July 29, 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, craigslist, ebay, a yard sale, a clothing swap, or anywhere else you find secondhand clothing.

Today's model is Jennifer, shown here with her mother in the maternity outfit she's put together with non-maternity pieces from consignment shops. Jennifer says she an avid thrift shopper, and she thinks it's awfully non-thrifty to purchase new maternity clothes. She also tries to buy regular women's clothing that can transition from pregnancy to post-natal easily.

Jennifer's outfit consists entirely of secondhand non-maternity clothing from the Funky Trunk Consignment Boutique and Goodwill in Newnan, GA, a suburb of Atlanta. Here's the breakdown:
1) Bisou Bisou brand stretchy top was purchased at a consignment shop for $4.99 with the tags still on (originally priced $20)
2) Blue Old Navy tank top for $1.
3) Blue Banana Republic chino shorts for $10 at the same consignment shop (with tags, msrp $35)
4) Bella Band, which is a pregnancy band that lets you wear pre-pregnancy pants with the buttons down or maternity pants/shorts/skirts that are too loose after pregnancy. Jennifer purchased a fancy one with lace trim for $15 on craigslist.
5) Anne Taylor platform wedge sandals bought at Goodwill for just $3.99 (priced at $48 on still-attached tags).

Jennifer's mom is also wearing a secondhand top she got from her sister and Jennifer's pants from the 90s. I love the cute mother/daughter picture, happy and expectant.

Thanks Jennifer for that fabulous photo! No one would ever know you didn't pay full price for your stylish maternity look. Readers, it's your turn. Put on your favorite secondhand outfit, snap a photo, and send it to me at barton (dot) angela @ gmail (dot) com. Don't be shy, we all love to see the great clothes available secondhand for a fraction of the price of retail.

Are you a thrift store shopper? Please leave your best tips, plus compliments for Jennifer in the Comments section. And click here to check out previous installments of Thrifty Threads.

July 27, 2010

CSA Delivery

My skills as a food photographer will never be in demand, but the contents of this week's CSA delivery are still beautiful. We'll be eating a lot of caprese and greek salads, with all those tomatoes, cucumber, and the basil I just realized I forgot to put in the photo.

This week's delivery includes a lot of fancy names I've never heard, like kay pearl white nectarines (reminiscent of Mary Kay cosmetics), and honey royale yellow nectarines and straight eight zucchini, with a definite casino vibe.

Roughly clockwise from the back, we received: sugar queen melon, all blue potatoes, mixed heirloom cherry tomatoes, the aforementioned straight eight zucchini, honey royale yellow nectarines and kay pearl white nectarines, large heirloom tomatoes, peaches, owen t. plums, blue lake green beans, strawberries, baby salad greens, baby spinach, elephant garlic, market moore cucumbers, and purple basil (not shown).

Please leave recipe ideas for anything you see in this photo, especially the elephant garlic, which stumps me. And click here if you want to learn more about CSA delivery and find one in your area.

July 24, 2010

Drought tolerance

These flowers were planted just two years ago. This one is my favorite, the Matilija poppy.


And this one's called lion's tail. I love it, but it only bloomed like this for about two weeks in June.

All of these plants are drought tolerant, and we didn't need to water them all winter.

What are some of your favorite drought tolerant plants?

July 15, 2010

Thrifty Threads

Thrifty Threads is all about shopping and wearing secondhand clothes with style. These are just a few photos from previous installments... Kristen...


...and Anita...

All of them looking fabulous in secondhand clothes. Unfortunately, I don't have a new installment today because I've run out of photos! So please, readers, put on your favorite thrift store score, snap a photo, and send it to me at barton(dot)angela@gmail (dot)com. Put Thrifty Threads in the subject line, and wait to hear from me that you received it.

I'm expecting some photos of sundresses from a few of my regular readers- now's the time, you know who you are! Anyone is welcome to submit to Thrifty Threads, I can't wait to see your photos and continue the series next Thursday. In the meantime, click here to check out all previous installments of Thrifty Threads.

July 13, 2010

Baby Steps Challenge update: composting

The baby steps challenge I set for myself a year ago last July was to start composting. It had become more necessary when we started receiving a CSA delivery and there were a lot more food scraps.

