January 30, 2010

Blog Award

Cate at Budget Confessions and Penny at The Saved Quarter both picked me as one of the recipients of the Kreativ Blogger award. Thanks ladies! Now I'm supposed to name 7 things you don't know about me, and after a year of blogging it's amazing how much I've already revealed.

Here goes:

1. My husband and I disliked each other when we first met in graduate school. He thought I was too "intense" and I thought he was arrogant.

2. When I was in the fifth grade, I won a trophy from the American Legion for an essay I wrote in school about "Americanism."

3. I lived in Manhattan for two years in my 2os.

4. I can't wear wool, even cashmere.

5. For my 40th birthday, I celebrated with a solo 30-day cross-country train trip, after a big party with my friends and family.

6. I've never been able to do a cartwheel, even as a child.

7. My longest term relationship was with my cat Harriet (named after the great Harriets in history- Harriet Tubman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Harriet the Spy), who lived to be 18. My husband is a close second at 17 years this May.

I'm passing on the award to these bloggers for their creativity in the areas of cooking, crafts, lifestyle, parenting, and more...

Jill at Mindfully Simple
Danielle at Less is More Balanced
Alea at Premeditated Leftovers
Kate at An Exercise in Frugality
Carla at Half Dozen Daily
Vanessa at Green Ness
Cindy at Hungry Girl Por Vida

January 29, 2010

Food Waste Friday: so sad

These tangerines from our CSA got moldy in 3 days! So it really wasn't our fault they went bad, but they are wasted food so I'm putting them in the photo. At least they'll go in the compost bin and not in the trash.

The produce in our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) delivery normally lasts much longer than produce from the supermarket, so this was highly unusual. I did notice that they looked different than the clementines we'd received before, they were larger and bumpier, but I just thought they were from a different grower.

Anyway, there's not much to learn from this because it was a fluke. Otherwise, we're using up our CSA contents as fast as we can, and I've been cooking up greens every night so they don't go to waste. It helps that they're so delicious we actually crave them.

Why do I care about our food waste? For the health of the planet, and the health of our bank account. You can read all about the effect of food waste on the environment at Jonathan Bloom's blog Wasted Food. And you can follow other people documenting their food waste in an effort to waste less at The Frugal Girl.

How did you do this week? Let us know in the Comments section. And check out this article from The New York Times about cutting your food waste by utilizing your freezer more. It's got tons of tips for storage, labeling, planning, and organizing your meals.

January 28, 2010

Thrifty Threads

Welcome to another installment of Thrifty Threads, AKA Most Stylish Compact-y Outfit, where readers model their favorite secondhand clothes. Or in this case, where readers' children model their secondhand clothes.

A Compact-y outfit is used or recycled, from Goodwill, a thrift store or consignment shop, ebay, craigslist, a yard sale, or anywhere else you might find secondhand clothing.

Today's model is Simone, whose mom Cate blogs at Budget Confessions. Simone is 7 months old, and also goes by the nickname Tidbit. Cate's blog is about living better with less, and it follows her commitment to a healthy life for her family. She posts budget goals, menu plans, and lots of great recipes, among other things. One thing I'm really excited about is that she's learning how to make Indian food, which is also a goal of mine, so I'll be following along. She and I share a love of crockpot meals as well. Cate describes herself on her blog as "just a woman trying to balance marriage, motherhood, and simple living - all on a budget." It sounds like something we can all relate to these days, although in my case I don't have an adorable red-haired girl in the mix.

Cate says they bought this red Children's Place sweater at a local children's consignment shop for $8. Simone has been wearing it since October, and it's so big (notice the rolled-up sleeves) that she should get several more months' wear out of it. It's so cute! We all know how fast children grow out of their clothes, so a lot of the inventory at the consignment shops, or even the Goodwill is like new. Last weekend I found some cute onesies, a sweater, and baby overalls at a yard sale for fifty cents each that looked like they'd never been worn. I'm going to give them to my friend as an extra gift, separate from the baby shower. I've heard that people get lots of "special" clothes, but they always need onesies and everyday stuff that can be put in the washer.

Thanks Cate, and Simone, who now has the distinction of being the first child model for Thrifty Threads. It looks like she's taking after her mom, at least in the area of her lovely red hair. Readers, please send photos of you or your kids wearing secondhand clothes to barton.angela@gmail.com. It's so inspiring to see the fabulous finds people are getting for a lot less money.

Do you shop secondhand, for yourself or your kids? My mom never bought secondhand clothing for us, but I loved to shop at the thrift stores in high school and college. It was so much fun to put together an outfit that everyone couldn't buy at the mall. Please leave your tips and advice for secondhand shopping in the Comments section, and I'm sure Cate will accept compliments on behalf of her daughter. Click here to check out previous installments of Thrifty Threads.

January 27, 2010

First Fall Off the Wagon '10

This little lamb jacket from speesees, one of my favorite children's clothing companies, was impossible to resist. A good friend of ours is having a little girl after wanting a baby for a very long time, so my husband and I really wanted to give her and her husband a nice shower gift. And this company makes the absolute softest cotton clothing ever. I gave another friend two t-shirts when her little boy was born and she put them on him constantly because they were so soft.

The company is all organic, and everything is made in the U.S.A. To top it all off, this was on sale! How could I resist? I know clothing isn't a very practical choice for a baby gift, because they grow out of things so quickly, but I'm hoping a size 1-2 will last over a year. And this is perfect as nearly year-round wear in Southern California, for whenever it gets a bit chilly.

We also bought a "used like new" copy of one of our favorite children's books, A Story for Bear. And now I just need to figure out how I'll wrap it up nicely without buying anything new. I don't have any leftover "baby" wrapping paper or reusable bags. Please let me know if you have any ideas.

I don't know if this exactly qualifies as a "fall off the wagon," since I did decide I would buy a few more things new this year, like books or handmade items, especially if they're for gifts. But it is the first time I've bought something new in 2010.

So I gave in to temptation, but I did it with my eyes wide open, and I'm so glad I did. I just know they'll love it. Please leave your ideas for a creative way to wrap it in the Comments section.

January 26, 2010

The "Ah-Ha" Moment

I've officially been a member of The Compact for a little over a year now, since January 1st 2009.

