Posted in Home

Expedition Journal #3: Faking a Phone

A few months ago I started on a mission to explore some technology-stuff I might want to use, and (having done the research) reported my opinions findings here… In my first expedition, I went prospecting on Pinterest (which has continued to serve me well—and has continued to be FUN), and I followed that up with assessing various photo sites for storing & editing & organizing & sharing family photos.

I still have a substantial list of tech-stuff I want to check out (with the idea of streamlining and organizing life, rather than adding more “time-sucks”), but I’ve gotten diverted and distracted by… oh, I don’t know, Life. Un-streamlined and disorganized as it is. But here we are, resuming the series again because I had reason to go hunting once more. As I wrote recently, we’re playing Budget Limbo (How LOW can we go?), and one of the creative cuts that occurred to us was the idea of dropping our phone service.

Maybe this should have been a no-brainer for me a long time ago. I’m pretty sure I tie (with my sister, and possibly our dad) for the title of Most Phone-Phobic Person Ever. I have always hated talking on the phone. When I had jobs that required phone contact (like program coordinator for the Girl Scouts, where the majority of my arranging-of-logistics for events around the state had to be accomplished by phone), I would habitually fill the first couple hours of each morning with all the other tasks I could find, all the while working myself up to a state of readiness for having to pick up the phone. Total dread, every time—completely irrational, but there we have it. There is one person in my life that I can dial without difficulty—my mom.  And even she would complain (correctly) that I still seldom DO so.

Wait, do you see CALLING on this list?? (infographic courtesy of

I was probably the happiest person on the planet (maybe tied again with my sister and our dad) when texting was invented.  Hallelujah, I could get my communication accomplished without actually dialing. I do text a lot (especially with our teenager!—I challenge any parent of a teen these days to have a clue about their kid’s life without this tool), and I recognize that having a contact number is still an indispensable evil. We get calls from the kids’ schools, and pharmacist, and doctors’ offices, and (until his heatstroke-prompted resignation) Keoni’s work, and (the one call I’m NOT loathe to answer) from the younger kids when they’re with their dad.

No matter how little I want to use it, it’s just not practical NOT to have a phone number. Still… We had slashed our monthly bills (after rent) down to $300, and a full $125 of that was our phone bill! We’ve been on the most basic plan available with the single carrier that gets service where we live, but that’s quite a chunk of change for the simple privilege of having a phone number.

Enter… The texting-and-calling smart-phone app!  A smartphone without phone service still picks up wifi internet just fine… Haha, why didn’t I think of this before?

Weighing the pros and cons of a phone app versus actual phone service, it really comes down to just a single con and a single pro.

CON: the app only works when the phone is picking up a wifi signal. So we can use them just fine at home (i.e. pick up those “important” calls for which it’s necessary to have a phone number, and keep tabs on the Teen), but Keoni at the store won’t be able to pick up a text from me with an addition to the shopping list. I can live with that. We also won’t have phone service if we go on the road–but in Idaho that is usually the case anyway! During out six-hour drive to visit my parents in northern Idaho last month, I got cell reception in exactly two spots. (My parents’ house, incidentally, was not one of them.)

PRO: Easy one. Our monthly bills (after rent) are down from $300 to $175. Score!

All that remained was to find an app that would get us a phone number and allow us to text and (sigh, when necessary) call via wifi. My main search criterion was to find something free, and there turned out to be a rather overwhelming number of apps available that  offer free texting, many of them with calling available as well. I’ll spare you the run-down on all the ones I looked at (and installed, and goofed around with) and rejected, but in case anybody else is thinking along these lines, I’ll share the two we found that we’re using (one on each phone).

textPlus (icon courtesy of


This app is available in a text-only or a text-with-calling version for free, or if you want to go without any ads on your screen, you can pay a couple bucks for the “Gold” version. You get a regular phone number, and can place calls and send text messages from the screen of your smart phone, pretty much the same as you would do with the phone’s “regular” functions.

The app can be integrated with your existing contact list or address book, as well as your Facebook account, Yahoo and Google contacts, and I don’t even know what else. (You may have already guessed that I’m not the phone-social person who’s going to be using these particular features, but they exist for the rest of you…)

You don’t automatically get free calling by using the app, but you can get free calling. Here’s the deal. Any calls made app-to-app (instead of to a “regular” cell phone number or land line) are always free—kind of like the “family plans” with some phone companies. So if there are a couple main numbers you call most often, you might get those folks to download the app as well.

For using it with outside-the-app phone numbers, though, you start out with just 5 or 10 calling-minutes. Having said that, there’s an option to “get free minutes,” most easily accomplished by watching their free video-ads. (I sat with the phone next to me—and the volume muted!—one day, and just kept hitting the “watch video” button while I worked, racking up more minutes than I’d be likely to use this year…)

One feature that might be considered a negative (but which we didn’t figure out until we’d racked up a bunch of minutes) is that there’s not an opportunity for an incoming caller to leave a voice message. The app shows you that they have called, but they can only send a message if they can text. (Not so useful if they’re calling from a land-line at the school or pharmacy.) This one won’t be a deal-breaker, though, because this app is downloaded on Keoni’s phone, and we give out my number for those things. And on my phone (because it’s so ancient it won’t run TextPlus) there’s a different app:

Text Me! 2 (icon courtesy of

TextMe 2

In most of their layout and functionality, these two apps are super-similar. Same features, same set-up, same deal. A couple differences in practical application…  Potentially a big one: TextMe 2 allows me to record a voicemail greeting, and allows callers to leave a voice message for me. However…

When another person calls my number, I don’t get any notification  on the phone that there’s an incoming call. The caller just ends up at my recorded voice message—after which I get a notification that there has been a call, along with the option to play any message. As I think about it, maybe that could be considered a positive feature for Ms. Phone-Phobia—kind of like an automatic call-screener… Though I’d like to be able to pick right up at least when the kids call. Still, this is something I can live with.

Bottom Line?

Well in this case, the “bottom line” really IS the bottom line. Would I consider taking on the inconveniences of dropping cell service if I weren’t singularly determined to cut every possible expense? The answer might be “no,” since I haven’t done so before now. (Of course, the app-idea also didn’t occur to me before now…) But I don’t think I’ll know the real answer until we’ve been using these for a while. I probably can’t answer this question fairly until the time (whenever it may be) when our finances are stable enough to renew regular phone service, and the answer will be found in whether we choose to do so.

Among our options, there’s a pocket-sized “mobile hotspot” we could get from our internet provider, for $30/month more than our current $35 internet bill. It’s not an expense we’ll spring for now, but if the apps prove not to be too cumbersome, we go with the mobile hotspot at some point rather than the more expensive option of “real” phone service…

I’ll let you know. It just won’t be via phone-call.

