Frugal


In the three months since I gave birth to my son, I’ve been on a steeeeeep learning curve. Let’s face it: before my pregnancy, I hadn’t practiced the basics like feeding or changing a baby almost since my girlhood when I played with dolls–which don’t move or starve.

So, with a lot of trial and error–and an eye on my checking account–here are some hacks I’ve discovered:

CHANGING

While cloth diapering can be daunting, it does save money! Check out the many numerous resources online to see how to do it, and be on the lookout among your friend-circle for a used set of these diapers, since the initial cost can be steep. Yep, I did say *used* diapers. They wash well – that’s the point!

But if you’re intimidated by cloth diapers, there is another, smaller DIY, cost-saving-approach to diaper changing that is a lot less scary that you could try: making your own wipes. Think about it: how hard could it be? They’re wet, semi-sanitized pieces of layered tissue paper!

Not to mention — pick up a package and look at the ingredients sometime; you might be shocked to see parabens and a lot of other unhealthy chemicals listed as part of the solution in the store-bought wipes. Yikes!

Here’s the recipe for the version I’ve created:

  • 1/4 gal. purified nursery water
  • 2 TBSP coconut oil (antifungal, anti-yeast/thrush, anti-diaper rash)
  • 3 TBSP hydrogen peroxide (for non-stinging antiseptic)
  • 1 TBSP baby soap of your choice (I chose the Aveeno, since Zeke’s skin is sensitive!)
  • 1 high-quality roll of paper towels
  • 1 empty canister-style package of wipes; you can also use a clean coffee can with a hole cut in the lid
  1. Mix the liquid ingredients into a solution in a CLEAN bowl (bonus: mix it in a pot on the stove that you’ve heated for 10 minutes and have let cool in advance; this makes for an ultra-sanitized mixing environment).
  2. Cut the roll of paper towels in half using a serrated knife or table saw; remove the cardboard tube in the middle. Set one of the half-rolls aside for later use.
  3. Soak the half-roll of paper towel in the solution; lift it out and let it drip a bit.
  4. Place the half-roll into the canister, and pull out the first sheet from the center through the hole in the lid to begin dispensing tear-off wipes. That’s it!

Using this method, you can produce about 200 wipes for roughly $.80. That’s a cost savings of $2.00-3.00 every roll, depending on where you shop.  And as a bonus: these ingredients are better for baby than many wipes on the market!

(BREAST)FEEDING

I have always hated pumping, but I have found that it’s useful to have some of my milk collected and frozen for those rare date nights or times when I needed to head into work and leave the baby with my hubby or my mom/mother-in-law. Rather than drag out the pump and all its parts, however, I started a supply hoard by making the most of the leaky, over-production period during weeks 4-8 of the breastfeeding journey by collecting those drips!

Why pay $28 for milk dripping collectors? That’s just cray-cray.

The DIY steps to making my own milk-collecting bag(s) were pretty easy:

  1. Before breastfeeding the baby at night when milk production is highest, take a plastic sandwich bag and use masking tape to tape the opening all the way around the areola of the nipple you aren’t offering to the baby at the moment.
  2. Collect the drips in the bag on that side while baby is feeding from the other.
  3. Pour the drippings into a freezable milk storage tube/container; keep the container in the fridge until your next feeding. Dispose of the bag.
  4. Within two feedings (3 hours, at that time of my lactation journey) repeating steps 1-3, you should have close to a full tube (2.5 oz) of collected milk. Go freeze that sucker!

TRAVELING

I had my baby right before the heat of the Dog Days of summer… and that has made hot, sticky car travel somewhat of a pain. Especially since we spent our first three months of his life living in an apartment where our car (and the car seat) was not well protected from the heat of the sun.

To make sure baby Zeke didn’t suffer from discomfort on days when it took a half hour for the air-conditioning to beat the heat, I came prepared with this homemade baby-cooling kit:

image

What is this, you ask?  It’s a gel freezer pack, similar to the kind packed with box lunches and medical supplies for shipping, and one of those super-fuzzy socks your matronly aunt likes to get you for Christmas.  I just stuff the freezer pack into the fuzzy sock…and BOOM, instant baby comfort. Cool and soft!

I keep a pair in the freezer, so all I have to do is grab one on the way out the door. This is where I tuck it when we go bye-bye in the car:

image

That’s a cool and comfy baby, right there.

It’s amazing the difference it makes, and how much time it saves.  Now we don’t have to wait for fifteen minutes for the car to cool down completely before taking off. We just pop this thing in his seat for a minute, cooling the spot where his little butt will go, and then we put him in and rest his feet and legs over the sock in a reversal of the old-school warming bricks that people used to use in carriages to beat the winter chill. As you can see here, he rests pretty comfortably on even the hottest days with his little cool-sock.

As a bonus, this washable, portable little cooling system also can slide against his belly when I carry him in a sling or Ergo carrier against my body, keeping both of us cooler!

That’s all my tips for now. I’m still figuring out a lot of this stuff! Please share your discoveries and ideas below!

Best wishes,

Ruth

Well, folks, baby Zeke (Ezekiel) has finally arrived (May 20) and your home-couple, Boaz and Ruth, couldn’t be more thrilled!

blog image 1

In the past five weeks, we’ve been establishing feeding routines and learning how to deal with the unexpected joys and difficulties of parenting a newborn that needs us 24/7!

A lot of friends have wondered how we’re making it work financially with a baby, especially since my job at a private school as a marketing assistant doesn’t pay millions and Boaz only made something in the low-4-digits this year as a grad assistant and while working another part-time job.

For those of you contemplating young parenthood, I thought I’d put together a post with a few tips we’ve learned along the 9-month-plus way:

  1. Save Early.

Can’t say it enough. Boaz and I made sure when we married that we’d try to not touch certain funds in the event of a baby; I also set up a monthly automatic transfer in my bank account that was pretty modest, but which, over the nearly four years of our marriage, helped grow my savings account in a way that didn’t pinch later.  I’m glad we have it now, since the medical bills are sure to be insane, despite my ‘natural’ childbirth in the hospital (meaning, no meds, no epidural, no surgical/device interventions… you’d think it’d be cheaper, right?  Still had the baby in hospital…so, no. #AmericanHealthcareProblems)

  1. Don’t Snub Heirlooms or Hand-Me-Downs.

Grandma has held on to that cradle for a reason, and so long as it isn’t unsafe by modern standards, make use of it; we certainly did! (By the way, Ababy.com actually will cut a custom mattress to refurbish an old cradle!) Same goes for that friend at work whose children have outgrown their old clothes, toys, books, and other reusable baby accessories. Don’t turn them down, because your baby really won’t care whether he or she spits up on something old, something new, something borrowed (but washable), or whether it’s pink or blue.