Without a doubt, my two biggest influences during that time were reading The Non-Consumer Advocate daily, and viewing The Story of Stuff.

Katy Wolk-Stanley writes the daily blog The Non-Consumer Advocate, which was a lifesaver for me during the early months. Not only did Katy make it look realistic to live a Compact-y lifestyle, she actually made it look fun. I visit her blog nearly every day, for tips and advice, inspiration, and laughs. She's a great writer and she walks the walk. Her blog quickly became my favorite and although I now read several blogs, it's still my favorite.

The Story of Stuff was the other thing that really made me serious about committing to a non-consumer lifestyle. It takes so many issues I've been thinking about over the years, and weaves them together into a concise relationship and narrative. For me, just one viewing turned me into a more conscious consumer and made me determined to be on the proactive and positive side of the equation. It's so eye-opening and inspiring, and it spells it all out in such a simple way. I highly recommend it for anyone on the non-consumer/conscious consumer/sustainable/green path. In an instant I switched from a mindset of giving things up to feeling empowered and no longer at the mercy of advertising and the desire for yet another consumer item.

Are you on a non-consumer journey? What are your influences? Have you experienced an "ah-ha" moment? Please leave your thoughts, ideas, and questions in the Comments section.

January 25, 2010

CSA Delivery: Better Late Than Never

I was very happy with this delivery, because it contains plenty of greens and several repeat items we're very fond of. The baby spinach in a bag is heavenly, the clementines are incredibly sweet, and the sci fi cauliflower, properly known as Romanesco cauliflower, was melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Add in those mushrooms, plus some other favorites like butternut squash, chard, and kale, and I'm a very happy camper.

We've been receiving this delivery of fresh, local, organic produce for almost nine months and it's still working for us. I've begun to realize that it is a bit of a commitment to plan meals around, and to make sure none of it goes to waste, but for my husband and me it's worth it. We're eating more vegetables, and healthier meals in general. And it all tastes so much better.

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. The basic idea is that by joining a CSA you're supporting the local farmers and eating local produce, which is fresher, healthier, tastier, and better for the environment. CSA brings the Farmer's Market to you.

This week we got, clockwise from the back: baby greens, bok choy, rainbow chard, Romanesco cauliflower, mustard greens or kale (not sure), celery root, butternut squash, broccoli, Bloomsdale spinach, mixed mushrooms, cilantro, clementines, radishes, sage and lavender bundle, and vanilla almonds.

Tonight we'll have mushroom risotto and a baby green salad, and I've got plans for just about everything except the bok choy. I let some go to waste a few weeks back, so I'd better look up a recipe so I'll be sure to use it. Let me know if you have any favorites.

Click here if you want to learn more about CSA and find one in your area, and here to check out our CSA in Los Angeles, Auntie Em's.

Do you shop at a Farmer's Market? I feel so lucky to be receiving such a lovely variety of fresh produce in the middle of winter. It's one of the perks of living in Southern California. But don't envy me too much: a trip to the doctor takes three hours out of the day because of the drive and the traffic.

Please leave your tips, advice, and questions in the Comments section, plus preparation ideas for anything you see in the photo.

January 23, 2010

A Comment about Comments...

One of my favorite things about writing this blog is receiving comments from my readers. It makes the whole enterprise so much more interactive, and I feel like not only am I learning from all of you, you're all learning from each other.

I read every single comment and email, and I like to respond to your comments individually. However, I'm having a hard time lately keeping up with that in addition to writing blog posts. So if I don't respond to your comment, please don't take it personally. Know that I appreciate the extra time you take to contribute. And I will try to respond to as many comments as I am able as I have time.

I greatly appreciate your participation and I hope this won't discourage any of you from adding to the discussion. Thanks!

January 22, 2010

Food Waste Friday

I'm pretty disappointed (annoyed) with this week's waste because a) what more can I do with grains besides store them in a sealed container? and b) I searched for this stuff - bulgar wheat - in three different stores before I found it, and c) it's only a few months old!

So, I don't really know what I could have or should have done differently. I haven't found that much difference between containers or jars I bought before I was doing The Compact and these old spaghetti jars. We use glass containers for nuts, rice, and grains, and most of the time it works, but occasionally the moths still get in. Moths! I have traps, I use containers, what more can I do?

This is turning into a very whiny post, so I'll stop now. But if you have any ideas I can use and pass along on this blog, please let me know. I could use some help.

Otherwise, we did a good job this week of eating out of the Eat Me! section of the refrigerator, especially my husband, who was a champ at coming up with strange combinations for his lunch burritos. He told me lentils aren't that great in burritos, even with cheese. I would never have even tried it, so kudos to him for having an open mind.

This week I stopped by My Zero Waste, which tells the story of the Green family and their quest to produce just one trash bin for the year. While there, I happened upon this article from the London Times about a family in Britain who realizes how much food they're wasting, and their attempts to do something about it. It's well-written and entertaining. My favorite part is when the father drags the food waste out of the trash and makes family members 'fess up about what they tossed and why. It's like a police line up, but with humor and affection, and without the threat of incarceration.

Check out The Frugal Girl to see how other bloggers are documenting their food waste in an attempt to waste less. It's a win/win for the environment and your wallet!

Doing this experiment has made me realize what a luxury having any food waste at all really is. I don't remember ever throwing ANYTHING out when I was a college student and always broke. And there are certainly a lot of undernourished people around the world who can't imagine throwing away perfectly good food because you forgot about it, you bought too much, or you weren't in the mood for it that night. Which goes back to my number one tip for wasting less: buy less food in the first place.

Please leave your tips, advice, and questions in the Comments section. Especially if you know how to outsmart those tricky moths, the ones that are immune to the moth trap and work their way inside a tightly closed jar.

January 21, 2010

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, a consignment shop, a yard sale, craigslist, ebay, or anywhere else you find secondhand clothing.

Today's model is Janet, back for the second time. Click here to see her in a beautiful holiday party dress that she picked up on ebay, along with the cute shoes that give it that extra something special. Janet blogs at Taibhsearachd, which means "second sight" in Gaelic. Janet describes her blog as "a vehicle for me to take a second look at events and people around me, and give second thought to the way I live my life." One thing she's been talking about lately is her upcoming trip to France and Spain, where she'll be walking the Camino de Santiago. I am SO excited for her!

