Thursday, August 18, 2016

Four Ways To Stay Cool Without Air Conditioning

Staying cool without AC: I know, it's unthinkable for a lot of people. I grew up in Seattle, where thanks to our mild summers, no one really needed air conditioning for most of my life. However, in recent years air conditioners are selling like hotcakes every summer, as each year gets hotter than the one before. We've considered getting an expensive home AC unit installed, as our house has full western exposure and can really cook during hot afternoons.

Here's what we've done instead:

We had blackout blinds installed. It was an investment, but much cheaper than an AC unit. Not only do they keep out heat when the sun is blazing, they do an amazing job of blocking light while we sleep, and they also keep our home cozy on cold winter nights. At our first house, we just had lined curtains with homemade curtain rods, which absolutely worked as well. It just depends on the aesthetic you want, and your budget.

It's counter-intuitive to close up the house on hot days, when you just want some lovely wind to cool you off. But, if it's hotter outside than inside, and you don't want your house to heat up, it's extremely effective to shut every window and close all your curtains and blinds. We keep our windows open all night for the glorious cool, fresh air. On very hot days, I close all the windows and blinds in the morning while the house is still cool. The heat stays outside, our home stays comfortable, and the only energy used is what it takes to walk around and close up all the windows.

Also, notice the standing fan. We have fans in a few rooms of our house. They do an amazing job of keeping the air feeling cool while using very little electricity. They are only really effective if someone is in the room to enjoy the cooling effect of moving air, so there's no point having them running when no one's around.

Speaking of fans, if you have central heating, then you probably have one of these, which can be set so the fan is just on, without heat or AC. This whole house fan moves air all around your home, and I really notice the effect in our two-story house since it brings cool air from the basement up into the top floor. Along with the closed windows and blinds, this really effectively keeps our house comfortable- as long as we don't use the stove...

I never cook inside on hot days, except first thing in the morning while all the windows are still open. For lunch, we'll often reheat leftovers in the microwave, which does a good job of heating the food without heating up the kitchen. But when it comes to really making a meal, I just take it outside! Many people use an outdoor grill for this, but honestly on the hottest days I would hardly want to be stuck cooking over a hot grill. I have a small table set up on the deck outside our dining room, and it's here that I run our electric pressure cooker. Before I had a pressure cooker, I would do the same thing with a crock pot, letting the food cook for hours outside where it would not heat the house. It sure beats going to a restaurant every time it's too hot to cook! For more info about what an electric pressure cooker does and is, check out the article I wrote about my Instant Pot.

If these ideas were helpful, please share my article. Thank you :D Stay cool!

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Monday, August 15, 2016

How to Make 10 Minute Applesauce in the Instant Pot

This time of year, our little apple tree produces a ton of apples. They're tasty enough, but sadly all are a little buggy by the time they're ready to eat, which makes them perfect for cooking. I often make things like crisps with the apple windfall, but the past couple of years my family has been more into using them for applesauce. Here's how we do it.

Before I got my Instant Pot, I'd toss my apples in the slow cooker with some cinnamon and water, and cook them down for 8 hours. You can totally do that. It's just slow, and can really heat up your kitchen if you don't have anywhere else to plug in the crock pot. This year though? Making applesauce is crazy easy and quick in the electric pressure cooker, which I now use for nearly everything.

First, chop your apples down to about 1" chunks, removing the core and any bad spots. I would never peel my apples, as that takes work and all you're doing is removing most of the nutrition from the apple. I promise you, with the magic of an electric pressure cooker you can make very smooth applesauce without the bother of peeling. This recipe works for as many apples as you want to use.

Don't overfill the pot, since the sauce will bubble up as it cooks and you don't want to clog the vent. The pot should have a max fill line. Mine is at about 5 quarts. This process goes quickly enough that you can do several batches if you have a lot of apples to make into sauce.

Add cinnamon. This is optional; if you don't like cinnamon or don't have it, leave it out. But I love the taste and aroma of cinnamon, and it's super good for you, so I use a ton. For a full batch, 5 qts of chopped apples, I use two teaspoons of cinnamon.

