September 30, 2009

Make your own envelopes

I made all these envelopes from an old World Wildlife calendar in about 10 minutes! I love them!

It was actually fun, and I can't wait to use them. My mom is definitely getting the panda face.

One of my favorite things I've been doing this year is making greeting cards, mostly for birthdays and holidays. Usually I use a photo and print it out on photo-quality paper, or make a color copy from an old photograph, like this card I made for my dad on Father's Day. They're fun to make, more personal, and people have told me they really enjoy them. And of course, I'm not purchasing new (as per The Compact) and I'm saving money.

Now I'll be making my own envelopes too. The sky's the limit as far as what to use, but old calendars work great. Other options are catalogs, sheet music, maps, and just about any kind of junk mail, as long as it's at least 8 1/2" X 11".

I used the tutorial from this post on the great blog Compact by Design. Leigh is a fellow Compacter, plus she's a designer so she often posts fun DIY projects.

Did I mention that it's super easy? And you hardly need any supplies. Basically just your paper plus scissors and scotch tape. If you get really good at it, you won't even need the scissors. You'll see what I mean when you try it.

I love this because it's a perfect win/win: I get to recycle the old calendars or other paper products, and I get some "free" envelopes. Oh, and since it's also fun, I guess it's a perfect win/win/win.

Have you ever tried making your own envelopes? I promise you, it's even easier than making a paper airplane! Tell us about your favorite easy DIY projects in the Comments section. And let me know if you try the envelopes!

September 29, 2009

Your Charitable Giving Makes a Difference

People are tightening their belts in a lot of areas. So it's no surprise that charitable giving is down 6% this year, the biggest plunge in decades. There are people out of work, and many others are cutting back to the bare minimum.

During my Buy Nothing New year, I've cut out almost all discretionary spending for clothes, books, gifts, etc. I'm only buying necessities. I've also cut our food budget by approximately 25%, which I attribute to using what we have and wasting less food. Thanks Frugal Girl and Wasted Food! But what I haven't cut back on is our charitable giving. We still don't give anywhere near as much as I'd like, but I'm doing everything I can to keep our donations at the level we'd been giving in previous years. That means it may be a bit more as a percentage of our income, but it's the same dollar value to the charities.

Nonprofits and charities are really hurting. A lot of people rely on these services to get their basic needs met. And endangered species, the environment, human rights, and education - all these causes aren't just going away because there's a recession or because we've got a Democratic president.

I usually allow a certain dollar amount per year to give to charity and causes I believe in. It comes out to a monthly amount that's spread around. I also allow a few hundred dollars for things that come up that year: a friend does the AIDS ride, or I find out about a great charity I've never heard of.

I've never done this on my blog, but I'd like to ask you to consider helping out a friend of mine. Because of the problems with our healthcare in this country, which can drive hardworking people to bankruptcy, this person has to pay for her own cancer treatment. And her kind sister, my friend Jill, is taking it upon herself to raise the money on her blog and through word of mouth.

Please click here to read my friend Jill's post about her sister Lisa, a woman in the prime of life who has to deal not just with this devastating illness, but with the stress of paying for her treatment. In my opinion, it's untenable that anyone should have to deal with raising money on top of fighting cancer.

I know my readers are non-consumers, frugalistas, an all-around thrifty sort. But I also know we're a generous bunch who wants to spend our money on things that really make a difference. And I promise you that whatever amount you can afford to give to this kind family will be truly appreciated.

Thank you in advance for your kindness and generosity.

September 28, 2009

More Meatless Monday recipes

If you haven't signed up for Meatless Mondays yet, click here to visit their website and find out why you should. When you pledge to go meatless on Mondays, you'll receive a weekly email that contains news of the week, plus some great recipes. They've got a new feature that I love, which is a video demonstration. I can't wait to make the spinach and corn enchiladas, she makes it look so easy!

I've been sharing some of our favorite meatless meals, since we go meatless several times a week, and it's no deprivation for us. Think stir-fry, scrambles, pasta, and soup, and the possibilities are endless.

Here are a couple of our favorite main dish salads:

1. Greek salad. This is a great summer dish, but it's delicious year-round as a light meal. Arrange thinly sliced English cucumber, tomatoes, and red onion in an attractive pattern on a plate. Layer with crumbled feta and 6 or 8 pitted and sliced kalamata olives. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and oregano.
2. White bean/escarole salad. Tear escarole and saute with olive oil and garlic until soft (cover and add broth or water if necessary). Add white beans and cook another 5 minutes. Serve with a generous squeeze of lemon, salt and pepper.

And here are a few meatless recipes from Reader's Digest:

3. Tagliatelle with veggies & blue cheese. Cook 8 ounces of spinach tagliatelle (or other pasta) al dente. Add a cup of broccoli florets and another of cauliflower during the last 3 minutes of cooking time. Then drain pasta and vegetables in a colander. Rinse pot and over low heat melt 6 oz. blue cheese and stir until it's a smooth sauce. Then add the pasta and vegetables back to the pot and stir to coat and heat through. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
4. Open-Face grilled vegetable sandwich. Preheat grill or broiler. In a small bowl whisk together olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper. Brush sliced portobello mushrooms, asparagus, and red pepper with mixture. Grill or broil veggies until tender (about 10-12 minutes). Let cool and slice pepper. Grill bread just until warm. Spread goat cheese on bread, top with mushrooms, bell pepper, and asparagus. Serve warm.

There are an infinite variety of meatless meals to enjoy. The only limit is your imagination. And your palate, I suppose. I know from experience that the more you eat this way, the more you will come to love it. And the fresher the produce, the more delicious eating meatless will be.

I don't have any reader suggestions this week. I'd love to keep sharing them, so if you have any great meatless recipes that are easy to explain, please send them in a Comment. We'd love to try them! And click here if you want to check out the recipes from previous installments.

September 26, 2009

Paul Newman reprise

I can't believe I forgot my favorite Paul Newman quote in this morning's post, so here it is:

"We are such spendthrifts with our lives. The trick of living is to slip on and off the planet with the least fuss you can muster. I'm not running for sainthood. I just happen to think that in life we need to be a little like the farmer, who puts back into the soil what he takes out."

Beautifully said.

In memoriam: Paul Newman

It was a year ago today that Paul Newman died. I couldn't write about it at the time, my emotions were too strong and I couldn't sort through my feelings.

