DIY Beeswax Cloths and Back-to-School

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It’s Back-to-School, yay! It’s great to get that school-year rhythm back. Genevieve’s back at college, no longer a Freshman, but a wiser Sophomore. Tristan’s beginning his Senior Year of high school with all the excitement that goes with that, and Rich is back teaching this semester. Alas, my schedule has changed too, because I don’t have much contract work at the moment. On the plus side this means I have lots of time to catch up on housework/yardwork and try some of those life experiments I’ve been wanting to do.

Yesterday I tried out making beeswax cloths as replacements for Saran Wrap. I’d been preparing for this little experiment for a while. I found some cute cupcake cotton cloth at Jo-Ann Fabrics earlier this summer and it had been set aside for this purpose. The ingredients are quite simple. Basically you need some thin cotton fabric, beeswax, pine gum rosin, jojoba oil, a baking sheet and parchment paper for lining the baking sheet. I followed these directions from Mommypotamus.

I already had beeswax (purchased on Amazon) and jojoba oil (from the grocery store) for making cosmetics so I just needed to get the pine gum rosin. It was much cheaper buying from here than Amazon. I have parchment paper in the kitchen, so the last tool I needed was a pastry brush for smoothing the wax/rosin/oil mixture after it has started to melt.

beeswax_ingredients

So basically after mixing up a mixture of the wax, rosin and oil you melt it onto the fabric in the oven and spread it around with a brush. It’s a little bit of a sticky job, but quick. This morning after I made one of my favorite new breakfast recipes (Breakfast Pumpkin Custard) I put my first wrap to use and it performed great!

I’ll see how these perform over the longer term. They have to be hand washed in cold water, but can be re-waxed as needed. These could make fun gifts!

 

Getting Through the Summer Doldrums

Sunset over Lake Erie
Sunset over Lake Erie, Geneva, Ohio

Time to Snap out of the Doldrums

The summer is winding down finally and I’m looking forward to back-to-school. July was a tough slog. We started out the month taking Le Grand College Tour, visiting 3 schools with Tristan. First stop was Davidson College near Charlotte, NC, where we also got to visit with my sister Holly and her family. Then we drove through the Smoky Mountains to Sewanee, TN where we visited The University of the South. Finally we drove 11 hours up to Ohio, spent a day with my dad in Geneva, OH and toured Oberlin College. It was a good trip, but it left me playing catch up with work and so my pay for July was quite a bit short. The rest of the month was ho hum, coupled with car trouble and unexpected expenses.

The thing about July in Texas is that it is miserable. The rains stopped in May and it has been pretty much unrelentingly hot and dry ever since, except for two blessedly wet days. July is the month I always wish we lived in Vermont.

I was hoping that August would be my month to finally get working on this blog, but my work situation has changed enough to affect my plans. From here on out I don’t have steady work lined up, except for one day a week. I temporarily have some hours this month, so once again the blog will probably not get much attention. At a minimum, however, I wanted to give a few updates on previous posts.

My Baby Birdies (Final Update)

The day after I posted my last update on the babies (here) they were gone! Genevieve went out to check the nest and it was empty. There wasn’t any sign of trauma and all 4 birds were gone, so I optimistically take that to mean they fledged. I did some internet research and confirmed that that seemed plausible. They were 11 days old and weren’t fully feathered out yet, but apparently they often aren’t when they fledge. They’ll spend a few days in low bushes learning how to feed themselves and then it’s out in the cruel, cruel world.

Goodbye babies! We sure loved watching you.

We left the nest intact for a couple of weeks to see if mama would lay another brood, but nothing happened so the mailbox went back to its intended use by the USPS.

“Going Car-less” Update

Following up on this post about giving up my car.

Well…I had (have) good intentions and all, but we ended up buying a 3rd car in June. Genevieve wasn’t having any luck finding a job within walking distance and her old job wanted her back. With Tristan having the minivan out at camp all week we needed another vehicle. We ended up getting a new Mazda3 which is intended to be my vehicle (for the next 12 years maybe). It is very zippy and fuel efficient. I’m loving it.

Meanwhile the minivan needed thousands of dollars of repairs and after all the repairs were done it was still given a terminal diagnosis. Apparently it can’t maintain high enough oil pressure anymore because the engine is worn. So, Tristan is trying to eek out his final week at camp with it and then we’ll see what happens. At the moment we’re not intending to replace the minivan.

