Monday, January 27, 2014

Cheap Homemade Kitchen Cleaners that are Safer for Kids

I like to label the tops of my spray bottles with their purpose,
and on the side I put a label with the recipe, so that it's easy
to refill when needed.
Okay - think for a minute about the 5 most popular brands of spray cleaners that you can use in the kitchen. How many of them would you like to ingest?

How many of them do you think you DO ingest, when you spray & wipe things you clean near your fruit bowl? Or, when you use you use one of them to clean the inside of your microwave before you cook in it? Or when you use it to spray down the inside of the fridge without removing all of the food from it first?

This is the thought that has bothered me for years, but kept bugging me even more when I had a little baby with a system much more sensitive than mine.

To avoid ingesting these things, I suppose the logical thing to do would be to remove all the food from the fridge before I spray & wipe a shelf to clean it. Or, take the fruit bowl & fresh bread away from the kitchen while I clean the counters. And, of course, to fully rinse the inside of the microwave before cooking in it.

But, I'm not such a great housekeeper to begin with (in fact, I'm sure that SOMEONE I know - if not several people - will get a good laugh out of the fact that I'm posting about cleansers at all). To add a few hours to my cleaning routine was NOT a good way to get anything done!

And, of course, I should make sure that my daughter was not standing near me when I cleaned - to make sure that none of these chemicals were accidentally sprayed in her face, ending up in her eyes or respiratory tract. But - she LIKES to stand right in the way of what I'm doing, and watch me. Isn't that how kids are supposed to learn?

Besides that, so many kitchen cleaners actually can be harmful or fatal to children should they accidentally drink some! And THAT was a VERY scary thought!

So, I started looking for ways to clean my Kitchen without having any more toxin exposure than was necessary.

I ended up using many of the same resources & recipes that I used for cleaning the bathroom - but using them in slightly different ways.

Glass & Mirror Cleaner **
Fill a Spray Bottle 1/3 full with White Vinegar
Fill it the rest of the way with Water.
Spray
Wipe with Microfiber Towel for best anti-streaking results.

This can be used anywhere you USUALLY use Glass cleaner in the kitchen - Chrome appliances, Faucet handles, Mirrors, Windows, etc.

In addition, I often use this to clean my indoor electric grill after it has cooled. (Cleaning it when hot with a wet paper towel folded several times when hot is very effective, but also a very good way to burn fingers). I spray the cooled grill with the Glass Cleaner & allow it to sit several minutes, then wipe with a paper towel, repeating as necessary.

Just a note on this- if I ever buy ANOTHER electric grill, I plan to get one with removable & submersible plates. The infomercials make it look so FUN to clean these things, but it's not! 'nuf said!

All-Purpose Cleaner
Fill a Spray Bottle 1/2 full with White Vinegar
Fill it the rest of the way with Water
Add a Squirt of EITHER Dish Detergent or Bronner's Liquid Castile Soap* (about 1/4 teaspoon)

Simply Spray on, and wipe off. This stuff works great!

I use this for cleaning the following: Counters, Stovetop, Inside & Outside of Microwave, Inside & Outside of Refrigerator, Outside of Appliances, Tabletops, Kid's Table, Trash Can. I have even Sprayed & Wiped the floor with this (with a Microfiber type Floor Mop like this One).

A Note on Vinegar & Odor: A lot of people hesitate to clean with vinegar because they don't like the scent of vinegar. But vinegar actually deodorizes! It often reacts with odor-causers and neutralizes them. Then, when it dries, vinegar leaves no odor of its own. In fact, many household tips suggest putting bowls of vinegar around the house to get rid of unpleasant odors - like cigarette odors.

Floor of the Oven
This was my Mom's Old Trick
Cover the Floor of the Oven with Table Salt
When drips happen, they bake into the salt, and can just be swept up (you can even put the salt down after a drip happens, and usually it will absorb it the next time you bake)
Then, from time to time, I just use a whisk broom to sweep out the bottom of the oven, and clean it with my All purpose Cleaner & a little scrubber-pad.
I had an Oven Repair Man tell me some years ago that using the self-cleaning feature on your oven greatly shortens its life. That, to me, is the ultimate in both anti-environmentalism & anti-frugality. I don't need to be able to eat off the floor of my oven, but I do need it clean enough not to smoke when I cook ; )

Stainless Steel Sink
When I was a teenager, my Home-Ec teacher (who was wonderful) said that we should always wipe out our sink after every meal with the dish cloth. Well - I like the idea of a clean sink. BUT, I have more recently read that the inside of the average kitchen sink is germier than the toilet seat (just google it)! I don't exactly want to wash it out with my dishcloth - then wash dishes with the same cloth. And, Stainless sinks can be a little tricky. My favorite cleaner for the kitchen sink (drumroll, please) is a Blue-and-White "Eraser" type sponge - such as Magic Eraser. I cut it in quarters, and find it quite easy to wipe down the sink whenever the mood strikes me with the little Eraser. If it starts to look grubby, or wears down - I toss it. These Erasers have SOME risk around children - mainly if they ingest & choke on them or rub them on their faces - but I think of them as much safer than a scouring powder or spray that might be ingested. In the event your sink is greasy (like if you rubbed it with a raw avocado, or prepared a pork roast in it - but if your kitchen sink gets greasy very often, expect to call a plumber soon.), a dash of dishwashing detergent used WITH the eraser might be indicated.

