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Quick Drawstring Bag Tutorial or How to Reuse Your SubEarthan Cottage Soap Wrapping

I wrap my soaps in fabric because it looks nice, it allows the soap to breathe (read here for why), and because it feels better than plastic. I often wonder what happens to the wrapping. I’m sure there are some that toss it. I know of one person who collects the fabric for quilts. For those of you who, like me, don’t want to throw away something that could be useful but don’t know what to do with it, I have a tutorial for a drawstring pouch, just for you.

This is done with the wrapping from one of my soaps, but you could make it in any size you like.

Materials
Cloth wrapper from soap (roughly 8×11 inches)
Jute string from soap (about 29 inches)
Thread

Tools
Needle or Sewing machine
Safety pin or Bodkin
Scissors
Iron

First, iron your fabric flat. Then, fold down a long edge about 3/4 of an inch to one inch and press. This is for the casing. It doesn’t have to be super precise.

Sew a straight seam along the bottom of the flap to form the casing. All the sewing can be done by hand or machine. I have no time or patience, so I choose machine. Fold your material in half with right sides together like a book.

The fold is at the bottom of this photo.

Next, starting just below the casing seam, sew down the side and across the bottom. I use anywhere from a 1/4 to 1/2 inch seam allowance for this. Again, it doesn’t have to be precise.

With scissors, clip the bottom corners, being careful not to cut your stitching. You could probably skip this step, but it helps the corners look square and crisp. Turn your bag right side out.

Now it’s time to thread the string. Tie one end of the string to a safety pin, large paper clip, or attach a small bodkin. This makes it easier to work it through the casing. Thread it through the casing, safety pin first.

Once you get the string to the other side, remove your safety pin or other tool and adjust the string so that the ends are even.

Knot the ends together once or twice to keep it from coming out.

Ta-da! It’s done! Perfect for organizing your purse, storing jewelry or other small items, or as a small gift bag.

Or holding your favorite bar of soap.

Tutorials are always a little complicated to write because it’s easy to overlook small steps in things you do frequently. If something is unclear, please ask. 🙂

If you have any other creative uses for a SubEarthan Cottage soap wrapper, I would love to hear it!

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Heating a Rice Pack Without a Microwave

Hot rice packs are wonderful tools for easing muscle aches, cramps, and just comforting to use in cold weather. I prefer using a rice pack to an electric heating pad because you’re not tied to an electrical outlet.

A few years ago, though, I got rid of our microwave. I have some concerns about whether they are healthy, and we rarely used it anyway. Even if the potential health risks are exaggerated or non-existent, I don’t like having things that don’t get used taking up space. At the time, it was summer in Texas, I didn’t really miss my rice packs. Now that it’s cold, I wanted to find a way to heat them without caving and getting another microwave.

Please be cautious. I’ve seen some things that say anything other than a microwave is a fire-risk, so if you try to heat a rice pack in an oven, please never leave it unattended and use extreme caution. All appliances are different, so what works with mine may not work with yours.

Basic oven method

When researching, I found many people say to use an oven set to about 200 degrees Fahrenheit for thirty minutes. They also said to put the rice pack on a metal tray or roasting pan, and to have a pan or oven-safe dish of water alongside it to keep it from getting too dry.

My method

I was a little concerned that I may forget about it, and my oven doesn’t have a window so keeping an eye on it would be difficult. I do have a counter-top convection oven, so  that is what use. Because the door is glass, I can see in and keep an eye on things. It also has a timer that turns the unit off once time is up, so even if I get distracted I don’t have to worry about it over-heating. 

I always place the rice pack on a tray and put a dish of water in with it as others have suggested. Any rice packs I heat in the oven are made with 100% cotton fabric and thread. Synthetics melt easier and burn faster, whereas cotton can withstand a pretty high heat and burns slower, so cotton seems like a safer choice. 

I started with 200 degrees Fahrenheit for 20-30 minutes. It worked, but I needed it hotter. I upped it to 300-325 degrees for 15-20 minutes. At that temperature, sometimes I have to let it cool for a minute or wrap it in a towel, but it works better for me than the lower temperature. I tend to push the limit with heat, though, so 200 degrees for thirty minutes is probably plenty for most.

Probably safer method

One other method I’ve seen is to preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, TURN IT OFF, and place the rice pack (on a tray with heatproof dish of water next to it) in the preheated oven. I haven’t tried this yet, but having the oven hot but turned off seems like it would minimize any risk of the rice pack overheating and burning. If I didn’t have the convection oven, I would probably use this method. 