Looking Forward

This week I’m heading out to Pennsylvania to visit my mom, sister Sally and hopefully sister Becky too. Tristan has 1 week left working at camp and then he starts theatre practice and college applications and his final year of high school. Genevieve will be moving back to college August 20, while my husband’s stint as interim chairman of his department ends August 15th. It will be great to have everyone back to a standard routine.

I’m preparing for Fall in the garden. I’ve pulled out all the plants so I don’t have to worry about watering for a while and I’ve gotten rid of most of the weeds. It’s siesta time for Texas gardeners. I’ll be planting the winter crops in late-September.

I’m slowly working on some transformations around the house – getting rid of more plastics and using fewer disposables. This week I replaced two plastic hand soap bottles with repurposed glass bottles (beautiful cobalt blue one here). I’m filling them with hand soap that I make myself. I also bought 3 sets of new cloth napkins from a thrift store ($5/6 napkins) so that we will always have enough napkins available to use in place of paper. And, I’m looking into making beeswax cloth wraps to replace plastic wrap See post at mommypotomus.com.

Genevieve is giggling away in the other room, so life must be good.

Finding A Daily Rhythm

Part of my intention in downshifting is to take better care of what we have. That means I need to have a schedule of daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly tasks that will help organize and maintain our home life.

One of the challenges that I face by working from home is creating a daily rhythm that allows me to fulfill my responsibilities to my employers and still have time for these household tasks. For example, I expect to put in about 6 hours of work daily. I know that if I don’t get started on my paid work by 9 or 10 every morning I’m not going to be able to fulfill my work obligations. So in general my daily rhythm includes working from approximately 9:30-4:30, but there are so many additional to-do’s, appointments, and activities to fit in that I need an easy way to manage these.

Some tasks have been slipping through the cracks for quite some time. Pet meds are given late every month; the kitty litter doesn’t get changed regularly; the compost isn’t getting turned. My house plants are pathetically ill-cared for. Case in point, I recently re-potted a rubber tree plant that hadn’t been transplanted since my daughter was one (she’s 19 now)!

Each one of these failures is like a little paper-cut. It is more annoying than painful because it is a small failure and the cure is simple. I just need a way to make the tasks a natural part of life, with a very small dedication of time.

To this end, I adopted a weekly rhythm worksheet from Brooke McAlary, author of the blog Slow Your Home. Her post on creating a rhythm is available here and really inspired me. I took a printout of her worksheet, put it in a plastic sleeve, used a dry erase maker to create a weekly rhythm, and hung it on a bulletin board near my desk.

Unfortunately, I have not successfully followed it. I think the main problem is that the worksheet is “analog” and I am “digital”. I am much more likely to follow and pay attention to something that is available to me on all of my laptops and devices. In particular, I have found that on weekends I use my iphone/ipad and don’t spend much time in my home “office”. If the rhythm isn’t in front of me I forget about it.

So I did some research and decided to try out the app 2Do (2Doapp.com). I’ve just finished a trial period of 2Do on my Mac and now I need to decide if I will buy it. Overall I like it, but I am bummed that I have to buy it twice, once for Mac, once for iOS. I almost never buy apps, preferring free ones, but I think I’m making an exception in this case because it is a really great productivity tool.

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There are still some things I failed to do, even using the 2Do app. The main one is weekly menu planning – maybe I am just never going to get to the point where I do this. One of my least favorite things to do is pick out meals, so picking out a week’s worth of meals at once just seems too daunting. I also added a daily task called “decluttering”. That one needs to go too.  It is too vague to be helpful.

I have been much more attentive to the following things: kitty litter (Mickey says ‘Thank you’), the compost (both emptying my kitchen bin and turning the piles), vacuuming (gah! 2 fur-shedding beasts), and laundry. I’ve added monthly tasks, such as washing the dog bed and administering pet meds, and quarterly tasks such as paying my self-employment taxes.

One big task yet to put into my rhythm is writing time for this blog. I have so many ideas started – with photos taken, resources gathered, just no words “put to paper” yet. Some changes are coming in August and with them I am hoping to really devote a lot of time to this blog and getting connected to a broader community. Meanwhile I intend to continue to fine-tune my rhythm and find more time for creating!

Baby Birdies

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Version 2

We’re having fun watching the babies grow. They have a lot more feathers now on their heads and wings, but still kind of naked on the backside. There are usually 3 poking their heads out of the nest. I’m really hoping the 4th one is still alive and just really shy. They still don’t make any peeps or cheeps, which is probably a good thing so that predators don’t know where they are.

Egg Update: We have Babies!