If there's someone you need to impress with how clean the sink is, polish it dry inside with a soft dishtowel ; )

My Second favorite Stainless Steel Sink cleaner - if you're not a fan of the "Eraser"- is some Baking Soda kept in a little shaker (like an old spice jar with a sprinkle top, or a sugar-and-cinnamon bottle repurposed), and sprinkled in the sink, scrubbed, and rinsed.

Some of these ideas were adapted from The New Good Life by John Robbins

I like to keep a spray bottle with any spray bottle formulations in EACH room in which they are used. Professional cleaners do this, and it really helps encourage that impulse-cleaning when you see a dirty spot - without making a huge job of hauling out the cleaning supplies. ( see The House that Cleans Itself for great tips of this sort - I think it's where I first found this idea)

All of these cleaners are reasonably safe around children - but even pure water requires caution with kids around - so do be careful. But these are all things I feel comfortable having my young daughter "help" me clean with. And, they're all easy to make - from grocery ingredients : ) Just get a couple of spray bottles, a microfiber towel, a Magical type "Eraser" and you're ready to go!

Just a disclaimer here: These are the cleaners that work for ME. I'm not a scientist with a lab & huge budget. I can't guarantee that they won't harm any surface on the planet. I am not AWARE of any potential problems, but my knowledge is limited like that of all humans. Test on a small area before jumping in with both feet. I've been using these for a few years now -and I'm happy with them. And, exercise proper caution when using them around kids.

*The Bronner's Company Recommends NEVER combining their product with vinegar, because they feel it de-saponifies the soap and turns it back to oil. All I can say is that I'm not a chemist, but this formulation works great for me with Bronner's, whether I understand the chemical processes or not. If you prefer (as I sometimes do) a dash of basic Dishwashing Liquid (such as Joy or a similar product in the store brand) will work great here, with none of the drawbacks.

** An off-label use for the Glass Cleaner: This is NOT manufacturer recommended, but it has worked great for me. We do not have a TV, and we frequently get kids' DVDs from the library. MANY of these will not play in our machine. WHY? Because some little kid has apparently handled them with fingers that could only have been coated in something like frosting. I spray my Microfiber cloth (NOT THE DVD!) with my homemade Glass Cleaner, and wipe the playing surface of the DVD in a small circular motion, working my way around the bigger circle of the DVD. Then I buff dry with a dry portion of the cloth, and allow to air dry more before inserting in machine. This method has never failed me - but use at your own risk.

If you found this article helpful, you might also like my article on

Bathroom Cleaners 


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Monday, January 20, 2014

Cheap Homemade Bathroom Cleaners that are Safer for Kids

I keep homemade cleaners in the rooms where they are used.
I label the tops with the purpose, and on the side, I put the recipe
on a label for easy refills. I keep the microfiber towel
right with the Glass cleaner.
I have a big Vegan confession to make. I'm not the great environmentalist that I'm supposed to be.

I don't even recycle faithfully (we don't have curbside here - and I just don't get it done very well).

But, when I was pregnant several years ago with my daughter, my concerns about the abstract world-wide environment changed into concerns about the concrete environment INSIDE my home! I began childproofing the house, and noticed what a HUGE number of things said "Harmful or Fatal if Swallowed" and were kept on the floor of virtually every home and business.

Prime example: Commercial Toilet Cleaner. That stuff is HIGHLY CAUSTIC! And, it's right where little kids can crawl and drink it in a split second. If they're speedy, they can even get to it while you're actively watching them (not to mention in that split-second when you go to stir something on the stove).

I decided that all the mega-toxins in my home would be either eliminated, or sequestered far from reach, past the locking baby gate, down the stairs,  in the basement laundry room. I wasn't even comfortable with the idea of pulling them out for 20 minutes to use them around my daughter.

So, I started researching safer alternatives. The internet & books had lots of great choices. I tested many of them - some worked, most didn't. These are the ones I have found work for me (and, a couple I created myself when I found nothing else that worked). An added bonus? They're MUCH cheaper than their chemical counterparts! : )

The New Good Life by John Robbins had the best selection of formulae of the books & resources I tried - and a couple of these are adapted from that book. His wife has cleaned houses professionally for years, and shared her tested-and-true favorite cleaners in the book.

I like to keep a spray bottle with any spray bottle formulations in EACH room in which they are used. Professional cleaners do this, and it really helps encourage that impulse-cleaning when you see a dirty spot - without making a huge job of hauling out the cleaning supplies. ( see The House that Cleans Itself for great tips of this sort - I think it's where I first found this idea)

All of these cleaners are reasonably safe around children - but even pure water requires caution with kids around - so do be careful. But these are all things I feel comfortable having my young daughter "help" me clean with. And, they're all easy to make - from grocery ingredients : ) Just get a couple of spray bottles, a microfiber towel, and you're ready to go!

Just a disclaimer here: These are the cleaners that work for ME. I'm not a scientist with a lab & huge budget. I can't guarantee that they won't harm any surface on the planet. I am not AWARE of any potential problems, but my knowledge is limited like that of all humans. Test on a small area before jumping in with both feet. I've been using these for a few years now -and I'm happy with them. And, exercise proper caution when using them around kids.

First and foremost, I had to solve the Caustic-Toilet-Cleaner-On-The-Floor problem. Turns out that was the easiest one to solve (why does anyone buy that horrid commercial stuff when this works so well?)

The Toilet Cleaner
Pour about 1 cup of White Vinegar into the toilet
Brush as normal
(It's really that easy!)
For really yucky ones, you can let the Vinegar sit for 20 minutes before brushing - I often pour it in the toilet before my shower - and brush after. How's that for convenience?