This reaction to a celebrity death is vaguely embarrassing to me, but I think most of us have experienced it. What does it mean when we feel the loss of someone we don't even know so personally? I'd never met Paul Newman, so I was essentially grieving for a stranger. But really I was mourning the loss of the person I thought he was, and what he represented to me.

Which was a beautiful human being. There are rumours that he wasn't perfect, but I refuse to believe them. In his case, his outward good looks were a reflection of his soul. He was, in my opinion, the most handsome man who ever lived. Does that sound overblown? His face and physique were perfect. And it wasn't just the famous blue eyes. Even in a black and white film like Hud, the man was drop-dead gorgeous. I fell in love with his looks and charm as a child, while watching him and the Sundance Kid jump off cliffs and blast their way through Mexico. Who could resist the mischievous smile and sparkling eyes of Butch, or Cool Hand Luke, or the con artist from The Sting? No actor of my generation could begin to take his place. Brad Pitt? No way. Tom Cruise? Give me a break. George Clooney? Well, he comes closest, but he's still not PN.

Mr. Newman was known as a major philanthropist and 100% of the proceeds from his "Newman's Own" line are donated to charity. The list of causes to which he contributed his time and money would be longer than this post. He was a friend to animals and a champion of the downtrodden, a hero in my eyes. His life as a humanitarian was deeply inspiring; he was a person who truly lived his values.

And there was his relationship with his wife, Joanne Woodward. Hardly a typical Hollywood couple, they were together for 50 years and shunned the celebrity lifestyle. How about the charm of a man who says of his wife, when asked about the temptations of other women, "Why go out for a hamburger when you have steak at home?" I'm sure Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward weren't non-consumers, but they may have started me on my journey during an interview I watched decades ago. When asked about the amount of money they give to charity, Ms. Woodward said that at some point you have enough, and you just don't need another set of bath towels, or something to that effect. I think the sentiment made a lasting impression on me.

So I will continue to miss the man who has represented so many things to me: beauty, charm, class, grace, talent, humility, character, loyalty, generosity, integrity, strength, courage, and dedication. I'll miss the perfect man I never met. But I'll always have his movies.

September 25, 2009

Less is More Balanced: One of my favorite blogs

I've been meaning to write a post about recycling electronics for awhile now, but my friend Danielle over at Less is More Balanced has done it so well, I'm just going to send you over there. So click here to find out where you can recycle cell phones, computers, and all your electronic gadgets, and in some cases even get cash for them! It's easy, you might make some money, and it's the right thing to do. I think that qualifies as a win/win/win.

I can't say enough good things about Less is More Balanced. Danielle is a great writer, and it's a fantastic resource for all things green and eco-friendly. Plus she has an excellent sense of design, so the blog not only looks great, she often posts about beautifully designed spaces or objects that are also eco-friendly. And if you love DIY design projects, there are plenty of those. On her blog you'll find everything from a movie review of Food, Inc. to where to buy stylish eco-friendly lunchboxes to how to use less water or have a restful staycation. And that just scratches the surface. It was on her blog that I found out that Origins, where I buy skincare products, will accept and recycle any used cosmetics containers, not just their own.

Some of you may have read Danielle's interview with me a few months back for the Los Angeles-based website Your Daily Thread. If you missed it, you can read that article here.

Danielle also writes children's books, short stories, and articles about green living and green travel, and I appreciate her excellent writing. So don't delay, head over to Less Is More Balanced today.

And I'll be back with a regular Food Waste Friday post next week.

September 24, 2009

Thrifty Threads

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

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

Today's model is April from the U.K. She and her husband enjoyed a babymoon in Malta this summer. I love it! Everything about the photo is gorgeous.

April said she was 30 weeks pregnant in this photo, but that didn't put any damper on their holiday. They also did it budget-style, since the whole trip, including their flight from Europe, lodging, food, and transportation, cost only $1000 for a week. April said they accomplished that by bring 17 pounds of food in their suitcase, cooking in their room, and hitching rides from locals.

They also learned the local bus system and walked 45 minutes past the end of the bus line through hilled farmland to reach the beach. When they heard someone was driving back up the hill, they'd ask for a ride. April says they thoroughly enjoyed their English vacation in Malta, and she highly recommends a babymoon. They kept a journal and wrote down all their favorite memories.

I don't have any details about where April got this beautiful dress or how much she paid for it, because I haven't been able to reach her since she sent in the photo. I guess she's been busy, maybe with a new baby! But the dress is fabulous, she looks fabulous, and I'm so happy she sent the photo. It's so smart to buy maternity clothes secondhand, after all you're only going to fit into an outfit for a few months.

Thanks April! Readers, now it's your turn. I need more photos, so keep them coming. Put on your favorite thrift store outfit, snap a photo, and send it to me at: Remember, we all want to see your fabulous finds. It's so great to see what people are finding at thrift stores all over the world!

Do you shop secondhand? What's your favorite thrift store score? Tell us all about it in the Comments section. And send in those photos! And click here to check out previous installments of Thrifty Threads.

September 23, 2009

I'm On a Roll

Last week, I wrote this post about how I had saved $201 with one phone call. I suggested that if you looked over your accounts, you might be able to save some money by calling and asking for a better deal.

So I decided to take my own advice. I felt flush with the success of lowering our home insurance premium, so I called the cable company and asked why our "bundle" price on telephone, Internet, and cable had gone up over the past few months, from about $112 to about $135.

The agent looked at our account and told me that our $99/mo "all-the-best" package was a 12-month deal and that it had run out. But she said she could offer me another deal for $104 a month plus tax and box rental, essentially saving us $15 a month. There would be no change in our service and I would have to do nothing. So just by asking, we'll save $180 over the course of the year. Not bad. My next call is the Department of Water and Power. That bill is the big enchilada, around $350 every 2 months. Yikes. Marine-style showers may be in my future.

If you're ready to test out your negotiating skills, check out this article that claims it's a lot easier to get a bargain these days. Apparently it's a buyer's market, and that goes for the doctor's office as well as boutiques and department stores, hotels, and yes... the cable company. It's a haggle-fest out there.

What deals have you been able to score just by asking? Tell us all about your great bargains in the Comments section.

September 22, 2009

How do you judge success?

When I embarked on my experiment with nonconsumerism this year by joining The Compact, I assumed I would be successful. That is, I thought I would be successful at eschewing material comforts and making do with what I already had, with maybe a few slip-ups.

What I didn't realize was how much the whole endeavor would subtly work on my entire value system and worldview: what I care about, how I spend my time, and my definition of success.

