May 31, 2010

Happy Memorial Day

I'm taking a break from blogging today, but I'll be back tomorrow to tell you about two different challenges I'll be taking on for the month of June. Perhaps you'll want to join me in one or both of them.

Happy Memorial Day. Enjoy your BBQs and take a moment to remember the sacrifices of the people who fight our wars.

May 28, 2010

No Food Waste Friday

No picture, no waste. A zero-waste week, yay!

I have to admit that I'm proud of myself AND my husband for dodging several potential food waste landmines this week. And having control of this one area in my own life does calm me just a bit when the heartbreaking problems of the big bad world threaten to overwhelm.

These were the items we managed to avoid wasting:

Celery: I've never been a big fan, but we received it in our CSA and I used it in some soup and it was awful. It was stringy and I had to admit I hate the taste and it ruined the soup. Instead of throwing out the soup, I strained it and we ate it that way. Then when my husband didn't eat the rest of the celery, I gave it to my neighbor who was happy to receive it.

Tomato soup: I made such a big pot of soup, that even though it was delicious, after several bowls each we were growing tired of it. There was about half a bowl left that I ate one night after dinner instead of some other fattening snack, and it actually satisfied me.

Lettuce: After making a salad, I had about six leaves left that I put in a plastic bag in the crisper and told my husband to eat on his sandwiches and veggie burgers, and he ate all of them.

Bok choy: I've never cooked this, and it looked so likely to become waste that I almost considered giving it to my neighbor up front. But instead, I looked up some recipes online and sauteed it up with garlic and olive oil and it was a delicious appetizer.

The main point is that avoiding food waste has become habitual, something we are doing without a lot of struggle, and I'm happy about that. We continue to produce a lot less trash as well. And our refrigerator and pantry are less packed, so we can see and keep track of what we have better.

If you're wasting a lot more food than you'd like, it's important to remember that we all start somewhere. Kristen from The Frugal Girl wrote this great post last week, where she talks about how watching your food waste isn't an all-or-nothing proposition and shares photos of how much food she used to toss every week. Even if you don't get to zero waste, wasting less is better than wasting a lot.

FAVORITE BLOG POST OF THE WEEK: The most thought-provoking post I read this week was this post by Katy of The Non-Consumer Advocate about whether or not to accept a gift of money from her father to add a bathroom to their house, and whether accepting the money conflicted with frugality. There was a lively discussion in the Comments section. Check it out. Does frugality mean you shouldn't accept generosity from others?

Please share your thoughts about food waste, frugality and generosity, or anything you'd like in the Comments section.

May 27, 2010

Thrifty Threads

It's Thursday, time for another installment of Thrifty Threads, AKA Most Stylish Compact-y outfit, where readers model their favorite secondhand clothes. A Compact-y outfit is used or recycled, from Goodwill, a thrift store, a consignment shop, or anywhere else you find secondhand clothing.

Today's installment is the inspiration of Betsy Talbot, the co-creator of one of my favorite blogs, Married With Luggage. Betsy and her husband Warren are making some big changes and getting ready to travel the world. But it's more than just a trip around the world, they're actually redesigning their lives to travel full time. And along the way, they're having to part with a lot of their stuff. Actually, they're getting rid of pretty much everything they own, including their house.

Betsy came up with the ingenious idea of a Reverse Birthday Party to pass along some of her very favorite articles of clothing. That's Betsy third from the left, with her friends wearing all of her fabulous red items that they "bought" at the event. Here's how Betsy describes the evening:

"I took all my lovely items that couldn't go on the trip with me and put them in a little boutique I set up in the living room. Each item had a note attached detailing its history and why I loved it. Friends were then allowed to "shop" by writing their names on the back of those cards for the things they wanted. If only one person wrote her name, the item was hers for a donation to our trip. If more than one person wrote her name, we had a "style off" where they had to walk down a runway to the tune of Carly Simon's You're So Vain. At the end of the style off we all voted, and the one who wore it best got to keep it. (and of course there was food and wine)

It was a really fun way to bond with my friends, share some of my history with them, and part with my things in a fun, happy way instead of a sad one. Now when I see a friend wearing my favorite cocktail ring, hat, or jacket it makes me feel really warm inside, like my things have been adopted into a happy home.

