Brooding On

Simple Tips for Curbing Your Food Waste

So, if you read yesterday's post, you know that the average American household tosses about 14% of its food.  Here are some ideas we try to employ so that our household percentage is much lower that that . . .

1.  Make a meal plan -- If you know me at all, you had to know this one was coming -- I'm definitely a planner.  We've all been there:  the recipe calls for fresh cilantro, but it comes in a bunch.  So, once you've made that salsa, the rest of the herb bunch just sits in the crisper drawer until it eventually finds its way down the garbage disposal.  Be proactive.  Plan your weekly menu so that there's minimal waste.  At our house that might mean that we have Mexican food the same week we have potato salad because I know that we won't use all of the sour cream with our tacos, so I'll have just enough leftover to make the potato salad later in the week.

2. Plan meals that keep well as leftovers -- Interestingly, this may also keep your meal plan a little healthier.  We all know that fried foods don't store well -- that's how you justify eating just one more piece of fried okra, right?  "It won't be any good tomorrow!"  If fried foods aren't a part of the meal plan to begin with, then you won't have that moment of horrible guilt involved with chucking all the leftovers down the disposal.

3.  Buy the amount you need -- "Oh, this new variety of kale is on sale if I buy the big bag!"  Hmmm.  It's not a great deal if some of it is likely to go bad before your family can eat it all.  This is not really the case with non-perishables.  If your favorite brand of whole-grain pasta is on sale in bulk, you snatch that stuff up!

4.  Stick with your plan --  This one has been a challenge for us at times.  If you plan to make a meal at home, don't make a spur-of-the-moment decision to do otherwise.  We've been guilty in the past of having some chicken marinating in the fridge but deciding to eat out.  Because of our schedules that week, we weren't able to get to eating the chicken in a time-frame that I felt was safe, so I had to toss it.  When you make your weekly plan, do so with your schedule in mind.  If, realistically, you probably won't have time to cook the spinach gratin you'd had in mind for Wednesday night, don't buy the spinach.  And, if you do buy the spinach, eat the spinach (and not a bean burrito at the local Mexican restaurant).

5.  Consider serving items separately -- I have a great pasta salad recipe that my entire family loves.  The only problem with it, though, is that it has spinach in it.  Once it's all mixed together, we have to eat it all since the spinach won't store well once it's dressed.  Finally, I discovered (and, yes, it took me longer than it should have) that if I served the spinach alongside the rest of the salad, so that it's added to each plate rather than to the salad bowl, I can store the leftover salad and the leftover dry spinach separately as leftovers: problem solved.  This technique could be handy with lots of salads and perhaps some other dishes as well.

6.  Effectively store leftovers -- Obviously, this means that your storage containers should actually do a good job of keeping food fresh for awhile.  But, it also means keeping food visible and easy to access.  I love my Pyrex glass storage containers because they are clear, make items easy to identify, and can be microwaved.  If you don't know what's in a container, you're not likely to grab it for a quick snack.  Also, consider storing food in serving sizes.  My oldest two kids are old enough to work the microwave on their own.  So, I trust them to grab an individual serving of last night's man-n-cheese out of the fridge and reheat it.  I DO not trust them to pull out the 9x13, get down a bowl, scoop out a decently-sized portion, and reheat it.  The easier it is to get the food from fridge to mouth, the more likely it is to be eaten.

7.  Have a "makeover" plan for leftovers -- If we only have one or two servings of something leftover, we will just stick it into the fridge.  But, if we've made so much that we can eat it again, it either needs to be brought back to the table for an encore or it needs to be reworked.  Maybe last night's pork becomes tonight's barbecue sandwich, for example.  This is an especially good plan if one of the people you're feeding is "anti-leftover."  It sounds terrible.  I'm so glad we don't have any of those eaters at my house, but I do know they exist.  Just dress last night's dinner up as something else, and they'll be none-the-wiser.

8.  Build in a day/meal for "fending" -- I do not cook (at home) on Sundays. This is the day that we "fend."  Growing up, my mom would use this term to mean that we were all just fending for ourselves.  So, Sunday after church, all the leftovers from the week are pulled out of the fridge and laid out buffet-style on the kitchen counter. First come, first serve- everyone gets his pick of favorites from the week.  If we did not allow this buffer day in the weekly menu, there would be lots of leftovers that would go untouched and have to eventually be thrown out.

9.  Produce your own food -- Obviously, there are lots of reasons to grow your own food, but a desire to waste less is definitely on the list.  I dare you to try to stuff chicken you produced in your own yard down the garbage disposal, guilt-free.  It's not going to happen. You will do your darnedest to be sure NONE of that chicken (or lettuce or milk or  . . . ) goes to waste.

10.  Feed an animal -- Even if it's just your dog, feeding leftovers that are maybe a day too-far-gone for human consumption is one way to avoid waste.  Sure, you may not be eating it, but it's at least saving it from being added to a landfill and saving you the cost of one of Fido's meals.  Do one step better and feed your leftovers to an animal that will in-turn feed you, such as laying chickens or a backyard dairy goat. If you have no animal to feed (or a finnicky one that will only eat his favorite brand of chow and turns up his nose at your kitchen scraps), consider starting your own compost pile.  The scraps may not be making it immediately to your mouth, but once you've used the compost on next year's garden, it'll get there!

Got any other tips for avoiding personal food waste that we could add to the list?

Another Budget-Friendly Bash

Girl 1 is turning 9 this week!  Seriously, where does the time go?
For her party, she wanted to host a backyard camping party.

(Budget friendly sidenote:  When your child casually throws out a party theme idea that you instantly realize you can do on the cheap, jump on it with all the enthusiasm you can muster.  After all, a big, fun backyard, we do have.)

