Taking Stock of 2010- What Worked, What Didn’t

I’m nearing the end of my third pregnancy, and currently on a semi-voluntary relapse into old habits.  We started our journey into green and DIY back in the Fall of 2007 (when I started making my own laundry soap, and line drying all the clothes in the kitchen on a rack.  Line drying stopped when we put our house on the market, and never came back.  The jeans were too crunchy, especially.)

I thought it would be a good time to assess what worked in 2010, what didn’t, and what’s FIRST on my list of things we want to add back into our lives.

First, what I’ve stopped doing:

  • Cloth diapers and wipes
  • Homemade laundry soap powder
  • Homemade dishwasher soap powder
  • Homemade bread ONLY
  • Homemade soy milk
  • Baking (for the most part, I’ve stopped)
  • Handmade gifts ONLY
  • Homemade cleaning solutions ONLY
  • Only local fruits and vegetables
  • Homemade yogurt

What I’m still doing:

  • Home cooked meals as much as possible
  • Cloth napkins
  • Vermicomposting
  • Outdoor composting (not much going on right now in Winter, but still: the piles are there!)
  • Home Schooling our kindergartner
  • Organic gardening (Again, not much going on right now, but I plan to begin our Spring garden next month)

Alright.

  1. Cloth diapering.  I’m going to just say it: we failed.  My daughter has lactose issues, her urine acidifies very quickly, and her bottom is scarred from the blisters.  I tried so many different things, but after a month on disposable diapers and NO lactose-related issues, I’m going to say this child is not going back on the cloth.  And it’s possible we’ve seen the end of lactose-intolerance issues, within reason.  (In the past, we barely made it a week without a fresh rash cropping up from too many slices of cheddar, or too many goldfish crackers at church.)  Her little brother, I don’t know.  I have an enormous stash of cloth diapers we found at an incredible price, and I’m not Craigslisting them.  Not yet.  I don’t mind the laundry, but it’s one more thing to remember to do in running this house.  Also, after a year and a half of cloth diapering, I remained the only person who knew how to change her diaper and felt comfortable doing it.  That’s bad.
  2. Homemade laundry soap powder.  Probably not going back.  The optical brighteners in commercial products are just SO nice, and the detergent is so much more effective on kids’ stains.
  3. Homemade dishwasher soap.  Not going back.  Our dishes were clean, but had water deposits on them and it was especially noticeable on the glasses.  Yes, it took 2 years for them to get really bad, and only 3 or 4 washes with commercial detergent to get rid of them, so it could happen again maybe.
  4. Homemade bread.  I REALLY MISS my homemade bread.  I’m not willing to buy the good stuff at the store, so we get the cheapest, biggest, whitest loaf Costco carries.  (Their cheapest wheat loaf is terrible- so little gluten development that you can’t spread anything on it without it tearing.  Besides, I know the nutrition content is practically the same as the white loaf, so I don’t sweat it.)  BUT, it’s nice to have bread on the counter for more than a day and still have soft crusts.  The larger slice size is nice for sandwiches and toast, too.  I want to add bread back, and I want to make it in bigger loaf pans, and perhaps use honey for the sweetener to help soften the crust.  Eating store bought bread is depressing.
  5. Homemade soy milk.  YES this is worth it.  The beans cost about thirty cents for a 2-quart batch, and the work is minimal.  The only effort is remembering to soak the beans before you run out, and cleaning the blasted strainer basket.  Those microscopic holes clog in a heart beat.  Plus, homemade tastes better.  Way better.
  6. Baking.  I want to include my kids in my cooking, but I’m thinking that a weekly batch of cookies (our goal in the past) isn’t smart.  I don’t like the taste of boxed cake mixes, and it’s not that much harder to make a cake from scratch.  (BUT, it was so sweet to have a boxed cake picked out, made, and decorated by my five-year-old for my birthday, with help from her dad.  So boxed cake mixes will have their place in our kitchen.  And sprinkles.)
  7. Handmade gifts.  I could go on and on about this, but I’ve decided that making gifts that no one wants is sad.  Sending gifts that are never acknowledged is sad.  Sending HANDMADE gifts that aren’t acknowledge is then doubly sad.  And I don’t have time to be sad.  So going forward, I won’t feel bad about purchasing gifts to show my love for somebody.
  8. Homemade cleaning solutions.  I still like cleaning with vinegar and baking soda.  That’s what I’ll clean with for the most part.  But if someone else wants to clean a bathroom or a sink?  I will gladly step aside and provide WHATEVER they want to clean with.  Even if it’s my very own tooth brush.  🙂
  9. Only local fruits and vegetables.  This winter I’ve brought home clementines, grapefruit, pomegranetes, kiwis, and cranberries.  And they were delicious.  I won’t buy cherries or blueberries from Chile.  I’m not buying tomatoes (mostly, except for that night I had a preggo craving for really bad salsa apparently.)  But in-season fruits that I just can’t get from around here at any time of year….I’ve caved.  And I’m probably not going to change that.  Vitamin C in the winter is just really, really good.  (The rest of the year, I’m still aiming for local produce.  It’s cheaper, fresher, tastier, and a better idea all around.)  That said, we’re still eating local potatoes, carrots, beets, turnips, squash, storage apples, onions, etc.
  10. Homemade yogurt.  Going back, definitely.  It tastes better, is a fraction of the cost, and the only effort required is bringing the milk up to temperature and waiting for it to cool back down.