I love this outfit for so many reasons, but mainly because I think it shows that no matter how cold it is outside, you can still be stylish! It's such a creative combination. The entire outfit is pieced together from secondhand finds. She found the worsted wool jacket at Value Village for $10. Janet says the tag is gone but it's a beautifully tailored piece that she's guessing is Italian made. The Stephan de Raucourt boots are also from Italy. New, they would cost a few hundred dollars, at Value Village they were $20 and hardly worn. Janet likes their funkiness. I love them! The black skirt and the scarf were both from the Salvation Army, the skirt cost $6.45 and the scarf was about a dollar. The purse/backpack is Gucci, purchased on ebay for $34! You fashionistas out there will know that Gucci bags can sell for several thousand dollars (my head is spinning!)

Janet says she hates to have her photo taken but she bit the bullet and sent this one in. I am so glad she did! This is a fantastic outfit she's put together and a real inspiration. Janet, thanks so much for your participation. Readers, it's your turn. I always need more photos, so put on your favorite secondhand score, snap a photo, and send it to me at barton.angela@gmail.com. We all want to see your fabulous finds! So don't be shy. Thrifty Threads models are proving that we can all look great in secondhand clothes, whether we're young or old, and whatever our style.

Please share your favorite tips for finding great secondhand scores, plus compliments to our lovely model, in the Comments section. And click here to check out previous installments of Thrifty Threads.

January 20, 2010

Baby Steps Challenge Report Card

During 2009, I took on a number of baby steps challenges because I didn't feel like I was very good at being green, and I wanted to take steps to remedy that. So I thought I'd let you know how I'm doing with the challenges I took on last year. Mainly I wanted to stress the point that all of this is a process, because I'm far from perfect, and I've done better in some areas than others. But I'm going to continue with these challenges, and even do a few more this year.

The challenges I tackled last year were to stop catalogs and junk mail, air-dry the laundry, start composting, switch to natural household cleansers, use less water, and give up paper towels.

Let's go through them one by one (click on each highlighted challenge to read the original post and the steps I planned to take to change my habits):

1) In May, my baby steps challenge was to "stop those catalogs and junk mail once and for all." I did 3 out of 4 of the steps I listed in the post, like register for Catalog Choice and put my name on Forest Ethic's "Do Not Mail" list. Our catalog mail has decreased about 80 percent, and the same for junk mail. In the next few months, I'm going to revisit this challenge by putting aside our junk mail for a month and individually calling those companies. GRADE: A-

2) In June, the baby steps challenge was to "air-dry the laundry." I actually did this for all laundry except towels until Daylight Savings Time ended, when it became evident I was going to have to get up much earlier to run the washer in the morning and hang the clothes out to dry. Between the dark, the cold, and the rain, I've pretty much given this one up for the winter. To be perfectly honest, it would be a big hardship for me to hang clothes indoors because our house is very small, and I work at home so it would be a major distraction. On the positive side, my husband bought an "Energy Star" dryer last year and that's made me feel much better because our old dryer was a 70s monstrosity and a real energy hog. I plan on going back to hanging out the laundry in April. GRADE: C

3) In July, I started composting. Despite the fact that this was the challenge I was most intimidated by, I think I've done the best in this area. It has become such a habit that throwing something that could be composted into the regular trash has become for me like throwing an obviously recycleable item into the trash. It's become an ingrained habit, no matter the weather. If you want to try composting, read the post because I link to some easy instructions, plus I got a lot of great reader advice in the Comments section. Believe me, if I can do this, anyone can. I am about the farthest thing from a gardener imaginable. GRADE: A

4) In August, I decided it was time to switch to natural household cleansers. I made lists from reader suggestions of what ingredients I would use for each task, and also bought a Seventh Generation all-purpose cleanser to replace 409. I'm waiting for the Windex to run out to replace the bottle with a vinegar solution, and I have procured a suitable container for the Borax/baking soda mix that will replace the Comet. In general, I use a lot less product, and more often just wipe surfaces with water and a towel or sponge. This challenge is still in progress. GRADE: B

5) In October, I vowed to use less water. After doing some research, I realized that we were already doing all of the actions recommended by the Department of Water and Power. So I promised to do even better by shortening my showers, rinsing vegetables in the sink rather than letting the water run, and turning the water off while I brush my teeth. I did change my habit of rinsing vegetables under running water and started putting them in a bowl instead since the sink is so large. For some reason, I can't seem to remember to do this while I'm brushing my teeth. And the showers? Well, let's just say that one of my favorite ways to warm up in winter is a long, hot shower. Still, they're a little shorter and a little less hot. Baby steps, remember? Because my husband installed a low-flow toilet and we were already doing so well in this area, I'm not going to be too hard on myself here. GRADE: B+

6) Finally, in November I tackled the challenge of paper towels. I didn't actually vow to give them up entirely, just to use less. We are using cloth napkins instead of paper towels at meals, and since I bought a few microfiber cloths, which I LOVE, I'm almost always using them instead of paper towels around the kitchen. I still occasionally use a paper towel, out of habit or laziness or cluelessness (grease?). GRADE: A-

Overall, I think I'll give myself a B+ for effort, plus making some permanent behavior changes and forming some good habits.

Thanks to my readers for all their brilliant and helpful suggestions. With your advice and support, I was able to get a lot accomplished. Plus, making my commitments public and writing about it made me more accountable and added to my efforts.

Stay tuned for more baby steps challenges in 2010. What changes have you made lately and how did you accomplish it? Is there anything you'd like to see me tackle and write about on this blog? Please leave your thoughts and ideas in the Comments section.

January 19, 2010

Simple Living Network

The Simple Living Network has just unveiled their new and improved website, and it's better than ever. They're celebrating 14 years, and it's the best resource I've found for everything relating to Simple Living. Their newsletter published three posts from this blog last year, and now they're listing My Year Without Spending on their bloglist of "real people practicing what they preach." I love their website and I'm so happy to be included.

The Simple Living Network celebrates simple living, or "voluntary simplicity," which they define as "living an examined life, one in which you have determined what is important and enough for you, and discarding the rest." They also say simple living is NOT about living in poverty or self-inflicted deprivation.

Duane Elgin, a leader of the movement and author of the book Voluntary Simplicity, puts it this way:

"Simple living is living in a way that is outwardly simple and inwardly rich."