Posted in Family, Home

Our Little Patch of Plantation

image courtesy of

The current buzz-word for this practice is Urban Homesteading, but “urban” doesn’t quite describe us. Our little place isn’t within the city limits of any town (and if it were, even Idaho’s capital city barely qualifies as “urban”)… Perhaps in our case we should call it “backyard homesteading,” or just plain “turning-a-regular-home-into-a-mini-farm.”

Whatever you choose to call it, that’s the idea behind the Urban Homesteading movement: creating a self-sustaining lifestyle wherever you already happen to live. Or if you’d like a more “official” definition:

Urban Homestead.n. The home of a family living by principals of low-impact, sustainable self-sufficiency through activities such as gardening for food production, cottage industry, extensive recycling, and generally simple living.

People are undertaking Urban Homesteading in cities, in towns, in apartment blocks, in suburban backyards… In short, they’re Homesteading wherever they live. (And many of them are blogging about it!)

Keoni & Christian working on our chicken house

When Keoni and I talk about our plans to move back to Hawai’i and build a Bed & Breakfast on our Big-Island acre, we always envision that establishment as fully self-sufficient, but for some reason it hadn’t dawned on us until recently that we don’t have to wait for that venture before we start taking strides toward that lifestyle. For the B&B we picture starting from scratch with sustainability in mind—water-catchments, solar panels, composting toilets, fruit trees and garden, fishing-boat… We intend to live entirely off the grid (except for an internet connection). But we realized recently that it doesn’t have to be an “all-or-nothing” project, and we needn’t wait until we can do ALL of that to start doing some of it. The real point of “Urban” sustainability is making do with what you have, where you are.

Christian learning some new tools

If we all waited until we could afford to spend thousands of dollars on solar panels, we might never get started at all. So we’ve been asking ourselves what we CAN do now to live more sustainably… And we’re surprised by the lengthy list. Our little trailer-court plot is on its way to becoming a VERY-mini Homestead. Some of this won’t be new to you Regular Readers, but there’s something satisfying in looking at it all together…

  • We’re building a chicken coop for laying-hens. This is a project that began with our son Christian’s disclosure of his long-standing wish to raise chickens (who knew?!)  and it was in the process of researching “backyard chickens” that we began to come across references to Urban Homesteading… Seed of an idea planted!
  • a giant home-grown zucchini—too heavy to lift?

    We’ve been practicing “kitchen chemistry” in making our own household cleaners and personal care products. This, too, was a project that pre-dated the Homesteading idea, and stemmed not from noble environmental leanings, but from lack of money… Still, it got us thinking more along the lines of sustainability.

  • We’ve been sharing our neighbor Bill’s vegetable garden, and started growing our own kitchen herbs. And getting creative even on some little things… When sunflowers started sprouting beneath our bird-feeder, we transplanted them along the fence—hopefully by next summer we’ll be able to supply the bird-feeder ourselves.
  • I’ve written here about our habits of bartering and scrounging—we’re turning the practice of getting-stuff-for-free into an outright art form! Just yesterday we were over at one of the trailers in our neighborhood that was due to be demolished, pulling out some paneling (for use on the chicken house) and a ceiling light (for our living room) and a bunch of mirrors (I have Pinterest-inspired projects in mind) and some other odds-and-ends… We have always practiced recycling (we’re fortunate to have curb-side pick-up, and our Recycle bin is usually more full than our trash), but until recently, we hadn’t explored the practice of UPcycling.
pulling some paneling (and a vent) for chicken-coop construction, from the neighborhood trailer about to be demolished
  • We joined the Freecycle network, which provides a venue for members to give away (and pick up!) used items. We’ve posted a number of items as we’ve been sorting through and cleaning out our two sheds (we moved in such a hurried jumble that most of this stuff hasn’t seen daylight in the year since we moved here), and we have picked up several free items ourselves… Last week we picked up a partially-built dollhouse for Elena Grace (she’s uninterested in the chicken coop, but feeling left out nonetheless—hopefully this will serve as a parallel project with her), a couple rolls of chicken wire for the coop under construction, and materials to build…
  • garden helper
    Elena Grace fertilizing plants

    …a compost bin! Next summer we’ll probably graduate from garden-sharing to breaking ground on a plot of our own. I’d like to learn canning and drying, and we’ll see how much of a dent we can make in our grocery bills. The composter will be a help in fertilizing the growing-goods, and will materially cut down the amount of trash we’re sending to the landfill.

  • We do practice some small-scale water catchment, which we use for watering our plants. Truth be told, though, there’s not a lot of rain to catch in our high-desert Idaho climate (annual rainfall here is around eleven inches)… We’re happily situated on an island of the Boise River where the water table is barely below the surface, and we’re living on a well. We have a little timer on our water hose and run the sprinkler regularly—and with very little guilt, knowing that the water will seep right back in to the water table rather than being “wasted.” Our focus here is making sure that our water returns clean, particularly given that whatever seeps into the water table here will be showing up next in our well… Our natural composting (contrasted with store-bought chemical fertilizers) and home-made cleaning products will definitely be a “plus” in this regard.
  • small solar charger
    something like this could keep the internet up when the power is down..

    I would love to be able to switch to solar power (we certainly have enough sunshine here to make it feasible!) but that’s an expensive project. So we’re coming at this one from the other end, and working on cutting our power use. This summer’s project-list (after the chicken coop and the compost barrel) includes an outdoor clothesline—the clothes dryer is the single biggest power-suck in the house! We’re also looking at some serious weather-proofing before winter, because our power bill jumped ridiculously high last year when the cold weather set in. I’m actually looking at a small solar charger that can be used to power small items like phone and iPad chargers, and our internet router. We actually lose power out here with ridiculous frequency—it seems every time there’s a thunder storm or snow storm, we spend a few hours in the dark. The rest of the family doesn’t mind—the kids go straight to books and Legos and other no-power-needed activities—but it can wreak havoc with my writing deadlines when I can’t get online! There are a number of small solar chargers on the market for thirty bucks and under—I might be giving one of these a try.

Elena Grace getting creative with a planter…

When I was a kid, I used to make a game of pretending my bedroom was a houseboat, and that it was going to float away from the rest of the house on some exploring-adventure. I’d try to set up my houseboat-room so it would be entirely self-sufficient for my imaginary journey. I wasn’t allowed to have food in my room, but I’d stock up on plastic food from my sister’s grocery-shopping set, and put a can in my closet to serve as a (pretend!) chamber pot, and make sure all my favorite things were in the room with me, and stock up on maps (my dad’s old triple-A triptychs)…  I don’t remember actually pretending any of the journeys–it was the preparation that kept my interest, the idea of rendering my space entirely self-contained so it could float away on its own…

“I’m a chicken in my chicken-house!”

