Thursday, March 14, 2013

DIY-land: Baby wipes again

The last time I blogged about baby wipes, I mentioned that I'd be making a new batch with different ingredients because 1) mineral oil (the base of baby oil) is not good for babies and kids and 2) while all in one baby washes are awesome, they too can be harmful for kids due to some of the chemicals commonly used in them.  Now, I'm not naive to think that I can completely rid my life, family, and home of chemicals.  But I learned a valuable lesson from my mom years ago: "you learn better, you do better."  I know a bit better now, so I'm trying to do better.

So, in trying to do a different mixture, I again, set out to find the best and easiest recipes.  I found two that I've sort of combined to make my own.  They come from the Kitchen Stewardship and DIYNatural websites.

From the ingredients on their websites, I developed this ingredient list:

1-1/4 C. of water (boiled then cooled a bit)
1 T of lavender liquid castile soap
1/2 t. of Vitamin E oil
2 -3 drops of tea tree oil
1-2 drops of lavender (optional)
1/3 of a thick paper towel roll, cardboard removed
old wipes container

Rather than measuring then boiling the water, I actually used my Keurig machine to get the boiled water this time.  The largest cup size on my machine is precisely 1-1/4 C of water.  Plus, we only use filtered water in that machine.

I waited for the water to cool a bit; it was still warm though.  Then I added the castile soap.  The mixture became a bit cloudy; this is natural.

I then added 1/2 t. of Vitamin E oil and 2-3 drops of tea tree oil and 1-2 drops of lavender.  I only added the extra drops of lavender because the tea tree oil gave the mixture a strong smell.  Although I'd smelled the tea tree oil before, I wasn't really expecting it to overpower the lavender from the soap so much.  I stirred the mixture, then poured it over the roll of paper towels sitting in the old wipes container, and let it sit.

Admittedly, I really liked the clean, baby product smell of the first batch I made.  This batch is healthier and has less unnatural chemicals, but I may be reconfiguring again to get a better smell.  I may cut the tea tree oil next time or find something to replace it since I'm mainly using it more for its antibacterial properties than for smell.

Although I wondered about the small amount of oil added (only 1/2 t. of vitamin E oil compared to 1 T of baby oil in the first batch), I realized the castile soap has some oils in it. Plus, one of the websites mentioned above doesn't add any oil at all.

I'm currently waiting on the water to soak into all the towels so I can use them later.  Since my little dude is 99% potty trained and doesn't use wipes as much, and the littlest dude hasn't arrived yet, I won't be running through these too quickly just yet.  But I certainly need to perfect which method I like for when the day comes that we will be going through wipes like water.

So far, both methods have been pretty easy.  The hardest part has been cutting the roll of towels and collecting the ingredients (which wasn't that difficult).  
The first batch smelled better, but I think that's just because we're so used to what baby oil and baby wash smell like.  My husband complained of the first batch being too soapy (it had 2 T of baby wash compared to 1 T of castile soap this time), but I'm sure he'll complain of the smell this time. ;-)

We shall soon see which is better overall.

Happy DIY-ing. :-)

UPDATE 03/15/13
So after a day of having the wipes bin next to my bed, the scent has grown on me.  It's so clean and nice.  I find myself wanting to wipe my hands with the wipes just to have the scent on my hands.  I don't even really smell the tea tree oil anymore, but of course, I know it's there.

And no irritations from the use of the essential oils.  

SUCCESS!  I may have found my baby wipes formula! :-)

Patronizing or Celebrating?

We've been in the full swing of Lent for a few weeks now, St. Patrick's Day is coming soon, it's Women's History Month, and Black History Month was last month.  Are these things being celebrated in our culture or patronized by companies trying to sell us stuff?

Since Lent began last month, everywhere you turn someone is offering a special on some sort of fish: McDonald's has new McFish Bites (REALLY not inclined to try them), Wendy's and Hardee's (and I'm sure others) are promoting their Alaskan Cod sandwiches, among other fish specials at other places.  Plus, there's the Shamrock Shake that McDonald's offers every year.  As far as I know, I'm not Irish so I can't speak from personal feelings on this, but I always cringe a bit whenever I see these shakes and wonder if people who are Irish hate these, love these, or don't really think about it.

