Friday, January 30, 2009

Who's Time is it Anyway?

What a day!   Those of you who take care of others already know how hard it is to get some time for yourself, I don't have to tell you.  But wow.  Today, I feel like there was absolutely no time to breathe.  Absolutely. No. Time.  I was running here and there for work, then here and there for my kids - picking this one up, putting him there.  Picking that one up and taking him there.  A seemingly never-ending process that has landed me, at 10:30 pm, on the couch to finally take a moment for me.  

I started reading "The Simple Life" by Frank Levering and Wanda Urbanski earlier (ok, so I guess I did get a few minutes to read...) and it makes my head swim with grand ideas.  I have just barely scratched the surface of their journal about moving from crazy-busy LA to the quieter, more humane orchards of Virginia.  Although the story is set in the 80's, I am able to get a sense of what it was like for them to throw in the towel on their jet-setting life and turn instead to family and a slower pace.  Being that they came to the family farm to take over the debt-laden orchard business, they speak about having to cut spending habits developed in the big city to stay afloat.  
Another reason this couple decided to take a hike from southern California is that they were so busy trying to keep up with everyone else that they forgot to take care of their own relationship.  Within all the bustle of glamor-life, they lost their sense of self and reasons for being together.  I can't say I work the 60-70 hour work weeks that they did, but I must say I can relate.  
Isn't it always the relationship closest to each of us that suffers the most?  When we were growing up, my sister and I would fight like cats and dogs.  Over anything.  She took my shirt.  She looked at me funny.  She spilled glue on my homework.  Her stuff is touching my stuff.  I still remember my mother hollering "Girls!" up the stairs as we would launch into yet another crazy tirade.  But the funny things is, I think we always knew our relationship was safe because you can't divorce your sister.  Ultimately, we always knew that we'd get over whatever made us so mad, and we'd be sort-of friends again.  But as the closest person to me, I loved to hate her.  Thankfully, we both grew out of that fighting stage, and now I adore her.
So this makes me think about how I behave when I'm most tired now.  Can I be assured that my loving family gets my patient attention?  Can I justify all of my time away working as well as my time at home too exhausted to participate in family activities?  Is the payoff worth it?  This brings me to wonder how other people decompress when they've had a full day.  Do you have special rituals or activities that bring you down from a full day?  Have you had to make decisions to cut work or social life because you may have lost some perspective on family time? 

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

You Can't Tell Me It's Impossible

My Mother Earth News Magazine arrived today.  I have really enjoyed this magazine most months, though haven't always rejoiced when it arrived in my mailbox.  The reason is I live in an urban town, far from chickens, goats, gardens and anything resembling the country.  I was raised on a gentleman's farm in a suburban setting, and seem to have left my heart there, so getting my subscription to Mother Earth News tied me to that time in my life.  However, the magazine content is typically about country living: chicken coop building, goat neutering, growing the finest, fattest, tastiest tomato, turning over the finest soil, and I just don't ever feel like I can relate to any articles in reality.  But my heart says not to give up.

Today's issue had a wonderful article written by Jules Dervaes from Southern California.  I found Path to Freedom and the Dervaes family online several years ago.  Awed by their amazing talent to turn an urban, dry plot of land in Southern California into an oasis of organic heaven, I tuned into their blog on a regular basis to look at photos, read reports of biodiesel and learn new recipes.  I never left any comments because I never felt like I could add to what I was reading.  I was mesmerized by their drive to experiment with what they had.  I was curious about their desire to have livestock, but not use the car to go pick them up, choosing to use public transportation instead.  Something kept bringing me back to check in on their successes, of which there were plenty.  Soon, they were growing enough food to feed more than just their family.  Local restaurants were benefitting from their hard work as well.  But the truly inspiring thing about it is they do it all on 1/10th of an acre.

I think about all the money I spend on organic food.  I think about how we've lost touch with where our food comes from.  I think about how I'd love for my kids to pull carrots by their fronds and munch them down right there in the garden.  I think about how we support mass growing and transportation of mediocre foods.  And I remember how my mother used to grin at her first garden-fresh tomato and cheese sandwich of the season, and even at such a young age I knew something was so special about growing your own food.  

I am inspired by the Dervaes family.  Unfortunately, I live in a town that is known for it's 'urban rubble' for soil.  We have tried to amend our little postage stamp yard, but the New England seasons and the deep shade from our neighboring trees makes growing anything but moss and weeds challenging.  You're not hearing me throwing in the trowel, though.  I will find a way to keep inspiration for sustainable living.  And while I work on it, you might want to check out Path to Freedom.  It will make you think.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Great Money Read!

