Why I Spent My Birthday Money on Socks

My partner’s grandfather, Herschel, has a tradition of giving everyone a birthday gift of the number of dollars that matches her age, so he gave me $41 last month. I used it to order 8 pairs of socks from Maggie’s Organics.

What a boring gift! It brings to mind the 1980s “Saturday Night Live” skit in which Hanukkah Harry, the Jewish counterpart of Santa Claus, brings a good little child a big box of…socks. Why didn’t I spend this money on something luxurious and fun?!

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Saving Money on Sports Fan Gear

We aren’t sports fans in our family.  Exercise is good, but we’re not much interested in playing sports and even less interested in watching sports.

But we live in Pittsburgh, a city with three professional sports teams that are a major focus of the local culture.  We can’t help noticing when one of the teams is doing well: We see people wearing black and gold even more often than normal, all the city buses have some slogan like “Beat ‘em Bucs!” flashing across their foreheads in between route announcements, and we know when a game has been won because we hear people hollering, “Woo!!” as they drive down the main street behind our house.  Sometimes even we feel caught up in rooting for the home team–after all, it’s in our best interest for our fellow citizens to be happy instead of dejected.

When our son Nicholas was four years old, the Steelers made it to the Super Bowl.  Attending preschool that fall and winter, he could not help noticing that all the other kids had Steelers shirts and the teachers were constantly talking about Steelers.  This was not the first time he’d asked for a Steelers shirt, or a Penguins shirt, or a Pirates shirt–these garments are popular even among the youngest children and typically are pretty sharp-looking compared to standard little kids’ clothes–but this was the point at which Daniel and I began to think it might really make sense to get him one.  We believe that resisting peer pressure is a valuable skill and have modeled questioning what “everybody” does, but we also remember the feeling of wanting to fit in with our classmates.  While we aren’t really into sports, we don’t think they’re a terrible evil to be avoided on principle.

The trouble is that official licensed sports team logo gear is expensive.  We didn’t want to pay $20 for a tiny shirt our kid would outgrow in a year!  But the cheap knock-off gear is not only less attractive and poorly made, it’s technically illegal.  Luckily, we learned two handy ways around this dilemma:

  1. When the team is winning successive rounds of championships, the merchandise commemorating the previous win will go on sale.  Nicholas didn’t mind at all that his first Steelers shirt said something about divisional champs.  We picked it up for $6 in the supermarket the week after the Steelers’ next victory.
  2. Kids outgrow their team shirts, and these tend to be sturdy garments that are re-sold in good condition.  There’s nothing illegal about this, as the team received the licensing fee at the first purchase.  We’ve picked up half a dozen Steelers, Penguins, and Pirates shirts for $2 or $3 at Goodwill or yard sales.

It works for me!  Visit Waste Not Want Not Wednesday and Fabulously Frugal Thursday and Thrifty Thursday for more money-saving ideas!

Fishgiving: A Feast from the Freezer!

Last weekend, my family enjoyed a spontaneous and somewhat silly holiday feast.

A few days earlier, we had finally gotten around to baking an acorn squash and two butternut squashes we’d received in our CSA farm share back in November.  Each of the three of us ate a big chunk of squash as a side dish to the Honey Baked Lentils we baked at the same time.  Actually, I like to eat my lentils in the mashed and buttered squash, and I packed up another portion for my lunch the next day.

Then we were left with 5 servings of baked squash and no more lentils.  On Saturday I asked my nine-year-old Nicholas to help me decide what to make for dinner with the squash–Butternut Squash Burritos?  No, he wanted it to be a side dish to something.  Okay, how about fish?  We had 4 fillets and some odd bits left in a big bag of frozen pollock.  Nicholas agreed to a meal of fish and squash.

Suddenly he said, “Can we make the squash like Grandma’s sweet potatoes?”  I was sure that we could adapt the New England Yam Bake recipe to the squash.  Nicholas and his father Daniel were planning to go to the supermarket in the afternoon anyway, so I checked the recipe and the pantry and put canned pineapple on the shopping list.

