walked on most of the way.

We passed the Stone Castle on our way to the falls, the former home of a professor, built in the ‘40’s. It is under semi-renovation and a lot of the structure still needs it. Crumbling cement covers the native stonework on the steps that lead almost vertically up the hillside.

 The castle consists of a main building and several patios and outbuildings connected by more steps. A garage at the top of the hill, about 100 steps up from the main structure, was worth investigating. The problem was, once we got up there, we smelled a skunk. A fresh skunk. Our trip downhill was a little quicker than up.

The girls had a blast climbing in and out of the narrow passageways and dark staircases. They pretended they were prisoners and that the place was haunted. A bit of ice still coated the roof so it was a bit treacherous. Still exciting. And my screaming calves today are proof that we covered every inch of the hundreds of steep steps!

As we got closer to the falls, we were paralleling the river. The crystal-clear water was full of trout. A few guys were fly-fishing at the falls. The girls had fun watching the technique but then almost gagged when they saw one man's line of caught trout and the heads of another man's already-cleaned catch.

“I. Am. Going. To. Be. Sick,” the middle child stammered, clutching my arm.

“I want to go up there,” pointed the oldest. I followed her finger to a cave about 50 feet up, past ice and crumbly rocks.

“No way,” I said. “Not this time.”

The youngest child took off to play on a playground at a picnic area nearby. I think this could be a great place to camp and hike as it warms up a little. We may plan a return trip.

As we walked back to the car, a kingfisher dove down from some trees to get a fish from the steam. It was neat to see such a unique bird and watch it hunt. It was a good day-much better than watching insipid shows featuring whiny kids and predictable plots.

The trip back was faster than the trip up and soon we were back in the great state of Texas, just in time to watch Texas A&M beat OU in the Cottonbowl. Guess we stole their mojo while we were up in Oklahoma! Then again, maybe it was just Johnny Football! Gig 'em!

More Hijinks...