Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Adventures in Cloth Diapering: The Post about Poop

"It's that poop again."

It's one of those parenting truisms: once you have kids, talking about bodily functions is no big deal. Pee, poop, boogers, vomit -- it's all up for conversation. (Same goes for women talking about their latest appointment with the OB-GYN. It always strikes me a little odd how a woman can talk so openly about how dilated or effaced her cervix is. But that's another post entirely...) Discussions about poop -- color, consistency, frequency, smell -- are commonplace for a lot of people when they have kids.   It's crazy (and sometimes disgusting) the things people will post as a status on Facebook...

I only mention this because I'm a really private person when it comes to my kids. Even though my baby is pooping in a diaper on a daily basis without a second thought, I still like to give him a little privacy and dignity, you know?  That's why I feel a little weird writing this post. 

So why write it?  Because, without fail, whenever someone finds out that I'm cloth diapering my baby, I can just tell that they want to ask what it's like to deal with cleaning the poopy ones. Sometimes they do ask. Most of the time it's just a genuine, I-didn't-know-people-still-use-cloth-diapers curiosity. Of course, there's the disgusted curiosity, too. Why would anyone deal with that when it's so easy to just toss the poopy diaper in the trash? I'm sure if babies only peed, cloth diapering would be way more popular. But poop happens (ha ha) and you have to deal with it.

So that's what this post is addressing: how we deal with the stinkier side of cloth diapering. Consider yourself warned -- plenty of potty talk follows.

The Stages

  1.  Milk-Only Diet:  Cloth diapering for the first six months was really easy for us, even with the poopy diapers.  Granted, there are a lot of diaper changes in that stage (especially the newborn months), but it's easy. Breastfed baby poop is actually water-soluble so you don't have to do anything with them except toss the diapers into the diaper pail. No need to worry about liners or sprayers or any of that stuff. I don't have any experience with the formula-fed baby poo, but I imagine you would have to rinse them off before sticking them in the diaper pail (correct me if I'm wrong).
  2. Transitioning to Solids: This is the point where baby starts eating the cereals and pureed food in addition to breastmilk/formula. This is when you're going to start using the sprayer. The liners are good, too, but they didn't seem to catch everything since the poop in those diapers is still pretty loose. Yes, I'm writing about loose baby poop. Hey, you were warned.
  3. Mostly Solid Diet: At this point, baby is eating regular meals; breastmilk or formula isn't the main source of nutrition anymore (or not even a source of nutrition at all, as is the case with my recently weaned baby). With more solid food you're going to deal with...you guessed it...more solid poop. This is where the liners are so helpful. Sure, we still get those ultra-poopy diapers that require some time at the toilet with the sprayer, but lately, the liners have been catching it. I just dump it into the toilet and give the diaper a few sprays of Bac-Out.

The Gear

  • Wipes and Solution -- Obviously, you're going to need wipes. Some people cloth diaper but still use disposable wipes. No offense to those people, but this doesn't really make much sense to me. I made our cloth wipes out of an old receiving blanket and they do the job really well. Before I use them, I give them a few squirts of my homemade wipe solution (just a mix of water, olive oil, and baby shampoo).  Once I'm done with the diaper change, the wipes go right into the diaper pail with the dirty diaper and I wash them with the diapers. I still keep disposable wipes in my diaper bag for poopy diapers away from home.

  • The sprayer (A MUST) -- Personally, I don't think I would do cloth diapering without it. At least not for long. I hardly used the sprayer while my baby was exclusively breast-fed, but once he started solids, that sprayer became a must. Sure, you can do the dunk-in-toilet cleaning method (that's how I remember my mom cleaning off my brothers' diapers before putting them in the diaper pail), but the diaper sprayer is so much better. Not only does it rinse everything off better, but it gives me a little distance from it all. I don't have to stick my hand in the toilet bowl to rinse the diapers -- I simply hold a clean corner of the diaper and spray. If you follow my tutorial for a DIY diaper sprayer, you can make it for around $30 in less than 20 minutes. It's worth every penny.

