Category Archives: going green(er)

Clean.

Confession time. And I’ve maybe mentioned this before. But I’m not the best at keeping a really clean house. Picked up? Mostly. But clean? Meh. I’d give myself a C. With the boys going back to school, I considered making myself a cleaning schedule for about one hot second, and then gave up that idea, because I would fail at that within a week.

[I don't do well with rigid schedules. So the idea that every Monday, I'd need to clean bathrooms, and every Tuesday, mop the floor, etc., makes me shiver.]

Sooo, it should come as no surprise, knowing the above, that I don’t clean the boys’ shower very often. And by “not very often” I mean I can probably count on one hand how many times I clean it in a year. I know some of you are gagging, and that’s understandable. I think I’d care more if:

a) anyone took a bath in there
b) I ever saw the tub (the boys have gotten really good at closing the shower curtain after showering, so I never even see it)
c) they complained about how gross it was. But let’s be honest here – it’s highly likely they’re peeing in there. In the place where they clean* themselves. Like they’re ever going to complain about how dirty their shower is.

And I KNOW I’d care more if I was showering in there.

When I happened to take a peek in there this morning, I was a bit disgusted by what I saw. Lots of pink mildew and a TON of soap scum (which, seriously, it’s a white shower. If you can SEE soap scum, it’s bad), but surprisingly, not a horrible mildew odor. I knew it was time to do something about this, because I was pretty sure I hadn’t cleaned it all summer. 3 boys x an average of 6 showers/week/boy x 12 weeks of summer = approximately 250 showers worth of nastiness in there.

Ahem.

I usually use a bottle of some kind of commercial cleaner, but this time I grabbed my bottle of Pinterest-inspired heavy-duty spray that I’ve used on my own shower in the past. I love that it’s cheap, green, and works like magic.

So after a little hard work** (see details below if you, too, have procrastinated shower-cleaning to the point of the authorities needing to be called), the tub, shower and tub mat are SPARKLING, and that is not an exaggeration.

See?

20130821-152822.jpg

I realize without a before picture, this means almost nothing, but trust me, it was gross, and now it’s not.

Which seems like about enough for one day, to quote my friend Suzanne. :)

*this term should be applied very loosely here, I’m certain.

**Here’s the how-to on this shower cleaner:
It’s simply one part white vinegar to one part blue Dawn dish soap (actually, err on the side of more vinegar than Dawn by a little bit). That’s it. Pour them in the spray bottle, shake it up, and spray it on.

3 things:

1. It smells bad. Not just like vinegar, because I use that all the time for things, but there is something about the combination of the 2 that makes for a nasty strong smell.

2. Plan to spray this on the shower, let it sit for an hour or so, and then come back and scrub it with a big scrubbing brush. It works best if you run some warm water in the tub, so that when you’re scrubbing you can dip the brush in there and suds up the solution on the walls.

3. It takes some scrubbing to get it off, so plan on it being a bit of work. However, your shower will literally be sparkling clean. And then you don’t have to worry about it for like another 3 months, right?

Greening Up the Laundry + Vinegar, Miracle Product

I’ve toyed with the idea of using homemade detergents for a while now, and just always decided not to for one reason or another. Keep in mind as you read this that I am not a total tree hugger, and don’t buy into a lot of the hype about organic vs. non and all that jazz. However, I think there are some small changes that we can make as a family that will save us money and be better for us in the long run.

So this week, I sat down at the computer and really did some investigating into whether I wanted to do this or not. I started with dishwasher detergent, which has a simple recipe that several people seemed to like. However, after reading some comments, there is concern that citric acid (present in all homemade recipes in some form, either straight or as Kool-Aid packets of lemonade) damages 18/10 stainless silverware. Which I own. And I still really like. So, I decided against that.

However, I have continued using white vinegar as a rinse agent, and it’s still working great.

The other thing I’ve really wanted to get rid of, but hadn’t done enough research on, was dryer sheets. They are coated in unknown, unnamed-by-the-companies chemicals, and it just doesn’t seem like a good idea to have that against your skin all day long. However, I was not about to deal with staticky laundry.

Enter two things: vinegar (again!) and wool dryer balls (which I’ll talk about in a minute).

As a test, I had a load of sheets and a few small towels to wash, so I used my regular Tide detergent but added between 1/3 and 1/2 a cup of white vinegar to the fabric softener compartment. When I opened the washer after it was finished, there was a very, very faint vinegar smell. However, after the dryer cycle, there was absolutely no trace of vinegar. And even better? Without a dryer sheet, absolutely no static. I was so surprised…before, if I ever forgot a sheet of Bounce, the clothes would have been adhered to each other in a ball of electricity so strong it hurt to pull them apart.

