Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Successfully Frugal

The Frugal Challenge officially ended yesterday. Not that it has really ended. I'm going to continue to think and re-think what I've learned over the last 23 days. To be completely cliche, simplifying our lives is a journey and not a destination.

I started the challenge with a few specific goals. I wanted to waste less (food in particular) and we're making excellent progress. I wanted to get rid of things we don't use. So far I've cleaned out my closet, sorted through a lot of toys, and am moving on to the kitchen. We've been harvesting vegetables from our garden and are planning what we'll plant in the spring. I've been trying to make as many things as I can myself (bread, yogurt, kale chips, laundry detergent). I've been experimenting with crackers and dog biscuits (posts coming soon!) and, thanks to my mother-in-law, I've been able to shop at our local farmer's market each week as well.

While I'm really proud of the progress we've made in the last 23 days, there is still a long way to go. There is always room for improvement. That said, I've learned some valuable lessons.

I need to stop being so hard on myself. I think I can always do more to save money, reduce waste, and organize our lives. Yes, theoretically, I can always do more. But sometimes I can't. I need to recognize and appreciate the things we already do and the efforts we make. It's okay for that to be enough sometimes.

Living frugally doesn't mean not spending any money at all
. I need to let go of the guilt that grips me with every penny I spend. Each of those pennies is well thought out. Sometimes spending money is necessary. Nonetheless, the anxiety still lingers so I've adopted the 30 day list to help me think through potential spending. 

Living frugally by choice is a luxury. We live on one income and we live within our budget each month. We don't have credit cards. We only have one car. Through this challenge I've realized that many people think living on one income means we live frugally due to necessity and not choice. It's all a matter of perspective. The basic needs of my family are met on a daily basis and that is a blessing. Everything beyond that is a luxury. I strive to live simply by choice and remember that not everyone is so fortunate. No matter how much or how little we have we can always afford to share our wealth.

Even though I often wish I were doing more to be frugal and environmentally conscious (I have a horrible habit of comparing myself to others), I'm doing my best and I'm setting a good example for my daughter. I hope that she will grow up content with what she has and with an appreciation for simplicity and a love of the environment. I hope she will see the value of slowing down and making things herself vs. the immediate (and often empty) gratification just being a consumer in a material world.

Finally, the end of the challenge has brought some new and continued goals:

First, I really want to get our compost bin going again but I'm not sure how to proceed at the moment...this time of year we don't have any grass clippings or leaves to mix with our food scraps. I'm doing some research. Suggestions are welcome.

Second, I'm going to try my hand at making more cleaning products myself. I've been collecting recipes and can't wait to start.

Of course, I will continue to post about our progress. The challenge continues!

Did you take the 23 Day Frugal Challenge? How did it go?

This post is part of the Homestead Barn Hop.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Keep that Toddler Busy: Tabletop Beach

Lately I've been trying to avoid plugging my daughter in to the television when I need a few minutes to do boring stuff like cook dinner. Sometimes she can help me in the kitchen and sometimes it's better for her to do something else.

We've been experimenting with some new activities.

L. has been asking to go to the beach fairly regularly. Since we can't actually go to the beach anytime soon, and I don't want her to play in the sandbox in the dark while I'm in the kitchen, we compromised.

We made a little beach that she could play with at the kitchen table. She's close to me and totally occupied. I love it.

Here's all you need to make a beach: 
Pan of your choice

How much you'll need of each depends on how large a production you want. You can use baby, canola or vegetable oil and whatever size pan/plate/bowl you like. 

I wanted to keep it simple and went with a 9x11" cake pan. I like the taller edges of the pan. It keeps the beach in better than other pans.

Fill the pan with a layer of flour about half an inch deep and then drizzled vegetable oil over the top.

After you drizzle a little oil, mix the flour and oil with your hands. You want all the flour to be coated with oil (so if you blow on it the flour doesn't poof everywhere) but you don't want it to feel soggy or greasy. Nothing should feel wet.

You'll know when the texture is right.The flour will clump together but break apart easily. It should feel like really, really smooth sand.

I sat L. at the table with her beach in a pan and gave her some measuring spoons and one of those little measuring cups that comes with kids medicines. They were the perfect little shovel and bucket.
The first time we did this she played happily for 45 minutes.

I happened to have a lid for the pan I used so when she was finished playing I just put the lid on and stuck it in the fridge. So far it seems to last forever. I'm sure at some point I'll need to throw it out but it does keep for a long time.

It is a little messy (mainly due to the exuberance of my child) but so far it's been easy to clean up--wipe off the table, sweep the floor, wash child's hands, brush off clothes. That kind of thing.

Fun at the beach with no bath required.

Disclaimer: I've seen a lot of recipes like this floating around the internet and I'm not sure where I originally found this idea. I've seen it called moon sand, cloud dough, etc. Just wanted to let you know it's an old idea. Oh, and this post is part of Made By You Monday and Anything Goes.

Blogging about Blogging

This is the third post I've started today. The other ones weren't quite right. I'll save them for a rainy day. I'm sure you wanted to know that. You're welcome. 

Maybe you noticed (maybe you didn't) that I did another National Blog Posting month. Even after my post following the November NaBloPoMo, when I'd decided I liked writing everyday but not necessarily posting a finished post everyday, I did it again.

Truth is, I missed the days in December when I didn't have time to write.

I figured I'd start January off by getting back in the habit of writing every day. The first few weeks felt great. Yes, there were a few days I felt like I was posting fluff and I missed a day when our internet was down. I posted two posts another day to make up for it even though I was okay missing a day.
And here I am at the end of the month, once again feeling like the blog is taking over my life.

I love writing but I love other stuff too. 

Lesson learned. Again. I'm going to take this opportunity to set some boundaries for myself. And some goals.

February will be the test run.

I'm going to share all this with you (my bloggy world friends) to hold myself accountable.

1. No posting on weekends. That means I'll only post Tuesday-Saturday since J. is home most Sundays and Mondays. Unless I write something ahead of time and schedule it to post on the weekend. That would be okay.

2. Write Early. I'm going to get up and write when J. leaves for work. In an ideal world I'll get my writing done before L. wakes up. That way I'll have nap time for other stuff.

3. No more NaBloPoMo. For the time being at least. I'll evaluate later in the year. 

4. No more fluff posts. This goes along with no more NaBloPoMo. If I can't think of anything to write or I don't want to write what I'm really thinking, I'll skip a day rather than post something useless. That sounds really obvious written down.

5. Simplify. I'm going to spend some time revamping the blog. It's feeling a bit cluttered. And, like the rest of my life, that means it's time to simplify.

February is going to be good.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Happy Birthday Grandpa

My Grandfather turned 99 years old today.

I'm still wrapping my head around that.

It's incredible to think about how much has happened in the last 99 years.

He was alive for all of it.

Happy Birthday Grandpa.

Love you.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Grateful for Saturday

I almost didn't write a post today. I'm feeling pretty overwhelmed at the moment but I didn't want to sit down and write a post ranting about all the silly little things that are stressing me out.

I realized I needed to make a gratitude list. Here it is.

I'm filled with gratitude because I have a wonderful mother-in-law who is willing to get up early on Saturday morning to drive me to the farmer's market.

I'm filled with gratitude because I have a partner who works incredibly hard to support our family.

I'm filled with gratitude because I have a wonderful little girl who is always ready to give me a hug when I need one.

I'm filled with gratitude because that same little girl hasn't missed the potty in several days.

I'm filled with gratitude because I have a dishwasher and a washing machine. They made my day easier.

I'm filled with gratitude because I got to talk to my mom on the phone today. I have a fabulous mom.

I'm filled with gratitude because I get to spend all day tomorrow with my little family.