I was getting out the fish to thaw when Nicholas had another inspiration: “Since we’re having the squash like at Thanksgiving, can we have cranberry sauce?”  We happened to have a can of cranberry sauce in the pantry–and thinking of Thanksgiving reminded me that we still had a quart of stuffing and a quart of mashed potatoes in the freezer!  (We were among the few relatives who traveled by car rather than plane to Daniel’s family’s large Thanksgiving gathering, so we brought home all the leftovers we could manage.)  I got those out to thaw, too.

We baked the fish plain, with just a little olive oil for moisture.  We scooped the squash out of its skin and mashed it into a large flat baking pan, put the pineapple on top, and mixed up the crumblies according to the Yam Bake recipe.  Nicholas coaxed the cranberry sauce out of the can onto our official cranberry sauce server, which Daniel and I bought at a yard sale years ago when we were first living together because we just couldn’t resist the idea that for only 50 cents we could own a crystal plate and silver serving tool specifically designed for the elegant serving of canned gelatinous cranberry sauce!  (We think it’s from the 1950s, judging by the art on the box.)

Fish with Thanksgiving side dishes is just as good as turkey.  The squash bake was excellent.  We really enjoyed our festive meal!  Nicholas began speaking of “Fishgiving Dinner,” and I tried to make up a legend about how this was the commemoration of how the Indians taught our ancestors to eat fish, but he wasn’t buying it.  We had enough left over from our meal of leftovers to reprise Fishgiving Dinner on Sunday night.

Enjoying the autumn harvest to the fullest, with a random celebration in March, works for me!  Visit the Hearth & Soul Blog Hop for more food-related articles!  Visit Waste Not Want Not Wednesday and Fabulously Frugal Thursday for more ways to make the most of what you’ve got!

How to use long-frozen cookie dough

When my parents visited us the Christmas before last, my mother made her grandmother’s traditional animal cookies: a buttery dough that you roll out and cut with cookie cutters (they don’t have to be animal shapes, of course) and bake and frost.  The recipe makes a huge batch, so she divided it and froze two portions, and we made cookies from the rest.

My son Nicholas and I defrosted one blob of cookie dough last spring and baked cookies for church coffee hour.  But the other blob was still sitting in our freezer, 15 months later.  I was beginning to wonder if it was still good and how we might get around to baking some cookies, because I’m seven months pregnant and would like to be filling that freezer space with leftovers to eat postpartum, but I’m so tired so much of the time that rolling out cookies does not seem to be within my capabilities.

One evening last week, nine-year-old Nicholas ate a healthy dinner and then asked for a bowl of berries (we have a big bag of frozen organic mixed berries from Costco, which we’ve been defrosting in the microwave one serving at a time) with yogurt.  I had to tell him I had finished off the yogurt at breakfast.  He was upset.  Berries with milk would not be as good.  We did not have ice cream.  After a while he started asking for “a bready topping”.  No, NOT oatmeal!  Finally I thought of the cookie dough.

We removed the blob of dough from its plastic bag and put it on a plate in the microwave on “defrost” setting.  After 5 minutes the dough was workable.  We defrosted about 2 cups of berries, warming them just to the point where they weren’t stuck together or too icy to handle.  Nicholas formed the dough into 7 pancake-like circles and wrapped each one around a handful of berries.  We put the blobs in a baking pan, poked the tops with a fork, and baked at 350F until they were crusty on the outside, about 15 minutes.  They got larger and stuck together, but they were easy to separate with a spatula.

The result was a sort of dumpling that could be hand-held while eating.  They tasted great!  The cookie dough was sweet enough that the berries didn’t need additional sugar to taste like dessert.  The dough wasn’t stale or freezer-flavored at all.  (I’m impressed, given that our refrigerator+freezer malfunctioned for several months last year before we decided to replace it, so everything from the freezer got semi-thawed and refrozen at least once.)  A little bit of berry juice had leaked through the crust, but the dumplings weren’t soggy, probably because Nicholas ate the last layer of berries at the bottom of the bowl and most of the juice from thawing was down there.

Using the old cookie dough to make fruit dumplings worked for me!  Visit the Hearth & Soul Blog Hop for more food-related articles!  Visit Fabulously Frugal Thursday for more ways to make the most of what you’ve got!

