Monday, December 31, 2007

GOODBYE, 2007 ...HELLO, 2008Earlier today, I was reading a post from The Blazing Center about what you want people to say about you when you die, to help you make decisions about the way you live. While this may seem morbid, I have always found it very helpful in really getting to the heart of the matter...what do I value?...What do I want to be remembered for, when it is all said and done?

This is an exercise that I do several times a week. When I am feeling overwhelmed and can't decide what to tackle first, when I catch myself becoming frustrated with the boys because they are getting in the way of me "getting stuff done", when the margins of my life get too small and I need to pare down, I ask myself "what is going to matter in eternity?" This question has also been good for reminding me to "not sweat the small stuff". While it might seem really important at the moment to "be right" about something trivial, or to be annoyed when my hubby forgot to pick up his shoes (again!), asking myself "will this matter in eternity? Or even in five minutes?" can really help me put things back in perspective.

So, in that vein, instead of making resolutions, I am going to make a list of things I want to be remembered for when I die. Hopefully, over the course of 2008, I will come a little closer to living out my ideals on a regular basis.

When I die, I hope people say...

...that my love for Christ showed in everything I did Phil. 4:4
...that my husband delighted in me. That I made his life better by taking good care of our home and children, and that he trusted me. Prov. 31:11
...that I never spoke a negative word about my husband Prov. 31:23
...that I lived a simple life. Content with little, happy in all circumstances, always available to those in need Phil. 4:11
...that my word could be trusted. I followed through on commitments and did not make idle promises Prov. 21:23
...that I was a hard worker Prov. 31:13-15
...that I was cheerful Prov. 15;13
...that I was a good listener James 1:19
...that I was a good mother, that spoke kindly and with patience Col. 3:12

I hope that as you look ahead to the new year, that your deepest desires are realized and that even the simplest of quotidian tasks become extraordinary. Happy New Year!


picture courtesy of won7ders from flickr.com

Friday, December 28, 2007

SIMPLE CHRISTMASOur whole family fell sick two days before Christmas. The new Christmas tradition is to have Christmas Day dinner here at our house. This year we had a small crowd, with only Matt's parents, my parents, my three brothers, two girlfriends, my sister, our three boys, Matt, and myself. I was so glad we had a simple Christmas planned...we didn't feel up to doing much. In our family, Matt is the big shopper. He LOVES to shop. He went to Wal.Mart three times on Christmas Eve! I don't hate to shop, but I don't do it every often either. I also despise clutter, spending money, and consumerism in general. So, I was excited to have a simple Christmas, but worried about how the hubby would feel about it. Here is the breakdown of what we bought and how much we spent.
Gifts:
Caed:
-Digital Camera $25
-Candy Necklace Kit $1
-Land Before Time Video $2
-Bath Paints and Crayons $4
-Misc. stocking items (new nerf bullets, candy, etc.) $4

Landing:
-Band in a Box $14 (used off Ebay, includes shipping)
-Candy Necklace Kit $1
-Bath Paints and Crayons $4
-Misc. stocking items $4

Bauer:
-Sound Machine $20

Matt: (we don't really exchange christmas presents anymore)
-Stocking gifts $6

Other Gifts:
-2 gifts for family dutch auction $10 ($5 limit, per gift)
-Terra cotta pots* $7
-Other misc. gifts for friends and family $15

Food: (My part of christmas dinner)
-Ham $30
-Gratin Potatoes $3 (had most of the ingredients)
-Yeast Bread $2 (for the flour)

TOTAL SPENT ON CHRISTMAS 2007: $152

*The terra cotta pots were to make these for several friends. I already had chalkboard paint. B/c we have been sick, I haven't given them out yet, but I am planning to paint the pots, plant a rosemary bush (my mom has several small plants shooting off her rosemary bush that she is going to give me) in each one, then write "Rosemary" in chalk on the side of the pot. Cute, huh?
KITCHEN ADVENTURESI am a foody wannabe. I think. I am not sure what the qualifications are for being an authentic foody, but at any rate, I do love cooking, and I do love to eat and to feed people. I went through a spell a few months ago when my cooking lost its heart. But, I am happy that my months of soul-less cooking have passed and I am back in the kitchen, trying something new, almost daily.
Today (and the last 10 days), I have sick little boys. The whole family has been moping around, feeling yucky with congestion and fevers and such. What is a sure fire cure for the blues? Why, cooking, of course! This evening, we made pretzels, from this recipe. The kids had lots of fun rolling out the "snakes" and twisting them into different shapes. We topped them with melted butter and kosher salt on some, cinnamon and sugar on the rest. They were sooooo good. You should seriously try them. They were delish right out of the oven, and fun to make, too!
A week or so ago, Mom and I made our first ever batch of fresh Mozzarella out of fresh, raw milk and OH.MY.GOODNESS. I will never look at store-bought mozzarella the same again. It was so easy to make, and absolutely delicious. This was another food that the kids loved helping with. They had a great time kneading the cheese to remove the whey, then stretching it until it was the right texture. It seems that my children are more willing to try a food if they have had a hand in the preparation. I am hoping this will translate into them eating their veggies when they help grow them this summer.
That night, with my fresh mozzarella in hand, we made homemade pizza, using this recipe for the crust. I have used this recipe twice and so far haven't loved it, but am going to give it another chance b/c it received such high ratings, and I have not followed the recipe exactly.
I have been in post-holiday food detox the last few days, turning to simple comfort foods, such as vegetable soup and yeast bread. Pretty soon, I want to make these sweet looking cookies. Don't these just scream Valentine's Day?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

GUEST BLOGGER, THOUGHTS ON THE SIMPLE LIFE, PT 1I am very pleased to introduce my first ever, guest blogger!

This is a person who I have mentioned here many times. Her wisdom and insights have been and always will be, invaluable to me. No matter how many times a day I call with a question, complaint, or just to talk, she always has time for me. Many of my thoughts on simplicity, stillness, and contentment, have come from her. She has raised five children, all of whom she home schooled. At the same time, she built a home, with hours of research put into making it as authentic a period home as possible. It was built, in large part, with salvaged and found materials that she spent several years accumulating. She cans her own food, sews, raises chickens, teaches bible studies, plays piano, leads book groups and writes. Now that four of her five children are grown, she is exploring (formerly hidden) talents in photography and other art forms. She has recently become part owner in a gallery downtown. She is an idealist, a dreamer, and a mountain woman. She is my mother.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------

I was reading an interview with Thomas Moore last
night. A little more light was shed, for me,
concerning the "simple life" we all crave. Here is a
portion of what he said: "I think we need to get to
the point where our spirituality is so infused in our
daily life that you can't separate the enjoyment of
secular existence from a spiritual awareness. This has
to do with facing life as it comes, every single
aspect of life, and giving yourself to it completely."

Bonhoeffer said, " The challenge is to find God in the
thick of life, in the best place, and not just where
we are falling apart."


It is living a life of constant prayer and communion
that St. Paul advocates; the "abiding" that Jesus
talks about. We have to bring "every thought
captive". It's much easier to be busy and not
"think".

For me, the simple life begins in my head and heart.
It's a slowing down to give thanks in all things.
Sometimes that requires stopping. And as I practice
this, I find myself repulsed by loud noise, mobs of
people, elevator music, fast life...so much of what
our modern life contains. But that's just me. Others
aren't bothered by those things.

The real world is that place where the liturgy of the
hours and the daily life of the heart come together in
peace.

The simple life looks different for everyone, because
we're all unique. God is doing a special, sanctifying
work in each of us based on His will and our own
personality. But biblical principles must be the base
on which we build our individual lives.


