August 31, 2009

More Meatless Monday recipes

What is Meatless Monday? Click here to find out about the international movement to get people to eat vegetarian just one day per week. Simply put, it's better for the environment, better for your health, and better for your wallet too. You might even like it so much you'll start going meatless when it's not even Monday.

Two weeks ago, when I offered up our favorite quick and easy vegetarian staples, many of you wrote in with your favorites as well. So I've decided to make this a regular series. First, I'll tell you more of our easy vegetarian meals. Then, I'll share some reader suggestions that sound delicious.

Here are a few more of our favorites:
1. Vegetables and rice. A staple from back in college. Saute your favorite vegetables (I usually use broccoli, mushroom, and carrots) with garlic, ginger, and a little soy sauce. Serve over brown rice and top with grated cheese.
2. Quiche. Mushroom and spinach is a favorite, but asparagus, zucchini, and broccoli are all good.
3. Veggie burgers. The options are endless here: make your own, go with the traditional Garden Burger brand, or try one of many Trader Joe's varieties. Our current favorite is called Vegetable Masala Burger, with Indian spices.
4. Southwest salad. Toss romaine lettuce, tomatoes, black beans, kidney beans, cilantro, corn, jicama, and pepper jack cheese (or as many of those ingredients as you have) with ranch dressing. Top with tortilla strips (or crumbled chips) and avocado.
5. Tarts. Tomato tarts are delicious, but you can get more adventurous and try mushroom, onion, or any other vegetable that's in season.
6. Vegetarian chili. Use chilis and add black beans and kidney beans to chili beans. Make it spicy or mild to your taste. Corn is another good addition.

And here are some reader suggestions:
7. Chickpea fritters. Try this link suggested by Betsy at Married With Luggage. She likes them served over green beans with yogurt sauce. You can make almost anything into patties, fritters or burgers. Click here to try The Frugal Girl's zucchini patties, which I just wrote about a few days ago. They're delicious. And "Tango Goddess" says she keeps veggie, garbanzo, and black bean burgers in the freezer for an easy delicious meal.
8. Hodge Podge. This original recipe comes from Olivia who lives in Atlantic Canada. She says to boil fresh vegetables (potatoes, carrots, and beans were what she had on the stove that day) and then spoon in the traditional butter and cream, or her preference of cream cheese. Add fresh herbs, salt and pepper, and you've made Hodge Podge. I can't wait to try it!
9. Baked portobello mushrooms. Ellen from Within My Means offers this simple option: drizzle portobellos with olive oil and balsamic, top with cheese, cherry tomatoes and bread crumbs, and bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes.
10. Farfalle pasta. And this simple pasta recipe is a favorite of "saymoi." Toss pasta with Muir Glen crushed tomatoes, garlic, and white beans. Add chopped fresh basil and goat cheese at the end.

Readers, thanks for all your terrific suggestions! These are the kinds of meals that don't require expensive ingredients or complicated recipes, but have become staples over the years for their simplicity and deliciousness.

What are your favorite meatless meals? Just a few ingredients, something simple you can describe in one or two sentences. The sort of thing I've been listing here. Please share them in the Comments section.

August 29, 2009

My favorite new recipe from the blogs

Welcome to an occasional series where I share a great new recipe I've tried recently.

It will come as no surprise to avid readers of The Frugal Girl that these zucchini patties she posted a few weeks back are delicious. So if you've still got zucchini coming out the ears, try these. They were a big hit with my husband and I think kids would like them too.

The only thing I really changed was to use just a bit of oil in a skillet and saute rather than deepfry them. I also didn't use any butter. They were still very tasty.

Awhile back, when I asked my readers for suggestions on what to do with zucchini, I got a lot of great ideas, and a few people sent recipes for cakes or fritters similar to this. So the concept was rolling around in my head already, and then when I saw Kristen's post I went ahead with trying the recipe.

These will definitely be a staple in our home, and I may even try them with other vegetables. Carrot patties anyone? Do you make fritters, patties, or cakes in your home? Please leave your thoughts in the Comments section.

August 28, 2009

It's Food Waste Friday...

...and I've got no photo, which means no waste! Yay! It's been awhile...

I attribute this to meticulous planning. My husband went out of town and I'm going to join him. So first of all, I didn't buy any new groceries. Then, I went over everything I had and made up a plan for what I would eat and when. I wanted to make sure anything that would go bad would be eaten before I left.

There was some bread I put in the freezer, and a little bit of almond milk, and the rest of the leftovers I ate. Even an entire cantaloupe, over the course of several days. I shared a watermelon, and gave away a green pepper that came in our CSA box, because that's one of the few vegetables I don't like.

So some of this is sinking in:

1) Buy less food.
2) Make a plan.

If you want to learn why cutting food waste matters, check out Wasted Food or Love Food, Hate Waste to get the info, plus helpful hints on how to waste less.

I owe my current obsession with cutting our food waste (and photographing rotten food) to Kristen at The Frugal Girl who started taking pictures of the food she threw out every week. She noticed it was helping her waste less, so she invited her readers to participate. And I should also thank Kristen for the bonus of saving money! For us, it adds up to about $80-$100 per month.

Are you part of the Waste No Food Challenge? All you have to do is go to Kristen's blog and make a comment. How did you do this week? Please leave your tips and advice, confessions and setbacks in the Comments section. We've all had bad weeks, so if this wasn't a great one, you can be sure you're not alone!

August 27, 2009

Thrifty Threads

It's Thursday, time for another installment of Thrifty Threads, AKA Most Stylish Compact-y Outfit, where readers model their favorite secondhand clothes.

A Compact-y outfit is used or recycled, from the Goodwill, a thrift store, or a consignment shop.

Today's model is Patricia, looking lovely in this gorgeous black silk Maggie London dress she bought at the Goodwill for just $6.99. She also found the shoes for $4.99, which she was thrilled about because she and her friends like to go ballroom dancing several times a month and she needed shoes that were comfortable and secure, but still stylish. She loves the dress because it twirls, so it will be perfect for dancing. Patricia actually found the dress and shoes as part of a challenge issued by her mother to see how much she could buy with $20. Click here to read about it and see what other great items she found.

Patricia's mom is Alea, who blogs at Premeditated Leftovers. Alea describes her blog as a "journal of the ideas I have implemented to save money, time, and prevent waste in our household." Her blog is one of the best I've found as far as offering great time and money saving tips, recipes, and menu plans. She also has a brilliant vegetable garden and posts beautiful photos of her efforts, and she does a lot of canning and preserving, plus swaps produce with the neighbors. Here's just one example of the kind of great information she offers: did you know you can attach a glass jar to your blender and it works like a food processor? That's what they did back in the day. You can read the details here.