Tips On Running Your Diesel Generator Efficiently

This is a guest post by Sarah Smith.  Sarah is a small business owner and is currently learning about the environment, using the Internet.  Aside from working on her own business, she likes to use social media and read travel books.  I was interested to learn about how diesel generators can be used most efficiently, because I’ve always lived in places connected to a power grid, so I have no experience with generators.

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If you live in a rural area, especially off the main electrical grid, diesel generators are critical tools to have for everyday power needs. From powering a dishwasher to a power drill, these workhorses offer inexpensive energy for many hours of use. However, diesel is a fossil fuel, emitting fumes into the atmosphere. If you are environmentally conscious, you can still run your generator safely with some basic efficiency tips.

Choose The Large Model

When you are in the market for diesel generators, look for a large model. Small generators naturally have smaller engines, requiring them to operate at high RPMs, or revolutions per minute. These high RPMs consume copious amounts of diesel. Although diesel’s exhaust is not as toxic as gasoline, you do not want to add excessive fumes to the air, or purchase a lot of diesel as replacement.

Large models have bigger engines, allowing them to produce ample power at lower RPMs. Fuel is burned more efficiently, saving you money and preserving the environment.

Part Of A Whole

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Four Weeks of Mostly Meatless Dinners (February)

I’m not using the term “pesco-vegetarian” in the title like I have for many of my other multi-week meal plans because I think “meatless” is the more common word people are searching for in Lent.  My family eats no meat at home except occasional fish–which does not count as “meat” in many fasting plans, for some reason–so our menus are ideal for Lenten fasting or any time you want to avoid eating red meat and poultry.  Recently, I have been eating meat in restaurants a bit more often than usual because I’m seven months pregnant and have developed anemia, and the iron from turkey and beef is supposed to be the most absorbable…but in general, I still prefer a low-meat diet.

This menu features two new gadgets we got for Christmas: a slow cooker and a Vidalia Chop Wizard.  We’re finding both of them to be pretty useful.

Here’s what we ate for dinners in February.  Our weekday lunches are leftovers and occasional restaurant meals for the adults and a lunchbox meal (using leftovers where feasible) for third-grader Nicholas.  Weekend lunches tend to be leftovers, too; the ones that weren’t, or that made some notable use of the leftovers, are listed here.  I plan the menu, but my partner Daniel cooks our weeknight dinners so they’re ready when I get home from work, while I cook on the weekends and sometimes prepare ingredients during the week.

Week One:

  • Sunday:
    • Lunch: Pizza and salad left over from the previous night, when we had friends over for dinner.  They brought a “salad bar” (greens, shredded carrot, cherry tomatoes, avocado, and beets in separate containers) and we bought the pizza at Mineo’s.  I made Italian salad dressing–I don’t really have a recipe, but my method goes something like this: In a glass jar, put 2 parts olive oil and 1 part apple cider vinegar; sprinkle in plenty of sea salt, black pepper, dried minced onion, and granulated garlic and smaller amounts of dried red pepper flakes, nutritional yeast flakes, dried basil, dried oregano, and dried parsley; close jar tightly and shake it; taste it and adjust as needed; set jar inside a shallow dish to protect the tablecloth from oily drips.  This dressing can be stored at room temperature for a couple weeks.
    • Dinner: Lemon Creamy Salmon with Tangy Greens.  I used frozen kale for the greens and heated up leftover rice for my carbohydrate and leftover whole-wheat couscous for the guys.  Now we had a second jar of homemade salad dressing, a different flavor; I put them side by side in a small oval dish. Read more…

Humidify Your Home the Cheap and Easy Way!

Our house has forced-air heat: The furnace blows warm air through the ducts and out through vents in most of the rooms.  Our vents are in the baseboards, so they push out the air horizontally at floor level.  This tip also would work with a wall vent that is just above a shelf or table, and would probably work with floor vents or a floor furnace as well.  (If you have ceiling vents or another type of heat, such as radiators, and have a humidifying tip, I’d love to hear it!  Please post a comment.)