The standard microwave method

Using a microwave is still the recommended method. To heat rice packs in the microwave, warm it in the microwave in 15 second intervals until you reach the desired temperature. Some people recommend placing a cup of water in the microwave as well.

Basic safety

Whether you use a microwave or an oven, be mindful that they can vary in power. ALWAYS test the temperature of the rice pack before using and never leave the microwave or oven unattended while heating. You should never use heat packs on individuals who are unable to let you know if it feels too warm on their skin.

Lavender rice packs at SubEarthan Cottage

SubEarthan Cottage now offers large 100% cotton flannel rice packs. These are filled with a blend of rice and lavender buds for a pleasant hint of lavender. I sewed channels in the flannel to help keep the rice evenly distributed. They can be heated as described above, or kept in the freezer to use cold. Find all of my rice packs here.

 

Lavender rice packs at SubEarthan Cottage.

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15 Awesome Uses for Coconut Oil

If I had to pick only one oil to keep around, it would be coconut oil. This versatile oil has many applications in and out of the kitchen. Here’s fifteen of my favorite uses for coconut oil.

Coconut Oil in the Kitchen

High Heat Cooking

Coconut oil is a stable oil, unlike olive oil. It doesn’t break down at high temperatures, making it great for frying, sautéing and other high-heat cooking applications.

Dairy and Animal Fat Substitute

Coconut oil is also a great butter substitute for those avoiding dairy. It also makes a great substitution for tallow or lard.

Cooking Popcorn

If you like cooking popcorn on the stove the “old-fashioned” way, coconut oil is the best. It adds a wonderful flavor to the popcorn, and holds up to the high temperature. My favorite way to eat popcorn is cooked in coconut oil and topped with salt and fresh cracked black pepper. It’s so simple and yet so yummy!

Season Cast Iron Skillets with Coconut Oil

I love my cast iron skillets. Whenever I need to re-season them, coconut oil is my go-to oil.

Coconut Oil for Cleaning

Natural Furniture Polish

The natural furniture polish recipe I use calls for olive oil, but coconut oil is a suitable substitute. It’s a little lighter and less greasy than olive oil, so it polishes out nicely. It also has a longer shelf-life, so there’s little worry about using it up before it goes rancid.

Stuck on Stickers

Rubbing a little coconut oil on sticker residue helps remove the residue without harming the surface underneath. I like to coat the sticker residue with oil and let it sit for a few minutes. Wipe in a circular motion with a rag or gentle scrubber until the residue is gone.

Coconut Oil for Hair

Protect and Treat Your Hair

I’ve seen it recommended to coat your hair in coconut oil and leave it in overnight before lightening your hair with bleach. While I personally haven’t tried that, since lightening my hair, I put a small amount of oil on my hair almost every day. I especially focus on drier or damaged areas. Since I started doing this, I’ve noticed a huge difference in my hair. It’s definitely stronger and smoother.

Deep Condition with Coconut Oil

Even if you haven’t tortured your hair with bleach, a deep conditioning treatment is good from time to time. Apply the oil to your hair and cover with a shower cap. Leave it in for a few hours or overnight and then wash out. A couple of drops of essential oil added to the oil makes the conditioning treatment even more luxurious.

Frizz Fighter

Rub a couple of drops of coconut oil in your hands and then smooth over the ends of your hair to keep frizz away.

Coconut Oil for Skin

Moisturize Your Skin

Coconut oil is great as a moisturizer. Start with a little and massage in to moisturize or to soothe dry, irritated skin. It even helps some eczema!

Diaper Ointment

Coconut oil provides a gentle, moisturizing barrier to soothe and protect babies’ bottoms. Unlike many commercial diaper creams, it is considered safe for cloth diapers. Do check with the manufacturer for their recommendations first, as using unapproved products can void any warranties.

Makeup Remover

A little coconut oil easily takes off eye makeup. I like to put it on a cotton square and gently swipe away makeup. As a bonus, it moisturizes your skin as it removes the makeup.

Shaving Cream

Shaving with coconut oil leaves my legs feeling soft, smooth and moisturized. I don’t even need to use lotion afterwards.

Handmade Soap

I use coconut oil in all of my soap recipes. It helps to create a firm bar that produces lots of fluffy lather.

Pumpkin lavender roll on

Essential Oil Carrier

Coconut oil is my favorite carrier oil for essential oils. It’s not too heavy and absorbs nicely into the skin. If you use the refined oil, there’s no real coconut scent to compete with the essential oils.

15 Awesome Uses for Coconut Oil
Image by moho01 from Pixabay

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DIY Colorful Sugar Sprinkles

DIY sugar sprinkles side view

A few days ago, I thought it would be fun to make Christmas cookies. Then I remembered that my Christmas cookie cutters had disappeared, we were out of any sort of sprinkles for the cookies and I really didn’t want to make decorator frosting or go to the store for supplies. My solution? DIY sugar sprinkles!