That childhood game of mine comes to mind again as we fiddle with improvements to our place, make do for ourselves, and work at cutting down outside costs. Truth be told, I hardly ever leave our little plot of yard—my writing-work is here at home, and we don’t Go Out for entertainment purposes or have a lot of errands to run… I could pretty well play my boat-game here, with the yard-boundaries of our “Homestead” being the deck-rails of the houseboat, everything our family needs contained within its small borders… I’m ready to cast off the mooring lines and float away in my imagination. I just hope the chickens don’t get seasick.

Posted in Family, Home

A Tattooed Chicken-Farmer in Heat (Wait, that didn’t come out right…)

Keoni’s thermometer at work last night. No, it’s not stuck in a hot dish—the KITCHEN was 118 degrees F!

Okay, okay: “A Tattooed Chicken-Farmer in THE Heat.” That’s what I meant. (Though our teenager, who has learned to approach our door warily if he arrives home unexpectedly, might vote for the original…)

Point is, it’s HOT in high-desert Idaho in the summer. Too hot to think. Too hot to remember all the, um… the little thingy-words that should go in the title. (Too hot to remember what we call the little thingy-words… Oh, articles! Yeah, those.)

It’s just. Damn Hot.

Elena Grace avoiding “bad form”

As if to psychically second what I was just typing… Christian is giving his sister instructions for using the iPad’s App Shopper to find new games: “There you go, yeah. For device you pick ‘iPad,’ for the price you pick ‘Free,’ and for categories you pick ‘Games’.”

I piped up with the motherly suggestion that the “Education” category also includes a lot of games, to which he replied with narrowed eyes, “Mom, it’s Summer! That would be bad form!”

[Who taught this mouthy kid to talk like that, anyway?   …Oh.]

Did I mention that it’s too hot for thinking?

Using my fancy watering-can to try and keep plants from shriveling with heat. Thinking of trying it on My People as well.

So today, here’s a mishmash jumble of odds-and-ends that haven’t made it into the blog in the last few weeks. Along with thanks to my friend Le Clown for the “tattooed chicken-farmer” moniker, which had the whole family giggling this morning!

The Art of Scrounging

I wrote recently about the much-maligned art of Packrat-ism, but hadn’t put a name to the activity that precedes Packrat-ing—namely, Scrounging.

Scrounge, v.  Finding cool shit in unlikely places.

our “scrounged” beach cart

Keoni is a master at this. Particularly if you expand that (highly technical) definition to include creative use of materials-at-hand to meet needs for which they weren’t originally designed… (Witness, for example, my “watering can” above.)

Just for fun, here’s a (partial) list of his scrounging-successes just in the last few weeks:

  • A folding cart that’s perfect for rolling our beach-stuff (cooler, portable BBQ, chairs, towels) from the car to the beach. Or, for that matter, from our house to the beach when the car has accompanied Keoni to work. There used to be a roadside vegetable stand near us, and this cart was among the things they abandoned when they closed up…
  • A 55-gallon soy-sauce barrel from a restaurant supply company, which is now destined to become our compost barrel. After we finish the chicken-house.
  • Christian demonstrating a Taekwondo move with his raft-pole

    Basaltic boulders (cleared from a construction site) to build our planned backyard fire-pit.

  • A metal fence-post for Christian to use in poling his inner-tube around the lake. (He tried a tree-branch walking-stick but punctured his ride almost immediately with one of its branch stubs…)
  • A bicycle. When he offered to help our neighbor Chuck, a disabled vet, to assemble the bike-bits leaning against his porch, Chuck said he intended to donate it… Well, we’ve been looking for a bike!
  • All the wood for our chicken-house project (including the house-shaped end pieces, from the same abandoned fruit stand). He came home on several occasions with two-by-fours strapped to the side of the car as if the Buick had taken up jousting…
  • …And speaking of Bessie Buick, several replacement bits for her dinged front end—and a pair of jumper cables!—from the “Jalopy Jungle” junkyard…
  • I appropriated one of the firepit-rocks to paint this “warning” for our front steps…

    Leftover wooden fence-post pieces from a ranch down the road, now sliced into different heights and standing on end to edge the boardwalk leading up to our house…

  • Stackable plastic soda crates (our grocery store let us take them) which have served in turn as craft table, fan stand, outdoor seating, and sawhorse…
  • Leftover tar paper from a nearby paving-job, perfect for use as a weed barrier underneath…
  • …the starter beds of wildflowers we’ve dug up from various places, and herbs we’ve transplanted.

In my previous life I would have gone straight to the store when I wanted any of these things—even the damn landscaping rocks—but this is WAY more satisfying.

Father-Son Bonding & Glitter Nail Polish

how Guys remove nail polish

Our teenage son stood in our bedroom doorway the other night and announced that he had to ask us a serious question.

[Parental attention engaged!]

“Do my toes match my outfit?”

As it turns out, his girlfriend had painted his toenails for him. And as it turns out, glitter nail polish is a bitch to remove. My nail polish remover was no match for the stuff… but luckily the stuff was no match for Dad’s pocket knife.

How [not] to Repel a Brother

Christian pointed out to Elena Grace the other day that she might want to re-think how she labeled her diary if she really didn’t want anyone to read it. I noticed the next morning she had done some editing:

Before & After the Brotherly Advice


Christian reading in his tent-fort

I think it’s been about four months since either of the younger kids have actually slept in their beds.

Around Spring Break our daughter and her wife visited from California, and we shuffled around the sleeping arrangements for a few days with the younger kids in “tent-forts” in the living room. Christian’s tent-fort, under a U.S. Marine Corps blanket draped across the corner of the room, has been there ever since. We moved Elena Grace’s tent-fort into her bedroom after the Cali-kids left, draped between her desk and chair. We laugh about the fact that she’s not using her perfectly-good bed… But it did make things easy when my mom visited—Elena Grace was already installed in her tent, with the unused bed waiting for Grandy.

Christian’s tent-occupation is, to some extent, a matter of privacy. That might seem counter-intuitive, since he’s planted right in the middle of the household now, but unlike his sister, he had a shared room—and suffice it to say that the sleep-habits of 11-year-olds and 16-year-olds are not a perfect match. Christian wakes early to read, but didn’t want to disturb his brother by turning on his lamp. Kapena comes home late from work or friends’ homes and was less observant about how his entrances affected Christian’s sleep.

Elena Grace in her tent-fort, before it got too HOT for flannel pajamas

Even at his dad’s house where he has a room to himself, I don’t think he feels it’s HIS room anymore. He has never been a guy who enjoyed surprises, so he was kind of traumatized when he arrived after a weekend with us to find his furniture replaced, his favorite reading-chair sitting in the street with the trash, and some of his favorite things mysteriously missing. (The kids have noted several times how assiduously their stepmother erases traces of ME in that household… And the reading chair had belonged to my grandfather.)

So bit by bit, Christian has been bringing his most Special Things to this household, and setting them up in his tent-fort where they’re safe.  Remarking on the fact that we allow him the permanent occupation of a living-room corner, he told me the other day that I’m “not really a traditional kind of Mom.”  Um… Thanks?

