Posts Tagged With: Home

Green Cleaners in the Kitchen

The kitchen is the urban homestead’s work horse.  And boy do I ever give my old porcelain sink a workout.  It gets pretty stained and dingy and needs a good deep cleaning every week.  Like the bathroom, I basically use white vinegar and baking soda to get the job done.

I start by rinsing the sink, and then I sprinkle baking soda in (again, like many people use Comet).  I drink coffee and my sink gets easily stained.  I grab a sponge and start scrubbing.  Baking soda is actually pretty abrasive and it cuts odors.  Just a little water on your sponge makes this pretty effective.

After the scrub down, I rinse the sink again, plug it and pour in a little white vinegar to take care of any staining that I couldn’t get with the baking soda.  I leave it to soak there while I take care of the back of the sink.  I use a butter knife wrapped in a dishcloth with a little baking soda to get the edges and hard to reach places.

Or for areas that need more muscle, I use a knife/sponge combo.  Like the crack between the sink and the wall, under the window sill.  It’s impossible to get my hand back there – the butter knife does the trick.

By the time I’m done with all of that, the vinegar has done its job in the sink.  So I drain it and move on to the rest of the kitchen.

I use baking soda to scrub my stove top, and dish soap that cuts grease to clean the back of the stove and the toaster oven.  For the counters I have vinegar mixed with water in a spray bottle that I spray over all the counters, let sit for a bit and then wipe off.

But recently, I had a stain on my counter that white vinegar couldn’t take care of.  Bleach didn’t cut it either.  It was rust from our cast iron griddle.  What got it finally was lemon juice.

Lemons are powerful.  They can cook shrimp or fish in their juice, they kill germs and bacteria, and the are amazing bleaching agents.  I have proof.  First I squeezed a bit of juice on the stain and rubbed it around.  Then I let it sit for a couple minutes.

I was afraid it wasn’t working.  I sprinkled on some baking soda.  Salt would have been better but I already had the soda out.  It made it all fizzy, and probably neutralized the acid a bit, but I wanted its scrubbing power and figured it had set there, full strength long enough.

So I scrubbed it, and scrubbed it.  And…. it worked.

Then I threw the old, dead, juice-less lemon into the garbage disposal and ran it with water to make it smell nice.  Kitchen cleaned.

What do you use to clean your kitchen?

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Categories: DIY, Simple Living, Thrift, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Green Cleaners in the Bathroom

This week’s boot camp is about green cleaners.  Lots of urban homesteaders are into doing things with less chemicals, more frugally, and more self-reliance.  Using or making some green cleaners around the house is a great skill to add to the homesteading arsenal.

The thing is, I don’t really use any cleaners in the house.  I use good old baking soda and white vinegar, and lemon juice.  And I think these have been talked about an awful lot on the internet already.  So while I can wax on about how effective these normal household items are to clean with, I am not sure I have much new information to offer as far as ingredients go.  Here it is, none the less.

I can tell you that these things really do work in Colorado where the water is hard and full of minerals that build up on everything.  Like my shower head, all covered in calcium build-up (or is that lime scale? or…  ??):

To get that puppy clean, first I tried just straight up vinegar with a grout brush.  Which did a pretty good job.

But I kind of needed something that would stick a bit better so that the vinegar could sit and work at it for me.  I’m all for scrubbing if it means I don’t have to use CLR, but if I can not scrub, that’s even better.  So I mixed some vinegar with some corn starch.  And poured the gloopy paste all over the shower head.  And then, while I let that sit, I used some on the tub faucet that is always sticking and tough to pull the shower lever thingy on (wow – the technical terms in this post are astounding).  Then, after I got impatient, I rinsed the shower head off… pretty good, eh?

It’s not perfect or anything, and probably if I had been a little more patient, it would have been, but I think it was decent. What’s even better is the mix worked on the tub faucet puller thing.

On to the rest of the bathroom!  Here is what I use:

Like the package says, there are hundreds of uses for baking soda.  That’s why I have a huge bag of it.  In the bathroom, I use it like most people use Comet.  I use it to scrub down the sink and tiles and tub.  And it works.

So what about the throne?  Well, lots of homesteaders are either into saving water or have male persons in the house.  Or both.  And so the toilet often gets stained from letting the yellow mellow.  And in our house, that hard water alone can leave a ring.  The best cleaning tool I have for cleaning a stained toilet is a pumice stone.

The first time I used it, I was scared to death.  I thought for sure I was going to scratch the porcelain and end up with a horrid looking toilet that I was going to end up replacing.  But that was needless worry.  It worked great.  And as far as I can tell, it didn’t scratch a thing.  First I don my rubber gloves and do a scrub with the toilet brush and a flush so the water in there is clean.  I don’t put any cleaners in there.  Then I grab the pumice stone.