DIY sugar sprinkles side view

Ingredients

  • Granulated sugar
  • Food coloring

Supplies

  • Jars, plastic containers or sandwich bags, one per color. (Ideally something with a shaker top, which I didn’t have)
  • Spoons or shakers
DIY sugar sprinkles top view

How to make the sugar sprinkles

  • Measure about 1/4 cup of sugar into each container. 
  • Add 2-3 drops of food coloring to the sugar. 
  • Shake or stir until the color is evenly distributed. 
  • Let air dry. I just left the lids off the jars and set them on the stove while the cookies baked, stirring occasionally. If you use bags or plan to store it for a longer period of time, you may want to spread it on parchment or a cookie sheet to make sure it is super dry.  
sugar cookies
Mom tip: If your cookie decorating skills are not Pinterest-worthy, just let your kiddos do the decorating.

The recipe I used for the cookies was the sugar cookie cutout recipe from my trusty red and white Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. To make them gluten free, I substituted Bob’s Red Mill 1 to 1 gluten free flour. If you are new to gluten free baking, it is a great flour to start with. I have had lots of success making all my old recipes gluten free with just that simple substitution.

My solution for not having cookie cutters was to use a round glass to cut out “ornaments”. We dusted some of the cookies with the sprinkles prior to baking. For the rest, I made a simple icing that got dusted or caked with sprinkles, depending on who was doing the decorating.

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Tips for Saving Money on Food

No matter what our budget looks like, food is always a part of it. You have to eat, right? There are many thoughts on the best way to save on food. These are the things that work for me.

Eat at home

This one is probably the most important. If you eat out, regardless of whether it’s a dine-in or fast food restaurant, you are going to spend more than if you cook and eat at home. It’s fine to splurge once in a while, but if you’re looking to save, eating at home gives you the most bang for your buck.

Buy mostly ingredients

Prepackaged foods are sometimes quicker, but they are usually more expensive per serving. If it’s a choice between eating out and eating convenience foods from the grocery, it’s still usually cheaper than eating out, so if it’s a choice between KFC or a deli rotisserie chicken, bagged salad and prepackaged dinner rolls, the deli chicken is probably the cheaper and healthier option.

There are some convenience items that I find helpful, especially when life gets hectic. Jarred sauces, bouillon and frozen potatoes in various forms are things that I like to have on hand to help me get a meal on the table quickly. When there’s not time to make the sauce from scratch or I don’t have homemade broth on hand those can make it easy to still throw something together. They’re also usually fairly inexpensive, so I feel they are budget friendly convenience choices.

Buy in bulk where it makes sense

Don’t buy a ton of perishables like fresh fruit just because it’s on sale. If you have time to prep and freeze or can the fruit, then go for it. Things like canned goods, freezer staples and shelf stable items are great for buying in bulk, if you have the room. We have a small chest freezer, so I’m able to buy fruit on sale to freeze for smoothies or desserts and an extra ham or turkey when they are on sale for under $1 per pound around the holidays.

I also buy basmati rice in 20 lb bags because we prefer it over other types of rice and it is so much cheaper that way. To keep it fresh and manageable, I keep a small container of it in the cupboard and the rest goes into the freezer.

Shop creatively

It’s easy to have one or two grocery stores or box stores where you do all of your shopping. If you have farmer’s markets, discount groceries or ethnic groceries in your area, you may find better deals on some items.

For starters, if you have an Aldi nearby and haven’t given them a try, please do. I’ve found them to have a good selection of staples and they have a good guarantee on everything they sell. You won’t find many name-brands at Aldi, but with their guarantee, it’s worth trying and seeing if you like their store brands. They also carry a lot of gluten-free options, as well as dairy-free milk alternatives and a dairy-free mozarella cheese.

I also frequently shop a local Vietnamese grocery store. They have tons of fresh greens and other produce at really good prices. I also get a lot of specialty items, like things for making pho or sushi for sometimes half the cost or less of what I would pay at Kroger or Walmart. Bulk spices and rice are also cheaper there. For gluten-free pasta, rice noodles from there are cheaper than gluten-free options from Kroger and Walmart.

Find a method of meal planning that works for you.

Some people do really well with having every meal, every day planned out to every last detail. I prefer something more flexible that allows for changes based on last minute plans or whatever is on sale that week or whatever leftovers we need to eat. Regardless of the type of meal planner you are, have some sort of game plan in place.

