June 30, 2010

Results of June challenge #2: Walk every day

Okay, it's time to walk the walk.

I was amused when I reread this morning's post about how I did (not so great) with the June Food Stamp Challenge, and saw that I said I would write about my other June challenge, to "talk a walk every single day" in a later post. I didn't have time to proofread that post, and obviously meant "take a walk every single day."

But it was an interesting slip. It's easy to "talk the talk," whether the discussion is about non-consumerism, green living, cutting the grocery budget to what you would get on food stamps, taking a walk every day, or just about anything you can think of. The question is: can you walk the walk?

I challenged myself to walk every single day for 30 days, not because I'm normally a couch potato or because I want to lose weight. I did it as an experiment to see how it would make me feel. I love to walk, for so many reasons it would comprise an entire post, and need no excuse to get out there and get my feet moving.

Naturally, as soon as I posted the challenge on my blog, I was called to a job for three weeks, making it much harder to successfully complete the challenge. If I have to walk after work, it's less likely to happen than if I'm working from home and schedule it into my day. I might be too tired to walk, or get home so late that it's already dark and my husband doesn't want to go with me, or I might have plans right after work that leave me no time for a walk. Those three things did in fact happen, but I'm happy to report I still managed to take a walk the other 27 days.

So how do I feel? I don't notice any difference in how I feel, probably because I normally walk almost every day anyway. But I did learn something very important. I learned that when you put your focus on something, and plan your schedule around making sure that it happens, it does happen. Because you make sure of it. Because you care about it. Because it's a commitment you make to yourself.

So even though I didn't walk 3 days out of the month, if I hadn't made the commitment to walk every single day, there would have been many more evenings when I wouldn't have walked because I was too tired or I didn't feel like it. Some nights I might have thought I'd rather have a glass of wine instead. But every time I took a walk this month, sometimes just because I'd said I would, I was glad I did.

And THAT proves to me that whatever it is that you focus on, you'll make sure it happens. That's how people run marathons, write books, start businesses. Anything that you don't feel like doing some days, or that overwhelms you on others, or that you think maybe you were crazy to think you wanted, you can do if you make a commitment to do it every single day. It's about caring about your commitment more than your day-to-day feelings and moods. It's about making it a habit, a routine that you incorporate into your everyday life.

Of course your goal must have some basis in reality. You can assume I'm not talking about wanting to be an Olympic medalist in your 40s (wait, didn't Dara Torres do that?) Let me think of a better example: it might not be realistic to think you can still graduate from college if you've been around since the invention of radio (okay, Nola Ochs did it at 95). But unless you're Steve Martin or Alec Baldwin, they're not going to let you host SNL when you're almost 90, are they? Ladies and gentleman, let's hear it for the rockin' Ms. Betty White.... I think you get my point.

Look for more "every day" challenges coming up: meditation, yoga, writing. But I think I'll give myself a break for July. It's summer after all, and I can hear my husband making margaritas in the other room. He's already got the guacamole ready, so I'd better go now.

Did you join the June Food Stamp Challenge or my "Take a Walk Every Day" challenge? Did you take another challenge, or maybe you challenged yourself to give yourself a break? Please tell us about it in the Comments section.

The Day of Reckoning: Results of the June Food Stamp Challenge

It's the last day of the June Food Stamp Challenge, issued by Katy at the Non-Consumer Advocate, and it couldn't have come one day sooner! Boy, am I sick of thinking about food and prices and grocery shopping. I haven't been so focused on it since I was literally almost starving 20 years ago in Manhattan, when I earned $1200 and paid $650 for rent. And that was part of the point, to illustrate how difficult it is to eat well on a very tight budget. It's easy to make poor and/or inconsistent choices.

The challenge was to try to feed your family on the amount you would receive in food stamps if you were eligible. My husband and I have been doing fine with a monthly budget of $323, which I set for myself over a year ago when I read this post at The Crunchy Chicken. Her Sustainable Food Budget Challenge was to try to eat local and organic on the monthly household maximum allotment, and we haven't usually had much trouble doing it. The problem is, the rules vary by state, and depending on your income (or lack thereof), it's difficult to calculate the exact amount you would receive. Katy used what she determined to be an average of $101 per person, and so our challenge was to stick to a budget of $202 for the month.

I knew it would be difficult with our CSA delivery knocking $92 off the budget right off the bat ($46 per biweekly delivery). That left $110 for the entire rest of the month. I'm actually amazed we got anywhere close to that. Our total grocery bill for June was... drumroll, please...$235!! And let me be clear, that amount is for food, from the CSA, a grocery store, etc. It doesn't include toiletries, paper products, or alcohol. And it doesn't include eating out.

In normal times, I would be ecstatic with that amount. I didn't really even entertain the idea that we would be able to come in under $202. But amazingly, many people who took the challenge are on target to succeed. A lot of them have blogged more regularly, and more provocatively than I have this month. Click here to check out Julia's consistently relevant posts about the issue all through the month, at her blog The Modern Muse.

I could write about all the reasons we failed, namely because I was working away from home practically the entire month, so had much less time to plan and cook than I might have. What's interesting to me is that we could even come close, while receiving a CSA delivery and buying organic milk and yogurt, and even organic chicken a couple of times. What I noticed is that the first thing cut from the budget is snacks. I don't mind baking more, but I'll be glad to get back to our regular $323 budget next month. Now it sounds like a lot to me!

