Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving From!

Here's to a safe and happy holiday. Enjoy lots of good food, good friends and family...and good football. Go Giants!

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Frugal Tip Tuesday: Learn to Love Cooking

When I saw this article on The Greenest Dollar, I felt like it was written for me. As you know fast food and prepared food is much more expensive than making food from scratch. Here are some ways to get into cooking....

How to Love Cooking

Raise your hand if this sounds familiar: you’ve worked all day and just walked in the door. You’re tired, and you’ve love nothing more than to collapse on the couch for an hour with a glass of wine and just chill.

But, you’re hungry. Which means you’ve got to drag yourself into the kitchen and actually cook something. This requires finding a recipe, assembling the ingredients (if you have all of them on-hand), prep time, and then cook time.


What do you do? You drag yourself out the door and hit Wendy’s/Jimmy Johns/Taco Bell to save yourself the trouble. Which means you’ve spent money on something that’s completely unhealthy.

Is your hand raised? Mine sure is. I can’t tell you how many meals I’ve eaten standing up, in my kitchen, eating odds and ends (like olives, leftover noodles, and cheese) simply because I couldn’t muster up the panache to cook something I actually wanted.

So why the heck am I writing an article about how to love cooking? Because I’ve been experiencing a change of heart lately. And I realized last night that I’ve taken a few subconscious actions that have led to this change of heart.

And there it was: a blog post was born.

How To Love Cooking

So what have I been doing lately to put cooking in a new light?

Image courtesy of seller "stilettoheights" on

Image courtesy of seller "stilettoheights" on

1. Make your kitchen a place you want to be.

Over the past few months I’ve made some changes to my kitchen. The first thing I did was paint it a very cheerful, bright orange.

This might not sound like it’d do anything for my cooking, but the truth is that it did. I really like being in my kitchen now. That orange just brightens up my day.

You know what else I did? I bought some really cool artwork off of Etsy, and hung it right where I do most of my chopping. An example of the art I bought is on the right, from StilettoHeights. For $18 I got two completely unique prints.

I also hung up a ton of pictures from our Barcelona trip on another wall.

These small changes (the color, the artwork, and the pictures) have completely changed the personality of my kitchen. I used to see this space as a place to do stuff I wasn’t crazy about doing. Now, it’s turning into a room of mystery and character. It’s a room I really love hanging out in.

The Lesson: If your kitchen is actually a place where you like spending time, then you’re more apt to want to go in there to cook something.

To Do: If you’re not crazy about your kitchen, then find out why. Do you hate the paint? Is it too dark? Is it lacking some character?

Make some effort to turn your kitchen into a place where you really feel comfortable. If you want to hang up some crazy artwork, do it! is a wonderful place to find some really amazing artwork for bargain prices. And, you can feel good about supporting artists directly.

Add light. Add plants. Add color. Add some of yourself. And I guarantee you’ll be drawn to this room more than you were before.

2. Clear some space.

You might be surprised to find out I used to be a professional organizer. And you know what? Hands down, kitchens were always the most cluttered rooms in the house.

So who were the culprits?

Pampered Chef tools. The Magic Bullet. The Williams-Sonoma avocado slicer. The Black and Decker chicken rotisserie. The Kitchen Aid monster mixer. The towering pile of plastic and paper shopping bags.

You know what I’m talking about here. Many people have their kitchens stuffed with more appliances and cooking tools than they know what to do with. These appliances take up a ton of space, and probably only get used a few times per year, if that.

As a result, a lot of clutter ends up on the counters because there’s simply nowhere else for it to go. And, this can make cooking a stressful and frustrating experience.

I’ve been going through my own kitchen the past few months, donating and organizing, and I now have a lot more space than I used to. And you know what? I haven’t yet missed anything I’ve gotten rid of, and my kitchen feels much more open and inviting.

The Lesson: The less cluttered and more organized your kitchen is, the more you’re going to want to go in there to cook and have fun.

To Do: If your kitchen is overflowing with plastic bags, old appliances, faded Tupperware, and defunct Magic Bullet accessories, then it might be time to go an organizing binge. Donate whatever you can that still works, and find a local recycling facility (use for everything that’s broken.

Photo courtesy Erika Rudolph

Photo courtesy Erika Rudolph

3. Cook to music.

I find that if I’m listening to music that I really love when I’m cooking, it’s much more enjoyable. I have a funky old radio that stays in there, but I also have a little boombox for my iPod that I bring in when I’m cooking.

And you know what?

I have a blast.

Lesson: Music makes anything funner.

To Do: Find a way to get music into your kitchen. Whether you click on NPR to catch up on the news or jam out to Elton John, cooking is more enjoyable when you’ve got something to listen to.