It's now March, and since St. Patrick's day is coming soon, everywhere you turn, stores are selling things related to St. Patrick's Day, Ireland, and Irish culture in every permutation.  Irish Oatmeal (which is essentially steel cut oats that you can buy year round anywhere, but they get special placement during March), "kiss me, I'm Irish" clothing and paraphernalia, things with clovers, and every permutation of green one can dream of.  Is this celebration of culture or patronization and commercialization?
Images of women are always everywhere in society, so there isn't really something to repurpose and repackage as a "woman's thing," but I'd imagine there are all sorts of things assumed to be affiliated with women (spa days, mani-pedi specials, shoe sales, etc.) that places are offering--if they even bother to pay attention to the fact that it's Women's History Month.  We get news reports and C-Span has an awesome series they are airing on the First Ladies of the U.S.  So, at least for this special thing, the celebrations seem to be educational unless my assumption about specials on gender stereotyped things is correct.

And then last month, most places you turned were offering something as it relates to Black History Month (BHM) and selling us all sorts of things in the name of celebrating the month.  If you drove by schools with announcement signs, I'm sure there was some sort of Black history program, channels aired specials of black culture, and every year there's always some damn store somewhere in the country that offers a chicken special for February and then claims they didn't mean any offense by it.  

Seriously, we're still on the chicken stereotype?  HUMANS (who eat meat) like chicken; race doesn't matter.  I digress...

I read an article last month in Clutch Magazine Online about how blacks don't really celebrate BHM as they should, but that the bigger issue is that we're being sold our own history back to us from companies and corporations who only want to make money off of the history and contributions.

In comparison, is a similar thing happening to faith, Irish culture, or women's history or any other fill-in-the-blank group during an important commemorative time?  While it may not be true that other groups (of whatever kind) aren't really celebrating their special date(s) as the article claims blacks are during BHM, I present the idea that there is some truth to companies simply wanting to make a buck off of a special date to a particular group.

However, on the flip side, would we be encouraged to explore other cultures, groups, dates of significance of groups not our own if those things were mass marketed to us?  
It's become painfully clear that most students' experience and lessons of history and other cultures is not fully encompassing (although some are).  Studying history and other cultures have been relegated to non-required breeze courses that students can easily opt out of.  

For those students who aren't exposed to historical and cultural contributions, would they ever be inclined to explore these things if these things weren't in our faces via marketing and consumerism?  

Should we be thankful that these things are in our face so that people who wouldn't otherwise notice them might pay a little more attention? 

Or should we be pissed that these things are only "celebrated" so that they can make someone else money?  Because in reality, "celebrating" something by buying green items or fish instead of other meat is really only celebrating our consumeristic culture rather than the real meaning behind these things to begin with.

About two years ago, I became really annoyed with the over-commercialization of holidays, and set out on a quest to research the true meanings and/or history behind things we celebrate.  I did this because I love knowledge, history, and learning about other cultures and customs.  How many people don't give a damn and simply go along with what's being sold and packaged to them during any given time of the year?

I guess in the end, this topic raises more questions than offers answers, but I don't profess to have all the answers on anything.  I ask the questions I have and encourage others to do the same and seek the answers for those burning questions they have.  I suppose I've just reached a point where I need more meaning behind why we do what we do and how we celebrate as we do other than celebrating by buying more stuff or simply because tradition suggests it should be done that way.

We're a tossed salad of a nation--complete with millions of cultures, backgrounds, histories, stories, etc. We come together in a salad bowl to make this nation, but each individual piece still is its own.  We should promote celebrating who we are, where we come from as well as who we are now that makes this nation who and what we are here.  We should not buy crap to claim to celebrate whatever the current flavor is.  

Support St. Patrick's Day and study and celebrate Irish culture year 'round because you think it's a beautiful land with awesome people and culture, who've weathered a hell of a storm of life to still stand tall and proud not because you want to blend in on March 17th.  
Buy fish because you want a friggin' fish sandwich any time of the year.  
Celebrate Lent (or not) your way.  
Study the history of people of color (all people of color) year 'round because you seek that knowledge not because it's February.  
Promote an understanding of the hellish experiences and amazing triumphs of women in March and the other 11 months because you want to.  
Reject the thought that you need something to be repackaged and sold back to you in order for you to remember its awesomeness.

Celebrate, explore, and question because you're led to from within not because some crafty marketing suggested you should.

Keep seeking knowledge.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Reflections on life and death

Life can offer some incredible highs and deep, horrendous lows. (If you're in a relatively good mood, or are already in a depressed mood, you may want to stop reading now.)  

