Sunday, September 16, 2012

Frugal Productivity

This has been a productive weekend for me, on a whole lot of levels.

First and foremost, I should say that several people have asked me how the "no shampoo thing" is going, and it's going great.  I haven't used commercial shampoo (or conditioner or hair gel or any kind of commercial product) on my hair in a month.  I just rinse it with water, and every couple of days, use baking soda and then follow up with the vinegar rinse.

My hair looks fine.  It's more manageable than ever.  No frizz, no fly-aways, not greasy, just soft and smooth.  My head doesn't itch or smell or whatever it is that people think it might do.  I can't say enough good things about making the switch.

The homemade deodorant is also working fine.  I use the 1 TBS batch once in a while, just to make sure I don't have a reaction from the 3 TBS batch.  For me, it's a question of quantity (not using too much and causing a rash), but obviously, for some people, baking-soda-based products may not work or may cause problems.

It works so well for me, that I put it in an actual deodorant container (if you let it get warm, it softens up--it will re-solidify when it cools down).  So it's official now.

The homemade lotion is wonderful.  My skin is soft and smooth, and again, the only adjustment is realizing you won't need as much.  I haven't finished off the first batch yet, and I tend to use it daily.  By next weekend, I'll probably need to make a new batch.

And yes, I bought lotion bottles, so that switch is also official.

I made my own lip balm.  It took all of about 45 seconds, using this recipe.  I made a double batch, actually, so I think I now have enough lip balm to last me until this time next year.

But I'm also beginning to investigate making my own soap.  I think I can make liquid soap pretty easily, actually; it will simply be a question of making the bars.  My main concern is handling the lye that you need to use in order to make it, but I'm reading up on it and I think I can do it.

And of course, since I can't do anything by halves, I'm looking into making my own lye.  Basically, if you have a fireplace, you can use the ashes from your fire to make lye in the form of potassium hydroxide (or "potash").  All it takes is water and a bit of time and a large dose of caution.  

Essentially, soap is a salt.  It's the result of combining an alkali (in particular, sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide) with a fatty acid.  Settlers and homesteaders use(d) animal fats.  If you're slaughtering your own animals (I'm not), you want to use every part of the animal--making soap is a way to use the leftover fat and grease.

The ashes from your fire and the fat from your butchered animals: these are what would make your soap, if you were an early American colonist.  Most colonists wouldn't have bothered making soap into bars--they'd just try to make a useable batch of the soft stuff.

It's a process, definitely, and there's a knack to it.  But I found an online site I think I can use, and in addition to a recipe for making a large batch, it actually gives a recipe for making only one bar--this is what I think I'm going to do.  Try making a single bar, and see how it goes.

In case you're wondering, castile soap is soap made from olive oil.   Authentic castile soap uses 100% olive oil, but a lot of castile soaps use other oils (including palm oil, which isn't great for the environment). You don't need to use animal fat to make soap-- you can use pretty much any kind of fat or oil, but the type that you use will affect the process of "saponification."  Saponification is the hydrolysis (or breakdown) of a fat that occurs when it comes into contact with an alkali--this is what produces the salt or, in this case, soap.

If you're using potash, you can't really use olive oil: the soap will be so soft, it won't work for anything except maybe dish detergent.  On the other hand, you can solidify soft soaps made with potash by adding salt during the process.

So this is what I'm looking into and thinking about in my spare time right now.

In the meantime, though, I'm also trying to get ready for winter and since I have a fireplace, I decided that this year I would be more proactive and stop using commercial fire-starters like Fatwood.  I have several pine trees in my yard that regularly drop pinecones and needles all over my yard, so this year, instead of raking and dumping them, I'm putting them to use.

Pinecones make great fire-starters: they burn quickly and smell quite nice.  (Dry pine needles also make excellent tinder.)  So, now that my trees have started to shed their cones, I'm gathering them up, putting them on a foil-lined cookie sheet, and baking them for about 1/2 hr. at 250 degrees.

Why, you ask?  (Or maybe at this point you don't ask anymore, but it doesn't matter, because I'm going to answer anyway.)  Baking the pinecones opens them up and releases the sap: if you burn them without doing this, you'll end up coating your chimney with creosote.  (This is why you put foil on the baking sheet: so the sap drips on the foil, not on your nice cookie sheet.)

It also gets rid of bugs--because there will be bugs in your pinecones.  That's just the way it is.

Some people dip the pinecones in leftover wax from candles, or they soak them in various substances and let them dry, and then when they burn, they create blue or yellow or green flames.  All I can say is, they burn fast, so I'm not feeling like it's worth the time and energy for me to soak them and then let them dry.

In the meantime, I made another batch of pesto to freeze.  Whew.  Almost done with that job for the year.

And yesterday, I spent a really nice morning at the beach doing a beach cleanup.  You grab a bag, put on gloves, and go clean up the crap that washes up (or that people leave) on the beach.  It's quite a workout, actually, since your bag will eventually get quite heavy (I picked up about 25 lbs worth of trash) and you're climbing on rocks and trudging across the sand with said bag.

And occasionally, you'll have to drag in a rusted out old lobster trap or some other oddity that you happen upon.

But it's a great feeling at the end of a couple of hours, seeing all of those bags that all of the volunteers filled being loaded onto a truck and knowing that this stuff is no longer clogging up the shoreline.

In a similar vein, I'm trying to put the finishing touches on a couple of blankets and then they'll be ready to give to Project Linus (the homemade blankets go to families and children in need).  I have a couple that I made with the scraps of yarn I have left over from all of my other projects: if you knit as much as I do, eventually, you have huge quantities of leftover yarn--not enough to make any single item, but (eventually) enough to make a scrap-based blanket.  Or two.  Or three.  So that's what I've been doing.

Frugality and productivity rule.  I think it's clear that those are some serious habits of mine (addictions, some might say).

But don't worry: if I finish what I have planned and get my homework done today, I've promised myself I can go out and play tomorrow.  So, on that note...

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Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy."