Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bleeding Money - am I buying time?

I'm not sure what it is about fall but every year around this time as we approach the holidays  (and especially this one for some reason) I feel like I'm bleeding money. Big medical bills with sick kids, vet bills, quarterly water and sewer bills, a broken heater, you know - the regular stuff. Then you throw on top the "deals" that always start around now...the gifts - travel - big family meals. ARG! I don't know if it is just me but I feel like I'm bleeding money right now.

I'm not one to carry debt - I'm thankful my husband is a Virgo and I'm a Capricorn and we are OCD about our money....but for some reason having a house, pet, kids, cars, and whatever else we have is momentarily taking it's toll. I'm waiting for just one regular pay cycle for both of us from not having to take time without pay or starting a new job and I'm hoping we can at stitch it together.

I realize that since we are insanely dealing with two jobs and two daycare's we tired and this does seriously lead to overspending (in my opinion anyway). The other thing happening is that we got this tiny taste of what life is like when we have more family time together and we realize now more than ever that we are actually willing to spend more to buy time in a quality way. I mean, we are more willing now to pay for sustainable food cooked and delivered on a bike or eco friendly housecleaning just to buy us one more easy family meal and a few more hours enjoying our weekend.

And to some extent buying time is just what we are doing and well, I don't intend to stop that part of it - this time is going by so fast (my little one is already a year old) so I don't think we can afford NOT to do this now. I'm not sure where that puts us.... it is a crazy feeling right now... I guess money, things, and time will always be what drives us crazy (well, that and my kids at times).

What do you do this time of year to try to at least put a tourniquet on the spending. How do you deal with months where you have a lot of emergency spending and how do you not let that get you going down a slippery slope? I would love to know how other families are feeling about spending this time of year.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Upcycling - I gotta learn to sew again!!

I really really need to re-learn how to sew! I learned when I was young thanks to my mom and grandmother. I also learned how to crochet and kept some of that up - but not the sewing. I even have a simple machine and I think it gets more use by my mom when she visits than me....

I'm thinking about looking for local classes so if anyone has any recommendations please let me know. I think some of the big chains offer then but a fun 101 local class - if it was maybe on a weekend so I could escape would be a blast.

I'm always reading blogs about things you can make from old wool sweaters (like diaper covers) or cool yoga pants from a t-shirt. I mean.... just check out this blog about a girl who makes a dress a day from used clothes (yep 365 dresses in 365 days) for only $365... wow!

If anyone wants to learn with me let me know!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Meatless Monday - Root Veggies

I'm not sure why... but I love roots! I love carrots and always grow a TON of them (I think literally). Last year we tried to grow potatoes in a trash can (much harder than I would have thought and needed a lot of soil), Sweet potatoes make the best french fries in the worlds... ok you get the picture. Since we are officially in fall full swing and we finally actually want to turn the oven on to warm up the house try out some of these ideas for cooking up some roots:

Smoky Root Vegetable Gratin - basically a yummy casserole

Roasted Root Vegetables - as simple as it gets

Gratin - cause potatoes covered in cheese sauce is to die for

and I made this one for Thanksgiving last year and it was such a hit I will for sure be making it again this year:
Whipped Sweet Potatoes and Bananas with Honey

"Dig" in!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Meatless Monday

I like to say I'm of the 'microwave generation'. I'm not sure why I didn't learn how to cook growing up but I blame it on the microwave. My mom is an excellent cook and yet we partook in the fast food/giant boxes of Costco processes snacks/TV dinners back when instant was just beginning to become all the rage. I guess I figured I would never need to cook - food would just instantly appear according to Star Trek!

So by the time I got to college I know how to make mac-n-cheese and u-hum... fried baloney. Ugg, not good. Admittedly I'm still not the best cook there is but I blame that on my husbands incredible ability to cook and love of it (I think I have said before - he cooks, I bake). Still, we cook now as a family more than I ever dreamed and even with two working parents we eat as a family every night (something my mom was great about doing with us as well). Of course cooking takes more time... But we are certainly learning that it means more health, more love, and so very often, less money in the end. Plus, what we don't have time for we are now finding ways to support local suppliers of ready-to-eat, healthy, farm fresh meals to give us a little break - yea for those entrepreneurs.