For what we are currently doing, I intend of keep on doing them.  They’re easy, effective, cheap, and wonderful.

  1. Home cooked meals.  I’m absolutely spoiled.  I’m going to sound stuck up, but for the most part I prefer my cooking to a restaurant’s.  At least the restaurants I can afford.  (Notable exceptions: pizza, burgers, fried foods.)
  2. Cloth napkins.  They take a little time to make, or a little cash to purchase, but WOW my kids can power through napkins and these save my sanity.  On my soon-to-do list is a set of labelled family napkins.  That way the 2-year-old can put her cracker on a napkin, and I know that the napkin is still good to wipe the crumbs on her face at the next meal.  And I know which napkins NOT to hand to a guest.  (I love to iron my napkins, and it doesn’t take much time, but yeah: it doesn’t happen most of the time.)
  3. Vermicomposting.  Gosh yes.  About $20 for the set up, and they eat my veggie scraps and turn them into the best fertilizer.  Right now I have the bin in a hallway outside my kitchen, hoping to keep them super active and multiplying during these winter months- there’s no smell, there’s no mess.  (And you know what?  I’d wager that nearly everyone who comes to my home never realized they’re walking past a bucket of worms.  It’s just not a big deal.)
  4. Outdoor composting.  I’m a lazy composter- I throw weeds in a pile, top with a bunch of rotting straw from the last bale we purchased, turn it if I ever remember (or at least gather it into a taller pile when it starts breaking down) and 3 months later it’s dirt.  Magical.
  5. Homeschooling.  YES.  This year has been loose and fun- lots of projects, lots of “unschooling,” lots of learning how to learn and how to learn from Mom.  Next year we’ll do a formal curriculum, and I love it.  She loves it.  My younger daughter loves it.  I love the structure.
  6. Organic gardening.  We finally have the structure set up, the dirt in, and the seeds planned.  I want my kids to have this as part of their lives.  I want to make time to have it be part of my life.  I want the exercise, the fresh air, and the responsibility.  That said…I want a timed watering system.  Really, really bad.

Now, all this said, I am SO grateful to have learned all these skills.  I am SO grateful to have been able to pare our household budget down to pennies for certain tasks when we needed the cash elsewhere.  If we ever found ourself in financial situations similar to some of the times we’ve come through in our marriage, I’d do it all again in a heartbeat and I’d recommend that everyone learn these skills.  They’re not hard.  I’m also grateful that right now, when my strength is low and my mental capacity is lower, I can take the easy road out, however much I miss my old ways.  It’s been a good time to reflect on what worked, what didn’t, and find out which of the many, many tasks I’d assigned myself actually mattered in the end to our family. (Recap: Good food like yogurt, bread, soy milk, and home cooking; gardening and composting; home schooling; cloth napkins.  Handmade gifts for people who actually want them.)

