Category Archives: Your Personal Health

Your personal health refers to both your mental and physical health. In this section we explore ideas to maximize both.

Less Binge, More Purge

I’ve recently converted. I am not talking about religion or politics…I am talking about stuff. I am a firm believer in less of it and I recently converted to the gospel of getting rid of it.

Seriously, I talk about this pretty often with my friends and family.  This conversion almost certainly drives my mother nuts. I was not a particularly orderly child. These days when I go to her house and start to organize drawers, she probably laments that I wasn’t like this as a teenager and now it’s just annoying to her.  We’ve reached a compromise, though, she will put up with me going through her stuff and telling her to stop buying so much of it, and I will put up with her cleaning my toilets. Should I tell her that I’m getting the better end of the bargain there?  Nah.

I will stop picking on my mom for a moment, because, truthfully, we all have too much stuff. You do, I do…we all do. A recent article I came across in Money Magazine stated that  “most Americans homes are stuffed with stuff–so much so, in fact, that about one in 10 households pays for extra storage space….” But even before we get to storage facilities, we first fill the inside of our homes–which often have spare rooms filled with unused stuff and basements and attics filled with long since forgotten and broken stuff. We have closets and garages, and cabinets and drawers filled to over-capacity with stuff.

A couple of funny things happen, though, when you finally commit to getting rid of all this excess baggage.  First, you realize how much money you wasted in buying this stuff, some of which is never even used, and some of which you kept buying because you thought you didn’t have any more of the thing. After attempting to begin to organize three bathroom drawers for my mother, we quickly came to the conclusion that she will not need to buy another nail file for at least a good decade.

The second thing that happens with you start to purge is you realize that all the stuff you have laying around is actually money.  So yes, you actually are made of money. You just have to mobilize and sell it.  But that’s a topic for a follow-up article.

Even though my husband and I started downsizing our stuff (not our house… we’re staying around until housing prices rebound a bit) a couple of years back, it’s a constant process.  I have to keep telling myself to REFUSE, REDUCE, REUSE, and RECYCLE.  Your process does not have to be in this order, but this mantra helps you on your journey to financial freedom and eco-responsibility.

Refusing free stuff is hard because, well… it’s free.  But my rule is that I will only take stuff if I already use it regularly (like wrapping paper and tissue and fabric) and I will save  money by not purchasing it.  Another part of REFUSE is being disciplined about shopping.  A good sale, like chocolate mousse, is almost impossible to resist.  But I promise you that once you begin to get rid of your stuff and you see the amount of things that you didn’t use very often or at all, you will be more conscientious about your purchases.

The last thing I am encouraging you to do is embracing REDUCE by throwing everything you own in a the landfill.  Please don’t do that.  Think first about REUSE and RECYCLE.  I will be doing  a follow up article for where all your stuff can go, including some great ways to earn money.

In summary, clearing the clutter from your life has so many advantages.  It will make you feel less stressed.  You will enjoy living in your home more.  You can make money.  You can donate to someone super appreciative.  You can shut your drawers and doors as furniture gods intended.   You will be able to find things again.  And finally, you will value what you have even more! Start purging now!

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Pressed Paper Pots 2

After the last post on these pressed paper pots I happened to run across this blog called Little Alexander with a post for the seedlings in egg an carton. It’s a fabulous blog with many good ideas. For the post to which I am referring, they used the carton in a not-so-obvious way that made me want to say, “of course!” I thought this post was very clever and was just waiting to read how easy it all was and how much time I had wasted when two perfectly good egg cartons were staring me in the face as I labored over my little paper pots. However, I was gratified to see that some of my latent concerns about the egg carton were a problem in the actual plan. (Click on the title “Little Alexander” above for a link to the post).

AND I was gratified to see that my little project was working.

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The above was right after I planted. These being so small, they didn’t hold a lot of water and I always watered slowly so the dirt was able to absorb as much as possible. The picture below was after almost six days. It helped that I planted lettuce seeds because these seeds are planted shallow and come up fast!
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In hindsight I would use my second idea of scavenging plastic cups from a meeting or office and using those as my molds. These worked, but were maybe just a bit too small. Check back late next winter to see how the new and improved project turns out, or share your experience with me! This was a great way to turn trash into a functional item.

Pressed Paper Pots

This year I am actually growing some seedlings inside to transplant outside. I bought these Burpee compostable packs for the job.

20130425-195433.jpg20130425-195451.jpg20130425-195459.jpgThey are cheap, about 15 cents each, and go directly in the ground when you are ready to plant. But as I was looking at them, it occurred to me that they are really just pressed paper. If you’ve ever made home made paper on a screen, you’ll understand what I am talking about.

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If not, let me explain. You can make that thick, fancy textured paper by shredding paper, blending it to pulp, and pouring out onto a screen and pressing out liquid, then letting it dry completely. The paper will end up having the imprint from the screen. I thought surely I could figure out a way to make these. I didn’t know if I would use the screen…that imprint was just the clue that keyed me on to the idea of making these. The trick would be to be able to mold them.

As I normally do with projects I have an inkling for but no clear direction with, I hit the internet. Surprisingly, I really couldn’t find a precise replica of these. At best, I found methods using newspaper “cups” (really, just taking newspaper and making a flat bottomed cup), toilet paper rolls (almost tempted to use this), paper egg cartons (clever but too small, I thought) and eggshells (cute but impractical) . I was fully expecting a paper mache option to mold your own cups or pots, at the very least. Being unsatisfied and having a rudimentary understanding about how to make paper, I stumbled through this on my own.

