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Our Natural Cleaners

Drew and I are lucky to have such wonderful mothers who helped us clean our new home as soon as we moved in (and thanks to those ceilings…not to mention that the superficial cleaning by the woman who lived there previously…there was plenty to clean). You won’t find the standard cleaners in our home. We don’t have a separate bottle of something for the toilet, and the sink, and the kitchen counters, nope! Whenever my mother or mother-in-law asked me what to use to start cleaning something my answer was (to their annoyance) vinegar and baking soda!

How to use vinegar and baking soda…FOR EVERYTHING

Vinegar is an acid (acetic acid to be precise). This makes vinegar great at breaking down grime while still being safe to inhale, touch, and heck even lick if you were so inclined. It is antimicrobial and is comparative to bleach in it’s efficiency (source) with being safer to handle. Vinegar is a GREAT window cleaner [spray vinegar on glass and wipe down with newspaper. Be aware it will probably get ink on white windows, but that’s easily wiped off with…guess what? MORE VINEGAR!]. If you’re worried about the smell (which if you’re using ‘traditional’ cleaners this point is kind of moot) it dissipates pretty quickly, I promise your home won’t be smelling like vinegar 24/7. It’s also a mold-killer. Spray it in the bathroom or other problem areas to help keep mold at bay.

Baking Soda is a base (sodium bicarbonate). It’s a great mini-abrasive. Combine it with some sort of solution (water, oil, etc) in different consistencies depending on how abrasive you need it to be. It is also a great deodorizer. Sprinkle it on the carpet, leave it for a bit, and vacuum it up. Leave an open box in the fridge. Add some to some smelly laundry. It’s also perfectly safe to handle.

What happens when you combine these two powerhouses?

They explode! Yeah, it’s not as exciting as it might sound. We’ve all seen the volcano at the science fair, the bubbly oozing lava. This is the reaction of baking soda and vinegar. For the chemistry nerds out there (too much Breaking Bad?) here’s the skinny on that lava:

Two things happen. First, the initial reaction of the acetic acid and the sodium bicarbonate produces sodium acetate and carbonic acid (NaHCO3 + HC2H3O2 → NaC2H3O2 + H2CO3). The second step to this (which is where the bubbles come in) is where the carbonic acid, the unstable little guy he is, decides to become dihydrogen oxide (the name water uses at fancy dinner parties) and carbon dioxide. So, when baking soda and vinegar meet, they neutralize each other (as acids and bases tend to do) and you’re left with water, salt, and carbon dioxide. Moral of the story: Don’t store vinegar and baking soda together for cleaning, because they lose their power.

BUT

Sometimes these two things together can actually be helpful! While the end-product of the reaction is essentially worthless (other than water being the universal solvent and salt being a bit abrasive) the reaction itself can be awesome-sauce for things such as drain cleaning. Pouring hot water and vinegar down the drain can help loosen and degrade grime. Chasing this with a sprinkle of baking soda and another splash of vinegar helps officially remove the hard-to-get-to grime that was just loosened. Chase that with some more hot water and voila! Clean drains that hopefully don’t smell like The Bog of Eternal Stench (kudos if you get the reference).

Honorable Mention

While we use baking soda and vinegar 90% of the time, there are some other key players that show their faces.

Hydrogen peroxide – Yeah buddy! This guy is magic. Dog just puke on your carpet? fugeddaboutit. This stuff is natural oxyclean and is especially great with fresh organic stains (blood, grass, puke). When it is reacting to something, it is essentially becoming oxygen and water. This stuff makes your whites whiter (including teeth – you’ll usually find it in toothpaste), your house cleaner, and your life easier. We use this as a mouthwash (1T diluted in 3T water every couple weeks), in our laundry, and as a stain remover. Combine this stuff with vinegar and you have an even more powerful disinfectant (this creates peracetic acid – spray each separately, do not store together).

Disclaimer: Do not mix chemicals unless you are sure about their safety. These are things I have looked into and use personally. Please don’t randomly mix any chemicals thinking they’ll be good together unless you KNOW how they will react.

References

http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/science/vinegar-baking-soda-the-ultimate-cleanser?page=1

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrogen_peroxide

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Home Sweet Home

This past Saturday was our official housewarming celebration. 9 months earlier, on a warm weekend in February, we moved from our small one bedroom apartment to a promising four bedroom. Although the scale of the move and the work ahead were equally enormous, we retained that sense of hope and maintained a positive outlook for the future.  We have done a lot since February and there is a lot more to come, but the house we moved into is finally starting to feel like a home – it feels like ours.