  1. Second-Hand Furniture Saves Cash.

Somewhat in keeping with the above, keep an eye out at consignment stores, Goodwill, and garage sales in the months leading up to your baby’s arrival. I bought a diaper changing table with a few scuff marks on it that at one time came new from Target… for just $25 at a consignment shop where all proceeds from sales go to charity.  Hard-surfaced furniture like this is easy to re-sanitize and clean for use again.  Remember, too, that the timeline of use for baby furniture is pretty short for most parents: why blow $100-200 on a diaper changing table that will only get used for about 50-60 months between two kids (if you plan on having two?).  Even the “look” of furniture that’s wooden or hard-surfaced is flexible; if I want to, I can paint it later to better match a nursery “theme.” I already added storage baskets to its shelves to give me more space to organize, and I think they make it look pretty cute.

  1. Remember that Friends and Family Love Gifting (Prepare to be Showered).

Lots of women freak out thinking about all the things they will need to buy for their baby.  But, like all new brides, they should relax a little: surpassing even wedding showers, your gal pals and lady relatives boast a fascinating passion for buying cute (and necessary!) baby things for your baby shower.

  1. Control Your Maternity Wear Spending.

I was exceedingly blessed to be working in a school full of female faculty when I announced my pregnancy. I had a math teacher show up at my desk, who, realizing we were close to the same pre-pregnancy size, offered me the use of her maternity wardrobe, realizing that, since she and her husband were likely “done” and her sister-in-law (for whom she’d kept the wardrobe around) likely might snub some of the non-namebrand items, the best use for it in the meantime might be to loan it to me for the few short months in which I’d need the clothes. Awesome!

I wound up only needing to purchase a pair of jeans, a few sweaters, and my own maternity underthings (maternity and nursing bras and larger-waisted panties), in addition to a larger pair of shoes(!) to get by for the rest of my pregnancy, and I did this through both a local Goodwill with a maternity rack and through Target’s clearance sales. Even if the “look” I sported wasn’t quite me, it was still professional enough for work and I felt very comfortable – and grateful—to not have to shell out more money to make outfits appropriate for work wear.

Oh, and I should mention: for workout wear and sleepshirts, I raided my husband’s wardrobe for undershirts, jerseys and even his basketball shorts.  It amused him to see some of his larger stuff go over my huge belly, since I kept working out up until my 37th week.  My old yoga pants also went surprisingly far into my pregnancy with me, which was a nice surprise!

  1. Pregnancy Education and Fitness Can Be (Mostly) Free.

    blog image 4

    Exercise is important for both the birth and recovery. Here we are about 75 hours after the birth, on our first walk together. I was tired, but it was good for me and for him.

When you’re pregnant, you’ll get a lot of invitations from hospitals and even gyms (how do they find out?) via mail and other means that ask you to attend their Childbirth Education/Newborn Care Education/Prenatal Yoga/Prenatal Cardio classes.  These classes can cost an arm and a leg.

Luckily, most newborn care education can be found free or mostly free online (YouTube does have some available from reputable sources) and through your local library. I found that for childbirth education, dusting off that old card and picking up some of the old tapes on the Lamaze or Bradley Birthing Methods really worked well. Also, there are a huge amount of books out there on all these topics, and Amazon really helped me score some deals on these.

As a couple, we found that going this route gave us great flexibility: my busy student husband couldn’t make a series of classes consistently with me, but we could carve out some time on weekends to watch a chapter or two of a rented DVD together during his downtime. We also read through several books in bed together.

As far as fitness – There are a TON of prenatal yoga and fitness classes on YouTube!  Just be sure that you ask your doctor to advise you about what exercises are appropriate to your stage of pregnancy (hint: if a fitspert asks you to do crunches or other exercises on your back after your first trimester – run!).  I was able to keep up with yoga, walking, and even do some safe cardio (elliptical) and weight training (kettle bells are awesome for the pelvic floor) during my pregnancy, just by making use of the equipment at the school where I work and the mat I have at home.

  1. Shell Out For What’s Most Important – And Save in the Long Run.

    Baby Zeke - Just minutes old!

    Baby Zeke – Just minutes old and super-alert!

There is a very good time and place to spend your money when it comes to preparing for a baby, and that is in preparation for the birth itself!  I knew early on that I didn’t want a C-section delivery if I could avoid it, not only because of the long recovery, but also the sticker shock!  I also had read enough to convince me that an unmedicated, natural birth was the healthiest route for the baby overall – and would have the shortest recovery time for me, too.  But how could I go about securing that, or at least, giving myself the best chances for my best-case scenario?  Anything can happen during birth!

Statistically, there was only one element I had read about that really made a difference in what happened in the birthing room: the guidance and presence of a doula, or childbirth coaching professional, who emphasizes the mother’s emotional and physical comfort and applies evidence-based knowledge about birth positions to encourage labor progress.  A 2011 Cochrane Review (1) reported the combined findings from 21 randomized controlled trials, including over 15,000 laboring women, which revealed that doula-supported mothers were:

  • 28% less likely to have a C-section (with some individual studies reporting upwards of 60%)
  • 31% less likely to use synthetic oxytocin (Pitocin) to speed up labor
  • 9% less likely to use any pain medication
  • 34% less likely to reflect negatively on their childbirth experience

Those are certainly numbers not to ignore!  So what did I do?

More research – this time, into the work of local doulas in my area, reading review after review and even meeting some for coffee.  To my mind, it would be better to hire a doula to help me (for roughly $1,000), as a first-time mom, to engage in the childbirth process with less fear and with better support, than to simply “go it alone” and rely wholly on the Western-trained US Healthcare system, which has one of the highest C-section rates in the world, and take my chances with a $15,000 C-section bill or the traumatic psychological cost of a childbirthing scenario-turned-nightmare that happens to many women when interventions like Pitocin speed labor beyond the body’s (or baby’s) ability to cope.

