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Tag Archives: self sustaining

Goal Update – New Phases

There have been so many things on my mind lately it has been hard to post! As soon as I settle on one topic I’m distracted by another.

I deal with distraction by making lists, so I’ve decided to update my Goal Phases page (tab at the top of this screen). I started the page to try to organize all the things I want to learn as part of my self-sustaining goal.

Now the list on the page is helping me to focus on just a few areas at a time. Lately I’ve been thinking about all the things I want to learn and I’ve gotten a little overwhelmed! But if I step back and recall that I’ve set a nine-year timeline, then I can break up my time into segments and feel a little more relaxed.

I’ve realized that this whole year I’ve spent most of my time learning about foods that the best for my family’s health and how to cook those foods. So that is my official focus for 2014… which I do realize is almost over. But I’ve learned so much about food this year so it’s okay that I’m just now applying the label. I’ve been focusing on this goal already without even realizing it!

So by the end of this year, just 6 or 7 weeks away, I hope to know enough about food that I can cook whatever we manage to bring home without too much stress. I’ve learned to cook a lot of things this year: I’ve learned the difference between cooking convensional beef vs grass-fed, I’ve learned how to cook a variety of winter squash (never had cooked a squash before this year!), I’ve learned how to chop an onion, how to properly hold a chef’s knife, substitutes for wheat flour and eggs, how to use a pressure cooker, how to cook in cast iron, how to lacto ferment vegetables, and way more than I ever thought I’d need to learn!

Cooking isn’t just proper use of ingredients and equipment. It’s also meal planning and shopping. So by the end of the year I’d like to have my planning and shopping systems in place well enough that I don’t have to think about them as much as I do now. Right now I spend about two hours planning meals and snacks for the week. I can’ keep spending that much time on it so I keep tweaking my planning system. I’m still using my meal planning template – that is actually working really well for me still. Coming up with ideas for what to eat is always the most difficult, so I’m working on a sort of “map” to give me fresh ideas each week. It has themed days, lists of healthy foods, and other things to trigger my brain and make planning fast. When it is more complete I promise to share it!

We spend a good amount of time on shopping for foods, too. We spend so much time partly because my planning isn’t 100% yet so every few days I realize we’re out of something and we have to go replenish supplies. I’m getting really close to only shopping once a week, but not quite there yet.

Part of planning better shopping is having a really good handle on what we actually use each week/month. So I’m working on tracking our consumption habits so I can better prepare for how much of something we’ll need to get. It’d be so much better to get say… granola only once a month and get it at a discount because we ordered five pounds.

So lots of cooking and food-related work still to do this year! But I feel like we’ve come a long way! We are WAY less reliant on standard consumer fare in order to get ourselves fed and that really is the goal here isn’t it! As long as we have ingredients and some tools, we can make ourselves a good dinner.

Once the year is over though, it’s not like I’ve totally mastered cooking. Like many life skills it requires lots of practice and a thirst for knowledge in order to keep skills sharp. So I’ll still be reading cookbooks and perusing the internet for cooking smarts in 2015 and beyond. But, I’ll try to make it less of an obsession.

In 2015 I’ll attempt to move on to a new obsession, which is to grow a lot more of the food we eat. We had a decent first year of gardening in 2014, but we need to step it up a lot in order to call ourselves self-sufficient.

For the future phases beyond next year, see the new page at the top of this screen. I will update it often!

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Eliminating Kitchen/Cleaning Paper

Yesterday I wrote all about my very first tie dye experience. I was inspired to tie dye because I really wanted to switch to cloth napkins, but I didn’t want some boring white ones. We have a blue kitchen and I saw some beautiful shibori on Pinterest, so I put all those thoughts together and I got the need to indigo dye some napkins!

This was a pretty cheap project, just $12 or so for the indigo and another $10 for a bundle of cloth napkins. Compare that to spending $5 or more every couple months on a bundle of paper towels and we’ll recoup our cost and start to save money in just a few short months. These cloth napkins should last us a lot longer than that!

We keep four napkins – one for each of us – hung up on hooks in the dining room for easy access. There are 12 napkins so we keep a napkin hung up between meals until it is in need of a washing. That way we aren’t over-washing them but we aren’t letting them get super gross either! I can only handle so much reusing, knowwhatImean?

