Saturday, December 19, 2009

Easy Homemade Heath Bars for Christmas

Ok, so we're less than a week out from the holiday, and, if you're like me, you're still baking Christmas cookies. Maybe you're just getting started, or maybe your family ate up the ones you've been continually making since the beginning of December (ahem, family) and you need to replenish. Either way, these super easy homemade heath bars are always a hit for Christmas. My family has been making them since sometime in the 1980s when a family friend gave us the recipe. They're a must on our Christmas cookie list.

And, the best part is how simple they are. They definitely meet my criteria of being quick, easy, inexpensive AND impressive.

Here we go:

1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
a bag milk chocolate chips
nuts or holiday sprinkles optional for topping


Spray or grease cookie sheet.
Line with saltines.
Cook sugar and butter over medium to low heat until sugar completely dissolves and mixture is hot and bubbly.
Pour over saltines and smooth evenly. Cook at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes or until toffee is light golden brown.
Remove pan and sprinkle with chocolate chips.
As the heat begins to melt the chips, spread them smoothly over entire pan. Add toppings if desired.
Cool and break or cut into bars.

Wait and see how long a batch lasts around your house. Mine only lasted three days...

Monday, December 14, 2009

Mom's Easy Baked Steak Recipe

Tonight, looking for something simple but hearty for dinner I turned to one of my favorite comfort foods--my mom's easy baked steak recipe. It's one of those wonderful recipes that turn out to be so much more than the sum of their parts.

It's so simple.

Beef Round Steak
Garlic Powder

We get a whole beef each year and split it with my parents, so I always have a nice stock of lean angus beef in my freezer. I thaw a package of round steak--probably around 2 pounds or so--for this recipe.

Mom's Easy Baked Steak

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

I first trim any fat off and cut the round steak in half if it's too large to fit into my pan--I use a stainless steel All-Clad saute pan that I can transfer right to the oven. I then salt, pepper, and garlic the meat generously on both sides, and dredge it in flour. I heat canola or olive oil over high heat and sear the steak on both sides, just to brown it nicely.

I add a cup or two of water right to the pan, cover it, and cook for about an hour at 350. Then, I lower the heat to 225 and cook the rest of the day, nice and low and slow. Every so often I check it to make sure the steak isn't drying out and add water, so I have a nice pan gravy brewing right in there. It starts smelling absolutely mouth-watering about half way through the cooking time, so be prepared to be starving by the time dinner rolls around.

I usually try to cook the steak for at least eight hours or so (a minimum of six and no longer than 10 hours). The key is to keep checking and adding water so the steak doesn't dry out. I like to serve it with standard comfort food staples like homecanned green beans (if you have them) or mashed potatoes.

For those of you who aren't around home during the day, I would guess you could do a version of this in the crockpot too, so let me know if any of you adapt it, and how it turns out. Happy cooking!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

DIY Mom Does An Under-the-Kitchen-Sink Audit

Can the chemicals in standard household cleaners harm you, your kids, or your pets? Can products so widely used and distributed really be that bad?

I decided to do a DIY MOM/DIY 365 under-the-kitchen-sink audit of commonly used kitchen and bathroom cleaners to see what exactly I had been using on a daily basis and what effects it could have on me, my husband, my unborn child, my two dogs, and my two little girls.

I pulled out my Windex, Comet Bathroom Cleaner, Lysol Toilet Bowl Cleaner, and Lysol Antibacterial Kitchen Spray.

1. Windex doesn't even list its ingredients, which amazes me. It does say "KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN AND PETS." Hmmm... wonder why?