So, let's start with the invitation.
I wanted to fancy it up a bit, but when the birthday girl has other ideas and is willing to construct them herself, you just roll with it.  All I had to do was print up the little bits with the party info, and she did the rest with paper from our craft cabinet.

Our Homemade Campfire Cake is just a round cake topped with Twix and on-hand craft paper cut-outs.
Girl 1's response when she saw it for the first time:  "Mom, it's just perfect!"  -- magical words, truly.

Party time!

As guests arrived, we decorated paper lunch sacks with paint and glitter then hung them from the clothesline to dry.  These would be their goody bags. 

Backyard fun!

Wheelbarrow and 3-legged races are timeless fun!  For only the cost of a 4-pack of jumpropes, we added hula hoop competition, jump rope contest, water balloon battle, and scavenger hunt with supplies we already had on hand.  If you haven't picked up on it yet, Girl 1 loves to play games!  We stocked the prize bucket with items from the dollar bin, and you should've seen how excited the girls were about their choices!

Here the kids are searching for caterpillars as part of the scavenger hunt (talk about killing two birds with one stone!).

Our firepit made a great campsite kitchen for hotdogs and s'mores.

The tent made the camping experience complete!  We rented a movie that they watched on the laptop in their tent at bedtime. 

Morning pancakes and lots more playtime rounded out a fun time.  We sent the guests home with their decorated goody bags full of the prizes they'd won and a S'mores Kit to go.

Talk about budget-friendly fun!  Based on my calculations, we pulled this one off for about $30, but I'd bet if you asked Girl 1 about it, she'd tell you it was the best party she's ever had!

Out with the Old and in with the New-Fangled

My old washer died.  I knew it was about to happen.  For the past week or so, I'd been having to run the final spin cycle several times per load to get the water out of clothes.  But, I was willing to work with the inconvenience.

Then, however, it just died.  And, I went into full crisis mode.  You've got to understand.  I do A LOT of laundry.  Obviously, we're a family of five, so that involves a certain amount of laundry anyway.  But, add to that the softball uniforms, dance tights, and farm work clothes, and it really piles up.  The fact that we've basically done away with disposables adds cloth napkins and lots of dishtowels to the heap as well.  On a usual day, I'd do 3 loads of wash and (if it's a good day to use the laundry line) 1 load of drying. 

So, I messaged John who was at the bank --  "the washer is dead" -- and anxiously awaited his response, a little fearful that it might be "I'll bring home some quarters for the laundromat."  What he did, though, was call to tell me that he was taking off early to take me shopping for a new one. 
(Sidenote:  We've been reading the Harry Potter series to the kids, so I guess I have it on the brain, but I can't help but want to award John with Hubby Points toward winning the House Cup.  For example, he came home with 3 gallons of blackberries for me -- 5 Hubby Points!  He recognized the immediate need for a new washer -- 10 Hubby Points!)

My days of washing 3 or 4 loads of laundry are over, though.
Meet my new ENORMOUS washing machine.   

Because we plan to move in the not-so-distant future and wanted the option of stacking, I went to the store expecting to shop for a front loader.  While there were lots of great options, the key feature I was looking for was a large washtub.  The largest front-loader we could find that cost less than 4-digits (seriously?  for a washing machine?!)  was 4.1 cu. ft.  While that's a good deal larger than the maybe 3.5 cu. ft. I'm used to, I really wanted to prioritize size and wasn't that interested in some of the other bells and whistles involved in the front loaders I was looking at. 

Then, we discovered this beauty.  She's 5 cu. ft.!  Seriously.  The wash drum is like a bottomless pit.  To run the first load, I dropped in all the colored clothing from the laundry basket . . . then a set of sheets . . . then a few towels.  Finally, it felt like I'd filled it full enough to justify running a load. 

In our current setup, the washer and dryer have to both fit in this small hall closet.  We measured the washer in the store and John let me know that "it will probably fit."
Ummm.  Okay.

We removed both old washer and dryer, put new washer into place, pushed dryer close enough to reconnect the dryer vent hose (is that the right technical term?), dropped Girl 2 into the hole, handed her a screwdriver, and had her reattach the hose.  Pretty good for a 6-year-old, if you ask me! (5 Daughter Points for her!)

Then, we tried to get the dryer in place.  It was a no go.  It seemed the new washer was 1/8" too big.  You've got to be kidding me!

While I promptly relaunched crisis mode, John very level-headedly began prying away the baseboard on the side of the closet.  And, voila -- just the wiggle room we needed!  Isn't he something? (10 more  Hubby Points for him!)

The kids love the clear top.  "Haha, now it's your undies on top!"  Apparently, watching to see which article of clothing comes swishing up to the top is endlessly entertaining.  (Obviously, we don't have a gaming system at our house.)

So, I may not spend all day peering down into the wash basin, but I am just as excited about how the increased capacity will revolutionize my laundry routine. I do love an efficiently-run household!

Speaking of efficiency, since the new washer is Energy Star Certified at Tier-3, it will use about 80% less water than our old washer and at least 50% less electricity.  Wow! 

I told John that it feels very "mid-life" to be this excited about a new appliance.  His response: "Well, ummmm."  :(       (Even if I subtract 5 Hubby Points for that one, he still comes out on top with this whole new-washer thing!)

