Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Snow, snow and more snow

It's hard to be green and frugal when you're stuck in the house on account of 18+ inches of snow! The Northeast was slammed with a blizzard this week. My compost bucket is overflowing and my recycling is piling up! But I was able to get a nice frugal workout in -- shoveling lots of snow!

Cabin fever is beginning to set in. Its hard not to do some online shopping. So what's a green and frugal girl to do? Here's some free things to do when you're stuck in the house:

  1. Play in the snow...shovel the a snowman
  2. Clean the house (okay, not exactly fun, but it's something constructive)
  3. Organize and declutter (I'm already putting together items for Ebay and Craigslist)
  4. Pay bills
  5. Do laundry
  6. Play with the kids (I'm addicted to Wii House Party thanks to Santa)
  7. Begin putting away the holiday decorations (I haven't been able to bring myself to do this yet since I like to leave up the decorations until January 1st.)
  8. Read a book or magazine
  9. Workout to a DVD
  10. Do absolutely nothing -- and enjoy every minute!
What do you like to do when you're stuck in the house? I can always use some more ideas!

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Planning Ahead for Next Year's Garden

I'm a big fan of The Simple Dollar and thought you would enjoy this post. Of course prepping for the garden comes right after all the holiday prep...

You might be surprised to find that, as winter sets in here in Iowa, we’re eagerly planning our garden for 2009. In fact, I’d argue that the winter season – spent planning, preparing, and organizing – is as important as the other seasons for having a manageable and cost-effective garden.

What’s so important about gardening? A well-planned and well-cultivated garden not only provides healthy food all throughout the summer and fall, it also provides a very inexpensive hobby that gives you exercise, a lot of fresh air, and an opportunity to get your hands in the dirt. An afternoon in the garden is not only fun, it makes me feel healthier, provides healthy food for my family, and scarcely costs a dime.

What am I doing right now to plan ahead for next year’s garden? Here are ten winter tactics that I use to prepare for the spring.

I plan what I’m going to plant in the spring. I spend some time thinking about what exactly I want to plant – what vegetables and fruits do I hope to get from my garden? For me, this is usually led by the dishes I want to make – for example, if I want to make a lot of salsa, I’ll plan for lots of tomatoes and make space for peppers and onions.

I research varieties. This usually involves getting a number of seed catalogs as well as searching online for more information. For example, if I’m making salsa, I like very firm tomatoes that don’t have many seeds. Knowing this, I dig through online forums and seed catalogs seeking the kind of tomatoes I’m looking for. This year, I intend to plant some Rio Grande tomatoes, of which I’ve read several recommendations.

I order seeds as early as possible. The earlier I get the seeds, the more sure I am that I’ll get the varieties I want as early as possible. I want to get them early – in January or February – so I can get the plants started in the house before spring begins.

I create a “growing calendar.” Once I have the seeds ordered, I take the information about growing times and my own knowledge about temperatures in Iowa and plan when I should start the seeds inside – usually sometime in late February. Some people start seedlings earlier than this, but I’ve had bad experiences with late frosts lately and I’d rather be safe than sorry.

I start seedlings in the basement. This is actually quite easy. All you need is some soil, some reusable plastic cups, and your seeds. Poke a few tiny holes in the bottom of the cup, add the soil, then plant the seeds. Obviously, I do this in concert with the growing calendar. I also hang up a grow light over the plants that turns on and off every twelve hours, simulating daylight. Then, each day, I just go water the cups. Easy as pie.

I maintain my compost. While it’s too cold for the compost to really work in the winter, we still toss vegetable waste, egg shells, and coffee grounds into the composter. In the early spring, when the weather begins to warm, we’ll just add water and a few handfuls of soil (and maybe some compost starter) and a few weeks later, we’ll have wonderful compost.