I'm filled with gratitude because I have a comfortable bed in a warm house to sleep in tonight.

I'm filled with gratitude because I saw some amazing photographs today. They reminded me of the wonder the world holds.

I'm filled with gratitude for life.

I hope you're having a wonderful weekend...

Friday, January 27, 2012

Maintaining Perspective in a Material World

I've been thinking about the Material World project since I began the Frugal Challenge. My husband and I both ran across it during various college classes and it's one of those things that sticks with you.

If you don't know about it, here's the quick version: photojournalist Peter Menzel set out to photograph average families around the world in front of the their homes with all of their belongings.

The book, Material World: A Global Family Portrait, was the result.

The images are incredibly powerful. You can see a few of them here

Take a minute to look if you haven't seen it before. It might just put things in perspective.

Have a lovely weekend!

{this moment}

A Friday ritual. A single photo, withoutwords capturing a moment from the week. 
A simple, special, wonderful moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.
If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see. -via soulemama.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Mom Clothes: A Long Ramble Through My Closet

I cleaned out my closet today.

For me, a big part of the Frugal Challenge has been to do more with less. I have to be happy with what I have. I want to get rid of everything I don't need and don't use.

The closet was the first step.

Even though I have been running regularly, and am therefore more likely to find something I feel good wearing (remember this post?), there were still a lot of things I didn't like in my closet.  Lots of things that make me feel frumpy.

I decided that if I don't like it, I don't wear it, therefore I don't need it, and I'm getting rid of it.
(I should mention at this point that I feel a bit guilty about how much I dislike a lot of my clothes. I have clothes and I should be happy about that. I'm working on it.)

Here's the reality. In the last three years my body has changed a lot (that might be the understatement of the year). I'm no longer working in an office and the average daily temperature of my living environment has increased by about 40 degrees. Even though I've lost the 45 pounds I gained while I was pregnant, my body is shaped a little differently than it was before.

I should also mention that two years of breastfeeding has mangled some of my favorite shirts.

It's no wonder I've ended up with stuff I don't wear (or don't want to wear). 

But aside from the threadbare state of some of my clothing, going through my closet today made me realize something else--I've started classifying the clothes I wear as "mom clothes".

My "mom clothes" meet the following criteria:

1. Easy to wash and dry.
2. Easy access for breastfeeding
3. Comfortable so I can sit on the floor, run after child, etc.
4. No decorations that can be torn or ripped off by child.
5. Nothing particularly fitted.
6. Nothing low cut.
7. Nothing strapless.

It's no wonder I want to wear the same three outfits repeatedly. Everything else is just too much hassle.

For example, I wouldn't wear a dry-clean only sundress to the park (disclaimer, I don't have a dry-clean only sundress). It wouldn't be practical to undress completely at the park if my daughter wanted to nurse and I wouldn't want to risk it getting torn/dirty at the park. I wouldn't be comfortable. It's obviously not a good choice for me.

Similarly, I wouldn't wear something strapless because my daughter would pull it down. I wouldn't wear something low cut because my daughter would stick her hand down my shirt. Again, obvious choices in my mind. My daughter likes boobs. I work around it.  

But I've realized I have other considerations too. Now that I'm a mom, I feel like I'm expected to look the part of a mom. There are a lot of expectations. My clothing choices have to be mom appropriate. They should be practical and modest. Nothing too sexy. I need to look like I take care of myself but not like I try too hard. I can't look like I prioritize my appearance over my child.

I tell myself a strapless top wouldn't be practical because my daughter would pull it down, but if I'm honest with myself, I wouldn't wear it even if she wouldn't pull on it. I'd feel much too naked now that I'm a mom. (Disclaimer: I don't actually have a strapless top that fits me.)

I wonder what changed my modesty level.

Not that I ever ran around in daisy dukes and revealing tops--I've never been one to dress overly sexy (there's a loaded term with a million definitions)--but I've been pregnant and I've given birth. On one hand my modesty is out the window. On the other, I worry whether or not a pair of shorts is too short. I'm really tall and the average pair of shorts is shorter on me than on most people. I've tried the Bermuda shorts and honestly they make me feel a little ridiculous.

My other shorts are mom appropriate but they're not all that flattering. So seems to be the way with most of my mom clothes.

For the time being, I'll just keep wearing the few things I like over and over...and maybe over time I'll find a happy medium: comfortable, washable clothes that are flattering and remotely stylish and make me feel good.

I feel superficial writing that but it's the truth.

I need to go for a run.

And yes, I started this post by talking about the Frugal Challenge and now I'm talking about wanting new clothes. Don't worry. The stress of shopping for clothes for myself is deterrent enough. 

How did your wardrobe change when you had children? Did it change? Do you have "mom clothes"?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

My Midweek Confession

I'm avoiding writing a post about potty training. As of this moment we're in good shape but I'm irrationally worried that writing about our current success will mean we have to start over again tomorrow.

Even writing that freaks me out.

It's irrational I know.

However, since I'm avoiding the potty training discussion, I have an excuse to participate in Midweek Confessions over at E, Myself, and I.

Here goes!

-I often prioritize writing, baking cookies, and washing dishes over cleaning my bathtub and mopping the kitchen floor. I strongly dislike both tasks.

-I would wear my favorite outfits over and over again if I could get away with it. Sometimes I do wear the same thing over again if I know I'm not going to see any of the people I saw the day before. Don't be grossed out. 

-I don't eat out at restaurants by myself. Not even when I was in college and ate out a lot. If I absolutely have to eat out and I'm alone, I'll get my order to go and eat at home. I don't think I've ever sat in a restaurant and had a meal by myself.

-I would bake chocolate chip cookies every other day if I had the time and could buy chocolate chips in bulk. 

-I plan my running routes around restrooms. Since becoming a mom I can't run more than a few miles without peeing on myself. I've made progress (yes, I do my Kegels) and hope I'll stop leaking soon. Until then, I wear black running shorts so my problem is less obvious. Don't judge me please.

-I often question how much I share on this blog. Seriously.

That's my confession for the day. I'm going to hit publish before I chicken out. I don't have time to write another post. I know my friends will still love me...

Do you have any confessions today?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Please Nap Time, Come Again Tomorrow!

I am terrified of the day my daughter will quit taking a nap.

I literally fear the day. I don't know what I'll do.

Each day at nap time I prioritize what I want (and need) to get done and enjoy a few peaceful minutes to myself. I bask in the quiet solitude. I savor the time I have without anyone calling my name or tugging on my shirt. I marvel at how quickly I can accomplish things uninterrupted. I try to take care of myself. I recharge.  

And I absolutely fear the day it ends. Every single time she misses a nap, I wonder if that's it.

If it takes her longer than usual to fall asleep, I immediately think she'll never nap again.

Perhaps I give nap time too much importance. It's hard not to. My sanity rests on nap time.

Today it took 2.5 hours for her to fall asleep. Yes, 2.5 hours. From the first signs of sleepiness to the time she fell asleep--2.5 hours.

She was yawning and her eyes looked sleepy during lunch. I thought she might fall asleep in her plate. She let me carry her to her room. She was relaxed in my arms. She wanted to nurse. We rocked and nursed for a minute. We read a story. It was lovely.

Then her eyes popped open and she asked to get up. She didn't want to read, she didn't want to nurse, she didn't want to lay down.

I almost panicked. I started wondering how I'll make it through a single day without nap time. My thoughts raced. I'll never have time to shower. I'll never have time to write. I'll never have a minute to myself. Aaaaaahhhhhh!