Maybe my cost-benefit analysis was flawed, but regardless, I have no regrets.

My DONA-certified (2) doula was an incredible woman with a nursing background who took the time to get to know me before the birth so that we could establish a bond of trust and focus my childbirth preparations on evidence-based practices for labor support and pain management. She came to understand my birthing wishes and was ready and willing to support me in them at the hospital. There were a few times when interventions were offered to me by the hospital staff, with the major one happening when I showed up at the hospital with contractions 3 minutes apart, only to discover that, while 90% effaced, I was still only 2 centimeters dilated (“You could stay, and we could give you something to speed it along…” “No, no thanks.”)  I went home instead, and labored in the surroundings of home, where I could drink and eat when I wanted, shower for self-comfort, throw up in privacy when things got intense, shower again, and have my cat for additional company as I paced and swayed with my husband to encourage gravity to move things along.

When I returned to the hospital six hours later, I only had about 2 hours left to go before a bit more walking (which the staff wasn’t keen on me doing, but my doula monitored me during) got me to 9 centimeters—and through the transition stage, nearly ready for pushing.  The entire time, my doula was providing comfort measures, showing my husband how to help me get into better positions, and encouraging me to advocate for myself and what I wanted in a situation that otherwise may have felt out of my control.

In this scenario, my sense of control took away my fear. The pain of labor also became less shocking, more normalized, more progressive. Like the frog in the proverbial boiling pot, once I was in labor, even though it grew more intense, I also became increasingly more able to handle each new level of intensity. By the time I thought about maybe, just maybe allowing for some chemical pain intervention, the baby was practically crowning, and I was in the home-stretch (literally, stretch).  Again, my doula’s knowledge helped here: after an hour of pushing, she retrieved her rebozo band (similar to a scarf or exercise band), and gave me one end of it to pull on as I simultaneously pushed. With the help of this ancient form of applied mechanical physics, and three more pushes, baby Ezekiel arrived –pink and alert, with a perfect APGAR score, ready to meet us and eager for the breast. I’d never been more exhausted or more glad!

  1. Breast is Best – for Wallet and Baby.

While formula is arguably more convenient, it’s also expensive and doesn’t carry the benefits of real milk… so I’d encourage any budget-conscious prospective moms out there to prep themselves for breastfeeding if possible. And it DOES take preparation. I’m very glad I didn’t just assume that breastfeeding would come naturally to me; I took the time and took the classes and even saw a lactation consultant in advance (through my doula) who helped me recognize a good vs. bad latch, how to correct or modify a latch, how different holds affect a baby’s latch, and even how to make friends with my breast pump.  Days later, when I was in the muzzy, exhausted post-delivery state, when the nurses handed me my baby, I knew what to do to establish good feeding practices from the start and recognize bad ones.  I was happy to know when I was two weeks postpartum that my lactation consultant would still be available to help me (again, through my doula) when I noticed some odd things about Zeke’s latch that eventually led us to discover a tongue-tie, which has since been corrected.

  1. Prep for the Postpartum.

    This is what those strange little placenta capsules look like.

    This is what those strange little placenta capsules look like.

Lastly, when considering the recovery ahead after birth, I thought long and hard about my family’s history with depression and decided to try to prevent Postpartum Depression if I could.  One of the ways I did this was by simply taking daily walks and being sure to spend time with friends and family (this is free); the other way I did this Came with a small cost, but might have saved me heavier costs of therapy and medication: I had my placenta dried and encapsulated to dose myself with during that first month after birth.

Most mammals eat their placentas; so did women in many ancient human cultures. It’s weird but not unheard of–even today.

I’d met many women through my doula who had embraced placentophagy (consumption of the placenta) as a practice and swore by it. Since there are so few actual studies on this practice right now, it was only the very high number of personal anecdotal accounts from people I knew that swayed me.  And I have to say that, beyond the weirdness of it (which is diminished when taking placenta in capsule form), the effects of this nutrient and hormone-rich organ seem to have only benefitted me. My energy has been excellent, my post-birth anemia was checked quickly, and my mood had only very temporary lapses (I cried, I got over it, I went on to enjoy my day). Did the cost of encapsulation ultimately save me some money by supporting my overall physical and mental health? I really do think so.

That’s all of my tips for now. I hope some of these ideas were helpful or inspired you in your own pregnancy or pre-pregnancy journey.  Thanks for reading!

-Ruth

NOTES:

  1. Hodnett, E.D.; Gates, S.; Hofmeyr, G.J.; Sakala, C.; Weston, J. “Continuous support for women during childbirth.” Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2011 Feb 16; (2):CD003766.
  1. Doulas of North America (DONA).

Want to know who my doula was, or need details about any other service I mentioned here? Message me; I’m happy to put you in contact!

Warm-up #1: Resetting the Stopwatch with Kairos Time

Soul Element Exercised: Timelessness

 

“In the spiritual life, God chooses to try our patience first of all by His slowness. He is slow: we are swift and precipitate. It is because we are but for a time, and He has been for eternity. . . . There is something greatly overawing in the extreme slowness of God. Let it overshadow our souls, but let it not disquiet them. We must wait for God, long, meekly, in the wind and wet, in the thunder and the lightning, in the cold and dark. Wait, and He will come.” – Frederick Faber

 

“You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” – Dallas Willard, on the health of the soul

 

It’s been a shocking two months since I’ve last written, and it shows how much I’ve become locked into the chains of chronos time (gr. scheduled, chronological time). But a little over two weeks ago, at 25 weeks along in my pregnancy, I took my last chance (pre-child) to go on an intensive retreat with 52 students from our Jesuit high school where I work, a retreat called Kairos (gr. “God’s Time”). It was a chance to step out of the office, step out of my responsibilities as a wife at home, and focus on the spiritual needs of myself and the community of the retreatants there with me.gods-time-1

The retreat was an intense four days of talks, reflections, prayer, small group chats, and emotional revelations, from seven in the morning to past midnight each night. Day two included my 25-minute talk as a retreat leader on the topic of “God’s Friendship”, which was simultaneously empowering and emotionally draining. It required me to dig down to things I hadn’t touched in a long time as I rehashed my history, including my faith struggles during my parents’ cancers, the pain and disorder of my father’s loss, and my own intense loneliness as I navigated those years feeling isolated in the experience due to my age and entrapment caused by my dependent status. To make sure the kids listening understood my perspective from these rough years of my late adolescence and very early 20s, I didn’t hold back on those elements; however, the meat of my talk arose from those moments (and I shared most of them) when I realized, sometimes many months after the events, that I wasn’t alone, in any of it, ever.

