Thursday, March 31, 2005

What the Easter Bunny Brought

Just yesterday, my boss asked my 5 yr old son if the Easter Bunny had visited. Am told her that he got water shoes and snacks. When she asked what kind of snacks Am told her chocolate chips, frosted mini wheats(actually store brand) and cheerio(store brand too) mixed together. He was dreamy eyed and thrilled just talking about it.

My boss looked at me and said, "Gee, the Easter Bunny only brought crap to my house."

This brings up an interesting question, what does it take to make a holiday happy?
Over the years we've begun to downsize our holidays. When I was a kid Easter was a candy holiday rather than a big gift holiday. I wanted to return to that without compromising my nutritional integrity. (My poor kids, when faced with friends questioning their healthy snacks, they just roll their eyes and say, My mom's a nutritionist.")

Change like this doesn't happen overnight. We have gradually cut down until we got to this point, one present and a snack. The present has become flip flops or water shoes out of practicality. Put simply, they need new ones each year. For my daughters, its the thrill of guessing how much mom spent. (I'm raising some serious tightwads!) This years tab for beach footwear for four, $9.99 (it would have been less if I had shopped earlier for my son with the big feet!.) Actually I have to amend that, my oldest got a pair of ladybug slippers instead. She had already used a giftcard to buy her own flip flops a few weeks earlier.

The snack this year was in plastic dessert bowls that I put each child's name with indelible marker. I am delighted to report there was none of that ridiculous Easter grass that gets everywhere and jams up my vacuum. I despise that stuff.

Here's the best part, everyone was happy. What more can a parent ask for?

Monday, March 28, 2005

Lessons & Questions of the Over Twelve Hour Power Failure

It snowed again last Wednesday into Thursday here in NY. It was wet, heavy, branch snapping snow, a homeowners favorite kind. So it was no surprise to wake up at about 7:00am Thursday with no power. In fact, the only surprise Thursday was that all the tree branches that fell missed the house. School was canceled for the kids, hubby was working late shift and I was able to postpone my morning commitments. Loss of power should be no big deal, right? Heck, the power even came on for fifteen minutes between 8:30 and 8:45 and I got to take a shower. Life was good.

By noon, we were beginning to lose patience. Almost all the food in my house needs to be cooked. I mean you can't gnaw on dried split green peas, can you? Our house has a tiny fireplace but its pretty, not practical and its not on the main foor of the house. We kept the fireplace going, so the basement and pipes remained unfrozen but upstairs it was 56 degrees. I could have gone out for food but that would blow my budget in a big way. So we made do. Thank heavens for peanut butter, homemade bread, bananas and apples.

By 5:00pm we were getting concerned. We are so dependent on electricity. My mind began to wander, delerium from lack of coffee perhaps. Our cabin in the mountains is far more prepared for this type of event than our "real" house in the suburbs. There, the fireplace is huge and in the center of the main room of the house. At one time it had been a one room cabin and the fireplace sat dead center. There is no basement, only a crawlspace so the pipes are more protected. There is no upstairs, only a small loft. The fireplace is big enough to cook in if I had to, unlike here.

When power finally came back on at 7:00pm I had given in and we were heading out to get food, with coupons of course! I had stacked wood in the fireplace to keep the pipes safe and had been wondering what to do about the long night ahead.

The hubby and I spent a lot of time talking about this experience. The need for quick meal availabilty being the focus of it all. The food was there but not in a form that was useful. This will be an ongoing project for us. At this point, I'm focusing on canning, which I did for the first time last year. I'm thinking that may be one way to keep food handy in easily usable form.

The other thing that really became evident was the need for a reliable radio in situations like this. Two Christmases ago we got my parents a solar/crank radio/flashlight combo for camping. We plan to invest in one as well.

We are tossing around lots of other ideas too. I'll be sure to share them as they become more concrete.

Monday, March 21, 2005

When Frugal Vegetarians Hit the Road

A while back I found these sectioned, microwaveable plates with covers at the dollar store (I recognize the hipocrisy of my shopping there but every now and again...) I have six of them, one for each of us. We used to use them for potlucks where you needed to bring your own plate and it often went home dirty. It really worked out well.

We had gotten into the habit of stopping for fast food on our trips to the Adirondacks where we spend much of the summer and a fair number of weekends in the winter. This was getting really expensive and unhealthy. The choices at truck stops are limited at best and for a family of six it really adds up.

