One woman's quest to save money, save the planet and save my sanity

Thursday, April 29, 2010


I have been busy with gardening and the other things that I neglect when blogging. It seems one or the other. I can keep up with this or that. At this time of year there is a full day worth of work to be done outside as well as in so something is always  being overlooked. Then there are the sudden occurrences that throw the whole day out of whack. Like last night when Noah had a friend over and I was making dinner and the phone rang and it was my neighbor telling me that a fox had one of my chickens in his yard. He just wanted me to know so I could lock up the rest. Of course, our first fox attack has to take place on the most gorgeous lawn on our street and right in front. Nice. David was in a meeting at work so I was on my own to deal with it. The other chickens had run home so I had the kids quickly round them up into the coop and take a head count. I went to investigate and certain enough, there she was and the fox was still running around like crazy. I was a bit sad, but mostly mad. I put a lot of work into that chicken. A ton of work actually and this fool fox was just having a grand old time. I guess I can't be too upset because this is just a part of the circle of life. But he ran off and left her there and I had to collect her and rake up the feathers. I spent this morning digging a hole and burying her beside the other chicken that we had to put down a few weeks back. I was rather proud that I handled the whole thing on my own. Sometime I surprise myself.
My good friend Aris (although everyone calls her Lollie and I always forget that is her real name) who is an unbelievable artist and mother and creator of the beautiful blog, Peekadoo, has tagged me and I am compelled to participate. I have never done one of these before, but here goes.
Seven Random Things About Me
1. For most of my self-dressing childhood I insisted on matching my underwear to my shirt.
2. My car is a filthy pit of squished crackers, kids books, loose change and barrettes.
3. I really wish I was into yoga. Something about it always call to me.
4. When I was little I used to sit on the toilet and make up stories about my imaginary older brother named Troy.
5. My grandmother was 4'9" and was blind most of my life. I used to watch cooking shows with her like Julia Childs, The Frugal Gourmet and Yan Can Cook. Since this was before the advent of the internet it was my job to write the recipes down in big, thick, Sharpy marker letter so that she could see them. One of my most vivid memories was staying with her one night when my grandfather had gone to the Red Sox game and then the power went out and we cooked dinner and did the dishes by candlelight, standing side by side on step stools.
6. I always fall asleep at the movie theater.
7. I love silence, but in order to be productive I really need to listen to something to occupy my mind.

Not sure what I make of that list. It was just what popped into my mine. So now I tag Virginia, S, Julia, Vampdaddy, Penny-Wise, I can only think of five. That will have to do. For now.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Announcing the Soap Nuts Winner!

Congratulations to...

You will receive you Soap Nuts Starter Kit in the mail. Just email me your address and you're good to go. Not a bad Earth Day surprise!
Also, stay tuned for another greener cleaning related review and giveaway!

Earth Day Wishes

* A very quick note: You have until noon today to enter the Laundry Tree SoapNuts Giveaway. It takes two seconds and is so worth it!

Of all the secular holidays that there are; Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, Mother's Day, and on & on, is there any one that can be as meaningful to all people as Earth Day? No matter your color, creed, gender, age, orientation, class or political persuasion, we all share a single home. The health of the planet affects all of us and we can all celebrate our small patch of this world and find ways to preserve and improve it. We are all environmentalists, even if we don't know it yet. It's difficult not be cynical. For some reason, my passion for the planet is the one place that skepticism has yet to infiltrate.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Get Growing!- Announcing the Terracycle Winners!

Happy Day! I am announcing the winners of the first ever Simple Butta Giveaway! The two readers that will each receive a Terracycle Kids Vegetable Gardening Kit are...

I used to generate the numbers (8 and 34) of the winning comments and then, of course, I had to count down the list of comments because I am not technically savvy enough to figure out how to get blogger to number my comments. No problem, I like old school skills like counting.
If you didn't win this giveaway, never fear. There is another one running right now through Thursday at noon (Earth Day baby!) and you could win a Laundry Tree Soap Nuts Starter Kit.
And definitely head down to Walmart to get some of the awesome Terracycle products available there through the end of the month. It is on my list for tomorrow while I am kid free for a few hours. Is it sad that when I am without my children I am buying them stuff? Maybe a cute bag for me will have to make it's way into my basket.

