Sunday, April 29, 2012

Green Cleaning Series : Lemon Infused Vinegar

One of the most common and powerful all natural cleaning agent
you can use is vinegar. Most of us know this.
But did you know you can booster it's cleaning power?
With one simple ingredient that is affordable, incredibly powerful
and readily available to everyone. 
Yes, that is right! 
Lemon juice is so powerful it has even killed the 
There is theories of it in the use of curing cancer too.
But I digress. We are talking about cleaning your home.
The interwebs is all the rage right now with the notion you can
great homemade cleaner.I decided to take it one step further. 
While I do make the orange vinegar as well because we eat a lot of oranges here in 
South Florida, I wanted a cleaner that had a bit more power to it. 
Something that when I used it I knew things were REALLY clean. 
And since I use lemons to clean my cutting board and scrub water stains off my faucets, it 
seemed natural to use the leftover ones instead of throwing them in the compost.

So here is what your going to need :

2 Organic Lemons (yes, it needs to be organic. I will explain)
2 Pint Jars
Some White Distilled Vinegar

This recipe will make 2 pint jars. If you want to make less, then just
half it & use one jar and one lemon.  

1. Cut up one lemon for each jar.
Please only use organic lemons. Because you are using the 
entire rind if you use conventional lemons you will introduce pesticides
to your cleaner. If you can not find organic lemons I suggest you use a 
good produce wash and thoroughly scrub your lemon. The last thing
you want to add to your home after going through this whole process 
is more unwanted chemicals and pesticides. 

2. Fill jar completely with vinegar. Put the lid on and let stand for one to two weeks.
The longer you let it stand, the more potent it will be. Do not worry if after 2 or 3
week it seems to have a layer of "scum" on top. That is a vinegar "mother"
and it can be used to make more vinegar down the road. But that is another
post for another time!

Use this vinegar in place of regular white distilled vinegar in my all purpose
cleaner recipe for more boosted cleaning powder. Feel confident when your
cleaning your home that you have are safely getting your families home clean!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Our Electric Savings Update

We have made progress!
Too bad much of it was because we weren't home. ;)
However, I will take it where I can get it!
We reduced last months bill by $25 and the following month will be much
less because we were away for a week on that billing cycle.

Some of the things we are employing is :
Covering the windows to keep out the heat
Turning the AC up to 80 (hard to do in South Florida)
Turning the AC off completely for most the day
Unplugging any unnecessary items
Line drying all of our laundry
Hand washing our dishes
Washing all of our laundry in cold
Changing out our light bulbs for LED ones
Cutting baths out for showers

Anyone else working hard to reduce their electric usage?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Green Cleaning Series : All Purpose Cleaner Recipe

One of my first goals when I was 'going green' was to remove toxic cleaners
 from our home. After some research I found it was a lot easiest than I thought.
There are basic ingredients that you can use and it need not be expensive.
I thought I would do a series on the subject to help those who are also desiring
to clean without worry of toxins in their homes and around their families.

What do I need?
It is a simple list actually. And easily found in most discount big chain stores for cheap.
Distilled Vinegar
Baking Soda
Rubbing Alcohol
Lemons or Lemon Juice

Tea Tree Oil
Other Essential Oils (optional)

Where do I start?
The first place is up to you. But my advice is to look at the ingredients of your
store bought cleaners. See which one is the most offensive to you and replace that
one. For me it was the kitchen all purpose cleaner. You can be super frugal and just
re-use the old container that your previous cleaner was in to mix your new one
in. For me though, I did not like the idea of re-using a container that held those
toxins. I invested a $1 and bought a new plastic spray bottle and recycled my old
container. Sometimes it is like weighing the lesser of two evils when we are
on this journey. 

Is there a basic recipe?
There are a ton of basic recipes out there. Too many to mention. Simply Google
the term, homemade cleaner, and the results are staggering. You have to research
to see what recipe appeals to you. For our family I knew I wanted a vinegar based
all purpose cleaner. Vinegar has shown itself to be a powerful cleaner in our home
and something I could rely on for cleaning power. Here is my basic recipe :
1 part vinegar
1 part water
5-10 drops of Tea Tree Oil
Mix together in a spray bottle, label and clean with the knowledge it is safe
for your family & home.

