DIY Christmas Stockings

When I realized we would have thirteen people and pets in our home over the holidays, it seemed like a cute idea as well as cost effective, to make our own Christmas Stockings.  With a little fabric paint we were able to make our own personalized holiday stockings for a fraction of what it would cost if we bought them online.

Here’s a quick recap of what we did.  First, we bought some blue no pill fleece.  Of course Red would be traditional, but its also a bit harder to find in these last shopping days before Christmas.  We also found a really good sale and a lovely shade of blue that would match our tree.  We also picked up some white fleece for the trim.  The amount of material you will need depends on the the number and size of the stockings you will be making.

We traced an “old stocking” from Christmas’ past, giving about a half inch border all around for a seam.  That served as our pattern for our baker’s dozen stocking project.  We folded the fabric in half — with the “good side” of the fleece on the inside of the fold.  Traced, pinned and cut the stocking out.  On the machine we made a straight stitch around the edges then turned the stocking right-side-out.

For the trim, we cut out strips of white fleece that were about five inches tall and more than twice the width of the stocking — leaving about 1-2″ of excess.  With the stocking right side up, we placed the white fleece trim right side DOWN on top of the blue stocking and pinned it in place.  Note:  Both “right sides” of the fleece are touching on the inside.  Then we sewed the pieces together with a quick fastening stitch.

The final step was to turn the stocking with trim, inside out again and sew the last side seam of the white trim together on the edge.  Cut off any excess, turn right side out again and personalize with fabric paint.

Was an easy and fun project and everyone loved their new blue stockings. :)

Homemade “Drip” Irrigation

My boyfriend is a proud country boy at home in the great outdoors or the back woods of Kentucky perhaps in any event.  So when he came to join me here in SoCal he was eager to plant a little garden in the land of sun and .. well more sun.  It’s the desert after all.  Don’t let all those manicured and chemically altered green lawns fool you.  We live in the desert where it seems nothing grows except granite and intolerance.  So when the melon blossoms would shrivel up and die each day, my man had to think outside the planter box.

“I knew how to water plants back home,” he said to me one morning as he was downing another 32 ounce bottle of Gatorade which had become his blood line when he realized what DRY HEAT does to his system.  “I could drench the ground in the morning and it’d be good for a couple of days.  But here I gotta water first thing every day and then again at supper time.”

Even still, he noticed that our sandy soil wasn’t holding the moisture like the rich clay and compost that he was use to tilling back home.  As he finished his Glacier Freeze he had an idea and went into the kitchen for a metal skewer.

He carefully poked four holes around the bottom edge of the empty bottle.  (A nail, awl, tack or other sharp object can be used with care.)  And then dug a hole in our garden next to a new artichoke plant that was joining our planter box crops.

Before putting the bottle in the ground, he filled the bottom of the jar with sandy soil.  About two inches deep.  Then took the hose and powered a stream of water into the container to distribute the dirt so that the heavy rocks would work their way to the bottom.

He built up the sides around the new plant to prevent water runoff and then placed the bottle in the ground near the roots and filled it with water.  The soil at the bottom helps to slow the release of the water reserve over the course of a few hours even on very hot days.  You can fine tune this homemade drip system by adding more holes or more sandy substrate to your bottles.

We put a half dozen jars in our little melon patch too, and we are happy to report that our blossoms now mature into healthy yellow flowers and we even have a few new tiny cantaloupes beginning to grow.

 

Recurring subscriptions

Sometimes saving money is simply about knowing where your money is scheduled to go! I have found Amazon Subscribe and Save to be an excellent program for saving money (up to 15% if you pre-schedule deliveries) with excellent subscription policies. Each time an item is slated for delivery they notify you in advance, giving you an opportunity to CANCEL the order without being charged or penalized.

Now THAT’s how a company should do business. And Amazon gets high marks for customer service. They have live people to talk to you about any problem that may arise and they refund purchases without hassle. As a disabled lady, I rely on Amazon for so much of my shopping needs and I really value their dedication to customer service.

However, not all business have the same standards or customer retention that Amazon maintains. I found that out today, when I was charged a $75 anual fee on a social networking account that I no longer use.

As I did some research on the charge, I found that paypal has an automatic payment “feature” that can easily go off the radar if you aren’t diligent.

Want to check your paypayl account vendor relationships?

  1. Log in to your PayPal account.
  2. Click Profile at the top of the page.
  3. Click My Money, then click Update beside My Preapproved Payments.
  4. If necessary, select the payment, and then click Cancel to remove the autopay contract.

