Friday, November 28, 2008

Holiday Shopping: What to Do?

I hope you all had a Happy Thanksgiving and were able to spend time in the way you love best! We had a relaxing and fun holiday. But also I've been thinking a lot about the subject of stuff and shopping.  

I've been conflicted about shopping these past few days, and nervous.  Yes, on Wednesday, I actually felt nervous about shopping, as ridiculous as that sounds. What should I do?
  • Should I buy nothing on Black Friday, like Reverend Billy & The Church of Stop Shopping recommend? (Great anti-consumerism movement, but probably not.)  
  • Should I brave the crowds at the big-box stores like I did in 2007 at 4:00 a.m? (Nope.)
  • Should I shop locally? (Yes, but am I going to pay more if I do this?)
Incidentally, last year was my first Black Friday shopping  experience.  When I asked a clerk where the carts were, he looked at me like I was nuts.  They were all taken, of course, within the first 3 minutes of the store opening.  I think my jaw may have dropped.  

My goals for holiday shopping this year were 3-fold:
  • We have enough stuff we don't use. Don't buy more.  
  • Don't be a Scrooge.  Gifts are nice.  Give thoughtful ones.
  • Don't go into credit card debt.  Stick to a limited budget ($300).  This amount is for 10 people, including all gifts for our 2 kids. I'm not sure how $300 for 10 people sounds to you. Some may think it is a huge amount, others about right, and some a pittance. 
Our holiday shopping is done. So, how did we do?  Here are the results:
  • I shopped at Target on the Monday before Black Friday and bought 3 board games. 2 for the kids, and 1 for an Adopt-a-Family donation at work. (So, it's really 11 people we bought for).  I thought games would be a good toy to encourage family together-time. 
  • Wednesday night (before T-day), I spent the evening internet shopping at kidsurplus.com. They had some great wooden toys, games, creative toys, and science-experiment type toys. The bulk of our kids (and "cousins") toys were bought from here.  Free shipping and $10 off.  
Another good part?  I could see the total and match it up with my budget while in my jammies. Also, I once heard that companies like UPS/FedEx are much more astute in saving fuel when delivering, as opposed to your average shopper driving. So, perhaps less fuel will be use this way?
  •  Black Friday: My mother-in-law went to Walgreen's to pick up a Hannah Montana guitar on sale for our daughter.  Our little girl loves Disney Princesses, Barbie, and Hannah.  What's a Striving Green family to do? Moderation: She'll get 2 of these types of toys. She already got a lot of these kinds of toys for her birthday a month ago.
  • I woke up early to go to Half-Price Books 20%-off Early Bird sale and bought some quality new children's books (discounted) and some used items for my husband. I'm not telling what, in case he is peeking!  
  • Last, I went to a locally owned gift shop to get the final presents.  I had a great coupon from my Blue Sky Guide, which is like a Happenings book for organic & green products, as well as local merchants.  I also picked up some micro-fiber towels for myself.  I'd like to break my paper-towel habit.
Total: $317.  A little over budget.  But not enough to make my head swim. Reducing our shopping and consumption: We're trying.  

How about you? I'd love to hear your thoughts on your approach to holiday shopping.  Are you trying to reduce your consumerism?  If so, how?  Feel free to share you successes and pitfalls.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Packing a Lunch is Good for the Environment

"Green" your lunch by packing it and bringing it to work. You'll save on containers and save money too. A few tips:

  • Use reusable containers in your lunch, not disposable.

  • If you don't have reusable containers on hand, try wax paper bags instead of plastic.

  • Or, wash your plastic bags and reuse them with Bag-e-Wash.

  • Keep some dishes and silverware at your desk. Wash them at work, or bring the dirty ones home. Just remember to bring clean dishes back the next day.

Need a creative lunch to get you motivated? I love this tip on how to pack your own Bento Box at lunchinabox.net

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bad Hair Days Ahead...

...but for a reason. About 2 months ago I decided to grow out my hair for donation to a worthy charity. Either to Pantene Beautiful Lengths or Locks of Love.

I'm not sure how long it will take. I've been blessed that nobody in my family has had to deal with hair loss due to illness or a health condition. I don't know what motivated me to take on this long-term endeavor. But I have healthy hair that grows fast, not dyed, not *many* gray hairs, and some patience to boot (some who know me well may dispute that last claim). So why not? I think I can do this.