I found out about this website AFTER I decided to do The Compact and started this blog, but I feel like they're talking about all the things I've been thinking about. I guess it's reached critical mass enough that I've been hearing the concepts for awhile.

So check out their newsletter, their bloglist (which also includes my favorite blogger, Katy Wolk-Stanley of The Non-Consumer Advocate), and all the rest of the books and resources on their website. I think you'll like it.

January 18, 2010

Meatless Monday news plus "manly man" recipe

Meatless Monday is a nonprofit initiative to encourage people to go without meat one day a week, to improve their health and the health of the planet. Click here to find out more and to sign up to receive a weekly email packed with terrific meatless recipes.

The movement had a big year in 2009 with more awareness and a lot more people backing the cause. Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food announced on Oprah that the most effective thing people can do to cut their carbon footprint is to go meatless one day a week. Al Gore lists Meatless Monday as one of the top 12 things you can do for a better world on his blog Climate Crisis. And Paul McCartney went before the European Parliament in December and encouraged all European cities to adopt a meatless day.

I like the movement because it's idealistic but practical. It doesn't ask people to give up meat entirely or demonize them if they still enjoy a steak. It's all about incremental steps, because a lot of people taking small steps adds up.

In my opinion, the best way to encourage people to go meatless is to give them all kinds of meatless options. Foods they love and crave. Things they eat because they love the taste, not because it's good for them or they think they're "doing the right thing."

That's why I love the meatless recipes that are included in the weekly email I receive from the Meatless Monday campaign. I wanted to share one with you because I made it recently and my husband loved it so much he not only ate the leftovers for breakfast, he asked if we could have it every week. I don't want to stereotype men, but a lot of women tell me they could go meatless more often, but their husband insists on meat in all his meals.

My husband isn't exactly what I would call macho, but he definitely qualifies as male. Click here for the recipe for "Cheesy Broccoli Frittata" that he loved so much. I think the key is the potatoes and cheese, which are hearty and what I would call comfort food. I plan on using this recipe freely with all kinds of substitutions. For example, instead of the Jarlsberg cheese it calls for, I used bits of all the cheese we had that needed to be used up, including some "vegan cheese" that was okay but not as tasty as regular cheese. This frittata would work with almost any leftover vegetables as long as you have eggs, cheese, and potatoes. Oh, and it's really easy.

What are your favorite simple meatless meals? Please share them in the Comments section and I'll include them in my next Meatless Monday recipes post.

The power of words

With the tragedy in Haiti, along with so much other bad news these days, it would be easy to let this day slip away without marking the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday. But I think it's more appropriate than ever to honor the man who gave his life in the service of others.

Many of my favorite quotes, the ones I put on my bulletin board to inspire me each day, come from MLK. I think this one is still my favorite:

"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."

I think since it takes the long view, it's reassuring when I'm feeling discouraged.

Another one I love:

"Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better."

I encourage you to take a moment out of your busy schedule today to honor MLK, Jr. in whatever way feels appropriate to you. Click here to watch his "I Have a Dream" speech, which moves me to tears and makes me burst with pride for the "better angels of our nature" no matter how many times I watch it.

Do you observe MLK, Jr. Day? What is your favorite quote? Please share in the Comments section.

January 15, 2010

Food Waste Friday plus Favorite Blog Post of the week

First, our food waste. This was not a stellar week. I just discovered those pomegranate seeds yesterday. Very sad. Luckily we had eaten most of them before this last bit got moldy. As far as the greens, we're getting so much in our CSA that I need to have a plan for every item. Last time, I made soup out of what was left on the day before our next delivery. This time, I planned to do a stir-fry, but this bok choy and broccoli didn't last the 13 days. And finally, the single pie crust in this box had somehow missed the rotation since I've baked several pies since the early 2009 date on the box.

I'm tracking our food waste in league with Kristen at The Frugal Girl and other bloggers in an effort to waste less. Throwing away food isn't just throwing away money, it's bad for the environment for it to sit rotting in a landfill.

Luckily, all but the pie crust will go to compost, but I'm going to work hard to have less waste next week. On the positive side, I got some great suggestions from readers last week about what to do with runny rosemary jelly, and I baked an apple pie with it the other night that was very tasty. I'm looking forward to trying the other suggestions over the next few weeks. Also, I looked up a daikon recipe online, and tonight I'm going to make a simple daikon and carrot slaw. It will be perfect with our vaguely asian tofu/spinach stir-fry dinner.

My favorite blog post of the week goes to Betsy at Married With Luggage for this post titled "Could you live with just 100 things?" Betsy mentions me in the article as someone who's taken on a challenge with my possessions. Well, let me tell you, I have WAY more than 100 things. I'm afraid I probably have more than 100 things just in my jewelry box. See why I don't need anything new?

But actually the fact that I'm mentioned in the post isn't why it's my favorite. I love the whole "100 things" idea, but what really put this post over the top for me was the You Tube video of George Carlin's comedy act about "stuff." It's 24 years old, and still brilliant, timely, and hilarious. Check it out if you need a laugh. I know I really needed one this week. Thanks Betsy!

Are you tracking your food waste this week? How did you do?

$5 makes a difference

By now, you're probably overwhelmed with images and stories about the tragic earthquake in Haiti. For me, the best way to fight the feeling of powerlessness is to contribute to the relief effort. And in this case, every little bit helps. Just $5 or $10 will make a difference.

It's easy to give online, on twitter, even by texting on your cellphone.

But you want your money to go to the people who need it, and sadly, there are scams out there. Here are my top two picks for vetted, reliable, ethical charities that are involved in the relief effort:

1. Doctors Without Borders operates one of the only free trauma centers in Port-au-Prince as well as an emergency hospital in the capital for pregnant women, new mothers, and newborn children. All three of its primary medical centers have collapsed, but Doctors Without Borders has already set up temporary shelters and is offering emergency care on the ground. Click here for more information and to donate.

2. Global Giving is raising money to provide emergency assistance through its partners already on the ground, providing victims of the earthquake with critical necessities including water, food, shelter and medical care. Click here to contribute.

Thanks for reading.

January 14, 2010

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, a consignment shop, a yard sale, ebay, craigslist, or anywhere else you find secondhand clothing.

