July 31, 2009

Food Waste Friday

No food waste this week: yay!

This was mostly due to buying fewer groceries and trying to use up what we already had. It's nearly impossible for me to let any of the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) produce go to waste because it's so delicious. Plus it stays fresh longer, so we've usually got plenty of time to use it up.

Why should we care about throwing our food in the trash? On top of the fact that it's basically throwing money away, food in landfills has a huge environmental impact. You can read all about it at Wasted Food, Jonathan Bloom's blog about the issue. Americans throw away as much as 40 to 50 percent of the food that's produced. That's more than $100 billion worth of food that could go to feed millions of hungry people. On top of that, food that goes to the landfill contributes to methane emissions. Methane is more harmful than carbon dioxide, and it's responsible for about 20 percent of global warming.

So, if each and every one of us can reduce the waste in our household, we can start to have an impact on the larger problem. Kristen at The Frugal Girl has issued The Waste-No-Food challenge, where people take a photo of their food waste each week in an effort to focus on the issue and share tips for wasting less.

The challenge is working for us, although there have been a few setbacks. If you're new to this blog, I should mention that it takes most people weeks or months before they reach a point of no food waste. For most of us, our intentions to eat healthfully cause us to purchase more food than we can actually eat, and it ends up going bad.

How did you do this week? Do you have any great tips for wasting less? Please leave your tips, advice, thoughts and questions in the Comments section.

July 30, 2009

Thrifty Threads

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

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

Today's model is Jenna, who bought this fabulous dressy dress for just $10 at Crossroads Trading Company in Seattle. Jenna lives in Spokane, but goes to Seattle a couple of times a year just to shop in their great thrift stores. She wore this beautiful dress at her graduation from Whitworth University, where the photo with her friends was taken. Since then, she's worn it to a lot of other fancy events like the Nutcracker ballet during the holidays, and her birthday dinner with her boyfriend.

Jenna just bought a new house (congratulations!) so she says she doesn't have a lot of money to spend on designer clothes. But that doesn't mean she can't be stylish. She says this is her most prized consignment store find, it's super soft and has a row of purple jewels along the waistline. It really is beautiful. It makes me want to hit the secondhand stores right now.

Good for you Jenna for buying a house and for wanting to change your lifestyle so that you waste less. Since you're starting to make wise purchases so young, you probably will be able to avoid the trap a lot of people get in when they get out of college and start racking up their credit cards and living beyond their means.

Readers, put on your favorite thrift store finds, take a picture, and send it to me. I would love to be able to do this segment every Thursday, for now I'm going to do it at least every other week as long as I get enough photos. So keep them coming! We want to see your fabulous finds of all kinds: dressy and casual, large and small, men and women. Thanks for participating Jenna. And click here to check out previous installments of Thrifty Threads.

Do you buy secondhand clothes? What's your favorite score? Can you believe she found that dress for just $10, something that probably cost 10 or 20 times that much new? Please leave your thoughts in the Comments section.

July 29, 2009

Salad Bar

Last night I came up with a super-quick and easy dinner. I call it "Salad Bar." It was a big hit with my husband, so we'll be incorporating this one into the standbys, especially during the summer.

When you want a light meal and prefer not to turn on the oven, try this. The best part is that it's ready in less than 10 minutes. I wish I would have thought to take a photo of it all laid out because it also makes a nice presentation. But I didn't even think about it for a blog post until AFTER it was such a success.

I had a really fresh head of red-leaf butter lettuce from our CSA, which I washed and "spinned" and tore up and placed in pretty salad bowls. Then I put several "toppings" in various little serving bowls: cherry tomatoes from our plants, sliced red onion, chopped walnuts, slivered almonds, dried cranberries, slivered basil, crumbled feta, gorgonzola, capers, and chopped olives. The freshly roasted beets were just for me. You can get creative here and use whatever you have in the house.

I placed all the little bowls with a couple of salad dressing choices on our table, and voila! A delicious summer meal. I think I'm lucky to have a husband who considers that a meal like I do. It's a great option when you've had a big lunch or date shakes in the middle of the day, like we did.

What are your favorite light summer meals? We'd all love to hear about easy choices, especially ones that don't require turning on the oven. Please leave your ideas and suggestions in the Comments section.

July 28, 2009

Cash for Clunkers

The "Cash for Clunkers" program started off with a bang yesterday. The idea is that you can take your old car to a dealer and get a coupon for $4500 to be used toward the purchase of a new, energy-efficient car. There aren't that many requirements, except that the old car has to really be a guzzler - to qualify it has to get 18mpg or less. And the car you purchase must get at least 10mpg MORE than that. You can get a coupon for $3500 if you raise your fuel-efficiency by somewhat less than that.

The program is supposed to spur sluggish car sales and encourage the purchase of fuel-efficient vehicles. That sounds good. It's also intended to get the gas hogs and polluters off the road. Even better.

But here's the part that worries me: "Dealers must remove the engine and transmission of the cars that are turned in, disable them and take them to a junkyard." That sounds like we're leaving the task of responsibly disposing of tons of heavy objects to used car dealers. Am I the only one who's worried about this?

First of all, is it really better to junk those old cars, adding enormous (possibly toxic) waste to the landfills? And secondly, who will oversee that the process is done in an environmentally friendly way?

I couldn't find any analyses of these questions in my search last night, the day the program went into effect, but I'm going to continue looking. Please let me know if you find anything. I have a feeling we're about to see one of those "cash-strapped, recession-weary consumer" versus "sanctimonious environmentalist" arguments crop up. Like the one where we're all supposed to want gas prices to be so low that people can drive around in SUVs and Hummers, because, hey, that's their choice. As Americans. That really gets my goat. When you point out that in countries where gas prices are high, people drive more fuel-efficient cars, you're called un-American.

What do you think? Is there some way to head off this storm before it happens? Please tell me your thoughts in the Comments section.

July 27, 2009

CSA delivery: or, how to make Monday your favorite day of the week

Getting this delivery of local organic produce every two weeks has changed our lives! Cooking is more fun, and my husband is eating more fruit. On top of being better for the environment by cutting down transportation costs and supporting the local farmers, this stuff is much fresher, so it lasts longer, and it tastes absolutely delicious.

Here's a rundown of this week's bounty (I definitely need to consult the list because I don't know what some of it is): starting from the back and moving roughly clockwise is watermelon, bi-colored sweet corn, cavallion melon, red butter lettuce, a beefsteak tomato, zucchini, Ronde nice squash, cherry tomatoes, black grapes, homemade tomato sauce, plums, nectarines, red onions, rooted basil, and Armenian cucumber. Those purple goodies in the middle? Fresh Black Eyed Peas in the Shell. I've never seen those before.

