Sunday, November 11, 2012

Tricks of the trade from 'Be Thifty' and 'Living Well on a Shoestring'

During one of my mid-day walks with Will, we headed to the library to find some good reading material on how to start a family while cutting back financially. While I didn't find exactly what I was looking for (maybe I should take a stab at writing a guide myself...), I did find a few good books on frugal living that I brought home and devoured from cover to cover. From olive oil hair treatments to reusing vacuum bags, below are some of the best tips that I've either implemented or filed away for future use.

Be Thrifty: How to live better with less, Pia Catton & Califia Suntree (2010)
I really enjoyed this book - I even bought it after returning the library's copy, and goodness knows that's saying something. (I found it used on Amazon - did you know there are warehouse deals via Amazon that are eligible for free $25 super saver shipping? Always click on the 'used book' option to see what you can find.) It was an easy read and I found myself dog-earing just about every page. Some of the new things we are doing in our home include:
  • Cutting my husband's hair. We bought a $20 Wahl clippers from Amazon and I've cut his hair for 6 months now. That's already a savings of at least $80 given he used to have his hair cut every six weeks. After getting over his initial fear of being my next DIY project, I think he secretly likes hassle to get to the barber shop anymore. And honestly? No one can tell the difference.
  • Cooking more often with dried beans, which are SO much cheaper (and more delicious!) than their canned counterparts. There is a great chart with some quick tips for soaking and cooking different types of beans, including a quick soak method I've already used a few times when I've forgotten to soak beans overnight (put beans in water, bring to a boil, cover and turn off heat and let soak for an hour). I used to have no luck with beans - they would be one of two extremes, burned or rock hard - but with the help of this book I've managed to overcome my bad bean karma.
  • Making our own cleaning supplies. I've been using vinegar and water for a while now on my countertops, but after reading this book and articles in Natural Home and Urban Farm magazines, I've been inspired to switch up my whole cleaning regimen and go the natural (and cheap) route. This weekend I'm picking up washing soda, Borax, grapefruit essential oil and other supplies at the store. Let the experimenting begin (and let's hope that there are no explosions).
Living Well on a Shoestring, by the editors of Yankee Magazine (2000)
It's pretty amazing how many things have changed since this book was written in 2000 - for example, cell phones, online shopping, and streaming movies. Although it was quaint reading about inexpensive ways to store floppy disks and VHS cassettes, I enjoyed all of the ideas as I could tell they were written by a kindred spirit. Some of my favorites (for the 21st century) include:
  • Leftover rice? Make rice pudding.
  • If you get paid bi-weekly, twice a year you will get three paychecks in a month. Instead of allowing that third one to get eaten up by expenses, as soon as you receive it put it into a savings account or allocate it towards one of your goals.
  • Put a small spray bottle with detergent in the bathroom to start treating clothes when they go in the laundry (vs. spending extra money on Shout or another stain pre-treater)
  • Make facecloths from old t-shirts
  • Make a hot oil treatment for hair: Empty out a travel-size shampoo bottle and fill with olive oil. Drop into a hot bath to warm. Put on hair for 10-15 minutes under a shower cap.
  • Make a heart-shaped cake from 1 8-inch square pan and 1 8-inch round pan (cut round cake in half and add to two adjacent sides of the square)
  • Turn old Christmas cards into a paper chain for decorating - cut the fronts into thirds, make into loops and create a chain (I love this idea - so fun for kids!)
  • Make a garland of dried citrus slices
  • Child gift idea: Find a small wooden chair at a garage sale, spray paint and stencil their name on the back
  • Reuse your vaccum bag (I'm in the midst of trying this out). When bag is full, cut a slice in the side and empty into the trashcan (p.s. a messy endeavor). Seal with duct tape and reuse for one more cycle
These are just a few of the 'pearls of wisdom' I gained from these two books. If you are of thrifty mind, I am sure you would find the time reading them to be well spent!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Bringing crochet, and Yoda, back from the '70s

This being my son's first Halloween, I was inspired to try my hand at crafting his costume. It needed to be cute but not girly (my husband quickly vetoed a lamb) and, of course, inexpensive. After much scouring of Pinterest, I came across the perfect idea - Yoda. My husband loved the Star Wars theme and the key element of the costume - the hat - presented the perfect opportunity to dig my crochet hook out of the black hole it had fallen into.

Channeling the force...
I headed to my local yarn store (Yarns on First in Napa) and found the perfect shade of green yarn in the sale bin for $7.00. After a trip to the fabric store for some cream and brown felt for a coat and belt - for a grand total of $1.29 - I had all of the materials necessary to channel the 'force' and transform our little guy into Yoda.

The coat and belt were ridiculously easy - I cut a square of cream felt to wrap around him like a jacket and made two slits for arm holes. The belt was one long piece of brown felt cut about 1.5'' thick.

The hat was another story. I hadn't touched a crochet project in at least five years and the prospect of reading a pattern - let alone figuring out how to single/double/half-double crochet again - was a little daunting.

Somewhere along the line I discovered Ravelry, an online community of crocheters and knitters where ideas, projects and patterns are shared. After signing up for a free account, I searched for "Yoda hat" and came across a few patterns that offered me a starting point. I picked out two - here and here - that had the look I was going for and didn't appear too complex.

I then sat down with the yarn, a 6.5mm crochet hook, my two patterns, the Crocheter's Companion (a good investment on my part years ago), said a little prayer for patience, and started crocheting.

After many failed attempts (my prayer for patience must have been answered), I ended up with a hat that I'm very happy with. It's a little big and certainly not perfect, but was a manageable project for a novice crocheter. I used elements of each pattern for the final result and made changes along the way as I remembered how to wield my crochet hook. Below is the 'bastardized' pattern that resulted, along with some instructions that I would have found helpful the first time around. I thank the ladies that wrote the original patterns for guiding me along the way!

Yoda Hat

Begin by making a magic loop (watch this YouTube video for a how-to)
Row 1: 10 dc (double crochet) in the magic loop. Join with 1 sl st (slip stitch) in the first dc.
Row 2. Ch 3. Increase by making a cl (cluster stitch) in every dc from the previous row.
Row 3. [1cl, 1dc] (this means repeat the pattern 1 cl, 1dc, 1 cl, 1dc, 1cl, 1dc, etc. for the entire row)
Row 4: [1 cl, 5dc] (same as above, repeat the pattern in the brackets for the entire row - 1cl, 5dc, 1cl, 5dc, etc.) 
Row 5: [dc] Repeat row 5 until the hat is large enough.

Yoda Ears
Start with an 8-10 inch tail for sewing ear onto cap.
1. Chain 16, dc in 2nd ch from hook and continue down the chain. Ch 3 & turn.
2. dc in each dc across, ch 3 and turn. Repeat this row so that you have a total of three rows that are all the same length.
3. On the fourth row, sctog (this means skip) the first 2 dc, dc to the 2nd from last dc.  Sctog the last 2 crochet, ch 3  & turn (this will make the end of your ears into a triangle shape - in a nutshell, you are reducing the length of the row by 2 on each side as the triangle narrows). Continue until the ear naturally completes as you get to the end of the triangle. 

Attaching the Ears

Using the 8-10 inch yarn tail you left when you started the ear, begin by sewing that through the very bottom of the ear and then pulling the yarn tight so that you 'gather' the ear - this will create the cone shape at bottom of the year. Tie off the yarn so that the ear stays in that cone shape.  At that point, simply place the ears on either side of the head and use the remaining yarn to sew onto the cap. Trim any long ends and sew into the cap. You're done!