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Tips for Using Your Push Mower

I realize that in some parts of the country, there is still snow on the ground.  Down here in central Texas, though, I just finished mowing the lawn for the second time.  Whew!  I’m grateful that our backyard here is modest, since even this “mild” spring weather is hot to me.

Here are some tips in case you are new to using a push-reel mower and finding it difficult.

Push mower

1. Clean the yard first.  Our power mower could chop up sticks, but twigs will get caught in the reel of the push mower, bringing you to a stop and you’ll have to reverse the blades to get it out before you continue mowing.  Frequent starts and stops require a lot more energy than maintaining momentum.  A few minutes spent looking for sticks and rocks and small kids’ toys, anything that might get caught in the mower’s blades, and removing them from the grass before you get started is time well spent.

2.  Set your blades higher.  Longer grass uses less water, and higher blades will promote that, taking just a little off the top.  If you cut the grass shorter, it might need more passes of the mower, which can double (or more) the time you spend mowing.

3.  Mow more often.  While longer grass is good for water conservation, let it get too long and you’ll have trouble getting the push mower through it at all.  This is especially true of thick lawns or lawns with hills.  Our new lawn has a bit of a rise in one area and that grass is harder to mow.  If we were to “let it go” it would be very difficult to cut with the push mower.

4.  Use a trimmer for the edges.  I’ve had a  hard time getting the push mower to do a good job cutting the grass at the edges of the lawn where it meets with the fence or the patio.  Instead of struggling over those areas over and over, I just mow as close as I can and then clean up the edges with the trimmer.

5.  Mow in sections.  Our front yard here is about the same size as it was in Colorado, but the grass here is thick and harder to get the mower through.  It makes the job tough for me in the heat (I know!  Wimpy Colorado girl in Texas!).  Instead of sweating my way through the whole job at once, I break it into two or three more manageable chunks.  The mower is lightweight so it’s no big deal to walk it back to the backyard while I take a break, get a drink or water my garlic.  Then after I’m refreshed, I take on the next section of lawn.  I can still get the job done, both front and back yards, in under an hour including the breaks.

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Categories: Simple Living, Sustainability, Top 5 | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Thrifty Thursday: DIY Swiffer Cloths

We have hard flooring throughout our house here.  Tile in the kitchen and bath and wood floors everywhere else.  There is a great tool for keeping those floors clean, most of you know it; the Swiffer.  But those Swiffer cloths get expensive.

My solution: mirco-fiber towels.  I have a couple of micro-fiber towels that will fit perfectly onto the head of my Swiffer.

And when I need to spot clean something with a mop?  I just get the cloth wet, wring it out and poof! – a Swiffer wet mop.

Micro Fiber Cloth

Go forth and attack your dust bunnies!

Categories: DIY, Thrift | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

Plugging In

During a long talk with Rick at the beginning of November, during which I was feeling quite overwhelmed with projects and homeschooling and life in general, I decided to go ahead and normalize our kitchen again.  We plugged the fridge back in.

We unplugged the fridge in May of 2011. It was supposed to be a month-long experiment.  We left it unplugged for a year and a half.  So, I guess in that way, it was a total success.  We had a great system down, and we pretty much forgot what life with a refrigerator was like.

I liked it, being weird and different and extreme.  But also, Rick and I were getting to the point where we craved a little normalcy and simplicity in our lives in general.  The fridge was a sort of symbol for me of this crazy, hippie extreme life that I wanted to have.  And, Rick, being super supportive, has come along for the ride, and for the most part, we have that life.

We grow our food or buy from local farms, we have chickens and bees.  I never buy cereal or use paper plates or paper towels.  I’ve made our own laundry soap and dishwasher detergent.  We’ve cloth diapered (3 kids), etc.  You get the point.

IMG_6868

But sometimes being weird can wear on you.  It was wearing on us both (not the fridge, but you know… everything).

One of my good friends talks about how tough it can be to live in two worlds.  You know the two… one in which all your friends only buy gluten-free, sustainably harvested, BPA-free, GMO-free, soy-free, local, handmade, hand loomed, home-grown, vegetarian fed, and free range.  And the other world: the on sale, easy clean-up, big box, double coupon, plastic, convenient, drive-thru, battery operated, disposable one.

