Monday, July 28, 2008

It's World Breastfeeding Week. What can I do about it?

You don't have to turn into a lactivist (though it would be nice) or write a check to La Leche League (though it would be nice) or even encourage a woman to breastfeed (though it would be nice). It's World Breastfeeding Week and I'm asking if you would please support a breastfeeding woman. It doesn't matter how, when or where. It can be something major or a really simple act.

The focus for World Breastfeeding Week 2008 is on supporting women in their efforts to do what is most important for the health and survival of their children through the best and most cost-effective intervention: early and exclusive breastfeeding.

What can you do?
• Give a mother the phone number of a La Leche League Leader.
• Tell a first-time breastfeeding mother she is doing just fine.
• Bring the new mother a nutrious snack and a big glass of water.
See, I told you it wouldn't have to be hard.

• As an employer, accommodate a mother's need to pump with a private comfortable space.
• As the baby's father, intercede with family and friends so that mother and baby can feel confident.
• Write to legislators to support the enactment of laws supporting paid maternity leave and mother-friendly workplaces.
• Contact an emergency relief organization and request training to help in emergency situations, especially in breastfeeding support.
• Take care of your health and nutritional needs during pregnancy and lactation.
• Set up or join a network of lactation experts in your community.
• Provide transportation to a mother to attend an LLL meeting or visit a lactation consultant.
• Advocate for legislation that enacts the provisions of the WHO/UNICEF Code of Marketing.
• Ask for support and offer support to others.

To learn more, visit LLL in the USA. If you can spare a dime, donate here to an organization that supports breastfeeding mothers and babies every day in communites across the nation. Tell ’em The Incompetent Housewife sent you. Thanks!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Making your own baby wipes (sewn or from paper towels)

I used to throw away a nickel every time I wiped my baby's butt.

I bought commercial baby wipes. Even when I'd find off brands on sale in bulk packages, I spent half that much per wipe. Now I make my own, saving bucks and landfill space at the same time. If you just invest about two hours one time, you'll never need to make them again for all of your children.

To sew cloth wipes, I buy the fuzziest flannel I can find at my local store (sometimes they have double thick or double nap). I cut it into squares that will fold in half and fit into a box that store-bought wipes came in. I serge around the edges and that’s all. If you don’t have a serger, you could either zigzag the edges or just cut them with pinking shears. Some people use terrycloth or microfiber or Sherpa for wipes, but flannel is cheap and easy for me.

To wet the wipes, I just use plain water. Back when I used to think I needed some fancy stuff in the wipes, I used to make this:

Sue & Bob’s Homemade Baby Wipes Solution
2 c. water
2 T. baby oil or olive oil
1-2 T. baby shampoo or baby wash
1 T. vinegar, if needed

Boil water. (Not sure why, I just did. It's not as if my tap water was unsafe.) Stir in oil and soap. Add vinegar if thrush has been a problem. Pour over flannel wipes in box or in wipes warmer. Replace after 1-2 weeks.

If fabric isn't your thing, or the idea of washing wipes is too much for you, here's a plan shared by my friend Danielle.

Homemade Baby Wipes from Paper Towels
by Danielle B.

Cut a roll of paper towels in half or thirds.

Mix together the ingredients:
1 1/2 cups of water
1/4 to 1/2 tsp of Basic H (a Shaklee product)
2 tablespoons of Small Wonders baby wash
2 tablespoons of Small Wonders baby lotion

Then remove the cardboard roll from my 1/2 or 1/3 of paper towel and place in the container. Let it set for a few seconds, then flip the roll over. Remove the paper towel starting from the center.

A few notes from Danielle: I cut mine in thirds to place in my Tupperware container that I use. The original recipe said to cut in half. Make a batch and then decide if they are too moist or too dry and adjust. I do not use as much liquid as was recommended to me. Choose a good, thick paper towel. Saving money on this ingredient will be a waste of money as the wipes will fall apart.

Wipes solution for the diaper bag
If you keep a container of wet wipes in the car for a long time, they may dry out or even get skunky before you use them. Keep a spray or squeeze bottle full of plain water or wipes solution with your dry wipes or paper towels and it will always be ready. Some use the peri-care bottle they may receive at birth.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

How I make my cloth diapers

There are lots of ways to make cloth diapers — fabric choices, pattern choices, styles, closures — but here's what works for me. My diapers have been through two children and are still going strong.

