Okay, okay. The whole "hashtag life hack"-thing that's happening right now is totally obnoxious. Let's you and me use good old-fashioned word resourcefulness instead. Last month, Lauren posted about her awesome "free firewood in the city"-scheme using this very word. Reading about how this mom of three rambunctious boys, who not only makes up her own fun for them, but does stuff like take her youngest to help get said free firewood, inspired me to think of the small ways that we all create and use our resources.
Hacks are for folks looking to make something a little easier in their every day lives, shortcuts if you will. Nothing wrong with that. However, a lot of us though prefer the long road to making things flow more smoothly, to take our time instead.
I thought it would be fun, if we could all trade some tips on how we make our own lives work better. Thoughts on saving money, making the most of all things wild and free whether we live in the country, or the city, health tricks, recipes...
I'll admit it; I was slow to warm up to the joys of the slow cooker. It seemed to me like something my aunt would have been into in the 80s. Kind of like the bread machines that everyone had in the 90s. However, a few years back my friend Julie totally convinced me that I should use the old crockpot I got for making soap for making soup instead, and I've never looked back. Soups, broth, stew, anything is possible, if you want to cook tomorrow's dinner tonight. I actually use mine to most for soaking beans. Before I put them in the slow cooker, I bring them to a boil on the stove, then get rid of the water and start with fresh water (this makes them more digestible), they cook over night and by the time I get home the next day, all there is to do is to put on the rice and cook some veggies. Housewife's delight.
2. Baking powder and baking soda work for almost everything, stain remover, cleaner, odor eliminator, these two little powders have so many uses (see below!). I like to use baking soda to scrub my sinks and counters mixed with super diluted Dr. Bronner's Magic soap (my all-time favorite cleaning product for everything). Which brings me to...
3. Dilute everything. Dr. Bronner's actually tells you to dilute it, but with most traditional and natural cleaning products you can use about half as much as the amount on the packaging. Or heck, make your own cleaning products for dirt cheap prices (see below).
4. Free food/ medicine. We talk about wild crafting a lot on this blog, but really it bears repeating: there's not better food than free food and even if you don't live in the country there's plenty of opportunities if you keep your eyes open. In fact, things like rosehips are sometimes better out of people's gardens, than in the wild (taste wise at least). My favorite free food things are: wild berries (how I miss the abundance of wild berries in Finland!), apples, or other fruit from abandoned orchards, or from neighbors who can't pick all of them, things that are abundant in season, in any forest, field, or roadside like spruce tips, rose hips and nettles up here.
5. A plan for leftovers. I think I may have been a matriarch of a large family in a past life, because frankly I always cook way too much and love feeding people. However, I always plan around the leftovers for the next day's meal.
Cooking big batches of something and preserving it, can also be a real boon. Things like pesto in the summer are so easy make in vast quantities, require relatively little freezer space and are so fun to pop out later in the year to make an instant meal, or be added to soups and things. When things are in season, it's fun to just bust our mad quantities of stuff for other days. Usually, I try to have ingredients around for at least one meal that I can just whip up if I don't feel like cooking, most often bulk pasta, canned tomato sauce and squash and greens or meat.
6. Our family loooves hot sauce. We go through so much of it. When I get bottles that are basically empty, with just the dregs that won't come out I put some olive oil in them and swish around: instant salad dressing/ flavored oil!
7. Toast your seeds, complimentary with every squash! This is actually my sister's recipe, but I was the one that put it to pumpkin seed. I put mine in a bowl of water and put it in the fridge. This makes it easier to get the string-y, flesh-y part of. After you've more or less cleaned your seeds toss them on a pan with some oil. Keep stirring every few minutes. Then when they start to brown toss in some soy sauce (or liquid aminos if you're a damn hippy like me) and brewer's yeast, stir vigorously until the seeds are totally crunchy to the taste. Ps. This seasoning also works great with Mali's original food, zucchinis.
Health and beauty:
1. A kitchen/ pantry has most everything you might need for your teeth, good immune system, glowing skin. All the oils, some of the spices, yogurt in your fridge, baking soda...what better way to treat your aches and pains than the stuff you can actually eat?
2. Honey's good for the skin. It is antiseptic and anti-fungal, and helps seal out bacteria. Chapped lips, eczema, scars, honey helps the skin mend in record time. It's also excellent for healing burns.
