On Dandelions: They’re Good for You, Me, and the Bees

When I was growing up, I was taught that dandelions were dreadful “weeds.” I remember picking the beautiful yellow flowers only to learn from adults that they were “just weeds,” and I remember getting into some trouble for blowing on the dandelion seeds because I was spreading them in the yard, which was definitely frowned upon. I remember learning to spray chemicals on the dandelions as a child, and this was something that I carried into my adult life—and then I learned better.

I don’t know when Americans started to hate the dandelion, but according to my research, it was sometime in the 20th century with the invention of lawns. Apparently, someone wrote a book about the “perfect” lawn and identified dandelions as the enemy.

However, dandelions have a long history of being important to human culture, and we definitely need to let go of those notions of the “perfect” lawn. I just can’t see that those notions do anyone any good—not us and certainly not Nature.

My own epiphany about the usefulness of the dandelions came one day when I was making a salad from a giant container of mixed greens I had purchased at the grocery store. I look at the greens and realized there were dandelion leaves in the mix. I checked the ingredients list and found out that, indeed, I had just paid money for leaves that I could easily go get from my back yard.

Then, I learned that bees need the dandelions. They are the bees’ first food, and goodness knows the bees need every little bit of help we can give them. It’s a wonder of the world to me that humans can be so short sighted, and our history with bees is a prime example of this. However, that’s another story for another day.

dandelion
Photo credit: Stefan Steinbaur, Unsplash

So instead of working against Nature, let’s embrace it and embrace those little yellow flowers. There are many helpful uses for dandelions, so let’s try one of these options instead.

1. Leave the flowers for the bees and make or get your kiddos to help make a “Bees are welcome here” sign. After all, we really need those bees to be happy because what’s good for the bees is good for us in the long term. Then, you can just let the dandelions do their work of loosening the soil and fertilizing your lawn. It turns out that dandelions are actually good for your lawns.

2. Pick the dandelion leaves for your salad. This is the simplest use I can think of. Instead paying for those dandelion leaves, make a salad from your backyard instead. It turns out that dandelions are healthier than many of the veggies we grow in our garden. According to this article from the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, dandelions have more Vitamin A than spinach and more Vitamin C than tomatoes.

3. Make dandelion tea. Apparently, you can make tea from the roots or the flowers, but I found this flower recipe that looks really yummy. Just be sure to read this short piece on the health benefits and risks of drinking dandelion tea.

4. Finally, you can also make dandelion wine, though it takes a few months for the wine to ferment of course. But there are, apparently, a wide variety of ways you can use the dandelions for food, from jams to baking. Check out this article from Mother Earth News about some of the many ways you can take advantage of those little yellow flowers.

So think of the bees and what’s good for the planet and for you. Let those dandelions grow free in your yard this year!

Advertisements

On Becoming a Maker in 2017

I’ve always been the kind of person who is hesitant about making New Year’s resolutions, but I made a couple last year that I mostly stuck to. This has me thinking I might try this again. Last year, I resolved to simplify my life and to eat more plants. Although I still have progress to be made in both areas, as we begin a new year, I realize I am doing better in terms of living simply and eating more plants.

With this in mind, I am trying this whole New Year’s resolution thing again.

For 2017, my big goal is to become more of a Maker. You may be wondering what it means to become a Maker, and it’s a pretty broad term. Essentially, just making some of the things you need instead of being a consumer makes you a Maker. But there are, of course, varying degrees of Maker-ness.

I have been working on this for some time, but a few goals have eluded me. I am hoping 2017 will be my year.

Here’s some of the progress I have made so far:

  • I learned to crochet scarves, and we really use them.
  • I cut everyone’s hair in our family, and I am not trained in this endeavor. I just watched, learned, and bought some really nice German scissors.
  • We raise chickens for eggs, and my husband raises some chickens for meat.
  • I make home-cooked meals for almost every meal. This has saved us a ton of money and had made us healthier.
  • My husband is relentless about repairing instead of replacing.