I can't tell you how much each item went for because it was an anonymous donation to a small box (a piece of luggage, actually!), but I think most people thought of it as consignment shopping and paid on that scale."

Love the hats. Look at those smiles!

And check out those fabulous boots!

What a brilliantly creative way to part with your treasures. I am a big fan of clothing swaps, and this takes the concept one step further. If you're anticipating a major life change, moving, taking a trip around the world, or downsizing, consider a Reverse Birthday Party as a way to find happy homes for your favorite clothes.

Be sure to check out Married With Luggage if you haven't yet. It never fails to inspire me. It's all about designing a live you love and doing what it takes to make that happen. Whether it's taking care of your finances, decluttering, or simplifying, Betsy and Warren cover it all. For me, reading their blog is like a daily shot of adrenaline. As their tagline says, "Life is short. Live your dream."

Big thanks to Betsy and all her friends for sharing their evening with us. Readers, it's your turn. Put on your favorite secondhand outfit, snap a photo, and send it to me at We all want to see your fabulous finds. And it's almost summer, so I'd love to see more summer dresses, shorts, and sandals to get us in the mood.

Do you shop secondhand? Have you ever been to a clothing swap? Please leave your tips on being stylish without paying retail in the Comments section. And click here to check out previous installments of Thrifty Threads.

May 26, 2010

Does the Internet make us happier?

A new study of mental health from Britain suggests that rather than making us more stressed and anxious as has previously been thought, spending time online makes us happier.

Researchers found a link between Internet access and well-being. And some people benefit more than others from being connected to the information superhighway, including women.

The study author says that, "Put simply, people with IT access are more satisfied with life even when taking account of income. Our analysis suggests that it has an enabling and empowering role in people's lives, by increasing their sense of freedom and control, which has a positive impact on well-being or happiness."

Click here to read the full article.

I think it's safe to say that most people reading this blog would agree with that analysis. What do you think? Does the Internet make you happier? In what way? And can you get too much of a good thing? Please leave your thoughts in the Comments section. I'd love to hear your opinions, especially if you disagree with the study's conclusions.

p.s. I was looking for a photo that illustrated the concept of happiness, and found this one of me with my niece a few years back. Really it's a cheap attempt to put up another photo of my adorable niece, since it has nothing to do with the Internet. But we do look happy.

May 25, 2010

Help me figure out an anniversary gift

A good friend has invited my husband and I to her parent's 50th wedding anniversary.

This morning it occurred to me that I have absolutely no idea what to give them. I would like to stick to The Compact if possible, but that's difficult when you barely know someone.

I have met her mother several times, and her father once, very briefly. They are quite old and I don't know much about their interests, except that her mother likes to make apple streudel. They are German and moved here when they were newly married.

Another factor is that I know it's a difficult marriage, so I'm not inclined to give them an overly sentimental gift about how their love has stood the test of time.

For these reasons, it's harder than usual to give a handmade or experiential gift. I think I need something nice and generic. Although baked goods are a possibility, if it's something special.

Readers, I need your inspiration. You always give me great suggestions, and I know you'll come through. I'm really drawing a blank on this one.

What would you give an elderly couple you barely know? Please leave your ideas in the Comments section. And thank you in advance.

May 24, 2010

Our first CSA delivery: oh, the bounty

We received our first CSA delivery on May 18, 2009, a little over a year ago. This is a reprint of the post I wrote that day.

Woo hoo! Our first CSA box arrived today! And here it is all spread out. What a haul. Honestly, I don't even know what some of this stuff IS.

When I joined The Compact, I didn't even know what CSA stood for. It means Community Supported Agriculture, and it's a familiar acronym to people involved in the local food movement. It's basically like going to the Farmer's Market, except the Farmer's Market comes to you. You're supporting local farmers who grow organic produce. The service visits all the Farmer's Markets in the area and finds the freshest offerings each week. Our service (Auntie Em's) even delivers it to your doorstep. Eating local and organic is better for the environment AND for your health.