*Image from luminaireimages on flickr.com

Friday, December 21, 2007

YET ANOTHER REASON I LOVE TO SHOP LOCALLY

Not to beat a dead horse, but I just had to share the latest reason that I love to shop locally. Today, when I was checking out at the Discount Food Store, the cashier couldn't get the check card machine to work. I, of course, had no checks or cash on me. After a few minutes of trying to fix the machine, she says cheerily "No big deal, you can just pay for it next time you are in!".

Would that EVER happen at Wal.Mart? I don't think so...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

DO WE ALL CRAVE SIMPLICITY?A friend emailed me, in response to my Wide Margins post. She wondered why she has such a hard time slowing down and enjoying the simpler things. This is what she said:

"If you ever have any thoughts on it, would you consider writing what you think about people like me who really don't know how to enjoy things like hanging laundry outside, having container gardens, etc.? I think there's probably more people that are like me, but considering I seem to be surrounded by people who do enjoy those things, it makes me want to be able to enjoy them b/c I see how much you do. I don't think I take the time to enjoy things in general. I'm too fast paced. Like if I take a bath, I have to have something to read or else I feel like I'm wasting time."

I think many, many people feel this way, at least sometimes. But WHY? Why do we struggle with the balance of having a full life, but one that isn't too full of things that make life stressful? What is a simple life, anyway? That could look very different to different people...or might look different to the same person, at different stages of life. I don't know the answer to those questions, but I do know this. Living a simple, pared down life is better for you...less chaos and stress and pressures tugging at a person must be good for the health...lower blood pressure, better sleep, etc. Also, it is a biblical concept "Be still, and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10" It is very hard (If not impossible!) to commune with Christ if we are too busy rushing around to hear Him.

I also don't think that being still, choosing peace over chaos, is something that comes naturally. It is like anything else worth doing...it must be practiced intentionally. It is learned, over and over again. Our culture is not one that thinks much of simplicity or stillness. We want to be productive, efficient, organized. How much can we possibly cram into one day? How much multi-tasking can we do? It is all about the bottom line. I fight that mind set all the time. When my hubby comes home and asks me what I did that day, I want to give him a big, long, dramatic list of ALL the things I have accomplished. In my weak mind, sharing a long, impressive "ta-da" list with him says "See, aren't I important?"

There are several books that I think speak beautifully on the subject. Maybe you know of more (if so, please do tell!).
-The Quotidian Mysteries by Kathleen Norris
-The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
-Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
-Mitten Strings for God: Reflections for mothers in a hurry by Katrina Kennison*

So, my friend and I are wondering: what is your take on leading and living a simple life? Do you see the importance of it? Do you enjoy being "busy" or do you long for margins in your day? What aspect of this to you struggle w/ most?

*This book is excellent for mothers with small children
KITCHEN GARDENI am very excited to begin square foot gardening in the spring. For the last few months, I have been walking around my yard, trying to find a spot that gets a lot of sun. We live on a very heavily wooded lot, and I had been afraid that I would have to cut down several trees to have a place that would be good for gardening....until I had an epiphany in the shower a few days ago (don't you do some of your best thinking in the shower? Maybe because it is the only place we can have some quiet?). The above picture is the parking pad where I park my car. It is right off the kitchen door and is at the side of the house that faces the street (the front of our house faces the woods instead of the road). We also have a circular drive at the front of our house.

Ok, so picture this. I can have four raised beds on this parking pad. I will have a pathway between each bed. The great thing about having my garden here is that weeds won't grow, since there will be the pebbles/cement under the raised bed, and I will already have pebbled walkways, without any additional work. Then, I am going to finish the fence and add a gate. That way, if someone parks on the street (which happens most of the time), or when I get the mail, we can walk through the sweet little gate, down the path that goes through the kitchen garden, and in the kitchen door (this is the entrance that almost everyone uses, since it faces the road). This spot also gets the most sun. Here is how it looks now from my kitchen porch entrance.Here is where you pull in from the road, where I want to finish out the fence. I think it will be oh-so-cute, and very Williamsburg, in keeping with the style of my house. I am going to plant the beds with herbs and veggies and a few marigolds and nasturtiums to keep the bugs away. I want to do the sweet little wattle corner guards that were used in Williamsburg too. (This image is from chispa on flickr.com).

Oh, BTW, I would start parking on the circular drive at the front of the house. There is a pathway from the drive to the kitchen door, that goes down the side of the house. It is a few more steps, but not too many. What do you think? Can you see any flaws in my plan that I am overlooking? My explanation seems very fragmented, probably because it is four in the morning. Does this sound like a good idea? Because in my head it is fabulous!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

WIDE MARGINSMy friend, Charlotte, and I were talking this morning about why it is that we are enjoying the process of simplifying our lives so much...discarding "progress" to do things the old-fashioned way. Why is it that kneading bread instead of using a bread maker, hanging laundry out to dry instead of throwing them into the dryer, canning food at home instead of buying it in a store, washing dishes by hand instead of using a dishwasher (and a myriad of other things), are so much more enjoyable, than their faster, more efficient counterparts?
In truth, I think we sacrifice a lot for the sake of convenience and saving time. While dishwashers, dryers, bread makers, vacuum cleaners, microwaves, and the like, all have their place and are wonderful inventions...we lose something valuable when we use them. We lose built in margins in our day. Kneading bread and waiting for it to rise does take time...but it is also theraputic. The slowing down, the tactile feeling of warm, yeasty dough under my hands, the pleasure of a simple task accomplished adds concrete value to my life.

It is so easy to be busy...running around trying to accomplish a multitude of tasks...but without any real satisfaction. Changing the way I think about my household tasks, and the way I perform them, has added simple pleasure to my day, as well as little moments to reflect, breathe, pray. The few moments taken to hang out laundry in the sunshine, to wash dishes by hand, to sweep the floor, offer up a much needed opportunity to re-center.

My last post eluded to to the struggle of the past week. It was really challenging. My house was a disaster, my children were out of sorts, and so was I. One of those days, Charlotte came over with her children and immediately began sweeping and straightening. I began working on the laundry. At one point, with my chin quivering, and tears barely contained, I told her that I was going to hang out the laundry. She later said "When you told me you were going to hang out the laundry, I knew it wasn't about trying to get housework done. You needed those moments alone, to recharge." She was absolutely right. Those ten minutes of quiet, out in the sun, praying and thinking, turned my day around. I wouldn't have gotten that if I had just thrown them in the dryer.

These changes I am making in my life are about much more than being eco-aware, or eccentric, or being counter-cultural. It is about maintaining the wide margins in my life that keep me calm, make my life more meaningful, and make me a better mother, wife, and friend. Doing things more simply teaches me to practice the presence of God...even during the most quotidian of tasks.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

GRATITUDEThis is the first chance I have had to post since Monday. It has been a ROUGH week. I won't bore you with the details but it all started with Caedmon breaking his leg on Monday and quickly went down hill from there. I don't know which has been more frustrating...the events that have transpired this week, or the way I have responded to them. Sharp reminders all around me, reminding me that I can do nothing, NOTHING right without the grace of my sweet Savior.

On nights like this, when I have nothing kind to say, I turn to my gratitude journal. I started this journal a few years ago when I was having a week just like this one. Sitting and writing down a few things that I am thankful for never fails to change my perspective. A few things that come to mind tonight...

-My children (though infinitely frustrating), love me, even when I yell

-My hubby, who is brave enough to lovingly set me straight, even when I am shooting him "THE LOOK"

-The friends who have lifted me up and encouraged me this week...Mom, Charlotte, Leigh Anne, Stacy, Michelle, Amanda, Louise, Pastor Barnes...to name just a few

-That every week is not like this one

-The smell of Christmas...cinnamon sticks on the stove, the Christmas tree, fresh baked bread

-The laundry, piled up in my laundry room. We have clothes to wear.

-The sink full of dirty dishes. We have food to eat.

