Friday, May 22, 2015

Die Ants, DIE! Super easy and cheap way to get rid of sugar ants

This is another one of my "I didn't invent this or even dream it up myself but it works so well I had to give my personal testimonial" posts.  Last month when it started raining (April showers, you know) I was overrun by little black ants.  They were in every bathroom and the kitchen.  EWWWW!  It's just so gross to see ants all over the kitchen.  It makes you feel like your house is a disgustingly dirty haven for bugs, which isn't true but that's how I felt.  And something about being naked the shower and seeing ants crawling up the walls made me want to move into a hotel.

This happened to us when we lived in California and I bought something called Terro, which worked very well but it was pretty expensive.  I didn't want to spend $30 on ant killer for all the areas in my house that needed it.

So after scouring Pinterest and finding several posts about this method, I tried it.  It worked like a charm!  Then I tackled the outside of the house.  Bingo - no more ants!


Materials needed:

Cotton balls
Plastic wrap or aluminum foil
A few containers, like mason jars

STEP ONE - Inside the house

Mix one cup of sugar in 1/2 cup of hot water.  Mix until the sugar dissolves and it makes a thick simple syrup.

Now add 1 tbsp of Borax (found in the laundry aisle.  It comes in a box and it's a white powder.)

Soak cotton balls in the mixture and place wherever you see the ants.  I put them on the bathroom floor, the corners of the bathtubs, and on the windowsill over my kitchen sink.   Place a small sheet of plastic wrap, silver foil, or a flat dish of some sort under the cotton balls.  Here it is in my powder room at the base of the sink.


A few ants will discover it and say, "OMG!  There's sugar all over the place in here!  Quick, run back to the nest and tell everybody else!"  Within hours your cotton balls will be swarming with ants.  It's horrifying, yet weirdly mesmerizing.  Like a train wreck, you can't look away.  Click on the photo below for a really gross close up.  They're like little piggies at a trough, all lined up around the edge drinking the sugar water.  I tried not using cotton balls for this area since the plastic lid I used as a plate had that little moat around the edge, for lack of a better word.  It worked just fine since it wasn't a deep bowl.

The ants eat the mixture and go back to the nest and die.  Replace the cotton balls after a couple of days when they dry out.  A new crop of ants will show up.  They will all bite the dust too.  This took about a week for me.  Tons of ants the first few days, then a few stragglers, then another group for round two, and by day seven they were gone.  GONE, I TELL YOU.  I have not had to repeat this and it's been several weeks now.

STEP TWO - Outside the house

Mix sugar and borax 50/50 and sprinkle around your house's foundation, plus anywhere you see ants.  For me it was at the garage door, along the sidewalk, the post of the mailbox, and below all the bathroom and kitchen windows.  Within a few days I saw no more ants.  Period.


From what I have read, Borax is only dangerous if ingested in very high quantities.  To an ant, 1 tbsp is a very high quantity.  But to a dog or even a child, it may cause stomach upset or nausea but nothing dangerous.  Having said that, don't leave the mixtures around where your toddler can get to it and you might want to treat and close off one bathroom at a time so that kids aren't tempted to put the cotton balls in their mouths.  I did all the bathrooms except for one on the first go around.  I closed them off to keep the kids out of there.  Then when those were clear of ants I did the final bathroom.

Now I know what to do next spring!  I have no idea if this works with fire ants of carpenter ants, but for the little black sugar ants it was 100% effective.

Good luck, ant slayers!

Get Your Shine On With This DIY Homebrew Wort or Mash Strainer Bag

Hubby has a new hobby.  We used to brew beer at home when we lived in Utah and had a big basement.  We could put the homebrew down there to ferment for a week in the cooler temps and it worked beautifully.  Then we moved many times (many, many times) over the next 12 years and never had a basement again.  Now he has recently started brewing again, only this time it's other things besides beer and it's so fun to try all his crazy concoctions!

He was straining his mixture the other day and was ogling my nut milk bag, which is probably 10"x12".   He asked me to go on Amazon and buy him one like that, but BIG.  I could only find one and it was still too small to fit in a 5 gallon bucket, and it was $30.  WHAT?!  Sorry, I'm way too cheap to spend that much for a bag I could make myself.

You could use unbleached muslin but my nut milk bag is made of a material like sheer curtains are made of, or the silky nightgown you bought for your wedding night and never wore again.  You know the one I'm talking about.  I've seen it called micron mesh but really it's just 100% polyester.