I won’t share the whole talk here. It was a long one. But I will say that writing it and giving it served as a reminder to me, as much as a revelation to some of the kids, that God is active in our lives in quiet ways, through gentle reminders, circumstantial blessings that are unexpected, and the generous hearts of others who follow an impulse that goes beyond mere human kindness – the kinds of gestures that can’t be explained by anything but the influence and presence of the divine.

I went back to my room that night to find a thick mail packet on my bed. Although most students (despite the secrecy surrounding this retreat) have come to expect that a part of Kairos is getting some letters from your loved ones as an encouragement, I was surprised as an adult leader to have notes from anyone but my husband, to whom I’d shared the details of the retreat ahead. As I opened note after note, I realized he’d done more than just follow an impulse to write me a little something for my Kairos mail; he’d hacked into my email to contact relatives, college friends, and even high school friends. I also opened several notes from many of my coworkers, sometimes surprised by their candidness as they shared their thoughts on their past four-and-a-half years with me.

And as I read past two in the morning in that Spartan little retreat room with one light, I remembered those many moments in my life when these note-writers had shown me that I wasn’t alone. I remembered, too, the intense spiritual talks with some of them that had influenced me in darker times.

Even though I came home on Day 4 from the retreat to almost immediately engage with the real-world and its demands again, the spiritual time-out allowed me to remember, as I embark on this next part of my life journey, this time as a parent at the end of my twenties, that I’m still not alone.

I just had to take the time to remember this truth by disengaging myself from the world’s notion of time and dipping into the non-scheduled space of eternity.

I need to do it more often, and I hope that anyone reading this gets inspired to take off for a little time to themselves to relive moments of God’s kindness in their lives. After all, it’s hard to understand and enjoy that kind of eternal, everlasting love unless we can turn off our calendar apps and schedulers for a little while and experience the time our soul is made to dwell in: an unlimited continuum not measurable with a minute-hand.

Taking that little space to breathe gave me one relieving piece of knowledge: that God measures our lives as a kind of ripening, and not as a rush.

 

Warm-up #2: Cleansing Breaths to Replace “Comparisonitis” with Gratitude

Soul Element Exercised: Peace and Perspective

 

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” – Thornton Wilder

 

“To be truly grateful, you must not only recognize the benefits or gifts that come your way, but that they are not just random acts; they are not accidents. They are coming from Someone who has good intentions for you.” – John Ortberg, Soul Keeping

 

I’ve been home from the retreat for a few weeks now, doing what women in their third trimester tend to do: scurrying around completing childbirth education, scheduling prenatal medical appointments and tests, planning for the mountain of work to get done (or leave detailed guides on how to do) before maternity leave, and trying to outfit the necessities in the nursery (oh, and doing taxes, because it’s that time again. Joy.).

I admit, when I sat down in February to figure all this out in terms of my calendar and our budget, I felt frankly overwhelmed, anxious, and at times resentful.

Not that I wasn’t grateful to be having a healthy baby – I was and still am—but I had been running seemingly every day into women who are or have recently been pregnant and who have far more of this figured out, or have had the luxury of more personal time and more financial resources due to their husband’s full-time employment, than I do. These well-meaning women have kindly asked if I’d heard of this class yet, or if I’d joined a prenatal yoga group, or gotten scheduled for massages to help with pregnancy pains, or how often I was able to nap during the day (my answer – never, during the work week).

Pinterest before bedtime didn’t help. I stumbled with a sort of helpless nesting-instinct-driven-fascination onto blogs written by women who have had the resources and time to set up and document beautiful nurseries in well-proportioned houses, and buy adorable and expensive clothes, toys, knickknacks, and doo-dads. I came across scholarly articles telling me that I was a bad mom because I hadn’t also shelled out a lot more money to take this other special class, or have this special test or treatment, before my due date arrived.

I’d shut off my laptop some nights and wander the 20 feet into the single bedroom of our apartment which I realized had been all furnished with hand-me-down furniture that I’d cobbled together into something resembling “cozy”. I had one area by the window where I was hoping to fit in the rudiments of a nursery, and I was having trouble envisioning what would go where in a small room that was seemingly full already.

Even as I shut off the lights, the smallness and the shabbiness of the room still dimly shadowed my mind as I thought back to the sparkling affluence and beauty of the things I’d looked at others enjoying on the web as other couples filled up their big nurseries and big houses with exciting things for their newborn.

And then, on the penultimate weekend of February, my in-laws arrived to offer a cradle that had been in the family for decades. My husband had once slept in it, and other kids on that side of the family, too. And in our tiny apartment, it was a better answer than a huge crib, at least for a little while. It came inside with us from the backseat of their car, out of the cold and snow.

This is the little cradle with so much history.

This is the little cradle with so much history.

As I polished up the old wooden cradle and gave it an experimental rock, I noticed some things about it. The first was that it had been well-sanded to a gleamy smoothness before it had been stained, and its components had been put together entirely by hand using a tongue-and-groove design; there’s not a clunky nail in sight. And then, as I looked closer at some of the scratches and nicks in the wood, I recognized places where wedding rings, toys, and maybe other furniture had scraped this cradle as babies were placed in and lifted out of it, from years and years in my husband’s family, in days and nights of loving routine and fretful concern.

I thought about the hours spent in previous generations sitting beside this cradle, and all the sudden, all of it – the stuff on Pinterest with that posh designer feel, the anxiety I felt about putting the nursery together in time, the worry I felt about finances being there when we needed them – it just went away.