I have waited for this book to come in at the library for weeks.  It's finally here!  Through all the reading I've been doing lately on voluntary simplicity, the names Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin have come up repeatedly.  I feel like they are the mom and pop of the VS movement, and I really ought to read their stuff.  So, here I am, with a somewhat dog-eared and beaten copy of their illustrious book, a 1999 edition (I've just learned they have a new one out this past year - well, she does, he has passed on).  I'm so excited, I can hardly crack the pages.  But here I go...  I love it already.  They dedicated the book to ...ME!  And to you and all your hard-working, eco-friendly friends.  The dedication reads: "We dedicate this book to all of the people who are actively engaged in leaving our planet in better shape than they found it".  Yes, that sound like me!

In looking beyond the dedication and into the table of contents, I read, "Chapter 1.  The Money Trap: The Old Road Map for Money.  How much have you earned in your life? and (I love this one) How much do you have to show for it?"

But it gets even better.  "Chapter 2.  Money Ain't What it Used to Be.  How much are you trading your life energy for?  and Keep track of every cent that comes into or goes out of your life."

This book was the catalyst for people deciding not to spend their lives working but working on spending their lives living.  They ask the very poignant question: Do you really want to keep working to pay for that new house, car, boat, vacation (insert the name of any large ticket item here) or would you rather do without or with less and work less as well.  Now, I don't want to give the impression that I am unhappy with my line of work.  However, if you asked me whether I would like to spend my days doing something else, I would say yes.  I would like to do so many other things:
  • Spend more time enjoying my children before they are too old to want me around
  • Give time to my community
  • Create art with recycled materials
  • Build a garden to feed my family
  • Write stories for children
  • Publish music for children
  • Write a cookbook for special diets
In order to be able to do these things, I will either have to 1) win the lottery - fat chance since I never play the lottery, 2) retire - not gonna happen at my current base of pay/expenses, or 3) cut my working hours in correlation with cutting my expenses so I can be flexible with my time.  I like what's behind door number 3.

I'm excited to get into this book.  If you can get your hands on one, why don't you read it along with me and we'll compare notes?

Have you found a way to be flexible with your time to do the things you like best?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Visit Your Local Library for Passes

Something we love to do is go to museums.  But when you look at the cost of museum tickets, it really is challenging to afford the excursion.  The one place we visit most often is the Science Museum in Boston, so we have renewed that membership pretty regularly.  After going 2-3 times with the whole family, the membership is more than paid for, leaving us the rest of the year to enjoy the museum for 'free'.  

There are many other places I would like to visit in this area.  Boston has so much to offer, but my wallet will never keep up with the urges to see all there is to see.

However, my library has the answer!  Local libraries often have passes to area museums and exhibits for free (or a small fee).  This opens up so many opportunities for families.  Places like  the zoo, the aquarium, the Museum of Fine Art and the Museum of Natural History are on the list, and all I have to do to get a pass is reserve one.  It typically does not work to try to reserve the day you want to go, but with some foresight, we could have a fun-filled weekend for virtually no money.  What a great treat!  

What entertainment ideas have you found for free or very little money?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Whew! That's a Load of Trash!

We spent most of our day cleaning out our younger son's bedroom.  Wow...what a mess.  It really hasn't been that long...well, obviously it has been too long.  We found all sorts of interesting science experiments under his bed.  Things I definitely will not mention here.  But trust me, it was pretty bad.  After we picked up all the junk, and put away the stuff that actually could remain in his room, we had to get up all the powdery dust that had spread EVERYWHERE.  Apparently, our sweet, 11 year old son took it upon himself to throw a balloon of cornstarch as hard as he could against his wall.  And of course, the dust went all over the place.  We made sure he cleaned it up, but 'clean' to an 11 year old is quite different, and almost the opposite of 'clean' to you and me.  So the dust finally got sucked up in the vacuum.  We were able to get him to let go of a few things, to be donated to our local thrift store.  This is significant, since he has not thrown anything away - really ever.  We go in and clear out the junk every now and then, usually without him knowing, but he really likes to hold on to things.