I mean, take a kid’s birthday party.  Imagine hosting 25 people but using nothing disposable.  No paper plates or plastic forks or crêpe paper streamers.  Or if you do use plastic cups you feel guilty, even for the biodegradable ones.  The guilt.

So I decided to let go.  Not of everything.  Sometimes I use a paper towel or 100% recycled paper plate.  The fridge was something simple that could go back to normal, not be so weird.

You wouldn’t believe how novel it felt.  Having a freezer inside the house, having room for anything in the fridge.  We hosted Thanksgiving dinner this year.  I let the turkey thaw in the fridge, and there was room for other things.  It was amazing!   (By the way, we also hosted T-day without a fridge, it’s totally doable).

This doesn’t mean I’m going all conventional, back to disposable everything.  But it does mean I’m giving myself more grace.  I don’t need to be perfect or extreme.  I just need to keep trying.

Categories: Simple Living, Unplugging the Fridge | Tags: , , , , | 10 Comments

Bathroom Redo or How I Made Peace with Pink Tile

Over the last few years, we’ve slowly updated things in our old, dated bathroom.  A new light fixture here, a sink faucet there, new door pulls on the vanity.  That sort of thing.  We never were ready to shell out significant dough to redo the bathroom.  But over the last few weeks, we’ve managed to give the place a fairly major facelift for under $700.

It started off the way most of our projects do; with a “really easy” change.  I wanted to change out the old tub faucet and handles from who knows when (the 40’s maybe?) to some that were NOT corroded, actually turned and had a diverter that didn’t leak.  And, I wanted to replace the towel bar with a rack of five hooks (since we have five people that use the bathroom).  Two really easy things, right?

Except it took TEN trips to various hardware stores to find some handles that fit our tub.  No joke.

Only the faucet/diverter and the handles themselves are new.  The plate is original(?) and could not be replaced.  We just cleaned as much corrosion off of it as possible and searched and searched and went on an epic quest until we found handles that fit.

But the shiny new chrome made the recessed soap dish look so bad.  And, well, the painted tub from some prior refinishing job has been peeling for almost nine years now.  So…. we finally broke open the piggy bank and dove in.

We literally had to rip out the soap dish.

And when we did, we were unsurprised (but discouraged) to find wet wall board.

So after two days of drying it out, Rick cut away what couldn’t be saved and patched the hole.  And I re-tiled and re-grouted with tiles we found in the crawl space that matched (thank the good Lord for that find!).

It looks bad, but it was only nine tiles.  I was also replacing some loose and missing grout.  What do you think of all that pink tile?

While the grout dried, we started in with the paint.  Rick sanded the window frame and sill and I gave it a few new coats of paint.

It’s no secret that pink tile was never a dream choice of mine.  So when we moved in, I painted the bathroom blue to match my blue towels and held onto the hope that one day, we’d replace the tile.

Here is the original wall color under my old towel bar  (look pink grout lines on the floor too!).

And here is the old storage for the other various bathroom items:

And this is the new version:

All those containers were just sitting around the house.  Yay for free!

I finally wised up and realized we were not going to be replacing that pink tile anytime in the near future.  Besides, it is cheaper to buy new towels.   So we painted this sandy-cream color and installed my hooks.

And got a nice fluffy, girly rug to match my pink grout lines.

Don’t worry, I have a solid tan one that I can swap out.  I do have two little boys after all.

So, what about the horrid peeling tub?  You just know that baby was originally pink, right.

Well, here is the before in all its pink and white glory:

And here it is now:

I can’t even believe the difference.  It’s so amazing.

But it’s not even my favorite part.

Here is the only before picture I could find showing how the pink tile extends out of the tub/shower area to behind the toilet and sink all along the wall.  In it, you can also notice, just barely there, at Rick’s elbow, the old faucet handle.  And some random piece of hardware screwed into the shower wall, half-way up.  And, of course, blue paint and towels.

Here is the after shot.

With the new paint job, the girly bird-motif hand towels, and my planned chocolate brown bath towels, my bathroom actually looks good in pink.