Next time we will discuss how to boost the cleaning power of your vinegar!

Friday, April 20, 2012

While I am relaxing....

I have been on vacation so I am a bit slower to respond to comments and emails.
Posts have been scheduled so as not to interrupt your reading material. ;)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

How I lost my child and found myself.

My little guy imperfectly playing with mud while getting over chicken pox. :)

 You see it in blog land.
You see it at the middle school.
You see it at the soccer field.
Parents trying to be perfect parents.
They are the ones who seem to always be prepared.
They are the ones who seem to have it all together.
They are the ones that seemingly have never seen a day of trouble in their life.
You know, the Mom who never forgets her child's snack day.
The Dad who is always the coach for his son's team.
Their children who always say please & thank you and never forget to put on clean socks.
They post those perfectly posed pictures on Facebook.
They paint a life that is not real.
They are working hard to appear to have it together.
They think the key to being a perfect parent is to APPEAR to be the perfect parent.
They would never let you know that behind close doors, they don't have it all together.
They are struggling to make the car payment.
They are dealing with a child who may have a learning disability.
They are dealing with marital issues.
They are struggling to present a family that clearly does not exist.
I know this.
Because I was this.
I wanted everyone to see the perfect family.
I wanted that so that it could appear that I was successful.
Then the Lord stripped it away.
He brought me to my knees.
He let the unthinkable happen.
There was no way I could pretend this did not happen.
There was no way I could hide the ugliness of our failure this time.
He let my child come home.
I was 25 weeks along with child number #4.
I woke up with pain.
36 hours later.
At home.
With my other beautiful children unknowingly watching TV in another room.
I spontaneously gave birth to my son in our empty tub.
He was not alive.
He had not been for some time.
There was nothing I could do.
I wanted to close the world out.
I did not want anyone in that room.
But I was not well either.
I was dying. 
I had no choice, I had to let life be real and imperfect.
I surrendered it to the Lord.
I let go of perfectly crafted party invitations.
I let go of having a house that you could eat off the toilet seat.
I let go of only telling other mothers how excellent my children were.
I let go of the whispering about the Mom whose child was having a meltdown at the park.
I let go of the front I put on for everyone.
I let it all go for the Lord.
And I found peace and freedom I never knew.
He wants us to be transparent, so in our failures....
In our short comings....
In our imperfectness...
When our family does not fall out of Good Housekeeping...
We turn to Him.
So that others see it is not US who is perfect, but Him.
So that others might see that we are imperfect but He loves us anyways.
So that others will see that they too do not have to be perfect to be loved.
If you are hanging on to that perfect parent, let it go.
Trust in the Lord.
He is the perfect parent.
His love, mercy, grace and peace is more than enough for us.
He knew my fourth child would be with him.
He knew that I would have a fifth child who was perfect in every way.
He knew that I would soon learn what it meant to be a perfect parent.
I had to let go of the world's vision of it and adopt His vision.
I still struggle.
I try to put those chains back on after He freed me of them.
When I do....
I think of my son, sitting at the Lord's feet.
Whatever your struggling with today, let it go.
Let go today and let God. 

(If you do all or some of the things listed above, I am in no way saying your not being true to who you are. They are just examples of my own struggle and my own front I put before people.)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Reducing Our Electric Habit

 As the days grow hotter here we see our electrical bill start rising.
So, we are on a mission this month in our home to use less electricity!
You know this mission, right?
Daily fights over the AC temp and Mom constantly yelling, TURN THAT LIGHT OFF!
Sounds fun doesn't it? Ahhh, good times.
Anyways, we have found success in our efforts though and I wanted to share them with you.

For informational purposes just a few facts first :
We live in South Florida & use AC almost year around.
We battle seasonal allergies that prevents us from opening our windows in the spring.
The home we rent is 1200 sq feet give or take, built in 2002. 
We do have a larger AC unit than is recommended, which helps.