I'm no chemist - but something in vinegar neutralizes something nasty-smelling in human waste - so I've read. And, it works great. Vinegar also dissolves hard water residue, so a little soaking helps that, too.

A Note on Vinegar & Odor: A lot of people hesitate to clean with vinegar because they don't like the scent of vinegar. But vinegar actually deodorizes! It often reacts with odor-causers and neutralizes them. Then, when it dries, vinegar leaves no odor of its own. In fact, many household tips suggest putting bowls of vinegar around the house to get rid of unpleasant odors - like cigarette odors.

Then, there was the need for a safer glass cleaner (have you read the warnings on the big-name glass cleaners?):

For Mirrors, Windows & Shower Doors

Glass & Mirror Cleaner ***
Fill a Spray Bottle 1/3 full with White Vinegar
Fill it the rest of the way with Water.
Spray
Wipe with Microfiber Towel for best anti-streaking results.
(if your shower door is very yucky, use a fresh cloth to clean, then spray and re-wipe with the Microfiber cloth to polish)
Once again, the vinegar neutralizes base soap residue, AND dissolves hard water stains.

And, of course, I had to clean the fiberglass & porcelain surfaces:

For Those Shiny Bathroom Surfaces
(I use this for Fiberglass Sinks, Counters & Bathtub, and Porcelain or similar Toilet surfaces -like Tank, Seat & Rim)

All-Purpose Cleaner
Fill a Spray Bottle 1/2 full with White Vinegar
Fill it the rest of the way with Water
Add a Squirt of EITHER Dish Detergent or Bronner's Liquid Castile Soap* (about 1/4 teaspoon)

Simply Spray on, and wipe off. This stuff works great!

My very non-politically-correct cleaning method is to use a disposable shop towel for cleaning. I start with the cleanest surfaces, work my way to the germiest, then discard. I know a lot of you won't approve of this method - but one day it finally dawned on me that I avoided cleaning because it grossed me out to put filthy bathroom-cleaning rags in the washing machine with our clothes. So, I just stopped cleaning that way! (Besides which, I inherited a huge supply of disposable shop towels, and don't like to waste them)

For Everyday cleaning of shiny bathroom surfaces (such as the sink & counter), I use an "Eraser" type sponge (such as Magic Eraser or Quick Eraser) cut in quarters - and I use one quarter for everyday cleaning until it is worn out.

For Shiny Chrome surfaces, I usually just spray with the All Purpose Cleaner & wipe clean. But, if something more is needed, I use a little Baking Soda on a cloth and then rinse away, or else I use a stain removing dollar-store brand "eraser" similar to the Magic Eraser. (These need to be kept away from small children, because they can bite off small pieces & choke, and there is some danger if they rub them on their face or skin but, I still see them as much safer than many chemical alternatives)

But, my cleaning nemesis was - THE SHOWER!

A few years ago, we moved into a rental which had severe hard water stains on the floor of the shower. For YEARS, hard water had drip, drip, dripped onto this shower floor before we moved in, and had never been taken care of. They just wouldn't scrub off!

So, this was my solution for the hard water stains on the shower floor:

Hard Water Stains on the Shower Floor
Place folded paper towels or rags over the problem area.
Saturate with vinegar (I actually used wine vinegar for this one- as it was what I had)
Wait an hour or two (make sure the cloths stay saturated & don't dry out)
The stains were soft, and just scrubbed away with the tiniest effort!

Another Shower floor at one time was badly stained - it was a non-shiny surface that was hard to damage- but very hard to clean. I tried EVERYTHING -bleach, other harsh chemicals of virtually every brand, more than one brand of scouring powder, abrasives including Baking Soda and Pumice. NOTHING worked.

This was my solution, harkening back to everyone's Grade School Science Project (much like my gradeschool experience - I have NO idea WHY this cleaner works, but it's neat to watch ; )

The Shower Volcano
Sprinkle the (reasonably dry) shower floor with a visible layer of Baking Soda
Spray with All Purpose Cleaner (Above), till small fizzy bubbles form (if you start getting big bubbles, you're adding too much All Purpose Cleaner in proportion to the Baking Soda)
While the bubbles are actively fizzing, I scrub with a stiff brush, using a circular motion, while the stuff fizzes. (If you need to, add either more Baking Soda or more All Purpose cleaner, to keep a consistency similar to hand lotion.) This seems to have both a cleaning and bleaching effect -and made the shower floor look better than anything I've ever tried! It still wasn't perfect, as some stains were permanent, but it was miles ahead of all the alternatives - chemical or otherwise.

The Drain Deodorizer
If your shower has been cleaned, but doesn't smell good - it may well be that the drain is yucky. This old trick (promoted as a way to prevent clogs) really helps: Pour 1 cup of baking soda into the drain. Follow it with some vinegar (about 1 cup) to bubble lots - it will probably bubble up out of the drain. The bubbles may not be pretty if the drain was really yucky. Once the bubbling stops - pour in a little more vinegar if needed to react with all the soda. Then, follow with about a quart of boiling water to thoroughly clean. I use an electric kettle in the bathroom to get the boiling water - because back to kid safety - I don't want to risk carrying a pot of boiling water through the house with my little girl underfoot. After all that, rinse the shower floor with warm water from the shower.


*The Bronner's Company Recommends NEVER combining their product with vinegar, because they feel it de-saponifies the soap and turns it back to oil. All I can say is that I'm not a chemist, but this formulation works great for me with Bronner's, whether I understand the chemical processes or not. If you prefer (as I often do) a dash of basic Dishwashing Liquid (such as Joy or a similar product in the store brand) will work great here, with none of the drawbacks.