About 30 seconds later I realized I was totally overreacting. When she misses a nap, there's generally a good reason. Usually, it's because we're not at home or something else changed our routine. The culprit behind our napping issues today and yesterday was right in front of me and I didn't even notice until this afternoon.
L. got a handmade dress-up box from my mother-in-law and her husband last Sunday. It's amazing. All of her dress-up clothes and accessories are now conveniently on display in her bedroom. It's excellent. I love it. L. loves it. She can now dress and undress herself at will without adding to my laundry pile or breaking her closet door. All of her favorite make-believe tools are easily accessible. She can do it all "by myself!" to her hearts content.

But it's right there in her room, tempting her as we get ready for nap time.

As soon as this realization hit me today, I walked away. I let her play quietly in her room. She got out her doctor kit and gave her friends check-ups. She took out her cape and her tutu. She filled a few purses with random objects. She tucked her friends in bed.

I could hear her over the monitor taking their temperatures, kissing her friends good night, chatting with them as she woke them up two seconds later.

When I returned to check on her 30 minutes later she nursed willingly, hopped in bed, and went right to sleep.

I need to relax about nap time.

It might take a while.

Tomorrow morning we're going to spend a lot of time playing dress-up and hopefully nap time will come again.

I hope it does and just in case it doesn't, I'm going to be grateful for every minute I get today.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Miscellaneous Thoughts on a Monday

I so often abbreviate the word miscellaneous it took me a minute to spell it correctly.

I really appreciated my husband being home this weekend.

I'm going to miss him when he goes back to work tomorrow.

Friends and community are a crucial part of my life.

I think we're on the right track with potty training again.

I'm terrified I've jinxed myself by having typed that last sentence.

I'm considering banning all children's programing (DVD's and Netflix) for at least a week. Just to see how it changes our lives. L. doesn't watch much and it's all "educational" but she gets REALLY intense when she wants to watch her shows. It bothers me a bit.

That's an understatement.

It was incredibly relaxing to run without pushing a stroller this morning. Sometimes running with a stroller is like dragging a parachute behind me.

I've decided to let my hair grow a little longer and I'm trying to embrace the in between phase.

I need to get on top of planning Valentine's day surprises for my sweeties.

Tomorrow I"m probably going to regret not having done more around the house today.

Last night when I was going to sleep I realized that I'd spent the morning doing dishes and cleaning the house, the afternoon baking kale chips, sweet potato chips, and dinner and had nothing to show for it. I went to bed with dishes in the sink, toys all over the house, and no chips left for the rest of the week...and I forgot to serve the potatoes with dinner.

Next time I'll make bigger batches of kale and sweet potato chips.

It was nice to have a down day today.

This week I'm going to sort through my clothes and organize our pots, pans, and containers cupboards.

I've been thinking about our friends back home who have been without electricity for four days now as a result of the recent snow/ice storm. I hope they have power soon and can snuggle down with hot baked goods, hot chocolate, and hot showers. 

I hope L. sleeps well tonight.

I'm glad we don't have a lot planned this week.

This is a prime example of a "fluff" post.

It's time to go to bed.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Kale Chips: The Latest Favorite Toddler Snack

 I realize I've posted a lot of recipes recently. It's partly because I've been making a lot of things I want to share and partly because I'm having a hard time putting my deeper thoughts down on paper. Recipes are my "fluff" post of choice.

That said, here's the latest: Kale Chips.

I know these are probably old news to the rest of the world but we made them for the first time yesterday. They were an immediate success. L. sat at the table with a bowl and shoved them in her mouth as fast as she could. I admit it's hard to stop after just one. The flavor is excellent (in my opinion) and the texture is addictive. They're light as air, crunchy, and they melt in your mouth.

They're also super easy to make.

Kale (I used one large head)
Olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Wash the kale and separate the leaves from the thick stems. Dry the leaves as best as you can. A salad spinner would be great but since I didn't have one I pressed them in a towel and it worked fine.

Tear the leaves into bite size pieces. Spread the leaves on a large cookie sheet. They probably won't fit in one layer and that's okay. They will shrink considerably by the time they've finished baking.
Drizzle olive oil lightly on top and gently toss/scrunch the leaves until they are evenly coated and sprinkle salt and pepper over all the leaves.

Pop the whole tray on the middle rack of the oven and bake for about 10 minutes. You want the edges to be slightly brown but not burned. I took mine out at 10 minutes, tossed them lightly with a fork, and put them back in the oven for a few more minutes. Be sure to watch them closely until they reach the desire crispiness.

That's it. Enjoy!

So far ours haven't lasted long enough to worry about storage. We made a batch yesterday and a another one today and they're all gone. I imagine they would keep well in a Tupperware container, mason jar, or similar.

Update 1/25/12: Just made another batch using garlic salt instead of plain salt. Verdict? Super yummy. We're going to plant kale in our garden next winter. 

This post is part of Monday Mania, Just Something I Whipped Up, Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways, Homestead Barn Hop, Fight Back Friday, Seasonal Celebration Sunday, and Made at Home Mondays

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Self-Care Saturday

Today, I...

Left the dishes in the sink.

Took a bath.

Played outside with my daughter.

Ate Key Lime Pie with friends. 

And we found some good books in the library basket.
It was a nice day. Hope your Saturday was just as lovely as mine.

Friday, January 20, 2012

No-Knead Whole Wheat Bread

Seriously, you don't have to knead the dough.

I know. I was excited too.

This is another recipe based on one I found in my old copy of Whole Foods for the Whole Family. I have no idea if the same recipes are in the newer editions. I say it is based on the original recipe because the original didn't give specific amounts for each ingredient. It gave a range for each ingredient as well as a list of optional ingredients. This is what has worked best for me so far.

3 tsp. yeast
3 cups warm water
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup melted butter
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup wheat germ
6 cups whole wheat flour

You're going to want to use a large non-metal bowl.

Whisk the yeast and honey in the water until dissolved and let it sit a few minutes until the yeast gets foamy.

Add the melted butter, salt, wheat germ, and 3 cups of flour. Beat with an electric mixer (or some serious elbow grease) until smooth. I usually mix for about two minutes.

Stir in the remaining 3 cups of flour. I prefer to use a wooden spoon for this part. Continue stirring (and occasionally scraping the sides of the bowl) until all the flour is combined.

At this point your should have a very sticky ball of dough:
Cover your bowl of sticky dough with a thin cloth (I use a large cloth napkin) and let it rise until the dough has doubled in size. I leave mine in the kitchen since it's the warmest room in the house and seems to rise more quickly there.

Once the dough has doubled in size, grease two 9x5 loaf pans. I use butter.

Divide the dough in half (I use my hand to press/cut at the center of the inflated dough and scoop out half at a time) and place half the dough in each greased loaf pan. Press the dough down gently in each pan to eliminate any large air bubbles (you don't want holes in your bread!).

Cover the two pans again with the thin cloth and let them rise until the dough is above the rim of each pan.

When the dough is almost done rising, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Bake for 30 minutes.

When the bread is done the crust should be very firm and a deep golden/brown color. If you want to be really, really sure it's baked the right amount take it out of the pan and thump the bottom of the loaf with your hand. It should make a nice hollow sound. You can always stick it back in the pan to bake a few more minutes if necessary. Cool on a wire rack. 
These loaves will be pretty flat across the top. Don't be surprised when they're not round like most other yeast breads. I slice the bread as we use it. It stays fresher that way. This recipe makes a nice, dense, sweet loaf. I don't usually like breads made entirely with whole wheat flour but I really like this one.
It's perfect toasted with butter and jam for breakfast or in a yummy open faced sandwich for lunch or dunked in soup for dinner. I think this one is going to become a staple in our home. I froze one of the loaves so we're not rushed to use it before it gets old. We can savor every bite. 