I can hear my sister and mother laughing right now.  I just had a vision of me as a 4 or 5  year old, going to the airport with my purse.  Why I even had a purse is beyond me, but there it was.  It was black, with white stitching, an over the shoulder number with a cool magnetic catch.  I loved it.  I took it everywhere.  On this particular day, we were going on an airplane, and I was excited.  Then I saw we had to go through the airport security, opening our bags to be x-rayed.  All of a sudden, my chic-ness turned to horrifying embarrassment.  I turned to my sister - "What do I do?" She of course gave me that 'you are my younger sister and thus so weird' look, which made things worse.  I was quite concerned at what the x-ray would see me carrying.  In my little cute purse I had the strangest objects, apparently just there to weigh it down enough to stay on my shoulder: a pen, a ball, a fork and the ever important and truly necessary Elmer's glue cap.  Luckily, I was not subjected to any public display of questioning.  So I guess I had a tendency to hold on to things as well.

Why do we hold on to things?  What is it that we are really holding on to?  Some folks don't feel the need to have things around them as if to remind them of events and memories, but the rest of us seem to need them quite a bit.  Can you learn to reverse this habit?  

Do you live clutter-free or have you made peace with the mess?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Bombs Away!

Ok, so not my best attempt at baking gluten-free bread.  I used my bread machine, and my own (meaning in my head) recipe and ended up with a flop.  But, you know, I'm ok with that.  Do you know that cookbook authors typically have at least 10 flops before they get their winner?  And to top it off, mine IS edible - I had some lovely toast from it for breakfast.  It just doesn't look so good.  Following a recipe for bread machines would certainly help, so I will do that later today.  I found 2 good ones in Carol Fenster's Gluten Free cookbook.  
I think once life settles down a bit, I will package up my gluten free mixes to make my baking run smoother.  Something that overwhelms me a bit when I face cooking from scratch is the amount of time I spend mixing these gluten free flours and ingredients.  I've been gluten free for almost 2 years, and I still have trouble being patient with all the new ways I have to cook.  It was so easy with plain old flour and water, yeast and salt.  So making my own mixes for cookies, muffins, bread and pancakes will ease my life considerably.

Do you have a favorite cooking tip?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Summer Already?

Snow is still on the ground, but we’re thinking of summer already. In this area, January and February are the months we have to start looking into summer camps. It amazes me when this time of year comes around and I am barely getting over the holidays, let alone starting to think of summer. Go into any big box store, and I bet you $10 you’ll find the beginnings of swimsuits hitting the racks. Why is it that life needs to stay a few steps ahead of us? What’s wrong with signing kids up for summer camp in May? The camps don’t begin until June, so what’s the rush? And what about those swimsuits? Are the retailers assuming we’ll be so busy with summer camp that we can’t get to the stores during the warmer months? Try to find a good winter coat or pair of boots this time of year. Good luck. But a swimsuit? No problem. Better get it now, or they’ll be gone by the time you actually need it. Of course there’s no wearing it until 6 months from now, and who knows what will happen to your body by then.

So my boys are listing out their choices for summer camp like their gift lists from last month. And you’d think their last name was Rockefeller or Kennedy by the prices of the camps they want. So for five long weeks, we have to shell out a tidy sum for basketball, soccer, archery, etc. Where have the days gone when kids were able to run around outside all summer, leaving home in the morning, and not seen again until evening? What happened to lazy days swimming, biking, exploring?

It’s incredible how much our societal expectations have changed, determined by the economy and parents’ need to be in the work force. I know for our family, if I didn’t have to work, I would be spending those five weeks with my kids, helping them find great tree-climbing and cave-hunting experiences. But ask any family around here and you’ll find folks who have to work in order to stay afloat, and consequently, have to put their kids in camp to keep them busy and safe for the summer. It’s just expected that the kids go to camp, for at least 4, 6 and sometimes 8 full weeks. In fact, if I find a family that is not using a summer camp, I stop and ask what they are doing instead. It has become the exception rather than the norm to have a laid back, summery, summer. We just didn’t have to think about this stuff a few years ago.

Do you have summer plans for your family that vary from the norm? Share them here!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Has it been challenging to leave comments?  I have heard from a few folks out there who are having trouble leaving all sorts of pearls of wisdom, and are having to forego the commenting process altogether.  Oh dear - can't have that!  I have changed the comment forum, so now you should be able to leave any comments without having to look for some hidden word or give out your Aunt Bessie's maiden name... hand over your first born.. etc.  Should be easy as pie.  

