Money Saving Preparedness Tip of the Day

VinegarStock up on vinegar.

Vinegar is great for all kinds of things.  It’s a fantastic natural cleaner, a disinfectant for wounds, a natural fabric softener, the list goes on.

A few things I use it for around the house:

Kitchen cleaner:  I fill a spray bottle with vinegar, put a few drops of essential oil of choice and a few drops of dish soap, shake, and that’s it.  I use it to wipe down counters, clean the stove top (with the help of baking soda), and if you’ve cooked something in a pan that you know is going to be difficult to clean, spray it while it’s still hot.  It’ll be easier to clean later.

I’ve been told that you only need to add some to  water for it to be an effective cleaning solution.  As inexpensive as vinegar is (I get it for about $3.59 for 2 gallons at a national warehouse store), I suppose it would be even more economical to dilute it with water.

You can also make a citrus vinegar cleaner (very effective, I’ve tried this) by steeping orange peels in vinegar for two weeks, straining, and using the way you’d use regular vinegar.  I’ve found that regular navel oranges work better than clementines (clementines tend to make a very syrupy solution).  Grapefruit, lemon, and lime all work as well.

Bathroom cleaner:  I make this the same way I do with the kitchen cleaner, though sometimes I’ll steep lavender flowers in a jar of vinegar for a couple weeks and add some of that to the bottle.  It makes it smell better, and somehow makes it clean better.  It’s good for cleaning anything that needs to be cleaned in the bathroom, and even does a decent job on the mirror if you skip the addition of the soap (I’ve found that the soap makes it streak the mirror).

A side note about using vinegar as a spray cleaner… it won’t cause any permanent damage if your kids get hold of it and spray it in someone’s eyes.  I learned this first-hand when I got a face-full of the stuff last week.  It stung my eyes for a few minutes, but it didn’t cause blurred vision.  Of course I made it out to be worse than it actually was so that he wouldn’t do it again, but my eyes were fine within a few minutes.

Fabric softener:  I usually try to have a bottle of vinegar with lavender vinegar added handy in the laundry room, but plain white distilled vinegar works just as well (though you don’t get the nice smell you do with the lavender vinegar).  Just add half a cup or so to the fabric softener cup of your washing machine (I reused one of the blue oxyclean scoops to measure and pour, then add another scoop of plain water to the dispenser).

green-spray-bottle-mWrinkle remover:  Not for your face, but for fabrics… I like to keep a spray bottle handy, with either lavender vinegar or plain, to spritz wrinkled clothing and other fabrics that need smoothing.  Just spray the clothing item with some vinegar and put in the dryer on whatever setting is appropriate for that item (air fluff for delicate items).  I hate to pull out the iron and ironing board, so I use this trick often.

This also makes for a fantastic “Boo! Be Gone!” or “Monster-away!” spray for the boys’ bedroom.  It serves the dual purpose of aromatherapy (lavender to calm) and room freshener.  Just set the nozzle to as fine a mist as you can get.  They will make you spray every nook and cranny of their room when they can’t fall asleep at 10PM because they’re convinced there’s a monster under their bed, but once you’ve done it, they should be fairly convinced that there aren’t any monsters left anywhere in their room.

It will also get rid of the stinky sweaty-boy smell on the sofa cushions, their bed pillows, helps with stinky sneakers, and makes a great air freshener for whatever room you keep your cat’s litter box in.

Fruit and vegetable wash:  I sometimes use it with a tablespoon or so of baking soda, but vinegar alone works great for getting rid of dirt, wax, and other residues on your fruits and veggies.

Vinegar can revive less than happy lettuce leaves.  Add a couple tablespoons to a bowl of cold water and soak your lettuce in it for a while, rinse, and it will be crisper.  I’ve found this to work very well.  You can also add a tablespoon of vinegar to a container with an inch or two of water in the bottom, shave off the end of the stem on your head of lettuce, and let it sit in the bowl in the fridge.  I’ve tried this only this week, and it definitely keeps longer this way.

Add a tablespoon to the vase of water, along with a tablespoon or two of sugar, to help cut flowers last longer.

If you bring a cut tree in as part of your holiday celebrations, add vinegar and sugar to a gallon of water to help keep your tree hydrated and keep the needles from dropping as quickly.  This worked pretty well for us last year.