  • Flushable diaper liners --  Flushable liners make cloth diapering easier, period. There's not much to them -- they look like a dryer sheet. The idea is that when the baby soils his diaper, the liner catches the poop (or at least most of it). When you're ready to rinse out the diaper, you simply dump the liner into the toilet and, if all goes as planned, the stinky contents of the diaper go with it. No need to do much, if any, rinsing with the diaper sprayer. When I'm folding and assembling the diapers, I'll put the liner in the diaper, so it's ready to go.  My favorite liners are the Imse Vimse flushable liners because you can actually wash and reuse the liners that have only been peed on (they'll last around 2-3 wash cycles). 
  • Bac-Out -- I give every soiled diaper (and the wipes) a few sprays of Bac-Out before putting them in the diaper pail. It's an odor and stain remover that contains live enzyme-producing cultures that actually digest the waste away between laundry loads. The diaper pail, even when full of diapers, doesn't really stink that much. Honest. The stuff works!

The Dirty Truth

I'm going to be completely honest:  there have been more than a few times I've been bent over the toilet, poopy diaper in one hand, sprayer in the other, and muttering, "This is completely ridiculous. What was I thinking?!" This was especially true in that whole transition period I mentioned above.  It was around that time, too, that my little guy decided to poop every. single. time. we went somewhere. I still dread changing poopy diapers away from home a little, though it's definitely gotten easier.

Changing poopy diapers, whether it's cloth or disposable diapers, is gross. There's no getting around that fact.  There have been times, like when we were on vacation a few months ago, when the baby was in disposables and we were able to just throw away the stinky diapers. I remember saying to my husband after changing a soiled diaper, "I forgot how easy this was!"  That said, I haven't forgotten what it's like to deal with explosive diapers, where the poop squishes out of the back and into baby's shirt. That has never happened with cloth diapers --  not a single poopy leak. So, really, there's a trade-off no matter what kind of diaper you use on your baby. 

I'm totally used to the whole poopy cloth diaper routine. It's just how it was diapering my first child (in disposables) -- gross, but you just get kind of numbed to the whole thing. (But only if it's my kid. I still dry heave a little when it's someone else's child).  I don't enjoy it, but it doesn't bother me. And when it's really bad, when the ick factor is higher than usual, and I have those "Why on earth am I doing this?" thoughts, I just remember why I'm going with the cloth diapers. Less money thrown in the trash. Less plastic. Less waste. I'm more than willing to rinse off a poopy diaper for a few minutes a day to keep diapers off my shopping list.

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. 

{This post is linked up to Your Green Resource, Frugal Friday, and Little House Friday}

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Ants Hate Cinnamon

I'm sure it has happened at your home -- maybe by a door, or in the driveway, or on your patio. You're outside, enjoying a sunny day in the yard, and, to your dismay, you notice one of those big, black, wriggling clusters of ants. Yuck.

It's that time of year when you start seeing ants everywhere, inside and out. It doesn't help, either, when you live with little kids who leave crumbs and bits of food in their wakes. I've been able to keep ants under control in the house with those covered ant baits, but haven't found anything that works really well with them outside.  Well, except for a can of aerosol ant spray -- that always does the trick -- but I hate the fumes and chemicals, especially around my young kids.  For that reason, I've tried all sorts of natural ways to kill them -- mint leaves, salt, baking soda, vinegar, etc. They've all worked okay, but not nearly as well as the stinky poison spray.

Back when I took my beekeeping class and the topic of pests came up, the instructor suggested using cinnamon to keep ants away from hives.  Then a couple weeks ago, while doing an inspection of our hives, my husband and I noticed that one of the hives had ants crawling around it, on the cover, and even a couple on top of some of the frames inside. So, as instructed, we sprinkled cinnamon around on the ground below the hives (since they're up on cinder-blocks) and dusted some on the cinder-blocks, too.  A week later when we inspected again, there was no sign of ants.  The cinnamon worked so well!

A couple days ago, Max ran into the backyard shouting, "Mommy! There are millions of ants going into the garage!"  I went inside and grabbed my big cinnamon container.

I'm not sure there were millions, but there were a ton of ants on the ground by the open garage door and also crawling up bricks next to it. The second the cinnamon hit the ground and the backs of the ants, they all started freaking out. Max found this all pretty exciting. "Oooh, they hate that stuff!"

In no time, the ants were high-tailing it out of there and the corner by our garage door was ant-free!

