Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The TV Talk

Last night we finally had The Talk in our house.

“Grace has a TV in her room.”
“Yes, yes, she does.”
“I don’t.”
“No, we share our TV in our family.”
“But Grace has one.”
“Yes, Grace has one. But our family has one TV, and we watch it together. If you were in your room by yourself, you would be sad.”
“When I am four, can I have a TV?”

This is when my husband cut in with that never-in-your-life tone that is buried deep in that Y chromosome. “You will NEVER have a TV in your room until you’re out of the house!”


I never thought we’d have the television battle just yet. Grade school, sure. Preschool, no.

Yes, we’re movie people, but we’re just not live-or-die by the television types. My husband, who grew up in the country, believes kids should enjoy the real world first. I never grew up with a TV in my room either, but in the short period I lived with my in-laws after our apartment flooded, I realized how jarring it can be. We’d turn on the TV, which was in our room, every night for hours to escape. It wasn’t great for us, nor for our relationship.

In fact, when we built our house, no bedrooms had a cable outlet. My mother protested it’d be an issue for resale value. My feeling is by the time we sell, it will all be wireless.

I realize we’re an oddity in this society. Though, if you pay attention to the dialogue about going digital, it seems that fewer people are relying on cable these days. Maybe we’re not so strange after all.

So, no, little one, you won’t be getting a TV for your room. You will someday remember fighting over shows with your brother, protesting when parents overrule and playing “movie theatre” on a blanket with your bowl of popcorn. And that is OK too.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Our little leek experiment: Not dead yet!

My poor brown thumb is a little less so.

I'm proud to say that our poor little leeks have made it through the first week of life.

Each day, my daughter stands on her tiptoes and stretches her little arms over the counter, to see how the peat pellets are progressing. So far, about two-thirds have sprouted - little green and white strings curling in their container.

So we've made it through week one. We'll see what happens when they are introduced to the wind tunnel that is our backyard!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I am the wierd neighbor

Every neighborhood has its share of quirky neighbors. I guess I never realized before that I'm the local representative!

Sure, everyone leaves their cans on a kitchen counter to recycle after a get-together. But here, we have the cans and usually lots of dishes to do as well after a party. There's a set of Stonyfield yogurt kiddie cups on the counter, washed and drying to mail back for recycling.

Not to mention the daily line-up paper bags of Sunday newspapers, mail and assorted papers, and plastics, tin cans and aluminun to recycle.

Heck, my husband even washes and balls up the aluminum foil to recycle after cooking, to make a poor three-point shot into the bag.

Upstairs, in the loft, there's another line-up of boxes. What outgrown kids items to sell back. What to give to a friend. What to donate to the next drive.

But the neighbors can absolve me of my wierdness. After all, that's within my home. It's that whole "outside" thing that's making them shake their heads.

The other day, I mentioned the compost bin situation to a friend of mine in an attempt to commiserate with her over her trampoline issue. Her reaction? Crinkling up her nose in disgust. Come on, this is vegetable bits, not manure! And if you do it right, there's little or no smell at all.

Then yesterday, we ran into another neighbor as we're meauring out where to put the raised bed. She sort-of accepted the veggie bed (though I've found some great plans in some of the books I'm reading!), but her eyebrow definitely raised and I think I saw a "I'm so glad I'm moving" expression when I mentioned the dwarf blueberries we were thinking about adding to our yard to help meet our bush quota.

Nevermind that my home is one of the most landscaped on the street. When you break out of comfort zones of the people around you, you become the wierd neighbor. And I think I'm OK with that.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A cracked idea

I realize that every major holiday has been commercialized beyond recognition, but I’m really drawing the line and saying that we’ve fallen into stupidity. I was at the store the other day and not only saw branded Easter treats, but also things like "Hannah Montana" egg decorating kits and "High School Musical" Easter grass.

Are you kidding me? Do people really buy this?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Peat pots and preschoolers: A smart combination?

