November 30, 2009

Meatless Monday recipes

The Meatless Monday campaign is an effort to get people to give up meat one day a week, for their health and the health of the planet. Click here to go to their website and read all about it.

This week I've got some great reader suggestions for simple meatless meals.

1) Tom says he's mostly vegan and for people new to vegetarianism he suggests pasta meals as an easy option. One of his favorites is Trader Joe's rice noodles, sliced olives, cut small tomatoes, and minced onion. Sprinkle with vegan cheese and olive oil for a simple vegan meal. I agree with Tom that pasta is one of the easiest ways to make a meal so delicious you won't miss the meat.

2) Carla says her family eats meatless most days of the week even though they're not vegetarians. Most of their meatless meals revolve around legumes and grains in some form with added green and yellow vegetables. It's hearty and sustaining food, on top of being delicious.

3) Castal says one of her favorite meatless meals is a big pot of veggie and bean chili with a cast iron skillet of corn bread, served with either cheese or sour cream. Or just plain, because it's tasty as is. Castal says they eat meatless several times a week in order to use up their CSA box of fruits and vegetables. That's true in our house as well. We're eating less meat since we've been getting the CSA delivery.

4) Emily says Manicotti with Three Cheeses is a favorite at their house. Here's the simple (5 ingredients!) recipe: 12 manicotti shells, 4 cups shredded mozzarella, 8 oz. soft cream cheese with onion and chives, 3 cups marinara sauce, and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan. Cook manicotti according to package instructions. Grease a baking dish. Mix 3 cups of the mozzarella with the cream cheese, stuff the manicotti and place it in the baking dish. Top with marinara sauce, sprinkle with remaining mozarella, and bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Sprinkle with parmesan and bake 10 more minutes. I'm going to make that on the next cold day, it sounds like great comfort food. And I can tell you right now it's going to be a favorite at our house as well.

5) And finally, Catherine at Vegan Good Life offers this recipe for portabella with vegan gravy. Scroll down the page for the recipe. She also brings up a great point: olive oil, shallots, and spices like rosemary and thyme do wonders for vegetables. I agree. Roasted with olive oil and spices is my favorite way to make veggies.

Thanks readers for all your great ideas!

What are your favorite meatless meals? Please share them in the Comments section and I'll include them in the next Meatless Mondays recipes post. And click here if you want to check out previous Meatless Monday recipes.

November 29, 2009

Time for recharging...

I've been thoroughly enjoying the long holiday weekend, seeing movies, making gifts and baking, taking walks and hanging out with my husband.

I was determined to spend less time at the computer, and that meant no blogging for a couple of days, but I'll be back to my regular posting schedule this week, including Meatless Monday recipes, Thrifty Threads on Thursday, and Food Waste Friday.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

November 26, 2009

Sleep In on Black Friday

Take part in "The Great American Sleep-In" at Global Giving.

On the day after Thanksgiving, ditch the mall and snuggle up to this earth-changing idea for gift giving. Here's how it works:
  • Sleep in, spend time with your loved ones at home, and avoid the crowded stores and long lines.
  • Stay in your pajamas and order Global Giving Gift Cards online. Give the card to someone you love, they go to Global Giving and pick a cause that touches their heart, and use the card to donate to their favorite project. It's the gift that changes lives.

Find out all about it here.

So give the holiday gift that's both non-consumer and experiential. You'd be amazed how far a modest gift of $10 or $20 can go towards some of these worthwhile projects.

Happy Thanksgiving

I am so grateful for my family and friends, my health, and most of all for my wonderful husband. And this year I'm also thankful for all my new blogging friends and my brilliant readers, who inspire me every single day. This experiment has been a marvelous adventure, and given me much more than I could have ever dreamed. My heart is so full.

Thank you all and have a wonderful holiday.

November 25, 2009

Wine Finds

Just in time for Thanksgiving, it's another installment of Wine Finds, where I tell you about a delicious bottle of wine for under $10. I'm not a wine expert, and have never even taken a wine-tasting class, but I love wine and I drink a fair amount of it (it's still good for you, right?) As long as I don't drink an entire bottle by myself... That's only happened once, and I'll never tell when...

So if you really like to leave things until the last minute, or just didn't want to spend too much for wine for the holiday, this Fetzer Valley Oaks Merlot might be an option for you. It's an old standby of ours, kind of a nice all-around wine. It's not going to win any big awards for complexity, but hey, it's only $5.99 a bottle.

I was also happy to read recently that Fetzer vineyards is recognized for its "sustainable, earth-friendly practices" by the EPA and several other organizations. They practice responsible waste management, recycling, energy and water conservation, and are moving toward a goal of using only organically farmed grapes in their wines. That makes me feel better about making this one of our go-to bottles. Personally, I haven't been that impressed with the other varieties I've tried, but I think their Merlot is quite drinkable. I have a soft spot for Merlot, which you can read about in this post from back in July.

Fetzer winemaker Dennis Martin describes it this way: "I think our Mendocino roots show in every glass of our Merlot. It has an easy, approachable style with aromas of ripe plums and flavors of blackberry and cherry. This wine goes great with just about any meal, making it a good choice to have on hand for every day. (That’s what I do.)" Well said, Dennis. I agree.

This wine is available at Trader Joe's, and I've seen it at World Market and BevMo as well, although maybe not at the $5.99 price.

What are some of your favorite wines for under $10? Share your picks in the Comments section. And click here if you want to check out previous installments of Wine Finds.

November 24, 2009

Reusable bags

Those are some, but not all, of our reusable bags. I just grabbed the ones I could find easily. Lately I've been encouraged by this story about Target and CVS promoting the use of reusable bags, but at the same time I'm still surprised and saddened by how many people still use plastic bags at the supermarket.

If they knew the cost of those bags on the environment, I don't think they would do it. Sure, some of them wouldn't care if every baby seal on earth was strangled by their plastic beer rings. But most people would be shocked and alarmed and immediately buy a reusable bag. I think a lot of people just think it's some kind of a scam to charge them more money.

I recently read this fact on my friend Leigh's blog, Compact by Design:

"An estimated 1 million birds and 100,000 sea turtles and other marine animals die of starvation each year after ingesting discarded plastic bags which block their digestive tracks."

Oh, that's so sad. Why, oh why, is it so hard to stop the madness?

