The Cider Box | Tiny House Swoon

I love this!  This has to be my favorite exterior design of a Tiny House by far.  The side entrance floor plans seem to have a more functional flow of all the Tiny House designs I’ve examined, and I much prefer the light that french doors provide.  The kitchen and stairs would need reworking to suit us, and the interior is a bit dark for my taste, but this one is really close to meeting our needs.  Check out additional pictures on Tiny House Swoon.

Check out additional interior photos here: The Cider Box | Tiny House Swoon



Homemade Laundry Soap: A Year Without Commercial Detergent

It was just about a year ago that my boyfriend and I were inspired to make our own laundry soap.  Ok, I was mostly the one who was inspired.  He was supportive, willing to lend his clothes to experimentation, and happily muscled through the grating of the Fels Naptha (not fun).

You’ll find several recipes for homemade laundry soap scattered around the internet.  For ease of assembly, I chose to go with the powdered version.  That, and I’m frugal.  I blame my Scottish mother.  After comparing ingredients and weighing the pros and cons, here’s the recipe we ended up following:

2 (5.5 oz) Bars of Fels-Naptha (If you can’t find it locally, check Amazon)
  • 1 (5 lb) Bag of Arm & Hammer Baking Soda
  • 1 (4 lb 12 oz) Box of Borax
  • 1 (3 lb 7 oz) Box of Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda
1 (3 lb) Box or Tub of OxiClean
  • Optional:  Several drops of essential oils

Grate the Fels-Naptha soap bar, then put the grated soap into a blender or food processor and blend or pulse until it’s a fine powder.  Combine with remaining ingredients in a large container.  A 3-5 gallon bucket works best.  Use only 1-2 tablespoons per load.

Note:  If stored in a semi-damp basement as ours is, you’ll want to break up the detergent occasionally.  One of the few drawbacks is that it wants to clump in a moist environment.

The Bottom Line:  We paid slightly over $30 for all ingredients, as I recall.  They could have been purchased for less, but I shopped from the comfort of my living room sofa, and didn’t have to step foot into a large chain retail store (big bonus).  We average about 4-5 loads of laundry per week, and a year later, we still have about 2-3 cups left.  I’m probably using closer to 2 tablespoons per load since I do large loads.  My cost is closer to .12 cents per load of laundry, but others have reported .05 and .06 cents per use.  It cleans well enough, but we are an English teacher and IT worker.  We do play in the dirt on the weekends, and clothes come out clean and fresh.  Our youngest children are of the teenage variety, so I can’t speak to the stain removal capabilities for things like strained spinach and carrots.  Occasionally, an oily spot will need an additional wash to come clean.

Although the resulting costs per load (due to my heavy handedness) were double what I’d originally read, I feel good about doing this for a number of reasons:

  1. The amount of packaging saved is significant.  I always preferred liquid detergents. Plastics, even when recycled, are often shipped to China for processing, which has an additional environmental impact.
  2. The laundry soap is phosphate free and biodegradable. Environmentally responsible companies have created phosphate-free, biodegradable detergents, but the cost of these can be prohibitive.  This homemade version is both earth and budget friendly.
  3. Even at 12-cents per load, the savings over commercial detergent is significant.  I imagine we’ve saved a minimum of $100 by making this ourselves.
  4. There is satisfaction in simplification – in doing things the way our grandparents may have.

We are due to make another batch soon, and I think this time, I may research various liquid recipes and try something new, just for comparison.  If you have a great liquid laundry soap recipe, please let me know!



My Latest Obsession: Tiny Homes

As another year draws to an end and I reflect on life, where I am, and where I truly want to be, I’ve come to a realization.  Though I want to live more simply, deliberately, years can just slip away, one day at a time.  Without a deliberate attempt to escape it, I’ve become stuck in a culture and way of life that is out of alignment with my values.  It’s easy to get stuck here, really.  Humans tend to value stability and have an aversion to change.  Getting up the courage to take the first step is probably the hardest part.

My vacation this week has been spent doing much research and desiring to make a change.  Tiny Homes are again on my radar.  Over the years I’ve researched many alternate building techniques and alternate housing possibilities.  As my partner and I creep ever closer to 50, and as both our youngest are due to leave the nest in 2.5 years, a major life-change is certainly possible.  We are tree-hugging, eco-minded introverts, and suddenly the ability to live anywhere is extremely enticing.  I’ve always come back to Tiny Homes in my research, and it may be the portability that’s the strongest draw.  Build it first, then figure out what the heck you’re going to do, and where you’re going to live.

Of all the examples I’ve stumbled upon, I think my favorite has to be The Tiny Project.  What an amazing use of space.  I don’t think I’d change a thing except possibly the upholstery on the couch.  After looking at so many, that’s saying something!

We have so much waste in our culture, and have a tendency to accumulate way more than we need.  We then store it in living spaces that are much larger than necessary, or even reasonable.  So much of our time is spent working to just accumulate “stuff”, and we’re left with so little time to live.