This adventure of Buying Nothing New is leading me in all kinds of directions I never would have imagined. I know I've said before that I'm not really the type of person who does things Nike-style. I'm more of a deliberator, I like to weigh the pros and cons and take my time with a decision. But in this case, I dove right in. Last week I saw this post over at My Friend Oprah and within two days I was signed up and eagerly awaiting our first delivery. I simply couldn't think of any downside to doing it.

Luckily I asked for delivery every other week, because this is A LOT of produce. All we have to do is leave out the box on our doorstep by early morning the day of our next delivery. Our service also includes a list of what's inside with suggestions for preparation, plus a recipe. This week's is Alice Water's Swiss Chard gratin (recipe follows). Tonight we'll have our friends over for that plus some fresh fava beans spread on crostini. And fresh cherries for dessert! The apricots will probably be gone by the time they get here (I love apricots!)

This week's bonanza also includes spring garlic, purple sprouting broccoli, Detroit red beets, and red scarlett turnips. Any suggestions on what to do with the turnips or anything else you see here? Please leave your ideas in the Comments section.

May 21, 2010

Food Waste Friday and Favorite Blog Post of the Week

It's Friday, and we've got no food waste this week.

I have to admit that when I first started reading The Frugal Girl's Food Waste Friday posts featuring photos of rotten food, I didn't quite know what to make of it. But it didn't take me long to recognize how I'd gotten used to throwing food away almost every single week. Once I made the connection that being careful about the food we buy and eat was better for the environment and better for our budget, I started taking it seriously.

Now that we're watching our food waste, if we're not perfect I don't go into a depression or anything, but I feel much better being generally conscious about it. I think maybe I have a genetic predisposition against food waste because when I was little and we'd be on family car trips I'd get so upset when I'd see food accidentally dumped all over the road. I particularly recall a truckload of tomatoes smashed and smeared all over the asphalt. It made me so sad, like they hadn't gotten a chance to do what they were supposed to do, fulfill their tomato destiny. They were waste. My family thought I was nuts when I would express thoughts like this. I guess it is a little nuts.

But all the same, I wish no food was ever wasted. So we'll do our part in this house.

Are you watching your food waste? How did you do this week? Tell us about it in the Comments section.

FAVORITE BLOG POST OF THE WEEK: Kristen at The Frugal Girl gets my vote for this post about the idiocy of Kleenex's new product, a disposable paper bathroom hand towel for home use. Please read it, link to it on your blog, pass it along to your friends. The fact that this product even exists is so wrong on so many levels, and I'd like to do everything possible to help it go away before it has a chance to catch on.

And please don't buy their product. In fact, if you want to go one step further, switch to a People Towel and save a tree. It's a reusable organic cotton towel you carry around with you. It comes in all kinds of groovy patterns. In Japan, personal towels are quite common. Think they'll catch on in the U.S.A.? You can read all about People Towels here. Thanks to Danielle at Your Daily Thread for that awesome information.

May 20, 2010

Thrifty Threads, sort of

It's Thursday, when I usually write a Thrifty Threads post. But I want to be clear up front that this girl did not send me this photo, I saw the story on The Frugalista Files, and thought it was perfect for the Thrifty Threads concept.

This teenage girl from North Carolina made her prom dress from Starburst candy wrappers. It started out as an art project, and ended up this super-original and adorable prom dress. She also made her own accessories and her date's tie.

This dress is a recycling treasure. It's made out of duct tape, masking tape, and 20 packages of Starburst candy. Click here to read the entire article in the Greensboro News & Record.

If you're new to this blog, Thrifty Threads is about readers modeling their favorite secondhand outfits, usually from Goodwill, a thrift store, or a consignment shop. This outfit is used, but rather than having been worn before by someone else, it's recycled. I don't know how thrifty it is because I have no idea how much 20 packages of Starburst candy costs. But I imagine it's a lot less than a fancy designer dress. And you can bet she didn't run into anyone wearing the same outfit!