Incidentally, my husband didn't even know we were doing this challenge, because he's already a little impatient with my food waste/composting schemes, and so I was afraid he would be skeptical and feel deprived no matter what I bought or cooked. And truth be told, he did run out for his beloved Trader Joe's snacks a couple of times, so our $235 total is probably closer to about $265. Or maybe even higher. Big fat failure. Oh well. The biggest thing I've learned is that I'm glad I'm not still almost starving in New York, and really glad we're not on Food Stamps. The next time you see someone in line using food stamps, don't judge them. Give them a break and assume they're going through a hard time and even with the stamps are still hungry. Because they probably are. And be grateful if you don't need them.

Did you take the Food Stamp Challenge? How did you do? Tell us about it in the Comments section. And feel free to weigh in with your thoughts even if you didn't take the challenge.

I'll let you know how I did with my other challenge for June - take a walk every single day - later today.

June 28, 2010

CSA Delivery: Can you say tomatoes?

What a sight for sore eyes for my tomato-starved, tomato-loving husband, who just yesterday wrote "tomatoes!!!" on our shopping list.

The abundance of fruit is incredible. Summer has arrived!

This delivery makes me very happy. Here's what we got, roughly clockwise from the back: red lettuce, elephant garlic, rainbow swiss chard, yellow beans, Tuscany melon, strawberries, summer squash, ronde nice squash, heirloom tomatoes, carrots, rich lady yellow peaches, sweet fire apricots, yellow donut peaches, majestic pearl white nectarines, cherry tomatoes, yellow bell pepper, and burgundy spring onions. There was also the customary treat, this time two bars of delicious-looking chocolate-dipped shortbread. I'm trying to save that for dessert.

The way our delivery service, Auntie Em's, works is like this: the owner has developed relationships with the local farmers at the farmer's markets in the area from years of running a restaurant. Every weekend she visits five different markets and picks out the best of the best from what they've got to offer. I'm thrilled with our CSA, but they're all set up a little different, so if you want to find out about one near you, check out Local Harvest to get the details.

Tonight we'll enjoy the heavenly Heirloom Tomato Tart in Parmesan Crust with a simple green salad. My husband will be satisfying his tomato cravings for the next few days. And as for me, I'll spend a good part of the week with peach juice dripping down my chin.

Happy Monday! Do you shop at Farmer's Markets? Do you have CSA in your area? Please leave your tips and ideas for shopping and recipes for anything you see in the photo in the Comments.

June 25, 2010

Food Waste Friday plus Favorite Blog Post of the Week

Okay, first things first. The reason there's no food waste photo isn't because we had a zero waste week, and it's not because I didn't take a photo or even because I didn't feel like posting a photo of rotten food. It's because I didn't even have time to clean out the refrigerator or figure out what our food waste was.

I've been working away from home more than usual and have had little time to cook or keep track of leftovers. My husband has been largely on his own and mostly doing fine, but I know for certain there is at the very least some much-less-than-crisp lettuce in the crisper that he has complained to me about. I haven't even had time to move it to the compost bin, which is solely my job, because my husband will put up with my food waste/compost bin shenanigans only so far, which has been indicated to me by raised eyebrows and veiled complaints in his questions about the food scraps that seem to perpetually litter our counters and back deck on their way to the compost bin. I can't throw any of that in the trash anymore! But asking him to take the step of actually putting stuff in the bin might be the straw that breaks my patient husband's back. So I continue with my possibly whimsical hobbies at my own peril. They do sometimes seem whimsical when I witness neighbors who fill entire dumpsters with the excess debris of their lives and workplaces that waste in one day what I couldn't begin to go through in a lifetime. But we food waste soldiers continue the fight...

So, we have waste, but I'm not sure what or how much it is. I'll be back in the swing by next Friday. Check out The Frugal Girl to see how she and other bloggers did with the challenge of wasting less food this week.

FAVORITE BLOG POST OF THE WEEK: I couldn't decide between two different posts this week, both from the same blog! Alea at Premeditated Leftovers is on a roll, and this post about why they rent rather than own is not only practical and useful, it's hysterical. While you're there, check out this post with a recipe for what she calls Mother Hubbard Cookies, because they're what she bakes when the cupboard is bare. I can't wait to try the 3-ingredient recipe for Peanut Butter cookies, which look delicious and take just minutes to whip up. Thanks Alea!

Are you watching your food waste? How did you do this week? Please leave your questions, tips, and advice in the Comments section.

June 24, 2010

Thrifty Threads Redux

I just found another Thrifty Threads submission in my spam folder, after finding three last month. I don't regularly check my spam, so it makes me heartsick to think of all the submissions that may have been lost.

If you sent me a photo for Thrifty Threads and I didn't use it, please send it again. I will use any submission that isn't obscene or illegible, and I can't remember not using any so far.

I would hate for anyone to think I rejected their photo, and I hope that hasn't happened.

If you send in a Thrifty Threads submission, please put Thrifty Threads in the subject line, and I'll let you know within a week that I received your email. Otherwise, I never got it.

Thanks so much.

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, ebay, craigslist, a yard sale, a friend's closet, or anywhere else you find secondhand clothing.

