Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Using Conditioner for Shaving Cream

Have you ever had conditioner that didn't work on your hair, or that you just didn't like for whatever reason? What did you end up doing with it?

Generally, the options would be to either throw it away, give it away, or (especially if you paid good money for it) use it anyway. Well, here is another option: Use your conditioner for shaving cream. No, you don't need shaving cream or gel from a can to get a good shave. Try this; it works!

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I've been shaving with conditioner that I was given, and it works perfectly. It provides a creaminess, rinses easily away, and moisturizes. I keep the conditioner in a small tub that I can easily scoop what I need from while shaving, and refill as needed. It's as simple as that.

I also discovered I can easily shave at the sink, rather than in the shower, which saves water. I just use a washcloth to wet the area before shaving and wipe away the conditioner after.

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Shaving with your conditioner provides an elegant solution for conditioners that don't work great for your hair, and might be a better option for your skin than whatever you've been using to shave with. Conventional cans of chemical shaving creams and gels create endless waste, but the bottles conditioners come in can generally be recycled. It takes just a small scoop to provide coverage, so one bottle lasts a long time.

If you're interested in going shampoo and conditioner free, check out my articles on using simple household staples to get super clean hair: How My Family Went Shampoo Free, and Still Shampoo Free.

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Monday, January 15, 2018

How To Make Dishwasher Powder With Three Natural Ingredients

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You don't have to buy dishwasher detergent. Your dishwasher won't be ruined by homemade dish soap. You won't have suds erupting all over your kitchen floor. Just follow the simple instructions below, and you'll have clean dishes with no mess, no hassle, hardly any expense, and all natural ingredients.

For the last couple of years, I've been making my own dish tablets. It's a complicated process that I never really perfected, which is why I never wrote an article about it. I would make huge batches of tablets, each batch lasting for many months, so I only had to do it a few times. However, my dishes recently had been coming out a little streaky and spotty. Clean, but not shiny. So I wanted something else. I considered buying conventional dishwasher detergent, so I spent some time on Amazon comparing all the prices, reviews, and ingredients. The reviews were very mixed, especially for the more "natural" products, so I really wasn't sure what to try. But then when the new year started, we began keeping a budget, and I no longer wanted to buy something if I could make do without it. So I hit up Google in search of a better solution for our dishes.

I found right away this apparently common solution. Before I decided to give it a try I started a conversation about it in the Buy Nothing Challenge group I'm in on Facebook, which is full of helpful and knowledgeable people who come up with interesting ways to not buy things. 75 comments later, I was left feeling quite confident that none of my ingredients would damage my appliance. One warning someone did mention is that using white vinegar as a rinse agent will damage the dishwasher's seals over time. While I have tried using vinegar in the past, it's not something I recommend simply because it didn't seem to make a difference in my dishes. Through this research I also figured out that the squeeze of liquid soap I'd started adding to my homemade tablets was probably the reason my dishes had been looking streaky lately, since liquid soap has a harder time rinsing away. This recipe uses a little liquid soap, but only a few drops.

There were one or two people who told me right off that this would void my warranty and/or wreck my dishwasher. This at first gave me pause, but then I asked why.

How would salt, baking soda, and a tiny amount of soap cause any damage? They all go easily into solution in water. They're not particularly harsh and they're not going to clog anything. People are afraid of making their own; companies don't want you to make your own; but as far as I can tell, there is literally no harm in making your own. I've been making my own liquid laundry soap for three years without any problems, as well as my dish tablets. I have a long history of doing things my own way, pretty successfully, so after my research I was confident in running my first trial load.

I was so pleased. Not only were they clean, but they were shiny again. This much easier method worked better than my elaborate dish pod recipe.

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Now, without further ado except the reminder that this might void the warranty on your dishwasher, here is the recipe.

  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3 drops liquid soap 

I use lavender Dr. Bronners liquid soap, which smells amazing. Place all ingredients in the soap tray, and close it up. Run as normal, and behold how clean this easy method gets your dishes.