I've been thinking about continuing with The Compact after this calendar year. That hadn't occurred to me when I started, but lately it seems very feasible. What's certain is that I'm not chomping at the bit, just waiting until I can go on a shopping binge come January 1st 2010. My Buy Nothing New commitment has changed me, because I've become aware of every purchase I make, and I could never go back to being an unconscious consumer.

And becoming conscious in this way has made me see more than ever how empty a value system that judges success based on material possessions really is. It's not that I didn't believe that before, it just wasn't quite as strong a conviction.

Sure, I like nice things. And having the bills paid and money in the bank helps us sleep at night. But once you're past that threshold of survival, does another pair of designer jeans really make you happy? A fancy car? A bigger house?

These questions aren't new or original, and each of us has to find our own answers, live our own lives, make our own discoveries. But I ask you: are people happier when they have more things, more possessions, more stuff? I've never seen any evidence of it. So why do so many people pursue that course so relentlessly? Sometimes I think we're a nation of people searching for salvation in a mall. Even some places of worship are turning into megachurches, mall-like entertainment centers that I can't begin to fathom.

And how do we buy all these things? We work more, to earn more money, to buy more stuff. I remember once back in the 1980s talking to a student from Germany. He couldn't understand why everyone was running around from one appointment to the next, their busy-ness an apparent measure of their success. He said that in Germany, people viewed success as having time to design their own schedules, and that included lots of coffee house lounging and intense conversation.

My idea of success squares more closely with this one than it does the materialist one. Lately I've been thinking that in our culture, the people we consider successful - namely because they make a lot of money - rarely have a moment to themselves. No time for introspection, goofing off, or just plain hanging out. They're slaves to their Blackberries. Maybe not at the level of Oprah or Bill Gates, but for many professionals who live in nice neighborhoods and drive Mercedes it's become the norm.

Certainly working at what you love, being good at it, and making a contribution in your field would constitute success. But that doesn't necessarily translate into material wealth. You could work for the Peace Corps, design a public space, be an excellent nurse, invent a labor-saving device, compose beautiful music, perform life-saving surgeries, write inspiring plays, discover a vaccine, or a million other things, and you may or may not be financially rewarded for it. It's nice if you are, but it doesn't prove whether or not you're successful.

My definition of success includes rewarding work (paid or unpaid), close relationships, an ability to appreciate and be grateful for what you have, having time to live an "examined" life and do the things you enjoy, achieving something you set out to do, doing a little extra when it will make a difference, and not always taking the easy way out. It would also involve a realization that you do make a difference, that we all do, and to resolve to work for what you know is good and right. To live your values. For me, successful people have made the world a better place.

In the end, I don't think anyone has said it better than Ralph Waldo Emerson:

"To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded."

How do you judge success? Please let us know in the Comments section.

September 21, 2009

CSA Delivery Day

What a great way to start the week. This is what was delivered to our door this morning. It's like receiving an incredible gift every other Monday: you know you're going to love it, and you know generally what it will be, but at least part of it will be a surprise.

Like those dates, for example. What a nice surprise! And I was expecting tomatoes, but look at them. They're gorgeous. I'm going to make the incomparable "Tomato Tart with Parmesan Crust" tonight for the 4th or 5th time this summer. It might be my last chance. Click here if you missed that recipe. It really is divine, and it's simple too.

Here's what we got, roughly clockwise from the back: Frog Skin melon, red peppers, white scallop squash and yellow squash, sun gold tomatoes, green beans, pluot, nectarines, cookie, crimson grapes, heirloom tomatoes, dates, caliope eggplant, white garlic, red onions, red butter lettuce, baby carrots, and watermelon.

I'll post a recipe that will use up all your late summer produce below this post (hint: it's the name of a Pixar film), plus an article called "30 Days of Ripe Tomatoes" for all of you who grow your own and can't eat them fast enough.

It's almost impossible NOT to eat healthfully when you get a CSA delivery. Produce this fresh makes it easy to turn down the junk.

Are you a member of a CSA or do you go to a Farmer's Market? Either way, you're supporting local farmers, and doing a big service for the environment and for your health. Please share your thoughts, plus preparation ideas for anything you see in this photo in the Comments section.

Julia Child's Classic Ratatouille

Click here to try "The Perfect Ratatouille Recipe," according to Terri Wahl, the brilliant chef at Auntie Em's, who organized a CSA delivery for the entire Los Angeles area.

Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes

If you're still swimming in tomatoes, this L.A. Times article offers some great ideas on how to use them up. 30 Days of Ripe Tomatoes. Sounds delicious.

Free museum and National Public Lands Day this Saturday

FREE STUFF ALERT: This weekend, you'll have a choice between visiting an area museum or a National Park, and they'll both be free of charge!

First, this Saturday, September 26th is Smithsonian Magazine's 5th annual Free Museum Day. Entry fees are waived at over 1200 museums, zoos, and cultural attractions across the country. To see a full list of participating museums and plan your day, click here to visit the Smithsonian's website and download your free entry passes. You might have a hard time deciding, in California alone there are over 90 attractions to choose from.

September 26th is also National Public Lands Day, when national parks across the country will waive their entrance fees. The idea is to encourage volunteers to stop by and help clean up and enhance public lands. Click here to get involved. National Public Lands Day keeps up the promise of the Civilian Conservation Corps, which worked from 1933 to 1942 to preserve and protect America's heritage. Did you know national forests cover over 193 million acres, an area equal to the size of Texas?

And speaking of our amazing national parks, put this on your calendar: the latest Ken Burns documentary, The National Parks: America's Best Idea, will air as a 6-part series on PBS beginning September 27th. The excellent blog Married With Luggage has all the info here.

There's no excuse not to enjoy a museum or national park this Saturday!

September 19, 2009

Pumpkin Bread

When I posted this recipe card the other day, I used it as an illustration of how our favorite recipes become so precious to us, especially the ones handed down over generations and the ones that always elicit "oohs" and "aahs." But a reader asked if I could post the recipe, since it's a little hard to see on the photo.

This is one of my oldest recipes. It wasn't handed down, I found it in one of those Women's Clubs collections of favorite recipes, but I've been baking it since I was about 13. It's definitely in the category of recipes that elicit "oohs" and "aahs," so long as one is a pumpkin fan, of course.

