Ninety-Nine Things We Like - Part Four - Local Business Edition

We're back and we want to use our last thirty-three favorite things to shout out to some of our favorite local businesses in Chicago. They run the gambit from art to chiropractic to pet supplies. If we need to do something in Chicago (not food this time!) these are the people we typically support.

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How We Do Sustainable Living - Year Two

Hello friends and readers! We have just entered the second year of this blog and another year of concentrated sustainable queerness! Last year, shortly after starting our blog, we provided you with an introductory post about why and how we live sustainably and call ourselves Sustainably Queer.  We decided that as a means of looking back and celebrating our one year anniversary, it would be fun to revisit that post.  Please find a revised and annotated version of "How We Do" below! Spoiler alert: there have been some pretty big changes!

Note: This may go without saying, but new actions/changes are listed in bold, things we are no longer doing are crossed out, and notes are in green. Let us know in the comments if you have any questions.

Projects related to housekeeping:

  • Making orange infused vinegar for cleaning   - We decided that we don't mind the smell of vinegar enough to go through this process regularly, plus the one batch I made last year lasted almost an entire year. We may do this again, but it's not high on the list.
  • Woodworking with reclaimed wood - We took one class from the Rebuilding Exchange, but we haven't continued woodworking. We still have three unfinished table tops chilling in the basement, so hopefully eventually they will become tables, but who knows when.
  • Using rags instead of paper towels - We do this as much as possible, though we still haven't found a good substitute for paper towels for draining bacon (we're going to try some of these options soon).
  • Buying post-consumer recycled paper products and aluminum foil
  • Giving away two items for every one item we bring into the house - This is still the rule, but we've been scaling way back on our buying, so sometimes we give away things even without buying something new. A larger purge is planned for early summer, so we can put stuff away without feeling cluttered about it.
  • Trying to buy things with as little packaging as possible
  • Switched to wind powered electricity (it’s cheaper too!) - Still going strong!
  • Using homemade washable swiffer pads - Love these still!
  • Recycling basically everything we can - We are planning a "How to Effectively Recycle in Chicago" post at some point, there are tricks to it.
  • Leather-working with Chicago School of Shoemaking - You can check out our blog about the experience here. We're currently saving up to take Leatherwork 201, with the end goal being saving up enough to take the Beginning Shoemaking class because, really, what's more awesome and sustainable than being to make your own shoes?!
  • Large-scale refrigerator/freezer organization - Things got real about a week ago when we bought some Fridge Binz. Yes, we try to avoid bringing more plastic into our home, but we also try to avoid wasting food. We weighed the pros and cons and decided to go with the plastic bins for now, with the idea of switching to bamboo or metal sometime in the future, if we find something that fits our needs. 

Projects related to self care:

  • Using baking soda as shampoo - It took her years, but Kristl finally figured out a way to make this work for her hair. She's planning a post on it soon.
  • Making homemade deodorant - Rachel uses this exclusively, Kristl's pits are more delicate, so she's still searching for a recipe that her skin can handle.
  • Making homemade lotion/balm
  • Making homemade facial oil blend
  • Using Chinese medicine/natural healing home remedies instead of Western medicine cures - With the addition of epilepsy to her life, Rachel is now obligated to take a Western medication to control it, but otherwise, we are mostly reliant on acupuncture, chiropractic, and herbal medicine to keep us healthy.
  • Using OraWellness tooth oil instead of toothpaste
  • Receiving acupuncture/chiropractic/massage regularly for health and balance
  • Meditation practice - We both really could stand to meditate more often and for longer, but it's still helpful even in small doses!
  • Using eco-friendly, reusable menstrual products - We're planning a post about menstrual cups and cloth pads/liners in the next few months. 