And I remembered to be grateful for what we already had, which was all that was really going to matter: that this child would be born with a loving extended family and the commitment my husband and I have for each other. That’s all that most babies for thousands of years have ever been able to ask for, and it’s all that any expecting mom can really hope for.

 

But on that note about all this other baby stuff, stay tuned for some upcoming posts about Bringing Up Baby on a Budget….

I am so shocked sometimes at what store-bought “natural” chemical peels cost!

But I sure do love the bang that those lightly acidic zingers do for the face in terms of killing off acne bacteria and revealing fresh, glowy skin cells! At 27, my skin has slowed down its cell turnover enough that I often see dullness, but it still creates enough oil for acne…So, needing a facial is rather common for me!

What does a girl do when she needs a facial and can’t justify the $35-a-jar stuff from Sephora in her budget?

She goes to the produce aisle and raids her cabinets!

All the ingredients are there. Let’s grab some:

  • Baking Soda
  • Honey
  • Fresh lemon (cut in half, or if a big lemon, in quarters)

Got your goodies yet?  We’re ready to do this thing.

Enjoy this awkward step-by-step shot from my iPhone at night. Wonderful photography, I tell ya!

 

Step 1: Prep the Natural Chemical Peel

Note the Aldi's products. See? Saving money already!

Note the Aldi’s products (honey and baking soda). See? Saving money already!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pour the honey on first after you've squeezed the lemon a bit.  The honey has natural antibacterial properties!

Pour the honey on first after you’ve squeezed the lemon a bit. The honey has natural antibacterial properties!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then add the acid neutralizer: Baking Soda. The honey will keep it separate from the acidic lemon juice until you're ready to apply it all to your face. And the baking soda is a nice exfoliant!

Then add the acid neutralizer: Baking Soda. The honey will keep the soda separate from the acidic lemon juice until you’re ready to apply it all to your face. At that time, the baking soda makes a nice exfoliant!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STEP 2: Prep the Face by Cleansing

Off with makeup!  I'm using Trader Joe's green tea soap.

Off with makeup! I’m using Trader Joe’s green tea soap. If my Clarisonic had a new head, I’d use it instead of a towel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STEP 3: Gently Rub on the Mixture

Boy, you can see how badly I need this. All broken out on the forehead and chin.  Ick!

Boy, you can see how badly I need this. All broken out on the forehead (and chin, not shown). Ick!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STEP 4: Try Not to Pick at the Lemony Bits as Mixture Sits for 5 Minutes

Failing at not picking/dabbing at the bits of lemon flesh leftover.

Failing at not picking/dabbing at the bits of lemon flesh left over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STEP 5: Rinse Completely Off

All clean!

All clean!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STEP 6: Put on Your Anti-Agers and Moisturizers of Choice

 

Love, love, love this stuff. And it's so cheap on Amazon. At night, I add a little coconut oil to this for moisture.

Love, love, love this stuff. Smells like orange and vanilla and is full of retinol and Vitamin C. And it’s so cheap on Amazon considering how long a bottle lasts! At night, I add a little coconut oil to this for moisture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During the day, I use the Simple Moisturizer with SPF 15 when I'm not spending more than an hour or two outside.

During the day, I use the Simple Protecting Moisturizer with SPF 15 when I’m not spending more than an hour or two outside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STEP 7: Wait a Few Days and Repeat As Needed… Until You See Results

 

LEFT: Age 27.5. RIGHT: Age newly-22.

LEFT: Age 27.5.
RIGHT: Age newly-22.

 

 

This is after about 10 days, doing the Lemon-Honey Peel twice and resting a few days in-between. I’m still a little broken out on the “phone-side” of my chin, but I think a lot of my former “glow” is restored. What do you think, reader?

Until next time, your stingy, citrus-y friend,

 

Ruth

 

 

I have a confession to make.

As a WOPS (Wife of Perpetual Student) and current bread-winner, I shop at the Dollar Tree.

Not the Dollar Store (where things are cheaper, but don’t actually cost a dollar), but at the Dollar Tree where everything, is, in fact, a buck or less.

So what’s actually worth buying at the Dollar Tree, you ask?  Isn’t it all crappy stuff?

Crappy…hmm. This word requires a bit of a mental shift.

Here’s a few things my middle-classist brain had to learn to wrap around:

  • After poking around and hedging my bets, I found a lot of the stuff is surprisingly co-equal in quality to what you’d find in Target within its store-branding or even the standard name-brand.
  • I realized that the kind of stuff I’d buy there is the kind of stuff that are things that aren’t meant to last forever anyway, regardless of where I buy them.  In fact, most of the things I buy there are the things we all use for a few minutes at a time and toss.

With all this in mind, I figured, why not spend just a buck on things like that?  Isn’t that a fine deal? Why spend any more than that, so long as it gets the job done?

So here’s what I typically get . . . And if I know the normal price of something, I’ll throw it in there, just so you can see that I’m not crazy buying this stuff on the cheap:

1. Paper products: 100-packs of napkins ($2.89 at Kroger), paper towels, etc.

2. School stuff for my grad-student hubby: packs of pens, pocket folders, and spiral notebooks, 3×5 cards, even colored pencils and crayons for me!

3. Cleaning products.  Where else can you get a gallon of bleach for $1 to refill your bathroom cleaning spray or add into the wash?  Or a gallon of vinegar for the same? Some cleaners are even name-brands like Pine-Sol (same size is $2.46 on Google Shopping), Comet ($3.99 on Google Shopping) and and Barkeeper’s Friend ($1.99 on Google Shopping). And that’s not to mention the cheap packages of sponges, gloves, dish soap, and scrubby brushes.

4. Bathroom beauty and hygiene supplies, like the ones pictured here on my sink–yep, all Dollar Tree stuff! Why pay more for pink razors, girls? And baby wash is the BEST body wash in terms of gentleness–even for adults!

photo of dstore buys

And I buy much more in this category that happened to be less photo-handy at the moment, like baby oil (makeup remover), hand soap, toothbrushes, shaving cream ($2.99 at Kroger), mouthwash, floss, hair ties ($3.19 at Walgreens), bobby pins ($1.69 at Walgreens), and even clarifying shampoo ($1.99-4.99, depending on brand . . . I figured out awhile back that even fancy shampoo is in your hair for about a minute or two to clean it, whereas conditioner is what actually is formulated to deposit on the hair shafts and make a difference in your hair. I only invest in conditioner!).