2. Again, Comet Bathroom Cleaner doesn't list ingredients, but does say: "ACTIVE INGREDIENT: Citric Acid. (Ok, that's pretty benign. According to Wikipedia, "Citric acid is a weak organic acid, and it is a natural preservative and is also used to add an acidic, or sour, taste to foods and soft drinks. ...It can also be used as an environmentally benign cleaning agent.") But then on closer observation I see that citric acid makes up only 6 percent of the total formula the other 94 percent is listed as "other ingredients."A little more sleuthing turns up a hefty precautionary statement that says the cleaner is harmful if you get it in your eyes ("call poison control center or doctor for advice"), don't mix it with anything containing bleach or mildew stain removers as it may cause irritating fumes, and, again, call the poison control center or doctor if swallowed because it contains an alcohol ethoxylate. A quick search on alcohol ethoxylate turns this alarming statement up:

"Toxicity to humans, including carcinogenicity, reproductive and developmental toxicity, neurotoxicity, and acute toxicity." and "Toxicity to aquatic organisms." SOURCE: 

3. Lysol Toilet Bowl Cleaner--I'm ready for some bad news on this one before I even start my research. Online sources that I've perused before had said toilet bowl cleaners are particularly toxic. The front label as usual states to keep out of reach of children, but instead of saying caution, it says "WARNING."  The precautionary statement on the back says that it causes "substantial but temporary eye injury," (whatever that means--can "substantial" injuries really be temporary?), that I should wear "protective eyewear, such as goggles, face shield or safety glasses" when using, that I should wash thoroughly with soap and water after handling before eating, chewing gum, or drinking, and finally that I should remove and wash "contaminated" clothing. I don't know what you think, but that doesn't sound too reassuring to me.

However, ingredients--surprise, surprise--are listed. And, they sure are a mouthful--heaven help us, only figuratively! Alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride, octyl decyl dimethyl ammonium chloride, didecyl ammonium chloride, dioctyl dimethyl ammonium chloride.

Alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride is a suspected gastrointestinal or liver toxicant, immunotoxicant, neurotoxicant, respiratory toxicant, and skin or sense organ toxicant. SOURCE:

A search on octyl decyl dimethyl ammonium chloride turns up the same precautionary statement as found for alcohol ethoxylate.

Then, it gets worse. Both didecyl ammonium chloride and dioctyl dimethyl ammonium chloride are considered "PAN Bad Actors" by the Pesticide Action Network. These pesticides are at least one of the following: known or possible carcinogen, reproductive or development toxicants, neurotoxic cholinesterase inhibitors, known groundwater contaminants, or pesticides with high acute toxicity. SOURCE:

4. I get the feeling I'm going to be very distressed when I research Lysol Antibacterial Kitchen Cleaner, the very stuff I used to spray on my kitchen countertops because it reassuringly "cuts grease and grime: and "kills household germs." It lists the active ingredient as alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride--the same nasty stuff we just learned that is a suspected gastrointestinal or liver toxicant, immunotoxicant, neurotoxicant, respiratory toxicant, and skin or sense organ toxicant. However, it is listed as only .10 percent of the overall solution, the rest being "inert ingredients," whatever they are. So, the really bad stuff is highly diluted, but still it's there, and I don't know about you, but after I used to "disinfect" my tables and countertops with this spray, I wasn't then washing it back off before I prepared food. It's a little disconcerting to think about when I could have just been using vinegar, water and essential oils to clean--see my All-Purpose Cleaner #2 recipe natural, chemical-free, and non-toxic option.

For an excellent overview of household cleaners and their effects, you can also check out the Organic Consumers Association
So, overall, how did my under-the-kitchen-sink audit go?  Well, I did notice that many of the cautionary statements used the words "suspected" or "possible." So, I guess that means they are not confirmed killers, but to me, something's "suspect" for a reason, and I have a choice. I can opt for gentler, natural, non-chemical options. I can spend a few minutes mixing baking soda and organic liquid soap for a "soft scrub" style cleaner. I can use club soda or water and vinegar for mirrors and glass. I can sprinkle some borax--a naturally concurring mined mineral--in my toilet instead of a toxic bright acqua cleaner. I can put my toilet bowl cleaner, kitchen antibacterial spray, glass cleaner, and bathroom cleaner out with the trash and start over--and better.

I hope this has inspired some of you out there to take a closer look at the everyday cleaners and chemicals you use and perhaps choose something safer. Maybe you'll even do your own under-the-kitchen-sink audit! I hope so. If you do, I'd love to hear what you find. 