I took a couple of cardboard boxes out of the recycling and started tearing them up. I then soaked the cardboard.

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While soaking the cardboard, I again researched how to add more structure to the cups. I was afraid that the moment I added water, they would fall apart. I saw some suggestions online about added dryer lint to as a way to make paper. I figured that since it was not paper, it might add firmness to my cups. I went to my dryer and grabbed a thick wad of lint and threw it in my soaking paper. Too late I realized what a bad idea that was…especially if I were actually making paper to give away. My dryer lint is full of cat hair since I have two of the furry little beasts. However, since these were ideally just going in the ground, I was still hopeful the lint–hair and all–would add structure. I added more water and then threw in about a quarter cup of flour on a completely untested theory that it would make the paper harden more (a la paper mâché). I then threw it all in the blender.

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Careful if you add lint, the stuff tends to wind around the blades kind of like the underside of a vacuum. When done blending, I then had a bowl of really awful looking stuff.

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It felt really gross. Kids would probably love this project.

As I mentioned above, the biggest challenge I faced was how to make pot shapes that I considered big enough plant in. The best solution I could come up with was using these silicone cupcake molds. They were a lot smaller than I would have wanted, but I figured that seedlings don’t get too big before you stick them in the ground. (Based on this thinking, I don’s know why i insisted the egg carton was too small… maybe I just wanted to make pressed paper pots.) I figured that the silicone would peel easily from the dried paper and I wasn’t bringing other waste into the mix. If I hadn’t gone with those, I would have tried to use plastic cups… as long as I was recycling them (saving them from the trash to reuse and/or continued to use them afterwards.) If you go out and buy the plastic cups for the sole purpose of making these and then toss them out afterwards, you’re defeating the purpose of making recycled projects and should just use the plastic cups as planters directly.

The first couple cups I tried to make free form by pressing small sections onto the mold. But then I figured out that I could just use an empty mold to squeegee out the water and help shape the mold I was working on. I made sure to apply to pulp thickly to avoid thin spots and proved enough support.

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The entire process was a bit labor intensive, but in the end I was hopeful. My husband, on the other hand, was very skeptical. I started to blog right away about these, even as my little cups sat there all soggy and sad looking. I told him that I felt confident that they would dry…but I honestly had no idea what would happen once I added dirt and water.

Sure enough, the cups dried beautifully in about three days. I would have liked to have left them outside in the warm sun to dry faster, but it’s April in Illinois, and warm sun is scarce. I might have tried baking them to dry them out more quickly, but I remembered the hairy lint and knew that would be a smelly, bad idea.

Alas, I have not really provided a precise recipe or method, either. More like an idea and a plan. I would love feedback if anyone out there plays around with the idea. I don’t know if the flour and lint are necessary, but I feel that they helped make a sturdier end-product.

It is important for me to consider how cost effective these projects are. But the costs are not all measured in money. I would attempt this project again because I saved money, and found a good use of waste materials, and produced something using no emissions.

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I am going to plant them and report back how well they hold up! I hope to soon show you pictures of little seedlings!

The Actual Juice Experiment–Part 2

By Wednesday, my husband was ready to tap out. This is where we reveal a secret. He has Crohn’s. He had done a lot of research on whether this was healthy for him. Normally he is not supposed to eat a lot of fiber, but with the juicer, the roughage is left out, so he was excited that this could be a way to get all those nutrients he felt he was missing. But but by Wednesday he was feeling light headed, nauseated, and with an upset stomach. Basically all the signs of a Crohn’s flare-up. Or…the third day of a juice fast. I thought that, perhaps, he was consuming too much citrus because many recipes call for lemons and oranges. He had a bad experience with Mai Tais on our last trip to Maui and the acid content was a big factor.

We discussed options and he decided not to risk it. Even the small amount of protein he had been supplementing with was not enough for him. He stated that he would be eating real food, but nothing doctored or processed. No oils or salt or added sugar. He immediately took out two beautiful, plump, perfect chicken breasts to defrost. I put some lemon zest, fresh rosemary and mustard powder and left them to marinade. When I cooked them later that night, my mouth watered a bit. The constant refrain that has gone through my head throughout this whole thing is “maybe just one bite…” And seriously, if my husband had offered, I would have taken him up on it. He didn’t offer.

I had an apple, a couple of stalks of celery and a banana through out Wednesday as snacks. Believe me, if it weren’t for the possibility of eating real fruit–crunching on something–I don’t know that I would have gotten through the first part of the week.

On Thursday morning, I felt good. Tired, maybe. Excited that this was almost my last day of juicing. Oh–did I forget to mention? This was now officially a 5 (and 1/3) day “reboot.” Life was about to get in the way on Saturday and it would have been impractical to do on Saturday. I received great news that an event I was going to attend Thursday evening was cancelled due to heavy rains and flooding. I mean, it wasn’t great that there was flooding, but that I wasn’t going to be tempted by pizza and whatever else they had planned for dinner.