I truly can’t decide which I’m more pleased with; the paint/towel/tile combo or the shiny new tub finish.  But either way, I’m one happy camper.

Oh, did I mention this is our only bathroom?

Yeah.  It was about time.

Categories: DIY | Tags: , , | 14 Comments

Bee Birthday and Easy Mason Jar Drink Lids (with Tutorial)

This weekend we celebrated C’s first birthday.  I ordered cupcakes from a wonderful, local, all- organic bakery that makes a to-die-for flavor called “Bee-titude.”  It’s a lavender cupcake with honey-lemon butter cream frosting, and it was the inspiration for C’s party theme: honey bee.  The party colors were yellow and lavender, and it turns out that this was a really fun theme to put together.

I also made a few discoveries for decorating this party that eased the green-guilt that sometimes comes along with me decorating.  I found spools of colored tulle at the craft store that I can easily roll up and reuse for another occasion instead of the crêpe paper streamers I usually use.  And I bought two yards of inexpensive broadcloth for the table-cloth that would match the party theme.

I used various glass plates and jars to decorate and filled a vase with lavender and chamomile flowers.

I have a gorgeous bee skep-shaped drink dispenser that my mom bought me for Christmas last year and I filled it with honey-lavender lemonade.  I was surprised that the lavender flowers turned the lemonade pink!

And I used my canning jars as glasses.  Pints for the adults with ribbons and tags to write names on, and half-pints with lids for the kids.  And here was my eureka moment.  Ball jelly jars are durable and their lids don’t leak.  And I used a HOLE-PUNCH to make them into drink lids.

Here’s how:

First I traced old jar lids onto patterned paper and then cut out the circles.

I used double-sided tape to stick the paper to the top of the lid.

Then I used a regular old hole-punch to punch holes in the tops of the lids.  This was surprisingly easy.  I did it with one hand and minimal effort.  The punch still worked great on about twenty paper tags after punching six lids.

I used a cheapy plastic straws with about an inch cut off the end to make the kids’ tumblers complete.

Not a single jar got broken between six, three- to seven-year-olds.  They even took them outside.  I wrote each kiddo’s name on the top of their jar, so there were no mix-ups.  It was really easy and completely free, since I had all these supplies lying around the house.  Henry even helped cut out the circles.

I plan to just swap out the paper circles and straws for the next party.

Categories: DIY, Simple Living, Thrift | Tags: , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Five Last-Minute Mother’s Day Gift Ideas

As we all know, time flies and I’m sure for some,  Mother’s Day has crept up on us this year.  Since we are down to the wire (Mom’s Day is THIS SUNDAY), here is my wishlist of readily available gift ideas that would make any Lazy Homesteader, this one in particular, pretty happy!

  1. Pressure canner such as the Presto 23 quart Deluxe Pressure Canner that is available at the local hardware store.  Yep, Ace at University Hills has one in stock for $119, Rick.  So does the Ace at Cherry Hills Marketplace.   Plus, I have a $5 off coupon in the Chinook book.  ;)  Then I could can up all that broth instead of freezing it; it’d be ready to use in a snap.
  2. Gift card to the local garden center.  Plus watching the kids while I go shop there.  I can use it to buy the frivolous plants you never want me to get when we’re planting out the veggie beds.  And if you do the laundry or the dishes while I’m gone, you might get some sort of husband of the year award.
  3. A gardening/homesteading/foodie/self-sufficiency book.  I have a few titles on my list… A Householder’s Guide to the Universe by Harriet Fasenfest, Kristen Kimball’s The Dirty Life, anything Sharon Astyk has written (her latest, Making Home, is available for pre-order), Coyne and Knutzen’s Making It, one or all of Jennifer McLagan’s books: Bones, Fat, or Odd Bits, Rosalind Creasy’s Edible Landscaping, the new Free-Range Chicken Gardens by Bloom and Baldwin, or The Non-Toxic Avenger by Deanna Duke.
  4. Rubber boots.  Okay, so I just bought a pair for myself, but I figured that I’m not the only gardener/homestead type who wants a pair of these.  I love them.  They will run in the $20-35 dollar range.  I was lucky and got these on sale for $18.  Note to my hubby: This does not get you off the hook for Sunday.  :)
  5. New pruners.  Good, sharp ones that will last.  Something in the $30 plus dollar range that can cut through 1″ thick branches.  At this point, I feel like I’ve outgrown the $9.99-special pruners.  They just don’t hold up to the rigors we put them through.  Think of them as an investment.  FELCO is notoriously good, and you can even buy replacement parts.  Hey, show me the order confirmation number and all will be forgiven if they arrive late. ;)

Of course, spending time with the man and the kids is the best part of the day for us moms (as long as there is no laundry and no dishes involved).  And I especially love it when my man cooks for the family.