Today's model is Carmen, who blogs at Life Blessons with the tagline "the blessings and lessons of this little life of mine." In the "about me" section of her blog she writes, "...these are the stories about my life as a Christ follower, a new bride aspiring to set up our home sweet home, a girl growing into a woman, learning each step along the way." Her blog offers an eclectic mix of topics, from the power of prayer to a DIY kitchen chair reupholstery project, to a book review of "This is Your Brain in Love," which is a look at successful relationships and what makes marriages last. It talks about recent brain research and is packed with quizzes that determine how your brain works and thus your compatibility with your partner. Her review really made me want to check out that book.

Carmen is wearing one of her favorite thrifted outfits. She bought the slacks just before starting her first full-time professional job after college and wore them on her first day at work. The off-white sweater is from the 70s or 80s and was also found at a local thrift shop. Finally, Carmen's father collects antique toys and so he often scouts flea markets and auctions looking for new items for his collection. At one auction, he bid on a box that contained these Gap shoes, which were exactly her size. The total cost of this entire outfit was under $10. Wow. What a great example of finding quality items for a LOT less money.

Here's what Carmen says about secondhand shopping: "Growing up, my parents were both avid garage salers and about the time I was in middle school I remember going with my mom and my aunt to thrift stores. Over the years it became a weekly tradition we would do together, and a shopping staple for me, as I expanded my wardrobe, library, and even began decorating my first apartment. I've always had a soft spot for the vintage aesthetic, so usually whenever I was in the market for some new addition to my closet or decor, the thrift store was one of the first places I'd check out. For me, the thing I love most about thrifting is the ability to uncover some really one-of-a-kind pieces with some lived-in and well-loved history. I enjoy the treasure-hunt aspect of it, skimming over shelves and racks to uncover that something special."

Spoken like a true aficionado. Thanks Carmen for sending in that great photograph! And by the way, that chair she's sitting on is a secondhand gift from her mom that she reupholstered herself. I love it! Check out Carmen's blog for some reupholstering tips if you've got a piece of furniture lying around that could be transformed into a treasure.

Readers, it's your turn. Put on your favorite secondhand outfit, snap a photo, and send it to me at barton.angela@gmail.com. We can't wait to see your fabulous finds! I just love the stylish and creative combinations people are coming up with.

Do you have any tips for secondhand shopping? I think I feel about it the same way I did about regular shopping: when there's too much stuff, I get overwhelmed. That was why I had cut down the places I bought clothes to just a few, and ordered most things from catalogs that I was familiar with. I'll probably have to look for thrift stores with less merchandise, which might not have the very best bargains, but won't overwhelm me. Please leave your tips and advice on the subject in the Comments section. And click here to check out previous installments of Thrifty Threads.

January 13, 2010

The Great American Apparel Diet

It seems that giving up shopping is all the rage. A group of 39 women has vowed to go without buying clothing for a year, and they're blogging about it at The Great American Apparel Diet. I first heard about their experiment on this post from Planet Green/Discovery.

It sounds just like The Compact for clothing, except that they can't even buy used. They're swapping with friends, finding things in their closet that had been put aside, and donating items they're no longer going to wear. And in the process, they're learning a lot more about where their clothes come from and how to live more sustainably.

And just like me, they're finding out that giving up shopping has a host of side benefits, like saving money, saving time, getting organized, and decreasing your carbon footprint.

Could you give up shopping for one year if it was a clothing only vow? Since most of us obviously have plenty of items to last us through the year, it makes you think about why we buy new things: the short term high, filling an emotional void, etc. Please share your thoughts about why you buy clothes in the Comments section.

And might I add that giving up shopping does NOT mean giving up fashion. In fact, making the most out of less can inspire great creativity. Check out The Uniform Project to see what I mean. One dress, 365 days. Proving that style and sustainability are NOT mutually exclusive.

January 12, 2010

What's ahead for 2010...

...for this blog, that is.

What will stay the same and what will change?

I'll keep posting photos of our CSA delivery, photos of our food waste, photos of readers in their stylish secondhand clothes on Thrifty Threads, Meatless Monday recipes, and an occasional Wine Finds. I'll also continue to ask questions relating to non-consumerism as food for thought, like "How much do you need to live on?" "How do you measure wealth?" and "How do you judge success?" I'll keep on bringing you free stuff alerts, as well as share tips I learn from other bloggers and from readers. And hopefully we'll just keep learning from each other about how to live a simple lifestyle with abundance.

What will also stay pretty much the same is the look of this blog. While I'm aware it's a bit quaint, and that other bloggers are switching platforms and looking more professional, etc., I really can't justify spending that kind of time and money on something that I'm not being paid for. My intention isn't to earn money, and I'd rather spend my time on posting rather than unveiling a new design. However, my husband has offered to design an original banner for me, and I'll probably start switching out my photo every so often, and I'll need a new tagline. But at least for the time being, it will look about the same, and I hope that works for my readers. I secretly still like the layout, since so many blogs are starting to look the same to me.

Here are a few other things I'll be exploring this year:

More baby steps challenges, although I don't know what they'll be yet. I'm thinking of growing our own lettuce this spring, eating from the pantry for a month, and learning how to cook Indian food. I'll be copying some of Cate's recipes at Budget Confessions, since she started making Indian food at home a few months ago.

I'd also like to do physical 30-day challenges, like taking a walk or doing yoga every day for a month. I think there are a lot of benefits to focusing on one thing at a time.

I'll definitely be doing a lot more decluttering. I got started on that last year, but I didn't do nearly as much as I would have liked. After joining Non Consumer Girl in her Clutter to Cash challenge of raising $5000, I managed to sell my girlhood saddle for $200 and some vintage clothes for $21. So I came up a bit short. My enthusiasm sometimes gets the better of my logic, although maybe that's not altogether a bad thing.

I also want to explore the local thrift stores a little more. I don't really need any clothes or much of anything else, but it would be nice to know where to go when I will inevitably need to replace my black go-go boots or my favorite jeans.

I plan on reading some simple living books like Voluntary Simplicity, writings about "food politics" like Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and In Defense of Food, and the Bible of lifestyle liberation, Your Money or Your Life. I've heard so much about all of these books this past year, so I really want to get to them, and if I do, I'll tell you what I think. I usually read mostly fiction so that will be a change for me.