When it’s TOO HOT…

There’s only one place for a tattooed chicken-farmer and her family to go. We pack up our little scrounged cart and get our scorched butts to the beach.

Living in a climate that ranges from (Fahrenheit) five degrees in the winter to one-hundred-five in the summer, we sometimes think wistfully of the consistently temperate weather back in Hawai’i… But we’ve also learned not to lose out on the joys of Today by living in our  heads anticipating something different. Just think what we’d miss!—Today. Hot as it is, still a day with our ‘Ohana.

Posted in Family, Home

“Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens…” (Part 1)

chicken house
laying out one end of the chicken-house… The scorch-marks are residue from our son Kapena’s ceremonial burning of a sweatshirt from his ex-girlfriend

Well, after tackling the political angle of backyard chickens and mustering our (mostly free) resources, we finally got our start on building the chicken house…  Or, to use the Hawai’ian handle, the Hale Moa (HAH-lay MO-wah).

We got through the framing today, so here’s our chicken-house-building (part one)—mostly in pictures, because I’m saving up most of my words for the 40K-word project I’m supposed to be doing now (and will actually have to get started on in a few minutes)…

So far the only item we have bought for this project is a box of three-and-a-quarter-inch sinker nails ($10.48 for a 5-pound box at Home Depot). All the wood we’re using was found, begged, or bartered—including the fortuitous find of the “house”-shaped pieces of plywood we’re using at the two ends of the chicken-house.

girls with power tools
girl with power tools!

We wanted to use four-by-four posts at the corners, but since our “finds” were all two-by-fours, we nailed two of those together for each corner post.  We measured out our lengths, and then I got to use the laser-sighted mitre saw that was my Mother’s Day gift a few years back (in the days when we did have money)… Hey, does Keoni know me or what?

Also, please notice and admire our nifty makeshift “sawhorse” of several stacked soda-crates (which we got for free from the grocery store) held together with zip-ties.

After measuring, cutting, and nailing our improvised four-by-four posts to each of the ends, we stood them up, propped one of them with a couple leaning boards, and nailed 8-foot two-by-fours along each side.

DIY chicken coop
nailing our measured-and-cut 2x4s to the end-piece
DIY chicken house
setting up the ends before adding the side cross-pieces

Keoni had to leave for work, but I wanted to keep playing (because, um, there were 40,000 words waiting for me inside—never mind that it’s 103 degrees OUTside), so I sanded down one of the cross-boards on the “front” end of the chicken-house, got out the kids’ paints, and labeled the project with a sign: Hale Moa.

chiseled-out cross-piece for the top

We’d talked about a single cross-piece across the top center, so I traced the apex of the house-shaped end, traced that onto both ends of a two-by-four, and chiseled out the shape on each end so it rests neatly on the top.

So here’s our first day’s progress; total cost so far just under $11. And Christian & Elena Grace are due to arrive any minute, so it will be fun to see what they think! I suppose I can’t put off those forty thousand words any longer…

Ta-da, the chicken-coop frame! I guess I could take that “temporary support” off the front now…
Posted in Family, Home

Kitchen Chemistry #3: PEOPLE-Cleaners

Two of my testers: Elena Grace (8) & Kapena (16). And wouldn’t you know it—she needs to be cleaned. AGAIN.

Well, here we are with the third installment of Kitchen-Chemistry do-it-yourself cleaners—doing positive things for both our wallet and our well-being! If you’re just joining, the previous installment covered household cleaners made from kitchen ingredients… They’re doing a great job of cleaning the house, they cost next-to-nothing to make, and we know they’re better for the environment (an immediate concern in our case, given that we’re living on a river-island with a very high water-table and using well-water)…

Since then I’ve been experimenting with people-cleaners, so here are my favorite recipes, tried and tested by my personal guinea-pigs family…

First, A Few Words About Castile Soap

The most expensive ingredient in the shampoo recipe is liquid Castile soap, made mostly from olive oil, and named for the region of Spain where it originated. I spent a fair bit of research-time trying to find a way around this expense (about 25 cents per ounce if you buy by the gallon, as much as 50 cents per ounce in smaller bottles), and concluded that I’m not equipped for home soap-making. It’s a more hazardous brand of kitchen chemistry, due to the use of lye, and requires some precision instruments (scale and thermometers) which we don’t have on hand. For body wash, you can find recipes that bypass the use of lye by grating existing bars of soap and adding your own ingredients, but bar-soap on hair doesn’t work well (I’ve tried)–so for shampoo I’ve included both the full-on”Food-Stamp Kitchen-Chemistry” suggestion, and the one I liked better, with the use of Castile soap when I can afford it. OK, on to the good stuff…

DIY Shampoo

Shampoo was a tricky one because, although I’m none too picky about things like body-soap, I’m very fussy about how my hair feels.

One of the most frequently recommended shampoo substitutes is a simple mix of baking soda and water, preferably followed by a rinse of apple cider vinegar. It works, and it’s absolutely the cheapest approach, although it’s not my favorite find. The cider vinegar leaves hair soft and shiny (and surprisingly, not smelling awful after rinsing), but it is a bit strong during application in the shower. (On the up-side… When you’re dousing your head with the equivalent of half a cup of “smelling-salts,” you’ll be plenty alert by the time you step out of your morning shower!)  The lack of lather felt odd when I was “shampooing” with the baking soda, but it got the job done.

lake shampoo
Christian “shampooing” at the lake

I should note that the baking soda approach is the favorite of our 11-year-old son, Christian (who doesn’t care about “conditioning” and skips the vinegar step)—I had promised him that if I came up with a suitably biodegradable shampoo-substitute, he could take his “bath” in the lake. Promise kept—and I definitely scored Cool-Mom Points with this one!  His only challenge is in rinsing all the baking-soda out, given his curly crop of hair with its approximate consistency (and tenacity) of velcro… For the rest of us, however, the Castile-soap recipe is the winner…

Big excitement: I got to use our home-grown herbs for this recipe!

DIY shampooI steeped the rosemary and lavender in the water, strained out the herbs, then added the Castile soap, oil, and honey. The whole batch went into an empty bottle of bought shampoo (Reduce, RE-USE, Recycle).

I found the Vitamin E oil at Walmart ($4 for 2 ounces, which will last for quite a few batches). I also saw recipes recommending coconut oil, grapeseed oil, and other light vegetable oils, but (thanks to that “Vitamins” e-book I wrote), I know Vitamin E is good for hair growth. The honey is intended to add shine, and the rosemary & lavender are supposed to be good for growth, as well as fragrance. One usage-note: give the bottle a good shake before using, because the oil tends to separate out.

nettle teaOur 16-year-old son, Kapena, needs dandruff shampoo, so I made a separate bottle for him, adding a couple bags of nettle-leaf tea to the steeping step. (For some reason, no one was in favor of adding stinging nettles to our garden. Hmm.)