In no particular order, we have:

  • Painted almost EVERY wall. I was so tired of white/beige walls that are pretty much mandatory when renting. We went bold. Red dining room, yellow kitchen, orange living room, green master, and one blue bathroom and one purple bathroom. We also did a lovely sandy neutral in our hallway, breezeway, and guest bedroom. Go big or go home I say, and it seemed to have worked out well for us so far!860787_717592104168_2066497320_o
  • Scraped and painted the ceilings. Oh man. I DO NOT recommend anyone ever doing this more than once. Once is plenty. The scraping came very easy (spray water with some white vinegar, let sit briefly and it scrapes right off). The mess was…there are no words. We are STILL finding bits of popcorn in the baseboards and for a while everything had a nice sheen of white dust. This worked out well since we were doing so much work in our home, but if you have things already set up and pretty…seriously reconsider! The painting was the worst. It’s neck and back breaking. Get a package discount from your massage therapist or your chiropractor because you’ll need it! That being said…it was totally worth it. The ceilings look awesome. We didn’t bother sanding (it took like an hour to sand a small 6″ x 6″ patch)…we nixed that idea pretty darn quick. The ceilings were left with a nice texture, but made the rooms seem so much bigger.IMG_20130220_190642_143
  • Pulled up carpet and refinished hardwood. Okay, we didn’t refinish the hardwood ourselves, but we did pull the carpets up ourselves! This was actually one of the things I had the most fun with (excluding trying to maneuver unwieldy carpets downstairs and into the living room…although hindsight is 20/20 and we could have done this MUCH better by rolling them as we pulled rather than going at them wild-man style). I’ve been told it was the style in the 70s to cover up beautiful hardwood floors with carpet. Sad. They have been recovered and are back to life and looking great!floor
  • Painted all the baseboards. They all are a nice cream that matches a built in we have in the living room. No more grey and rust!
  • Painted our kitchen cabinets and back-splash. We did a lot of painting if you haven’t noticed already. Our kitchen cabinets were…wait for it…rust and avocado colored. Yeah. They became white and the avocado back-splash also became white. It opened the kitchen right up and made it much fresher and clean looking.
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We have done other odds-and-ends but those were the biggest bits. Decorating has been coming along smoothly. Drew and I are fans of secondhand items not only for the green-friendly aspect of recycling but for the addition of character. Some things we buy new like carpets and linens, but a lot of our furniture and wall decor is secondhand. We are thrift/consignment pros at this point, and love trolling a good flea market or yard sale. The more you go, the easier it is to be creative and find that “diamond in the rough”. Both of us have a hard time picturing things as whole completed rooms or ideas so we slowly assemble rooms as we see things. It drives my mother crazy :).

Homesteading

We have many plans for what we would call homesteading.  But first, what do we want to get out of homesteading? We are interested in living simply and more in line with nature (although Drew does mention “canning” and “zombies” in the same breath – it’s hard to tell if he’s joking). There’s just something about the slow, mindful way of living that greatly appeals to me.

A garden is a major piece of the homesteading puzzle. We’ve barely done anything outdoors besides the heirloom tomatoes Drew got from his cousin which he planted in part of our retaining wall (the soil was too sandy and the plants suffered as a result, but we did get a few nice tomatoes). This is actually helpful because we’ve been able to see how our land behaves across the seasons. Now we know what to expect, and have a grasp on what we have to work with.  Although the outside is for the most part untouched, inside we have been up to some rather interesting experiments.

Rendering lard/tallow – We LOVE our lard especially. We get all of our meats (organ, bones, and fat) from local farms. We take the large slabs of leaf lard or suet, grind it up using our KitchenAid attachment, and render it in the oven. Mmmm, so good!

Bone/meat stocks – We have a regular supply of stocks in our freezer. Chicken and beef mostly since we get them from our CSA/half shares but on the occasion we get a duck or have a turkey, which we make sure find their way to the bottom of a stock pot

Ferments – We are slowly but surely exploring the world of fermentation. We make water kefir regularly, but have been trying to resuscitate a bad batch. Recently we made a ginger bug and made ginger ale (oh man…SO good), and we currently have a large half gallon of fire cider brewing (Drew’s baby).

Compost – We started composting our kitchen scraps in our small apartment by vermicompost. We have a worm 360 that has been growing and producing very well, and we plan to add more trays to the bin to compensate for the worms deep appetite.

Things to watch out for

So, as is quite obvious, we are still in the beginning of our journey. We have many plans for this Home Sweet Home of ours:

  • The ever essential garden. This is pretty much mandatory and we CAN NOT WAIT to get it started. We have the unfortunate task of digging out the sand/stone of the previous owners’ pool before we can insert our raised beds. Here is our garden plan (each square is a foot. The top is our retaining wall that holds our deck):

garden

  • Husbandry. We would like to have our own ducks and possibly chickens for egg harvesting. We have a nice little stream that might be perfect for duck housing. We also might be interested in getting goats somewhere down the line. Ducks will probably be the first…stay tuned for that adventure!
  • Bees. We would also like to start our own honey production. We use honey a lot as a sweetener and have a lot of interest in beeswax for water proofing and candle making
  • Compost. A nice compost system for our lawn-odds-and-ends. This will come mostly from kitchen scraps and composted leaves, but if we do commit to chickens and ducks, their manure will blend in nicely.
  • Random bits – Like planting some fruit trees, using permaculture, and up-cycling/reusing what we already have, building a rain catch system or perhaps repairing the well that is on our property

So, there’s our homestead as we see it unfolding Soon we will make a post about the upcoming season and the projects that we will be completing. Stay tuned!