Alea says Patricia is naturally frugal, so she knew she would do well with the $20 challenge, but she was still surprised at how much her daughter came home with. And that's exactly what Thrifty Threads is all about: inspiring people with all the great finds they can pick up at their local thrift store or Goodwill. Alea says Patricia loves secondhand clothing because she doesn't want to be a walking advertisement by wearing clothes with logos, and she doesn't want to look like a cookie cutter dressing just like her friends. Instead, she enjoys creating unique outfits and even has some items in her wardrobe from her great-grandmother. She managed to find a beautiful, formal gown on a clearance rack for just $35 for her prom, even though her mom would have been happy to splurge for the occasion. Patricia's attitude will pay off in a big way when she graduates from college debt-free, unlike some of her friends.

Thanks Patricia for sharing that fantastic photo! You'll look so pretty out on the dance floor. It goes to prove that you can be stylish while wearing secondhand clothes, even if you're young and very much aware of fashion. Readers, it's your turn. Put on your secondhand clothes, snap a photo, and send it to me. We all want to see your fabulous finds. So don't be shy. I want to continue this feature every week. So keep the photos coming! You can find my email address on my profile page.

And be sure to check out Patricia's other great finds on Alea's blog, including a gorgeous tango dress and "the most comfortable pants she's ever worn." And while you're there, maybe you'll learn how to can tomatoes or plant blackberries.

Do you shop for secondhand clothing? Do you have any tips about how to find the best scores? Please leave your thoughts and advice, plus compliments for Patricia, in the Comments section. And click here to check out previous installments of Thrifty Threads.

August 26, 2009

Wine Finds

It's time once again for another installment of Wine Finds, where I tell you about a delicious bottle of wine for under $10.

I'm very excited to share this one with you, because this tasty bottle actually comes in just under $5, or $4.99 at good old Trader Joe's. I had a reader recommendation ready to share with you, but then I realized I should get in one more white wine selection before Labor Day. I wanted to play by the rules, you know: No white after Labor Day. Well, okay, so it refers to fashion, not wine. But since we drink more white wine in the summer than the rest of the year, I thought this was a good time for this old standby. There are still plenty of days of summer left to enjoy, if you ignore the little children on their way back to school.

After unsuccessfully looking for some of the whites suggested by readers, we tried a few other bottles of white wines that weren't Sauvignon Blanc. And I'm sorry to say, I really am picky about white wine and I really don't like a basic Chardonnay-style sweet white wine at all. So I'm bringing you one of our favorites that's great for the price.

This bottle of Stonehedge Sauvignon Blanc is smooth, crisp, and not too sweet. It comes from a small family winery in the Napa Valley. It goes great with a seafood pasta or anything vegetarian. According to the label, it's "clean and crisp on the palate with an aromatic nose followed by layers of melon, citrus, and subtle hints of passion fruit." I agree with the fruitiness.

I just looked up this wine on a few websites and it's not only rated very high, it's listed as costing $12 on one of them, and $12.99 on another. So this is an even better deal than I thought, if you can pick up a bottle at Trader Joe's for $4.99. I think I'll stock up tomorrow.

Please let me know if you try this, and if so, where you bought it and how much it cost. And tell me if you like it. Next time I'll have a reader recommendation to share with you that I'm very excited about! Please leave your thoughts, questions, and recommendations in the Comments section. And click here if you want to check out previous installments of Wine Finds.

August 25, 2009

Livin' the High Life

I've been waiting for a post where I could use this Mad Men icon (avatar?) That's me, Mad Men style. I haven't really worn blue eye shadow since the 7th grade, but it seemed appropriate to the occasion. You can "MadMen yourself" by clicking here. Thanks to Katy at The Non Consumer Advocate for that delightful diversion.

I'm "livin' the high life" at the moment because I'm enjoying a two day getaway at my parents' condominium in north county San Diego. They're at their vacation cabin in Idaho, so they offered it to my husband and I. Unfortunately, he's out of town on a family visit, so I decided to come on my own. I'm across the street from the beach and the condo complex has a pool that no one ever uses, perfect for a dose of R & R.

So right now, for a short time, I'm literally "livin' the high life," but I've been thinking lately about how much my so-called frugal life feels more like the high life to me. Far from being about deprivation, our simple lifestyle is full of abundance.

For one thing, it helps to have super-generous friends when you commit to Buy Nothing New for a year. Our best friends are always giving us their hand-me-downs: a couch, serving dishes, cloth napkins, clothes, you name it. We're "the country cousins" and I don't mind! We will happily take what they no longer need off their hands. They've got great taste. They also invite us to enjoy their delicious homecooked meals so frequently that today I joked that I should be bringing my own soup bowl. I highly recommend acquiring friends like ours if you attempt The Compact or a frugal lifestyle. Luckily, we've known them for years, so there's no danger that they'll think we're using them for their castoffs.

I'm only partly joking, because a lot of what makes me feel so "rich" is the people I'm around. I feel rich in friendships and experiences, plus there's the "stuff" we share with each other. Last week I had lunch with a fellow Compacter and she brought me a jar of homemade apricot chutney and another of peach marmalade, and I gave her half a watermelon from our CSA box. Does that sound like a deprived lifestyle to you?

A lot of this depends on the fact that my husband and I are in our 40s, and though we've never been big spenders, we have reached a stage where we've acquired plenty of "things" (and that was without a fancy wedding and registering, etc.). I heard somewhere that "the first 40 years of life are about acquiring things, and the next 40 are about getting rid of them." So I'm just going along with the natural flow if that's the case.

My friends and I also share tips and information about the millions of things to do here in Los Angeles, many of them low-cost or even free. Here are just a few examples of "livin' the high life," Compact-style:

1. A steady diet of delicious organic fruits and vegetables.
2. Membership at two of my favorite area museums, which means free admission year-round for my husband and I. This was thanks to gifts from the above-mentioned super-generous friends and my parents, when I mentioned recently that we didn't really need any more STUFF. The membership also includes invitations to special events like concerts and openings.
3. A wardrobe supplemented by my stylish friends at our yearly clothing swap.
4. An evening at The Magic Castle, a members-only club for magicians, as guests of friends who are members. Swanky.
5. As a member of our brilliant public radio station KCRW, I am constantly getting bargains like half price tickets at one of our favorite outdoor theaters. I have also won free concert tickets several times from this station.
6. I paid full price to see Jackson Browne at the Greek Theater (pitter patter, there goes my heart again), because I can afford to splurge on things that really mean something to me when I save so much money being a non-consumer.
7. I look just like my Mad Max icon when I'm enjoying a martini with my husband at our new-to-us Craigslist stainless steel table in our partially remodeled kitchen. And if that isn't the high life, I don't know what is.

What are YOUR examples of "livin' the high life?" Got any tips for how to enjoy a nice lifestyle on less money? Please leave your thoughts in the Comments section.

