Monday, June 28, 2010

How to Grow a Backyard Pumpkin Patch

Last fall, I grew my own pumpkins for the first time.  Now, I have to say that I feel a sense of pride when I grow my own vegetables, but the way I felt about my pumpkins was altogether different, maybe bordering on a little weird. I can't even explain why, but I loved my little homegrown pumpkins. I babied those things.  It was a lot of fun, especially when harvested them and used them to decorate for Halloween.

So why mention them now, months before fall and Halloween?  Because if you haven't planted any yet, there's still time! Pumpkins take anywhere from 90-120 days to mature, so even if you plant yours this week, you'll have beautiful, orange pumpkins by late September or mid-October (it all depends on the variety).  If you've got room for even just one pumpkin hill, I highly suggest growing them. All three of us -- me, the husband, and the boy -- really enjoyed watching our little pumpkin patch throughout the summer.

There was only one problem: I didn't do it entirely right last year.  Pumpkin novice that I was, I just let a bunch of little pumpkins grow because I was so excited to see them.  This meant small, not-so-carveable pumpkins.  It was kind of disappointing.

My husband's jack-o'-lantern turned out awesome (it even won our city's contest), but the pumpkin, unfortunately, was not from the garden. I am determined that my husband's amazing carving skills will grace a homegrown pumpkin this year! So now I've educated myself and thought I'd share what I've learned.

Pumpkins come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.  You can go really huge or itty bitty.  In my garden this year, I've got a couple hills of the 'Trick or Treat' variety, which, if you hadn't guessed, is ideal for jack-o'-lanterns (remember, I'm bound and determined this year!).  My third hill of pumpkins (that I just planted on Saturday) are the 'Small Sugar' variety.  So what should you use?   Here are some popular choices:
  • If you want REALLY big pumpkins, as in ridiculously large, state fair-winning pumpkins, go for the variety 'Atlantic Giant'.  Do a Google image search - they're amazing (here's just one of the images I found). Of course, you don't have to grow a pumpkin the size of your couch to warrant using this variety.  'Atlantic Giant' could be a great variety to grow if you want a jumbo-sized one for Halloween.
  • 'Trick or Treat'  is known as an excellent variety for jack-o'-lantern because they're easy to carve. The color is bright orange and can weight around 10-15 lbs. I like this one because my space is somewhat limited and this variety is a semi-bush type (more on space requirements later). The seeds of this variety are supposedly the best to eat, too, because they don't have a hull.
  • 'Small Sugar' is a great pumpkin to grow for both decoration and consumption. You typically don't carve these pumpkins since they're smaller, but they're nice for autumn/Halloween decor (we stick our little pumpkins in our flowerbed amidst our fake headstones and gargoyles). However, the best thing about these pumpkins is that they are great for eating because the flesh is finer-grained and sweet. Translation: this is the pumpkin you make pie with (I looooove any baked good that has pumpkin as an ingredient).  Making pumpkin puree is really quite easy and you can find the step-by-step how-to I posted here.
  • One fun pumpkin variety that I will try when I have a bigger space is 'Lumina'.  My mom used to grow at least one of these when I was kid because they're totally white on the outside.  They make for a really interesting twist on the jack-o'-lantern.  The 'Lumina' grows to about 8-10 inches. If you want a miniature pumpkin that's white, check out the variety 'Baby Boo'.
  • Speaking of miniature varieties, my favorite is 'Jack Be Little'They're really small, only about 3-4 inches big, so they're perfect for indoor autumn/Halloween decor.  Last year, I grew one that was about the size of my thumb.