Add 1 cup of water. This is not optional; the Instant Pot needs fluid in order to build up pressure. Plus that water will help blend the apples into a creamy sauce. I use one cup of water no matter how many apples I have in the pot.

If your pot is nearly full, you can cover the apples with a circle of parchment paper. This helps contain the sauce and keeps the bubbling juices from clogging the vent in the lid. I did not bother with this when I had a smaller batch of apples, but it is probably a good idea if the pot is quite full. When the pot was only half full, my lid remained perfectly clean after cooking.

Cook on the Manual setting for 10 minutes. You can let it do Natural Pressure Release (NPR) for softer sauce, or Quick Release (QR) if you like chunkier applesauce. For comparison, the jar of applesauce in the first photo is very smooth from NPR, while the sauce below is chunkier from QR.

Blend away. I use a stainless steel hand blender, so I feel comfortable blending it while it's still hot. With a plastic blender, I would wait for it to cool a bit.

Jar it up! I like to let it cool down on the counter, then refrigerate the applesauce overnight. Once it's thoroughly chilled, I pop extra jars in the freezer to use throughout the year. Do not fill the jars that are going in the freezer. Liquids need room to expand so they don't crack the glass.

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Friday, August 12, 2016

How To Peel A Mango

How To Peel A Mango - A Life Unprocessed

It's the saddest thing to me, when someone doesn't like mangoes because they seem like too much of a hassle to eat, since there's no obvious way to peel them, and they have that big pit. I think mangoes are the most glorious fruit on earth. I have a couple of techniques for peeling them and removing the pit; one that I grew up with, and one that I learned as an adult and now prefer. I'm going to show you my favorite way, which takes me no more than a minute to execute, and hopefully eating mangoes won't seem like such a chore. As some readers have pointed out, this is the method that gets your hands messier. But it's fun! I'll show the other method soon!

How To Peel A Mango - A Life Unprocessed

First, be prepared for some juice. Depending on the ripeness and variety of mango, there can be a lot of liquid released while you work. I like to use a plate to catch the delicious juices that are released during the peeling process, rather than having liquid running all over my cutting board.

How To Peel A Mango - A Life UnprocessedHow To Peel A Mango - A Life Unprocessed

With a sharp knife, slice just a couple millimeters deep all the way around the mango, from the stem end back around until the slice comes full circle. Then turn the mango 90 degrees, and cut again in a full circle, just through the skin, until you have four separate sections of peel.

How To Peel A Mango - A Life UnprocessedHow To Peel A Mango - A Life Unprocessed

Starting from the bottom of the mango, take a corner of the sliced peel and lift it up and away from the fruit. It can be as easy as peeling a banana. Sometimes the peel will cling more to the fruit, and sometimes it tears a bit as you work, but just do the best you can, repeating the process with all four segments of the peel. You can always flip the mango over and work from the other end if that seems easier.

How To Peel A Mango - LifeUnprocessed.comHow To Peel A Mango - A Life Unprocessed
How To Peel A Mango - A Life UnprocessedHow To Peel A Mango - A Life Unprocessed

Once all the segments of skin are removed, you can use a knife to cut away the stem and any peel clinging to the mango anywhere. Peeling the entire thing takes under a minute, and then you are left with a gorgeous golden orb... Now, to get the pit out:

How To Peel A Mango - A Life Unprocessed

How To Peel A Mango - A Life Unprocessed

Holding the mango on it's end, slice down each side of the pit. The pit is long and flat, like a disc in the center of each fruit.

How To Peel A Mango - A Life Unprocessed
How To Peel A Mango - A Life Unprocessed

 Once the pit is separated, you can cut more fruit off of it easily.

How To Peel A Mango - A Life Unprocessed

Eventually you will have two large mango sections, plus several smaller pieces from the ends of the pit. It gets super easy with practice. 

How To Peel A Mango - A Life Unprocessed

Fresh mango is great on its own, in fruit salads, with yogurt and granola, or as a topping for pancakes or waffles. Enjoy!

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Friday, August 5, 2016

How To Harvest and Use Blue Elderberries

Elderberries - A Life Unprocessed

Elderberries are my favorite wild plant. They require so little work to produce so many easy to eat, nutritious berries, and the bush itself is lovely to look at. It has large, beautiful leaves and pretty clusters of edible white flowers in Spring.