Projects related to food:

  • Making stock with veggie scraps and chicken bones
  • Saving bacon fat and using it to cook other things (like sweet potatoes, yum!) - This isn't actually a new thing, we just forgot to include it on our initial list.
  • Making staples for the week (baked/boiled eggs, congee, etc) - We still do this, though the staples themselves have changed.  Recently, we've been making a lot of breakfast bars, and soups/stews that are good for eating over 3-4 days. 
  • Making bigger batches of the meals we create so we can freeze portions for when we aren't able to cook - This has saved us on many occasions! We can pull a container out of the freezer and have it for lunch or dinner instead of going out to eat or getting takeout. 
  • Making homemade drink syrups (to flavor carbonated water)
  • Infusing liquors (vanilla vodka and ginger vodka so far) - Rachel has infused vodka with all manner of things, including pineapple, blueberries and a specific spice blend to make it taste like gin.
  • Drinking vinegars, a.k.a. shrubs  - We love a good shrub, but we make so much kombucha now, making drinking vinegar also would be too much
  • Making our own kombucha - So much cheaper than buying it!  
  • Making ricotta, yogurt, mustard, cheez-its, etc from scratch - Again, the actual things we're making from scratch has changed, but we are still committed to buying as few packaged/processed foods as possible.
  • Canning, fermenting, and dehydrating food for long term preservation
  • We bought an upright freezer - We can keep more meat and veggies in the house and put up fruit and veggies from the summer without messing with as much canning. We now have more versatility in how we "preserve" produce.
  • Bringing lunch to work/school
  • Trying to eat locally sourced, humane and organic food as much as possible
  • Signing up for CSA and egg share  - We've changed our approach on this since Rachel is in farm school this year.  We will probably have some access to vegetables that we didn't have before and hopefully we will be able to grow more than we did last year.  The egg share we had last season has been restructured to only be offered to CSA members, so we are no longer getting a carton of eggs a week.  This is kind of a relief, as at one point last summer we had 4 dozen eggs in our fridge.
  • Joined a meat and egg co-op - True Nature Foods has a relationship with a local, pastured farm where the consumer pays $60 a year for membership and is then able to order/purchase a wide variety of meat products and eggs for a reduced price.  This makes eggs cheaper than our egg share and we only have to buy them when we need them. We are doing our best to only eat meat from local, pastured, humane farms.
  • Using all of an item if we buy it, e.g. whole chicken, eating beet greens and broccoli stems
  • Choosing to eat at restaurants that serve sustainably sourced food - This is a huge consideration especially where meat is concerned.  Every choice you make about where to spend your food dollars impacts how safely and sustainably food is produced, in general. Cheaper food is almost always cheap due to government subsidies or externalities (pollution, run-off, inhumane practices, lack of oversight, diminished workers' rights, etc), higher quality food is often more expensive because care was put into it's production and little harm was done to third parties (consumers, workers, animals). Not only do you vote with your money, you also farm with your money, by proxy.
  • Participating in community food events, like the Chicago Food Swap, Soup & Bread, Good Food Festival

Miscellaneous Projects:

  • Not buying cable
  • Homemade gifts - We didn't buy any Christmas presents in 2013.  We either created or re-gifted everything we gave out or we didn't give gifts at all.  It worked out perfectly.
  • Feeding our cat and dog grain free/raw pet food
  • Using community garden plot and backyard to grow food - We just got clearance from our landlord to use some of our backyard space to grow more things.  This is a very exciting development and we are still deciding how to make it functional and beautiful.
  • Reusing jars and bottles for all forms of storage
  • Worm composting - Worms and composting took a little bit of a hiatus over the winter.  They hung out in our basement because the "earthy" smell was a bit much for us in the apartment.  The basement was cold, given our wily winter, but I have seen signs of life, so hopefully worm composting will be back in order soon. 
  • Bugeting via You Need A Budget (YNAB) - With Rachel quitting her full-time job and Kristl going through an office relocation, we knew 2014 was going to be a different picture financially.  We took the pro-active approach and started zero-sum budgeting in December with a program called You Need A Budget.  Things have been going very well so far.  We have been able to save in advance for big bills (like car insurance) and put money away for upcoming big expenses (new car?).  It's pretty awesome. They offer a free trial, so you have no reason to try it out for a bit. Full disclosure, if you sign up using the link above and subscribe after your trial ends, we'll both get one month free - it's a win-win!
  • Tithing/giving to projects and people who are trying to make the world a better place in a sustainable way
  • Kristl is moving her practice to a location with-in walking distance of our house - This exciting for all kinds of reasons, but primarily because she will not need to use the car!

Well, that's about everything, it is a bit overwhelming, but we're managing ok on a day-to-day basis.  As always, feel free to check out anything we link to and ask us more questions about the products/processes.  We are always willing to write posts based on reader interest, so if there are specific topics you want to hear more about, please let us know in the comments below!

