Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

Happy Memorial Day!

Hope you are safe and happy. If you are traveling, stay safe.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

More on moving

We have moved, halfway across the country, more than once. So, you would think that this inter-county move would have been a cinch. Unfortunately, both of us abhor moving. Which is kind of funny considering we have moved residences 6 times since we've married. Five years ago.

Most of the time, when moving locally, we've opted for the slow-move. This being when time in both locations overlap, allowing us to move a carload or two at a time, using our own or borrowed trucks to move the big stuff. We've also done most of the actual moving ourselves, with occasional help from friends or family. When we've had the inter-state move, we've opted for the big moving truck, or a pull-behind trailer because multiple trips were just not an option.

Honestly, the way we pack feels like it is more a lesson in how not to do it, efficiently, economically or ecologically friendly. Like I said, we hate moving. We hate packing. A few easy things get boxed up securely, but there inevitably is a frantic "get everything in a box NOW" period, in which most of the packing is accomplished. This has lead to use boxing up a whole bunch of random stuff, including important papers and less than important junk mail. I don't recommend this. I am minorly dreading the feeling I'll get when we sort through a box, only to find that it is out-dated insurance information, advertisements from three moves ago, and a few books.

Moving can be a great time to clear stuff out, provided you start earlier enough. I recommend that, not our whirlwind of packing.

If I had been a good green-mover, I would have started sorting and packing earlier, and donated a bunch of stuff. Like books that ended up packed and moved, or the bed rails that ended up in the garage. It is still a goal of mine to sort through the boxes as we unpack, and purge as best a pack-rat like me can.

This time, for the sake of time, sanity and gas, we went for a moving truck. We considered renting a pick up truck from a car rental agency, but since the drive between residences is 15-20 miles one way, and just how many books I have, I thought that the rental money saved would be eaten by the number of trips that the pick up would have had to make.  YMMV. (ha! An appropriate usage of that internet short-hand!) Be sure you understand your rental terms. One of the trade offs for using the moving truck for a local move was that we had to pay a dollar a mile. I think that our sanity was worth it.

The only frugal thing about this move is that we did it ourselves, with help from a wonderful aunt. Ways it could have been cheaper: if we had borrowed a pick up and used that, or if we had been more diligent about making food at home to eat (or if we had opted not to move at all!). Ways it could have been more expensive: if we had kept the truck longer; if we had hired day laborers to do the heavy lifting; or if we had hired out the entire job of moving.

There is probably a list a mile long of ways it could have been greener. But I am only human. And now, I have a whole house and yard to slowly greenify!

What are your thoughts on moving? Do you have a preferred way of doing it?

Friday, May 28, 2010

The main reason I've been so quiet lately

Ok, I think I'm ready to tell you now. One reason I've been so quiet is that we've been busy. Because we've just moved. Into a house. That we are buying.

Buying a house may not be the most frugal thing that we have ever done. There are pros and cons to owning and to renting. (One pro to renting is that generally, they clean between tenants.) For us, owning is something that we wanted to do, and it gives us more freedom in our lives. Freedom to do things like garden, have a dog, and hang a picture.

We had some time in the house and apartment overlap, so we used it to work on the house.

Here’s what we did:
-         Ripped up carpet in the bedrooms, hallway, and the living and dining rooms
-         Completely refinished two of the bedrooms (I covered the vents! Husband did most of the heavy lifting here)
-         Removed more wallpaper and wallpaper borders then I care to remember
-         Painted four rooms (with tremendous help from my dad)
-         Removed some damaged drywall in the bathroom and replaced it with cement board and tile.
-         Hired an electrician to upgrade the electrical box, and fix a few things.

Not cheap, but could have been worse. And, of course, there is more to be done, but we are very happy with our house, and what has been done so far.

My husband’s job has him interacting with people all day long, and it proved to be very helpful in finding an electrician, and discovering what we want to go ahead and try to do ourselves. Like the floors.

Over the past month, we have spent more time in home improvement stores than I had in my previous 26 years of life. We got to know the rough tools and such, and were considering redoing the floors ourselves, fully acknowledging the fact that I didn’t think I could handle the floor sander. In preparation, my husband watched the Ask This Old House video several times, but we were still on the fence.