DIY Microdermabrasion

Years ago, I attended my first ever Mary Kay party and absolutely fell for the microdermabrasion product.  I loved the feel of those tiny granules in my palm and couldn't believe how smooth my skin felt afterward.  Flash forward a few years to the present.  In my efforts to live a more frugal and natural life, it's hard to justify the price tag for such beauty products.  Luckily, I only have to look as far as the kitchen cabinet for a nice substitute for the Mary Kay product I loved.
Baking soda's texture is just abrasive enough to make it a great microdermabrasion alternative.  I use it in the shower where I keep a small sour-cream-sized tub of baking soda.  I suds up my face with my normal face wash and while it's still on, I dip my wet fingertips into the baking soda.  It sticks, of course, and in just the right amount for one use.  In a circular motion, I then buff away dead skin by adding the baking soda to the water and cleanser that are already on my skin.  There's no need to scrub vigorously, just keep the granules moving for 30 seconds or so, and they'll have done their job.  Rinse thoroughly (otherwise BS can be pretty drying), pat dry (when you get out of the shower) and follow by your favorite moisturizer. 

Beauty treatments don't get much easier or cheaper than this!  Give it a try, and I'll bet you'll fall for that smooth-skin feel, too. 

Follow-Up Friday: Toilet Upgrade

This is the first ever installment of "Follow-Up Friday."  Much like the name implies, this post will allow me to provide updates on topics that have already been covered on the blog.  I'm a big project-driven girl.  Once something is crossed off the list, I rarely pause to look back.  I'm hoping that Follow-Up Fridays will help me to pause long enough to reflect on how things are going and, in turn, fill you in on things as well.
For this week, I wanted to show you the upgrade our little composting toilet received today.  That's right -- thanks to an attached toilet paper holder, it is now better equipped for us ladies!    Also, we rearranged the back porch a bit, creating a new potty spot that feels more private thanks to the piece of furniture next to it.  The plastic basket conceals extra rolls of toilet paper (in sealed containers, of course). 

The cheapest holder I could find was about $5.  I positioned a scrap piece of 1x4 under the crate and affixed the holder to it.  Of course, I spray-painted the wood first so that it would be black and "hide" under the crate.  You know, that just keeps it classier looking.  We definitely want our backyard toilet to be classy.  :)

DIY Composting Toilet

So, either you're convinced or curious.  Either way, welcome back to our discussion of our new composting toilet.  (If you're lost, you need to read yesterday's entry about why I built one and why you should, too). 
Most of what you need to build your own, you may already have lying around. 

So, go gather up these items:

milk or filing crate
5-gallon bucket
scrap wood for the legs
toilet seat
zip ties

Tools I used:

pocket knife
chop saw

I did have to buy the toilet seat (the cheapest plastic version I could find was $9 and change); everything else we had on hand.

1.  Place your 5-gallon bucket under your crate, and using the pocket knife, score the crate just outside where the bucket is to mark where you'll cut with the saw.  You want the bucket to just fit through the hole you'll create.
2.  Remove bucket and use jigsaw to cut along the line you made, creating a circular opening for the bucket.
3. Using the chop saw, cut the 4 legs to a length that just allows the bucket to peek above about a 1/2 inch.  I think I cut my legs 14.5" long.  (I spray-painted mine black to match the crate with paint I already had; while this does make for a nicer looking backyard 5-gallon-bucket pot, it's not a necessary step.  :)

4.  Attach the legs by threading zipties through the crate and tightening them around the legs.  Use scissors to snip off excess.  My zip ties happened to be black (how fortuitous!), so they are difficult to see, even in a photo.  Sorry.

5.  Attach your toilet seat.  My crate didn't have holes where I needed them, so I had to drill some.

6.  Set your finished toilet over the bucket and you're ready to go! 

I think we may add a toilet paper holder to the side, but I'll have to check the store for my options on that.  Since this crate lived a previous life in my high school English classoom, I removed a label from the front that read "Makeup Work."  I suggested we replace it with another one that says "Making Doo."  That idea was immediately shot down by very literal Girl 1 who was quick to point out that it doesn't work because we'll only use ours for #1.  Oh, well.

By the way, Little Boy is definitely the biggest fan of the potty thus far.  In fact, my plan to cut down on the flies let into the house when he runs in for a quick potty break is totally backfiring on me.  He's actually making extra trips outside just so that he can use the new toilet!  What is it with boys and al fresco urination?

I didn't take pictures during the process, so my explanations may be difficult to follow.  Please message me or comment with any questions.

Why I Built a Composting Toilet and Why You Should Too

I know that lots of you already think we're crazy around here.  For those of you who haven't yet made that judgment, let me just get this over with and move you over into the "Yep-They're-Crazy Camp" -- I built a composting toilet.  And we intend to use it.  Probably in the backyard.  Much like an outhouse.

Since I feel I may need to reel you in on this idea, let's devote today's post to WHY one should build a composting toilet and allow tomorrow's post to explain HOW to actually do it. 

Why Build a Composting Toilet:

(Okay.  I'm not going to get into the whole Humanure debate here.  We intend to use our toilet to catch urine only.  So, my arguments assume a #1-only potty.  If you're unfamiliar with the humanure debate and are bored, just Google it, and you'll have hours of entertaining reading.)

1.  You get to use power tools!  Don't let that scare you off, this thing came together in the span of about 15 hands-on minutes.  And, I guess, the fact that you get to use power tools is maybe not the most important reason to make a composting toilet, but it is the most exciting part of the process.

2.  Human urine is nitrogen rich.  If you grow a garden (or just pretty ornamentals), your soil needs regular fertilizer to keep plants productive and healthy.  Developing a compost pile is a must for the serious gardener.  But, studies show that the urine/compost combination is even that much more powerful.  So, why not just go pee on the plants?  Straight urine is too potent for plants and needs to be watered down.  Our plan is to empty our potty onto our active compost pile.  This will speed decomp and add nitrogen to our pile.  Rain will serve to dilute the urine as the pile develops over time.  Now, even if you do not have a compost pile, you can still use urine in your garden or flowerbeds.  Experts disagree on the urine-to-water ratio that is appropriate (suggestions I've read range from 1:3 to 1:10), but all advise that you apply your urine/water combo a few days ahead of a planned harvest.