If you're like me with the stupid paper towels, and have a hard time developing this habit, here are a few tips that helped me. I switched over several years ago and virtually never need to use the plastic anymore. The key is to have plenty of bags and to remember to bring them into the store.

1. Buy bags every chance you get, in lots of different sizes. If you only have big bags, you might not bring them in for just a few items, or if you only have small bags, you won't use them for larger items. My husband and I both have huge IKEA bags in our car (although I haven't used mine during my Compact year), and we each have lots of different-sized bags in our car, and in several rooms in the house. My husband keeps a few on the back of his office door, and I keep a bunch in my armoire. But the main thing is to have them in the car trunk. That way you can use them for any kind of shopping.

2. Once you get in the habit, it will be easy to remember to grab a bag when you're walking into a store. But until you do, make sure they're always in the car. If you've left some in the house and forgotten to return them to the car, it won't matter if you have five other bags in the car.

3. If you realize you've forgotten your bags while you're in the store, go back out to your car and get them. You'll probably only need to do this once.

4. If you only have one or two items, you don't need a bag at all. We've been so trained that we need bags for everything, and that's fine if they're reusable cotton, but NOT if they're plastic.

Until they completely stop making plastic bags, you can do your part by getting a few reusable ones. If you don't like the idea of paying for them, I'm sure you can pick some up for free somewhere. Many of mine come from environmental organizations I donate to.

Do you use reusable canvas bags? What are some of your tips for making it a habit? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section.

November 23, 2009

Meatless Mondays Q&A

This is a special edition of Meatless Mondays, because today the Meatless Monday website includes a Q&A interview I did with Terri Wahl, the founder of our CSA delivery service. You can check out the Meatless Mondays website here, and my interview with Terri here.

I'm such a big supporter of the concept of Meatless Mondays, that after I'd been writing about it for awhile on my blog and sharing meatless recipes, the editor of the website emailed to thank me. After a few exchanges back and forth, he invited me to submit a Q&A with someone in the world of food. They are a nonprofit corporation, and I was not paid for any of this, I just believe in the cause.

There's also a link to my pumpkin bread recipe this week in the recipe section.

Have you pledged to go meatless on Mondays? What are some of your favorite meatless meals? Please share them and I'll include your ideas in my next Meatless Mondays post.

November 22, 2009

A Green and Grateful Thanksgiving

I know my readers are all about being green and grateful, so if you want to add some of that good stuff to Thanksgiving this year, check out this article by my friend Danielle Davis. Danielle blogs at Less is More Balanced and is the green living contributor at L.A.'s own Your Daily Thread. The article is all about how to make the holiday more meaningful.

There are a few links I still have to check out, like a list of organic and biodynamic wines. I don't even know what biodynamic means, but it sounds kind of like bionic, so I'm guessing it's a good thing. Stronger, more powerful wine. Wow.

November 21, 2009

Baby steps challenge update

This will be a short post: I LOVE microfiber cloths! I can't believe it took me so long to discover them.

The baby steps challenge for this month is giving up paper towels, you can read about it here.

Thanks again for your great advice!

November 20, 2009

Food Waste Friday Follies

I realized after I wrote last week's post that I had meant to say "follies" and not "food waste friday frolics." So here it is Friday again, and I bring you my folly...

No picture, no waste! So I'll make this short. Every week I take photos of my food waste, a concept started by Kristen at The Frugal Girl, in order to be more aware of how much food we're throwing out. So far we're wasting a lot less than we used to, which saves money and is better for the environment.

Check out this cool site "Love Food, Hate Waste" to find out about why cutting food waste matters.

How did you do this week? Let us know in the Comments section.

Free H1N1 vaccine

L.A. residents: If you're in a high-risk group and haven't been able to get the H1N1 vaccine, click here for information on free vaccinations available through the Los Angeles Department of Public Health.

People not in the high-risk groups (defined as pregnant women, health care workers, those under 25 years old, and individuals with compromised immune system and/or chronic health problems) are advised to wait until more vaccine becomes available.

November 19, 2009

Super-Frugal Holiday Gifts

Welcome to part 3 of a series on non-consumer holiday gift ideas. Today I'll talk about super-frugal gifts, or gifts under $10. I'm trying to stick to non-consumer items, which can include food and other things which are "Compact-friendly." Thrifty Threads is suspended for this week, and I still need more photos!

If you have a lot of gifts to buy, for extended family, and coworkers, neighbors, teachers, and the person who delivers your mail, you probably need some ideas for gifts that are thoughtful but inexpensive. But not cheap. So here goes...

1. Tea. I think tea is a great gift because it's encouraging the recipient to take a break, to stop and smell the roses. I've only started appreciating tea in the last few years, but a good cup of tea really is relaxing. It can also be rejuvenating. There are so many different types and flavors. One of my favorite brands is Republic of Tea, and they have a large variety of choices. They also come in little mini travel tins.

2. Imported beer. A great choice for a beer lover, especially if they've cut their budget and haven't tasted anything other than Budweiser for awhile.

3. Wine. You can usually get a pretty good bottle of wine for under $10, especially if you live in California or another wine-producing region. I love getting a nice bottle of wine- it tastes great and it doesn't clutter up the house. In fact, I would love wine clutter. That's clutter I can live with.

4. Soap. Almost nobody splurges on $5 bars of soap for themselves, but almost everybody loves delicious-smelling soap that makes your skin as soft as a baby's bottom. One of my favorites is a nearby shop that uses a lot of olive oil and natural scents like lemon, lavender, and coconut.

5. Chocolate. Ten dollars can buy you some delicious chocolate. I always get my husband a box of See's, with a custom picked selection of all his favorites. You can also get several bars of dark chocolate for less than $10. Who doesn't like chocolate?

6. Candles. You can make these yourself if you want to make the gift more personal.

7. Good hand lotion. This is one of my favorite gifts. For some reason, I never splurge on lotion, soap, or bubble bath for myself, but I love receiving all of those things.

8. Really cozy wool socks. My favorites are sold at REI.

9. Food. Any of the homemade baked goods from yesterday's post would work as frugal gifts as well. And if you're pressed for time, you can put together a great gift bag or basket of food goodies from places like Trader Joe's or World Market.

Most of the handmade gifts I talked about yesterday are also frugal. And secondhand can work for gifts, so check Goodwill, Craigslist, eBay and Freecycle. Last weekend I just missed some never-used photo albums that went up on Freecycle. That would have been a great gift for my photographer brother. And things like picture frames, boxes, and household items can be found secondhand. I always see breadmakers at our Goodwill.