Turmeric is also excellent for most skin problems, I sometimes mix it in honey and apply topically. Taken internally before a meal it also has digestive aid properties. I sometimes take some against acid reflux.
3. Oils have many uses. I often use either olive oil, or coconut oil as a lotion, or to treat my hair. Rubbing coconut oil into the dry tips before shampoo is a good way to make them less coarse.
Another amazing thing about oils is oil pulling. This ancient Ayurvedic method for dental care, involves about a teaspoon to a tablespoon of olive, sunflower, or coconut oil and swishing it in your mouth for up to twenty minutes and then spitting it out. You can start at three-five minutes and build up to a longer time. Oil pulling not only helps your gums to stay cleaner, reduces plaque and thus improves the overall health of your teeth, but it's also thought to help clean out toxins (which why I started to do it in the first place) and improve one's skin. Brush your teeth afterwards though.
4. Speaking of brushing teeth. Ever made, or wanted to make your own toothpaste.? It's so easy. All you need is the mighty baking soda, water (preferably filtered, but whatever) and optionally salt and peppermint essential oil (or heck any other oil you'd like). I use 2/3 cups of baking soda, 1/2 tsp of finely ground sea salt and 20 drops of peppermint oil. Mix in water to get the desired consistence. Even with the oil this is about the cheapest toothpaste on earth and always on hand ($4 saved for the Philippines!). Make sure you rinse your toothbrush well, the baking soda makes it cement a little.
5. Speaking of making your own anything with baking soda, or anything else for that matter, I highly recommend investing some dollars and buying this book. Raleigh Briggs is a domestic rebel goddess of epic proportions. (And this awesome publishing house has sliding scale prices!) I've had mine for quite a few years and it's the ultimate homestead hacking book. Easy entry to making your own cleaners, healthcare and even gardening. If you're considering entering the home-making sphere this here is a friendly, low-treshold, fun little zine to guide you along the way. Seriously.
6. Chamomile and black tea diluted in lukewarm water and dripped from above are better for eye infections and allergy-induced irritation than store-bought eye-drops. Short of breast-milk, black tea is the gentlest, fastest way to cure an eye-infection. Just make sure you dilute it.
7. Your kitchen can also double as your veterinary medicine cabinet. Apple cider vinegar is not only good for my hubs, who drinks it as a tonic, but it is excellent for livestock as well. I mix it in with my chicken's water, to boost their immunity. My boss' partner gives it to his goats and apparently it's good for cows, pigs and sheep too. It does not, however, work on cats. I believe the face they made is translated as "Bitch,you put this s*** in my drink again and I'll f*** you up while you sleep."
Also, that oatmeal there is for the chickens as well. During cold snaps in a climate where we don't get too many of those, I make them their own oat meal. Preferably you'd give it to them at night, but they'll appreciate a warm (not too hot) meal in the morning too. The warmth at night helps them bring their resting temperature up.
8. I could talk to the moon and back about feminine health tips, but I'll try to hold myself back. One of the posts I've meant to write many times, but have never gotten it together is on the Fertility Awareness Method. I know I've mentioned the topic before in passing and I think I mentioned that I've taught a few classes on it. In case anyone hasn't yet heard of it, it's a method based on monitoring one's body for the signs of fertility, through taking one's body temperature each morning and monitoring one's cervical fluid. How is this resourcefulness, you may ask?
If you're a woman of fertile age and in a steady (I only say this because if you're, you know, bed-hopping, use a condom. You can still practice FAM, just not use it as your sole birth control method) sexual relationship, you most likely are somewhat preoccupied with your fertility, either trying to achieve, or prevent a pregnancy (and even if you're not in a heterosexual relationship and are not trying to achieve a pregnancy, there's a lot in FAM that's purely helpful in terms of your women's health stuff).
FAM is an affordable way to both avoid and achieve a pregnancy, as well as recognize and even diagnose many health concerns, including ones unrelated to your actual reproductive health. It's also a pretty big step towards self-care. I know it seems like a pain in the neck, but so are mood-swings and blood clots.
If you're at all interested in this stuff, I'd recommend reading either Taking Charge Of Your Fertility, Honoring Our Cycles, or The Garden Of Fertility, or taking one of Planned Parenthood's classes. (Sorry about the Amazon links, if you can't support your local bookstore, buy used on Amazon, 'cos you know, evil.)