Pumpkins are quite easy to grow -- they require only a little attention, a sunny location, regular water, and some space.
  • Pumpkins come in vining and bush types.  Both types need room to grow. According to my Western Garden Book, a single vine can cover 500 square feet, and bush varieties can spread over 20 square feet.  My space, my little pumpkin patch, isn't that big. I like keeping my garden in boxes and beds (so now rows), so my husband built a long, rectangular box that's about 50 square feet.  Since my 'Trick or Treat' pumpkins are a semi-bush, my hills are about three feet or so apart (maybe a little less).  So they may be a little crowded, but I let them climb out my boxes a little, too. Despite their cramped quarters, the area worked pretty well for me last year, so don't be discouraged if you don't have a ton of space. Your garden doesn't have to huge to accomodate a few pumpkins. 
  • Start your pumpkins after the soil has warmed and the risk for frost has passed.  Pumpkins like rich soil, so be sure to add some nice organic compost to your area before planting. 
    • For vining pumpkins, you'll want to sow your seeds in mounds 6-8 ft apart, with about 6-8 seeds in each hill. Once the seedlings have sprouted, thin them to two per hill (remember, 'kill your darlings'!. That was my mistake last year with my pumpkins -- along with some other things I grew). 
    • For bush pumpkins, plant in mounds about 3 feet apart, with 4-6 seeds per mound. Like with the other type, thin seedlings to one or two per hill. 
  • If you want to grow large pumpkins, concentrate on growing just a couple.  You'll see once your pumpkin plants start blooming that you get a bunch of little pumpkins. They're hard to get rid of, but you've got to if you're going to get a nice big one.  If there are fewer fruit on each plant, there will be more energy and nutrients available to make the pumpkins flourish.
    • Here are the exact directions from the Western Garden Book (second mention, I know, but I think every serious gardener should own this book. It's like a gardening Bible.):  "Giant pumpkins aren't special varieties; they are ordinary full-size pumpkins grown in a special way (though gardeners aiming for colossal fruits do have favorites, such as 'Atlantic Giant'). As plant develops, cut off all but two main stems. After blossoms set, remove all but one fruit on each stem. Along the length of each stem, mound a 4-inch-wide hill of soil every 2 ft.; roots will form there."
  • In late summer, as your pumpkins get bigger and bigger, it's a good idea to put some kind of protection -- like a piece of wood -- under each pumpkin. This will protect it from the wet soil and keep it from rotting. 
  • Be sure to water regularly and fertilize periodically.
  • Pumpkins are ready to be harvested about 3-4 months after planting (look to your seed packet for exact amount of time).  The shell should be hardened. It's a good idea to pick them after the first frost kills the plant, but I picked mine a little sooner because I wanted them as decoration throughout October (we don't get our first frost usually until right around Halloween). 

Pumpkins are a lot of fun to grow. Try it out.  My son planted ours this year and checks on them about as often I as I do. Soon enough, you'll be walking out to your own pumpkin patch, checking on your own orange little babies.

Note: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

Friday, June 25, 2010

Going Organic on a Budget: Know the 'Dirty Dozen'

No, not that Dirty Dozen.  Though, I must admit, whenever I hear about the "dirty dozen" in regard to fruit and vegetables,  I can't help but think of this movie. I come from a military family, what can I say?

One of the main reasons I live frugally is so can afford things that I  think are better. I use baking soda and vinegar to clean certain things so I can buy non-toxic dish soaps and detergents for other aspects of my cleaning routine. We eat vegetarian meals a few times a week so that I can buy all-natural chicken and grass-feed beef when we want meat.  It's all about finding a trade-off that you can live with. You cut back in one area to splurge a little in another that is more important to you.That is one of the reasons I thought the title of my blog worked -- you can still live well (well, maybe not exactly like a princess..) on a budget, as long as you have the right mindset and know exactly what you want.

Anyway, one way that I get my family organic food while still staying on budget is to know (as the Environmental Working Group calls them) "The Dirty Dozen" and "The Clean Fifteen". These are lists of the best and worst fruits and vegetables when it comes to pesticide amounts.