Monday, January 19, 2009

Changes I've made

I went grocery shopping today.  I usually don't mind it, but lately, since I've been trying to take care of how much I spend at the store, I have begun each shopping trip with a bit of trepidation.  I get nervous that the items on my list will add up to more than I have budgeted.  What then?  Do I put some things back?  Do I make them last beyond the week and into the next?  No, what really gets me is I'm afraid that I will spend my whole weekly budget in one shopping trip, and then run out of food before the week is up.  I have a teenager and pre-teen at home, both boys, who eat and eat and eat.  In fact, just 30 minutes after my eldest swore he was stuffed to the gills at the dinner table tonight, he complained, LOUDLY, that he just HAD to have more food.  NOW.  How does that happen?  I'm beginning to think I need to feed them rib-sticking, cement-like, oatmeal 3 times a day just to fill them up.

But anyhow, about my shopping trip.  I have noticed little changes I've made, just to make the money go farther.  
1. Buy the large, 5 lb bag of carrots instead of the baby carrots in the tiny bag.  You get much, much more carrot for your $5 vs 2 little bags of teeny, tiny carrots.  Sure, they're cute, and fit into lunches easily, but they really taste the same as the big ones, and you can cut them into tiny pieces if you really want.

2. Make my own cereal by grinding roasted rice.  We have a gluten intolerance in our house, so we have to buy the very expensive, gluten-free oats for oatmeal, which we happen to love in the morning.  When we run out, it usually takes a while before I can locate another very expensive bag (they cost around $10 for 16oz and no one around here carries them consistently).  So I tried roasting brown rice in the oven at 350 for 15-20 minutes, then ground it all up to a fine powder.  I put it in the crockpot with tons of water overnight, with some cinnamon and dried fruit, and let it cook.  By morning, we had a great-tasting, hot cereal with a different taste from oatmeal.  By the way, when I do have oatmeal, I also make granola.

3. Buying boxes of sliced mushrooms for $1.99 gives you more food than a box of whole mushrooms at $1.99.

4. Stop buying juices.  I used to feel badly because I wasn't buying juice for my kids.  I had this thought that I needed to purchase apple juice to get in one more serving of fruit each day.  Then I watched my 11 year old drink down a huge glass full one day, followed by a sugar high, then crash.  I am a firm believer that you need the fiber from the actual fruit, over just the juice without the fiber.  That's pretty much straight sugar.

5. The jury is still out for me on whether the boxed baby lettuces are a good value.  We prefer organic lettuce for our salads, and buying them salad-ready is a real time saver.  The boxed variety seems to hold more than the equivalent of a head or two of organic lettuce, but looks are quite deceiving, I know.  And at $3.99 per small box, I may be overpaying.

6. I pay a ton, a literal TON, for gluten-free bread.  Making our own is tricky since it doesn't last beyond a day.  I work quite a bit, and travel around with after-school activities almost daily, so making bread every day is not practical.  However, at $7 per small loaf, I need to find an alternative.  To make the loaf last longer, I make quesadillas with corn tortillas, and encourage my kids when they are home to eat foods other than sandwiches for lunches and snacks.

7. I refuse to purchase anything in small, individual packaging.  If I need chips or popcorn for the kids' lunches, I buy the large bag and bag it up myself (or pop the popcorn).  I saw a commercial last night for individually wrapped prunes.  Folks were interviewed as saying, 'I just love the little packages.  It's like eating candy'.  Oh brother.

Do you have little tricks to make your groceries go farther?  Add your comments!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Back in Business Again!

We have had a couple weeks of no dryer for our clothes.  I'm sure you know how that feels - like your right arm is gone all of a sudden, and you have to figure everything out with the left which is on backward...

We have been surfing Craig's List religiously every day to find something we could afford.  Today, we finally found it.  A working, gas dryer in the next town over from us.  And the best part - it was FREE.  Wow - we're on a roll here with the free stuff (see yesterday's post), and I really hope it lasts.  The only issue with the dryer, is it makes this loud sound like horses charging or really big sneakers banging around in there.  When we tried it out before bringing it home, it seriously made me jump it was so loud at first.  Then it quiets down a bit, but it's still loud.  We needed some help from our tenant who is an electrician to get the dryer installed.  As we turned it on to see if it heated up in the basement, I apologized profusely for the noise (it's right below their apartment).  But he just smiled and said, "No worries".  I'm beginning to think he's either somewhat hearing challenged or just incredibly nice.  Well, definitely nice as he was able to help us get the darn thing installed.  So now, the washer is humming away, and the new dryer awaits it's maiden voyage with our clean clothes.  So nice not to have to wear the same clothes a few times each week.  My coworkers will be so grateful.  So, no, it's not the cherry-red, front loading dryer I dreamt of, but it was free, and it works, and it's ours.  I didn't have to hawk my engagement ring for it, and I won't have to work 2700 more hours to pay for it.  It won't go to the dump or sit unused.  It will be put to work daily until the day it dies.  And until that day, I will save pennies until I can find the next model up - in cherry-red and used, of course.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Can it be??  Yes! The Gods of furnace heaven are shining upon us!  You may recall that here I spoke about the furnace breaking and leaving us in the cold.  Today, we finally had the guts to call the repair folks out, being that yesterday was payday.  They began their usual, "You need to sign for the diagnostics and pay a hundred bucks", and we gulped and signed on the line.  Then we heard, " You either pay $650 to fix it or $10,000 to replace the whole system."  Well, obviously, you know what to do - $650 is a ton cheaper than $10 grand, but we didn't want to do either.  $650 or $6 million - they're all the same to me - NOT IN THE BUDGET!