I'm happy to report that this challenge has become such a habit that I can't imagine throwing things like potato peels, tea bags, or eggshells in the trash anymore. I've even managed to get my husband to go along with the program most of the time, although he still sometimes gets confused about what can be composted. He found a container that we put right outside the back door to throw scraps on their way to the bin, which is very helpful. And it took me almost a year, but I finally put the Pillsbury doughboy to rest (sold for $5!) and purchased a beautiful crock on ebay that sits on the counter.

One of the unintentional byproducts of composting that I love is that we're producing much less trash, and it's much less smelly. My husband likes this too, since he's now only taking the trash out to the curb once every three weeks or so. It's hard to imagine we ever took it out nearly every week. We used to have to plan who would take it out for us if we were out of town, what a waste of effort.

So I give myself high marks for tackling something that initially seemed very foreign to me, not to mention having a high "ick" factor (worms), and making it a habit. And if you're thinking about composting, if I can do it, so can you.

However, having done so well with throwing all that stuff in bins, I've now got two bins the size of the one in the picture and one twice that size filled to the brim with various stages of compost. I didn't do as well with turning it, and in fact hardly ever did it. So now I'm not sure what's the best way to go about turning this into compost that can actually be used. And I'm not a big gardener, so I don't know when/if I'll use it, but I can give it away.

Incidentally, I didn't need to buy any worms. They did indeed find their way into my bins, even in the hard dry soil of Southern California.

I used this tutorial from The Frugal Girl to get started. If you're ready to start composting, I encourage you to read it and you'll see how easy it is to save food scraps from the landfill and create your own compost to grow plants and flowers. All you need is a container, a drill, and about fifteen minutes of your time.

Composting experts, I still have a few questions. How do you know when you have the right combination of green and brown materials? I think I might have used too many leaves in an effort to make sure the food didn't smell or attract bugs, and the little bit I tried to use seemed too dry. But maybe that was because I didn't turn it enough. How often do you turn it, and if it hasn't been turned for many months, is it too late to start? Can you ruin compost? Please leave your thoughts in the Comments section.

Do you compost? Give us your best tips! Thanks again to all my readers who helped me through the process last summer with your excellent advice. Check out my original post on the subject and this update to read all the helpful user comments.

July 12, 2010

Meatless Monday meets CSA

Mondays are all about food on this blog. I either post a photo of our CSA delivery, or I share meatless recipes suggested by readers.

Due to my work schedule, we're not receiving a CSA delivery this week. But I did an interview last November with the owner of our CSA, and it was published on the Meatless Monday site. I thought I'd run it again in case you missed it.

Click here to read the interview with Terri Wahl, owner of Auntie Em's restaurant in Eagle Rock and creator of the most fabulous CSA I can imagine. The interview is all about how it's easy to go meatless when you have fresh, local, and organic produce to make delicious meals.

If you're a member of a CSA, please tell us about it in the Comments section. It's so interesting how different it can be depending on where you live. One of my readers got a delivery that included chicken and milk recently, along with fresh blueberries and greens. Another reader joined a CSA that includes a nice touch at harvest time: a ride to a pumpkin patch to pick their own pumpkins plus spiced apple cider back at the farm. I'd love to hear about more of your delivery experiences. It's so nice to know that we're all learning more about where our food is coming from! And check out Local Harvest if you want to find a CSA near you.

July 9, 2010

Food Waste Friday plus Favorite Blog Post of the Week

This post could alternately be called "How to write a post in 5 minutes," because that's about how much time I have today, but I really wanted to share my favorite blog post of the week with you.

First, the food waste. It's embarrassing. It was chocolate, believe it or not. I buy chocolate at Trader Joe's, and some of it is better than others. If I don't like it that well and I've already bought some I like better, it tends to get left in the pantry. My intention is to use that inferior chocolate at a later date, for something like chocolate-dipped strawberries.

Cut to: my husband found some chocolate bars in the pantry with suspicious-looking flakes on them that he thought were bug eggs. I didn't think so, but we weren't willing to take a chance so we threw about 4 half-eaten bars of chocolate away. Oh, so sad. I was convinced I needed to toss them when I saw that the expiration date was in 2008. Oh dear.