I'm also going to start doing interviews, with other bloggers and people in the "simple living/non-consumer/Compact" community.

And I'll see what comes up as the year unfolds. At the beginning of 2009, I thought I'd be writing about temptation and "falling off the wagon" a whole lot more than I did. And I didn't know I was going to be writing about CSA delivery (didn't even know what it was!), composting, or how to be stylish while shopping at Goodwill.

So I'm looking forward to all the new things I'll be learning and all the new people I'll meet. And I hope you'll join me... Let me know your favorite features, themes, or posts and what you want more of in the Comments section.

January 11, 2010

CSA Delivery Day: my darling clementines

Even though CSA delivery isn't quite as thrilling in the winter as it is in the spring and summer, I was SO happy to see these clementine tangerines in the box this morning. They were absolutely delicious the last time we got them, and they're seedless! We also got a butterscotch chocolate chip cookie treat, which didn't make it into this photo.

We've been getting CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) delivery of local, organic produce for about eight months now and both my husband and I love it. We're definitely eating healthier, and we're more creative with our cooking. My husband has been chopping up spices and adding them to whatever he eats!

This week we got, roughly clockwise from the back: bloomsdale spinach (in bag), chiogga beets with tops, mustard spinach/tatsoi, romanesco cauliflower, flat-leaved kale, carrots, romaine lettuce, young red onions, turnips, broccoli, clementines, and cilantro.

I'm really happy about that bagged spinach because the last time we got it I sauteed it with a bit of onion and it was so delicious my husband said he could eat it every day. I'm also curious about that sci fi looking cauliflower, which is almost too cool-looking to cook.

If you're interested in getting CSA delivery, click here to learn more about it and to find a service in your area. One interesting thing I've found is that even though the delivery isn't cheap, our monthly grocery spending hasn't gone up. I think it's because we're eating differently and with less meat and so overall it's not expensive.

Farmer's Markets are another great way to support local farmers and eat healthy produce. Do you shop at Farmer's Markets or get CSA delivery? Tell us about it in the comments section. And as always, I love to get your tips and preparation advice for anything you see in this photo.

January 9, 2010

Do you hug trees?

Treehugger has me featured as part of a story called "12 one-year personal stunts we can't stop talking about." Wow. Really? The segment is about The Compact, and it talks about this blog. Click here to read the entire article, which includes No Impact Man and some other interesting people. They used this image to represent The Compact.

I hardly think I should be considered the public face of the group, which has thousands of members, most of whom have been doing this a lot longer than I have, and probably a lot better! But I'm very flattered, because it's a cool website and it's great to get the word out there.

Also, the "stunt" part is a little embarrassing. I was so clueless about what was already out there when I started this blog that I'd never heard of No Impact Man or any "my year of" projects. And about a month into it, I realized the name of my blog wasn't even really accurate, because of course I'm still spending money, just not on STUFF. But I didn't want to change the name, for fear of losing the few readers I had at the time. The technical aspects of all of this are not really my forte. I don't even know how to put an accent mark on that "e" back there. Ha.

The website is a fantastic resource for all things eco-friendly. Thanks treehugger! I'm honored to be featured.

January 8, 2010

It's Friday

Happy Friday. I haven't done a Food Waste Friday post for a couple of weeks now, because last Friday was New Year's Day and the week before that was Christmas Day. We did have some food waste during those two weeks, although I can't recall what it was. Mostly stuff that was composted, I think. A little bit of turkey, which I put in the freezer, and might end up as future food waste because I waited a little too long to freeze it. My plan is to at least use it for broth.

I'm going to continue to document our food waste on Fridays, a la Kristen at The Frugal Girl, because I think it's important and taking a photo and writing about it on my blog seems to help us to waste less. But I'm also going to mix it up on Fridays and sometimes bring you Friday Freebies, and other times Friday Favorites, which will be my favorite blog post I've read that week. I'll try to do those in addition to documenting our food waste, and sometimes I'll have all three.

So first, as far as food waste goes, we don't seem to have any this week. But there are a few things that are going to be waste very soon if I don't think of something to do with them. The first is a bunch of small jars of rosemary jelly that didn't set. This was the only homemade gift I tried this year that wasn't successful. I'd never made jelly, and the pectin didn't seem to work. So it tastes delicious, but it's too runny. My husband and I can keep a couple of jars, but I don't know what to do with the rest of it. Here's a challenge for you: does anyone have any ideas for what to do with runny rosemary jelly? The other thing is two large daikon, which I've never used before. I'll probably look on a recipe site, but I always prefer recipes that people have actually tried and had success with to something I find at random.

Next, here's a great Freebie: free breakfast at Mimi's Cafe for joining their E-Club. I wasn't aware of this place, but I plugged in our zip code and there are tons of them all over. The breakfast includes bacon, eggs, and blueberry-stuffed French toast. All you have to do is fill out a form that takes less than 1 minute. Click here to sign up.

And finally, my favorite blog post of the week: this post by Danielle at Less is More Balanced about heirloom design, which is stuff that's designed to last long enough to pass on to the next generation, versus planned obsolescence, which is what we're loaded down with now-- cheaply made junk with parts that can't easily be replaced. Reading it really kicked my desire for a cast iron skillet into overdrive. Supposedly you can get one that will last a lifetime for about twenty bucks. I've got to look into it.

Have a great weekend, everyone! And please share your questions and tips to reduce food waste, and ideas for runny jelly and daikon, in the Comments section.

January 7, 2010

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, consignment shop, ebay, craigslist, a yard sale, or anywhere else you find secondhand clothing.

Because I wrote so many holiday-related posts, I haven't run Thrifty Threads for awhile. But I'll be back to a regular schedule with a Thrifty Threads post every Thursday, as long as I keep receiving photos. Today, I'm so happy to have Kristen from The Frugal Girl back for the third time. If you haven't heard of it, I encourage you to check it out immediately. Kristen writes a fantastic blog that's packed with recipes and frugal lifestyle tips, and it's communicated in a style that is so open and honest that she endears herself to you right away. She's also an excellent photographer and frequently posts photographs of her projects as well as her beautiful children. I think of her as the mom, sister, and best friend you always wanted, all rolled up into one.