At work one day, he helps a professional floor restorer, and gets a rough, unofficial estimate to refinish all our floors. When he told me, my eyes about bugged out, a la cartoons. Off to the home improvement store we went, our decision made! Since I’m a bit paranoid about putting too much stuff online (Sound contradictory? Yes, but I never claimed to always make sense.), I won’t go into exact dollar amounts, but after renting the floor sander for two days, and buying the other necessary products, we spent less than a tenth of what the professional would have charged us. We aren’t finished yet, though considering the costs, doing it ourselves may take time (which we have), but will save us a ton of money (which don’t have).

All this being said, my husband does have some experience with this sort of thing. Not the floors, specifically, but in general. I recognize that not everyone can do something like this, but we are lucky enough that we can.

Since this is getting a little long, I’ll end with a link to a picture of our shiny bedroom floors, pre-furniture. (Also, mid-painting.)

What home improvement projects have you tackled yourself to save money?

More on Nail Polish, and why I love you guys

My last post was about the Shellac manicure. As a non-journalist, I didn't do much research about the product itself, or eco-friendly polishes. Instead, I pretty much just shared my thoughts with you.

In the comments, Cam mentioned that it appeared to be free of a number of chemicals against which she had been warned. Another reader, loreleimarsh, just sent me some links for eco-friendly nail polish. The joys of the internet! Here they are: nubar,  Peacekeeper, and WaterColors. I haven't tried these, and they aren't particularly cheap, but it could be worth the money not to expose yourself to more formaldehyde than necessary!

I do love hearing from you, and learn a lot from your comments. Thanks for sticking around!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Ok, so this post is a little random.

Have you heard about a Shellac manicure?

Basically, it is a manicure process and products that are guaranteed to last at least two weeks without chipping. As someone who has gotten manicures and pedicures in the past (and given them to herself), this idea intrigues me, because it is nothing if not frustrating to go to just finish the process, and reach for something, only to smudge the polish. I end up using my hands so much that polish is all but futile on my fingernails, so I eventually just stopped painting them. (Although, my toe nails have been red for years. I love this. I just need to find more eco-friendly polish.)

I've brought this article up because I am still trying to figure out just how I feel about it. One the one hand, I am amazed at the durability, documented by the journalist's slideshow. But, on the other, I am terrified at what  is actually making the polish have that staying power. Even acetone won't take it off? Wow. (That, and I've used the term "shellac" as a verb to describe a woman with way too much make up on.)

I'm lucky enough to have nice-ish nails naturally, so I'm not too anxious about the next nail-trend. It is interesting to follow sometimes.

As intriguing as the 2-week guarantee is, I think I'm leaning towards being more weary of this product than happy about it.

What about you? Thoughts? Opinions?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Coupon Disappointment

A few weeks ago, on Facebook, a friend posted a picture of a shopping trip where she had saved a bunch of money (about $80-$90) with coupons. I was excited for her and to check out the loot. I was also hopeful for tips and such.

I clicked on the picture with anticipation, and promptly sighed. Pictured were pads that I don't use (frequently, that could be another post) because I use a Diva Cup; shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel that I don't buy because the don't work for us and/or contain a bunch of stuff I avoid; dish detergent that I don't buy because of ingredients and it looks like the anti-bacterial stuff (again, could be another post); antiperspirant (we use deodorant only); and a few things that we might be able to use: allergy medicine and band aids. I was very happy for her, but the picture helped to crystallize something about coupons, sales and shopping for me.

A while back, I posted about a successful shopping trip I made with coupons. But since that trip, every time I've looked in the paper or the ads that are mailed to us, I get a vague sense of disappointment. There are very few, if any, coupons for products that I buy. Or even the types of products I buy. The majority of coupons I see have been for harsh cleaning agents, pre-packaged food (which we do rely on at times, but it is something we are trying to move away from, not run towards), and not-really-good-for-you food.