Readers, I'm all out of photos, so if you want to see Thrifty Threads continue, please put on your favorite secondhand outfit, snap a photo, and send it to me at It's so much fun to see all your fabulous finds. So send those photos my way ASAP. And click here to check out previous installments of Thrifty Threads.

May 18, 2010

I Broke the Compact

My adorable niece turned eight last week, and one of the gifts we sent her was BRAND NEW CLOTHES! Definitely not Compact-approved, so I'm coming clean here.

Do I regret it? No way. She's wearing one of the tops in this photo, she liked it and wanted to wear it on her birthday while she opened up the rest of her gifts.

This is the first new clothing I've bought in 16 months, but I don't feel bad about it. I haven't bought anything for myself, but I'm going to stick by my Compact-lite philosophy and not beat myself up if I want to buy something new once in awhile, especially as a gift for someone I love.

I will say, though, that I didn't intentionally set out to buy her new clothes. I was looking for some pajamas for her to wear at her birthday sleepover, and I couldn't find any and thought maybe the tops would work as pajamas. But then I just decided I wanted to buy them anyway, even though she probably wouldn't wear them as pajamas. Children's pj's are in the general Compact exceptions list, I guess because they'd be too hard to find in good used condition for growing kids, and they're almost like underwear.

She really loves green these days (see the highlights in her hair? Her mom put them in for her birthday gift) and so I wanted to find something green for her. And I'm actually really happy that I found this top, she looks so cute in it.

So I'm 'fessing up about my recent non-Compact purchase. I don't feel guilty about it and I don't regret it. I'm just reporting the event. Just the facts, Jack.

Click here to see a cute photo of my niece wearing her Compact-y Christmas gift. What are your favorite Compact-y gifts for kids? Please leave your ideas in the Comments section.

May 17, 2010

Meatless Monday Recipes: Mexican edition

Meatless Monday is a nonprofit initiative aimed at encouraging people to go meatless one day a week, for their health and the health of the planet. If you haven't heard about it, click here to find out more about the campaign. If you pledge to go meatless on Mondays, you'll receive a weekly email packed with delicious recipes.

That's the secret of going meatless: having lots of terrific vegetarian alternatives. The criteria for the recipes I post here are that they be quick, easy, and delicious. Most of the time, since they're meatless, they're healthy and frugal as well. I think that's a win/win/win/win/win. Wow.

My readers came through again with some super ideas that I can't wait to try.

First, Betsy from Married with Luggage says these black bean quesadillas, which are part of the Omega diet plan for healthy hearts, are delicious. Saute one small diced onion, one grated carrot, and 1/2 cup chopped purple cabbage in a small amount of canola oil for 3 minutes. Add 2 cups cooked spinach, 3 T chopped cilantro, 1 can of drained black beans, salt to taste, 1/2 tsp. cumin, and 1/2 tsp. chili powder and cook until the spinach is wilted. Heat tortillas until crisp, add filling to each, top with 1 T cheese, and fold over. Serve with salsa.

Next, Alea from Premeditated Leftovers suggests Addictive Sweet Potato Burritos. Visit her blog to get the details. I really can't wait to try this delicious combination of sweet potatoes, beans, spices, and cheese.

Around our house, we always like to have the ingredients on hand for an impromptu taco or burrito meal. Just combine any or all of the following for a quick and tasty option: corn or flour tortillas, black or refried beans, salsa, cilantro, cheddar or swiss cheese, avocado or guacamole, peppers, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, and sour cream.

Thanks for your Mexican-inspired ideas! Readers, please share your favorite meatless recipes in the Comments section, and I'll include them in the next Meatless Monday recipes post. And click here to check out previous Meatless Monday installments for other terrific reader suggestions.

May 16, 2010

The Simple Living Network Newsletter

I'm excited and honored to be included in The Simple Living Network Newsletter again this month. The network is one of my favorite resources for living the good life, non-consumer style.

The Simple Living Network website celebrates 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." It's not about living in poverty or self-inflicted deprivation.

