Erin's self-sufficiency blog

Dedicated to sharing my efforts in radical homemaking, self-sufficiency, simplicity, and general craftiness on a very, very small budget.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

On not being dogmatic

As you all know, I try do do things myself whenever I possibly can.  For the most part, this has worked out really well.  I save money, I feel proud of myself, and the stuff I make is usually high quality and I'm happy with it.  I am learning that it is important not to be too dogmatic about this, though.  Not just for the sake of not being all hoity-toity about others who are not doing it, but also for my own sake.

In Make Your Place: Affordable, Sustainable Nesting Skills by Raleigh Briggs, there is this:

"This, I think, is most important: if something makes you feel gross, or itchy, or you'd really rather take a pill, listen to your gut and do what is best for your terrifically free and unique body.  This book is about making your life better, not about being hardcore."

I couldn't have said it better myself.

I am having problems with my homemade toothpaste.  Jason is doing fine with it, so I'll keep making it for him.  But I am going to stop using it.  I have receded gumlines, which means that I have sensitive teeth.  And the abrasiveness of the homemade toothpaste means that it is scratching at my already-thin enamel.  My teeth have been in a lot of pain lately, whenever I drink something hot or cold, or eat something sweet or sour, or even breath in a big breath of air through my mouth.  It's becoming difficult to chew on one side of my mouth.  So I have decided to stop using the homemade toothpaste and go back to using Sensodyne (or its generic equivalent). I found a sample of Sensodyne from the dentist and it made my teeth so happy.  Happy teeth are teeth that can chew, and chewing is important.  So back on it I go.  I know it contains a lot of fluoride, which can be detrimental to health, but probably not as detrimental as not chewing.  I like chewing.  So Sensodyne it is.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Why self-sufficiency?

My husband mentioned to me that although my blog is very good at telling people what I've been doing to increase my self-sufficiency, he noticed that I didn't talk much about why I did it.  Of course, he's heard all my philosophical ramblings about self-sufficiency and it didn't even occur to me that I hadn't shared them with the larger world.  So I decided to explore the question: why self-sufficiency?

#1. Saving money

This is a very straightforward answer.  In many cases, the more you do yourself, the more money you save.  We are in a position of having to save a lot of money right now.  There might be other reasons for saving money: investing in your future, saving up for something important, wanting to donate more to charity.  In any case, self-sufficiency gives you plenty of opportunity to save money.

#2. Getting things exactly how you want them

I read an article lately about how women's clothing is impractical.  It's too thin, doesn't have pockets, and wears out easily.  This can be solved by making clothing exactly how you want it.  The sweater I knit last year doesn't need any other layers, for example.  It's plenty warm by itself.  Also, I can't find cowl-necked, bell-sleeved sweaters anywhere (seeing how it's not 2001 anymore) but I still like them.  This can apply to food, beauty supplies, just about anything you do yourself.  It just takes some practice and skill-building.

#3. Pride

I feel damn good about using something I've made myself.  If you go to the grocery store and buy bread, it's just bread, although it might be yummy.  If I make bread myself, I'm proud of my bread, and I feel that pride every time I eat it or even look at it.  This doesn't mean that everyone needs to make their own bread, but it's good to have something that you can take pride in, especially outside of your paid job.  It's good to take pride in that too, but you don't want your whole identity to be about work.

#4. Intentionality

When I make most things myself, I am more aware of what I consume.  I'm less inclined to throw things away when they're broken.  I have to be very intentional about the things I do and use.  If I spend a year making a sweater, I can be damned sure that sweater is going to get the best care, will be repaired, and will be worn.  So I become more intentional about the things I own and use.  Also, there aren't as many impulse craft as impulse buys as you have to put time and effort into things, so you end up with less stuff you aren't really going to use.

#5. Sustainability

First I must admit that it is true that some things can be done more efficiently on the industrial level, and even consume fewer resources than if you did it yourself.  But for the most part, you waste less and use less energy when you do things yourself.  When you have to buy raw materials and supplies for things you are more aware of where they came from than if you buy finished products.  And that might give you some pause as you think about how things are produced.  In some cases the sustainability issues are clear: when I make my own hair gel, I'm not throwing away spent containers of mousse, and I'm not using any nasty chemicals.  Things can be more ambiguous in other ways though: the energy spent on home canning is less efficient than that spent on factory canning.  In any case, making your own stuff really tunes you in to the world around you.

#6. Fun

My purpose in life is to be a maker.  I have a hard time if I'm not making something.  I have lots of fun creating my own things, from dinner to clothing to beauty supplies to painting.  I think a lot of people have fun making things, even if they don't realize it yet.  Making things is up there for me as a fun thing to do, like heated Uno games or hanging out with friends laughing our guts out.

