Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Green and Frugal -- Garden Update

We recently came back from vacation to a loaded vegetable garden. Nearly everything is coming in hot and heavy -- peppers, tomatoes (plum and Beefsteak), green beans, jalapenos, lettuce.

The kids help Dad harvest the veggies...hence the wagon.

While it's great to see the fruit of my husband's labor, it can be overwhelming to try and consume this amount of vegetables. We're adamant about not letting any of it go to waste. So here is a list of the things we did with our garden harvest:
  • Made tomato sauce
  • Gave some tomatoes and jalapenos to co-workers
  • Jalapeno relish (delicious as a condiment for steak or as a dip for Tostitos)
  • Bruschetta
  • Jalapeno poppers
  • Veggies and dip for the kids before dinner
  • Gave a good amount of veggies to my parents right before vacation
  • Lots of salad
  • Froze some of the peppers
  • Pickled some jalapenos
Did I miss any? I'd love to hear what types of recipes you made or what you do with your veggie surplus.
The Beefsteaks are as big as my little girl's head!

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Green and Frugal: Creating an Emergency Food Pantry

Another great post from our friends at The Greenest Dollar...

Do you have an emergency pantry?

Most people have one on some level or another. But I think the large majority of people, including myself, don’t give their emergency pantry much thought or planning.

I’m definitely not the type to be all “doom and gloom”, or give in to irrational fears that the economy is going to implode suddenly or that we’ll be under imminent attack from alien robots from outer space.


The rational side of me does admit that these situations, among others like an epidemic or natural disaster, are a real possibility. Having an organized, planned emergency pantry is only smart.

But how can we create one without going overboard and wasting food and money? What do we need to think about? What will we actually need?

These are questions that have been on my own mind lately, as I’ve begun to realize that I need to put some serious thought and organizational planning into my own emergency pantry.

Let’s dive in to planning this thing. Today’s post will cover the basics of how long to plan for, shelving to consider, and water. Tomorrow I’ll be covering food, and rotation, so we’re not wasting money.

Consideration #1: Timelines

First you need to ask yourself how long you want to be able to survive on your own. advises people that they need food and water to cover 72 hours (3 days). Most natural disasters like blizzards, ice storms, severe storms and hurricanes are short lived, which means we can usually count on assistance after that time frame is up.

Notice I said: usually.

We all remember Katrina. And we’ve all heard the news stories of towns, especially last year in the Northeast, that went weeks without power during the dead of winter.

How much time you want to be stocked up for is entirely up to you. Some people are fine with a 72-hour stock. Others, like hard-core survivalists, have enough food and supplies put up to last for a year or more on their own.

It all depends on where you live, and what level of emergency you want to be prepared for.

Consideration #2: Shelving

All your water, food and supplies will have to go somewhere. Ideally this will be in a cool, dark place that will minimize spoilage, like a basement.

You need to have some kind of shelving unit that will keep all these supplies organized.

On the right, as you can probably tell, is my own ill-organized, un-planned emergency pantry. Yes, I know it’s sad, which is in part why I’m writing this post! I mean, just look: my dogs have a bigger stash of food than I do; they’ve got Milkbones, wet food, and there’s actually 2, 50 lb. bags of food (you can’t see the other one).

So yeah, I’ve got some learning to do which is why I’m investigating this!

But take a look at the shelves my stuff is sitting on. These shelves are actually pretty awesome because you can change their height based on what you’re storing. And because they’re steel, they’ll hold around 350 lbs. per shelf.

Of course, any shelving is going to work. But it needs to be large enough for the food you’re storing, and in a place that’s easily accessible. You need to be able to reach your food so you can rotate it over time (using old food and replacing it with new so it doesn’t go to waste).

Consideration #3: Water

You need, on average, one gallon of water per person, per day. And don’t forget your pets!

You’re also going to need water for flushing toilets and cooking.

This can add up to a lot of water sitting in plastic jugs in your basement. And plastic eventually starts to erode, so it’s important you’re rotating your water every few months.

Personally, I don’t have any jugs of water in my basement because I’m relying on other methods.

For instance, I’ve invested in a Nutriteam Countertop Water Distiller . We use this thing every single day to steam distill our own water (you can see my review of this steam distiller here). It rocks, big time.

No matter how dirty the water is (even if you’re using water out of your rain barrel), a steam distiller will give you perfectly pure water in a matter of hours.