I also bought dryer balls on etsy from a local seller, and I really think she has one of the best deals out there for these! Basically, it’s felted wool that won’t unravel in the dryer. You put 2-6 wool dryer balls in with each load, depending on the size of the load, and they help remove static AND reduce drying time. And, they should last for several years. These will definitely help with large loads of towels in particular, I think, in addition to the vinegar. I’ll report back on these sometime soon!

I generally hang things to dry when possible, just on a drying rack that is currently in my kitchen. It would be in laundry room if it was big enough, but it’s not, and it would be in the garage except it’s winter, and Matt won’t fund my dream of enlarging the laundry room to use some of the garage space (what a meanie).

So for instance, with a recent load of jeans: I washed them with Tide + vinegar in the fabric softener compartment, dried them without a dryer sheet for about 10 minutes to shake out some of the wrinkles, and hung them to dry. And not a hint of vinegar smell. And no static.

A couple of things:
-Don’t have a fabric softener dispenser in your washer? You can use a Downy ball with vinegar in it.
-I’m ordering some essential oils to add to the vinegar so that the laundry is scented a bit…you just add 10-20 drops of essential oils (peppermint you’re supposed to stay closer to 10; lavender and sweet orange or lemon you can use more of) to an entire jug of white vinegar, and keep it in your laundry room for that purpose only.
-I read a LOT of articles about mixing different things with the vinegar (salt, baking soda, conditioner, etc) and decided that the easiest, cheapest, most natural AND actually works solution was the vinegar (and essential oils if you like).

Next up is maybe actually trying my own laundry detergent. My SIL Michon let me use some of the liquid detergent she made and it did a pretty good job on grass stains (I think the detergent scrubbed on the stains + Shout is what worked), which is the real test in this house of whether something is going to make the cut or not.

However, I’m still on the fence about this…there’s a debate about the safety of Borax, and I’m leaning towards thinking it’s safe (info here) but also torn, after reading things like this. Plus, the Fels Naptha soap that many recipes call for is definitely not natural…so what am I gaining by making my own? Yes, saving money, but if it’s also not better for us and does at least as good a job, and requires more work, why would I bother?

I’ll let you know if I decide to try the detergent.

For now, I’m really happy with the changes we’ve made and how easy and cheap it’s been, and that it works…that’s key.

Gardening 2012: The Beginning

We got really ambitious this year and decided to start our garden from seeds in these tiny greenhouses…I’m not extremely hopeful that this is going to fully work for everything we planted (the first greenhouse was WAY too wet and I didn’t realize it until a couple of days later…I did what it said to do it in the package, but that was NOT right), but it’s fun to give this a try!

We’ve planted a bunch of stuff, and only 9 days into this experiment, lots of things have sprouted! Take a look:

So, the vegetables and herbs will go into containers on the deck like last year. Additionally, I’ve got a small raised area in the backyard on one corner of the house that we’ve already planted a raspberry bush in. Raspberry bush, you ask? Well, that’s what happens when you take Jack Henry, the berry lover, to Lowe’s in the fall and find berry bushes for 75% off. We’ll see if it comes back this spring, but given our so-far mild winter, I’m thinking it might be ok.

In addition to the raspberry bush, we’re going to put in a blueberry bush in the same area, and then fill the rest of that area with flowers…mostly our zinnias and sunflowers, which I just bought because I thought they’d be fun. Plus, even though the whole area is surrounded by landscaping bricks, I think I may add some cinder blocks along the back wall in an effort to grow strawberries, which I’ll buy at the greenhouse in the spring. Fingers crossed, we’ll have a real berry patch and animals will stay out!

I love that the boys are interested in this…we’ve come a LONG way in the things they’ll eat around here, but there’s still a lot of work to do! I’m hoping that them helping to grow their own food will make them more adventurous eaters.

Household Tip of the Day

It’s no secret that I like to save money where I can, especially in ways that are super-easy.

So here’s a tip I learned somewhere in the depths of internet knowledge, and now that I’ve used it for a while, I have to pass along that it works! It really works!

Instead of using JetDry or the like in your dishwasher to prevent spotting, you can use regular old cheap white vinegar. Yes, the kind you buy by the gallon for about a dollar.