Today's model is Stephanie, a friend of mine who's been featured many times on Thrifty Threads. This entire outfit is thrifted: the dress was just $4.98, the purse was $1.99, and the belt was just 99 cents! Wow.

Stephanie's blog Those Tricks is all about thrifty fashion. She's beome quite the secondhand fashionista since I knew her several years back in her jeans-and-Tshirt incarnation. Each post highlights a new secondhand outfit with details and price, so it's kind of like Thrifty Threads every day with the same model. She finds really cute clothes at the Dallas and Austin thrift stores she visits.

Stephanie has been resale shopping so much, in fact, that she's set up an online store with some of her excess thrifty fashion. You can check it out at My Trick Your Trick. I just looked at her "merchandise" and saw a really gorgeous purse. I have a weakness for purses and own a bit of a collection, but at the same time I'm the type of person who uses one purse all summer and one all winter, only occasionally grabbing a different choice for a special occasion. So I really don't need any more purses! But you should check it out if you're in the market for a purse and don't want to pay Prada prices.

Stephanie is always up to something interesting, and she recently joined the online creative team at Neiman Marcus as a Web Producer. Congratulations Stephanie! Since Neiman Marcus has always been on the cutting edge of fashion, she'll be in her element working with all those gorgeous clothes. It will be interesting to see if she keeps up her thrifty ways while working at the high-end department store. Hmmm, that sounds like a good premise for a blog... the double life of Stephanie: high-end department store employee by day, thrift store shopper by night.

Thanks Stephanie for being such an inspiration with your thrifty fashion finds. Readers, it's your turn. Put on your favorite secondhand outfit, snap a photo, and send it to me at barton.angela@gmail.com. Don't be shy, we all love to see your thrift store scores, and I always need more photographs. I'm still waiting for a male model and I'd love to get more cute sundresses because we're all ready for the lazy days of summer.

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

June 22, 2010

Tale of Two Water Bottles

I finally broke down and bought a brand-new Klean Kanteen water bottle, replacing the giveaway bottle I'd been putting up with for far too long.

I know some Compacters are so cool they manage to find stuff like pristine-with-the-tags-still-on Sigg water bottles at Goodwill for like 2 cents, but I am not that cool. And I was determined it was past time to be both green and healthy by using a stainless steel water bottle.

After carrying that bottle on the right around for about a year, my husband finally convinced me to fork out the $22 (!!) to buy the pretty green bottle from REI. He was sick and tired of seeing me deal with the various eccentricities of the giveaway bottle, namely that it leaked and spilled out large amounts of water every time I used it. It's amazing what I'll adapt to if necessary. But clearly this wasn't necessary.

The question now is: what to do with the old bottle? I was going to give it to Goodwill but my husband says I shouldn't subject anyone else to dealing with it. I hate to send it to a landfill, and hold out hope that maybe someone will be able to fix it or use it in some way. Is it tacky to give what most people would consider trash to Goodwill? Or is it possible that someone will get some use out of this thing?

Readers, what do you think? There are some things I wouldn't give to the Goodwill, like used slippers or undergarments or permanently stained clothing. But what about a less-than-functional water bottle? I need your advice. Please leave your thoughts in the Comments section.

June 21, 2010

Meatless Monday recipes: Puttanesca sauce

It's been over a year since we've been going meatless on Monday, and I have barely made a dent in the delicious meatless recipes I've gotten on the Meatless Monday website and from my readers. Going meatless just one day a week is great for your health and the environment. And as an added bonus, it will probably save you money as well.

This week, I thought I'd tell you about one of our favorite staples. It's easy and uses only a few ingredients that you can keep in the pantry. My husband loves this dish, and often cooks it himself.


olive oil (optional)
1 large can tomatoes
pitted and chopped kalamata olives
3 or 4 cloves of garlic

In a large pan, saute tomatoes in a little bit of olive oil in their own juice. You can use chopped tomatoes, or if they're whole you'll want to chop them so they don't take as long to cook down. The olive oil is good for you, but optional. Cook on medium heat for 15-2o minutes, stirring occasionally. Put garlic through a presser and add to the tomatoes and continue cooking. When the sauce starts to thicken, add about 1/3 of a small jar of capers and about half a can or jar of pitted and chopped kalamata olives and cook another 10 minutes or so. Trader Joe's sells pitted kalamata olives, which saves a lot of time. Although you can also be pitting them while the sauce is cooking.

The key is to cook long enough for the sauce to thicken and get flavorful. You have to keep an eye on it to stir occasionally, but there isn't much danger of it burning if you keep the heat on medium.

Serve over any kind of pasta or polenta and a side salad. Our favorite with this sauce is angel hair pasta.

The name "puttanesca" comes from the root "puta" which is Italian for prostitute. The dish got it's name because it's cheap and easy. It traditionally includes anchovies, but this is my vegetarian version I've been cooking for almost 20 years.

Do you go meatless on Mondays? Please share your favorite simple meatless meals and I'll include them as part of the next Meatless Mondays post. Click here to check out all the previous meatless monday recipe posts.

June 19, 2010

Goodbye to lim(b)

My friend Danielle, creator of the excellent blog Less is More Balanced, is hanging up her blogging hat to focus on other writing projects, but the blog link will remain active indefinitely. I'm leaving it up on my sidebar because it's one of my favorite resources for organic and green issues, projects, and inspiration.