My husband decided that he didn’t need breakfast juice and the thought of going through all that clean up for just one little glass of juice was annoying. I seriously considered just eating an apple. In the end, I decided to go ahead and make juice, since I was blogging about it. This forum is like truth serum and helps keep a person honest. Damn you people. Since it was just me on Thursday morning, I made up my own juice sans recipe, and it was totally delicious. See…my husband should trust me more. I had my breakfast and felt satisfied and fairly alert afterwards.

As I was getting ready on Thursday morning, I thought my body looked slimmer. The scale showed that I lost about four pounds. I was still waiting desperately for that skin “glow” people talk about. I don’t know if I will get there in just five days, or maybe I just don’t have glowy skin.

For lunch, I had an extra serving because my husband couldn’t get away…so I had his juice. It was nice and filling, and used my last beet. I really liked the beet-based juices. Not only do beets provide beautiful color, but they provide wonderful sweetness. I bet my husband was not sad to have missed it.

After lunch, I didn’t feel tired, but I also did not feel energetic. And I still felt very unsatisfied. I munched on an apple, which helped the littlest bit. I had run out of bananas by then which was really sad. Bananas are filling and sweet.

I set out a nice piece of salmon for my husband’s dinner. The juice recipe I was using for myself for dinner called for ginger, lemon, and parsley, among other things. So I juiced those first and poured a little over the fish. I sure would have liked to have tried it. I stuck it in the oven and made the rest of my juice, which had a giant green apple, celery, red leaf lettuce and cucumber in addition to the above. I also threw in the rest of my fennel since it was green, too. The green juices are my least favorite. They make me feel like I am drinking pesto. Usually the green recipes go all green, with cumbersome or celery and kale and spinach and stuff. Unfortunately, when you throw greens in most juices to try and cover them up, it make it a really unattractive puce color.

My husband decided not to drink any juice because he felt Crohn-sy. By this point he was pretty much done and finally admitted it. So, instead he ate that luscious piece of salmon on a bed of whole wheat pasta, topped with fresh parsley. I just kept telling myself I only had one more day. One. More. Day. How do people do this for longer ( beach Veg*n I am thinking of you!) ? It’s so boring.

Since my husband was not participating in this any more, I decided not to go to the store and stock up on additional fruits and veggies. I felt I had plenty of fruits and veggies I could cobble together to stick it through one more day: two oranges, five red delicious apples, romaine lettuce, a dozen carrots, several stalks of celery, a thumb of ginger, and a lime. Totally do-able.

TGIF!

On Friday morning I separated my remaining fruit and veggies into three piles: Breakfast was two apples, one orange, one lime, and four carrots, Lunch was one apple, four carrots, one orange, and Dinner was two apples, one thumb ginger, four carrots, four stalks of celery. My romaine had gone bad so I could not use it. Darn. It was going to be an orange kind of day since the carrots were going to be the base of each of my meals that day…but it sure was pretty. And pretty delicious. The carrot-orange combos are pretty good.

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Since I only had to make juice for me, I was able to pull about a pint glass of juice from each grouping. I had a a few celery stalks that I saved as a snack since I knew that it would be tough to make it the whole day without having something crunchy. They were total life savers and helped get me through that late afternoon snack attack phase. My husband asked during lunch on Friday afternoon if I was finally feeling that burst of energy I was supposed to feel after the 4th day. I had to think about this. I did not feel tired, but I did not feel full of energy either. I would have to say that I, perhaps, felt more alert than normal, especially in the afternoons.

Friday evening was fairly anticlimactic. I had no special juice recipe to celebrate with, and probably the least tasty juice combo of the day. 20130419-215142.jpg
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Also, my dinner plans for Saturday were cancelled due to some freak weather issues, so I had no giant bowl of pasta to look forward to. I suppose I could have committed to another two days since my original conflict was gone… but I don’t think a person should be so wishy-washy.

Anyhow, the whole thing just kind of fizzled to an end rather unenthusiastically. But my husband was proud of me…and he kept saying so as he ate his normal, delicious curries shrimp dinner. 20130419-215503.jpg

By late evening these are all I had left of that massive pile of produce I had at the beginning.
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But I was already thinking of all the delicious, firm things I could eat. Midnight counts as Saturday, right?

The Juice Experiment: The Reflection

When my husband and I first started talking about this, the testimonials we came across all touted the health benefits about doing a juice fast. And I am not talking about losing weight. I mean, they discussed the energy, the surge of nutrients, the cleansing of your system, the clearing of your skin…the wonders of the universe, basically. I went into this thinking it was a healthy lifestyle choice. But in the end, this total absorption with juicing to the exclusion of healthy balanced meals was just a diet. It really was just a drastic reduction in calories.

And I don’t do diets.The entire time I wasn’t really thinking about health or nutrients, I was just thinking about my weight. I had pretty great results for just one week. I lost about an inch on my waist, and about 5 solid pounds. Pretty unbelievable for only 5 (and 1/3) days. If nothing else, that would motivate me. Looking back, I appreciated doing this for a week so that I could get a sense of what I liked about juicing and which combos really appeal to me. And I did get about 3/4 of the picture below inside of me!
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I may do this again (fast, that is) right before vacation, but probably not just for kicks. It is really inconvenient. You have to be home at all meals. Unless maybe you live in California, there are probably no healthy juice places around you, so you can’t do it while you are at large. Although… my sister did tell me that they have a juicer at her office, which I thought was pretty progressive. But she said that she never used it because the clean up was a hassle. It is. Like, a big one. You are cleaning up all the time. It’s messy and particles splash every where. And like I said before, fasting is boring. And tedious. Plus, for really fresh vegetables, you have to go to the grocery at least twice a week, too.