Tiny Home

Tiny Home

A Tiny House is now part of our plan, and may just fall in line with our girls’ departure for college in 2.5 years, though we may just need 2 Tiny Homes for when they come home to visit.  Ideally, we would have the ability to be off-grid: propane range, refrigerator, water heater; solar outlets/light fixtures, and a well for water.  While we may not go off-grid immediately, having the ability to do so is something we want to incorporate.

I think the first step is just going to be getting rid of the unneeded “stuff” that just creeps into our lives, and I’m suddenly very motivated to do so after spending hours upon hours perusing tiny homes.  Time to make a donation before the tax year ends!

Life Lessons

Sometimes, it takes a lifetime to learn the most simple of lessons.  If I could give these as a gift to my children, would I?  The lessons we are placed on this earth to learn are those that can really only be learned though hardship, conflict, and angst.

Today I reflect upon my life.  Somehow, I feel that in my 46 years, I have served my purpose and learned my lessons.  I’ve learned so much, and have come so far, and yet I hope there are many more lessons to learn.  When you stop learning, you stop growing.

For most of my life, I felt so out of touch, so painfully like a puzzle piece that people kept trying to shove into the wrong spot:  I looked like I fit, but I was a little different – not quite right.  Maybe life is about not fitting into the puzzle.  Maybe it’s about being the piece that drops on the floor, never fitting into that pre-defined space, and perhaps finding peace among the dust bunnies (and the occasional dead spider) in the Dyson.  I am at peace, and am thankful I’ve reached this place in my life.

The things I know/rules to live by:

  1. Be kind
  2. Work hard
  3. Live life like everything you do (and think) will eventually be known
  4. Learn to appreciate the beauty in the simplest of things
  5. Love without fear
  6. Listen to your intuition
  7. Be thankful every day
  8. Forgive, and understand everyone has their own journey

I’ve been absent for a while, learning more lessons, applying for re-written job descriptions within my organization.  Thankfully, after two months of upheaval and chaos in the workplace, I will continue to be employed.  Twenty percent (yes, that’s 20%) of my colleagues in IT Operations will cease to be employed.  I wish them luck, and thank them for participating in my journey.  Life will unfold as it should, and though our paths have diverged, we will all end up where we are supposed to be, learning what we should.

A Day of Reflection

Today was amazing – the kind of day you wish every day could be. Nothing earth-shattering or unusually significant happened, but I awoke with a sense of inner peace and joy, and carried it with me throughout the day. This is my intent each and every day, but today it was effortless. Smiles at strangers returned the same, but their faces were filled with such a magnitude of cheer. Today, the world was smiling back at me.

Upon calling my sister (The Gardening Hotline) to find out if my kale starts were too leggy, she reminded me that today was the 19th anniversary of our mother’s death. Maybe I wasn’t alone today.

Though my mother and I were so very different, I have her to thank for me becoming who I am today. She was a boarding-school raised society girl, an extrovert, a sorority sister, and a brilliant intellectual. I spit the silver spoon out at a young age, never felt the need to join a group (and be labeled), and ended up doing things the hard way my entire life. Much to my mother’s chagrin, I learned things by doing, and certainly not by listening. We would find ourselves at odds regularly.

About a month before her death, she shared words that I will never forget: “Karen, I have never worried about you. I worry about your sisters, but never about you.” It was in that moment that I realized that she did know me, as separate and different as we were. She saw me before I even had a clue who I was.

Thank you, Mom. Were it not for the challenges of our relationship, I would not be who I am today. I wish I’d had more insight in my 20s and could have thanked you in person, but I had so far to go before I could appreciate the lessons. Your grandchildren are amazing, and you would also never worry about them. Thank you for your legacy. You were honestly one of the most amazing people I’ve ever known, and I’m sorry I wasn’t able to fully appreciate you in your lifetime. At least I’ve learned to in mine.

Weekend Project: An Inexpensive Raised Bed

This time of year, I itch to get out into the garden, and I’ve been dreaming of expanding the available vegetable gardening area for months now.  This past weekend, my boyfriend and I (ok, mostly my boyfriend) constructed a cheap raised bed to partially fill an otherwise useless side yard.

Raised bed built from fence pickets

Raised bed built from fence pickets

Materials we used:

  • 6-foot Cedar fence pickets (rot resistant, and inexpensive):  These were on a coupon special from McLendon’s (Western WA). We bought 6 for this plan at a price of $1.28/each, or a total of $7.68.  
  • 1- 8′ foot 2×4 for corner support and cross-support (non-pressure treated, due to potential food contamination issues)
  • Self-drilling screws (these were the most expensive item aside from the compost/soil)
  • Trim for added stability (we used 1x2s)
  • Compost/topsoil – We used 7 cubic feet of compost and 4 cubic feet of topsoil.