These are all things I use vinegar for on a regular basis (except the tree… we only do that once a year) and have found that it works well.   I’d love to hear what has worked for others!

~ Just a Mom

Posted in Do-It-Yourself, Interesting Uses For... Stuff., Money Saving Tips | 1 Comment

And The Crown Goes To…

Image I should really have an ermine trim cloak to go with that crown, don’t you think?

I haven’t been in here for over a year, as you can see from the date of my last post.  So much has happened since then, and so much hasn’t happened, hence the crown.

I thought I should start my grand re-re-entrance with some updates on previous posts.

The worm farm bottles were an epic failure.  OK, maybe not an epic failure.  It was actually very educational for the boys.  Although they were a great way to actually watch the worms change the food scraps into plant food, it was nearly impossible to get the composted materials out of the bottles after, and impossible to do so without dumping every single worm out with it.   Also, using worms dug out of our compost pile was a huge mistake.  There are all manner of other tiny critters that live in there, so if your intent is to teach the kids about all of them, it’s fantastic.  If your intent is to get some compost you can use for your indoor gardens, you’ll have to buy the worms.

We did just that last autumn.   I’ll post more about that experience as soon as I find the pictures.

Our kefir grains are still alive and multiplying like mad.  Our sourdough starter is long dead.  And Stormageddon’s little hibiscus shrub died the winter after I planted it in the yard, in spite of my husband’s attempts to protect it from the snow by piling the last of the autumn leaves around it.   I’m not sure why, I’ve seen them growing beautifully year after year in neighbor’s yards.   Our pretty little plant just didn’t like it’s sheltered corner.

Guardian Angel Facepalm (2)We haven’t had any more incidences with powdery substances, but The Master of Disaster did get into a tin of bag balm.  That was an experience.  His hair was greasy for a week and a half.  He also managed to get some of it into Stormageddon’s hair.  For future reference, if anyone has a small child that gets into bag balm, petroleum jelly, or any similar substance, shampoo will not get it out of their hair.  Dawn dish soap will not get it out of their hair.  Want to know what will?  Corn starch!  Not immediately, and not on the first try, but it works a lot more quickly than anything soapy.  And guess what gets corn starch out of the corners of the floor and wall, and out of floor cracks and furniture crevices?   Why, a tiny bit of petroleum jelly smeared on a soft cloth, of course!  (I’m sure that using the kids’ hair after they’ve gotten into the bag balm works a treat, and you can fix two disasters at once.)

And with that, I’m going to re-begin my beginning.  I’m going to try to do “A Post A Day For Preparedness”.   Yeah, I know.  -_-  So clever.  It’s what comes of typing at 2am.

~ Just a Mom

Posted in Composting, Gardening, Interesting Uses For... Stuff., Kefir, Starters, Worms! | 1 Comment

Our Worm Farm Adventure! (An Update.)

Our worm farms today... the worms have eaten all the lettuce leaves we put in there from before. The red and green you can sort of see in there is from the tops of strawberries we had with breakfast this morning. 🙂

If you haven’t read my previous post, which described how to put the worm farms together, you can find it here.

I’ve been checking the worm farms every other day or so, and had started seeing a ton of baby worms in the soil last week. They sort of look like tiny rice noodles, a sort of translucent white. There were also a ton more centipedes in there, as well as some tiny flies that made me feel particularly glad that I covered the holes in the lid with paper towel (see picture above… for the paper towel. The flies really are too tiny to get any sort of a picture with the camera I’m working with.) The last time we looked in on them was a few days ago, and there were still tons of the same lettuce leaves and banana peels we’d placed in there when we first put them together. The lettuce even looked fresh. The boys have been kind of excited to see the baby worms in there, but quickly got bored with looking into the bottle when there weren’t any larger worms.

When I looked in on them today, there wasn’t a single lettuce leaf or piece of banana peel in either container, and we spotted a few large worms in each bottle. There were also a bunch more baby worms, centipedes, but fewer flies. The boys were super excited, and wanted to hold the worms. I had to explain that we’d have to dump the whole thing out to get to them, but they don’t care. We’re leaving them in for now, though, because it really seems to be working great. I have a large blue plastic bin sitting on our back porch that I may turn into a proper worm farm later in the summer or early fall. At that point, I’ll probably dig these guys out and put them into that one (sans the centipedes and flies, of course!) For now, I’ll feed them some more lettuce leaves, veggie peels, and some shredded newspaper and tuck them back into the dark cabinet. The soil is also looking a bit muddy, so I’ll add some fresh, dryer soil tomorrow.