Duane Elgin, a leader of the voluntary simplicity movement and author of the book Voluntary Simplicity, puts it this way: "Simple living is living in way that is outwardly simple and inwardly rich."

Click here to read my contribution, "My 90% Rule."

And if you haven't checked out The Simple Living Network yet, head on over there posthaste.

May 14, 2010

Food Waste Friday plus Free Stuff

This post is very late, and it's also going to be very short.

That's our waste for the week: snap peas, mixed greens, and a mystery herb. It might be tarragon, I'm not sure. I used it a couple of times and then it went yellow. The bagged greens I bought in a moment of weakness, when I was experiencing a salad craving in between CSA deliveries. And the snap peas I just didn't get to. Shame on me.

I'm not a very good example this week, but food waste just wasn't at the top of my priority list. On the bright side, it's all compostable so I won't be sending any food to the landfill. Also, we're still generating much less trash than we were this time last year or anytime before that. And I'm very happy about that.

Why care about wasting food? Because it's bad for the environment, and not so great for your bank account either. Find out more at Wasted Food.

FREE STUFF ALERT: Click here for 5 ways to Get Free Stuff on Twitter. Yes, I said the "T" word. Even though I don't personally use Twitter, that's no reason to begrudge my readers some great deals if they partake. I'm really having a problem focusing on some important things these days, and adding Twitter to my life is NOT going to help me with that issue. It's hard for me to believe it would be anything but one more distraction, even if it turned out to be a positive one. By the way, I got that tip from Natalie, The Frugalista herself.

Are you watching your food waste? How did you do this week? Tell us about it in the Comments section.

May 13, 2010

Thrifty Threads

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

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

Today's model is Carmen, back for the third time on Thrifty Threads. Carmen loves thrifting, and when she realized this outfit was mostly secondhand, she took a photo and sent it to me. Thanks Carmen!

Carmen blogs at Life Blessons, with the tagline "The blessings and lessons of this little life of mine." Her blog offers a thoughtful examination of her life and values, including her faith, her marriage, and her future, along with the opportunity to follow her progress as she sets up house, learns to cook, and figures out clever ways to save money. I like the way she is on a journey, always learning new things and questioning her values. I really enjoyed this post called "Why we don't own a television."

This cute spring outfit is entirely thrifted except for the green tank top. The denim skirt was originally from the Gap and the clutch purse and cardigan are vintage. Carmen says that mix of old and new is one of her favorite things about thrifting. She loves incorporating some vintage pieces into her wardrobe and the character they bring to an outfit. I agree. The simple, modern tank top and denim skirt combo are brought to life by the handcrafted details in the purse and sweater.

Thanks Carmen for another great Thrifty Threads submission! It is so inspiring to see how you express your personality and individuality through your secondhand scores. Having unique pieces like this in your wardrobe allows you to create far more interesting outfits than the brand-new cookie cutter fashions found in the mall.

Readers, it's your turn! Put on your favorite secondhand outfit, snap a photo, and send it to me at We all want to see your fabulous finds, so don't be shy. Inspire us with your spring and summer fashions.

Please leave your tips and advice for thrift store shopping plus compliments for Carmen in the Comments section. And click here to check out previous installments of Thrifty Threads.

May 11, 2010

The Recycling Queen

Meet Ann Lesch. She recycles just about anything she gets her hands on. And what she creates out of what most of us would consider junk is fabulous.

Ann collects used plastic bags friends bring home from stores. She washes them, sorts them by color, and cuts them into strips. Then she crochets them into these beautiful purses, book bags, beach bags, and mats for lying out at the beach. She also passes the mats out to homeless people to give them something to help keep them dry.

Ann creates these treasures by covering boxes and containers with upholstery and drapery samples that she gets from interior decorating companies. Tons of these samples are tossed in the trash each season. Ann turns them into purses, beach bags, pillows (which she tightly stuffs with recycled plastic bags), and lovely keepsake boxes.

She collects outdated tiles from ceramic tile companies and covers old tables like this one. She also uses this technique for benches and chairs. If I had Ann's talent, I would have saved a lot of time searching for a tile table for our backyard.