As far as I know, chocolate can NOT be composted, so that was landfill trash. Why do I blog about this? Because wasting food wastes money, and it's bad for the environment as well. You can read more about it at Wasted Food and you can visit The Frugal Girl for her weekly roundup of bloggers who are watching their food waste.

FAVORITE BLOG POST OF THE WEEK: I'm really excited about this post from Penny at Penniless Parenting called "The Protein Myth." It's well-researched and packed with the facts about how you can get all the protein you need from non-meat sources. As anyone who is a vegan or vegetarian knows, the knee-jerk question you always hear is "but what about protein?" In my opinion, people should worry a lot less about getting enough protein and a lot more about eating fresh produce. It doesn't look like many Americans are lacking protein to me, but a lot of them do have diabetes. But enough of my rant! Check out the post, it's informative and inspiring! Thanks to Alea at Premeditated Leftovers for introducing me to Penny's blog.

Please leave your thoughts about wasting food or getting enough protein in the Comments section.

July 8, 2010

Thrifty Threads

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

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

Today's model is Haylie from Memphis, Tennessee. I asked for sundresses, and Haylie came through with this super-cute photo. An outfit equally suitable for watering a patio garden or attending a barbecue. And you're going to love this: she found the dress at a garage sale and traded a toy for it! That's a nice price.

Haylie and her husband recently moved into a 900 sq ft house, so they're making terrific use of their deck to grow tomatoes, oregano, leeks, cilantro, jalapeno, bell pepper, thai basil, and mint. They've got all the ingredients to serve mojitos and Latin-flavored side dishes at an outdoor party. Congratulations Haylie for living the fun, fabulous, frugal lifestyle, and looking great while doing it.

And thanks for sending that photo and being such an inspiration. It's good to have a reminder that you don't need to spend lots of time or money to throw a party. It's summer, and all you really need is a deck or yard and some friends to invite over. Fresh food and drink ingredients and a cute sundress are icing on the cake.

Readers, it's your turn. I am very low on photos, so please put on your favorite secondhand outfit, snap a photo, and send it to me at barton (dot) angela(at)gmail (dot) com. I'm hoping that writing out my email address like that will attract less spam and make it easier for me to find your submissions. I recently realized some of them were being sent to my spam folder and lost, so if you sent in a photo and I didn't post it, please send it again. Please put "Thrifty Threads" in the subject line, and if you don't hear back from me in a few days, I never got it.

Every photo I receive convinces me even more that you don't need to shop retail to be stylish. Please leave your best secondhand shopping tips and compliments for Haylie in the Comments section. And click here to check out previous installments of Thrifty Threads.

July 6, 2010

Frugal Vacations

The following is a reprint of a previously published post.

That's a photo of me taken last summer in London. Yes, it's freezing. It's cold in London in the summer. But it was a fantastic trip! We went there for the theater, the museums, the Indian food, the history, and walking the streets. We didn't go there for the weather. You probably wouldn't expect to see London in a discussion about frugal vacations, but this one was very affordable. How could an extended holiday of 5 weeks in London be frugal, you ask? Because we did a house swap. And it was one of the best travel experiences we've ever had.

HOUSE SWAP: We're hooked on this type of travel now. As long as you're planning a destination vacation, and not touring an entire region, it's a great way to get to know a place. I originally considered it because of the cost savings, but it turned out to be so much more than an affordable way to travel.

We've become friends with the couple we exchanged homes with, and we feel like we've lived in London. We got to know the neighbors, the ethnic neighborhood markets, the Tube (underground) lines, and adopted a local pub, as well as our favorite Indian restaurant within walking distance. Instead of having to rush out the door in the morning, stay out all day, and pay for three meals out, we'd eat breakfast at "home," and then relax and go out for an afternoon of adventure and an evening play and dinner. A few nights we stayed in and cooked and then went to the pub for a nightcap. Our schedule was completely flexible, which was much more fun and relaxing. If we didn't make it to a museum one day, we'd go the next. Sometimes we'd like one so well (they have absolutely fabulous museums in London, and they're free!) we'd visit two or three days in a row.