#7. A slower pace of life

I'm not someone who wants to spend all my time as a huge achiever in my career, networking at cocktail parties, buying all the latest crap, and hanging out with all the right people.  Some people might genuinely enjoy that kind of life but it's not for me.  I prefer to make the mundane special.  That's what matters to me.

#8. Feminism

For some, this might seem like a weird topic to bring up when talking about homemaking.  Well, it is and it isn't.  First, I need to remember that women used to have to do homemaking, and they had no choice.  Some probably hated it but it was the only option.  I would hate for someone to have to do self-sufficiency if they hated it.  That's why the modern conveniences were invented.  And I would hate for women to be stuck in the kind of lives that my grandmothers were stuck in.  On the other hand, in hindsight we can see that it was an overcorrection for the second-wave feminists to totally dismiss the domestic as being unworthy work.  This is because it devalues that which women have traditionally done.  Really, what men have traditionally done and what women have traditionally done should be equally embraced (and performed) by everyone.  So for cultural feminists like me, reclaiming women's work is an important feminist activity.  (For a wonderful critique of that point of view, please see this blog:  I'm so in love with it right now.)

Those are my current reasons for embracing self-sufficiency.  I should also point out that I don't currently work outside the home so I have time for all this.  Someone working a 60 hour workweek might not have time, especially if they have a family they'd like to spend time with.  So it's important that I don't see myself as better than anyone else because I do this.  I am very happy that I am living in line with my own values, however, and I hope others can live in line with their values as well.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A busy week

First of all, I wanted to say that I found the photo of the yoghurt. It looks a little weird but you'll get the idea.

Next, I want to lecture you on something. If you want to eat nutritious food for not very much money, you have to learn to make Indian vegetarian. I heard a quote once that there is no reason for poor Brits (this could also apply to Americans) to eat a thousand times worse than poor Indians. You need lentils, spices, rice, some vegetables, and maybe some yoghurt. The most important spices are cayenne pepper, turmeric, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, and maybe some garam masala. I made a dish with a dhal, which is basically lentils cooked in a bunch of water, with some turmeric and salt. Then you fry the mustard seeds and cumin seeds, and when they are brown fry the turmeric and cayenne. Then dump the whole shebang into the lentils. In this particular instance I added some tamarind, which might be hard to find, depending on where you are. I also added a little brown sugar. For the vegetable I fried some garlic and ginger with the same spices (plus a little ground coriander, but that's not strictly necessary) then I threw in some potatoes, peas, and carrots. Then I added some water and covered it until it was cooked. I also made raita, using the homemade yoghurt, plus some lime juice, salt, and chopped cucumber. Then I cooked some brown rice. That's it. The healthiest I've ever been was when I subsisted mainly on Indian vegetarian. In fact, I've decided to become a weekday vegetarian and eat more of this kind of thing.

I gave myself a pretty successful haircut this week. Luckily I have curly hair and can hide all the mistakes. I don't have a picture because I hate having my photo taken.

We did some baking this week. I made bread. I usually make a whole wheat bread, with a little honey or brown sugar in it. I don't have two loaf pans so I shape them into a shape called a batard. When you bake bread, you should try to bake at least two loaves at once so that you don't end up costing in power the same that it would cost you to just buy the bread. Ideally you should bake four or five at a time but my mixer can only support two loaves and I usually don't have enough ingredients for four at any given time.

We also made homemade cookies. I used a whole wheat poppyseed cookie from the Enchanted Broccoli Forest cookbook by Mollie Katzen. They were tasty and not too sweet. The dough was really ugly, it was sort of grayish. The finished cookies look fine. I also should note that instead of eggs, I used flax seeds mixed with water. I learned this from a vegan cookbook. For baking, one tablespoon of flax seeds plus three tablespoons of water equals one egg. I like that you can sneak a little extra nutrition in there.

Finally, I want to recommend a book. It's called Make Your Place: Affordable, Sustainable Nesting Skills by Raleigh Briggs. Its focus is on health and first aid, cleaning and body care, and gardening. I'm most interested in the health and first aid and body care sections. I haven't heard much about DIY in those subjects, and it's such a sweet little book. I think it's a good complement to my other favorite homemaking book, The Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking: Decorating, Dining, and the Gratifying Pleasures of Self-Sufficiency--On a Budget by Kate Payne. Its focus is on decorating, cleaning, gardening, mending clothes, fixing the house, and food preparation. I like to have all these resources around. For example, I'm pretty good at cooking (having gone to culinary school and working in restaurants and such) and I have many gardening books (but no garden), but I suck at decorating, and have no idea how to do healthcare myself. I think my next project is going to be salves. I plan on making a dry skin salve and a sore muscle salve. The procedure is similar to making lip balm.