DIY Conditioner

DIY conditionerOnce again, the most frequently recommended conditioning rinse that turned up with my research was vinegar.  And I found one version that takes some of the wallop out of the vinegar-in-the-shower smell. I filled a spray bottle one-third with apple cider vinegar and the other two-thirds with water. A couple sprigs of rosemary and a few stalks of lavender in the bottle add some pleasant fragrance. I just use the spray-bottle in the shower after I shampoo, leave it in while I soap up, and rinse it out before shutting off the water.  Some users actually recommended leaving it in rather than rinsing out, but I really don’t want to go around smelling like a fish-and-chips shop…

DIY conditioner
my spray-bottle of apple cider & herb conditioner

I’ll add that it did feel strange at first because I’m used to the creamy/slippery feel of conditioners, and I feared that this rinse wouldn’t be any help as a de-tangler. My hair gets way more snarled than you would expect, given how straight it is… But to my surprise, it combs out easily! There’s a faint whiff of vinegar while it’s still wet (Christian says it smells like sunscreen when I’m just out of the shower, hmm), but that scent doesn’t seem to linger.

Then there’s my very favorite conditioning, which I’m doing about once a week: Mayonnaise! I can’t believe what a gorgeous difference this makes—my hair tends to get dry and frizzy, but after my mayo-treatment it’s soft and shiny … Honestly, t’s like somebody else’s hair! I’ve never used a conditioner or hot-oil treatment, no matter how expensive, that worked as much magic as mayonnaise.

It looks pretty goofy (sorry, you won’t get a photo of this process) but I rub the mayo into my hair before I get in the shower, leave my greased-up hair wound on my head like a turban for ten minutes or so, and then hit the shower. Washing the mayonnaise out works best if you add your shampoo before getting your hair wet. Then just shampoo & condition as usual. One note on this one: it doesn’t make any difference to the results, but it’s a lot more comfortable to use room-temperature mayo rather than straight-from-the-fridge cold.

DIY Body Wash

bathtub reader
Elena Grace insists on body wash over bar soap. Of course, she still has to be reminded to USE it… Left to her own devices, she’d finish her book and get out still unwashed.

I was initially going to skip the idea of body wash, because I didn’t think I could get any cheaper than just buying a bar of soap. In fact, most of the recipes involve a bar of soap being grated into them anyway. However, Miss Elena Grace raised the protest that she doesn’t like using bar-soap, and on further reflection, the diluting ingredients added to the grated soap might actually make it stretch farther. I haven’t managed a statistical comparison of how long a bar of soap lasts us compared to a bar-of-soap’s-worth of body wash, but at half a gallon of body wash per bar of soap, I think we’re coming out ahead—and Her Highness is satisfied.

There’s a multitude of recipes to choose from, including those made with Castile soap and those made from existing bar soaps. In this case I went for bar soap because it makes a larger volume at lower expense. There are also all kinds of suggested additives, so you can get pretty creative with whatever you’d like. Add herbs, add essential oils, add a couple tablespoons of honey or coconut oil…

Elena Grace planting some new lavender–some of which will get used in shampoo

Some recipes include glycerin and some left it out—a little research revealed that glycerin makes soaps translucent, but doesn’t necessarily add to the “cleaning power”… It does act as a moisturizer, however, so if you have really dry skin you might want to include it. If you want to add glycerin (the body wash would no doubt be prettier), it’s pretty cheap and can be found by the Bandaids.

The recipe is simple: Start a half-gallon of water boiling in a large pot, and then put your bar of soap in a microwave-safe container and zap it for about 90 seconds. (After dozens of sites with instructions to grate the soap, I found one that recommended the microwave. By golly, it works! And takes most of the hassle out of this recipe…) Do watch it while it melts to make sure it doesn’t bubble over and make a mess in your micro. Pour the softened soap into your boiling water, add any ingredients you choose (I included a couple tablespoons of Vitamin E oil—great for skin as well as hair—because I do have dry skin, and hadn’t bought glycerin). When it’s thoroughly mixed up and the soap thoroughly melted, pour it into containers (we’re just re-using containers from previously-purchased  body wash bottles) and let it cool. (One lesson learned: if you’re pouring into flimsier plastic, let it cool a little before pouring. I have one crumpled-melted Dial bottle to offer as evidence…) It looks pretty watery for a while, but it thickens up nicely a few hours after the initial cooling.

Dial bottle
lesson learned: if you’re pouring into #1-PET plastic bottles, wait till it cools down somewhat…

Because you’re using manufactured soap for this, you don’t have to worry about preservatives or spoilage. Having said that, if you do pick up a recipe with Castile soap, I’ll pass along a tip which didn’t accompany all the Castile-recipes I saw, but probably should: add a teaspoon or so of citric acid to prevent bacteria from growing in your mixture. (For the Food-Stamp kitchen-chemistry version, you can use a packet of unsweetened powdered lemonade.) If you make bigger batches of shampoo than the recipe I gave above, you might consider doing the same with the shampoo.

And I’ll add that an advantage to this body wash approach is that you can use a favorite brand of soap. Kapena likes Axe products (drenches himself in them, to be honest), so a bar of Axe soap-turned-bodywash made him very happy. We’ve always liked Irish spring, so we’ve got the green body wash in our shower. And when the kids tried out their new pocket knives by carving up bars of Dial soap (my favorite “sculpture:” Christian carved a cell phone that cleverly had the “Dial” logo on its back) I gathered up their shavings and leavings and added that to a batch as well.

DIY Body Scrub

DIY sugar scrub
ingredients for a sugar scrub: white sugar, brown sugar, pumpkin spice, olive oil

Ah, the luxuries in life! I’ve always enjoyed a good exfoliating body scrub, and it turns out they’re easy to make. Most scrubs use sugar or salt for the exfoliating agent, but I’ll add the warning that you shouldn’t use salt if you have dry skin. (I could give the whole chemistry-teacher lecture about osmosis… Or we could keep it simple and I’ll just say that salt sucks the water out of your skin cells and leaves your skin dryer.)

DIY sugar scrubThere are so many delicious recipes, I couldn’t narrow down the field to just one! At its most basic, the body scrub recipe boils down to one part oil to two parts sugar. As for what type of oil, you can go with baby oil, vegetable oil, coconut oil, almond oil… Whatever tickles your fancy (or whatever you already have in your kitchen).

Possible additives for fragrance include vanilla extract or pumpkin spice (which is just allspice & cinnamon & nutmeg) or lemon zest (grated lemon peel) or even coffee grounds (love that one!)… Pretty much whatever comes to mind.