Diaper style and pattern
My preference is for pocket diapers with snaps. They're slim and trim, go on as easily as a disposable, and the inside soaker fabric comes out for quicker drying. I use the Chloe Toes pattern. I bought it back when she sold hand-traced copies for $5. It's significantly more costly now, but I think it's still worth the cost. The diapers fit great, are sized right, and her instructions are good.

I have been sewing all my life, but I'm pretty sure a novice sewer could make these diapers with no problem. You only need a machine with a zigzag stitch.

Buy the pattern first, then read the directions to see how much of what materials you will need.

Waterproof outer fabrics
I use knit PUL (polyurethane laminated) fabric for the outer layer to make the diaper waterproof. The thickness — 1 or 2mil — doesn't matter as both perform just as well and both are supple.

I have never heard of PUL being available at a local store, only online. I have price shopped all over the Internet and always end up at SewShoppe, Cradled in Cloth, or Wazoodle.

An alternative to PUL is ProCare from Wazoodle, but my husband has some odd aversion to the texture. Since he does most of the diaper washing and much of the changing, I'm glad to cater to this.

Once I was lucky to find some Ultrex outdoor fabric on clearance at a local store so I bought yards and yards. Gore-tex would also work. I've scoured the Internet and retailers that sell fabric for marine and outdoor gear, and unless you find an unbeatable clearance deal, you can't beat the cost of PUL or ProCare.

You can buy other kinds of fabric with the PUL applied, but I only like the knit PUL sold for diaper-making. Many diaper fabric shops sell cute woven cotton prints with PUL applied, but I find that the urine wicks to the outside of the fabric. The cuteness isn't worth the wetness to me. Knit PUL comes in fun colors anyway.

Inner fabrics next to the baby's bum
I prefer either microfleece or a sportswear fabric like Malden Mills Power Dry.

Microfleece isn't the same as the polarfleece you might use to make a blanket or poncho. It's thinner and wicks the moisture away. Some polarfleece blocks the moisture, so it wouldn't work. I found my best buy at a local Jo-Ann fabric store on sale. You can also buy it from one of the web stores above or directly from Malden Mills by the yard (look for those labeled lightweight micro).

Power Dry is available on the Malden Mills site and sometimes on the others. Cradled in Cloth has an unbelievable bargain on a moon and stars print and has had it for a few years now. She must have bought many, many bolts and I assume it was so cheap because it's a little gaudy.

Snap fasteners
I strongly prefer snaps for my diapers. Hook-and-loop tape can be stiff, and even the better choices for diapers can get clogged with lint and stuck together after many washings.

I invested in this professional snap setter and use the 20mm resin (like plastic) snaps. They last and last. Once you have a nice snap setter, you find all kinds of uses for snaps. It's also possible to hire someone else to put in your snaps so you can avoid the cost of a press. Contact me for details.

Before I bought the professional snap setter, I used this SnapSource hand tool that's cheaper, but still good. Use their long-prong, metal snaps. Just know that you may have to replace some after a year or more of use. And if you need enough snaps to make a couple dozen Chloe Toes diapers, you're actually better off buying the professional snap setter since the resin snaps are much, much cheaper. Don't bother with the Dritz snap tool available in fabric stores. It doesn't work well.

Absorbent fabric for inside the diapers
If you use pocket diapers as we do, you need something absorbent to stuff inside to soak up the urine. I have tried lots and lots of options, but our absolute favorite is also the cheapest and most readily available. We use microfiber cloths intended for washing car windshields. I hate Wal-mart, but there and Sam's Club are where we have found the cheapest packages. Be sure to buy it in the auto aisle. It's the same microfiber cloth as you would buy for dusting or drying yourself off or anything else, but it's more expensive per square foot if you buy it outside the auto aisle. Seriously. Make sure you get the one that is about as thick as a washcloth with the loops, not something completely flat like you would use to clean your eyeglasses.

Microfiber is thin, yet holds in more urine per square inch than other choices. It also dries on the line super fast. The only reason to avoid it might be if you want to use only natural fibers such as cotton or hemp.

We just take a square microfiber towel (ours are anywhere from 10 to 14 inches square) and fold it in thirds to stuff in the diaper. If we need more absorbency, we use two.

My only warning is that they over-dye these towels big time and they often come in neon colors. Just wash them separately from your other diaper materials after the first few wearings until all the color has bled out.

Fold-over elastic
The final specialty notion you'll need is fold-over elastic, also available from any of the diaper fabric shops. I have only found it at a local retail shop once. It was designed for finishing off the edges of fleece jackets and was super expensive when sold for that purpose.