This also produced a lot of pulp by-product, which I did not really deal with because I was feeding it to my worms for compost. We ran every batch through twice to get as much juice as possible out and saved the rest for the little red wrigglers. In the future, I may play around more with that because the daily output of pulp in this reboot was a bit too much for my worms to handle. I’m just hoping to get to it before the smell gets too bad. Maybe I can play them some classical music to motivate them.

Also, the pulp is still food, and could be used for a lot of things, which made me feel bad about just tossing it to the worms. There are lots of good ideas like at this the kitchn.com site. But I couldn’t eat anything so I sure the heck wasn’t baking or making pancakes or cheese spreads. It didn’t occur to me to freeze it, though. That is a good idea. However, if you are going to save the pulp for cooking, I suggest you remove seeds and parts that are fibrous or tough. Maybe even peel things like ginger and sweet potatoes.

On a good note, since I was using a lot of citrus, I ended up with a ton of zest, which was a nice by-product. Plus I threw all the peels down the disposal, so it smelled very fresh.20130420-222049.jpg

Overall, the process was interesting, especially being a couple that had never juiced anything before. Don’t get me wrong, I plan to use my juicer a lot, and already have some ideas percolating. I would likely use it as an occasional meal replacement or supplement. But the secret to not going crazy and wanting to binge all the time is by balancing the juicing with real, healthy meals.

If you are thinking about rebooting, I would suggest the following:

1) Do it with a partner. It’s no fun to juice alone.

2) Supplement with whole fruits and veggies. Not having something solid is really psychologically challenging.

3) Adapt recipes to what is in season, on sale, and what you prefer. Skipping all that meat should really save you money, so you should bulk out your juice with whatever is cheap and not blow it in sticking to a certain recipe.

4) Never prepare juice with a white shirt on that you plan to wear to work! Wear an apron. Carrot and Beet juice stain.

5) Choose a time frame where you have nothing going and can be home for most, if not all, meals. Having to attend events where you are the only one not eating is weird and not helpful to your task. Also, spending several dollars on an Odwalla is not my idea of a good deal.

The Actual Juice Experiment- Part 1

It was a slow start to the experiment.  By the time we got done with some errands, including grocery shopping for the impressive array of produce, it was basically Sunday evening. We excitedly got home and picked our “meal”, which I decided should have beets in it. My husband hates beets. Now, I didn’t pick beets because I was being cruel, but because my husband kept saying that he was hopeful that this was a way he could finally consume those veggies that are really good for you, but that he can’t stomach–even delicately steamed and deliciously prepared by his talented wife. So I chose something with beets.

The recipe called for one beet, four carrots, two cups kale, one cup spinach, two apples and a thumb of ginger. It was interesting. The color was beautiful but the smell was very green. Surprisingly, the flavor was nice. The ginger was key here and I don’t know if we would have had as positive of a start without it. Unlike a fine wine, you don’t want to inhale too much.
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We “ate” early, like around 5:00 pm, which meant we had aaaaaalllllll night to think about how unsatisfied we were. I ended up eating two bananas. Hey, Joe from Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead ate fruit, too, so it’s okay. I also drank several cups of tea. My husband had some crackers with peanut butter and a banana. I noticed I burped a lot. By 11:00 pm I was starving and more than ready to go to bed. I was thinking about food, a lot.

Monday was the first full day of juicing. I was nervous. Just look at how much I bitched about measly six hours the night before. But I did not wake up particularly hungry, which I thought was a good sign.

I persevered and stuck with my juice… and fruit. I had a banana after breakfast and an apple after dinner. I also had a “snack” juice and a “dessert” juice, which is recommended from the rebooting program. I was proud of myself.  Food stared me in the face all day. Particularly this one can of soup. I just imagined it being all nice and warm and chunky. I really liked looking at it, almost so I could have a goal to work towards, thinking, “I get to eat this when this is all over,” Which was nuts because I wouldn’t normally eat canned soup, and it certainly wouldn’t be the thing I would want to eat above all else.  But for whatever reason it called to me.

Below are a couple of samples of our “meals, ” which were then reduced to less than two pint glasses each time.

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By 10:00 pm on Monday I was starving! My stomach was rumbling and had been all day. Hunger or digestion? I dunno. I was also a little nauseated. My husband ate various sources of protein throughout the day: eggs, chicken, tuna. I  resented him a little. But he was worked out that night, so I gave him some slack.

I drank a lot of water but still felt sluggish throughout the day and I was sooo thirsty. I also had a bit of a head ache. Any physical was activity was draining. Basically, all the text book side effects, except the body odor, of course.

Tuesday, dawned earlier than anticipated once I realized that I needed to attend a fundraiser breakfast. It was torture. I still made a juice in the morning and counted on eating just fruit at the breakfast. And I figured orange juice was okay.

The breakfast went swimmingly. Well…except for the scrambled eggs I ate. But I could only take a little bit of fruit because I was one of the first to pass it around. And eggs are mushy any way. But so good. So good. I still count this a win because I did not eat the Danish, donuts, bacon, and hash browns. I also attended another meeting that afternoon where skittles, milk duds and cookies were passed around. I easily passed those up…but I did grab a diet coke. For some reason this really annoyed my husband who considered the diet coke more egregious that the eggs. Really?