Last summer I finally remembered the sectioned plates and began using them for these car trips. I can't begin to calculate the money we've saved and the benefits to our health. Who needs the sluggish, I need a potty feeling that fast food gives anyway?

The best part is I can splurge for a bag of chips (Kettle Krisps, baked not fried and no hydrogenated oil) and split it between everyone without breaking the bank.

I have put sandwiches, veggie burgers, leftover vegan lasagna, the possibilities are endless. If it requires utensils, my husband and I switch driving duties so each can enjoy their food without endangering the rest of us.

Sometimes simple solutions are the best.

Friday, March 18, 2005

My Take on Cloth Napkins

Right after Christmas I decided to give cloth napkins a try. I've read/heard a variety of opinions on the eco friendliness of this decision. In some circles its thought of as a wash because of the energy and resources spent on laundering. On the other hand, paper napkins come in plastic packaging and are just another waste of trees. I had some small towels left over from a craft project. They weren't really high quality so they became the fabric to create my napkins. I believe the towels were 24"x36" but I'm not certain.

I cut each towel into fourths, stiched the edges over and viola we had napkins. That was the easy part. The challenge, as I saw it, was not making the napkins but making them cost effective and eco friendlier than the ones I'd read about. The trick seemed to be in getting more than one meal out of each napkin. So how do you get a longer life out of a napkin without having the family mutiny? Clothespins!

A napkin was attached to the back of each persons chair with a clothespin. That is their napkin for the week (hopefully.) At each meal the napkin is placed on the table and after each meal it is put back on that person's chair. If the napkin gets to disgusting, I have extras. The napkins get washed with whatever laundry has room at the end of the week. So far, its worked beautifully.

I know you're curious about when I entertain and the answer is yes, I used the cloth napkins. No one even blinked, but all guests got a clean one. There are six of us, so I made 16 napkins. That's two sets for us and four spares.

This weekend is the real test, my mother in law hasn't seen them yet!

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Some Weeks Are Just Longer Than Others!

Is it really only Thursday? I've spent the better part of the week fixing a little identity theft problem. Thankfully, I caught it before any horrific damage was done.

Work continues on my braided jean rug. Its really gratifying to see it begin to look like a rug. Isn't it odd that "it looks just like the ones in the store," is now a compliment? Wasn't there a time when that would be said with a snort and a sideways glance? At times it seems, hand made items are so undervalued in our society.

Yesterday my four year old and I planted tomato seeds and some herbs. We used soymilk containers cut in half, to make our seed starting trays. I've dug all the seed packets that have been lying around since 2002 and am curious to see what sprouts and what doesn't. I'll keep everyone updated.

Currently, I'm reading Ruth Stout's book on easy gardening through the use of mulch. Definitely and interesting read so far. We belong to a farm cooperative so any produce I get through my gardening experiments is a bonus.

The snow is melting in NY, I can taste spring!

Monday, March 14, 2005

The Braided Jeans Rug

My husband is hard on his pants. My sons are hard on their pants. For all of them, the knees are always the first to go, then the corners on either side of the back pockets begin to fray and before you know it you're practically exposed.

A while back I read about rag rugs and decided the give it a try. After all, I had a big pile of jeans that were beyond repair but I just knew there was a use for. I cut the jeans into strips, sewed the strips so they wouldn't fray and just recently, began to braid them. I'm a visual learner and most of the instructions I've seen have been print only so I've been winging this.

Saturday morning I bought two supplies for this project, heavy duty thread and quilting needles(my needles were all too short for the next step), I spent a little over $3.00. Saturday evening I began to sew the braided pieces together, coiling them around and stitching them in place. I figured there was no point in continuing if the rug looked crummy. We had finally sat down to watch "Supersize Me" as a family while I was working on this. My 12 yr old suddenly looked up and said, "That looks really good." To my suprise, it really did!

At this point, the rug is only about six inches wide and two and a half feet long but at least I know that I'm not wasting my time sewing and braided the remaining strips of denim in sitting in my basket. I'm actually calling my family later to ask for their worn out jeans!

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Fast Food Nation & Supersize Me

What can I say? These are two great media items that go great together! Last month I finally read Fast Food Nation and I highly recommend it to everyone. You definitely do not need to be vegetarian to appreciate it, although you may have some difficulty digesting your meat afterwards.