In addition to scheduled payments, paypal has pre-approved agreements with some vendors.  In a nutshell, that means the vendor can simply send your paypal account a bill for services and it will pay it automatically.  When I looked at my paypal payment plans I was shocked to see FACEBOOK (among others) listed. But Facebook is free! Why have a payment plan pre-approved on a FREE SERVICE? Most likely one of the questionable affiliates had a bot that grabbed and flagged a one time payment and set the switch to have paypal authorize them to pay for life. I also found that social networking account  that started my investigation this morning .. not to mention any names (IMVU) and it had no less than FOUR paypal agreements to autopay. Seriously? Wow, talk about a sophisticated avatar. That app CLONED me and set up hooks to keep itself discreetly well fed. Because unlike Amazon, who notifies you when you have a pending auto-pay scheduled — this company sends “THANK YOU” notifications after the fact.

So, my tip for today …. GO FIND your auto-pay bills and check out your pre-approved payment plans for your paypal and your bank. You may be surprised who is authorized to spend your money.

Want more information on what bills should or shouldn’t be on auto-pay. Here’s an excellent web-icle on the topic Bills You Shouldn’t Put on Autopay with helpful links.

Bottom line you should KNOW what bills are on auto-pay and what bills you need to pay by electronic hand.  Other wise you may get an unexpected penalty free and interest charged for a late payment because you didn’t know that your Amazon card WASN’T set to autopay!  Not that that happened to me of course.  Hey, I’m learning how all this bill/pay stuff works and apparently there is a FEE to the Life Lessons Accounting 101 course that I am enrolled in.

 

Going No Shampoo – Part 4

The cat’s out of the bag!  Or the shampoo bottle in this case.  In part 4 of my “No Poo” series, I explain how and why I’ve gone back to using commercial shampoo as part of my hair care routine.  I haven’t given up on baking soda and vinegar.  I use a combination of traditional shampoo/conditioner once or twice a week, with baking soda and vinegar one day in between.  Overall, I shampoo less and my hair looks better than it has in years.

DIY with Enviro-Friendly Materials

Ten years ago, my home improvement projects were focused on reducing allergens (have I mentioned my hairless pets?)  But today indoor air polution is a lot more serious than simple dust mites or swapping out the carpet and drapes.  Last year while renovating a downstairs bedroom suite for our housemate I learned about No VOC materials.  There was a whole lot I didn’t know and in my research I learned the difference between being “enviro-friendly” and being “human-friendly”.  From flooring, to paint and even what house plants may help reduce indoor pollution!  I tried to take good notes along the way so that I could share what I’ve learned  in order to let other people make informed choices about their next DYI.

I sat down several times this past year to write articles for this serious of NO VOCs … but sometimes somethings just don’t get the priority they need in the hopper of life’s musings to actually get enough momentum to get out the door.  Sadly my work on Enviro-Friendly materials falls into that list of — too many things … not enough time.  I say sadly too because I am watching a set of unfortunate circumstances unfold with a family member who finds herself in the middle of a workplace fubar regarding just this issue.

So even though I can’t provide all the glitzy pictures from the installation of marmoleum, or show the in-depth cost-analysis of being green or demonstrate the importance of the proper underlayment !  I can offer up my notes from the past year for those who have the inclination to take a closer look at these important issues.

Don’t take my word for it .. Google this for yourself.  Gather the data … get the facts .. and make prudent choices for yourself and your family.

Let me get the ball rolling for you with a brief definition of terms … No VOC, Low VOC, EDC, Enviro-Friendly, Sustainable Resources, PBCs … it’s a veritable alphabet soup out there when it comes to digesting the reports and slick adverttising geared at today’s enviromentally concious consumer.  So here are a few glossary notes before we begin:

“For starters, the EPA’s definition of ‘low’ is based not on an indoor health standard but on an outdoor environmental standard.” http://www.utne.com/2006-07-01/ACleanerCoat.aspx

 

“John Chang, who directed the research and whose findings finally were published by the agency in 2001. ‘Certain paints marketed as ‘low VOC’ may still emit significant quantities of air pollutants,’ he concluded.”  same source as above.

 

http://www.epa.gov/iaq/voc.html

An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

“Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects. Concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than outdoors.  VOCs are emitted by a wide array of products numbering in the thousands. Examples include: paints and lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials and furnishings, office equipment such as copiers and printers, correction fluids and carbonless copy paper, graphics and craft materials including glues and adhesives, permanent markers, and photographic solutions.

Organic chemicals are widely used as ingredients in household products. Paints, varnishes, and wax all contain organic solvents, as do many cleaning, disinfecting, cosmetic, degreasing, and hobby products. Fuels are made up of organic chemicals. All of these products can release organic compounds while you are using them, and, to some degree, when they are stored.”