The trouble with forced-air heat is that the air coming out of the ducts is very dry.  Most winters this has bothered me a bit, but this year it’s really getting to me!  Maybe I’m more delicate because I’m pregnant.  I have awakened at least once almost every night with my mouth completely dried out, and I often have a slight nosebleed in the morning.  Our whole family had viral bronchitis in January, and the dry air was making our coughing worse.  We needed more moisture!

We tried an electric humidifier.  I could see mist coming out of its spout some of the time, so I knew it was doing something, and it did seem to make the air slightly gentler.  But there were several things about it that bothered me: Read more…

My Top 3 Kitchen Time-Saving Tips

Katie at Kitchen Stewardship is asking everyone to share our top 3 kitchen time-savers this week!  I work full-time outside the home, and although my partner Daniel has been doing more than half the cooking in the past few years, I do most of the planning, shopping, and preliminary preparations.  He works from home and tries to continue getting work done after our nine-year-old comes home from school, so it’s important to him to be able to spend less than an hour making dinner.  Here are our top tips:

Prepare ingredients for multiple meals at once.

When you’re going to the trouble of cutting up some food, using cutting tools that will have to be cleaned, you may as well cut a whole lot of it!  While you’re at it, measure the portions you’ll need for several recipes, and wash the measuring cup just once.  If you preserve some of the food (we freeze any we don’t plan to use within a week), you can stock up when it’s on sale and use it over a long period of time, instead of buying smaller amounts at higher prices.  Here are some specifics: Read more…

GAME SHOW!! with math practice

My third-grade son and I came up with a game that was a lot of fun and valuable math practice and physical exercise for him, while being very easy for me and using only a few basic supplies that were easy to set up and clean up.  This is a perfect activity for families in which all available parents are still recovering from viral bronchitis (or similar debilitating illness) while one or more kids are fully recovered and going stir crazy, but it’s too cold to play outside.  It could easily be adapted for multiple players.

Materials:

  • large supply of fake money, such as from a Monopoly or Life board game.  If you don’t have this, you can keep the kid busy with a preliminary activity of making fake money!  You want at least 20 bills in each of several denominations.
  • stopwatch.
  • area of clean floor.  Have the child sweep the floor before playing.  If possible, use an area at the foot of a staircase or outside one end of a hallway, near a couch or bed where the parent can be comfortable.
  • two receptacles of some sort, which can hold a handful of fake money or a small trinket.  I grabbed some Christmas stockings that are still waiting to be put away.  (We got sick right after Christmas….)
  • a few small trinkets.  These do not have to be anything actually exciting–you’re just going to pretend they are.  Another option is to cut some photos of desirable items out of an advertising flyer.

Prerequisite: Child should have at least one experience of watching a typical television game show, such as “The Price Is Right”, to learn the appropriate ridiculously enthusiastic behavior and when to deploy it vs. when to listen carefully to the game show host’s instructions.

Set Up: Scatter the fake money in a big, festive pile on the clean floor.  If desired, decorate the staircase/hallway/approach to the pile with some of the money along the edges of the path and/or with whatever tinsel garlands or anything you happen to have lying around.

How to Play:

  • Contestant [child] runs down the stairs/hallway while game show host [parent] enthusiastically announces, “Come on doowwwwnn, Nicholas!!!”  Contestant bounces next to the money for a moment of imagined applause.
  • Host announces, “Your challenge is to pick up . . . exactly . . . ONE THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED FORTY-SIX DOLLARS!!  Go!!” and starts the stopwatch.  (Choose a number you’ll easily remember, like the last 4 digits of a familiar phone number.  You don’t want any confusion over what the number was.  If this is difficult for you, use a phone book or other printed source of numbers, and check off each one after use.)
  • Contestant scrambles to pick up the correct amount of money as quickly as possible.
  • Host stops the stopwatch and announces the time: “He did that in just twenty-eight seconds!  But . . . is it the correct amount?”
  • Contestant shudders in suspense while host counts the money.
    • If amount is correct, host announces, “Congratulations!!  You are the winner of one thousand two hundred forty-six dollars!!  YAAAAYYY!!” and tosses the money over the contestant’s head while the contestant does a victory dance.
    • If amount is too large, host is very shocked: “One thousand two hundred sixty-six dollars?  How greedy!”  Contestant shrivels in shame and pays a penalty equivalent to the difference ($20 in this example) from his previous winnings.
    • If amount is too small, host is sympathetic: “Aww!  One thousand one hundred forty-six dollars!  You are not a winner.  Better luck next time.”  Money goes back to the pile while contestant walks away sighing.
  • Repeat over and over and over again for as long as contestant and host can stand it.  (Of course, each round uses a different amount of money.)
  • About every tenth win, host announces, “You’ve unlocked the Special Bonus!!!  Which of these hidden prizes will you choose?”  Host holds up the two receptacles in which she has hidden the prizes.  Contestant chooses.  Host reveals the prize, for instance a card depicting Mickey Mouse: “You’ve won . . . free admission to Disney World!!  YAAAAYYY!!”  Contestant hyperactively celebrates.  Host then reveals the other prize: “But look at what you could have won!  This fine bottle of hand lotion!”  (You might want to make one prize really exciting and the other something of a dud.)
  • If anybody needs to get a drink, go to the bathroom, etc., host announces, “We’ll be back after these messages!”  (Set up the next Special Bonus when child is out of the room.)

Because Nicholas was the only contestant, we weren’t keeping score; he was just enjoying the challenge.  He made only three mistakes in nearly two hours of play; usually, he was able to scoop up the correct amount, even though he completed every challenge in less than 40 seconds and some in as little as 7 seconds.  I’m impressed!

With multiple contestants, you could set aside the winnings–or add up a running total on a scoreboard so that you can return the money to the pile, as well as getting addition practice–and see who gets the most money.  You might incorporate the time in the scoring, too.  If contestants are at different ability levels, give the younger one simpler rather than smaller amounts of money, like $3,000 while the older one has to find $2,917.

This homemade game show worked for me!  Visit Mom’s Library for more activities to do with kids!  Visit Waste Not Want Not Wednesday for more low-cost do-it-yourself activities!

Wearing a stretchy tummy band instead of maternity pants: A review

Soon after my first pregnancy, it became fashionable to wear a top over another top that is longer and sticks out at the bottom. Soon after that, I heard about a garment called the Bella Band that is simply a wide band of stretchy fabric worn around the abdominal area, such that it looks like a longer undershirt but serves the function of holding up one’s unzipped pants. This innovation enables expectant mothers to continue wearing pants that no longer zip over the expanding tummy. I saw several bloggers raving about it, and it sounded plausible to me.

Ten weeks into my current pregnancy, my jeans–which are high-waisted and relatively close-fitting on my non-pregnant body–could still zip but gave me a feeling of pressure that really bothered my queasy stomach, especially right after a meal. However, when I tried on my old maternity pants, they were too loose. I went looking for one of these stretchy bands.

The brand I bought is the Tummy Sleeve, sold at Motherhood Maternity stores. It was $17, which seemed a bit steep. (However, the store gave me a free baby bottle and a packet of really good coupons!) It is made of nylon spandex and available in several colors.

I wore it every day for 7 weeks. Then I started wearing my slimmest maternity pants some days and the band on other days, for a few weeks before I began wearing maternity pants all the time. At 24 weeks, I can still get into my jeans with the band, if I want to. It looks like this:

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Use those last drops of cooking oil!

One of the annoying things about recycling food containers is that you’re supposed to get them relatively clean and rinsed-out before you put them in the recycling bin.  This is particularly difficult with cooking oil because it clings to the inside of the bottle, and it doesn’t mix with water to rinse out, and if you use soap to get it off then you get suds inside the bottle that drip out and make a sticky (still-oily) mess in the bottom of the recycling bin.  It’s also frustrating to see just how much oil is left in the bottle when you’re no longer able to pour out reasonable amounts for recipes–good quality oils are expensive, so I hate to see any amount going to waste!

I used to try to drain the last drops from the old bottle into the new bottle.  There are two problems with this.  One is that old oil, if it is getting on toward rancid, might spoil the new bottle.  The other is that it’s really difficult to balance one oily bottle on top of another, and if it falls, the oil will probably splatter around the room.