Last night, much to my preschooler's delight, we started work on our "garden."

I figured she had been tortured enough in having seeds in our home for a month now. I broke out the peat pots and container I'd saved for a special occasion, and we got to work on our kitchen counter.

Being a little rusty in this regard I did the unthinkable: I read the directions. It started with "add warm water to the bottom of the container." Hmm... Lots of water plus preschooler equals potential for a huge mess. We got off the kitchen table fast and settled onto the floor.

My daughter oohed and ahhed as the "dirt grew" in the tray. She was ready to begin.

As I've been a procrastinator this year, I only have the six packets I won from Botanical Interests on hand, the rest are waiting to arrive. Of the six, only one recommends starting indoors. I grabbed the leeks.

We pulled out a bowl to pour the seeds in as I worked to get the peat pellets ready. I sprinkled a small amount of seeds in to show her how tiny they are; in her excitement she dumps the rest unceremoniously into the bowl.

She stared at them quizzically. I jumped in: "Look at how tiny they are, and look how big they'll get," as I grab the leeks I found at the grocery store this week. She looked impressed.

I poked the holes in each pellet; her job was to add the seeds to each. I got admonished in a way that only 3 years olds can do when I slacked off and didn't keep up with her expectations.

Finally, after wandering attention and questions like "Why are your fingers dirty?" we finished our initial leek project. We covered our tray and set out to find a spot with indirect sunlight. Except with our home's orientation, it's a challenge. In fact, the few places that might work are in the direct path of baby brother.

So whether these poor leeks will make it until mid-May for planting is anyone's guess. But I think the two of us, regardless, will learn a lot!

(photo from muranakafarm.com)

One less gift card in the landfill

I love gift cards for their ease of use - particularly when it comes to running to the gas station. I also love it because I'm able to buy them at church and support our youth programs while buying things I know I need to buy.

The reality of this arrangement is that most of the cards come in $20 or so denominations. Fine if you're buying a gift, not so fine if you're buying groceries or a tank of gas. So I struggle with balancing my desire to help others out on my limited budget versus generating more plastic junk out there.

Who knew I can recycle them? I just learned on No Plastic for a Year that gift card recycling is available. I'm very excited. Read on...

Friday, March 20, 2009

Inspiration from Fake Plastic Fish

If you've ever been interested in abandoning your sea of plastic, Fake Plastic Fish is an inspiring place to turn, focusing on the big picture issues as well as little changes we can make.

Periodically, she shares inspiration from other blogs she's read. This week, my blog was among the ones featured in the Voices from the Plastic-Free Blogosphere. It was a fun interview, and I definitely felt inspired when reading the other bloggers' comments.

Here are some of the great ideas I picked up from other voices on this post. They're surprisingly easy. I'll admit the last one never even crossed my mind!
  • The next time you replace your shower curtains, choose cotton or bamboo instead.
  • Cut down on take-out food.
  • Swap plastic food storage containers for glass.
  • Ask for no straw when eating out.
Two blogs I'll definitely add to my feed directory:
  • At No Plastic For A Year, Katie invites a different "buddy" to try plastic-free living out with her for a week and post his/her experience on the blog. What a great idea to engage others!
  • At Cre8 and Re-Cre8, you can find DIY projects to "create useful items and to re-create old items into something new and functional."

Have a great day!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Living offline - and living to tell about it!

The last two days, our office has been Internet-less.

Yes, you've heard it right.

No e-mail.

No Google.

No intranet.

No servers.


I can almost see you twitching. We've gotten so accustomed to being online that it almost hurts to having life without it.

Now throw in that we're a communications department, and you almost can feel the tension rise.

Life without a PC is actually kind of freeing - for the first hour or so. You at first think you can take care of a few random items that have been rotting on your to-do list because of more pressing items. Then you get an itchy trigger finger and click on the IE icon a few more times, because maybe this once it will pop up.