And these are my Maker goals for 2017:

  • Learn how to knit. I want to make socks and hats!
  • Re-learn how to can jams and jellies. About 15 years ago, I was taught how and did it a little, but I think I’m just going to have to re-learn this year.
  • Plant apple trees.

And, because I love infographics, I made one to emphasize some of the many benefits of becoming a Maker and trying to leave those consumer ways behind. I also have a few fun suggestions, but I would love to hear more.

be-a-maker_686_b990a3dff5be69339ffce636ab702430c22bf217

Do you have any Maker resolutions for 2017?

On Learning to Live More Frugally

Even just five years ago, I don’t think I would have been ready to say that I wanted to make a lot less money and live my life differently. I think I’ve wanted to live more simply for a long time, but for many years, I was just too afraid to make the change, too afraid to go backwards in the money department and taking that big pay cut.

But, as you know, I finally got brave enough to give Thoreau’s advice about wanting less and working less a chance. But I am such a slow thinker or thoughtful planner (I think I prefer the latter) that I didn’t just jump into this without a lot of planning.

I have been studying how to live more frugally for years and practicing for at least a year before we decided we could live on half the money we had been living on before. Yes, half. Actually, a little less than half. No matter how you slice it, you can really feel living on half the money you used it, so we practiced a bit before we took the plunge.

We started slowly after reading about different ways people were finding to live more frugally, as the advice seemed to be everywhere. But, I think, along the way, after practicing the advice and getting a sense of what would work for us, I learned that I actually really liked living frugally, and I was learning so much along the way.

This week’s post is devoted to offering my own sort of advice related to living frugally and what worked for our family in the hopes that you might see one thing listed that could work for you, save you money, and give you a bit more time.

But, before we begin, here’s the one big lesson that is important to share before reading my list or any kind of list, for that matter: It’s helpful to start with one small thing; practice it; live with it a bit to see if you can really live it.

I think, for most of us, or at least for someone like me, taking baby steps is critical.

OK, finally, my list…

1. We cut our cable. In our case, it was actually satellite television we cancelled, but it saved us about $100 per month. I feel like they should be paying us to watch all those commercials anyway.

2. I learned how to shop differently. This one was on me, and I learned new habits because I really wanted to learn new habits. I had grown up in a culture in Texas in the 1990s where shopping was like a way of life, and I started to realize how wasteful it was. So, now, there’s no “going shopping” unless we really, really need something, and we try to buy things that will last as much as possible. This means paying more for quality items, but I estimate that we save about $75 per month using our new system of buying quality items—just far fewer items.

3. As much as we wanted to save money on food, we decided that this was one area we could not be “cheap” about because of our health, so we had to get creative. I am a firm believer that most Americans should probably be spending more money on food, not less, so trying to be frugal about food is more of a challenge, but we have found a few key ways to save money:

  • We quit buying grated cheese. We now buy big blocks and grate it ourselves. This adds time to my cooking rituals, but we eat a lot of cheese, so this saves us quite a bit of money. This is a really small thing and may not seem worth the time, but I think it’s a pretty good plan. I figured it out, and in most cases, we end up with three times the amount of grated cheese for the same price.
  • We make our own bread and snacks. I realize this is one that takes some time, but if you have the time, you will save money and have healthier food for you and your family. Plus, there’s nothing better than seeing your six year old devour his “favorite pumpkin muffin” you just made. This one is cost saving tip that can add time, but, for me, this is how I want to spend my time.