 

“Sources

 

Household products including: paints, paint strippers, and other solvents; wood preservatives; aerosol sprays; cleansers and disinfectants; moth repellents and air fresheners; stored fuels and automotive products; hobby supplies; dry-cleaned clothing.

 

Health Effects

 

Eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system. Some organics can cause cancer in animals; some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans.  Key signs or symptoms associated with exposure to VOCs include conjunctival irritation, nose and throat discomfort, headache, allergic skin reaction, dyspnea, declines in serum cholinesterase levels, nausea, emesis, epistaxis, fatigue, dizziness.”

“Studies have found that levels of several organics average 2 to 5 times higher indoors than outdoors. During and for several hours immediately after certain activities, such as paint stripping, levels may be 1,000 times background outdoor levels.”

 

But it’s just not feeling a little queezy … VOCs have been linked to cancer in both animal studies and in humans. http://eetd.lbl.gov/ied/sfrb/voc-cancer.html

In January 2009 http://www.vexcon.com/pdfs/PI100VexconVOCGuide.pdf New VOC Regulations from US EPA, OTC, CARB, and SCAQMD

 

http://www.webmd.com/lung/news/20100805/endocrine-disrupting-chemicals-are-indoor-risk?src=RSS_PUBLIC

Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals Are Indoor Risk

Researchers Find EDC Levels Are Higher Indoors Than Outdoors

 

Original article from SilentSpring

http://www.silentspring.org/pdf/our_publications/Rudel_RA2009.pdf

Same article published at the NIH

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2677823/

“Over the past 15 years, some chemical classes commonly used in building materials, furnishings, and consumer products have been shown to be endocrine disrupting chemicals—that is they interfere with the action of endogenous hormones. These include PCBs, used in electrical equipment, caulking, paints and surface coatings; chlorinated and brominated flame retardants, used in electronics, furniture, and textiles; pesticides, used to control insects, weeds, and other pests in agriculture, lawn maintenance, and the built environment; phthalates, used in vinyl, plastics, fragrances, and other products; alkylphenols, used in detergents, pesticide formulations, and polystyrene plastics; and parabens, used to preserve products like lotions and sunscreens.”

August 5th summary in WebMD

http://www.webmd.com/lung/news/20100805/endocrine-disrupting-chemicals-are-indoor-risk?src=RSS_PUBLIC

Concentrations of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) — found in many everyday products and of concern due to potential health hazards — are higher indoors than outdoors, according to a new study.

But they are equally present, the researchers found, in an urban, low-income community near an oil refinery and in a rural, affluent coastal community without much industry.

 

EDCs can mimic or disrupt the body’s natural hormone system, Rudel says. As a result, they can hamper cell growth and development.

Since the mid-1990s, scientists have been focusing on the study of EDCs, Rudel says, to see how they might affect child development, reproduction, and cancers such as breast and prostate.“

Tracking EDCs

The researchers found 39 chemicals outdoors and 63 indoors, including phthalates, parabens, PBDE flame retardants, PCBs, and pesticides.

The chemicals are found in such products as detergents, furniture, carpets, electronic equipment, pesticides, cosmetics, and building materials.”

How to Avoid EDCs
Research is ongoing, and until more is known, Rudel says concerned people can take a few measures to reduce potential exposure to the compounds.

Use fewer products overall, such as cleaning products and cosmetics, that contain EDCs.
Avoid fabrics coated with anti-stain chemical.
Avoid use of antibacterial soaps, which contain triclosan, an EDC.

QUICK NOTES:

There’s a lot to digest here. So here are some quick notes that will help:

Look for NO VOC options when remodeling choose LOW VOC only when NO VOC is unavailable.

Enviro-Friendly doesn’t always mean NO VOC  (e.g Bamboo flooring is sustainable resourse and better for the planet, but when formaldihyde ink is used to dye the end product it contains VOCs that will gass out in your home.)

What if after you read this article you feel like you are living in Love Canal? Well for starts you can pick up some cheap house plants from your local hard ware store.  Take a look at these resources for how common house plants can go a long way to fight indoor air polution.

Zap Harmful Air Pollutants, Naturally

Houseplants Devour VOC’s

Some day I may have time to sit down and show you how easy it was to lay marmoleum and how much different it feels to work with NO VOC materials.  Seriously you can SLEEP in the room the day you paint!  But for now … because it simply seemed important, I wanted to at least plant the seed that this is an important issue for everyone to think about.  Do the research for yourself, weigh the benefits and costs and make informed decisions for your next project.