I’ve used JetDry intermittently because we have really hard water, and sometimes, the spotting started getting on my nerves…other times, I was too cheap to buy it, so we just had really spotty dishes. But I’ve been using vinegar in the JetDry dispenser now for a month and it definitely works. And I don’t use the heated drying cycle on the dishwasher, either; I just open the dishwasher and let the dishes air-dry overnight.

Plus, it’s healthier…you aren’t coating your dishes with an unknown chemical.

A gallon of vinegar, used solely for the dishwasher, will easily last you 18 months. JetDry for 18 months is probably somewhere in the range of $65.

There. I just saved you $64. You should go buy yourself a pair of shoes.

I’m a Gardener :)

My major in college was HDFS (Human Development and Family Studies), which was in the College of ACES (Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences) at UIUC (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign). I love acronyms when I’m in the know.

HDFS wasn’t quite psychology, and not quite education, and not quite a hard-core science major, so it apparently became a “Consumer Science” (I think I heard that the old Home Ec major had been split years prior into 2 HDFS majors and 1 or more Food Sciences majors). A requirement of the College of ACES was that you took 2 classes within ACES but outside of your own major and not otherwise a requirement for your degree. So what did this girl opt for?

2 gardening classes: home vegetable gardening and home flower gardening. You’d think that some of it would have sunk in, but the truth of the matter is that I don’t exactly have a green thumb. And it’s not black either; I’m just not especially talented or a complete lost cause.

We have a decent-sized yard for the ‘burbs, but because of the plethora of deer and other varmints, planting a garden in the ground without a 6-foot fence or an armed guard is virtually pointless. So this year, I’ve decided to plant a big container garden on our deck! And I got it all done on Tuesday (except for my topsy-turvy tomato plant), as it was absolutely gorgeous and 70 degrees outside. And now it’s raining again, of course, but that’s ok.

Here’s the rest of the story in pictures, some with my uber-knowledgeable commentary.

he came out for about 10 minutes, and then his eyes were bothering him too much so he went in to watch a movie. boo allergies.

the little photog took my picture gathering rocks...what for, you ask?

a few rocks in the bottom of your pots helps with drainage, and helps weigh down the pots.

the garden!! we have basil, cilantro (which will probably die), strawberries (that came back from last year!), parsley, garlic chives, sweet onions (in pots too small but it was all i had), and jalapenos. oh, and some trees that the boys have planted from seeds.

A glimpse of some other parts of the yard…

Remember this from last year?

it's growing! so much so that i'm going to split a couple of the plants soon.

the coral bells are beautiful!

upcoming project area...

i think matt really likes it when i come up with more projects. jack henry and i want to plant blueberry bushes in here!

who's happy to have a mudroom, no matter how small? that'd be me.

Product Review: Method Laundry Detergent

So a friend of mine who has connections with the folks at Method asked me if I would be interested in doing a review of their new laundry detergent! Never one to say no to free things, I of course accepted her offer!

Here’s the new product:

Method has just created a new, super-concentrated laundry detergent. I loved not only the scent I got to try (Fresh Air), but several other things, as well:
*tiny packaging…doesn’t take up as much space as my typical giant orange jug, and it also means less waste (it comes in a 25-load and 50-load bottle)
*the detergent is made from 95% natural and renewable products (read: non-toxic)
*in addition to being laundry detergent, it’s also a great stain-remover, which means that you can get rid of another bottle of stuff in your laundry room
*it’s easy to use. No pouring, just squirt four pumps into the washing machine! And, it can be used in front-loader or traditional top-loaders, like my ancient piece of garbage.

I tested out the stain-removal on a pair of Luke’s jeans…the knees were covered with grass stains. Honestly, I was a little nervous, because I always do the same thing on grass stains and it works (stain remover spray + some detergent from the orange bottle, and scrub it in with a toothbrush). However, I decided to give Method a shot at getting out this stain. I just squirted a small amount on the stain, gently rubbed it in with an old toothbrush, and washed it like I normally would. And voila! Grass stain gone.

I’ll definitely be using Method again. And if you go to their website right now, you can print off a coupon for $2 off any size bottle. Click here to learn more about the product, find out where to buy it, and save some money!

WFMW: My Mom Would Be So Proud!

wfmwThis week’s WFMW theme is “Back to School.” I had already written up a lot of this post, and just decided to turn it into a WFMW since I haven’t participated in a while!

There are so many things that I miss being able to tell my mom, even dumb little things, and this is one I know she would have laughed at and loved!