Paying attention to these guidelines is a good starting place for anyone who wants to start eating more naturally without the big sticker shock. I know when I started to buy more natural foods for my family, I went to Whole Foods and got really depressed. How was I going to afford to buy the heathier, more natural foods for my family without spending a ridiculous amount of money?  For me, sticking to the list of twelve fruits and veggies made it seem a little less overwhelming.

The Dirty Dozen
I keep a list of these, in this order, in the notebook I write my shopping lists and menu plans in.  These fruits and vegetables contain about 47-67 pesticides per serving. Many believe these twelve are so heavily laden because the skin of these fruits and vegetables is softer, allowing the pesticides to absorb better. By buying these twelve fruits and vegetables organic, you can reduce your exposure to pesticides by up to 80 percent.

Here is the list, in descending order from the highest amount of pesticides per serving (meaning, #1 is the worst):
  1. Celery
  2. Peaches
  3. Strawberries
  4. Apples
  5. Domestic blueberries
  6. Nectarines
  7. Sweet bell peppers
  8. Spinach, kale and collard greens
  9. Cherries
  10. Potatoes
  11. Imported grapes
  12. Lettuce
It does take a little adjustment in your grocery budget to adapt to the cost difference between organic and conventionally grown produce. However, once you get used to paying a certain amount, you don't notice it. In some cases (like apples), the organic ones are not that much more expensive. But, I'm not going to lie: it does cost more. It was hard at first to pay $2.00 for organic celery when the conventional kind was 99 cents. But now I'm used it and it works in my budget. 

I also use this 'dirty dozen' list as a good guide to planning and planting my garden. I try to grow the things on this list because it's a lot cheaper. Plus, I know I grow mine organically. This year, among other things, I'm growing strawberries, spinach, lettuce, and peppers.  I also considering planting some peach trees in my yard this fall; I'm going to plant grapes along my fence next spring.

The Clean Fifteen 
The upside of this post is that there are more on this list. You can buy these ones conventionally grown, at the prices you're used to.  Like the other list, this one is also in descending order, except #1 is the best (meaning, least amount of pesticides). 
  1. Onions
  2. Avocados (hooray!)
  3. Sweet corn (frozen)
  4. Pineapple
  5. Mangoes
  6. Asparagus
  7. Sweet peas (frozen)
  8. Kiwi
  9. Cabbage
  10. Eggplant
  11. Papaya
  12. Watermelon
  13. Broccoli
  14. Tomatoes
  15. Sweet Potatoes
As you may have noticed there's a few fruits and vegetables (some of my favorites, I might add) that aren't on these lists. They all fall somewhere in the middle. You can find the entire list (includng the middle ranks) from the Environmental Working Group here. Be sure to check back with the EWG list every year since the list changes from year to year.

Choosing whether to buy organic or not is a personal decision -- I don't think that someone is bad or careless for buying anything on the 'dirty dozen' list. Full disclosure: I bought non-organic peaches last week, even though they're at #2 on the 'dirty dozen' list. They were big and beautiful and on sale. I'm happy to report, we're still alive (please catch the sarcasm there). That said, I've made following these guidelines a part of my family's lifestyle. Sure, it costs a little extra but if it keeps us healthier in the long run, I know it will save us money in the end.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Just Add Water: Homemade Rose Water

On Monday, I gave myself a dozen roses for the second time in a week.  The best part? They were free because they were from yard. My rosebush this year is going nuts, so it's been fun to have freshly cut roses in my living room. They smell heavenly. What can I say? I love June mostly for the flowers.

But what to do with the other rose bouquet? It wasn't completely faded and wilted. It still smelled nice, but it didn't look all that great.  Plus, there's roses in my yard that need to be pruned.  Usually, they'd head straight for the compost bin in my yard, but then I remembered something I saw in a book of children's crafts: homemade rose water.

I wasn't entirely how I'd use my rose water, but I'd heard of it being used for aromatherapy, beauty routines, and even in food (rose lassi, anyone?). According to the book I referenced, Crafting Fun: 101 Things to Make and Do with Kids by Rae Grant (lovely book, I might add), she only said to use it as a homemade perfume.  However, after some research on the Internet, there are tons of ways to use rose water (here's just one of the links I found). Who knew? 