Which brings me to a taboo subject: regifting. Don't be afraid of it. Obviously if you're getting rid of a gift because no one would want it, regifting isn't cool. But there are a lot of times regifting can work, especially if it's a nice item that you either already own or just isn't your thing. Examples: jewelry, books, a fondue pot, glassware, scarves or hats, toys, and games. So I think you should rethink the whole regifting thing. It's been labelled as socially unacceptable, tacky, and totally uncool, but is it better to let whatever it is sit in a closet unused?

One of the gifts I'm giving our niece and nephew are old coins that I've saved over the years from different countries. They both collect them, and a friend made some really cool drawstring bags for each of them to stash the coins. I think it's a great gift because I know they love coins, plus it's used and frugal.

A coworker gift that was a big success one year was mini-bottles of liquor, like they serve on airplanes. People were sick of getting candy and cookies, and were glad for the change. Of course you have to know that people drink, and it's best if you know what they like. The janitor especially appreciated this gift and never stopped thanking me for it. I had a spotless work area the following year.

For more frugal gift ideas, check out this post at Budget Confessions and this one at Moneyfunk. They're not entirely non-consumer, but they've got some great suggestions for shopping on a budget.

What are your favorite inexpensive gift ideas? Please share them in the Comments section.

November 18, 2009

Handmade Gifts

This is the second part of my 3-part series on non-consumer holiday gift giving. Yesterday I talked about "experiential" gifts, tomorrow I'll give you some ideas for super-frugal (under $10) gifts. Today we'll talk about handmade gifts.

If the word handmade conjures up images of styrofoam animals or ceramic ashtrays gathering dust, those are not the kind of gifts I'm talking about. There are millions of crafty blogs where you can get that kind of thing. I haven't done any needlepoint, crochet, or macrame since I was about ten, and I don't think I'll be starting anytime soon. So only a few of these gifts might entail a trip to a craft store, mostly I'll be taking a different direction.

1. Mix CD. A great gift! If I had to get rid of all my CDs today, I would miss my mix CDs the most. I've held onto many of them for years. I love the creative combinations people come up with, putting me in a certain mood or frame of mind. Best of all, I always think of the person who made it for me while I'm listening. Making these can be time-consuming, but very creative and surprisingly fun. Books that celebrate and cherish the significance of the mix tape: High Fidelity (also made into a movie) and Love is a Mix Tape.

2. Herb garden. This is seasonal and weather-dependent, but a few herbs in a pretty pot makes a wonderful gift. My friend made this herb garden for me for my birthday this year, and I love the pretty bowl and have used the herbs countless times. And I think of her whenever I snip off a little thyme.

3. Jam/jelly/marmalade. I've never taken on this project, but I love receiving these gifts. If you want to give it a try, there are tutorials all over the Internet.

4. Baked goods. Since I love to bake, I give a lot of quickbreads and cookies at the holidays. People who work in offices tend to get overloaded with this kind of thing, so I limit it to the people I know really love that particular cookie or bread. Holiday favorites are pumpkin bread, gingerbread, shortbread cookies, and bourbon balls.

5. Other food. If you have an apple tree, a lemon tree, or an abundance of any other kind of fruit, it can make a lovely gift. Even a clipping of herbs can be added to a basket. Or get creative and make food other than baked goods, like candy. I used to make fudge for my grandpa when I was little, and I have a friend who makes beautiful chocolate-covered dried fruit.

6. Beaded bracelets. I love these bracelets that I saw on Compact by Design. I even met Leigh in person and she brought me her leftover beads and some crimps to get me started. So I'm making some of these simple bracelets for my niece, my husband, and a few friends. Michael's or another craft store has everything you need: beads, elastic thread, crimps, and a crimping tool.

7. Other jewelry. It would be a stretch to say I "made" the necklace in the photo, but I did put it together from items at a bead store. And my friend is going to love it! You'd be surprised at the cool pendants and things you can find at bead stores, and even at Michael's.

8. Framed photo or photo album. Digital photography has made a printed photo more exotic, and I love giving and receiving a photograph in a cool frame. The best is one of you and the recipient having a good time. And it's a real labor of love to put together a photo album for someone. My mom did this for me one year and the album with all its notes and descriptions is one of my most treasured gifts ever.

9. Knit hats or scarves. Of course if you knit or crochet, you know that these are awesome gifts.

10. Board games. I once made a time-travel board game for my brother that involved meeting famous people in history and curing diseases, that type of thing. Time-consuming but fun, the possibilities are endless.

11. Ornaments. My parents still hang a little felt Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer that I made when I was about six on their tree every year. But handmade ornaments have gotten much more sophisticated since the 1970s. Check out this link for some great ideas.

12. Bath oils. My brother once had a girlfriend who put together marvelous concoctions in beautiful bottles. She added dried flowers and herbs to the oil and it made a thoughtful gift.

13. Gift tags or bookmarks. Click here to check out Alea's cool designs. If you're giving a book as a gift, make a bookmark to go along with it. And recycle paper with these creative gift tags.

I already mentioned the photo album my mom put together one year as being among my most treasured gifts ever. The other two are a quilt made by a friend and a collage my husband gave me. When you come up with an idea and sit down and put your hands together to make something for someone else, you're giving them something that can't be bought in a store for any price. And even when it doesn't quite work out, they'll still love it. I'll never forget the sweaters my mother made for all of us when she learned to knit back in the 70s. They were different color combos, but they all had a lightning-bolt design on them and the yarn was really chunky so they really weren't the most flattering items of clothing. But my dad wore his every winter for years.

Good luck with your projects! What are some of your favorite handmade gifts? Please share in a Comment.

November 17, 2009

Experiential Gifts for the Holidays

This is the first segment of a series I'll be doing this week about non-consumer holiday gift giving. Today I'll talk about "experiential" gifts, tomorrow I'll have ideas for handmade gifts, and Thursday I'll give you some frugal gift ideas that cost under $10.

"Experiential" gifts are my absolute favorite, both to give and to receive. I've been a proponent of gifts of experience since way before I started The Compact. Experiences are so much more meaningful than STUFF, and the options are endless.