Thank you for all your support! Here's to the success of year one, and plenty of sustainable queerness to fill year two and beyond.

Citrus Infused Vinegar for Cleaning

Completed orange vinegar, really to clean! A few of our readers have requested a post on transforming plain old white vinegar into a good-smelling cleaning machine.  I tried this out this past winter, because I, too, was uninterested in having everything I cleaned smell 100% like vinegar and 0% like anything else.  A house drenched in vinegar may be clean, but it also smells like a pickle.

While this was several months ago, and I do not have the exact site/recipe I used bookmarked on my computer (because I, Rachel, am not the most organized blogger ever), the basic idea I use is captured by these two posts from Happy Mothering and Crunchy Betty.

I stuffed the peels of three oranges into two different quart jars, and then covered the orange peels with plain white vinegar.  Then I let it sit on the shelf for about two weeks.  I drained out the vinegar and tossed the peels. The end result was a quart of somewhat brown, orange smelling vinegar.  The process does not entirely negate the vinegar smell, it just minimizes it and makes you think of other things, like groves of oranges.  Our house now smells more orange-y than pickle-y, which is a grand improvement.  I like that Crunchy Betty tried other other scents, and obviously you could avoid the waiting period and just mix in the essential oil of your choice (2-3 drops of oil/pint of vinegar should take care of it).

To use this deliciously perfumed cleaning product, dilute with water(1 part vinegar : 2 parts water) and insert into a spray bottle.  Use as you would any other spray cleaner.  If you are not already using vinegar to clean, you can use for almost anything.  It's not going to kill everything living in your house, and that is precisely the point.  We often kill bacteria that are beneficial to us when we use commercial cleaners.  Vinegar will do the trick in most cleaning situations.  Check out this exhaustive list of uses for good ole white vinegar in the household.

Make Your Own: Laundry Detergent

Wow, has it really been over a month since our last post? Apparently life got in the way of blogging in August. We've been busy ladies - gardening, cooking, traveling, getting engaged (!!), y'know. We have a few posts in the works, but we're jumping back on the blogging horse with this simple one about homemade laundry detergent. I don't know about you guys, but I get sad when I think about the plastic containers used for laundry detergent, plus the fact that if you use liquid detergents (which we used to) you're mainly paying for a lot of water. We tried soap nuts about a year and a half ago, but didn't have great luck with them. I like to wash in cold water, so I'd make a batch of soap nut soak and then use that. Our clothes smelled fine, but everything started to take on a dingy look and it just didn't feel like it was working well. I think we'd have gotten better results had we washed in hot water, but washing on cold is more energy-efficient.

We went back to Method Free+ Clear ultra-concentrated laundry detergent. Even though it's ultra-concentrated and they sell refills so you don't have to buy a new container all the time, it still felt wasteful to me. Plus, I didn't recognize a lot of the ingredients and that makes me uncomfortable.

A couple of friends had mentioned making their own laundry detergent a couple of years ago, but I didn't decide to take the leap until a few months ago. I knew I didn't want to make a liquid because a) it takes a long time to make, b) it requires more storage space, and c) we live in a 3rd floor walk-up and I will do anything possible to lessen the load I have to carry up and down those stairs. I looked around the internet and finally settled on this recipe.

Mixing up the laundry detergent
Mixing up the laundry detergent

I went out to pick up the ingredients (which are rather easily found in your local grocery store) and I grabbed a bar of Fels Naptha soap (a traditional laundry soap). I didn't think to look at the ingredients, but when I pulled it out of the bag when we got home I almost gagged because of the scent. I don't deal well with fragrances. I looked at the ingredients, and sure enough, it was chock full of stuff I'm sensitive to and would rather not deal with. So, I set out again, this time to get a bar of Dr. Bronner's Baby Mild soap.

I was worried that grating the soap would take a long time, since my experience grating beeswax for skin creams has been rather difficult, but the soap was super easy! Plus, since it's soap, it washes right off the grater (unlike the super sticky beeswax, which has led to one of our box graters being labeled "NOT FOR FOOD," which is quite the conversation starter when we have guests over).