The only trick I've noticed is that the dough is so moist and dense, that if you bake it into one large loaf, you have to bake it long enough so that it gets crusty on the top, otherwise the inside might not have cooked through. If you use the 4 small loaf pans instead, you won't have that problem, and they're great for gifts.

Here's the recipe:

2 eggs, mixed a little
2 cups sugar
2 cups pumpkin (16 oz can)
1 cup oil (scant)

2 cups flour
2 tsp soda
2 tsp cinnamon (scant)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp allspice (scant)
1 tsp cloves (scant)

Bake about an hour at 350 degrees in greased and lightly floured pans. (1 large loaf may actually need a little more than an hour, and four small loaves maybe 35-40 minutes- I keep an eye on them- when they've risen and lightly browned, they're usually done. Cool on a rack.)

"Scant" means to err on the side of too little rather than too much. And I usually mix all the dry ingredients together before adding them to the pumpkin mixture, so that you won't be left with bites of cloves, or worse, baking soda.

And a word of warning: This is so easy and delicious, but it's hardly low-cal, so be careful if you're tempted to eat it all in one sitting.

Let me know if you try the recipe in the Comments section. This is one of my favorite holiday gifts to make.

September 18, 2009

Food Waste Fridays

This summer squash went bad this week. This represents the first time in over 3 months that we've wasted produce from our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) delivery.

I feel bad that this went to waste but I do have a bit of an excuse. My husband was replacing our sink and then the faucet didn't work, and to make a long story short, we've been without a sink for 8 days now. And that's made it very difficult to cook, especially to use up all the fresh produce. So it's not as bad as it could have been because I've managed to use most of the rest of the delivery.

Why worry about wasted food? Because the food we all throw away ends up in a landfill contributing to greenhouse gases. Plus, when you buy too much food and let it go bad, you're literally throwing money down the drain.

The website Love Food, Hate Waste is a great resource that explains why you should care, and gives great tips and recipes to help you reduce your food waste. There's also a story about Annette from the U.K., who started keeping a food diary to track her family's waste. She's gone from being shocked at how much they tossed, to wasting almost nothing. She shops with a meal plan, and they use everything up. Annette says they're eating healthier AND saving money. Click here to read the article.

You can track your food waste without taking a photo, but it does help some people to be publicly accountable. Kristen at The Frugal Girl came up with the idea, and it worked so well for her, she invited her readers to join in.

This squash will go in the compost bin, so it wasn't a terrible week, especially considering the state of our kitchen. But I'm determined to waste nothing next week.

How did you do this week? Do you have any tips for wasting less food? I think my best tip is still to BUY LESS in the first place. Please share your thoughts and questions in the Comments section.

Friday Freebies

FREE STUFF ALERT: If you live in the Los Angeles area, or plan on visiting soon, here are two great freebies.

Jay Leno's gone primetime. Click here to get free tickets to a taping of the show.

LACMA's Friday Night Jazz Series returns for its eighteenth season. Check out some of the finest musicians in the area Friday nights between 6 and 8pm now through November. Click here to check the schedule, and here for a list of upcoming performers.

I'll be back later today with a Food Waste Friday post.

September 17, 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 used or recycled, from Goodwill, a thrift store, or a consignment shop.

Today's model is Dana. This fabulous photo was taken at the 2007 Mid-Atlantic Emmy Awards in Boston. What a gorgeous gown! And congratulations on the Emmy, Dana! Dana worked for 4 years as the producer of It's Your Call with Lynn Doyle, an issue-focused call-in show. The show won the Emmy award in the interview/discussion program category 7 times, in Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C.

Dana bought this great dress at a consignment store for under $10! That's incredible. She says she's never bought a dress for these events outside of a thrift or consignment store, and she never will. The jewelry was all free, she got to keep it after helping a friend clean out an estate.

Thanks Dana, for adding a touch of glamour to the Thrifty Threads series. How inspiring that you can find a beautiful dress for a formal event at a thrift store. Readers, it's your turn. Put on your favorite secondhand scores, snap a photo, and send it to me at We all want to see your fabulous finds, so don't be shy! The clothes can be dressy or casual, funky or classic, and you can be male or female, large or small, and young, old, or somewhere in between. I'd like to issue a particular challenge to my older readers, because I'd love to highlight being fabulous and over 50, that kind of thing. So if your hair is gray, or your children are all grown up, or you're retired, we want to see your thrift store scores! And if that doesn't sound like you, all photos are always welcome.

Do you wear secondhand clothes? What are some of your favorite scores? Please share your stories, plus compliments for Dana, in the Comments section. And if you want to check out previous installments of Thrifty Threads, click here.

September 16, 2009

I saved $200 with one phone call

The title of this post sounds a bit like a late night TV ad. Can you imagine it, with the huckster voice? But it's true, I really DID save $200 with one phone call. $201, to be precise. Here's the story...

When we received our home insurance bill this year, I put it aside because it seemed high to me at $984 for the year. When I looked up what we had paid last year, it was $864, or $120 less. So I called the agent and left a message. He called me back almost immediately and I asked him why our bill was so much higher this year. (Yes, all these numbers are high. We live in Southern California!)

He told me he'd look over our paperwork and get right back to me, probably later that afternoon. I said that would be great, and that my husband and I had spent a lot of time researching insurance companies and that we couldn't afford random rate hikes (that was the gist of it).

The agent called me back a few hours later and told me that they were cancelling our old policy, and issuing a new policy that would be virtually the same with a few added benefits, and that it would cost $783 for the year. That's $81 less than we paid last year, and $201 less than they originally billed us this year.

Imagine if I hadn't noticed and had just paid that bill. Remember, you can always review all your accounts and ask if you've got the best price. That's particularly true for phone and cable bills. A lot of people have essentially more service than they need, and they're paying for it.

Lesson learned: it doesn't hurt to ask. Please tell us about the deals you've gotten just by asking in the Comments section. We all love to hear a good story about saving money.

September 15, 2009

The United States of Clutter

I hope Aunt Trixie will forgive me for not getting permission to use her photo on my blog, but really she wouldn't even know what a blog is and it would be too hard to explain. I value her privacy, but I just have to trust that there's no reason why I should worry about posting this photo of my husband's 97-year-old aunt coming at us with two slices of fried chocolate pie. That's about as happy as I've ever seen her.

I think the photo is cute, and it's also a good illustration of how tidy her apartment is, at an age when most people have let their places go to clutter.