I started down this path several years ago when I was trying to think of a gift for my mom for her birthday. My parents had recently moved into a smaller house and had already gotten rid of a lot of possessions and put a lot more into storage. Whenever I'd taken the train to visit my parents in San Diego from Los Angeles, I'd noticed a restaurant in San Juan Capistrano that was right along the route and looked so charming. So my gift was a card with a train ticket and a coupon for lunch inside. My mom and I met at that restaurant halfway between our homes for a delicious lunch and a glass of wine, walked around San Juan Capistrano, browsed in a high-end gift shop, and got inspired by the people painting watercolors of the mission. It was a perfect afternoon and my mom absolutely loved her gift. Since then my whole family has adopted the practice of experiential gifts.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

1) Museum membership. One of my favorite gifts from my parents that my husband and I have enjoyed this year is a membership at The Norton Simon museum, which is less than a 10 minute drive from our home. There are so many advantages to a membership, but the main one is that going to the museum doesn't have to be a big "outing," you can just drop by to see a new exhibit or look at your favorite painting, or browse for an hour. I often go just to stroll through the gardens and sit and read a book. A really fun bonus is that members are invited to special events, like the acquisition of a new piece of art or a piece on loan from another museum. My husband and I love the wine and cheese receptions that accompany these events. This is a more affordable option than you might imagine: a one-year membership for myself AND my husband, which included 2 free guest passes, cost just $65.

2) Classes or lessons. If your husband has always wanted to play the guitar, give him guitar lessons. I got that idea from Non Consumer Girl, and I'm thinking it would be a good gift for my husband too. Maybe your mother always talks about taking a writing course at the community college, your parents would love to learn the tango, or your daughter in college is a budding gourmet who would enjoy a cooking class. Music lessons, horseback riding lessons, cooking classes, dance lessons, college courses, the options are endless.

3) Concert tickets. This one has been a big hit with my parents. One Father's Day I took my dad to see Dave Brubeck at a San Diego venue right on the water. It was a fabulous concert and we had a great time. My brothers and I splurged to send my parents to see Josh Groban, something they never would have figured out how to even buy tickets for on their own. My mom is a huge fan and she was swooning for days.

4) Massage, manicure, pedicure, or other spa services. This is the kind of gift that is so appreciated by someone who's lost their job or going through financial difficulty. They can't afford to treat themselves, and the stress relief and pampering will make them feel so much better.

5) Yoga classes. Again, this is the kind of thing people cut from their budget, usually just when they need it the most. This is what I'm giving my brother this year because he loves yoga but just can't afford the luxury of paying for a class.

6) Gym membership. Joining a gym is a big commitment, but if your loved one recently dropped their membership, or you know where they'd love to go if only they could afford it, this would be a great gift.

7) Animal encounters. I'm not talking about getting in a cage with sharks or wrestling an alligator, there are much safer ways for animal lovers to interact with other species. Look into what's available at zoos and animal parks in your area. My mother got into a tank in a wetsuit with a beluga whale at Sea World, and the smile on her face in the photo makes her look 20 years younger. The photo of me at the beginning of this post was taken on Christmas Day in 2001 in the Florida Keys at a marine animal park. My husband likes to tell the story of how my hand shot up with a bunch of kids when they asked who would like to come up and meet the sea lion. Then they asked each of us as we went up if we wanted a hug or a kiss, and I was the only one who chose a hug. It's one of my fondest memories and favorite photos.

8) Wine Club. I'm arguing for this as an experience, even though it's tangible, because it's an experience to receive and drink the bottles. This was one of our favorite wedding gifts from our good friends, because it was an excellent winery and the type of wine we rarely splurge for, but we'd save it for special occasions, and make the event even more memorable. Also, you can look into an organic winery. And if a full year is out of your price range, many places offer a half-year membership.

9) Charity. Kiva dot org and Global Giving are two examples of charities that let you get involved and pick the project you want to participate in. For as little as $10, you can give your loved one the gift of providing a family in Mali with a mosquito net to protect them from malaria, textbooks for schoolgirls in Afghanistan, or job training for at-risk teenagers in the United States.

10) CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) delivery of fresh, local, organic produce. You know what a fan I am of this service we started back in May. This would be a great gift for someone who has good intentions about eating healthy, but doesn't have the time or follow through to get to the Farmer's Market. Check out Local Harvest to find a CSA in your area.

11) Theater tickets. Tickets to a performance of their favorite play or season tickets at their favorite venue are a great gift for a theater-loving couple living on a fixed income or whose funds are tight. Theaters offer great prices on season tickets when you can attend during the week or at matinees. And these days you can negotiate deals because theaters, and the arts in general, are hurting for business.

12) Brunch. Much more reasonably priced than dinner, some buffet brunches at nice hotels offer an incredible spread and a nice dose of luxury for a newly married couple or a couple with kids who need some time alone.

13) Getaway. An overnight or weekend getaway to the beach or the mountains would be a fantastic option for an overstressed couple. A wine country package, canoe trip, cross country skiing, or just sitting on the porch of your creekside cabin reading a good book- just what the doctor ordered.

14) Go-Kart or car racing track. An afternoon with their dad at one of these places would be heaven for a pre-teen boy, especially one who wants to grow up to be Dale Earnhart, Jr.

15) Other options for kids include theme parks and water parks, an afternoon of kite-flying, or a day at the beach. Or introduce your child to volunteering at an early age, by serving up plates at a food kitchen, caroling at a hospital or nursing home, or "adopting" a family who's fallen on hard times and buying gifts for each of them. Your children will learn the meaning of the holidays through their experience.

16) Certificates. Home spa treatments, car washes, babysitting, dog walking. This is a nice option when you're short on money. I recently gave my husband a home facial and he loved it. He said it was very relaxing.

17) A home-cooked meal. It's so simple you might not even think of it, but for someone who's socially isolated, new in town, or has recently divorced or lost their spouse, this gift of food and friendship would be extremely appreciated.

Additionally, spending time with family members doing holiday-related activities like decorating cookies, trimming the tree, or attending a holiday-themed concert or play can be your gift to each other.

I'm sure you can think of more ideas that will be just perfect for the people in your life. When you give this kind of gift, you're giving memories. And you know what they say: memories last forever. Which is not the case with most of the stuff many people will be buying at the mall. The bonus with these gifts is that avoiding the mall this time of year will save you immeasurable amounts of stress and give you more time for whatever rituals you enjoy, whether it's baking, listening to music, or just spending time with family and friends.