Elderberries - A Life Unprocessed

While I was teaching myself permaculture a few years ago, I learned about how beneficial elderberries are, both for people and for native animal populations. I ordered two blue elderberry bushes (Sambucus Cerulea) from a local nursery, Burnt Ridge. I quickly grew to love them. Not only are they native, supporting wild bird populations, but they effortlessly produce MASSES of gorgeous, rich berry clusters that are medicinal, nutritious, and super easy to harvest and use. And they don't take ages before producing food, like most fruit trees.

Elderberries - A Life Unprocessed


One of our elderberry plants is sandwiched between the shadows of two giant cedar trees and our house, and this bush is finally producing berries, after slowly growing for the past four years or so. We planted the other bush in a spot where it gets full eastern and southern exposure, and it's doing amazing and has been producing as many berries as we could want, for a few years now. I harvest huge bowls of berries every week for most of the summer, from this one plant. Its roots are also along the drainage ditch for our street, so it gets plenty of water without me lifting a finger.

When in bloom, the flowering umbels face the sun, but they become so heavy with ripening berries that the branches sag towards the ground. It feels like harvesting the fruit is really helping the plant out, since the enlightened branches will spring back to an upright position.

Elderberries - A Life Unprocessed


This is a wonderful food producing native garden plant that you should know about! It's something you can harvest in the wild if you find it, or grow in your own yard if you have the space. It's important to note the difference between red and blue elderberries. Red elderberries can still be used in certain applications, but they are mostly toxic and should generally be avoided. It's easy to tell the difference between red and blue elderberry plants when they're flowering or fruiting, since blue elderberries have flat umbels, or clusters of flowers and berries. Red elderberries have more rounded umbels. And of course the berries are a completely different color. While the unripe berries, stems, and leaves of the blue elderberry do contain a toxin, the flowers and ripe berries can be liberally enjoyed. There is a chemical in the seeds that can cause nausea if eaten in large amounts, but it is rendered harmless when the berries are cooked.

As with all wild foraging, it's important to be absolutely sure of what you are eating. Use multiple sources for identifying anything new to you.

Elderberries - A Life Unprocessed


The harvesting process is simple. When a berry cluster is very dark purple, use clippers to snip the whole thing off at the base of the stem. (If clusters still have green or pinkish berries towards the center, give them more time to ripen.) Gather these cut clusters together in a big bowl, and then bring them inside to remove the stems before cooking or freezing. Tiny pieces of stem are no big deal, just get all the woody bits out. While removing the stems, I like to wear nitrile medical gloves just to prevent the dark juice from getting under my nails and staining up my hands. It's temporary, and nothing worse than blackberries would do, but the juice is pretty red.

Elderberries - A Life Unprocesed


Elderberry syrup is made by boiling the berries with water, and then straining out the skins and seeds. Honey can be added to the strained liquid. This syrup is not only great on pancakes, but it can be used medicinally to help the body fight off the flu or colds. It supports the immune system, and is great to take for nausea or diarrhea. Elderberry jam can be made as you would make any other berry jam, but you will need less sugar since the berries are not tart. Elderberry wine is a classic, which I have enjoyed but never made. The flowers can be harvested and used to make fritters or elderberry champagne. My favorite easy way to use elderberries is just to throw them in a batch of pancakes instead of blueberries. I make large batches of pancake batter, and stir in a couple cups of frozen berries just before cooking. I make pancakes like this every week, pretty much all year long. I harvest the ripe berries throughout the summer, and freeze a supply that lasts us all year.

For more on the use and history of elderberries, check out this page from the USDA. Additional information is available here, on the WSU website.

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Monday, August 1, 2016

The Real Value of Pokemon Go

Pokomon Go has many haters; I see it all the time online, and hear about it in remarks from random people I run into. Acquaintances on Facebook are now bonding with each other over their mutual disdain for people who play Pokemon. Some sources say the game is dangerous or will only lead you into traps set by thieves. One Facebook friend of mine said, "What if if all these Pokemon Go players were doing something valuable to society with their time, rather than hunting for imaginary monsters?" To them I say this. The streets are arguably safer when there are lots of people out. An empty park in the evening is often a crime hotspot. A park filled with Pokemon players is filled with witnesses, and people who will naturally deter a criminal just by their presence, or who could help if something did happen. I'm actually curious to see if this game, this phenomenon, has a positive effect on crime statistics as time goes by, now that so many more people are out and about. Our little city certainly feels safer now.