Since summer is officially here, I figured I would share this simple (and I mean simple) how-to for rose water. That way, you don't have to feel bad about deadheading your rosebushes.  Plus, you can only dry so many roses. Might as well put your wilted bouquet to some practical use, right?

Homemade Rose Water
(adapted from Crafting Fun by Rae Grant)

First, you'll need to get about a cup of rose petals. The nice thing about using my homegrown roses is that I don't treat them with any pesticides.  That may or may not be a big deal to you, but I thought I'd mention it.  Anyway, you want to use petals from roses that are fragrant. There really are some that aren't. Go figure. 

Next, bring about 2 cups of water to a boil. The recipe I referenced said spring water. I used filtered tap water. Again, all about personal preference here.

Put the petals in a glass or ceramic bowl and pour the boiling water over the petals.

Cover the bowl. As you can see, I used a plate. You want to really trap the steam in there so that the petals will steep in the water well.  Keep it covered for 30 minutes or so.

Quick aside: while you're waiting, you could use the extra hot water and make a cup of tea. I iced mine.  My son (yes, my 3 1/2 year old) and I love the Tazo Passion herbal tea. It this nice mixture of hibiscus, lemongrass, licorice, and passionfruit. Pour it over some ice, add a little agave nectar. Delish. 

Once the petals have steeped in the hot water for the 30 minutes, drain the water into a jar with a fine kitchen sieve/strainer. What a smell when you do that! Ahhhhhh...

You can either throw out the petals or, if you're feeling a little on the crafty side, you could make rose petal beads (the craft on the adjacent page to the rose water recipe). 

No fancy jars here. I just used a good, old-fashioned canning jar.  Store it in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. So far, I've only used it as a toner, but I like it. I'm going to try putting some in a bath tonight.  I don't know what it is about the rose water, but it just feels luxurious. Like something at a day spa. And I'm all about sneaking a tiny bit of luxury into my life whenever I can.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A New-Old Method: My Husband's Experiment with Traditional Wet Shaving, Part 2

I'm a big believer that sometimes you have to splurge to save.  Yes, that's right. Sometimes, you have to spend a little extra money up front to save money in the long run.  Like with my KitchenAid mixer.  They're a little pricey, to be sure, but they're excellent machines and it helps me so much in my kitchen, especially with making bread.  So it is with the supplies needed for traditional wet shaving -- there's a bit of a price to pay up front, but in the long run you'll save a lot of money. 

(Click here for Part 1 for an introduction to and the benefits of traditional wet shaving.)