The downside, of course, is that it’s dependent on electricity to run. As a backup, I have water purification tablets, and a small portable stove and dozens of cans of fuel I can use to boil water.

So what happens if your water is cut off?

Well, it’s important to know where your closest natural water source is at. Is there a lake or stream nearby you could take water from? Any empty pools?

Spend time now figuring out how you’ll get water in an emergency if your public water supply is cut off. And don’t forget about rain barrels; in a pinch, these can be great sources of water. I have two barrels hooked up to my house, and they’re both full. Yes, I use them for watering my plants, but in an emergency I’m going to count on that water as well.

It’s also important to look for sources of water within your home. Your hot water heater, for instance, is a water source in an emergency.

Your bathtub is another source. Keep in mind that open water (like in a bathtub) can quickly harbor bacteria, especially if it’s not cleaned out beforehand (which can be hard to do if, like most emergencies, things happen suddenly).

Products like the WaterBob, which fits in your bathtub and is made of food-grade plastic, are popular because they help keep that contamination to a minimum. You don’t have to worry about cleaning out the tub at all. This plastic bladder fits in any sized tub and will hold 100 gallons of water.

And thanks to the spigot on the top, it’s really easy to get water out of the bladder. Because the water is 100% encased in food-grade plastic, you don’t have to worry about bacterial contamination from the tub or air. All you need to watch is light; the more light that hits the water, the likelier it is to harbor bacteria.

Do you have an emergency pantry? How have you gone about prepping it? How long are you stocked up for?

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Planning a Staycation

As I get ready to head out for our Cape May family vacation (a pseudo-staycation), I thought this post from The Greenest Dollar was quite fitting...

So, I’m going on a Staycation tomorrow. That’s right; we’re taking time off to…stay at home.


Well, there are several reasons.

First, staying at home is much, MUCH more affordable than going away somewhere. You save on travel expenses, lodging, eating out, and those other costs that invariably pop up out of nowhere.

Second, staying at home is also really relaxing. You’re not in a rush to see and do everything. There’s no hassle. You can sleep in, play games, lounge on the porch and really chill.

Another great benefit is that when you stay at home, you’re supporting your local economy.

And the best part? Staycations mean less impact on the environment. When you skip the plane trip, and all the driving around in your “new city”, you’re saving resources.

The Downside…

The downside of staycations is that they can be, well, boring. After all, home is where you know best. It’s tempting to do chores, or put-off projects to “catch up”.

But how fun is that? Not very.

So while researching things to do (and not to do) on my own staycation I thought I’d write a post just in case you’re thinking of taking one yourself.

First, though, some rules…

1. No Chores

Do you do chores while you’re on vacation?

No way.

So, don’t do them on your staycation. Resist the urge to clean out the garage and scrub the floors “while you have time”. Do that and you know what’ll happen? You’ll finish up your vacation feeling just as tired and worn out as when you started it.

The point of a vacation is to relax.

So, try to get your chores and errands done before your first “staycation” day. Clean the house, hit the grocery store, go to the bank…get it all done so you can relax while you’re “gone”.

2. No Internet

Since I work at home, I put this rule in here for myself. There will be no Internet while I’m gone. Because you know what will happen? I’ll get emails from clients, or something will come up, and before I know what’s happened I’ll be right here at my desk. Working.

So, it’s a digital vacation for me!

But this goes for you too. Technology can be stressful, and it’s bliss to unplug for awhile. So turn off your iPhone and hide your Blackberry. It’s really liberating.

3. Create a Plan

If you don’t map out what you’re going to do on your staycation, then you’re going to end up stuck in your same old routine. So create a plan just as you would if you were going away. Research things to see and do while you’re off.

Things to Do On Your Staycation

Now comes the fun part! And boy, did I find a lot of good ideas for families, as well as “adult only” events…

