Friday, February 27, 2009

Day 3 without Diet Coke

Three days down, a 12-pack saved. And boy, am I paying the price.

Call me crazy, but chai tea in the morning, no matter how good it is with milk and Splenda, does not replace the bubbly goodness that comes in a can.

This is me. I am a Diet Coke addict.

This is the place where you lovingly remind me that giving up soda for Lent is not a bad thing. That pop is bad for my body and the environment. Whatever argument you've got...while I hunt down some more aspirin.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Searching for the perfect cinnamon roll

Last weekend, in a fit of inspiration or insanity - I'm not sure which - I decided my daughter and I would bake cinnamon rolls as a treat. Little did I know.

You see, I'm the girl whose idea of baking cinnamon rolls is:
  1. Take container out of fridge.
  2. Pop it open.
  3. Place each of the eight perfectly round circles on the cookie sheet.
  4. Bake.
  5. Open perfectly round circle of premade frosting and coat the rolls.

It's about as healthy for us as it is for the environment. I didn't care. It's the occasional splurge when we have company.

Then I saw in a parenting magazine a recipe for cinnamon rolls. And I of course thought, if this 5 year old girl in the picture can do it, my culinarily blessed child certainly can!

So I ripped out the article, gave the rest of the magazine to the hospital, and promptly lost the instructions.

I did find a recipe for cinnamon rolls at Family Fun online. OK, it's a kids site, so how difficult could it be? I reasoned.

Difficult it's not. Time-consuming, it is. Mix. Wait 5, 15 or more minutes. Mix some more. Wait some more. For a 3 year old, it's pure torture. And starting right after dinner and not being done by bedtime made it worse. It took so long she was willing to go to bed before they were baked. And frankly, so was I.

The next morning, the cinnamon rolls waited, perfectly cooled, on their tray, and we whipped up the frosting, which my daughter proudly coated on each piece. The four of us - yes, even the little guy ate a small one - savored a roll for Sunday breakfast. I don't know whether it was the work involved or just better ingredients, but this was nothing like our quickie rolls from the tube. And with sticky faces and stickier fingers, we each ate our rolls to the last bite.

And then we packaged the rest, two by two, on plates to take to the church bake sale, the main reason for my jaunt into baking insanity. And my daughter, all of 3, puffed up her chest proudly as she told the volunteer that she made those rolls.

There could be nothing sweeter!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Life when you're un- or underemployed

If you're wallet's feeling a bit lighter lately, it's understandable, as more and more of us are losing their jobs.

Here's a little secret: You can survive. We're on month 10 of being a one-income family, and somehow we're living to tell about it.

Amazingly enough, we've not only not missed a mortgage payment but also are less than $1,000 deeper in credit than we were when this happened. And that's with having to charge a full semester of college tuition and books since we didn't qualify for financial aid.

I'm grateful that I still have a job that provides health insurance, and that we're able to make most of our bills on my salary. Even so, lots of little things came into play, and for all of those events and angels out there, we are grateful.

Don't get me wrong. It's taken a lot of work and effort on our family's part. We're more conscious about what we spend. We are more conscious about the resources we use. We scrutinize everything. We get tired of mac and cheese (OK, the over-4 contingent is). And I admit that we could do better.

But the thing is, someday, our family will get through this.

And so will you.

Related posts:

Monday, February 23, 2009

Monday evening morale boost

Right now, I'm realizing that my beloved Jayhawks aren't looking so hot on ESPN. And I'm expecting yet another hectic week in the office. So instead of inflicting more torture on myself by watching this game, I'm hanging out at the computer this evening.

I can tell you one thing: I'm not checking out the news. Too often, it reaks of negativity. The economy. The environment. And it's too easy to get pulled down.

So for a little Monday evening morale boost, here are five posts, in no particular order, to remind you that not everything is down in this world:

Have a terrific week!

Toddler time - and what to do with the aftermath of babyhood

Fourteen months ago. That's the last time I held a baby the size of the little girl I cradled yesterday afternoon at the hospital.

And that afternoon, I returned home, and stared in the face of...a toddler.

There's no denying it. My baby is no longer one. He crawls. He climbs. He tries to tackle his daddy. He thinks he's a big shot for using a spoon to eat "real" milk and cereal. He wiggles around like nobody's business. And he applauds - yes, applauds - me when I get home at night from work.

There's no denying it. There's no longer a baby in this house.

Sure, the signs were there. My kitchen countertop has been reclaimed from the bottle racks and bowl of bottle pieces, long retired. The baby swing has been taken down after too many attempts of trying to climb into or out of it. Toys are already being retired, not to mention the several rounds of sizes of clothes.

But now that baby is no longer a baby, what do you do with the aftermath?