I hope you got some ideas here. Please tell us about your favorite experiential gifts in the Comments section.

November 16, 2009

CSA Delivery: Can you say greens?

Why is a photo of produce so exciting? Is this pornography for middle-aged urban dwellers?

I am a huge fan of greens, so I'm very happy with this delivery. I had to take the photo indoors today to avoid the glare out on our porch. It's a gorgeous sunny day out, and that combined with the variety of produce grown locally, reminds me of how lucky we are to live in Southern California, despite some of the well-known drawbacks.

This week we got (roughly clockwise from the back): rainbow chard, beets, cauliflower, green oak lettuce, carrots, rapini, red potatoes, garlic, persimmons, pink grape tomatoes, grapes, kiwis, pumpkin chocolate chip cookie (gone within seconds!), fuji apples, yellow onion, yellow bell pepper, flagolet beans, and pomegranates.

Wow. We are certainly going to be eating from the rainbow this week. And we're so loaded with pomegranates lately, I think I'll make a gift of one to someone who could use a ton of antioxidants. Since we got cauliflower, I can't resist making one of my favorites tonight, vegetable curry. Click here for the recipe. And later this week I'll be making these awesome Guadalajaran swiss chard quesadillas, which sound exotic, but are super quick and easy.

If you're interested in joining a CSA, click here to find one near you. CSAs are a great way to eat fresh, local produce that's usually organic. It's good for the farmers, better for your health, and better for the environment because of all the resources that are saved by cutting out the shipping. I'm so happy about all of that, but the best thing of all is that this stuff really tastes great! Are you a member of a CSA? Let us know in a Comment. And if anybody has a recipe for rapini, I'd love to hear about it.

November 15, 2009

Comments, plus the week ahead

Good morning. I just wanted to let you know that I've had to change my "comment preferences" to include a word verification. I've been getting way too much spam and I needed to do something. However, I hope you will let me know if you have any difficulty making comments because I don't want that to happen. So I'm sorry that you'll have to go through this extra step, but because of the way this world works, I have to protect myself.

If you experience ANY difficulty leaving a comment, please let me know at I love getting your comments, and they keep the conversation going. We're all learning from each other.

This week I'll feature a CSA delivery post on Monday, and then a special non-consumer "holiday gift series" the rest of the week. Tuesday I'll be writing about "experiential" gifts, on Wednesday I'll have a post about handmade gifts, and on Thursday I'll talk about super-frugal gifts: under $10.

Happy Sunday!

November 13, 2009

Food Waste Friday Frolics

Every Friday I catalog our food waste for the week, in hopes that keeping better track of it will help us to waste less.

This week some leftovers went to waste, despite our best intentions. In the orange tupperware is some unappetizing turkey parmigiana, the remains of a very disappointing dinner. My husband had told me about a friend's chicken parmigiana for years, so I finally got the recipe from her and was excited to make it for him. She told me they use turkey cutlets, so that's what I got. But from the look on my husband's face at his first bite, I knew he didn't like it. The turkey was surprisingly bland and inexplicably tasteless. He finished that cutlet and the next night I made garlic bread and made the leftovers into sandwiches and it was a lot better. Being a good sport, he tried to eat this last cutlet the following day, but told me when he sliced into it, it was just too gross. Of course that guaranteed that I wasn't going to eat it either.

The other container has a bit of a pumpkin experiment I made, which was not terrible-tasting, but I was sick of it. I had some canned pumpkin left over from making bread, so I decided to cook it into a savory little casserole. I ate more than half of it, but the rest went bad this week. Click here if you want to know the story of the writing on top of the container.

Why do I care about throwing away food? Well, for one thing it's like throwing away money. But more importantly, it's terrible for the environment. All that wasted food sitting in a landfill creates carbon dioxide and THAT'S a big problem. You can read all about it over at Wasted Food. And visit The Frugal Girl to see how people are documenting their waste so we can all try to waste less. I can tell you, it's an ongoing process. It's nearly impossible not to waste anything, I have a lot more respect for those Depression-era folks who really used every little bit.

So how did you do this week? Are you watching your waste? I find it's all a balance. On weeks like this, I'm not going to eat something completely unappetizing when I have healthy alternatives right in front of me. We're not starving, and it's NOT the Depression, despite what you hear on the news. Please share your thoughts in the Comments section.

November 12, 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 Anita, who's an awesome feature film editor. I had the pleasure of working with Anita on a film called Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, which was a Disney movie starring Lindsay Lohan. Some of the other films she's edited include Albert Brooks' Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, the Emmy-nominated TV-movie Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story, and my personal favorite Legally Blonde. Anita modestly downplays her own contributions, but a good editor can make or break a comedy (or any film, for that matter).

Anita got this entire outfit at Crossroads Trading Company. The Max Studio pleated wool skirt was $18.50, the H&M tuxedo vest was $10.50, and the Theory t-shirt was $9. Anita thanks her daughter for introducing her to used clothing. She says now she's hooked and she studies outfits she loves from In Style magazine, then takes the pictures to the thrift stores and tries to duplicate the look. Anita says it helps her focus and buy only what she set out to buy. Plus, it keeps her from being overwhelmed by too many possibilities. It sounds to me just like how an editor would approach a situation, in a creative and problem-solving manner.

This adorable outfit inspires me to break out my vest collection. I love vests, and there are ten or twelve in my closet that I've had for years and can't bear to part with. Thanks Anita for sending in that fantastic photo! Readers, now it's your turn. I'd love to keep doing this series every Thursday, but the photos are trickling in, so if you love seeing everyone's fabulous finds, they'll love seeing yours too! So put on your favorite secondhand outfit, snap a photo, and send it to me at I love to see what people are finding out there. If you absolutely don't want to send in a photo of yourself, send one of your husband, mother, or kids. Just as long as they're wearing secondhand clothes, we want to see them.

Do you shop secondhand? Give us your best tips and advice, plus compliments for Anita in the Comments section. And click here if you want to check out previous installments of Thrifty Threads.

November 11, 2009

Simple Living Network Newsletter

I'm excited to be included in The Simple Living Network newsletter again. If you haven't checked out this resource yet, it's a good one if you're starting down the simple living road. And this month I'm in good company, with Trent Hamm of The Simple Dollar, Danielle Davis from Less is More Balanced, a piece about an alternative gift registry from New American Dream, and more!