I can't decide what to have for dinner tonight. I'm really excited about the corn, we'll have to eat that. Maybe I'll tackle those Black Eyed Peas, there are instructions on how to prepare them. And I'll definitely be referring to all the zucchini recipes I received from my readers when I cook that zucchini later this week.

I've posted today's recipe below, although we didn't receive eggplant, so something must have changed at the last minute. Our CSA visits four local Farmer's Markets over the weekend and picks the freshest offerings each week.

If you live in Los Angeles, this CSA operates through the restaurant and catering company Auntie Em's. This delivery costs $42, and we're getting it every two weeks, which is plenty for two people. I like what the owner has to say in this week's newsletter about the whole issue of trying to eat responsibly for our bodies and the planet: "I think that we should all try to do the best we can, and be proud that we're making a difference. Don't beat yourself up over the fact that you're not eating grass-fed beef, if you are buying organic produce, recycle, and are walking more places. It is really hard to do it all. But you can make good choices everyday."

I agree. And Auntie Em's is helping my husband and I make a good choice. I believe that many people making a lot of small changes has a greater impact than if a few of us become Ed Begley, Jr. (no offense to EB). The point is that you do what you can, and it all adds up. For me, the baby steps method works well so that I don't become overwhelmed. I can incorporate small changes into our lives like composting and eating local produce without a huge outlay of time or resources.

Becoming a non-consumer has led to a slew of other healthy lifestyle/good for the environment changes for me. What about you? Do you have a CSA option or Farmer's Market near where you live? Maybe you grow your own produce. Have you ever made Black Eyed Peas from the pod? Do you boil or steam fresh corn? Please leave your thoughts and questions in the Comments section.

Auntie Em's Delivery - Recipes

Auntie Em's Delivery - Recipes: "Eggplant and Tomato Salad"

1.5 lb. eggplant
Juice of 1 lemon
1 lb. tomatoes, peeled and chopped
5 garlic cloves, minced
Salt, to taste
4 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. cumin
2 Tbsp. parsley

• Preheat the oven to 475°F. Prick the eggplant several times with a fork or knife, then roast for 45 to 55 minutes, or until very soft. Remove from the oven and let cool until it can be handled.
• Peel the eggplant and place in a medium mixing bowl with the lemon juice and enough water to cover it. Let soak briefly, then drain the liquid and set the eggplant aside.
• In a pan over low heat, cook the tomatoes, garlic, and salt for about 15 minutes. Add the eggplant and other remaining ingredients and continue to cook for about 5 more minutes, or until the entire mixture is heated through.
• Serve as a salad or as a dip with pita bread."

July 25, 2009

Dancing Under the Stars

FREE STUFF ALERT: If you live in Los Angeles, the Paseo Colorado in Pasadena is hosting "Swing Dancing Under the Stars." This Saturday and next, July 25th and August 1st, the Paseo courtyard transforms into a dance hall. They put out a large wooden dance floor and the best local swing bands show up to play live.

That sounds like fun even if you don't dance, because you just know there will be some older couple really cutting the rug. If you feel like dancing but don't know how, get there early for a lesson at 6:30, before the bands play from 7-9:30pm.

Paseo Colorado
280 East Colorado Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91101

July 24, 2009

It's Friday...

... and our kitchen is still in a state of chaos due to our mini-remodel.

Which means the refrigerator and stove are in the dining room, cereal bowls are in the bathroom sink, and we're not cooking. Which has definitely led to some challenges in the area of avoiding food waste.

Do I sound like I'm complaining? Hardly. We got to eat out twice, and I didn't have to cook all week. Not that I ever actually HAVE to cook, but it's not very healthy to graze on Trader Joe's snacks for meals. Or to live on pasta and pizza, my husband's specialties. Plus we're getting a partially remodeled kitchen(!), which is a big improvement on the 60s-era model we moved into.

If you're new to this blog, every Friday I participate in the Waste-No-Food Challenge at The Frugal Girl. We try to limit our food waste by taking a photo of what gets thrown out that week. The idea is to FOCUS on the issue, and to sort of publicly commit to trying to waste less.

Not only are the many people involved in this challenge saving money by wasting less food, they're helping the environment by keeping it out of a landfill. You can read about the huge impact of all that food that gets tossed at Wasted Food.

I don't have a picture this week, but we did have a little bit of food waste. I just couldn't get in the kitchen to photograph it because I wasn't allowed to walk on the newly laid floor. My husband accidentally left out a partial pot of brown rice, and I found a rotten orange in a forgotten bowl in a corner of the reading room.

What I did right was PLAN before the madness. I shopped only for a few essentials, and I gave away a head of kale I knew would go bad before we could cook again. In my experience, the key to wasting less food has been: PLANNING, ORGANIZATION, and BUYING LESS FOOD.

Are you trying to waste less food? How'd you do this week? Please share your thoughts, tips, and ideas for wasting less in the Comments section.

July 23, 2009

Thrifty Threads

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

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

Today's model is Sandy, who lives in western Canada and blogs at Into the Crockpot. Her blog isn't about crockpot recipes, though she does post a few of those. It's more a hodgepodge of this and that, or as Sandy describes it "a modern woman on a life journey... trying to lessen the load of debt, consumerism, and materialism... and all the good bits get thrown into the crockpot."

Some of those "good bits" are meal plans and recipes, her decluttering challenges, and photos of her adventures with her 5-year-old son. For example, just the other day they went to the beach... TWICE. I particularly enjoy her humor: for example, trying to get her husband on board with eating healthier and wasting less food, only to come home to a refrigerator jampacked with KFC. You can read about that struggle here.

Sandy found this great summer get up at Value Village, which isn't just for Canadians. Click here to find one near you. I definitely have Value Village envy, and have heard it talked about with much enthusiasm. Sandy describes it as a "thrift department store." She said she was hesitant to send in the photo (taken by her 5-year-old son, a running theme on this series) because she quit smoking five months ago and so she's put on some weight because of all the cooking and baking she's been doing. But she "gulped down her vain pride" since I advocate real women and real curves here on Thrifty Threads.

Congratulations Sandy! Gaining a few pounds is definitely worth the health benefits you'll get from kicking the habit. I did it myself 17 years ago, so I know how hard it is. And on top of all that good health, better smelling clothes and house, and the stress of trying to sneak smokes, Sandy says she's already saved $1000! Wow. That should be reason enough to give up cigarettes if you haven't yet.

This "ensemble" cost less than $5 at Value Village. A cute, comfortable summer outfit for less than the price of a double mocha. What a bargain. Thanks for sucking it up and sending in the photo, Sandy. I think you look great. And you're saving your lovely skin and smile from the ravages of smoking.