But, as luck would have it, the part that broke was under warranty.  The very same part was replaced just under a year ago.  The ENTIRE job will be completed on Tuesday for FREEEEEE!  Oh blessed heat, I can't wait to feel you again.  Especially in these subzero temperatures (don't worry, we're not without all heat here).  

But all celebrations aside, it does bring to mind the very wise words that one must have a sufficient fund for emergencies.  We have no such fund, so when things do break down, we cringe, we plaster, we tape, bind and make do any way we can until we can no longer pretend that something needs fixing.  Katy at the Non-Consumer Advocate just recently posted about a savings plan, and it got me thinking.  Though experts do not agree on the exact amount needed to be put aside, they all agree that living without a back-up savings account, especially in this economic climate, is a mistake.  So I will be taking an extra hard look at our budget this weekend to see where we can trim a bit more in order to put something aside.  Have you found a creative way to build your emergency fund?  Share it!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

When in Doubt, Throw it out... to the compost!

A love letter to my composter:

Dearest muckmarvel of my kitchen scraps;

It has broken my heart that you have sat empty for all this time.  Your tapered walls and filter top, meant to hold all the fabulous trimmings from my gourmet delectables, have gone unused, unloved, and unfilled for far too long.  I have given far too much attention to the grand disposal, sending all those riches down the drain or to the landfill.  As I tossed thick broccoli scraps into the trash this evening, I remembered my commitment to the earth.  I know it's been so long, but hope you will let me take you out of your forgotten spot under the sink, dust you off and put you to work again.  Not only will I treasure your ability to contain all our juicy tidbits, I will aspire to take you down to the papa composter in the yard to empty your contents on a regular basis.  I ask for your forgiveness, and I ask for your service in our home once again.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Big Picture

After speaking with my sister this evening, it dawned on me that simplifying my life will not take place unless I keep the bigger picture in mind.  Somehow, we get dragged down by the moment by moment rush of daily life - the laundry, the meals, the phone calls, the emails, the job, and oh yeah, gotta take care of the kids, the carpool, the PTO meeting, the potluck...the list is endless.

Part of why I started this blog several days ago is because I was losing sight of the big picture.  Why are we here, day to day, going through the motions like they meant something?  Why are we trudging through our daily tasks with a sense of dread and foreboding without ever looking at our shining horizons?  They are there.  I know they are there.  

The amazing part of all of this, is it was my big sister reminding me about the big picture.  My sister, who has bravely marched along the path of cancer survivor for the past 6 months, is the one who tells ME to relax and look at the big picture.  She has learned so much as she struggled with the truth that her body was fighting itself.  She has learned so much she even has wisdom to spare on the day she receives her 5th chemo treatment.  She has learned to find the big picture even when feeling like her insides were being burned out, losing her eyebrows, losing her appetite, feeling pulled from her family.  I listen to her wisdom -wisdom that she has no idea she even has - and it's as if I hear the bigger picture talking.  It says, 'Remember why you are here.  It's not the laundry, the groceries, the playdates, the phone calls, the mortgage.  It's to find the ones you love and share how you feel.  Let them in.  And rejoice in every moment, laundry, dishes, job and all.  You are here.'

I have alot to learn from this picture.  And from what I can see, it's colors change every day, but the message stays the same.

Be here.  Today.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Love Your Children

When was the last time you told your kid(s) how amazing they were?  
When was the last time they blew you away with humorous, intelligent comments?
When was the last time you put down what you were doing to just BE with them?