Have you made a "no-knead" bread before? Did you like it? How did it turn out?
This recipe is part of Fight Back Fridays, Simple Lives Thursday, Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways, FarmGirl Friday Blog Hop, Patchwork Living, Monday Mania, and Frugal Fridays.   

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Contemplating Generosity and Gratitude: The Day a Homeless Man Gave My Daughter Goldfish Crackers

No, she wasn't hungry. She had a snack in hand when we got on the bus last Thursday.

We were going downtown to meet friends for the afternoon. L. was excited about riding the bus (she always is) and was waving and saying hello to all the other passengers as we found our seats.

We sat down in the first empty row, directly in front of a man who appeared to be homeless. He was wearing several layers of dirty clothing and had longish hair. A large backpack and sleeping roll were on the seat next to him. He fit the stereotypical image of a homeless man.

L. waved at the man and he waved back. She grinned. He told me she had a beautiful smile. I thanked him. We both laughed for a minute as L. continued grinning and chanting, "we're riding the bus!"

A few seconds later I heard him ask, "Can she have these?"

He held out a small, individual package of goldfish crackers. I hesitated. She already had a snack. I've worked with homeless people. I didn't want to take any food away from him. He might need it later. I tried to think of what services were available in town and whether or not he was likely to get a good meal that night. I realized I don't know what services are available in our new city. I made a mental note to check it out.

He smiled and I took the crackers. I thanked him. L. squealed with joy. She loves goldfish. She put her snack aside and I helped her open the little bag. She sat happily munching her crackers and waving as new passengers found their seats.

I thanked the man again. He nodded and told me how much she reminded him of his own daughter. I found out she's grown now and near my age. She has kids of her own. He talked about his daughter and two sons. I heard the pride in his voice as he talked about how successful they are. They live in another state. He expressed relief at knowing they are all well provided for. I got the impression he hadn't seen them in a while.

I asked what brought him to this part of the country. He said he was looking for work initially but now he's just traveling. His health problems prevent him from holding a regular job. He doesn't want assistance. 

He told me it's his birthday on Sunday. I asked if he planned on doing anything special to celebrate. He wants to ride the bus down to the dollar theater and watch a movie. I could tell he was really looking forward to it.

I thought about how he doesn't identify as homeless. He's just traveling.

L. had been crunching on her goldfish while I talked to the man. Every now and then she turned around to look at him curiously. I could see her thinking, "who is this man who passes out my favorite crackers?" I could see the innocence in her eyes. She didn't see him as homeless or dirty or unemployed. She didn't question his estrangement from his family. She didn't wonder if his "traveling" was an excuse to run away from unsavory things in his past.

She just saw a person. A human being. Another passenger on the bus. She didn't question his motives or his character.

I was very aware of the judgements in my head. My past work experience had me automatically searching our conversation for signs of mental illness or chemical dependency. I saw no signs of either (unless he's invented his family and their success, and I find that unlikely). He was coherent and polite. He was well spoken. All the "stranger danger" slogans were dancing through my head. I thought about how protective I am of my daughter.

I wondered how I'm going to teach her to be safe and responsible without making her fearful of the world. I thought about how to balance safety and good judgement without teaching her to be anxious and judgmental of others.

I was sure he could see the joy in my daughter's eyes and the ambivalence in mine.

I felt guilty about my own thoughts. I admit part of me questioned his motives when he offered the goldfish crackers. But he never asked for anything in return.

I thought about what I learned from our short conversation. I thought about the Frugal Challenge and how easy it is to take good fortune for granted. I have the luxury to be frugal by choice. We have to be careful with money but we can afford healthy food and rent. I'm thankful for the hard work and luck that got us where we are today.

The man we met on the bus didn't identify as homeless. He was traveling. He focused on the positive and was grateful for his experiences. Instead of expressing jealousy or spite for his successful children, he expressed gratitude for their good circumstances and relief that they were well. When he could have clung to the few possessions and food he had, he chose to share his wealth and offered my daughter his goldfish crackers. I admired his ability to give freely when he had so little. 

I'm glad we rode the bus last week and I'm thankful I met a traveling man. Sometimes lessons of generosity and gratitude come from unsuspecting places.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Tomatoes, Broccoli, and Chard

I'm feeling more and more dissociated from the seasons. Here in South Texas there is the hot season and the less hot season, punctuated by a few really cold days here and there. For example, we had two days early in December that felt like winter. Nighttime lows were in the 30s and daytime highs in the 40s. But it came and went quickly.  

Today was in the low 80s.

It's hard to imagine snow on the ground. My parents sent us pictures of the snow in their neighborhood and it feels like another planet. I'm pretty sure winter here ended when everyone packed away their holiday decorations. Decorations seem to be the way people in this area distinguish the seasons.

L. and I have been reading a lot of winter books and making ice sun catchers to feel more connected to the season. It only works if we stay in the house since it feels like summer outside. I'm trying to embrace only having two seasons. I don't miss being cold and I'm only a little bit jealous of our friends back home who are sledding and making snowmen!

Nonetheless, we're enjoying the warmth and the sun. Our winter garden is really enjoying the weather too. Our tomatoes started ripening on New Year's Day and L. has been raiding the garden daily ever since. She really likes the "matoes".
We harvested our first head of broccoli last week. We made a wonderful broccoli and cheddar soup with it. I'll post the recipe soon. We'll be cutting more broccoli tomorrow. I've never grown broccoli before and I've been fascinated by the process.
Each plant grows one main head of broccoli. We cut it off when it's between 4-6 inches across. After the main head is harvested, little florets start to grow off the main stem at the base of each leaf. It's very exciting. Can you see the tiny broccoli in the picture?
The rainbow chard is doing well also.
I'm starting to dream about the spring garden. I'm trying to plan better this year so we can make better use of our space. We only planted a few things this winter since we weren't sure how well it would do...but now I think I may be planting our spring garden around what is left of our winter garden.

I may be getting ahead of myself. Last year February was our coldest month...

I'm just going to have to be patient and enjoy our January harvest of tomatoes, broccoli, and chard!

This post is part of the Country Garden Showcase and Homestead Barn Hop

Monday, January 16, 2012

Whole Wheat Banana Bread

One of my main Frugal Challenge goals was to waste less food. So, today I noticed we had a couple bananas that were getting a little on the ripe side for my taste and I decided it was the perfect excuse to make some banana bread. 

This recipe is based on one I found in the 1981 edition of Whole Foods for the Whole Family, published by La Leche League International. I have a copy that belonged to my mother. Recipes like this bring back good memories!

3 or 4 very ripe bananas (mashed)
1/3 cup melted butter
1/2 cup honey
2 eggs (beaten)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup hot water
3/4 chopped nuts

First, preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Then, using a whisk, mix the honey and the melted butter in a large bowl. Stir in the eggs. Stir in the bananas. Add the dry ingredients and hot water. You can add the hot water gradually (a little bit with each dry ingredient) if you like. It can make it easier to stir. Mix well.

Pour batter into a greased loaf pan (9x5x3). I greased my pan with butter. Bake for 55-60 minutes at 325 degrees F.

Allow the bread to cool slightly on wire rack before slicing.

We like our whole wheat banana bread best still warm with a little butter on top.