Now I’ve come up with two ways to use the last few drops of oil in the bottle!  When a bottle becomes too empty to pour from, remove and discard any shaker-top (if you can’t get it loose with your fingers, put a chopstick through the hole and push diagonally upward; this will remove any top that isn’t factory-sealed onto the bottle), put the cap back on the bottle, and set it aside for these two purposes:

  1. After washing dishes, turn the bottle upside down against the palm of your hand to get a small amount of oil.  Rub it into your hands to moisturize skin and cuticles.  Save money on hand lotion!
  2. After cleaning and drying a cast-iron skillet, turn the bottle upside down in the skillet.  Rub the oil into the skillet with your fingertips.  Let dry.  It will help to season your skillet to prevent food from sticking and prevent rust.  An almost-empty bottle will give you just about the perfect amount of oil for this purpose–it doesn’t take much, and if you use too much oil it can make your skillet gummy or rancid-smelling or attract dust.

I’ll admit that this is one of those times I’m posting good advice on the Internet to help me remember to follow this good advice myself!  At the moment we have four almost-empty oil bottles cluttering the counter next to the sink in our small kitchen!  I keep forgetting to moisturize my hands after washing dishes, until I’ve gone to bed and I feel my scaly dishpan hands snagging on the sheets.  I keep forgetting to remind Daniel (the usual skillet-scrubber in our home) to use the dregs of oil instead of new oil to season the skillets.  Let this be a reminder to both of us!

Visit the Hearth & Soul Blog Hop for more cooking-related articles!  Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday for more handy tips!  Visit Waste Not Want Not Wednesday and Fabulously Frugal Thursday for more ways to make the most of what you’ve got!

A Laundry Line-Drying System that Will Work for YOU!

Have you been wishing you could save money, conserve resources, and make your clothes last longer by line-drying your laundry instead of machine-drying it–but you just can’t figure out how to fit a clothesline into your home configuration and weekly routine?  I am here to help!  My new guest post at Live Renewed gives you 16 questions to consider and detailed suggestions about the line-drying options that will work best for your particular situation.  Check it out!

Choosing a Clothesline that Works for You

Seeking more guidance in the art of line-drying laundry?  Here are my other articles on the subject:

Visit Waste Not Want Not Wednesday for other ways to conserve resources!  Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday to learn about hundreds of things that work for other writers!  Check out the Laundry Tips Linkup at Mums Make Lists!

No-Bake Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie for Summer

This is not so much a recipe as an example of how to work with the food, and the weather, that you happen to have.  Last weekend was very hot and humid, and we had some ingredients that needed to be used, including just two potatoes from our farm share–not enough to make a baked potato for each member of our 3-person family.  When I mused to Daniel about what to do with the potatoes, he suggested shepherd’s pie, which has mashed potato as the bottom layer.

The trouble was that shepherd’s pie is baked.  There was no way I was going to turn on the oven in this weather!  We don’t have air conditioning, but even in an air-conditioned house, it’s silly to use the oven in hot weather because it will make the AC work harder and waste energy.  I wondered if I could just make the mashed potatoes (only a small amount, so not too steamy) and briefly cook some other food and put it all together in a casserole dish.

It worked!  My casserole did not hold together particularly well when served, but a baked shepherd’s pie usually doesn’t, either.  All of us liked this main dish, served with a side of grapes.

Our eight-year-old Nicholas took this picture of the starting ingredients:
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An Abundance of Apples

Returning from a family vacation last Tuesday, waiting at a traffic light around the corner from our home, I glanced up and noticed many red apples decorating the trees at the edge of a neglected parking lot. This lot belonged to a restaurant that closed several years ago, and the building’s been vacant ever since. Nobody is using that parking lot. I doubt that anyone feels a sense of ownership about those apples. I’m almost certain that nobody would bother spraying pesticides on those trees, which means the apples are organic. FREE ORGANIC APPLES!!

I love saving money, and I love saving food from being wasted. Also, it was a nice day, and we were getting home with time to spare before dinner. As soon as we’d unloaded the car, my eight-year-old Nicholas and I walked over to the parking lot with a couple of bags and started picking apples.

We soon found that most of the apples were out of our reach. Read more…

Can you scramble frozen eggs?