Hubby then stopped at Hobby Lobby on the way home from work and bought a yard of material for $4.99.  It's like chiffon but very strong.  Buy white or off white fabric.  We don't want red dye leaking into the home-brew.

Hubby has a 5 gallon bucket that he uses so my bag needed to fit into the bucket and fold down over the top.  This pattern (if you can even call it that since it's so basic!) fits a five gallon bucket.

DIY Wort/Mash/Homebrew Straining Bag

- A piece of 100% polyester sheer yet strong fabric, 25"x 40"
Cheater version - buy a pair of sheer curtains like this one on Amazon!

- Paracord 120" long

WASH YOUR FABRIC FIRST ON HOT!  If it's going to shrink, let's have it shrink now before you start cutting out your pieces.

***NOTE:  These dimensions are based on a 5 gallon container.  Our bucket is 12" across the top and 18" tall.  If yours is smaller or larger, adjust accordingly.  You want one side of the fabric to be as tall as your bucket + 8" so that it can fold down over the top of the bucket once it's placed inside.  The other side should be three or four times the diameter of the bucket.

Fold over each short edge 1/2" and iron it flat.  Then fold it over and iron again.  Now the raw edge is tucked safely inside and won't unravel.  Do the same across one of the long edges.  For the remaining long edge turn it under 1/2" and then when you turn it under again make that about 1" wide.  You're making a long tunnel where the drawstring will go.  It's not really important how wide the tunnel is so just eyeball it.  Envision your favorite pair of drawstring pants and make it about that wide.

Sew along all four sides.  Sew close to the edge that's toward the center of the fabric panel, not along the very outside edge.  This helps keep it from unraveling.  ***MAKE SURE YOU DO NOT SEW THE TUNNEL FOR THE DRAWSTRING SHUT!***  Just leave a small enough opening on each end to run the drawstring through later.

Cheater version - if you bought the curtains just cut the length on one panel to 25" long, leaving that rod pocket across the top.  This is where your drawstring will go.

Fold the fabric in half by bringing the short sides together.  I decided to fold it right sides together and put my seams on the outside of the bag.  I did NOT turn it right side out after sewing.  This was because on my nut milk bag that I've been using for years, the seams are on the inside.  All the almond pulp, coconut pulp, berry skins, etc. get stuck in the corners and it is a PITA to clean.

This way the seams and raw edges are on the outside of the bag so the inside will be a nice, clean edge where crap can't get stuck, harden, and hide.  Not as pretty but much more effective and easier to wash.

Sew the two halves together across the bottom and up one side.  Repeat and sew a second line right next to the first line for extra strength.  ***AGAIN, DO NOT SEW THE TUNNEL SHUT!***

Put a safety pin through one end of the drawstring and thread it through the tunnel.  I tied a knot in each end, then tied the two ends together with another knot.  This prevents the drawstring from ever getting sucked back inside and lost somewhere.  This happens on my favorite pair of yoga pants about once a week and it makes me freakin' insane!

That's it!  Now when you make your brew you will put the bag inside the 5 gallon bucket before you pour in your wort or mash.  Fold the top down over the bucket, pour in your brew, cover, and do whatever it is you do for the next few days.  (For my husband this would be obsessively checking how quickly the bubbles are forming.  It bubbles about once a second at the beginning and once it's down to once every 30 seconds he knows he's ready to move on.)

When you remove the lid and are ready to strain your mixture, just pull the drawstring shut and squeeze into a new container.  Hand wash the bag in the sink with dish soap and hang to dry.  It dries really quickly too - bonus!

Happy home brewing!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Henna for Beginners - best non-damaging natural hair dye there is!

Let me first start by saying that I'm no expert when it comes to henna.  But that's kind of the point of this post.  You don't have to be an expert to use henna!  It's a bit intimidating when you first start researching it because a) you've never done it before, b) you have no idea where to buy this stuff, and c) the idea of looking like Bozo the Clown meets Ronald McDonald if you screw up is scary.  But truly, it's no more difficult than applying any hair dye at home.  It just takes more advanced planning.

Go grab this free eBook all about using henna for more detailed information.  These people ARE experts and I'm just a user and lover of henna.

Why henna?

Henna is a plant.  They pick and dry the leaves, then grind them up.  Just like basil or parsley that you buy in the spice section of the grocery store, only the henna gets ground up into a fine powder.  Henna also happens to stain anything it touches orange.  So it has no chemicals, no mineral salts, no formaldehyde/bleach/peroxide/insert your favorite toxic chemical here. It's just a dried plant.  You mix it with a liquid until it's the consistency of pudding and then you slap it on your head.  Ta da!  That's not such a big deal, right?

