Fusion Handcrafts offers accessories and home items made by blending modern and old-fashioned methods, materials and designs.I currently offer a constantly growing line of soap and bath products, as well as knit and crochet items.
Welcome to the Fusion Handcrafts blog.

Hello fellow "forward thinkers". That's the new term for us old-fashioned folks that choose to grow and make our own "stuff", according to "Ivory" at Little House in the Suburbs.
For the first time in almost 40 years I get to be hip.
Well, this blog will be my place to share about what I do to live more naturally and frugally. And to get to "meet" you folks that are also interested in such things. I will give info on my soaps and other products available (for those of you who would rather buy natural items) as well as give info about how to make some stuff (for those of you who prefer to make natural items.)
If there is something you would like to see included or that you have questions about let me know.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Jeremy the Cow

WARNING: To all my vegan friends, you will want skip this post. Go read some older post or stir up some all-vegetable soap, while I discuss my omnivore buying habits. Just be sure to come back for my next post about my new Ladies' Castille Shave Soap. 

DISCLAIMER: This is not an ad for a particular farmer, just a rambling about one of the ways I save money. I know that not all of you are close enough to southern MO to buy from the same farmer that I did, but hopefully, you can find a similar farmer in your area.

OK, first off, Jeremy is not actually the cow. Jeremy is the guy that brought the cow. He's a farmer from Missouri Grass Fed Beef in southern Missouri. And anyway, I think, the kids decided that "Jerry" was a better name for the cow. (I know a lot of you have a problem with naming your food, but I grew up on a farm, and as kids,we named most of our food yet still managed to enjoy eating it.)  We recently purchased a whole beef (yep, that means the whole cow) from  Missouri Grass Fed Beef. And Jeremy was kind enough to deliver it to us for a very nominal fee, he combined the delivery with other business in the St Louis area.

When Jeremy came to deliver the beef to us, my 4yr. old was so excited that he starting jumping up and down shouting "Jeremy The Cow is here!, Jeremy The Cow is here!"  I can't say that I blame him, I was excited, too, but not just because there was something going on to distract us from our normal school and chores schedule, but because I knew that the cow meant lots of good meals, and saving money.

Now, I'm not trying to turn any vegetarians to the dark side, this is not the forum for discussing the benefits or risks of eating red meat (plenty of info on that on the web), or for whether or not cattle flatulence contributes to global warming (Google that sometime when you're bored),  but this is a place to discuss saving money while feeding your family. So if you're going to buy meat, you might as well save money while buying top quality meat.

After the cow arrived, in 6 large, heavy boxes; I proceeded to inventory the packages by cut and weight as I placed them in my freezer. I then listed out the local supermarket price for the same cuts so that I could compare the price to see how much I was saving. I have to say, I was very pleased.

One of the mantras of frugal shoppers has always been to buy in bulk when possible. How much more bulky can you get?  Now, I understand that the large outlay of money at once can be intimidating. (Some people find it helpful to split the cow and cost with someone else). But I have analyzed the numbers a dozen different ways (I'm an old school geek), and any way you look at it, we saved huge.

If you just want the bottom line we saved about $700, or about 35% off of the retail for the same cuts at the supermarket. You can also look at it as, we paid for the cheap cuts (ground beef and chuck roast) and got  the premium cuts (sirloin, T-bone, porterhouse) for free, or we paid the ground beef price for everything (the actual amount of ground beef that we received was only 20% of the total weight of meat that we got)  or that we got about 110 lbs of meat (mixed cuts) for free.

I know that not everyone has a large freezer, but if you are a gardener or are serious about saving money on food, it is one of the best investments you can make. Freezing is one of the easiest ways to preserve your harvest of many kinds of vegetables. And I remember times, before I had the big freezer, when I would get frustrated because I couldn't take advantage of an exceptional meat or bread sale because I had nowhere to store it.  As with all purchases, a true bargain shopper can save here too. And the newer models use a lot less energy than the old ones did.

Here's how I got mine. Almost four years ago, our fridge died and our dishwasher was ready to be terminated for unacceptable job performance. It was one of the few times that such a circumstance was well timed, we had just gotten our tax refund so we had ample cash in the account, and we had just gotten a coupon in the mail from the appliance store for 20% off any purchase over a certain dollar amount. With coupon and checkbook in hand, we headed to the store for a fridge and maybe a dishwasher. After drooling over all the latest bells and whistles available, I chose the least expensive, "big" fridge in the place and the least expensive dishwasher with the features I was looking for. As we went to write up the sale, the salesman noticed me glancing at the freezers, and swooped in like a vulture. My husband tried to stand his ground saying we didn't need one, but he was outnumbered, and in spite of his substantial stature and extensive military training, was quickly overpowered. The final victory came when I spotted a sale sign on one that was by the front window, away from all the others and asked why it was by itself. The salesman answered that it was a scratch and dent. Yes! It was also a discontinued model.  So, we got the freezer for about $150 (similar models run $450 to $600). Woo hoo! Even my cheap husband couldn't resist that bargain. To make my husband feel less used, and restore his dignity, I took him to the hardware store.

The freezer has not only enabled us to make large food purchases, but also allows me to cook in bulk. I'm not talking about once a month cooking, I do my own version. I'll do a post about this in the next week or two.