Ann's husband John clearly supports her talent and resourcefulness.

Believe it or not, these beautiful containers are made from magazine pages. Ann turns them into lovely flower pots, vases, and fruit bowls.

And these creations were made with repurposed yarn from scraps and sweaters.

What an inspiration! Talk about spinning gold from straw and turning trash into treasure. Ann's projects are the ultimate in recycling: an artist working with found materials.

Ann's daughter Janice says she is so proud of her 80-year-old mother. She doesn't need a facelift to stay young. Her secret is appreciating the little things in life.

Thank you Ann, for being an inspiration to all of us! Your talent is remarkable.

Do you turn trash into treasure? Tell us about it in the Comments section.

May 10, 2010

CSA Delivery

Another delicious-looking CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) delivery today. I'm excited about the fruit, since strawberries, peaches, and apricots are some of my favorites. Celery is the only thing I could do without, but I'm sure I can use it in soup or something else. And my husband enjoys it occasionally.

This week we got (roughly clockwise from the back): cauliflower, romaine, celery, fava beans, strawberries, broccoli, cherry walnut granola bar, apricots, white peaches, artichokes, bok choy, sugar snap peas, zucchini, mint and chamomile, spring garlic, Bloomsdale spinach, and mixed baby greens.

The basic idea of CSA is bringing the Farmer's Market to you. It's worked out great for us. We're eating more fruits and vegetables and a more varied diet in general, so it's healthier. And the produce tastes much more delicious than what you usually find at the supermarket. Also, even though the $42 charge seemed a little high to me at first, our grocery budget has stayed the same or even fallen a little. I think that's because I'm buying less meat and pre-packaged items. Still, we only get this delivery once every two weeks because it's too much for us to use up every week.

If you're interested, click here to find out more about CSA and find one near you. And if you have recipe ideas or tips for anything you see in this photo, please leave your suggestions in the Comments section.

May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day

These photos are from my favorite plant, the Matilija Poppy. It grows like a weed, and hardly needs any water, just a lot of sun. Perfect for southern California.

I would never have been able to grow this beautiful plant and all the plants in our gorgeous front yard, without the help, advice, and inspiration of my mom, who is a gardening goddess. Before I dove into the project of landscaping our front yard with native and drought-tolerant choices, I was known to kill plants. Well, not exactly kill them, since it wasn't intentional. More like neglect them, and let them die. But now it's been worth all the work and added a bright spot to our lives, especially every time I come home to our cute little house.

Thanks, mom. And Happy Mother's Day. I love you very much.

And Happy Mother's Day to all the moms who read my blog.

May 7, 2010

Food Waste Friday plus Favorite blog post of the week

No picture this week, but we did have some food waste.

1. Half a container of almond milk. I'm not very good at using this up before it goes bad. I opened it for a smoothie, went out of town for a week, and then forgot about it. I need to either tell my husband to use it on his cereal, or have a smoothie for breakfast even if I'm more in the mood for yogurt and homemade granola, my current favorite.

2. About half a head of kale. I LOVE kale, and was so disappointed to see that I hadn't adequately sealed the plastic bag when I put this away so some of the leaves had turned yellow. I did manage to save enough for one of my favorite light dinners: warm kale salad.
  • Saute torn leaves in olive oil with two cloves of minced or pressed garlic until soft. Top with salt, balsamic vinegar, toasted pine nuts, and goat cheese.

3. A bit of greek salad. This was a takeout item I had enjoyed for lunch and taken the remainder home for my husband. He enjoyed it for dinner and still had some left over. He forgot to eat it the next day and the following day it was soggy. In my opinion, this says more about huge restaurant portions than our ability to avoid wasting food.

I'm determined to do better next week. I didn't buy many groceries this week and I have a new policy of only buying one "treat" or pre-packaged item per week. When we have those easy options, we often waste more. I'm also doing an informal "eat from the pantry" month to use up some staples that have been around for awhile.

If you're new here and wondering what all the fuss is about, check out Wasted Food to learn more about how food in a landfill pollutes the earth. And go to The Frugal Girl for the roundup of bloggers who are determined to limit their waste, one blogger at a time.