There are websites out there where you can look for coupons for products that you actually want, instead of simply scanning to see what was sent to you. These can be great. We did this for the successful coupon trip mentioned above. What was frustrating about that, though, was the fact that many of the coupons printed one to a page, in color ink, wasting paper and ink. (with fewer stores taking printed coupons due to counterfeiting coupons, color ink seems to be the way to go)

Plus, try as I might, I'm not that organized. Coupons were beginning to become more of a hindrance to me than a help.

I know that the idea of coupons is a good one. I know that they can be used to reduce shopping budgets, help stock a pantry and also create a cache of healthy food. Maybe I'm not looking in the right places or spending enough time searching...

All this leads me to think that couponing just isn't for me, and that a lot of the commercials and sales aren't geared towards me or my shopping habits. "They" probably love the fact that I'm still erratic, and shop without a list at times. But, what "they" don't love is how obsessive I am about reading labels, and putting back things that in the past I've loved because of the ingredient list. Yes, I know that yogurt is on a ridiculous sale of 10 for $4, but it has HFCS and aspartame (nothing against aspartame, I just don't like the way it tastes)  and this one is more expensive, but the ingredients are milk, cultures, honey and one or two other things I can read and pronounce.

Ok, so this has gotten a bit more negative than I had intended. Basically, this is me giving up on coupons. I'll still look through the ads to see if there is anything useful for me, but don't plan on spending copious amounts of time combing the known universe for them and then cataloging them all. When I see someone in the grocery line with coupons, I'll think "good for them" and move on. I think we do a pretty good job just shopping the store, if I do say so myself.

What are your feelings on coupons? Are they the greatest thing since sliced bread? Or an evil trap to get you to buy something you don't need? Or something in the middle?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Hey there! Been a while?

Because life is what it is, and often gets in the way of plans, I've been rather quiet as of late.  My real life has been rather busy, both at home and at work, which has left me little time to pursue new frugal or green practices. I've been in a holding pattern, with occasional regressions on both fronts.

I don't see this letting up anytime soon, so my posting will probably be less frequent for a while.

Since the time crunch, I noticed that a lot of my posts were article reactions. I like writing those; it makes me feel better to react to them. But, is it really helpful to anyone else? If you enjoy reading those, let me know. If you don't, let me know!

So, that is where I am. Hope everything is going well in your neck of the woods.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Recipe Thursday: Sandwiches and the frying pan.

Do you know what can be really good after a long day, especially when the weather is cool? A fried sandwich. Or a grilled sandwich.

Did you eat grilled cheese as a kid - with bread that had been grilled to a golden perfection in butter on the stove? Yeah. That. So good!

You can employ this "grilling" method with any kind of sandwich you see fit. Like peanut butter and jelly, or a good old meat and cheese.

Paninis and toasted sub sandwiches seem to be all the rage right now. You can create a wonderful grilled sandwich at home, and it is about as fast as ordering one is.

While what goes in between the pieces of bread is up to you, the process is one that can be perfected.

A few pointers for the sandwich itself: don't pile it too high, or else it won't heat through before it burns, and it will just be a mess to heat! Also, a personal preference: wait to add veggies like tomato or lettuce until after the sandwich is grilled. Doing this will offer a nice contrast, and prevent your veggies from going limp and wilting.

Alright, ready?
As you make your sandwich, heat a frying pan to medium-lo to medium heat. 
When the sandwich is complete, butter one side of the bread, thoroughly. This helps with the browning and the not-sticking. And I do mean "butter thoroughly." 

With your spatula, place the sandwich into the warm pan, butter side down. If you don't hear that satisfying sizzle, adjust heat up a smidge.

Butter the top of the sandwich. Again, do so thoroughly. About this time, use your spatula to peak at the bottom. If it looks good, flip the sandwich, carefully!! If not, let it alone for another minute.

Since I'm impatient, I'm the cook who checks every minute or less until the thing is done. This undoubtedly increases cooking time.

Once flipped, you need to let the sandwich be for a few minutes. After 2 or 3, check it, and then gauge how much time is needed.

When both sides are beautiful and crisp, place the sandwich-masterpiece on a plate. If you are adding veggies, do so now.

Cut the sandwich in half, and pull the halves apart so you can marvel at the yummy goodness. This also gives you restaurant-quality presentation. Because that is the most important thing. ;)

I think that this makes regular meat-and-cheese sandwiches special, and more dinner-like. It is also a fun treat for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Just delightful.