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Ready for meal time!

So far the system is working out really well. We’ve stopped handing out paper towels before meals and have started tossing the cloth across the table.

It just feels nicer to use cloth. The napkins are bigger, they cover more of my lap while I eat. I feel more… refined? Even though they are hippie fun tie dye! I super highly recommend getting some. Even if they’re not hippie fun tie dye.

We have also changed up our kitchen cleaning routine a bit. I was pretty attached to cleaning wipes. You know the ones – little disposable baby-wipe like clothes that come pre-wet with a cleaning agent. I got the Seventh Generation ones and told myself, it’s cool, you’re being good to the Earth because of the brand. But I knew I was telling myself a fib. Just because they’re a little bit better than the toxic bleach ones doesn’t mean they’re perfect! I sought out a new system.

The thing about wipes is they’re so easy! When mess happens, just open the container and wipe away! Toss in the garbage like no mess ever happened. How could that ease possibly be replicated in something reusable?

Then I found my answer. Mr. Handsome was clearing out his old undershirts – the ones with holes, stains, etc. I had struck cheap cotton gold! After I procrastinated and finished up my “I swear this is the last container” of wipes (like three “last” containers), I triumphantly pulled out those t-shirts from the box I stashed them in and cut them up into squares about the size of those wipes I love. I saved two of the Seventh Generation containers and put my dry cloths in there for easy keeping. Those containers are great because they have a snap lid and they’re easy to carry all over the house.

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T-shirt rags in a jar

The only hurdle left was… how to I get the wet cleaning stuff into my cloth wipes? And just what is that cleaning stuff made of, anyway? I have no idea. And I don’t have time to research what Seventh Generation really uses (because you know they don’t put every ingredient on the packaging). So I went with a great natural, all-purpose cleaner: vinegar. I have a little spray bottle and I use it combine and hold about one part water and one part orange-infused vinegar. Now I spray down the counters, kitchen table, and stove top, wipe it all down with one or two of my rags and put the rags in the wash for next time. I have a ton of rags – they totally fill up my two containers (one for the bathroom and one for the kitchen).

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Infused vinegar: just put orange or lemon peels in a jar, fill with vinegar to cover the peels and wait a couple weeks. Replace the vinegar as you use it to keep it going for a couple months!

I literally have not missed the pre-soaked disposable wipes at all. If there’s a small mess it is no problem to pull out a t-shirt wipe and either use it dry or spray a bit of vinegar – either directly on the mess or on the wipe. If a wipe is super, duper soiled, I have the option of tossing it out because I have so many and a virtually (to me) endless supply of more wipes as my husband clears out his t-shirts every year or so. I never go through the whole container of wipes, no matter how messy things are.

One last thing we’ve done to reduce our paper use is to get some microfiber towels for cleaning. I have always used newspaper to wash my windows. It is the only lint-free way, right? Nope! There’s the magic of microfiber!

I got a set of 36 cloths in three colors. The colors help me organize by use. Here they are all organized and pretty in my linen closet:

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Their organized look makes me happy to open the linen closet!

I need to start using them in the kitchen to do things like polish the stainless steel appliances and faucet, but I haven’t gotten around to that chore yet. So far I’ve just used them on windows and mirrors and they’re fantastic! A bit of lint came off in my first couple uses but now they’re just about lint-free. I can use them on windows and mirrors with just water and they do a great job! For a little deeper clean, though, I use this awesome diy window cleaner I found on Crunchy Betty. See the site for the specific recipe, but it is vinegar, rubbing alcohol, water, and, get this – cornstarch! I thought the cornstarch would be all streaky but it is actually the opposite! My windows and mirrors have NEVER been more clean!

*Update/side note: I’ve learned that microfiber is actually made with polyester and other petrochemicals, so it isn’t very Earth-friendly.  However, they clean with only water (no harsh chemicals) and can be reused for years. Since I already have mine I’m going to use them for as long as I can. By then hopefully there will be something amazing and not crude oil-based.