August 24, 2009

Road Trip Snacks

My husband left on a road trip last week. To be more precise, he's driving alone across the country! It's unusual in this day and age, but he insisted. He had hoped for us to go together and take the train with a sleeper car, but when that proved too expensive, he'd waited too long to get a cheap flight. I'll fly in and join him later this week and drive back with him, hoping for some motel pools to beat the heat.

Before he left, I was busy packing him a big bag of snacks. I didn't want him to have to stop and pay a fortune for potato chips and other junk food. He seemed to think I was overdoing it and teased me a little bit, but after his 4-day drive, he told me he was so glad to have the bag and he hadn't needed to stop for a meal until the evening of the 3rd day! Now, that's going to change on the way back. They were meant as snacks, not meals. But here's what got my husband through almost 3 days of driving:

1. bananas
2. almonds
3. pistachios
4. peanut butter crackers
5. dates
6. Balance energy bars
7. tortilla chips
8. chocolate chip banana bread
9. peanut butter and jelly sandwich

I still don't know how most of that qualifies as a meal, but they're great snacks for a road trip, or to take on the plane now that they don't serve food and your only option is junk food from the airport.

I plan on taking some homemade trail mix with me on the flight. I'll post my favorite recipe soon.

What are your favorite road trip snacks? Or do you prefer to just let loose and enjoy the junk food? Maybe you adopt a "When in Rome" attitude and sample the local flavor, like a 72 oz. steak in Texas or White Castle burgers in the midwest. Please leave your thoughts and suggestions in the Comments section.

August 23, 2009

Got 15 minutes?

This is a rerun of a previously published post. Reruns are great, right? Especially if you didn't see it the first time around. I'll be back tomorrow with a brand-new post.

Whether you're decluttering your house, trying to go green, save money, get organized, or all of the above, it's easy to get overwhelmed.

The key is baby steps. Divide your goals into small increments, and you can chip away at them until- tada! Before you know it, you'll have a whole closet organized, or the entire living room decluttered.

15 minute increments are just enough time to make a dent. You can start and complete one thing, or if you're on a roll, you can keep going. By working in 15 minute chunks of time, you can get a lot done.

In the book About a Boy by Nick Hornby, and then in the movie, the character played by Hugh Grant divided his day into 15 minute blocks. He did this because he lived off his father's money, didn't work, and had a lot of free time to fill. I don't know anyone who can relate to that, but I love the book and the movie, and I like the idea of the 15 minute increments, especially for trying to start projects that seem overwhelming.

So here are some of the things you can tackle in 15 minutes:

1. That stack of mail.
2. Your email inbox.
3. Online bills.
4. Your desktop.
5. Your computer desktop.
6. One drawer, one shelf, or one area in your home.
7. The refrigerator.
8. The pantry.
9. Your car.
10. A handwritten thank you note.

Here's how it's working for me: I have an index card on my bulletin board placed right where I see it all the time when I'm on the computer. It simply says "15 minutes" in block letters. I try to stop for 15 minutes once or twice a day, usually to go through mail or whittle down my inbox. Otherwise my time gets eaten up by the never-ending to-do lists, full of must-dos and short and long-term goals.

How do YOU accomplish your organizing and decluttering tasks and goals? Do you think the "15 minute system" could work for you? What tasks would you put on your "15 minute" list? Tell me your thoughts in the Comments section.

P.S. Since I wrote this, I found out that "the Fly Lady" is famous for her 15-minute philosophy. I wasn't forgetting to give her credit, I just hadn't heard of her.

August 22, 2009

Humane Blog Award

The bloggy love is going around, because I've received another blog award! Thanks Ellen at Within My Means for choosing me as one of eight recipients of the Humane Blog Award.

This award is about reading and commenting, and being an all-around good and helpful person in the blogosphere. These are people who are actively involved and supportive in the conversation, which is a lot of what blogging is about. You can read all about it here.

As for my recipients, I award:

1) Kate at An Exercise in Frugality.
2) Heather at Non Consumer Girl.
3) Stacey at My Friend Oprah.
4) Jill at Mindfully Simple.
5) Alea at Premeditated Leftovers.
6) Steph at Those Tricks.
7) Tammy at The Frugal Musician.
8) Kate at Creating a Life I Love.

Thank you all for being part of my blog. Now go pay it forward!

And please forgive me if I'm leaving you out, I'm so thankful for all my readers and commenters.

August 21, 2009

It's not pretty, but...

... it's Food Waste Friday.

And that's why you see this ridiculous, hideous photo up on my blog instead of a cute baby, a beautiful sunset, a cute crafty purse, or the millions of other things you might find in the blogosphere...

I'm part of a group who participates in Food Waste Fridays. It was started by Kristen at The Frugal Girl, who began taking pictures of the food she threw in the garbage in hopes it would help her waste less. It did, and so she shared the idea with her readers and invited them to join in.

This week was all about my husband being out of town. In the tinfoil is the last of the banana bread I baked for him to take on his road trip. I baked an entire 13" X 9" pan of this stuff, and it was good but not great, so I don't feel too bad about wasting this little piece. I already gave most of it to my husband and a large chunk to a neighbor the day I baked it, but after having a few pieces myself, it wasn't worth the calories at some point.

The bagged lettuce is due to snobbery. My husband would have used it up, but with him away, I let it sit and rot while I enjoyed all the tastier fresh produce from our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) delivery in the refrigerator. I barely have to buy any fruits or vegetables these days, just a bit of lettuce. And this bag just really won't do anymore, now that I've gone back to a fresh head: local, organic, and unpackaged.

When I was little, we had the "Clean Plate Club" at our dinner table. We ate everything on our plates because the little children in China and India and Africa were starving. As an adult, I gave up that logic because I think it can contribute to overeating. But I do believe in buying only what you need, and serving only what you can eat, and throwing away as little as possible. It's a tough balancing act if you want to eat healthfully, but it's what we're all trying to do better by participating in Food Waste Fridays. It really does make a difference to the planet what you toss in the trash. You can find out the details by visiting Wasted Food.

Are you tracking your food waste? How did you do this week? What's more important to you, eating well or wasting less? What if I told you the two things don't have to be mutually exclusive? I used to buy way too much produce, without a plan for preparing it, and throw half of it away the next time I went shopping. Does that sound like you? Please leave your thoughts, questions, ideas and suggestions in the Comments section.

August 20, 2009

Thrifty Threads

It's Thursday, time for another installment of Thrifty Threads, AKA Most Stylish Compact-y Outfit, where readers model their favorite secondhand clothes.

A Compact-y outfit is used or recycled, from the Goodwill, a thrift store, or a consignment shop.