So if you have a question like:

1) Where can I recycle my cosmetics containers?

2) Is it possible to go car-free in Los Angeles? or

3) Where can I find sustainable seeds?

Check out lim(b). And those are just a few examples from an archive jampacked with useful information.

Some of my personal favorites:

Life on a scooter

Groovy green goings on in my community

Demanding Organic

lim(b) Project #22: Keepsake Box

lim(b) Project #19: Healthy, Healing Eco-Bedroom

Buy Something Beautiful, Build a Nest

Alternative Gift Ideas for Simple Greenies

Heirloom Design

So if you've got a green project in mind, are trying to simplify your life, switch to organic, or looking for sustainable options, check out lim(b) and you might just find exactly what you're looking for. It's happened to me more than once.

What are your favorite simple living/green blogs? Please tell us in the Comments section.

June 18, 2010

Food Waste Friday Plus Favorite Blog Post of the Week

I took a picture of our food waste, but I just don't have the heart to post it. I simply can't make myself replace those gorgeous wedding photos with pictures of rotten food. I'm still down with the cause of watching our food waste (it would be hard to go back), but I'm losing the energy to report on it and post photos.

This week we had about half a portion of some delicious saurkraut that we took home from a party. I ate three helpings in two days before deciding I needed to stop in order to watch my waistline, and then my husband ate a lot before he got sick for a few days. And by that time it was too old to risk eating. We also had a handful of almonds from a snack pak that I bought literally a couple of years ago and don't know why I never opened. I'm okay with my decision not to eat something really fattening just so it won't go to waste. That happened once before with some so-so baked goods. Not worth the calories.

Wasting food is bad for the environment, and not so great for your bank account either. Go to The Frugal Girl for the blogger roundup of participants who are committed to wasting less.

FAVORITE BLOG POST OF THE WEEK: This post on Married With Luggage that peeks into the journal of a couple who embarked on an eight month honeymoon trip in 1837 is creative, whimsical, and well-written. It perfectly captures the spirit of long-term travel, and the romance and the lure of hitting the road. And the lessons gleaned from it are just as relevant in 2010. I know I mention Betsy from MWL all the time, but this post was written by her husband Warren. While you're there, you might as well stay and read Betsy's latest post as well. I highly recommend a dose of MWL with your coffee in the morning. It never fails to get me revved up to tackle a project. A trip around the world? Sounds great! A marathon? No problem! Living out your wildest dreams? Why not? Betsy and Warren will show you the road map.

And finally, in keeping with the wedding theme this week, I'd like to point out two posts from The Frugal Girl. This one includes irresistible photos of her darling daughters, and this one is a Q & A that shares some frugal wedding tips. I love Kristen's advice about what's important: "And lastly, I’d add that what matters most is not the amount of effort you put into your wedding, but the amount of effort you put into your marriage. It seems like a lot of people get those two things flip-flopped."

Are you watching your food waste? Share your trials and successes in the Comments section.

June 17, 2010

Thrifty Threads: Wedding Edition

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

Today's model is Melanie, with this beautiful photo of her wedding dress from her wedding last December in New Zealand. Not only is it lovely, it's about as Compact-y as you can get, because it's both thrifted and handmade. The fabric is a secondhand Broderie anglais duvet cover and net curtains. The total fabric cost was NZ$60 and she paid NZ$180 to have it made, for a total of NZ$240. That's just $160 in US dollars! Amazing. Just the sort of creativity, resourcefulness, and ingenuity we love on Thrifty Threads.

Melanie and her husband Anu had a lovely frugal wedding, recycling wherever possible, and with 50 guests their total cost was about $2100. She says it was the most wonderful day of her life, there was no stress, and it was just perfect! A New Zealand magazine is even doing a story about their "recycled wedding." There was no charge for the photos because her sister-in-law was the official wedding photographer.

I think one of my favorite things about this wedding is that the groom is barefoot! It must be my hippie roots: every one of the weddings I loved as a kid back in the 1970s was outdoors.

What a stunning photo of her father walking her down the "aisle."

Melanie is a full time student of Naturopathy and herbal medicine in New Zealand. Her blog Lavender Loveliness shows the things she makes out of old items to save the environment and save money, for example a cushion cover made out of an old jersey and a t-shirt, herbs and their medicinal uses, and lots of baking. I can't wait to try some of her recipes, the only problem is deciding which one to try first. Will it be chocolate peanut butter delectables or peanut butter chocolate crunch? She even makes her own peanut butter! And bagels! Today's post includes photos of an absolutely beautiful "Hummingbird Cake" she has baked for their flatmate. I think Melanie is my new idol!

And one more photo of Melanie, just because it's so gorgeous...

Thanks Melanie for those fabulous photographs! Your wedding looks perfect, and the dress is lovely. And what an inspiration that it was all done for a fraction of the cost of the average wedding.

Readers, it's your turn. I always need more photos, so put on your favorite secondhand outfit, snap a photo, and send it to me at barton.angela@gmail.com. We all want to see your thrift store scores! Please leave your thrifting tips and compliments for Melanie in the Comments section. And click here to check out previous installments of Thrifty Threads.

June 16, 2010

How To Plan A Frugal Wedding Without the Stress Factor

The following is a guest post by Timothy, a personal finance writer and blogger for Balance Transfer Card. I'll continue the wedding theme tomorrow on Thrifty Threads, with a bride whose wedding dress was thrifted.