-The silence around me. My children are sleeping.

-The chaos of a messy house. We have more material possessions than 80% of the world. We have a cozy little house that I love. We have abundance.

I am reminded of a part of a hymn I love: "Jesus, Cast a Look on me. Give me sweet simplicity. Make me poor, and keep me low. Seeking only Thee to know."

I have felt both poor and low this week...in time, in rest, in spirit. And I have prayed. And prayed. Prayed for patience, for kindness, for love. I have asked for peace, for energy, for perspective.

Things will get better. And I will pray less. I will forget how much I need Him. I hate that I forget! So lastly, on my list tonight,

-I am grateful for this week, full of frustrations and disappointments, that points me to the cross, and reminds me, once again, of my constant need for a Savior.

Monday, December 03, 2007

ENERGY REDUCTION CHALLENGE, ONE MONTH IN

Our power bill came today and I was soooo excited. It was a little weird to be excited about a bill, but I couldn't wait to see how my energy-reduction attempts had gone over. Our energy usage from Oct. 2007 was 1456 KW, and I was trying to cut that in half in November. Also, our usage in Nov. 2006 was also about 1450 KW, so I felt like I had a good idea of what a normal power bill for our house at this time of year was. Well, my first month of the (self-imposed) challenge wasn't a smashing success, but it wasn't a failure either.
Our usage for November was 1049 KW, or a reduction from last month and Nov. of last year of about 33%. Our bill was $95, down from $127 last month/last year, for a savings of $35+. Add that to my monthly grocery savings of $200, and I am saving about $235 a month, just by being more conscious of our choices and excess. I had no idea I was so wasteful!

I don't think I will be able to cut as much energy use this month without some creative ideas. With Christmas lights and colder weather, our energy use is bound to go up. Last month, we used the heat/air almost none (and kept it turned down to about 63 degrees), used the dryer less (more clothesline), turned off lights when we weren't in the room, and unplugged things that weren't being used, such as chargers.

So now I am curious...do you have any ideas you can share with me to further reduce our energy use this month? Maybe there are some things I haven't thought of. Please let me know! I really want to at least match last month's use, if not beat it.
Also, can you think of other areas that I could challenge myself to make cuts? I have enjoyed pushing myself to find new ways to reduce our output, save money, re-examine our lifestyle, etc. I would love to find more! It is so fun to "find" money! If you have any suggestions for either, please tell me!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

SUGAR AND SPICE AND EVERYTHING NICE...

Now that it is officially the holidays, I have been in a baking frenzy. With lots of pumpkin and plenty of apples from the North GA mountains, I have been whipping up lots of winter yumminess. I thought I would share these seasonal recipes with you. They are perfect for all the extra fall fruits and veggies you have lying around!This beautiful and just slightly sweet dessert was absolutely delicious. I have made it twice. It is also great for brunch or breakfast. Thanks to Anna for this great fall recipe (it is her Nov. 2nd post...I can't get it to link correctly, for some reason)!

These pumpkin-apple muffins with streusel topping got raves from the kids and adults alike. I substituted applesauce for the oil. They were moist and sweet and absolutely delicious! Plus, for those who are interested, these are dairy free!

This butternut squash pizza on a homemade pizza crust got mixed reviews. If you like somewhat unusual food, I would recommend trying this. I added a little balsamic vinegar to the roasting squash and onions, and I thought it was good. I would recommend cutting the squash very thin. It was good with white wine. A handy little tip I learned to peel butternut squash is to stick the whole thing in boiling water for about four minutes. This will make it much easier to peel.

My most successful recipe over the last few weeks has hands down been the pralines. They were soooo yummy and just a hair off from the River Street Sweets version (and believe me, I have done lots of "research"). I think substituting heavy cream for the milk would probably be the ticket to achieving Praline nirvana. :)
DRAWBACKS TO SIMPLE LIVINGOne hazard of compacting is that, occasionally, a stray toe may freeze in the thrice-handed down footed pajamas.
SERIOUSLY????When we were on vacation earlier this month, I purchased groceries so that I could cook most of our meals. I only needed a little butter, so I bought a half size. The little mini butters were so cute! They were each half a stick size. What killed me was the advertising on the back of the box.I can see it now...poring over the different butter options in the supermarket...reading the back of this butter box...smile of relief spreading across my face. "Whew, no more cutting or rewrapping my butter!! What a relief to remove THAT stressor from my life!" :)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

REMEMBERING WHY I HATE SHOPPING...Today I went to Bi-Lo with my three boys. This was the first time I have stepped foot in a chain grocery store since the beginning of August. I have been putting off going, but there are a few things that I am unable to purchase at the IGA, produce stand, or discount foods, so I finally bit the bullet. I quickly remembered why I don't go to big grocery stores anymore. It was kind of comical though. It was like country mouse visiting the city. We were all wide-eyed. I felt like such a dork...I was simply in awe of all the choices!! How did I forget about that in the last four months?

I steered clear of the produce completely. I am committed to shopping seasonally (we are eating lots of apples, potatoes, butternut squash, and greens right now, as well as items I have canned, and beans) and locally, so I get all of my fruit and veggies at the produce stand.

I was only there for five things but I kid you not, I was there for the same length of time that it takes me to get a week's worth of groceries at all three places I shop COMBINED. My children were throwing cookies and chips and candy bars into the cart like little mad men. They were insane!! But I couldn't really blame them, I was fighting the same feelings. I felt totally out of my element and a little panicked. It was very strange. The sheer magnitude of products was overwhelming. Over and over again, I would find myself getting sidetracked by all the items I suddenly "needed". Numerous times, I would pull myself away from a display, chiding myself to stay on task.

I escaped an hour later, with eggs, diapers for Landing, whipping cream, block parmesan, yogurt, butter, and sugar...and $40 poorer. While I would love to come back without children, when I have time to peruse and enjoy all the choices, for my regular shopping, I am definitely sticking with the mom and pop places!

*image from ineedahermida on flickr.com

Monday, November 26, 2007

GREAT READ

Meredith, at Like Merchant Ships, is the guest blogger today (and every monday) at Frugal Hacks. Go check out her great series on frugal giving (cheerfully and creatively). She has SUCH good ideas! Today she talks about creative packaging and it is chock full of inspiration for the holiday season. My favorite post in this series is when she goes through a holiday Pottery Barn Catalog, and comes up with great ways to copy them for much less (or free!). You can find that post here.

Friday, November 23, 2007

AGAINST THE FLOW

Today is Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year!! Will you be out shopping today, buying your Christmas gifts, or will you be observing the Buy Nothing Day?

This will be the first year of my adult life (other than the years that I had a newborn) that I am not out fighting the crowds at Toys 'R Us, Wal.Mart, and the Mall. I have never been a big shopper but have always loved Black Friday to get me in the Christmas spirit. This year, I am going to get in the mood a different way, and so far (it is 9:15 am, usually I would have already been shopping for 4 hours), I don't miss the shopping experience at all!

To start off the holiday season, today I am going to be cleaning and decluttering my house (while blasting the Christmas music!!), so I can start with a clean slate when I get out the Christmas decorations tonight or tomorrow. After I get my house clean, the boys and I will head to my parents house to pick up pecans. Tonight, the hubby will build a fire and we will have popcorn and hot chocolate or cider. We will snuggle up on the couch and read books about Christmas and talk about our plans for the holiday season.

Tomorrow we will go buy our Christmas tree from the produce stand and begin decorating for the holidays!

Here is an interesting website called oxfam where you can buy gifts for friends and family (100% of profits go to fight poverty), or you even give a cow to a family in a third world country, as well as many other things. Check it out. There is a cute video on there too about those awful gifts that we all inevitably get (singing fish, anyone?).

