Month: March 2014

It Worked Out!

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Downtown Indy. The conference was in that big monolith looking thing!

Hello everyone! I’m back from Indianapolis and I’m thrilled to report that all of the little things I did to make my trip greener and more frugal really helped. I took off with only $96 USD for six days of food, entertainment, and getting around Indy (I told you my budget was tiny! That’s $16 a day!), and I came home with $1.50! More importantly, I did not leave a trail of disposable cups, plastic bottles, and half used products behind, I did not spend any coupons, and I had an amazing, transformative experience!

What helped the most? Three things:

1. The conference itself was well-appointed. There were water coolers every few seminar rooms so that I could fill up my kleen kanteen, and urns of (delicious) coffee and tea and little jars of honey and raw sugar and even Real Cups for the people who didn’t bring their thermos were put out three times a day for conference attendees. This right here probably saved me at least $60 in coffee and water money and saved the landfills at least 20 bottles and cups! Best thing? So many people at the conference had reusable water bottles and thermoses! How great is that?

Also, the parties were lovely and lavish. Some were even off-site and fancily catered or offered the food the restaurant normally offered. One of the parties was nicer than any zillion dollar a plate wedding I’ve been to — even the wine was really, really good!

2. Indianapolis is less expensive than where I live. I was nervously budgeting for Philadelphia/New Jersey, but the food we did eat out seemed a good couple of dollars less than what I would pay normally. For example, my usual hole in the wall burrito place near work usually costs $9, and the similar burrito at the totally cool food truck we visited at Indy’s Food Truck Friday was $5.95.

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AhhhhhhhBurritos!

 

I don’t know if it was because I was sitting in the sunshine on a beautiful day after an incredible session, but (whispers) I think it tasted better than my usual hometown one! A pint of Guinness was $4 at a local bar. We tried Waffle House because we don’t have them here, and my giant platter was $5.95 (enormous pie $1.15)! We played the jukebox, and even that was less expensive: 24 songs for $5!

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Make sure you get the chocolate pie!

 

Also, the water from the faucet tastes so good in Indianapolis! I was able to drink tap water when not at the conference with no problem (Philadelphia water is vile, New Jersey water even more vile — both must be filtered).

3. Kindness. My professor took us to lunch and paid for museum entrance, and we had an amazing afternoon at the Eiteljorg Museum. My project partner bought a bottle of wine in our hotel lobby and brought it up with three glasses to celebrate our successful presentation. We were originally in a really far hotel, and her mother searched exhaustively for a closer hotel and used her friends and family discount to make it affordable for us. She also turned us on to Uber, which saved us so much time over busses, and money over taxis (you don’t want to hear about our $50 cab ride OR 1.5 hour bus ride, trust me). My professor also made sure we were invited to all of the parties where there were food and drinks. We even stumbled upon one party we weren’t invited to, and no one blinked as we raided the cheese 🙂 Bedford/St. Martin’s Press gave out free organic cotton, nicely made tote bags. I love mine and will use it with fondness. Thank you, nice people! I would have been eating nuts from my purse for days without the kindness I was shown.

Comfortable shoes and powerbars also helped things wonderfully. I recommend them no matter where you travel!

An Interesting Observation: I did not enjoy using the little packets of conventional toiletries at all! I had free sample packets of a facial creme that I know retails for over $100 a jar, and was not impressed. My skin was itchy and dry without my homemade body butter, especially my hands! My poor hands from convention center soap! Ah! They are still recovering. My hair was puffy and sad from regular shampoo and conditioner. The deodorant also made me itchy, smelled fake powdery awful,  and broke the first day I used it. I am going to start saving tiny jars now to reuse for future trips, so that I can bring my green, natural, simple toiletries.

A Mysterious Happening: I lost one of my vintage slips! I was really careful about putting the things I used back into my suitcase so I have no idea how this could have happened! One of my books has a pretty slip pattern, and I have some thin raw silk. I think I may try and make one as a replacement instead of buying one.