My husband and I constantly asked each other how we were feeling. It was like couples therapy. And should I talk about the gross stuff? Well, let me put it this way, don’t be surprised when because you drink a lot of deep, intense color, a lot of deep, intense color comes out.  The beets are particularly shocking.

On Tuesday evening we went on three mile walk, something we always try and do if the weather is nice. My husband was wiped out after the walk. I felt okay. I think the calorie difference was really starting to affect him. While he was supplementing somewhat with sources of protein, he was still consuming substantially fewer calories.

The first part of the week was challenging but exciting.  All these experiences were fairly new to us, with new tastes and colors and veggies we don’t normally consume.  Check back in a couple of days from now to see how the rest of the week went.  I’ll eventually set up another page with the recipes we used, too.  But adding them here might have made this post too long!

The Juice Experiment: the impulsive decision

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Last week my husband and I made a really impulsive purchase: A Breville Juicer. It was the middle of the week and my husband was watching a documentary called Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. I was inadvertently watching it with him–he was right next to me, after all. I have to admit I was impressed with the story, though I questioned why the guy had to come to America…maybe because there is absolutely nothing in the middle of Australia, certainly not enough fat, unhealthy Americans.

Anyhow, this Australian guy named Joe drives across America in a zippy little convertible. He vows to drink only juice made from fruits and vegetables for 60 days, and munches the occasional apple. Of course, at the beginning he is fat, sick, and nearly dead, by all accounts. Not surprisingly, by the end he is kind of a hot Aussie, replete with wet, half-naked at the beach imagery. All that, plus he’s loaded. Not bad, Joe. Oh, and along his trip across America he meets many fat Americans, and one fat guy named Phil reaches out for help. Joe comes back and then starts Phil’s journey. Again, not surprisingly, Phil drops a ton of weight. He does not reach hot status, though. By now we all see the other probable genius of Joe’s trip, the marketing! Reboot with Joe is born– and my husband and I are completely reeled in. We rose to the challenge–but decided on just for one week.  We recognized our limits–and we were both average, healthy, and no where close to death…

So before we could think twice about it, we ordered this fancy juicer. And once we ordered it we were committed. That doesn’t mean, however, that we did not immediately have second and third–and fourth– thoughts about juicing. We read soooo many accounts, including many blog articles that started out just like ours did. I appreciated Beach Veg*n’s recital of her 2 week juice fast. It was honest and realistic.  But we also read several stories about the health risks and side effects. We had a lot of concerns: would we stick to it? would we be impossible to deal with? would we be cranky? was this a good idea to do during a work week? and what the hell is this I hear about body odor or bad breath?

When we got the juicer last Friday, we immediately opened it up and tried a tester juice with fruit on hand: 2 pears, an apple and strawberries. It was delicious, and our resolve was immediately strengthened. We put our doubts aside and decided to move forward.

We planned to start on the following Sunday because we had friends coming over for dinner on Friday and then a dinner thing on Saturday…plus we had to do the grocery shopping. I told you–it was an impulsive buy. So after a last hurrah of Sunday pancakes, we set out to do our grocery shopping. We went to a chain grocery store we know has great produce prices (Sorry, but Dominick’s just wouldn’t have cut it on this one.) I do not exaggerate when I say we bought a *$&# load of produce.

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My husband did a lot of research on recipes and then tallied the number of fruits and vegetables we would need. I highly recommend this so that you can avoid going to the grocery store several times a week. We bought what we thought we would need for most of the week, but left some things for the trip in the middle of the week so our leafy greens could remain fresh.

Our normal food budget is $100. This grocery trip cost us around $50. But…due to some health and weight loss concerns, but husband decided to supplement his juicing with sources of protein, so we spent an additional $25 at Dominick’s. If we ever do a one week juice fast again, we would probably not spend as much money on the actual produce. We bought things according to recipes that were not necessarily in season or on sale. For example, the grocery store we were at had strawberries on sale for a dollar. ONE DOLLAR! Meanwhile, the blueberries were terribly over-priced, $2.50 for a small container. Of course, we bought two containers. If we were more experienced and comfortable switching things around (I totally was) we would have bought just the strawberries. So the bottom line is that this experiment will probably not be much under our $100 budget. This juicing thing chews up produce like it’s its job!

Check Back in for our progress!

Frugali-tea

Let me just start out by saying that I really like tea.  I always have.  I like it hot, iced, luke warm, black, green, red, plain, flavored, loose, bagged, morning, noon, night, caffeinated and not caffeinated.  I even like teas that are not teas: tisanes or herbal “teas.” So, this transition was easy for me…but for my husband–not so much.  He has often commented that he has nothing against tea, but that it doesn’t taste like anything. And he was always more of a coffee drinker in the morning.

I am proud to say that I have converted him. Not that he likes it much more than before, but, at this point in our house, it’s either water or tea, and however you squeeze it, tea has more flavor than water.  He still has coffee, too, so don’t feel bad for him.

