Wearing wool

I’d been considering trying a few pieces of merino wool clothing for over four years, after trying on a few Icebreaker items in late 2010.  At the time, I was several weeks pregnant with G, and I didn’t think I’d get much use out of the well-fitted clothing while pregnant, so I tabled the idea.

I’ve also been hesitant to invest in wool due to pest problems.  While we don’t have any visible moths, Matthew has lost several nice wool sweaters and vests to moth larvae, and I didn’t want to go that route.  (I have some SmartWool hiking socks that have been problem-free, but they are a wool blend, not 100% wool, and I think that makes a big difference.)

Anyhow, after my friend Rebecca (Fiets of STyLe) raved about the Icebreaker underwear as something that doesn’t feel gross during sweaty, hot-weather biking, I put trying a pair on my “things to do somewhat soon” list.  I finally got around to ordering some Icebreaker items after picking up a couple of merino wool items from another brand, Dakini (two light-weight sweaters and a pair of leggings for a great price at TJ Maxx).

The Dakini purchase spurred me to actually look at the Icebreaker website, and I was just in time for their winter sale.  Of course, I felt the need to get to the $100 free shipping level (they offer free returns on all orders), so in addition to ordering two pair of underwear, I also tried some tanks, long-sleeve tops, leggings, a variety of hats . . . well, let’s just say it turned into THREE different orders.  Oops!

0206151550-01In the end, I kept two pair of underwear, two tank tops, and a thin beanie (pictured above) that works under my bike helmet.

Even on sale, I’m pretty sure this is the most I’ve ever paid for a pair of underwear; I usually go for the 5-pack for $10 variety, so the per pair cost was 10x what I usually pay.  My friend assures me it’s worth it.

IMG_6763While both the Dakini and Icebreaker merino wool is very nice, at present, my sensitive torso begs to differ with their claims of “itch-less” wool.  I can do the wool underwear, and the leggings (in small doses), and the long-sleeved shirts with a cotton t-shirt underneath them, but I can’t handle the wool directly against my back, stomach, or chest.  I’m hoping that it’s just just my overly sensitive winter skin (which is much better this year compared to previous years), and that I’ll be able to wear the tanks come summer.  If not, I think I can still return them.  (If I am okay with wool-on-torso in the summer, I may try one of Icebreaker’s very lightest-weight long sleeve tops as a sun shirt.)

My efforts to prevent moth issues include:

  • Relatively frequent washing.  All of these pieces are machine washable.  The Dakini directions say “delicate cycle.”  While the Icebreaker pieces say that the regular cycle is fine, I’d just as soon baby them.  Unfortunately, our washing machine doesn’t have a delicate cycle, so I’m stuck washing by hand.  Clean, wet wool smells like [clean] wet dog.
  • Bagging.  I’m storing all of the clean items in plastic freezer bags.  Theoretically, moths should not be attracted to clean wool (it’s the body oils and food scents that they like), but I’m not taking any chances.
  • Freezing.  I’m not actually using this method yet, since I shouldn’t have an issue with brand-new clothing, but putting infested items in the freezer for at least 24-hours is another tool in the moth-fighting arsenal.


Any other tips or suggestions for successfully caring for and wearing wool clothing?

Greening Christmas: Trees and gifting

The Tree
The last time I wrote about a Christmas tree, we were using an artificial number that I found abandoned in our building’s basement.  That tree served us well, but for the past two years, we’ve had the real deal (the artificial tree is still hanging out in the basement, just in case there’s a year we aren’t able to get a real tree).

On Saturday afternoon, Matthew and Gabriel headed out to PaPa’s (Matthew’s grandpa) to cut a field tree (i.e., a tree growing in an unmowed field where it would eventually be cut down anyway).  These field cedars are not what you find at a tree lot (or a Christmas tree farm — we saw lots of those in Oregon!).


They all have a sweet, Charlie Brown Christmas vibe, and I’m totally good with that.  Of the few that were about the right size, Gabriel picked this one, and Matthew cut it down with the “chainsaw.”

IMG_6146 - Copy

Bicycle rack?  Christmas tree rack?  Same difference!  Not quite as cool as hauling your Christmas tree by bicycle, though (the distance to Matthew’s grandpa’s rules out that option for us).

We had a bit of a debacle with the tree last year, due to an inferior tree stand.  My MIL came to the rescue with a much better hand-me-down, and we had no problem getting the tree in place this year.

We didn’t have time to decorate it on Saturday night.  Gabriel waited very patiently until after breakfast on Sunday morning, and then we got down to business.