I thought Kristen's casual outfit would be a nice switch from the holiday dresses I featured last month. And for those of you who live in colder climates, this photo can serve as a reminder that you won't always be freezing, that spring will return. Kristen bought this new Target t-shirt at Goodwill for $3. The Mossimo brand jeans were just $6.50. A cute, comfortable, casual outfit for less than ten bucks. That's what I call a very smart shopper.

Thanks Kristen for sending in that photo! Click here to check out Kristen's last appearance on Thrifty Threads, when she modeled the dress that was the inspiration for this series. Now readers, it's your turn. If you shop secondhand, put on your favorite outfit, snap a photo, and send it to me at barton.angela@gmail.com. We all want to see your fabulous finds! So don't be shy, we welcome everyone on Thrifty Threads, and encourage women of all ages and sizes to participate. And I'm still waiting for another brave man to send a photo, I've only had one so far.

Please leave your tips for secondhand shopping in the Comments section. And click here to check out previous installments of Thrifty Threads.

January 6, 2010

Kids love Compact-y Gifts

That's my adorable 7-year-old niece, modeling the hat we gave her, and her new cat from Santa.

When I started on The Compact, I was most nervous about what I would do for gifts. I was sure I could go without new stuff, but didn't want to be ungenerous with friends and family. Well, I had no problem with that this holiday season. Everyone seemed to enjoy their handmade, consumable, and used gifts.

That was especially true for our niece and nephew. She's 7 and he's 11, and the past few years we've loaded them down with gifts because my husband and I had both had done well financially. But sadly, I can't remember much of what we gave them. Tellingly, I can only recall a shirt for her with an embroidered butterfly on it that I found at a kid's secondhand shop.

We were a little worried about how they would react to this year's more modest, Compact-y gifts. This is what we sent:

For the 7-year-old girl, the hat was a regift. My friend knitted it for me a few years ago but it had always been too small and I thought it would look cute on my niece, which it does. She also got a bracelet with wooden beads that I made for her, a "like-new" used copy of "Little House in the Big Woods," and a DVD of "Sleeping Beauty," which I received as a work freebie.

For the 11-year-old boy, my husband found a super-cool African mask on ebay after our nephew had admired my husband's collection, and I gave him a "like-new" used copy of a book about race car drivers (his passion) and a handmade bag filled with foreign coins from our travels because he's a collector. My friend Tammy from The Frugal Musician made the cute "Robin Hood style" drawstring bag for me.

Their reactions to these almost quaint gifts? According to their mother, they loved them. She wrote that "in particular, the beanie and the booty bag with coins were winners." Ha! A handmade bag filled with old coins and a knitted hat!

He also loved his mask and she was very excited that I'd made the bracelet and seemed in awe when I told her my friend made the hat. She also said she'd been wanting to read that book but that it was always checked out at the library. How it warms my heart that little girls are still reading Laura Ingalls Wilder.

So do kids really expect expensive state-of-the-art gifts? I don't think so. Maybe it depends on how they're raised and where they go to school, but I think that kids still love old-fashioned toys like Legos, and thank goodness they still like books. I'm not a parent, so I won't go too far out on a limb here, but I think their attitudes about gifts and "stuff" are formed partly by our attitudes.

Sure, kids love video games and wii, just like we love our computers, ipods, and iphones. But they don't need or even want every new bauble that comes along if we show them there are other ways to spend their time and other things to enjoy.

The lesson? You don't need to have deep pockets to make children happy. Isn't that great news? Please share some of your favorite Compact-y or frugal children's gifts in the Comments section.

January 5, 2010


My Buy Nothing New year officially ended five days ago, but as I said, since doing The Compact has been so rewarding and relatively easy, I've decided to continue as a Compacter into 2010, and indefinitely. This blog will document my experiment with making it a feasible permanent lifestyle.

In addition to what I've already listed as exceptions (things like food, underwear, running shoes), I'm also going to loosen the rules a bit this year in order to make this workable for myself. I'm not trying to prove any point about how much deprivation I can take, I'm trying to be more conscious about my purchases and practice a more simple lifestyle. And it would be impossible to go back to throwing items into the shopping cart, willy-nilly, just because I wanted them or even thought I needed them.

I do think that the philosophy of buying used, borrowing, or trading is the lightest way to tread on the earth, better even than buying "green" products. I've noticed a lot of commerce and advertising in the green industry that attempts to persuade you that you need a certain item, either because it will make your life easier or make you feel like you're living your values, etc. And sometimes that's true. But a lot of times you could just buy secondhand or not buy at all.

However, there are a few things I'll be allowing myself to buy new this year that aren't strictly on The Compact. The first is books, specifically when they're written by people I know or a favorite author, or occasionally as a gift. Almost every one of last year's "falls off the wagon" were in this category. The majority of the time I'll still be going to the library or buying used.

I'm also going to allow myself an occasional handmade item, especially if it's also green and local. I want to support local artisans, and the arts in general.

And finally, when we do need new sheets and towels, if I can't find an alternative, I'm not going to feel bad about buying from a green company that uses organic cotton and US labor.

And for those items that I really do need, but can't find used, I will practice the Compact/Zen method of "looking out for it." I'll put out the word to friends and acquaintances, consult the Compact yahoo group for ideas and possible substitutions, and scour yard sales, thrift stores, and freecycle. But if after six months, nothing has turned up, I will allow myself to buy it new. The same goes for any household items my husband and I agree we need as I don't want to simply pass the buck to him for home purchases.

So, call it Compact-lite if you want, but that's the way I can see to make it work longterm. These exceptions will allow me to be a conscious consumer who makes purchases in line with my values.

I'm more interested in carving out a lifestyle that feels right to me and that works for both my husband and myself than I am in calling myself a Compacter. But I don't think I'll be kicked off the island for my exceptions, cheats, or whatever you want to call them. On the whole, they're a remarkably helpful and accomodating group.

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

January 4, 2010

Meatless Monday: Risotto

Meatless Monday is a nonprofit initiative that encourages people to cut out meat one day a week, for their health and the health of the planet. It's easy for us to do because we were already going meatless several days a week, and it's been even easier since we started getting CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) delivery. Click here to find out more about Meatless Monday and sign up for their weekly email, which is filled with delicious meatless recipes.