Frugal weddings are all the rage now. More and more brides and grooms are subscribing to the idea that their biggest day in life should be one to enjoy - and not remember with remorse because the in-laws were arguing about something insignificant.

Common problem - major stress and tears

Weddings need not be a stressful affair. A wedding is about commitment and love, and it should be enjoyed by the bride and groom. Sadly, too many weddings turn sour because they become blown-out-of-proportion events for hundreds of people, leaving the lovebirds in tears by the end of the day. This isn’t exactly how you'd imagine your wedding day to turn out, is it?

Solution - go frugal

A frugal wedding can be a lot more fun than the traditional affair because it is usually more intimate and toned down, therefore more enjoyable by those who attend. Frugal doesn't necessarily mean you have to skimp on every luxury; you could decide to invite fewer people but make it an event to remember by spoiling everyone to your heart's content.

On the contrary, wedding vows can also be exchanged if you are budget-conscious while still keeping the fun factor high. Below are some tips and suggestions to help you do just that.

The venue

The venue is perhaps one of the most important aspects of a successful wedding. If the venue is too flash, your budget could take a brutal nose dive. If you don't want to eat bread and butter for the next 12 months you might want to consider a somewhat more affordable venue to celebrate with your guests. Don’t overlook friends or family with homes or backyards they might be willing to share.

The dress

Who needs an Armani wedding dress that is only ever worn once? If you want to go frugal, think vintage dress. They are easily repurposed by a whiz with a sewing machine and can save you hundreds of dollars in the process.

Wedding invitation

A great way to go frugal is right from the start - make your own affordable wedding invitations. Think scrapbooking mementos, homemade cards, etc. There is so much one can do with a bit of paper, pen and imagination. Try it!


Instead of having your guests pig out on a sumptuous buffet that only goes to waste, why not consider a sit-down dinner instead? You'd be surprised how many food is wasted on buffet style dinners.Sit-down dinner menus are much nicer anyway because you get to enjoy your guests one-on-one without them having to fetch food from the buffet every 15 minutes.


Cut down on the cost of hiring a photographer by booking one for a couple of hours only instead of the whole day. Present your wedding attendees with disposable cameras to grab some more fun moments while keeping the cost low. You will most likely end up with some wonderful pictures seen through the eyes of your guests.

If all else fails - elope

Eloping is a common trend for frugal couples. You can save thousands by eloping to a tropical island paradise with a couple of your closest friends. Then upon returning as a married couple, you simply throw a party for the family and start the celebration.

It's your day - make the most of it!

Readers, feel free to leave YOUR best frugal wedding ideas in the Comments section.

June 15, 2010

Update on last year's baby steps challenge: air dry laundry

Last June, I wrote this post about my baby steps challenge for the month: air dry the laundry. Two weeks later, when I wrote this update, I was convinced the habit would become part of my daily life.

Things didn't quite go as planned...

I faithfully hung our laundry out to dry for about three or four months, until the first "exception" sent me back to the dryer. I think it was getting ready for a vacation, or doing several loads of laundry after the vacation. And I never quite got back in the habit of air drying after that.

You see, we had a really rainy winter. But that's a lame excuse, because my friend Katy at The Non-Consumer Advocate lives in Portland where it rains about a gazillion inches of rain per year, and she's the Queen of Air Drying.

My husband had bought a really nice new dryer that saves on energy, so I didn't feel nearly so bad about throwing clothes in there as I did our 1970s relic that could power a medium-sized suburban mall.

When my husband did the laundry, I couldn't convince him to use the clothesline, and he often does the laundry.

You can see I had an excuse for every occasion. But when I really looked at what was going on, I realized a very simple fact: it actually does not work well with our schedule and house design.

Sometimes I work at home, and sometimes I work away from home. On the days I'm away, I can't put a load of laundry into the washer because the laundry room is directly below our bedroom and my husband is often still sleeping. And even when I'm home, I can't necessarily time things perfectly to get a load in early enough. It's terribly inefficient and expensive to run the washer during the day, so we end up doing laundry at night. And short of my husband suddenly turning into an early bird, I don't see this pattern changing.

So I give myself a big fat "D" on this baby steps challenge. I hope I was able to inspire someone else to pick up the habit I couldn't stick with myself. I don't get an "F" because hey, at least I tried. And I still do a lot of my favorite and delicate items by hand and hang them up or lay them out in the house.

Please leave your thoughts on air drying laundry in the Comments section. And if you need a laugh, click here to watch Stephen Colbert's "news story" about a woman who scandalized her neighborhood by, you guessed it, air drying her laundry! Gasp.

June 14, 2010

It's Meatless Monday

Check out my Meatless Monday post over at The Non-Consumer Advocate!

Katy is hosting a Food Stamp Challenge this month, and my post is all about how meatless meals can save you money. Going meatless on Monday will not only help you meet the challenge, it will cut your grocery bill year-round.

The bonus is that it's great for your health and better for the environment. Find out more at Meatless Monday.

Have you pledged to go meatless on Mondays? Are you doing the Food Stamp Challenge? Let us know how you're doing and feel free to leave your tips and advice in the Comments section.