I scrub around the water line, in the hole and under the rim.  It gets everything off.  You can see that the corners of my stone are getting rounded off.  The stone crumbles instead of scratching the bowl.  It works.  The toilet is sparkling.  After that, I will throw a splash of vinegar in the toilet and use the toilet brush again, for good measure.  Clean as a… well, not a whistle, but you get the idea.

I also use vinegar and water mixed in a spray bottle to clean the mirror with a lint-free cloth.  And to clean the floor. And to spray down the shower walls.

How do you clean your bathroom?

Categories: DIY, Simple Living, Thrift, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , , | 8 Comments

How I Do it All

A lot of people ask me all kinds of questions about what we do around here on the Schell Urban Homestead.  The question I get asked the most though is, hands down, “With three kids, how in the world do you do it all?”  The answer is pretty simple… I have a strong partner:

Happy Anniversary, Rick.  Nine years seems like a great start.

Categories: Hunting | Tags: , , , , | 10 Comments

20 Weeks: The Last Junk Drawer

Last summer, during my 20 Weeks of Organizing project, I organized two of my three junk drawers, with the promise to organize the third one the following week.  But the next week I had my hands full with this:

And it’s taken me a while to get the last few items crossed off of that original list.  But last weekend, I tackled the last and worst of the junk drawers in my house.  The one in the kitchen.  It’s a big drawer, 26.25″ x 16.5″.  Too big really.  It collected all kinds of things.  Things we needed, things we didn’t, useful stuff and… junk.

Something had to be done.  But it was overwhelming and one of the projects I put off the longest.  There was way too much in there.  The bottom of the drawer kept slipping out of its slots.  It nearly broke one day, so I finally took care of the problem.

First I took the drawer out and emptied and sorted its contents.

There were FOUR broken watches in there.  Four, people.  A dead cell phone.  Two empty calling cards.  A recorder flute and a bird whistle.  I’m not kidding.

And YES that little blue thing really is a bird whistle.  You put water inside of it and blow through the little spout and it makes a sound like a bird singing.  I know what it looks like, but it’s not that.  My mom always kept it in the junk drawer of our house when I was growing up and I loved it, so she passed it on to me (and my junk drawer).  Unfortunately it’s gotten a little chipped in the years of getting tossed around with all the junk in the drawer.  But it still works and I still love it.  

Anyway.

There was a lot of stuff in the drawer that didn’t belong in there.  And I wasn’t sure what to do with it either.  I emptied the drawer, and I grabbed some wood glue and started fixing the drawer.  I enlisted Rick’s help to reinforce its huge bottom, which he did with a scrap of wood from the garage.

And then I bought a drawer organizer – the biggest one that I could find that would fit inside.  It was $20 bucks.  And totally worth every penny.  I also used three little wooden baskets from the kids’ wooden play food set.

And I put the stuff we use back into the drawer.

The empty space is for Rick’s things, like his wallet.  Since the garage door-opener is in this drawer, it’s the last stop before leaving the house and the first stop when coming home.

Yes, I know there are still things in there that some people would not hang onto.  The flute is in the way back and the whistle is still in there.  And you never know when you’ll need a puzzle ball.  But it is mostly organized, and I’m really happy with it.  What I really need now is some of that non-slip stuff to keep the organizer thing from sliding around.

I still don’t know what the heck to do with the watches.  Do I just throw them out (not the guitar one)?  Can they be repaired?

There are only two items left on my 20 Weeks list.  I’m loving that this challenge is almost over, no matter how long it took me. Are you organizing anything in your life/home?

Categories: 20 Weeks of Organizing | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Boot Camp Bonus: A Well Stocked Pantry

Yesterday I mentioned keeping a reasonably well stocked pantry in order to allow for some flexibility in my meal planning.  I got to thinking about what a well stocked pantry looks like.  It will probably different for every household, and it varies for us as well, depending on season, tastes, moods, how well we stocked up last year, etc.

In general, this is what I came up with for our version of a well stocked pantry (in no particular order).