Although I had a life-changing, incredible, amazing time, I’m so happy to be home with my husband, cat, knitting, books, making regular meals, baking, taking baths instead of showers, getting on my little train to work instead of scary airplanes, and planning more things to share with you on this blog! I just got some soap nuts for laundry. Will tell all soon!

 

 

 

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Traveling Light

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I leave for the Conference on College Composition and Communication on Tuesday! Travel is a complex issue for me. Flying, hotel staying with all those single use items and loads of towels, and eating out can be so expensive — financially and environmentally! But sometimes, you have to throw caution to the wind and go for the experience. It’s not every day that your project gets chosen to get presented at a national conference! My school awarded me a travel grant to help with airfare, hotel, and conference registration, but I have to do food and the miscellaneous expenses that always pop up when traveling on my own. I have a very tight budget. I also hate waste and could cry thinking of the paper coffee cups, trails of gasoline, and styrofoam containers I could possibly generate away from home. I’ve thought of a few things to mitigate this horror:

  • I’m bringing my Kleen Canteen for water. I’ll fill er up before leaving for the day, and anywhere I can at the conference. As long as you bring the bottle empty through security it’s ok to fly with. Yay — no plastic bottles on my trip! I stay hydrated! I spend no money on water!
  • I’m also bringing my hot beverage thermos for coffee and tea. Our hotel has a 24 hour free beverage station. I can get a nice container of coffee or tea to have in the morning, take some to to conference, and even make a nice cuppa herbal tea to sip and wind down at night — just like home! — and not use any paper cups. This will also save me some money. Again, bring the empty thermos through airline security and you’ll be ok.
  • I’m packing portable food. I’m taking some Kashi bars and Powerbars to keep with me. I’m also taking a container of mixed nuts, dried cranberries, and raisins from home. No $8 muffins at the conference center for me. No desperate I’ll eat anything whoops that was a $15 sandwich and didn’t even taste good. I’m going to save my limited funds for nice (but inexpensive) meals with friends and colleagues.
  • I’m keeping my ears open for activities where snacks are included. My professor has already sent us emails for the social events that include food and drinks. He understands. Not only are these good opportunities to meet people working in the discipline, but sometimes a glass of wine with some cheese and crackers is all you need to go with dreams and air, as my project partner said 🙂
  • I’m wearing comfortable shoes the whole time. This way, I can always choose walking over taking a taxi as long as it’s not, like, from the airport to our hotel. I also planned out my wardrobe so I have easy to wear and carry layers — no need to say, “I’m freezing (or sweating) I MUST take a taxi!” This is also important because most of our days run from 7am to 11pm — that’s a lot of temperature fluctuation (and wear and tear on your feet) to dress for!
  • I’m keeping my eyes out for a little store to buy additional provisions. We (needless to say, I’m sharing the room with my project partners — major money saving right there) have a mini-fridge and microwave in the room, and some bread and peanut butter and who knows what else (suggestions?) will make my food budget stretch and circumvent styrofoam takeaway nonsense. I’m all for the midnight-snack-as-meal.
  • I’ve brought all of those little free samples that somehow made their way into my possession for my toiletries. No buying of little travel sizes of my products or decanting into special containers or any of that business. I’m really happy that I didn’t spend a single soap coupon (or clothing coupon!) to prepare for this trip. And yay — I can finally use that Bliss shower scrub sample I’ve been holding on to because I don’t have a shower but only a bath at home!

Have you used a strategy to make you dollars go far when traveling, all whilst keeping waste to a minimum? I can use all of the help I can get! I would appreciate your comments.

If this was wartime, I would most likely not have been going too far from home — gas and rubber were rationed for the war effort. Also, the first 4Cs was not until 1950 (and I bet not too many women attended as participants!). I’m quite aware that this trip is a very special privilege on many levels.

I’ll let you know how it was, and how I did with my money and stuff budget when I return. Bon Voyage to Me!