June 11, 2010

Food Waste Friday plus Favorite Blog Post of the Week

No picture, no food waste. A little boring visually, but I'm happy about it.

I'm especially pleased because last night I expected to come home to several items that were about to end up in a photo, only to find my husband had eaten every one of them! I know I brag on him an awful lot, but he deserves it. And his skills go way beyond not wasting food, but he sure is a champ in that area. Much better than I am.

For those of you who are new to this blog, I wrote this post called Refrigerator Games over a year ago when I was first becoming conscious of how much food we throw away. All I did was create a section in our refrigerator with a label that says "Eat Me!" and I put all the food that needs to be eaten soon in that section. My husband goes to it for snacks and lunches, and the system works out well because not only do we use up almost all of our food, but he knows where to look for it. It focuses his energy.

Here are some of the items I was concerned about:

*Leftover veggie curry. I had eaten it twice already, so I froze the last of it to eat later when we're not already sick of it.

*Cooked snap peas. We had these in the refrigerator almost two weeks before I finally cooked them and then they were too stringy and bitter for me. My husband actually shelled them and ate the peas inside!

*A small amount of cooked black beans. Eaten by my husband along with the peas.

We've got a lot of lettuce in the crisper, so we'll have to concentrate on that to make sure it doesn't end up in next week's photo. And since we had our CSA delivery this week, I did a light shopping trip just to stock up on a few essentials and baking ingredients.

Check out Wasted Food to find out more about how wasting food is bad for the environment, and head over to The Frugal Girl for the roundup of bloggers trying to limit their food waste, one family at a time. You're guaranteed to see pictures there!

FAVORITE BLOG POST OF THE WEEK: I love this post by Debb Whitlock called Balance is Bull****! Debb writes a blog offering financial advice for women. Her philosophy is that you deserve access to financial information regardless of the size of your investment portfolio. This post about the illusion of balance really hit home for me. Many of us are trying to bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan plus all that stuff about not letting him forget he's a man, and it just doesn't always work like that. Check it out, it's very empowering!

June 10, 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, a friend's closet, or anywhere else you find used clothing.

Today's model is Nydia, who bought this cute summer dress for $4 at Goodwill. She looks great in that color! Nydia says she found it a couple weeks ago when she went in specifically looking for sun dresses. She bought the necklace for just 50 cents at a yard sale and the flip flops she got from a friend who lets her go through her daughter's outgrown clothing. She has super small feet, so she was able to score those for $1.

Nydia says she regularly shops at thrift stores and yard sales to save money, and it's become a hobby she's known for. I love her creative style of thrift shopping: this outfit was put together from an eclectic mix of used clothing venues. She's all ready for an outdoor summer party for just $5.50!

Nydia blogs at Zero House Payment Forever. She and her husband have been inspired by Dave Ramsey's The Total Money Makeover to pay off 60K worth of debt and pay cash to buy or build their dream home. Wow! Nydia describes her blog as a place to vent her frustrations about saving while everyone around her is spending, as well as a place to hold her accountable to their goals. She also hopes that some of her crazy money saving tactics might help someone else. They're doing some serious saving over there, you should check it out.

Thanks Nydia for that cute photo, and for inspiring the rest of us to pay off our debt, plus go shopping for summer frocks! Or shorts, if you're one of my handful of male readers or a woman who isn't the frock type. 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 all want to see your fabulous finds, so don't be shy! Please leave your best thrift store shopping tips and compliments for Nydia in the Comments section.

June 9, 2010

June challenge update

It's Day Nine of the challenge I set for myself for June: to take a walk every day. Click here if you didn't read that post.

I have managed to take a walk every day so far, even when I had to do it instead of the gym, or in addition to yoga. I love taking walks, so it hasn't been a burden, but a couple of times the scheduling took a bit of creativity. Like when it was already dark and my husband didn't feel like walking, so I told him to come looking for me if I wasn't back in half an hour. I'm not above an occasional manipulation, or appeal to his protective instinct. Because I really wanted to take a walk, and it was just a little past the time when it's safe to take a walk when you're a person of the female gender. I hate that fact, but it's just the truth. Anyway, my husband agreed to walk with me, and I don't think he felt at all manipulated. And we were both glad we got some exercise. Oh, and we just happened to see a coyote run by just a few feet away from us! I'm not really afraid of coyotes, but I would have been spooked coming upon one at night while walking alone.

What I've noticed and what has been useful about this challenge is how it's possible to make time for something in your schedule as soon as you make it a priority. You can almost always find a half hour or hour in the day if it's something that really matters to you, even if you're already feeling overwhelmed. I need to remember that, and make time for things that are important to me, but not urgent, like writing fiction. No one cares if I work on my short stories, so they're not urgent. But they're very important to me. Look for more 30-day challenges in the future: yoga, meditation, and fiction writing.

As far as the Food Stamp Challenge, that's going to be a lot more difficult. Spending $90 a month for delicious local, organic produce is worth it to me, but it doesn't leave much room for error with a budget of $202. I made a list of favorites I can make from pantry staples, but I already spent $53 last week and I don't know how I'll manage to spend just $59 for the entire rest of the month. But I'm still going to try, as long as I don't have to sacrifice our health. I spent $6 on a gallon of organic milk to make yogurt, so I won't need to buy yogurt the rest of the month. And I made rye bread, and I plan on making at least one more yeast bread, so I won't have to buy bread either. The budget breaker, if there is one, is going to be cheese. The suspense mounts...

