New Mama Musings

Monday, October 29, 2007

Fall Fun

I'm interrupting my series on living frugally/naturally/green-ly to share some photos. It's been a fabulous fall.

We took Henry to a pumpkin farm and he really, really wanted to ride a pony. We thought he was too little and were on our way back to the car when he asked again. We decided to let him try it and it turned out to be the best part of our day!

Last weekend we carved pumpkins (okay, I drew the faces and my husband did all the actual work, with a little help from Henry).

This is the result -- the Daddy, Henry and Mommy pumpkins:

On Sunday morning Henry and the neighbor kids played with trains outside on our driveway:

And in the afternoon it was time for trick-or-treat. Henry was a brown bear:

It didn't take him long to figure out what was up with the whole candy thing. Here he is eyeing the neighbor's candy bowl:

Walking ahead of Mommy:

And back home, enjoying his first ever piece of candy, a Tootsie Roll Pop:

Sunday, October 21, 2007


One of the most important things we do to save energy and costs in regards to laundry is to re-wear our clothes. I actually do the sniff test on my shirts; if they pass they get hung back up in the closet. Jeans get worn until they start getting baggy, typically after the third or fourth day of wear.

Socks and underwear are an exception to this, as are Henry's clothes. At two, Henry still spills a lot of food on himself when he eats and gets dirty playing outside.

Bath towels are also used more than once, typically for a week. (We only use them when we're clean, after all.)

Additionally, we have enough rags, dishclothes and washcloths on hand to ensure we're always washing a full load. Rags, of course, are from ripped-up old clothes and the other cloths were purchased on the cheap at the dollar store.

Finally I should add that although my husband has a few dry-clean only clothes for work (which occasionally get taken to the Natural Cleaners) we try not to own any clothing that can't be washed at home.

Now on to technique.

When we moved to our house in February I was pleased to discover that a reverse osmosis filter was part of the deal. I was less thrilled to find out how much water gets wasted in the filtration process. The system is mounted on a basement wall and water seemed to be continually coming out of the hose into the utility tub below.

And then I got a bright idea: the water might not be good to drink, but couldn't we wash our clothes in it?

We took a rain barrel we'd purchased years ago from our local water company, set it on concrete blocks to maximize gravity, fed the wastewater hose from the RO filter into the top of the barrel, connected a piece of old garden hose to the overflow spout and set it in the utility tub and connected another hose long enough to reach the washing machine to the main faucet of the barrel.

Now when we do a load of laundry we stick the second hose into the washing machine, turn the faucet on the rain barrel and let the washer fill up.

This typically takes about ten minutes, so we either putz around in the basement or come upstairs and set a timer. We only do this for the first fill; the washer does its thing for rinse water.

Since we wash almost all our clothes in cold water anyway (diapers get one cycle of cold and one of hot) I figure this is quite a savings in the long run. Of course, this method wouldn't work if you have a front-loader, something I hope to purchase whenever our current washer gives out. But then we'll be trading saving filtered wastewater for using a machine that uses a lot less water to begin with.

Sometimes, though, I just want to wash one or two things, usually a sweater or a wool diaper cover. And although we have both "delicate" and "hand wash" cycles on our washing machine, even using the smallest fill setting still seems like too much water to waste (not to mention the electricity used). I used to occasionally use a bucket, but I could never seem to rinse the soap out well enough.

And then I read about using a five-gallon bucket and a plunger.

Cut a hole in the lid of the bucket and stick the handle of the (new, of course) plunger into the hole. Fill the bucket with enough water to cover whatever you're washing, add a tiny bit of detergent, close the lid and plunge away.

After a few plunges, dump out the soapy water and repeat the process with clean water to rinse. Then lay the item out or hang to dry.

I imagine you could do all your laundry this way, if you had to, or even fairly easily if you were just one person. But I'll be keeping our washing machine.

For detergent we use Dr. Bronner's Sal Suds or Seventh Generation liquid laundry detergent -- and only 1/8 of a cup per load. (This is one area where green and natural does not equal frugal, but the extra money is worth it to me.) Occasionally I throw some vinegar (which softens clothes, kills odors and helps remove stains) in either the main cycle or in the rinse compartment. And that's it.

Now that we've been using minimal, natural products we've noticed how strongly perfumy many people's clothes smell. And I find the scent coming from other people's dryer vents to be totally overpowering.

Which brings me to how we dry our laundry. (Smooth, New Mama, smooth.)

The latest focus of my frugal/natural living/green efforts is line drying. I've dabbled in it in the past, but I've become more determined to have it become a regular part of my routine. In the past month I hung two retractable clotheslines in our backyard and have been using them when the weather allows.

(Note: Despite a striking resemblance, that is not my hand.)

I also hung one in our basement for the winter months -- half the year around here -- when it's too cold to hang things outside and dry enough inside that the added moisture isn't a problem. I bought the clotheslines at Ace Hardware for under $20 each. They're great if you have a small backyard, like we do.

I don't plan on hanging all our laundry, though. Since our neighbors are *thisclose* to us I don't feel comfortable hanging our underwear up outside (it's very respectable underwear, but still). And I don't like how shirts come off the line; they tend to get a bit stretched out and linty. I also still use our dryer (and clean the lint trap after every use!) when I don't have the time to hang things up or the weather isn't cooperating in summer. But I figure every bit I do counts, particularly since we have an electric dryer.