Blanket Statement

I finally finished my As We Go Stripey Blanket!

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The poor thing was sitting there, finished but for some ends to weave in and an edging for months. All of a sudden, I picked it up and did the finishing in one night! Funny how that happens. I’ve been snuggling under it for a few days and it’s so warm and cheerful. Woody likes it, too. Putting his mouse on it is a great compliment!

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I crocheted this blanket out of leftover balls of yarn from previous projects, and yarn that I had purchased for projects that somehow didn’t get made. It greatly reduced my “yarn stash.” This is Yay! and Thrifty! and making something useful from items I have. It is also sobering — if this was really Life During Wartime this blanket most likely wouldn’t have been created in the same manner, or for the same use. Crochet uses more yarn than knitting, and was deemed “wasteful” during WWII. Knitting, which uses less yarn was the thing to do. The idea of having a grand “yarn stash” during the war probably didn’t exist. People were trying to clothe their families and also knit for soldiers. I’ve read much more about people unravelling previously knitted garments to reuse the wool than trying to dream up ways to use up their “stash.” I would also not be snuggling up under this blanket. A soldier, hospital, or relief agency would have been the recipient of my work, most likely in the form of plain knitted squares which would have been put together with the squares of others to be made into a blanket.

I can’t help but muse on privilege and our current handmade culture when thinking about these facts. If you surf the craft blogs of most Western crafters, overflowing yarn stashes are an issue more than not having any yarn to use. This is a problem I am not immune to! I had to institute a no yarn buying ultimatum in 2008 — and I still buy very little yarn these days. I had a philosophy that if it was a supply to make something by hand, it wasn’t “bad” spending like, say, another lipstick or another pair of shoes. That illogic caught up to me quickly! Something I’ve only recently started thinking of is where my yarn comes from and how it is produced. Who makes it and how are they treated? What dyes are used and are they environmentally sound? Can local food philosophies be applied to yarn?

Right now I’d like to take a little step back — pledge to continue to use the yarn I have, and promise that my next yarn purchase considers the questions I’ve asked above. My local farmers market has a stall selling hanks of wool from an alpaca farmer (who sometimes brings an alpaca for a visit!). That sounds more like how I’d like my future yarn purchases to go. And how about projects? I will certainly be more conscious of what kinds of projects stretch yarn usage (vs. what kinds of projects are yarn eaters). I also want to make sure I work on things I truly need. This is my fourth handmade blanket — I think we have enough. I can still use more washcloths and sweaters and I’ve found shawls so useful, too, and only have three. I always need socks. I have a few cute hats but only one very warm hat. I could use another super warm one. And what about making something for others? I already knit for friends and family, but I’m going to keep open for an opportunity to knit for a cause I believe in that feels right. I’ll know it when I see it 🙂

I didn’t imagine finishing a blanket would be so fraught with complexity! But there you go!

Whip it!

 

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This is not frosting for a cake, although it looks very much like it! It’s whipped body butter. If you would like to eschew the strange chemicals and hefty price tag that comes with even the more natural lotions and potions available, all whilst enjoying a superior and versatile product, give this a try. It’s very simple to make. You’ll need:

  • 1/4 cup light oil (I use sweet almond)
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup cocoa butter
  • 1/4 cup shea butter

I get a measuring cup, put in the almond oil, then chip away at the more solid oils until I reach 1/2 cup, then 3/4 cup, then a full cup. Add to a saucepan and gently heat until the oils are combined. Most people will tell you to use a double boiler, and if you have one do use it. I don’t so I’m just very careful. Alternately, you can put your ingredients in a bowl then rest the bowl over the saucepan to replicate the double boiler if you’re worried.

Once the oils are liquid, remove from heat. Let your concoction rest at room temperature until verging on solid (you can speed this in the refrigerator — I usually put  mine in the refrigerator for 1.5 to 2 hours). Then, whip it! I have a handheld blender from my days before my stand mixer and I use that — but use what you have. All of these ingredients are actually edible so you don’t have to worry about contaminating anything you use for cooking (isn’t that amazing!? but shouldn’t that be the case for anything we put on our skin and don’t remove if you really think about it?).