DIY sugar scrub
a (Parmesan cheese) bottle of sugar scrub

I found the easiest way to mix is to add a little of the oil to the dry ingredients—just enough to make it “crumbly”—and mix it all thoroughly. Then put it into whatever container you plan to use, and add the rest of the oil. My current scrub is in a Parmesan Cheese bottle (so fancy!) because that’s what was empty at the time. Note for next time, though–a shallower container would be more convenient. Now that I’m into the bottom half of this one, I’m keeping a spoon in the shower to scoop it out…

In a nicer container, this would make a great gift. I’m remembering spending something like fifteen dollars for exactly the same sugar scrub I just made with about twenty-five cents’ worth of ingredients. (Ouch!)

One more note: the days I use the sugar scrub, that’s a good time to have the DIY tub-scrub ready—the body scrub tends to leave an oily film on the bottom of the shower. But wow, does it do a great job on me.  The first time I made it, I used it one one leg and not the other (no moisturizer afterward) and I could see the difference. You know that scaly-white alligatory look of dry skin? That was the un-done leg, and the other one… Silky smooth.

DIY Eye Makeup Remover

DIY makeup removerI’m not picky about using body-soap on my face, but when it comes to removing eye makeup, soap just doesn’t do it. If you plan ahead and buy the “mild” Castile soap, it’s sometimes the same price as regular, and is fairly easy on the eyes. Alternatively, Johnson’s baby soap (“no tears”!) works great.

DIY-Eyemakeup-RemoverJust mix a teaspoon and a half of the baby shampoo or mild Castile soap with a cup of water and a quarter teaspoon of olive oil.  Give it a shake before each use, and apply with a cotton swab or re-usable cloth. I’ve always liked the Almay eye-makeup remover pads, but at five bucks for 80 pads, that’s out of my price range these days… And this little mix does just as well!

DIY Deodorant

DIY deodorantThis one you can’t do without. (At least in America. Though I’ve visited some countries where eau d’underarm was the accepted norm…) And this one took a fair bit of fiddling before I settled on something that was usable. This version is a little more liquid than some variations, but that helps in applying it thinly. Too thick, I found, and it dries in powdery clumps that drop off afterward. I recommend applying after a shower (when your under-arms are dry) and before dressing–if you dribble on clothing you might as well pick a new outfit for the day. I’ll also add that this goes on white, so it’s not the deodorant you want to wear with that sleeveless little black dress.

common sense is like deodorantThe recipe I settled on (though you, too, can fiddle with amounts—more or less oil to make it less or more solid) is equal amounts of coconut oil, baking powder, and cornstarch. For people who don’t react well to cornstarch, arrowroot is a suggested substitute—more expensive, but available in the spice aisle.  The cornstarch (or arrowroot) acts as an antiperspirant, and the baking soda absorbs odors. Another ingredient suggested in place of coconut oil is shea butter—but I had coconut oil already in the kitchen. Lots of people also add essential oils for fragrance, but I’m not a fan of flavored armpits.

I wasn’t sure how DIY instructions would handle application–I found one recipe that suggested packing your DIY mixture into an empty deodorant-stick, but most recipes just suggest a jar. (I actually don’t think the stick-idea would work well—even the most solid variations weren’t dense enough to keep their shape, especially when the bathroom was warm…) Scoop some and apply with fingers, or (for less mess) with a spoon or a little wooden paddle like the ones they use for tasting at Baskin Robbins. One user suggested rubbing it into your hands like moisturizer after applying, but I find it too gritty for that. I’ve been keeping a broken-off plastic spoon in my little container, and spread the deodorant with the back of the spoon. It’s worth mentioning also that the consistency changes drastically with temperature. It might be quite solid on a cool morning, and completely liquid on a hot afternoon.

This particular recipe is not a hit with the members of the household who have under-arm hair (especially Kapena, who is wedded to his Axe deodorant) so although I’m doggedly using the batch I made (and re-mixed, and re-re-mixed), I suspect that deodorant is one of the few items we’ll continue to buy. It works, I’ll say that much for it. But I don’t love it.

DIY deodorant And after all that… An alternative that’s less messy and fairly effective: just the baking powder and cornstarch, patted on like baby powder. However, it doesn’t really “hold up” for all-day use, especially on a high-desert Idaho summer day.

I’ll share one more idea that might work for you, though it’s not for us to try. (We’re both recovering alcoholics and don’t keep any kind of alcohol in the house.) A spray-bottle of rubbing alcohol, spritzed under the arms, is said to be effective in killing odor-causing bacteria. People who use it swear by it, and it’s certainly easier (and cleaner!) than my own attempts.

DIY Toothpaste

DIY toothpasteI’ve made two separate batches of the toothpaste—one without the whitening agent of hydrogen peroxide (for the kids) and one with (for us coffee-drinkers and recent smokers). Mix six teaspoons of baking soda with a teaspoon of sweetener (Splenda or Equal or whatever you use in your coffee, as long as it’s not sugar) and two tablespoons of coconut oil.

DIY toothpaste
Elena Grace’s PINK toothpaste

Peppermint is a traditional toothpaste-taste, of course, but really you could use any flavor. You’ll want to use something, though, because the baking soda is super-salty, and it’s like brushing your teeth with seawater if you don’t flavor it. (Believe me, I tried.)

I mixed the toothpaste batches in containers for cupcake-papers, and put a cut-off plastic spoon in each for easy application onto toothbrushes. Just for fun, I let the kids pick food-coloring, so here’s Elena Grace’s pink toothpaste!


rinse & reflect
Christian rinsing his “shampoo” job…

It says a little something that we can’t use bought shampoo in the lake… But we’d use it on our kids. Hmm. Now that I’m thinking about it, that’s probably a good standard to follow: if we could rinse it off in the lake, it’s safe on our kids. And us too, come to that. Now I can actually list (and pronounce!) the ingredients of everything being used to clean My People.

Check the ingredients on your store-bought shampoo against any list of harmful-chemicals-to-avoid, and you’ve got a better reason than “being broke” to make some changes. Besides… If you’re at all like me, you might get a kick out of making your own. Here’s to healthy living!

Many thanks to my dear Husband, who has patiently put up with (and mopped up after) the various messes I made in his kitchen, and with equal patience has been dabbing experimental goops on various parts of himself at my request. Mahalo nui loa, Keoni ku’u pilikia!

Posted in Family, Home

Barter ECOnomics & the Much-Maligned Art of Packrat-ism

folded dollar houseI’m a little embarrassed.

One of the lovely side-effects of living below the poverty-line  is the realization that most money-saving behaviors are thoroughly environmentally friendly. I’m embarrassed because it shouldn’t have taken a detour into destitution for us to put this type of lifestyle into practice. A matter of putting my money where my mouth is (figuratively speaking, that is, since absence of money is the catalyst in this case)…  So here we are, engaged in creative do-it-yourself projects, re-using and recycling and “upcycling” and making do for ourselves rather than buying even simple stuff.

shopping cart
of course we don’t avoid the store entirely… Grocery shopping for the essentials with our “phenomenal cook”–Elena Grace’s (accurate!) description of Keoni

In my previous life, if I needed (or wanted) something, I went straight to the store. Didn’t even think about it. Even a DIY (do-it-yourself) project would result in an automatic shopping-list for the needed components.