Friday, December 4, 2009

DIY Mom Does Christmas Applique

Aren't these Christmas appliques cute? Today, I'm going to post directions and free patterns for these super-easy embellishments.

If you're like me, you're probably into everything Christmas right now--decorating, baking, shopping, Christmas cards, and more.

Despite some bouts of sickness, our family is plugging away at our holiday to-dos... The decorations are up, the Christmas cards are done, and we are going to cut down our live tree tomorrow. Next on the agenda: holiday cookies!

Something I enjoy doing this time of year is making matching holiday outfits for my girls. Last year, I made some fantastic holiday twirl skirts from You Can Make this (Bella twirl skirt pattern).

I'm not a pro seamstress, though, so it took me hours. This year, looking to scale back, I decided to do some really easy, no-sew applique. All you need is a package of fusible web (this is the "glue" that holds everything together when you activate the bonding process with heat), some fabric scraps, and fabric paint to finish the raw edges. You'll also need to get your iron and ironing board out. This project definitely meets my criteria of being inexpensive, quick, and easy. And, best of all, everyone seems to think I'm some kind of crafty goddess :)

You can easily find your supplies at most craft and/or fabric stores.

In my area, I like to go to Joann Fabrics. For convenience sake, here are links to the products I buy from Joann's--fusible web, fabric paint, and fat quarters (quilters' terms for smaller sized squares of fabric, which is often cheaper than buying by the yard, particularly if you're only appliquing a pair of jeans or two). You'll also want to choose your applique base. In my case, I chose jeans and a plain white tee, which I layered under a solid red top.

1. Once, you gather your supplies, start by clicking on the preview images below to download my very simple patterns here, or sketch your own.

Place the patterns under a sheet of fusible web and trace them, making sure you are tracing on the side of the fusible web sheet that has the adhesive layer attached to it. You can hold the sheet up to a window if you have a hard time seeing the pattern through the sheet of fusible web.

2. Roughly cut around each pattern piece that you traced onto the fusible web.

3. Take the backing of the fusible web off and place the roughly cut out pattern piece on the BACK of your fabric. Iron on high for about 5 seconds to fuse the adhesive to your fabric.

4. Cut your piece out neatly and now you're ready to pull off the last piece of paper and your pattern piece should be sticky on the back.

5. Place the pattern piece on your tee or jeans in its final "resting place" and iron on high for 10 seconds to permanently set it.

6. Repeat with each pattern piece until you have all pieces ironed in place. Let cool.

7. Use different colors of fabric paint to outline/finish off all edges of applique. Make sure you are generous with the amount of fabric paint used--it will dry into a thinner line. You want the paint edging to totally cover the fabric edges with no gaps. You can always go back after the paint dries and add more paint if needed. Of course, those sewing queens who can do a decent satin stitch should feel free to machine stitch around their appliques! :)

Now, wasn't that easy?

I typically advise folks to machine wash items with fabric paint cool and dry cool, but the fabric paint is amazingly resilient to wear and washing. The only really big no-no is to NEVER IRON ON THE PAINT! It will melt. Another tip is that if you find the paint is wearing thin or you missed an area, you can always go back and add more paint.

Happy appliquing! Please feel free to post with any questions or to show off your creations.

Learn fun and easy gift-giving ideas you can make!

You can also go to You Can Make This for more detailed applique e-books and fantastic applique patterns for all seasons.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

DIY Mom Makes All-Purpose Cleaner #2

This was the homemade cleaner recipe that started it all for me.

Vinegar, distilled water, essential oil. Period.

This simple concoction replaced my: window and glass cleaner, kitchen antibacterial countertop spray, and my bathroom tub and tile spray.

It also blew my mind. How could I have never known before about something so simple, so easy to make, and so effective?