5. Random purchase-musts that come up in the holiday seasons or on special occasions and threaten a tight budget. Next month, why go broke spending $5 per bag of trick-or-treat goodies when you can get that bag of name-brand mini-Smarties or Snickers for $1? Why cough up $3 for a co-worker’s birthday card when you can get one that’s hilarious for $.59? Not to mention Christmas gift bags (typically $3.99 for a pack of plain small bags at Target) and tissue paper and rolls of wrapping paper ($3.00-5.00 in many stores!) at a $1 per roll!  And the holiday designs on these are actually becoming progressively more modern and cute… like something I’d find in a big-box store. Their rolls of ribbon are also only $1, as are multi-packs of rolls of clear adhesive tape.

I can often leave my dollar-saving-haven with a bag in each hand, having paid roughly $10 total, and not having to come back for a couple of months.

So, in a year, I estimate that I save roughly $50-80 just by shopping for these things at my somewhat-shady local Dollar Tree.  That’s cash Boaz and I can use towards more fun things in life than just these boring little staples; don’t you agree?

Until next time, your cheap-o friend,

 

Ruth

 

There was twirling. Much twirling. Photo courtesy of my friend Olivia; background courtesy of southern Indiana and the Ohio River.

There was twirling. Much twirling. Photo courtesy of my friend Olivia; background courtesy of southern Indiana and the Ohio River.

Back in college, I loved dressing like a cross between a gypsy ragamuffin, Victorian heroine, and fairy princess all put together.

Hence why I loved this skirt.

It was a tiered composite of patterned cotton, mostly yellow and had greys and browns and pinks and reds and white all put together in a sort of tiered peasant style.  It was gloriously simple; I could just pull it on with the elastic over my hips like a little girl–and run around!  I might have done that often. See this photographic evidence from 2009….

But what is a young lady to do when she not only leaves behind her early–heck, even her mid-twenties (when such frippery is appropriate) and then destroys that much-needed elastic waistband after so many years of playful wear?

Toss it out and buy something more adult and functional? Not if she’s cash-strapped and has an emotional attachment to the skirt.

No…Ruth, being Ruth, harvests and refashions.

Now, I’m no where near a refashionista, and certainly not the Refashionista (go ahead, click that link and visit her site!).  But I do have some skills with a needle and thread.

With a Sunday with some downtime and some Netflix, I got working. And since it turned out okay, for your benefit, I made a little tutorial.

 

TIERED SKIRT TO INFINITY SCARF REFASHION TUTORIAL

STEP 1. Cut around the area of the skirt you want to keep, keeping the material in its original, complete skirt-circle. Make sure the diameter of this skirt-circle is sufficient to allow for wrapping around your neck; if it isn’t, you may need to “break” the circle, and cut several long strips instead. Keep any existing skirt lining as well, if possible. Toss the unwanted fabric.

Step 1

Choppity chop! I wanted to keep the grey parts and the patterned calico with red flowers; luckily, they were already sewn together in the original skirt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STEP 2: If one strip of the salvaged patterned fabric is not contiguous with the other, you’ll need to add another step here to stitch the two strips together, stitching in a narrow seam with the patterns sides facing each other. Fold the two patterned pieces of fabric at the tier of the skirt where the different fabric patterns now meet at a seam, tucking the lining or other type of inner-facing inside to add extra volume to the scarf.   Gather the edges of the fabric together, forming a tube by pinching the raw edges towards the inside to make a seam.

 

Pinch those raw edges! See the lining inside, sort of like "stuffing" to make it fluffy?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 3.  The tricky part is next. Close the “tube” by pinning it shut, gathering the fabric as needed to ensure that the circular shape is retained; occassionally pick up the lining or innerfacing as you do this so that the “stuffing” doesn’t bunch up inside in weird places.

 

I cheated a little and just gathered as I stitched... but ideally, your gathers/pins should look a bit like this.

I cheated a little and just gathered as I stitched… but ideally, your gathers/pins should look a bit like this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STEP 4: Sew down your gathers, keeping your raw edges inside. If you want to be clever, cheat your gathers by using a gather stitch, as I do here. How do you do a gather stitch? Imagine you’re drawing a dotted line with your needle, stitching through the looser piece of fabric horizontally, with stitches about 1/4″ apart from each other. Once you’ve done that for a few inches, pull your thread tight, and watch your fabric bunch and gather neatly. Go back over the gathered bit and stitch down the gathers so they lie a little flatter and tighter against each other and the other piece of patterned fabric.

 

Step 4 gather1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STEP 5:  Repeat Step 4 all the way around, adjusting as you go to keep that nice circle!

 

Step 4 gather

Keep it goin’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Done?  Tie off the thread and make a fabulous outfit that’s ready for late-summer, early fall!  Twist it one way to reveal the pattern you prefer, or keep twisting to show both patterns at once!

Tada! Le Scarf! Pair it with fun.

Tada! Le Scarf! Pair it with fun.

 

Cost = $0.00.

Rafashion satisfaction? Priceless.

 

Tune in next Thursday for some more thrifty fun!  There might be another posting on a different topic next week as well — if a wild hair attacks me in the interim.

Does anyone else think that today’s technology culture has shaped our lives in unsustainable ways? That the so-called “convenience” now also means that life must be faster-paced, with more on our to-do list, simply because we can now “handle” more tasks with the help of our smart devices?

Does anyone else wind up staying up later to read or watch longer into the night on a lit-up screen?

Does anyone ever actually cook a nice whole-foods-based meal anymore, or is it all take-out and processed/pasteurized/overly packaged nommage?

Does anyone outside of Chicago and New York City ever walk instead of drive a car to their destinations (even half a mile away) anymore?

 

And am I alone in noticing that, after awhile (usually on the weekends), the way we live in the name of modern efficiency catches up to us, namely with sluggishness, mopeyness, and (eep!) pudginess?