3.  Who couldn't use an extra toilet?  We're thinking our toilet will live somewhere outside.  Especially this time of year, we spend large chunks of our day outdoors, so this could cut down on, say, the number of flies let into the house by Little Boy when he runs in for a quick pee before returing to his dirt pile outside.  Girl 1 refuses to use the new pot unless I enclose it in some way like a port-a-potty, though I was just thinking we'd hunt down a good, private spot that's not viewable from outside the yard.  We'll see. (For the record, Little Boy is pretty excited about the new potty and wanted to be very involved in in it's construction.  Girl 2 just shrugged her shoulders when I asked her how she felt about it, but she is thankful I've chosen not to include the photo I took of her trying it out.)

4.  Pee is free and abundant.  I guess you could go buy bags of nitrogen-rich fertilizer for your garden, but, if you have to stop for a pee while at the big-box store making your purchase, don't miss the irony.  Why not make use of what we already have?

5.  Our toilets use approximately 6 gallons of water per flush.  In our family of five, our flushing adds up to a lot of natural resources consumed in water usage, sewage treatment, etc. Generally speaking, less flushing is better. 
This may seem gross, but a lot of times (especially at night) we subscribe to the "if it's yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown, flush it down" philosophy.  This cuts down on flushing, but you can only let so much paper accumulate before a flush is necessary. 
Using the composting toilet regularly could greatly cut down on our environmental impact.  I mean, why would we want to expend valuable resources to dispose of something that, if harnessed, could actually be beneficial in growing our fruits and vegetables?

Instead of wondering why I should build a composting toilet, all of these reasons make me wonder why I haven't built one until now!

I realize, though, that this isn't for everyone.  And some of you may be thinking, "Remind me never again to accept the surplus vegetables Ashley offers me at church!"  :)  But, if you're at least a little intrigued, check back tomorrow to see how to build your own out of items you may already have lying around.

Slabtown Customs Tour

You know that feeling you get when you meet a movie star?  That's kind of how I felt Tuesday when I met Scott Stewart.  "I've watched every one of your YouTube videos," I gushed, "I'm such a fan of your work."  Yes, it was nearly that bad. 

In case you're not quite as in love with tiny homes or as in-tune with the tiny house community, let me clear this up for you.  Scott is the owner of and man responsible for Slabtown Customs, the tiny home construction company based in Mountain View. 

Girl 1's field trip Tuesday to Blanchard Springs had us driving within a block of where all the magic happens.  How could I not swing by? 
Scott builds custom tiny and small houses here at an old saw mill then delivers them directly to the customer.  (Most of his deliveries, by the way, are quite a ways away.  The tiny house movement hasn't really made its way here . . . yet.  He was surprised to hear that "a local girl" had such an interest in his work. :)

While he didn't have any completed houses on-site, he did give us a tour of this current project.  It's an 11x36 foot, coming in under the magical 400 square feet -- much bigger and it would have to meet lots of different zoning requirements. 

Here's a look inside.  Once finished, this house will have a living room, bedroom, kitchen (with full-sized refrigerator, sink, and bar stool area), bathroom (with full-sized shower), and a good-sized sleeping loft.

This photo isn't great, but it was taken from the bedroom (which is large enough for a king-sized bed), looking up toward the sleeping loft.  The pitched roofline really helps the small spaces not feel too cramped.

If you've got five minutes (or maybe an hour or so . . . you may get sucked in), look up Slabtown Customs on YouTube and watch as Scott provides walk-throughs of his finished products. 

I plan to make another trip up there (with John in tow) once Scott has another house finished.  I just love walking through them;  it provides me with my "tiny home fix."  Scott informed me that for a "local delivery" to our area, he could go as wide as 16 feet.  Hmmmm.  Maybe we could work with that and configure something that would be workable for a family of five.  ;)

Some Days Things Just Happen

The past few days have been CRAZY.  Sometimes you make the best plans, but they all just fall through the cracks. 
Sometimes, you get the oil changed 2 days before your big trip (good planning, see?), but when the mechanic brings your van back to the house, he leaves the key in it in such a way that it runs the battery out.  Then, when you jump in to take Girl 1 to dance, it won't start, and won't shift into neutral so that you can roll it out of the garage and into a place where you can get another vehicle close to it for a jump.  Then, you call your amazing hubby who drives home from softball practice to give you the key to the farm truck.  He rolls down the window of his car to hand me the key and the window just falls down into the door.  Seriously.  Suddenly we have two cars not working properly and the great irony is that one needs to be in the garage overnight because the window won't roll up, but we can't get the one in the garage out.  (Just makes you laugh, doesn't it?)
Later, in trying to get the van into neutral, a very essential part of the shifter fell out of the dash and into the floorboard.  Oops. 
So, we found ourselves with two cars in the shop at once.  Our family of five was left with the "farm truck" and lots of evening activities to navigate.  As you can see from the picture above, our shuttle service to and from softball practice and 3rd Grade Parent Night was a little different than usual.  Thank goodness we don't live too far from the school and ball fields and are all able-bodied enough to do some walking!
The kids, of course, think this is all a very fun adventure.  They argued over who would get to ride in the wagon, and Little Boy has LOVED the better view his booster seat wedged between John and I in the truck has afforded him.  "Mom, STOP!" he reminds me when the traffic lights turn.  I'm about ready for him to be back in the backseat!
But, in all honesty, the car stuff was not even the most emotional or trying stuff the day brought us.  It was definitely one of those days when you have to look hard for the positive.  But, you know what?  It was there.  We were able to find things all day long to be thankful for.  And, at the end of the day, all you can really do about a day like today is laugh (and maybe have a glass of wine ;).  And, I'm so thankful to have such a great partner to laugh with.
So, as the day would have it, we are leaving town and my blogging computer is experiencing "internet connectivity issues."  I'd planned to set up several posts to appear each day while we are gone (believe me, there's been a lot going on around here -- including a mystery we're trying to solve), but apparently it will all have to wait until we get back into town and have time to solve my computer issues.
Looks like you'll have to wait until Monday (fingers crossed) to hear about the Mystery of the Chicken Coop Break-In.  :)

Earth Day is Monday!