What is on your Mother’s Day wishlist?

Categories: Top 5, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , | 9 Comments

Pros and Cons of a Push-Reel Mower

Like many people around the country last week, we mowed our lawn for the first time this season.  The difference between us and our neighbors, however, is I talked on the phone while I did it.

We have a push-reel mower.

Last summer, I sold my husband’s shiny, red, super-charged, front-wheel-drive, 9 billion horsepower, mulching power mower for this little green machine powered by ye ole chevrolegs.

Now I love this thing, and truth be told, Rick hates it.  He teases me all the time about how I’m saving approximately 6 gallons of gas a year.  If that.  And, pretty much, he leaves the mowing to me now, where before it used to be solely his domain.  I think he’s embarrassed.  But I like it anyway.

In case you have been considering getting one yourself, here are the pros and cons (yes, there are some) of a push-reel mower…

The top five things I love about the push-reel mower:

  1. It’s quiet.  I really did talk on the phone while I was mowing the lawn last week.  My mom asked me, what that sound was, and I said, “Oh, I’m mowing the lawn.”  Then we both laughed.  I was talking on the phone while mowing the lawn.  Preposterous!  I could mow at six in the morning or ten at night and the neighbors would never know.  It’s the stealth mower.  I actually like the sound it makes.
  2. It uses no fuel or oil and takes little to no maintenance.  By the time my neighbor is done checking his oil and fuel and pumping and priming, reconnecting the spark plug and whatever else, I’m ¾ the way done mowing my lawn.  One time, no joke, with the old power mower I stood outside for like 15 minutes trying to start the thing before I realized the spark plug was disconnected (hubby did this for safety’s sake).  The neighbor had to come over and point it out. 
  3. It’s lightweight.  All the power it uses comes from your legs and arms pushing this machine; it’s easy to maneuver and I can easily lift it up the couple of steps to our front yard and takes up very little space in the garage.  With the old machine, I could barely get it up the steps, and had to go up all backwards and strategic.  It was super heavy and could chop off my arm – the little label on the side said so.
  4. There is NO string pulling to start it up.
  5. There is no exhaust.  No stinky fumes makes me feel all green and hip and environmentally conscious.  And also the lack of fumes keeps me from feeling sick.  I know six gallons (or whatever) of gas per year is not much, but I don’t mind mowing the lawn now, because I don’t get a headache from the noise/fume combo.

Five things I don’t love:

  1. You can’t mow over sticks.  The power mower mulched and could chop up a stick or a twig that had fallen from the tree in the front yard, but the push mower can’t.  I send the boys out in the yard before I mow with the mission to pick up all the sticks.  If I accidentally mow over a stick, I have to stop to get it out of the mower, because it will jam the blades.
  2. Sharpening the blades will be a challenge.  Not many places know how to sharpen the blades of a push-reel mower anymore, and those who do charge a lot for it – almost as much as the mower cost.  Since the blades will stay sharp a long time though, we at least have a while to learn how to do it ourselves.
  3. It doesn’t always get every piece of grass in one pass.  Because of this, it is really important to overlap or mow two ways.  Otherwise your lawn looks like it’s received a haircut from a barber half in the bag.
  4. The neighbors look at us funny.  When I first bought the mower, I thought people would think we were so cool – all hip and eco-friendly.  Turns out, they either think we are crazy or too poor for a “real” mower.  Hmm… this must be why Rick is embarrassed to use it.
  5. You can’t be a lazy lawn keeper.  If your grass gets too long, the push mower is a real bear to use.  In fact, there was a time last summer, when we first got the mower, that we had to borrow our neighbor’s power mower because we had waited a couple of weeks too long to mow and the push mower, literally, couldn’t cut it.  Lesson learned.