To prove I'm NOT alone in this adult challenge to re-learn how to cook real food I'm sending you to Ellen Kanner's Meatless Monday post on at the Huffington Post titled "Cooking - The next stage of Evolution". By the way my husband made a mighty tasty bean soup yesterday (less meat but not meatless entirely like this one) - so the recipe you will find hear is a perfect meatless Monday meal!

Finally, I try to get my daughter (and eventually the little one too) in the kitchen with me as much as I possible can so that they will find a love and a passion for something I'm having to force feed on myself. Last week her words to me were "mommy - I love when you bake with me....can we bake cookies?" Of course, ....we baked cookies :)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Dryer Balls

I have literally had these pictures saved to do a blog post about making your own dryer balls for a week and with sick kiddos I just haven't had a chance to post them...

Here they are, wound up tight, ready to be stuffed in pantyhose and "felted" (FYI I skipped the starter ball and just felted the whole thing - not sure what this will do in the end but so far I don't see any difference from the balls I purchased).

Here they are, felted - after about 10 more uses they look even more felted - so just keep using them and they will hold together even better.

Then, along came this terrific post from Bummis on how to make them - and well. I just don't see a need to give you instructions when I can just send you to this great guide on how to make them.

When I first started cloth diapering I had read about how you do not want to use dryer sheets and to try these dryer balls or tennis balls instead. I originally went out and purchased 4 large plastic spiky balls that after just 4-5 months broke apart into little pieces in my dryer (uck). So I then browsed the wonderful world of etsy to buy some from a great artist. They are wonderful but a little small (though they make WAY less noise than the plastic ones). Plus, there always seemed to be one stuck in a sheet or diaper bag and so I was always wanting MORE. I had the crazy notion that I had some left over felting wool from a crochet project I never finished (yea, go figure) and viola... four more made.

Yes they are still a bit noisy but I really do find that my cloths do dry faster. I'm not sure they do as much for static as I would like on the really dry days - but with 4-5 of them it does help. You could probably put some occasional scent in there as well if you really do miss your scented dryer sheets. But no waste - easy to make. If you want to be crafty with some old wool sweaters here are instructions on how you can use them to make a different kind of dryer ball! (warning - sewing involved)!!

I love them so so so much that I think I know what everyone in my family is getting for the holidays this year.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Eco-Challenge Ending

Whew. Once again this has been a hectic two weeks. Once again I have a sick baby (oh the joys of the first year of daycare) and so we have really been focused on well being of a different kind this week.

That said. We have stayed true to our original goal of eating less meat. We did a potato and eggplant with Trader Joe's simmer sauce one night and going back to basics - we made more soup (check out an old Meatless Monday lentil soup recipe from my friend Deonne). I must have really missed soup this summer because just today we got the first of our soup from Portland Soup Cycle. This is a fantastic company that will make my life so much easier with a "soupscription" to weekly soup delivery. Each week I get a quart of soup delivered to my office on a bike made of yummy local ingredients soup. This and grill cheese or as my work lunch and I will be in heaven for weeks to come - all while putting little impact on the environment.
We also invested in an eco-friendly housekeeping service. I know this is probably one of those things that folks looking to live more on less might be looking at my like I'm crazy right now and I don't blame you. But if there is any lesson at all that we too from my husband being home and living cheaper for the last eight months it is that our family time is so very precious. Having him home meant the world and yet so does having some financial freedom.

Ultimately, if we were willing to put the girls back in daycare and have crazy days - we were willing to give up some of the money to help us keep some of the precius time. So if having food sustainable food delivered to me, or having someone help me clean my house with the same eco-friendly products I would use costs me more - so be it. I'm going to do this so that my family still keeps up the little time together we have. I know this is a luxury. I'm aware that some of this is probably not something everyone can do. I have always said I'm blessed to have the ability to live this way - even in this economy. I hope this makes sense to those few of you that might follow me.

One little tip though - I hired both of these terrific service providers through coupons in my Chinook book. If you are in the Portland metro area (or a few other cities they offer them in - check their site) and don't have one find a kid selling them for a school fundraiser and get your hands on one! I saved $15 off my first soup order (that I'm sharing with another family) and nearly $200 of my bi-weekly house cleaning. I'm supporting local, sustainably minded companies, and the book only cost me $20 (I think at least half of that goes to the school). There are hundreds of grocery and restaurant coupons...seriously - this is more for less!