 

Between an unfriendly gym scale and this research presentation by clinical psychologist Stephen Ilardi, I had a moment of uffish thought at lunch a few months back:

 

Here’re the highlights, if you don’t have time to watch: Dr. Ilardi argues that we’re in the midst of an epidemic, and doctors are having to prescribe more and more medication to help us deal psychologically with the effects of a life that, to all the generations before us, would seem simply unnatural. He also argues that by returning to our ancient ancestral roots in the way we eat, work, and move, we’ll return to mental and physical health. (And in case you were thinking, “But wait, didn’t pre-civilization humans live a really short life?” Vallois’ 1961 theory that life was short and violent was recently disproven; so long as primitive people survived the parasites and infections rampant in childhood, they actually lived to a robust age within a the range of life expectancies today, even with all our modern science.)

Ilardi’s argument matches up with what many of us have already noticed: that our twenty-first century life has hit the human mind and body hard, in ways that thousands of years of microevolution from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle couldn’t prepare us.

The frenzied pace, the terrible, nutrient-poor, saturated-fat and sugar-laden food, and lack of daily physical effort . . . These factors really do take their toll, even on the young. With most adults in the US on prescription meds and nearly half of our population overweight or obese and dealing with the ailments that come with it, we’re essentially turning into the mobility-chair bound creatures predicted in the futuristic Pixar film WALL-E.

"WALL-E." (2008). Pixar Animation Studios.

“WALL-E.” (2008). Pixar Animation Studios. Behold, our fat future.

 

Let’s not also talk about the fact that being stressed, poorly nourished, and overweight becomes expensive quickly in terms of medical costs. In fact, it’s these combined “diseases of civilization” that are the biggest healthcare crisis we face in our world today in terms of inflating medical service demands, and with those demands, costs.

 

I don’t know about you, but I’d like to keep my medical costs down and actually enjoy life a little. . . and not wind up in a Hoveround chair.

 

So I thought about it how much civilization and its offerings actually affect my life right now.

I might have experimentally heave-ho’d my way into my pre-marriage skinny jeans and frowned at what I saw in the mirror after just two cozy years of happy marriage. A scale in my work place’s wellness center told me that it was only eight pounds’ gain since my big day as a bride—not huge, right? But then I did the math of four (4) pounds a year (4 lbs. x just 5 years = 20 lbs. . . . which makes a huge impact on a 5’4” frame).

Vanity, and health concerns, made me pause.

 

And then I remembered that I had trouble with stress-induced insomnia now and again.

 

And then I thought about the fact that depression ran in my family, and that at times, it tugged at me like a weepy child at my sleeve.

 

So I did a little reading and tried some baby steps to take myself back in time . . . to go more “native” in my thinking, as it were, by thinking about what my ancestors 500 to 1,000 years ago would have done to just live their lives. I came up with a few lifestyle modifications, and I thought I’d share these little experiments and what happened after, just to see if they encourage anybody else out there.

 

EXPERIMENT 1: Taking Modern Conveyances out of the Equation (Within Reason)

 

I quit taking elevators instead of stairs. That was a no-brainer.

Hubby and I started walking dates, instead of gabbing across our laptops in the evenings.

Ruth's grocery-getter. Glamorous, no?

Ruth’s grocery-getter. Glamorous, no?

Then I took a bigger plunge and ditched my all-American car habit during fine weather in favor of a bike commute to work. Don’t be too impressed by this – it’s less than two miles from my apartment to my office door. Sure, it takes a little extra effort some mornings to pack my work pumps in a backpack while I roll out the door wearing yoga pants and sneakers under my skirt. But it also means I don’t have to schedule in some kind of fabricated, pointless gym exercises that day, which just feel unnatural, and as Dr. Ilardi explains in that presentation, are, actually, instinctually unnatural to humans and most animals. Gee, no wonder I hate working out.

Just two months later, this little change has meant getting my booty back (and core, thighs, calves, ankles, and gas money) without having to work in the extra expense in time and fees for the gym. It’s also given me the endorphins needed to just feel more cheerful overall. And it’s frankly hilarious to see the way people respond to me, all dolled up for work and riding along on a bike in a very non-serious-biker way. Sans matchy-matchy spandex top and bottoms, I somehow manage to look like a helmet-wearing Dorothy Gale stole the Wicked Witch’s bike most days, which the old folks walking the neighborhood in the mornings find very entertaining.

 

EXPERIMENT 2: Eating Like Hunting Is Actually Hard To Do

 

I bet you thought when I wrote “hunter-gatherer” farther up in this post that I’d wind up going all “Paleo Diet” in this portion of my experiment. Nope!

I did think about it, though, since it’s a pretty big fad right now and touts all kinds of ancient-world wisdom. But I started reading more about the dietary components and soon realized that this modern-day diet currently calling itself “Paleo” has FAR more meat in it than any of our ancestors ate on a typical prehistoric day.1 In many places and in many seasons, when gatherable green food was plentiful, people didn’t expend the energy or risk the danger of hunting animals often bigger than themselves. Prehistoric hunters also didn’t catch anything to eat most days even when they tried to; based on the quantity of meat that researchers seem to think the ancients consumed, it seems like early humans hunted with considerably less hunting success than the big cats (for lions in a group, roughly 30% of capture-kill attempts actually succeed; for humans in a group, attempts vary from a 3%-30% success rate, depending on the size of game stalked, according to research like that done by Kristen Hawkes,who has published multiple studies of the Hadza hunter-gatherer people). Regardless, meat, for most ancient people, was reserved for seasonal feast times (when game was available and meat was a treat) or famine (when plant food was scarce).

But regarding the other animal product ruling the current Standard American Diet, the Paleo Diet is spot-on: dairy products, which came much later on the human timeline of edibles, were totally absent from our ancestors’ diets for millennia, and for most modern humans, are still too dense in saturated fats, casein, and lactose to be metabolized in our bodies well.

Yet in today’s Standard American Diet (aptly abbreviated as SAD), there’s meat or an animal product or byproduct at every meal. Too bad we aren’t prepared to deal with this diet physiologically—to the point where it’s killing us slowly with every excess forkful.