You realize as a parent that the first year is definitely resource-heavy. There's the furniture, the diapers and safety factor, resulting in child-proofing gadgets galore, not to mention the clothing that's outgrown in weeks (as in my daughter's case) or months.

But the little things add up quickly. The pacifiers - love them, or hate them - just get tossed after a fateful fall or too much chewing upon. The bottle nipples, and sometimes bottles themselves, are similarly tossed as the baby gets more demanding in his or her needs. The teething toys. The starter spoons. The age-appropriate toys you'd gotten as gifts. The list goes on and on.

And what do you do with them as a parent? Some, you can just save for future children or pass along to another parent. But others too often get tossed.

As we've approached our baby's "graduation" to toddlerhood, I've been fortunate that I've been able to help some other people out while avoiding just tossing away things the family no longer needed. Pacifiers rejected by my baby after a use or two were re-sanitized and shared with a mom of multiples. The bottles and bottle rack, rather than being tossed, were donated to my work's newborn pantry, with a few given to an expecting co-worker who was going to have to try bottles when the return to work approached. The myriad of baby blankets, particularly the swaddling ones that only really work for a month, were also donated to the cause. Clothes get the usual passing-along to a new mom or to a shelter. And I have a few rejected sippy cups - refused because they just weren't like his sister's cups - just waiting for a new home.

Sometimes, it takes a little creativity to find a new home for still-working infant supplies. But if you can help a parent save some money as well as reduce our impact on the environment, it's worth it.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Firing my warning shot

Consider yourselves warned...

I'm seriously considering giving up Diet Coke for Lent. I feel I need to give you all fair warning so you can 1) move out of the country, if needed, 2) duck and cover or 3) be generous and stock up on aspirin for me for those post-caffeine withdrawal headaches.

I have no idea why I am subjecting myself to such torture. After all, I have a huge deadline coming up at work for April 1. The kids are not sleeping well, and neither are we. And franky, I need something for that morning jolt and mid-afternoon perk.

And then I did the math. 40 days. 4 Diet Cokes or so a day. I realize I'm a creative person and not a math person, but that's 160 sodas, or nearly 14 12-packs. Yikes. That's got to at least fill up my recycling bin at least once, even if the cans are flattened. And that doesn't count the paperboard cases or the gas and wear on my car from traveling to and from getting my fix.

What's just as bad is the other math. Fourteen 12-packs - when prices are good - tops out at $50 easily. That's a lot of money that can make a difference to someone in these challenging times.

So be forewarned. I may not have my usual smiling face. And if you're my guest in my home, I'm dragging you down with me. No sodas in my home. Or at least that's the plan.

Is anyone else equally crazy? Willing to give up something that makes a difference but will be a bit painful in changing your routine? Or is the rest of the world just giving up chocolate?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Our growing challenges

The forecast this week is calling for snow. And yet, spring is on my mind.

Maybe it's a survival instinct for my mental health. But I'm counting the days for warmer weather.

It's a problem made worse since moving to Indiana. They say here not to plant outdoors until after Mother's Day - Mother's Day! - when I'm still used to seeing flowers at the markets in March and April back home in Kansas City.

And then the catalogs keep coming. We're tempted with pictures of a rainbow of flowers - none of which would likely survive under my brown thumb - and unusual produce picks. So a few weeks ago, I placed my first order. Actually, I won some seeds from May Dreams Gardens and Botanical Interests. So my daughter and I hopped online to do a little shopping.

Her wish list? "Rainbow carrots"and the multicolor pack of bush beans. And then she requested of all things, shallots! Too bad they weren't offered there. I supose I'll have to keep hunting! (It goes without saying that tomatoes, which she loves to grow but loathes to eat, will be on our list as well. I'm just not brave enough to start them from seed.)

In the next few weeks, I'll break down and round out my shopping list. So soon, but not soon enough, I'll actually get to plant them. The trick is two-fold: Getting anything to survive in Indiana clay, and getting everyone at my home to enjoy them!

Actually, I upped the ante this year and signed up for the Growing Challenge over at One Green Generation. The goal of the challenge is to not only grow something but also to learn to save seeds to enjoy it for future seasons. I'm not sure how this will turn out, but I'm all for learning something new along the way.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Wasting nature's beauty

Each summer, my family would take two vacations. The first to see our grandparents. The second, to go camping.

Often this involved a trip to Colorado, but we also were blessed to have a few excursions to Yellowstone National Park. Yes, it meant an extra day of driving - both ways - for three frustrated children crammed in the back seat of the car. With no air conditioning. Listening to Peter, Paul and Mary for hours on end.