So that is the nearly the end of our eco-challenge - probably not the grand ending I would have hoped for but healthy family comes first. I was really hoping to raise just $50 for NWEI. So Please please please just think about contributing a few dollars to their cause, becoming a member, or starting your own discussion group. Plus check out some of the other inspirational personal goals of other individuals who also participated

Reusable/Electrostatic Air Filters

So as another part of our eco-challenge this week we took some time to get our heater ready for the winter. My husband has been removing plants from around out outdoor heating intake and we also purchased an electrostatic air filter.

These are reusable/washable air filters that fit in our furnace and are life-time guaranteed. We figure one will easily pay for itself in just one winter (we don't have air conditioning). They can be washed with just your hose (might be tough on really cold days...) and some even have carbon monoxide detectors and there are certainly some that make some pretty big air quality improvement claims. I'm guessing you would need to spend extra on HEPA filters, etc.

They are much heavier than your standard filter but I'm loving the idea of being able to wash and re-use it rather than throw them away. We figure we use about 6-8 each winter and they are quite large - so I'm pretty happy about that.

Here is an article I found that describes some of the features I described above. E-how has some great guides on just how they work and on maintaining them as well as some pros and cons of using them.

Overall I'm pretty excited about this small step. This along with some furnace instillation (an ongoing project which probably won't be done before the challenge ends) and I think we are going to have a nice winter in our house!

I'll try to remember to report back in a few months and tell you how we like it.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A bed of bulbs

It's bulb planting weather - we got our garlic in and I dug out a good chuck of sod last weekend to make way for some flowers. My older daughter just lights up every spring when right around her birthday flowers just magically appear in our yard. So I plan to make a nice big bed of bulbs right in front of the house... maybe we will even plant then in the shape of a heart or her name or something - now wouldn't that be a surprise!
If you haven't thought about planting at least garlic this fall - DO IT! Check out this easy how to: 
Growing Your Own Garlic Is Easy! See How To Do It, from Planting to Harvesting and Storing

What is NWEI anyway

So I realized I haven't really blogged about the Northwest Earth Institute in the past and yet I owe a lot of my families changes in philosophy to the discussion groups I have participated  in.

NWEI is a non-profit organization, based here in PDX but you can start a course ANYWHERE, that develops and promotes programs that "empower individuals and organizations to transform culture toward a sustainable and enriching future" (as they state on their website). Check out this NWEI Intro video for more information. 

A few years back a co-worker asked me if I would like to participate in the Healthy Children Healthy Planet course. Each of the courses come with a nice booklet or articles and discussion questions and the group (which you put together) gathers around and discussions the weekly reading. They have lots of guidance and prepared questions for easy facilitation, and being in a group of 10-12 people allows for some terrific discussion. The topics around things like family rituals really made us focus even more on family meal time.

The second course I participated in was Menu for the Future. Though food was a small part of the above mentioned course, this was a full course on the topic of food sources and systems. It was very eye opening and in the mist of the course we stared a garden, found a local meat buyers club, etc. (Which we all toured later and I have also posted about here).

Though I though I was pretty eco-savy I learned so much from the courses. I carried a lot of it to my husband who listened to my crazy rants and often helps me implement my crazy ideas. Once we added a second child into the mix I think we felt like our family philosophy had dramatically changed for the better!

Finally, I lead four simultaneous groups at work trying out the brand new course Sustainable Systems at Work. This course focuses more on work action items for sustainability programs.

I HIGHLY recommend getting together some friends/co-workers and either either meeting over lunch or many a rotating family potluck discussion group. Talking about how other families and households were dealing with everyday "stuff", food, and the pressures of life were invaluable. When the timing is right I will surely be getting involved in another course. If you have a sustainability program at work you might even recommend a  series for work. Check it out for yourself and feel free to ask me questions. I'm certain once you will see what they offer you will see why I want to help them with through their eco-challenge!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Eco Challange Weekend Update - The Good, The Just OK, and The Ugly

It has been harder than I thought to really follow through with all of my grand ideas when I have two little ones (both fighting colds all weekend). Here are some of the good/ok/ugly ways we spent our first weekend of the challenge:

  • Lots of local food (or from our garden) and ate at home all weekend (see my meatless monday post from yesterday)!
  • A trip to the used baby store for second hand Halloween costumes
  • An afternoon at the public pool one day and a afternoon in the yard getting the ground ready for bulb planting, watering the fall garden, swinging, and making dandelion chains :)

We have lots of weeds and no "daisies" but we managed to make a chain and pretend to be fairies anyway... everyone had grass stains...some on their pants, some on their face :)

Just OK
  • Eco Cleaners (post coming soon - this one is probably borderline but I'm putting it in good for my book anyway)
  • Taking food for lunch is still a struggle for me - I tried to eat local at a food cart. The good news is that I learned a lot of places are becoming bring your own container friendly so I have plan to bring a wide-mouth mason jar next week. I also will be signing up for Soup Cycle for next week with a co-worker and will have soup either for lunch or a yummy evening side dish (I'll have to blog about that later too)!

  • Driving. Unfortunately we did about our normal amount of driving this weekend. While it wasn't one of the things on my list of reductions for this challenge - I still had some grand idea that maybe somehow we we do less. I tried to consolidate trips - but I still feel bad about this one Boo!
  • Target - EEK... I will admit now that I made a trip. It included much needed socks for my daughter which we could not find at the used consignment shop near home. Not so hot on my plan for us to reduce waste/garbage :(
I'm really proud though of all the things we already do every day, like cloth diaper, bring our own bags to every store (yes even Target), make our weekly (or bi-weekly) trip to the library to pick up and read lots of books, reduce TV time, and just focus on family time in general, and lots more. All in all it was a great weekend and even with some runny noses we had lots of fun and laughs (especially at the pool - I so wish I had a waterproof camera so I could have pictures of that trip).

We are still slowly working on an attic instillation project, our fall garden (just a couple of things), and keep talking and cooking as a family. We'll see what the week brings, with colds, cold weather, and more eco challenge efforts. Stay tuned!

If you want to support NWEI and our family during the challenge go here!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Meatless Monday, Sunday, Wednesday, Friday...

So this is week one of our families eco challenge. Last week I took a quick trip to the farmer's market and picked up a few things for us to do this weeks meal planning on. We spent a great deal of time working our menu around eating even less meat and fewer processed foods (which consumes fewer resources), and eating only meat from or locally raised hog purchase (the little that is left over). So this week of the challenge we have done local pork chops and homemade ground pork pot stickers, and spaghetti carbonera (from the bacon ends) . But for meatless we had/have a few things planned this week.

Everything in the fridge soup:

On Sat I busted out the crock pot and put every left over veggie we had in the fridge that was in danger of going bad into the pot with 2 local sweet potatoes from the market (so think, regular potatoes, celery, onion, carrots, some left over cooked butternut squash, garlic etc.) threw in veggie broth and cooked. Once everything was completely cooked I added a little salt, pepper, milk pureed the whole thing. To really make my daughter love it I added just a very few star shaped pastas.

In the morning my older daughter helped me make bread (artisan bread in 5 mins a day half wheat dough) and that night we made bread sticks to eat with the soup. Take a look - we all ate it right up and there are plenty of leftovers for another night. 

(These pictures aren't pretty - but I'm NOT a great cook so don't laugh)

Garden burgers from a bin:
I don't have a picture but last week we also tried out the veggie burger mix (Nature's Burgers) from the Winco food bins. A friend on facebook had mentioned the mix to me and I though there was no way this would be worth trying. Guess what, I was wrong. I bought just 1.5 cups of the mix, added 1.5 cups of water and waited 10 mins. Formed into patties and cooked it up. On a bun with cheese, etc... along side some homemade macaroni and cheese - we all thought these were so delicious we will certainly be eating them again. I was mentioning to a friend that they would easily pass for fax chicken nuggets or even crab cakes if you formed them small enough and added dipping sauce. For the $$$ and ease of cooking on a week night - this will be added to our rotation for sure (I just wish I didn't have to go all the way to Winco to get it).

And for the rest of the week I'm I'm going back to tried and true:
Our usual tofu and veggie stir-fry I'm sure will be in the mix with the last of our carrots from our own garden and taking a page from the success my mom had with a meatless meal we have a meatless sausage spaghetti on the list with some wonderful looking local tomatoes and artichokes I got from the market (my daughter loves artichokes - go figure. I will probably try to hit the farmer's market again Wed to see what else I can score for later in the week.