Food on FridaysHearth & Soul Blog HopWaste Not Want Not Wednesday
Apparently, yeah, if you let the eggs thaw a little, you can make totally normal scrambled eggs out of them. At least, I did.

I guess I’d better clarify that I’m talking about chicken eggs. In our scary high-tech world, “frozen eggs” often means human egg cells that have been frozen for later attempts at reproduction. If you have that kind of frozen eggs, do not scramble them. The results could be disastrous, or at least not very tasty.

My chicken eggs were in an 24-pack from Costco stored on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. Poor old Rator has not been feeling well lately. We think it was the extremely humid, hot weather last month that caused trouble for our refrigerator, which is the type that has one temperature control for refrigerator and freezer compartments. (NOTE: If you are choosing a new fridge+freezer, choose one with separate controls for the two sections. We used to have that kind, and it was much easier to correct problems with one section being too cold or not cold enough.) A lot of frost built up on the upper back wall of the refrigerator section of this supposedly frost-free appliance, and puddles of water appeared at unpredictable times either inside the refrigerator or on the floor next to it. Daniel eventually realized that a drainage tube was totally blocked with ice and cleared it out, and that helped a lot. However, the recent condition of the eggs indicates that the problem isn’t completely solved.

Last weekend, I found that one of the three eggs remaining in the previous carton was broken–even the yolk had broken, and the fractured shell was sitting in a puddle of partly-dried raw egg. I threw that in the compost, cooked the other two eggs, and bought a new carton. I carefully checked that all the eggs were intact before buying.

Wednesday, I needed an egg to make Cheesy Walnut Burgers. It’s lucky that I brought the whole carton out of the refrigerator, rather than just opening it and grabbing the egg closest to me, because this way I noticed the four cracked eggs. Visible cracks across the tops and down the sides, but no leakage of egg white. The cracks appeared sort of glued shut. Huh?

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FREE Earth-friendly Party Decorations!

Want to decorate your home for a party?  You could buy a bunch of bright-colored paper streamers or rubber balloons that you inflate with air.  These things are inexpensive, but they’re typically made in China by exploited workers in polluting factories and then shipped halfway around the world to you, wasting a bunch of fossil fuel.  When the party’s over, you can compost these things–if you don’t mind having those strong dyes in your compost (do you put it on your food plants?) and you’re willing to wait a couple years for the balloons to break down.  Another option is to buy mylar balloons and shiny plastic decorations, made (usually in China) from irreplaceable petroleum, which aren’t recyclable and will never biodegrade.  You could inflate your balloons with some of the world’s dwindling supply of helium, which we need for so many other more important things.

Or you could save your money, reduce your environmental impact, lighten the load in your recycling bin, and keep your kid busy while you do other things to get ready for the party!  Simply convert some scrap paper into festive link chains to festoon your home, like this:
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Buying Bulk Food in Reused Containers

Many of the foods my family eats most are purchased from the bulk section of the East End Food Co-op, our local health-food supermarket in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. You do not have to buy a membership to shop at this co-op, but members get a discount in exchange for a one-time payment, which is a pretty sweet deal. (If you don’t live here, search for a similar store in your area.)

“Bulk” here does not mean buying an enormous package. In this wonderful section of the store, you get to scoop your own food into your own container, buying exactly the amount you want. First you weigh your empty container and write its weight on the co-op label that you stick on your container. You also write the Price Look Up number, which tells the cash register the price per pound for that food. At checkout, the cashier subtracts the weight of the container from the total weight, and you pay for the food only.

I love this system! Instead of paying for a bunch of packaging that we’d throw away or recycle, we use the same containers over and over again. Most of these containers are better than disposable packaging at keeping the food fresh, and they’re at least as easy to open and close. The co-op sells a few types of containers in the bulk section, but we use mostly containers that we saved from packaged foods. Here are some randomly selected examples, neatly photographed by my eight-year-old Nicholas.
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6 Unnecessary Types of Cell Phone Call

Three years after I explained how I survive everyday life without a cell phone, I’m still doing fine without one.  I recently took a three-day vacation by myself, and as I often do when traveling alone, I borrowed my partner Daniel’s cell phone for the trip.  However, I found that none of the times I used it was essential, and having it along was as much of an inconvenience as it was a convenience!