By the end of the first day, you're telling your sob story to others in your company, who respond with wide eyes by compassionately offering you a computer terminal. Company-wide e-mails are being distributed saying you can't get online, too bad.

You think of all the little things you could take care of, like finally call the pharmacy. Except there are no phone books around - everything is online.

You decide to actually phone others in other departments who are working on projects with you. Except there's no paper phone directory anymore, and it's all on the intranet.

By the second day, your coworkers are getting edgy - those who bothered to come into the office versus camping out elsewhere.

So we'll see whether the third day is a charm.

But this whole experience, other than making me want to twitch, makes me realize just how dependent we are on technology. Whether we're trying for cost savings or a little less paper generated, our work lives and home lives are at the mercy of whether a cable is working.

Kind of sad, isn't it?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

When giving gives a Fresh Start

For many people I know, “going green” isn’t just about buying a few select products. Instead, it seems to be part of an entire lifestyle overhaul that reflects on largely simpler and less chaotic living.

As part of that reduction of chaos in my life, I’ve been slowly paring back the “stuff” in my home over the last few years. I admit that I hate to get rid of things. What’s worse is this is a learned trait from my mother, who hung on to things for sentimental or other reasons. I still remember when I came home from the hospital when my daughter was born – and my parents greeted us with two moving boxes full of artwork, random items and paperwork from when I was a child.

Paper clutter aside, I’ve learned over the years that good things can find good homes. And while it’s easy to pass along outgrown baby clothing to an expecting friend, what to do with other things may not seem so obvious. Perhaps you’ve splurged on new dishes or furniture, or received an heirloom item and no longer need redundant items cluttering up your life.

That’s when donating good items to good causes makes sense. While many of us know about Goodwill, Salvation Army or AmVets, the reality is these items go to showrooms of randomness and may end up being severely marked-down castoffs. It’s great when looking for a random find, but not so great about getting things directly to people who could use them.

One cause I’ve held dear to my heart since moving to Indianapolis is Fresh Start of Indiana, a domestic violence organization that provides transitional services to families leaving the shelter. As having a stable homelife can help prevent victims from returning to their abusers, getting these families re-established with a home – not just an empty apartment – makes all the difference in rebuilding their life.

Fresh Start provides everything from bedroom furniture to kitchen supplies to clothing for these families. It helps nearly 100 women each year, which is an amazing feat, given that these are all donated items.

If you’re considering some serious spring cleaning or just want to give green, consider this untraditional way of caring by donating your unneeded things to causes that help families rebuild a home.

This month's APLS Carnival is focusing on ways we can give green. For more posts, visit Green Resolutions on March 20.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Free seeds and a chance to help

Most of us have a can or 12 of Campbell's soup in our pantry. Now, if you have an aspiring green thumb, you can find a way to make it work for you.

Visit HelpGrowYourSoup.com to request a free tomato seed packet. You will need one can of Campbell's Condensed Soup to do this - but there's a catch. You'll need one that has a 5 alpha-numeric + 2 alpha-numeric code on the bottom of the can. (The two cans I'd bought yesterday at the store didn't have that, so you'll have to check yours.)

Even if you don't have cans on hand, you can still help donate seeds to FFA chapters. Just fill out your seed packet request form to donate 100 seeds and then click on the "Grow" button to donate 50 more seeds. You can click again tomorrow to donate another 50 seeds.

Got to love homeowners associations

We'd been planning to finally add a compost bin on our lot this summer. Just to make sure it's allowed, I check our lovely homeowner association rules. There's nothing that specifically says no composting but one that could be applied that way.

So I e-mail the HOA and get this response:

Compost bins are allowed if stored inside. If stored outside the no storage tank
of any kind is allowed on a lot.

Who in their right mind tries to compost in their garage?

Any suggestions on getting around this one?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Touch the tree

After 10 months of uncertain home schedules, the days when we do need day care become a source of upheaval in our household. If it's not a tantrum during the getting ready process, then there's at least one instance of pouting or tantrums in the car.