The Tools & Supplies

  • Razor - There are a couple types of razors you can use with this method. There's the straight-edge razor - you know, the kind you see barbers using in old Western films. My husband, Kevin, thought about using one at first, but decided against it.  I think it looks a little scary.  The other type of razor is the double-edged safety razor.  This is the kind of razor your grandfather probably used and it's the kind my husband got. You can buy safety razors at drug stores and specialty stores, but we got his off Amazon. 
    • How it saves money:  The double-edge safety razor Kevin got cost about $28 plus shipping.  Seems a little pricey at first, I know.  But this thing is made to last. It feels solid and heavy - there is absolutely no plastic on that razor.  Kevin says that he doesn't see himself ever really needing to get another one. It's feels like something that could be passed on to the next generation.  A mainstream cartridge razor (not counting the blade cartridges)-- mostly made of plastic and little bit of metal -- can cost anywhere from $8-12. 
  • Blades -  With the safety razor, there's no cartridges to buy. Just a pack of razor blades.  You can find these in shaving section -- we found Kevin's refills at Walmart. 
    • How it saves money: Here's where traditional wet shaving saves you a lot of money.  Replacement cartridges for mainstream razors like the Mach 3 can get expensive; an 8-pack of cartridge replacements for the Mach 3 (what my husband used to use) can cost anywhere from $15-20.  The refill blades for his safety razor:  100 blades for a little over $10.  And he likes using the safety razors more. Much more.
  • Shaving Soap -  There are a variety of shaving soaps out there on the market.  As I mentioned in Part 1, shaving soap works differently than mainstream shaving gels and creams in the way it affects the hair.  Plus, it's often more natural than chemical, thus easier on your skin. Look for a shaving soap that has glycerin. My husband has tried a couple different soaps, but he likes Tabac soap the best because it lathers well, he likes the smell, and it seemed of a higher quality than the others.
    • How it saves money:  I have to admit, this soap is a little pricey - $18 for the shaving soap bowl (as in, the soap comes in a ceramic bowl). But a little goes a looong way.  He's been using it for about a month and it still looks like he barely started it.  The shelf date on the package says it's good up to 36 months -- so I figure one of these bowls of soap can last for a while. Compare that to the mainstream aerosol cream or gel, which costs about $3-5 a can. It is cheaper, but they definitely don't last for many months. Plus, by now you all know how I feel about buying natural products.  With aerosol creams and gels, you get a cheap product because of the cheap, chemical ingredients. My husband's skin always reacted adversely to the mainstream creams and gels; the shaving soap hasn't given him any trouble. Plus, I like the smell of the new soap better.
  • Shaving brush -  This is a necessary tool for traditional wet shaving because it's used to create the thick lather from the shaving soap.  Most brushes come in either boar or badger hair.  The badger hair ones are supposedly superior, but they do cost more.  Shaving brushes can range from $10 to all the way to $200 (and higher).  The one pictured here is a boar hair one on the lower end of the price spectrum, but my husband admits that he can see how a more expensive one (a badger hair one) could work better. (I'll have to let you know if it's true after he gets his Father's Day present and see if there is a difference between brushes. Hopefully  he doesn't read this before then. Update: He LOVES the badger hair brush.)
    • How it saves money:  It doesn't necessarily save money by itself, but it is necessary for the process and to use shaving soap.  And from what I understand, if you buy a high-quality badger-hair brush, they can last for years and years. One reviewer of a brush (out of my price range) said that he uses his grandfather's shaving brush from a certain company and that the brush is over fifty years old. Talk about bang for your buck!
The How-To 
  1. The best time to shave is after a shower - this helps open your pores. Get the water in the faucet really hot (about as hot as you can stand) and wet face.
  2. Wet the brush in the hot water. Run the brush over the surface of the soap until you start getting a loose, sudsy lather. From there, bring it to a thick, foamy lather in your hand, in a mug, or directly on the face.
  3. With the brush, work the lather over the entire shaving area on your face and neck.
  4. Get the razor wet and shave in the direction that the hair grows. With the safety razors, you have to maintain the same cutting angle on your face; it won't conform or move with your face the way mainstream cartridge razors do. Basically, you want to move your wrist as little as possible. (Note: as odd as it sounds, YouTube is a great resource for shaving instruction. Seriously, just type "traditional wet shaving" in the search box.)
  5. Repeat if necessary. Rinse.
I've just given a quick overview -- for more in-depth information and instruction, there are a lot of sites about traditional wet shaving, complete with forums and reviews. Badger & Blade is great. Besides the Simple Organic post I mentioned in Part 1, there's also a really great post called "The Zen of Shaving: How a Double-edge Razor Can Change Your Life." Before I read about it on Simple Organic, I'd never heard of wet shaving. It's interesting how passionate some people are about this shaving method, but seeing how much my husband prefers it, I'm beginning to see why. Heck, I'm even thinking of trying it on my legs!

P.S. - Happy Father's Day to all the awesome dads out there. I don't know if any dads read this (besides my husband), but pass along my appreciation to the great men in your life. Some say a good man is hard to find; I say, even if that's true (not sure it is), when you find one, they are so, so good.