If you're joining me in either of these challenges, how is it going so far? Let us know in the Comments section.

June 8, 2010

Thanks for your anniversary gift ideas!

Thank you readers! When I asked for ideas, as always, you delivered. Armed with your suggestions, I created this fabulous basket for my friend's parents' 50th anniversary.

I loved all your ideas so much that I wish I could have included all of them. I decided to go with baked goods and consumables, so I started with some dark German rye bread and Pfefferneuse (German spice cookies). I had never baked either one before, but they both came out delicious. The basket was sitting in a coworker's office since the holidays, and he was happy to let me take it off his hands. Then I picked up some strong coffee, marmalade, and sour cherry jam at World Market for about $10. I was able to incorporate the gold from the "golden anniversary" with the basket and the envelope for the card.

The gift was a big hit, and I was happy I was able to stay on The Compact. It took a bit more time and effort than just throwing down the money, but I love to bake, so that's okay. Although I advise starting yeast bread before 9pm if you want to get to bed before 2:00 in the morning.

Thanks again for your brilliant suggestions. Another event successfully navigated. I really think these "Compact-approved" gifts are the best gifts of all. When I think about my favorite gifts I've received over the years, they have all been Compact-friendly. Look for that post in the future. Meanwhile, what are some of the best gifts you've ever received? Please share in the Comments section.

June 7, 2010

CSA Delivery sans photo (sorry!)

It's Monday, which means I do a CSA delivery post every other week when we get our biweekly delivery. But today I'm leaving before the delivery arrives, and I won't be home until 8pm, so there's no way I can take a photo of the delicious local organic produce we receive. So I'll have to rely on my husband to put it away, and just tell you what we're supposed to get.

The most exciting thing is that we'll be receiving tomatoes. Yesterday my husband asked me why we can't buy the tomatoes at the store. He's a real tomato lover, and I'm glad I was able to tell him that we're scheduled to get them today. So we're really looking forward to some delicious heirloom tomatoes. We'll also be receiving: artichokes, nante carrots, green romaine, golden beets, red russian kale, rainer cherries, white nectarines, yellow peaches, albion strawberries, leeks, red onions, garlic, german butterball potatoes, and baby red spinach.

That sounds amazing! I can't wait to get home and check it out. I'm psyched about all the stone fruit and the strawberries.

I know a CSA post without a photo is a little lame, so I apologize. I promise a return to the CSA photos in two weeks, and next Monday I'll have a Meatless Monday recipes post. You can click here to check out previous CSA posts if you've just got to see a photo of delicious local produce.

If you're interested in finding out more about receiving a delivery of local organic produce, check out Local Harvest. You can also find CSA in your area there.

Even if you don't belong to a CSA, it's Farmer's Market time and it's worth going to stock up on all the delicious summer fruit and vegetables. Do you shop at a Farmer's Market? Do you get a CSA delivery? Let us know in the Comments section. And please leave your ideas on what to do with any of the produce we're getting in our delivery today. Any creative ways to cook carrots? I'm a little tired of them, and mostly using them in soups and curries lately.

June 4, 2010

Food Waste Friday plus Free Stuff

We had an ALMOST zero waste week, but when I pulled out the last tortilla in the package and saw there was a bit of mold on it, it wasn't worth eating. Especially since I'd already bought another package. I didn't have time to take a photo while I was making dinner.

It's funny, no matter how much I cut back on the amount of groceries I buy, we still seem to have a bit too much. My husband eats a lot of sandwich wraps and we eat a lot of quesadillas and burritos, but we didn't manage to go through a pack of about 12 tortillas while they were still fresh.

I thought I was also going to have to toss half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich left over from my weekend hike, but my husband ate it two days later after I'd left it out on the counter and forgotten about it. I'm so lucky to have a husband who doesn't mind eating leftovers, or even my cast-offs.

If you're new to this blog and want to know why you should care about how much food you're wasting, the long and short of it is that wasting food is bad for the environment, plus it wastes money. You can find out the details at Wasted Food. And check out The Frugal Girl, where bloggers meet to share photos of their food waste in a united effort to waste less.

FREE STUFF ALERT: If you're a Bank of America customer, the Museums on Us program runs the first Saturday and Sunday of the month, and that's this weekend. All you have to do is flash your debit or credit card to get in free to hundreds of museums across the country. Click here to find participating museums in your area.

Are you watching your food waste? How did you do this week? Please share your tips, advice, wins and challenges in the Comments section. And let me know if you plan on participating in the Museums on Us program.

June 3, 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, ebay, a yard sale, a clothing swap, or anywhere else you find secondhand clothing.

Today's model is Cathy, wearing an outfit she bought at a consignment shop near where she lives in Ottawa, Canada. Cathy says the pants were $18, which is a bit higher than she likes to pay, but they fit perfectly and that's difficult for her to find even in a regular retail shop. The cute top with great detail around the neck and sleeves was $11. And since she had a store credit from selling a few items earlier, the total layout was actually $0. That's a nice price!