Readers, you know the drill. Put on your favorite secondhand clothes, snap a photo, and send it to me. You can find my email address on my profile page. We all want to see your fabulous finds. So don't be shy. Click here to check out previous installments of Thrifty Threads.

Do you shop at thrift stores? Do you have a Value Village near you? Tell me about your favorite secondhand scores. And let Sandy know you appreciate her willingness to "take one for the team," as she put it.

Interview in Your Daily Thread

The Los Angeles online magazine Your Daily Thread is featuring an article about my year on The Compact. Click here to check it out. Your Daily Thread is a great resource about green and sustainable living for Los Angelenos.

I met the writer, Danielle Davis, when we both had an article in The Simple Living Network newsletter a few months back. She asked if she could interview me and I agreed. It was fun to meet her, although strange for me to answer so many questions about myself.

She's a terrific writer, who also writes children's books along with her green living articles. Click here to check out her contribution to the Simple Living Network newsletter. She also has a blog called Less is More Balanced, which I love. I'll tell you all about it in a future post.

July 22, 2009

The gratefuls

My husband and I don't have kids, so I don't often post photos of cute children on my blog. But I can post pictures of my friend's kids, especially when I have something to say about them.

This is Lukas, the son of a good friend of mine. My friend will wonder why I'm posting a photo that's over three years old. Lukas turned 4 the other day and there are tons of adorable photos that are more recent. But I have my reasons. For one thing, it's one of my favorite photos of him, and perfectly captures his unadulterated joy. The other reason is because I love that we do that pose in my yoga class, and it's actually called "Happy Baby pose." And this post is about happiness.

I'm very interested in studies on happiness and what makes people happy. I find it interesting to wonder if it can actually be quantified. There's a lot of evidence that being grateful actually adds to our sense of well-being. And anecdotally, focusing on what I'm grateful for counterarracts the tendency to be constantly striving, wanting more, and wanting things to be different.

Sometimes Lukas and his mom practice what they call "the gratefuls" during dinner. They name something they're grateful for that day, or that moment. It could be one thing or five things. And one night when I was eating with them, when asked about his gratefuls, Lukas said, "I'm grateful that Auntie Ang is here eating dinner with us." It was totally unprompted and spontaneous. Now THAT'S something to be grateful for.

Being thankful for what's in my life, especially the people and relationships, gives me an immediate sense of calm. This is how I practice it: whenever I think of it - once a day, once a week, a few times a week, or a couple of times a day - I think of or write down 5 things I'm grateful for. I don't make it a chore, or a "have to" or another item on my "to-do" list, I simply do it whenever I think about it. And I like to call them "my gratefuls."

What I notice is that they are very nearly always the same: my husband, my friends, my family, the fact that I can walk and run and breathe easily and move my body freely, the fact that my husband and I are in good health, that kind of thing. When you pare it down to the essentials, what's important is hardly ever material. So I might be really excited about our beautiful new kitchen floor, but I'm grateful for a husband who worked so hard to make it happen.

What are you grateful for? Do you practice thankfulness, at a place of worship or on your own? Do you think it makes you happier? Please leave your thoughts in the Comments section.

July 21, 2009

Los Angeles Rocks at Recycling

If you don't think Los Angeles is serious about recycling, think again. It's not all sunshine and starlets here. According to a recent survey, Los Angeles was ranked the top recycler out of the 10 largest U.S. cities. We have an awesome recycling rate of 65 percent! Click here to see the list, which includes New York, San Diego, Chicago, and Dallas. We beat them all!

The great news is that Los Angeles has such a high recycling rate. But what's going on in places like Houston, with a 16 percent rate, and San Antonio, with a dismal 4 percent? Not such great news. As a nation, we've got a long way to go.

I had logged on to L.A.'s Department of Sanitation site to give you a few recycling tips and found that survey and list. Most of you probably already know this, but cities are constantly changing and updating what you can recycle. The best way to know what you can throw into your bins is to check your city's Department of Sanitation website. For example, we had an old refrigerator magnet that said we couldn't recycle things that we now can, like yogurt containers and styrofoam.

So make sure you're up-to-date on what CAN be recycled and what your city accepts curbside. And speaking as a Los Angeleno, Portland and Seattle: we're ready to take you on!

Where do you live and do you know the recycling rate? I was pleasantly surprised to find out ours was so high. Let me know in the Comments section. And I would love to hear from anyone who lives outside the U.S. When we stayed in England last year, they were lightyears ahead of us on this front.

July 20, 2009

Are you a non-consumer?

Are you a non-consumer? A conscious consumer? A Frugalista?

Or do you prefer another name, or no label at all?

Joining The Compact this year has made me somewhat of a non-consumer, but even that is relative since I still consume food, services like haircuts and an occasional pedicure, and dinners out. Also used items and wine. Oh, and I "consume" a weekly yoga class by paying the studio that runs it for the opportunity to be there.

I like the term conscious consumer, which implies a careful consideration of everything one purchases. Maybe you buy from a local bookstore instead of amazon, go to the Farmer's Market instead of the supermarket, or support a family-owned business rather than Wal-Mart. You make mindful purchases that support your values.

Another type is the Frugalista, who wants to live a fun and fabulous lifestyle, but without breaking the bank. A Frugalista, according to the Oxford University press, is "a person who lives a frugal lifestyle, but stays fashionable and healthy by swapping clothes, buying second-hand, growing own produce, etc." This type loves deals and freebies, and lives in a manner that bears no resemblance to deprivation.

Still others refer to themselves as frugal, thrifty, or resourceful. Some aren't ashamed to be called a cheapskate or a tightwad. They consider their habits a badge of honor, and think of themselves as smart.

This year I'm a non-consumer, and a bit of a Frugalista as well. If I'm frugal, it's to support a lifestyle where I can work less and by choice, and do things I love like travel and enjoy a nice dinner out. This article about a group of Maine residents for whom being frugal is nothing new was interesting. But a lifestyle that includes saving up for an Olive Garden dinner for your 50th anniversary 2 months in advance is frankly depressing to me. If you don't have the money, then that's fine. I'm not a believer in debt. But there are all kinds of stories of people who were stingy with their friends and relatives, not to mention themselves, their whole lives and left a pile of cash behind. I don't see that as anything to strive for.

I'm curious: how many of you are non-consumers or Compacters? Frugalistas? Are you unashamed to call yourself a tightwad? Or do you eschew labels altogether? Let me know in the Comments section.

July 19, 2009

Subscribe plus free concerts

I just wanted to let you know that if you want to subscribe to my blog, I've made it easier recently. So if you tried before and had trouble, you shouldn't have any difficulty now. Just type your email address into the box to the right, where it says "subscribe."