A lot of Europeans do want to swap for a month or even more, but since most Americans don't have that option, you can arrange your holiday for whatever length of time suits your schedule. You just have to come to an agreement with someone who wants to visit your town. The whole concept works best if you live in a big city that's a tourist attraction, but it's not mandatory. There are home swapping opportunities listed for all over the U.S., you just have to focus on what your home and neighborhood have to offer to a visitor. And maybe that's just getting away from it all and enjoying a little peace and quiet.

If you're interested in a Home Swap holiday, I recommend both Home Exchange and Homelink. We ultimately did our exchange through Homelink, but we had many interactions with people on both sites. The cost is less than $100 for a year, and you'll list your home with photos and a description. Then you sit back and wait for the offers or start making inquiries about places you're interested in visiting. The websites answer all your questions and lead you through the steps of setting up your listing.

And if the idea of having strangers in your home worries you, let me reassure you that by the time you do the swap, they're not strangers anymore. You've exchanged many emails and had lots of phone conversations, and you have come to know them. Our exchange partners even picked us up at the airport, brought us to their home to help us settle in, and took us on a motor tour of the countryside the following day. They bought us a pub lunch and showed us the 12th century church their daughter had been married in. They slept at another daughter's home down the street before flying to Los Angeles the next day. Even if this extra attention might not be the norm, if you're nervous about the "strangers" in your house, remember that you're in their house as well. So really everyone has an incentive to treat their surroundings with respect.

I consider it a marvelous bonus that we have new friends who live in London. They are fascinating people who've travelled all over the world on two teacher's salaries by doing home swaps. And they've assured us that we always have a place to stay whenever we pass through their city.

A few other frugal vacation ideas:

COUNTRIES WHERE THE DOLLAR IS STRONG: Right now, that list includes Argentina, Costa Rica, Morocco, Vietnam, and Panama. Most of your budget will go to the flight, and once you're there food and lodging will be very cheap. Another one of our favorite vacations was to the Mexican Riviera, where we spent two weeks several years ago. I'm almost embarrassed to quote the budget of our trip, but we spent $700 on two plane tickets to Cancun, and then less than $600 for accommodation, food, and all other expenses. That's what I call a budget vacation. We left Cancun immediately, and headed for more off-the-beaten-path destinations, and stayed in simple but clean motels. We went snorkeling, saw Mayan ruins, and ate plenty of seafood and Mexican food and drank margaritas. We didn't feel like we were penny-pinching. Click here to read an article about places where the dollar is strong right now.

STATE DEPARTMENT LIST COUNTRIES: I might lose a few of you here, but hear me out. Even when a country makes this list, the odds that you'll come into danger are usually very low. For example, my brother enjoyed a holiday in Bali a few years back while it was on the list after being the site of a terrorist attack. And there was even another attack while he was there. But he wasn't anywhere near the discotheque where it took place. The odds of being in the wrong place at the wrong time are small, and could really happen anywhere. So consider traveling to a country like Bali, which has natural beauty, marvelous culture, and warm, friendly people. Their economy relies on tourism, and it's so sad that these isolated incidents keep travelers away for years.

POST-CRISIS AREAS: Along those same lines, you'll probably have a lot of luck visiting a city or region that's recently been hit by tragedy. You'll be warmly welcomed, and will most likely enjoy great deals. Places like Bali after the terrorist attack, New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and New York City after 9/11. Your trip may even take on a significance and poignance as you make your journey into an area that needs assistance. You could almost consider your vacation a form of charity, especially if you do some post-crisis volunteering while you're there. Habitat for Humanity works all over the world to rebuild homes for families who've been struck by disaster.

Finally, STAYCATIONS. This is a marvelous option, especially for families who can't spend a lot of money on plane flights or gassing up the car. Instead of waiting for out-of-town guests to enjoy the attractions of your own city, visit them on your own. Have each family member pick an outing of their choice, and then order pizza and watch a movie at night. Or if you have young children, camp out in the backyard! The options are endless, but the key is to do things you don't normally do in your everyday life, spend a lot of time together, and make it special.

What are your vacation plans this summer? What's your best frugal vacation idea? Please leave your thoughts, tips and questions in the Comments section.