Meal planning is one area where I need to improve, but I do have a basic game plan for meals that I’ll post on at a later date.

While you’re planning, don’t forget lunch. Leftovers are quick and easy lunches, so if you’re planning a dinner that reheats well, make enough for lunch the next day.

Keep staples for one or two quick meals on hand always

This is important in case you forget to plan, or something doesn’t work out with your plan. Whether it’s spaghetti and premade sauce, eggs, fruit and toast or some other meal you can throw together in under thirty minutes, keep the ingredients on hand for one or two backups that you like. Having a backup option makes it easier to eat at home when you might otherwise be tempted to eat out.

Eat real food

If you have to change your eating habits due to health or personal beliefs, it’s easy to try to substitute faux or “free” foods tailored to that diet. Price-wise though, it’s better to adapt your diet with real foods. Rather than faux meat burgers, try grilling portobello mushrooms or making your own patties with chickpeas. Instead of gluten free pasta, substitute rice or potatoes. Instead of diet drinks, flavor water, tea or soda water with fruit.

If you’re really craving cheese and you’re dairy free or bread and you’re gluten free, go ahead and splurge on the dairy or gluten free options. If you’re on a plant-based diet but desperately want something like a real burger, go for one of the faux meat patties. Just try to keep those splurges to a minimum and you’ll save money.

Find recipes for soups, stews and beans that you like

Soups, stews and beans are usually cheap, filling and can be a one pot meal. Having a few recipes you like and keeping the ingredients on hand can really help save money on food. They also are easy to make in bulk and usually freeze well, so making a bunch and having it for lunch or in the freezer for nights that dinner plans don’t work out helps prevent eating out. I love crock pots or pressure cookers for making soups and stews. It’s absolutely not necessary to run out and buy a slow cooker or pressure cooker, but if it’s something you’ve been considering, I love my electric pressure cooker for so many things.

Saving money on food.
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Feeling Stuck and Overwhelmed? 10 Tips to Get Moving Again

Feeling Stuck and Overwhelmed? 10 Tips to Get Moving Again

Whether it’s a new project, work, or just daily life, sometimes it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Maybe you’re struggling to find balance while juggling work, home life and new schooling situations. Maybe a task seems too huge or unpleasant to tackle. It could be that you’re unsure of how a project will turn out, so fear keeps you from making the first move. Maybe there’s just so many other things on your plate that you find yourself too mentally or physically exhausted to tackle that one thing. Here’s a few ideas to get unstuck and moving forward again.

Overwhelmed? These 10 tips will help

Brain dump

When you’re really anxious or don’t know where to begin, doing a brain dump helps. Grab a pen and paper and just write out everything on your mind. Don’t think about it, don’t worry about complete sentences or cohesive ideas, just get everything out on paper. When your done, look it over. Is there a theme to what you wrote, some repeated word or idea or area of focus? Use that to help you determine your next move.

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Make a list

Making a list of what needs to be done creates focus. It also takes the pressure off of yourself to remember everything. Once it’s written down, you’re free to focus on one task at a time. Because it’s all written down, you don’t have to keep a running list of everything in your head. As you complete a task, mark it off. Focus on your list getting shorter, not how much is still left to do.

Break it down

If a task seems too big, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Breaking it down into smaller tasks makes it more manageable. For example, if you need to clean the house for company, don’t look at the whole task of cleaning the house. Take it room by room. If that still seems too big, list specific tasks within each room. Don’t say “Clean the kitchen”, have individual tasks like wiping down counters, sweeping the floor, mopping the floor, etc. listed separately.

Prioritize

Some tasks come with a deadline or are more important than others. If there’s a deadline, make a note of that deadline on your list and mark it somehow to make it stand out. If it’s something that is high priority, regardless of a specific deadline, make note of that, too. I like to draw a star next to high priority tasks, and highlight or double star things with a deadline.

Set goals

Be realistic about what you can accomplish in a day and set goals accordingly. If there are specific tasks that have to be done first, then set your goals around those. Otherwise, your goals could be something like marking off five tasks each day. If you meet your goal, good for you! Do you have the time, energy and desire to mark off a few more? Go for it! Didn’t meet your goal? See if you need to re-evaluate your expectations so as not to get overwhelmed and discouraged. If it was simply a case of other obligations taking too much time, try again tomorrow.

Set alarms

If you have something that needs to be done at a certain time, like an appointment at noon or starting dinner at five pm, set an alarm in plenty of time to stop and get ready. When I have an appointment or event coming up later in the day, it’s hard for me to focus on other tasks, even when I have plenty of time. Knowing that I have an alarm to remind me when I need to stop makes it a little easier.