I think the best way to incorporate meatless meals into your schedule is to have delicious options that you love and crave. That way you're not focused on the "giving up" part, as in the meat. You don't miss it because you love the meal. Think about your favorite pasta dish: I'll bet it doesn't have meat. And I'll bet you don't care one bit.

One of our favorite meals, meatless or otherwise, is risotto. My mother learned how to make it years ago from an Italian friend and she taught me the method. I think this recipe is as good as (or better!) than any I've had a restaurant, and it's one of my husband's absolute favorite dinners. So I thought I'd tell you how I make it, instead of just providing the recipe. It's not hard, but there is a method that needs to be closely followed.

First, get out your favorite large saute pan and saute your vegetables in olive oil. The options are endless, but our favorite is garlic, mushrooms, tomatoes, and basil. Saute the garlic and mushrooms first, add the fresh tomatoes for a few minutes, and then the fresh basil last. Put the vegetables aside. Asparagus and mushrooms are another great combination.

In the same pan, without rinsing, add more olive oil and the arborio rice. I use the brand in the photo, which is available at World Market, but I hear you can get arborio rice in almost any supermarket these days. However, I don't know if it is all the same quality. This brand is very good and the best I've found.

I never measure any of this, but let's say you add about a cup of the arborio rice to a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Saute for a few minutes or until the rice starts to become translucent. DO NOT let the rice burn or even get browned. If it starts getting brown, it's time to add the liquid.

All of this should be done over medium heat. That's probably the most important thing I can tell you. If the heat is too high, the risotto will cook too fast and be hard in the middle and if the heat is too low it will be mushy.

When the rice is translucent but not brown, add about a cup or two of liquid. I usually alternate between broth and white wine. The quality of your broth is going to make a big difference in how the risotto comes out, so make sure it's flavorful. The quality of the wine probably doesn't matter that much, you don't want to spend a fortune on wine for cooking. We generally use any kind of white wine that's not too sweet.

This is where you'll want to put on some music, maybe opera to get you in the mood, and stay by the stove. You can set the table, make a salad, etc. but do not leave the kitchen. You must keep your eye on this, like a protective mother. You need to always be adding liquid, but there should never be too much. As it cooks and evaporates, you'll add another cup or so of broth or wine. If you don't have broth or wine, water will do, but I don't think I would try it with only water. It will be difficult to get a richness of flavor.

After about 20-30 minutes, you'll notice the consistency of the rice change and it is near ready. Cook until the last of the liquid is absorbed and add 1/2 cup milk or cream. Cook a few more minutes until it is creamy and then add back the vegetables for another few minutes.

Serve with freshly grated parmesan and a green salad.

There are a couple of great bonuses to this meal, on top of being meatless: it all cooks in one pan so there's less clean up, and it's a frugal option as long as you don't use expensive, out of season vegetables.

Do you make risotto at home? What are your favorite vegetables to cook in risotto? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section.

January 2, 2010

Reflections on My Compact Year

I wanted this post to be dated January 1st, but we turned out to have a more social New Year's than usual, filled with friends both old and new and even relatives I haven't seen for years, so there was no time for my usual reflections on the past year and goals for the year ahead.

Over the next few weeks, I'll answer your questions about my year and give a more detailed account of the experience, but for now I just wanted to write down some general reflections.

And the main thing that occurs to me is that doing The Compact turned out to be much easier than I'd expected, but much more rewarding than I could have imagined. I've written before about how I was digging in my heels for deprivation and challenge, but there was almost no deprivation and the challenge was mostly a creative one that I enjoyed, like finding substitutions for things I needed to buy or making gifts that people would actually use.

I can hardly begin to list the ways my life is richer for this experience, but I'll try to name just a few:

I've made more friends, mostly "online" friends, but some I've been lucky enough to meet in person. And the great thing is that they're like-minded people who share my values and interests.

I feel like part of a community and that I'm living my values and sharing them.

I feel like I can handle any challenge, financial or otherwise, because I truly believe my friends and family will be there if I need them.

I feel more free, strong, and resourceful because I know I can live on less money if I need to.

I feel less susceptible to advertising and wanting STUFF because most of it isn't worth it to me, in terms of the money I would have to earn to buy it, and all the steps that go into production and shipping and disposal of it.

Realizing I have most of what I'll ever need has freed up time to do things I enjoy and spend more time with friends.

Borrowing or trading instead of buying new has brought new friends, closer ties with old ones, and a stylish wardrobe thanks to our annual clothing swap and my initial forays into some local thrift stores.

Doing without has been a great option that has helped bring less clutter into the house. I'll still be working on decluttering some of what was already here in the coming year.

Getting a CSA delivery has been so much fun and helped us to eat healthier and with less meat.

I'm happier in general, because of feeling more productive, more connected, and living more in line with my values.

Those are just some of the rewards, I could go on and on but the post is going to be too long. The main thing is that I really can't think of any downside to doing this experiment, which is why it was an easy decision to keep going with it and continue doing The Compact into 2010. I will be loosening up some of my rules and buying a few more things new, and I'll tell you about that in a later post.

For now, I wanted to express how much I've gotten out of this experiment that I undertook almost on a whim. And to assure you that if you've considered doing it yourself, it's not nearly as hard as you might think. I really want to communicate that anyone can do it, that there's nothing amazing about me. I know it was easier for me because I don't have children and because my husband wasn't on the Compact, but my point is that it didn't take any particular amount of willpower or strength of character. Whatever your situation, there's all kinds of support out there and you can take whatever exceptions you need to make it work for you.

No one wants this to be so grueling that it can't be a permanent lifestyle. And a lot of people thinking about their consumer habits and doing the best they can is going to make a much bigger difference than a few people living completely off the grid or isolated from the rest of society.

It's been an extra bonus that so many people have written to me and told me that this blog has inspired them to join The Compact in 2010. I didn't do this to "spread the word" but it is fantastic to know that I've made any difference in how we're all thinking about what we're buying.

I really am not the most frugal person you've ever met, the most creative or crafty or resourceful, or even the least interested in fashion. I'm just someone who said they were going to do something and then set out to do it. That's really all it takes. The discipline and support and everything else you'll need will be there for you once you take that first step and make a commitment.

Thanks for reading, and please feel free to share your thoughts in the Comments section.