Obviously, we must be smart and safe with our gaming. I teach my kids not to stare at the screen when they are walking, and to completely disengage when they are crossing a street or busy parking lot (the phone vibrates when a Pokemon is close, so there is no need to be glued to the screen). We don't go to dangerous places at night, and tend to travel as a group, with our large dog in tow. And, it hardly needs to be said, no playing while operating a vehicle.

Also, to the Pokemon haters: Those people you see walking around with their phones, gathered at parks, out in the world; until a few weeks ago, many of them spent their time slouched in front of a computer, or sunk into a couch in some basement playing console games. Now, they are out in the world, getting exercise, breathing fresh air, interacting with new people; experiencing life, weather, nature. It's really lovely when you think about it that way.

A Life Unprocessed

My kids have always been homeschooled, and in recent years they often prefer to stay home and do indoor things, like read, draw, play Legos, or listen to me read while they work on stuff. We recently adopted a dog, and go on lots of walks with her, but until about two weeks ago, the kids would often request to stay home, rather than go on any walk or outing. I love them, and believe they make good choices and do valuable things with their time, but I do feel like it's my responsibility, as a homeschooling parent, to get my kids out in the world as much as I can.

Enter Pokemon Go. Now every day the kids beg me to go on another MILES long walk so that we can catch more Pokemon, and hatch our eggs, and level up. Our dog is getting so much exercise too; she is so happy to be part of the pack on our endless epic walks as a family. We used to watch a movie or read in the evenings, or sometimes play a boardgame. Now, we go explore the city, along with tons of our neighbors.

A Life Unprocessed

Parks are suddenly the place to be, for all kinds of people, since they are hot spots for catching Pokemon. It's wonderful! One of the best things about Pokemon Go is that you are not competing with other players for Pokemon. If you're at a park with 10 other players, everyone can catch the same Pokemon. Parks are often where lures are set, which turn the area into a virtual Pokemon party for 30 minutes, attracting one Pokemon after another. When one player sets a lure, everyone benefits, which is really cool.

Another great feature of the game is that you MUST walk to hatch the eggs that you find. Some eggs require 2 kilometers, some 5 km, and some require you to walk 10 km before they'll hatch. So, we do a LOT of walking! Another thing I appreciate about Pokemon Go is that there is nothing you have to buy, ever. The app is free to download and it's compatible with most smartphones. There is a "store" in the game with optional extras that you can purchase, but it's possible to play every aspect of the game without spending a dime.

A Life Unprocessed

My kids want to go on every errand with me now, which means I automatically have help bringing the groceries in from the car! They sit together in the back seat on all our drives, passing my phone back and forth as they take turns catching cute little monsters for our collection. They have also helped their grandma download the app, got her set up with an avatar and taught her to use the balls to catch Pokemon. I'll never forget my technologically challenged mom crying out joyfully, "I'm good at this! I'm actually good at something!" Their time with her is now spent at the playground and lake across from her apartment, where she often used to try to get them to go. But now they all three love being there because of the thrill of the hunt and the beauty of the game.

Pokemon Go starts easy and gets relatively more challenging as you level up. There are no real instructions so we have learned from people around us, and from online sources (which can be helpful but are often wrong since they're just learning too!) My eleven year old does a lot of online research to discover the best ways to play. My eight year old figured out a feature of the game that none of the rest of us could get, how to set a lure. It has been fantastic being on this journey with them. We all love learning together during this incredibly fun activity.

A Life Unprocessed

A Life Unprocessed

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Thursday, July 28, 2016

How Cooking in the Instant Pot Changed Everything

Confession: I have only used my stovetop once in the last two weeks. My oven, likewise, only once. It's summer, and no one wants to heat up their kitchen on these hot days. But we have not been eating out, not even once. We haven't been living on cold snack food. I have been cooking each day-- what's more, I have been thrilled to cook each day-- in my Instant Pot.