FREE STUFF ALERT: If you live in Los Angeles, check out the free summer concert series in Pershing Square downtown. The series runs through Aug 23rd several nights a week from 8pm to 10pm. The schedule:

Wednesday: Spaceland Under the Stars (INDIE MUSIC)
Thursday: Sounds of Summer with 100.3 (ALTERNATIVE/ROCK)
Saturday Night Pershing Square Downtown Stage (ROCK/80s)
Sunday: Swingin' Dance Bands (LATIN/ R & B/ VARIOUS)

Lawn seating. Click here for the complete schedule.

July 18, 2009

My favorite new recipe from the blogs

Welcome to an occasional series where I share a great new recipe with you. I actually tried this awhile back, and it's become a favorite. And I don't want to let the summer slip by without telling you about it.

This one comes from Jill at Mindfully Simple, and she calls it "Mindful Mama's Smooth Smoothie." I love smoothies, but all smoothies are not created equal. And this one's a winner. When you're in the mood for a tropical vacation, blend up one of these and take it out on the porch or the deck. It's the next best thing.

And it's healthy too! The strawberries are full of Vitamin C and antioxidants, pineapple is loaded with vitamins and helps build healthy bones, and coconut milk is good for your skin and hair and for stress relief. Also, this recipe calls for agave nectar, which is a great substitute for honey and other sweeteners.

Jill posts a lot of recipes, including a simple basic recipe for granola I've been using for months now and love, and others that I can't wait to try like enchiladas, chocolate chip banana bread, and noodles with peanut sauce. Jill is a mother of two teenaged boys who juggles that full-time engagement with work as a music therapist, gardening, planning vacations, home improvement projects, blogging, and scouring thrift stores and garage sales. She also has an etsy shop where she sells her lovely handmade jewelry. I was the winner of a beautiful beaded necklace, which I will be showing you as soon as all the elements come together: time, good hair day, husband with time for a photo shoot, etc. Go to Mindfully Simple to find out about other jewelry giveaways.

Something this delicious and good for you too, you have to try it! What's your favorite smoothie? Let me know in the Comments section.

July 17, 2009

Food Waste Friday: Refrigerator Cleanout

That's embarrassing. I thought we'd been doing pretty well so far, but a lot of these bottles and jars were hanging out on the door shelves, a little under my radar. We had to do a thorough cleaning out of the refrigerator this week, because my husband bought a new refrigerator. Yes, I did say new. He spent six weeks searching Craigslist for a used one, and even looked at two, but ultimately bought a discontinued model that was on sale. He's just as frugal as I am, but he's not on The Compact, so all I could do was encourage him to look for a used model. But since he's on a schedule, we ended up with a new fridge.

I can't say I'm unhappy at having a gorgeous brand-new stainless steel refrigerator. I would only be happier if it was this perfect, but we'd bought it from someone who'd gotten it just recently and realized they suddenly had to move, or they wanted a different model, or they were going on a nuts-and-berries diet and didn't even need a refrigerator. But I'm not complaining. My husband did a lot of work doing a mini-remodel on our kitchen, so I'm not going to give him grief about purchasing new appliances. But it does somewhat undermine my Buy Nothing New commitment, or at least make me feel a bit hypocritical when I talk about The Compact. So in case I haven't mentioned it: my husband is NOT doing The Compact, but he does support me in my commitment.

So back to this shameful display of bottles and jars. This is several years' worth, because some of these were 4 or 5 years old. In fact, the dressing with the hula girl was bought in Hawaii on a trip we took back in 2001. Okay, so this is really getting embarrassing. But I've come to the conclusion we don't really like or use jam or dressing that much. Obviously. My husband eats jam on toast occasionally, and I almost never eat it. I like it, but there are so many other things I'd rather have for breakfast. As far as the salad dressing, I usually make a simple dressing from scratch, so aside from the 2 or 3 favorites that we use often, these other more "exotic" choices get forgotten about.

I did manage to save a few jars of jam, some hoison sauce, and some garlic black bean sauce by consulting the excellent website Still Tasty. Check it out, you can find out how long almost any food will last before it needs to be tossed. Jam that still tasted good but was past the "sell by" date, I kept. And the hoison sauce and garlic black bean sauce are used so occasionally, and contain so many preservatives, I figure they're good for years.

I first found out about Still Tasty from my friend Kate over at An Exercise in Frugality. If you haven't checked out her blog yet, I highly recommend it. She posts a mix of useful information and thoughtful questions that I find very interesting and a bit different from other blogs. She offers ideas on how to make frappucinos at home, the many uses for baking soda, and creative parenting tips, to name just a few.

And as far as this week's food waste, at least I've learned something. We only need a couple of bottles of dressing, and one or two choices of jam. That way I don't think we'll be wasting any more condiments in the future. Once again, it's a matter of focus. I don't remember wasting mayonnaise or mustard or ketchup, or anything we actually use regularly. And by the way, I put all these through the dishwasher and am saving most of the jars. A couple of the plastic dressing bottles went in the recycling bin.

Have you been keeping track of your food waste? How did you do this week? It couldn't have been any worse than this. So fire away with your thoughts and questions in the Comments section. And if you want to know why you should even care, check out Wasted Food to learn about the consequences of sending rotten food to the landfill.

July 16, 2009

Wine Finds

It's way past time for another installment of Wine Finds, where I tell you about a favorite bottle of wine that costs less than $10. I'm not a wine expert, nor have I ever taken a wine course or even attended many tastings, but I do drink a fair amount of wine. And I know what I like.

This month's offering is a humble Merlot. I am of the opinion that a certain overhyped, overrated film greatly tarnished this old standby's reputation. And I think it was unwarranted. The biggest sin of Merlot seems to be that it is a blend of grapes. Since I'm a big believer in stews, mutts, potlucks, and mixed-race presidents, purity doesn't hold a lot of sway for me.

So if you still enjoy a nice Merlot on occasion, this is one of the best I've found for the price. It's from a California vineyard called Bogle, which also offers a very nice Old Vine Zinfandel. I'll have to check the price on that one. This Merlot generally sells for either $7.99 or $8.99 at either Trader Joe's or World Market. I would love to hear from out-of-staters about whether you can find this, and if you can buy it for anywhere near that price.

One of the things I enjoy about Merlot is its versatility. It's great to sip on its own, with appetizers (especially cheese and crackers), or with a simple meal. This Bogle is light and not too sweet, and has a variety and intensity of flavor. According to K & L Wine Merchants, "the deep cherry fruit hits both the nose and the palate upon the first sip, followed by soft hints of summer anise. Touches of pipe tobacco and spicy oak lend weight to the finish." So there you go: a nice variety and blend of tastes.