  1. Oats – I keep a half gallon to gallon size container of oats on hand at all times.  Sometimes I switch between steel cut oats and rolled oats, but I have found that rolled oats are more versatile.   These whole grains make oatmeal, of course, but they can be added to desserts (cookies, crisps), muffins, breads, and are the base for home made granola.  They are insanely less expensive than boxed cereals, and better for you too.
  2. Rice – I use both white and brown rice, and at times I’ve kept quinoa on hand instead.  Rice is a great belly filler, another whole grain, and it keeps.  Good with stir-fries, in soups and stews, as a side dish, the star of risotto, and Rick even eats it for breakfast with butter and cinnamon.
  3. Canned beans – the hero of emergency meals.  Dried beans are far cheaper, and we keep them on hand too, but canned beans can be used instantly with no soaking or hours of cooking.  We add them to up the protein on pasta dishes and soups, sprinkle them over salads, as easy finger-food lunches for the kids, we let them star in vegetarian meals.  Keeping beans on hand saves the day if I forget to defrost meat for dinner.
  4. Olive oil & balsamic vinegar – Together, they make an easy, delicious and cheap salad dressing.  Separately, olive oil can be used for nearly everything we cook.  I do keep other oils on hand too, but if I had to keep only one, olive oil would be it.  The balsamic can be used in other ways too.  A friend brought over a dessert once of mascarpone cheese spread on sugar cookies, topped with sliced strawberries and drizzled with balsamic reduction (heaven).  I use balsamic as a secret ingredient in certain soups and other dishes.
  5. Broth – you can’t really make risotto without it and it makes soups super fast.  It’s a decent substitute for white wine in a pinch.  It’s a fast way to up your flavor without much effort.
  6. Canned tomatoes – if I’m crunched for time or feeling lazy, you can bet I’m reaching for a jar or can of tomatoes.  They can become anything.  I use them for enchilada sauce, pasta sauce, pizza sauce, soup, stew, chilli, roasted with other veggies, you name it.  This is a true staple for us.
  7. Onions and/or garlic – the other day I told Rick, “We’re out of onions.  I can’t make anything without an onion!”  I know, strictly speaking, onions and garlic are perishable, probably not really “pantry” food, but stored well, they last a long time and I really feel like I can make anything taste good if I have an onion or garlic.  This makes my mom laugh.  When I was a kid, I “hated” onions, I even gave my mom a homemade citation for using too many – her punishment was to not be allowed to use them for a whole week.  She was a good sport and went along.  I pray my children don’t ever punish me this way.  You can make rice and beans delicious with a little onion and garlic.  If times are tough, and your cupboard is nearly bare, you better have an onion.
  8. Dried herbs/spices – I love me some spices.  I can’t understand how people cook with nothing but salt and pepper.  An average spice rack should at least include thyme, rosemary, oregano, parsley, dill, red pepper flakes, bay leaves, savory, and cumin powder.  Mine better have extra red pepper flakes and Chimayo chili powder too.  You don’t have broth?  Make some with your meat, an onion, a bay leaf and some thyme, parsley, and savory.  Chili?  You need that cumin and those ground chilies.  Rosemary will make your plain ol’ rice and chicken amazing.  A bit of dried herbs go a long way, and they can make the most basic of meals delicious.
  9. Pasta – Another go-to for us.  It’s versatile, cheap, it keeps forever and I can buy it in bulk.  Sometimes I feel like the number of pasta dishes is limitless.
  10. Soy Sauce & rice vinegar – If you get tired of tomato based dishes, the cure is soy sauce and white vinegar.  The combo makes the best fried rice, and you can use them to make many Asian sauces.  Soup, Thai, stir fry, peanut sauce, marinade, jerky,  the list goes on.  Practice using the pair and you can impress anyone.

Obviously this list doesn’t cover baking basics like flour, which I almost added to the list.  But I’m curious how your pantry matches up to mine.  Is it similar?  Very different?  Did I miss something or surprise you?  Does your region or culture affect your list?  Tell me what is on your list of pantry staples.

Categories: Food, Simple Living, Top 5, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Tips to Make Menu Planning Manageable

To tell the truth making up a menu can be easy for a week or two, but then it can sometimes become a chore.  When it gets daunting, it helps me to remember a few things to make it a bit more manageable.

1.  Take turns.  At least two nights a week, my husband does the cooking, and plans what we eat those days.

2.  Make a routine.  During the summer especially, we have homemade pizza every Friday.  I make large batches of pizza dough and freeze it in one pound balls.  We use it as a way to clean up any left over veggies.  That means we have weird sounding, but delicious tasting pizza.  Steak, onion, and bell pepper;  tomato, basil and chard; potato and rosemary; eggplant, thyme and Swiss cheese; etc.  This makes every Friday a given on the menu.  Combine with whatever my husband has planned, now I only have to think of four more meals.

3.  Be flexible.  Keeping my pantry reasonably well stocked means that if I really don’t feel like fixing what I had planned on the day I planned it, I can usually go another direction without impacting the rest of the week’s meals.  Also, if your neighbor invites you over, feel free to delay you menu by a day.  It’s ok to plan take out once in a while.  Give yourself a night off.  The plan is more like a guideline, really.

4.  Use those bulk purchases.  The elk needs to get used up.  So I make sure to plan one or two meals a week using elk meat.  This removes still more brain damage in coming up with a plan, because I only have so many meals I can make out of red meat.  In the winter, there are lots of stews, chilli, steak.  The summer, we use less, mainly grilling, always with a big salad, sometimes stir fried or fajitas.  When I had to get us through a hog, we had pork a couple times a week too.