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

CHRISTMAS SHOPPING IS IN FULL SWING!
My friend, Amanda, directed me to this petition (click the button on the left to go to the site) to buy handmade for Christmas. I absolutely love handmade gifts. I am beginning to hate retail shopping and the consumerism that surrounds almost every holiday we celebrate, particularly Christmas. For years I have gotten up early (like three am!) to be the first in line for the day-after-Thanksgiving sales. No more! I have taken the pledge!

There are so many wonderful reasons to give handmade gifts (either made yourself, or purchased). I won't reiterate them all here, but do check out the website. If you have never checked out Etsy, you must. A word of caution though: it is very addictive!!

I am planning to give my 5 year old a digital camera for Christmas. It is $35 and will be his main present. Though I will be purchasing it new, and it (obviously) won't be handmade, I think it is the eco-friendly choice b/c it will eliminate the disposable cameras and film developing, which he has enjoyed in the past. Other than that though, I will be giving homemade gifts -or- items purchased second-hand.

Here are a few ideas I am mulling over for different people on my Christmas list.
Children: -pumpkin pie play dough
-Book making kit
-Sock puppet kit
-Baking kit
-Coupon book for different activities to do together (movie, museum, picnic, etc)

Family/Friends (women):
-Dinner Kits (basket full of pasta, french bread, block parmesan, sauce, bottle of wine)
-handmade soap
-gift certificates (etsy, house cleaning, childcare, etc.)
-Biscotti

Family/Friends (men):
-homemade cheese and a bottle of local wine
-Gift certificates (Ebay, car wash)
-Homemade Deer Jerky

Hmmm...that is all I have come up with so far. Any other ideas?

Each Christmas, my family draws names. We do this because there are five kids...plus girlfriends, my hubby, and our children...so gift-giving has become expensive. We have always had a $50 limit. This year, we have agreed to scrap that and do something less expensive and more fun. We are going to do a White Elephant with a $5 limit. I think it will be a hoot to see what everyone finds for $5 and it will be much more about the experience and time together, than the presents. We are going to use the money (normally spent on expensive gifts) to give to a charity or a family in need. I am really excited about it.

For more homemade gift ideas, check out Martha Stewart for some beautiful Christmas presents.

Above all, I want the gifts I give to be a true reflection of my love for the recipient. I want to really avoid the stress of "I have to buy xyz person SOMETHING!!!" The season of gifts should be a reminder of the gift of God's son, and with that, salvation. This year, I don't want Christmas to be about corporations making a buck...reeling me in with their slick marketing and their enticing sales and 2-for-1's. I want to spend more time reading to my children in front of the Christmas tree, baking, being thankful, paying it forward in simple ways, and giving out of a heart that is full of joy. It isn't easy and it doesn't come naturally, as much as I wish it did. It takes consistently being intentional, gently reminding myself of what my priorities should be. It is counter-cultural and it takes focus. However, I think it is worth doing and as the wife and mother of our home, it is up to me to set the tone. It is just another baby step in the quest to becoming more Christ-centered...more "other" focused in a "take care of #1 world".

What better time to practice contentment, generosity, and a lifestyle of simplicity than Christmas? While I do think it is important to give gifts, to spend time and effort and (sometimes) money on presents for the people in our life...I need to spend just as much time cultivating an attitude of cheerful giving so that the gift isn't an empty symbol but a true reflection of my heart. I think giving homemade gifts will help me do that. By nature, handmade gifts will require a slowing down, a thoughtfulness, a selflessness of time and energy. Whatever your gift giving method this season, I hope that it is a time of joy and renewal for you.


*This image from flickr.com

Monday, November 19, 2007

LITTLE HIATUS

My computer is back and better than ever! When the lovely Apple Computer people installed my new hard drive, they also gave me an updated running system, and so I have more bells and whistles than ever before! Yay!

While my computer was at the "hospital", my family went on our first ever, family vacation to Dillard, GA. That fun little trip will get a post of its own soon, but for now I am busy unpacking, cleaning the house, canning applesauce, putting up pumpkin, and preparing for Thanksgiving.

I read a great article today on simple ways to reduce our plastic use, which I thought you might be interested in. You can read it here. As you may know, plastic can only be recycled once, maybe twice, if at all...while glass and metals can be recycled endlessly. While recycling is great, it is always better to use that "R" as the last resort of the three (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle). It is better to use less plastic, reuse what you do use, and recycle last.

Being on vacation for a week really opened my eyes to some habits that we (my family and myself) have that I didn't notice in our normal environment. Some things became more difficult while away (cloth diapering, recycling, etc.) and really tested my conviction about these things. For example, keeping the heat turned down, even though I knew that we wouldn't have any financial responsibility for blasting the heat...I had to do it on principal alone (and as much as I hate to admit it, the frugal aspect of it is as strong a motivator for me as the reduced environmental impact). Also, our vacation week was the first week I did 100% cloth diapering. I had no disposables at my, well, disposal. The difficulty for me with cloth diapering has been the mental hurdle...knowing that disposable is available and is oh, so convenient. I will talk about some of the other challenges and observations of being green on vacation in another post, but I did want to mention it.

Also, I just finished a GREAT book, entitled Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. I highly, highly recomend it. Part scary statistics* about food, part inspiration, part recipes, and part recount of the Kingsolvers year of eating locally, I couldn't put this book down. Crunchy Chicken has a book group discussion going on now, if you are interested. This is definitely one that I will be buying, and will reference many times. After reading this, I am even more excited to start my square foot gardening in the spring, as well as to try my hand at making cheese. Wouldn't homemade cheese and a bottle of local wine make a great Christmas gift?

Anyway, I will be back soon with more random thoughts but for now I must get back to all these apples that are waiting for me in the kitchen!

*If you want more scary statistics about the food that we consume, particularly meat, check out The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I am about halfway through, and I can't believe what I am reading.
WINNERS!!

We have two winners for my (belated) 100th post give away!
First, the winner of the Square foot Gardening Book is Amanda Myers. Amanda, I will bring this to you next time I see you! :)
The winner of the Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Dryer Sheets is Jessica Miglarese! Jessica, if you will email me your updated info, I will get them right out to you!
Thanks, everyone, for participating!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

GREEN CHRISTMAS GIFTSEveryone is starting to think about Christmas shopping and here is a great resource for eco-friendly gift ideas. Of course, the most earth-friendly thing to do is to make something homemade from found materials, or to buy second hand, so that a new item doesn't have to be produced out of new (or even recycled) materials, which of course, uses lots of energy, gas, etc. But, if that isn't an option for some people on your list, then the above site is a great resource.

The best (but not always easiest) way to be eco-conscious is to simply want less. Practice contentment. The less we want, the less waste we create, the less we spend, the less negative impact on the earth. Being content with what we have, where we are, is not only eco-smart, it is a biblical principle. Paul says, "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." Philippians 4:12

Even when we practice cheerful frugality during the year, it is easy to get carried away during the Christmas season. I began struggling with feelings of inadequacy ("I will never be able to make my house look like that for the holidays!" and the "gimmies" a few weeks ago when the first holiday Pottery Barn catalog arrived! As I learn (in new ways, every day) to have a heart of thankfulness, I am also looking for new ways to be creative with what is around me, either in my closets or in my yard. It is fun to find inexpensive ways to decorate my home for the holidays, or to make things that will be enjoyed by others. The most important thing I want to remember during the holiday season, is to set a tone in my home (what is that saying about mother's and people being happy? If mama ain't happy, then nobody's happy? Something like that...) of contentment, thankfulness, and generosity. I want to point my children toward Christ...not toward their wishlist or the presents under the tree (though there is certainly a place for that, and yes, I will give my children gifts for Christmas).