Let me know if you try this wine or if you have any favorites I should be reviewing. I'm keeping an eye out for some of your earlier suggestions and plan on posting a reader recommendation soon. Also, do you switch from red to white in the summer? We generally drink a lot more white in the summer than we do in the winter, but I still crave my glass of red wine, especially with pizza or pasta. Please leave your thoughts and suggestions in the Comments section. And click here if you want to check out previous installments of Wine Finds.

July 15, 2009

July baby steps challenge: composting- update

My baby steps challenge for July is to start composting. I wrote about my doubts and lack of knowledge a few weeks back, and you can read that post here. But armed with a lot of advice from my readers and a bit of research, I officially started composting last weekend.

I picked up this bin from the city of Los Angeles for $5. It's actually a worm bin, so it didn't have holes or any kind of drainage in the bottom. I've opted to wait on adding worms, and see if worms find their way into my bin as some people have said might happen. I just don't really love the idea of paying for worms, and having to touch them. Call me squeamish.

I stuck pretty closely to the composting method outlined by The Frugal Girl. Her bin is twice as large, but there are 6 in her family and only 2 in mine. If it fills up too fast, I figure I'll either get another one or go ahead and buy worms. A few people have advised me that vermicomposting - the worm bin method - works much faster.

This bin is out behind our garage and is mostly in shade. I cut holes in the bottom, although I was advised by one person to cut out the entire bottom of the bin. I don't think that's practical with such a small container. I want to be able to turn and dump the compost easily.

I'm still working on getting an interim container in the kitchen for scraps on their way to the bin. My Pillsbury doughboy cookie jar isn't working out as I'd hoped because the opening is too small. I'm skeptical about our Goodwill because the housewares section is sorely lacking, so I'll have to hit the garage sales this weekend and see what I come up with. I want it to look nice enough to sit out on the counter, but be large enough that I don't have to empty it every single day.

As far as where the bin is located, I had conflicting advice on that. Some people said part sun/part shade and others said complete shade. Maybe it depends on the worm thing. This bin will be mostly in shade, the sun that's hitting the bin in the photo is in the morning, and only lasts a couple of hours at the most.

If YOU want to start composting, I recommend looking up your city's Department of Sanitation for any bin giveaways or sales. They also have tutorials available online. Otherwise, all you have to do is find or buy a Rubbermaid container and drill some air holes into it. Secondly, I would consult this post at The Frugal Girl, which also references You Grow Girl. And finally, I would read the Comments section of this blog from my original post about composting here.

Believe me, if I can do it, you can do it. And by the way, you can do the vermicomposting on a patio, in a garage, or even inside your house in a closet or pantry. I don't know if I would do that, but I'm just passing along the information.

Do you already compost? Do you have any additional advice for me or my readers? Please let us know in the Comments section. And a great big THANK YOU to all the good folks who participated in my composting education.

July 14, 2009

Simple Living Newsletter

I'm happy to report that I've had another blog post accepted for publication in The Simple Living Network newsletter. Click here to check it out. There are a number of other interesting articles as well, along with an excellent post by The Frugal Girl about frugal, patient gardening. She has a great philosophy about how being frugal has a lot to do with being patient.

If you're not familiar with the Simple Living Network, it's a marvelous resource. Their motto is "learning to do more with less" and this is what they say about simple living: "simple living - aka voluntary simplicity - has just about as many definitions as there are individuals who practice it. Simple living is not about living in poverty or self-inflicted deprivation. Rather, it is about living an examined life - one in which you have determined what is important, or "enough," for you, discarding the rest."

I like that. If it sounds good to you, check out the website and their newsletter. If you've been reading my blog for awhile, you may have already read my contribution, but if you haven't, it should be new to you.

July 13, 2009

Yay, it's CSA delivery day!

I think having this bonanza delivered to our front door every other week is one of my very favorite unexpected pleasures about embarking on this Buy Nothing New year. I might have found out about Auntie Em's, our neighborhood CSA, without joining The Compact. But I wouldn't have been familiar with what it was or what was so great about it if I hadn't seen other bloggers writing about the advantages and photographing their food.

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and it's the simplest way to eat local and organic. It's great for people who don't have time to get to the Farmer's Market. This week's delivery includes a watermelon (!), a French Cavillion melon, white nectarines, mango nectarines (which are supposed to taste like mango), grapes, kale, red leaf lettuce, a huge bunch of basil which is supposed to last for weeks in water, Armenian cucumber, onions, garlic, potatoes, baby heirloom eggplant, assorted summer squash, beets, okra, cherry tomatoes, an heirloom tomato, and the treat is a cherry white chocolate blondie. What do you think I tasted first? Before they started a CSA, Auntie Em's was famous for their baked goods.

I'm particularly excited about the okra because my husband is from the south and we both loved the fried okra his aunt Mabel used to make. I asked her to write out some of her favorite recipes for me, and for the okra recipe she wrote "you'll have to use frozen okra." I wish she were still alive to see me making fresh okra! I can't wait to try it.

A reader asked me to describe how I wash and store all this produce. If I ever have a question, I send an email to the chef at Auntie Em's, who runs the CSA. She usually responds within a short time, sometimes immediately. But generally she has told me to wash right before you're going to use something, and store everything in the crisper. Greens go in plastic in the crisper, but everything else - potatoes, squash, beets, baby onions, etc. - can all be stored loose in the crisper.

So far that system is working, because this is our 6th delivery, and I have yet to have anything go bad on me. I'm very careful about using it all because I would hate to see anything go to waste. I try to use the ripest and most delicate items within the first few days, and save the root vegetables and potatoes for the second week.

I can't recommend joining a CSA highly enough. You'll be doing yourself and your family a big favor. Everything tastes absolutely delicious, you're supporting local farmers, you'll become a better and more creative cook, and it's so convenient. Best of all, this convenience has not caused my grocery budget to go up at all. With all this fresh produce to eat, I buy a lot less snack foods. Joining a CSA is good for your health AND for the environment. What a great win/win.

If you live in Los Angeles, Auntie Em's delivers to a wide area. And they even provide a weekly recipe along with a list of what's in your produce box. I've posted their recipe for Stuffed Baby Heirloom Eggplant below this post.

Are you a member of a CSA? Would you consider joining one? Please leave your thoughts and questions in the Comments section.