The 20-Cent, 2-Minute Thistle Bird Feeder

Okay your price may vary of course depending on how much you estimate an old knee high stocking is worth. But by my calculations we are talking about pennies to make this easy DIY thistle feeder for your backyard birds.

Here’s what you’ll need:

1 knee high stocking (or you can cut the leg off of an old stocking that you were going to throw away)
1 chopstick (or a twig would work fine too)
1 lid to a pickle jar the size doesn’t really matter
And thistle seed

Place the pickle jar lid at the bottom of your stocking.

Next, I use a large empty yogurt container to help me hold the stocking in place in order to fill it with thistle.

Pour the thistle into the stocking until it is three to four inches high. Then take a chopstick or twig and push it through the thistle right above the pickle jar lid.

That’s it.

Attach to a tree limb or hang on a hook for your backyard birds.

It took my goldfinches about two weeks before they found the thistle feeder but once they did the word spread all through the neighborhood and now I have a wonderful little flock of happy song birds along with the scrub jays, sparrows and towhees who eat the wild bird seed alongside them in my flat bed tray.

Why spend twenty dollars or more when you can make this easy thistle feeder for only pennies?

How to make Thieves Oil at Home for a Household Cleaner

To be honest, I know very little behind the science or technology of these reputable brands like Young Living Essential Oils or Auru Cacia who each sell varieties of thieves blend or medieval oil blend.  I’ve certainly read up a bit on the legend that has several variants but goes something like … grave robbers during medieval times used an assortment of essential oils to protect themselves from getting the plague. And while there does seem to be some corresponding notes in various old texts

“POUR THIEVES” VINEGAR (cxlviii. £ 99). — Mr. W. G. Bell, in a recent lecture on the Plague, explained this curious name. It appears that during the pestilence four men were caught in the act of robbing the dead. Curious to ascertain how the robbers escaped infection the authorities discovered that the men rubbed their bodies with a mixture of vinegar and spices. An enterprising firm at once placed the remedy on the market under the appropriate name of its first users. Some of these old labels were recently found in the cellars of a firm in the Minories. Dr. Uvedale believed in vinegar poured over a red-hot brick as a plague preventive. (See Robinson’s ‘ History of Enfield,’ i. 1823, p. 121). J. ARDAGH.”

There is hardly a consensus on what these criminals used and much less on an similarity on modern day blends.  But there is certainly a lot claims out there with supporting science to the degree that you believe your own Google news.  And I would encourage anyone to do their own homework when it comes to alternative healing modalities and see what may be right for your unique body chemistry and circumstances.

For me?  I like the way this five essential oil blend smells.  And when I use it as one ingredient in my homemade cleaners it makes the house smell fresh!

Here’s the recipe from the video below:

Ingredients:

  • Lemon Zest from 1 Large Lemon
  • 4 Sprigs Fresh Rosemary
  • 4 Cinnamon Sticks
  • ¼ Cup Whole Cloves
  • ~5 Drops Eucalyptus Essential Oil
Carefully remove just the zest from one large lemon, as this is the part that contains the most essential oil.  Place in a pot for the stove with the rosemary, cinnamon and cloves and add about a quart of water.  Let the mixture come to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.  ALTERNATIVELY: For an energy efficient preparation, simply turn off the heat and let sit covered for two hours.  Strain the mixture and place the liquid in a glass jar.  Add your five drops of Eucalyptus Oil to the container and cover with a tight fitting lid.  You can then add another quart of water to the same pot and re-use your peel and spices for another 2-3 batches.
I keep this concentrate in a mason jar and store it with my other cleaning supplies.  Below are a few recipes we use at our house.

General Purpose Cleaner:

Place 2 cups water in an empty (clean!) spray bottle and add ¼ cup of the five oil blend to the bottle.  This works well for counter tops, tile, stone floors, marmoleum and sinks.

Glass Cleaner:

Take a bottle of the General Purpose Cleaner (above) and add ¼ cup White Vinegar.

Wood Cleaner/Polish:

Place 2 cups warm water in an small bucket or bowl.  Add 3 TBL of the five oil blend, 2 drops of dish soap and 1 tsp of olive oil.  I use this on my wood cabinets, tables and wooden banister.  It cuts through the dust and grime and leaves the wood shiny with a wonderful clean smell.

Laundry Additive:

I like to add about a half cup to two gallons of our home made liquid laundry detergent.  Hey if it kept the plague at bay, it can’t hurt eh?

Homemade Liquid Laundry Detergent for Pennies a Load!

I’ve been tweaking our family recipe for homemade laundry detergent since I published the powder recipe some time ago.  We have a new HE machine now that uses WAY LESS WATER and the powder would not have a chance to dissolve completely during the regular wash cycle.