All-Purpose Cleaner #2 Recipe

For Kitchen Countertops, Mirrors and Glass, Bathroom Sinks, Tubs, Showers, Toilets (except the toilet bowl--I simply sprinkle borax in, let it sit for a little while, and scrub with toilet brush)

1. Spray bottle ($1 from dollar store or reuse one of your old bottles that
a commercially made cleaner came in)
2. Distilled water ($1.29 a gallon from pharmacy or grocery)
3. Distilled white vinegar ($.79 from discount grocery store)
4. Essential oil of your choice (an average of 6.99 or so for 1 fl. oz. from my local health food store; you can also find plenty of essential oil options online as well if you don't have a health food store handy. I'm thinking this essential oil sample set might be a nice Christmas gift idea Essential Oil Basic Sampler Set- 6/10 ml)

The recipe:
1. Pour 12 oz. distilled water, 4 oz. white vinegar, and 10-20 drops of essential oil (I like to use a fresh-smelling combo of Lemon
and Tea Tree Oil, which is known for its antibacterial properties) into the spray bottle.

2. Shake. (Shake before each use, since essential oils tend to separate from water when they sit.)
3. Use.
4. Smile.

Now, to evaluate. Does it meet the DIY Mom Mantra?

It must be affordable, it must be simple, it must be good.

$$$: About 47 cents per 16 ounces (compared to commercial kitchen, bathroom or glass cleaners, which average 19 to 22 cents per one ounce, or over $3 for 16 ounces.)

TIME: Less than 2 minutes to measure and mix.

PAYOFF: I'm getting significant savings over commercial cleaners, while also eliminating unnecessary and potentially toxic chemicals from my home. (I'm planning a follow-up post where I do an under-the-kitchen-sink audit of chemicals commonly found in cleaners and their effects.)

I've personally also been cleaning my sinks and countertops more since making this because I don't feel icky about the chemicals on my hands, and because it smells nice! I also feel like I can let my kids help clean because the spray is all-natural.

If anyone out there is reading, I'd love to hear from you. Who else uses a cleaner like this, and has it stood the test of time for you? What's your favorite use for this type of cleaner, or your favorite essential oil combination for scenting the solution?

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Swiffer Wars

DIY Mom and DIY Dad have a serious disagreement. DIY Mom wants to eliminate nasty toxic chemicals from the household cleaning regimen and replace them with natural, homemade products. DIY Dad is very skeptical as to whether or not:

1. DIY Mom will actually keep up with making her own products, and,

2. They really work as well as commercial cleaners.

I grant you, valid concerns both.

I've only been experimenting with homemade cleaners for a few weeks now, and I'll be posting more about them in the coming weeks--recipes, cost of homemade vs. store-bought, and effectiveness. Overall, I've been impressed. Impressed that baking soda and water (and some elbow grease) could clean out my horrific oven. Impressed that vinegar, distilled water, and essential oils cleans everything from my kitchen countertops to my sinks to my mirrors. Impressed that it's soooo quick and easy and cheap to mix these concoctions up myself. (I even love working with my growing shelf of supplies--natural soaps, essential oils, baking soda, borax, washing soda, and distilled water--like some fledgling domestic chemist.)

DIY Dad; however, remains skeptical. The main bone of contention: The Swiffer Wet Jet.

DIY Dad is passionate about his Swiffer Wet Jet. DIY Mom is just as passionate about getting rid of it. (Disclaimer: DIY Mom does realize she is a very lucky woman in that her husband actually cleans--quite a lot, in fact. She just wishes he'd come around on the natural cleaning front. Chemicals = bad, natural stuff = good.)

The Swiffer Wars started about a week ago. DIY Mom told DIY Dad the overwhelming chemical smell bothered her and to please not use it anymore. DIY Dad said there was no way in h$#$ he was going to clean the floors with a rag and bucket. DIY Dad went out on an emergency ice cream run. DIY Mom left the kids in bed with their stories and ran downstairs to go guerilla on the Swiffer bottle before DIY Dad got back. She hastily dug the plastic out of the Swiffer bottle opening with a kitchen knife, until she was able to empty out the toxic potion and replace it with her own "green" vinegar-and water-solution. She slapped a piece of duct tape on and put the bottle back in the Swiffer. It didn't leak, and seemed to work fine! Then, as if that weren't enough, she went and cut soft rag pieces to size,which fit perfectly and performed well in DIY Mom's test run. She was triumphant: Swiffer could stay, but had become both greener and a ton more cost-efficient.