If you found this article helpful, you might also like my article on

Kitchen Cleaners




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Monday, January 13, 2014

Fifteen Ideas for Vegan Super Bowl Food (10 GF)

I'm not a football fan myself, but I do like good food! Here are some Vegan food ideas that might provide inspiration for your upcoming Super Bowl celebration. Whether you're an Omnivore who is hosting a Vegan, a Vegan who is hosting, or if you just want to take a Vegan dish to a Super Bowl Party - these ideas might help!


Dips Buffet for a Party 
This link has several dip recipes - so you can put out a buffet of several dips & things to dip with. This is great for appetizers as guests arrive.


Popcorn, Microwave - Make Your Own

 
Barbecue - this is a wonderful dish to make if you're making Barbecue Ribs, but have a Vegan guest you'd like to serve, too!





Fill Your Own Tortilla Night 
A perfect option if you're hosting several guests with all different dietary restrictions









Chili Corn bread Casserole
This dish is easy to assemble in advance. Make the  corn bread mix in advance, & store in the pantry. Have the Chili ready & spread in the baking dish. As guests arrive, add the water & optional oil to the corn bread mix, stir, top & pop in the oven. It will be ready as guests finish their appetizers. 







Chili-Topped Potatoes
This is also a great choice to serve buffet style when serving people with a variety of dietary needs & habits. Fix the Potatoes in the Slow Cooker, and add the Chili in a separate slow cooker or pot. These ingredients are naturally Gluten Free, Vegan, and Top 8 Free, but you can add such toppings as Sour Cream & Cheese to please the Omnivores in the Crowd (or even put out a Chili Con Carne for them if you're so inclined). You can add toppings like Avocado & Lettuce for your Vegan guests. You can add corn




Lentil Shepherd's Pie 
 This is another one that can be assembled in advance, and baked just as guests are arriving.


Turnovers, Calzones, or Empanadas 
These are great because guests can eat them out of hand while watching the game. The fillings are limited only by your imagination. 


Dijon Potatoes

 
Greek Inspired Oven Fries 



Black Bean and Corn Salad


 
Crispy Rice Treats


Fruit Salad 


Chocolate Chip Cookies 


Peanut Butter Cookies



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Monday, January 6, 2014

Common Pain

I believe this to be a Public Domain Picture from Asianews,

The Following is a Guest Post by my Husband.

Please pray for these Nuns and their Families, for the Orphans, and for their captors.

 Edited to add: Since this posting, the Nuns have been released 

Thanks be to God!

 The tears are never gone from the eyes of Mrs. Leila S. these days. It has been already a month since guerrillas kidnapped her sister, Gerontissa (=Eldress) Pelagia, with 11 nuns and four young orphans, whom they were raising at the monastery of St. Thekla, in the picturesque town of Maaloula, 55 km NE of Damascus. Both Leila and Pelagia had themselves grown up in Syrian orphanages, after the death of their father when they were still infants. The dedication of Pelagia to the service of others was manifested early, and when she was sent to rebuild the ancient Monastery of Maaloula in 1990, she turned it not only into a place of prayer, but also into an orphanage for girls. One of her graduates recently ranked first in entry exams to the university, securing a full scholarship to become a pharmacist.  From three when they began, the nuns became eighteen and their orphans exceeded 30. Some months before the rebels arrived, they had sent them to Damascus for greater security, but kept with them only 4 more mature girls. The Orthodox of Maaloula, just 4,000 souls, are the oldest Christian community in Syria, and a few days earlier you could not distinguish them from the 2,000 Muslims. Next to the monastery church, where Aramaic is still used at liturgy, is also the mosque. The shrine of the Saint, perched on the stone cliff, was a refuge for all and a source of cures. Her story starts in the 1st century, when, according to Leila, "to escape the wrath of her pagan father, she fled into a cleft of the rock, which closed behind her like a grill, excluding her pursuers. In the same cleft are buried her remains, and from there uninterruptedly drips water of unknown origin, miraculously sanctified for those who gather it carefully in their bowls, without distinction of origin or religion." Many in our community here in Ohio, remember Memer (= Mother) Pelagia when she visited her sister in 2011, and became godmother at the baptism of an infant from one of the families that have been touched by her charity work, and are now scattered across the five continents. Nuns from the homonymous Cypriot monastery near Mosfiloti were housed for two weeks in Maaloula, and the Abbess Konstantina reciprocated the compliment when Memer Pelagia arrived in Cyprus a while ago for the wedding of a friendly couple. This Christmas, this couple held in their arms their first baby, and only anxiety for Memer and the others held poisoned the atmosphere. Leila lost a few years ago her husband, is deprived of her children who are still in Syria, and now she feels she is losing her homeland, too. Like Cyprus, it also has been split in two, and everyone is forced to choose which part to love more. "It was not like this in our country, for many, many years," said Leila. "Christians and Muslims lived together in the same villages, in the same neighborhoods, and shared the joys, the sorrows, the traditions and customs of their fellow human beings, with whom we associated in close friendships and relationships. In a region where war and killing one another was the rule, Syria was the exception." Will the good old days ever come back? Will the townsfolk reconcile again? Will Syria rediscover her peaceful, conciliatory herself? Only God knows, and Leila finds comfort in the grace of Saint Thekla. She has been for centuries the protectress of Maaloula, because there was and is her home. If her intercessions are granted, Pelagia and her entourage will return to their pious work, and normalcy will return to Maaloula. Until then, however, only the pleading tears remain, ever trickling down Leila’s cheeks. I, too, share in her grief, as is possible, friend reader, along with Cyprus, and her people. Until when will the division and lament last? See you!