How Cooking in the Instant Pot Changed Everything

The Instant Pot is heavily insulated so it stays cool to the touch (except on the metal parts of the lid!) It can cook long and slow, like a crock pot, or intense and fast, using the pressure cooker function. It can also saute, steam, and bake (and even make yogurt if you get the 7-in-1 model). You can use it instead of the microwave to reheat leftovers in a dish on a trivet, while cooking something else in the pot below.

Until very recently I considered myself to have a bit of a phobia of pressure cookers. The old style stove top pressure cooker is a little frightening, and we've all heard horror stories of them exploding for various reasons. The Instant Pot has many safety features, including a lock on the lid that will not release until the pressure has abated. You could certainly burn yourself on the steam valve when releasing pressure, but it's quite safe to just use a hand towel and push the lever to release, making sure there is a clearance above the pot for the fountain of steam that will issue forth. It can be a bit surprising the first time, but I quickly got the hang of it.

Besides not heating up the kitchen, and the ability to cook foods rather more quickly than normal because of the use of high pressure, the Instant Pot saves energy! It plugs in, and since it's highly insulated, all the energy it uses goes right into cooking your food, rather than heating your kitchen. I have read that it uses only 30% of the energy of cooking in a conventional stove or oven. I can get behind that kind of energy savings.

Also, one incredible advantage for busy families is that the Instant Pot can handle frozen chunks of meat. So if you forgot to take something out of the freezer to thaw for dinner, no worries! Just plop it in with some liquid and look up how long it needs to cook under pressure (based on how large the frozen chunks are) and let it do its thing. I know veggies retain more nutritional value and better textural integrity if cooked from frozen rather than being allowed to thaw first. This might be true for meat as well, though I don't yet have enough experience with it to know.

I think of myself as a pretty good cook, but I think it sometimes kind of takes a love of healthy food to really appreciate my cooking. If you know what I mean. But everyone in my family has professed their LOVE of my Instant Pot, because my cooking is getting really amazing results. And I love it because all I have to do is throw stuff in the pot, push a couple of buttons, and forget about it! It's exciting to see how things turn out, and they are always good.

My son lives for mashed potatoes, and so the first thing I made with the iPot was a batch of very simple, two ingredient mashed potatoes. Just yellow potatoes, skin on, and sea salt (cooked in a bit of water that I mashed right in, no steaming liquid to dump!) They turned out SO good, so tasty and perfect, he declared them my best mashed potatoes ever. And it was easier than ever. What's more, pressure cooking turns the relatively unhealthy potato starches into GOOD for you starches that actually help to lower cholesterol, according to this article. So now, not only are they easier, but I feel good about feeding my family mashed potatoes regularly, rather than just as a holiday treat.

Everything I have tried cooking in the Instant Pot has been amazing, from masala chicken with kelp noodles to hard boiled eggs that are incredibly easy to peel; from cinnamon apple oatmeal to beef short ribs and stuffed mushrooms. I am loving this thing, and it has certainly paid for itself a couple of times over, since we normally eat at a restaurant about twice a week, and haven't even wanted to since I've been cooking in the Instant Pot. It's thrilling.

There are places I haven't gone with my iPot. There is a world of baking you can do in them. People profess that it makes killer cheesecakes, banana breads, cinnamon rolls, etc. Things like this bake nicely without drying out as they would in a standard oven, because you bake them on a trivet over a small amount of water. I am looking forward to experimenting with baking in the Instant Pot for sure!

How Cooking in the Instant Pot Changed Everything

The cleanup is generally a breeze, since everything is done in one easy to wash stainless steel liner. There was one thing I made that stuck to the bottom of the pan: spaghetti with meatballs, made from gluten free corn noodles. I have since learned that GF noodles tend to stick more, and the pot should be oiled next time. But how awesome is it that you can make a whole spaghetti dinner in one pot? Just toss in noodles, a small amount of water, sauce, and any meat or veggies. I was using frozen meatballs, but the meat can be sauteed right in the Instant Pot before pressure cooking.