For the first few batches, I anxiously checked each dish to make sure my new method was working. It does. It continues to work great. Now I just keep a jar of baking soda and a jar of salt under my sink, next to a squeeze bottle of lavender liquid soap. I buy all three in bulk from Azure Standard, so they are very cheap. Washing dishes is amazingly easy, and I can have naturally clean dishes without having to slave away making dishwasher tablets. 

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Please let me know how this works for you!

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Thursday, January 11, 2018

Teach Kids Currency & Math Skills With The Money Game

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This is a great way for younger kids to practice addition and quickly learn the value of currency, while older kids can hone their multiplication skills. This is fun, and it's easy to modify the game lots of different ways in order to make it interesting for kids at any level. I think the fact that it uses real money makes it appealing for most kids, even ones who have an aversion to math.

Here is the basic instructions, and what you need to play.


  • Coins, as many denominations as you can find. This is a great use for fifty cent pieces and Susan B. Anthony dollars, but pennies, nickles, dimes, and quarters are all you really need.
  • At least two dice. Normal six-sided dice to start, and if you want to make the game more challenging, add more dice and dice with more sides, all the way up to twenty-sided. These can be found at game stores & online.

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Roll the dice. Add up the dice and take that much money. If a 3 and a 4 are rolled, you would take 7 cents, or a nickel and two pennies. Once your child has several pennies, you can show them how to exchange five pennies for a nickel, or five nickels for a quarter, etc.

If two dice gets too easy, try using three dice. When addition gets too easy, roll two dice and multiply them. When that gets easy, roll three dice and multiply those. The more sides the dice have, the harder this will be. Even older kids may find it challenging and fun to use two twenty sided dice here.

We keep an assortment of change in a small wooden cigar box, along with a handful of dice. I have two kids at very different math levels, and they both find this game pretty fun and entertaining. We play until our box is empty of money, but you could also play to a certain dollar amount.

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What do you think? I would love to hear about other variations you may come up with. Please share your ideas in the comments below.

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Thursday, January 4, 2018

Tracking Your Personal Expenses and Creating a Budget

Tracking Your Personal Expenses & Creating A Budget

Tracking Our Expenses

For the new year, my partner and I created a spreadsheet for tracking everything we spend. Our aim is to create more awareness about where our money is going, and spend less than we have been. 
I used to meticulously track my spending years ago, but we've never implemented it together. Instead, we've been using Mint for the past few years, which automatically tracks spending in different categories, but it doesn't do the job very well. Mint can be nice for having a record of expenses, and it does a fair job of categorizing each line item. However, it often loses communication with our various accounts and we have to go through and reconfirm passwords so frequently that it's a bit of a nuisance. 

Money Mindfulness 

But the biggest issue with Mint, I'm realizing, is the fact that the tracking is automated. While automation sounds handy, taking the work out of tracking your own expenses means you have that much less awareness, and that much less mindfulness, of where your money is going.

Entering every purchase into the spreadsheet manually really changes how I think about each expenditure. I'm excited about how this awareness will change our habits. I'm already looking for more ways to not buy things! While we are barely into the new year and this new system, we are both looking at spending in a totally different way. It reminds me of how the simple act of keeping a food journal helps people improve their diet. Consciously tracking helps us subconsciously analyse (is that a thing?) our actions, and see if they're a good fit for how we want to be living.

The Spreadsheet

To set this up, all you need is a spreadsheet program, which we use through Google Docs for free. If you do a search for budget spreadsheets, you can get all sorts of ideas for the layout. Of course, you can track your expenses the old fashioned way, with pencil & paper, if that's what you're more comfortable with. However, spreadsheet programs like Excel and Google Sheets have some very handy functions that make calculating totals, averages, and differences a breeze, once you get comfortable with how to enter formulas.

Tracking Your Personal Expenses and Creating a Budget

Our budget is set up simply with the date in the first column, then the second column has a drop-down menu with different categories such as Mortgage, Food, Entertainment, Purchase, Car, and various utilities. The third column is the actual dollar amount spent, and this column is automatically added together under "Total", in the top right corner. The fourth column is a place where we can note a description of the line item, such as what the purchase was or where the income came from. Income will be entered as a negative number, which is counter-intuitive but we decided it would be easier to set it up this way since the majority of the entries will be expenses. So, we're hoping for a negative total at the end of each month, which will show how much we were able to save.