DIY Dad found rigged-up Swiffer, and after about 2 minutes, proclaimed it a resounding failure. He furthermore claimed said rags didn't pick up dirt and the vinegar/water solution didn't clean. DIY Mom was not deterred. She said she would come up with something that worked.

So, last night, it was time to Swiffer again. DIY Mom had made up a nice batch for All-Purpose Cleaner #1 (see previous blog post) for DIY Dad to demo.

It wasn't pretty. DIY Dad hated the cleaner. The bottle leaked (but a new piece of duct tape affixed more securely took care of that), the cleaner left streaks (alas, it did), and it didn't clean (DIY Mom still isn't sure about DIY Dad's anal-retentive "clean" standards, which would even make people who pass white-glove tests nervous.)

DIY Mom and Dad had words. It got even less pretty. DIY Mom emptied the bottle and refilled it with Murphy's Oil Soap and warm water. She Swiffered the whole kitchen with the solution and the store-bought pads, which DIY Dad still insisted on. She got lots of dirt on the pad, which, evidently, according to DIY Dad is the point of the whole exercise. DIY Dad still wasn't convinced. DIY Mom went upstairs to put the kids to bed. She can't be sure, but she thinks she heard the sounds of DIY Dad rewashing the entire tiled hallway and powder room, as well as the linoleum-floored kitchen with a rag and bucket.

DIY Mom hid from DIY Dad for the rest of the night.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


I just had the chance to play our family's favorite game for the first time this season. I was in the basement folding laundry, when I looked up to see the newly filled bird feeders hanging in the box elder tree in the middle of our backyard. (DIY Dad had recently put them out, and already we were enjoying seeing blue jays, red-headed woodpeckers, and chickadees flocking in.) However, today there wasn't a bird in sight.

That's when I saw HIM. Bushy-tailed hog. "GAME ON," I thought.

Here are the rules to the new sensation SQUIRRELLLLL!!: THE GAME

1. Locate family dogs (hyper hunting dogs like labs and springers are excellent choices).
2. Convey quiet excitement while you get them to the door without barking.
3. Simultaneously open door and bellow SQUIRRELLLLL!!! at top of voice. (Ignore neighbors' strange looks.)
4. Sit back and watch the show.

While the object of the SQUIRRELLLLL!!: THE GAME is to catch the bushy-tailed bird-feeder hog, this has, in fact, never happened. However, this does not in any way impede the overall enjoyment of this exhilarating game.


1. It never fails to scare the living bejesus out of the squirrel.
2. When you're a dog and have no long-term memory, every time you play is like the first time.
3. SQUIRRELLLLL!!: THE GAME provides top-notch pet exercise.
4. SQUIRRELLLLL!!: THE GAME  also provides outstanding human stress relief (the reliable scream-your-lungs-out-followed-by-laughter method).
5. SQUIRRELLLLL!!: THE GAME doesn't cost a thing.

DIY Mom Makes Homemade Turkey Stock

So... I don't know about you, but I've got a 20-pound turkey carcass burning a hole in my fridge right now. Well, not literally, but you know ... it's not getting any younger, it's not getting any fresher, and it's not getting any better looking. It's time to turn its cold unappetizing hide into a several-months supply of healthy, yummy homemade stock. Not a bad makeover, if you ask me.

I remember when I first read an article in a cooking magazine about homemade stock. I'm not sure what the "recipe" was anymore, but what I took away is that making stock should be fun, easy, and, ultimately, do-able. It's been about 10 years since I read that piece, and I've been making my own beef and chicken stock ever since. I don't make it all the time, though, and--gasp!! I sometimes let a perfectly good carcass or package of soup bones go to waste. And--double gasp!!--I do still use pricey store-bought stock when I run out of homemade. However, when I do take the minimal time and effort to make stock, I'm always glad I did.

Here's how I make stock. There's no hard and fast measurements; just guidelines and suggestions. Use what's on hand in your pantry, fridge, or garden.