There are LOADS of Instant Pot recipes available online, as well as dedicated Instant Pot cookbooks available at the library. You can be sure I will be posting my favorites! I find that once you get the basics, it's very easy to experiment and modify just about any recipe so that it works in the IP.
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Thursday, June 23, 2016

How To Use A Deep Corner Cabinet

A Life Unprocessed: Storing Food in Jars

My first house had the original 1942 cabinets, with solid wood and well-built shelves, though there were very, very few of them since it was an incredibly tiny house. In my new home, the kitchen is a bit bigger, and it's lovely to have more storage space and countertops. All the cabinetry is new, and pretty cheaply done. When I was first loading things into the deep corner cabinet, which extends behind the dishwasher, the shelf inside it completely failed under the weight. The four little pegs just couldn't support the mass of everything on that long, deep shelf.

After trying to reset the shelf a couple of times, I just decided to remove the whole dysfunctional shelf. Theoretically, there is less storage space in there now, but having it be entirely open is actually really convenient in such a deep cabinet. It's like a big cave that I just have to lean into to get things from the back. Obviously, I put the least used items in the way back, and the stuff I use every day goes right up front. It really is all much more accessible than if the original shelf were in place, since I simply need to reach in and lift out the jar I want, with nothing to move aside. Labeling the lids makes it super easy to find what I want.

A Life Unprocessed: Storing Food in Jars

Of course, it's all about the jars. Since I buy food in bulk, I pour it into 1 gallon glass jars to keep in my kitchen, and store the rest in buckets or bins in the area of the garage designated as my pantry. Jars keep things fresh, keep moisture and pests out, and look pretty nice compared to a mess of open packages. After mice got into the cabinets of our old kitchen one night, and chewed into every little bag and box, I transferred all our food to jars where it would be safe! Heavier stuff, like sea salt and baking soda, I put in tall half-gallon jars so they're still easy to pull out, since gallon jars can get pretty weighty.

There are fancier ways of making use of this often inaccessible space in your kitchen, but this works for me because it's simple and free, and I have access to everything inside without having to remove a bunch of items to get to the storage in back.

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Friday, June 3, 2016

A Wonderful Low-Cost Water Filter

We live in a region known for abundant, fresh, and clear water, the Pacific Northwest. However, more and more tests are showing that tap water in some cities in the Pacific Northwest, as well as many other regions, have dangerously high lead levels. Many of us feel, have felt for years, that we cannot rely on the cleaning methods of the municipal water system. Having a home water purification system just makes sense in this world where more junk is being dumped into our shared water supply all the time. Factory farms, modern industry, petroleum based global transportation, and the pharmaceutical industry all contribute to the problem of dirty, unsafe drinking water- even in places where we expect the water to be so clean.

Several months ago, I was searching online for a water purification system that would work in our new house. We had installed an under-sink water filter at our old place. At our new house, there is no place at the sink for the spout of that style of water filter to come up through. I considered buying the type of water filter that attaches to the main faucet, but they seem bulky and cumbersome. I did not want a bunch of plastic. I did not want something with expensive filters that would need to be replaced frequently. I really thought I might not find anything that worked for us, and I was tired of drinking water that tasted of chlorine.

A Wonderful Low-Cost Water Filter -

It was actually thrilling when I found this water filter. I never knew this design existed. The gravity fed, stainless steel countertop water filter was exactly what I was looking for:

  • It's very low tech- it requires no plumbing or batteries.
  • It's low maintenance- the ceramic filters do not need to be replaced. When the water filtration rate starts to get too slow, you simply remove the filters and give them a good scrub, and they will filter again like new.
  • The unit is made of high grade stainless steel and ceramic, with very little plastic (the base of the filters and the spigot that comes with it, which is replaceable, are plastic).
  • From what I can tell, this type of filter removes virtually everything you want removed, while leaving the important trace minerals. It renders unsafe water safe, whether that water came from a well, a stream, or your urban tap.
  • And finally, it's an amazing price, considering many water filters cost thousands of dollars.

A Wonderful Low-Cost Water Filter -

Maybe most importantly, the water that comes from this water purifier tastes GREAT. I have started actually enjoying drinking plain water, something I had not really been in the habit of lately. It's satisfying, smooth, and pure. I didn't even know what I was missing before!