Today was no different. We were blessed that my husband got temporary work for today, so off the kids went. And like every day when my husband is in school, I got and "I don't want to go. I want to stay home with Daddy."

Pulling into the driveway meant the same routine. And today, I just wasn't up for it.

I calmly pull out her little brother and told him, "You were such a good boy in the car. Would you like to touch the tree today?"

"I want to touch the tree!" I hear his sister cry.

"But you don't want to go today," I responded, bringing her brother to the pine tree that he loves to brush his tiny fingers against.

"I do! I do! I do want to touch the tree!" And out she popped from her car seat, jumped out of the car, and ran underneath to touch the tree before happily trucking to the front door.

If only things were always this easy!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Fighting recession obesity

I read an interesting article the other day on "recession obesity." In other words, people stock up on the high-calorie, high-fat foods that seem to be cheaper instead of things that are healthier options.

Reuters reports:

They fear that as people cut food spending they will cut back on healthful but
relatively expensive items such as fresh fish, fruit, vegetables and whole
grains in favor of cheaper options high in sugar and saturated fats.

"People . . . are going to economize, and as they save money on food they will be eating more empty calories or foods high in sugar, saturated fats and refined grains,
which are cheaper," said Adam Drewnowski, the director of the Nutrition Sciences
Program at the University of Washington in Seattle.

I’ll admit that I’ve been guilty of the same mentality. When my husband first lost his job and we had no unemployment, I avoided eating lunches, instead eating the snacks that were brought into the office. It wasn’t good for my physical or mental health – the ups and downs of blood sugars, particularly when you’re diabetic, or the fogginess that results when you’re just not filling your body with foods that are best for you.

Fortunately, I was quick to come to my senses before I did too much damage to my blood sugars and my waistline, which I admit is still far from perfect. But there are many things you can do to be more mindful of your dollars and your health.

Most of it involves common sense. For the $1 for a can of salted, limp, washed-out green beans, you can almost always find a bag of frozen green beans, which retain more nutrients, or fresh green beans on sale. (Or, if you're really motivated, a pack of seeds to grow your own!)

For the $3 for a bag of potato chips, you can buy three to five pounds of potatoes, which in a pinch can make loaded baked potatoes for dinner or hash browns or latkes for breakfast.

For the $5 spent on flimsy hamburgers for your kids off the $1 dinner menu, you can buy at least a pound of hamburger and some buns to make burgers with some taste on your grill. Or, if you’re more motivated, you can stretch that pound of burger into pasta dishes or other meals where the meat is an accent, and not the main emphasis, of your meal.

Home-cooked meals don’t need to be time-intensive. For the time it takes to have a pizza delivered, you can easily cook most meals. It’s a great way to keep your kids involved too. My daughter has been cooking with me since she was a year and a half. Even little ones can tear lettuce or snap beans, and they love to be helping in the kitchen as well. (The youngest ones can always sit in a high chair with a few measuring cups and some dried cereal to “measure” or munch on.) You may think that having kids in the kitchen makes things worse, but to be honest, they love it, and I’d rather control what messes they are making!

The other piece of the puzzle is exercise. While diet and nutrition is important, so is taking time to take care of yourself. If your gym membership or your child’s participation on a soccer team are casualties of this recession, fine. It’s days until spring, so take advantage of the weather for your exercise. Go for walks or jogs. Bike around the neighborhood – or to work. Play outside with your kids instead of on the Wii.

Yes, these times may force us to use some creativity, but in the end, it’s worth it.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Must be doing something right

If you ever wonder whether your children are watching...they will show they are in the strangest ways.

With this amazing 60-degree weather this weekend, we are spending a lot of time at the park. Yesterday, on the walking trail on the way in, my daughter stops to pick up a water bottle. I immediately jump into hyper-worrying mom mode, and tell her not to pick up the trash.