Note: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A New-Old Method: My Husband's Experience with Traditional Wet Shaving, Part 1

My husband hated shaving.  He avoided it.  He looked forward to camping and vacations partly just because he wouldn't have to shave.  I think avoiding shaving was part of his motivation in growing a beard in the wintertime. 

However, I liked it when he shaved.  The smell, the smoothness -- all good things.  But then I found out why he disliked it so much.  The various creams and gels on the market irritated his skin.  The razors tugged at his skin, especially on his neck, leaving a bunch of little, red bumps on his lower jaw and neck. He would also get ingrown hairs occasionally. Shaving was uncomfortable and unpleasant for him, but he did it anyway.

But this all changed about a month ago.  Now he loves shaving.  He even looks forward to shaving. He says it's relaxing.

So, what changed?  He learned about traditional wet shaving.  Not only does he love it, but it also happens to be a frugal way to shave. Double whammy! This Father's Day this weekend, I thought it would be appropriate to have a guy-centered post and let you know about this new-old shaving method.

For Part 1, I will focus will be on how's and why's of the shaving methods out there.

The Research & Findings

My husband's conversion to this shaving method began when I read a post on Simple Organic about it.  Then I showed it to my husband. He did a little research and decided to try it out.  Here are some things we learned (really, I'm paraphrasing a lot of the information from the Simple Organic post; you really should read it):
  • According to the Simple Organic post, the creams and gels that are common today use a chemical reaction to make the hair on a man's face weaker.  From there, the disposable cartridge razors catch the hair, stretch it out, and cut it.  To quote the post directly, "When hair is stretched and then cut, its elastic nature causes the hair to spring back which is the culprit of the pervasive problem of ingrown hair." When I read this, I thought of my poor husband's neck. It was all making sense...
  • Traditional wet shaving is great for men's skin.  Instead of cream or gel, shaving soap (which is an alkali solution) is used. With the help of a brush, the soap whips up into a cream lather (probably what shaving creams used today are trying to replicate). Traditional shaving soaps usually contain glycerin, which is great for dry skin. Because shaving soaps are more natural than chemical, they are a gentler alternative (especially for sensitive skin).
  • Shaving soap weakens the hair cuticle instead of the hair itself, causing the hair to swell.  This makes it easier to cut. The traditional razor moves over the skin and cuts the hair at the surface -- there's no tugging or pulling of the entire cuticle. The Simple Organic post put it well: "Think about the difference between cutting a dried-out, overcooked steak and cutting into a moist, juicy steak. It’s a similar concept!"
  • The shaving brushes, which are a little rough to begin with, actually remove dead skin cells from the face and neck (read: exfoliation.) when used to apply lather to the face. As we all know, exfoliation makes skin healthier. 
After about a month of traditional wet shaving, my husband's skin has improved dramatically. The razor burn is gone.  No ingrown hairs. And his skin isn't irritated at all.  I asked him yesterday if there were any cons to this new method. The only thing he said was that it takes a little longer. But, even then, he doesn't mind. Like I mentioned before, he says it's relaxing.

In Part 2, I will go over the necessary supplies to wet shaving (complete with links to each), along with an in-depth look at the money-saving aspect to this method.  For now, you can do what I did: share the facts about traditional wet shaving vs. mainstream shaving with the man in your life.  See if he's interested and then my husband and I will help him get started!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

And so 'The Great Homemade Play-dough Experiment' begins...

Once again, my son's once-pristine Play-Doh, in a wide array of colors, has become a crumbly, dried-out pile. Granted, it lasted a while before it got to this stage and you can't really blame the boy.  It's hard to not get the colors mixed up from time to time, especially when you're trying to make an awesome Play-Doh hamburger or a birthday cake complete with candles.  And then there's the distraction factor.  One minute, my little guy will be happily playing with his Play-Doh, only to be distracted by someone at the door, a sudden need for the potty, or the impulse to go outside. Inevitably, the Play-Doh is left on the table, subject to its archenemy: air.  Yes, Play-Doh is short-lived at the hands of a three-year-old.