There are different brands to choose from, that all do basically the same thing. The two main brands are British Berkefeld, and Berkey. They both make more expensive black carbon filters, which you can pay extra for, and which need to be replaced at some point. I just went with the standard ceramic filters that come with the unit. Both these brands had great reviews; I opted for  the British Berkefeld based on price, and because they had the mid-range size that I wanted. I've recommended the same type to friends and family, people who were still buying water in plastic bottles, and who were contemplating spending several thousand dollars on a high tech water purifier. Seriously, everyone loves it as much as I do. I'm posting an ad for it below, as well as to the other leading brand for comparison. Please check it out if you're interested- any purchases made through my link help support our family. Thanks in advance!

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Monday, May 30, 2016

Why I Quit Wearing A Bra

Why I Quit Wearing A Bra

I had read about this before, and ignored it, partly because I have no history of breast cancer in my family, and partly because when we are young we tend to believe we are to some degree invincible. But there is nothing like a lecture from your doctor to drive a point home, to make the risk seem personal and real, and to make a superficial and potentially risky behavior seem really unnecessary.

My doctor saw my bra during a recent visit, and was like, "Is that underwire? Have I given you my lecture on underwire bras yet?" She proceeded to briefly describe the multiple studies, both in the US and abroad, that show a strong connection between breast cancer rates and women wearing bras with underwire.

I used to never wear underwire bras. They are, after all, quite uncomfortable. But years after having kids, and nursing them for a total of six years, I disliked my breasts, which now seemed to hang limp like empty sacks. When I wanted to feel sexy again, I took the plunge and bought my first shaping, lifting, world-changing underwire bra. Finally, I had some lift! Some shape to my sad flat breasts. This magical bra even gave me a hint of cleavage. I was hooked, and started wearing underwire bras daily, enjoying my new shape and silhouette. Without a bra, my breasts seemed lifeless and tiny. With the bra, my boobs seemed to join the world of the living again.

Getting in the car after that doctor's visit, I promptly removed my bra and felt immediate relief. I was so much more comfortable without it! I could definitely get used to this unrestrained free and easy comfort. But would I still be beautiful? Would my boyfriend find me sexy at all anymore?

I sadly informed him over dinner that I would no longer be wearing bras, on my doctor's recommendation. I described why this decision was necessary, while he nodded and listened delightedly the whole time. "Yes! I fully support this decision!" he said enthusiastically. And I realized that my boyfriend-- perhaps straight men in general-- prefer a woman's natural form and movement and shape, to some idealized, rigid structure. Bras hide our natural form and beauty, while giving us the shape that we think we're supposed to have. My going braless would actually bring my boyfriend joy. This made me feel better about it. But would I still feel sexy and beautiful? I doubted it. I had so loved the shape that special bra gave me.

The next day I tried on several outfits, and was surprised to discover that they looked better, that I felt sexier, without the bra. I was like, Yes, this is actually me! Not some artificial version of the me that I think I'm supposed to look like. I decided to keep an assortment of comfortable, wire free bras to wear with more see-through clothes that need a bra for modesty. I'm not trying to show everyone my nipples. And I did save that one magic bra, in case I ever want to wear it for special occasions, but I stuck it way in the back of a drawer. It will get worn rarely, if ever, now that I have discovered that I LIKE my body. I feel more comfortable and more sexy without a bra.

Of course, this is the decision of a small breasted woman. If I had large breasts, I have a feeling I would want the support of a comfortable wire free bra on most days. I will continue to wear a sports bra during athletic pursuits like running, to minimize the stress of bouncing. But for most of my day-to-day life these girls don't need any actual support. My doctor also assured me that Victoria's Secret, the source of my magical underwire bra, also makes wire free bras that give the same lift and shape. But personally, I am feeling more sexy and beautiful, more myself, just going bare.

Check out this article for a more thorough discussion of the evidence concerning the link between bras and breast cancer.

Update: A couple of my readers suggested Coobie bras, as a comfortable alternative to standard bras, but with more support than going bare. I had never heard of them, but was surprised to learn, when I googled Coobie bra, that I am actually wearing one right now. I was gifted it from my Buy Nothing group. Click here to read my article about how that gifting group works. Let me just say that this bra is very comfy. I *generally* never wear bras anymore, but this outfit needed one since my top is a bit translucent. My Coobie feels like a gentle hug. There are various styles, but all basically designed with comfort in mind. I'm posting an ad for the Coobie bra on Amazon below. If you decide to purchase through my link, Amazon kicks me back a wee little commission, and I appreciate it!