I have to say, I can't answer the above questions the way I really want to.  My life has been so busy, and I have let myself be so distracted with busy-ness, that I neglect these simple things. These are the things I will look back and regret.  More than not having the beautiful farmhouse with the perfect garden.  More than not being able to purchase a fine hybrid right out of the showroom.  More than not having my cherry red, matching, front-loading washer and dryer.

I pushed the envelope with my kids tonight, needing them to be patient as we unexpectedly drove for what seemed like hours in traffic, trying to get my husband to an appointment during rush hour just outside of Boston.  Not one complaint or issue as we drove on and on, red light after red light... they were tired (I heard the yawns) and hungry (and the tummy rumbles), and yet they hung in there, somehow knowing we had to get where we were going and complaining wouldn't help.  I love how kids do know when to pull up their boot straps and carry on through the murky waters of young-adulthood.  Out of nowhere they find patience and understanding, even if their West Coast Mama was driving like a maniac through East Coast Mayhem, yelling like a banshee.

But one look in the rear view mirror told me everything would be ok, whether we got there on time or not.  Both boys, smiling back at me (I think my truck-driver hollering amused them. I've been told I can also do a pretty good grandma imitation...).

Are you able to look at your kids and know they are getting exactly what they need from you?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Cleanliness is Next to Cleanliness

I did it!  I took the time to clean the refrigerator today.  What a job.  But as you can see, now it is clear what is in there.  And I can attest that everything in there is fresh, wholesome and ready to be prepared into something amazing.  There was a literal party going on inside with all the veggies that could dance out of there, they've been there so long.  Good-bye, rotten pasta and fennel, good riddance.  Dear slimy thing that I could not recognize, best wishes down the drain, you will not be missed.  

I vow to keep better control of my kitchen habits in 2009.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

And the Winner is...CHILI!

So our dear friends came for dinner, and as you may recall from yesterday's post, I was planning on preparing pizza and fejoada.   However, we ate the pizza last night, so I had to come up with a new plan.  I was so intent on sticking to my challenge of not going to the market, but using what we had in the cupboard, that I had to do some quick thinking.  I found 3 lbs of dry beans, a zucchini, onions, potatoes, 3 tomatoes and garlic.  Sounds like chili to me!!  And the best part of it is that I was able to make more than enough for 9 people on less than $5!  With the chili, we had salad (made by our friends), all sorts of accompaniments for the chili and homemade tortillas.  I have recently discovered the wonders of masa flour.  With it, you can make all sorts of delicious foods: tamales, tortillas, and pupusas just to name a few.  I was able to figure out the balance between water, salt and flour just by using my hands - no measuring!- and had a blast mixing, forming and cooking tortillas.  I had always wanted one of those cool tortilla presses to make my corn tortillas evenly flat and round.  I fooled myself to thinking that I couldn't make tortillas, even though I loved them so much at my favorite Mexican restaurant, because I needed a tortilla press.  I have to have one.  Anyone who loves tortillas as much as me needs to have a press.  Anyone.  But I never got one.  I am the lonely cook without a press.  No homemade tortillas for me.  I could never really justify the cost.

But I figured it out tonight!  I improvised a tortilla press out of 2 plates to make a fine and dandy contraption, and wow, it was fantastic!  Pictures will come soon.  For now, we have tortillas and chili to last us through the snow storm tomorrow, after having a truly lovely evening with our friends. Yippee!

As a side note, I didn't want to go by the market, but I did.  At the last minute, I got nervous about not having enough milk or sour cream for the dinner (and huge snow storm about to hit), and purchased ice cream for dessert (which we didn't even use, but will tomorrow).  I was so good - kept it under $20, bringing my weekly total of groceries to $180 + $45 for Boston Organics = $225. Not bad since I'm bringing it down from around $300/400 (and probably more).

Friday, January 9, 2009

Friends Are Coming for Dinner...A Challenge!

Our wonderful friends are coming to dinner tomorrow night. I am so excited as we are also expecting several inches of snow as well, so it surely will be a magical night. I do have a dilemma, though: Being that I did not plan to have guests (additional 5 people) back when I did the grocery shopping this week, I did not purchase extra supplies for the big dinner. So I have decided that even though I am not completely prepared, I will challenge myself to come up with a tasty and fun meal for 9 people without grocery shopping.