I feel like the push mower and the power mower take about the same amount of physical effort to use.  The push mower is all pushing, which isn’t that much work (hey if I can handle that giant cart thingy at Target I can handle the mower).  The power mower took more effort for me in the starting, holding down the lever thing, and then holding it back from running my flowers down (since it pulled itself).  I think the trade-off of putting the kids on stick patrol and enduring funny looks is a pretty good one.  Plus, I can catch up with my mom on the phone while I’m at it.  ;)

Categories: Simple Living, Sustainability, Top 5 | Tags: , , , , , , | 32 Comments

The Other Cleaners

I mop and clean the windows vinegar and water, and I use baking soda to scrub everything else.  But what about the rest of the house?  I don’t make everything we clean with around here.  We buy a few products to keep everything else clean and as chemical free as possible.

Laundry:  I used to make our own laundry detergent using a recipe of grated soap, borax and washing soda.  I thought it worked great for a while and we saved a bunch of money… until our clothes started to STINK.  All of our clothes.  All the time.  It was super gross.  So now we use store-bought stuff.  I’ve tried pretty much every brand because I have very sensitive skin.  Right now we’ve settled on Whole Foods Market brand Green Mission Organic Laundry Detergent for all our clothes and Rockin Green for the cloth diapers.  In the past we’ve been happy with Charlie’s Soap for both, as well. For the diapers, I use a few drops of tea tree oil when I need to deodorize.

Fabric Softener:  If I had my way, it’d just be dryer balls (when we use the dryer), but the husband can’t seem to give up dryer sheets.  He even makes special trips to buy them all by himself.  I don’t use them, but since we tag team everything, including laundry, they still get used about half the time.  They are at least fragrance free, but not really ideal.

Dishwasher:  Like the laundry, I tried making my own for a while.  I used Borax and washing soda with white vinegar as a rinse aid.  But after a while there was terrible build up on all of our dishes.  Nothing looked clean, everything had a hard, chalky film on it.  I could even remove the film with hand washing.  I thought all my glasses were etched.  I went back to commercial detergents, everything from Seventh Generation to Cascade.  I was thinking my dish washer was broken.  Then somewhere, on some random forum, someone said try Lemi Shine.  It is for hard water, and it WORKS.  It is phosphate free, and I only need to use it periodically.  And I use the phosphate free tab detergent things.  It fixed everything; we’re sparkling again.  What do you use?

Shampoo:   Still looking for a good natural shampoo.  I tried the baking soda thing.. . yeah, no.  What do you use?

Body moisturizer:  I used to sell natural soaps, scrub and body butters by a local company, but they went out of business.  But there is a new company here in Colorado making a wonderful body butter called Simple Sundries.  My friend Genny started it after she couldn’t find a good moisturizer.  She’s obsessive about ingredients.  This stuff is awesome, and I’m not just saying so because she’s my friend (though a shameless plug in never a bad thing, is it?).  The butter is sooo creamy and is a great moisturizer.  It cleared up C’s awful cradle cap within two days.  I use it on my legs after shaving, and it is very lubricating, if you catch my drift.  You can get it with different essential oil combinations or unscented.

Soap:  I use Vermont Soap company bar soaps, which can also be bought from Simple Sundries.  They are facial quality, non-drying and organic.

Toothpaste: We like JASON PowerSmile All Natural Whitening Toothpaste.  It’s the only toothpaste we’ve found that is fluoride and SLS free, doesn’t contain artificial sweeteners and actually gets our teeth clean.  All of the other brands we tried left a weird filmy build up.  Yuck.

Deodorant:  Based on a recommendation from Deanna Duke, author or The Crunchy Chicken blog and the book The Non-Toxic Avenger, we tried the Crystal Body Deodorant Stick.  And by we, I mean Rick.  And it works great.  It has no smell, and leaves no stain on his white undershirts.  And he really sweats at work sometimes.  I have not read her book yet, but plan to.

What green products do you use at home to keep things squeaky clean?  Have any recommendations for me?

Categories: Simple Living, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , | 11 Comments

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