4. Change your mindset.

My biggest hangup with cooking was my mindset. I always approached cooking as the necessary evil I had to go through in order to get the prize (ie: something tasty).

But, cooking is an experience. Every step, from measuring out flour to pulling cupcakes out of the oven, is something I should pay attention to and enjoy. If I can have the mindset that cooking is just as relaxing as other things I enjoy, like running or gardening, then I can fully put myself into the experience.

The Lesson: If you can look at cooking as a journey, not a destination, you might find you enjoy the process more.

To Do: The next meal you cook, really pay attention to what you’re doing. Don’t look at those vegetables that need chopping as just something you’ve got to get done before you can proceed to step two. Really focus on chopping them up. Relax while you’re doing it. Let your mind wander and daydream.

I’m here to tell you cooking really can be relaxing. But, it takes the right mindset. I’m still working on this myself, but it’s getting easier!

5. Don’t forget the wine…

Cooking is way, way more enjoyable if I’ve got a glass of wine in my hand. Yes, I buy the cheap stuff (eco-friendly Corbet Canyon: it’s tasty, frugal, and every part of the box and bladder can be recycled…), it’s a great way to relax as I get going.

Lesson: Wine or other drinks can be a great addition to the cooking process. After all, even cleaning toilets would be enjoyable after a couple of glasses…

To Do: Buy a bottle or box of wine for your next meal. But, don’t save it for the meal itself. Celebrate the act of cooking with a glass while you cook.

6. Experiment!

I’ve been getting bolder in the kitchen. Sometimes my experiments turn out great. Sometimes, they bomb (like the vegetarian crock pot stew I made last week. I was going to write a whole post about that frugal recipe if it turned out. But, it didn’t turn out…we ended up eating pizza…)

The point here is that I’ve learned to let go of the expectation that each meal needs to be perfect. And letting that go has been really liberating. I’ve been trying more recipes as a result because I’m not afraid to try them. Cooking has actually gotten a bit, dare I say it, fun.

I’m still not into long, drawn out recipes. I don’t know if I’ll ever be. But I have gotten a bit more adventurous.

Lesson: You don’t have to perfect, can you believe it? Every meal isn’t going to turn out with Martha Stewart perfection. I know, I was shocked too.

To Do: Embrace the inherent fun of cooking. Experiment with different styles and flavors. For instance, A and I made tapas for the first time on Halloween. Did we know what we were doing? Not really. But they turned out really great! And we had just as much fun making them as we did eating them.

Last Word…

You don’t need me to tell you that cooking at home saves far more money than going out to eat. I’ve had my digressions, but I really am trying to cook at home more lately. I need to save that money, and it really is healthier. But, I think I’m doing good so far!

How about you? Do you have any tips to help me and other readers enjoy the cooking process? Any tips you have to keep yourself motivated? Please share!

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Friday, November 20, 2009

TGIF: Round-up of Top Blog Posts

Let's see what great blog posts the week has provided for us. Here are some of the best ones I've stumbled upon. Feel free to let me know if I've missed any.

Notice a theme here? With less than 40 days until Christmas (and less than that for Hanukkah), now's the time to start thinking about gifts you'll need to buy or make.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Green and Frugal -- Where to Donate Old Running Shoes

Courtesy ratterrell Flickr CC

I was browsing through Runner’s World today looking up training tips (half-marathon here I come!) when I stumbled onto an article about what to do with your old running shoes. EUREKA!

First, the Life of a Running Shoe…

Running shoes, unlike regular shoes, have a fairly limited shelf life if you run regularly. They’re good for about 300-400 miles. After that, support breaks down and the risk of injury goes up. So even if they look good on the outside, it might be time to send them packing.

This is always a tough thing, at least for me. I love running, and my shoes are like little friends. My current pair is getting close (if not over) the 400 mile mark. So it’s almost time to say goodbye. Sigh.

How do you know when your shoes need replacing?

  • First, listen to your body. Do your joints hurt? Are you getting shin splints? Do your muscles ache? These are all signs that the support in your running shoes is growing thin.
  • Do the twist test. Grab one of your shoes in both hands and twist. If the shoe feels firm, it’s probably still ok. If it twists easily, they need to be replaced.
  • Check out your soles. The sole lasts much longer than cushioning and shock absorbency, so if the soles are worn then it’s definitely time for a new pair.

Donate Your Running Shoes!

Most organizations like Salvation Army will take “gently used” shoes. But if you’re a runner, then you know that often your shoes are much more than “gently used”.

The good news is that you can donate your old running shoes to organizations that either recycle them, or send them to people all over the world.