Wednesday, I had wonderful and reflective conversations with two people.  One a former student who is in the prime of her life; has an honest, wonderful, and growing relationship with Christ; and is figuring out things that people at least 10 years older than her aren't always fortunate enough to figure out.
The other conversation was with an awesome colleague.  We started discussing work-related matters, but towards the end, I reminded her that she was one of the first people I connected with in my first semester of grad school.  Grad school is the time of my life that I grew up, became me, found my voice and purposes in life, so I feel quite blessed and fortunate to still be friends with folks I met during those years, esp. since I'm not still close to many people I met during undergrad--other than family who I attended the same school with. (Sorta sad, eh?)
It was an awesome day filled with fun memories, good (and some tough) conversations, and  overall, a rather productive day.  I ended the evening by starting to watch Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States.  An interesting series that I'm excited to finish, but it too is a reflection of life and death.  Overall, a decent day.

Thursday, I was reminded that life is short, fleeting, and  filled with emotional upheavals and sometimes, epic personal battles.  I was also reminded that cancer is really fucked up.

Everyday I'm reminded just how evil cancer is because it took my mother from me, and it has taken many other relatives and afflicts far too many to count.  

Every moment I feel this new being moving inside of me, I relish in that pleasure but wallow in the sorrow that my mother is not physically here to enjoy it with me.

Thursday, I received news about cancer from two people.  And as I thought of them, of course, I began to think of Ma and a good friend who is currently battling it.  All people are/were strong-willed and awesome.  All have influenced my life positively.  All I feel blessed to know.  None deserve(d) to deal with this in any capacity, but at least, with Ma there was a direct causation, but what about when there is none?  How do you adjust and cope with that.

We try to eat and live right, but what does it matter if you eat right, do right, try to be healthy when an illness can still strike without cause, without understanding, without reasoning.

Knowing of illnesses (and possble mortality) of friends and relatives, esp. my mom, makes me want to take life by the horns, say fuck it all, and simply do what I want.  Take my family to live on an island, sell all possessions and move to another country, drop off the grid, just enjoy life.   Life is short and fleeting although it can also be long and filled with awesome memories. We try our best to hang on to the good and trust and believe in God and greater purposes and all of that, and most days, we win.  But some days... some days just beat you all to hell.  Thursday was one of those days for me.  

Most days, we can take a bit of bad news, but when the news starts falling like an avalanche, even the strongest ones break down especially if we're the navel-gazing type and begin to reflect on similar situations.  But news is news and we must be informed and process in our own ways.

In the end, I suppose I simply must be thankful for the time I'm granted with friends and family, celebrate their peace if they pass, remember the good times, make awesome memories, and love them while I can because tomorrow certainly isn't promised to anyone. And even if "tomorrow's another day," there's no promise that it won't attempt to knock you down.

Keep fighting. Keep loving.  Keep praying.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Homemade Stuff... Nicole in DIY-land pt 2.

The beginnings of my DIY-land adventures began with making my son's food when he was a baby and it kind of fell off for awhile, but on Christmas Eve, I had a very interesting conversation with my sisters and brothers that sparked my recent adventures.  It was about detergent.

While sitting around Momma's table joking, singing, eating on Christmas Eve, my brother mentions that his wife (who hadn't yet arrived) got him into using homemade laundry soap.  So, my sister gets there and she tells us her mom has been making laundry soap for years and her mom parcels it out to everyone because she makes 5 gallons at a time.  By then, my interest was seriously piqued.  "Makes laundry soap?  Hmmm?"  We inquired about the difficulty.  My sister said it wasn't too difficult.

So, I promptly started googling for details the next day.  My other sister and I were talking about seriously getting into making the soap once we saw it wasn't that difficult.

Fast forward to the end of January, and I'm still researching laundry soap.  I'd made it up in my mind that I was gonna do it, it was just a matter of when.  I was collecting websites with good info, figuring out where to buy the products, etc.

Then out of total necessity one day, I ended up making homemade baby wipes.  I tell ya, when you and the hubs are just a bit too tired to go buy the wipes you've been buying because the cheap ones gave the kid a rash, you do what needs to be done.  

I found this really easy recipe on Homemade Mamas blog, copied the recipe to a tee, and voila!  My first homemade product--aside from food.  The baby wipes were super easy.  Super efficient.  Very economical.   PLUS, I already had everything in the house--water, thick paper towels, baby wash, and baby oil.   However, after making the wipes, I found out tons of info about making my own baby wash and not using mineral oil because it can be harmful for babies.  So, next time I make the wipes, I'll revise the ingredients and do a post about that.

