29 April 2008

Service Interruptions

Thankfully, I've got a moment to write this, in case my ISP fails again. Just wanted y'all to know that we're in the process of switching from Verizon to Cavalier phone and internet. It's been an interesting process, but I don't have any time to go into detail about it now. But just in case for some reason I don't post anything in the next 22 days or so, and if I don't reply to your e-mails or any of that, please know that this is most likely the reason why. We won't have new e-mail or phone numbers to worry about, but our in-boxes will be possibly unattended. Thanks for understanding!

28 April 2008

Laundry Experiment, part 2

(Do you have any domestic discoveries that you've learned from experimenting? I'm all ears! Post your comments, tips, and bright ideas here or e-mail them to me, and I may use them in future posts on this blog. Thanks for sharing, and may all your laundry come out smelling and looking better than it does right now!)

I like calling it the "Laundry Experiment." Calling this an experiment gives me the upper hand: I am the scientist creating the controlled conditions under which the outcome is analyzed and conclusions are made based on the findings. This is the kind of science that I whole-heartedly enjoy: the practical and fun kind. While laundry is practical (rather necessary), some would argue the fun part. Some like me. But today I had a little fun making my own laundry detergent.

I've been wanting to post on this subject, as this is not the first time I've ever done this (it is in fact the second time). And I even took photos of the process. And it is a process I hope to keep "tweaking" until I get the results I am most satisfied with, hence experiment. But here is where I found this information: The Simple Dollar. This man's tutorial on how to make homemade laundry detergent is very good, includes a video clip of the clotted goo, results as well as price comparison to Tide. I also enjoyed reading through the comments from readers who have their own two cents to throw in (pun intended), and found them to be somewhat helpful. So I'll just post my "nutshell" version, in case you don't want to bother reading someone else's blog.

Homemade Laundry Soap

  • 5 gallon bucket
  • pot big enough to boil a little over 4 c. water
  • dry and liquid measuring devices
  • stirring device (whisk, wooden spoon, chop sticks, your hand)
  • cheese grater or sharp knife to whittle the bar of soap
  • stove
Ingredients (found in the laundry/soap aisle at your grocery store):
  • Arm & Hammer Washing Soda
  • Borax
  • bar soap (any kind will do)
Directions in a nutshell:
  • melt soap in 4 cups boiling water on the stove till dissolved (shredding the soap helps cut down the melting time)
  • mix soap liquid with 3 gallons warm water, 1c. washing soda and 1/2 c. borax in large bucket
  • let it cool and rest 24 hours, stirring occasionally. It will turn into slimy, glumpy, perfectly usable and highly affordable laundry soap.

The soap I used this time was a $7.50 bar of very fragrant soap my Mom bought for me when we visited the Renoir exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art last October. (Thanks, Mom. I'll think of you every time I do the laundry.) I grated it up in my food processor, and ended up using only half of it this time (about 3/4 c.), hoping the end result will be less chunky than last time. I'll save the other half for the next batch.

Here's what it looked like on the stove. Once it melted, the liquid was rather surprisingly clear, but quite sudsy.

Once the rest of the ingredients were added in, the mixture looked milky and still quite sudsy at the top.

21 April 2008

One Thing More...

Happy Birthday to my wonderful, crazy, fun-loving, hard-working, obnoxious and lovable little big brother. I miss you, and sometimes wish there were fewer than 3,000 miles between us. Sometimes. Have another piece of cake and be nice. I love you!

Add This To My Resume

So we decided to turn over the garden and break up the clods one more time before planting seeds, and Enoch began to do so Friday afternoon. He got about 1/3 of the way through, but stopped due to Family Fun Night. Then he decided to get sick and have to stay in bed for mostly the remainder of the weekend. (Doing better now, though.) We had a 30% chance of rain today, but it was rather warm and a bit breezy with mostly cloud cover, so I ventured to take Tristan and Rosalind out with shovels and see what I could tackle before lunch or rainfall. After all, it's only laundry day, and other than some lifting and stuffing of clothes, the machines do all the work. (Except for the folding and putting away. Since there's no machine to do that, I need a separate day for that chore!)

We got about to the middle of the garden before Rosalind decided she wanted to venture into the alley way with her shovel and see where it would take her. After a couple times of scolding her for not staying in the yard, we decided to break for lunch and quiet time. But Tristan and I were back at it for another hour or so after lunch and a break. We not only finished the whole garden, but we then raked it smooth and gathered the large clods and broke most of them up by hand. (Except for the hard ones from when Enoch had shoveled a couple of days ago.) As we were enjoying the feel of the soft soil crumbling in our hands and smoothing it out, Tristan said to me that it felt as soft (or softer) than his Blue Doggy. That is no small deal, believe me!

But that's not the best part. The BEST part was the most excellent compliment we received when Enoch got home from work. He came in and said to me, "YOU'VE been borrowing someones rototiller to till up the garden, haven't you?" I laughed with delight and proudly told him that we did no such thing, but that Tristan and I dug it ourselves and even broke up the clods with our hands. It's nice when people you respect notice your hard work.

Here's a shot of the final product, with a few clods left to crumble.

Ground-Breaking News

We discussed our ideas, purchased our seeds, and started two weeks ago to dig up the ol' garden patch. Due to the heavy crop of weeds, we (I mostly mean Enoch) overturned the soil and then left it alone until a couple of days ago. More on that later. Here's some snapshots of the ground-breaking activity. It's open season in the garden again!