Today's model is "Wildermiss" of A Mountain Top High. She "writes this blog to quench my wanderlust when I'm stuck in the city." (from the about me section) She lives in Vancouver in British Columbia and posts about the fantastic hiking and camping in the area, along with lots of detailed practical advice like how to buy a touring bike, what to pack on a camping trip, how to "gear up" on the cheap, and how to avoid bears in the woods. She also shares the occasional recipe, like this one for homemade granola bars, that sound awesome. In every post, her love of the outdoors shines through. I love visiting from my tiny office, vicariously living her wilderness adventures.

Along with her boyfriend (she refers to him as Mountain Man on her blog), Wildermiss just returned from a week-long biking trip along the Oregon coast. It sounds amazing. She's been posting their itinerary and route, photos, and a packing list the past couple of days. In my opinion, biking is the perfect way to experience areas of scenic beauty because of the speed at which you're traveling. While I love to hike, you can't cover that much ground, and from a car or train it can pass by too quickly.

Wildermiss bought this super cute outfit at Buffalo Exchange, which several readers have mentioned as a great place to shop. I know we have a couple in Los Angeles, and I'm more convinced than ever to check it out when I get to the point when I actually need some clothes. The shorts and top were about $10 each, but she got them on trade because she was bringing in some clothes to sell. What a great find!

Remember when I called for women size 10 and above to send in their photo? Wildermiss is a size 10 in clothing, a size 10 in shoes, and 5'10" tall. She says she loves the "good things come in threes symmetry" of her measurements and also gets a kick out of telling the saleperson "I'm a ten" when they ask what size she needs.

Thanks Wildermiss for the great photo! Readers, please keep the pictures coming! We all want to see your fabulous finds. So don't be shy. I love being able to do this feature every week, and I'll continue as long as I keep hearing from you. It's such an inspiration to see that it's possible to be stylish for very little money.

Do you shop at secondhand stores? Please leave your questions and comments, and compliments for Wildermiss in the Comments section. And click here if you want to check out previous installments of Thrifty Threads.

August 19, 2009

What are you saving for?

What are you saving for?

Perhaps to be perfectly grammatically correct, the question should be, "For what are you saving?" In any case, the emphasis is on the for. Please forgive any dangling participles, if that's what it is.

I've just read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, so I'm a bit more sensitive to abuses of the English language. If you're a Jane Austen fan, the book is hilarious. But I digress.

Although I haven't found my non-consumer lifestyle, and my previous nearly non-consumer lifestyle to be particularly difficult or full of deprivation, I think it's important to remember WHY we're living in this way, if it's by choice. For many people, a frugal lifestyle is not a choice but a necessity, because of limited income or extreme debt.

For those of you who live this lifestyle by choice, I'd love to know your reasons. Whether you're a non-consumer or a frugalista, or whether you proudly call yourself cheap, what are your reasons? Is it to lessen your carbon footprint, live a simpler and more meaningful life, not be a dupe to advertisers, or all of the above?

And if you're consciously trying to save, what are you saving for? A house? A car? A comfortable retirement? College for your kids or grandkids? A trip around the world?

My reasons for being frugal revolve around having the freedom to create my own life. I want to be able to do the work I love, and have time for things I care about, rather than essentially giving away my time in order to be paid a large salary to buy conveniences I need because I only have time to work. The vicious cycle of work and spend.

Now that I'm doing The Compact this year, I love that my choice is also helping me to create a simpler, more meaningful lifestyle on top of lessening my tread on the earth.

At this point, I'm not saving very much. It's more like I'm trying to learn to live on less so I don't need to earn as much. But what I do save is all about having the freedom to live the life I choose.

I love the idea of an ING account that lets you set up separate savings accounts for different goals: a vacation, college for your kids, retirement. Short term and long term mixed together in an organized fashion. I've always found that there is never any "extra" money for something, no matter how important it is. If you want to take that vacation, you have to start saving for it. And if you ever want to retire, you've got to start putting money away as soon as possible.

So, what are you saving for? I'd love to hear about it. What's your method for saving? Do you have an ING account or separate savings accounts for various goals? Please leave your thoughts in the Comments section.

August 18, 2009

August baby steps challenge: update

It's time to report my progress on the August baby steps challenge, which is to switch to natural household cleansers.

I owe a big thanks to my readers, who came through with flying colors when I asked for tips and advice on this subject. I've read them all and made a list of what I need to buy and some options for different tasks. Thank you all so much!

So here's what I've done so far:

1) I bought a bottle of Seventh Generation all-purpose cleanser to replace the 409. If I like it, great. Problem solved. If not, I have several other alternatives to try.

2) I saved an empty plastic jar of Ovaltine to use for Borax. That's what I'm going to try for sinks, tubs, and anything for which I would have previously used Comet. I already have a box of Borax, in our last apartment I used it for insect control.

3) I put the remains of the 409 and Windex in the basement and asked my husband to use them up down there and in the garage and to save the empty bottles for me.

4) I made a list of all the ingredients I want to try and in what combinations. I have a few different options to replace Windex, and I'll see which I prefer. And there are still several different options I want to try for all-purpose cleaning.

I'll let you know how things progress. I have a feeling this baby steps challenge is going to take a little longer than a month. I'm going to borrow "Clean House, Clean Planet" from my friend and read through all your comments again because there are so many great ideas.

Also, I will be so happy if it's true that I can keep my Oxi Clean and Murphy's Oil Soap. Those are two products I love, so they'll be sticking around if they are indeed environmentally friendly, as some of my readers suggested.

Thanks again for all your brilliant ideas and advice and links. I have enough information to completely transform our home into a non-toxic environment, and that makes me very happy.

Are there any store-bought cleaning products you just can't live without? What's your favorite homemade recipe? Please leave your thoughts in the Comments section.

August 17, 2009

Meatless Monday recipes

A few months ago, I signed up for Meatless Mondays. You can read all about the worldwide movement by clicking here. Why go meatless? According to the website, "Going meatless once a week may reduce your risk of chronic preventable conditions like cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity. It can also help reduce your carbon footprint and save precious resources like fresh water and fossil fuel."

That sounds like a great win/win to me, and when you add in the fact that you'll probably save money too, the whole Meatless Monday idea becomes a win/win/win... what Katy over at The Non-Consumer Advocate calls a trifecta.

For me, signing up was absolutely no sacrifice. To give you an idea of how much it has changed our lifestyle, I don't think I've ever mentioned it to my husband. That's because we already go meatless several nights a week. We don't even think of it as "going meatless" because it's just the way we already eat.

In fact, it's almost incomprehensible to me that people would have trouble coming up with ideas for meatless meals. Forgive me if I'm repeating myself, but I will never forget something I saw on the news during the riots in Los Angeles in 1992, after the infamous Rodney King verdict. A woman was being interviewed in a supermarket where they'd run out of meat. And she said, "What am I supposed to feed my kids, beans on toast?" The fact that she had no other ideas boggled my mind.