So back to my laundry detergent adventure.  Now, of course, whenever I first mentioned to people that I was making homemade laundry detergent, they balked and questioned why would I make it when I can buy it, then I mentioned cost, and they quickly understood that part of it, but still thought I was a bit strange.  I'm thankful my sisters are in this DIY-land with me and at least, they understand. :-)  Thanks SM-squared.

Now that I've made the detergent.  Check out my post here about it.  I doubt I'll ever turn back.  If I can make most of the products that we buy regularly for a fraction of the cost and certainly a fraction of the harmful chemicals, why not.

I'm really excited to be on this DIY adventure and super thankful I have my two sisters (actually SILs) along on the journey with me.

We're always so excited to share what we've been making with one another (perhaps they'll even do guest posts in the future, if I'm lucky and beg), and I'm happy to share here with you. :-)

Homemade stuff... laundry detergent.

On my quest to cut costs and figure out better alternatives to things we use daily, I did a lot of research on the easiest and best ways to make homemade laundry detergent.

I don't approach anything hastily.  Before actually making the soap, I searched on countless pages to figure out what would be the easiest method to follow and the most cost efficient.

The first websites I found showed how to make 5 gallons of soap.  I feared making this much at once because what if it went wrong?  Then I'd have 5 gallons of crap to toss out.  And I'm not super environmental, but tossing out 5 gallons of any mixed product cannot be good for the environment or waterways although wherever you toss it may smell great for awhile.

I finally found an awesome website that offered easy directions and a 2 gallon method.  It was WhyNotSew.  I loved this page because the directions were really easy to follow, and I wasn't tied to using one specific type of soap.  Lots of websites reported using bars of soap, such as Ivory or Zote (which I've never seen and don't know what it looks like) or castile soap (which can easily be found at Target, but was NOT cheap).

As with any method of prepping anything, I ended up making minor adjustments compared to what's on the WhyNotSew website.

Here's what I used:
1/2 bar of Fels Naptha laundry bar
1 cup of Super Washing Soda
1 cup of Borax
1 gallon of hot tap water
1 gallon of cold tap water
12 drops of essential oil (lavender)

BIG pot--large enough to hold more than 2 gallons of liquid.  (I used a 16 qt. stock pot.)
measuring cup
wooden slotted spoon/stirrer

1. Grate half the bar of Fels Naptha into a empty pot.
2. Pour 1 gallon of hot tap water into the pot.  Turn on the burner.  (I turned it to high since the pot was really big and you eventually want the liquid to boil.)
3. Cook the liquid and stir the pot until you know the grated soap flakes have dissolved.
4. Add 1 c. of borax and 1 c. of washing soda to the pot.  Stir well to integrate.
5. Bring pot to a boil.  Stir occasionally.  If the burner is on high, do not leave unattended.
        The liquid will begin to thicken and possible coagulate.
6. Turn off the heat.  Remove pot from burner.
7. Pour in 1 gallon of cold tap water.
8. Optional: add 12 to 15 drops of essential oil
9. Let sit to cool down enough to pour into 1 gallon size jugs.  (Cleaned out, old detergent, milk, or vinegar jugs are great, but whatever you have on hand that will hold 1 gallon.)
10.  After cooling, use a funnel to pour the liquid into the jugs.

I let my liquid cool about 1.5 hours before pouring it into the jugs.  It was still warm, but not warm enough that it would've burned me or melted the plastic jugs.  I noticed that the lavender was faintly present, but I didn't want to add too much in case anyone in my family is allergic to lavender and we don't yet know it.

FYI Notes:
After completely cooling in the jugs, the detergent will be gelatinous.  You'll want to shake well before each use.  Use 1/2 cup of liquid for regular loads, more for heavily soiled clothes.  A 1/2 cup is roughly equal to the cap of a commercial detergent bottle.

The liquid detergent smells mostly like the Fels Naptha bar, but the cleaned clothes don't really have a scent.  Adding the essential oil adds a bit of scent, but so does using scented fabric sheets or softener.  Here's a page that describes various essential oils and their uses.  Commonly used oils in homemade cleaners are tea tree oil, lavender, and some citrus oils.  (I would avoid buying an oil before actually knowing what is smells like, the properties of it, and/or whether or not you may be allergic or unable to use it due to a health condition.)