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12 Responses

  1. Interesting on the rashes.

    And I agree on the homemade gifts. I don’t for most people, unless I know they’ll appreciate it.

  2. We use Green Works by Clorox for cleaning. It’s very inexpensive in concentrate form. We purchase ours at Dollar General or Family Dollar. My son hasn’t gotten any rashes from cleaning with it at all. Dollar General has been having $5.00 coupons($25.00 and up purchase) every Saturday for a while now. You can get a few of this brand for free! I think the dollar stores carry some safer cleaning brands as well. I like the way Green Works smells, and I use it(watered down) on my laminate floors. It doesn’t streak.

    I’m still using your wonderful cloth cloth napkins. I like the size – just right. : )

    We’re pretty much unschooling as well. My daughter schools herself with things I give her. Starfall is like a game to her. We do a lot of play which ends up being educational. She is so much easier than her brother was! I think many girls like schooly stuff better than boys.

    • I’ll have to look at that. We’ve been using a water-castile soap-washing soda mixture, and it cleans really well. Vinegar in the toilets, baking soda in the tubs, alcohol and tea tree oil as disinfectant. It’s just daunting for folks that want to help- labels that say “bleach” and “all purpose cleaner” are so much easier to understand! We don’t have Dollar General out here, though 🙂

      E noticed the other day that Starfall had a new section up online- a bear with a backpack? She was pretty excited 🙂

  3. aw, sad to hear you’ve given up on a few of these things! homemade gifts are cool. i liked the little dolls you made and i bet any kid would grow up and appreciate them. also, the laundry detergent! did it work well? the regular scented brands have carcinogens, which i just found out about, so i am planning to switch when i finish my bottle. as for the local fruits and veggies, i think you’re doing the right thing. just buy local when you can. why deprive yourself of the other wonderful fruits? variety is healthy!

    • There’s just a few things that didn’t work out…maybe we could figure out a way to make them work better in the future? The laundry detergent did work, very well. It’s just not as effective as the best HE detergents out there- whites aren’t as bright, and it’s not as effective on food stains. If I had been better about soaking kids’ clothes in oxy clean water like my sister does, I think it would have worked better! We used it for years, and everything was clean, and I loved that there was no scent. It was dirt cheap, too. Not as easy to use, though- J wouldn’t know how to help, because I was forever tweaking things to make it work better. Sometimes I’d put vinegar in the rinse cup, sometimes in the bleach cup. Extra baking soda in the wash cup. He couldn’t keep up with the latest thing I was doing.

  4. I’ve found that certain things work for my family at certain times. When I’m pregnant then we trend towards surviving and a lot of the handmade stuff goes out the window. You just have to find what works for your family and not worry about how “ideal” it is.

    We’re still doing cloth Addy and loving it, though I hated and couldn’t/didn’t do it with Henry. I still love homemade detergent but only with my own soap and not Fels Naptha. I love cloth napkins!

    As for gifts, I still make one homemade gift for each of my kids at Christmas/birthday/other holidays. This year I did mostly homemade stuff for the gifts I gave away, but I didn’t give to as many people. And yes, often I don’t get a thank you or acknowledgment. But, I enjoy making and I just know not to spend too much time or energy on that person again.

    ***I’m totally bringing you a bottle of my homemade cleaning solution. I use it EVERYWHERE and it is fabulous. 🙂

  5. I too find that homemade gifts aren’t really appreciated all that much. Too bad.

    I too have stopped using homemade detergents for the dishwasher and washing machine. If I still had my old appliances, I would, but I’m too afraid to mess up my new ones. I did find a place that always has Method brand on sale, so we’ve switched to that. Fits my budget very well. 🙂

  6. Oh, you’ve got to do what works for you. And, if you live near family, what works for them, too. LOL

  7. We lined-dried cloth diapers for my first boy, and it worked great–in sunny, windy New Mexico. When my second used the cloth diapers, they all fell apart.

    In that same poor season of our lives, I started making bread, and I can’t go back to store-bought, either. But I use a bread machine. It only makes one loaf at a time, but it only takes me a few minutes every night to have fresh bread every morning. It stays soft in a Rubbermaid bread box.

    I still want to try vermicomposting!

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