Favorite blog post of the week: I love this guest post by Naomi Seldin of Simpler Living about how to get rid of a particular kind of clutter - the sentimental kind. There are a lot of valuable lessons in this thoughtful piece. Although around our house, I can't imagine ever referring to a bottle of wine as "clutter." Naomi's blog is packed with tips and useful information for dealing with all kinds of other clutter as well.

May 6, 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 from Goodwill, a thrift store, a consignment shop, ebay, craiglist, a clothing swap, a yard sale, or anywhere else you find secondhand clothing.

I am very excited to have a brand new model today, Shelayna, who blogs at One Closet, One Year. Shelayna's project is to buy no new clothing, and wear only the clothes in her own closet for an entire year without repeating an outfit. That's incredible! And get this, the project was born when she was getting dressed one day and had that thought we've all had at one time or another, "I've got nothing to wear!" Well, almost immediately she realized she DID have plenty to wear, and her closet was full of treasures, but she just needed to mix it up and put things together in a new and inspired way.

She's inspired me because all week I've been digging things out that I haven't worn in years and wearing them in new combinations. Yesterday I wore the jacket from a 90s suit I hadn't been able to get rid of, and paired it with one of my favorite blouses and jeans. It was a whole new look and my husband told me I looked "elegant."

Shelayna sent me 3 different photos and it was hard to decide which one to pick but I thought this one looked the most seasonal, plus I love the umbrella. I would like to make carrying an umbrella very hip and stylish, especially in sunny climates like California, because it is so important to take care of your skin. All the ladies in Chinatown walk around with their umbrellas, but I haven't seen too many younger women doing it. But Shelayna's sporting the look, and I love it.

This ensemble is made up of a dress from Goodwill, turned down and made into a skirt, for $7.99, a white blouse from Goodwill for $5.99, and the blue sweater was free from a clothing swap. If I haven't said it recently, I am a huge fan of clothing swaps. I host one every year for some girlfriends and I have gotten some of my favorite pieces from the swap, and so have my friends. It's what has allowed me to go without buying any new clothes for almost a year and a half.

It looks like not shopping has made Shelayna more creative with her wardrobe, and that's been my experience as well. You must visit her blog to see her unique creations, it is so much fun. She's not afraid of layering, mixing patterns, wearing things backwards, or even modifying a piece that needs a little something, like when she takes this so-so dress and ties it at the bust and ends up with a much more stylish look.

Okay, readers, it's your turn. Put on your favorite secondhand outfit, snap a photo, and send it to me at We all want to see your fabulous finds, so don't be shy. Thrifty Threads has room for all shapes, sizes, and ages, and men and children are welcome as well.

Do you like to go "shopping in your closet?" Please leave us your best tips for secondhand shopping, plus compliments for Shelayna in the Comments section. And click here to check out previous installments of Thrifty Threads.

May 5, 2010

Annie Leonard: hero or communist sympathizer?

Annie Leonard's video "The Story of Stuff," was the single strongest influence on me during my first year on The Compact (I'm almost halfway through my second already).

So I was happy to see her on The Colbert Report and learn that she'd written a book of the same name. The idea that we should all be aware of where our stuff comes from and try to move toward a more sustainable model for the future seems like common sense to me. But of course, it's a big threat to those who have a lot invested in our endless pursuit of buying more and more cheaply made throwaway products. And it turns out what she's doing is much more subversive than it appears at first glance.

She's an author, environmental activist, sustainability expert, and consumerist critic. And now her critics are calling her a lot of other things. Check out this article from the Denver Post about Leonard, called "Crusading for Mindful Consumption," and let us know what you think in the Comments section. Is she a positive force or a dangerous radical whose ideas would cause our economy to crater?

And if you haven't watched "The Story of Stuff," you can watch it here. And click here to see her on The Colbert Nation if you want a laugh with your news.