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Get Off My Lawn

The area next to and behind the garage has slowly been filling up with fallen leaves.  It’s hidden by the cars, for the most part, and easily overlooked.  Last weekend though, after sweeping the driveway of pine needles, Rachel took it upon herself to start raking up those out-of-sight-out-of-mind leaves.  She busted her hump for over an hour, but as leaves tend to do, they kept falling.

I’d been tossing around the idea of building a compost pile for the leaves ever since reading about it on another blog, but I never got the motivation to start it; after all, most of them fall beyond what we consider our “yard”.  But it’s been floating somewhere between the back and front of my mind, and we shouldn’t be so quick to ignore a potential source of quality compost (not to mention free!).

So, starting on Wednesday and continuing this evening, I finished raking up the leaves. It became an ample pile, to be sure, mixed with pine needles, pine cones, fallen sticks, grass clippings, and dirt. Munstock also took an interest in the pile, sticking his muzzle in and getting a deep inhale of earthy goodness.  Using a tote as a faux-shovel, I moved the pile behind the garage where it’s sunny and flat and wrapped the dog’s pen around it (which we bought and used only once).   Although it’s not as tight as chicken wire I feel it should be enough to hold the pile until it starts to decompose

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We have about a year to break this pile down and I’m not sure how long it’s supposed to take. I know you can add nitrogen rich fertilizer to the pile to help the decomposition process if needed, but since that pile is the majority of what we’ve raked up I don’t think we will need to.  Regardless, I was still thinking of picking up some blood meal, which is a fertilizer that has the highest nitrogen content available. We can always find a use for it, I’m sure. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_meal)

Anyways, the compost pile is started.  The leaves aren’t done falling, so we’re not done raking, but it feels good to finally commit to something we’ve been meaning to do, even if it is something that is small and out of mind.

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FAM – not your mother’s birth control

Let’s talk sex…ish. Ever since humans have been having sex we’ve been coming up with ways to avoid pregnancy. Lamb intestine, spitting into a fogs mouth three times after doing the deed (I could not make this up), and the modern day condom. Here’s a fun video about the past, present, and future of birth control (sidenote: I ❤ SciShow).

Some fertility basics

Did you know that the woman herself is only fertile for 24-48 hours in her cycle? Yuuuup. Ovulation is the release of the egg, which only lives 24-48 hours.  It’s those tricksy sperm complicate things a bit. When a woman approaches ovulation her lady-bits make the place super comfy for sperm to hang out. It orders them pizza, cleans the sheets, and turns on the Xbox. (In reality the cervical mucus changes to help nourish sperm and allow them to last 5-7 days). So when on any other day the cervical mucus does not help support these guys, they die in a few hours. So, taking into consideration the lifespan of sperm in fertile cervical mucus and the lifespan of the egg during ovulation we can assume a woman is potentially fertile for 6-9 days (source).

Why I found FAM – Hormonal birth control

Hormonal birth control is a very popular go-to for pregnancy prevention. We all know someone whose on it, has been on it, and have probably even been on it ourselves. Hormonal birth control does two specific things (one or both):

  1. It prevents the egg from being released for ovulation.
  2. It makes the vaginal environment inhospitable to sperm. (source)

We all hear the warnings that we shouldn’t smoke, there’s an increased risk if you’re over 35, etc, etc. We know it’s been known to lower libido, that it can cause weight gain, and that it’s supposedly supposed to help prevent ovarian and endometrial cancer. We hear these things and chose to go on them anyways because it’s easier and “I can handle the side effects”. However, how many woman do you know that have done the pill, patch, ring musical chairs game? I know I was one of them. Many woman complain about feeling “off” and there is a possibility of it effecting your future fertility depending on when in your life you went on it (article).

Don’t get me wrong. Some people do well on hormonal birth control. Some people simply cannot have kids and this is a good option for them. My goal is not to prevent someone from using hormonal birth control if it’s their choice, but to instead give more information about it. Information I wish I had when I went on the pill 11 years ago at the tender age of 15. After learning more about hormonal birth control, I decided to come off it (sidenote: I probably would not been able to do this mentally if I wasn’t in a “comfortable” time in my life for having an ‘oops’ although now I am 100% trustworthy of this when done right).