So, what traditions do you practice with your family during the holidays? How do you decorate frugally? What gifts are you planning for friends and family? What is your biggest struggle during the holiday season? Please share some of your thoughts and insights with me. I love to hear new perspectives and great ideas from others!


*This image from sentience on flickr.com
TIME FOR A GIVE AWAY (or two!)!!

Apparently, it is a momentus occasion when one reaches the 100th post of his/her blog. Somehow I missed this, and this post will be my 109th post. No worries, though...still time to do a little celebratory give away! Now, because I am posting in the man shed, and am not sure how to download pictures onto this computer, I am just providing links to the items I am giving away.

The first is a book I picked up at a yard sale recently. Actually, I picked up two of the same book at said garage sale...one for me, and one for you! I am really excited to read it. It is a book on square foot gardening. I am not sure if the book I am giving away is this exact edition, but it will be similar. I hope to begin square foot gardening in the spring. I have read that it is a very effective, simpler way to garden. I am looking forward to growing some of my own food next year...maybe one of you will be inspired to also, after receiving this book!

The second give away is for Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Lavender Dryer Sheets. These are much more earth-friendly than conventional dryer sheets, smell great, and are really expensive when purchased retail ($8!). I picked them up at the local Discount Food Store this morning for a mere $2. I love that place! I don't use dryer sheets, but seem to have a weakness for earth friendly (or cutely packaged, if I am being honest) cleaning products. So, when I saw them, I knew I had to get a box to give away here!

All you have to do to win, is leave me a comment on this post sometime between now and next Saturday night (a week from tomorrow). I will then select two winners at random (I will use the very scientific method of having my 5 year old select two numbers between 1 and the highest number of comments)...one winner for the book, and one for the dryer sheets. You don't need to specify which item you would like to be entered to win, you will be entered for both. I will ship the items to the winners the following week!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

ENERGY REDUCTION CHALLENGEThe weather dropped considerably last night, into the mid 30's. It is supposed to be that cold again tonight. I did turn the heat on before going to bed last night. I turned the downstairs unit to 62, and the upstairs unit to 60 (since heat rises). All the beds are layered with down comforters and quilts. The boys have been padding around the house all afternoon in warm footed pajamas, since we were home to stay and it is fun to be in snuggly clothes. I have a fire going in the fireplace, more for ambiance than heat. We have been eating warm foods all day...hot chocolate and tea, chili, cheese toast, oatmeal.

At night, since I am not turning on as many lamps, I am achieving the cozy atmosphere (I love in the fall and winter) in other ways. Lighting soy candles, playing music on the ipod docking station, having a fire burning, sipping hot drinks, etc. Instead of turning on the tv, I will grab a book (out of my HUGE stack), and cozy up by the fire with a quilt.

The boys are going to bed earlier, since the time has changed, so once they are in bed, around 730-8, the rest of the evening is spent quietly, reading, talking, ironing, planning the next day, etc.

I have not changed out the rest of the bulbs to CFL's...I am only going to continue to replace them as they burn out, which is what I have done in the past. I don't think it is more environmentally conscious to discard perfectly useful things, to replace them with "eco friendly" ones. Doing so just creates more waste.

The things that I have done to reduce our energy use this month are:
-quit using the dryer (I am now hanging out about 90% of our laundry on the line outdoors. My indoor line came today, so I plan to install that tonight and hang the other 10% there).
-Turning off extra lights (If we aren't in a room, the light isn't on).
-Unplugging appliances and electronics when they aren't being used.
-Doing things in batches. When I do use the dryer, I try to use it for all the clothes at once. Same with baking. I try to use the oven/stove to cook everything in one fell swoop, rather than turning it on and off throughout the day.

As with my other experiment, my goal (besides the financial gain) is to become more aware. Aware of the choices that I make, both good and bad, that affect our family, our community, and the environment at large. Aware of our habits, our decisions, our lifestyle, our conveniences. Already, in the first few days of this month, I have become more tuned in (in ways that I was previously unaware of) to our carelessness with our resources...basically just throwing money down the drain. I am learning to take responsibility for the fact that my choices, even small (and seemingly insignificant) have an impact.

I don't know if I will be able to cut our energy consumption in half this month or not...but I am sure that it will be considerably reduced, and more importantly, I will be further challenged to be a (cheerfully) frugal steward of the resources with which God has given to our family.


*Image from sadalit on flickr.com
THANK YOU...

...So much for your input on the Christmas gifts. I am glad I asked you, because I had been planning to give granola in mason jars...but that choice came in dead last, so it looks like it is either vanilla extract or gingerbread biscotti w/ white chocolate icing. I think I will do the biscotti because I did the vanilla a few years ago.
I gave some of the biscotti to my friend, Charlotte, a few weeks ago, in honor of her fabulous new teapot and loose leaf teas, and she said it was yummy (and she would tell me if it wasn't). I plan to package them for Christmas the same way I packaged hers. Wrapped in brown butcher paper (that I bought a few months back at the Discount Food Store for $1 a roll), tied with red string, with a cute label attached. I am going to pile them in a basket by my kitchen door for guests and neightbors that come by during the holidays. Thanks everyone for the opinions!
SADNESS...

My beloved Macbook has crashed for the second time in two months...gone are all my pictures and files. :::Sigh:::
So, for the next few weeks, I will be posting from the hubby's man shed. I will have to dig deep to find inspiration among the Kodiak signs and the stuffed fish, though I do appreciate the hub's hospitality. :)
Usually, I am on my laptop, either on the couch in front of a roaring fire in the evening, or in my cozy bed, loaded up with featherpillows and comforters galore...so I am sure you can understand the depths of my despair. Ok, I am being a little dramatic, it isn't that bad. The man shed is only about five feet from the kitchen door. And it does come furnished with a mini-fridge, rug, and lamp, to cozy it up a bit.
Anyway, if I am a little short on postings and pictures over the next few weeks, now you know why.

Monday, November 05, 2007

THE REST OF YOUR LIFE BEGINS TODAY

Brin, over at My Messy, Thrilling Life had a great post today that I highly encourage you to read. You can find it here. In today's posts she talks about missing out on the little blessings and moments of life while we are anticipating the big ones. I know I am guilty of that. Many times I get so caught up waiting for the "exciting" things, that I completely skip over the small, ordinary moments of beauty in my life. Friday afternoon, which I blogged about earlier, was a marvelous, simple afternoon because I forced myself to stop running and rushing and DOING and to just enjoy being with my children, on a beautiful afternoon, with no agenda. Don't you think we miss out on the richness of life, when we are rushing around, trying to mark off things on our to-do list?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

free dating sites

Just for kicks, according to this website, my blog is appropriate for people of all ages. No foul language, adult humor, or nudity here! :)
PRODUCT SHOUT-OUTMy friend, Jessica, was asking me if I liked my recycling bags and my answer was such a strong "yes!!!" that I thought maybe I would give them a little bloggety shout-out. :)

I LOVE my recycling bags. I have had them for 2+ years and they are great. I love them because they are lightweight, can be hosed down if they get dirty, have handles for easy toting, are color coded, have interchangeable labels (the labels also have a picture, which is great if you have a child that doesn't read yet), hold a lot, have velcro to connect them together (if you like), and are just really practical. They come four to a set (bottles, paper, cans, and compost). I have a separate container for compost, so I use them for glass, plastic, paper, and metal.

They are $22 and worth every penny. Plus, they have free shipping!

Friday, November 02, 2007

BOUNTYMom and I spent the day yesterday canning tomatoes purchased from the local produce stand. It was so nice to see all those rows of glass jars full of fresh tomatoes ready to be made into lasagne, or chili, or some other such yumminess. I am really moving away from canned goods. After reading about that rat's head in the can of Allen's green beans (purchased at Wal.Mart, no less)...I am really wanting to be involved in as many steps of my food preparation as possible. Plus, there are no additives or preservatives...just fresh tomatoes.