And that's how we do laundry at New Mama's house.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Where Frugality, Natural Living and Environmentalism Meet

When I was growing up one of my first chores was emptying all the wastebaskets in the house. I'm not sure why there was a trash can in every room, but I never minded emptying them because I often found treasures: Broken necklaces. Empty Tic-Tac containers. Pieces of wrapping paper. Treasures.

Well, I was four or five.

It probably won't surprise you to hear, then, that as an adult I have a serious aversion to waste. At one point a lot of our furnishings, and some of our clothes, were picked out of trash piles I found by the side of the road. (We've since upgraded to hand-me-downs or thrift store finds with a few new purchases thrown in.) I try to get the last little bit out of every product I buy, even going so far as to cut bottles open. We recycle everything we can, including scrap paper, which requires a drive to a paper recycling facility a few miles away.

I'm always trying to figure out how I can waste less of something.

This started out as a way to cut expenses. Slowly but surely, though, the health and environmental benefits started to become just as important. For me, frugality, natural living and being green (mostly) intersect nicely and define how I try to live my life. It's how I run our household and what I hope to pass on to Henry.

For instance, I wash my face with raw honey, which I can buy a pound of for $6.28. I'm not buying a product by Neutrogena which costs more than twice that and contains ingredients I can't pronounce. Honey is cheap, natural and kind to the environment. (And amazingly, it works great.)

I've been thinking a lot about this recently, since moving to the new house in February has strained our finances and forced me back into guerrilla frugal mode. Often just thinking about how I can waste less -- less electricity, less water, less food -- or how I can use natural products instead of things companies try to brainwash me into thinking I need (disposable dusting cloths?) leads me down the frugal path.

In the next few blog entries I'm going to discuss some of the areas where living frugally, naturally and green intersect. Feel free to move along if all of this bores you. I'll be back to posting amusing anecdotes about Henry soon.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

My Dad

My father has Alzheimer's. He was diagnosed in the spring of 2005 and my mother told us about a month after Henry was born.

I've wanted to post an entry about this for a long time, but it's not an easy thing to write about. My dad was not a good father, and watching him slowly slipping away has made me look at him with a critical eye.

When I think of him several words come to mind, none of them flattering: Controlling. Reclusive. Belittling. Bitter. Insecure. Angry. Petty. Unhappy.

I lived in fear of him growing up as I never knew when he would fly into a rage. He was often verbally abusive and sometimes physically so. To him, my sisters and I were nothing and had no say, no voice, no opinions. We were lucky to live in his house and eat his food and wear the clothes he paid for.

I look at Henry now and think how we scrimped to buy an organic mattress for his bed, how I researched to find out the cause of his skin rashes, how I have to restrain myself from buying him more toys, and I wonder how a parent could begrudge their children having more than they had as a child.

Because I know my dad had a difficult childhood, lacking in both financial security and nurturing. His own father died when he was young. The only memory he had of my grandfather was of him getting into a physical altercation with a neighbor and drawing blood. And his mother used to beat him with a broomstick when he wet the bed, something he did until he was quite old.

I know all about the cycle of violence and abuse, but I've broken it and it's difficult for me to understand how my dad could not.

My dad had a few interests, including gardening -- such as it was. Every year he grew tomato and pepper plants in garden beds against the back of the house. But he staked the beds off and wrapped a string around them, a reminder that we were not to touch them.

I think of this when Henry and I water our garden and pick green beans for him to eat. I want him to be a part of the things I enjoy. How could my dad not have wanted that, too?

Mostly, though, my dad watched a lot of TV, and I watched with him: Star Trek. Hill Street Blues. M*A*S*H. Cheers. The A-Team. Remington Steele. Night Court.

I wasted my childhood in television and fear, because of my father.

And now he's wasting away, unable to find the bathroom in his own house. Not remembering the day he married my mother. Not knowing how to put on a shirt. Unable to even watch TV -- the damn thing he paid more attention to than his own children.

And he doesn't know who I am anymore.

Ironically in his forgetfulness he's become the kind of person I would have wished him to be: kind, appreciative, thoughtful. So now I want to say to him, "I am your daughter and you were a horrible father. You terrified and belittled me. How could you treat your own child that way?"

But he's old and frail and what would be the point? He doesn't have the answers anymore, if he ever did.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Two is the Nuttiest Age

Henry and I hung out at home all day today and for some reason he was even funnier than normal. Well, I thought he was pretty amusing anyway. I can't really decide that for you. Make up your own mind:

  • He found a long blondish hair (mine) while we were playing in the living room, held it stretched between the thumbs and forefingers of both hands, walked over to me and solemnly placed it on my head.
  • Later we were in the bedroom where I was sorting out his cold-weather clothes. He was bouncing on the bed a little too close to the edge for my comfort, so I told him to please back up a little bit. He said, "BEEP BEEP BEEP" and moved backwards.
  • His sister Madeleine brought over a Barbie cell phone (I know, I was thrilled) and he held it up to my back, saying, "Call Mommy's back." Okay, cute. Then he moved it down and said, "Call Mommy's 'gina."
See what I mean?