The Goal of Savings

With tracking, we can get more satisfaction out of not spending money, as well as really see where our money is going, rather than just having a vague idea. Once we know exactly how much of our income is going to certain areas, we can decide if that feels right for us, or if we need to rethink how we're spending.
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Sunday, October 8, 2017

A Nature Scavenger Hunt For Any Age

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This is an idea I've been wanting to try all summer. We finally made it to the beach with our egg cartons, and this simple scavenger hunt ended up being a really engaging activity. It went so well that my son immediately asked if we could do it again!

All you need is one empty egg carton for each participant, and a patch of nature where you can safely explore. The goal is to fill each egg compartment with something different. Since we were on the beach where there is always plenty of garbage, I asked my kids to avoid getting a bunch of trash, and just focus on nature.

In the past, we've done nature scavenger hunts where we had a list of different types of things (a seed, a deciduous leaf, a Y-shaped twig, etc) that everybody needs to find, but it was actually more interesting to just see what each of us came up with on our own. Also, this way takes less advance planning!

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Once we each got our egg cartons, and everyone understood what we were meant to do, we all went off exploring to see what we could find. When my youngest eventually called out that he was done, and everyone else agreed, we all reconvened to share what we found.

We sat together and took turns showing each item in our cartons, and explaining why we chose it, what stood out about it or made it interesting to us.

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My youngest found pieces of discarded crab shell, what we think are tube worm husks, and lots of feathers, as well as some nut shells.

My older son went for more wet items, with a few types of seaweed, one of which I know to be excellent cuisine, and some mystery material that turned out to be weathered foam insulation.

My partner found sea glass, as well as a piece of plastic that made rainbows when the sun shone through it.

I found several types of "wishing rocks" which showed stripes for each ancient sediment layer, various sizes and life stages of barnacle, and a beautiful wavy piece of wood.

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We did end up with some garbage, which we decided to take home and throw away after we were done, leaving the beach a tiny bit nicer than we found it.

For me, this was a relaxing way to spend time in nature with my family. It could easily be done in larger groups as well.

I think it will be interesting to come back and do this again in future weeks, and see how much the things we find change over the seasons.

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Saturday, September 16, 2017

Grain Free Easy Paleo Biscuits

These are the easiest biscuits- It just takes minutes to whip them up.
With recipes like this, I really never miss bread! They go great with any soup, and we also like them with butter & jam. Plus, it's a great use for coconut flour, which was a complete mystery to me for many years :)

They pretty much turn out perfect every time, and my kids love them.
This recipe makes about a dozen medium sized biscuits, and is easily doubled if you like. Here you go!

Preheat oven to 350.
In a blender or mixing bowl, combine:
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 Tb apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 c coconut oil, butter, or other fat, softened

    Stir together, then add to blender:
    • 3/4 c coconut flour
    • 1 tsp baking soda

    Mix in blender briefly, until thick dough forms, like this photo:

    Drop heaping spoonfuls onto lightly oiled baking sheet.
    Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden.

    Serve warm with soup, or with butter & jam. Enjoy!

    Store cooled biscuits in a sealed container in fridge for up to a week.

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    Monday, April 3, 2017

    How To Make Lacto Fermented Ginger Carrots

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    Buying raw lacto-fermented condiments gets crazy expensive. Ginger carrots are not only delicious and easy to make yourself, they will cost you the low price of some carrots and a nub of ginger.

    • 1 lb carrots
    • 3" section of ginger
    • 2 tsp sea salt

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    First, wash your carrots and cut the ends off. Likewise, make sure your ginger is clean and free of bad spots. As you may know from my previous article, I never peel my veggies. It's a waste of time and you lose precious nutrients.

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    Run the carrots and ginger through a food processor with a shredder attachment. The carrots help push the ginger through, so run the ginger through first, and then the carrots. If you don't have a food processor, a low-tech cheese grater works fine too.