18 April 2008

Fun Activity and Birthday Gift all in One!

Not long ago, my boys were invited to a "Dream Come True" party (a birthday party for 3 sisters who all had birthdays within a week and a half). Since we don't budget for friend's birthday presents, we usually try to come up with something that's inexpensive, fun, and hopefully homemade. One time I made a girl's apron and homemade play-dough. From that time on, the "standard birthday gift" has evolved into making a batch of homemade play-dough, adding a couple of cookie stamps or cookie cutters, and a recipe card with instructions to make more in the future.

A friend of mine gave me a bag full of cookie cutters and cookie stamps that, unfortunately, I never use. Among the selection was a great big birthday cake that says "Happy Birthday." This one we keep and use every time, because each "loaf" of play-dough gets stamped with it before it goes in the plastic zipper bag to then be wrapped.

For the three sisters, we also wrapped a shoe box and lid so that the new play-dough would have a pretty place to be stored when it wasn't being used. (I wish I had taken a photo of it fully wrapped; it turned out very pretty! I re-cycled a pretty gift bag to use for the wrapping paper.) I forgot to include a recipe card this time, but I'll share it here. The recipe came from a church cookbook, "The Mixing Bowl Recipe Book Grace Chapel." Recipe was submitted by Kris Hubbard.



2 cups flour
1 tsp. Cream of Tartar
1 cup salt
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
2 cups cold water
1 tsp food coloring (use only enough to achieve desired color)


Mix all and cook over low/medium heat stirring constantly. Dough will come together in a ball--remove from heat. Cool for 5-8 minutes and knead until smooth. Store in air tight container.

Merrilee's Tip: Don't try to speed up the process by using warm or hot water. The end result is that the dough comes together too fast and you can end up with lumps that didn't get any color in them.

Not only was it easy and inexpensive to make, but my kids had fun making it as well! Do you have any frugal gift ideas that you want to share? Leave your comments here or join in with so many others for Frugal Friday over at Biblical Womanhood.

16 April 2008

Learning the Ropes

I've been reading up quite a bit, looking over adds more scrupulously, and forming a game plan. I clipped more coupons for stuff I may never buy, and wrote up a shopping list. And finally, I took the plunge and set foot in my local CVS store to see what killer bargains I could wrangle up.

You see, I've been hearing a lot from Crystal Paine of Money Saving Mom and Biblical Womanhood about how she spends around $1 a week out of pocket at CVS, and is able to buy all her household items (paper products, beauty products, health care and baby supplies) by using coupons and the "Extra Care Bucks" (ECB) program. So I thought, since she was also challenging her readers this week to declare an anti-Procrastination day, that it was time to get my feet wet.

Well, it wasn't easy. I had two of my children with me, which is not highly recommended, especially if the youngest one is near ready for lunch and/or a nap. But we did have snacks and a sippy cup, and a big brother who is a great helper (and even pushed a second shopping cart), so we managed pretty well.

But I did run into a couple of bumps. I had heard about this one great offer where some gals were buying three toenail separators (.99 each) and earning $5 in ECB. It sounded like an easy first-timer transaction, but I got no ECB lovin' there. (But now have lots of toenail separators for those special people in my life...)

They were also running a special Buy 1, get 1 free offer for Colgate toothpaste, and I was SO excited because I had a $1 and $1.50 off coupon, but when I read the fine print, the coupon was for Colgate Total Advanced, and the B1G1 offer was for Colgate Total. {Has anyone noticed that there are WAY too many different varieties of toothpaste out there!? It's almost as bad as yogurt choices!}

I was also unable to find some items that I was just going to price-check to plan for my next shopping trip, and with a baby "on the edge" I wasn't going to prolong my visit, so that was a little frustrating.

(Sigh) I'll spare you all the details (because there is a "language" associated with CVS shopping that can make your head spin if you're new at it like I am, or if you really don't care much about that sort of thing). Long story short: I spent $35.26 out of pocket, saved nearly $18 in coupons and in-store offers, and earned $7 in ECB for my next shopping trip to CVS. I have a good supply of toothbrushes and toothpaste for everyone, and I'm already planning what to buy at my next trip, although my husband is not convinced that this whole thing is going to work for us. We'll have to give it some time and see.

So, we learned a few things, and got stuff we did actually need, like toothpaste and toothbrushes. Crystal encourages newbies to take it slowly and try it for 3 months before giving up, so I'll see how much I can improve my skills. For any family members (or friends or random blog readers) who don't bother with coupons or ECB's, you certainly can help me by sending me your extra coupons and/or the ECB portions of your CVS receipts if you're not planning to use them. And anyone who wants to learn more about what in the world I'm talking about, a good place to start is over at Crystal's Money Saving Mom website. Look for CVS 101 guidance here.

14 April 2008

Still Alive and Kicking

Oh my goodness; I looked at my blog and realized that it has been nearly two weeks since I've last posted! I've taken some pictures, done some fun things, but have done less with the computer and e-mail lately, which isn't such a bad thing, I must confess. I'm striving towards a better balance of my time spent sitting at my desk versus time spent doing household chores and spending time with my kids. So I'll keep this short and just let you all know we're still alive and kicking--even the littlest one, and I hope to post a few times very soon.