I bought my big bottle of cinnamon at Costco for less than $3, so I didn't mind using a generous amount on our ant invasion. (Sidenote: the Kirkland brand of cinnamon is my favorite! It has such a great flavor and smell.)  Even with the generous sprinkling, I only used a few cents' worth. It's a much cheaper alternative to buying that can of ant spray (I checked Amazon -- a can of the stuff runs for around $5-10). Not only is it non-toxic, but it smells nice. Even yesterday, you could smell little notes of cinnamon in the garage! All in all, it's a pretty pleasant way to get rid of some not-so-pleasant invaders.

Note: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have disclosed.

{This post is linked up with Homestead Barn Hop, Your Green Resource, and Little House Friday}

Monday, May 21, 2012

Meatless Monday: Tara's Spinach Artichoke Pasta

It's that time of year again when food comes from the backyard! Can I get a HOORAY?! The first thing that comes out of my garden every spring is spinach and whenever I have fresh spinach it just so happens that I must make the following recipe. It's just too good.

Tara is my awesome neighbor/friend/fellow samosa fanatic.  She also happens to be a fantastic cook (check out her blog here). She's one of those people I envy that can make up her own recipes with success. So, with her permission, I'm going to share her recipe for spinach artichoke pasta. It's basically hot spinach-artichoke dip meets pasta. It also happens to be super-easy and super-fast to whip up, making it a perfect dish for those days when you don't feel like cooking or it's too hot to spend much time in the kitchen.

Tara's Spinach Artichoke Pasta

1 lb. pasta (I used spaghetti. Linguini would also be a good choice.)
1 can of quartered artichoke hearts (packed in water, not oil)
3 cups of fresh baby spinach leaves (Three cups is best, but I used a little less this time since I didn't have that much to pick yet. I also threw in a little Swiss chard. Worked just fine.)
4 oz. softened cream cheese
2-3 cloves garlic, minced (I went with three because I love my pasta garlicky!)
1/2 - 1 cup chicken broth (Oops. That makes it a little less "meatless". Vegetable stock would work just fine, though.)
1/2 - 1 cup Parmesan cheese
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper

Start by getting a pot of water boiling and then cook the pasta according to package directions.

While your pasta is cooking, get your cheese grated, your garlic minced (I always just use my fine grater for garlic), and the artichokes drained and diced into small pieces.

Once the pasta is cooked, drain and return to original pot. Add the cream cheese and stir until it mixes in and melts (the heat from the pasta should melt it). Seriously, is there any food that cream cheese doesn't make better?

Add the artichokes, chicken broth to the consistency that you like (start with 1/2 cup and work your way slowly up to 1 cup, if desired), garlic, Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper.

Add the spinach last so it won't wilt too much. I tore it into smaller pieces as I was adding it. (Also, please excuse the blurry photo. I'm just not so great at stirring and taking a picture -- in low light, no less -- at the same time.)

Oh, this dish is AMAZING. When my husband takes the leftovers to work and reheats it, he'll often get guys at work asking where he bought his lunch.  Nope. Just homemade (and homegrown) deliciousness. Well, until Tara opens a restaurant. When that happens, I'll be one of the first in line.

{This post is linked up with Your Green Resource.}

Friday, May 18, 2012

My Mother's Day Garden Gift

For Mother's Day, I got my mom some gardening books and I made a garden paver with all the grandkids' handprints on it (she especially loved that -- I got the idea for it here). Garden-related gifts are always a hit with her -- and with me.

But I didn't get any gardening supplies from my parents this year. Instead, they gave me a garden!

If you've spent any time on Pinterest, you've likely seen at least a few ways to re-purpose wooden pallets.   Tables, bookshelves, beds, wall art, compost bins, fences, crates, and more. It's amazing what people can come up with.  Lucky for me, my dad just so happens to be the supervisor of a warehouse and gets first dibs on the wooden pallets. Knowing this, I told my mom all about the pallet gardens I'd seen on Pinterest.

To my surprise, Mom and Dad made me a pallet garden, with "Happy Mother's Day" written on the boards in chalk. I sure love those two!

My mom, the certified master gardener, knows my yard about as well as I do since I'm always asking for advice. As a result, she knew what I wanted to grow, what I would like more of, and what plants I particularly love.  My pallet garden has lavender, cilantro, basil, lettuces, and strawberries growing in it.