 

Please, consider the following (and check out the links to the sources I’ve done my best to embed; I was overrun with footnotes):

 

  1. High-levels of animal protein consumption has been recently associated with higher levels of blood-circulating IGF-1, or insulin-like growth factor, which is linked as a growth agent for multiple forms of cancer (including colon cancer, which killed my dad at 54, and breast cancer, for which I carry a mutated gene).
  2. Animal protein consumption, especially red meats and dairy, are also linked to incidence of stroke, both Type I  and Type II diabetes, and infertility in women, in addition to many other lifestyle-influenced diseases and metabolic disorders.
  3. The evidence of the deleterious health effects from meat-heavy eating is so bad that even the pocket-stuffing-corrupt USDA (which is financially backed by multiple meat-industry sources, in addition to Coca-Cola) has gone so far as to risk the wrath of their sponsors by announcing in the 2010 revised dietary guidelines that it’s time Americans cut back on meat intake, calling animal and meat products “solid fats” so as not to raise too many hackles, although their referent is clear when one reviews text closely, as well as the new “My Plate” portion guide. The upcoming 2015 guidelines are anticipated to advise even less consumption of animal products as the “My Plate” recommendation graphic evolves while lobby groups that are sick of the silly political games holding back American nutritional reform sue the USDA (check out what the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine did in 2000 and again in 2011).
  4. Cow’s milk is hormonally and nutritionally designed to take a 90-pound calf and turn it into a 400-pound animal within a year, and even low-fat dairy products (including yogurt—the fastest-growing refrigerator staple this decade) metabolize in such a fashion as to promote weight gain in humans.
  5. Roughly 75% of the adult population in our world is lactose intolerant or has some form of lactose maldigestion, with highest incidence in groups of African, Asian, Hispanic, or Native American descent (see source).   So many of us just aren’t equipped to digest the stuff, but we eat dairy anyway because it’s marketed to us at an insane rate (“Got Milk?” and “Milk Life” campaigns ring a bell, do they not?). Dairy also contains casomorphins, powerful opiates that keep us hooked on the yummy creamy, saturated-fat and hormone-laden stuff. Seriously. Go look it up. Milk contains morphine to keep babies calmly eating—and it affects humans equally as well as a little baby calf.
  6. A diet-based population study from 2009 showed that non-vegetarian eaters have the highest BMIs on average (and it’s an overweight BMI, at 28.8) when compared against ovo-lacto vegetarians (25.7), pescatarians (26.3), and vegans (23.6). Note that the vegan average is the only one within the “healthy” BMI category. (BMI standards currently dictate that a BMI between 18.5-25 is “healthy”).
  7. Lastly, consider that in 1909, the average American ate 123.9 pounds of meat per year and 3.8 pounds of cheese (which is 70% saturated fat. Seven. Zero.). In 2007, we ate 200.6 pounds of meat (mostly chicken!), and in 2005, we nommed on 31.4 pounds of cheese per year2. And with nearly 100 extra pounds of those calorie-dense animal products going into our bellies, we’re fatter than we’ve EVER been.  The USDA’s stastical summary in its 2010 “The Total Diet” report indicated that, “Currently, the average American gains about a pound a year between the ages of 20 to 60 years” (p.2).

 

The Power-Plate was created by the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine in 2009, and it reflects decades of research on diet and longevity, which revealed a plant-based diet as best. Note that the USDA's My Plate has somewhat copied it, after PCRM laid on some pressure.

“The Power Plate” was created by the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine in 2009, and it reflects decades of research on diet and longevity, which revealed a plant-based diet, sans dairy, was best. Note that the USDA’s “My Plate” has somewhat copied it, after PCRM laid on some pressure.

After reading all that, I was convinced to go more and more plant-strong in my diet, eliminating more and more animal products, and spacing out my meat consumption to the point where meat and cheese are now special treats – not everyday things.

Not to get too personal, but I’ll share a few things that have happened once I made these adjustments:

  1. I’ve lost five pounds in roughly four weeks after I finally committed to this dietary experiment. (YAY!)
  2. My seemingly-perpetual tummy bloat went down after I’d gone a solid week eating vegan meals.
  3. My joints, which I never even really noticed were stiff before, loosened up, to the point where I realized I was bounding up stairs that I used to trudge upon as I made my way to work. I can’t really explain this, beyond saying that I just feel sort of weightless. Some research indicates that dairy and meat can raise inflammation in the body, so I guess being without it for a week or so made a difference.
  4. I got an energy boost overall, to the point where I felt more productive.
  5. Regularity, folks. Fiber makes a gal feel perky. (TMI?)

 

EXPERIMENT 3: Getting Rid of Synthetic Hormones

This step of my lifestyle experiment actually started far before I saw Dr. Ilardi’s presentation, but I put it last here because I was nervous about posting this controversial step. After consideration, though, I think it’s important enough to mention. It was a tough road, because it meant getting off the progesterone-based birth control I’d been on for the first year and a half of my marriage.

I didn’t take this step lightly; it was after months and months of debilitating insomnia, significant hair shedding, migraines, strange acne and weight gain that bloated my lower tummy (imagine a mini-Buddha belly), in addition to a depression so intense that I went to see a professional. My husband was all for trying something new—trying anything, really—to get back the girl he’d dated and married. I’ll continue some notes about this transition for you ladies in an upcoming rant on this subject, but suffice to say, I adopted a science-based natural form of control in January of 2013, and today I’m still not pregg-o and am feeling and looking so much more like my old, pre-pharmaceutical self. Everything is back to where it was pre-hormones, including my sleeping patterns—except for the acne. Still haven’t figured that one out. Who knows?

 

So, friends, this has been my journey back to nature and back to some older ways of living. And while it’s certainly not the mainstream lifestyle of a Millennial and still has gaps I need to modify, I’ve had no regrets!

 

 

NOTES (to keep this section small, I’ve included embedded links to most sources  in the post above. Do feel free to click into them where they appear in the text above):

  1. Researcher Vaclav Smil at Colorado State reported in “Eating Meat: Evolution, Patterns, and Consequences” (2006) that, for prehistoric peoples, “animal foods provided generally less than 15 percent of all dietary protein” (p. 607); compare this figure with the 19-35 percent animal protein-basis in the trendy Paleo Diet.
  2. Foods per capita figures from US Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. Presented here by Dr. Neal Barnard: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/91/5/1530S.full

 

 

 

Next Page »