The day after Halloween, the pumpkin stand in town was giving away all the leftover pumpkins. I drove over and filled up the back of the mom-mobile. Some of the pumpkins were priced at $17 apiece!! This was the sweet hookup.
I might have gone a little overboard. I am seeing lots of pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, toasted pumpkin seeds, pumpkin soup, pumpkin butter, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin cookies (?) in our future! Hmmm. maybe I should revise the poll (on the left of this blog) to include something with pumpkin? :)
LOVELY FRIDAYToday was a fun filled Friday! After spending the morning at Biblestudy, I rushed home to have a quick lunch with my childhood friend, Lydia, who was in town for the week-end. It was great to see her and spend a few (quick) minutes visiting, before rushing off to bookgroup.

At our monthly bookgroup, we discussed last month's mystery, The Thirteenth Tale. It was a great book, and I highly recommend reading it. Apparently, there are lots of things that you don't pick up on in the first reading, so you have to read it twice...I didn't do that. No biggie, I am used to being the one who doesn't read between the lines. It is what it is. :)

This month's selection (non-fiction month) is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle which I am so looking forward to reading. It has been on my amazon wish list for a while now, so I can't wait to get started on it. Kuddos to you, Mrs. Louise, for this pick!! Plus, crunchy chicken has been leading a book discussion on this book, so hopefully I will have lots of insights from there, as well.

Then, I spent the rest of the afternoon swinging my boys on their new playset, bouncing on the trampoline, lying on the ground, looking up at the leaves. And it occurred to me. As much as I get frustrated, and tired, and aggravated...as much as I sometimes just want to change my name and run away to a tropical paradise...as much as I CRAVE a little quiet (yes, Charlotte, the kind that roars in your ears!), I am living exactly the life that I had hoped to live. A simple life with my husband, my children, and my happy little house. And today was all I could want in an autumn afternoon. Time seemingly suspended, for a few moments. Taking mental snapshots of laughter and sunshine and twinkly eyes and dirty faces. I live for these moments. When I force myself to leave the housework and the to do list and just BE. Not wanting, not expecting. Just living, simply. Content.
It was a good day.

*Image from lu2shoot on flickr.com
INDOOR CLOTHESLINE

Yay! Remember that retractable clothesline I was talking about in my last post? I found it on ebay! You can see it here.

It is eight feet long. I can't decide if I should hang it in the bathtub, like at the Westin, or if I should hang it in my laundry room. My laundry room has a slate floor, so drips won't be a big deal and it would be convenient to take items right out of the washer. On the other hand, it would be kind of in the way to have laundry hanging in there, since it is a small room. If I hang it in the bathtub, drips won't be an issue, and the clothes won't be in the way, but I will have to carry the clothes in there, and the line won't be as long. Any opinions?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

A NEW CHALLENGE
I had so much fun doing my social experiment, that I have decided it is time to challenge myself to something new. This challenge will last for two months as well, from November 1st-December 31st.

I am going to attempt to cut our power usage in half.

The power bill came in the mail today. Last month (October) we used 1456 KWH of energy. I am not sure how that compares to others with similar geography, home size, lifestyle, etc. but it doesn't really matter. This is a competition with myself. It will be exciting to see how much control I have over our finances and dependance on creature comforts. You might scoff that I am beginning this experiment in November in South GA, that I am copping out, since the weather is great now. Duly noted. However, my goal is to cut my usage in half from LAST MONTH...not from how much we use it in the summer. So, put that in your peace pipe and smoke it. :)

Here are a few ways that I have thought of that I can reduce our electricity. Please feel free to leave me a comment with more suggestions.
-Turn off the lights. Easy. Don't leave lights on in rooms that we aren't in.
-Utilize my clothesline more. I am using it about 40% of the time right now. I can easily use it more often and this should have a big impact, considering that dryers are one of the most energy-guzzling appliances in the home. The Westin in Savannah had a neat retractable clothesline in the shower. It was a small aluminum one that was very minimal and really cool. I am going to look into one of those for my bathtub, for rainy days.
-Turn up the temp. in the fridge and freezer. Foods don't have to be frozen at the very coldest temperature. I have turned my fridge and freezer thermometer to the middle of each range. I did this several weeks ago and my food is still cold and/or frozern.
-Buy solar night lights. Right now, we keep the hall light upstairs on all night for my afraid-of-the-dark chidren. This is an easy switch.
-Change out the remainder of my regular light bulbs for CFL's.
-Leave the thermostat off. It has been off this whole week. With the windows and doors open, we get a great cross breeze. Once it gets colder, we will put on warmer clothes instead of automatically adjusting the thermostat. Put warmer bedding on the beds.
-Use other elements to bring heat to the house. After I bake something in the oven, I can leave the door cracked to let the hot air out. Same with the dryer.
-Turn off dormant electronics. Anything that has a red light (standby mode) is sucking energy, even when not in use. I will be more mindful about cutting off the power strip, rather than just the appliance/electronic itself. Also, chargers still use energy, even if they aren't charging anything, so I will be unplugging those when not in use.

If I am successful in this challenge, I will not only be saving 728 KWH of energy each month, but I will also be saving our family approximately $63 a month. Add that to the $200 I am saving each month from my social experiment, and I have just "found" $260 extra each month! With that money, we can pay off our vehicles more quickly, or, according to Dave Ramsey's Mortgage Calculator, apply it to our mortgage and cut 12 years off our home mortage, saving over $80,000 in interest!

Anyone interested in doing this new challenge with me? Come on, it will be fun!

*This image from ajft on flickr.com

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

DIAPERING ISSUES
Last night, Bauer enjoyed an entire jar of pureed green beans (as well as a jar of pears). Today, I am hating cloth diapers. I wish I had a stronger constitution, a pioneer spirit, what have you. But I have to admit, it is hard to stick to cloth, especially after a day of green beans, when I have disposables just a few steps away in a cabinet.

At the Brighter Day Natural Foods in Savannah, Stacy and I were looking at something called a G-diaper. It seems to be a happy medium between disposable and cloth. Cloth diapers with a disposable insert that is plastic free and can be either composted, flushed, or thrown away.

Now obviously, it requires more energy and materials to make something disposable over something you use again and again...but, it isn't clogging a landfill and is completely bio-degradable. I admit, I am thinking about trying them. What if I used the cloth diapers after my child had just had a dirty diaper (when I am relatively sure the next one will just be wet) and the g-diapers the rest of the time? Has anyone tried these? I would love to hear what ya'll think about them. Cop out or world's greatest invention? Would any of you disposable diaper people be willing to give these a try?

*Image from brionius on flickr.com
A LITTLE FAVOR?

I am having Christmas gift angst. Not really, but I would like your input. I am trying to finish up my gift list. I want to have a gift on hand for neighbors, friends that drop by, Matt's co-workers etc. It must meet several criteria.
-Must be easily mass produced
-Must be inexpensive
-Must be enjoyed by different people (age groups, gender, etc)
-Must be enjoyable to make and package

So, keeping that in mind, would you please answer the little poll I have created (to the left of this post)? I would really appreciate your input. I know that I would really love homemade laundry detergent, but I understand that not everyone would find that exciting. That's why I want your opinion. What's in it for you? Well, if you live nearby (or visit me around the holidays), you will probably be one of the recipients of said gift!

If you have another idea for a gift that meets the above criteria, please leave me a comment. I welcome suggestions! Thanks!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

GIRLY WEEK-END

This past week-end, my friend Stacy, and I took a much anticipated girls week-end to Savannah, GA. Saying that it was much anticipated is probably a bit of an understatement. The two of us sported ear-to-ear grins for about four days prior to the trip and our text messages pretty much consisted of "only 127 hours, 22 minutes until our trip!" and so on. We took a similar trip a few years ago, when I was very pregnant with Landing. It was a fabulous spa trip to Orlando and we fully anticipated this trip being just as great. Oh, and it was.