Auntie Em's Delivery - Recipes

Auntie Em's Delivery - Recipes: "Stuffed Baby Heirloom Eggplant

4 servings (serving size: 3 eggplant halves)

* 2 cups chopped tomato
* 1/4 cup dry white wine
* 1/2-teaspoon sugar
* 1 teaspoon sea salt, divided
* 6 baby eggplants (about 1 1/4 pounds) cut in half lengthwise
* 2 teaspoons olive oil
* 1 cup finely chopped onion
* 1 cup finely chopped yellow bell pepper
* 2 garlic cloves, minced
* 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
* 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped
* 1 cup cooked white basmati rice
* 1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled feta cheese
* 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
* Parsley sprigs (optional)

Preheat oven to 375°.
Combine tomato, dry white wine, sugar, and 1/4-teaspoon salt in a 13 x 9-inch baking dish; spread evenly.
Scoop pulp from eggplant halves, leaving 1/4-inch-thick shells. Chop pulp. Sprinkle inside surfaces of eggplant shells with 1/4-teaspoon salt.
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet oven medium-high heat. Add onion, bell pepper, garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; sauté 3 minutes. Stir in eggplant pulp, basil, and jalapeño; cover, reduce heat, and cook over low heat 10 minutes or until eggplant is tender. Remove from heat; stir in rice, cheese, and parsley.
Spoon about 1/4 cup eggplant mixture into each eggplant shell, pressing gently; place shells, cut sides up, over tomato mixture in baking dish. Cover and bake at 375° for 15 minutes. Uncover; bake an additional 15 minutes or until shells are tender. Spoon about 1 1/2 tablespoons tomato mixture over each eggplant half. Garnish with parsley sprigs, if desired."

July 11, 2009

Free Outdoor Film Screenings

FREE STUFF ALERT: I am SO sorry to tell you about this fantastic event a little late, but there are still plenty of screenings left to enjoy. If you live in Los Angeles, or anywhere near Pasadena, check out the Old Pasadena Film Festival. They'll be screening films on a large screen in their lovely outdoor courtyard starting last night (sorry!) and continuing every Friday and Saturday night through July 25th. They're screening a lot of classics and musicals, including two of my favorites: Singing in the Rain and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. And the festival will conclude with the teen drama Twilight. Click here for more information and here for the full schedule. This event is FREE and open to the public, and there will be chairs available!

Please let me know if you attend this event and leave your impressions in the Comments section.

July 9, 2009

Food Waste Friday continues

Just a few weeks ago I was telling a friend how she NEVER needs to throw away a banana, because brown bananas can be peeled, broken into chunks, and frozen for smoothies. They'll last that way in the freezer for months. Using that method, we never have to worry about buying too many bananas, and always have plenty of smoothie ingredients.

But what should be done when a banana actually ROTS and grows mold at the end? I think that's the time to toss it. Or in my case, save it with my bag of scraps I'm collecting for our new compost pile, my baby steps project for July.

This was a strange phenonemon, since it was part of a trio of bananas and the other two were perfectly fine for freezing, with just a few brown spots in a normal pattern. So I don't know what happened, but I wasn't going to eat this, or force my husband to eat it either. But he did eat all the leftovers in the Eat Me! section of the refrigerator again. My partner in reducing food waste.

So we had a good week. Other than the banana, we ate our produce and generally had less in the refrigerator to go bad. I skipped a week of shopping and only bought milk and bread, so we'll see how that factors in next week.

If you want to know why I'm obsessing over a rotten banana, check out Jonathan Bloom's blog Wasted Food. He explains why we need to stop throwing away our food waste - it's destroying the planet! Plus, by being part of the Waste-No-Food Challenge we've been saving money on groceries to boot. So head over to The Frugal Girl to see who's wasting what and get all kinds of tips on how to waste less.

My number one tip is still to BUY LESS FOOD. But along the way, I've learned to pay attention to leftovers, organize the refrigerator and pantry, and create a (flexible) menu plan.

How did you do this week? If you're throwing away TONS of food, you're not alone. I used to do it, and so do most Americans. But you CAN change your habits- if you want to save money, eat better, and even help the environment. Please leave your tips and advice, questions and concerns, wins and setbacks in the Comments section. And really, would YOU have eaten this banana?

More proof that money can't buy happiness

A new study has found that earning more money makes recent graduates more anxious and in some cases even depressed, while the ones who have strong relationships are the happiest.

Why doesn't wealth pay off in happiness? The researchers theorize that the pursuit of riches and the American Dream distracts people from more rewarding pursuits - like spending time in meaningful relationships, growing as a human being, and finding ways to contribute to the community.

The article stresses that the conclusion is not that it's BAD to be ambitious or to work hard to achieve success. Just that you shouldn't count on it to make you happy.

One of the suggestions for finding the path to happiness? Favoring meaning over materialism. Looks like the study backs up the beliefs and values of the simple living/non-consumer community, as well as many cultural and religious traditions.

Of course, all these studies always presuppose the fact that in many situations we can't even start TALKING about happiness before people have enough to cover their basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing. No one is theorizing that we'd all be better off poor and starving, nor are they blind to the effects of poverty and hunger.

What do you think? How does money relate to happiness? Read the full article here. And please leave your thoughts in the Comments section.

July 8, 2009

Thrifty Threads

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

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

I'm thrilled to present the very first male model for the series. Alan is a tradesman tile setter who competes in triathlons and plays in an adult soccer league. It's actually his wife Meg who reads this blog and sent in the photo. But it was Alan who found this Nike dri-fit shirt at the Goodwill for $3.99. Quite a bargain, considering that kind of thing usually goes for $40-$50 retail. Alan says he LOVES a good find because he's a tightwad by nature. He also says "I will dumpster dive in a heartbeat!"

Well, he didn't need to do that to score this shirt, he just had to accompany his wife and daughter to the Goodwill. And now he's got a shirt perfect for all his athletic activities for a fraction of the cost he'd pay new. Alan and Meg raised their children using Amy Dacyczyn's The Tightwad Gazette as their guide. Alan makes homemade maple syrup and pancakes from scratch, and built the chicken coop for their 100 hens (!) mostly from recycled materials. Meg has recently started a blog called My Nifty Thrifty Life where she posts recipes, photos of quilts she makes, and much more. Check it out.

Thanks Alan for letting me post your photo. I wouldn't call you a tightwad, I'd call you very smart. And I think a lot of people would agree. So come on readers, it's your turn! Put on your fabulous finds, take a photo and send it to me. My email address can be found on my profile page. It's so fun to see the great clothes people are finding at their local Goodwill these days. And click here if you want to check out previous installments of Thrifty Threads.

Do you shop at the Goodwill? What's your best thrift store score? Tell us about your secondhand shopping adventures in the Comments section. And send in those photos!

UPDATE: I know I asked for your comments about the Goodwill, but let's show Alan some love! He bought a shirt that costs $40 or $50 at REI or Patagonia for less than 4 bucks, and he looks hot in it! Plus he has the guts to model in a photo! Thanks Alan! The whole point of this segment is to show what great clothes people are finding at the Goodwill and other thrift stores, and how if we change our attitude about the Goodwill we can start finding great stuff ourselves. Look back at previous segments of Thrifty Threads for more examples of smart people wearing stylish clothes that they got for a song.