We have a nice assortment of kid-friendly (read: sturdy) ornaments for the lower branches.  (Tip: if you run out of ornament hooks, unbent paperclips work very well.)

Tree, trimmed!

Official tree-trimming dance?


Green wrapping
I swear I started a post on this topic a year ago, or at least took some pictures, but I cannot find said pictures anywhere.  My strategy last year involved using pages from the December issues of our [free] local foodie magazines (Sauce and Feast).  There were lots of festive pictures to go around (think cute cookies, candy canes, etc.), and it worked well.  I’m planning on doing more of the same this year.  Receiving blankets also make great reusable gift wrap!

Experiential gifts
This type of gift requires no wrapping.  Remember that time I wanted to be Pink?  Specifically, the high-flying, aerial artist on display at the Grammies (and throughout her 2013 ‘Truth About Love’ Tour).  Well, it turns out that there are aerial arts gyms in St. Louis.  We looked at classes at Bumbershoot Aerial Arts last spring, but the timing wasn’t right.

When Matthew brought it up in November, there was an “Intro to Silks” class that worked for us, and I suggested we do it as our Christmas present (in addition to taking care of Christmas shopping, this route made it a bit easier to swallow the price).


We’re doing pretty basic things, but our instructor didn’t waste any time getting us on the silks.  The above photo is a bit deceiving — my legs are in a wide V-shape, and NOT straight out to the sides.  Our third class is tonight, then we break for two weeks, and finish with three more classes in January.

Pre-loved gifts
I’ve been thinking about getting Gabriel a doll house since his birthday this summer.  Though he doesn’t know he wants a doll house, I think he would enjoy playing with it (and I would enjoy doing it with him).  I didn’t want to break the bank on this purchase, but I also wanted something decent.

I’ve been checking Craigslist off and on since mid-November.  I had my eye on a Plan Toys model with an asking price of just under $200, complete with furnishings.  That was still really more than I wanted to spend (especially since I don’t know if G will enjoy it), and so I waited.

Two weeks ago, another option popped up, also made of wood (brand is Ryan’s Room, which I’ve never heard of), asking $100, and very close to where we live (it would have been tricky on the longtail, but I could have easily biked it home, if we had a flatbed bicycle trailer).  It’s not perfect, but it’s in pretty good condition (I negotiated $20 off the asking price).  I’m really looking forward to watching his reaction on Christmas morning!

Gabriel is very into playing doctor.  We have a pieced together “doctor’s kit,” and I love seeing the creativity he uses in creating doctor instruments.  I didn’t want to undermine that creativity by running out and buying a plastic play doctor set, but I liked the idea of adding to his medical kit, so when I stumbled across an awesome, real (I think — we’ll see!) stethoscope at the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store, I snatched it up.

That about does it for us.  I’d love to hear about other great experiential or pre-loved gifts — please share your ideas!

Making soy milk — Part 1

Looking back, we’ve been talking about making our own soy milk for over two years now, when a friend first offered to let us try her soy milk maker.  For one reason or another, it took me quite awhile to actually take her up on the offer.  (You can make soy milk without a special machine, but, to a newbie, those recipes seemed complicated and labor intensive.  I bought soy beans, intending to try, but it never happened.)

Why make your own

  • Save money???
  • Reduce packaging waste (soy milk packaging is recyclable, but reducing >> recycling!)
  • Avoid additives in store-bought soy milk, particularly carrageenan
  • Better taste than carrageenan-free, store-bought options???

I could write an entire post on that last bullet point, but we’ll try the brief version.  Carrageenan is a “natural” additive,  derived from a type of seaweed, used in food as a thickener and/or emulsifier to improve flavor and mouth feel.  It’s found in many processed foods, not just soy milk.

WebMD says carrageenan is, “safe for most people in food amounts,” but the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) gives carrageenan a “Caution” rating, stating “May pose a risk and needs to be better tested. Try to avoid.”  (For a full report on carrageenan and human health, with links to peer-reviewed research, see this publication from the Cornucopia Institute.)  There is evidence that it may be especially prudent for individuals with Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome or other GI disorders to avoid consuming carrageenan.

I am not affected by any GI disorders, but the CSPI’s “Caution” rating was enough to make me want to investigate alternatives, and store-bought soy milk is the main source of carrageenan in my diet.

Soy milk consumption
When it comes down to it, I don’t consume all that much soy milk.  I’m not drinking three 8-ounce glasses per day.  In fact, I rarely drink soy milk at all.  I consume 1/3 to 1/2 cup a day in my oatmeal.  Some days, that’s it.  Other days, I have a bit more, either in hot chocolate, with cold cereal, or, very rarely as something I sip with a cookie.  A bit more slips into my diet some days via our homemade pancakes and waffles, but I think it’s safe to say that I average less than one cup of soy milk a day, total.