Just wanted to drop you a friendly reminder that Monday, April 22, is Earth Day.  Now, the Lord has called us to care for His creation everyday, but Earth Day is a good day for us to join with millions of like-minded Creation-lovers and refocus our efforts. 

There are tons of ways to take action and celebrate Earth Day.  If you need some ideas, check out

Our local forecast is calling for sunny and 70-degrees, a perfect day for getting outside and working.  My kids are planning to pick up some trash at and around our local park after school (and, no doubt, get in some playtime as well).   If anyone would like to join us, we'd love to see you there!

What do you plan to do Monday to celebrate Earth Day?

The Multiple Personalities of a "Responsible" Shopper

This is lengthy, but so worth the read.  In this excerpt from 7, Jen Hatmaker discloses the multiple personalities that govern her shopping decisions.  I can so relate to this!

"Sometimes my organic personality, Sage Moonjava, emerges; and my top priority is to buy real food with wholesome ingredients.  Sage Moonjava doesn't blink at spending $11.99/lb. for bulk organic cashews, because they were harvested responsibly and not doused in partially hydrogenated oil.  Grocrery chains are the bane of Sage Moonjava's existence; the produce is covered in vegetable petroleum, beeswax, and lac resin; the aisles contain ten thousand combinations of high fructose corn syrup, refined grains, and chemicals; and the meats are genetically modified and pumped full of antibiotics.  I've abandoned a half-filled cart and walked out in utter defeat.

"But at other times, my 'buy local' personality, Ryvre, materializes.  Attempting to support the local economy and diminish the high ecological impact of importing goods, this seems like a winning approach.  Buying from corporate chains is paying The Man; I like the little guy, the Mom and Pop store, the imaginiative small-business owner.  I'd rather subsidize local vendors who retain cretaive ownership and feed back into our local economy.  Ryvre is into "Live here, give here," and shopping at Wal-Mart solidifies my place in the flock, contributing to a questionable supply chain and putting thousands of locally owned stores out of business every year.

"However, my third alter ego, Freedom Shakra,  . . . is trying to unhook from the consumer machine, and all this buying is not helping.  Freedom Shakra is just trying to spend less, way less.  This is a numbers game, and the winners are off-brands, generic products, knockoffs, and used goods.  F. Shakra understands that name brands and chic labels are the marketing brainchildren of The People Who Sell Us Stuff We Don't Need.  There is no good reason to buy designer water, over-priced spaghetti, or two sprigs of basil for $3.99 when it enjoys a prolific growth in my own backyard from a $.25 cut.   . . . Freedom Shakra is knocking down the budget by purchasing cheaper things, fewer things, smaller things.

"Here's the rub.

"Ryvre spots an adorable chocolate brown wrap sweater at local boutique The Red Door right here in our little town.  Talk about spending local!  It's five minutes away in historic Downtown Buda, and the owner lives up the street.  Adios, mall.  No Gap for Ryvre!  She's supporting the local gal.

"But Freedom Shakra emerges and says, 'Wait just a minute, Ryvre!' . . . because that wrap sweater is $45, and my bank account couldn't care less whether it went to The Red Door or straight into the pockets of Sam Walton.  All Freedom Shakra knows is she's down fifty large for a sweater with a two-year shelf life, and I don't care where it came from, that's lame.  Buying local is often synonymous with overspending

"FS is winning the day, so off she goes to the grocery store where she spies a carton of eggs for $.99.  Hooray! At nine cents per egg, that is purchasing victory for this Thrifty Mama.  Add the $2.99 package of bacon and $1.69 can of biscuits, and we're talking about breakfaat for five for $5.00.  Beat that, Dave Ramsey!

"But out pops Sage Moonjava, who gravely reads the biscuit ingredients.  All twenty-nine of them.  She recalls the dreadful farming practices that produced those hormone-injected, antibiotic-laden eggs.  SMJ scolds Freedom Shakra for skipping after this processed, additive-packed bacon like it was the Pied Piper. . .

"Sage Moonjava would buy the $3.50 eggs from grass-fed, free-roaming chickens, the $5.99 organic bacon from responsibly raised pigs; and the day she feeds canned processed biscuits to her family is the day she puts her kids up for adoption so a mom who genuinely cares about their health can raise them.

"Sprouts is an organic grocery store, but it's not local.

"Central Market is a local gourmet grocery store, but it's not economical.

"HEB is the most economical grocery store, but it's not organic.

"So Ryvre is horrified by Freedom Shakra's priority to buy cheap, and Freedom Shakra outright mocks Sage Moonjava and Ryvre for spending more on 'local' and 'organic' (she uses finger quotes when she says this).  The competing voices confuse me, and I'm not sure which personality should dominate.  This leaves me in a mess half the time, and I manage to feel guilty one way or another, no matter which purchasing priority wins the day.  I've either spent too much, bought cheap processed junk, or I've subsidized the sweatshop industry.  Evidently simplifying can be complicated.  GAH!"