If you sign up for Meatless Mondays, you get an email every Monday with related news of the week, plus some great recipes. But I thought I'd offer up some of our favorite meals, everyday stuff we enjoy that's quick and easy and delicious. And this is still leaving out tons of things we eat regularly, like veggie burgers, main dish salads, and stir frys.

1. Pizza- My husband's specialty, he usually adds mushrooms, but the possibilities are endless.
2. Pasta- His other specialty, again the possibilities are endless. One favorite is a version of puttanesca: cooked tomatoes, garlic, capers, and kalamata olives.
3. Soup- I love to make soup. Some of our favorites are lentil, vegetable, carrot, tomato, and minestrone. All vegetarian.
4. Tofu/Spinach- This is an easy staple we love. Saute tofu, spinach, and garlic in olive oil next to each other in a large pan. Drizzle with a mixture of soy sauce and hot chili oil.
5. Egg scramble- One of our favorites is "Mexican" style with onions and cheese, served with salsa, guacamole, and black beans. A tortilla on the side is great, but it's also good with toast if you don't have it.
6. Risotto- We love it with tomatoes, basil, garlic, and mushrooms, but you can make risotto with almost anything. Get creative. Mastering risotto will make you feel like you're eating in a gourmet restaurant. I'll do a post on my method soon.
7. Stuffed potato- Top a baked potato with a stir-fry of your favorite veggies.
8. Burritos or wraps- Again, the possibilities are endless. Wrap your favorite cheese and vegetables or start with beans and add cheese, avocado, peppers, and salsa.
9. Vegetable curry. Click here for my crockpot recipe.
10. Mjederah lentils. Click here to try this super-easy meal.

Those are just a few of the dinners we eat regularly. I think the key is to get away from the whole concept that you're trying to "replace" meat. Don't worry too much about not getting enough protein, especially if you're only doing this once or twice a week. And if you add more lentils, beans, chickpeas, and grains to your diet, you probably won't have to worry at all about a protein deficit.

What are your favorite meatless recipes? Please share them in the Comments section.

August 15, 2009

A note about composting...

The July baby steps challenge was to start composting. I started sometime in mid-July, and now in mid-August, I have already filled up one small bin. I bought another ($5 from the city), and this time I'm taking the advice of a couple of my readers and I had my husband cut out the bottom of the bin. I'm hoping the worms will find their way to my bin because I'm still squeamish about adding them myself.

I wet the ground underneath and raked it and just generally loosened it up, so I'll let you know what happens! Meanwhile, I'm just going to let the other bin sit and hope it turns into good compost several months from now.

Thanks William B, and all the other readers who helped me along with this challenge. We have so much less trash already, and I feel so much better about putting it into the compost bin instead. And if all goes well, we'll actually have some good compost to use next spring if I want to plant more than two cherry tomato plants. Wouldn't it be amazing to have fresh berries from your own garden?

Do you compost? What's your method? Please let us know your tips and advice in the Comments section. I think a lot of people are taking the plunge these days.

August 14, 2009

Another Friday Food Waste Post

On Fridays, I post these lovely photos of food that's headed for the trash. Why do I air our dirty laundry, so to speak, in this fashion? It's in response to The Frugal Girl's Waste-No-Food challenge, an attempt for each of us to do our part to reduce food waste on the planet.

This week wasn't too bad, especially because you can't tell from the photo, but each of these containers is actually ALMOST empty. The cheese is rare for us to waste, and I'd been using it a lot in salads, but all of a sudden the last bit was just a little off. And my husband made a valiant attempt at the half & half, using up nearly all of it, with no help from me. There are limits to how far I'll go to reduce food waste, and eating something incredibly fattening that I don't really need is one of them.

What I learned this week has a lot to do with my buying habits. Lessons:

1) Half and half. I bought it for a recipe I didn't end up making. I don't think I'll ever buy it again. If it doesn't get used, there's really nothing we need it for. And any recipe that calls for it, surely I can use milk instead.

2) Crumbled feta. This is a habit I picked up before the days of watching our food waste. I started purchasing these tubs of cheese for convenience, but now it seems silly to pay more for something I could buy in a block, especially since it comes in the useless, throwaway plastic container.

So I'm slowly learning. No more half and half. And no more plastic "convenience" containers of cheese.

Want to know why you should care about the food you waste? Here's just one fact to help convince you: "If we all stop wasting food that could have been eaten, the CO2 impact would be the equivalent of taking 1 in 5 cars off the road." (From the excellent website Love Food, Hate Waste). Be sure to visit Wasted Food to get the scoop from Jonathan Bloom, the go-to resource for all things food waste-related.

How was your week? Are you tracking your food waste? I'm finding it's an ongoing process that I have to be constantly vigilant about. But on top of feeling better about wasting less, I've cut our grocery bill by about 25%. That may be an added incentive for some of you. Please leave your tips and advice, questions and concerns in the Comments section.

August 13, 2009

Thrifty Threads

Welcome to another installment of Thrifty Threads, AKA Most Stylish Compact-y Outfit, where readers model their favorite secondhand clothes.

A Compact-y outfit is anything used or recycled, from the Goodwill, a thrift store, or a consignment shop.

Today's model is Hannah, who blogs at Caminho da Vida. She's a regular reader and commenter on this blog, and some of you might recognize her as the commenter "han_ysic." Hannah is from Nowra, a small town about 2 hours outside Sydney, and the tagline on her blog is "An Aussie girl on the journey of living generously, living simply and living out my faith." She posts about the things she's grateful for, her outdoor adventures, and some really good photographs, among other things. It's winter in Australia right now, and some of the snow images in this recent post about being grateful for snow are gorgeous.

Hannah is a "Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner," which means she has a degree in social work and her job is to help parents work out how to look after their children after separating, without having to go to court. She also has a 17-year-old foster daughter who lives with her. Hannah was born in Sydney, moved to Nowra as a toddler, and lived in the US, Brazil, and Indonesia on student exchanges as a teenager. How interesting. In my solo travels before I met my husband, I learned that the only girls (or women) who go it alone are from Northern Europe (usually Germany), the United States, and Australia.

Hannah found this super cute top at what she calls an "opshop," which are all over Australia and sounds like what we refer to as the Goodwill in the states. She bought it for $1.50, what a steal! Hannah says almost any photograph of her could be used for Thrifty Threads because she almost always wears clothes from the opshops. She's been wearing secondhand clothes since she was born and started receiving her cousin's hand-me-downs, but lately she's become more picky in her "op-shopping," only buying natural fibers and things that fit well. Hannah says, "Just like normal shopping, there's no point wasting money on something you're not going to wear." Well put.