“Why”, you may ask, “aren’t you going to the store to buy good food for these wonderful friends for dinner?” Well, all I can say is that in the recent past, I have been known to grocery shop, with or without a list, with every intention to ‘just get a few things’ for situations just like this and end up spending $80. Easily. And I could go back and do it again the next day. Whenever I had the whim of something tickling my gastronomical fancy, I would hop to the store and purchase much more than I ever needed. My pattern has cost me an exorbitant amount of money over the years, more than I ever budgeted for. It was the ‘sneaky’ money that crept away from my pocket without much thought. And at the end of the week, it accounted for much wasted, slimy foodstuffs.

So what if I play a little game and assume I have everything I need in the pantry to make a wonderful dinner for 9? My husband and I did this on Christmas when we discovered that we needed to bring a dish to the family meal. Instead of going to the store on Christmas Eve, battling the crowds and getting more frustrated, we chose to root around and create a dish with what we had on hand. We ended up with beautiful stuffed peppers, filled with chipotle sauced beans and rice. We had just received several red, green and yellow peppers from our organic delivery service, Boston Organics, and I could prepare the entire dish completely without having to shop at all. Lovely.

What will I make? Looks like mushroom and cheese pizza for the kids, and black bean fejoida with brown rice for the adults. Fejoida is a Brazilian dish, typically full of sausage and other meats. The one I make has black beans simmered for hours in sage and other great spices. Being that my husband is a vegetarian, I leave the meat out. It comes to the table accompanied by mandarin oranges (which I do not have, but I do have blood oranges), onions (which I have a zillion of) and cheese (good there). Since I have so many onions, another thought is to make onion soup for the adults. I have a box of gluten free cake mix (yuck, a box – but actually I find the boxed gluten free mixes to be a bit better than what I could do from scratch), and I think I have ice cream. I have popcorn for a snack/appetizer which I can pop and mix with curry powder and butter for a treat.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

What to Eat When You Want to Go Out

Old habits really do die hard.

I came home late tonight after a really full day, hoping I could think of something quick for dinner. No, actually, I was hoping my husband would suggest we 'go out' for dinner. This is typically easier said than done as we deal with food allergies in my house, so finding safe places to eat is a bit tricky. More than tricky. Most often, we go out thinking we can find something good to eat that will meet our allergic needs, and come home with a bellyache. But we keep trying, somehow thinking that the next chef will truly understand what it means to be gluten intolerant.

Oh how I longed for a ride in the car to our closest Mexican restaurant, just to enjoy some enchiladas and chips and salsa. But no, my husband had not suggested it, and I really need to stick to my pledge. So I became determined to work out what this all means.

When I was young, I lived for eating out. I used to plead with my mother, and at other times, my grandmother to go out 'just tonight. PLEEEEZE?' And I'm not too proud to say I told my grandmother that 'It's Tuesday. We always go to Taco Bell on Tuesday'. This, of course, was not true. But somehow the quest for eating out was one for celebration. And as I got older, eating out became reward, social life and status all in one. But the point of this post is not about eating out so much as it's about what to do when you usually go out to eat when tired and starving, but have made a pledge to eat in instead.

So how did we move beyond my urges to feed my eating out frenzy? My DH helped me figure out what we had in the fridge and made a spectacular dinner! It was so tasty - 

Potato-Cheese Quesadillas

corn tortillas
cheddar cheese, shredded
sauteed potatoes and onions in olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Broil until cheese is melted and all is heated through, top with salsa, sour cream and hot peppers.

Oh my. Much better than driving through icy roads to spend $60 minimum on dinner at the Mexican restaurant.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A Clearer State of Mind...Even in an Ice Storm

I walked to work today. Before you start thinking, "Oh, good for you", you need to know I live pretty much around the block from my work. I have no excuse for EVER driving to work, except that sometimes I have to go somewhere other than back home right after I finish working. But not today. I made it a point to get out the door 15 minutes early just so I could get there in time. Of course, I chose the most perfect day to begin my walking to work ethic - right in the midst of an ice storm. Now, the picture above is a bit extreme, though things like this do take place and have taken place in Massachusetts recently, this is not my neighborhood. No, I had mostly clear walkways throughout, and my trusty Kamik boots to keep me dry.

What I liked about this walk was it affirmed why I want to live more simply. When I drive the 2 blocks to work, I am focused on the road, the other drivers and what's playing on the radio. I'm dodging the crazy morning drivers as they negotiate their morning application of mascara, or an early, 'it can't wait until I get to the office' phone call as they drive. Sometimes I go grab a cup of coffee with my husband on the way - which is lovely, but add up those cups and spend a whopping $35 each week. So I walked, which meant I paid attention to what was around me, not the road or crazy drivers. I was unable to purchase a cup of coffee, so I let the morning icy air wake me up. I bumped into a few colleagues on their way to work and had a bit of companionship as well - something rare and warming. Yes, it was cold, and I got a bit wet, but it was nothing horrendous. I work at a school that has a beautiful campus, it looks like an Ivy league school- during ice storms it is quite lovely. I would miss all that if I drove. And of course, there's the exercise, and the saved gas money.