Here Follows the same text in Greek, for my Greek readers:

Κοινός ο πόνος
  
Το δάκρυ δε λείπει από τα μάτια της κυρίας Λέιλα Σ. αυτές τις μέρες. Πάει κιόλας μήνας από τότε που αντάρτες απήγαγαν την αδελφή της, Γερόντισσα Πελαγία, μαζί με 11 μοναχές και 4 νεαρές ορφανές, τις οποίες ανέτρεφαν στο Μοναστήρι της Αγίας Θέκλας, της γραφικής κωμόπολης Μααλούλα, 55 χλμ ΒΑ της Δαμασκού. Τόσο η Λέιλα όσο και η Πελαγία είχαν κι οι ίδιες μεγαλώσει σε συριακά ορφανοτροφεία, μετά το θάνατο του πατέρα τους όταν ήσαν μικρούλες ακόμα.  Η αφοσίωση της Πελαγίας στην υπηρεσία των άλλων εκδηλώθηκε από νωρίς, κι όταν στάληκε ν’ αναστηλώσει το πανάρχαιο Μοναστήρι της Μααλούλας το 1990, το μετέτρεψε όχι μόνο σε τόπο προσευχής, αλλά και σε ορφανοτροφείο για κορίτσια.  Μιά απο τις αποφοίτους της κατετάγη πρόσφατα πρώτη στις εισαγωγικές πανεπιστημίου, εξασφαλίζοντας πλήρη υποτροφία για να γίνει φαρμακοποιός. Από τρεις όταν αρχίσανε, οι μοναχές έγιναν δεκαοκτώ, και τα ορφανά τους ξεπερνούσαν τα 30.  Λίγους μήνες πρίν φτάσουν οι αντάρτες, τα είχαν στείλει στη Δαμασκό για μεγαλύτερη ασφάλεια, κράτησαν δε μαζί τους μόνο τις 4 πιο ώριμες κοπέλες. Οι ορθόδοξοι της Μααλούλας, μόλις 4.000 ψυχές, αποτελούν την αρχαιότερη χριστιανική κοινότητα της Συρίας, και λίγους μήνες νωρίτερα δεν τους ξεχώριζες από τους 2.000 μουσουλμάνους.  Δίπλα από την εκκλησιά του Μοναστηριού, όπου η Αραμαική χρησιμοποιείται ακόμα στις λειτουργίες, είναι και το τζαμί.  Το προσκύνημα της Αγίας, σκαρφαλωμένο πάνω στον πέτρινο γκρεμό, αποτελούσε για όλους καταφύγιο και πηγή θεραπείας.  Η ιστορία της αγίας ξεκινά τον 1ο αι., όταν, σύμφωνα με την Λέιλα, «για να ξεφύγει από τη μήνη του ειδωλολάτρη πατέρα της, κατέφυγε σε μια σχισμή του βράχου, που έκλεισε πίσω της σαν σχάρα, αποκλείοντας τους διώκτες της. Στην ίδια σχισμή είναι θαμένα τα λέιψανά της, κι από κει στάζει αδιάκοπα νερό άγνωστης προέλευσης, αγίασμα θαυματουργό για όσους το μαζεύουν προσεχτικά στις κούπες τους, χωρίς διακριση καταγωγής ή θρησκείας.» Πολλοί στην κοινότητά μας εδώ στο Σινσινάτι, θυμούνται την Μεμέρ (=Μητέρα) Πελαγία όταν επισκέφτηκε την αδελφή της το 2011, κι έγινε νουνά στη βάφτιση βρέφους μιας από τις πολλές οικογένειες, τις οποίες έχει αγγίξει το φιλανθρωπικό της έργο, κι οποίες είναι πια σπαρμένες στις πέντε ηπείρους. Μοναχές από το ομώνυμο κυπριακό μοναστήρι κοντά στην Μοσφιλωτή φιλοξενήθηκαν για δυο βδομάδες στην Μααλούλα, κι η Γερόντισσα Κωνσταντίνα ανταπέδωσε την φιλοφρόνηση όταν η Μεμέρ Πελαγία έφτασε στην Κύπρο πριν λίγο καιρό για τους γάμους ενός φιλικού της ζευγαριού. Τα φετινά Χριστούγεννα, το ζευγάρι αυτό τα πέρασε με το πρώτο αγγελούδι τους, και μόνο η έγνοια για την Μεμέρ και για τις άλλες κρατούμενες δηλητηρίαζε την ατμόσφαιρα. Η Λέιλα έχασε πριν μερικά χρόνια τον άνδρα της, στερήθηκε τα παιδιά της που είναι ακόμα στη Συρία, και τώρα νοιώθει να χάνει και την πατρίδα της.  Σαν την Κύπρο, έχει κι αυτή μοιραστεί στα δυο, κι όλοι έχουν υποχρεωθεί να διαλέξουν πιο κομμάτι θ’ αγαπήσουν περισσότερο. «Δεν ήταν έτσι η χώρα μας, για πολλά πολλά χρόνια», μου είπε η Λέιλα.  «Οι χριστιανοί κι οι μουσουλμάνοι ζούσαν μαζί, στα ίδια χωριά, στις ίδιες γειτονιές, και μοιραζόντουσαν τις χαρές, τις λύπες, τα ήθη και τα έθιμα των συνανθρώπων τους, με τους οποίους συνδεόντουσαν με στενές φιλίες και σχέσεις. Σε μια περιοχή όπου ο πόλεμος κι ο αλληλοσκοτωμός ήταν ο κανόνας, η Συρία αποτελούσε την εξαίρεση.» Θα γυρίσουν ποτέ οι παλιές καλές μέρες; Θα μονιάσουν ξανά οι χωριανοί; Θα ξαναβρεί η Συρία τον ειρηνικό, συμφιλιωτικό εαυτό της; Μόνο ένας Θεός ξέρει, κι η Λέιλα βρίσκει παρηγοριά στη χάρη της Αγίας Θέκλας. Αυτή ήταν για αιώνες η προστάτιδα της Μααλούλας, γιατί εκει ήταν κι είναι το σπίτι της. Αν εισακουστούν οι μεσιτείες της, η Πελαγία κι η συνοδεία της θα γυρίσουν στο θεάρεστο έργο τους, και στη Μααλούλα θα επανέλθει η ομαλότητα.  Μέχρι τότε, όμως, απομένει μόνο το ικετευτικό δακρυ που δε στερεύει στα μάγουλα της Λέιλα. Τον καημό της μοιράζομαι κατά το δυνατον κι εγώ, φίλε αναγνώστη, κι η Κύπρος, κι ο κόσμος της.  Ως πότε θα κρατήσει η διαίρεση κι η αιματοχυσία; Τα λέμε!