In contrast to that mindset, we make a game these days of “creative alternatives,” even with a DIY undertaking.  Our goal isn’t so much to do things inexpensively with DIY, but to see how close to FREE can we get with any project. For any item on our list, we’re asking ourselves what we could use, and where we might find it. (Funny thing—it does feel like a game, and there’s a definite satisfaction in “scoring” something we’re looking for.)

barter system
um, NOT quite how it works… (image courtesy of

Last month I joined the Freecycle network, which acts as a hub for people to offload (and pick up) used items at no cost. Without a doubt, the most neglected component of the eco-trinity (“Reduce, Re-use, Recycle“) is the practice of re-using—which is a shame, given the relatively high costs (both ecological and economic) of the recycling process… Freecycle operates a lot like the “free” listings on Craigslist (though unfortunately there’s not a lot of member activity in our area, so I’m still a regular Craigslist browser as well).

We are also blessed with a wonderful network of friends and neighbors who make bartering a viable possibility in our household economics. It should be said first, however, that although there is a steady traffic of foods and favors and funning exchanged across our various fences, the majority of those interactions aren’t undertaken with any aim so concrete as “bartering” for something specific. That’s just neighborliness, on all sides.

Keoni & Bill admiring our shared vegetable garden

Having said that, though–I will add, on reflection, that the habit of neighborliness has stood us in good “credit” with those neighbors when we are on the hunt for something specific. And since those same neighbors have now formed addictions to Keoni’s cooking, they know precisely what they want in return. Case in point: when we approached our neighbor Steve to ask about the stack of two-by-fours by his shed (gathering materials for our son’s chicken-coop project), Steve had a wish-list at the ready. He held up two fingers and requested (1) Keoni’s teriyaki sauce and (2) his ginger salad dressing. Then he stabbed his two counting-fingers toward the pile of wood and told us to have at it—he had no plans for it. When we asked Bill (retired from construction, and a certified electrician) to see if he could sort out the electronics of our broken shave-ice machine so we could offer it as a rental to Keoni’s boss, Bill jumped at the chance to ask for Keoni’s “Tahitian Lanai” banana bread.

There are times, too, when neighborliness results in rewards unsought. Keoni stopped to offer condolences to the father and brother of our recently deceased neighbor, asking also how he might be of help. They’re looking to sell the place, so he offered to keep the lawn mowed in the interim. He spent yesterday morning mowing and weed-whacking and clearing trash (his OCD kicks in here—he can’t do half a job without following through on whatever else needs doing) and when they stopped by again, he suggested to them that they should store the outdoor items to prevent them from disappearing. (Unfortunately, we had some experience with that last year—while we were in the process of moving from our foreclosed-on house to this trailer, someone decided to help themselves to a number of our outdoor tools, plants, even a water fountain…)

tackle box
Christian reverently inventorying our late neighbor’s tackle box. “This guy took REALLY good care of his stuff.”

To our surprise, they told him he could help himself to whatever he could use from the yard and garden; they had already taken the few things they wanted to keep, and they’re focused now on clearing the place out.  It seems a little morbid to benefit from the death of a neighbor (one of the few neighbors we didn’t know, at that), but on the other hand we can offer a most appreciative home to the fishing tackle, portable barbecue, gardening tools and potting soil… And maybe, after all, the neighbor would get a kick out of our delight over the little garden-hose timer, which has long been on our wish-list for use with our sprinkler on the lawn.

Our neighbors have also been a great resource for our start-up gardening. Bill is kindly sharing his established vegetable garden with us—we provided seeds (which can be bought with Food Stamps, yay) and weeding-services (always with the “help” of his nosy wiener-dog, Buster), and a steady stream of baked goods—in exchange for which we’re enjoying radishes and tomatoes and carrots and broccoli and zucchini and (my favorite!) snap-peas. Bill jokes that we must have a bakery-bush behind the house, and wonders how far apart you need to plant those…

We’re working, too, on our own collection of kitchen herbs—plants started from seedlings and cuttings we’ve gathered from neighbors and from the herb-garden at Keoni’s work, and even road-side and river-side. (Wild asparagus grows along the river right near our house!) Some of the home-grown herbs are going into my “Kitchen-Chemistry” experiments (another installment coming soon!)—our other ecological/economical DIY project.

weeding the vegetable garden on Bill’s side of the fence (with Buster’s help)

What actually prompted this post was the curious collection of components for our planned compost barrel (which will no doubt get a post of its own when it’s completed)—a project that combines both the Reduce and the Re-Use commandments… We’ll be cutting down substantially on our outgoing trash and gaining compost for our developing kitchen-garden—and we’ve gotten creative in assembling its ingredient pieces. We find that the key to bartering (and sometimes getting things free) is keeping eyes open for items we can use, and being willing to ask.

For the compost barrel, we asked for an empty 55-gallon barrel of soy sauce from a restaurant-supply company. Its pivot-rod will be an old gas pipe, which we asked for when a gas-company worker was checking lines in the neighborhood and taking out unused pipes. And its supports will be a pair of outdoor umbrella-stands that Keoni rescued from the trash heap at the restaurant where he works.

kitchen herb nursery
the “nursery” of kitchen herbs—including seeds planted in the egg cartons

And that brings me to Packrat Habits. I have officially retired from teasing Keoni about his Packrat-ism, due to the overwhelming number of times he has pulled something useful out of the shed—something for which we had no imagined use when he picked it up. The umbrella stands fit in that category, as does the John Deere key he picked up in a parking lot a few years ago. We didn’t own anything at the time that could possibly fit that key, but this summer when we misplaced the key to our riding lawnmower (itself an item partly-bartered from a neighbor last summer), damned if he didn’t pull out that found key from wherever he had it stashed, and damned if it didn’t fit our lawnmower! I concede the field—he’s less crazy than I thought.

Still plenty crazy, though, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. On that note, there’s a clump of road-side wild-flowers I’ve had my eye on, and I think I’ll go dig it up—it’s either that or pay $5 at Home Depot.