What have you done lately that made you stop and affirm why you live the way you do??

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Why do things break in tandem?

Our furnace, a hot-air blowing gas furnace of the ripe old age of 17 (!?) has decided to call it quits. We were warned last year that we would need to consider another mode of heating our 3rd floor bedroom as something was wearing out on the furnace and would be astronomically costly to repair. And being that the unit was installed in a tight squeeze of a crawl space, it would be even more challenging to replace it. Great. I loved the news then, and I love it more now that we freeze our putooties off every night. Now that I've started my simplified, mindful life, I am forced to find a more economical and ecological way to stay warm upstairs. So don't tell me body heat. That only works while you are under the covers. Try getting out of the shower during a New England winter with no heat in your room. Yikes. So we are looking into a gas fireplace, secondhand furnace (do they exist?) or at least cheaper part for the one that died and a pellet stove as replacement ideas. Have you had a furnace die recently and reheated your space in a creative manner? (share your ideas!)

The second thing to go was the gas dryer (see a pattern here?)  Here when we bought the place (10 years ago), it has run mostly fine for all this time.  And it was no spring chicken when we moved in - it had definitely seen some life by then.  So, after a few minor fixes by my husband here and there, I suppose it was time to meet the great dryer maker in the sky.  Actually, I think it heard me talking to my mother-in-law about beginning to use an outdoor line and not using the dryer as much.  Perhaps not drying with the dryer ever again.  Do you suppose it has feelings?
But what now?  It's the beginning of winter...drying clothes on a line doesn't really work here. Unless of coursed you enjoy wearing popsicles every morning.  I have a local laundromat, and will need to find the time to run a couple of loads while we figure this out.  One thing is very clear: I know what I do not want.  I do not want to go to a big-box store to get a fancy, shiny, perfect dryer to replace my old and graying one.  Yes, deep down I would LOVE a cherry red, front-loading washer and dryer set.  LOVE.  But with my new life focus, it can't be new and can't be from a big-box store.  They get enough money.  I can find a way to get a recycled one.  Already, we've looked into Craig's List and found several free units.  No, not cherry red, but that will come some day.  For now, I just need to get the clothes dry!

Monday, January 5, 2009

New Beginnings

I had an amazingly challenging and for the most part, fruitless holiday season this past month.  Each year, I desperately yearn for something along the lines of what I think I remember of the holidays from my childhood.  At least, what I remember of the good, happy times.  This year, what with the economy in the gutter, though you wouldn't know it with all the late, bustling shoppers at Target... I had hoped for a holiday full of meaning.  What we couldn't afford in material gifts, we could make up for with sentiment and a deeper understanding of the season.  We actually talked about doing away with gifts altogether to keep focused on what December was really about.  Then I started weighing the impending tantrums of our pubescent boys, and we thought better of that brilliant idea.  Sure, when your kids are 2, you can change all sorts of rules.  But not when they are full of lists of potentially bank account busting, electrified ear bursting gifts of all shapes and sizes.  You'd have thought they saw us win the lottery with all their planning and scheming of how to get this gift or that gift in this color or that.  Kids.  We absolutely love them.  But they don't come cheap!

I began to do some research in living more simply.  I don't mean not showering or washing my clothes, though come to think of it, that would make my day more simple.  I mean challenging myself to make better decisions for the long run.  Do I really need a grocery bill that's through the roof?  Do I need to turn the heat up high enough to wear light clothing indoors rather than put on a silky sweater?  And best of all, can I make small choices now that will enable us to work less in the near future, before our boys decide we're too archaic to spend time with?  I really want to do so much with my time, before I'm too old to do it.  Before I'm too stuck in my grind to want to do it.  And I don't want to be stuck in a job just to pay off some humongous purchase 30 years down the road.  I'm all for living - can I interest anyone else to come along for the ride?

Join me as I rumble down this new road.  So many of you have gone before me and some know no other way of life than being frugal and careful, and beyond that, there are people out there who wonder what's wrong with me that I want something other than what WalMart has to offer.  I hope to learn from you all, yet be a voice of fresh new understanding about making life matter.