I told Cathy I was thrilled to receive her photo because I'd been wishing for a gorgeous over-50 model for months, and she told me she didn't mind if I revealed that she is actually over 60! As Cathy put it, she's "all for minimizing that fear of aging hysteria that grips us from time to time." I think she looks absolutely beautiful, fit and happy. What an inspiration. I really think she should be a model for Prevention or some other health magazine. Cathy says she's always loved thrift shopping, and now that she's retired, she has more time and motivation to thrift shop.

When I asked Cathy how she stays so slim she says she's fortunate to actually enjoy activities like jogging, biking, and gardening. And her husband shares her interests, so when one of them is lagging, the other is motivating. She does admit it takes a bit more awareness or attention to stop the weight from creeping up than it did when she was younger.

Cathy is a retired registered nurse and she enjoys reading blogs. She's a big believer in the Green Triangle idea of the interconnection between health and saving money and the environment, and trying to maintain a happy balance. I love the phrase "Green Triangle" to describe things that are green, frugal, and healthy. It comes from the books Your Money or Your Life (Dominguez and Robin) and the companion book Getting a Life (Blix and Heitmiller). Both books credit Ernest Callenbach with the idea. Cathy says she especially liked the explanation that you can enter the Green Triangle from any angle, whether financial, health, or the environment, and you will most likely benefit the other two.

That made me move my copy of Your Money or Your Life to the top of my stack of books. So many different people have mentioned it to me and I can't wait to read it.

Cathy, thanks for the great photo and for being such a inspirational example of aging gracefully and pursuing an active and meaningful retirement. 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 all want to see your fabulous finds, so don't be shy. Women, get out your summer dresses, and guys, bring out the Hawaiian shirts, and let's get into the spirit of the season. I continue to be inspired by people's creativity, ingenuity, and resourcefulness when it comes to being stylish without spending a lot of money.

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

June 2, 2010

Will the junk mail ever stop?

It's time to check in with my very first baby steps challenge: stop those catalogs and junk mail once and for all.

This photo represents all the junk mail we received during the past month, a year after I originally took on the challenge. It's significantly less than we used to get, but I still want to get it down to almost none.

Last month I republished this post from last year about the challenge and the steps I would take to remedy the problem. Last year, when I first tackled the issue, I did most of the tasks on my list that are recommended to eliminate junk mail: signed up for Catalog Choice, put my name on Forest Ethic's Do Not Mail list, and went to optoutprescreen.com to opt out of all credit card offers. The step I DID NOT take was to call companies individually and ask them to remove me from their mailing list.

The steps I took drastically cut the amount of junk mail we receive. In particular, we get almost no random junk mail or credit card offers anymore. But some of these catalog companies are persistent so what I'm going to do now is go back to Catalog Choice and make sure I have listed all the companies in this photo and then start making a call every time I get a catalog. Many of these catalogs are from companies I used to order from in my pre-Compact days, so I suppose they're not giving up on me without a fight. But it's going to be a long time, or maybe never, until I'll be spending my precious free time looking through catalogs and buying full-price items again.

Have you reduced your junk mail? How did you do it? Please leave your best tips in the Comments section. Also let us know if you've taken up this challenge and whether or not you've been successful.

June 1, 2010

June Challenges: walking and saving

I've set myself a 30-day challenge this month of taking a walk every day. That's it. Simple.

I don't think it will be that difficult because I already walk about four or five times a week, but I'm curious how I'll feel if I walk every single day. There are no rules except that "walking" doesn't mean from my car into the office or from the parking lot into the supermarket. It has to be an intentional walk, but it doesn't have to be any certain place or length of time. Ideally, all walks will be at least 30 minutes, many will be longer, and a few will be 2 or 3 hour hikes.

Apparently it's a month for challenges, and I can't resist joining in Katy's Food Stamp Challenge over at The Non-Consumer Advocate. The idea is to keep your grocery bill to the amount you'd be allowed if you were on food stamps, and to donate what you have left at the end of the month to your local food bank. I've already cut our grocery budget to stay within the average of what a family of two would receive if they qualified for Food Stamps. I did that over a year ago after reading this post on The Crunchy Chicken about whether it was possible to eat local and organic on that allotment. I wanted to eat more local and organic, but I didn't want to spend more money, so I used her estimate of $323 a month for two people and have been able to stay under that amount for over a year while receiving a CSA delivery. The only month I went over was when we had a Christmas party, because entertaining isn't something I want to scrimp on.

Katy's challenge will be more difficult for us, because she came up with the figure of $101 per person, which will be $202 for my husband and myself. With $90 going to the CSA right off the bat, that doesn't leave much to work with, so I think this will finally motivate me to start baking our own bread and making my own yogurt. Those are two of the things (along with cheese) I need to buy almost every week, and the biggest expense outside of meat. And at this point, I'm down to buying meat once a week or less, either a piece of fresh fish at the fish market or some ground turkey for chili or turkey burgers.

In order to stay within that budget without sacrificing our health I'll have to get creative. I've started a list of some of our favorite meals that always yield leftovers, like soups and crockpot recipes. Plus I'll be able to clear out the pantry and the freezer a bit. We will be eating a lot of rice and beans, but I'm confident we won't get bored as long as we're receiving our delicious CSA delivery. And if rice means mushroom risotto and beans means Katy's black bean burgers, the challenge isn't going to be a sacrifice.

Do you want to join me in either of these challenges? Please let me know in the Comments section. And feel free to share your ideas for healthy meals on a budget as well.