Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Cleanest Deal Around

I love soap!!! Not the kind you get at Wal-Mart, but the handmade kind. I make all of my own soap, and that's all my family has used for at least 10 years.

Many people have asked me if I would teach them how to make soap. While I would be willing to, I also have to explain that it's NOT a money saving process. In years past, it may have been, although that is questionable. Let me explain my life's experiences and why I make it, even though it is relatively expensive. How can it a money saver? It depends on how you look at it.
About 27 years ago, I made my first batch of soap. I think I followed the directions on the back of a Red Devil Lye can (which you can no longer buy). It was a little scary. The soap was OK, but didn't smell that great, was crumbly and I couldn't cut it into nice bars because is broke off in chunks. I was so unimpressed that I didn't try soap again for 12 more years.
I got the bug again and tried with a new recipe I found in a wonderful out of print book. It was much nicer, and for a few years, I would try new things. I bought books, tried new recipes, tried different molds, etc. I still wasn't happy. We ended up using the soap and giving some away, but it was inferior. Then I found a soap site on the internet (yeah!!!! for the internet) that gave me hope, just as I was going to throw in the towel. Suddenly my soap came to life. I could make the bars that looked beautiful, cut well, smelled like I wanted to swim in it, and felt wonderful on my skin. I crossed the "great wall" and entered the soap world. I am not referring to the melt and pour kind of soap that you buy at a hobby or craft store. ( To me, that is not truly soap making, although I have seen some pretty creative people use it. It is fun and quick and I have done it, but it does have some drawbacks, one of which is shelf life.)
I had to have my carpenter husband build me some beautiful maple soap molds as they were expensive to buy. I have gathered tools and supplies over the months and years that worked well for me and have had to order large quantities of supplies over the internet to get the best prices. And still, my lovely bars of soap cost me about $1.00 each to make. I changed from using lard because it had a smell I didn't like and now make a vegan soap. Not because of principle, but only because of the smell.
Now for the big question! How does that save money? Sometimes, or maybe lots of the time, money is wasted by purchasing cheap stuff. Cheap furniture has to be replaced often because it wears out fast and looks terrible. Cheap pans (yes, pans) wear out fast, and burn food a lot, and have to be replaced every few years. I guess if you're not a cook, that isn't an issue. Cheap soap, that has all the naturally occurring glycerin removed and additives put in and artifical or chemical smelling fragrances may seem like a bargain, but what is it you're putting on your body to absorb? As a registered nurse we learn that the skin is the largest organ of your body. It absorbs whatever we put on it very well. Notice the skin patches with medications we use now days? We absorb lotions, medications, poisons, artificial WHATEVERS, into our skin along with anything good that is used. What are the long term effects?
I like the fact that I use soap that is natural, with real oatmeal, cornmeal (for exfoliating), and natural fragrances, mostly essential oils. I use natural colorants like clays, chlorophyls and such. My soap lathers up wonderfully, smells divine and makes a shower extra special. It even works good for spot cleaning laundry for really hard stains. I taught my friend how to make soap and that is all she uses too. She even makes her own laundry soap. She also sells it, as do I.
Bottom line: It isn't cheap to make. It takes time. It is worth it. If you want some, you have to commit time and a chunk of money, and the slight risks (as you are working with one caustic chemical - sodium hydroxide), or you can find a friend who makes it and work out a swap, or find a soap maker online. has some beautiful soapmakers selling their wares, as does There is a whole new shopping experience out there without having to leave your house. Please feel free to ask me questions or comment!

Friday, March 20, 2009

No More Chopping Wood

Ah............the wood pile! Spring is here. The splitting maul sits almost unused. We heat our house entirely with wood. We used to have four tough sons at home who chopped it for us, but now we are down to the last son as the other four are grown and gone. He is 17, and gets all the honors. I'm afraid he is deprived because he doesn't have the company of his brothers to share the work.

Rememer when you were young and you had a big or yucky job to do, and it was a good memory because of the fun you had because of the company that was with you? I remember when I was about eleven or twelve and my aunt (who was my best friend and less than 5 years older than me) had to go outside in the pouring rain and work with the sewer snake running through the basement window.
Our sewer was plugged up. My dad rented one of those big coiled sewer snakes and was running it through the main sewer connection inside the basement to get us unclogged. I was too young to understand exactly why we had the setup we had, but the snake ran out the window and we had to probably feed it in to dad, and pull it back out over and over until he was finished. It STUNK! It was gross. It was pouring rain, and we were so miserable. She had come to stay with me for a day, and it was supposed to be fun.