We have a few more children this time around (last trip, we only had Caed. We have had three more boys between us, since then, and another baby on the way! Yes, we REALLY needed this little getaway!). So, after Stacy got off work, we headed down to Savannah. First stop? Target, to pick up our $20 in Method products, so we could get our cool reusable grocery bag. Stacy, being the organized, teacher person that she is, already had our forms filled out, envelopes stamped and addressed...they were ready to be mailed off before we pulled out of the Target parking lot. She's a woman after my own heart. :)

Then, we headed downtown to W Liberty Street, to our very favorite restaurant, Mellow Mushroom. This is a great place to people watch. There are all kinds here...SCAD students, families with children, tourists. Lots of fun. I especially love looking at all the waitresses...ours had blonde dreads, tied up in a knot, and all kinds of piercings and tattoos. She was very sweet and seemed very interesting...she looked like she had a story. :)
I ordered my very favorite spinach salad. Man, it was good. And of course, the garlic pretzels, which are to die for.
Then we headed across the river, to the Westin. I love staying at the Westin, just because of their amazing beds (and shower heads). They are sooo comfy. On the bed was this card.I love to see companies taking these simple steps to reduce our waste.

After taking a few moments to put our bags in the room and nurse Bauer, we took the ferry across the river to snag some pralines from River Street Sweets. It is always fun to go down to River Street. We stayed a few moments to peek into some shops, listen to the old man belting out some tunes on the trumpet (the Gilligan's Island and Star Wars theme songs were his favorite!), and make small talk with some women admiring B in his wrap, we headed back to the room and those great feather beds.

We spent the day Saturday stopping in many of the shops that line Broughton, Bay, and Abercorn Streets. One really great little shop was the Paris Market and Brocante, which is featured in Southern Living Magazine this month. I love to walk around downtown Savannah. There are so many interesting and ecclectic people to watch. Cute girls on bikes, such as this one, were everywhere.There were lots of bicycles outside of the Brighter Day Natural Foods Store.
Driving down E Liberty street, we spotted this adorable market, and of course, had to go in. It was very similar to our produce stand in town, but with better ambiance. It was really sweet!
Look how cute the lights are, covered with these apple baskets. And all the paper lanterns and twinkly lights!This sweet little market, as well as the bulk bins at the Brighter Day store, were definitely the highlights of the week-end for me.

The whole week-end was so relaxing and restorative. It was so nice to spend some time with Stacy, one on one, without juggling multiple children at the same time! We have an easy friendship...just as comfortable with talking as with silence...and it was great to spend a beautiful week-end with her, taking in the sights. We both give a hearty "thank you!" to our husbands, who financed our little getaway, and and kept the kiddos while we were gone (as well as my parents and inlaws, who kept my children Friday night, while Matt had football). We think this should be a monthly thing...what do you think, guys? :)
FROM THE MOUTHS OF BABES

Sunday afternoon was absolutely beautiful. We didn't go to church because Landing had hand, foot, and mouth. So that afternoon, the boys and I took a walk around the neighborhood, picking up litter and recyclables. Near the end of our walk, we encountered a young couple walking their dog. As the boys petted the dog, the woman looked back and forth from the boy's bags of trash, to me, back to them. "Are your boys picking up TRASH?!", she asked me, incredulously. Before I could answer, Caed replied "Yes, we are picking up trash and taking it to the recycling center. We have to pick it up to take care of God's world. People shouldn't throw trash on the ground."

She looked at him, surprised, then hit her hubby/boyfriend on the arm and said "Awww! We should be doing that!!"
Nothing like the innocent forth-rightness of a child to get the message across.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

HAPPY FEET

I am REALLY love, love, loving these shoes. Aren't they sooooo cute? Wouldn't I look adorable in them? Wouldn't they go great with everything? Don't you think I NEED them? You do? Ok, I am a size 8.5. My anniversary is in December. My birthday is in April...but it's my half birthday this month! You can send them here. :)
I love them in every color, especially the burnt brick...and the navy...and the dark earth...and the chocolate...

Plus, they are very eco-chic. The soles are made of recycled rubber tires. Hemp edging. Bamboo inside. They are seriously cool. :::Sigh:::
FINALE...
I have been waaaaayyyy behind on my blogging this week. I have so many thoughts and ideas, rolling around in my head, just BEGGING to get out...alas, I have been long on ideas, short on time. I am not sure why I have been having such a hard time staying on top of things lately, and really, I don't have time to sit and analyze it. :)

So, now I finally have a few minutes, and must choose one of the many topics in my head to blog about (and can I just give a quick little shout out to this beautiful day? Seriously, it is amazing). The obvious choice, given the date, is the social experiment. Yes, today marks the end of my two month long experiment!

It has been two full months since I have shopped in any chain/corporate store. No Wal.Mart, Bi.Lo, or Harvey's. All of our food (other than eating out, and even then, it was mostly local) was purchased from independently owned, local stores. When I had the choice, the foods that I purchased were locally, or at least regionally, grown.

Before starting the experiment, I spent an average of $100 a week on food and household items. During the experiment, I averaged less than $60 a week, even with two birthday parties thrown in. All of the anticipated "Pros" of the experiment were realized. I became more intentional about the foods that I fed my family. I became more deliberate about my purchases and wasting food. I became more aware of where my food was from, how it got to me, who was impacted in the growing, delivering, and selling of it. I supported the local business owners, and began to build relationships (the owners grand daughter at the produce stand, knows each of my children by name). Shopping has become a much more enjoyable experience. In fact, until the experiment, I avoided taking my children shopping with me at all costs because it was so stressful. I have taken my children with me the last four weeks to IGA, Discount Foods, and the produce stand. It was great! Easy to get in and out, employees are kind to my children, fewer cases of the "gimmies" because there isn't lots of junk and cleverly marketed items to entice my children. As a result, they are learning lots of important things about commerce, relationships, jobs, ethics, frugality, etc.

As for the list of anticipated "Cons", many of the problems I expected to encounter simply were not an issue. Obviously, the biggest being the amount of money saved. That truly has been the most surprising outcome of this experiment. I fully expected to spend $25-$30 more a week, by not shopping at Wal.Mart. I was shocked to find that I was spending $40+ less a week. Fewer packaged foods and impulse purchases led to a sharp decrease in spending.

It was also less time consuming. While the stores that I now shop in are farther away, I am more intentional about going and usually incorporate a visit to my friend Stacy's or the hubby's parents while we are there (both are on the way). I shop one morning or afternoon a week. No more "quick trips" into the store because I forgot something. If I don't have something now, I usually do without or find a substitute. That has made me a lot more creative in the kitchen!

I had also listed "being unable to rely on quick-fix junk meals and having to plan ahead" as a con, but it is easy to see that it is much better to plan ahead and to cook healthy meals!

The only other con on the list was "being unable to find some items (such as most dairy). That was true, for the first several weeks. However, once I discovered that IGA was locally owned, that was pretty much a non issue. IGA carried most items that I could need.

So, now what? Will I continue to shop locally or will I go back to my old habits? Will I shop mostly locally with the occasional wal.mart trip thrown in? I will admit, there were times that it was a real challenge to make myself drive to IGA, which is 20 minutes away, instead of Harvey's, which is less than a mile. There were times (albeit infrequently) when at bedtime, I realized that we had no milk, cereal, eggs, etc. for breakfast. It would have been really nice to just run over to the store nearby. However, if I had planned more carefully, that situation wouldn't even have arisen.