When whipped, your concoction will look light and fluffy and like frosting! Put into clean tins or jars and enjoy.

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I had made up some of this over my Winter Break, and had been using it and also gave some as gifts. I recently ran out and — itch, itch, itch! The store bought lotion I had on hand was not nearly as emollient and wonderful as this body butter. I couldn’t wait to make some time for another batch. It’s now my holy grail of body moisturizers. I also use it on my hands after washing and have even used it on my hair (although I usually use plain coconut oil for that — but a great use for the little bit of this recipe that you can’t scrape out of the pan into the jar? Get your hands in there and slather it all over your body and hair. Wait 24 hours for everything to sink in before cleaning your hair in your usual method (it will sink right into your skin so don’t worry about that). Shiny, manageable hair will be your reward!

I had all of the ingredients on hand, so no points used. I have a good amount of the other ingredients still, and enough cocoa butter for another batch when I run out of this batch, too. You can scale this recipe up or down depending on your needs. All of the ingredients are useful for other recipes, as you’ll see in upcoming posts!

Tea for Two

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My husband and I drink a cup of rooibos chai almost every evening. We always have enjoyed drinking an herbal or otherwise non-caffinated warm drink together each night to wind down, but once I started blending my own chai, all of the other tisanes have paled in our estimation! This winter, we’ve hardly touched any other tea for our nighttime cuppa.

What I like about blending my own chai is that I can use the high quality and organic spices I favor in the quantities I like. When you make in bulk, you can always tweak as you go along — adjusting for how your particular spices are interacting. I know this blend I just made is a little light on the cardamom pods because I only had about an ounce of them, but I can always add more later. Gosh I love cardamom! The other great thing is that I leave the spices whole, and crush them with my mortar and pestle just before brewing. It only takes a second, and the intensity and freshness in flavor is dramatic!

I wish I could give you an exact recipe, but each time I make it, it is different. Here is what I put in it this time  — and I’ll try and estimate the quantities of spices!

Rooibos – 16 oz

Sweet cinnamon sticks — about 8

dried ginger root – about 1/4 cup

pink peppercorns – about 3 tablespoons

black peppercorns – about 3 tablespoons

whole cloves – lots! Mmmm cloves! maybe a half cup?

whole green cardamom pods – about an ounce (I had half of my 2 oz jar left…so sad)

If you are not feeling avant-garde, there are lots of good chai recipes on the internet that list exact proportions. I do encourage you to play, though! If you hate pepper in your chai, leave it out! If you love cinnamon, double it. I sometimes cut up a vanilla bean and include it. I’m wondering if I should add some anise — better try that first with one portion to make sure we like it. In short, make it yours.

If you are wondering where to get nice spices, I patronize Penzey’s and Mountain Rose Herbs (MRH has organic rooibos, too). I stored my blended chai in tea tins that I reused from previous purchases, and in a mason jar — I normally don’t store teas in clear glass, but this will live in the back of my cupboard away from light, and I’ll use it to refill the tins as I go.

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This is a long way of saying that I used some tea coupons! Here is how I’m thinking of the calculation:

16oz tea = 8 coupons (gasp!)

BUT

My husband drinks half of the chai! So I should only be charged 4 coupons, dontcha think? The good news is that this amount of chai should last us quite awhile (but I said that to myself when I blended up about 8 oz of chai in November…). All in all, a wonderful use of tea coupons.

Here is a tally of coupon use so far:

COUPONS REMAINING

Clothing: 66 out of 66
Soap: 32 out of 36
Tea: 6 out of 10

 

An Ode to the Knitted Washcloth

When I learned how to knit, visions of hats, scarves, and sweaters danced in my head. Never did I think I would become an ardent knitter of . . . washcloths!