Click here if you want to read my contribution. If you've been reading this blog for awhile you may have read it already, but you can still check out the excellent website and the other articles.

And if you've come to this blog through The Simple Living Network, welcome! I hope you find something you can use...

Organic Milk

I should probably have a segment on this blog called "Ask my readers" because every time I ask, I get such great advice from you all!

Lately I've been thinking about organic milk. We buy roughly 1/2 gallon a week for the two of us, and I pay $3.29 for the Trader Joe's brand. I'm willing to pay that price, but I've heard so much about the plight of the dairy farmers that I'd like to find out how I can help them, or maybe get the milk more directly. I've even read on a few blogs, though I don't remember where, about picking up your own fresh organic milk directly from the dairy farm.

So here's my question: do you buy organic milk in a way that gets more of the money to the dairy farmers? And can anyone tell me how to find out more about it? Please leave your thoughts in a Comment. And thanks so much! Usually when I'm thinking about something like this, so are a lot of other people.

November 10, 2009

Breaking The Compact Without Regrets

This is the front of our house. See that orange thing climbing up the wall?

Can you tell what it is yet?

Ah ha! A ceramic gekko, a souvenir from our road trip a few months ago. Click here to read about our drive across Highway 40 and our stops along the way.

We bought this in New Mexico, and it was new, so I broke The Compact but I'm glad I did. My husband and I both love this memento, and I'm sure we'll have it for years. And it looks so cute climbing up our walls.

I feel great about this purchase because it was handmade and local, and so it supported the local economy. The woman who makes these critters creates her own molds, and fires and glazes them herself. We had trouble picking one out, but we both love orange and we're happy with our decision on this guy. Oh, by the way, the cost was $25. A bargain, in my opinion.

My favorite souvenirs of trips are photos and a journal, but it's always nice to have a little something to remember a place by. And what a bonus when it's a piece of local art or something handcrafted. When I was checking to make sure I'd spelled "souvenir" correctly, I learned that the etymology comes from the French: "literally, act of remembering."

What have been some of your favorite vacation mementos? Tell us about it in the Comments section.

November 9, 2009

Meatless Monday recipes

Every Monday, I write about food. I didn't plan it that way, but first we started getting a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) delivery of fresh organic produce back in May, and I started taking photos and telling you about what we got. Then, I signed up for Meatless Mondays in June and I'm so supportive of their cause I started writing about it. And I got such good feedback on the meatless recipes I posted, I decided to make it a regular feature by using reader's suggestions.

There are SO MANY delicious vegetarian recipes these days that it gets easier and easier to go meatless. We go meatless several times a week in our house. There are just so many things we love to eat that don't include meat.

If you haven't heard of Meatless Mondays, click here to read all about it. It's a nonprofit initiative that aims to encourage people to go meatless on Mondays, for their health and the health of the planet. If you go to their site and pledge to go meatless, they'll send you a weekly email that's filled with delicious recipes, along with news in the world of food. I already have a backlog of recipes I can't wait to try, and several have quickly become staples.

Meatless Mondays has gotten a lot of press lately because the Baltimore school system was inspired to go meatless on Mondays and the news covered it. Not everyone thinks that teaching children to eat less meat is a good thing, some people will PROTECT THEIR RIGHT TO EAT STEAK at all costs. Click here to see Glenn Beck's take on the subject, which is either insane, farfetched, unhinged, wrongheaded, bizarrely self-centered, hilarious, or all of the above. Sorry to offend any GB fans, but I have a hard time believing anyone who watches him for anything more than entertainment value would be reading my blog. It's unclear who's trying to take his steak away: Al Gore? Paul McCartney? Obama?

Now for some recipes:

Ellen from Within My Means shares this recipe for Squash Casserole, which looks easy and doesn't use a lot of ingredients. One thing it does use is Cream of Mushroom soup, so if you don't like the canned version, I thought I'd share this recipe from Alea at Premeditated Leftovers for a homemade version (which has got to be healthier!)

This easy-sounding recipe for Italian Spinach Pie comes from Reader's Digest. I haven't tried it yet, but I will as soon as I get spinach and leeks in the same CSA delivery. According to RD, you should eat plenty of spinach to keep your heart in tip-top shape with vitamins A and C and folate. Also, when I make it I'll add a pinch of nutmeg which is delicious in any spinach recipe.

And one of my old standbys: Arugula/mushroom salad. I think this recipe was on the back of a bag of arugula at Trader Joe's and I made it and loved it. Now I make it all the time, sometimes for lunch, sometimes for dinner as a side, or as a main dish if I'm really feeling starved for greens. Saute garlic and mushrooms or a shallot and mushrooms in olive oil, and pour it over the arugula. It should wilt the greens a bit. Add salt, toasted pine nuts, balsamic vinegar, and a little crumbled feta or goat cheese.

What do you think about going meatless? To me, it's a win/win/win: healthy, green, and frugal. I love that. Please share your favorite meatless meals in the Comments section, and I'll use them in the next Meatless Mondays post.

November 7, 2009

Bionic Lettuce

I know this looks an awful lot like a Food Waste Friday photo, but it's not. Because if you look closely, that may not be the newest or freshest head of lettuce you've ever seen, but it's not ready to toss on the compost heap quite yet either.

My husband has been using this lettuce on his sandwiches for... more than a month! That's right, this lettuce is from a CSA delivery we received on October 5th (click here to see it in its delivery day glory) and I just took this photo this morning. According to the notes from our CSA, it was red leaf lettuce - fresh yes, but nothing advertised as "never wilting" or "lasts forever."

So why did this particular head of lettuce last over a month (and still going strong) in our refrigerator? Because of this fantastic TIP that I tried when it was wilting after the first few days: put it in WATER. It seems so simple, but it works wonders. I just put a bit of water in the bottom of the plastic bag, down where the root is, and the leaves perked up and this is the result all these weeks later. I just used maybe 1/4 cup of water at the most, and I freshened it every week or so.

I got this tip from the awesome Mrs. Green at the excellent My Zero Waste. Mrs. Green and her family of three are attempting to eliminate their waste, food and otherwise, and they tell others how to do it. Their website is a fantastic resource for recyling, reusing, and reducing waste. And it's fun! Being in Britain, I think they're a little ahead of the curve on this issue, so we can all be inspired and learn from them. For example, I just saw this post about recycling Tetra Paks. I can't wait until that happens here! We use so many products that come in Tetra Paks: soymilk, almond milk, chicken broth, and tomatoes.