 

This is being shared at:
Inspire Me Monday 
Motivation Monday
Making your Home Sing Monday 
What'd You Do This Weekend  
Modest Monday 
Tell Me a True Story
Teaching What is Good
Anti Procrastination Tuesday
Teach Me Tuesday  
Wise Woman  
Wonderful Wednesday 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

How I Accidentally Saved $200,000.

Our Home school poster teaching
money basics. It's from the thrift store ; )

A while back, I was somewhere on the Internet (don't remember where, unfortunately), and read a blogger who said that she had saved more than ONE THOUSAND dollars by getting rid of cable T.V. a year ago. I was stunned! I had no idea that cable T.V. cost a thousand dollars a year. Last time I lived in a house with cable T.V. was more than 20 years ago. I suddenly realized that I had saved 20 THOUSAND DOLLARS without even knowing it!  (if you're a blogger and you think I read this on your blog -I left a comment- please tell me so I can insert your link here!).

I began to wonder after reading the Cable Savings Post where else I had saved a lot of money without noticing? I have to say that I while I enjoy being frugal -its a fun hobby- but I almost never cut back in a way that is uncomfortable or inconvenient. So, it was really a shock to me that I had saved $20,000.00 without realizing it - and I was intrigued. I started thinking back . . .

 

The Spending Diary Experiment


More than 20 years ago, I was young, single, and had a decent income - not wealthy, but made plenty of money to be comfortable. I had several friends with the same employer, and we all made about the same amount of money. One day it occurred to me that some of my friends had a sizable savings account. Some of my friends had some very nice purchases they had bought with their income. But, I had neither savings nor purchases. Why not? What were they doing that I wasn't?

I set out to analyze my spending patterns, and figure out where the holes were in this sieve of a budget of mine. For one month, I wrote down every penny I spent. Then, I sorted my spending into neat categories. What did I discover? It was quite surprising to me at the time . . . my money had ALL gone to things that only cost 50Cents - or a Dollar - or Five Dollars - maybe Ten Dollars at the outside. A soda from the machine at work. A sandwich from the snack bar. A taxi ride where I wanted to go. Admission to a movie. A casual dinner out. I had been "nickled and dimed to death" as the saying goes.

I started watching those little purchases that don't seem like very much at the time. The things that advertisers like to tell you that you can have for "only $1 a day!"  And then, I eventually stopped noticing that I was doing it - it was just habit.

Which brings me back to my surprise discovery that I had saved $20,000 - and my curiosity about other savings that might have escaped my notice . . .


We'll start with the Cable entry, Above

Our retired television. It doesn't get digital, and as you
can see, it has seen better days!
 

Cable TV $20,000

Figured at the rate of $1000/year for 20 years of no Cable TV. I originally cut it to save money, but over the years have been absolutely elated not to have that junk in my house, so after the original cut, it was completely painless : )

Beverages $20,000

There was the day that I was talking to a sales lady at my house. She absolutely hated the fact that she had to work outside the home - she much preferred to stay home with her three kids, but just couldn't figure out a way to finance it. I offered her a soft drink from the fridge. She declined - she said she'd just drop by McDonald's on the way to her next appointment and buy one there. She said she did that about three times a day. I realized that she paid about $1000/year on Soda -above and beyond what I pay for my occasional grocery-bought soda or coffee (I have long avoided purchasing either Sodas or Coffee out - except on rare occasions).  I am only including soft drinks and coffee in this calculation, not hard drinks - on which you can save substantially more. I was not raised with the habit of buying hard drinks out, so that has never been in my spending calculation. Over the last 20 years, had I saved another $20,000? Who knew?

Hair Care $20,000


There was the time I was speaking with a friend who told me what her salon bill was - and how often she went to the salon. I think her bill was probably pretty normal, but it was a shock to me. I haven't been in a salon in 20 years. I bought a clipper set, scissors & attachment 20 years ago, and watched a library video on how to do my own cut (which means it costs me $1/year for cuts!). When I began coloring my hair, I didn't even check salon prices - I started buying home hair color for about $8 a pop. (My hair started turning grey when I was 12 - so I'm not even mildly embarrassed to tell people I color it!) Which, as it turns out - saves me about $1000/year over the salon rate. Does my hair look as nice as my friend's? No. But I can live with that - it looks the way I want it to look. So, that was another overlooked $20,000.00

My haircutting scissors. From the dollar store, of course!