I’m not a Luddite who doesn’t believe in modern communication.  Not only did I use email extensively when planning this trip before I left home, but I brought my iPad with me and used it frequently, using wifi in two restaurants as well as my friends’ home, not just to communicate by email about my travel plans and to check maps but also to do unrelated emailing, maintain this site, do some Websurfing just for fun, play some music, use some other apps….  I love being able to carry my computer in my bookbag when I choose to do so (typically, I leave it at home unless I’m traveling overnight) and to do all this fun and useful stuff.  But I also appreciate that the iPad doesn’t shriek at random (to me) moments when someone contacts me, and that using email doesn’t involve shouting in a public place or trying to understand buzzy sounds that resemble a friend’s voice.  It is cell phones, specifically, and the way they are getting used in our culture, that bother me so much.

I made six cell phone calls during the three days.  Every one of them was a type of call I’ve often heard other people making on cell phones in public places.  Every one of them was unnecessary, or could be made from a land line, in the era when we all understood how to live without cell phones.

Call #1: “What do you want from the store?”

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How to Wash Your Hair with Vinegar

I wrote a guest post for The Greenbacks Gal on the natural, money-saving method of washing my hair that I have been using for the past nine years! This is an updated version of my vinegar hairwashing article from a few years ago, with some new tips…and a photo of me. I decided it makes sense that people considering whether to wash their hair the way I do would want to know how my hair looks.

Washing my hair with vinegar makes it possible for me to wash less often, have silky texture and nice waves and less frizz without (usually) applying anything extra to my hair, spend less money on hair care, and avoid applying weird chemicals to my skin or rinsing them into the water supply.

To read all about it–or if you are a longtime reader who has been frustrated that there are no pictures of me anywhere on this site and you really want to know what I look like–click on over to The Greenbacks Gal!

P.S. I wrote this entire post using my friends’ wifi while on their porch waiting to find out when they are coming home. Technology may not be allowing me to reach them instantly, but it’s still pretty amazing, giving me the ability to speak to the entire world using a two-pound device I was carrying in my bookbag and some convenient invisible waves! And if I get too hungry to keep waiting, this device converts into a combination atlas and phone book that will show me exactly where to find the nearest restaurant! This is awesome. Except there are some mosquitoes here–is there an app for that yet?

Apple Cider Vinegar as Facial Toner

You may have heard the old saying, “You’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”  I know I’ve heard it, and many clever variations on it, many times since I started using both honey and vinegar in my beauty routines!  First I started washing my hair with white vinegar, then I started washing my face with honey, and then I started using apple cider vinegar as a “toner” to control oily skin on my face.

Apple cider vinegar works at least as well as toners from the drugstore, and it costs a lot less.  Just buy a bottle at any grocery store (buy organic, if you can); pour half of it into an empty, clean bottle; and add water to dilute it to half strength.  You could use distilled or boiled water to be really careful, but because vinegar is great at killing germs you’re unlikely to have any problems from bacteria that might be in tap water–I haven’t.  Store it at room temperature.

To use the toner, soak a cotton ball or cloth wipe and rub it gently over your skin.  (I save the cotton from the tops of pill bottles to use with toner.  When I don’t have any of that, I use my cloth wipes.)  Let the vinegar dry on your skin.  The smell is intense at first but will go away in a few minutes.  I don’t think it smells any worse than commercial toners!

Apple cider vinegar reduces my oily, shiny look without making my skin too dry.  It’s very refreshing in summer when I feel sweaty.  It seems to help a little when my nose is redder than the rest of my face.  By killing bacteria on the skin, it helps to prevent blemishes.  Some days, I can see gray stuff on my cotton or cloth after applying toner, which did not come off when I washed my face with soap; I think those particles come from air pollution, and they can’t be good for my skin!

This toner also helps to calm the itching and stinging of bug bites and sunburn.  However, be careful applying it to really irritated or broken skin–it stings!

Apple cider vinegar as a facial toner works for me!  Visit Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways for more thrifty and earth-friendly tips!