In this variation I am using Castile Bar Soap which dissolves quickly in a pan on the stove and is decidedly cheaper than the Fels-Naptha Laundry Bar Soap that I had been buying with equally good results.

For folks who can find Borax at their local grocery mart and Washing Soda (which is not the same as Baking Soda!) at one of the discount stores you can make this recipe for just over a penny per load!

Here is an example breakdown:

Cost estimates for buying locally

(prices obtained January 2011)

  • Borax at KMart = $2.50 for 76 ounces = 3 cents per ounce = 1 cup is 24 cents
  • Washing Soda at Ace Hardware = $3.79 for 55 ounces = 7 cents per ounce or 1 cup = 56 cents
  • Castile Soap $1.00 (couldn’t find at a local store but only a buck on the web)

Total cost for 2 Gallons = $1.80

With 128 loads (2 ounces each) the cost = 1½ Pennies per Load!

What if you can’t find the items at your local stores?

Frankly, because of my own chronic illness and inability to get out and shop, I buy the bulk of our groceries and household products online and I still save money over buying commercial detergents.

Cost estimates for buying online

(prices obtained January 2011)

Total cost for 2 Gallons = $6.07

With 128 loads (2 ounces each) the cost ~ $0.05 Pennies per Load!

Only a thin nickle a load even if you had to buy everything online.

But does it work?

Well that depends on what your criteria is.  It certainly works well for me since I put a high value on eco-friendly and when you are on a fixed income cost savings are key.  So yes, it saves money and it is better for the environment with no harsh chemicals, dyes, fragrances or new plastic bottles each time we buy detergent.

Does it get clothes just as clean as commercial stain-lifting — de-greasing — whitening products?  Nope, that is not my experience.  But none of us are working on a farm and we don’t have really small children smashing tomato-puree into their clothes.  So it works just fine for us.

Recipe from the video above:

Ingredients:

Place unwrapped bar of castile soap in a pot on the stove and add 8 cups of water.  Bring to a boil and then simmer on low heat for about 15 minutes stirring occasionally until the bar is completely dissolved.

In a large bucket (we use an old five gallon paint drum), add the solution from the stove and mix with one cup each Borax and Washing Soda.  Stir gently until the powders are dissolved.

Add 1½ galons of water to the bucket (24 cups) and stir again.

If you are using the aromatherapy blend (see my Youtube video on making this medieval oil blend for use around your home) you can add about a half cup.  This step is optional.

Pour your mixture into storage containers and use only TWO OUNCES per load (that is ¼ cup).

Better for you, better for the environment and better for your budget!

DIY Potholders

When I was little, one of my favorite toys aside from my Etch A Sketch® was a plastic potholder maker.  I would spend hours weaving scraps of fabric on this small toy loom.  Yeah, this is what passed for entertainment in the 60′s and 70′s before social networking became our most cherished hobby. ;)

As I looked at my dwindling supply of store bought pot holders that had decidedly seen better days and considered whether I should darn the thread barren places or bite the bullet and buy something NEW (gasp!) oven mitts, I remembered how easy it was to make potholders as a child and became inspired to make my own make-shift loom.

Our garage has so many spare parts it would make MacGyver proud.  So it was easy to find some old wood strips to use as my frame.  With a hand saw and plastic miter box I cut four equal lengths of 2 inch wood strips  (I made two looms that day, one was 12 inches and one 8 inches in order to have two sizes for my potholders.)  A staple gun made fast work of fastening the sides together at the corners.

I tapped finishing nails into the boards at half in intervals making sure I had the same number of pegs on each of the four sides.

For material, I used scraps from old tee shirts, leggings and other cotton interlock or stretch material.  I measured a strip that was twice as long as my loom and doubled it over.  With my sewing machine, I made a stretch straight stitch along the unfinished hem until I had one long “tube” of fabric.

Next, I carefully cut the fabric into one half inch strips to use for my weaving.

To set up the loom, place one fabric loop on each of the pegs running in one direction.

Then take the first peg in the opposite direction and slowly weave it over and under each of the planks.  Start your next weave on the opposite pattern, for instance if you began on an OVER cast, then place this next loop UNDER to start your run.

When you are finished filling up all the nails you need to finish the edges, by carefully taking off ONE LOOP at a time and threading the next loop into it.  That is to say you take one of the edges off, hold open the loop with one hand and then carefully slip the next loop off and insert that loop through the open loop you are holding.  Once through, you open up that loop and start again with the next loop on the loom.

When you come to the last loop, you can tie a knot in the last ring to secure all of the edges in place.  Saved a few dollars and passed down a family tradition to my own kids. :)