Now back to the beef. I haven't really addressed the quality of the beef. Search "grass fed beef" if you want to know about the differences between it and "regular" beef. When I was calculating the $ saved, I compared it to the local supermarket, because that is where I would be buying our beef if I didn't have a freezer full. But I know that is not completely fair to "Jerry". To truly compare apples to apples, I would have to compare the price to that of other grass fed beef. Which, of course, I did.

We do not have a market to get grass fed beef around here, so I had to compare it to what is available online. This is where it got complicated, and you must read carefully before buying. With Missouri Grass Fed Beef, they take the cow to a meat processor that then cuts and packs the beef how we order it, size of roasts and steaks, # of steaks in a package, do you want soup bones, stuff like that; and you get the whole cow, all the various cuts. With the others that I found, if you order a whole cow, you get the amount of meat, by weight, of a whole cow. But it you read the list of cuts and packs,  you are actually getting a few of the premium cuts that would come from the cow and a whole lot of ground beef, 75% of the total weight (compared to 20% with "Jerry") so they can sell the rest of the premium cuts at premium prices.

So, I did a comparison to their per pound price, according to cut, too. The results are almost scary. Based on the whole cow price we saved about 50%; and at the per pound price, we saved over 66%. The main reason I can figure, for the price difference is that the other sites seemed to be "middle men" rather than farmers.

Buying from the source is always cheaper. In past years, I have bought sides of beef and whole pigs from my brother-in-laws. Since, in those cases I got a "family" discount, or had to do the butchering and packaging myself, I knew most of you would not have the same opportunities to save; so sharing about it would have been a little unfair.

And in keeping with my general "Waste not want not" philosophy, I make soap from the fat of these animals,  too. See my Almond Joy, and Bit of Honey soaps made from the lard of this years pig, and I will have some tallow soap ready in a couple of months.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Vinegar Hair Rinse

As promised, here's some info on using vinegar hair rinse.

Many people are shocked when I tell them that my family uses a vinegar rinse in our hair. It's really not that weird. Just search the web and you'll find lots of references to it. Here are a few that I have read:

The science behind it is fairly simple. Think of the cuticle of the hair like shingles on a roof. When all is well, the shingles should neatly overlap, providing a protective barrier between what is inside the shingles (your house) and what is outside the shingles (the elements). Alkalinity (soaps and many hair products) causes the hair cuticle to open up, exposing the hair to the elements and making it drier, less shiny and more prone to tangles and breakage. Kind of like, if a storm were to raise the shingles on your roof, leaving the house exposed to the elements. Most commercial conditioners coat the hair to make it appear smoother, but do little to actually improve its condition (Listen closely to the TV ads for hair products, most are very careful to say it will improve your hair's appearance or will make it appear healthy, but they won't say that it will be healthier). This would be like putting a tarp over the damaged shingles, but not repairing the roof. Here's what the vinegar does. First, it removes soap residue left in the hair after washing, leaving hair less weighed down; and soap, by its nature attracts oil and dirt, so less soap left behind can mean that the hair looks and feels clean longer. Second, being a mild acid, it balances the PH and causes the cuticle to lay back down, leaving the hair smoother and shinier; thereby, repairing the shingles on the roof.

I had read about vinegar rinse for hair for years but had never tried it. I don't know why, it goes completely against my frugal nature to continue to throw money at commercial conditioners that weren't even working for me instead of trying the cheaper homemade alternative. For some reason, I always thought I would eventually find one that worked, but I never did. I'm not a very demanding person when it comes to my hair, I just wanted to be able to brush it without it feeling like I was yanking it out of my scalp, and it would have been nice to not have so much frizz. When I started researching my recipe for shampoo bars, I kept reading more and more about the vinegar rinses. After making the shampoo bars, but while they were still curing and could not be used yet, I decided to try the vinegar with the commercial shampoo. I was very pleased with how much smoother my hair was. It had a little more shine and a lot less frizz. But with the commercial shampoos (as well as "regular" soaps), I still needed to use heavy conditioners at least twice a week, as well as the vinegar to keep it nice. Still, this was an improvement. The real improvement, for me, came when I started using the rinse with my shampoo bars. The recipe for my shampoo bars was designed specifically to be highly nourishing. The oils that I choose are high in vitamin E and protein as well as natural moisturizers. The combination of the Moisturizing Shampoo Bars and the vinegar rinse have given me the smoothest, most manageable hair that I have had in 25 years, or more.  I no longer use any other conditioners. It has had as great of improvement for my 2 girls as well.

The "how to" part is really simple. Just put a little vinegar in a bottle, add water, pour on your hair after washing, rinse and have fun. The amount to use depends on who you ask. I have seen everything from full strength to 1 tablespoon per cup of water. I go for a happy medium and use about 1/4 cup(2oz.) in a 32oz. bottle and fill with water. This lasts me 1 to 2 weeks. The bottle that I use is just an old shampoo bottle with a dispensing lid. What type of vinegar is also a bit of a debate, Heinz says white, everyone else says apple cider. I don't think it matters as far as performance goes, but I use the apple cider. There are also different opinions about how long to wait before rinsing, and whether to rinse at all. This I believe, is just a matter of opinion and could vary for different hair types, experiment and see what works best for you. Talk about frugal, at the rate that I use this, it costs me about 4 cents a bottle.

Until next time when I'll ramble about..... "Jeremy the cow".