This is a great basic and inexpensive bed to build, and pieces can be pre-cut at your local hardware store.  Using self drilling screws means the only real tool needed is a screw driver (cordless drill with phillips bit) if material is pre-cut.  We assembled it as follows:

The basic instructions:

  • Cut corner supports to 12″ lengths
  • Attach sides, using 2 full length 6′ fence boards for the long sides, and 1 halved 6′ fence board for each of the short sides (1 picket cut into two 3-foot lengths).  We butted our joints leaving the joint on the short sides, so the width of the bed was 36″.
  • For the brace, we used a 3′ length of 2×4 spanning the inside of the bed (will be covered by dirt).  It was screwed to both the upper and lower fence boards to provide support and prevent bowing.
  • To finish, and provide additional stability/warp control, we attached 1×2 trim around the top.  Nothing fancy, but I think it will help to prevent warping.

This was so quick and easy to do, we were tempted to head back to the hardware store and build another, which we may do on another weekend (perhaps a 3×3?).   After a failed attempt at growing pumpkins there last year, I’m excited to potentially put this otherwise unusable piece of lot to good use.

Whole Foods steps up against GMOs. Or do they?

The freedom to eat clean, non-GMO food is a passion of mine.  Not only am I (endearingly?) referred to as the “Crazy Chicken Lady” by the children of my co-workers, I guess I’m also the “Weirdo Food Chick” among my peers.

So, it was with much exuberance when I discovered that Whole Foods finally took a stand with GMOs, yet I was underwhelmed at the timeline of implementation.  This editorial essay from Organic Consumers Association does a good job of summarizing my own views on the topic:

Courtesy my Terra Organics box

Courtesy my Terra Organics box

The Whole Truth about Whole Foods Labeling Policy

Whole Foods is essentially engaging in a public relations tactic, in my opinion.  I-522 has great power behind it in Washington State, and taking a stand without having to take action is convenient for the retailer.  Nice strategy, really.  If I-522 fails, they still have 3 years to implement the labeling requirement and save face, but they’re betting they won’t have to.  If it passes, they look as if they were taking a stand.

I am personally contributing to I-522, and am participating in the boycott of the “No on 37” supporters in California.  Although not convenient, it feels good to send a message with my wallet.  I’ve had to give up some favorite products, but it feels good to eat with a conscience.  If only Big Ag had one.

Organic Consumers Association is a great source of information and has additional resources for those who want to learn about the boycott, the Big Ag companies who own those stealthy ‘natural’ and organic  brands, and the people who want to will sell your health for the sake of the Almighty Dollar.

Planting by Phases of the Moon

As someone who personally feels the effects of the moon (I get very ADD during the New Moon), I’ve always suspected that moon phases had a greater impact on living things than could be easily explained.  After researching when to start seeds indoors, I stumbled across the good ol’ Farmer’s Almanac, and was surprised that they cited the “moon-favorable dates” on their planting chart.  This warranted research.  What was this lunar gardening?

182165473_f08a1edf94_mWe’ve long understood how the moon affects the tides, so it is no wonder that it affects plants, whose main mechanisms for growth are the transport of water and the utilization of sunlight through photosynthesis.  Gardening by moon phase (a component of what is referred to as Biodynamic Gardening) is as old as agriculture itself.  During the New Moon, when the gravitational pull is the greatest, the moon aids in pulling water up toward a seedling’s roots.  Apparently, seeds will absorb the most moisture during the time of the full moon.  Now, for those of us in the Pacific Northwest, there is certainly no shortage of spring moisture.  That said, this technique may not make any visible difference for those where moisture is not an issue.  Our ground is fairly soggy until June most years.  But, for those in areas where spring rain is less abundant, why not give it a try?

From the article Celestial Gardening, Organic

“One backyard gardener who’s convinced is Richard Makowski of River Vale, New Jersey. Makowski says he tried the biodynamic planting calendar a few years ago “for the heck of it”—and saw his winter squash yields triple. “My wife says the vegetables are sweeter,” he says, taking a break from planting a bed at the Pfeiffer garden. “I didn’t even believe this stuff at first. And maybe you don’t have to. But I’ve never met a gardener who isn’t spiritual on some level.”

Unfortunately, I planted my kohlrabi and sweet peas on Saturday, which was a waning moon.  On the bright side, it appears to be a good time to plant trees, so the lilac transplant I have planned for next weekend will be right in sync – as long as it’s still waning.  Wow, I need an app for this!

What I surmised from my brief research stint:

  1. The New Moon is the best time for planting crops that produce seeds outside their fruit (leafy greens, grains, cauliflower, broccoli, etc.)
  2. The second quarter is best for crops whose seeds are formed inside the fruit (tomatoes, beans, peas, etc.)
  3. Mow lawns in the first and second quarters to encourage growth, and in the third and fourth quarters to retard growth.
  4. The 4th quarter is a time for pruning, composting, and general maintenance.  Not good for planting.
  5. Anything that grows primarily above the ground (beans, peas, squash) should get planted in a waxing phase.
  6. Anything that grows primarily below the ground (potatoes, turnips, onions, carrots) should be planted in the waning phase.

Here are a few sites I found intriguing when reading about the topic, which may just encourage you to pursue additional research:

The Gardeners’ Calendar is an interesting site that outlines the 3 moon planting methods, including a 7 day running calendar summarizing what to do, and what not to do.

Farming by the Moon, from the Farmers’ Almanac

Is biodynamic the new organic? – News article from The Telegraph, UK