While visiting my husband's family in Alabama and Tennessee, we noticed that a lot of people have A LOT of clutter. After just reading an article about an old man who was buried (and suffocated to death) under stacks of his own lifetime collection of crap, I've come to think that the clutter problem is a serious national disease. My 91-year-old grandfather is afflicted with it, and I think when someone has lived in one place for most of their lives they have trouble letting go of things because the STUFF reminds them of people and memories.

But we noticed that clutter littered the homes of many people, old and young. I hope my friends and relatives who read this blog will forgive me for saying this, I'm not trying to embarrass anyone. My point is that this problem affects many people to varying degrees, maybe almost all of us. I have a lot more stuff than I had 10 or 20 years ago, and certainly much more than I can use or need.

Aside from Aunt Trixie and a few other notable exceptions, many people's homes were cluttered, some of them to a dysfunctional degree. That affects their lives, not just whether or not they can invite guests into their home, but their state of mind every day. Whenever we're doing a project and things are cluttered, I feel on edge and uneasy. I like to roll with the punches and not let it affect me, and I'm not a neat freak, but I do feel calmer when things are generally neat and in their place.

The result of our "clutter visits" was that my husband and I returned home more determined than ever to continue our decluttering efforts and to get rid of anything we don't need or use.

My husband gets the award today for clearing off our perpetually cluttered coffee table and putting away all the DVDs that were piled up, ready to be watched. Some of them have been there for months, a few for years. He left out only 5 or 6 that are borrowed, and put the rest away. Our shelves are neat enough to find them when we want to watch them. He even has a print out of all the DVDs we own.

I'm beginning to realize that decluttering is a continuous effort. I haven't gotten rid of as much as I'd like during my Buy Nothing New year, but the good part is that at least I'm not adding anything new to the stashes of stuff. Anything coming in - via gifts, swag, or freebies - has to be carefully screened before it's put away so it doesn't end up being next year's clutter.

What about you? Is clutter an issue in your life? Please share your favorite decluttering stories and tips in the Comments section.

September 14, 2009

More Meatless Monday Recipes

A favorite recipe is one of the treasures of life. Shared between friends, across continents, and over generations of family. The recipe in the photo is one of my favorites that I've been baking since I was about 13. I love this recipe so much, and have made this delicious bread for so many people over the years, it's the type of thing I would want to save in a fire. It's that important to me. Luckily, I've baked it thousands of times so I pretty much know it by heart.

I love doing these Meatless Monday posts with all your input, as readers share their favorite easy meatless recipes. I've always thought that everyone has at least a few simple recipes they've come up with, and how great it would be if we could all swap each other's ideas. No cookbooks or myriad complicated ingredients.

Meatless Mondays is a campaign that encourages people to cut out meat just one day a week. Click here to visit their site and find out about how you'll improve your health and the environment just by taking that small step. According to the website, going meatless just once a week can reduce your risk of chronic conditions like cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity. It can also reduce your carbon footprint and save precious resources like fresh water and fossil fuel.

Here are a few more of our favorite veggie meals, plus some reader suggestions:

1. Quesadillas. Last week our CSA had squash blossoms again, which I'd never seen before this summer, and I tried their delicious quesadilla recipe. It involved sauteing onion, garlic, and pepper, and then adding the squash blossoms until they wilt and putting aside. Then fill a flour tortilla with grated jack cheese and the vegetables and grill on each side until lightly browned. So get creative! You can make quesadillas out of just about any combination of veggies and cheese. A simple option is just onions, garlic and peppers and any kind of cheese. I once had mango quesadillas that were delicious.
2. Kale salad. This is my favorite warm salad, and it's delicious if you like kale. Saute the kale in garlic and olive oil until it's tender (you might have to use a little water or broth). Arrange on a plate and top with balsamic vinegar, salt, toasted pine nuts, and crumbled goat cheese. I could eat this several times a week. It's filling enough for a light meal.
3. Swiss chard with sweet potato. This is one of my staples from when I was single. All you do is bake a sweet potato until it's soft and saute swiss chard in olive oil. Then mush up the sweet potato with butter and a little orange juice, and top the chard with balsamic vinegar. The flavors should all blend together. The friend I got this from actually put the chard on top of the sweet potato, but I usually do it side by side. It's a delicious sweet/bitter combo.
4. Fake caesar salad. This is a great simple main dish salad. Combine romaine lettuce, tomatoes, croutons, parmesan cheese, fresh pepper and crushed garlic. Toss with fresh-squeezed lemon juice and olive oil.

Now, some reader recommendations:
5. Alea from Premeditated Leftovers shares this copycat recipe of The Olive Garden's minestrone soup. She's says it's a flexible recipe that's a great way to use up small amounts of vegetables.
6. Ellen at Within My Means offers this unusual quiche variation: cherry tomatoes, lots of cheddar cheese, and reconstituted mushrooms, plus the secret ingredient, freshly grated nutmeg.
7. Julie suggests this simple potato soup: saute onions, garlic, and celery in a bit of olive oil plus any other herbs or vegetables you like or need to use up (she added a bit of broccoli to her last batch), then add diced red potatoes with the skin on and enough vegetable broth to cover. When potatoes are cooked, use a hand-held blender to blend it a bit, leaving some chunky bits. In a regular blender, you can blend just half of it and add to the chunky part.
8. And Lisa at Kindermusik With Friends offers this quick, convenient option: Wrap black beans or refried beans into a whole wheat tortilla with any leftover rice or veggies and bake at 350 for 10 minutes. Top with grated cheese and serve with salad, tomato and onion.

Readers, thanks for all those great ideas! I'm only sorry I won't have time to try all of them. Please share YOUR favorite meatless meals in the Comments section. And click here to check out meatless recipes from previous weeks.

September 12, 2009

Restaurant Coupons: 90% OFF

If you haven't come across this deal yet, is offering 90% OFF through tomorrow, Sunday September 13th.

I'm usually wary of coupons, sometimes they're not worth the trouble, there are too many restrictions, or they get forgotten in a drawer or the bottom of my purse. But you buy these coupons for specific restaurants you already know and love, and there are restrictions but they're minimal.

They normally offer $25 coupons for $10, already a great deal. This weekend they're offering the same $25 coupons for just $1. That's practically a giveaway price!

Go to, type in your zip code, find your restaurant, and then plug in this coupon code: NINETY. Thanks to Leigh at Compact by Design for the tip.

September 11, 2009

Food Waste Friday

No picture, no waste!