The evolution of having just three things (water, tea and coffee) to drink in our house was gradual.   I used to buy a lot of juice, but, being cognizant of the amount sugar and calories most “natural” juices contained, I started to buy the stuff with the sweeteners. I would also occasionally buy soda if it was a really good deal, though diet, of course, because of the whole calorie thing. But, then I really started to worry about what the sweeteners were doing to my body.  At that time, I was also adding sweeteners to several cups of hot tea throughout the day, usually the yellow packets. And the simple truth is that nobody knows what sweeteners do to the body.  I decided I needed to stop playing roulette with a possible carcinogen and stop using sweeteners.  Okay, okay… I do still, on the very rare occasion, which is usually a latte, use sweeteners, but it is still a MASSIVE reduction for me.

Despite always having a cup of tea at home, I never really kept a pitcher of it in the fridge.  As long as I was buying juice, my husband wasn’t touching it. But once I decided to stop buying juice…I knew I needed another option.  I grabbed a margarita pitcher that, sadly, had never seen enough margaritas, and began to keep a pitcher of iced tea in the fridge.

There are many schools of thought on how to properly prepare iced tea.  This is my method: Fill pitcher with water, throw in 5-6 bags of tea, stick in fridge.  Within a few hours, it is steeped. I tend not to use hot water because I am using a glass pitcher.  I apologize to tea connoisseurs around the world that may be cringing at this method of tea preparation (i.e., not steeped at the correct temperature for the correct amount of time)  but it works just fine.  And, really, if it were more work, I might not do it.  I usually use a plain, cheap black or green tea bags as a base, and then add one to two bags of “flavor” such as mint or chai.  Sometimes, if I want to get fancy, I might add a bit of honey or fresh squeezed lemon.  And now that I have a juicer, things can start to get really crazy.

The advantages of converting to tea rather than juice and soda are numerous.  1) There is the health benefit of not drinking sugar and other crap and drinking tea, which has a lot of health benefits. 2) There is also the cost advantage.  If before I was spending $2-$4 on each 64 oz juice, now I spend mere pennies on a pitcher of iced tea.  For example, I just bought a pack of 100 grocery store brand black tea packets for $1.99.  If I made a pitcher of just plain black tea, it would cost just 12 cents.  If I added a couple of packets of Bigelow’s Plantation mint (on sale for $1.95 for 18 packets) the cost would shoot up to around 30 cents!  3) Plus, I am reducing the waste I am producing by not buying 2-3 large plastic bottles or many more cans every week.  When I am done using the tea bags they get fed to my worms.

Here is where I make my confession.  I still feel that my offerings are a bit meager for company.  I hate that I feel this way.  But I do.  As a hostess, I feel that I am being inconsiderate.  That not everyone likes iced tea like I do.  Or maybe they can’t drink it because of the caffeine. Or maybe they’re six years old.  So, I still feel pressured to go out and buy more choices.  I hope to wean myself off of this need.  And I think the way I will do that is by playing around with combinations of flavors to add to my tea, so that it’s an exotic offering rather than a boring one.  I’m already thinking of throwing a piece of ginger in the juicer and experimenting. I hope to come back to this page and add many interesting (and cheap) recipes.

Feed the Worms

I am going to be honest with my readers–which at this point is probably just my mom and my sisters–and admit that I have only become “enlightened” recently. Rather than “enlightened”, my readers–again, see above–might say smug (I do drive a Prius), self-righteous, and odd (I think only my mom thinks that), but I really do feel that I was so wasteful–and still am–and that it is my individual responsibility to do better. Worm composting was one of my first efforts. I had heard about this concept of having worms inside your house and thought that it was a bit too icky. Not that I am squeamish about worms. I love to get my hands in the dirt and worms are like little gold nuggets when you like to garden–grubs are another story … vile, disgusting things. Anyhow, a friend that works in horticulture mentioned a book called, “The Worms Eat My Garbage'”. Apparently you can have these little red worms in your house (or more realistically, your basement or garage) and they will consume your veggie scraps, paper, coffee grounds, tea leaves, card board, leaves, dryer lint, etc. They would leave behind thick, rich compost. I thought this was amazing but what I was skeptical of was the smell. But I did the research and decided that enough seemingly legitimate persons assured me that it would not smell like garbage.

I took the plunge and ordered a kit. I saw a lot of make your own options but I knew myself…I needed the process to be as simple as possible or I would never “harvest” any compost. The one I bought was from Hayneedle and I not only highly recommend the product but also this company. Phenomenal customer service. I had to purchase the worms separately since they are special. You can neither just dig them up from your backyard nor release them into the wild. At least not in Illinois.

I had also done quite a bit of research on what to feed them and fretted a lot about this. In the end, I did not buy anything special for them to start with, but just made a bed of moist, shredded paper and dumped the worms in. The worms came with some dirt, which was recommended as an additive in a small dose. From then on, I added my scraps, coffee grinds, tea leaves, some cardboard from dry good boxes, grass clippings, leaves, egg shells, dryer lint and some yard waste.