The eggs have hatched. We have 4 naked little babies in the nest. I couldn’t get a great photo because I didn’t want Mama to get mad at me, but you can see one in front with beak and right leg. They aren’t making any peeps yet. Genevieve says they are always napping. I’m surprised at how big they are compared to the egg. Imagine being all curled up on yourself inside an egg! I have to be extra careful now to make sure the cat doesn’t get out. She knows something is going on… 👿

Going Car-less

My Bike
My Wheels

I Gave Up My Car

…sort of. Early this year when my son Tristan got his Driver’s License I gave him my car to use for school. In many ways this was a great relief for me, no longer needing to drive him to his magnet school every morning; not needing to pick him up from theater practice 5 nights a week.

Of course I’ve had to make a lot of adjustments.

  • I already took the bus to my downtown job, but now I have to catch the closest bus, not the swanky MetroRapid bus that I would pick up at the Park & Ride.
  • On Tuesday mornings I have to leave the house 30 minutes earlier so that I can walk the 1.5 miles to my appointment with my personal trainer.
  • I have to plan grocery shopping more carefully since I either have to wait for Tristan to get home (which is after 7 pm) or I have to ride my bike to the store.
  • I can’t just head out to run errands. Everything needs to be done at night or on the weekends
  • I have to be careful about scheduling appointments, such as vet visits, etc. during the week so that I can make sure Tristan has alternate transportation arrangements if I need the car that day.
  • I have to allocate more travel-time to get from place to place.

So How Is This Working Out For Me?

Well, while the weather was still cold I really enjoyed walking. We were blessed with a very mild winter and a beautiful spring and I was able to take advantage of that. I found that by walking I noticed many little things that I would have missed. It felt good and I felt more connected to my surroundings. I didn’t break out my bike unless I needed to head to the grocery store.

Now, however, the temperature has turned downright unpleasant. We’re hitting the 90’s and “Hot & Steamy” is the forecast. Walking is going to be out-of-the-question quite soon, so I guess I’ll be biking more.

Should We Buy A Third Car?

Not having a third car has proved to be a bit of a problem now that my daughter Genevieve is home from college for the summer. Tristan needs “my car” for his summer camp job Sunday through Friday. This means that Genevieve can’t go back to the job she had last summer because we don’t have a car for her to use (last summer she used mine). She’s been restricted to applying for jobs that she can walk to, which I thought would be great, but so far she hasn’t gotten a job offer.

I am really hoping to avoid buying another car for a number of reasons:

  • I don’t want to take on a car payment for the next 4-5 years, especially since I’m working fewer hours.
  • I’d like reduce our carbon footprint, not increase it.
  • I don’t know what kind of car I would want. I really liked my minivan. It’s been a great car, but Mazda doesn’t make it anymore and in the near future we really won’t need the room a minivan provides. The car I might want to buy for me is not necessarily the same car that I want my kids driving. I’m thinking a small sub-compact manual transmission for me, but a safe, tank-like, already-been-banged-up vehicle for the kids.

 

My Favorite Lifestyle Authors and Bloggers

Shady Sanctuary

 

I believe it was sometime in mid 2012 when a co-worker introduced me to Leo Babauta and his blog Zen Habits. I was a big iGoogle user and had my Firefox homepage set to my iGoogle portal with all of my widgets, including the RSS feed reader Google Reader. I think Zen Habits was the first blog I ever subscribed to and Leo really influenced a lot of the directions my life has taken since then. My favorite post is still Simple Living Manifesto: 72 Ideas to Simplify Your Life.

I now use Feedly and have quite a few blogs I love to follow:

  • Zen Habits – The start of the journey.
  • Slow Your Home – I love Brooke McAlary’s blog, especially the older posts before she switched to the podcast format. It is thanks to Brooke that I was introduced to Down To Earth.
  • Be More With Less – Courtney Carver is very inspiring, especially for decluttering and living with less.
  • Always Well Within – Sandra Pawula always illuminates the spiritual healing and peace that I am seeking in my quest for simplicity.
  • Mark’s Daily Apple – I think the Primal lifestyle addresses a lot of the aspects of modern life that make us unhealthy and unhappy. Plus, Mark’s Weekend Link Love posts are always great reading.
  • Down To Earth – Rhonda Hetzel’s absolutely lovely blog that has encouraged me to enjoy and take pride in homemaking.
  • Green Living Ideas – A more commercial site, but still some good ideas.