Here’s part of the list I found on Runner’s World:

Shoe companies, retailers, and individuals can donate footwear both new and used to those in need around the world. Soles4Souls has coordinated relief efforts for the Asian Tsunami and Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Ike, netting over 1 Million pairs donated for these disasters.

Send your old running shoes to:
Alabama (Primary Warehouse Facility)
Soles4Souls, Inc.
315 Airport Road
Roanoke, AL 36274

Soles4Souls, Inc.
619 Old Hickory Blvd.
Old Hickory, TN 37138

Soles4Souls, Inc.
Foreign Trade Zone #89
6620 Escondido Street
Las Vegas, Nevada 89119

For more information, go to, call (615) 391-5723, or e-mail

Nike Reuse-A-Shoe

Grinds your old running shoes into material that makes athletics and playground surfaces.

Send your old running shoes to:
Nike Recycling Center
c/o Reuse-A-Shoe
26755 SW 95th Ave.
Wilsonville, OR 97070

For more information about Nike Reuse-A-Shoe, go to: or call 800-344-6453.

More Places To Donate Your Old Running Shoes…

The complete list, posted here at Runner’s World, is really comprehensive. Please visit their site to see all the options-they did a really great job covering all the bases. Thanks Runner’s World!

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Have a Green Thanksgiving

Put the Meaning in the Greening this Thanksgiving

Making every celebration more about people and less about things is a key to celebrating green. When we focus on relationships, we tend to spend less, eat less, have less left over and end up putting less into landfills.

So this Thanksgiving, take a look at your rituals and seek out ways to enhance their meaning. Here are some suggestions.

  • In the weeks before Thanksgiving, gather the family and talk about your traditions. Ask for input about what kinds of things you might do together to increase the joy everyone will take from the celebration. Brainstorm ideas, then choose a few to implement this year. (See below for suggestions, but start by asking your family as they are likely to come up with ideas that fit your group perfectly.)

  • Also prior to the holiday, invite your family on an outdoor decor hunt. Go for a walk whether you live on the plains, near a river, or by the ocean. Gather (legally) items, return home and set them up on a table. They might make a gorgeous centerpiece on their own. Or fill a bowl or clear vase with them. Place a couple of beeswax candles in their midst and you've got natural table decor that cost next to nothing.

  • Encourage your kids to come up with games that the whole family can enjoy following the feast. Search online or check out library books on non-competitive games that are fun for everyone.

  • Involve the family in crafting decor, place cards, and small takeaway gifts that are either made from recycled materials or edible. As you are working with them, explain why it's important to avoid using virgin trees (i.e. paper), and other unsustainable materials, especially for a holiday that is so tied to the Earth.

  • To add more meaning to your meal, shop locally. If possible, visit a local farm. Talk to the farmer about what is in season and how to best prepare the food for your guests. Be sure to acknowledge the farmer and the work he/she did to ensure you had a flavorful meal when you are giving thanks at the table.

  • Ask each guest to bring a small item representative of something for which they are grateful. Place each item either at the place of each guest or in a bowl that can decorate the table. During the meal go around and ask each person to explain the meaning of the item.

  • If you host a large gathering for which it's difficult to supply enough china, here's a twist on the idea above. Ask each guest to bring their own place setting along with a story about the plates. At the table, ask guests to explain what is special about the setting. Did the china belong to a great grandmother who brought it when she immigrated? Was this place setting a gift from a beloved friend? Are you especially proud that you bought it for pennies? The stories don't matter. Sharing them does.

  • And speaking of sharing, how about asking each guest to bring a contribution to your local food bank?

  • Aim to make a tradition of a no-waste Thanksgiving. This involves a little more planning than usual, for example, offering fewer choices (do we really need mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and rice?), and ensuring that leftovers go to people who will use them. Decorating glass jars that everyone can fill and take home is a great way to share the leftover bounty. If you compost yourself or do it through your community, be sure that leftover food is deposited in a properly marked container.

  • If a member of your family or a close friend has passed away during the year, remember them sometime on Thanksgiving day. You might light a beeswax candle in their memory, relive some memories or offer a prayer.

Whatever you do this Thanksgiving, focus on those you care about and you will make priceless memories. What is more eco-friendly than that?

Lynn Colwell and Corey Colwell-Lipson are mother and daughter and co-authors of Celebrate Green! Creating Eco-Savvy Holidays, Celebrations and Traditions for the Whole Family, available at

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wacky Wednesday: The Cable Company Will Not Cooperate

Whew, I've been quite the slacker lately. What else is new? I just haven't been in the mood to write.