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My latest knitted cloth – Arc en Ciel. Free pattern at: http://www.knitpicks.com/patterns/Arc_en_Ciel_Dishcloth__D55546220.html

Why in the world would a person spend time knitting something destined to get completely grubby and an item mostly invisible to others? I’m sure each knitted washcloth aficionado has their own reasons, but here are a few of mine.

1. They are superior to anything you can buy. Of course, it depends on what type of yarn you use (my favorite is a cotton linen blend, DK weight) but my knitted cloths make cleaning (dishes, bodies, houses — set aside cloths for each use – don’t mix!) easy and effective. If you knit them with little purl stitches they scrub well. If you make them smooth you are not going to scratch delicate glassware. Taking a long, luxurious bath is so nice when you use something you made! They also win because you can throw them in the wash as often as you like! No stinky sponges. Just rinse in cold water and hang over your faucet to dry between uses. I’ve never had any of my cloths get smelly, but if yours do, I read that a 15 minute soak in vinegar before washing will get them fresh. I’ve also heard baking soda and water will do the trick. But again – if you rinse and hang to dry and wash often, you shouldn’t have a problem.

2. They last forever. 

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These are the knitted cloths that have seen better days. I don’t use them for dishes anymore, but rather for cleaning (counters, windows, dusting, applying shoe polish or cleaner, you get the idea). I think that every knitted cloth I’ve made so far is still in use somewhere in my home! What you don’t see are the myriad old knitted cloths sitting under my oil and soy sauce and vinegar bottles in my cupboard to catch drips (wash them every few months when you think of it – easy peasy!) or the ones sitting invisible under plant pots to protect furniture, or the ones under Woody’s dish because he’s a messy eater.

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Bonus photo of Woody! He of course had to get involved in my cloth photo shoot!

3. You can let out your whimsical side. I would never wear the color combinations all at one time in the cloth I just finished, but boy was it fun to play with all of those colors in a cloth! I also would never wear a sweater with a squirrel on it, but oh do I ever love my little frenemy the squirrel dishcloth!!

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I get out all of my buried cutesy colorful energy in my cloths so I can continue to wear my somber doom and gloom black black black wardrobe (only half kidding! I’ve gotten better with this and have some grey and red and jewel toned and even some flowered clothing now!)! But — the point is — these little cloths let me go wild in a useful way. I get to have lots of fun and produce something that makes me smile. Even if I had fun knitting a hat with cupcakes on it, I’d never wear it. But a cloth? Heck yeah!

4. They are quick, calming, and let you feel a sense of accomplishment. During the semester, most of my brain power not taken by work goes to reading and writing papers, but I can always spare an hour here and there to knit on a cloth. Knitting is extremely stress-relieving for me, and it feels so good to have many finished items during a semester (even a pair of socks will take me an entire semester if I can only work on them here and there). I just started this Reversible Pips cloth yesterday, and I’m already half done!

5. Free washcloth patterns are everywhere. Right now Knit Picks is doing  52 Weeks of Free Dishcloths! Just search Ravelry under dishcloth and check off free and you will get 5,031 hits! You can even take any of your stitch pattern books like a Barbara Walker’s Treasury and pick something fun to try, put a garter or seed stitch border around it, and call it a cloth. There is also the timeless Grandmother’s Favorite — a great one to use if you are just learning how to knit.

What does this have to do with the Life During Wartime Challenge? Plenty! It’s another way to avoid purchasing disposable items and work handmade items into your everyday life. Yarn costs less coupons than ready made (I had the yarn for these items, but you could make over a dozen washcloths with 2 or 3 coupons of yarn). Plus, knitted washcloths were one of the major ways even people with beginner knitting skills (and schoolchildren – – both boys and girls) were able to contribute to war efforts. Knit your bit!

I hope that you enjoyed my Ode to the Knitted Washcloth. Do you knit (or crochet) your cloths? If not, are you curious to try one? Do you think knitting something destined to become covered in grime is silly? Do tell!