The water will not suds like when you use commercial liquid detergents--as you can see in the picture.  Consumers have been led to believe that suds equal clean; this is not true.  Companies add chemicals to make the soap have suds.  The important thing is whether or not the clothes come out clean.  My husband and I have washed several loads; they come out clean! :-)

If you find your mixture too thick, add a bit more water.  Too thin, add a bit more soap bar.  As I've read on other sites, making homemade laundry detergent is not a perfect science, so experiment and play around with it just like I did.

I used only 1/2 of the Fels Naptha because I read several websites that it was a strong soap, so I didn't want to risk irritation.

As a child, my mother always told me, "you can do anything you set your mind to."  I've set my mind to being a working mom who makes homemade things to save money and to try to find healthier alternatives to the things we need to use and consume.  I'm happy to share what I've learned with you. Enjoy!

UPDATE 05/27/2013: I'd seen a couple of websites that microwaved the soap and then either cut in chunks to food process or put in a plastic bag to break by hand rather than grating.  

Today I tried the microwave method.  I microwaved the 1/2 bar of Fels Naptha twice for 30 seconds each time.  I let it cool a bit, so it was easy to handle, then cut into chunks that would fit into my small food processor.  I processed it until I had almost powdered soap.  It worked wonders and cut time!  No more grating Fels Naptha for me.

I've read, however, that microwaving doesn't work so well for castile soaps, but as demonstrated on this page (Cheeky Bums Blog), castile soap cut into small chunks easily melts in boiling hot water.  This theory was tested and proven positive today as well.  

Score two for me!! :-)

UPDATE 12/5/2013:

I noticed that some of my clothes still had oil stains after washing and some of the clothes weren't getting a clean enough smell, so I tried adding dish detergent.  
Every since my college days, I've used a little squirt of dish detergent to get oil stains out of clothes.  It's made to cut grease, so why not, right?  Well, when I made my last batch of detergent, I add 1 cup of Seventh Generation Lavender Floral and Mint to the pot after adding the soap, borax, and washing soda.  
I also increased the borax to 1.5 cups instead of 1 cup to help with odors.
I let it set as normal, then poured it into the containers and added the essential oils.

Results: cleaner clothes, less odors, and BONUS--the detergent doesn't clump up as easily.  It poured smoothly for a good month and a half before the normal clumps returned.

Score three for me!! ;-)

Homemade Stuff... Nicole in DIY-land pt 1

My adventure in actually making stuff really began after my first son was born.   Prior to him being born, I started researching on products I could make to save money.  I researched homemade baby wipes, homemade baby food, using cloth diapers, and all sorts of other stuff.  I ended up only making the homemade food at the time.

When I first began making his food, it was more about saving money than avoiding chemicals or being super organic or something like that.  After slowly becoming more cognizant of the crap that's in the foods we consume, I set out on a mission to make most of his baby food.  If I had to buy his food, it was organic unless we were in a dire situation (travelling on the road and only a convenience store shelf of regular baby food was available).  I bought the baby food books, the little baby food ice cube type trays, lived on, and happily told anyone who asked about his food and my methods.  The food adventure was fun, economical, and I even got my husband into doing, which I really thought would be a battle.  Granted he's always been supportive of my little experiments, and he's not "your average male," but it was great to see him actively get involved with making the foods. I'm glad we have that experience to carry on with baby #2.  

It was a bit frustrating at times to have to defend why I made his food to older relatives.  They questioned and joked about why I only/mostly bought organic foods for him and why I made his food.  I made his food because we couldn't always afford organic.  It's healthier, but geez, it can be expensive.  Fresh and frozen is better than canned and prepackaged, so I'll do that instead.
When I finally reminded these relatives that their parents fed them "organic," homemade food (although it wasn't called that then) considering the time period they grew up in, they backed off.  I still trudged on regardless of the criticisms.

Now, that baby #2 is soon to appear, I'm happy to have an upgraded blender, more websites to turn to, my own, more active blog, and more knowledge about food to be able to make even better foods for the little person when he's old enough to eat.

My own food journey during this pregnancy has been much more informed thanks to my being a "label hawk" and becoming a wiser food consumer over the years.  Thanks to my desire to make my son's food, I've paid much more attention to what's in food, how food works for or against the body.  I'm by no means as healthy as I should be, but I have better tools to become so now.

When my older son was born, I always said I was determined to make him an adventurous and healthy eater.  To this day, he still is.  So, DIY-ing it must've done something right.

Happy DIY-ing!