Can you relate to Jen's quandary here?  I definitely can. Perhaps this is why I seem to ALWAYS be suffering from buyer's remorse -- at least one of my personalities is upset with every purchase!  Who do you tend to side with most often?  Ryvre?  Freedom Shakra?  Sage Moonjava?

You Know You've Had a Good Yard Sale When . . .

Let us consider all the ways yesterday's yard sale was a success:

1.  The weather was absolutely gorgeous!
2.  I got rid of enough stuff that the leftovers fit neatly into my van and were hauled in the afternoon to the donation center (translation:  nothing unwanted made its way back into the house).
3.  The kids each sold a few things and now have some spending money.
4.  I sold enough stuff to purchase (through Heifer International) a goat for a family in need.  (We love to buy goats for others since we know firsthand how great they can be!)
5.  I was able to multi-task and reorganize/clean out the garage in between helping shoppers.
6.  I enjoyed some fun conversation with fellow neighbors.
7.  It was all finished and cleaned up by noon, plenty of time for my little helper to have a nap!

Yep, an excellent yard sale, if you ask me!

A special thank you to Tami, Howard, and Teresa for helping out with the clothing rack!  I so appreciate it!

Making the Most of Less Heat

Meet our little gas space heater. 

Usually, we hook him up when the weather turns cold and turn him on every once in awhile.
This Lenten season, though, I've made different use of him and saved some cash along the way.

As a part of our Carbon Fast, I decided to program the central heat thermostat so that it drops down to 60 during the school day.  That may sound pretty extreme, but hear me out.  Right up until the girls leave for school and John for work, the central heater functions as usual, keeping us plenty warm.  Then, at 8:00, it turns off and (since it never actually gets as cool as 60 inside) stays off until 3:15 when it warms the house back up for when the girls get off the bus. 

What about me and Little Boy who are still home most school days? Even on the coldest days, it takes several hours before we start to get uncomfortable.  When/if that happens, I turn on the space heater which warms the kitchen and living room -- pretty  much the only areas we're in anyway. Now, Little Boy is the most warm-natured person I know.  He has sweaty palms and feet pretty much always.  So, by the time he lays down for his after-lunch nap, his room is nice and cool, just the way he likes it.  And, he is able to sleep comfortably, snuggled up with his favorite blanket.  (He's actually a much happier boy when he wakes up in a cool room than when he wakes up sweaty.)  As for me, this is my work time.  Sure, the house is cool, but it's just motivation for me to get moving.  I putter around working on projects or hit the treadmill to warm up. 

I'm not sure how much credit this new practice should receive, but our electricity bill was about $20 lower than it has been.

We may give this practice up soon, but it'll be because the weather's warming . . . not because Lent is over.  It's definitely something we'll put into practice again next winter. 

Now, I just need a plan for how to save $$ on our cooling bill come summertime!

More Gadgets than Humans

According to BPD Group, "the U.S. is home to 425 million web-connected devices, while the U.S. Census Bureau reports a population of 315 million."  We now have more web-connected gizmos than we do people!

Wow!  And, so true.  You've heard me talk about how we don't have television, but don't let that fool you into thinking that means we're disconnected.  Let's inventory our house:  3 Kindles, 2 iPads, and 2 laptops, 1 desktop, and 2 smart phones.  That makes 10 devices in a household of 5. 

I'm aware that I've become a bit "preachy" here lately with my Lenten posts and all, so I'm not going to elaborate on what this stat says about us or how it ought to challenge us.  I'll just say "Wow!" and otherwise let it speak for itself.  Happy Thursday!

Save the Trees; Save Humanity

According the March/April issue of Relevant, "If nothing is done to prevent the expected rise of 2 degrees Celsius in global average temperatures by 2050:
--250 million people will be forced to leave their homes due to extreme weather disasters
--30 million people will go hungry as agriculture suffers
-- 1 to 3 billion people will suffer acute water shortages"

Ben Lowe writes,"Our generation is inheriting a climate crisis that is fast becoming one of the gravest threats to justice, peace and human flourishing worldwide.  According to the U.S. National Climatic Data Center, not only was last year the hottest year on record in the U.S., but October 2012 also marked the 332nd consectuive month of above-average global temperatures.  In other words, no one under 28 has experienced a cooler-than-average month."

What I love about these statistics is the connection they draw between the global warming crisis and humanity.  I think that too many Prius-driving "hippies" are written off as "tree-huggers."  What we need to realize is that working at reducing emissions and bettering the environment is not just about the critters and trees.  It's about looking out for ourselves and for our fellow man.  I'm pretty sure that once more people make these connections, we'll find much greater support in our fight against global warming trends.


An Alternative to Dryer Sheets

In an effort to reduce our use of things that we just use up, throw out, and re-purchase over and over again, I've been using this replacement for dryer sheets lately. 
All you need is a spray  bottle, hair conditioner, vinegar, and water.  You can make it in whatever quantity you like.  Just be sure to use the right ratio for the mix.  Mix conditioner, vinegar, and water at a ratio of 2:3:6.  I wanted to start with a small batch, so I used a 1/4 c. scoop and the ratio to mix up my first batch. 
(I would prefer to use a "green" hair conditioner but decided to use what I had on hand for now.  This is a hand-me-down bottle from Girl 1 who has now switched a more perm-friendly conditioner.)

To use the mix, just spritz (pretty heavily, I do about 10 squirts from my spray bottle) a washcloth or similar item that's going into the dryer from the wash.  That item that you're washing anyway then acts as the dryer sheet for that load.  I've tried this with my most static-prone items like my silky PJ pants and our fleece jackets and have had great results! 