Henna alone will not lighten hair, it only adds red.  So your final color totally depends on your starting color.  It doesn't really matter whether you have virgin hair or highlights, but your final color will be completely different depending on whether you're 100% gray, dark blonde, or dark brown.  If you're platinum blonde or gray your hair will be reddish orange.  If your hair is black you probably won't see much difference until you're out in the sun and then you'll just have a red sheen.  Mine was dark brown with coppery highlights and lots of gray roots coming in.  The dark brown parts came out reddish brown and the grays and highlights were pretty bright red.

Here is my Before pic.  You can see how light the ends were from the highlights.

Here is my first After pic. Still mostly brown with a red sheen overall and red highlights.

I've since colored just the roots a few times and done my whole head a few times.  The red has gotten more vibrant and deeper.

Which brings me to another point.  Because henna does not damage your hair at all you can do it as often as you want.  Let me repeat that.  HENNA DOES NOT DAMAGE YOUR HAIR AT ALL.  For most people it improves the condition of your hair.  So it's a strengthening treatment for your hair with the bonus of coloring your nasty gray roots or making you feel like Jessica Rabbit.  I color my roots every 2-3 weeks and once every 6-8 weeks I do my whole head.

I mentioned before that you mix the henna powder with a liquid.  The liquid can be a million different things and here's where it gets crazy.

Some brands recommend using water and nothing else.  But most henna aficionados say you need something acidic to help the dye release.  Water with some apple cider vinegar (ACV) is popular, as is black tea or fruit juice.  Henna can be a little drying to some hair types so I like to add ingredients that are moisturizing, like coconut milk or jojoba oil.  Just follow the directions on the back of the package the first time and you can always experiment the next time.  The last time I did my hair I used fruit juice.  I had a bottle of mango flavored Juicy Juice in the fridge that smelled really good so I used that.  Henna itself smells like wet hay.  It's not an awful smell but it's not my favorite and mixing it with ACV gives me a headache.  The mango juice made it smell like a tropical cocktail!  I also added in coconut milk from a can to make it extra conditioning.

So how do you do it?

Here's where the advanced planning part comes in.  You mix up your henna paste and then let it sit for 8 hours.  When you apply your henna to your hair you leave it on for 4-8 hours.  So you can do this two ways.  Either mix it in the evening, let it sit overnight, apply the henna in the morning, leave it on for several hours, and then rinse out.  Or mix it up after lunch, let it sit all day, apply at bedtime, cover your head and your pillow and sleep on it, then wash out in the morning.  I prefer the nighttime routine.  I like leaving it on for 7-8 hours for maximum gray coverage, plus I'm asleep so it doesn't bother me.  If I color my hair in the morning I spend the whole day praying no one rings the doorbell.

You want to buy body art quality (BAQ) henna.  And if you have lots of gray you'll want something with a higher lawsone content.  You can buy it at your local Indian grocery store or online.  I have yet to see it for sale at a natural foods store anywhere in my area.  Just make sure you're buying something with no additives.  You want pure BAQ henna and that's it.

When you mix up your henna paste, you want it to be thick enough that it doesn't drip down your neck but not too thick where it won't spread easily.  I like it to be like pudding or yogurt consistency.  Just mix in your liquid a little at a time and when it is nice and smooth, cover it with plastic wrap and leave it for 6-12 hours.  Don't use a metal spoon or bowl as I've heard that can cause a weird reaction depending upon the ingredients you used.  I use a plastic mixing bowl and a wooden spoon.

If you mix up too much, save your leftovers!  Just put it in a freezer bag, squeeze out the air, and freeze it for the next time.

How to Apply

Ok, this part gets messy.  So does regular hair dye though.  Just be prepared.  Here's what I like to do:

  • Gather your supplies:  a comb with a rat tail for parting your hair, gloves, a shower cap, an old t-shirt to cover your head and keep in your body heat, a few hair clips.  If you're only doing your roots, one of those paintbrush things from the beauty supply store is really helpful.
  • Clear off your bathroom counter.
  • Cover the whole counter with an old towel.  I keep towels in the garage for this purpose.  Put another on the floor.
  • Get an old washcloth that you don't mind staining.  Get it wet and leave it in the sink ready to use.
  • Wear an old t-shirt.
  • Comb all the tangles out of your hair.  You can section it into 4 big sections and clip them off if you like.  I don't bother when I'm doing only a root touch-up.
  • Set your bowl of henna paste on the old towel-covered counter.  Since I am only doing my roots today, I'm using leftover henna paste from last time.  I just put it in a freezer bag, squeeze the air out, put it in another bag for good measure, and freeze it.  Then you just thaw it on the counter for a few hours before you want to use it.  
  • For a full head application, start at your crown and finish off with the hair around your face.  Here's a great video showing the technique.