I maintain my garden equipment. On decent winter days where I must go outside out of stir-craziness, I’ll go out and get my garden equipment in shape. I clean it up, make sure it’s dry, and sharpen things that need sharpening (like pruning shears). This way, when the weather actually gets nice, I’m ready to head right out to the garden.

I educate myself. Since winter months are time to hole up inside and read, I do just that. I grab some gardening books from the library and learn more about gardening techniques in Iowa. If I see any good ones, I jot them down and try to implement them in the spring and summer.

I collect newspapers. I love using newspaper to cover the garden (leaving just gaps for the plants to come up). With a bit of straw on the top, it’s a great way to keep the weeds at bay. So, during the winter, I save up the newspapers so that in the spring I can easily make a layer of paper on the garden several sheets thick.

I enjoy the bounty of the previous year – and use it as motivation for the coming year. On the coldest day of the winter so far, I unthawed some whole tomatoes. They were delicious – a slightly sweet taste of summer that not only fulfills me now, but motivates me to get out there and garden in the spring.
Gardening is a spectacular frugal hobby – and winter’s just as good a time as any to get started!

What do you usually do to prepare for your garden?

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Start Baking: Great Christmas Cookie Recipes

Baking cookies is one of the last things on my holiday to-do list. I'm trying to decide what types of cookies to bake, aside from the typical chocolate chip, oatmeal, sugar, etc. During my search, I came across some interesting treats, including:

 I definitely plan on trying some of these. I'm getting hungry just thinking about it.

What kinds of cookies do you normally bake for the holidays? Have any yummy, unique ones that you'd like to share?
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Monday, December 13, 2010

Wrap It Up Green

Did you know that if every American wrapped just three gifts in something other than virgin paper, we save 47,000 football fields of paper every year?

Unbelievable, but true.

So how to wrap pretty packages without paper?

Switch to fabric.

Whatever look you prefer can be created with fabric -- from super sophisticated to down-home cozy. And there are other bonuses from using this material instead of paper:

Depending on what you use, a silk scarf, for instance, when you wrap with fabric, you're giving a gift within a gift

Fabric-wrapped packages don't require tape or scissors. For that matter, they don't need ribbon either.
Your recipient can keep the fabric to use (in the case of a scarf or handkerchief, for example), or pass it on.
Fabric wraps have a very long life.

And one more thing, wrapping with fabric is fun! It's easy to learn the many techniques for wrapping anything from a piece of jewelry to a bottle of wine or even a basketball! Celebrate Green's instruction page illustrates more than a dozen wrapping techniques.

The least expensive way to go is to use what you already have either as is (in the case of a silk scarf), or by cutting up sheets (decorate them if you like), remnants, or even a piece of clothing, into a square of the appropriate size for the gift.

You can cut squares with pinking shears; sew two pieces of cloth wrong sides together, then turn right side out and iron flat; or fold over edges and sew by hand or machine.

Or, if you're not the DIY type, you can puchase beautiful pre-made wrapping cloths or fabric bags. In addition to wraps, you'll find lots of choices in fabric bags. While you'll miss out on the fun of perfecting your wrapping techniques, these bags make quick work of getting those gifts good-to-go.

Using fabric instead of paper to is easy, affordable and Earth-friendly. Time to get wrappin'!

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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Friday, December 10, 2010

TGIF: Best Blog Posts of the Week

The weekend has finally arrived! How is that holiday shopping and preparation going?

Any holiday tips or tricks you'd like to share for staying sane with so much to do?

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Friday, December 3, 2010

TGIF: Top Blog Posts of the Week

Happy Hannukah to everyone who begin their celebration this week.

Have you started your holiday shopping, baking, cards, or the other million things that need to get done in the next three weeks? There's lots to do and not enough time to do it. What else is new?

Here's this week's list of top blog posts. I tried to find some good cookie recipes, time savers and shopping tips. Enjoy!

I'll be interested to know if anyone goes for the 12 cookie recipes for Christmas. I can barely pull off three batches of one cookie, let alone 12 different ones!

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