My other concern, of course, is Gabriel.  I would estimate his soy milk consumption at about 1/2 cup most days.  While he likely consumes a bit less than me, his body is smaller than mine, and perhaps more vulnerable to questionable ingredients.  As far as I know, Gabriel does not suffer from any GI disorders — he doesn’t complain of stomach pain, and his bowel movements are regular.

Store-bought options
A few years ago, I decided it was important to eat organic soy as much as possible.  This decision was not necessarily for health reasons, but rather to avoid GMO soybeans (avoiding the GMOs is also not necessarily for health reasons; for me, it’s about avoiding big agribusiness that threatens small-scale, local growers and food systems).

Based on availability and price, my go-to, store-bought soy milk is Silk Organic Unsweetened, which is readily available at most grocery stores, sold refrigerated in a half-gallon carton.  Sometimes I’d mix things up and buy the equivalent store-brand product at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.  The ingredient lists on these products were pretty similar: water, organic soybeans, carrageenan, sea salt, and “natural flavor.”

For carrageenan-free options, I tried Trader Joe’s Unsweetened Organic and WestSoy organic unsweetened.  Both of these come in aseptic quart cartons and do not require refrigeration until after opening.  Ingredients are simply water and organic soybeans.

To me, the carrageenan-free options were missing something in the taste department.  They were fine for my oatmeal and for cooking (e.g., making pancakes), and okay for hot chocolate, but not particularly appealing on cold cereal or for sipping.

Making my own
Part of my motivation for making my own was to see if I could make something that tasted good, without carrageenan and other “natural flavor” additives.

The other motivation was the waste factor: the store-bought options without carrageenan only come in quarts (vs. the half-gallons size of Silk and similar products).  Smaller quantities mean a higher packaging to product ratio, so by switching to the [quart-sized] carrageenan-free option, I was going to be generating proportionally more trash.  Uck.

L to R: Trader Joe’s (sans carrageenan), homemade (with soy milk maker in background), and my beloved, tasty (but maybe not good for me?) Silk

Plus, what exactly is in the lining of those aseptic containers?  Nothing beats a good, old-fashioned glass jar!

When I started questioning carrageenan, my friend again offered to let me borrow her soy milk maker.  The timing was particularly good, because her family had taken a break from using it.  It’s been great getting to try the machine, and the resulting product, before committing to buying an appliance just for making soy milk.

I’ve been experimenting with it for three weeks now.  I’ve tried straight-up soy milk, plus a number of variations: adding coconut cream, a peanut soy blend, a cashew soy blend, and even a version that used some black beans.  Tomorrow, I’ll report back on the results!

Lemon chill

‘Twas an odd fall.  Despite not being overly warm (thank goodness), we didn’t have a frost until late in the game (average local first frost is October 15).  Garden-wise, this meant that many plants that would succumb to frost, like peppers and eggplant, hung around for a long time.  We almost skipped a frost and went straight to a freeze.

We’ve also had continued vole trouble at the garden, which prompted Matthew to dig all the parsnips, carrots, and celeriac, which, sans voles, could have been “stored” in the ground for awhile.

The timing of the cold and the root vegetable harvest overwhelmed our second refrigerators (plural, because my MIL also has a second refrigerator — crazy, right?), and we have two 5-gallon buckets of parsnips out in the garage.  Our second fridge is also extra stuffed because we have most of a bushel of apples in there, as well as some cabbage waiting to become kraut.

The sudden turn to wintry weather also meant the return of plastic on our sun porch windows.  We knocked this task out last night, after Gabriel went to bed.  The job was complicated by the fact that after using the same plastic for two winters, I’d decided [somewhat] that it was time for new plastic.

Of course, the only old plastic that I had actually discarded was the sheet that covered the biggest side of our sun porch, and none of the new plastic that we had on hand came in large enough sheets to do the job.  In the end, we taped two new pieces together for the big wall, and then reused the two sheets for the side windows (now on it’s third year).

The trickiest part about reusing the window plastic is that you need new tape every year, and it’s hard to find just the tape (and if you do find it, you pay nearly as much for the tape as you do for a kit with plastic plus tape).  Now that we’ve learned this lesson, we plan on ordering the tape online, ahead of time, in future years (of course every year we tell ourselves that maybe next year we won’t be dealing with this because we’ll be in a house).