Giveaways! - Endings and Beginnings

Just a reminder that today is the last day to enter to win one of two Kids Vegetable Gardening Kits from Terracycle. Contest closes at midnight tonight and the winner will be announced tomorrow. And don't forget to head over to your local Walmart to see the Terracycle products available only through the end of this month.
In the vein of "when one window closes, another door opens" I am pleased to announce another awesome giveaway. You may recall my recent post about my new love affair with Laundry Tree Soap Nuts and since then I have continued to use Soap Nuts in every room of the house. The solution I made from water, vinegar, and the Soap Nut Soak is my new all purpose cleaner and I love it.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Yogurt Gives Back

Yogurt is an absolute staple in our house. Being out of yogurt is like being out of milk. It means an immediate trip to the store. We always have at least a quart of vanilla, a quart of plain for the chickens and cooking purposes, and usually a quart of either strawberry of peach. We only buy yogurt in quarts so we are limited to whatever flavors are available in that size. When the kids go to Grammy's they love to raid her individual yogurt cups because they know they will never find them in my fridge. Mainly because it is a billion times cheaper, but also because I think it is a waste of packaging and, sometimes, product. If we get the quart size I can control the portions. In any event, hopefully buying yogurt will someday be a thing of the past when we have our goats giving us milk and I learn how to make my own cultures.
In the interest of transparency I must tell you that I don't often buy organic yogurt. Believe me, I know that Stoneyfield yogurt is better for us, it definitely tastes better than the store brand, and it is a NH based company and, for me, that's local. But it is twice as expensive as the store brand and that kills me. Every week I give it a longing glance, but then the Frugal Fanny in me opts to cheap out.
I am a super fan of the company and all their green initiatives, but it is one of those dilemmas that I wrestle with all the time. When does cost win out?
I may have found a new strategy though as I just joined myStoneyfield Rewards. Maybe everyone on Earth knows about this already, but I didn't. It caught my eye when I went on to enter the Farm Getaway Sweepstakes. With the Rewards program you can enter codes of the products and earn point that can be redeemed for merchandise ranging from free yogurt to cool drinking glasses. It only took me a minute or two to register. So now if I opt to spend more for the better yogurt, at least I'll feel like I am getting something extra.
It would also be worth your while to go enter the Farm Sweepstakes where you can win a trip for two to an organic dairy farm in Vermont where you will get to stay in a B&B, eat an organic breakfast and help out with farm chores. Screw the Caribbean. This is my kind of vacation!
You can find all the info, plus much more, on the Coupons & Offers page of the Stoneyfield website. There is a bunch of stuff to check out and next on my list is the "Going Greener Guidebook" that you can download for free.
I am generally not a name brand kind of a gal, but sometimes your roots call you home and your taste buds want to come along for the ride. That and the factory tour is really fun so maybe it's time for a change.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Spreading the Love - Terracycle Updates

When I was at Walmart to pick up a prescription yesterday, I took a minute to check out the Terracycle display and was both saddened and pleased to see that it was slim pickings. They were out of the Kids Vegetable Gardening kits and I was bummed because I wanted one. I decided I am going to buy each of the kids something from Terracycle for Earth Day so I had them all show me which things they liked best and I will go back another day without them.
The displays actually looked great and each product was either featured beside the the packaging it was made from (Capri Sun Lunch Bags next to Capri Sun drinks, etc.) or next to other "green" items that are being featured for Earth Day. Next to where the gardening kits should have been there were lots of recycled rubber mulches and organic plant foods.
Apparently it's not just my Walmart because I got this message from one of my oldest and dearest BF's:
"Hi Heather! I am happy to report that I went to Wally World today to make my Terracycle purchase, and the racks were nearly empty. Seems they have been popular here! I bought a little Starburst bag that Libby can use as a diaper/snack bag when we go out. Not only that, but I told two different people about the products while I was in the store. Should I be getting paid for this? And finally, did you know that the products have tags on them with a card to send in and get a free gift. So it's two for one! Yay!"
The love has reached Iowa! Go mid west!
There are also lots of other blogs having giveaways this month so be sure to check out the Terracycle Facebook Page where many are being listed. I would tell you to go to the Terracycle Twitter page, but I might get you lost. Twitter has got me on the mental run.
There is an great giveaway going on at a blog I just fell in serious L-O-V-E with, Green Lifestyle Consulting. As I was reading through some of their posts, I was like "Yes. YES. YES!!!!" Just a quick scan through revealed discussions about everything from energy efficiency to greener birthday parties. They are totally speaking my language!
And of course, don't forget to enter the Simple Butta giveaway which ends Monday night. Kick your Earth Day celebrations off right!
Well, I'm off to curse the rain and daydream about planting.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Introducing....the goats!