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Set a timer

Setting a timer is useful in a few ways. First, if you find yourself completely unmotivated, pick a task and set a timer for five, ten or fifteen minutes, whatever seems manageable. You can do anything for five minutes. Pick a task and see how much you can accomplish in that time. When the timer goes off, give yourself permission to stop for a break or switch to a a different task. I often find that when the time is up, I’m so close to finishing that task that I want to keep working.

You can also use a timer to break up a bigger task into smaller chunks of time. Give yourself thirty minutes or an hour to work on a bigger job. When your time is up, stop and take a break or give yourself a five to fifteen minute window to knock out a few quick tasks. This helps you keep the little things from snowballing while you work on a big project.

Finally, setting a timer helps with time management. Everyone needs a break now and then, but it’s easy to allow a quick break to turn into an hour of getting off task. Decide how long of a break you want, set a timer and stick to it.

If timers work for you, you may want to checkout Flylady. I’ve used that method of home organization in the past and found it really helpful. It’s particularly helpful with establishing routines and taking everything in “baby steps” so you don’t get overwhelmed with the process.

Stop waiting

Do you ever find yourself doing nothing just waiting for something. Things like waiting tem minutes for dinner in the oven or sitting on hold on a phone call. Use waiting time that’s often wasted to knock easy tasks off your list.

Just do it

Sometimes there’s a task that I put off because I find it really unpleasant. Usually that leads to putting off other things, because that task is hanging over my head. Often it’s something simple like making a phone call to set up an appointment. There’s no way around getting some things done, so give yourself a minute to stress if you need and jump in. Once it’s done, you can mark it off your list and wonder why you put it off for so long. If it really was that bad, at least it’s done.

Reward yourself

Sometimes your accomplishments are their own reward, and sometimes not so much. Give yourself little incentives, even if it’s just ten minutes of playing a game, or a cup of tea and your favorite show. Knowing that something enjoyable comes after something unpleasant is motivating, especially after a “Just do it” task.

Not everything is as easy as just make a list and do it, but when you’re feeling overwhelmed, using these strategies where they do apply can help free up energy for dealing with the more difficult problems life throws at you.

Bulletin board image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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Simple Way to Patch the Back Pocket of Denim Jeans

The back pockets of denim jeans are prone to wearing out at the top corners with use. If that’s where you carry your phone or wallet, you’ll almost certainly develop holes at those stress points long before the rest of the jeans are worn out. Luckily, repairing a back pocket is a pretty simple fix.

Pocket with hole

These are my husband’s work jeans. You can see the inside corner of the right pocket has a small hole and another one is forming on the inside corner of the left pocket. These are the steps I used to repair and reinforce the pockets.

Choosing your patch material

The first thing you’ll want to do is add material to patch the hole. The material should extend past the edges of the hole, overlapping onto the good fabric by about a centimeter or so. I like to use the iron-on denim patches, but fusible webbing or strong interfacing works, too. This product is similar to the one I used. You can also just use a scrap of fabric a bit larger than the hole, but I prefer the added strength of an iron-on product. An iron-on product is also easier in that it won’t shift while you sew it in.

Iron-on patch
denim iron-on patch for pocket repair
Wrong side of iron-on patch

Securing the patch to the pocket

If you’re using an iron-on product, iron it on to cover the hole from the inside according to the manufacturer’s instructions. For sewn-in patches, baste in patch to keep it from shifting.

Ironed on patches
Patches ironed in place on the inside of the jeans.

Reinforce the patch

Regardless of whether you chose an iron-on or sew-in patch, you need to reinforce the patch by sewing a strong row of stitches around the edges. For a less visible patch, I like to sew a square of stitching around the hole, making sure to include the corner of the pocket in the square. I sew over the square a few times to reinforce. Choosing a thread that matches the denim or is slightly darker makes the patch less noticeable.

Reinforcement stitching from the inside.

For the actual hole, I like to sew back and forth over the hole in a matching thread. This secures the area to the patch, hides the frayed edges and prevents further ripping.

For a more visible patch, you can get creative with the patch material and choose a contrasting thread. You can also crazy stitch over the area, similar to what I did here.

Preventing the problem

Whenever I patch one pocket rip, I take the time to reinforce all the corners with iron-on patches and a square of reinforced stitching. It doesn’t take much extra time, and keeps the rest of the corners from needing repair in the near future. You could even do this to new jeans as a preventative measure if you have this problem frequently.

Final result

Here’s the finished patches. I’m pretty satisfied with the results. The work isn’t that noticeable and matches the variations in blue on the rest of the jeans. It’s definitely better than holes that will continue to rip in a revealing location.

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