Do you have any tips for keeping produce fresher, longer? Let us know in the Comments section. And thanks Mrs. Green!

November 6, 2009

Food Waste Friday: Celery

It's that time again...

I'll admit right off the bat that I'm not a fan of celery. Next to green pepper, it's about the only vegetable I don't like. But I had very high hopes for this celery root from our CSA delivery, and the stalk given to me by my neighbor when he went away on vacation. Not only did I have high hopes, I had a plan.

Based on a reader suggestion, I was going to make this fabulous-sounding soup from Oprah dot com. Looking at the recipe now, I'm sorry all over again that I didn't make this Celery Root soup with Granny Smith Apples. I simply ran out of time. First of all, I had already made Butternut Squash soup, which was delicious. But even though I could eat soup practically every day, my husband isn't as big a fan. So I ended up waiting a little too long, and the root got mushy. Too bad. On the good side, it's food for the critters in the compost pile, instead of food waste on its way to the landfill.

If you're new to this blog and wondering why I'm posting these ugly pictures of rotten food, I'm following the lead of The Frugal Girl, who started photographing her food in an attempt to waste less. What's the big deal? Why should we care about wasting food? Because not only does food waste in the landfill turn into carbon dioxide, so it's bad for the environment, wasting food wastes money. If you eat everything you buy, you'll save on your grocery bill.

If you want to get more into the nitty-gritty facts and figures on the topic, check out Wasted Food, where Jonathan will tell you everything you need to know to inspire you to cut back on your food waste. And if you want to join in the Waste-No-Food challenge, head over to The Frugal Girl.

How did you do this week? Are you wasting less food these days? I'm finding it a little easier to keep track of our food because I'm buying less at the market. We might not have every option available at every moment, like every kind of cheese or nut, but it helps us waste a lot less. And a rough plan of what we're going to eat also helps. If you have any tips or advice to waste less, tell us about it in the Comments section.

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 Danielle, who says she buys pretty much all of her clothing sustainable, local, or secondhand, which means she buys secondhand most of the time. Danielle got this cute dress for just $8 at a thrift store in Hollywood. She says it's served her well for a wedding, a funeral, and a night out of storytelling, where she was headed when this action shot was taken.

Danielle is a writer who blogs at Less Is More Balanced, which I've mentioned before. It's one of my favorite green and simple living sources, for products, DIY projects, people, and services. Danielle will tell you about how to detox your bedroom, review a new book on sustainable living, tell you where to go to recycle your gadgets or swap tools with your neighbor, and share all kinds of tips on how to live a more balanced life. She hasn't been able to post regularly for the past couple of weeks due to illness, but she hopes to be back to her regular posting schedule next week. Danielle also writes short stories and children's books, which you can check out on her website Danielle Davis Reads and Writes.

Thanks Danielle for sending that cute photo and keeping the series going. Okay readers, it's your turn. Put on your favorite secondhand outfit, snap a photo, and send it to me at We all want to see your fabulous finds, so don't be shy. We like to see all types of people and all types of clothing on Thrifty Threads. I can't wait to hear from you!

Do you shop secondhand? I was very excited to make my first purchase of clothing for myself at our local Goodwill yesterday. Previously I'd found two Hawaiian shirts for my husband, but nothing for myself. This jean jacket was barely worn and super soft. So I might have to feature moi someday soon on Thrifty Threads. Please leave your tips and advice about secondhand clothes shopping, and compliments for Danielle in the Comments section. And click here if you want to check out previous installments of Thrifty Threads.

November 5, 2009

Carrot Cake recipe

I do have a Thrifty Threads post ready, but the blog that it links to is having server problems, and we don't know when they'll be fixed, so I'm disappointed but it will have to be put off. If I can post it tomorrow, I will. Otherwise, it will have to wait until next Thursday. So since I can't give you Thrifty Threads, I'll give you a recipe instead.

A few weeks ago I had some carrots that were getting a bit limp, so I acted like a housewife and cooked them, mashed them up, and baked some carrot cake. See what I mean by acted like a housewife? I acted resourcefully, I think. The carrots were about to go bad, so I thought of another use for them.

One of my readers asked me to post the recipe, so here goes. I used one of my favorite cookbooks, The Silver Palate, by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins, but mine is a plainer version of theirs. It's like a super simple quickbread.

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 cups sugar
1 tsp salt
1 T baking soda
1 T cinnamon
1 1/2 cups corn oil
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 T vanilla
1 1/3 cups pureed cooked carrots

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease pans (loaf pan, mini-loaves, or layer cake)
2. Sift dry ingredients and add oil, eggs, and vanilla. Fold in carrots.
3. Pour into pans and bake 30-35 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
4. Cool on a rack for 3 hours and frost with cream cheese frosting.

To make cream cheese frosting, cream together 8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature and 1/2 cup butter. Slowly sift in 3 cups confectioner's sugar and keep beating until free of lumps. Stir in 1 tsp vanilla, and juice of 1/2 lemon(optional).

The recipe in the book calls for 1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts, 3/4 cup drained crushed pineapple, and 1 1/2 cups shredded coconut to be mixed into the batter. That sounded like a little too much for our taste, so I left those ingredients out. I might try the coconut next time though.

My husband scarfed this down, after first telling me he didn't really like carrot cake. Hmmm.

November 4, 2009

Doing the Right Thing

Sometimes, the news is good. Like this story about how Target and CVS are going to pay customers to use their own reusable shopping bags. If you turn down their plastic bag, Target will take 5 cents off your purchase. And CVS drugstore plans to give a $1 cash bonus for every 4 times a customer doesn't request a plastic bag.

That's good news that will add up to a lot less plastic. And maybe get people more into the habit of using cloth bags.

A spokesperson for the Natural Resources Defense Council says the two retailers could keep billions of plastic bags out of the environment, as well as encourage other retailers to take similar steps.

Smaller chains like Whole Foods have been giving their customers incentives to use cloth bags for a long time, but this marks the first time a big retailer is following suit.

It's a giant step in the right direction, with no downside I can see. Even if the motive is to cash in on people's desire to go green, in this case market forces are working. A marketing professor in the article says these days, retailers who want to connect with the consumer have to show they're sensitive to environmental concerns.

