27 July 2011

Home improvement

I know I don't post much about family life since this is supposed to be a home improvement blog. But since our projects seem to be few and far between these days, I thought I'd give a little update on the tiny little package that arrived June 2, 2010. Besides, what improves a home more than a baby?

Our little baby isn't so little anymore. She's still undersized for her age, but I can't believe how big she is! I think her body is too busy growing hair and teeth (she has 8 already and 8 more are coming in - talk about teething woes) to bother much with anything else. She's a sweet girl, no doubt, but not very cuddly. She wants to be on the floor and exploring, not held and snuggled. She's very busy and doesn't always want to slow down for a nap. Sometimes I just have to contain her and hope for the best:

The biggest thing as of late is that she is walking! Her steps are still unsure and unsteady, but she's quick to break out into a huge grin and indulge in self-congratulating clapping when we say, "Good job!" She still prefers crawling when she wants to get somewhere quickly. She has been able to climb for several months, and her walking skills are only enhancing this ability. She has figured out how to turn on her belly at the edge of the bed so she goes feet-first off the side instead of head-first. The problem with this is keeping the bed made - she pulls the sheets and comforter down with her when she goes!

She's slowly adding words to her vocabulary. She can say a handful of words (mama, dada, Bobby, ball, baby, eyes, hi, bye, boo) but knows the meaning of plenty more. If you ask her if something is a hat, she'll put it on her head. She knows that a duck says, "kak kak." She'll retrieve a ball when asked and she can identify a few body parts. Her tummy is her favorite and she likes to smack it any time she is naked.

She still likes playing with non-toys, but she is taking more and more interest in baby-oriented items. Her absolute favorite toy is a teddy bear she calls "Bobby." We wandered into an estate sale one afternoon, and the ladies running it were so smitten with her that they insisted we take the bear. She and her Bobby Bear are practically inseparable. She likes to look through books instead of just throwing them on the floor. She'll even stay still long enough for me to get through about half a book in a sitting. No more of this when I leave her alone with Tom for 5 minutes:

26 July 2011

Little things done slowly

I've been experiencing some pretty severe pregnancy-related pelvic pains, so I've been even slower than usual in getting things done around here. I did manage to spray insulating foam in the two bedrooms that are next on the construction list as well as caulk some leaky windows. One in particular has been problematic during heavy storms, but I think the issue has been fixed. I guess we'll find out the next time it storms. The metal hose on our tub hand-sprayer split (Tom says that Clara was pulling on it to stand during bathtime), and I was able to find and install a replacement for that. Next thing is to sand and spray paint the AC cages with Rustoleum. Yep, they're rusty already. Don't even get me started on my frustration with that company and their product.

22 July 2011

Frugal Friday: Beat the Heat

If you're in a part of the world that isn't being lambasted with record heat and heat indices, consider yourself very lucky. The rest of us are desperate to keep cool any way possible. The thrifty among us are keeping that ticking electric meter in mind and trying to figure out how to slow it down - legally. Here are my tips:

1. Run a fan. Circulating air feels cooler than stagnant air. If you don't have a ceiling fan, get a box fan. You'll be able to set the thermostat a few degrees higher without feeling the heat. Bonus: Place a bowl or jug of water in front of the fan. This technique, called evaporative cooling, has been used in hot, dry climates like Turkey and Iran for centuries. Windcatchers on the roof would funnel breezes over pots of water, which cooled the air significantly before it entered the house.

2. Open some windows. This works better when it's not quite so stifling outside, but a few strategically opened windows can do wonders. You might have to experiment with the best combinations for your house, but in general opening windows on opposite corners of the house creates the best cross-breeze. Just be sure your A/C isn't on :) Put a fan, facing outward, in one window to force a breeze.