Stormageddon calls this "The Worm House", but I think it's more like "The Worm Tomb". Yes, he actually dug out a bunch of worms from the compost and buried them in there, thus making yet another attempt to earn the nickname "Stormageddon, Dark Lord of All".

Until the next post (which will hopefully be later today, or it probably won’t happen until Monday), here is a creation of Stormageddon’s for your viewing pleasure. ~~>

He insisted that I take a picture of it the day we put the worm farms together.

~Just a Mom

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Oh, The Horror! (of cornstarch…)

A deadly WMD against the sanity of any parent in the hands of a two year old.

My day in a nutshell: I spring cleaned the boys’ room.

For the second day in a row.

Those of you that know me personally know that I don’t really enjoy cleaning. And so I really have to psyche myself up for cleaning of the spring variety, which usually involves me giving myself numerous pep-talks, and ending with giving myself ultimatums such as “If you don’t get it done, there can be no birthday party for Stormageddon.” Stormageddon was unlucky enough to have a spring birthday. Which means that any cleaning of the spring variety must get done before party planning can really take place. And I’ve been doing OK this year. But only OK. I should be nearly done, but I’m only halfway to halfway done. To be perfectly honest, I’d much rather be outside during the day. But I did get the boys’ bedroom done yesterday.

Today, however, I made the mistake of letting the boys play in there for about 20 minutes or so without checking in on them.

And this is where the cornstarch comes in.

During this time, The Master of Disaster climbed up onto Stormageddon’s dresser, grabbed the container of cornstarch that I use to combat diaper and heat rashes, and completely covered the room with it. I mean, every ceiling-facing surface in the room was covered. Stormageddon, of course, waited until The Master of Disaster decided to give him the powdered wig look before letting me know this was all happening. To say that I freaked would be the understatement of the year. It looked so much worse than it did before I spring cleaned yesterday.

So I spent the next few hours re-spring cleaning their room. Stormageddon helped, as did my MIL when she stopped by, but The Master of Disaster thought it would be much more fun to draw pictures in the cornstarch.

Anyway, this all brings me to the point of this post. I was going to do an update on the worm farms today, but I’ve decided to post with a link roundup about the many uses of cornstarch instead.

Hodgson Mill had the most extensive list of uses I’ve found yet, which includes most of the ideas from the other links I’ve found and a lot more. They’ve broken it down into sections; “Everyday Health & Beauty Tricks”, “Everyday Household Uses”, “Everyday Recipe Tricks”, “KIDS & FUN”, and “MISCELLANEOUS”.

Under the first section, they have at least one suggestion that I’ve been wanting to try already (the dry shampoo… good idea for campers, and I may post about this at some point) and a couple that I already use it for, including for diaper rash. I have used it as a deodorant, but word of warning: If you do this, and you’re also maybe keeping some baking soda in the bathroom closet, make sure the containers they’re in are different-looking enough that you won’t mix them up. Baking soda does not make a good deodorant, and if you’re prone to eczema or psoriosis, it can be particularly sucky for you. There are a lot of really great ideas in that link.

AOL has fewer ideas, but different recipes. Nearly all the tips at are included in the Hodgson Mill link, but this one has a recipe for invisible ink. And the money saving tips site basically tells you how to clean up a crime scene.

One thing that is glaringly obvious (to me, at least) is that none of these sites give any hints about how to clean up the mess when your toddler sprinkles this stuff all over his freakin’ bedroom. No tips like “don’t use damp rags, because the corn starch will just turn to paste and stick on everything.”

So there’s the tip from me. If you need to clean up a cornstarch mess, don’t use water until you’ve dry-mopped and vacuumed. Oh, and another tip: When your kids make that mess, take a deep breath. And make sure you keep some wine in the house.

~ Just a Mom

Posted in Interesting Uses For... Stuff. | 1 Comment

Kefir Update: Yes, folks, they’re still alive

Not the best picture of my Kefir grains, but I'm still learning to use this camera.

Some of you may remember my previous posts about Kefir, and may have a vague memory of what care and feeding of the grains entails.  You may also remember Brother Bear writing in comments about how he keeps them in the refrigerator.  I decided to give that a try, and have been brewing mine that way for nearly a year now.