This time, though, instead of plopping down another five or so bucks, I thought I would make a batch of homemade play-dough, just like my mom used to when I was a kid.  I called my mom for the recipe, but she wasn't home, so I turned to the Internet for a recipe. Turns out, everyone's recipe is supposedly the best recipe ever, dough that stays soft for months and months and months. Some use food coloring, others use Kool-Aid.  Some have cream of tartar in the dough, others say it's not necessary.  Is it possible that there's a recipe even better than the one from my mom's old  ward cookbook? 

Then I had an idea -- why not try the various recipes, test them out, and report my findings here?  Now that's a not-so-scientific experiment this English major can handle!  I realize that doing this will probably cost about as much as it would to just go buy some new cans of Play-Doh at the store, but once I've found the best recipe out there, it'll save me money in the the long run, right? Sure, I'll miss that Play-Doh smell (does anyone else like how a new can of that stuff smells?), but I'm ready for the task ahead.

Monday, June 7, 2010

"Mommy, I need a hanky!" -- How Our Family Switched to Handkerchiefs

A while back I read a blog post on a blog about having a "paper-free home".  For the most part, we've followed suit (the only thing in this post I can't bring myself to do is the cloth wipes, as in a 'toilet paper substitute'.  No way. Ever.).  Having a paper-free home not only saves money, but it also saves a few trees in the process!  I mentioned the rag bag a few months ago, about how we ditched the paper towels and do all our cleaning with cloth. Today, I'm writing about one of our steps toward a paper-free home: my family's return to the old-fashioned handkerchief.

Being the lover of period piece films (Jane Austen, anyone?), you can't help but notice the frequent, chivalrous offers of a handkerchief to a weeping woman. Like the part in Sense and Sensibility when Elinor is offered Edward Ferris' carefully monogrammed handkerchief.  If I remember my college Shakespeare classes well enough, I think a handkerchief played a pretty important role in Othello. I also remember in the Disney movie 101 Dalmatians that a wet handkerchief breaks the ice between the two main human characters. In any case, I only mention this because it seems as if the handkerchief, once so commonly used and sometimes socially significant in certain cases, is mostly a thing of the past. But why? Some think it's unsanitary and prefer a disposable option. I say, that's what hot water and detergent are for.

Did you know that when Kleenex started making tissues, they weren't intended for noses, but for removing make-up?  Once they realized people used them for blowing their noses, then the company started marketing them as a disposable handkerchief. I think tissues have their places - in schools, churches, and other public places - but the cloth handkerchiefs work well in the home.  I even pack a few in my bag when we go places. 

Anyway, our switch to the handkerchief started a month or so ago when my little boy woke up with a runny nose that kept running and running and running. Only a few minutes had passed and we already had a few wads of toilet paper (yes, I'm too much of a cheapskate to buy actual Kleenex) on my nightstand. Then it struck me -- that paper-free post! I thought I remembered her mentioning making and using homemade handkerchiefs.

Making homemade hankies is so easy -- I'm only categorizing it under sewing because there's fabric and a sewing tool involved in the process. I made all our hankies in about five minutes or so, in my pajamas, in my bed with my cold-stricken boy. All you need is a some fleece fabric and a pair of pinking shears.  I used some old baby blankets that had become worn and faded.  Just cut them into squares and you've got a good set of hankies! I cut mine out with regular scissors and then went over the edges with pinking shears. It's a good idea to use pinking shears - those scissors that cut in a zigzag - because it will keep the fabric from fraying.

It took a tiny bit of adjustment, of reminding Max to use the handkerchief instead of his sleeve, but soon enough, it was the norm for him.  Now we use them all the time - for runny noses or drying tears.  Whenever the need strikes, Max always says, "Mommy, I need a hanky!" (totally tugs at the heartstrings when he says that when he's upset). Once they're used, they're tossed in the hamper or dirty laundry baskets. I wash them in hot water, with detergent and a little non-chlorine bleach, and they're ready to be used again.