Has anyone else considered a donation like this? Have you gone through with it? What was your experience like? I may need some moral support. My hair is bugging me already.

Week 18 Bean Challenge: 1 Dinner a Week

Tonight's bean challenge dinner was all about me. I decided to break one of my rules: our children must enjoy the bean dinner too. Well, forget that, I decided. I'm making Moros y Cristianos.

Literal translation: Moors and Christians. A traditional Cuban dish. From about.com: It is presumed the dish gets its name from the time when the Moors occupied the Iberian Peninsula. The black beans represent the Moors and the white rice represents the Christians.

This was by far the BEST bean dish I have made in these 18 weeks. I cannot believe a recipe as simple as this tasted so good. I varied this recipe the following ways:
  • I used brown Basmati rice. If you haven't tried basmati rice, you may never go back to Minute Rice or Uncle Ben's. The fragrance and taste of Basmati is far beyond that of the usual fare.
  • I did not cook the rice in chicken stock, just water with a little sea salt.
  • I didn't cook the rice and beans together, but separately. I wanted to give the kids plain rice and beans because I knew full well they would NOT eat this seasoned garlicky dish.
  • I topped with sliced avocado.
Served with corn tortillas recently bought from a Mexican grocery store. The only ingredients are corn, water, and lime. They are fantastic!

Sorry hon, the kitchen will smell of garlic when you get home tonight. Trust me, it was worth it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

It's in the Bag

I just learned of a plastic bag reduce-reuse-recycle program called "It's In The Bag" from a friend at Ecostrides.com.  

Interesting program.  From their site:  Consumers drop of unwanted bags at collection sites.  It's in the Bag collects plastic bags, then works with people from a local non-profit with disabilities to collect and transport material to a processing facility, where it eventually is recycled into composite lumber used in the construction of decks and railing.

On related note note: The other day I was at the grocery store and heard a man say, "No thanks, I brought my own bag".   I think that's the first time I overheard someone say that, other than at a co-op.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Impulse Buy: Dagoba Organic Chocolate

I was at the grocery store today and indulged in a delicious milk chocolate bar: Dagoba Chai Organic Chocolate. From their site:

The original “Chai Chocolate” bar on the market and a unique experience. Milk chocolate infused with a secret blend of chai spices and bits of crystallized ginger.

I'm trying to make my treats "worth it", meaning quality over quantity. I'm hoping this approach will help cut down on my treat consumption. No guarantees, of course!

Dagoba : Delicious and organic, but...I didn’t see a fair trade seal on this chocolate bar. So Dagoba, if you are listening, please consider fair trade for all of your chocolate products. I'll remain a fan if you do.

**************
Epilogue : Apparently, Hershey's bought Dagoba around 2005. See here for comments railing against Hershey's and Dagoba's previous owner weighing in. Like I said...we're learning!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Week 17 Bean Challenge: 1 Dinner a Week

This week's bean challenge dinner was a Black Bean, Corn and Cheddar Fritter. Ours did not include cheddar, only because I forgot to add it while I was cooking (oops). You can find the recipe at Recipezaar. It tasted great and I didn't miss the cheese. Corn and beans always go good together, so I was sure I'd like this dinner.

We seem to have decent luck with the kids liking our bean dinner when it looks like a "burger", or if it's pan fried. That's why I continue to try this format. Our son ate it up, our daughter needed coaxing. The first bite is always the most difficult.

I cooked the black beans the night before and put the rest in the freezer this evening. I feel like I finally got the hang of cooking dried black beans. Practice makes perfect: For the first time, I did not overcook them. Cue the trumpets!

By the way, last week (16) was hummus...again. I always like hummus, but it seems to taste better in the summer. Bean "comfort" food is more appealing during these cold days.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Hold the Bottled Water

I was chatting with a colleague today about how both of our families have moved away from bottled water.  This summer I was turned off from bottled water because of the BPA scare, so our family invested in some Sigg bottles.  Now that I know how easy it is to avoid bottled water and the plastic that goes along with it, I don't have much reason to go back to the habit of buying bottled water.