The thread
It does make a difference. Cotton thread will absorb the urine and wick it to the outside of the diaper. I use a polyester thread.

With all this said, I do have another favorite diaper option. Someday I'll post more about how I convert old wool sweaters into diaper covers or pants (called wool soakers or longies). We only use these in the winter months, not because they're too hot for summer, but because they pick up debris from the playground in the summertime!

How to sew a cloth mama pad

I know, I thought reuseable menstrual pads sounded disgusting, too, until I tried one for myself.

Now I think the plastic commercial feminine hygiene products are disgusting. They feel sticky, sweaty, icky. Only cloth is good enough for my baby's bottom; now only cloth is good enough for me.

I even used my home-sewn pads post-partum and they worked great.

Here's the link to a PDF with instructions and a pattern I put together for making cloth mama pads.

What about washing cloth pads? I throw my pads in with my daughter's cloth diapers to wash. When I don't have a baby in diapers, I keep an old lidded bucket of cold water under the sink and drop in the pads. When my period is over I pour the water down the toilet and dump them in the washer. I set run one cold rinse, then wash them on hot with some Biz or Oxi-Clean plus a little tea tree oil in the rinse (it's antibacterial and smells nice). I haven't yet tried washing them in my homemade laundry soap, but that will probably work even better and not require anything extra in the wash.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Homemade laundry detergent really works!

I just started making my own laundry detergent because it’s much cheaper, but something about it is making my laundry softer, too. Here’s the recipe I used for a dry mix:

1 bar Fels Naptha soap
1-1/4 c. 20 Mule Team Borax
1-1/4 c. Arm & Hammer Washing Soda (not baking soda)

Grate the soap with the small holes of a grater. Stir everything together. I used an old ice cream bucket. Use 2 tablespoons (I use a scant ¼ cup measure) per load.

I was worried it wouldn’t dissolve, but it does even though I almost always use cold water (except diapers and wet sheets!). It doesn’t bubble up like commercial stuff would, but it still works.

Someone else's calculations came up with a cost of just over a penny a load.

Friday, July 18, 2008

How I organized my homeschool library.

I'm so pleased that I have finally been able to organize my 1,330 volumes (plus others yet uncataloged) in a way that lets the whole family find books easily and put them away properly. I was sick of the kids getting interested in a topic or asking a question and having to tell them, "I know we have a book about that, but where is it?"

I searched and searched for ideas before starting the project several months ago and came up empty. Let me know if this is helpful to you!

1. I obtained all the shelving I could. An old desk with shelves, a TV cabinet and other pieces helped fill the need. Anybody want to come and build me some custom shelving? Homeschoolers can never have too much.

2. I decided on categories for my books. I wanted them to be specific enough to be able to find books when needed, yet broad enough that it wouldn't be over-organized with only a few books per category.
  • Board Books
  • Early Readers
  • Storybook sets (Seuss, Curious George, etc.)
  • Series (Little House, Encyclopedia Brown)
  • Language and Sign Language
  • Math
  • Science (I have subcategories here to keep them together: Magic School Bus, Let's-Read-and-Find-Out-About-Science, National Geographic set)
  • Farm
  • History and Geography
  • Bible/Religion
  • Art
  • Music Books
  • Character and Communication
  • Holidays and Seasons
  • Five in a Row/Before Five in a Row
  • Sonlight C
  • Sonlight 1
  • Sonlight 2
  • Workbooks (Explode the Code, coloring books)
  • Homeschooling Theory/Practice
  • La Leche League Library
  • Parenting and Childbirth (not LLL)
  • Picture books
  • Cookbooks
  • Novels
  • Chapter books
  • Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons (the 20 books it recommends using)
  • Sports
  • Magazines

Some books fit into more than one category, so I pick the one where I need them the most. For example, books used with our school curriculum this year might be history related and chapter books, but I label them Sonlight 1 because I need to have them available with the curriculum.

3. I cataloged my books by registering for a free Your Media Library account and entering the ISBN numbers. There are other choices for tracking books, such as LibraryThing. Amazon's Your Media Libary allows a spot to note the location of the book. This is where I enter my self-named category from above. You could also choose a physical location, such as "hallway shelf" or "girls' bedroom."

4. I obtained lots and lots of colored dot, star and other stickers. I found that the Avery dots are not only expensive, but are removeable. I wanted permanent, inexpensive ones. I found that the cheap brands such as Z-International actually stick better; just make sure they're labeled permanent or test one out of the package. I found assorted sets such as these at Walgreens and variety stores. Often they're sold for garage sale tags.