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Friday, May 27, 2016

How to Make Liquid Laundry Soap With Three Simple Ingredients

I know a lot of people are going to wonder why they would ever make laundry soap when they can just buy laundry detergent at the grocery store. First of all, it's super easy. Once you do it, you will probably be like, why have I not done this before? But since being easy is not reason enough, for most of us, there are a few more reasons. In addition to containing chemicals that are hazardous to the environment, the most common laundry detergents also contains known carcinogens and many other irritating ingredients. Many people give every load they wash an extra rinse, because their skin is sensitive to harmful detergents and they need to make sure it's all removed before wearing their clean clothes. You will not have to do that with this soap. Also, with anything you make yourself there is far less packaging waste, and whenever you need to make another batch you can simply reuse the same containers, instead of creating more garbage.

And yes, this works in an HE washer.

How to Make Liquid Laundry Soap, With These Three Simple Ingredients

This makes a lot of laundry soap, from a very small volume of ingredients, so it's incredibly economical. I make a two gallon batch and it lasts me over a year. This recipe is easily halved, if you have a smaller container or want to test the recipe before making a ton. Unlike a lot of homemade laundry soap recipes, there's no cooking or grating required. Simply mix together, dissolve in hot water, and then add a large amount of tap water and it's ready to go.

I keep mine in glass pitcher with a leakproof lid, and give it a gentle shake before each use, since the ingredients can settle over time. I mix my soap up in a 5 gallon bucket, and then use this to refill the pitcher as needed.

How to Make Liquid Laundry Soap, With These Three Simple Ingredients

On to the recipe!

6 Tbsp Castile soap or other concentrated liquid soap
6 Tbsp Borax (available in the cleaning aisle of department and grocery stores)
6 Tbsp Super Washing Soda (don't be discouraged- I had no idea where to buy this when I first started making laundry soap, so I found out how to make my own from Baking Soda. See instructions at bottom.)
1 quart hot water plus 7 quarts cool water

Place your ingredients in a clean bucket and add about a quart of very hot water to dissolve everything. I use an old 5 gallon bucket, but you could also use an upcycled bottle from a storebought liquid laundry detergent - just adjust the amounts of ingredients accordingly if it's a smaller container, and use a funnel as needed to fill the container you choose.

How to Make Liquid Laundry Soap, With These Three Simple Ingredients

Stir up the ingredients with the hot water until well-mixed, and then add in enough water to equal two gallons overall. (So, if you've already added a quart of water, add 7 more quarts, bringing it to two gallons total.) Stir well and ladle or pour into your pitcher, bottle, or jar for easy use.

Now you have two gallons of wonderful, natural, easy laundry soap. How do you use it? Probably exactly how you have always used liquid laundry soap. Open the soap compartment, pour in what you need, and you're golden. I use maybe 1/2 cup per load. I just pour it into the soap tray to the Max Fill line (assuming I'm washing a full load). Less for smaller loads.

Super Washing Soda:
Maybe you already found it in the same aisle as the Borax. I had a harder time finding any, but fortunately it's even easier to make than laundry soap. Plus, making your own ensures you know exactly what's in it. Conveniently, it's made from a single ingredient that nearly everyone has: Baking Soda.

Pour a couple cups of baking soda in a large baking dish, and bake for 1 hour at 425 degrees. Give it a bit of a stir once or twice, to ensure even baking. This long bake changes it chemically so it is no longer baking soda, and it will have a different consistency when it's done. Less sticky and clumpy, more dry and smooth. 1 1/3 cups of baking soda will reduce down to 1 cup of washing soda, when it's done. Save any excess washing soda in an airtight jar for your next batch of laundry soap. For more info on super washing soda, check out this article.

If you prefer, Amazon sells a handy two pack of Borax and Super Washing Soda, perfect for this kind of endeavor.
Purchasing them through my ad below provides a small boon for our family; thank you in advance!

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