3. Adjust the thermostat. When I'm home during daylight hours, the thermostat is set to 78. If I leave to run errands, I either turn it off completely or set it 3 or 4 degrees higher. At night, the thermostat gets adjusted to 80 degrees. It sounds hot, but it's pretty comfortable if you forgo that cozy comforter and just stick with sheets. A programmable thermostat relieves some of the burden of daily adjustments.

4. Get out of the house. As I mentioned above, I'll often turn off the air entirely if I'm not at home. Hang out at the library, museum, art gallery, or other [free-admission] public area. The meat and dairy cases at the grocery store are good, too, but you can only hang out there so long without feeling like a creep.

5. Befriend someone with a pool. Probably my favorite strategy :) Tom can't swim and sinks like a stone in the water, but he still likes hanging out in the shallow end. If you know someone with a pool who is going out of town, offer to take care of the pool and plants in exchange for use of the pool. They won't have to hire anybody, and you'll have a place to stay cool - a win-win!

6. Keep your blinds and curtains closed during the day. I don't have blackout liners, so I usually still have enough light to accomplish most tasks without having to turn on lights. The less heat that enters the house, the less work your air conditioner has to do. Open them back up at night to take advantage of the cooler night air.

7. Reduce the use of heat-creators. Dryers, dishwashers, TVs, stoves, toasters, computers, and lights all create heat. Wait for cooler nighttime temperatures to run these appliances. Even better, air dry your laundry and dishes when possible, and read a book rather than turning on the TV or surfing the internet (except if you're looking for Frugal Friday tips, of course.) Crock pots have to stay on longer than a stove when preparing a meal, but the temps stay much lower, so use a slow cooker if you want a hot meal. But don't forget cold foods like salads, sandwiches, raw fruits and vegetables, and yogurt either.

8. Drink up. Water's best, of course, but a tall glass of tea is pretty good, too. Presumably an ice-cold beverage prevents you from acclimating to the heat, but I never let an iced beverage sit around long enough to get truly ice-cold.

9. Keep a cool cloth at hand. Sometimes a wet washcloth is all it takes to keep the will to live.

10. Take a cooler bath or shower. You'll be saving money on your water-heating bill, and you won't be sweating the second you step out of the tub.

What are your favorite strategies for keeping cool without cranking up the air conditioner?

PS: Why is spellcheck telling me that "indices" is not a word, but "indexes" is? Gah!

15 July 2011

Frugal Friday: Fabric softener

Oh boy, Friday already! As a corollary to last week's Frugal Friday, here's a simple, cheap way to make your own fabric softener.

1 part hair conditioner
1 part vinegar
3 parts water

Mix together and use as you would your regular softener. Don't worry, your clothes won't smell like vinegar. The smell (which isn't particularly strong once you add the conditioner and water) disappears completely once the clothes are dried. Vinegar is a great rinse aid that gets rid of a lot of the dinginess that some detergents can leave behind. The best part is your ability to customize your scent - there's way more variety in conditioner scents than in fabric softeners!

08 July 2011

Frugal Friday: Laundry detergent

I'm always on the lookout for bargains on staples for my stockpile, but I usually come up empty-handed in the laundry department. I can never seem to find high efficiency detergent for less than about 15 cents per load, even on sale and with coupons. So naturally I wondered if it was something I could make myself. With Google's help, I discovered it's quite do-able! When I mentioned to my mother-in-law that I had started making my own laundry detergent, she told me she was going to buy me some Tide. My own mother just said, "Now that's interesting." Neither were convinced that a homemade detergent would work very well, yet both asked what I used to make it. It really couldn't be simpler. Just combine equal parts of:

Soap shavings (you could buy laundry soap, but I just used leftover scraps of Tom's bath soap. Hotel soaps would be good for this, too.)
Washing soda

And that's it! So far, the detergent is working really well, and I can't tell the difference between it and a commercial product. I also added OxiClean to the mix for extra whitening power, but that's optional. It's a low-suds solution so it's safe for front-loading washers, and it only costs a penny or two per load! You don't need very much - only need a couple of tablespoons per load. I use the scoop that came in my OxiClean container.