1. Go to a local museum
2. Go on a picnic
3. Bake something you never have time to bake
4. Take your kids to the local pool or water park
5. Have a “Track and Field Day” in your backyard, with potato sack races and other fun challenges
6. Go see a Minor League Baseball Team
7. Have a campfire
8. Visit your local Nature Center
9. Go bowling
10. See a play at your local Community Theater
11. Go on a wine tour of your area
12. Go out dancing
13. Go to a concert
14. Take a historic home tour
15. Visit your closest state or national park to go hiking
16. Eat lots of dessert
17. Have a game night
18. Visit the zoo
19. Wander through the woods
20. Wade in a creek
21. Set up a treasure hunt
22. Visit a local “You Pick” farm and pick your area’s in-season fruits
23. Try canning!
24. Eat at a new restaurant
25. Visit another town you’ve never been to
26. Go relax at your local lake or beach
27. Go to the movies
28. Go browse the bookstore and find a luscious book to read during your time off (I just finished reading Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression and it was wonderful).
29. Tick something off your Life List…you know, something you’ve always wanted to try but haven’t “found the time”
30. Go roller-skating
31. Pretend like it’s 100 years ago: make an old-time recipe and eat it by kerosene lamp. Follow up with a bonfire.
32. Build a tree house with your kids
33. Play catch-the-flag with a big group of neighborhood kids. At night.
34. Go eat at a mom and pop diner; make sure you get the peach cobbler.
35. Put up a tree swing
You see how this could just go on and on. With a sense of fun and a little imagination, your staycation can be an incredibly relaxing and rewarding experience.

What We’re Doing…

So, what are we doing to be doing on our little vacation?
Lots of relaxing things.
1. Go to the local playground to swing and seesaw (one of my favorite things to do!)
2. Go on a picnic
3. Go to see the Lansing Lugnuts play (our local Minor League team)

4. Read in the hammock on the front porch
5. Sleep in
6. Have a campfire in the backyard to make S’Mores
7. Go dancing
And really, that’s about it. I’ll be heading off to see family on Monday, so I’ll see you all again next Wednesday!

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Green and Frugal Back-to-School Shopping

Celebrate back-to-school with better-for-the-planet choices that can save money too

The new school year is just around the corner and that means shopping. Kids not only want/need new clothes, but want/need to be re-supplied with everything from backpacks to lunchboxes, paper, pencils and, depending on age, electronics.

And while living an eco-friendlier lifestyle means buying less (and spending less), it also means buying smarter if you're going to purchase. Here are some tips for making better-for-the-Earth choices when it comes to schools supplies.

1. Before setting foot in the store or clicking on your favorite store's website, make a list of every item your kids need/want.

2. Next, have your children go on a hunt through the house for items on the list. (Checking with grandparents, neighbors and friends is encouraged.) If you're like most families, you've already got dozens of pens, highlighters, notebooks and other sundry items that you don't need to buy. Set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes and if you like, reward the family member who comes up with the most usable items.

3. Discuss with children who are old enough, why it's important to use what you have and avoid spending money and creating more waste. Perhaps you can come up with a challenge. Ask your kids to keep track of expenditures. If they can get everything for an amount you set, the family does something they enjoy together as a treat.

4. Set up a swap. This is a great way to save money as well as recycle not only clothing, but all sorts of school necessities. If parents are enthusiastic, most kids will be perfectly happy with new-to-them items!

5. Prior to heading to a store where you'll buy new, stop by one or two local thrift shops. You're likely to find lightly used three-ring binders, pads, scissors, desk lamps, back packs and electronics like calculators and of course clothes and shoes as well. Buying used means no packaging and no "gifts" for the landfill.

6. When buying new, seek out eco-friendlier alternatives. Even big box stores are carrying 100 percent recycled paper, recycled binders and notebooks, but you might need to seek them out. And if your local store doesn't have these goodies, be part of the solution by asking the manager if she would consider ordering some. Have favorite brands you usually buy online? Pass on the names to the manager.

7. Buying online makes choosing eco very easy. Do a search for an eco-friendlier option for any school supply. Here are just a few examples of what you'll find: Ecojot, carries awesome recycled journals and notebooks. ReBinder has 3-ring binders, Recyled Products offers lots of recycled pen and pencil choices, and backpacks made from recycled soda bottles can be found at many sites.

8. Get those coupons! Many people believe that eco=expensive. Sure, that can be true. But the fact is, coupons and deals abound. Google the name of the product or store plus the word "coupon" or "deal." Shopping in a locally-owned store? Contact your friends and get their lists, then ask the manager if you can get a discount for buying in bulk.

9. Buy only what you need. Those 12 for-the-price-of-6 notebooks are not a bargain if your kids never use them.

10. On the other hand, buying in bulk can save on packaging, so if you can buy a bunch for less, then split among friends, you'll not only save money, but help the Earth as well.