But the trip was always worth it. Words can't do justice for the amazing sights a person can see at Yellowstone. We saw the park, charred the year after the fires. We saw its beauty as wildlife started to return.

But we the stop prized most was the one to see Old Faithful and Morning Glory. If you've never had the opportunity to see either, Old Faithful is an incredible geyser that used to shoot off like clockwork on the hour. Or at least it used to.

Now, it shoots off anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half, due to earthquakes and vandalism.

Morning Glory Pool is a thermal pool that used to be a deep blue. It's still beautiful, but it's changed.

Years of trash, rocks, coins and more that were just thoughtlessly tossed into the pool have had significant effects. The natural vents were blocked, impacting water circulation, accelerating the loss of thermal energy and dropping its temperature. Orange and yellow bacteria that used to be on the outside of the spring is spreading toward its center.

It's been more than a decade since I've last been back to Yellowstone, and I wonder how things have changed. And I wonder what it will be like when my children are old enough to truly experience and appreciate its wonders.

Here's what amazes me about this world. We can watch nature's beauty in its finest and toss our trash right into it.

If we can't look nature straight in the eye and appreciate and respect God's creation, what is wrong with us as a people?

In a few short weeks or months, the signs of spring will start to return. Flowers will bloom. Trees will bud. Greenness will return.

And as that happens, take a moment to appreciate the beauty around you. And think of ways to preserve it for those around us.

Maybe it's as simple as planting a tree. Or participating in a trail clean-up day at a state park. Or visiting a lesser-known national park to experience the quiet and the wonder, away from the traffic of the more popular parks. Go for a hike in the spring. Go for a hike now - and enjoy the beauty of winter. Enjoy the beauty of this world, away from the traffic, the subdivisions, the headaches.

Get back to where we came from, and see for yourself the reasons why we're trying to be more environmentally friendly.

And please, if you have to carry something with you, be responsible with your trash. A little slice of the world depends on you.

My contribution for this month's APLS carnival on Nature and the Environment. Read other thoughts on the subject on Feb. 20 at the Green Phone Booth.

Photos from the National Park Service.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Nothing says 'I love you' like grilled cheese

When you’re 3, loving is easy. You give your friends hugs to say hello, to wish goodbye, just because the wind is blowing east.

Love flows freely when you’re a kid. And love is simple to give, and simpler to share.

Fast-forward 20, 30, 40 years, and love is a lot more complicated. You worry about dates, and cards, and whether you’re gift is too much or too little or too gooey or just right. You lose love – or at least the expression of it – in the details.

The other day, I asked my 3 year old the other day what we should do to celebrate Valentine’s Day. We decided to have an “I love you” party with her dad and baby brother.

On the menu? Her suggestions: Cupcakes. And grilled cheese.

Because when you’re 3, grilled cheese is one of the greatest culinary creations on the planet (no matter how much of a foodie you are). And who better to share it than with someone you love?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

CSA option for tougher times

Going Local reports that Kiss My Grass Farm in Morgantown is offering an option this season for persons interested in a CSA.

According to Going Local, you can "work off" half the cost of a subscription by assisting on the farm. It's a great idea, as the up-front costs for a CSA subscription can seem overwhelming in today's economic climate. Kudos for their creativity!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Show the ocean your love

The old saying goes, "One man's trash is another man's treasure." But what if
one man's trash becomes another man's dinner?

That's a worry among some researchers, given that one of the world's largest garbage dumps is the regular feeding ground for many fish that, then, end up on cutting boards around the world.

So starts the report last week from Good Morning America on plastic finding its way into the bellies of sea life. While I caught part of it one morning last week, I finally had a moment to read the article, and I was appalled.

The worst quote? "We filleted it, opened the stomach and ... there were 17 fragments of plastic." Just the idea of it makes me cringe.

Sure, it's easy to dismiss as someone else littering causing this, but the reality is lots of someones have contributed to a very large problem. And it will take lots of someones to make a dent in this problem.

So what can you do? Well, the obvious things are to reduce your plastic and not to litter. But there's more.

Fake Plastic Fish offers a few ways to show the ocean - and your love - your love this Valentine's Day by reducing your plastic. Among them:
  • Bring your reusable bag when you go shopping.
  • Choose a non-plastic wrapped gift to show your love. (OK, Beth's original post said "plastic gift," but it just doesn't sing romance to me.)
  • Wrap your gift in a reusable packaging.
  • Enjoy a romantic walk on the beach.
  • If you eat out, order sustainable seafood and bring your own container for leftovers.

If you want my two cents instead, go ultra-romantic and package-free. Make a homemade candlelit dinner and give your sweetie a massage!

One month down...

It's hard to believe we're already a week into February. Time flies when you're sleep-deprived!