That's mostly because we got back from vacation this week so we haven't had enough time for anything to go bad. At least I was good about eating or freezing everything that would go to waste BEFORE I left.

And in case you were wondering about the whole issue of "sell by" and "use by" dates, we drank Horizon organic milk a full 10 days past the expiration date, and it was still delicious. Anecdotal, but true.

Who cares that we didn't waste any food this week? What's the big deal? Because all that food that's tossed in the trash ends up in a landfill contributing to greenhouse gasses. No kidding. Plus, the less food you waste, the less MONEY you'll be throwing in the trash. Everything you buy and throw away is cash you could have saved. We're saving almost $100 a month, or about 25 percent of our food budget, since we started paying attention to wasting less. That's nothing to sneeze at.

If you'd like to find out more, check out Wasted Food and Love Food, Hate Waste for information, inspiration, and tips. And if you'd like to participate in the Waste No Food Challenge, head on over to The Frugal Girl and check it out. All you have to do is document your waste every week, write about it, and then post a link on her site. She started photographing her wasted food back in March of 2008 as a way to hold herself accountable and it's really helped her waste less. Now she's got a whole group of people following her example. Yay Kristen!

I should add that if you're not a blogger, you can still join in the challenge just by making a comment on this blog or Kristen's, or any other way you choose to participate. The whole point is for all of us to start thinking about the impact of all the food that gets thrown away. In the U.K. it's estimated to be 6.7 tons per year, most of which could be eaten. I don't know the statistic for the U.S., but it's got to be a lot more than that. Kind of hard to even imagine.

One other thing, I'm way behind on this, but the week that just ended was "Zero Waste Week." And better late than never, so check out the awesome blog My Zero Waste to see how Mrs. Green and her family have committed to producing no waste (they haven't had a trash pickup yet in 2009!) They're from the U.K., where I think they're ahead of the curve on this issue. Check it out, it's inspiring! And you'll undoubtedly learn some simple thing you could do with almost no effort to help the planet.

How was your week? Are you watching your waste? What are your best tips for wasting less food? Please share your ideas in the Comments section.

UPDATE: My husband made guacamole last night, and the last of a bag of corn chips were stale. Rather than ruin a nice snack by forcing ourselves to eat them, we threw them away. I hadn't registered them as something that needed to be eaten because he's the big chip eater in our house, and they never go to waste. But he was away almost 3 weeks!

UPDATE TO UPDATE: And now I'm thinking I could have kept the stale chips for some kind of casserole or nachos. What do you think?

National Day of Service and Remembrance

If you want to honor the thousands of people who died on this day 8 years ago, do a good deed. That's the message from Jay Winuk, whose brother Glenn, a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician, died trying to save lives at the World Trade Center.

Because of his mission to turn the anniversary of the terrorist attacks into something other than sorrow, Congress and the President have officially recognized 9/11 as a day of good deeds. The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act establishes September 11th as the National Day of Service and Remembrance.

Winuk stresses that it's not a holiday. "It's not about taking a day off and doing something fun. It's a day for reflection and action, a day when ordinary people are encouraged to do a good deed."

If YOU want to do a good deed, My Good Deed and ServiceNation are coordinating thousands of projects. But if you can't take the day off to volunteer, reaching out to someone else in a gesture of kindness counts.

Kindness always counts. Sometimes I think it may be our greatest hope for the future. If you volunteer today or reach out to someone else, please share YOUR good deed in the Comments section. We'd love to hear about it.

September 10, 2009

Thrifty Threads

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

A Compact-y outfit comes from Goodwill, a thrift store, or a consignment shop.

Today's model is celebrity blogger Katy Wolk-Stanley of The Non-Consumer Advocate. Anyone who's been reading my blog for more than a few days knows that it's my favorite blog and if you haven't checked it out, you should click here right now.

Katy joined The Compact almost 3 years ago, and her blog is all about her fabulous non-consumer lifestyle. I could relate to it right away because her attitude was so upbeat, creative, and resourceful. She has a funny take on everything from picking up coins in the street (she's nicknamed herself "Coin Girl") to why she had to finally give up cutting her 14-year-old son's hair: "the particular boy's haircut she'd perfected looked good on a 2-year-old, even on a 10-year-old, but unfortunately not so fab on a 14-year-old." She's a great writer and she manages to make almost any topic interesting: air drying laundry, food waste, putting together her sons' school supplies out of items in the house. Her blog is infinitely readable. I try to visit almost every day.

Katy found this chic ensemble at her preferred venue, Goodwill. Actually, the pants came from Goodwill but the cute green top cost 50 cents at a garage sale. I wish there were garage sales like that in my neighborhood! Katy says the pants were a little pricey at $7, but they fit her perfectly. And the super-cool shades set her back a dollar, also found at Goodwill. Katy calls them her "don't bother me, I'm a celebrity" sunglasses. I am SO envious, no joke. You should see my sunglasses. The chance of a pair like these showing up at our neighborhood Goodwill? When pigs fly.

The only part of the outfit that was bought new were the Dansko sandals. Katy says that as a nurse it's important to wear really good shoes and she's become a "Dansko addict." She bought this pair in 2005 and they still look great.

The rest of the accouterments and backdrop: the Yerba Mate, sharpies, and cash were accidentally left behind by a houseguest. (Nice bonus of hosting guests: left-behind swag.) The Adirondack chair was made by her husband (wow!), the tile table was found at Goodwill for $3 (another thing I've been searching for!), and the plant and planter were a freebie.

Thanks for the great photo, Katy! More proof that secondhand is not just stylish, but the smartest way to shop. Readers, put on your favorite thrift store score, snap a photo and send it to me at: I love doing this as a weekly feature, but you've got to keep those photos coming! Isn't it fun to see what people are finding out there?

Do you shop secondhand? What are your favorite purchases? Does your Goodwill have stuff you would wear? I've found two great Hawaiian shirts for my husband at our Goodwill over the past 7 years, and nothing for myself. I've got to expand my secondhand shopping. Please leave your thoughts in the Comments section. And click here if you want to check out previous installments of Thrifty Threads.

September 9, 2009

The Squeaky Wheel

Yes, that's a person at the bottom of the waterfall. No, it's not my husband or I. No, I didn't get them to sign a release form to be featured on this blog.

Yesterday I mentioned a conversation my husband and I had with a clerk at the Fall Creek Falls Inn and Resort. I'll try to recount it to the best of my memory. It's amusing, and proves that when you're looking for deals, you have to ASK.