Our method for avoiding bottle water is:
  • Invest in some good Sigg bottles.  There is no aftertaste with these lined aluminum bottles.  I bought a few stainless steel bottles, which have an aftertaste.  I hardly ever use those.  My experience:  Sigg brand is worth the extra few bucks.
  • If you have small children, buy some kid size bottles.  They appreciate the smaller size and holding the bottles is easier with these handles.  Heck, you might like the smaller bottles too!
  • Before you shop for your bottles online, visit retailmenot.com for coupon codes.  It's a good idea to check out that site before you shop anywhere online.  Gotta save money where you can.
  • After you wash out your reusable bottles, fill them up with water right away and put them in the fridge.   You'll always have fresh cold water to grab before you leave the house.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Cake Wreck

My daughter's 5th birthday inspired me to make my first "cut-out" cake. It was supposed to be a pony. I'm not sure how I made it this long before I attempted one of these cakes, but let me assure you: It's not as easy as it looks.

Here is a summary of the comments I received:


  • "That's not a pony."
  • "That's not purple." (True...It looked more gray in person)
  • "It's a turkey" (2 votes)
  • "It's a pigeon" (1 vote)
  • "It's a pig" (2 votes)
  • "It's a wolf" (2 votes)
  • "What angle are you supposed to look at it from?"
I may submit it to Cakewrecks.

Paperless lists

One of my favorite free web applications is
Ta-da lists, a simple way to create paperless to-do lists online.

I've been using it for over a year now. Before I discovered Ta-da lists, I carried paper lists around in my purse, and wound up rewriting them when they became torn from traveling in my purse.


Here are some Ta-da lists features I have grown to love:
  • Check off "done" items
  • Email to-do lists to yourself, or share with others
  • Make any kind of to-do lists you want.
Some of my Ta-da lists include
  • Children's parties preparation list
  • Gift ideas
  • Packing list
  • Blog ideas
  • 2008 Goals (I haven't checked off many of these yet!)
These are editable lists. For example, when I don't hit all of my 2008 Goals, I can just change it to 2009!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Old Navy Switches to Reusable Bags

I got a coupon in the mail yesterday announcing that Old Navy has switched to free reusable bags for their Stuff and Save promotion, November  14 - 26 (coupon required, while supplies last).  Previously, they mailed plastic bags to customers.  Reusable totes are a fantastic idea - fewer plastic bags in landfills, less petroleum use, and a way to encourage people to reuse.  

I conducted a plastic bag reuse experiment with one of Old Navy's previous Stuff and Save plastic bags.  I reused it 20 times before the handle ripped.  I'm sure we'll get a lot more use out of the free reusable one.

Friday, November 7, 2008

If you run out of coffee filters...

...make coffee the old fashioned way! We ran out of filters last weekend. Instead of going coffee-less on a Saturday morning, try this. It does not look appetizing at first, but it worked! I'm guessing you could make it over a campfire this way too (?)

- Put 2 Tbsp of ground coffee into 8 oz of fresh cold water in a small saucepan
- Bring to a boil then take it off the heat
- Cover and let sit for 5 minutes
- Strain with a fine mesh colander into a cup

You can try straining twice if that seems better. Any extra grains settled to the bottom of the cup.


It tasted just as good as coffee-maker coffee.

By the way, my new favorite coffee is Vietnamese coffee. I had some at the local coffee house the other day for the first time and now I'm hooked.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Voting!

I've been looking forward to this Election Day for a long time! I went to my polling place, which is a 1 block walk from my house. I waited in line for an hour and when I walked out the line was much shorter.

Be sure to vote today. If you are not sure where to go, or what to bring, check out the League of Women Voters web site. They are an excellent source of voter information!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Week 15 Bean Challenge: 1 Dinner a Week

We made falafel this week for our bean challenge. Falafel is a mixture of ground chickpeas, spices, and garlic. You don't have to cook the chickpeas beforehand, but you do need to soak them overnight.

I was surprised by how easy it is to make falafel. Normally, I would make it from a box mixture, but I thought I would give this recipe a try. I didn't have the fresh cilantro it called for, but it was still good nonetheless.

Mix the chickpeas in the blender with the other ingredients.








Form it into balls the size of walnuts.








Fry it up! No, the kids did not like it. But I did!


Saturday, November 1, 2008

Halloween Wrap Up 2008

We had a great Halloween 2008.  Here's the wrap up:

- The pumpkin seeds turned out well.  They taste great alone or sprinkled on a salad.
- Our costumes were fun, inexpensive, and low time-commitment.  Thanks Savers!
- We gave our extra candy away to a free store for the poor.  I'm sure it will be enjoyed.

P.S.  I am supposed to be "Ugly Betty".  1 person recognized me.  

Hope your Halloween was fun!