First thing I tackled was the AC. It runs almost non-stop in our home. 
This time of the year see's us rise from a $150 a month bill to $230 in a flash.
The outside temps rise and the ac works harder to keep up. 
So even I keep the temp inside on 80, it still works harder to maintain 80 than it did a few weeks ago.
Then I realized the only sure way to make sure it doesn't run all the time was to turn it off.
Yes, I am a genius. ;)
If I turn the AC off the kids cried, how do we stay cool?
That is where I realized that just as our Northern friends fight to keep the cold out in the
winter, we must fight to keep the heat out in the summer.  
We have vertical blinds on all the windows. We keep those closed.
It still felt hot in here. So I added lightweight curtains over top of the blinds. 
Better but when the temps started climbing to the upper 80's, the heat slowly crept back in. 
So I took pretty tablecloth that were in my stash, sewed a pocket and hung them in FRONT
of the blinds in the windows that got the most light. 
This helped a great deal. We are now able to turn off the AC completely every morning
around 6 am and we make it to almost 5 - 7pm before it comes back on. 
This trick alone when we can make it the whole 12 hours saves us HALF the KW's we were
using before. Don't believe me? Check it out...

 You can see the days I circled. Those days were 40 and under KW days. If you look
under my account summary you will see that my highest daily usage was 76. I highlighted
the lowest point by clicking on it for the picture, my lowest day I used 32 KWH's. Ignore the
following day where I hit 61 KWH's. Let's just say even though I line dry most of the time, that
day was not a good day. Lots of children with nothing clean to wear. So I used, like an addict. ;)

Like with all the other examples and advice I give, I should point out that this is just one phase of 
cutting our usage. Right now I looked to the biggest power sucker & worked on that. We have 
a few more windows to cover before we move on to another phase. A programmable thermometer
would help but this is a rental and I am not sure of their cost. It is something I will run past a 
friend of ours who installs AC's for a living. 

The next phase? Not sure.
But here is a list of things I have written down that we want to work on in this area :
* Changing lightbulbs to LED's -
We don't do the CFL's due to the mercury in them should one break. 
We do have two LED bulbs right now and we are very happy with them. 
Turning out the lights help as well, not just saving electricity but they do generate heat in the house as well.
*Phasing out the dryer completely -
We use it for small things or like above, in a time crunch. 
This involves me being more disciplined (ahem) in the laundry area. 
*Using ceiling fan's effectively - 
Right now the kids have it in their head that fans should be left on all the time. 
I have tried to explain to them that fans only work if the person is in the room.  
This website has been such help in reducing our costs.
*Dishwasher vs. Hand washing -
This one is going to require lots of research. 
Our dishwasher does not work effectively so I think I already know the answer. 
However I am not the dishwasher, a teenage girl is. And she is going to 
want hard data to support my theory of her hand washing dishes. 
*Baths vs. Showers -
We have well water. That means that every time we turn the tap on, it requires the pump to use
electricity to deliver it to us. Conserving water will help reduce ours costs. 
However I am the loverof nice large baths of hot water. 
That is my escape. I will have to curb those and I am not looking forward to that , at all. 

Do you have any suggestions or ideas how to save money on your electric bill? 
We would love to hear them!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Living Below Your Means

I know everyone has heard, 'Live within your means'. We all know it means not to
spend more than you make. But is that the key to debt free freedom?
When you start talking to people with real freedom financially they will almost
always say it was not how much they made, but how much they did NOT spend.
We can always find ways to earn more money. It is not until we learn how to not spend
money unnecessarily that we will experience true freedom.
First hand experience (mine and others) will
tell us, when we earn more we also spend more. We elevate our lifestyle.
Maybe we do it in small ways ("I can spend more on groceries") or maybe we do it in large ways
("We earn twice now, I can get a new car!"), but chances are almost all of us do it
when we see an increase in money. The question do we change that?
And the desire to be truly free.
Neither of those are easy but the good news is if have more of the latter then
the first thing will be easier to come by. For us we lacked discipline but we are filled
with a burning desire to be debt free and to have more freedom in our life. 
So, here is how we are putting in place living below our means :

1. Cut our entertainment expenses. 
We have no cable/dish, pay as you go internet, no netflix or subscriptions to things we once had. Though
it would be easy to for someone to feel deprived doing this, we welcome it. Our ultimate desire is
to live off-grid. So the sooner we unhooked from these things, the easier it will be for us to make that
transition to the off grid life down the road.