FAM

So, now that I’ve brought you up to speed a bit, what exactly is this FAM and why should I care? Well if you haven’t already guessed, FAM stands for fertility awareness method and it is a way of preventing (AND planning) pregnancy (also called Natural Family Planning in religious circles). Let me start this off with a preface: FAM is NOT the rhythm/calendar method, but it does tend to get lumped in with it. The rhythm/calendar method assumes all woman have 28 day cycles and ovulate on CD (cycle day) 14. It does not consider annovulatory cycles (woman who do not ovulate) or any other oddities we women face on any given cycle. FAM is similarly as effective as condoms are:

  • In one year with perfect use (meaning couples use condoms consistently and correctly at every act of sex), 98 percent of women relying on male condoms will remain pregnancy free. With typical use, 85 percent relying on male condoms will remain pregnancy free.(source)

The failure rate of fertility awareness varies widely depending on the system used to identify fertile days, the instructional method, and the population being studied. Some studies have found actual failure rates of 25% per year or higher. At least one study has found a failure rate of less than 1% per year with continuous intensive coaching and monthly review, and several studies have found actual failure rates of 2-3% per year.

When used correctly and consistently (i.e., perfect use) with ongoing coaching, under study conditions some studies have found some forms of FA to be 99% effective. (source)

The main aspect of FAM is tracking basal body temperature immediately after waking up in the morning. What does that have to do with fertility? I’m glad you asked.

So. A woman’s cycle is broken up into two general phases: follicular phase (pre-ovulation) and the luteal phase (post-ovulation).

  • The follicular phase is the first phase of the cycle (which begins the day you get your period). This phase is “run” by estrogen.
  • The luteal phase is the second phase of the cycle (which begins the day after ovulation). This phase is “run” by progesterone.

080000-Menstrual_Cycle

Now, the thing that is awesome-sauce is that progesterone causes basal body temperature to rise. So by tracking temperatures we are able to pinpoint the day of ovulation (the day before the temperature spike). Of course there are nuances for some people (example: some people are “slow-risers” which means it takes some time for their temp to spike). This is essential for people trying to avoid pregnancy. 3 days after ovulation is confirmed the woman is infertile and cannot get pregnant.

The second piece of the puzzle is cervical mucus (what a lovely word). Remember when I mentioned the sperm-hotel that is created before ovulation? Well, there is a way to tell how well set up those spermies really are. There are different degrees of cervical mucus (I know, right?). Tracking when CM begins to be fertile (which essentially is when it’s anything other than “dry”) will determine when a woman’s fertile phase begins. Something to note for those who are die-hard pregnancy avoiders is that it is possible to be fertile on your period, unlikely, but possible.

Other info

You can also see how by knowing when you’re fertile and infertile also helps achieve pregnancy when the time comes. Win-win. The “downside” to this method is that during the fertile phase a alternative method of contraception (or an alternative method of getting frisky) is required.

I would think this is obvious, but this does not protect against STDs. If you’re at risk, or have an STD yourself, this probably is not your method.

Helpful tools

Charting can be complicated and tiresome when done on paper. There are helpful gadgets that can make this much easier.

LadyComp/Pearly – This is a neat little device with a thermometer. It takes your BBT every morning and automatically gives you a green, yellow, or red light to indicate your current fertility. (Green is not-fertile so it’s a bit trying-to-avoid biased…but you can still use it when trying to conceive). This is one of the simplest ways to use FAM. No cervical mucus or anything else to track. For more information about LadyComp visit their website.

OvuView/Fertility Friend/TCOYF online/Kindara – These are a few of the many period/fertility trackers that can be found as smartphone apps (TCOYF is an online site). We have the darn things on us all the time, might as well use them for easy fertility tracking while we’re at it! They usually can help you predict upcoming periods and automatically pinpoint your ovulation date. OvuView is my personal favorite. It’s pretty, easy, and accurate.

If you’re interested in learning more about FAM I suggest you check out the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler, MPH. This little post is not nearly enough run down for someone to start using this method “safely” and this is the book of all books on this method. Seriously…even if you don’t plan on using this method for prevention or achievement, this book is just awesome for learning about the cycle and all the neat little things. I’m a fangirl.

Rant

I am very interested in human sexuality and health. FAM strums all my crunchy, healthy chords and then some. I’m glad I stumbled upon it. However it also makes me angry. Not FAM itself, but that knowledge like this isn’t more well known. Why is this not being taught in health class? This is legit sexual reproduction knowledge. This is science. I feel kind of cheated truth be told. I feel this is knowledge every woman should have (and I hope I’m not grasping when I also include them men in this). It seems we’re all wandering around with only partial knowledge of our own bodies when the information is easily graspable. It just makes me sad. You can be assured that my children will know these things.

/Rant