Student Loans $30,000


Then, there was the person I knew who took out student loans. She took $5,000. in loans, but when she graduated, could not get  a job in her chosen field. But, she also didn't have the "luxury" of staying home to raise her children because the loans were due. The Federal government-imposed fines, penalties, and interest began accruing & compounding. The next thing you knew, she owed $50,000.00! (Which means, that she lost $45,000.00 with absolutely no benefit!) When I studied, I refused to take any government loans - partly because of this cautionary tale. I was determined to find ways to finance my education without participating in the government student loan program. I decided that for me, I would either get an education without student loans, or I would remain uneducated!  I did incur some minor personal debt (the same amount accrued on average by students who DO take out loans) - but none affiliated with the federal student loan program -and it was all paid off quite quickly when I was done with school. When I was done, I had saved $20,000 in comparison to the national averageI had ALSO saved the average $10,000. in interest the average person pays (or $25,000 in interest the person with Extended payment pays - but I'll go with the lower number here.) I know someone else in a similar predicament to the first person I mentioned here. Except she owes $100,000.00 for student loans. She cannot be a stay-at-home Mom as she wishes because she has to work -not to support her family - her husband does that - but she works exclusively to pay her student debt.

So - what do we have so far? $90,000? 

Transportation $40,000


OH - then there's the car. I've never driven a new car, or a car with a car payment. The average new car costs $26,000. After interest, you end up paying $33,000. And, lets assume a less-frequent than average new car replacement of every 8 years - meaning I would have bought 2 cars in 16 years of single adult life, for $66,000. In reality, my cars' purchase price AND maintenance has come in at well under $20,000. So, that's another $40,000.00 saved - without my even noticing. And, just for the record, maintenance on my used cars has not been the difficulty that new car buyers assume - it's generally been a pretty simple matter.

There were several years in which I did not choose to have a car - in those years I saved substantially more - probably thousands - but I'm not entering that into this calculation because it is a solution that may not work for everyone - depending on the quality of public transportation where you live and the walkability of your community.

Food $20,000


Of course- then I went Vegetarian about 18 years ago. And Vegan about 4 years ago. I'll conservatively estimate that I saved $1. a meal on meat, dairy & eggs (I believe the actual savings are higher, not to mention possible lower medical bills which are really hard to estimate -but I'm being cautious here). I make it a policy not to replace expensive animal foods with expensive vegetarian imitations - I generally eat very inexpensive food.  I'm guessing that's saved about $20,000.00 on food for one over 18 years. (not counting savings for the whole family, which is a more complicated calculation).  For more information on saving money with a Vegan diet, check out this post!

Vegetarian and Vegan meals can save a TON of money!




Which brings us to $150,000.




Preschool $15,000


Then, the other day, I read an article that said preschool costs about as much per year as college! By Homeschooling Preschool, we saved about $15,000.00 over two years. I pay about the same amount for books, materials, and supplies in a year as my friends do for their public school kids' school supplies. (My continued homeschooling saves the taxpayer an additional $14,000.00 per year if we selected public school, or saves us an additional $8 to $20,000.00 a year if we selected private schools - but I'll leave that out of this calculation). I did not choose to home school preschool in order to save money - I chose it for a myriad of other reasons - my Faith, my relationship with my daughter, a better quality of education, etc. The financial benefit was just a side effect.

So, we're at $165,000. - right?

Thrifting $10,000


For many years now, I have bought the lion's share of clothing & household goods at thrift stores. When I worked, I got my work clothes, including several business suits for $20. each that would have retailed at $300. As a housewife, I bought my Slow Cookers, Baby Equipment, Food Processor, Toys, Home school Equipment, Clothing, Luggage, Books,  (those that weren't from the library, anyway), and many other items all at about 80% off retail (depending on the item). I think it is very safe to say that I've saved $10. a week this way (Of course, I could have saved even more if I had BOUGHT more! ; ) . So, there's another $10,000.

Books & DVDs $5,000


Which reminds me! The library! When I was young I didn't KNOW that the library carried cookbooks! It is so wonderful to be able to bring a book or video home and enjoy it. The ability to preview a book that I like, read it and THEN decide if I want to buy it has easily saved $20/month. Sure, I buy the occasional wonderful cookbook. But nothing like the HUGE collection I was amassing when I was unaware that the library offered this great service. Additionally, you can bring home magazines that are 1 month or more old, and enjoy them just as if you subscribed - if you want to be really seasonal, get the one from exactly 1 year ago. We also get most of my daughter's DVDs for viewing at the library - since we don't have a TV. So, that's about $5000. more.

Want to read the latest title? Don't drop $30 until you've read it!
Check it out from the library, and find out if it's worthy of your collection.

Meals Out $15,000


We enjoy going out to eat - and as I said, I don't often cut corners where it hurts. So, we do go out to eat when we want to. But only when we want to! I try to always keep a frozen meal or two in my freezer, and a quick-to-prepare meal or two (like pasta or bulgur) on the pantry shelf so that we aren't forced to eat out because of time or exhaustion - but only do it when it's fun. I also prefer restaurants that run about $5/ plate less than the going rate in our community. I'm not talking about fast food here, just a slightly less pricey sit-down establishment. If we skip dining out once a month because we have a meal in the freezer, and save about $30, and once a week we spend $10. less than we otherwise might, that's  $70 a month savings, without inconvenience - for about $15,000. more savings.