Last night my hubby brought home Supersize Me from the library. There's the frugal portion of this post, no rental fees from the local library. Since my hubby works in a different county, we have access to two different library systems, but I digress. I sat down last night with my latest project (making a braided rug from old jeans) and a cup of Wild Berry Zinger Tea and gave it a watch.

Supersize Me is definitely worth a watch. In it you clearly see a man in excellent physical health deteriorate before your eyes. Granted, not everyone is eating 3 meals a day at McDonalds but just the 10 week French Fry experiment should give everyone pause before they ingest anything a fast food establishment has to offer.

As I see it, the movie is about choices. Morgan Spurlock makes the choice to eat fast food as an experiment for 30 days. He makes the choice to continue eating fast food despite the medical evidence that it is harming him. He makes the choice to stop after 30 days and deal with the medical/physical consequences of his actions. Morgan makes choices and we make choices. That's the key, we all make choices.

Each week I make the choice to bake my own bread. Certainly its more work but why is it worthwhile for me to spend my time doing it? First it is a family affair, we do it together. Second, it is more healthful than most store bought bread. Third, it costs less for me to make bread than to buy bread. This is just one example of a lifestyle choice that you can make.

Here's another, I cook dinner every night. I can count on one hand the number of times we've eaten out since the school year began. Why is this important and worthwhile? The main reason is less pure than you might expect. Simply put, it costs a lot to feed a family of six at a restaurant of any sort. Take out is a pretty pricey option as well. However, I'd be lying if i didn't tell you that health concerns are part of the reason we avoid eating out regularly.

Here's another example of a choice you might make. I know someone who quit smoking years ago and gained quite a bit of weight in the years that followed. She has dabbled in diet plans and takes the occassional walk but has not had success with weight loss. Recently, she began smoking again to curb her appetite and promote weight loss. This too is a choice, although not a very intelligent one.

I'll be watching Supersize Me again this evening with my hubby and kids. I think afterwards we'll probably be talking about choices. What choices are you making?

Monday, March 07, 2005

Is it Really Monday Already?

It was very tempting to roll over and pull the covers in tighter after I turned off my alarm this morning. I fought the urge and tumbled out of bed. Now that I've been up a few hours, it seems like I made a good decision. It's always easier to be up before the little ones.

The weekend was filled with little accomplishments, like getting caught up on laundry and cleaning off the kitchen counters. How, you may ask, is this relevant to frugality? Well, if I can find it, I don't have to buy it again. Also, once the counters are clean, cooking is a pleasure. Nothing rankles me more than no clear space to work or worse an avalanche of unsorted mail or children's school work falling to the floor. Another benefit of a clean counter, when someone breaks dishes on it, as my daughter did, its easier to clean. On the other hand, fear of Corelle slivers in you food is very motivating.

That brings up a point worth mentioning. For anyone with kids in preschool or elementary school, are you just buckling under the amount of paper that they bring home? Some is certainly worth saving, we have a big plastic tote that is our saving box. What about the rest? I use big pictures for wrapping paper. The smaller pieces with one line or scribbles get spirited away when no one is looking. My boss puts all the excess into her ex husbands "mailbox" so when he picks the kids up for a visit, he takes it with him.

I did get some extra bread made this weekend as well, so I've begun to replenish my freezer. On todays menu, a little experiment with pasta. I've got two back to back appointments this afternoon and need something that can be left alone in the oven. Never fear, someone will be in the house while the oven is on, they just won't need to stand over it. If its a gem, I'll share it, if its a stinker, I'll warn you about it.

I posted a response to Judy's query about the expense of framing cross stitch in the comments of the original post for anyone following that thread.

Happy Monday!

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Busy, Busy, Busy

This feels like the first time I've sat down all week. NY got hit with snow Monday into Tuesday which threw a wrench into my plans, but I've recovered. I spent the early part of the week doing continuing ed/training for my fitness certifications and the later part of the week doing all the things that I'd rescheduled from the beginning of the week!

I'm delighted to report that I've just taken my YogaBall Certification course. I can't say enough good things about yoga. Three of my four kids do yoga. For my youngest its been a great way to augment the physical and occupational therapy he recieves weekly. For the other two,its a great way to slow down and reconnect the mind and body.

I've got to work on my stash of freezer food (foods my hubby can grab from the freezer and throw in the oven). We really wiped out everything this week and frankly, there wasn't enough there to begin with.

Things are looking cluttered around here, spring cleaning must be on the horizon!