Guidelines for Chicken, Beef, or Turkey Stock

1. Toss the lovely carcass (or beef soup bones) into a big old pot and put in enough water to cover it well.

2. Add in the goodies--a carrot or two; an onion, peel-on; a celery stalk, even better with the leaves; a few fresh garlic cloves; a handful or so of whole peppercorns; some sprigs of fresh parsley. That's it. All you need to do is rinse the veggies. They don't need to be chopped; toss 'em in whole.

3. Bring to a boil; then reduce heat to low and simmer a good hour or two, until the vegetables, seasonings, meat, and bones begin to imbue the liquid with flavor.

4. Strain into a large bowl, in batches. (If you make a big pot, this will take several times!) And, then portion out into plastic containers, or even ziploc bags, a batch at a time. I often measure out 14-ounce portions (because this is the size that most canned stocks come in and recipes often call for that amount).

5. Freeze.

While no one seems to agree on the exact amount of time frozen stock stays fresh, I'd say use it within 6 months. For me, personally, I usually find it's gone within three months or so in the summer when I cook less soup and big meals, and even quicker in fall and winter when I seem to need it more.

But, lest we go off and start dreaming of hand-crafted bisques and broths, let's evaluate how DIY Mom-friendly homemade stock is.

Does it meet the criteria?

It must be affordable, it must be simple, it must be good.

For me, the cost is really zero. The bones or carcass would just be thrown away, and the herbs and/or veggies are literally whatever I have around. In fact, I usually feel good about using up some bottom-of-the-hydrator-pan carrots and onions that might have just been destined for the compost heap in another week or so.

Throwing the stock together takes me five minutes or less and most of that time is spent just rounding up ingredients. It does take the 1-2 hrs. simmering on the stove though, but during that time you can pretty much forget about it and enjoy the mouth-watering aroma. To me, the largest investment of time is the straining and portioning.

Because I had a large turkey carcass today, I got tons of stock for nothing. I bagged a massive total of 205 ounces of stock. You'd have to buy more than 14 of those store-bought cans to get that much. While the savings comes up to around $7 or so, for me, the biggest payoff is the fact that it's tasty and healthy. No sodium (you salt your recipes to taste after you add your homemade stock), no MSG, and no additives. YUM!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

DIY Mom Makes All-Purpose Cleaner #1

Do I have the time?

Do I have the money?

Is it really worth it?

When I’m looking at a new DIY/MYO project, these are the questions I ask myself.

I’m a busy mom of two—with another on the way—and, quite simply, I don’t have loads of extra time to spare. And, of course, as a single-income family, we don't have gobs of excess cash lying around either. I doubt any of us do.

That’s why I came up with this simple mantra:

It must be affordable, it must be simple, it must be good.

Today's the time to put the mantra into action. I'm making an all-purpose alkaline household cleaner from my new book on "green cleaning" (Annie Berthold-Bond's "Better Basics for the Home: Simple Solutions for Less Toxic Living"). The recipe for the homemade cleaner is below.

I'll examine cost vs. time vs. effectiveness later in the post, but first, let's get down to the nuts and bolts.

Ingredients needed:

1. 1/2 teaspoon Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda (as I'm mixing, 1/2 tsp. seemed so minuscule, so I made it 1 teaspoon)

2. 2 teaspoons 20-Mule Team Borax

3. 1/2 teaspoons liquid soap or detergent (I also made this 1 tsp., and I used Dr. Bronner's Almond Organic Liquid Castile Soap)

4. 2 cups hot water (nuked it in a 2-cup glass measuring cup for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes)

To Create:

1. Measure all ingredients directly into the hot water in the 2-cup measuring glass.

2. Stir.

3. Pour into a plastic spray bottle (a funnel is helpful here)and shake well. Shake before each use to ensure minerals are mixed in well.

This basic alkaline cleaner is good to tackle grease, neutralize odors, and remove stains and dirt. Use it for things like cleaning floors and wiping walls and baseboards (vs. a basic acidic cleaner, which usually includes an acidic agent like distilled white vinegar, and is good for glass and mirrors, sinks, bathrooms and the like).