5.  Cook once, eat twice.  Plan for left overs.  Your pork roast on Monday becomes Wednesday’s pulled pork sandwich.  Tuesday’s left over pasta becomes Thursday’s frittata.  Cook a little extra early in the week to make it easier on yourself later, when your willpower starts wavering.

What tips do you have for making and sticking to a menu plan.

Categories: Menu Planning, Thrift, Top 5 | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

20 Weeks: Kitchen Cabinets

So, back on the wagon, I promised to get that list of twenty problem areas in my home taken care of.  This week, I cleaned out the kitchen cabinets under my counters.

Here are the before pictures:

  

YIKES!!  These cabinets are particularly troublesome.  They always start nice and neat and then, after a few loads through the dishwasher, they end up a jumbled mess again.

To tackle them, first I took everything out.  Yep.

Things got sorted.  The thermos made it all the way to the top shelf cupboard next to the water bottles.  The potato ricer went into the roasting pan in another cabinet, since I usually only take the time to rice potatoes when I’m making a big fancy roast or turkey.  The ice cream attachment for my mixer got put away with the stuff in the basement that only gets used occasionally.  A few things got donated.  The rest I tried to put away in some way that would make it simple to keep nice.

The mixer attachments are inside the bowl under its cover.  The pitchers and flower vases have been removed from this cabinet as well.  I got a nice drink container for Christmas that I’m storing in the buffet, so I could get rid of the lame old plastic pitchers I was hanging on to.

And speaking of plastic…

Besides that pitcher back there, one large Tupperware container and the popsicle molds, I finally chucked the rest.  Well donated.  But, I finally feel like I have enough glass containers and have slowly over the last two years weeded through most of our plastic to the point where I feel like I can be plastic free.  That should make things a lot simpler!

Looking at the before pictures on this project, it looked huge and daunting.  But really it took me less than half an hour to get the job done.  Looking forward to finishing this last few items of the list!

Be sure to check out the other projects I’ve completed: 20 Things.

Categories: 20 Weeks of Organizing | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

The ‘Sham’ in Shampoo

The other morning I stumbled into the bathroom well before the kids were awake.  “Yay!”  I thought, “I’ll get to take a shower today!”  But then I remembered.  I was all out of shampoo.  And I forgot to get more last time I went to the store.

My spirit, unwilling to be dampened, I decided I’d try that whole baking soda for shampoo/apple cider vinegar for conditioner, thing I’ve heard about.  I mean, really.  I use all natural soap, natural toothpaste, natural household cleaners, homemade laundry detergent.  I can do homemade shampoo!  Yay for less chemicals!  Yay for clean hair!

Except baking soda in your hair is gross.  Really, really gross.  I almost titled this post “The ‘Poo’ in Shampoo.”

I mean, I know it was the first time I tried it, and maybe I did it wrong.  Maybe I just need some guidance?  If you do the baking soda thing, let me know.  I did a quick Google search, and I mixed up baking soda and water according to the recipes I found.  Basically 1 Tablespoon soda and 1 cup water.  I also mixed up the apple cider vinegar and some water.

First, I tried what they all said to do.  I wet my hair and poured the baking soda mix into my hair at the roots.  I massaged it all around and rinsed.  I have really thick hair and by this time it felt all tangled and I was having doubts about the vinegar thing, but that part was actually uh.maze.ing!  I had put the vinegar mix in a squirt bottle and it completely detangled and smoothed my hair, pretty much instantly.  “Yay! This will make such a great blog post!”  I thought.

I got out of the shower, and went to dry my hair and it was all smooth and sleek and shiny!  WOW!  I blew it dry.  Gorgeous.  Well.  Almost.  It looked all greasy at the roots.  It felt all greasy at the roots too.  Super greasy.  Not oily, greasy.  Worse than before I got in.  Maybe I got carried away with the vinegar?  Hmm.  The kids were still asleep, so I decided I’d give it another go.

I decided to sprinkle in baking soda dry at the roots.  I worked it all around and it looked like the grease was all absorbed.  But also like I had grayed out my hair, since my hair is quite dark and there was now a fine white dust on it.  So I hopped back in the shower to give it a rinse.  And I could feel the greasiness about ten times worse than what it felt like before.  It was not the vinegar that caused this.  It was totally the baking soda.  I gave up.  I scrounged around the bathroom until I found some tiny, little bit of shampoo in a travel bottle.  I used it.

I will totally keep that apple-cinder vinegar thing.  It is awesome.  But the baking soda for cleaning your hair – a total sham.

Categories: Simple Living, Thrift | Tags: , , , | 12 Comments

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