I put the grated soap in a bowl with one cup each of washing soda and Borax and mixed thoroughly. Then I transferred it to a wide-mouth quart mason jar and labeled it. I generally use 1-2 Tbsp. at a time (1 for most loads, 2 if they're especially soiled). So far it's been working GREAT. I even used it one some really dingy whites and they came out pretty darn shining white. We still have probably half of the original amount left, so it lasts a long time (I do 2-4 large loads of laundry/week). I'd highly recommend making your own laundry detergent!

Reusable Swiffer Sweeper Cloth Tutorial

Hi friends! Rachel and I are skipping town for a bit, but wanted to get a post in before leaving. We'll be in Hawaii for a week (we know, poor us!), so keep an eye on our Twitter for updates on our trip! I don't know about you, but I tend to go into a major cleaning mode right before a big trip. Usually I wait until the night before I leave, but Rachel is a good influence on me and got me to help her clean on Sunday, a full 3.5 days before our departure. Amazing. I have a Swiffer sweeper which I purchased probably 7 years ago, when I moved into my first Chicago apartment and was not nearly as committed to sustainable living. I've dutifully kept it with me, occasionally buying refills, but usually just letting it sit in a corner. Last year when we were moving out of our condo and into our new apartment, I bought some Swiffer refills to easily clean the floor between showings.

Aside... 1. My goodness, if there is ever a time when sustainability manages to fly out the window, it's during moving. We probably used more disposables that week than we normally do in a year. 2. The refills I bought were Febreeze-scented and gave me a headache every time I got near the box. Seriously. I had to seal the box in plastic to avoid smelling the fumes. I swore that I would make some reusable, fragrance-free Swiffer cloths the next time I needed them.

That brings us to Sunday. We were cleaning and I needed to dust. We were out of Swiffer cloths and I said (yet again), "Dammit, I really need to go get some fleece so I can make more Swiffer things." Rachel went into her room, rustled around a bit, and returned with a spare bit of fleece she had leftover from some previous project. It was perfect!

Navy fleece scrap
Navy fleece scrap

It measured roughly 27.75"x17". I was able to get four perfect cloths and one slightly small cloth out of it with just a square leftover (for which I'm sure I'll find some project or other).

Place the Swiffer to get an adequate size pad
Place the Swiffer to get an adequate size pad

I placed the Swiffer's edge flush with the edge of the fabric, then lined up the yard stick about 1/8" away from the other edge of the Swiffer, and drew a line with a Sharpie. I then moved the Swiffer so the left edge was flush with the line and drew another line. These would be my cut lines.

Lines drawn
Lines drawn

I figured that if I just cut down those lines and then cut the resulting pieces in half, that would suffice, but to make sure, I placed the Swiffer back on the fleece and folded up the edge, to make sure the cloths would be wide enough to tuck into the little holes.

Fold the fleece over to make sure there's enough to grab
Fold the fleece over to make sure there's enough to grab

Success! I cut down the marks I made, then folded the pieces in half and cut down the center. I was able to get one more out of the smaller piece of fleece that ended up on the right, but I'm not 100% convinced it will securely stay on the Swiffer.

Navy blue cloth on Swiffer
Navy blue cloth on Swiffer

I tested out the cloth that night and holy crap did it pick up a lot of dust. I will oh-so-thoughtfully refrain from showing you an "after" picture of the cloth, mainly because I don't want you to know how dusty our house was. I picked off the larger clumps of dust and then rinsed the cloth out in the sink to see how well it cleaned up. Answer? Really freaking well. I think I'll rinse them in the sink after each use and then toss them in the washer for a deeper cleaning when I do towels/rags/rugs/etc.

Navy blue cloth on Swiffer - back
Navy blue cloth on Swiffer - back

So, in a matter of minutes and for a cost of $0 I made 4-5 reusable, fragrance-free Swiffer cloths. I can tell you right now that our house will be a lot less dusty from here on out.

Swiffer Sweeper Cloths

(For my Swiffer, each cloth ends up 10-10.5"x8-8.5", but make sure you measure your Swiffer to be sure of the size you need. Then you can determine how big a piece of fleece you need by how many cloths you want to make.)

1 piece of fleece (the one I used was 27.75"x17")

Sharpie or other way to mark the fleece

Yard stick