Thanks for your participation Hannah! Since I'm getting more photos lately, I can do Thrifty Threads as a regular Thursday feature, as long as you keep them coming. So show us your fabulous finds! Snap a picture and send it to me. You can find my email address on my profile page. And click here to check out previous installments of Thrifty Threads.

Please leave your tips and advice for secondhand shopping and compliments for Hannah in the Comments section.

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming...

Ordinarily, I try to stick to the topic on this blog, but this isn't an ordinary day. I'm still basking in the glow of a love hangover.

I saw Jackson Browne in concert last night at the Greek Theater, my favorite venue in Los Angeles. Jackson Browne: California boy/poet/crooner of my youth. I used to calculate the difference in our ages- 14 years, not a problem. We'd make it work. Well, he's still got it goin' on. He worked his magic and the whole crowd - men and women - fell in love with him. And the home town effect was in full force.

At one point, I had a powerful urge to stand up and yell out, "I love you!" I might have done it if my husband hadn't been there. He wouldn't have minded actually, he understands my love for JB.

He played my favorite, Fountain of Sorrow, and the devastating The Pretender, both of which I bawled through, in a happy way (happy to be alive, at that time and in that place). He even played Take it Easy, the Eagles song he co-wrote with Glenn Frey. Ah, the quintessential California 70s song.

At 60, he's still ridiculously cute. He had shaved off his beard (men with dimples should never have beards, although Kris Kristofferson manages to pull it off) and at a glance still looked like a kid. He strolled casually onto the stage without announcement and charmed his way through two sets, three and a half hours total. His voice has held up, which I cannot say for some other musicians of the era... maybe he smoked a little less than the rest of them.

I know I'm hopelessly dating myself here, my younger readers probably don't even know who Jackson Browne is, much less know his music. But I'm all about full disclosure.

And I will be posting a Thrifty Threads segment later this morning when I recover my senses. Until then, "take it easy..."

August 12, 2009

Cash for Clunkers update

Since I wrote this post detailing my concerns about the "Cash for Clunkers" program, a lot has happened. It was so successful in terms of participation that the money ran out and 2 billion dollars more has been approved. All kinds of articles have been written giving the program the thumbs up or thumbs down, but I haven't seen many that address the specific issue of what happens to all the cars that get scrapped.

This article does mention that it might not be a great idea to scrap cars with less than 10,000 miles on them. And it claims that by junking all those "clunkers" the used car market will dry up and it will be more expensive to buy a used car. My husband and I have bought a lot of used cars over the years, and we've learned a lot in the process. I plan on writing a post on "How To Buy a Used Car" very soon that will help the people who couldn't afford to buy a new car, even with the $4500 voucher. The possibility of driving up used car prices is also discussed in this article, along with some other possible downsides like drivers using more gas and declining sales of other goods.

I've been surprised to find so little about the environmental impact of the program. Most of what has been written focuses on the positive impact of people buying new fuel-efficient cars such as the Prius. And I agree it is definitely a net positive to get gas-guzzlers off the road and more people driving cars that get better gas mileage. But back to the other part of the equation: trashing the clunkers. What are the environmental costs involved in that, and how will it be overseen?

Finally, this article rates the program as weak in terms of its effect on curbing pollution. Apparently the effect on global warming will be a "blip" and climate experts say it's not an effective way to address the issue. But on the upside, the program will get the dirtiest cars off the road for good. And I was happy to learn what happens to the cars that are turned in: their engines are destroyed by being "immobilized with liquid gas" and the rest of the parts can be recycled and used as scrap.

The director of the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University put it this way: "It's not that it's a bad idea: just don't sell it as a cost-effective energy savings method. From an economic standpoint, it seems to be a roaring success. From an environment and energy perspective, it's not where you would put your first dollar." That sounds to me like a plus for the economy, and a neutral for the environment. Like most things in life, a mixed bag. I guess it could be worse. The economy came first, but at least it wasn't exactly at the expense of the environment, as so often happens.

What do you think? Does the economy have to take precedence over the environment right now, or is it another instance of short-term thinking? Have you taken advantage of the program? Please leave your responses in the Comments section.

August 11, 2009

CSA Delivery: It just gets better and better

Another amazing delivery of gorgeous, delicious, colorful produce. We are so lucky here in California to have this variety. Tomatoes are at their peak, and there's also an abundance of fruit. And did I mention it's all local and organic?

If you're new to this blog, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, not the Confederate States of America. We've been getting this delivery every two weeks for almost three months and we always eat every bit of it. For one thing, it's so delicious it's hard to imagine letting it go to waste. For another, it's so much fresher that it lasts much longer than produce bought at the supermarket.

This week we got (roughly clockwise starting from the back): watermelon, cantaloupe, purple bell peppers, heirloom tomato, Russian banana fingerling potatoes, mixed baby heirloom cherry tomatoes and a pepper on top, black grapes, pluots, nectarine, treat (cherry chocolate fudge), Amana orange tomato, mixed baby eggplant, strawberries, sweet onion, bi-colored corn, and red leaf lettuce.

Yesterday I linked to this article refuting the recent study that claims that organic produce isn't any better for you than commercial produce. Check it out because it's another instance of the media grabbing onto one study that refutes hundreds of others. Study after study has shown the benefits of an organic diet. Not to mention, there are many more reasons to eat organic besides your health. It's better for the community to support the local farmers and it's better for the planet not to ship foods around the world when they're out of season. And one more big reason: it tastes SO much better.

A reader asked me which I valued more, local or organic? Luckily, with this delivery I don't have to choose. But I haven't always bought organic produce, mostly because of the price. Some fruits and vegetables are more important to buy organic, particularly the ones that absorb a lot of pesticide into their skin. But if someone put a gun to my head (unlikely as that is), I'd choose local produce from the Farmer's Market over organic produce from Whole Foods. There are a lot of steps the small farmers have to go through to get the "organic" certification, they don't necessarily use a lot of chemicals.

It's a good question. What do you think? Which part of the equation is more important, local or organic? I'm encouraged by the fact that more and more people are demanding healthy food. I think it will make it more affordable for everyone. But that's another issue, and another post...

Next time I'll attempt to answer the question,"Why should I join a CSA if I already go to the Farmer's Market?" Another good question, so stay tuned.

Please share your thoughts, ideas, questions, and opinions in the Comments section.

Auntie Em's Delivery - Recipes

Auntie Em's Delivery - Recipes: "Recipes & Ideas:Oven Roasted Cherry Tomatoes"

This is a loose recipe. So you can play around with different herbs.

1-pint cherry tomatoes
2 tbs olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp pepper
2 tbs fresh chopped thyme
1. Pre heat oven to 300 degrees.
2. Cut tomatoes in half and put them skin side down on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, minced garlic and sprinkle with salt and pepper and thyme.
3. Roast until they are wilted and shriveled looking. About 2 ½ hours.