Editor's Note: This post is part of Just Something I Whipped Up, Made By You Monday, Market Yourself Monday, Make-it Yourself Monday, Homestead Barn Hop, Frugal Ways, Sustainable Days, and Monday Mania.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sailing Destiny: The Maiden Voyage

I'm swaying slightly as I write this. I haven't quite found my land legs yet. It's a comforting feeling. It's been a long time since I've felt like this. It's a feeling that comes only after a day on the water. 
We sailed Destiny for the first time today. The maiden voyage. It was a real shakedown cruise. We learned a lot about our boat today. Thankfully the weather was calm and forgiving and we had some wonderful, patient friends along to give us a hand.
For the most part, everything went smoothly. The few exciting moments--like when the outboard motor died before we were out of the marina and the pull cord broke when we tried to restart it and we had to sail back to the dock before heading out again--passed quickly and issues fairly easily resolved.
Can you see the dolphin?
Nonetheless, it was a wonderful day on the water. Next time will be easier. We have a few little things to take care of before we take her out again but we're already plotting summer adventures.

L. stayed with her grandparents today. I'm looking forward to when we take her out with us. We'll have to have a few more shakedown cruises before that happens.

I can hardly wait.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

I Run With My Mommy! (Or, Why I'm Running Instead of Making a Real Fashion Resolution)

What are your 2012 Fashion Resolutions? How do you plan to feel great by looking your best this year?

Here's a bit of what ran through my head when I saw this Life Well Lived question in my email:

Crap. How am I supposed to answer that question? What's fashion? When was I supposed to make a resolution? Um, I'd like to wear clean clothes as much as possible and make sure my shirts aren't inside out. Does that count?  

I'm not good as making resolutions and I'm definitely not an authority on fashion. Fashion has never come naturally to me. When I became a mom any hope I had of ever being even remotely fashionable was left for dead in the back of my closet. How I look has been on the bottom of the priority list for a long time.

So, I procrastinated for several days and put off answering the question.

Now I've been thinking about it for a few days and I've gotten past the "fashion resolutions" part of the question. I'm going to skip ahead to the part of the question I like best. How do I plan to feel great by looking my best this year?

I'm not.

I'm going to look my best by feeling great. In that order.

What's my plan? I'm going to run.

Yes, you heard me right and no, I'm not running to lose weight. I'm not running so I can fit into a smaller size or "tone up". I'm not doing anything fancy. I'm not even running fast. Actually, I'm kind of slow.

I'm going to run so I feel great. When I run, I'm happier, I'm more relaxed, and I have more energy. Even if I don't feel like running, I'm always glad I did. Whether I run for ten minutes or an hour, walk half the distance or push my pace, getting outside is refreshing and a good run always gives me a better perspective on my day. And on my body.

Running doesn't make me look any different but it changes the way I see myself.

I don't weigh any less when I've been running but I feel like I do.

My clothes don't fit me any differently but I feel like they do.

I'm less likely to dig through my closet feeling dissatisfied with everything. It's really not about the clothes.

It's about how I feel. When I feel great, I look my best, regardless of what I'm wearing.

Last December I ran a 5k. I almost dropped out of the race. We'd been busy, had out of town guests, and I hadn't run in two weeks. I felt out of shape. I'd just started my period and didn't feel well. At the last minute I decided to run anyway. I figured even if I walked it would be good to get the exercise. Since my MIL was watching my daughter, I figured I shouldn't miss an opportunity to run without a big stroller.

I ran slowly and tried not to push myself too hard. I didn't feel as bad as I thought I would. I started enjoying myself.

Then I ran past my daughter and MIL. I couldn't help smiling as my daughter yelled, "Go mommy! Run mommy!"

The second time I passed their cheering spot I almost missed them. They'd gone to the potty and were hurrying to make it down to the road before I passed. My daughter was pulling my MIL along by her hand yelling, "Come on Mimi, come on! I run with my mommy!"

She was grinning and bursting with joy, running in the grass alongside the road, shouting at my MIL and pointing proudly at herself as she repeated, "I run with my mommy! Go mom, go!" in her sweet two-year-old voice.

I about burst with happiness at that moment. Those words will continue to get me out of the house and into my running shoes all year. Running makes me feel great and when I feel great, I look my best.

I'm not just running for myself anymore. It's important that I feel great and look my best because I'm setting an example for my daughter. I need to feel good about myself and be a healthy role model. I know that how I feel about myself will influence how she feels about herself as she gets older.

Finally, if I have to make a fashion resolution it is this: I'm going to get rid of the clothes I have that really don't fit me. If they don't fit me now, chances are they never will again. I'm going to donate them to charity or refashion them into clothes I like.

Yes, watch out world! I'm going to try my hand at refashioning clothes.

Because when I've been running, I have the energy and motivation to try things like that. I can only hope I remember to put my newly refashioned shirts on right side out.

If you want fashion advice from a real expert read Year-Round Fashion Resolutions and share how you're planning to feel great and look your best this year! And don't forget to enter the Life Well Lived Moments Sweepstakes for a chance to win a Kindle Fire and Amazon Gift Card!

Friday, January 13, 2012

{this moment}

{this moment} 

A Friday ritual. A single photo, withoutwords capturing a moment from the week. 

A simple, special, wonderful moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.
If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see. -via soulemama.

Note: I'm replacing my usual Wordless Wednesday post with a Friday {this moment} post!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Why Women Need Fat (A Book Review of a Diet Book in Which I Rant Momentarily About Birth)

If you're tired of ineffective dieting or you've had trouble losing weight, I'm sure the title of this book caught your attention. Why Women Need Fat: How "Healthy" Food Makes Us Gain Excess Weight and the Surprising Solution to Losing it Forever, by William D. Lassek, M.D. and Steven J.C. Gaulin, PH.D. has a delicious looking bowl of chocolate mousse on the cover. The title and the chocolate are intriguing. I'm sure you're wondering, "do I get to eat that?"

Yes, you do.

No, it's not a chocolate mousse diet.

Let's start with the things I liked and found interesting:

Why Women Need Fat sets out to answer some basic questions, the most obvious of these being, why do women need fat in their diet and on their bodies? How has the average US diet changed in the last forty years? Why are US women fatter than they used to be? What can women do to get back to their "natural" weight without starving themselves or eating crazy diets?

For Lassek and Gaulin, the bottom line seems to be that eating low fat foods, using excessive amounts of vegetable oil, and increasing our intake of processed foods have made women fat. Eating "healthy" unsaturated fat while decreasing saturated fats put our bodies out of whack. Women gain more and more weight in order to reach a balance of good and bad fatty acids. Essentially, we're deficient in good omega-3 fatty acids and we're getting way too much omega-6 fatty acids that aren't as good for us. They explain it better than I do. 

The solution is not surprising. Eat more whole foods and less processed food. Eat good food in moderation. Don't starve yourself by dieting. Butter, chocolate, and sugar are not necessarily bad for you. Eat organic when possible and choose grass-fed meats. By making meals yourself and making more informed choices in the store, Lassek and Gaulin argue that you can re-establish an adequate store of omega-3 fatty acids and decrease your omega-6 intake. This, in time, will return you to your natural weight.

Your natural, healthy weight might not be super skinny. Most people should weigh less than they do now but genetics play a big part in our body composition. Healthy does not equal skinny. 

There's more to it all than that, but you get the general idea. I won't waste anymore time rehashing what they said. You can read the book.

But before you do, let me tell you about the two things I found irritating. These things shouldn't stop you from reading the book but I'd like you to know how I felt about them all the same.

First, I found the title a little misleading but I guess it depends on your definition of "healthy". The primary "healthy" food they talk about is vegetable oil. They argue it makes us fat. But the majority of our vegetable oil intake is from processed and commercially fried foods. Not things I consider healthy, even if they're fried in "healthy" oil. At times it was hard for me to wrap my head around a discussion of "healthy" food making us fat when we were talking about fried chicken strips from a fast food joint.

Finally, in the fourth chapter they discuss from an anthropological/evolutionary standpoint, why women are designed to have smaller waists and larger hips. They argue, smaller waists ensure our babies don't grow too big to be born. They contend that because women in the US are getting bigger, they are having bigger babies and need more cesarean sections.