My husband is quite good at haggling. He views it as a kind of game. He's got a lot of patience, and he's not afraid to ask for their best price.

The day before we arrived at Fall Creek Falls State Park, my husband had been online at a friend's house and saw a special at the park's lodge for $59 per night. Since he knew it was nice, he called to see if he needed reservations, and they said there were plenty of rooms available.

When we got there and asked for their cheapest room, we were told it was $92. When we asked about the $59 special, the clerk said she didn't know and directed us to a few places just outside the park. After checking one of those places and finding out it was over $100, my husband called the phone number he'd called the day before and was told there was no such rate. It was confusing because the guy at the expensive Bed & Breakfast told us that phone number was for the Fall Creek Falls Inn. Why were they telling us there was no special, when they'd just told us about it the day before?

We decided to pay the $92 because at least we'd be right inside the park and it was nicer than the Bed & Breakfast. We went back and got the same clerk as before and here is the conversation to the best of my recollection:

My husband: What's the rate for one room?
Clerk: $92.
My husband: Is that your best price?
Clerk: Yes sir.
My husband: You don't have any special offers?
Clerk: No sir.
My husband: Okay, we'd like a room.

Pause. The clerk stares at her screen and punches in numbers, asking for our information, etc.

My husband: I called yesterday and there was a $59 rate and I think it included breakfast.
Clerk: That wasn't us.
My husband: There's no off-season rate?
Clerk: No sir.
Me: A mid-week rate?
Clerk: I'm afraid not.
My husband: No $59 rate at all?

Clerk glances at something off to the side of her computer (a calendar?)

Clerk: Oh, the "super summer special." That's good for two more days.
My husband: So that's good for tonight?
Clerk: Yes.
My husband: (Teasingly) Keesha, you've been holding out on us. (She was wearing a nametag)

Keesha gives a slight smile and continues typing without any apology or acknowledgment of the confusion.

This illustrates a few things to me:

If there IS a special, not every clerk is going to tell you about it or even know about it.

You must ASK.

It pays to be persistent.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease. (Is that the expression?)

So don't be afraid to ask, you might get a better price with a lot less effort than we went through. It's hard to express how hilarious this interchange was. We laughed about it and replayed it in our room afterwards. "Oh, the super summer special!"

Do you like to haggle or does it make you uncomfortable? Please share your stories in the Comments section.

September 8, 2009

Home from our Road Trip

We're back from a perfect vacation. My idea of a perfect vacation? You have a fabulous time AND you're glad to be home. One of those win/wins I love so much.

My husband drove cross-country to visit family and friends in Alabama and Tennessee, and I flew in to join him and drive back to Los Angeles. To be perfectly honest, it didn't sound like my idea of a great vacation. While I enjoy visiting family, I put it in a different category than a vacation. And I don't do well in the heat, so visiting the south and driving through the southern United States in late August and early September didn't make me jump for joy.

But it was great! It's always so nice to get away from your routine, even when you like your routine. We hadn't seen some of his family or friends for several years, so it was great to catch up. His sister has a horse in her backyard (!) and his 97-year-old aunt stuffed us with fried chocolate pie (only in the south!)

After several days of bonding and eating, we headed to Fall Creek Falls State Park in Eastern Tennessee, where this picture was taken. My husband used to go there as a kid to camp and he'd been telling me about it for years. Because it was late in the season, the water wasn't flowing like he remembered and he was a little disappointed. But I still thought it was beautiful. We hiked down a steep trail to the bottom of the falls and had it all to ourselves.

After two days of exploring the trails, canyons, and suspension bridges in the park, we headed west across Interstate 40 towards Los Angeles. Much of the drive follows the famous old Route 66 ("get your kicks..."). I've driven cross-country three times when I was a kid with my family, and also taken a train twice as an adult, once on the southern route and once on the northern. So I've seen quite a bit of the country, and I'm still always amazed at how gorgeous it is. There's so much open land, and each state has its own character. You can usually tell within a few miles that you've passed into another state, just by the geography (even if there weren't a big "welcome" sign).

A few highlights (other than Fall Creek Falls):

1. Civil Rights museum in Memphis. At the site of the Lorraine Motel, where MLK was shot. Lots of interactive exhibits, very powerful and moving. Rosa Parks, lunch counter sit-ins, Freedom Riders, integrating Ole Miss, and that's just the beginning. We spent over 3 hours and could have stayed much longer. In fact, my husband visited on his way east and was so impressed he wanted me to see it.

2. Full Southern Breakfast in Memphis. Complete with biscuits and grits.

3. Del Monaco Winery in Tennessee. Did a wine tasting and bought a delicious bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, which we drank the following night in our motel room with bread and cheese for dinner, another highlight. There are wineries springing up all over the country, in Tennessee, Arkansas, and New Mexico.

4. Mesa Verde National Park. Gorgeous and fascinating cliff dwellings that were home to Native Americans over 700 years ago. It was several hours out of the way, and a long climb up a steep mountain, but it was well worth it. Intricate dioramas in the museum depict how the people lived, and we walked through the restored dwellings with a guide who explained the history.

Was this a non-consumer vacation? Not exactly. In Alabama, we stayed with family and friends, but on the road we stayed in motels and of course we had to put gas in the car. And we usually stopped at a local restaurant for dinner. So we were putting money into the economy, just not for STUFF. We did buy one memento of our trip, which I'll tell you about in a future post. It was local and handmade and we both LOVE it.

It would have been cheaper to fly instead of driving, but then we wouldn't have enjoyed the entire second half of our trip. And we managed to spend as little as we possibly could.

For motels, we stayed in a Motel 6 or comparable chain and usually spent only $40 plus tax per night (about $50 total). We would look at the room and if it wasn't clean we would refuse it and go somewhere else. Almost every time the room was fine, a couple were even very nice. A few times my husband was able to get them to drop the first price.

For food, we'd eat cereal or toast or whatever they offered at the motel for breakfast. We were really happy when they had an apple or a banana, because fresh fruit was in short supply. We had tons of snacks for the drive and then we'd stop for dinner: BBQ in the south, Mexican in Albuquerque, etc.

For gas, we'd just stop when we saw a good price, even if we had half a tank. It's nice to stop often and stretch your legs anyway.