So here they are. These pictures were taken when they were about a week old. From left to right they are Edward, Bella Swan and Jacob. Yes, they are our little Twilight goats. I didn't name them. I've never even read the books. The breeder named them, but I think they are perfect so they are staying.

The Lazy Composter

One of my goals this year is to actually use the compost that we have been creating since we moved here a few years back. Up until now we have just been piling stuff in a big heap where there was a set of three sided bins when we moved here. This is what our current compost situation looks like.
Thank goodness it's tucked away at the back of our property because not only is it useless, it's hideous to look at. It is technically "composting" but very passively. It's only help is the occasional churning by a chicken and which you may detect some tail feather in the left bin. Off tot he side is where we pile branches and bigger items, but this system makes it nearly impossible to turn it and it's location makes it inconvenient to take kitchen scraps out there.
I know even less about composting than I do about gardening so it seems like a good time to make some improvements. Last week I assembled the Soil Saver compost bin that we got recently. Incidentally, I paid half of what the website says it retails for. I picked this one because it seemed simple and inconspicuous and was made of 75% post consumer recycled plastic.
I set it up in between the garden and the chicken coop which are located off the kitchen side of the house. In other words, it's in a very easy location for loading it up. According to the directions, every six inches or so you want to put in a layer of soil or chopped leaves. I didn't want to spare the dirt, but I have a ton of chopped leaves that I raked off my garden. I wanted a place to keep the leaves until I need to put on the next layer so I built a makeshift "bin" out of some wooden stakes and leftover chicken wire. I put it right next to the Soil Saver and if I don't use all the leaves it will just keep composting and make more garden gold.
I was pretty pleased with myself for building this. It took about an hour and I got my hands somewhat scratched up, but at least it wasn't something else I added to the never ending "Honey Do" list. The disadvantage of having a super handy hubby is that you never have to build anything yourself. But right now David needs to get me ready a new chicken coop, a brooder box and a goat shed so I figured I could at least take this on.
So far so good and apparently it gets the chicken seal of approval. Go ahead, take a dump in there, it will only make for better veggies.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Some Earth Day love. A Terracycle Giveaway!

You may have heard me say it before - I am not artistic and I am not crafty. When I am called upon to whip up a homemade project or party favor, I utilize the one medium that I feel truly comfortable working in - garbage. Whether it's juice lid Christmas ornaments (in the hectic holiday season that post didn't make it up) or milk carton bird feeders, if a craft project can be made out of materials that would have otherwise ended up in the trashcan, I am far more likely to give it a go.
So you can see why seeing a single episode of "Big Ideas For a Small Planet" that featured Terracycle was a transformative experience for me. Although it was several years back, I distinctly remember the thrill I got when I saw their worm poop fertilizer which was packaged in reused plastic bottles. Not recycled, reused. Better. No process needed. Feed the worms some organic waste, put the resulting liquid in old bottles. In fact, this was the world's first product "to be made from and packaged entirely in waste!". David and I were all "Why didn't we think of that?" and knew that Terracycle was on to something.
Since then, Terracycle has expanded their line to include everything from backpacks to Skunk Odor Remover and they are one of the world's fastest growing environmentally friendly companies. Masters of upcycling, they sponsor brigades where you can collect specific types of trash and earn money for your school or organization in the process. I love how they are involving the masses to transform the way we think about how products are made and where our grabage goes.

I have a garden dream

I can't say it enough - I have no idea what I am doing. I am such a totally amateur gardener and there is an infinite amount to learn. I read some books, do some online research and take my best guess at what might work. This is our third season with our garden and each year I try something new, change or get rid of what didn't work previously and grow more or less of certain things. It's really just a big experiment and even the very helpful folks at the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden over at Cooperative Extension say they are always learning. Some stuff works, lots of stuff doesn't, mother nature hates you or loves you and then the seasons change and it begins all over.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Soaking in Soap Nuts - A Review