So how am I doing on my resolutions for 2009? Here's my confessional:

Curb my passion for paper: D. Um, well, to be honest, a 38-or so page site map project at work, and all of its requisite revisions and approvals, isn't helping my problem. (Unfortunately my office hasn't caught on to the fact you can set PDFs for comments.) To tell the truth, I spent two hours on a Saturday sorting and recycling and filing in my office to no avail. But you now have a less trecherous path to my dusty Mac, if needed.

Grow a little more: A. We're working on plans for this year's garden, and my lovely husband is already trying to figure out where to put in raised beds. (We're not allowed to have just a garden plot in our subdivision!) We've got the order ready to place as soon as the details are worked out, and I'm trying to figure out how to fix my pH in my yard so I can grow blueberries for my other two required bushes. (Hint: Contact your extension office if you're stumped about growing, too!)

Give greener: B. My one gift-giving occasion involved maybe not the greenest gift, but I get points for a second life for gift wrap and a homemade card.

Plan my menus: C. I've tried, we just hadn't stuck to it the last two weeks due to other distractions in life.

Spend wiser: B. I've had a few oops'es, including a sanity lunch that I probably shouldn't have splurged on but did. And the Diet Coke thing isn't budging yet. But overall, I'm buying fewer things that we don't need in the pantry.

How are you doing on your resolutions?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Smile for Saturday

As I'm spending much of this unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon trying to get not one but both kids down for a desperately needed (for all of us!) nap, I'm trying hard to focus on what I love most of them in the midst of my frustrations.

So I leave you with the one lesson I learned this week. Each day my kids go to daycare while my husband is unavailable to watch them, we have a routine on the way home when we talk about what we did that day. Usually it's a laundry list of who hit who, what was eaten for snack and what was discussed during "preschool time."

On Tuesday, the topic of note was Groundhog Day. I asked my daughter what groundhogs did.

She said, "They faint on their tushies."

Yep. Six more weeks of winter would make anyone pass out!

Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Seasonal salads for February

The throw-it-together method of cooking is nothing new in my family, but I’m always amazed with the results.

Sunday my husband came up with a fabulous lunch for us to enjoy. The entrée was leftover chicken and apple sauces sautéed with sliced onions and a little Worchestshire sauce in olive oil.

The accompanying salad was to die for. It was based on Emeril’s recipe for Arurugla Salad with Blood Orange Vinaigrette.

What’s a blood orange? It’s an orange with flesh closer to the color of the darkest grapefruit. And it’s in season right now, though like most citrus, it’s likely being shipped into your area.

Of course, he adapted this recipe to whatever we had on hand:

A 5-oz package of arugula
½ yellow onion, thinly sliced
2-3 cups sliced fresh baby portobellos (at our stores the prices are similar to the average white mushroom
Red pepper flakes
2 blood oranges – 1 peeled into pieces, the other squeezed for juice
Olive oil
One large shallot
Dijon mustard
Champagne vinegar

The vinaigrette was poured together to taste from juice from one of the blood oranges, shallots, Dijon mustard, a bit of sugar, olive oil and Champagne vinegar. (How we had Champagne vinegar in our kitchen, I have absolutely no idea.)

The arugula, remaining blood orange onion were tossed.

The mushrooms were sautéed with the red pepper flakes in the olive oil then tossed on the salad.
It’s definitely worth trying. And if you require actual proportions, here’s Emeril’s original recipe.
We also did a second seasonal salad using a couple of pears, lettuce, walnuts and dried cranberries, though I can tell you the kids picked off the toppings in no time. If you're needing actual proportions and don't feel comfortable with the what we've got, we'll use approach, visit Meals Matter for a recipe for an Anjou Pear salad that's close to what we made.
Photo from Wikipedia.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

How does your garden grow?

No sooner than the Christmas catalogs stop coming than the garden ones take their place.

And as soon as they arrive, those garden catalogs get strewn over the house as wish lists are written. The funny thing is, it's not just my husband and I checking them out. My 3 year old insists on flipping through the catalogs as well and placing her "orders." I figure, if she's interested then I have a helper!

A few weeks ago, I asked her what she wanted to plant this year in the garden. Her answers:

"More" strawberries
Tomatoes. (I was informed that "growed tomatoes" make her happy but "not growed" - off the vine and on her plate - make her sad!)

Last weekend, we started some of our shopping for this year's seeds at Botanical Interests. My daughter's gardening wish list for 2009 has since evolved to:

"Rainbow carrots" (I have to admit, they are kind of cool.)
Multicolor beans (She saw a packet of yellow, green and purple bush beans online.)
Shallots (!)

Gardening is not going to be cheap for this one! Hopefully she will be just as interested in the growing process this year.