So… the big question… are the paper towels totally gone?? Well… no. I still can’t get away from using them for some things. Killing an errant ant is at the top of my list at present. It is ant season and we get one or two on the counters some days. Also cleaning the very sticky fingers of the children… I haven’t gotten myself to use the t-shirt wipes on them yet but I totally should! With a little water they are the perfect face wipe – softer than paper towels I imagine. But the biggest reason I keep them around is grease. When we have a bit of bacon grease left in the bottom of a jar, the best way we’ve found to get it out is wiping it out with a paper towel. I don’t think that much grease is good for my washing machine… I have yet to find a full replacement for those dang towels. BUT we are using a less towels, and that’s less waste, less cost, less environmental impact from the production and distribution of the product. So still something to feel good about. We will find a way to eliminate them entirely someday. I’m open to suggestions!

“Shibori” Indigo Tie Dye Fun (Updated to add more photos!)

Can you believe this crazy hippie had never tie dyed something until just recently?! I know, it’s strange. Now that I have done it I want to dye ALL THE THINGS. It’s so much fun and so easy! Just requires the smallest amount of prep.

What I did isn’t technically shibori because that actually involves threading your fabric in some way before dying. I just tied mine up in a bunch of funky shapes. Some ties I found by looking at Pinterest and Google, some I just kind of put together as I went. They all turned out pretty cool, but I definitely have some things I’ll do differently next time.

I ordered an indigo dye kit off Amazon (I’m trying to limit my Amazon purchases for a variety of reasons, but damn they are so convenient).  It makes 4 gallons of dye which they say is enough for 15 shirts, but I dyed 12 cloth napkins, a scarf, a t-shirt and a dress and I STILL have like 3.5 gallons leftover. Now I don’t know what to do with the leftovers… Luckily it is natural, plant-based dye so I guess I can just dump it out? Clearly, more research is needed.

The kit came with just about everything I needed, except the 5-gallon bucket and a stirring stick. I filled up the bucket with 4 gallons of water and tossed in the white powder packets and concentrated indigo. Then it was time to tie up my fabric!

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All tied up and ready to go

Perhaps I will try a true shibori next time and use some thread to bind my fabrics. I was intimidated enough by just getting some folds done! But it’s one of those things that looks kind of difficult but once you do it, it’s fun.

Hot tip #1: I tied up my fabric really tight which ended up giving me a lot of white space in my results. The dye just couldn’t penetrate all the way into the folds, which is good! But next time I think I’ll tie things a little looser so I have more blue.

After everything got all tied up, I soaked the little bundles in water. I used our kiddie pool – it was the perfect size for pre-soaking and rinsing. Plus it’s already blue so now it doesn’t look totally destroyed.

Hot tip #2: Dunk many, many times! I soaked my bundles in the dye for at least 30-60 seconds per “dunking” and repeated that at least once, but I wish I would have dunked some pieces several more times. Especially considering I had so much dye left over! But once you untie you can’t really go back. So that’s something I’ll remember for next time. Still, though, they look super dark all bundled up!

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Dyed and oxidized

When the bundles come out of the dye, they are actually a yellow-green color. The dye needs to oxidize in order to turn blue. It’s fun to see your yellow-green bundles turn to blue before your eyes. I had to make sure to rotate the pieces on my towel a bit so that all the bits of dye would oxidize. Of course this will happen eventually no matter what you do, but I thought it would be good to get all oxidized before I started any rinsing.

The bundles sat in the shade on my towel for 30 minutes or so, then I piled them all in my kiddie pool again and gave them a good rinsing, until the water coming off the bundles was clear. This makes sure that the dye doesn’t bleed onto everything else when washed.

Then I hung my pieces up to dry and walked away for awhile. I love things that include a “set it and forget it” step! Cause I’m super good at forgetting.

Next post I’ll write about WHY I wanted to tie dye in the first place, because I think it’s interesting! I’ll leave you with photos of a few of the napkins and the dress that I dyed…

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A little too much white space on this one, but I like the pattern at the corners!

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From rocks tied with rubber bands

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I don’t know how I got the subway tile pattern, but I think it is my favorite!

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This one was wrapped around a pole and tied with rubber bands

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I tie-dyed a dress! And took a selfie to boot. Yay for trying new things!

Update! A couple more photos I forgot!

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Taken right out of the drawer so it has fresh fold wrinkles!

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Actually, this one might be my favorite!