Initially I was pretty concerned about the size of the “food” and would spend a lot of time cutting it up. I had also read that some people microwaved the scraps to make them mushy. The latter always sounded kind of gross and the former soon got old. Overall, here are some things I have learned about my worm farm:

1) they do not really eat eggshells. They may really like them as I have read, but unless you are wiling to pulverize them, then pass them up. They do not consume the hand-crushed variety and when you harvest your compost there will be pieces of egg shells throughout.
2) you really should keep a scrap container by your sink or prep area to encourage collection of scraps. Otherwise you will not feed them and it seems that the more you feed them, the more compost you get. I have read that they can handle up to a pound a day. I have no idea if this is true, but I don’t really exceed this, if averaged out. It is pretty obvious, though, that the worms cannot handle every ounce of compostable material that comes out of my house. If I want to get rid if every cardboard box, every bit of junk mail and shredded document, not to mention raked leaves, garden refuse and grass clippings, I have to commit to outdoor composting.
3) Worm composting is a compliment to outdoor composting because even if they could handle all the volume, they can’t handle anything even remotely woody or tough, like carrot and zucchini tops.
4) The worms survive just fine in my garage through the winter. It is attached to the house, and partially insulated, but it does get down to the 20’s in there. Also, it is sweltering in the summer. They do just fine.
5) Always avoid milk products and meat. They will spoil and stink, and, I hear, attract unwanted bugs. Nonetheless, you will get bugs in there. Probably little fly type things. Not a big deal.
6) Avoid throwing seeds in there or they will sprout. Unless you want them to sprout, then throw seeds in there.
7) keep a couple of gallon jugs around for easy access to worm tea. My worm factory has a spigot on the front, but honestly, nothing has ever come out of it. I think worms clog it up. Or my husband’s car tapped it one too many times. But a couple scoops of compost and the rest filled with tap water makes an excellent, nutritious drink for houseplants.
8) Kids love worms. And it is such a neat way to teach them some basic biology and science. Get a worm composted and you may be able to avoid getting a dog.

Shaving Off a Bit More

Here is one of my husband’s contributions: a vintage razor. Yes…the kind you have to buy actual razor blades for. Out of the blue, my husband, we’ll call him Bruce, began to notice how many disposable razors he was using. Being in a profession that required a suit on a daily basis, he also needed to be clean shaven. Plus, he was never satisfied with the shave that the disposable razors were giving him. He had tried various electric razors over the years with dismal results.

So as a complete surprise to me, who didn’t even realize this was an issue…or an area we could save money in, he ordered a 1955 Gillette Super Speed Double Edge Safety Razor. The initial outlay was around $20 from eBay for the razor, which was used but in pristine and sanitized condition. He also ordered a shaving brush for around $10–though these, I understand can get very expensive. The shaving soap he got from the corner pharmacy for less than two dollars. The box of double-edged razors he got from Sally’s Beauty Supply for around a dollar for 12 blades. For those, non math whizzes out there, this adds up to around $33. This all went down in December 2012.

As with most transitions, the start-up costs are a bit high. But let’s say he was spending around five bucks a month on crappy disposable razors…with this new system, it’s now the very end of March 2013 and he still has razor blades. He finally had to buy more shaving soap two weeks ago. Accordingly, the break even point is June 2013 and, thereafter, the monthly cost is around around 50 cents, if not less. I really don’t know how long that box of razors will last.

My husband is also very excited that he is not dumping all that plastic into the environment with those plastic razors. On top of that, he says he has never had such a good shave. This style of shaving is called wet shaving. While researching the issue he discovered that the modern disposable razors with all their fancy multiple blades were nothing more than a marketing success story for a pretty lousy product.

It is true that there was a learning curve for shaving, but honestly, he used to bleed more with the disposable razors. It is possible some would argue that he was never using quality razors before, but that would only add to how much he was spending every month on a product that he would throw away. Did I mention how much he raves about the shave he gets? I cannot begin to tell you how many times he has made me feel how smooth his cheek is.

I have not been brave enough to try it yet…and I am not even sure I would be allowed since it is still currently one of his favorite new-ish things…and you know how they always think our leg hair dulls their razors, but at least I have other options available to me, like waxing. So I am content he found this new system and that it adds to our three goals of saving money on a monthly basis, producing less waste and having nice things.

It’s alive!

Did you know that you could take the top of a pineapple–you know, the part you cut off and throw away–stick it in some dirt and it will grow. And in, like, three years you might get one tiny pineapple.

In my book, this is not worth it. Though it might result in a decorative plant while you await your little tropical beauty, there are many other plants that give you a much quicker return on cuttings.

Many herbs, for example rosemary, mint, thyme and oregano, are easily propagated simply by removing the lower leaves and submerging in water until you see strong roots. No growth hormones required. Mint roots so easily that you could take a handful of cutting and stick them directly in dirt and they will start to take over. Make sure and keep mint contained because it will take over your garden.

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Also, many tropical plants such as pothos, dracaena and the above bromeliad–also known as pineapple–are quick to take root. It’s one of ways they survive in nature. When cut off or pushed over, they simply start taking root. For example below is the pothos. It’s actually a tropical vine and in its natural environment the leaves grow bigger than your head. At home indoors, its often a scraggly, stringy mess. In my opinion, which is possibly supported by science, keeping this plant compact leads to a healthier and more attractive plant. You should take cuttings as the vine gets long. Strip the bottom two to three inches bare of leaves. Note the nodes that you expose. Roots will form from any of those little nodes.

20130328-184854.jpg   I recently received a beautiful tropical bouquet from a friend as a thank-you.  I was delighted when I realized that as part of the bouquet are two plants that will root as they decorate your home in a vase.  In fact, the company intentionally does this…and makes sure you know that you can have a wonderful houseplant after your bouquet has lived its life.  What a fantastic idea.