My most recent batch had been neglected for nearly a month (ok… maybe slightly more) and I was starting to get worried that I’d killed them.  I’ve killed more than my fair share of plants, after all, and I didn’t think my conscience could handle killing a colony of this yeast and bacteria culture (or maybe several colonies… I’m not sure how exactly that works; is each grain a colony, or are all the grains a colony?) so I’ve been playing the avoidance game for about a week now.  Since my boys were begging me for pancakes this morning, I decided to bite the bullet and check on them.  I figured if the whole thing had gone rancid, I’d just make them with milk and no one would be the wiser.

When I was researching the site I linked on the previous post, they basically said you’d know if they go bad.   This left me wondering “how?  How will I know if they’ve gone bad?”  I think the answer came to me, luckily not today, but several months ago when I was having dinner with family.  You know how containers of sour cream have that handy “sell by” date stamped around the edge of the lid?  I’ve often thrown them out after that date, not realizing that they were still perfectly good.  My dinner hostess had a container dated about a month away, but when it was opened, it nearly knocked us off our feet.  It was indescribable, really, just awful.  But if you ever have had a container of sour cream go bad, I expect that is just about what the Kefir, or the Kefir grains, would smell like if they went bad.

The Kefir I got from my grains this morning smelled really sour, but it didn’t smell “bad”.  And the grains, as you probably really can’t tell from the picture above, were still nice and white.   So I gave the Kefir a taste, and boy was it sour.

They look lumpy, but they're really very fluffy and moist.

Still good for pancakes, though!

I mixed up a batch, and the boys loved them.  So much, in fact, that it’s probably a good thing that Stormageddon is sleeping over GammyGampy’s tonight, because there’s only enough batter left to make pancakes for one of them tomorrow morning.  And I hate for them to fight over them, but I also may not be in the mood to mix up another batch.  Because, here it is, eleven o’clock at night, and I’m sitting at my computer typing.

As for the grains… they seem to have gone a bit comatose (much the same as I will be in the morning).  I’ve decided to brew a batch or three on the counter in the hopes they’ll wake up again.  They were starting to brew slower and slower in the fridge, which made it way too easy to forget they were there in the first place.  They still seem to be “sleeping”, but I’m hoping they’ll wake up by morning.

I’d actually like a not-so-sour batch, just to drink.  When it was brewing out of control, I actually stopped buying lactose-free milk (yes, I’m lactose intolerant).  Since lactose-free milk is more expensive than regular whole milk, brewing kefir can save a decent amount of money for anyone who can make the switch.

I’ll update again, when the grains have woken up.

In the meantime, if anyone has been brewing Kefir, let me know of your experiences with it.

~ Just a Mom

Posted in Kefir, Stuff you can do with Kefir... | 3 Comments

Our Worm Farm Adventure!

Nearly finished!

These are the bottle worm farms, ready to be capped and stored in a cabinet.

I promised I’d get this up today, and so here it is.  The Worm Post.

After picking Stormageddon up from school on Tuesday and making sure the boys had a decent lunch, we headed into the back yard with our supplies.

These are the supplies we used:

  • Two clean plastic juice bottles
  • paper egg carton and newspaper
  • egg shells and other kitchen scraps
  • water
  • hammer, nail, and garden shears
  • garden soil and red worms
  • Cheesecloth or paper towel
  • lots and soap, water, and a sturdy nail brush for cleanup
  • a shovel to scoop the mud left in the tub after bath time  (I exaggerate… but only a little.)

I based this project loosely on the information I found here.  I didn’t bother cooking the eggshells (the link didn’t explain why it was necessary, and I’ve never bothered before… the worms in my compost don’t seem to mind) and scaled it down to fit in the juice bottles.

The first thing we did was to tear the egg carton and the newspaper up and layer the bottom of the bottles.  Then we added some kitchen scraps, cut into small pieces, to the containers.

Next, we broke a few eggshells up into small pieces and threw those in.  The eggshells provide the calcium necessary for the worms to make little wormy babies.  Getting lots of wormy babies is the point of this little exercise, at least as far as the boys are concerned.  But having lots of wormy babies also means that they can process more kitchen scraps even faster.