    Cherry Pie image
    I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging, but I have mastered pie crust. There will be a whole post later devoted to the recipe. It feels really good to make a delicious pie to share with my family.
  • We grow our own food. Buying local and organic is important, but when you want to quit your job and will be making less than half what you used to, you have to figure something out. For us, it was growing our own food. The seeds are inexpensive, the rain and sunshine are free, and some foods provide seeds for the next year as well. This has been a huge savings for our family. Even if you have a small outdoor space, you can grow some key foods relatively easily, and you get the taste and health benefits as well.
  • I use my tea bags twice. I love tea and usually drink two large cups of chai tea every day. I used to use two tea bags per day. Then, I learned a trick from a friend (you can learn a lot of frugality tips from Mainers) to save the tea bag and use it twice. It totally works, and I spend half as much money on tea.
  • Finally, my best strategy in the grocery department is to always eat our leftovers. This was huge for us because I was so bad about letting leftovers go to waste. But we totally try to live by the “waste not want not” rule, as cliché as it sounds. I have found that, at the very least, leftovers for lunch saves us quite a bit on our lunch budgets, but, sometimes, I am able to get entire supper meals out of the leftovers, which can mean a big savings. Plus, it’s good not to waste food. I mean, think about what your mother used to tell you to get you to eat your dinner.

4. I quit buying products for my face. So part of this one is going to be difficult for most women I know, but I quit wearing makeup unless there is a special occasion. I grew up in Texas where this was just not the way of things, so it actually took me some months to get used to my face without makeup. That sounds weird, right? I had to get used to my face without makeup. It does save me a lot of money, as I was buying some pretty expensive cosmetics.

But here’s the easy part of this tip: I started use aloe vera straight from the plant for my skin care. I can’t tell you what a miracle worker pure aloe really is! I have always had hormonal acne, and I was spending $50 per month on my facial cleaners. I now spend $0 per month because I bought a few plants at the store for about $3 each and just grow my own skin care.

aloe plant picture
This is one plant in my little aloe garden. You can see I have taken some leaves for my skin care needs, but the plant continues to do well.

I discovered this little life hack when my poor husband was burned with chemical burns from a cement adventure this summer. The aloe healed his wounds better than anything else. So I researched the benefits of aloe and found that it also helps with acne. I’m here to tell you it does! It works much better than the expensive stuff I was buying, is totally natural, and, in addition to clearing up any acne, makes my skin look softer and shinier.

I also shared this one with my teenage son, whose skin is so much better on the aloe. Plus, we were spending $50 a month on his skin care as well, so the aloe has saved us quite a bit of money—and it works beautifully.

5. We changed our holiday habits. Let’s face it. Our culture shoves materialism down our throats during any and every holiday season, and it can be hard to go against that. But, this year, we have no choice, and we started with Easter. Here in Maine, Easter seems to be a pretty big deal, almost like Christmas-lite. The Easter Bunny doesn’t just leave eggs. He leaves presents! But, this year, we had to make the change.

I purchased a used Pottery Barn Easter basket on E-Bay that we have had for four years, which serves as my youngest son’s Easter basket every year. It’s well made and eliminates the need to buy more “stuff” like an Easter basket. Then, this year, there were no presents. We didn’t even do plastic eggs.

We have chickens, so I decided to do something creative with those free eggs. We had been reading the illustrated Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (which I highly recommend), and I saw a beautiful illustration of dragon eggs and decided to use non-toxic craft paints, some of which we had. I did have to buy $2 in additional colors, and we just did our best to make dragon eggs. Our whole family enjoyed this!

dragon eggs for easter
I’m not nearly as crafty as I would like to be, but these turned out just fine. Having dragon eggs definitely added some excitement to the Easter egg hunt!

Now, I have to be honest. My youngest was a little disappointed that there were no Easter presents this year, and I did feel a little guilty when I saw all of the amazing Easter present pictures on Facebook. But this is it for us. My youngest has a tendency to be a little more materialistic than I would like anyway, so I think we’re all going to be learning some important lessons as we make this transition.

Easter was our start. I’ll let you know how we do at Christmas. And Halloween’s going to be tough too, I think.

So these are my big frugality “tips” for this week. All of these may not be for you, but I am telling you, I think you should at least give that aloe a go. It’s a cheap little miracle.

As for the rest, everyone does have to find their own path, but I am enjoying our journey into frugality—at least for the most part. I just need to become more of a “maker,” and I am planning to start knitting lessons soon. In the meantime, I guess we’ll have to buy our socks and hats, but I can totally make some dragon Easter eggs and an awesome cherry pie!

Oh, and if you have any frugality tips, please share them here. I am, as always, a work in progress.