Posted in Family, Home

Shakespeare with a Pre-Teen (& a dab of Kitchen Chemistry)

fool squad
The warm-up Green Show–Idaho’s “Fool Squad” in its 20th year

The warm-up “Green Show” before last night’s production of Romeo & Juliet let slip a spoiler about the ending: Romeo & Juliet end up dead.  “Oops,” the Fool-Squad fool exclaimed. “If there’s anyone here who didn’t pass ninth grade English, we just ruined the surprise.” I had a laugh at that, given that I was sitting at the time between Keoni, who (though not born before Shakespeare, as he jokes) did go through high school before R&J was required reading, and Christian, who’s a couple years shy of reaching ninth grade.

romeo & juliet
Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s 36th season under the stars

Christian saw a few scenes of Hamlet at school a couple months ago, and came home chattering about the satisfying carnage at its end. His enthusiastic verdict: “They putteth on a good show!” Fueled by his interest, we got online to see what offerings would be found in this year’s season at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, and he expressed an interest in Romeo & Juliet. “Yeah, it’s a love story—but it’s also a tragedy, so that’ll be okay.” With the proceeds from an e-Book on vitamins I was writing that week, we purchased three tickets for the show.  (Elena Grace, at 8, is too young; Kapena, at 16, is uninterested. The two of them stayed home and had a movie night.)

picking up our tickets at Will [Shakespeare?] Call
Christian has always been an interesting challenge when it comes to matching him with reading material. He reads at a post-graduate level, but he’s still an eleven-year-old boy, with the interests (and aversions) attendant on that particular age. Along the same lines, he’s a kid who has no trouble following the flow of Shakespearian English (because he often thinks in that kind of language in his imagination, he told me), but whose pre-existing knowledge of the plot-line comes from Disney’s Gnomeo & Juliet (in which the cartoon-bust of Shakespeare holds forth on how the story is supposed to end)…

Shakespeare picnic
arrived early to picnic

Several times during the play when the lovers went into their monological rhapsodies on each other’s perfections, he rolled his eyes and jokingly mimed hitting an imaginary “fast-forward” button (eww, mush!)—although when Juliet dissolved into very real sobs upon hearing of Romeo’s banishment, he leaned over to whisper the solemn observation, “She’s good!” (I’ll be curious to see if he has any interest in the Drama Club, now that he’s heading into Junior High.)

He’s wise enough to follow not only the language, but also the humor—he leaned over after one of Mercutio’s bawdier riffs of sexual innuendo and confided cautiously, “I probably understand more of this than I should.” And I’m okay with that. Yes, Shakespeare should probably carry an “R” rating–but then, so should some conversations among eleven-year-old boys, as I know perfectly well.

enjoying Shakespeare
I forgot to “warn” him that Shakespeare had a NAUGHTY sense of humor!

Last night I had as much fun watching Christian watch the production as I did watching the show itself. And I did enjoy the show. One of the dangers, I think, in a too-well-known story, is forgetting that it’s full of very real moments of emotion. (Just as with clichés in language—when a phrase becomes too familiar, we forget to notice the cleverness or evocative power of a word-combination because it has become too familiar…) Juliet’s agonizing imagination of what might await her when she awakes in a tomb, for example, is nothing less than heart-wrenching (when performed well—as this was) and her determination to overcome those fears for the sake of the chance of a happy-ending… Wow.

“All the world’s a stage…”

Christian didn’t have the tears on his cheeks that Keoni and I did at the end of the final scene, but he was fully absorbed. And (as always, with him) I got a kick out of his peculiar mix of kid-ness and adult-ness. At intermission he offered some insightful philosophical observations on the characters (in particular, drawing parallels between Friar Lawrence and myself) and then withdrew, turtle-like, into the depths of his oversized hoodie for “some alone-time with Dragon,” re-emerging briefly to announce with delight that he could see inside the sweatshirt because of the glow-in-the-dark jellyfish on his T-shirt.

I love this kid.

itch remedy
baking-soda paste for bug bites

Unfortunately, so do mosquitoes. The outdoor amphitheater by the river does come with a side-serving of bugs, and Christian woke this morning wondering if we had “anything for itches.” Not in the medicine cabinet, but… “Mom’s doing a Kitchen Chemistry series on her blog,” Keoni told him, “and I bet she can come up with something.”  A little research, and here we are: simple baking soda mixed with water to form a paste. Our victim guinea-pig reports that  his new itch-paste works just as well as “Dad’s pink stuff” (Calamine lotion), so I’m declaring this one a Kitchen Chemistry win!

Shakespeare tickets
a worthwhile extravagance!

Of course, the absence of “pink stuff” in our medicine cabinet is directly related to the general paucity of “green stuff” in our bank; it goes without saying that in the context of our uber-frugal budget, these three tickets were an extravagant expense.  But… so worthwhile!

Nor was it squandered on an unappreciative audience. Christian enjoyed having “his grownups” all to himself for an entire night. He asked if he could keep his ticket as a memento, and he buried his nose in the fifty-page program. He enjoyed Keoni’s picnic of chicken katsu and fresh strawberries and chocolate pie. He pointed out the first few stars becoming visible above the stage as dark dropped its blanket over the amphitheater. He chattered all the way home about the staging and the fighting and the characters and the plot and the Green Show jokes… And he is thoroughly pleased that the expedition arose from an interest HE had expressed. He was wired and wound up about Shakespeare—and his English-teacher-mommy was loving every minute of his enthusiasm.

I don’t yet know if we’ll be able to splurge twice this summer, but I’m keeping in mind that The Winter’s Tale is being staged in August—and that Christian wants to go. And that if we do manage to return, I’ll go prepared this time with some preventive Kitchen Chemistry in the form of some insect repellant! (Stay tuned—I’ll let you know what I find.)

summer solstice
Summer Solstice in the Sun

If a second Shakespeare-excursion doesn’t happen—well, that’s part of the Balance in our family life. A main contributing factor to the scarcity of “green stuff “was the decision (voted unanimously by the three kids) that having Mommy with them throughout the summer was preferable to having Mommy in the entrance-booth of the nearby State Park (last summer’s seasonal job, which I was offered again this year), even though Mommy-in-the-booth would have meant more resources-in-the-bank. When Christian observed at seven this evening that the weather was perfect for a walk to the lake, we were free to grab our towels without a second thought and stroll (past the unoccupied-by-Mom park-entrance-booth) to the beach, where the kiddos spent the last couple hours of this longest-day in the water and the sunshine.

Keoni and I were just reflecting that we’ll continue to enjoy whatever adventures and experiences do come our way. Writing the “Vitamins” e-Book not only paid for the Shakespeare tickets, but provided us with some informational resources for family health. When Elena Grace arrived this week with a mouth full of canker sores, we knew that those might be related to stress (their dad’s wedding last week?) OR might be due to vitamin deficiency. With the knowledge I’d gained in vitamin-research, we evaluated and switched the kids’ multi-vitamins. (Some things you don’t skimp on, even with a tight budget!)  And the Evening Out that was funded by the vitamin book led, in its own turn, to a little more Kitchen-Chemistry wisdom. As the kids say, “That’s how we roll!” Or, as Christian said this morning—stretched out beside me with a good book and no schedule-obligations marring the day ahead of us—“THIS is Summer, the way it should be. Family family family!” Even Shakespeare couldn’t top that wisdom.