I often feel like green cleaning alternatives take more time or effort than their store-bought counterparts, so I love that this is not the case here.  I can spritz a towel in about the same amount of time it takes to throw a dryer sheet in, and it takes about the same amount of time to mix up a new batch as it would to write "dryer sheets" down on my shopping list. 

Is It "Unfair" to Force This Life on our Kids?

Adults are adults.  We can choose for ourselves how to live.  But, kids are game-changers.  As parents, we make choices all the time on behalf of the kids God has entrusted to our care. 

It's not a stretch to say that our family lives differently than some others in a few key ways.  For example, we have no television.  We have no game systems.  We produce our own milk, cheese, eggs, veggies, and more, and it's often hard work that the kids are sometimes in on.  Let's be clear:  our children did not choose this way of life for themselves.  Is it ethical for us to choose it for them?

As anyone who follows me on Pinterest is by now well aware, I've become obsessed with Tiny Homes.  I can probably trace this interest back to time spent camping as a child.  I was amazed by how my grandparents camper could compress all the necessary kitchen appliances into such a tiny space.  And, the way my brother's bed in our pop-up camper transformed into our breakfast table with bench seating in time for breakfast was just awesome.  So, as I've considered how many square feet our own family of 5 could be comfortable living in, these ethical questions arise again.  Is it ethical for me to require my children to downsize and live a smaller lifestyle than the one to which they are accustomed? 

Children are all so different.  Hands down, it's Girl 1 who bucks up against our simpler lifestyle most, and I don't think it's just that she's the oldest.  While Girl 2 and Little Boy could be happy outdoors for hours on end, especially if there's dirt or water or (joy of all joys) a combination of the two to be played with, Girl 1 will eventually tire of it.  She likes her Barbies.  She likes her air to be conditioned.  She likes her iPod.  She likes her lotions and bubble bath.  Her bedroom is handily the largest one in the house, and it overflows with STUFF.  She prefers her bread and cheese "from the store."  She likes time alone in her bedroom to read, dance, write.  So, since I'm pretty sure the other two would be happy living in a tent in the backyard, it's mostly Girl 1 that I consider when I ask myself these questions on ethics.

How much space do we really need?  Do the kids each need their own bedrooms?  How many bathrooms could we get away with?   Would the kids be happy living in a smaller space?

Girl 2 and Little Boy are constantly underfoot, spending little to no time in their bedrooms.  And, most of the time, that's the way I like it.  I sometimes joke to John that we have this nice-sized house but all congregate and actually live in about 1,000 square feet of it.  There are, in fact,  many ways in which I think we'd be pretty good at living small.  As is infrequently the case in houses the size of ours, we only make use of one common living area.  We eat together.  We do homework in one common space, the girls sitting side-by-side on stools.  We love to spend time outdoors.  We like each other.   The kids (for the most part) can't get enough of each other.  As our resident housekeeper, I prefer things uncluttered.  Our Hurricane Katrina experience predisposes us to a loose connection to 'things."  The kids are pretty good about sharing things (for example, their shared iPad.  I think it's proven to be an excellent lesson in shared ownership.  I mean, really, how many things do our kids really have joint ownership of these days?  Sure, one child may have to share his possessions with another sibling, but ultimately most things "belong" to just one kid.  Our kids have really handled this unusual situation very well.) 
I recently came across an article on The Tiny Life that posed the question, "Is It Ethical to Raise a Child in a Tiny House?"  The article is interesting, but what I loved most was the response of reader Jason Blum:

My wife and I are raising four children in 1000 square feet – maybe not a tiny house, but certainly smaller and anyway, the size of the average home in 1950 and even a bit on the large side 50 years before that.
I am asked on almost a daily basis when we’ll be moving into something larger and I always politely blame the real estate market and change the subject.
But the truth is:
1) 1000 square feet can be thoroughly picked-up, laundered and vacuumed in a morning, instead of consuming your entire weekend.
2) In a small house, you can’t go days on end without seeing your kids because they’re down in the rec room playing xbox.
3) The kids are, or should be, outdoors anyway – home is just a place to eat, clean, read and sleep.
4) You’re going to have to get rid of your crap sooner or later. And if you do it later, you’re less likely to properly re/freecycle it. If you can make “crap-management” a small part of your daily routine, it never gets overwhelming and you’re more likely to value what you have, or find good homes for what you no longer need.
5) Or the best approach to “crap-management” is of course the finely-tuned crap-detector your small home will inspire in you. Everyone does this: they fill whatever space they have with crap. If you can’t spare the space in the first place, you’re forced to approach your acquisitions much more thoughtfully. This is a tremendously important life-skill I want my kids to learn.
6) In a smaller home, your kids have more opportunities to experience the family’s ecological footprint. In larger homes, the destination of the central vacuum or the distant rumbling of HVAC are all just abstract mysteries and lend to the illusion that earth’s resources are infinite.
7) Close quarters provide more stimulation, which makes it easier to resist the lure of television, for which there hopefully isn’t any space anyway.
8) A smaller home reinforces the lesson that over-consumption is a more urgent problem than over-population.
9) A smaller home in America is actually pretty average or even large by the standards of most of the rest of the world.
10) In a smaller home, children get to witness the parents navigate all the above – they get to see for themselves how critical moderation is to sustainable living.

Well said, Jason.  What say you?

National Day of Unplugging

Get ready to unplug!  The National Day of Unplugging is sunset to sunset March 1 and 2.  Here's some info, straight from the official website for the event:

"Do you have multiple cell phones? Take your ipad to the beach on vacation? Ever find it hard to get through a conversation without posting an update to Facebook? Is your computer always on?