July 7, 2009

Black Bean Salsa

About a week ago, on the first really warm day on a weekend evening, my husband and I had a craving for margaritas and guacamole. But we didn't have any avocados in the house and we didn't want to go to the store. We'd been caught unprepared: dip-less.

It was time to get inventive. Ten minutes later we were eating this Black Bean Salsa, a recipe I made up on the spur of the moment. It's kind of like guacamole, but with black beans instead.

Here's the recipe, but I highly recommend either homemade black beans or a good canned brand. We used Trader Joe's organic black beans, which are much better than most store brands.

Black Bean Salsa

1 can black beans, heated and slightly crushed with a fork
chopped tomato
tabasco sauce
squeezed lime
salt and pepper
cheese (any type you have on hand)
finely chopped garlic
finely chopped onion

Combine all ingredients and top with sour cream or plain yogurt.

It was delicious and perfect with a margarita. It might not take the place of guacamole, but it will do in a pinch. And it's inexpensive and healthy to boot.

What's your favorite dip or snack on a warm summer evening? Have you ever improvised when you discovered you were dip-less? Please let us know in the Comments section.

July 6, 2009

Summer Reading for Kids

I'm all for getting kids reading. It was one of my favorite activities when I was young, and I used to look forward to those summer trips to the library. I didn't let it faze me when my father would lean his head into my bedroom, telling me to go outside because "it's such a beautiful day out." What did I care? One day seemed pretty much like the next in summer, weather-wise. What really interested me was whether Jo would get her story published or if Wilbur would be spared.

Since "back-to-school" time will roll around before you know it, now's the time to get your kids hooked on books. A leisurely visit to the library is a great way to let them explore and find things that interest them on their own. And if this NY Times article is true, you'll want to avoid the IQ drop that kids experience when they're out of school for the summer. Since kids aren't exercising their brains, studies have found their IQ goes down, and it's especially true of children who aren't reading or enrolled in summer programs.

So get your kids away from the keyboard and the computer and get them reading! Here are some of my all-time favorite children's books:

1. Almost anything by Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel). His humor and originality turned me on to books. Period.

2. Charlotte's Web. I still find it nearly impossible to kill a spider, and Garth William's illustrations turn barnyard animals into a community of concerned citizens.

3. Stuart Little. Also written by E.B. White and illustrated by Garth Williams, the inventiveness of the tiny mouse is inspiring.

4. Black Beauty. A must-read for budding horse lovers everywhere.

5. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach. Roald Dahl's imagination is on overdrive in both of these classics, which are a revelation.

6. The Little House series. The adventures and trials of the Ingalls family teach a resilience and resourcefulness that never goes out of fashion.

7. Where the Wild Things Are. For very young children, the fantastical drawings are delightful.

8. Misty of Chincoteague. Along with Stormy, Misty's Foal, the Marguerite Henry books foster a love of animals and nature, and are manna for horse-crazy young girls.

9. The Nancy Drew mysteries. According to the NY Times article, these fun reads create Supreme Court justices. They're cited as favorites of Sandra Day O'Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayer.

10. Little Women. I read this book over and over, perhaps hoping that sweet Beth wouldn't die. It instills so many important values while telling a marvelous story: the importance of family, charity, and a love of learning.

11. A Story for Bear. A picture book about a curious bear who discovers the delights of reading. You'll fall in love with the enchanting illustrations by Jim LaMarche.

12. Pippi Longstocking. Whether she's visiting the South Seas or somewhere closer to home, Pippi inspires a love of travel and adventure with her nonconformist antics.

13. The Borrowers. You'll be dying to find out whether these inventive little people will be discovered.

14. Harriet the Spy. I actually started writing in a notebook and sent away for "see-behind" glasses after reading this book.

15. The Pigman. For pre-teen readers, a lovely parable about putting yourself in another's shoes.

16. The Outsiders and That Was Then, This is Now. For kids 12-14, S.E. Hinton's novels hold up and are still beloved for being an honest account of what it feels like to be on the outside looking in.

I've left so many out, but I've got to stop somewhere. Come to think of it, I'd like to reread some of these...

What are your favorite children's books? Please respond in the Comments section.

July 4, 2009

Happy Independence Day

Wishing you all a safe and happy 4th of July. Please be careful with the backyard fireworks, they're dangerous and hard on dogs' ears!

We're off to one of my favorite non-consumer activities: a backyard barbecue. Since it's with friends who are fabulous chefs as well as gardeners, we'll be enjoying the food and drink as well as their lovely backyard. And we've been promised an outdoor movie screening!

If you live outside the U.S., enjoy your weekend.

July 3, 2009

Another Food Waste Friday

No picture... no food waste!

I actually ate the less-than-appetizing sauteed kale from a few nights ago in order to avoid taking a photo of it. I sauteed it again with olive oil and garlic, and added salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar, parmesan, bread crumbs, and toasted pine nuts. The result? It would be a stretch to call it delicious, but it was tasty.

It reminds me of something my husband told me. Back in Alabama where he grew up, there was a women's dress shop called "Betty's Big Girls." He always got a kick out of their ad which was, "If you can't lose that weight, dress it up pretty." Well, I dressed that kale up pretty. And I'm going to consider today's lunch a successful experiment in behavior modification. And thanks to my husband, the Eat Me! section of the refrigerator has been entirely cleared out. Ladies and gentlemen, human beings CAN be trained to change their behavior. I give you Exhibit A (me) and Exhibit B (my husband).

I also have to thank my readers for helping me to avoid soy milk and fennel ending up in this week's photo. The soy milk made a couple of smoothies, and my husband ate the rest with cereal. And the fennel was delicious sliced up into a salad, which we ate two nights in a row. Thanks for all your great suggestions.

So why are hundreds, or maybe thousands, of people posting photos of their weekly food waste on their blogs? It's not a new aesthetic, found art, or a diet fad. It's a way of taking responsibility for what we buy, eat, and throw away. And making it public helps with our level of responsibility and commitment.

Kristen over at the excellent blog The Frugal Girl may have been the first person to use the method of taking a photo of her waste. Her Waste-No-Food Challenge now has many followers. And it all started with Jonathan Bloom over at Wasted Food, who is on a mission to stop food waste across the nation. Check out his blog to learn about why it matters that we all start thinking more about what we're throwing out.

And if you're wasting LOTS of food, keep this in mind. We all started there. When you're at the market, maybe you buy too much produce with the good intention that you'll eat it all. Maybe you buy snacks that end up being a meal instead of that fresh produce. The point is, once you start thinking about it and focusing on it, there are all kinds of tips and tricks to use the food you already have, to eat the produce while it's still fresh, and to avoid throwing food away.