For the worms and garden soil, we dug into our compost pile.  It was loaded with red earthworms, which are the best worms to use for container composting.   There were also a lot of the tiny baby worms and the tiny cocoons that they hatch from.  Then we poured a bit of water in, just enough to moisten the soil and paper a little.

Instructions say we should leave it loosely covered, but I opted to punch holes in the covers with a hammer and nail.  I covered the top with some cheesecloth (to keep any flying bugs that may hatch in the compost from invading the house) and VOILA!  Miniature indoor composting containers.  The boys are super excited about them, and if they work out well, we’ll do up smaller versions as a craft project for the kids to do at Stormageddon’s birthday party. ^_^

Another potentially helpful tip: You know how you sometimes get a cracked egg in the dozen (no matter how carefully you check them in the store) and it sticks to the carton?  I usually just use up the rest of the eggs and throw the broken one, carton and all, into the compost pile.  If, however, you use that egg carton for your worm farm, don’t leave the broken egg within reach of your two-year-old.

Exhibit A: The Master of Disaster grabbed hold of the cracked egg and broke it in half before I had time to react.

Exhibit B: At least he didn't end up wearing most of it.

Stormageddon was very into this project.  The Master of Disaster, however, would run over now and then, grab something to put into one of the containers, harass his brother, then run off again.

More pictures of the process…

Step 1:

Layer torn carton pieces in the bottom of the bottles, followed by torn newspaper.

Step 2:

Add a layer of kitchen scraps on top of the paper scraps.

Don't forget the egg shell!

Step 3:

Add some garden soil and red earthworms (you can't really see them in that picture, but there were a bunch of worms in there.)

Step 4:

Add just enough water to moisten the soil and paper. You don't want the wormies to dry out, because then you'll have the deaths of a lot of worms on your conscience.

Step 5:

Make sure air can get into the containers. Also, be sure to cover it with cheesecloth or paper towel if you plan to bring it into the house (to keep the bugs from infesting your home).

I’ll post updates on the progress of the boys’ wormy farms.  If anyone else decides to give this a try, please let me know how it goes.   If nothing else, it’ll be a good excuse for you to dig into the dirt with your kids. 😉

~ Just a Mom

Posted in Composting, Worms! | 1 Comment

Preparing for Spring!


I just took this picture on the spur of the moment to stick in this post.

This is a post I actually started last Spring… yes, it’s been that long since I’ve done anything with this blog.  Spring does inspire me, but everything else tends to distract me.  Not this year, though!  I’m determined, with the help of a couple of little monkeys, to get this blog going. 🙂  I had planned to get my first post of the season up yesterday, in celebration of The First Day of Spring, but we did worm farms.  And by the end of the day (and after the much-needed bath time!) I was exhausted.  And I couldn’t find the USB cable I needed to upload the pictures of the worm-farming process.  So, here I am today, finishing up old posts that would have been done a year ago had I gotten off my butt then to get them done, so I can post The New! The Exciting! Worm! Farm! Post!

Anyway, back to the topic of preparing for Spring…

Around here, it’s not recommended that anything be planted in the ground until after Mother’s day.  Normally, that would mean  that I’ve got just under two months for planning our garden and doing other prep work.  However, since today is going to be getting close to 80 degrees, it’s looking like we may be in for an early planting season.  (I should really pick up a Farmer’s Almanac.)

Last year, I never got around to it.  I never got around to it the year before, either.  The reasons are unimportant.  What is important, when you wish to be prepared for anything, is that you get started.

The Boys and I have been saving seeds from various store-bought fruits and veggies, as well as a variety of seed packets that we’ve purchased, so we should have no problems with filling our garden beds.  I’m planning two larger raised beds, plus one 2×2 raised bed for each of the boys.  They’ve been busy deciding (and changing their minds about) what to plant.  Thing One (aka: Stormageddon) wants potatoes, onions, green beans, tomatoes, and strawberries (though I think we’ll just do a little strawberry patch off to the side somewhere), and Thing Two (aka: Master of Disaster) wants carrots, winter squashes, and all-things-orange (especially those that cook well with maple syrup or brown sugar).  I’ve got many grand plans and stolen ideas, most of which I may not get to this year, but the idea is to start somewhere.

So, Happy Spring to one and all, and keep an eye out for future posts.

~ Just a Mom

Posted in Gardening | Tagged | 3 Comments