2. Lower our housing cost. 
I know this is not possible for everyone, especially if you have a mortgage. But we are renters and in less than a year we will be relocating. We are purposely looking for cheaper rent in our new state so we can maximize our savings. Our goal is to buy a home mortgage free so we can really be FREE!

3. Spend less on transportation.
In the last year we have sold our 2nd vehicle when my hubby decided to take his bike to work. We have saved thousands of dollars in gas, repairs and insurance. We also moved our deductible up for our insurance on our van. We just made sure whatever the deductible is that we had savings to match it. We also cut our driving to conserve gas money and repairs from wear and tear. We plan to continue this type of transportation in the future. Maybe even employing our bikes more.

4. Cut food costs.
This was a hard thing for us because we do not want to compromise on healthy, whole foods as organically as possible. But thankfully we got a Trader Joe's recently so it was easier. We spend on average $400 to $500 a month to feed our family of 5. This is 3 meals a day at home almost every day of the week. When we are home owners again then we plan to reduce our costs by growing and producing as much as our own food as possible.

5. Reduce our clothing costs.
This was easy for us. We buy 95% all of our clothing used. We have really good thrift stores and consignment shops so it made it a breeze. We made this change awhile back when we heard an alarming stat, it takes 1/3rd of a pound of pesticides for enough cotton for one t-shirt. Since our family can afford organic clothing we choose to buy used instead.

These are just simple thing we do to under consume our means. There are many other things we can do to reduce even further. Our goal isn't to under consume in order to amass other things. Our goal is a more simple life that makes us free from conventional systems. It will also allow us to give more than we do now with this debt over our head. The more we have, the more we can give.
What could you do if you had more freedom?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Ditch The Package

Last few posts we have talked about many ways to recycle items. I just
learned a staggering statistic : one person generates 400 lb of waste a day!
This is not just your personal trash but when you consume items it accounts
for the waste that was made in that process. Things we don't think about.
It can be overwhelming but if we take one area, work on it, we can do better.
Today we are taking on food & grocery packaging. 
When I tackled our trash problem I became nut-so with reducing our trash output.
I recycled, composted, reused, donated or whatever with great flair.
Then the day came. The trash man only had one lonely half filled can to dump.
I had such a sense of pride.
Until I looked over at my recycling pile. Two cans and overflowing.
We all know recycling is great. But the best alternative to recycling is under consuming.
We have to understand even if we recycle plastic, it never leaves the earth.
It can never be destroyed. It will just keep showing up in one form or the other.
That piece of knowledge is hard for me to forget.
When I see all the plastic that "green" products are packaged in, I get a bit upset.
We have come so far. Too far to be buying organic vegetable shoved in plastic bags
at Whole Foods people. It makes no sense.
The sensible thing is to reduce your packaging.
Here is some simple ways to do so.....

No more plastic produce bags. 
I have these that I got at Target of all places. They were clearance, you can find them at Amazon now.

Even better, support small businesses and get some of these off Etsy!

Buy in bulk, use reusable bags.
We use homemade muslin bags for dried goods like bean, dried fruit and grains.
Buying in bulk lets us not only control the packaging but the amount
we need as well. Whole Foods again has a good area of bulk items.
You can make your own bags, or again support some small business on Etsy. :)

Find a butcher/cheese shop that lets you bring your own container.
We haven't found one that carries clean meats that allows us to do this yet.
In the mean time we purchase in bulk (no single slices of cheese bought here!) and
hope that it lessens our waste.
Ask your butcher/deli person if you can bring your own container. If so what they
will normally do is tare weight your container before hand or weigh your items without
the container then fill it up. Your going to get questions. Tell them your aiming for
zero waste not only in your home, but your aiming to help them lower their cost as well. :)

Reusable shopping bags.
This is a no brainer. You can buy them, thrift them or make them.
Either way, even recycling these horrible bags is not good for the environment.
Besides. the bags can be used for many things. They are our beach bags, library
bag, make shift luggage (oh yes, we are that family!) and sometimes lunch bag for all of us.
They just make a ton of sense and affordable to all.
Tip: Keep them in your car if your like me and tend to forget them if they are stored elsewhere!