Have you heard any good news on the environmental, green, or nonconsumer front lately? Tell us about it in the Comments section.

November 3, 2009

November baby steps challenge: paper towels

It's a new month, and time for another baby steps challenge!

Back in April, I wrote this post about how I wanted to make some simple changes to incorporate more "green" behaviors into our lifestyle. So far we've tackled: stopping junk mail and catalogs, air-drying laundry, composting, switching to natural cleansers, and using less water. Hooray.

Now, I don't mean to imply that all these behaviors are taken care of, they're still a work in progress. I air dry the laundry most days, but not always because of our schedules. I'm often doing laundry in the evening and don't want it to sit overnight. We're about 50% switched over to natural cleansers, but it's going to take some coaxing to get my husband to let go of his practically lifetime supply of Clorox (he buys in bulk). And I compost basically everything that can be composted, but I'm not sure what's going on in those bins because I still don't see any worms. I may have to go on a worm search soon.

So I'm far from perfect, but I feel pretty good about the changes we've made so far. This month we're going to tackle the last of the challenges I set back in April: deal with our paper towel usage. I struggled to even come up with a title for this post, because I hesitate to say "give up paper towels." I just don't think we can do it. But I'm going to make an effort to use a lot less. Here are the steps I've taken to help us out:

1) Cloth napkins: We're using some we already had, plus some hand-me-downs from a friend. I had no trouble making this switch, but my husband seems to have a hard time with it. He still prefers using a paper towel, and I'm not sure why.

2) I tore up more rags for cleaning. We're lazy about grabbing paper towels for cleaning, when it's just as easy to use a rag if it's available.

3) I bought a couple of "dish rags" to use in the kitchen instead of paper towels for all kinds of minor things. This is what we used during my childhood, so I don't think it should be too difficult to get back into that habit.

A few steps we've already taken are that my husband is buying the paper towels that separate into a much smaller section, and he also bought a plastic contraption to use in the microwave that you place over plates instead of a paper towel.

I know for some people they could just give up paper towels entirely, cold turkey. But I'll be happy if we use a lot less and go from there.

Please share your tips and suggestions in the Comments section. And let us know if you want to join in the challenge!

November 2, 2009

CSA Delivery Day

I apologize for the glare on the photo, it's very bright outside!

This delivery has a lot of new items, the season change is evident. I'm looking forward to making a mushroom risotto with that exotic-looking mushroom medley. And though not everyone is a fan of persimmons, I love them! And they're so beautiful.

This week we got (roughly clockwise from the back): two packages of fresh baby greens (one spinach, one arugula), red leaf lettuce, delicata squash, garlic, red onions, fresh thyme, butter potatoes, pomegranates, cherry tomatoes, fresh lima beans, homemade granola, fuji and black arkansas apples and a lovely little mini pear, persimmons, red grapes, assortment of crimini, oyster, shitake and wood ear mushrooms, carrots, parsnips, and spaghetti squash.

I'll post a recipe for Delicata Squash Bisque below this post, which I'll be trying later this week.

We love receiving this delivery, it's so much fresher and tastier than going to the supermarket. But I should tell you that it's not for everyone. Two of my friends have already started and stopped this delivery, and it made me realize that it really is a bit of a commitment that won't work for every person or family. First of all, I plan our meals around the delivery, and I don't mind that because we have a flexible schedule and I'm learning to cook new things. Also, my husband and I tend to like almost any produce, although we do have some favorites.

A CSA delivery wouldn't work for you if you wanted to make a particular dish that week, and the items weren't included in the delivery. It wouldn't work for you if there are a lot of fruits and vegetables you don't care for. And it probably wouldn't work if you have a full-time job away from home and you're the person who does most of the cooking.

One of my friends said it didn't work for him because he's too picky and so a lot of the food went to waste. The other friends are what I would consider gourmet cooks, and I think they didn't like having the delivery sort of dictate your menu plans.

So there are some very valid reasons this service wouldn't work for everyone. But it's been great for us. One of my favorite things is that my husband always has a healthy stash of food to make sandwiches or snacks with. And I've enjoyed trying new recipes incorporating new ingredients. If you think it would work for you, click here to find a CSA in your area. If you live in Los Angeles and want to try our delivery service, click here for the link to Auntie Em's delivery service. And click here if you want to check out our previous deliveries of delicious produce.

Do you belong to a CSA? Do you like going to the Farmer's Market? Please share your thoughts and questions in the Comments section. I'm so happy that it's getting easier for more people to eat fresh, local, organic produce.

Delicata Squash Bisque

I think this recipe for Delicata Squash Bisque looks quite delicious. It's vegetarian, and uses cashew cream in place of dairy. I'm going to make it later this week. If you try it, let me know what you think in a Comment.

November 1, 2009

A funny Halloween story

We've lived in this house for seven years, and we never get trick-or-treaters. The first year we put out lights and a jack-o-lantern and bought candy and were so excited, and then only three kids came to the door. No one else on our street even had their lights on, and we found out all the kids go to another part of the neighborhood. After that, I'd still buy candy but then no one would come and we'd be stuck with a bag of candy I really didn't want to eat. We never had anyone knock on the door after that first year, and I stopped buying candy altogether.

Last night I was talking to my friend on the phone and she was saying they had way too much candy because they hadn't gotten any trick-or-treaters and it was almost 7pm. When I told her no one comes to our house on Halloween, she asked if I'd bought candy "just in case." Then she said someone was knocking on their door, and AT THE EXACT SAME TIME I heard a knock on our door.

I answered the door to find two little girls dressed as corpse brides, calling out "Trick or Treat!" I felt awful. I knew there was no candy in the house. I told them to wait a minute and I scrounged through the pantry and found some fruit leathers and in the refrigerator I found two juice paks that had been left in there by friends. I came back and said, "I'm so sorry to be the lame lady who's giving you juice and fruit leather" and they actually squealed. "I LOVE fruit leather!" and "I LOVE apple juice!" Hysterical. Then while I was talking to their father about where to go from there since our whole area was dark, they had already broken into the juice paks.

Sometimes I regret not having children. They can be so cute. I love their enthusiasm, and the way they can make the best of things. And the way it really doesn't take that much to make them happy. We can all learn a lot from kids.

Did you go trick-or-treating with your kids last night or hand out candy? What were some of the most creative or funny costumes you saw?