For entertainment, state and national parks are still a great vacation bargain. We didn't pay anything to visit Fall Creek Falls, except a night at their lodge, which had a $59 special for a nice room with a view of the lake. (Although it took some fast talking to get the clerk to tell us about that special. I'd give you my best recollection of that conversation, but this post is getting too long). Mesa Verde was a $15 entrance and parking fee, and $3 each for a guided tour. The Civil Rights Museum was our priciest diversion: $13 each.

One small victory: we carried stainless steel water containers, and only had to purchase bottled water 3 times the whole trip, when the water we filled up with at the motel was just too nasty to drink.

And one bonus: the weather was mild during our whole trip, so we were able to avoid one of my famous heat-induced meltdowns. That greatly added to our ability to get along famously the entire trip.

We had a fabulous time but I must admit that it was very evident that the country is going through hard times. A lot of places felt run down, and we passed countless gas stations and small businesses that had been vacated or abandoned. Let's hope things start to turn around soon.

Have you ever been on a road trip? I think since it's so cheap to fly and gas is relatively expensive, they're becoming a thing of the past. But driving is a great way to get to know the country and not just destination cities. Please share your favorite road trip stories and memories in the Comments section.

September 7, 2009

CSA delivery: Labor Day '09

What a beautiful sight to return home to! We pulled in from our road trip at midnight last night, and this bounty was at our front door this morning. Since we were produce-starved after our trip, sometimes having trouble finding even a banana, our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) was more appreciated than ever. I could barely take this photo before my husband was grabbing for sandwich ingredients.

We had a fantastic trip, but it's tough to find fresh fruit and vegetables or even eat healthfully while traveling the Interstates. I'll write more about our adventure in tomorrow's post.

Today, we're rejoicing in our abundance and I can't wait to boil up that corn on the cob for dinner. We received (from the back, roughly clockwise): Frog Skin melon, corn on the cob, butternut squash, red bell pepper, sun gold tomatoes, black eyed peas, basil, brandywine tomato, peaches, a "kitchen sink" cookie, squash blossoms, nectarines, red grapes, purple and green beans, summer squash, red leaf lettuce, and watermelon.

Having just visited Mesa Verde in southern Colorado, where we learned that for hundreds of years the Native Americans lived on a diet of beans, corn, and squash, I'm thinking of a dinner with those ingredients to commemorate our trip.

If you need more motivation than a husband who dives for produce just because it tastes so delicious, here's my attempt to answer Meg's question from a few weeks back: "Why should I join a CSA if I already go to a Farmer's Market?"

If you go to a Farmer's Market regularly, you probably don't need to join a CSA. You already support the local farmers and enjoy the fresh taste and health benefits of the produce. For me, it's not feasible to go every week, and so the convenience of delivery is one of the benefits for us. Here are a few others:

1. Our CSA (Auntie Em's) delivers produce that I may not be familiar with or have chosen myself. That means we're introduced to new foods and a more varied diet.

2. Our CSA also provides recipes and serving suggestions, contributing to expanding our diet and introducing us to delicious new foods. That's good for our health, and it's also fun to experiment with new things.

3. Since the woman who runs our CSA is very experienced with the local Farmer's Markets because of running a restaurant for years, she knows all the farmers and what is best and freshest at each Farmer's Market. I wouldn't have that experience. We're getting the best and the freshest available.

4. We're eating seasonally because of her choices. You can do this yourself, but if you're anything like me, you tend to get into a rut with what you know you like and know how to prepare.

5. The food is so much fresher that it lasts much longer and so we have much less food waste.

So my answer would be that if you go to the Farmer's Market every week and talk to the vendors and buy a large variety, it's about the same as what we get, minus the recipes and serving suggestions and the convenience of delivery. But for most of us, there are a lot of advantages of joining a CSA.

Click here to find a CSA near you and to read more about the advantages. And if you happen to live in Los Angeles, I can't recommend our service (Auntie Em's) highly enough. Click here for more information and to sign up. And if you'd like to see some of our previous deliveries, click here.

Are you a member of a CSA? Do you go to the Farmer's Market? Please leave your thoughts and suggestions in the Comments section. Recipes and preparation ideas are also welcome.

September 5, 2009

Free Museum Admissions

FREE STUFF ALERT: If you're a Bank of America customer, don't forget about their Museums on Us program, where you can get into participating museums free of charge just by flashing your debit card.

The program runs the first weekend of every month, and that's this weekend, September 5th and 6th. Click here to find out the details and which museums are free in your area.

September 2, 2009

Oldies but hopefully Goodies

I'm on vacation this week, but I thought I'd leave you with a few of my most popular blog posts of the past eight months. Unless you've been reading this blog all year, they're probably new to you. Here's one for each of the days I'll be gone:

Husband's Compact-y Birthday (wherein we discover we already have just what we need)

Continuous Small Treats (wherein I list my treats for a happy life, a la Iris Murdoch)

What do you splurge on? (wherein I delve into my boot obsession and more)

I'll be back next week with brand-new posts, including a CSA delivery on Monday, Thrifty Threads on Thursday, and Food Waste Friday.

Have a great Labor Day weekend!

September 1, 2009

Baby steps challenge update

The Pillsbury doughboy is really creepy. I always thought he was cute and cuddly (duped by advertising?), which is why I've kept this cookie jar 20+ years, even though I haven't used it until now. Of course it could be my dismal photography skills (a talent that apparently isn't genetic because my brother is a professional photographer).

I'm using this jar temporarily as a "slop bucket" for the vegetable scraps on their way to the compost bin. I haven't had time to look for anything more practical, with a wider lid for example.

This is all to introduce the fact that even though it is the first day of September, I am not going to undertake a new baby steps challenge this month. This is partly due to the fact that I am on vacation this week, and partly because I'm still working on the past two month's challenges.

In July, I started my own compost bin. That's been going well, and I started a second bin because it filled up so quickly. I'm still trying to make compost without adding my own worms. Basically, composting is a done deal as far as becoming a habit. I told someone today that I could no more imagine throwing vegetable trimmings in the garbage than tossing a recyclable plastic bottle in the trash. But this horror movie Pillsbury doughboy cookie jar has GOT TO GO.

In August, the baby steps challenge was to switch to all natural household cleansers. I wrote about tackling that project here. And for a lot of reasons, I'm just getting started on that one. It's definitely a work-in-progress that will continue this month.

So I've got my plate full as it is, and I know when to say "uncle." I'm going to give myself an extra month to catch up with all of these new challenges.

How about you? What new habits are you attempting, or have you adopted lately? Please share your difficulties, questions, and insights in the Comments section.