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    Transfer the shredded veggies to a mixing bowl, and add the salt. I usually mix my sauerkraut by hand and really squeeze the salt into the cabbage, but for the carrots it works fine to use a stand mixer and just thoroughly mix everything. Let sit, so the salt can start to dissolve and break up the cell walls of the veggies, and then mix again. The carrots should release a bit of juice. This is our brine.

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    Stuff the mix into a wide-mouth quart jar, or two pint jars if you prefer. I have a wide funnel that helps fill the jars with less mess, but it's not necessary. Pack it down so there's no air mixed in with the carrots, and the liquid rises to the top. I discovered that the small ladle, shown below, helps me to pack the veggies in. But if you don't have something like that, your clean fingers will work fine. Just try to remove the air pockets, and get all the shredded veggies pushed below the level of the brine. It's OK if the brine sinks back down and some of the carrots aren't fully covered by the juice. They will be fine during the short fermentation time.

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    I like to cap mine loosely with a plastic lid, since metal will corrode over time, with exposure to the acids in fermented veggies. Store them at room temp, in a dark spot, with the caps loose. I put mine on the counter near my stove, covered by a tea towel.

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    Ferment for 2-4 days, testing it out each day to see how you like it best. Ginger carrots take much less fermentation time than traditional sauerkraut. The high sugar content of the carrots makes it kind of a different animal, with a much shorter shelf life. It's best to make small batches, only what you will use in the next two weeks. You will know when it goes bad if you see white spots on the carrots at the top, or if the consistency turns slimy. Just don't forget about it in the back of your fridge, and it will be fine, since it is so delicious you will want to use it up long before it has a chance to go bad! My partner and I just ate half a batch in one meal, with our curry and rice. Fortunately, it's easy and quick to make a new batch!

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    For more on making your own fermented vegetables, check out my other articles: Easily Make Sauerkraut Right in the Jar, and Making Lacto-Fermented Sauerkraut.

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    Saturday, April 1, 2017

    Miner's Lettuce: Growing and Harvesting the Most Delectable Wild Greens

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    Each morning for the past few weeks I've been harvesting a giant bowl of this tender wild green vegetable, right from my backyard. We use it in our green smoothies instead of spinach or kale (click here for my green smoothie recipe) and in salads instead of buying the mix of salad greens that I would normally get. It has a really mild flavor, which makes it suitable in anything you'd use raw spinach or lettuce for. I've never tried cooking it, but it would probably cook up like spinach as well.

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    Nearly two years ago, when we bought our house, the only thing I was sad about was losing my rich abundant garden full of wild edible weeds and plants, which I had cultivated over the years that we'd been at our first house. I had to trade all that flora and fauna for a yard that consisted of evergreen trees, shade, landscape fabric, and woodchips. I knew not much would grow in the new, dark yard, but I brought a tub with some miner's lettuce that I dug from my old place, and just laid it down over the wood chips and pine needles that covered my new yard. I watered it pretty regularly that first summer. Here we are two years later and it's taken off like wildfire.

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    This perfect edible weed now thrives deliciously on my poor, unamended soil, with no watering beyond what the clouds provide, and only an hour or two of sunlight at the end of each day. I haven't really managed to grow much else in the deep shade of my yard, but fortunately the miner's lettuce loves it! 

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    Besides that first summer of watering it in, it took absolutely no work (or expense!) to grow this healthy and abundant food crop. I love it! Whenever I want some greens, I simply go outside with a big bowl and a large pair of scissors. Holding the tops of a handful of greens with one hand, I clip them off near the base with the scissors. They will quickly grow back. The entire plant is edible, though the leaves get a bit tougher once they start flowering in summer. 

    After cutting all I need, I bring the bowl inside and fill it with cool water and a dollop of white vinegar. We have pets, and washing our miner's lettuce with a bit of dilute vinegar makes me feel better about food safety, since who can say where the pets are doing their business. The taste or smell of vinegar does not linger on the greens. I drain the greens and refrigerate any portion that I'm not using right away. They last a few days in the fridge, but I tend to use what I pick each day. Fresh greens are such a delicious and healthy luxury!

    For more of my articles on edible foraging, check out Wild Foraging in April, Identifying and Harvesting Edible Weeds in the Garden, and How to Find Edible Weeds.

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