But even now, almost forty years later, we laugh if we talk about it, and it's a funny memory.

I was the oldest grandchild in the family and she was the youngest daughter of my grandparents. My aunt and I always got the dirty jobs. When there was a family get-together, we always washed all the dishes. When we had a big chicken butchering day, with dad and all his brothers, guess who cleaned the 200 stinky gizzards of all those chickens? (By the way, they DO smell bad.) And yet now, we laugh about it because we shared it together.

Writing this, I realize that my son is deprived. And so is everyone else's who hasn't experienced hard times with great friends. How can we fix that? Hmmmm.......

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Bean Recipe

Um, I made a pan of beans right after I posted this recipe, and I think it needs another 2-3 teaspoons of chili powder. It was good and I ate a bowl, but it needed to be a bit more savory. Also, my friend Lucy (see link) asked if I didn't soak my beans overnight to make this. No, I didn't. It would certainly be a good idea if you are one of those wonderful think ahead type people. If you cover your beans with at least twice the water the night before and let it sit, you can drain the water off the next day, put new water in to cover, plus a couple of inches more and cook it. It will reduce cooking time and may also reduce the amount of gas it causes in some people. I hope that I haven't made it more complicated than it is.

Beans Anyone?

Honestly, everyone has heard somewhere, eat beans and rice if you want to eat cheap. Dave Ramsey says it all the time to people who are trying to get out of debt. I do subscribe to that idea for the most part, except that some of us who might be having some health problems cannot entirely subsist on those two foods. Nevertheless, here is my favorite cheap bean recipe. It can be eaten plain, over rice, with grated cheese on top (if you afford the cheese), with bread and butter or crackers, and even fancied up with chopped onion, salsa, etc. You get the picture.

I got this from my friend who has eleven children. She used to make it every Sunday, and still does sometimes. The leftovers are great for mixing into other bean dishes, and yet it is still tasty just heated up. If you have not acquired a taste for beans, try to. This is a CHEAP dish.

My Favorite Beans

1 Heaping quart of dried Pinto beans (sorted and washed to remove stones, dirt and defective beans)

Place in 5 quart pan. Cover cleaned beans with water to three times the height of beans.

Cover with lid and bring to boil. Then turn to low or whatever setting works on your stove and let beans boil gently for 1 1/2 to 2 hours till tender. Older beans may take longer to cook. Just test them every 1/2 hour after the general cooking time till they are nice and tender.

Then add:

2 heaping tablespoons of chili powder (or more, to taste)

2-5 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

2 teaspoons of salt (Or more. I try to avoid excessive salt, but I think I may use more - even a tablespoon))

Cook for another 15 - 20 minutes. This will feed a good sized family, or a small family with leftovers. Please spice it so it tastes good to you. Obviously, if it doesn't taste good, and doesn't get eaten, it is a waste of money.

I add as many cloves of garlic as I can stand to chop. If it is a little bland I add more chili powder.

Garlic powder could be used, about 1 or a bit more teaspoons (to taste), but it isn't as good.

My sister tried this years ago and her family wouldn't eat it. I just don't think she spiced it well enough, because even my picky eaters will eat this. My friend says her boys beg for it if she hasn't fixed it in a while.

This is natural, vegetarian, easy to store ingredients, and healthy!

Options for Living on Less

I am a mom of eight (yes, 8) children. Most of them are grown and raising families of their own. I am a registered nurse, a quilter, seamstress, artist, soap-making, cook, amateur architect. And probably a host of othere things I can't think of at the moment. I am also at the moment the president of the womens' organization in our church.

I have lived a very frugal life almost all the 32 years I have been married to my carpenter husband. It has never been easy raising a big family. But life has been good, and most of the time when we reminisce with our children, the hardest times have turned out to be the best of times.

I would like to share what I have learned as I blog, and maybe somewhere out there, someone will benefit from what I have been so blessed to learn.