Recently, I was reading about how to negotiate your fixed bills so you can pay less and save some money. Sounds simple, right? I mean just a few months ago I saved $643 with one phone call to my insurance company. I do a little Googling and find a suitable script. Call the cable company, tell them you can't afford to pay their monthly bill and that you want to cancel your subscription. They won't want to lose you as a customer and will gladly haggle so you pay less and they keep you as a customer.

I psyche myself up and I'm ready to save some money...or so I thought.

I call and casually say "I can't afford to pay $136 a month and Fios is offering $99 per month with more channels." I'm just patiently waiting for Cablevision to beg me to stay because I'm such a great customers. You know what they say? "We're sorry to lose you as a customer. Let me transfer you to the Disconnect Dept."

What?! I don't want to cancel my cable! My husband will kill me! Before I can be transferred, I quickly hang up. What the heck? It pains me to pay so much for cable, internet and phone, but what's a girl to do? While I have looked into switching to Fios, the $99 per month is an introductory rate. So once that period is over, the cost jumps up to $130 a month, if not more.

Argh, back to the drawing board. Have you had any success with reducing your fixed monthly bills? I'd love to hear about it.

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Friday, November 13, 2009

TGIF: Recipe Round-up

I'm on a cooking kick. Yes, my husband is very excited about this since he is the cook in our household. So I thought I'd include a recipe round-up to end the week. Break out the crock pot, heat up the over and enjoy some yummy comfort food this weekend (as well as other enlightening blog posts).
What great posts have you stumbled upon this week?

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Frugal Tip Tuesday -- Seal Those Windows & Doors

After a leisurely trip to Home Depot, we ended up coming home with plastic window sealers and an item to prevent door drafts. The window kit includes double-sided tape and sheets of plastic (does it get any easier?)

You put the tape along the outside of the window, let it set for 15 minutes, cut the plastic to fit the window and then use a blow dryer to make the plastic taunt and prevent drafts.

I had my doubts, but it works like a dream! Our windows are really drafty and they're fairly new (installed in 2002). The plastic has eliminated the drafts! I'm excited to see how this change impacts our heating bill.

The best part (besides how easy it is to install) is the kit was $9.95 for 9 sheets. We have small slider windows, so it was enough to do our bedrooms and bathrooms.

Have you used this kit and what has your experience been?

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Saturday, November 7, 2009

Some Tips to Green Your Thanksgiving

It's never too early to start planning for Thanksgiving. With just a few weeks left, here are some tips on how to make your Thanksgiving more eco-friendly:
  1. Buy less so there is less cost and less waste. Try cutting out one or two dishes (not the absolute favorites) or cutting down on the amount of each you make.

  2. Use the freshest (organic if possible), locally grown, seasonal ingredients whenever possible. To save money, buy in bulk (go in with friends) from your local farmer, use coupons for organic items and start saving for next year's organic turkey (they really do taste better), the day after this year's celebration.

  3. Avoid purchasing anything that cannot be reused, recycled, composted or consumed.

  4. 100% beeswax candles in holiday shapes as well as tapers etc. from Big Dipper Wax Works

  5. Handmade, hand dyed, organic cotton table cloths and napkins from Fiberactive Organics

  6. If you are grateful for your guests, why not plant a tree in their names in a national forest that has been decimated by wildfire through Trees for a Change.
How are you making your Thanksgiving more green this year?

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Website Review:

One area that I continue to struggle with when it comes to cutting costs is grocery shopping and meal planning. Clearly the two go hand-in-hand. It probably doesn't help that I don't do much (if any) of the cooking in our household. I swore that if I had to be a cooking wife, I'd never get married. My husband is a fabulous cook. I try to do my part on the weekends by whipping up a crockpot meal or baking some cookies.

I opened my e-mail this week and was delighted to find an e-mail from Relish!, a site that not only plans weekly menus for you and your family, it also generates food shopping lists. Does it get any better? Of course it does. is also a mom-run website. Giddyup!

How It Works
Pick your meals and a shopping list is generated for you. It's that simple.

Plus, there are great feature articles, party/theme menus and loads of creative but realistic recipes. You can also add your own meals and recipes to the mix.

All I have to say is YUM! The recipes look fabulous, are easy to put together and fairly quick to make. Plus, there are kid-friendly options, vegetarian alternatives and low-calorie meals.

Shopping Lists
Once you pick your meals, the site generates a shopping list. The best part is that the shopping list is put together according to most grocery store layouts. There's even a column with items that are commonly found in most kitchens (spices, condiments, etc.)

The system is great! They even offer an option to add your own recipes and meals. There are many nights when the last thing my husband and I feel like doing is testing a new recipe. Now we can get shopping lists for our own recipes.

Have you used Relish!? Let me know what you think.

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