For several weeks, I have been thinking about what I would do when the experiment ended. I am very much an all or nothing person. If I start going again at all, it will be very difficult for me to not fall into old habits. And truly, I am so much happier with the way things have been these last two months. More money, more time, more connection to community, more creativity...I don't want to give those things away by shopping at Wal.Mart. So, yes, I plan to continue to shop local, independent stores. Exceptions? When I am out of town, or when it causes others to be inconvenienced.

For the record, I would just like to say that I do not think that Wal.Mart or other chain stores are evil. I am not critical of others that choose to shop at Wal.mart. Obviously, Wal.Mart has been successful for a reason. However, this experiment has had a radical effect on many aspects of my life. It has caused me to think about things that I had never considered before and has opened my eyes to new issues that I haven't even begun to explore. It exposed prejudices, incorrect ideology, and criticisms in my own mind that had to be examined. It showed me flaws in my character. It made me rethink a lot of what I do, why I do it, and what I believe. It made me ask myself all kinds of questions such as "Am I willing to do what is inconvenient, if I truly believe it is better?" "Where does my meat come from? How is it killed? Are the animals killed in an unneccessarily cruel way? If I expect that they are, do I have an obligation not to buy the meat?" "Is it better for me to support an independent business owner far away, or a corporation (that provides jobs and revenue to our local economy) that is local?"

As a result of the experiment, and questioning my principles, I no longer use any paper products except for toilet paper. I am switching from plastic to glass and metal in my home, as much as possible. I am making my own cleaning products and detergents. I am searching out local farmers, coops, farmers markets. I am cloth diapering. I am considering giving up factory-farmed meats. I plan to begin gardening and canning more of my foods. I bring my own bags to the store every time (instead of hit or miss, like before). And many other things. Does doing these things make me superior? Absolutely not. Are they the only right way to do things? No way. But for me, where I am, with what I have been given, it is the best way, right now. I am learning to live a more thoughtful, intentional, deliberate life. Desiring to honor God, even in the most mundane, quotidian events of my daily life. Searching. Challenging myself. It has been an eye opening experience. I am very different than I was two months ago. Just ask my husband. :)

Who would have thought all this would come from eliminating Wal.Mart from my life?


*Image from largeheartedboy on flickr.com

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

REDECORATING CHALLENGE AND A COUNTRY OF THRIFTERS

I know I haven't posted my redecorating before and after from yesterday. I did it the project, but just didn't get a chance to upload the pics and post them (Monday is cleaning day and then date night, so I was pretty busy yesterday). I will post yesterday's and today's in a bit. In the meantime, I just read an interesting article that I found via No Impact Man. Wal.Mart actually FAILED in Germany because people are so thrifty and frugal. You have to love that!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

WEEK OF REDECORATING, TAKE TWO I had intended to have a week of redecorating challenges a few weeks ago, but it never seemed to get off the ground. Remember my screened porch project? Yeah...

I am going to start over this week. My plan? To make one change/decorate/redecorate around my home, each day this week. I will only use materials and items that I already have around our house or yard. I will post before and after pics each day. The goal is to take an active role in making my home more beautiful, using small babysteps. I will post before and after pictures of each little project. Also, the flylady zone this week is the master bedroom, so I will be devoting special attention to cleaning this area of my home.

Here is a tentative list of projects that I would like to work on. Obviously, I won't get to them all this week.
-Decorate mantel for fall
-Paint chalkboard for Laundry room
-Spray paint baskets and find uses for them around house
-Finish organizing porch
-Move bench/table in front of fence, plant pots w/ flowers
-Clean off dining table, add tablecloth and centerpiece
-Paint boys beds
-Declutter and reorganize kitchen countertops
-Organize cabinet in bathroom (picture above), paint back of cabinet...maybe the pale blue of the boys beds? Or yellow might be cute.
-Hang bamboo curtain rods, make and hang curtains in living/dining room
-Clean up the yard. Pick up toys, take old strollers to Goodwill, etc.

Also, other projects I would like to tackle this week.
-Make and can pasta sauce
-Make produce bags out of old sheets
GREEN GIVEAWAY

Method and Danny Seo have teamed up to create this really cool, reusable shopping bag. The best part? You can get one for free! Keep your receipts for all the Method products you purchase, and once you have spent $20, fill out the form and send it in with your receipts. They will send you this awesome bag! But hurry, it is while supplies last!

Friday, October 19, 2007

SPEECHLESS

The motherload of all amazing things happened yesterday afternoon. You have probably read (in previous posts) about the two things that caused the miracle I am about to tell you of: 1. watching less TV, and 2. putting books in a basket on the ottoman.

Ok, so it was late yesterday afternoon and I decided to turn on a cartoon for the two older boys to watch while I nursed the baby. The TV hadn't been on for 3-4 days, so I thought they would be really excited to watch something. I turned on Sesame Street, then left the room to feed the baby. I came back a few minutes later...the TV had been turned off, and both boys were sitting on the couch, reading books!!!!! I know, I couldn't believe it either!!!

Seriously, my boys had TURNED OFF THE TV so they could READ BOOKS INSTEAD!!!! It's the big one, Elizabeth!!! I was speechless! I tell you, after a week of poorly behaved children, coupled with some bad parenting moments, this was such a redemptive moment for me. Woo Hoo for small (or not so small) victories!!

*This image from flickr.com

Thursday, October 18, 2007

WEEK 7 WRAP UP, SOCIAL EXPERIMENT

This week's score from the Discount Foods and IGA(actually, this is what I bought on my second trip of the week).
-1 Taco seasoning mix
-1 box of Cheez-its
-1 box of Cereal
-1 bag of 25, whole Cinnamon sticks
-3 rolls of scotch tape (Christmas presents to wrap!)
-1 bottle organic almond extract
-1 bottle whole nutmegs (these will last YEARS!)
-1 bottle laundry detergent (until I can buy washing soda and make my own)
-1 box of Borax (for homemade laundry detergent and other home cleaners)
-5 boxes of brown sugar
-2 pounds of butter
-bananas

5 boxes of sugar? 2 pounds of butter? Well, the brown sugar and butter, as well as all those spices, are being squirrelled away for Thanksgiving and Christmas cooking in the next two months. The sugar and butter were on sale at the IGA, so I stocked up. I have learned to grab things when you find them at the Discount Foods, because you don't know when they will be there again. I was able to get 25 cinnamon sticks for $2. That seemed like a pretty good deal to me. If I remember correctly, cinnamon sticks can be pretty pricey. Kuddos to my little man, Caed, for spotting the lone bag of cinnamon sticks! Good eye, Caed, good eye.

I spent a lot this week...between buying bottles and bottles of gatorade, lipton noodle soup and saltines for a sick hubby, and stocking up for holiday baking, I am now over my budget for the month, with one week still to go. I spent $69.24 this week and $211.30 for the month so far. I will probably come in about where I did last month. That's ok. You win some, you lose some.
I actually feel pretty darn good about the month anyway, considering that I was able to throw two birthday parties on that budget. Landing's party was sort of a potluck family party, so that didn't cost me much, but Caed's was dinner for 30, so that cost more. If I subtract out the cost of their birthday parties (about $90), I have only spent about $120 this month, with one week to go.

There is only one thing that I want to buy that I have been unable to find locally. Washing Soda. Not to be confused with baking soda. It is a neccessary ingredient in homemade laundry detergent and is not carried at IGA or Discount Foods. Other than that, everything I have needed for the last seven weeks, has been available locally. Notice I said needed, not wanted. There are things that I like to have, that I have done without. One week left to my social experiment. I am looking forward to next week, when I summarize how the experiment went, what I will do from here on out, and a new challenge for myself, and you, if you would like to join me!
Speaking of challenges, Crunchy Chicken just issued her new challenge. Let me know if you are going to participate. I am still thinking about it...