I have to talk a sec about ingredients, before evaluating the success of the project, because, if you're like I was when I began learning about natural cleaning, you are going "huh?" on the washing soda and borax. Both are widely used in "green" cleaning. Washing soda is is 100% sodium carbonate and does not contain fragrance, surfactants or other additives. It is used as a laundry booster and household cleaner and is considered an environmentally acceptable alternative to other household products. Borax is a naturally occurring mineral that is mined and is also used as a natural laundry and multi-purpose household cleanser.

Most books and blogs I've read say you can find them both in the laundry aisle of your local grocery, but I have very little luck. I did find borax in my local grocery chain in Pittsburgh, Giant Eagle, but only in its larger "market district" store. I couldn't find washing soda, though, but discovered I can order it online through Ace Hardware and have it shipped to my local store for free. They have borax too, so when I need to restock, I'll be ordering both through Ace. It's a pretty painless process.

For liquid soap or detergent, I chose to use an organic liquid castile (olive oil) soap that's pretty widely available online and at health food stores, Dr. Bronner's. I love the almond scent of my Dr. Bronner's--it reminds me of the spritz cookies I enjoy making around the holidays--but there a variety of scents available in Dr. Bronner's liquid soaps (8, in fact, and almost all sound yummy to me: Peppermint, Rose, Lavendar, Eucalyptus, Tea Tree, Citrus, Unscented and Baby Mild).

But, enough about delectable organic soaps. Did this cleaner meet the DIY Mom Mantra? Remember: It must be affordable, it must be simple, it must be good.

$$$: Excuse the pun, but dirt-cheap: A whopping 13 cents per bottle.

TIME: Speedy. About 2 minutes to measure and mix.

PAYOFF: I saved a massive $3.55 a bottle over store-bought, and I feel much better about cleaning with natural products than toxic chemicals.

But, the million-dollar question is: How effective is this homemade concoction, compared to commercially made cleaners? Since I've just made this particular recipe for the first time, I'm going to be evaluating it for different cleaning tasks around my home. Stay posted for blog updates.

DIY Mom's Math Notes for Those Fiscally Inclined:

* Borax-$4.99 for 76-ounce box, .02 cents for 2 teaspoons (I figured out the cost per ounce and then divided that by 6, since there are 6 teaspoons per ounce and used that figure to come up with cost per tsp.)

*Super Washing Soda--$3.79 for 55 ounce box--.01 cents for 1 teaspoon

*Dr. Bronner's Castile Soap--$9.29 for 16 fl. oz., or .10 cents for 1 teaspoon

*Spray Bottle--free, reused bottle from another household cleaning product

Cost of 22 fl. oz. bottle of Clorox Daily Sanitizing Spray--$4.99, or .23 an ounce--$3.68 for 16 ounces

My 16 oz. homemade cleaner--.13 cents. for 16 ounces

Friday, November 27, 2009

Greetings from Pittsburgh

It's a grey November day outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania--the day after Thanksgiving. I'd love to be in my large and unruly basement re-packing my fall decor and wading through piles of boxes to pull out Christmas finery. But, alas, hosting Thanksgiving yesterday and blitzing through my house this morning to try and get things back into order has left me exhausted.

It's hard to be 5 1/2 months pregnant and maintain "Energizer Bunny" status...

It will all get done in time. I'm spending a little downtime on the computer to recharge the batteries.

In addition to a large freelance writing project looming over my head and all the holiday mayhem to come, I've got another big project for myself. I got Annie Berthold-Bond's "Better Basics for the Home: Simple Solutions for Less Toxic Living."

I started making some of my own household cleaners a few weeks ago, and the ease and effectiveness just blew my mind. Not to mention the fact that that I was saving $$$ and NOT using toxic chemicals.

Annie's book provides literally hundreds of household tips and recipes for homemade stuff ranging from bathroom cleaners to facial products to milk paint. (Ok, I don't think I'll be making my own paint anytime soon!) Nevertheless, I dove in and have been making some of her simpler cleaners and facial products.

I'll be posting about her Basic Formula for All-Purpose Cleaner --both acid and alkaline versions -- along with the Basic Soft Scrubber Formula next time.