Remember how I had a tiny little freak-out at the end of last school year about the fact that Luke has to eat lunch at school (or rather, take his lunch to school) starting this fall? Well, I’ve started thinking about the logistics of everything over the last few weeks, and I’ve purchased a couple of things that will be used heavily over the next few years, I think.

But back to my mom: she was the original “green” mom way back when, way before it was hip. Like me, it mainly had to do with saving money…why throw something away when you can use it again, or why use something disposable when there’s a better alternative? Of course, she tried to apply this to my lunch, which I usually only brought once a week. On occasion, she’d pack my lunch in a plastic container instead of a sandwich bag, and I cannot stress enough how much I hated this.

Well, as we all know, times have changed. Luke chose his lunchbox a few weeks ago (I totally lucked out and he picked one that’s on sale – the green retro one) and last week, I bought a big box of Rubbermaid containers to use for his school lunch. And he’s excited about all of this! Oh, and I’m excited to own some larger storage containers that are NOT the disposable kind.

Last week, we also got a notice in the mail about how the school lunch money system works, and I started figuring out what it would cost to buy him a carton of milk every day he brings his lunch…it added up to over $75 (not to mention the fact that he would likely choose chocolate milk even if he wasn’t supposed to! And if we’re really being green here, the carton waste…). I looked online and found a Star Wars thermos that he thinks is pretty cool. And at $16, plus the cost of milk from the gallon at home, I figure we’ll save at least $40 this year. Now, this is if the thermos doesn’t leak and bringing a thermos isn’t uncool, of course…UPDATED TO ADD: In 3 years’ time, that thermos leaked once…and it was because I didn’t get the lid on straight. He used the same thermos for 3 years, and would still be using it for 4th grade had the bottom not fallen off.

So, these little investments in our “lunch kit” are what works for me…that, and knowing that my mom would be proud ;).

For more back to school tips, hop on over to We Are THAT Family.

Saving Money on Your Taxes

I’ve known for a long time that when you donate items to Goodwill/Salvation Army/whatever, you can take a tax deduction if you itemize. I guess I just always thought it wasn’t worth the effort, since I usually only donate a box or two of stuff a couple of times a year and figured it wasn’t worth much. This year, though, I’m going to try harder to keep track of what we donate and use it as a deduction.

I went to this website, which gives you an idea of what your donated item is worth. (This one has even more detail than the main page.) I was shocked that the value assigned is much more than you’ll get for the same item at a garage sale or the resale shop! Even if you value your items conservatively, it’s easy to see that this can all easily add up to a sizable deduction over the course of the year.

For auditing purposes (quick prayer that we never get audited), this is how I’m keeping track of what we’ve donated: a picture of the box of stuff I’m donating (not much detail, but just some evidence, and I don’t even think this is necessary, but I want to be careful), a list of what’s in the box (again, not tons of detail, just “mens dress pants, 3 pair” or whatever and what they are worth), and the receipt I get from the Salvation Army, who is going to pick my stuff up this week. When you do your taxes, you only submit the actual receipt and hold onto the other stuff just in case they come to check you out.

For this donation, I hadn’t been keeping track of what’s in the box, so it took a little while to sort through everything and write it down. However, in the future, I’m just going to keep a notebook and pen next to the box I keep downstairs that I fill with items to be donated. That way the next time the box is full, most of the work will already be done.

I’ve got about 6 large shopping bags full of clothes, toys, and household odds and ends. Its value? $250. And since I do this 3 times a year or so, this will add up to a nice extra deduction.

This page also had some good information on taxes/donations. Some of you may already do this, and if you have any tips, I’d love to hear them.

Toy Review

I love reading reviews of things I’m considering buying when shopping online…especially on Amazon. When there are tons of reviews for an item, I usually give that some weight when making my decision. In lieu of posting reviews there, here are my reviews of this year’s best Christmas toys in our house, as well one thing that fell short of the “best” list this year.

51rq2azk1rl_ss500_Luke got this Talking US Map…it’s something he saw in a toy catalog and thought looked cool. And really, it is! It tells you the state name, state nickname, and state capital. It’s hilarious to listen to Bennett repeat the capitals (Koenix for Phoenix). DO NOT put Wyoming upside down in the Colorado space. You will need a knife to remove it.

ptru1-5250855regNOT BEST: Bennett got this Darth Vader figurine, and his arms will not stay on. And, he is physically incapable of holding his own light saber. The boys got tons of these figurines for Christmas and they love them. However, the construction is just amazingly bad on this round of toys. Matt’s mom and dad still have his old Star Wars guys from 25 years ago and they are so much more durable…even the Stormtrooper with the foot that Matt burned with a lighter at some point.