When I originally wrote about discovering Soap Nuts, it was purely because my curiosity was peaked. So much so that based upon Easy Eco To Go's write up, I ordered some from Laundry Tree and waited patiently for their arrival. At the same time, Easy Eco was having her Soap Nuts giveaway and since I already did a bunch of stuff needed to enter (like writing on your blog) I figured I should give that a whirl as well. Little did I know the success that would follow. Not only do I lovey, love, lover, loveness my Soap Nuts, but I won the Easy Eco giveaway. Double my pleasure!
So armed with a decent stash of Soap Nuts, I have set about transforming my cleaning of everything from underwear to windows. Here are some of my findings.
In my opinion, the Soap Nuts did an equal, if not slightly better job of getting things clean compared to regular HE detergent. The first load I tried was on wet dishtowels and the cloth napkins and washcloths we use at the table. This is usually the stinkiest stuff in the laundry as it has been very wet and has usually wiped up food, spilled milk, etc. The Soap Nuts got these perfectly clean and funky odor free.
I am a psycho about stain removal because there is nothing I hate more than a perfectly good piece of clothing ruined because somebody slopped chocolate down the front. I tried running a few things without applying any stain pre-treatment, but the stains remained. I pulled those items out, did my usual stain spray ritual and ran them again. The stains were gone. So I had to use a pre-treament, but I also have to use it with regular detergent. I am continuing to look for a reliable "green" alternative for stain removal. Sometimes, stains get better when the clothes are hung out in the sun to dry, but not always.
If bought in bulk and using the number of loads that Laundry Tree estimates you can do, the cost per load is about 17 cents. This is virtually the same as my regular detergent when purchase in the 150 fl oz size. If you want to use the Soap Nuts in the traditional method by throwing them right in with the wash, you will need some of the little bags and those are two for a $1.00. This is a one time investment. Purchasing the essential oils to add a nice scent to your laundry can add an additional $5, but it will last forever and is completely optional. Obviously if you buy in smaller quantities the cost goes up. If you don't need enough for 175 loads, you might consider splitting an order with someone.
In order to wash on cold, which is the most energy efficient choice, you need to make the "Soap Nut Soak". This could not be easier. Boil water, throw in your nuts. Let it sit overnight. Fish our your nuts. Done. I think this is the way to get the maximum amount of loads out of the Soap Nuts. Even the Laundry Tree website says "If you use hot water washes, your soapnuts will quickly release all of their saponin, and they won’t be good for as many re-uses". I found that I got two to three washes when I did them on warm, but they are never as foamy as the first load. With the Soak, you know that each load is getting the same amount of soap and it eliminates the guesswork.
Ease of use:
Overall, it could not have been simpler. Throw a few nuts in the little bag and toss it in. Much less messy than my regular liquid detergent which is constantly dripping all over the place and I always feel like so much is wasted in the measuring cup and left in the bottle. The only thing that was a challenge was finding the bag in the mass of wet laundry before I threw it in the dryer. A couple of times I ended up drying it because it was caught up in something. So now I am just more careful when transferring things.
Final Laundry Results:
I have to admit I was cautiously optimistic, but I can honestly say that the laundry has smelled better (with or without the addition of the essential oil) and is MUCH softer. Even the line dried stuff is softer and doesn't have that "chemicaled to death" feel. I have also seen a difference in my darling Josie's skin. She has super sensitive areas like (she is going to kill me) her butt cheeks. They are always red. Since I have been washing with the Soap Nuts they look way better because her underwear isn't irritating them anymore. Either that or she is getting around naked more and I just haven't noticed.
Other Cleaning:
One of the things that most intrigued me was the amount of other household cleaning that the Soak can be used for. I made the window cleaner by combining a bit of the soak with water and vinegar and it worked awesome! I did my sliding glass doors and they came out great. I also took the opportunity to try something I have always been skeptical about. I used newspaper instead of paper towels and  it worked just as well. Phasing out paper towels has been a struggle for me, but I may have stumbled upon a solution. Stay tuned for some love in that department!
I also used the soak to do a full kitchen cleanup and the counters got super clean. Plus, I always feel oogey about using chemicals (even the cleaners that claim to be "green") on food surfaces. Even if there was any residue from the soak it's natural so go ahead and eat right off the table kids. No need for plates anymore.
There are a bunch of other uses for the Soak and the one I still want to try is as a shampoo. I have previously mentioned my infrequent hair washing and I have been looking into the "No-Poo" method. I am thinking I will do a big experiment and try out some different things, but that will take a bit since I need to go a while between "poos" to get a true result.
So I honestly think I am sold on Soap Nuts and Laundry Tree should probably start harvesting double time because I may actually stay on top of my laundry with the added "feel good" appeal that washing now holds. Combine this with the ability to get stuff on the line on a regular basis now that's it's Spring and I may just become the Basket Master that I always wanted to be. Now if I could just teach the chickens to fold towels, I'd be in heaven.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Five super simple ways to start saving money and resources right now.