I keep the clean hankies in baskets in the bathrooms, which works well for us. Seems like a fitting place for them.  I'm totally converted to the hanky. It's economical, but also friendlier.  I don't care what all those Kleenex commercials say or how much lotion they put in the tissues, my nose gets raw when I have to wipe it for the thousandth time.  With the handkerchief, it's softer on your face and keeps your nose from getting sore. That stinging, bring-tears-to-your-eyes feeling when you have to wipe your red, raw nose just adds insult to injury when you have a cold.  And then there's just something that feels extra-nuturing and a little old-fashioned when you wipe little tears away with a hanky.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Lovely Links: The Return of Summer and Other Thoughts

Sorry for not posting this week. It's been a bit of an emotional roller coaster with the passing of my grandpa.  I feel at peace about it as he has been released from the suffering and pain he felt, but it's still sad.  As I have reflected on his life since he passed away, one thing that keeps coming to my mind and that is pertinent to this blog is that my grandfather knew how to be frugal -- sometimes maybe even a little too frugal! (Yes, I think that's possible.)

He was a child of the Great Depression and he would share stories about how his parents made it through those tough times by using everything and avoiding waste at all costs. He knew how to reuse just about everything - he reduced, reused, and recycled before it was cool. We'd always laugh at his "rainbow soap" - basically the little slivers of soap (you know, how you get to the little bit of unusable soap at the end of the bar's life?) smooshed together to make a regular-sized bar. When my grandma died and the grocery shopping became his job, he took it upon himself to find the best sales and deals possible, sometimes buying extra in mind so he could pass it on to us.  We kids used to joke about "grocery shopping" at Grandpa's house.  He was a funny guy, a little grumpy sometimes (don't worry - he'd admit it himself!), but a really decent and honest person.  I never had to wonder how much he loved me. I'll miss him a lot.

Anyway, I haven't done a list of links in a while, so I thought I'd share some good ones I've come across in the last little while until I'm back at blogging on Monday. In the meantime, happy reading and happy June! Summer is finally here!

Baked Lemon Pasta - The Pioneer Woman Cooks
Just make it.  It's crazy-easy to make. It costs hardly anything.  It's perfect for a backyard or patio picnic. And it's really, really, really good.

Four Simple and Different Methods for Freezing Strawberries - Simple Bites
It's strawberry season!  I'm just a couple weeks away from my homegrown strawberries. Plus, there's farmer's markets and u-pick options, too. In any case, what do with all those strawberries (besides my favorite: strawberries, milk, and a dash of sugar) - save them for later!  I'm especially interested in making the strawberry coulis and strawberry limeade concentrate in this article. Yum!

Nourish Your Marriage: 20 Fun Date Ideas on the Cheap - Passionate Homemaking
My husband and I will be celebrating our seventh anniversary in a little over a week, so this came at a perfect time. I'm always looking for new -- and cheap -- ways to enjoy time as just a couple. And summer is a perfect time to spend some quality time outside, under the stars, with your honey!

The Drawstring Jersey Skirt - Cluck Cluck Sew
Do I dare? Do I dare?  I need a new skirt (I looove wearing skirts in the summertime) and this one is just what I've been looking for. Cool, comfy, and casual. And it looks pretty easy to make. Then again, I've never sewn anything to wear besides an apron (just made a clothespin apron - super cute, I might add).  It scares me for some reason.  Should I give a go?  (ps. I love this blog - I just found it!)

Weekends are for the Mess - A Holy Experience
I love this blog. I don't know how I found it months ago, but I love it.  It's simply beautiful. And there's the one line, in particular, in this post that I just love, "Saying Yes will mean a mess -- but isn't this precisely how we bless?"  Love it.

 Hope your weekend is nice and messy!
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