And this is the part where I start ranting.

I found this section strongly lacking in complete information. They did not discuss any other reasons for high cesarean rates in the US. They barely mention other factors (aside from lack medical care) that influence birth outcomes in less developed countries. They mention Europe having thinner women and lower cesarean rates but they do not discuss that Europe also has lower rates of epidurals and artificial inductions. From what I could tell from the sources, they based their contention that heavier women are more likely to have obstructed labor and need cesareans on a study of women whose labors were induced without clarifying how they controlled for the impact of the inductions on cesarean rates.

The authors have extensive research credentials. I understand they can't fit every detail into one book. I know birth wasn't the main topic. I want to trust what they say but I admit this chapter made me wonder about the rest of their research.

I won't deny they made some valid and interesting points in chapter 4. Medical technology is great and I'm thankful we have it. I know people who have needed and had cesareans. Obstructed labor is real and it's scary. However, having a "big" baby does not mean you cannot have a vaginal birth. "Big" is a relative term and there are a lot of other factors to consider. It's hard to make broad generalizations on this topic. There is undeniable evidence of unnecessary technology used in childbirth in this country. Technology is not always better. Bigger women are not the only reasons US birth outcomes fall behind other industrialized nations.

It is frustrating to read a book that appears to be well researched and full of useful information yet contains a chapter of what came across (in my opinion) as missing critical information. I'd be really interested to hear what Marsden Wagner and Ina May Gaskin have to say about the conclusions drawn by the authors. I want to lend this book to my friends with a disclaimer that they should watch The Business of Being Born after reading chapter 4.

But I'll end my rant there. This was a book about weight loss after all. The authors don't claim to be experts in childbirth and neither do I. No matter how much their repeated mention of big babies grated at my nerves (I kept thinking about the women I know who have birthed really big babies vaginally), it was a small part of the book. 

Ultimately this book appears to be a practical guide to eliminating dieting, eating good food, finding balance, and losing weight with some interesting anthropological stuff thrown in. I'll highlight the parts I found interesting and pass it on to my friends despite the few things I found irritating.

For the record, I was paid to review this book for the BlogHer Book Club. Nonetheless, the opinions it contains are entirely my own. For more discussion and other opinions about this book visit the Why Women Need Fat page at the BlogHer book club.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

We're Still Making Yogurt

In the last week I've wasted a gallon of milk and several packages of yogurt cultures. You heard me right, a gallon of milk. I'm actually pretty annoyed with myself. Super frugal right?

Turns out the organic whole milk I've been buying for the last year and half went from being just pasteurized to being ultra-pasteurized. Pasteurized milk makes yogurt just fine. Ultra-pasteurized yogurt does not. I knew this but totally failed to miss that one little word they added to the container that looked, in all other ways, just the same as it did two weeks ago. It took me two failed tries to figure it out. Ugh.

Nonetheless, we're still making yogurt.

Over a year ago I wrote about how I'd started making our own yogurt in the crock-pot. The crock-pot worked really well for a while--no milk wasted (except that one time I tried to make yogurt at my mom's house and discovered that her crock-pot doesn't cook at the same temperatures that mine does). I'm by no means a yogurt making expert but, as I got more comfortable making yogurt, I was frustrated by my inability to closely control the temperature in the crock-pot.

I was also really good at putting the milk in the crock-pot and forgetting to turn it down two and half hours later. And sometimes I would forget to mix in the starter on time. Or I'd forget to save enough yogurt from our previous batch to use for starter. I was getting more distracted and having a harder time making good yogurt. Making yogurt was taking longer and longer. I wanted thicker yogurt and I didn't want to wait around all day.

Consequently, I talked to some of my friends back home who make their own yogurt and decided to try making yogurt without the crock-pot. I also started using a freeze-dried starter. All of this had seemed too intimidating for me a year ago but it's really not as difficult as I thought.

Every single person I know who makes yogurt, makes it differently. Seriously, there are a million ways to do it. In case you want to give it a try, this is what is currently working best for us:

You'll need...
1 big heavy bottom pot 
Canning rack (or something similar) to keep the jars off the bottom of the pan*
2 quart wide mouth canning jars with lids (you need canning jars to they can handle the heat)
1 half gallon whole milk (NOT ultra-pasteurized)
Freeze dried yogurt starter (we use Yogourmet)
Whisk for stirring

Bath towel and cooler for incubating

Fill the pot about half way with tap water. Pour the milk into your quart canning jars. (I know that two quarts equal a half gallon but I can't fit a full half gallon of milk in my jars. Just one of those quirky things I suppose.) Anyhow, fill the jars up but not so full that you can't stir them with the whisk without spilling.

Put the jars of milk into the pot of water on the rack and turn the heat on high.* Occasionally stir the milk with the whisk and check the temperature. I use a small instant read thermometer (kind of like this one). For a nice thick yogurt, allow the milk to heat up to 180 degrees F. On my stove this takes about 30 minutes.
When the milk is nearing 180 degrees, fill the kitchen sink with cold water. When the milk hits 180 degrees carefully transfer the jars of milk from the boiling water to the cold water (I use a big over mitten to pick them up. They're hot!). Once they're in the cold water, stir them fairly frequently and check the temperature. You can add ice cubes to the water to speed up the cooling if you like.

Please note that you don't want to go from hot to cold too quickly or the jars will break. I say I move my jars from boiling water to cold water but my "cold" tap water is really pretty warm. We're way down south, remember? Move the jars to luke warm water in the sink and then add ice to make it cool faster but gradually.

When the milk has cooled to about 115-118 degrees take the jars out of the cold water. I take them out at this point because they'll cool a little more while you're mixing in starter and you don't want the temperature to drop below about 110 before you incubate.

Once the milk has cooled, as discussed above, whisk in the recommended amount of yogurt starter to each jar. I've heard starters are all a little different. We use one little packet per quart. Put the lids tightly on the jars. Then, set the jars in the cooler, wrap them completely in the bath towel (I set the jars on the towel and then fold it around them), close the lid, and leave it to incubate. I found the cooler keeps the temperature consistent during the incubation period. 

We leave our yogurt for about 5 hours but check the instructions on your starter as it might vary. After the yogurt has sat long enough, move it to the fridge where it will set up a little more.

So far I like this yogurt way better than the crock-pot yogurt. It's thicker and has a sweeter, creamier texture and I have less dishes to wash.
And just for the record, I'm glad I figured out the reason behind my two ruined batches of yogurt. I thought it was something I had done and I couldn't for the life of me figure out what it was. At least now I'll remember to always check the labels.

Happy yogurt making!

* 6/22/12--I've been happily making yogurt without the rack for the last six months but this week it failed. Again, I wasted a gallon of milk as jar after jar broke while I was heating them up. Lesson learned. I suppose that's why you use a rack when canning. I can only assume that my jars gave out after so many months of being heated directly on the bottom of the pan. 

Editor's Note: This post is part of the Country Homemaker Hop, Simple Lives Thursday, Frugal Friday, Fight Back Friday, and Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Frugal Challenge Update (Because that was the most boring title I could think of)

This is the post where I calmly try to catch up after not really posting for two days. Even though I haven't been in front of the computer, I've had the frugal challenge on my mind. I've also had potty training on my mind but I can't bring myself to write about that yet. It consumes my life right now so when L. is sleeping and I'm sitting at the computer, I want to think about something else.

That said, here's our frugal challenge update (I say "we" because my husband is involved by default)...

Day 3 focused on downsizing the home. As much as we would love to buy our dream boat, downsize immediately, and live aboard again, we've crunched the numbers and we wouldn't save any money by doing so right this minute. It wouldn't be practical and we don't want to be impulsive. We want to do it right. We're going to enjoy the space we are fortunate to have for the time being and look forward to the day when we'll wake up on the water again.