Among other plants (citrus, figs, and herbs), the sun porch is housing this baby:


A “dumpster dive” potted Meyer lemon that I found abandoned in an alley last year.  (Fortunately, it was next to, and not in, the dumpster — not sure I could have wrangled it out.)  As a thank you for rescuing it and giving it a good home, this little guy produced 25 lemons this year!


We’re enjoying lemon bars and lemony salad dressing.  G enjoys being the official lemon picker when we’re ready to use one.

The porch task took almost two hours, but I’m glad we went ahead and finished it last night (even though it meant opening a new window plastic kit to scavenge the tape) when it was seventy degrees on the porch instead of today when it’s forty degrees!

Done with diapers!

With any luck, for you and for me, this is the last blog post I will ever write about my child’s potty habits!  There are some things I’ll miss about the first three years of G’s life, but changing and washing diapers, and washing the poop out of his little potties, is not one of them!

Just to recap, G has been waking-time diaper free for well over a year now (since right around 22 months).  For a few weeks last August, I thought we might be nearing the nighttime dry point, but it was not to be.

I finally figured out that most of our problems with nighttime cloth diapering were due to diapers that were too small.  I hemmed and hawed over buying bigger cloth diapers or cloth nighttime training pants while I ate through my reserve of disposable diapers (that were supposed to be for travel or GI issues only), wondering if I would invest in something only to have him start staying dry at night.

[At other times, I wondered if he’d still be wearing diapers to bed when he was seven.]

At the end of May, I finally bit the bullet, and ordered two types of overnight training pants, the Flip [One-size] Training Pant and the Best Bottoms Potty Training Kit.

When Matthew and Gabriel returned from Florida, Matthew reported that G had woken with a dry diaper on about half of the nights.  Two days later, these arrived.



At that point, I started making a concerted effort on the liquid intake and output fronts in the hour-ish leading up to bedtime.  Instead of just offering the potty right before bed, we started encouraging him to try 30-45 minutes before bedtime, and then again one last time.  I focus on keeping him well hydrated up to and through dinner (about 80 minutes before bedtime), but then really limiting drinks after dinner — usually just a small sip of [unsweetened soy] milk and a small sip of water right before bed.

All-in-all, it’s gone quite well.  In almost two months, we’ve had just three or four nighttime bed wettings (of course, last night was one of them — hopefully I haven’t jinxed things before even hitting “publish”) and a similar number of wakings in the middle of the night to use the potty, but, mostly, he’s sleeping all night long and waking up dry!  Knock on wood, but I think we’re there!  (And I still have some disposable diapers!  All I needed to do was drop fifty bucks on the cloth training pants.)

Unfortunately, those training pants I bought don’t do the trick for larger amounts of liquid output.  The Best Bottoms don’t fit tightly enough at the legs to prevent leaks (though the XL size fits him well otherwise).  The Flip fits pretty snugly, but the included inserts just aren’t particularly absorbent (note: I’m lazy and have yet to follow their “maximum absorbency” washing instructions), though it does work for little leaks.

Since he’s staying dry over 90% of the time, we gamble on using the Flip training pants most nights.  If our schedule has been slightly funky, or there’s some other reason I think he’s less likely to stay dry on a given night, I’ll go ahead and use a disposable, because changing sheets in the middle of the night is no fun.  We’ve used the same disposable diaper on five or six different nights now — even though it’s stayed 100% dry, it’s showing signs of wear and might be retired soon.

Number 2
G has been consistently pooping in his little potty since last fall.  He will pee on the big potty, but has been very resistant to pooping there.  I think this is one part comfort and one part, “If I use my little potty, I can locate it wherever I want to play.”

In general, it’s great that he’s pooping in a potty, and pooping regularly, but a bowel movement that I have to rinse and wipe out of a training potty is a lot messier than one I can just flush, so a couple of months ago we started encouraging him to try to poop on the big potty, going to far as to offer him a treat.*  Many times he refused to try.  Other times, he would try on the big potty with no success and move back to the little potty.

IMG_4915[1]And then last week it finally happened — poop in the big potty, twice in a row!  Since then, he’s gone back and forth between locations, but this is definite progress.

*As a rule, I don’t like using food as a reward/bribe because of the risk of creating an unhealthy relationship with food, but I have made a few exceptions in the potty training process.  We used raisins as a treat for peeing in the [little] potty early on.  For this round, we’ve been offering a small cookie or a few chocolate chips.  The treat is coupled with lots of verbal praise and reinforcement, and, with the raisins, we phased them out pretty quickly once he mastered the behavior.