"We increasingly miss out on the important moments of our lives as we pass the hours with our noses buried in our iPhones and BlackBerry’s, chronicling our every move through Facebook and Twitter and shielding ourselves from the outside world with the bubble of 'silence' that our earphones create.

"If you recognize that in yourself – or your friends, families or colleagues— join us for the National Day of Unplugging, sign the Unplug pledge and start living a different life: connect with the people in your street, neighborhood and city, have an uninterrupted meal or read a book to your child.

The National Day of Unplugging is a 24 hour period – running from sunset to sunset – and starts on the first Friday in March. The project is an outgrowth of The Sabbath Manifesto, an adaption of our ancestors’ ritual of carving out one day per week to unwind, unplug, relax, reflect, get outdoors, and connect with loved ones."

Hmmm.  I read something the other day that talked about how we are taught from a young age not to interrupt -- it's rude.  And, yet, we interrupt ourselves (or allow ourselves to be interrupted)  all the time.  So true, right?  I'm engrossed in a book  in the evening and my phone dings to let me know I've got a new email.  (Insert bookmark and swipe finger across phone screen.)  Oh, good, it's a shipping notice for my soap making supplies.  Then, I notice the little icon hovering over my FaceBook button. Oh, look -- someone tagged me in a FaceBook post.  (Click on FaceBook tab.)  30 minutes later I'm all caught up on how everyone I've ever known has spent their day.  Now, what was I doing?  Oh, yeah, enjoying a book.

Those tabs in our internet browsers or app buttons on our phones or the equivalent, sure do make it easy for us to switch gears and cover a lot of mental ground quickly.  And, there are some times that that's great.  Other times, though, it would be good to be a little less distracted. 

Agree?  Want to unplug with me?  Check out the link below to sign the pledge to unplug on the National Day of Unplugging.

Experiments with the Laundry Line

In keeping with this week's Lenten Observance, I've rigged up a temporary clothesline to put to use.  If all goes well, I may erect a more permanent one later.
Here are some thoughts on the project thus far:
1.  Obviously (as pictured above), I didn't have the line taut enough at first.  Girl 1's jeans were dragging the ground!  I re-rigged it and now have a much more efficient line. 

2.  The current location is both good and bad:  I like that it's right outside the kitchen window so I can see the clothes easily from the house (and know, for example, when a cat has pulled down a towel and is using it as a bed), but one side of it doesn't get good sun until the afternoon because it's so shaded by the house.  I may have to rethink the location for a more permanent line.
3.  What to do with the skivvies?  You see, we live right next door to church -- and not just any church -- OUR church.  While our laundry is not viewable from the road, it is viewable to anyone who pulls into the church parking lot.  I have this fear that Girl 2 will walk into Sunday school and hear from a friend "I saw your 'Sunday' panties on the line this morning.  Shouldn't you have them on today?" 
4.  What to do with John's dress shirts?  I pretty much only get out the ironing board when I'm working on a sewing project.  I pretty much only work on a sewing project when Little Boy is sleeping.  Come to think of it, he may not even know what an iron is.  This has been made possible by John's choosing non-iron dress shirts and my refusal to buy anything for myself or the kids that requires ironing.  But, the non-iron dress shirts require the dryer to get them in perfect shape.
5.  Even with these hindrances, I've found that I'm able to drastically cut back on drying.  For example, yesterday, I washed 3 loads total.  As they came out of the washer, I tossed the undies and dress shirts into the dryer and carried everything else outside.  So, I washed three loads but only dried one in the dryer. 
6.  Even though it's cold, the clothes do get dry.  I wasn't really sure about this.  Obviously, if it were below freezing, this wouldn't be the case, but on a breezy but cold day, I can put clothes out mid-morning and bring them in late-afternoon.
7.  I DO enjoy the additional outside time hanging the clothes allows me.  I chat with the goats and chickens, and watch Little Boy run around.  I expected to enjoy this part of it, but I was surprised by how much I enjoy bringing some of the outdoors in.  As I was washing my face with a washcloth fresh off the line, I found myself deeply breathing in that fresh outdoor smell.
8.  I DO NOT like how Milkshake, our smallest kitten, keeps jumping into the laundry basket full of wet clothes while I'm working.  This morning I counted 8 times that I had to toss her out of the basket.  Suggestions?

The Crazy Lady with All That Apple Cider Vinegar

At the store recently, I noticed a quizzical look on a fellow shopper's face as I piled multiple gallons of vinegar into my shopping cart.  What in the world could I be using ALL this apple cider vinegar for? 
Well, just today I used it to clean and disinfect eggs brought in from outside.  I also used it as a hair conditioner (the smell is gone by the time you're finished with the hair dryer).  I've also been adding a shot of it to my grapefruit juice in the mornings (it's said to have multiple health benefits, including helping to rid the body of toxins and lowering blood pressure).  And, we add it to the chickens' water periodically to keep them healthy.
Then, of course, there are the more traditional uses, such as pickling.

I also tend to pile the baking soda into the cart.  We make baking soda available to the goats (it eases stomach bloat).  Of course, I use it as a soft scrub for cleaning.  The other night as I got ready for bed, I noticed that I'd used it three times in the span of 10 minutes:  to exfoliate my face, wash my hair, and brush my teeth.  Oh, and I use it for baking occasionally, too.  ;)

If I you're thinking about taking on a more natural approach to household products, I'd definitely suggest building a stockpile of these two plus probably some white vinegar, olive oil, washing soda, and Borax.  I've found it's amazing how many cleaning/toiletries bottles I can toss because they've been replaced by different mixtures of these simple ingredients.