  • Wipe up drips as you go.  Just keep that wet washcloth handy and wipe stains up off the floor/wall/mirror right away.  Wipe your face and shoulders/arms off too.  Henna stains so do this right away.
  • Grab either a disposable plastic shower cap or a few long sheets of plastic wrap.  Cover your head and if you find your mix was too runny shove a few cotton balls along the edge where you might have dripping.
  • Now wrap your head in either an old towel or an old t-shirt.    Do it like this:

Your hair will be inside a shower cap at this point though, not loose.  This is how I always dry my hair when I get out of the shower though.  No terrycloth = no frizz.  Yay!

  • The t-shirt or towel keeps your body heat in and helps the color develop.  Leave on at least four hours.  I've left it on for only three before and my gray roots usually aren't dark enough.  If you do this at night, now just throw an old towel over your pillow and go to bed.  
  • When you're ready to rinse it out, don't use shampoo.  I rinse with just water until it runs clear and then use conditioner.  The color takes 48 hours to fully develop so you cannot wash your hair for a few days after coloring. NOTE: if you follow the No Poo method, henna counts as a wash as it is sebum removing so factor this into your wash schedule.  
  • My favorite way to rinse is to fill the bathtub about half full and lie down.  Soak your hair in the water and swish it side to side.  Loosen it up around your scalp and massage a bit.  Then drain the water and turn on the shower to finish rinsing.  This makes the least amount of mess in the shower and requires the least amount of clean up after.  *Try rinsing under the shower once without soaking in the tub first and you'll see what I'm talking about!*

You will probably end up with an orange ring around your face.  I haven't really found a way around this.  If I'm so careful that I don't get any henna on my skin, then I don't get good coverage at my roots and I have to color my roots again in a week.  So I apply it very liberally to my hairline, wipe off any excess, and just plan to wear my hair in a deep side part to camouflage any orange on my forehead!

Applying to my roots

Here's how it looks when it's on.  You want it to be fairly thick.  Just smear it in there and don't worry if you get it on your scalp.  It doesn't burn and there's no danger of it touching your scalp so smoosh it down in there.

All done!  See how my skin is already turning orange at my hairline?  That's after the 15 minutes it took to apply.  Wipe off as much of that as you can without removing any from your hair.

Wipe, wipe, wipe

Cover with a shower cap and a t-shirt. Now hang out for 4-8 hours looking fabulous.

That's it, you're done!  As I said before you can do this as often as you want since it's not damaging to your hair.  Repeated applications to your entire head will make the color a bit darker each time so keep that in mind.  Once it's too dark you can't lighten it up again with henna, so you might want to only do your roots on a regular basis and do your entire head every couple of months just to refresh the color.  I do my whole head each time I try a different brand of henna so that my color will be consistent.  I don't want my roots to be a totally different color than the rest of my hair, and since each brand of henna is slightly different based on where the henna was grown, the climate where it was grown, and the lawsone content that is something to consider.

Your hair may be more orange than red if you're starting with a lighter color.  Once your hair is dry, color it again!  You can do back to back applications until you get your desired color.

Where to Buy

I have personally used henna from Mehandi and The Henna Guys.  While both were good, the Twilight from Mehandi gave me a deeper red with superior gray coverage.  The Henna Guys is available on Amazon with Prime shipping though, so you can have it in two days.  Love me some Prime shipping!

Henna is available at many Indian grocery stores as well and it's quite a bit less expensive than buying online (so I'm told) but I haven't gone that route yet.

How Much to Use

How much you will need depends on the thickness and length of your hair.  When I buy 300 grams I'm usually able to get one whole head application and 2-4 root touch ups.  I have thick, shoulder length hair.

Short to above the shoulders: 50-75 grams
Shoulder length: 100-125 grams
Bra strap length or mid-back: 150-175 grams
Lower back (above hips): 200 to 225 grams
Hip/Waist length: 250 to 300 grams

I used 150 grams the first time I ever used henna and did my whole head.  I ran out halfway through the process and had to hurry up and mix up more!  So err on the side of caution - you can always freeze the henna mixture that you have left over.

Have you tried henna?  Do you like it?  I've been using henna for four months now and I am a convert.