At the very least, I think charting your moon is a simple way to track your overall health and gain a better understanding of the different internal and external forces that effect your body. If you're ambitious, you can also chart the secondary signs of ovulation without charting your basal body temperature.
Other favorite women's health tips of mine include the old stand-bys of raspberry leaf tea in the week before your moon (a great thing to harvest yourself, even if you don't have the plants you can always ask someone who does, people usually don't mind having the leaves trimmed a little), parsley during your actual time to replenish the iron, damiana and black cohosh for the libido, yogurt and tampon treatment for yeast infections and cranberry juice for UTIs (this works for dudes too).
(Yogurt also neutralizes hot pepper sting. Really helpful if you like spices and end up rubbing your eyes afterwards.)
9. A clove or garlic in, or a wedge of onion behind your ear if you have an ear ache can help stymie and actual infection from developing.
A few cloves of garlic, mashed up with honey (to make it go down easier and not burn your stomach) always helps us nip colds in the bud, especially if they're not full-on yet. My stepdad eats a clove of garlic a day. But he's Hungarian. Garlic is magical medicine though.
Other Random Tips:
1. My other chicken trick is pretty simple. If you give the birds back their eggshells, thoroughly crushed, they can recoup some of the calcium they've lost making them in the first place. (I've also heard that if you clean the shells really well and run them through a coffee grinder or a food processor you can take the resulting powder instead of glucosamine for joint problems. Haven't tried it yet myself. A little intimidated. )
2. If you have a garden and use natural soaps, keep a five gallon bucket in the shower with you. Use the water that accumulates in it to water your plants. The trace amounts of soap with fight aphids and other predators (and will end up in the water-table regardless) and frankly I'm shocked by how much water one shower brings, especially since the bucket doesn't collect nearly all of it.
3. We heat with wood and I like to double the energy I'm burning by heating a big kettle of dishwater on it around dinner time. Don't leave it on though unless you live somewhere where you actually need to add moisture to the air. Also known as not the PNW.
4. Vinegar removes mildew smell, or body-odour from fabric. I sometimes soak our laundry in vinegar water just to add a little cleanness since we use such a short cycle to save water. In many, if not most, washing machines you can cheat and just have a the first wash use the water already in the drum, if your machine doesn't do that, you can just add a little vinegar in with the soap.
...or soapnuts. When I first moved back to the States I was super confused why no one I knew used them, even though I live in a pretty hippie-dippie environment. Minimal packaging, completely biodegradable, tens of washes from a small handful of the stuff, soapnuts are way better than even the earth/allergy-friendliest soap.
And if you, like my husband, think that the laundry smells like patchouli after soapnuts, you can always put a few drops of essential oil onto the lint-trap of the drier (We live in the PNW and recently had a horrific experience with mold so I don't line dry stuff indoors anymore.).
5. I know I just wrote about money and finances, but I thought I'd share a few more "saving/ scrimping"-tips I have. Frugality, after all, is just another way to be resourceful. However, this tip is actually not so much about being frugal as it is about being intentional with indulgences. Being a grown-up I find that it's hard to save for little things that you want, but don't necessarily absolutely need. What would be saving from for those? Household expenses? The already saved "bigger life-dreams and goals"-savings?
When I made a lot of tips, I would save half or a third of that money for fun frivolous expenses, because, well, it seemed like extra money, since we couldn't exactly figure it into our household budget, not knowing what it was going to be each day.
These days, though, I save from frivolous grocery purchases. Writing that down makes me feel so very old. But, it works. Each time I'm about to buy an unnecessary grocery item, I weight it's cost against saving that same money towards something I want, like a art print, or a book, or new tools or materials for crafting. Often just the thought of adding that money into my meagre fund, keeps me from buying a snack, or a drink, or a pastry, which mostly is all the better for my constitution as well. Sometimes I feel like the joy I'll get from a croissant is greater than the joy of saving that money. But more often than not, I save my dollars. It's like smoking, it actually adds up pretty quickly once you stop buying the stuff.
Another favorite financial thing that C. and do together is to take out the amount of cash we hope we'll manage with for the month, after bills, and then split it between us. He pays for the gas and propane and animal food and I pay for our food. We don't use our cards, making it so that the amount of money in our bank account remains the same throughout the month. It's taught us a lot about how we spend money and what we spend it on.
That's all I can come up with off the top of my head, but what I'm really curious about is how are you resourceful?