May 4, 2010

Stop Those Catalogs and Junk Mail Once and For All

The following is a reprint of a previously published post, from one year ago. I thought I'd check in on my "baby step challenges" from last year and see how they're going. This post was my mid-month report on attacking junk mail, and our junk mail has decreased dramatically in the past year. This month I'll collect all the junk mail that comes in and see if I can cut it down even more. One year later, maybe I'll finally complete this challenge.

A few weeks ago, I wrote this post about May's baby steps challenge, which is to stop those catalogs and junk mail once and for all. We get WAY too many catalogs, and even before I joined The Compact, I only ordered from a fraction of the ones we receive. I'll be working on other challenges throughout the year, like using homemade cleaning supplies, composting, and air-drying laundry, but for May I'm focused on the junk mail and catalogs.

So how am I doing so far? I've already completed the first 3 items on my to-do list for the month. I'll go through them one at a time.

1. Sign up for Catalog Choice. DONE. Finally. I should have done this years ago when I first heard about it. But better late than never. This took maybe 30 minutes. I was surprised that I had to check catalogs one at a time. There's no way to simply say "no catalogs." But I tried to check as many as I could think of that we receive. Hopefully we'll see the results of this within a few months. Incidentally, if you're afraid you'll feel remorse about no longer receiving the Pottery Barn catalog or suddenly get an urge to peruse through Harry & David's mouthwatering photos, you can always go to the site and ask to resume service from that vendor.

2. Put my name on Forest Ethic's Do Not Mail List. DONE. This was actually a petition to create a "Do Not Mail" list similar to the "Do Not Call" list. Then they sent me a thank you for signing the petition and at that point I put my name on a list to stop receiving junk mail. This one probably took only about ten minutes.

3. Go to and "opt out" of all credit card offers. DONE. This one only took about five minutes.

That just leaves item #4, which is: Every time I get a catalog or piece of junk mail, set it aside and call the toll-free number and ask to be put on their "Do Not Mail" list. NOT DONE YET. I did start setting the catalogs and junk mail aside, and two week's worth is what makes up the photo at the top of this post. That's a LOT of junk mail. A total of three credit card offers and nine catalogs.

So I've done 3 out of 4 tasks, and I'll work on making those calls this week. I haven't seen a difference yet from completing the first three, but it might take a few months.

Have you taken the challenge to stop catalogs and junk mail once and for all? Do you want to start now? It's easy! Please leave your ideas, tips, and questions in the Comments section. And let me know if you're in!

May 3, 2010

Meatless Monday: Broccoli/Potato Soup

Meatless Monday is a nonprofit initiative that encourages people to go meatless one day a week. It's good for the environment, good for your health, and good for your wallet: a perfect win/win/win.

Here's just one statistic about the impact of going meatless: if everyone went vegetarian for just ONE DAY, the United States would save 100 billion gallons of water. If you can't wrap your head around that number, it's enough to supply all the homes in New England for four months.

Click here to find out more about the Meatless Monday campaign. When you pledge to go meatless on Mondays, you'll receive a weekly email full of delicious recipes. To me, that's the heart of going without meat: having so many delicious alternatives that you don't feel deprived.

Today I want to share an easy new recipe I got from a good friend. I've been making it a lot lately, because it's so simple and delicious. Plus, it only uses a few ingredients.


2 leeks
1 lb. peeled and cubed potatoes
1 lb. broccoli florets
2 16 oz. cans broth
2 tsp. dill
salt and pepper

Slice leeks and saute in olive oil until translucent, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add potatoes and saute a few more minutes. Add broccoli, dill, and broth, and season with salt and lots of black pepper.

Cook in a pressure cooker for 6 minutes, or in a regular pot on medium high for about 25 minutes, until broccoli is soft and falling apart. Puree in a blender or with an immersion mixer until smooth, but not too long or the potato will become gluey. Add broth or water as needed for consistency.

Delicious as a first course or with fresh bread as a light dinner.

This soup reminds me of something they would serve at the elegant French restaurant in our neighborhood. It's perfect any time of year.

Please share your favorite meatless recipes in the Comments section, and I'll include them in the next Meatless Monday recipes post. And click here to check out previous Meatless Monday installments for lots of fantastic reader suggestions.