What's so fun about the pallet garden is that it takes up hardly any space. I have mine leaned up against our shed (even though it's really heavy and would be hard to tip over, I didn't want to take any chances with my curious one-year-old, so Kevin secured it to the shed with some screws). It's such a great solution for people with limited or no yard space. And even if your space isn't limited (my parents live on almost an acre of land and they've got these along their fence), it's great way to maximize your yard's food and herb production.

To make them, my dad simply got some outdoor cloth (you know, the kind you use to block weeds) and stapled it to the the wood. They filled it with potting soil and planted.  So simple. You have to be careful when you water it it - I just lightly mist it with my hose.

Gardening and a random reuse. Creative ideas like these just make me happy. My parents know me so well.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Random Reuse: Tomato Can Stilts

As I've said on this blog before, I am HUGE fan of easy crafts. I guess that seems like a sort of obvious statement -- who doesn't like easy crafts?  In any case, I appreciate simple ideas that create simple fun.  This Random Reuse does just that.

A while back, I got an email from Ellen, one of the lovely readers of this blog, who told me about a simple craft of turning empty cans into kid-sized stilts. (By the way, if you ever have any great ideas you want to send my way, email me! My address is over in the sidebar.). This past week, I made some pasta sauce from a couple 28-oz. cans of tomatoes and just as I was about to toss them into the recycle bin, I remembered Ellen's idea.  So I washed them out and saved them.

The first step, of course, is to paint the cans. Granted, this isn't completely necessary, but it makes them more interesting (and it keeps kids busy for a little while).

Once the paint has dried, put a hole in each side of the can. At first, I was using a nail and a hammer to make the hole, but when that was taking longer than I wanted, I thought of using the end of a can opener (like when you poke holes in cans of evaporated or condensed milk) to make the holes. Super easy -- it only took a few seconds!

{In case you're wondering, belts on overalls isn't a new fashion trend.
The belt was purely out of necessity: it's kind of tricky to keep a lightsaber at the ready  without a belt to hold it!}

Thread some thick yarn, string, or twine through the holes and you're good to go! Max has gotten pretty good at (in his words) "walking like a Frankenstein" on them. A cheap and easy way to mix things up on a sunny afternoon!

{This post is linked to Your Green Resource -- check it out!}

Monday, May 7, 2012

In the Backyard: My Milk Jug Mini-Greenhouses

A little over a month ago I mentioned how I was cleaning and saving my family's empty milk and vinegar gallon-sized jugs for a seed-starting experiment. I was introduced to the idea of winter-sowing through the blog A Garden for the House, where he claimed that you didn't need to do much to start seeds. No special lights, no seed-starting kits required -- you didn't even need to keep them inside! Since I don't really have a space in my house to devote to seed starting (I guess there's one space that would have worked, but that spot had a chick brooder up until a couple weeks ago), I was instantly interested in trying this method out.

I'm so excited to be starting my own seeds, especially my tomato seeds. I've grown lots of things from seed but never tomatoes. I always just cop-out and buy the transplants after the last frost date. Even though the results are great and totally worth the expense ((mmmmm....homegrown tomatoes. Is there anything better? I'm dreaming about this recipe already.), it's not the most frugal way to grow a garden. For the same price as a single tomato plant at the nursery, I can get a packet of seeds and grow waaaay more tomatoes.  It's pretty much a frugal no-brainer. So why is this first year I'm actually starting my seeds? Simple answer: intimidation. Again, I thought I'd need all sorts of special equipment and fluorescent lighting rigged up.

Nope. To start seeds, you just need some seeds (obviously), some potting soil, duct tape and some gallon-size jugs. 

Although I highly suggest reading all about winter-sowing on the blog I mentioned previously, I'll just quickly run through how I went about creating my mini-greenhouses.

To start, I cut all the clean, empty jugs almost completely in half around the middle of the jug, only leaving a one-inch section uncut. This way the jug is still connected but also opens for easy access. The uncut part sort of acts like a hinge.

Next, I made about 15 holes in the bottom of the jug and a couple holes on each side of the jug (about an inch or so above the base).  This allows for proper drainage and ventilation. Speaking of ventilation, remove the caps from whatever jug you're going to be using.

Next, fill each mini-greenhouse with a few inches of potting soil, wet the soil thoroughly, and then plant the seeds. It's important to keep in mind the calendar when you're deciding what to plant. For instance, I wouldn't start tomato plants in these mini-greenhouses in February. That would be way too early. Instead, I waited until April (as you can see labeled on the jugs) to plant them. For a complete list of what to winter-sow and when, click here.