If you prefer liquid detergent, you use the same ingredients plus water. Basically you boil some water in a big pot on the stove, then melt your soap shavings in the water and add the washing soda and borax. Pour the mix into a 5-gallon container and fill with water, or until it's the consistency of your favorite commercial liquid. Use up to 1/4 cup per load.

05 July 2011

Working holiday

I hope everyone enjoyed a safe holiday weekend. Here's what's been going on around here for the past week. Note: I started this post on Sunday, so the holiday greeting made more sense then.

Installation of AC cage.

We had a heck of a time with this project. We just had one problem after another with it. But now one is done (one to go), and it hopefully will do its intended job. With all the trouble we had with it, we weren't terribly surprised to see that the company no longer offers this product on their website.

Finished the brick edging with our concrete "keystone."

The concrete mix was too dry and had too many pebbles on the surface to get a handprint :(

Planted some annuals for the front steps.

I bought some plastic bowls at WalMart some time ago and spray painted them with a hammered copper spray paint. I just now got around to putting lobelia and petunias from the clearance aisle into them. I just bought some purple petunias (another clearance aisle find) to fill in a little more.

Including the petunias I haven't added yet, I spent less than $5 per planter.

Began fence preparation.

Since Lowe's can't (won't?) cut lumber any thicker than a 2x, I had to go to our local builder's surplus supply store for fence posts. I stacked them Lincoln-log style to encourage air circulation and prevent warping (pressure-treated lumber is notorious for warping if not dried properly).

This picture was taken later, but this is the way to stack them for minimal damage.

After they dried for a few days, we drilled a 3/4" hole about 12" deep into the bottom center of each post. I then dipped the ends in wood preservative.

Metal rods will get glued into these holes. The metal rods will be set in concrete rather than the entire fencepost.

It probably wasn't strictly a necessary step, but it will help prevent water from being wicked into the wood.

I also bought 100 2x2 deck-railing balusters and stacked them to dry.

I loved Lincoln logs when I was a kid. Oh, who am I kidding? I still love 'em.

The plan is to paint all the components individually before assembly, sealing all sides of the wood to eliminate moisture penetration. The pickets need to dry for a while longer before they'll be ready to paint, but I have a lot of cutting to do before then anyway.

Ate too many pork chops, mashed potatoes, and blueberry pie. What could be more American?

Mulched the raised bed. Mowed the lawn. Other miscellaneous yardwork. Finally.

01 July 2011

Frugal Friday: Weed killer

I've been spending a lot of time, money, and energy trying to get the outside of our house whipped into shape. Unfortunately, we have weeds just about everywhere. I looked at various weedkillers in the store and just couldn't bring myself to pay so much money for the amount of the stuff I'd go through. So I mixed up my own version for pennies. You'll need:

Salt (as much as you can get to dissolve in your water)
Hot water (about 3 gallons)
Dish soap (a teaspoon or so)

Simply dissolve the salt into the water and add the dish soap. The soap helps the briny solution stick to the plant, and the salt is a desiccant that dries out the plant. Spray it as close to the roots as you can for maximum effect. It might take a day or so for the roots to really absorb the salt, but should pull out easily (I scrape them up with a flat shovel) once the plant starts to look dried out and crispy. A few notes about this recipe:

- It is not selective and will kill ANY plant, so don't use it around your prize-winning roses.
- It has the potential to poison the soil for several years (depending on your salt concentration), so this is best used for cracks in the sidewalk and driveway, or any other place you don't want anything growing.
- It will probably work best if there hasn't been rain for a couple of days, and rain isn't expected for the next day or so. If the weeds are thirsty they'll absorb more of the saltwater, and the concentration of salt will stay higher without rain.

I think the best part of this is that I don't have to worry about tracking any chemicals into the house. Clara and Zibby spend too much time on the floor for me to risk that!