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Sunday, January 15, 2012


I made yoghurt the other day. I took a photo of it but my photo seems to have disappeared. Anyways, I made it in the crockpot. I put a litre of milk in, and turned it on low heat for 2 1/2 hours. Then I unplugged it and left it alone for 3 hours. Then I took off the lid and scooped out about a cup of the milk into a bowl. Next I added a little package of culture and mixed that in with my one cup of milk. After that I added the milk back to the crockpot, put the lid back on, wrapped it in a bath towel, and left it overnight. It comes out pretty thick, although not as thick as storebought, which contains gelatin. Next time I make it, I'll reserve a quarter cup from the last batch and add that instead of the culture. You can do this five or six times until you need a new starter, either from a package or from storebought yoghurt. Unfortunately we broke the crockpot so I'll have to find another way to make it. I think I can do it in a pot on the stove, and put the pot in the oven with the light on overnight. But I'll have to look it up to be sure.


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Lip balm and a family recipe

I made a couple of things this week that I'm proud of. One thing I made was lip balm. I used beeswax, olive oil, and lime essential oil. I melted the wax and the olive oil in a double boiler, then added six drops of the lime oil, and then poured it into this little container. That's it! The thing that makes me really happy is that there used to be this all-natural lip balm that I absolutely loved. It was the best lip balm that I had ever tried, and I was happy that I wasn't spreading petroleum products on my mouth. However, I had to stop buying it because it was too expensive. This lip balm that I made? It's exactly the same thing! And the supplies cost pennies. So I think I am making my own lip balm forever.

The other thing that I made was a family recipe from my husband's family. My family doesn't really have recipes that are passed down, although some people have a dish that they're famous for. Anyways, I wanted to make one of the family recipes, called Derr's delight. Jason's aunt invented this recipe when she was in college. You brown some ground beef and add a chopped up onion and a green pepper. Then you add two cups of stock (my father-in-law insists that it must be consomme from the soup aisle. He will be annoyed that I used stock. I don't use consomme from the soup aisle because I can make my own stock from the stuff you usually throw away, and it doesn't cost me anything.) You also add a cup of rice. You simmer this for half an hour, or until all the liquid is absorbed. Because I didn't use canned consomme, I added some seasoned salt. If you use the canned stuff you won't need the salt, unless you love salt. Anyway it comes out gooey and good. It's great student food. I was happy to try out a family recipe. My husband has made it once before too, so it's not like I think I have to keep up all the cookin' traditions, as the woman and all. I just wanted to share in the heritage because his family is my family too now.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Some sewing and cooking

So there have been a few sewing and cooking developments lately. First, I wanted to show a photo of the pajama bottoms I made for my husband. He loves them and wears them all the time. You would have thought that I gave him gold or something, but that's how much he appreciates it when I put effort into something and that's why I'm keeping him around! I also made some very successful tuna melts with my homemade mayo, a little dijon mustard, and some tuna, with various Christmas-gift cheeses on top. My husband also scored the bread for free at work. So really all we paid for was the tin of tuna ($0.88) and the cost of one egg yolk and some oil, about 15 cents. We got four sandwiches out of it. The recipes I looked at online called for more stuff, and claimed to make only 2 sandwiches. They must have been pretty thick with tuna salad because we had tons of toppings spread out over four.

I was craving a spaghetti dinner last week. I don't usually eat tomato sauce because my husband used to be allergic to tomatoes. He's okay now but doesn't really like how they taste. So I got a can of tomato sauce for about a dollar and fried up some sausage (we have a friend who makes sausage and gives us a lot. I cooked the tomato sauce with some basil and oregano and added a little red wine. I made my husband a white sauce from flour, butter, and milk. I divided up the sausage between the two sauces and roasted half of the bottom of a butternut squash. Then I just had to boil pasta and we had dinner! We had two dinners out of this one.

I would also like to report that I am the master of the $5 chicken. Some friends alerted us that there would be some whole chickens on sale for $0.86 a pound. So I bought one chicken and got nine meals from it. First, I roasted the chicken. We each ate a half breast for dinner. My husband took one of the other halves for lunch, and I made Kraft Dinner with a carrot and the other half. Then I made "pasta with stuff" with the meat of one of the legs. Next I made chicken salad with the with the meat of the other leg and the leftover mayonnaise from the tuna melts. Then my husband took off the remaining meat from the carcass and served it with potatoes and carrots. Finally, we took the carcass and made stock, which made a whole lot of soup (2 or 3 servings each, I daresay). So that comes to about $0.50 per meal for two people for the protein.

The final thing I have to report is that I did some sewing for decorating. I took some pieces of felt and cut them into triangles, and then sewed those triangles onto rickrack. I made a string of them and have hung them up as bunting above one of our windows. I hope to do a second one soon.

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