So when you go to a restaurant and they use a sprig of rosemary or mint as decoration, or you trim your office plant, don’t toss out those parts. You can get a healthy FREE plant with just a little attention.

Even if you already have these plants, they make great gifts. Once they form strong roots in water, you can transfer to dirt. If you tend to keep disposable flower pots, these are great to create a thank you or hostess gift. Be creative on how you cover up the plain plastic pot. But a gift that keeps on giving will be much appreciated.

Orange you glad?

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The guide to the whole orange:

1) Take one orange. With a regular ol’ potato peeler, take thin slices of peel off orange. Sure you can use a zester or grater, but it’s a lot more work. You do not want to get down to white of the orange, or pith. Lay peel out in single layer to dry completely. This is a quick process, and is ready when it crumbles.

2) Take remaining peel. And throw down garbage disposal. Works as great, natural cleaner and deodorizer. Sometimes I throw the peel into a jar with vinegar first for a few days and then I toss down disposal. Vinegary orange peel is twice as nice.

3) Take orange segments. Eat them.

Uses for peel: potpourri , addition to tea leaf, baking and cooking, and flavoring oils and vinegars.

Clearly all of the above should work for most citrus, though the thinner the peel, the more gentle you have to be to avoid the pith.

The Solution to my Solution

My Quest for the best home made all-purpose cleaner…

My transition into home made cleaners was gradual…and is actually still on-going.  I started with the goal of making a basic all-purpose cleaner.  As with most new ideas, I immediately got on-line and stole someone else’s. With the pride of an elementary school student I produced my first bottle and immediately started using it–I even showed it off to my husband and made him acknowledge my saavy.

The recipe was one that you find quite often on green or better living web sites.  It started with Dr. Bronner’s Castile soap, Vinegar, some essential oils, and water.  I chose the lavender soap scent, because, well, I always choose lavender.  I also added some lavender oil, as well as eucalyptus oil and tea tree oil. I also soaked some orange peel in vinegar for a few days until it turned orange and smelled more citrusy and less vinegary.  I don’t know if this actually improved the efficacy of the vinegar, but marketers had long since convinced me that citrus cleans stuff and a website I saw somewhere recommended this, so I decided to go with it.  I did not bother with distilled water.

Unfortunately, what I actually produced was a clumpy mess.  I thought perhaps I had mixed incorrectly since there were some sites that warned about the order of mixing the solution.  Still…it smelled nice, and I figured it still worked because, well…site after site said that this was how you make your own cleaner.  I mean, do you get it? Dozens of site out there say that this is how you make an all-purpose cleaner.  (A lot of sites also indicated that you could just mix a little bit of Castile Soap and all water…maybe some essential oils, but if you really wanted to fight germs, use vinegar.  So that’s what I did.  For no other reason than vinegar seems to be used as a natural cleanser a whole lot and I wanted potency to kill bad things in my kitchen.)

What I ended up making was a whole lot of nothing.  It seems that the vinegar and the Castile Soap cancel each other out because–as a very helpful website established by a family member of Dr. Bronnner pointed out–vinegar is an acid and soap is a base.  Duh. Check out the website is by the sister of the grandchildren of the founder, www.lisa.drbronner.com, specifically, http://lisa.drbronner.com/?p=292 for lots of nuggets of gold like this one.

If you think about it, it is so obvious.  It is possible that I put more soap in than vinegar, or the reverse, so that there was some cleaning power, but certainly not the super-powered cleaner I thought I was making.  Plus it looked nasty.

So the solution was either to make something just with the Castile soap and some essential oils and water, or use another product with vinegar.  Incidentally, it does seem that regular old soap and water cleans plenty fine. However, the complaint seems to be that it would leave a film on your counters, which you are then supposed to follow up with a vinegar rinse.  Now, I have light colored counters, so I don’t really know if the film would bother me, but this simple soap solution didn’t really seem complex to fight all those kitchen nasties. Plus, it’s like, two steps.  Ms. Bronner recommended using another Dr. Bronner product, Sal Suds, it being not-quite-soap, and therefore, not a base. Hurrah, it can be mixed with my vinegar mixtures.

I then ordered a big bottle of Sal Suds and got to work, adding my citrus vinegar (hey, no problems popped up with this little trick yet). This mixture was pleasant enough, though just the Sal Suds and vinegar with water mixture smelled a little to vinegary for my liking.  The logical step was to add essential oils.  These, after all, have their own antibacterial, anti-fungal, antimicrobial properties. Naturally, I already had lavender essential oils and tea tree oil.  I started to do some research, though, on what essential oils had the best bad-stuff fighting properties. It seemed that the answer was oil of thyme.

I have now produced several bottles of my home made cleaner.  It smells wonderful.  Herbal, fresh, and clean. I still experiment a little with oils and amounts, because the truth is I have no clue what I am doing, and I understand enough about chemistry to know that I never learned anything about solutions.  My basic formula is one quarter cup Sal Suds, one ounce citrus vinegar, several drops of thyme oil and tea tree oil, and lavender and eucalyptus if I have it on hand.

I am trying my best to figure out exactly how effective this solution I have is.  It wipes things up very well and is all natural.  Unfortunately, it is all the little things that you can’t see that you have to worry about.  I need to find an eight grader willing to do a science experiment on this.  So this story continues.