*Lots and lots of new games. We got some classics like “Battleship,” “Lucky Ducks,” “Don’t Break the Ice,” “Hungry, Hungry Hippos,” and “Connect Four,” and the new version of “Guess Who.” We also got a newer game called “What’s in Ned’s Head?” that is a gross-out game for little boys, but since “gross-out” and “little boys” are practically synonymous, this was a hit in our house. Here’s my MAJOR complaint about most of these games, though: you have to be an engineer to fit them back in the box. Honestly, only “Guess Who,” “Battleship” and “Ned” go back in their original box without trouble. “Connect Four” and “Hungry, Hungry Hippos” have to be completely disassembled. “Don’t Break the Ice” and “Lucky Ducks” cannot be repackaged with all pieces inside…and I’m talking about me doing this. Don’t even think about a kid trying to make it happen. Dear Toy Companies: I will gladly pay an extra buck or two for a box big enough to hold the game. I feel ridiculous even typing that, as it should be a given.

*Leapster games. Can’t go wrong here. The boys have been playing with these a ton. Now, I’m wondering if another Leapster might be a good gift for Bennett’s birthday…they share it fine here at home, but it sure would be nice to have two for car rides, doctor’s office visits, etc.

*New Wii games. Sadly for the boys, now that Christmas break is over, they are back to their 20 minutes a day for the Wii. We were pretty lenient over break.  The Active Life Outdoor Challenge is a fun one for all of us.

As an aside: did you know that you can recycle alkaline batteries? It’s so easy…I just save them in a little shoebox in the front closet, and when it’s full, take them to Batteries Plus. I wish I could tell you that I liked using rechargeable batteries, but the fact is, I don’t.

Green Tips

Now, on this first one, please don’t think I’m crazy.  Or, you can think I am if you want, but don’t dismiss this idea without giving it some thought.  We’ve started using cloth napkins at meals at our house.  Not all the time yet, because I only have two “everyday” sets (that honestly, I don’t love that much) that I got on clearance at WalMart for a buck a napkin.  Since I am not meticulous about my house, we actually leave them sitting at our places at the table for 2 days…at first, this seemed kind of gross to me, but then I thought about how you use a towel for a few days in a row and I was over it.  I put one person’s initials on the tag of each napkin, so they don’t get mixed up. Here’s the math: if each of the 2 napkins is used for 2 days, that’s (3 meals/day x 4 days x 4 people) – 8 since Matt is gone for breakfast and lunch = 40 paper napkins per week that we aren’t throwing away.  As I make or get more sets, we’ll be using these most of the time, with the exception of stuff like picnics, or when I don’t get the laundry done.  Which never happens.  (Caveat: when people are sick, we switch back to paper napkins!)

Next up: green cleaning solutions.  I’ve just decided that I want to start using greener products to clean our home, and I found this great list of suggestions. I just mopped using Murphy’s Oil Soap, something I’ve used for years without realizing that it was more natural that other products. As I run out of what I use currently, I’ll be switching to a more environmentally-friendly option.

Last thing: we got our last water bill, and it’s lower than it’s ever been, I think. I looked back on the last several bills, and we used 7500 fewer gallons this quarter than last, which blows me away. Now, we were gone for a total of about 3.5 weeks on this 3 month period, which is more than usual, but this was the billing period when we filled the backyard pool and used the sprinkler. And it was still substantially less. Us being gone probably accounted for somewhere in the neighborhood of 4500 gallons, so there’s definitely something else we’ve changed. One thing that has to have helped was switching the dishwasher to the “water miser” setting…I haven’t noticed a difference in how clean the dishes are, and it uses much less water. I only use the normal setting if there’s a really full load of really dirty dishes in there. I am also really conscious of only running a full load in the washing machine, so that’s probably contributed, too. Watch: we’ll get a letter in the mail stating that there was a mistake!

And now, ooooh! My first poll! I’ve so been wanting to use this handy new tool. I woke up this morning and it felt like winter outside. Which got me to thinking: I’ve been running the furnace off and on for the last couple of weeks as needed, and I’ve got it set on 70…honestly, I used to run it at 72. I am fairly certain that those numbers are not accurate as far as real temp (and it really depends on which room you’re in), but I’m trying to keep it lower this winter. And I’m noticing the difference, and wearing an extra layer. So, what do you keep your thermostat set at? Am I normal? Are you noticing that I like to find that out?

I’d love feedback from those of you who have switched to more environmentally-friendly cleaning supplies – what do you like/dislike?