If you'd like ideas for stocking your freezer, try these posts:

Greek for a Week  
Indian for a Week
Make Sauce Tonight, Have Easy Meals for a Week
World Tour One
World Tour Two

I want to emphasize here: when you eat at a restaurant, the "food cost" of your meal is only 30% of the price you pay. That is a basic fact of restaurant management. The rest of the cost of the meal is for staff, overhead, rent, advertising, profit, etc. SO - EVERY TIME you eat at home, you save & 70% on food!

Having a meal in the freezer can save you from going to a restaurant
when you don't want to. Each time you avoid going to a restaurant,
you save 70% on your meal!

 

Gas & Electric $5,000


I have to be honest here - I really ENJOY having utilities, and I don't scrimp the way some people do. I'm chronically cold by nature, and don't enjoy turning down the thermostat and throwing on an extra sweater. I can wear ten sweaters and still be cold! I think "room temperature" should be about 78! But, I am able to keep the thermostat at a slightly more reasonable level by using an electric blanket at night, an electric throw blanket in the daytime when at my computer, and, yes, wear an extra layer in winter. The rest of the family is naturally comfortable at a temperature below 78, and this allows me to comfortable, too.  But, we employ a few simple changes that help our bill a lot. Our house has walls that are shared with the neighbors - so we only have to combat the winter wind on two exterior walls instead of four. That is HUGE. In fact, I have a friend whose utility bill on a stand alone house is three TIMES what mine is. We have a programmable thermostat, so that we can turn the heat down or off when we're not home (although more often we just manually switch it when we leave for several hours). In the summer, we try not to turn on the oven to combat the air conditioner (and since I'm always cold - we don't turn the A/C as cold as some do). I put the slow cooker outside to cook on the porch! And we close the blinds to keep the summer sun out of the living room in the afternoons. They're small savings, but over many years, they add up! We actually save about $70 a month over the average for our city (you can easily google the average utility costs for people in your city, if you'd like to see how you measure up.  Here's the link for Ohio's PUCO).




Things I didn't include here


There are lots of places that I have saved huge amounts of money, but had absolutely no desire to spend in the first place! Sporting goods, sporting events, ski vacations, dance lessons, costumes & uniforms, video game systems & games, trips to Disney, upscale home decor & furniture, pricey mall outfits. A "smart" phone (which doesn't  seem to make people any smarter at all! ; ) These, to be honest, are things that simply don't interest me, but that many people spend a lot of money on.

As we walked through Pottery Barn at the mall the other day, and glimpsed some of the prices, a friend (who knows me well, and knew I was drafting this post) joked, "Just think how much money you've saved by not EVER shopping here!"

I never started smoking - but you COULD count that as a savings of $5,000 a year! I didn't.

I also didn't include those areas of spending that I can't quantify - even though I am sure they add up to substantial additional savings. Like when I choose the $1 hand lotion instead of the $6 kind, make my own cleansers, or get a small toy at the dollar store for my daughter instead of splurging at the toy store.


The Moral to the Story


If you scan these savings, nearly all of them were savings on small, everyday, habitual purchases. Only a couple of them were "big ticket items." But the small things REALLY add up. I think this is a good lesson for many areas of life.

Just as a constant dripping of water will wear away a stone - but a bucket full of water thrown all at once will not (as many ancients observed), a little habit adopted regularly often has more impact than a big change.

Faith


The truth is, our relationship with God is the most important area of our life. It doesn't matter how much money we save if our Spiritual life is a shambles. But, of course, how we use our money is an important PART of our relationship with God. If we buy a sandwich for a poor neighbor instead of a fancy coffee for ourselves, that IS a Spiritual decision.

In areas of our Spiritual life besides finances, If we want to improve our Spiritual health, doing a couple of "little" things faithfully - every day - really adds up. A few minutes of prayer, a few minutes reading our Bible, a few minutes helping the poor, a couple of hours in Church, a small daily abstinence from an addiction, passion or vice. None of these things seem huge by themselves, but they do add up over time.
Spiritual growth is stimulated by doing small things regularly.

Health


Reducing our intake of unhealthy food, and replacing it with healthier food - one meal at a time - will, over time, improve our overall health. Most of us (including me!) are tempted to go on drastic, fad diets or periods of extreme abstinence when we see our health or our weight sliding out of control. But, most of us cannot sustain such changes, and it doesn't last. In fact, the drastic diet may well harm our health. We want to loose 50 pounds in a week! If we ONLY lose a pound a week, we get discouraged. But, if we lose a pound a week for a year (or a half pound a week for two years), it will ADD UP to 50 pounds! If we can keep the little changes in place, we CAN improve our health, slowly, surely.

and, of course,

Money




Keeping your eye on little purchases will often add up to big savings - without you even noticing it! : )

But, it's your decision what you save money FOR. Perhaps you want to pay off debt, help the poor, give to the Church, be able to afford to stay at home with your kids instead of holding a paying job, have a nice vacation, or finance your kids' college. Whatever your goals, the method is the same.

Keep a spending diary, and discover where you're spending money that you're not really ENJOYING what you get for that money, or where it doesn't really mesh with your values in life - and cut those areas first.

The fact is that I didn't know I had "saved" $200,000 precisely because I didn't SAVE all of it in a bank. Most of the saved money went to my other priorities. And that's a good thing : )

***********
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