11. If purchasing new, according to the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, you will want to:

a. avoid backpacks with shiny plastic designs as they often contain PVC and sometimes, lead. (Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) is unique among plastics because it contains dangerous chemical additives used to soften or stabilize it. Federal law has banned the use of phthalates one additive in PVC, in children's toys, but not school supplies.)

b. choose cloth or metal lunchboxes. Many lunchboxes are made of PVC, or coated with it on the inside-and don't forget cloth bags to hold sandwiches, cookies and fruit.

c. choose cardboard, fabric-covered, or polypropylene binders. Most 3-ring binders are made of PVC.

And when the gathering/swapping and/or buying is done, have some fun. Celebrate this year's eco-friendlier (and money-saving) choices with a family fashion show/demo or an old-fashioned ice cream social.

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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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Green and Frugal: Tips for Eating Healthy and Local on a Budget

Another great post from our friends at The Greenest Dollar...

Here’s a sobering fact from the Huffington Post to chew on:

In 1949, Americans spent 22% of their income on food, whereas in 2009 they spent a meager 10%.

Why are we spending so little of our income on food?

The reason is because we’re buying more prepackaged food, and fast food, more than ever before. Yes, this food is cheaper. But it’s also loaded with fat, calories and sodium, and gives us very little nutritional “bang for our buck”.

The Huffington Post also reports these statistics…

In 1949, 2% of children were overweight. In 2009, 19% were overweight.

In 1979, 28% of adults were overweight. In 2009, 64% were overweight.


Plus, food prices themselves are going up, at least according to the USDA. They expect prices on produce to go up 3% in the coming months, with further rises in 2011.

We can help reduce the impact of all these negative stats simply by making a few simple changes in the way we buy, and consume, our food.

Tips for Eating Local and Healthy on a Budget

1. Buy Peak Season Food

One of the best things we can do both for us, our wallet, and the environment, is to buy food when it’s in peak season. This is when it’s at its most delicious, and cheapest.

How can we tell what’s in season?

I found this awesome online tool from Epicurous that allows you to choose your state so you can see exactly what’s in season. right now. You can also check other months to help plan out your menus or decide what to can and store for winter months.

If you have the time, it’s also a great idea to learn how to can your own food. I taught myself how to can this summer and can tell you that at least from my experience, canning is a rewarding and fun way to take advantage of cheap, healthy summer produce.

If you have a food dehydrator, drying is also a fabulous way to preserve fruits and veggies that are in season. Plus, you can easily dry herbs (which are often sold for $1/bunch at your local Farmer’s Market) at home and save money buying them at the grocery store this fall and winter. As I type this, I’m drying lavender, sage and basil in my office. I’ve grown all of it myself.

2. Eat Nutrient-Dense Food

When you eat, you need to get the most bang for your buck, calorie and price wise. This is why eating nutrient-dense food is so smart.

Nutrient-dense food is any food that is high in nutrients for its size. Usually things like whole grain bread, figs, apples and raspberries are nutrient-dense. They have vitamins, and lots of fiber which makes you feel full.

Any food that’s high in sugar (like cookies, candy, ice cream…) is a waste because you’ll be hungry again quickly, and you just consumed all those calories for nothing more than instant gratification.

There is a great list of nutrient-dense foods here if you want to learn more.

3. Plan Meals BEFORE You Go to Farmer’s Market

I’m so bad at this.

Sunday morning comes around and the first thing I love to do is head off to my local Farmer’s Market, two blocks away. I get there and it’s almost overwhelming how beautiful everything is.

The problem? I have no idea what, or how much, to buy. I did zero planning.

The past few weeks I have gotten better at remembering to create a menu before I go. I look at recipes so I make sure I know exactly how much produce to buy, and come up with several I can make in the days to come. I’m wasting less food because of this.

4. Time Your Market

There are two great times to hit the Farmer’s Market: very early, and very late.

If you’re early, you’ll get the best produce. If you go late, you can often get great bargains because the farmers don’t want to ship that food back to their farm.

5. Eat the Whole Thing…

Did you know you can eat radish tops and leaves? Carrot tops?

In many cases, we’re throwing away nutritious parts of our vegetables simply because we’re not aware that we could be eating them. Research ways to cook and eat every part of the vegetable you buy. You might be surprised at what you could be eating!

Tip: Vegetable trimmings can be boiled to make a tasty, nutritious vegetable stock. This freezes easily.

6. Don’t Forget to Barter

Many farmers are happy to hire you to “work for food”. You could be picking strawberries, and go home with several buckets to keep for yourself.