Have you done this before? Any particular favorite sandwich to grill/fry?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Lasagna and the Library

I was reading through a local paper the other day, and noticed that one of the headlines was about a lasagna garden workshop being hosted by the local library. I nearly fell off my chair in excitement.

About a month or so ago, in poking around, I found some information about lasagna gardening, and thought it sounded very interesting. I didn't do anything to pursue it, as other things ate up my time, but the idea of a no-till garden is certainly appealing to a novice gardener like myself.

While lasagna gardening sounds like a great idea, and a wonderful way to garden, growing fresh produce for oneself and one's family, it isn't really the point of this post.

I was reading through the article, and the first time mentioned was on a weekday, during work hours. I was upset, but not for long! The next sentence told me about a second workshop being offered at a later day and time. A time I have a shot at making!

Ooo... you get to go listen to people talk about a gardening method... riveting... Well, if I take a container that is at least 12 inches deep, I get to make my own mini-lasagna herb garden. They're provided everything but said container. Holey swiss cheese! Information, and hands on practice, plus a working, take-home example? That's awesome.

And there was more, although, I confess, I skimmed the rest of the article. I did see that this was just the first in a whole summer series of gardening and land-oriented workshops being offered at the library.

I spoke briefly about the wealth of resources housed by libraries here. I may have neglected to mention that most libraries also have a video and DVD collection that you can borrow.

I know that I didn't talk at all about library programming, and libraries do some awesome programs! From looking around a bit at local libraries, most of the programs are free, or if there is a cost, it is generally a "bring your own XX to use for making YYY" with a lot of materials provided by the library. There is area and interest specific programming, and age-specific programming. These go beyond a Children's Reading Hour (which I do think is a great idea), and include things like calendar-themed crafts or lasagna-themed gardens.

So, when you're thinking of what to do with all of your free time (ha!), don't forget about the library.

Have you participated in your local libraries programs?

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Rise of Coffee and The Fall of Cream

I think I finally kicked the cream habit.

I don't drink soda, but I drink coffee. While I don't think caffeine used to wake me up, I have noticed lately that on days when I drink afternoon coffee it can be more difficult to fall asleep, so I avoid it. (Of course, I've always had a hard time falling asleep.) Ice tea doesn't seem to affect my sleep though. Weird.

Anyway, so, coffee every (almost) morning is a lot of coffee. And I used to add copious amounts of cream. Well, half and half. Milk, be it skim, 1%, 2% or whole, never quite gives the coffee that same rich, nutty taste and texture. So - a couple cups of coffee with ridiculous amounts of cream or half and half, pretty much daily. Yeah, that can't be good for me.

Whatever calories and fat I wasn't consuming through soda, I was undoubtedly consuming in cream. Not to mention the ingredients listed on those little single serving cream containers at restaurants. It is sort of like getting honey at KFC, and realizing that the ingredients are honey and high fructose corn syrup (really, I'm telling you, the stuff is everywhere!).

This thought has been in the back of my head for a while, and I've known that I needed to kick the cream habit, for nutritional and budgetary reason! (I was buying half and half a couple of times a week, some for the office and some for home.)

A couple of weeks ago, I took the plunge, and just started drinking my coffee black. And I liked it. We were at a restaurant in town, and the coffee was amazing, even sans cream. Started drinking it black at home and at work. A few times, I've ordered coffee out with one or two creamers in it. (Yeah, coffee out isn't frugal, I know.) And just one or two is a significant reduction for me in a large coffee. Trust me.

Now, I'm almost wondering why I used so much half and half less than a month ago. Did I really need it? Did it really make the coffee that much better? Or was I just getting bad coffee?

I have determined that I prefer mild roasts, and thing that my obsession with cream stemmed from an opinion that most bold or extra bold roasts taste burned and sour to me. But a fresh, mild roast is divine.

A small step in frugality and diet. But it is one with which I am happy. I seriously doubted my ability to cut out cream from my coffee.

Now, I guess that I need to work on cutting out coffee. Ha! Think I'll wait a while on that one!

Are there any habits you are looking to cut out or cut down for similar reasons?