July 5, 2010

Meatless Monday recipes

Meatless Monday is a nonprofit initiative aimed at encouraging people to give up meat one day a week. Going meatless, even just on Mondays, is better for your health and better for the environment. If you need inspiration, go to the Meatless Monday website for all kinds of great recipes.

I also like to bring you my readers' suggestions whenever I can. Here are two ideas for easy meatless meals:

First, Alea at Premeditated Leftovers suggested Swiss Chard and Garbanzo Bean Soup from the blog Dandelionheart. Alea says it's her favorite kind of recipe because it's flexible and it comes together fast. That's my favorite kind too, plus it sounds delicious. As a matter of fact, I've got some swiss chard I need to use up and this is a healthier recipe than the Guadalajaran Swiss Chard Quesadillas I was planning on. I'll let you know if I try it tonight.

Coupon Challenged says that even though her kids are true carnivores, they've been eating meatless meals at least once a week for years. Some of their favorites are guacamole or potato tacos, and veggie lasagna and veggie soups in the winter. I'm a big fan of vegetarian tacos, and when you have delicious ingredients like guacamole or potatoes, or beans, tomatoes, cheese, and salsa, why would you even want the meat?

Thanks for those great ideas! Readers, what are your favorite easy meatless meals? Please leave your recipes in the Comments section and I'll include them in the next Meatless Monday recipes post.

July 2, 2010

Food Waste Friday plus Free Museums

Who doesn't like French toast? My husband, apparently.

I made this last Sunday, from some less-than-fresh sourdough bread. I ate more than this myself, and then told my husband he could eat the rest whenever he wanted, since he wasn't ready for breakfast yet.

Yesterday I found it, still uneaten, but apparently with one bite taken out, hidden in the refrigerator. I had no idea my husband had never eaten it. When I mentioned it, he said that he had told me he didn't want any French toast the day I made it.

I wish I'd heard that, because I would have eaten the rest myself! It was delicious. But not that appetizing four days later.

Why am I rambling about two slices of stale, soggy bread? Because I've been inspired by Kristen at The Frugal Girl and her Food Waste Friday posts to waste less food. It's better for the environment and it's better for your wallet, and both of those things are good.

FREE STUFF ALERT: Don't forget about Bank of America's Museums on Us program, which takes place the first weekend of every month. That's this weekend, so if you're a B of A customer, all you have to do is show your debit or credit card to get in free to tons of museums across the country. Click here to find participating museums near you.

Please leave your thoughts about food waste, free museums, or anything else remotely related to nonconsumerism in the Comments section.

Happy 4th of July, everyone! I'll be back on Monday, July 5th, with a Meatless Monday post.

July 1, 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, craigslist, a yard sale, or anywhere else you find used clothing.

Today's model is David, and you know I'm absolutely thrilled to have a man participate in Thrifty Threads for only the second time ever. David is from the UK, and his wife Lin sent this photo and said she thought I might like to see a Compact-y outfit from the other side of the pond. Well, I certainly do, because not only do I love England, this is a fantastic suit and David looks very suave. In fact, it fits perfectly, like it was tailored especially for him. Don't really well-dressed men have their suits made in London?

This suit is a keeper, and David's been wearing it since 2002 when he found it in a charity shop in Salisbury for just 20 British pounds. The suit has traveled to the US in 2004 and all over the world. The tie was purchased at a charity shop in Belgium for one euro. That's an incredible deal because it's pure silk and Italian made. Lin says David is always on the lookout for a bargain. But you'd never know it by his picture, because he looks like quite the distinguished gentleman and anyone would guess the suit costs several hundred dollars.

Thanks David for modeling for that fabulous photo, and thanks Lin for sending it in to Thrifty Threads. David is a perfect example of how you can often dress nicer if you buy secondhand clothing, because you can buy brands and quality you might not be able to afford if they were new.

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 love to see your thrift store scores. Please put "Thrifty Threads" in the subject line and if you don't hear from me in a few days, I probably didn't get it. I keep finding submissions in my spam folder, and I'm so sad at how many people might have sent in photos that I never received. If you've sent me a photo and you never heard from me and never saw yourself on Thrifty Threads, please send it again.

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