If you're willing to pay more for huge quantities, you can also buy them from library supply companies such as these from Demco. Another option would be to cut strips or hole punch or decorative punch shapes from address labels or colored adhesive sheets. You can even use those circular reinforcers you put on hole-punched paper.

I color code my books, but you could use a certain number of strips or dots to indicate each category instead. In cases where I didn't have enough colored dots, I doubled up. I put a little one in the middle of a big one to mean a different category.

5. I applied the stickers to the books' spines. I put the bottom of each sticker one inch from the bottom so they would be nice and neat when all in a row on the shelves. The width of a standard ruler would be just right to help align them easily.

6. I tried to assign one or two shelves per category of book, then put the books on the correct shelf.

7. I printed out a color-code key so my family can figure out where to find and reshelve things (well, at least find them). I just printed the list of categories and stuck an actual sticker from that category on the paper next to the appropriate name.

8. I haven't yet labeled the shelves, but I really should. That would make it easier so my family could find books at a glace without having to check the key each time.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Fifty ways to leave your debt.

We were discussing real-life money-saving tips on one of my lists. Here was my submission. OK, we're still in debt, but at least we're not adding to it.

We have been living on less lately, so here are some of the things we have been doing. Some of these we're doing to try to be more green at the same time.
  1. Breastfeed Dori
  2. Use cloth diapers (make own or barter for them)
  3. Price shop on phone plans
  4. Cut own hair
  5. Make own bread (anybody know how to make hamburger buns?)
  6. Bring milk from parents' dairy farm when we can (yay!)
  7. Use up what's in the pantry even if it's an odd combination of foods, call the resulting meal something fun so it sounds like I did it on purpose (surprise casserole!)
  8. Cheaper sources of protein: eggs, beans
  9. Cloth napkins
  10. Rags instead of paper towels
  11. Cloth wipes with plain water
  12. Simple soaps — no more fancy body washes for me, etc.
  13. Consolidate trips, travel much less
  14. Use the library, but keep good eye on due dates so fines don't add up
  15. Use BookMooch to feed my reading habit
  16. Don't see movies on the big screen, play board games instead
  17. Curb urge to get out of the house and drive somewhere for entertainment by riding bikes in neighborhood or walking
  18. Use up odd cuts of meat in the freezer, try new recipes
  19. Obvious for this group, but I have never paid a single penny for babysitting; turn down invitations that would cost us a lot of money or force separation from the kids (use grandmas, aunts and very close friends for child care only occasionally)
  20. Be proactive in setting up social things that could otherwise be costly (I knew an old friend was about to ask me to meet her somewhere for lunch at a restaurant, so I offered the idea of playing at the park with the kids instead)
  21. Ask for and give away things on Freecycle
  22. Not eat out at all, but have more picnics (even if just in yard) to add variety
  23. Take up any offers of stuff from people's gardens, look for a recipe online if I don't know what to do with it
  24. Use Internet (the one thing we haven't cut out as I rely on it pretty heavily) to help us learn how to fix things ourselves more (current problem is broken lawnmower)
  25. Speak up when anything kids are involved in want to do fund-raisers and say I'm glad to help in many ways, but I don't condone selling or buying junk
  26. Not set foot in a mall, throw away sale ads from newspaper so I'm not tempted to buy anything I don't need
  27. I don't even stop at garage sales anymore since there would always be one 25-cent item I just had to have and it added up
  28. Turn down heat
  29. Take quicker showers (were given a 5-minute shower timer, I don't make it quite that short, but it keeps me hopping)
  30. Use cold water for clothes washing
  31. Wash clothes only when dirty rather than after every wearing out of habit
  32. Hang clothes on line to dry, or in basement when raining
  33. Not feel obligated to give expensive gifts for weddings, etc., justto keep up with the Joneses or just because they gave us an expensive wedding gift 12 years ago
  34. Make almost all our own gifts
  35. Sell stuff on eBay that we've been holding onto for who knows why
  36. Take stuff to other people's garage sales when invited (esp. if someone else has already advertised it!)
  37. Realize that stocking up on an item just because it's on sale doesn't make financial sense if it would have to go on credit with interest to have it now!
  38. Make smaller meals (Bob's not very good about eating leftovers, so I'd rather make less or usually freeze it before it hits the table)
  39. Make my own cloth mama pads (easy to do — I'll share directions if you want, even a folded up washcloth works!)
  40. Keep grandmas informed of children's clothes sizes and needs (otherwise they'll just keep buying more dresses they don't need)
  41. Be happy with the fact that our house is not decorated and if I want a new curtain or something make it out of fabric I have
  42. Cut up other items to sew new things (a single wool sweater became legwarmers, mittens, breast pads and cloth diaper cover)
  43. Admit freely that I'm broke, swallow pride so I don't end up going in on things I can't afford
  44. Addy is interested in every kind of class, lesson, club or sport she ever hears of, so we choose the ones that fit into our family's goals the best and don't cost too much (soccer and tee ball instead of more costly gymnastics and dance), 4-H, etc.
  45. Train my children to understand marketers and their goals. (It works.)
  46. Homeschool. While I end up paying for public education with my taxes and spending money on curriculum materials for my kids, I still think that having my children at home helps them focus on what's important and not what's not (video anything, designer anything, the newest and coolest anything).
  47. Try to seek out bartering opportunities (haven't done it yet and if anyone has any ideas I'd love to hear them): I wish I knew people who needed my sewing skills or some maple syrup in exchange for haircuts and piano lessons, for example.
  48. Call our Realtor every week hoping our house sells!
  49. Sell maple syrup from the family sugarbush!
  50. Decide that we're not going to put anything on credit