Once your seeds are planted, close the jug and seal it shut with some duct tape. Since it's windy where I live, I put my greenhouses in a plastic storage container to keep them from blowing away. Once the greenhouses are sealed, be sure to label what you've planted and when they were planted.

Then you wait. Occasionally check to see if the soil is too wet or dry. Sometimes I'll spray some water over the top of the greenhouses with the hose. Since you're keeping these outside, you'll also get moisture from rain and snow.

A few weeks after I planted the greenhouses, I was feeling pretty frustrated. The insides of each greenhouse showed no progress. Not even a single little sprout. I was so discouraged. The method had come so highly recommended! I was getting ready to plant again but then I saw them...

They were in my tomatillo greenhouse first: tiny little sprouts, as cute as can be, growing away despite the chilly nights outside.  Then the slicing tomato seeds started to sprout and then the San Marzano paste tomatoes. I was so excited! It actually worked!

It's been about a week or so since I took this picture. The sprouts have grown so much since then! They're actually starting to look like the transplants I used to buy at the store!  Every time I check them, there are more and more little plants emerging.

Our last frost date where I live is around Mother's Day, so I'm going to be putting them into the ground soon. I'm not going to lie -- I'm pretty nervous about transplanting my cute little seedlings.  At the same time, I still feel excited and optimistic about it, especially since, according to the blog I keep referencing, winter-sown plants are said to be more hardy than ones started indoors.  We shall see.

Hooray for experiments that actually work -- especially if they produce delicious and juicy tomatoes!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Crumby Post about Two Crummy Loaves of Bread (or, Homemade Breadcrumb How-to)

Talking on the phone and putting a couple loaves of bread into the oven (while keeping a busy one-year-old away from said hot oven) at the same time doesn't work. At least not for me. Those two lovely loaves of bread that rose to the near-perfect height slipped from my hands and went crashing onto the open oven door.

The result were two loaves of weird-looking, very compact bread. I contemplated just throwing the loaves in the trash, a sort of cathartic act for my already frustrating day. Instead, I left them on the countertop, mashed and broken until the end of the day when I was ready to deal with them again.

When life gives you crummy bread, make breadcrumbs.

It seems a sort of postmodern thing to explain how to make breadcrumbs. No doubt my great-grandmother would have laughed at the idea of people buying pre-made breadcrumbs at the store. But I used to buy them. Regularly, in fact.

Making breadcrumbs yourself, though, is really the way to go. And you don't have to have full loaves of crappy-looking bread to make them. My mom taught me an easy tip that she has always used to homemade breadcrumbs: whenever she has bread that has gone stale (like old hamburger or hot dog buns) or whenever only the ends of the bread are left (my husband is the only person I know who actually likes eating a sandwich made from the ends of the bread), she keeps it in a bag in the freezer. Once she's got a good amount, she turns them into crumbs.

Here's how to do it:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Chop the bread into workable chunks -- not too big, but not too small (no need to dice them or anything). This step should only take like a minute or so. If you're using slices of bread or old buns, skip the chopping part and just rip them in half (or quarters, depending on the size).

Put the bread into a food processor and pulse until the crumbs are the size and uniformity you prefer. Some people use the grater attachment, but I prefer using the blade.

Spread the crumbs on an ungreased baking sheet (it doesn't have to be a single layer). I used two baking sheets, putting about a loaf's worth of crumbs on each.

Bake the breadcrumbs 20-25 minutes, checking on them every so often (like every 5-10 minutes). When you check, give them a quick stir around the baking sheet. The breadcrumbs are done baking when they're browned and dried. After I've taken them out of the oven, I like to run my hands over the breadcrumbs to check if they've all dried -- if you come across parts that still feel soft, pop the sheet back into the oven for a few minutes and keep an eye on it.

That's it: breadcrumbs for all your cooking/baking needs! If you want your crumbs to be even finer or more uniform (as you can see, mine vary in size), just run them through the food processor again. You can also season them at this point, too, if you like. I keep mine plain so they're more versatile.

I store mine (once they've cooled) in a plastic zipper bag in the freezer. They'll keep for a while in there, around six months or so.

And, with that, the frustration of failed loaves of bread are forgotten. All's well that ends well.

{This post is linked to Your Green Resource}
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