Ten Tomato Ideas (besides the obvious sauces):
1.Tomato Frittata
2.Scramble them into eggs
3.Spread olive tampanade and ricotta cheese onto toasted baguette and top with tomato slices and olive oil
4. Slice onto pizza
5. Dice and sprinkle on top of creamy polenta then drizzle with olive oil and basil
6. Make fresh Bloody Marys
7. Roast cherry tomatoes to top fish.
8. Make a tomato and corn salsa and top grilled skirt steak
9. Make a tomato chutney
10. Make Chow Chow

Okay, who knows what Chow Chow is? I've never heard of it. Please let me know in the Comments section.

August 10, 2009

Is organic better?

Because of my schedule, I can't photograph and post our CSA delivery until Tuesday morning. So until then, I'll leave you with this...

You may have heard or read lately about the issue of whether organic food is really any better for you. Check out this article at The Huffington Post: In Defense of Organics if you have any doubt that organics are better for your health and the environment. Do you think Big Agriculture might have a vested interest in spreading confusion about the issue, misinformation, and outright lies? I'll leave that for you to answer for yourselves...

If you have any other news or articles to share on this topic, personal experience, or your considered opinion, please visit the Comments section to be part of the conversation.

August 9, 2009

Superior Scribbler Award

I've received a "Superior Scribbler Award" from Michele over at Killing Time. Thanks Michele! The award was started by "The Superior Scribbler," a high school journalism teacher, ex-journalist, and all-around curious person and writer. This is an award presented from a blogger to another blogger, and now it's my turn to pass this award along to five other bloggers.

It was hard to decide who to include because since I've started this blog, I've discovered many blogs I enjoy. But I decided to use the criteria of simply my favorite blogs, the ones that I try to visit almost every day and that continually inspire me. I'm also sticking with non-consumer/frugality/simple living blogs, and leaving out some other favorites like Joan Walsh at

1. When I joined the Compact and started this blog, I searched for other Compact blogs and The Non-Consumer Advocate quickly became my favorite. Almost eight months later, it's still the first one I visit each day. Katy always has great new topics relating to non-consumerism, she's funny, and she's the type of person you'd like to have coffee with. What I also appreciate is that she's a great writer.

2. I have also come to love The Frugal Girl. When I first visited this blog, I thought there were some cool recipes but that I didn't have much in common with Kristen so I didn't know if I'd read her blog that often. But over time, I've realized how much we really do have in common, despite the fact that she's a homeschooling mom with four kids, and I don't even have kids. Her blog has motivated me to try to waste less food by actually photographing our leftovers every week, something I never would have expected. And she's a great inspiration, not just for her awesome baking and recipes, but for her optimistic view of living a frugal life.

3. Leigh at Compact by Design is a fellow Compacter who's taking the challenge along with her husband and two very young children (one of them less than a month old). On top of my admiration for diving into something so lifechanging while you're pregnant, I enjoy Leigh's creative posts about design projects. She's an artist and designer, and she has great ideas for making beautiful objects, with how-to links. I'm not very crafty, but I'm determined to make the envelopes she featured awhile back. With every project she shares on her blog, her design background shines through.

4. I love to read about Betsy and Warren's countdown to their around-the-world adventure at Married With Luggage. I can live vicariously through them, plus it turns out that the preparation translates into a lot of areas of life. Organizing and decluttering, prioritizing, downsizing and getting your finances in order- these are just a few of the things they cover. Their blog is a great source of inspiration for living your dream, whatever it is.

5. And finally, I am continually amazed by the project they've taken on at 30 Bucks a Week. Tina and Phil are a couple living in Brooklyn, New York who cook most of their own meals and do it on a budget of $30 per week. Yes, $30 total, or $15 each. Impossible, right? They must be eating rice and beans every day. They ARE vegetarian, but they are most certainly NOT eating rice and beans every day. No deprivation involved, more like gourmet cuisine, vegetarian style. My friend baked these key-lime cookies from a recipe on their blog and they were to-die-for. They belong to a food co-op, which significantly helps with their budget, maybe it's something we should all consider.

Now, to play along:

1. Each Superior Scribber must in turn pass the award on to 5 most-deserving bloggy friends.

2. Each Superior Scribber must link to the author and the name of the blog from whom he/she has received the award.

3. Each Superior Scribber must display the award on his/her blog, and link to this post, which explains the award.

4. Each blogger who wins the Superior Scribbler Award must visit this post and add his/her name to the Mr. Linky list. That way, we'll be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who wins this prestigious honor.

Those are a few of my favorite blogs... Now I just have to figure out how to get that "Superior Scribbler Award" icon on my blog...

August 6, 2009

Let's talk about food...


Very little this week. The apple is much older and more shriveled up than it appears on the photograph. During our recent kitchen transformation, which involved my husband laying a new linoleum floor with the help of a friend, this apple somehow ended up next to the liquor decanters. Since the urge for an apple is diametrically opposed to the urge for an alcoholic beverage (except in the case of hard cider, I suppose) the apple remained uneaten, until it was found by me this week.

The other container has a bit of cucumber raita left inside that I didn't finish. It was good, I made it from cucumber and yogurt and a few other ingredients, but my husband doesn't really like that in the first place and so it was left up to me. And he's much better at eating the leftovers than I am.

As for the writing on the lid, that dates back to my first attempts to reduce our food waste. I had been inspired by Jonathan Bloom's blog Wasted Food, and so I came up with the idea of labeling the leftovers so they wouldn't be forgotten and shoved to the back of the refrigerator. After I'd made a batch of chili, I had some adobo sauce left over, so I put it in this container and labeled it "adobo." The next morning when I opened the refrigerator, I saw that my husband had added the other "words" for my enjoyment. Click here to read all about the fun and games of those early days (4 or 5 months ago). And now that label has become a permanent part of the container (it's been through the dishwasher several times).

I wasn't ready at the time to start photographing my rotten food, so that was my contribution. My other early trick was to create an "Eat Me" section of the refrigerator, which both Jonathan Bloom and The Frugal Girl wrote about on their blogs. It's worked brilliantly for us, and is one of the main reasons we've reduced our food waste so quickly and dramatically. If you haven't seen the "Eat Me!" post, you can read it here.

Are you following The Frugal Girl's "Waste-No-Food" Challenge? If you are, how did you do this week? Even if you aren't, please share your tips and advice for wasting less in the Comments section. And if you want to know why you should try to eat your leftovers, I highly recommend a visit to Wasted Food.

Thrifty Threads

Welcome to another installment of Thrifty Threads, AKA "Most Stylish Compact-y Outfit," where readers model their favorite secondhand clothes.

A Compact-y outfit is anything used or recycled, from the Goodwill, a thrift store, or a consignment shop.