My turtle video has surpassed 20,000 views on YouTube

Wow, a lot of people have nothing better to do. Including me.

I welcome you to have a laugh at my expense:

Monday, July 7, 2008

Quiz: What do I have in common with 1984 Olympic gold medalist Mary Wayte?

A. Gorgeous blond hair, youthful skin and a winning smile.

B. A love of swimming, only one of us is better at it than the other.

C. Pure athletic prowess.

D. Enjoying life as a homeschooling mom with two daughters.

E. Both B and D.

Correct answer: E

Mary Wayte on her induction to her university's hall of fame:

"It is an extraordinary honor. I'm homeschooling my two children now, and sometimes the biggest event in my day is cutting crust off of a sandwich. So that people actually remember what you've done, and feel like it's something worth honoring, it's just really fun. At the same time, I wouldn't trade my life right now for anything."

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Our day, a sampling.

Our summer days have been varied, but today has been especially nice and a good picture of what we’re up to. We started the day checking on our first attempt at homemade yogurt that I left to set overnight. It worked! We mixed in some homemade strawberry jam we made a couple weeks ago from berries we picked ourselves.

Then we just hung out at home, watching “Bridge to Terabitha” that we rented from the library with a coupon Addy was given for reaching her goal in the summer reading program. It's a great movie and we can't wait to read the book (backwards, I know). Addy said, "That movie changed my whole world." We cancelled our satellite service and get no channels, so the occasional movie is our only TV now.

We hung clothes on the line, which the girls seem to think is fun for some reason. It was nice to be outside in the fresh air. The fact that we can see 32 wind turbines from our yard means we're in a great spot for drying clothes outside. We watered our flowers and let the later rain take care of the vegetable garden.

When Bob got home, he took Dori to return the movie while I helped Addy make caps, scarves and petticoats out of an old bedsheet to transform their Laura Ingalls pioneer costumes into Colonial period costumes. We’re going to see a reading of the Declaration of Independence at a historic courthouse on the 4th and costumes are encouraged. It was Addy's first attempt at using the serger, and I’m sewing the remaining parts of the costumes now.

Bob and the girls went to release some frogs we have been raising for several weeks since they were tadpoles. They walked to a ditch at the end of the road in the rain.

Bob is readying to make a batch of Juustoa squeaky cheese. I brought back milk from the farm. Addy is anxious to have it for our bedtime snack.

Once the costumes are done, I'll take advantage of having the rolled edge plate on the serger to make some cloth napkins. I intend to never buy a package of paper napkins again.

Other than that, we’ve been swimming a lot and just playing outside. We read a lot. It’s so fun to watch my daughter learn to enjoy reading on her own now. We do the summer reading program at the library and Bob gave one of the presentations, about insects. The YMCA gives swimming lessons at the farm as part of a backyard learn-to-swim program, so the girls get free lessons.

Addy is looking forward to taking 4-H projects to the fair. Her Little League tee ball season just wound up and she’s looking forward to August as she says, “I think I’m more of a soccer girl.” Bob and I will coach her team.

I’ve been working on a flyer and gathering ideas to start a homeschool group in our area.