Day 4 challenged us to reduce our household bills. We've already eliminated all the actual bills we can eliminate. We have stupid phones (as opposed to smart ones) so we don't have to pay for data plans. We don't have cable TV or credit cards. We don't have car payments...but there is still room for improvement. Here's my list of things I want to improve.

1. I'm trying to make more of our household cleaners myself. I hate to spend money on cleaners when I can use the vinegar or baking soda I already have at home.

2. I want to get screens for our windows so we can open the windows on these nice breezy days. There's really no excuse for having the AC running in January. I've gone back and forth about whether we really need the screens...and in South Texas we need screens. I'm hoping we can recover the screen frames we already have.

3. I need to use our clothes line more. I used it really regularly over the summer but forgot about it after had a few rainy days. I need to get in the habit once more!

Day 5 (today) was a big one for us: reducing grocery bills. I would love to reduce our grocery spending. This week we did really well. We did our grocery shopping yesterday and spent about $30 less for the week that we normally do. Over a month, that can add up!

If I sort out some storage issues we can buy more in bulk. Of course, this means I have to figure out the logistics of getting to the farmer's market and the one store in town that sells bulk but I'd like to try. We've been going through a lot of flour lately...

I'm also going to be watching Craigslist.org for a chest freezer. We've been trying to eat less meat lately but I'd like to buy the meat we do eat directly from a local farm. It's better quality and it's much less expensive than getting the good stuff at the grocery store!

We always make our menu for the week ahead of time and go to the grocery store with a list but we're trying simpler meals and not planning a meal for every night. We planned for four meals this week (including a few soups that would make enough leftovers for J's lunches for this week and next) and it will cover us for the week because we won't be home two evenings. One night we'll eat leftovers.

And that is the update. I was hoping to revamp my homemade yogurt post today (since I didn't do it yesterday) but it's going to have to wait until tomorrow. My husband surprised me and is taking me on a date tonight (don't worry, we're being frugal--it's an event where he works!) and I have a few other things to get done first.

What is your favorite frugal date night?

Monday, January 9, 2012

This Post Has No Title Because I'm Too Tired to Think of One

I didn't write a blog post yesterday. No perfect NaBloPoMo for me this month. I'd intended to write all about our first broccoli harvest (I know. In January. Crazy!) but it didn't happen. I'm okay with that.

Our internet is working again but I have absolutely no energy to write anything intelligent. I feel totally lame writing that. It's like telling my English professor my dog ate my homework. .

I'll be back tomorrow with something more interesting. Cross your fingers that my child sleeps well tonight.

Wishing you all a peaceful night...

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Living Frugally: Doing More with Less

Day 2 of the Frugal Living Challenge is about challenging yourself to live minimally. For me this is about doing more with less. I know that letting go of what we don't need will give us more time and freedom and doing so will reduce our stress and improve our well being.

My husband and I have been seeking the minimum level for a long time but we lost track of what the minimum was when we moved from a sailboat back into a house. Suddenly because we had more space, we "needed" more stuff. I feel a bit overwhelmed by it at times while simultaneously feeling grateful for all we have. I'm terrified of seeming ungrateful but we definitely has stuff we don't need.

Anyhow, despite the fact that we are now in a house and have a whole lot more stuff than we used to, in a lot of ways we've still tried to keep things simple. Our goal is to do more with less, or at the very least, cut out the duplicates.

For example, we don't have a land line telephone, just cell phones. We only have one car and use the bus when we can. We eat at home as much as possible. J. takes homemade lunches to work. I've been making things myself as much as possible (for example, yogurt and laundry detergent). We don't have credit cards and live within our monthly budget. We have a little vegetable garden. We don't have cable TV (that sound a bit misleading...we do have a TV we use for videos and DVDs that we own or borrow from the library and we stream Netflix on our computer). I think not having TV channels saves us time. I know I would get sucked in and flip channels endlessly whereas, with our current arrangement, I have to be more thoughtful about what I watch.  

You get the picture. We try pretty hard.  But we can do better by continuing to seek the minimum level. By doing so I hope we are less weighed down by the clutter and excess, that we use what we have more effectively, and that we waste less time, energy, and resources.

And there are definitely things we can do better. We can get rid of all the extra pans in our kitchen and the extra clothes in our closets. We can organize our belongings so we know what we have and use what we have instead of feeling like we need something new.  Even if we don't go out and buy something new, I hate that I waste time wishing we had something else instead of appreciating what we have.

We can waste less food. This has been a big one for me. We try really hard to plan our meals and make our grocery list accordingly so we don't buy extra...but then we end up not making what we intended to make and food goes bad. Sometimes J. works late or we're invited elsewhere for dinner or we're too tired to make a complicated meal and we make something simpler. We've started only planning four or five meals for a week and that has helped a bit but there is still waste.

Sometimes we waste leftovers too. I need to be better about freezing leftover food. If we're not going to eat our leftovers from dinner (or lunch or whatever) I need to freeze them so they can be eaten for lunches or snacks later. If we buy cilantro for tacos and salsa and there is still a bunch left over I can make cilantro pesto and freeze it instead of throwing it away.

I also need to start composting again. We were really good about it for a while and then we weren't. I want to make sure that our food scraps (and any food that does go bad...I know it will still happen sometimes) are composted and not thrown away.

And I want to have a more productive garden this year. I want to plan better so that all our space is used and we fit in as many veggies as possible!

Today was the first step. Instead of making something new for lunch, L. and I ate leftovers that would have had to be thrown out tomorrow. It wasn't exactly what I was in the mood for but it felt good to know I wasn't wasting food.

Did you do anything differently today in an attempt to be frugal?

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Frugal Challenge Day 1: Redefining Frugality

Last night I realized that the first day of the 23 Day Frugal Challenge was going to be difficult. Not only did I have plans to meet a friend for coffee this morning, we have family in town this weekend. Having family in town usually means we end up eating out as some point or another.

What a way to start my frugal challenge. Immediately my internal dialogue went to work justifying my plans for today. It's okay to buy a cup of coffee because it's something I do so rarely (seriously, this only happens a few times a year) and I like plain drip coffee so it wouldn't cost much. It's not like I wanted a $5 latte or anything. I started trying to figure out the logistics of bringing a picnic dinner to share with my family before we meet up with the relatives tonight...

Thank goodness the challenge task today was to redefine frugality.

Frugality isn't just about not spending money. It's not about getting a pair of jeans on sale or clipping coupons (I admit this part was a bit of a revelation for me today...one of those things I already knew but needed to hear again at just that particular moment).

Simply put, frugality is about being happy with what you already have and not being wasteful. It's also about sharing with others, living simply, and finding balance (I really love the definition given today by Frugally Sustainable).

For me that also means letting go of all the guilt I attach to spending money. Buying more stuff certainly doesn't make me happy but it shouldn't make me feel miserable either. Part of being happy with what I have is not feeling guilty about our circumstances. We're by no means rolling in money but we don't have to worry about paying rent. We have friends who are really struggling right now and a huge part of me feels guilty about that. I want to be happy with what I have and share with others as much as I can. I need to recognize the steps we already take be be frugal.

Just to be clear, I'm not arguing that frugality offsets periodic spending sprees. I simply need to get over the idea that being frugal is being cheap. Being frugal doesn't necessarily mean not spending any money at all. Being frugal doesn't mean we turn down having a dinner out with relatives because we could eat at home and save money. If we're thoughtful about our purchases and we're making those purchases for a good reason, I need to be okay with that.