1. Cut down on how often you wash your hair. Less frequent shampooing is actually better for your hair. You can still shower, less frequent personal hygiene is not necessary better for you or your social life. You can either wear a shower cap or wet your hair, but not wash it. I rinse my hair in the shower everyday and then just put on a dab of leave in conditioner and comb it out, but I only shampoo and condition about once a week. I can make a rather small bottle of shampoo last for months and I have some seriously thick hair.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Name Game

So I am thinking about changing the name of my blog before I go too much further. I had originally wanted "Ecocheapo", but that was taken, as well as a few variances of it that I checked. I like Simple Butta, but I am sure people are like "What the heck is Butta?". Well, I am. Butta was my nickname for a great many years when I attended, volunteered at and, ultimately, worked for NH Teen Institute. We were all about nametags and one time, someone wrote "Is smooth like Butta" under the "Heather" on my tag and the Butta ended up being more visible than my name and the new attendees started calling me that. It sort of caught on and sinced there were about 10 other Heather's (I think my parents thought they were being real original, but so did everyone else in the 70's) it helped to have a different title. Some old school Teen Institute folks and others from youth retreat days still call me it. I don't mind, I'm still pretty creamy.
But now I am thinking I should have a more befitting moniker for my blog. Maybe EcoFriendlyFrugal? Or Earthy&Frugal? Cheap&Green? I am open to input. So if you happen to notice that you are redirected to something other than Simple Butta, don't be alarmed, it's still me. Just with a new nametag.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Meatles Monday - Just Wanna Sprout About It!

With the gorgeous weekend weather, I have good reason to believe that we have bid our final farewell to winter. Our garlic is on the grow and I am beginning to prep the garden beds for the season.
Garlic shoots *photo by Josie, age 5
Last fall we chopped leaves by running them over with the lawn mower (which David didn't think would work - It did!) and covered the raised beds with them. I read that this would help to introduce more organic matter into the soil and so far it looks to have done the job. When I raked the leaves off the strawberry bed the soil was dark and rich. I worked the remaining bits of leaves into the dirt and then put the rest in the compost pile.
It is great to get back out into the garden and get my hands dirty. My work here has taken on even greater meaning after our inspiring trip to D Acres yesterday and I can't wait to share that with you.
But for now, let's talk sprouts. Last week was my first venture into growing my own sprouts and we enjoyed them on the ride up to D Acres. Sprouts are another throwback my youth when my mother used to send me sprout sandwiches to school and kids used to moo while I ate. That's OK, I forgive them. They didn't know what they were missing.
I am using a Bioset sprout grower that I got from Johnny's Selected Seeds and I am very impressed with how easy it is and how simply I incorporated it into my daily routine. Basically, you just spread the sprouting seeds (there are special seeds for this, you can order those form Johnny's as well and they are mostly organic) in the trays. Then you stack them up and fill the top tray (white) with water while holding your finger over a small valve on the bottom. You place the watering tray on top of the stack and the water flows down through each level and is collected in the bottom which you then empty out. There are little grooves in each tray that hold onto just the right amount of moisture. I fill the tray twice per day so I probably spend about 2 minutes total on this per day.
My first batch was broccoli sprouts which are nice and spicy, just like me. The package said it would take 2-5 days. There was lots of action during this time, but I harvested them on Day 6. I now have my all time favorite sprouts in there, alfalfa. I added many more seeds this round. I only put about half as much as I could have the first time since I wasn't sure how much space they would take up once "sprouted". I should be dining on these by the end of the week.
From seed to sandwich in 6 days.
There are countless ways to enjoy sprouts. I like them on salads, but my favorite is a sprout sandwich. I love pita bread, but I also use whole wheat. I love it with some grated carrots and some cheddar cheese. For creaminess I either put a little mayo on the bread or some sliced avocado. OK, now I'm drooling. Give it a go and you'll be like "Cold cuts? I don't need no stinking cold cuts!" Try it and then give me sprout!

Friday, April 2, 2010

This Bunny Says "Cheap"

I'm not sure when Easter turned into the second coming of Christmas, but it is ridiculous how extravagant the store displays have gotten. Although any secular gluttony seems a bit weird to me since our standard Easter goodies were typically a bookmark that said "He Is Risen" and a package of yellow Peeps. If I haven't mentioned it before, my mom is fairly religious (Episcopalian) and we didn't "do" stuff like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. We gifted and celebrated and had egg hunts, but always with the "reason for the season" in mind. I never felt jipped and although I am not nearly as dedicated to matters of faith as my mother, I try to remind my kids how these holidays came to be and that they are not merely an excuse to get stuff.
So when I am putting together Easter baskets, I am truly wearing my EcoCheapo hat and trying to assemble them using a little "new" as possible because even better than something that was made in an environmentally responsible way is something that was not "made" for this occasion at all. In the immortal words of Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally, "It's already out there".