Today's model is Meg, who blogs at My Nifty Thrifty Life. Meg writes about her other thrifty finds (like furniture and straw purses and baby quilts), her 100 free-range hens and what she does with all the eggs, and her love of Jane Austen, which I share. Meg set herself the goal of reading Ms. Austen's entire collection this summer. I'll have to check in with her on her progress. I hope she didn't get hung up on Northanger Abbey (not my favorite). Meg's blog is warm and welcoming, with its tone of Southern hospitality.

Meg found this lovely vintage dress at the local Salvation Army. It was marked at $3.98, but on Wednesdays everything is marked 1/2 price, so she only paid $1.98! Wow. What a bargain. It's really pretty. The thing I love about vintage dresses is that they never really go out of style. I like to be stylish but not trendy, because I hate it when an outfit looks really dated just a year or two after I bought it.

Congratulations Meg on your incredible deal, and thanks for sending the photo. Now readers, it's your turn. Put on your favorite thrift store outfit, take a picture, and send it to me. My email address is on my profile page. I want to do Thrifty Threads every Thursday, with a Wine Finds thrown in here and there. So keep the photos coming! I love the variety of clothes we've been seeing, and it just goes to prove that there are treasures waiting to be found in your local shops. You can check out previous installments of Thrifty Threads by clicking here.

Please leave your tips and advice about thrift store shopping, your favorite scores, and compliments for Meg in the Comments section.

August 5, 2009

Even the Amish...

... have been living beyond their means.

The Amish traditionally travel by horse-drawn buggy, wear homemade clothing, and use very little electricity. But in the past few years, some of them have ditched their off-the-grid existence. And after being lured in by the wages and goods of the conventional economy, they're experiencing the same financial woes as millions of other Americans.

Apparently the society that has always emphasized simplicity and thrift saw some of its members buying vacation homes, taking taxis, and splurging for bigger weddings. But it's time to pay the piper. And now, in Amish country in Indiana, a new back-to-basics movement is starting up. You can read the full Wall Street Journal article here.

I'd say the temptations of consumerism are mighty strong if even the Amish have fallen prey to it. What do you think? Are designer clothes and iPods and "pimped out" vehicles impossible to resist? Is the lure of the mall and the power of advertising too much for us mortals? Share your thoughts and opinions in the Comments section.

August 4, 2009

Produce Swap

As my longtime readers know, I love to swap. I've shared the thrills of the clothes swap, and waxed rhapsodic about the joys of swapping homes on vacation.

Now I've found out about this produce swap in my neighborhood, and I just had to share the news with you.

It's called Hillside Produce Cooperative, and it's the brainchild of Hynden Walch who lives in the northeast Los Angeles neighborhood of Glassell Park. Once a month, members descend on her home with their bounty and leave with a bag of produce. It's a monthly swap of fruits and vegetables - fresh delicious food, and it's free!

So if your lemon tree bears too much fruit to eat, or you're overrun with tomatoes or zucchini, you can give your zucchini and take whatever is in season and on offer that month.

If you don't have any produce to bring, you can donate your time. The idea has proven so popular that new chapters are in the works for other Los Angeles neighborhoods. And for everyone else, it's easy to start a coop in your own neighborhood. Hynden is eager to share what she's learned from her experience. Visit Hillside Produce Cooperative and send her an email. Wouldn't it be great if people started sharing their fruit and vegetables all across the country?

Kudos for Hynden for noticing a need and filling it. We've all seen trees dropping more fruit than one family can possibly eat, and other folks who can't afford to buy fresh produce. People sharing food, you can't get more basic than that. When times get rough, people stick together. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, people who lived in rural areas fared better than those in the cities, largely because they always had food to eat.

I can't tell you how much I love the concept: tasty homegrown produce, less waste, sharing, community, feeding the hungry, eating healthy. All good.

Hynden has inspired me to start an ongoing series about inspiring people who are making a difference in their own neighborhood. I hope she'll agree to be my first installment.

Have you ever heard of a produce swap? Do you trade fruit and vegetables with friends, family, and neighbors? What do you think of this idea? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section.

August 3, 2009

August baby steps challenge: switch to natural household cleansers

This is a photo of most of the household cleaning products we actually use. Not too green, I know. I've tried using "green" cleaning products like an all-purpose cleanser called "Simple Green" and almost coughed my lungs out. Seriously, it seemed more toxic than any of this.

But this stuff has got to go. I now know that it's a better idea to use simple, natural products like baking soda, vinegar, and water. Give up the chemicals altogether.

And it's time. Because it's the beginning of the month, and I don't have too many challenges left. I'm ready to tackle this one.

Back in April, I wrote this post about how even though I'd joined The Compact and pledged to Buy Nothing New this year, I didn't feel like some of my daily habits were very green at all. I vowed to go beyond recycling and using cloth bags at the grocery store, and start living a more green lifestyle. And the best way for me to succeed at a goal is to 1) focus on it, and 2) do it in small incremental steps.

That's how I came up with my baby steps challenge idea. Each month I would tackle a habit I wanted to incorporate into my lifestyle. So far, I've taken steps to get rid of junk mail and catalogs, started air-drying the laundry, and set up a composting bin.

During August, I plan to switch over to more natural household cleansers, to improve our health and be more environmentally friendly. Here's my baby steps plan:

1) I will read a couple of websites and blogs I've bookmarked about natural cleaning products,
2) I'll read a fantastic book a friend gave me about creating natural cleansers that also incorporate aromatherapy, and
3) I'll ask my readers for tips!

So dear readers, I've heard that all you really need is baking soda, vinegar, water, and maybe some Borax. But in what ratios? And for what tasks? Specifically, I need to replace the following:

Clorox for sinks and toilet
Windex for glass and mirrors
409 for kitchen counters and surfaces
Murphy's oil soap for wood floors
Pine Sol (my husband swears by it for mopping the kitchen floor)
Old English furniture polish for a few fine wood pieces
Oxi Clean for soaking tough laundry stains

I can't imagine cleaning without Clorox or Windex. And I can't imagine doing laundry without Oxi Clean. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Oh, and I don't see any way around purchasing a few empty spray bottles for some kind of vinegar/water solution and something else for floors. I suppose I can use jars or plastic yogurt containers for some concoctions.

Do you already use natural cleansers or do you swear by the toxic stuff we've been using up until now? I would love to hear your tips, ideas, and advice. Please weigh in with your expertise in the Comments section. And let me know if you want to join me in the challenge.

August 1, 2009

Free Museum Admissions

FREE STUFF ALERT: Bank of America is continuing its "Museums on Us" program, which means you can get in free to participating museums on the first weekend of the month just by flashing your debit card.

That's this weekend, August 1st and 2nd. Click here for details and to find out which museums are free in your area.