I'm grateful that we have the luxury of being able to live within our income and have all our basic needs met. I'm grateful that we can occasionally afford a dinner out with family or friends.

I shouldn't feel guilty for buying a cup of coffee when I could have made one at home. It's not just a cup of coffee, it's spending time with a friend--a friend who actually bought my coffee and shared her sandwich with me this morning after I was went to the wrong coffee shop and was 30 minutes late. 

Next time I'll be able to return the favor and I won't feel the least bit guilty about buying her coffee and sharing breakfast.

Still, I think my definition of frugality and how I internalize it is going to continue to evolve throughout this challenge. I'm sitting here, obsessing about what I've written, about whether it makes sense, about whether I'm just trying to make myself feel less guilty about going to dinner tonight, about whether I've really defined frugality for myself or adopted the Frugally Sustainable's definition, about the inevitable grammatical errors I've missed. But I'm going to stop. I'm going to post this now, just like it is and go about my day accompanied by my unceasing internal dialogue questioning my frugality.  

How was your first day contemplating frugality?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Taking on the Frugal Living Challenge

I've been thinking about my lack on new year's resolutions.

Last year instead of making resolutions I focused on an positive affirmation every day. I thought about doing this again this year but, since I've been doing it on and off all year, it didn't seem right. I wanted a fresh way to start the new year. I even considered trying to decide on some resolutions. 

I didn't come up with anything. However, again and again I kept coming back to the fact that I've been feeling pretty overwhelmed by stuff. Just stuff. Since we moved into this house a year and a half ago, it's been getting harder and harder to keep things simple.

When we lived on a 27 foot sailboat, keeping it simple was mandatory. If something was essential we kept it and found room. If it wasn't essential we didn't keep it. Everything (cooking, cleaning, laundry, showering) was done a certain way because it had to be. Everything had a place.

Now that we're in a house and have so much space, the options are overwhelming. I've struggled to find a routine I'm happy with. I'm not as organized as I would like to be. I feel like I waste time, energy, and money because I'm not on top of things...because I have the option to be not on top of things. After all, the house won't sink if I don't get the cleaning done.

That said, in place of a defined new year's resolution, I've decided to do the 23 Day Frugal Living Challenge over at Frugally Sustainable. The challenge starts tomorrow, January 6th, and I think it will help me focus and achieve some of the goals I have floating around in my head.

While my husband and I are pretty frugal already, I think we can do better.

I want to waste less food, sort out and donate non-essentials (clothes, pots and pans, etc.), organize what we have so it's not wasted, and find more ways to re-use or re-purpose items that would otherwise be thrown out or recycled. I want to spend time outside every single day. I want to make more things myself and I want to shop at our local farmer's market regularly.  I want to plan our spring garden to be more productive than last year.

And I want to do as much frugal toddler entertaining as I can in the next 23 days.

It starts tomorrow and I'm really looking forward to it.

Want to join me (and over a thousand other people) and live frugally for 23 days?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

What Day Is It Again? (Or, Why I Need a Calendar)

The first thing I heard this morning was my daughter's voice very close to my ear. "I slept all day, mommy!"

It was 6am.

Hardly sleeping all day but I'll take it. At least it wasn't 4am and she was in a good mood.

A little while later I had a few minutes in front of the computer and thought I'd do a quick blog post and check it off my list of things to do today. I uploaded the chosen picture for Wordless Wednesday and hit publish. I was pumped. I thought I was off to a good start. It's going to be a productive day, right? 

That's when I realized today is Tuesday.

Luckily I was able to revert the post back to a draft. I'll save it for tomorrow.

I don't have a 2012 calendar yet. Obviously, I need one.

Years of working weird schedules (along with the fact that nearly everyone in my immediate family has a different schedule) has damaged my perception of the days of the week. I've worked nights, swing, and days. At one point or another I've had every single day of the week off.

My favorite was having Wednesday/Thursday as my weekend while working swing shift. I'd get on the bus to go to work every Friday afternoon (aka. my Monday morning) and hear the driver say, "Happy Friday! It's almost the weekend!".

As it stands, my husband has off Sun/Mon. My mother-in-law has Sat/Sun. My step-father-in-law has off Fri-Sun. My mom has off Fri/Sat...I could go on but it gets a bit ridiculous.

I'm not sure what days I have off.

While I've gained an immense appreciation for a "normal" schedule that allows us to have dinner together every night at a reasonable hour and two days in a row together every "weekend", I've lost all ability to tell what day of the week it is without a calendar.

Yes, I have one on my phone (kind of...it's not a very smart phone) and my watch tells me what day of the week it is...but there's something about having a calendar on the wall, covered in scribbles, that keeps me grounded. I've toyed with the idea of trying to use an online calendar but I've realized I need to be able to write on it with a pen.

And I need I need it in plain view all the time. Otherwise I forget what day it is.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Back to Basics: Why I Stay Home

It's the beginning of a new year and I've spent the last two days reminding myself why I want to stay home with my daughter.

Sometimes life gets so filled with stuff I lose sight of my priorities. I get so stressed about making sure we're not buried under laundry and dishes that I forget they are not at the top of my list. I feel better when the house is clean but I make myself and everyone miserable trying to make it perfect all the time. They would choose me (in a good mood) over a clean house. I need to make that choice too.

My husband is totally fine helping out around the house. I'm the one who freaks out trying to get everything done before he gets home from work. He doesn't expect it. I do. 

But I didn't decide to stay home to keep the house clean. 

I wanted to stay home to be with my daughter.

Obviously, there is some housework that comes with the territory but it's not the number one priority in my day.

Which is why I've spent the last two days getting back to the basics. I've been focusing on my daughter. And my husband...he deserves some attention too. It's not that I don't pay attention to them normally. It's just that I spend a lot of time multitasking.

I tried not to do that this weekend. I spent the majority of my time playing. It was fantastic. We read books, played games, baked dog treats, and squished playdough. We played t-ball and catch. We picked oranges and squeezed orange juice. We played on the swings and the slide. We picked the first ripe tomato from our tomato plant. We baked muffins with dad. We even made a game out of picking up dog poop in the backyard It was like a scavenger hunt...she found the dog poop and pointed and yelled and I scooped it up and threw it away.

That's why I stay home. To cheerfully pick up dog poop with my daughter.
And eat amazing muffins. We might need to make those again tomorrow.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

It's January First and I'm Not Resolved

So, all last week I was tossing around ideas about the fabulous post I wanted to write to bring closure to 2011.

It didn't happen. The last few days I've been struggling to get anything done and ended up posting absolutely nothing. By the end of the day yesterday I'd decided I was done with one step forward, ten steps back. I decided to stop trying to do anything. I spent a few minutes thinking positive thoughts and tried to get some sleep. The year ended with no celebration (unless you count the silent cheer I made when L. went to sleep with very little fuss).

It was a good year. I felt bad we didn't give it a formal send off.

Today is January 1. The new year got off to a good start. L. woke up in a good mood. I enjoyed starting the day without any screaming.  I can't complain so far.

I thought I might make some resolutions this year but I couldn't decide. I'm not feeling very resolved about anything this year. Since I couldn't decide, I started making lists in my head of all the things I'd like to do this year.

I want to get rid of stuff.
I want to get organized.
I want to get into weekly routine.
I want to be done potty training (my daughter, not myself. I've been potty trained for a while now).
I want to run a marathon.
I want to order seeds for our spring garden.

The list goes on...I've realized it's more of a bucket list than resolutions.

I've decided to start the new year with the most urgent item on the list. We're starting at the beginning with potty training (again). Three days at home, lots of fluids, and lots of time to practice.

More on the potty training saga later. I'm going to take a nap while the kiddo is sleeping.


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