You can also ask the farmers at your local market if they’ll trade food for work. You could help them set up and take down their booth in exchange for some food. If things are tight, this could really help stretch your budget.

7. Forage

Here’s a great story: last night I rode my bike up to our local elementary school to go swing on their playground. I chose a set of swings closest to the property line since it was in the shade.

What did I find when I walked over there?

The biggest raspberry patch I’d ever seen.

Can you imagine my delight? No one had picked these raspberries! The sad part is that there were only a few left (the season’s over here), but I could tell all those raspberries had just been left to rot on the vine. If I would have found that patch just a week or two earlier, I would have had all the raspberries I could eat and then some.

Another great story: Last month I was combing through an abandoned lot here in Howell. I was collecting red clovers to dry. But you know what else I found there?

Chamomile. Tons and tons of chamomile.

The point here is that there are often surprising places where wild food is growing. Go exploring! Hit your local woods and empty lots. Buy a guidebook that teaches you how to identify wild medicinal plants and herbs. Keep a notebook to write down where that wild apple tree is, or where that chestnut tree is. This way you can come back when those things are in season and gather to your heart’s delight.

Last Word…

I think it’s safe to say that food prices are going to continue to go up. And, many of us our stretching our food budget to the limit as it is.

If we want to stay healthy then it’s up to us to get creative and take the situation into our own hands. This is not only empowering, but it’s also liberating.

If you have any tips you’d like to share about eating local and healthy on a budget, I’d love to hear them!

Spread the Love!

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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Green and Frugal: Repair Broken Electronics Vs. Throwing Them Out

Electronics are often ignored for the amount of energy they require and the amount of waste they leave behind. There has been an influx of repair services that could ultimately play a big role in reversing some of our collective habits. Specifically, electronics repairs for popular smartphones like the iPhone, computers and gaming consoles. If you live in or around a city, you are likely driving or walking distance to one.

With cell phones, people get great deals when they sign up for a coverage plan and in return the phone is affordable. The problem is, these phones are very vulnerable to breaking. The new iPhone breaks in a strong wind, it's been reported (presumably). A broken LCD screen can cost as much as a new phone with an extended plan discount.

The quality of repairs can vary from one place to the next. If you see a place charging $20 more ask them why. Ask the less expensive store the same question. Generally speaking you get what you pay for but local shops can offer great deals. Plus with walk-ins, you can get it repaired in as little has 10 minutes for broken screens. Mail-in orders are a great option too, especially for those of us who have been trained by Netflix to really enjoy the process again.

This all reflects the evolving trash awareness that is inescapable. The good thing is old electronics are worth money. People are realizing this with DIY repair resources and technology readily available to everyone. It is possibly one of the good things that has come out of the 'frugal' stranglehold from the economic downturn; people are figuring out that with just a little bit of know-how they can repair their electronics, and extend the life of their favorite toys. And if they don't want to bother, these services that offer repair solutions will be more than glad to take it off your hands.

Guest post by Repair Launch - Save Responsibly

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Friday, August 6, 2010

TGIF: Best Blogs Posts of the Week

Woohoo, it's Friday!! I have some great posts for you to check out. The family is getting ready to go on vacation so next week's blog may be a little light.
I'd love to get your feedback on what your favorite posts are. Do you like personal finance posts, recipes, green living or something else? I want to make sure the content I'm providing is what you want

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Movie Review: Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth

As you may know, I signed up for and had completely forgotten that the movie An Inconvenient Truth was on my "want list." Lo and behold, I was notified that someone was interested in swapping my book, The Kite Runner (great book, by the way). I finally found some time this weekend to watch this enlightening movie. Mind you, many people feel that it's a political propaganda film, including my history teacher husband, so I tried to watch the film while leaving my political feelings aside.

You're essentially watching Al Gore give a PowerPoint presentation about global warming. This isn't an action thriller, however the statistics and history that he cited were incredible and helped to keep my attention (no easy task).

For example, he showed how the glaciers of the North and South Pole were rapidly melting, how the earth has been experiencing a warmer and warmer climate and how this all ultimately impacts nature, animal species and what the future may hold if we keep going down this path. I was completely floored since many of these statistics were completely new to me.

One key fact about global warming that I never realize is our ability to reverse the damage that has already been done. I didn't realize we had a chance to redeem ourselves!

While I question the authenticity of some of the statistics (mainly due to my husband's prodding), I did find An Inconvenient Truth interesting.

Have you watched the movie? What did you think?

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