Skip out on single serving items. 
While its easier to pack your kids lunch with a single yogurt, the waste is staggering.
Buy a larger container and use a reusable container for lunches.
Things we stopped buying.....bottled water, single serving snacks, yogurts, granola bars and so on.
Make your own, buy in bulk or just do without!

Ditch the water bottles.
Those single serving water bottles are your worst friend. They are wasteful in their packaging.
They also tend to be left in the car and the plastic heats & leaches into your drink. UGH.
Can we say cancer? No thanks.
Tap water is perfectly fine. And in case your like me who has well water that is not fine or if
drinking straight from the tap weirds you out, get a large water filter. No waste and great healthy drink.
We are personally are saving funds for a Berkley Water Filter.

Other tips :
* Make your own detergent.
* Save all your glass jars for food storage.
* Go to your Farmers Market for even less packaging & to work with smaller vendors who
are more than likely willing to work with your packaging needs. :)
* If you can't avoid packaging, buy in bulk and share with a friend.
* Buy bulk cheese and slice it yourself.
* Make your own reusable snack bags, buy in bulk and save money & packaging!
* Find items that have multiple uses. For instance we don't purchase cold cereal. We use
oatmeal instead. Not only for breakfast but we use it in our homemade facial cleaners & soaps.
We use oatmeal in meatloaf and so on. When items have more than one use, it eliminates the need
for multiple items in multiple packages.
* Make your own cleaners. It easy, cheap and much better for your family.
* Cooking from scratch! Ditch those pre-made boxes of rice pilaf, your a better cook.
* Buy seasonal produce in bulk then freeze or can surplus when it is out of season. Homemade
apple sauce from organic apples is so much better than store bought and better for you.

My suggestion to make changes in your home is always going to be the same whether we are
talking about recycling, going all cloth or eating healthy food - start small.
Take one area your concerned about, work on that until you are satisfied then find the next
area to work on. Eventually you will get there and you won't be overwhelmed in the process.
Our family still has a ways to go. Confession : When I was sick I bought single serving applesauce.
But we are doing better and we continue to look for ways to do better.

(I get nothing for the links above. I am not an affiliate and those are not my friends or families Etsy shops. I just happen to like those products. )

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Former Coupon Queen Comes Clean Part. 2

If you missed the first part of this series, you can read it here.
When we left off we found out our oldest daughter had an allergy to food dyes and wheat. And
I was finally reading food labels, not price stickers.

I went into the kitchen and scoured the fridge. We were left with meat and a veggie.
For weeks I struggled.
I tried to by the food dye free gluten free foods.
Wow, they were expensive.
No one told me what was naturally dye free or naturally gluten free.
I struggled as my own wheat test indicated I too should not be consuming wheat.
I stopped.
For months I replaced our normal processed food diet with processed gluten free
It still was a struggle and more than anything for this former Coupon was really expensive.
3 months in, I made a wonderful friend. She was a Celiac.
While we had issues with wheat we were not deemed Celiac, just intolerant.
She taught me what in nature was naturally gluten free.
I put down the boxed meals and starting combing the internet.
Surely others were experiencing what I was.
I was shocked by the sheer number who was.
I found community, information and most of all.....
I found hope.
Fast forward to today.
Our family on a whole is gluten free and uses no artificial food dyes.
I am mostly grain free. We purchase 50% of our food on a regular basis organically.
My husband lost over 100 lbs. I lost 40. My children's faces are rosy and healthy now.
They have energy that they never knew before.
We do this on a budget of $100 - $125 a week. For a family of 5. No coupons.
If organic was not important to us, I could go much lower.
But since we believe that part of the growing population to food allergy is
environmental related, we choose to opt out whenever possible.
But there are tight weeks where I can buy all the food we consume non-organically
for less than $75 for the week. 
No more coupons.
No more processed foods.
No more Stockpile Room.
The reason for telling this story is that I hope that another family who may be experiencing
what we did or just have questions, can be comforted that there is hope.
Having food allergies does not mean your grocery budget has to be so high.
Your not doomed to eat from a small shelf in your grocery store. There are so many options.
Later on I will show examples of our daily diet in hopes to shed light on how this can be affordable.
Until then, I want to encourage people struggling with food allergies or health issues related to food
that you need not be envious of the couponers. You too can save money and eat well. :)