 

Books:

  • Practically Green: Your Guide to Ecofriendly Decision-Making by Micaela Preston – I got this e-book for free on my Nook e-reader but it really struck a chord with me.
  • Down To Earth: A Guide to Simple Living by Rhonda Hetzel – A coffee-table-beautiful book full of inspiration and practical guidance.

 

For Green Cleaning and Other DIY Recipes:

  • Don’t Mess With Mama -Tracey Black presents lots of DIY recipes and tutorials for cleansers and beauty products using essential oils.
  • Clean Mama – Becky offers some good DIY green cleaners and lots of other home keeping advice.

 

For Blogging Encouragement:

  • Just a Girl and Her Blog – Just the inspiration and firm nudge that I needed to get my blog created and start writing.

Nest + Eggs

A Mama Birdie has moved into our mailbox. I noticed Monday evening that our mail was perched precariously atop the mailbox instead of in it. Apparently, unobserved over the weekend, mama built a very nice nest inside our rather unique mailbox. We’ve had nests in it before, but they were all abandoned. Rich thought I should clean it out, thinking it was a terrible place for a bird to put her nest, but I didn’t and then there was an egg! Then two! And now three!

Mama has flown out of the nest a few times when I poke my head in. She’s “a little brown jobbie” as my mother-in-law would say. I have to say the size of her eggs in proportion to her body is quite large! Ouch.

I hope the babies survive to hatch. Meanwhile I will be inconveniencing the USPS for awhile.

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8 Downsides To Working From Home

 Pololū Valley overlook
Aloha from The Big Island

I’m back from a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii, a birthday gift from me to my husband for his 50th birthday. Rich and I loved Hawaii – particularly the Kona region on my part, although Kohala comes in a close second. Aloha! Unfortunately, we’re not ready to retire and relocate there, so it’s back to the grind for us.

Today I am working at home in my “garage” office and finally couldn’t stand it any more. I had to write this post about the downsides to working at home. Why? Because my neighbor’s yard crew was here using every imaginable piece of landscaping machinery, seemingly right outside my door. It was driving me crazy!

So here are my challenges to working from home:

  1. Noise Pollution. Nobody seems to do their own yard work anymore, or have any idea what a rake is, AND everybody hires a different yard company. That means that every day of the week there could be another yard crew with their noisy leaf blowers, riding mowers, and hedge trimmers. Additionally, the houses in my neighborhood have reached that terminal age where it is cheaper to tear them down and rebuild than to remodel, which brings the accompanying demolition and construction noise. Hydraulic nail guns are the worst!
  2. Telemarking Phone Calls. The phone rings a lot more than I thought it would. So I ignore it. If it’s important they’ll leave a message, right?
  3. My Pets Are Attention-Junkies. They think I’m here to give them unlimited attention. I often have “cat-in-lap” syndrome. Additionally, the dog has now unilaterally moved her walkie time up to about 4 pm (it used to be 7 or 8).
  4. Home Office Investments. I wanted my “office space” away from the rest of the house, so I moved into our former carport/garage. I repurposed an antique drop-leaf table we already owned to be my desk, but I did need a few other things. I bought a rolling office chair and chair mat. I don’t personally own my two work laptops, but I invested in a large apple monitor and external keyboard and mouse. A real limiting factor for the first few months was our internet. My space was just too far away from the WIFI so we had to get extenders to improve connectivity.
  5. Lack of Boundary between Work and Home. This is kind of self-explanatory, but for me it is important to separate work space and work time from home life. That’s one reason my “office” is isolated from the rest of the house. Especially on days when the rest of the family might be home on holiday but I am working (no banking holidays for the self-employed!) I need to be able to “go to work” and have a quiet place to concentrate. On the flip side, when it is family time I want my work out of sight.
  6. Distractions. It is very easy to want to multitask or otherwise get distracted by all other aspects of life and home.
  7. It’s More Difficult to Interact and Connect with Co-workers.  I contract for two clients. I have one company I work for only on Mondays, but until 18 months ago I was in the office everyday, 30 hours a week. I knew my co-workers and felt invested in them. That’s not the case anymore. I don’t know the newer employees and they don’t know me. With my friend Richard, whom I work for 4 days a week, we connect via Skype and meet in person about once every two weeks. I’ve known Richard for years and we worked together on the same team for a number of years, so this arrangement works very well.
  8. There’s Always Food Around. It’s tempting to snack and at the same time really boring eating whatever is in the house.

First Fruits of the Warm Season

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First fruits from the garden this season – beets, tomato, banana pepper and french green beans

p.s. and a Very Happy Birthday to my daughter Genevieve!