So how did you do this week? Have you joined the Waste-No-Food Challenge yet? Please leave your thoughts, questions, anecdotes, and musings in the Comments section.

July 2, 2009

July baby steps challenge: composting

That's a photo of our produce scraps from the past week or so. I've been saving them because I knew composting was going to be the July baby steps challenge. Yes, I know that rubberbands aren't compost-able. Or are they? I have to admit I'm intimidated by the whole idea of composting. I don't live on a farm, I'm not a gardener, and I don't like icky smells.

What IS a baby steps challenge? Back in April, I wrote this post about how even though I'd committed to Buy Nothing New during 2009, I didn't feel like a very good role model for green living. So I pledged to Go Green, and gave myself a list of goals, like switching to homemade cleansers and line-drying the laundry, that I would attempt once a month.

So far, I made an effort to stop unwanted catalogs and junk mail in May, and started air-drying laundry in June. Both challenges have been very successful, with a few caveats. So I'm ready to start composting, and I hope some of you will join me as I make my way through this unfamiliar territory.

I was attracted to the simplicity of The Frugal Girl's method of composting, so I thought I'd start by getting a plastic tub. I asked my husband if I could use one we already have, but all the ones we own are in use, and none are ready to be replaced. So I googled something like "composting in Los Angeles" and ended up on the website of the Department of Sanitation, where I learned that once a month I could purchase a bin for $5. That date is a week from tomorrow, so I'll start by getting that bin.

I'll also start reading up on how to compost on some other websites. I need to answer some very basic questions, such as:

What exactly CAN be composted and what CAN'T
? I know eggshells are a yes, and meat is a no. I'm unclear on cooked vegetables, paper towels, and dairy.

What's a simple way to transfer items from the kitchen to the compost bin
? Do people use a "limbo" area, a smaller bin just outside the kitchen door, or maybe inside the kitchen?

How long does it take to have usable compost for gardening
? And what's with the whole "worm" thing? I can remember digging for worms when I was about three, but I'm not really looking forward to playing with worms, and I don't do any fishing.

My main purpose for doing this is to avoid the food waste. It's terrible for the environment to send food to a landfill. The compost itself will be a bonus. I don't even know if I'll use it, because our yard is a drought tolerant landscape, and I don't think it needs that kind of soil. But I can probably arrange to give my compost to someone with a vegetable garden, assuming this all works out.

One of my readers offered to point me in the right direction when I took on the challenge of composting, and even claimed it was easy. So William B, if you're out there, I'm ready to be pointed!

And anyone else who has any tips or advice, I can use all the help I can get! Also, please let me know if you'd like to join me in this challenge, or if you're an old pro at composting. You can leave your thoughts in the Comments section.

July 1, 2009

Buy Nothing New mid-year report

Yesterday I realized that I'm exactly halfway through my year of following The Compact. As I looked at a couple of my first posts, I couldn't believe how differently things have gone from what I expected when I embarked upon this journey. The woman who set off on a panicked shopping spree for the perfect pair of jeans hardly seems like the same person. But then again, I believe all of us embody contradictions and try on many different selves in one lifetime, and sometimes in one day. Time to cue up the song "I'm Every Woman."

It's true a girl's gotta have her jeans. But mainly I notice that I was sort of digging in for the deprivation, and looking forward to a challenge. I was definitely more focused on what I'd be giving up than on what I'd be gaining from my experience. And that's been my favorite discovery so far: that I've gained so much that I never even knew I wanted.

So here's a partial list of things I've done/what's changed in my first six months:

I've not been to a mall. Don't get me wrong: I was a big catalog shopper, so I probably only went to a mall 3 or 4 times a year, but I haven't been even once in the last six months. I DO NOT miss that.

I've started line-drying the laundry. This is much easier than I thought it would be, and it makes me feel good about our energy usage. As a bonus, my husband bought a new energy efficient washer and dryer so when we DO use the dryer, I don't have to feel terrible about how much energy we're wasting.

I've started making my own granola. It's easy, delicious, and smells heavenly while it's baking. I used to spend $7.50 every few weeks for my favorite brand. I now like my own brand better. Perhaps I should market it?

Also started making my own mayo. I never would have believed this would happen. Again, it's so easy, tastes better, and most importantly, is much healthier than whatever they put in the commercial stuff.

We've started receiving a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) delivery. I didn't even know what that was back in January, and I've never been good about getting to a Farmer's Market. It feels great to know we're eating healthier food and supporting the local farmers. The food tastes delicious and I'm becoming a better cook. And my husband is eating more fruit and vegetables.

We're receiving fewer catalogs. I had become a big catalog junkie, so not only were we getting a lot of catalogs, I spent a lot of time looking through them, wanting the items I saw, ordering from them, setting them aside to order from later, and returning half of what I'd ordered. I'm probably saving a couple of hours every week just from giving up the catalog habit.

I've been making handmade cards. I love to make them from color copies of old photos. My dad made a point of telling me how much he loved his Father's Day card and how much better it was than a store-bought card.

I've decluttered a few closets and rooms of the house. This one is definitely a work-in-progress, but the best part is that I'm on the lookout that nothing coming in turn into next year's clutter. I'm not buying anything new, but any gifts or anything that comes into the house must go through a screening process so that it doesn't get stuck in a box or a closet, to be gone through in another few years. My biggest decluttering success so far is when I sold my girlhood saddle for $200(!).

I've started an herb garden, and planted two tomato plants and a lemon tree. It's so much fun to have our own herbs (the garden was given to me as a gift), and to look forward to tomatoes and lemons in the future.

I've started paying attention to our food waste. We're throwing away much less food, which is good for the environment and saves money to boot.

I've had an article published in The Simple Living Network newsletter, and another one coming out this month. Writing is one of my passions so this has been a fabulous bonus.

I've found a network of like-minded people for inspiration and support from the Compact yahoo group and simple living blogs. This is probably my favorite unintended consequence of joining The Compact. I thought it would be fun to track my progress by writing a blog, but I never knew how fun it would be to share ideas with so many people. It's the perfect home for an information junkie/conversationalist/type A person like myself.

Those are just a few of the things that have changed, and I've been very lucky to have such a supportive husband. Over the next six months, I'm going to start composting, give up commercial cleansers, and hopefully do a lot more decluttering. But I'm looking forward to the things I'm NOT planning or expecting most of all.

Of course, I have had a few slip-ups (all confessed to on this blog!), and we're still using too many paper towels, and my showers are still way too long. But I'm sticking with my baby steps motto, because so far it's been working pretty well.

What about you? Are you on a simple living journey? Please share your wins, setbacks, questions and unexpected bonuses in the Comments section.