She looks at me pointedly. "Mom, (when did I become "Mom?") I have to 'cycle this water bottle." It went in the bottom of the stroller to take home.

Today, after lunch, I was begged, yes, begged on multiple occasions to work on our garden.

"Mom, I have to weed!" I was told.

How do you argue with logic like that?

I must be doing something right as a parent!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Fish-free Fridays

Growing up, Fridays in Lent meant Fish Days. And being the oh-so-adventurous family, fish sticks for dinner it was.

Today, things are a little more complicated. Sure, you can choose your breaded, from the freezer fish sticks. But you may be searching for a little more sustainability – or simply trying to sustain your budget.

Sustainable seafood
Living in Indiana, the closest thing we have to sustainable seafood are the few fish farms that are out there. So anything that we’re eating is shipped in and hardly local, meaning that it's less fresh by the time you get it and has a huge environmental impact from the refrigeration and the shipping.

That doesn’t mean you can’t make smarter choices. Seafood Watch lists a large number of fish and seafood, offering best choices and alternatives. You can even download a pocket guide for one of seven geographic regions listing the most sustainable options out there.

Healthier eating
As a parent, and one who was pregnant not that long ago, I’m acutely aware of the risk of mercury. Interestingly, the EPA states that nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of mercury. For an unborn or small child, that can seriously impact a developing nervous system.

The EPA has these recommendations for eating fish and shellfish:

  • Avoid Shark, Swordfish, King Mackerel, or Tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury.
  • Better choices are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish.
  • Eat up to 12 ounces a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.
    Albacore ("white") tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna. “So, when choosing your two meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of albacore tuna per week,” the EPA recommends.
  • Adjust the serving sizes for younger children.

Going fish-free?
If you’re going easy on the budget and the environment, the most simple thing to do is consider going fish-free all together. Meatless meal options abound, and having a plant or produce-based diet – particularly if it is local – can make a tremendous difference on your health, your wallet, your local economy and the environment.

And it doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. Consider the many meatless options you’re likely already eating: A grilled cheese sandwich. Spaghetti marinara (or alfredo, for that matter). Salads. Quiche, which are honestly more difficult to say than eat. Or consider making breakfast for dinner, such as pancakes or French toast.

Looking for other meatless meal options? Check out these past posts.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Do the Amish really use plastic bags?

Last week at our women's group at church, a member of our group brough in Amish Friendship Bread. For the few people in this world who haven't heard of it, it's a sweet bread that takes a 10-day process of fermenting.

It's great for the kids to mush on and play with, but it requires patience. And timing. Because at the end of the 10-day process, you actually create four more starters and start the whole process over again.

So in the end, according to the recipe I got, you have 2 loaves of bread, four starters to make an additional eight loves of bread and 5 unloved, funky plastic gallon-size Ziploc bags.

Which got me to wondering this morning, as I'm frantically mixing the dough and popping in the oven before I left for work: Do the Amish really use plastic bags?

I have a hard time seeing that the Amish, a largely simple culture eschewing the "American" ways of life, would grasp on the time-saver/trash-creator of Ziploc and incorporate it into their breadmaking routine. Is it me, or am I crazy?

In the end, I ended up dumping the four starters' worth because I had no time, no plastic bags on hand. And frankly, the little-known secret of Amish Friendship Bread is that no one wants to hurt your feelings, but they don't want to mess with the 10-day process and the bunny-like reproduction of the starters!

Apparently I'm not the only one thinking this way. I read this morning on Fake Plastic Fish:
You can also "feed" it less on the 10th day and not have so much starter. I
cut it down to 1/4 the recommended amount and have enough for the batch I'm
baking and one starter for next time. I use a glass Pyrex baking dish with a
glass lid. Also if you do an Internet search you can find a lot of other recipes
that use the same starter.

Want to make the bread but don't want to mess with plastic? Learn how Fake Plastic Fish de-bagged the process.

One week down

We're at day 8 of a Diet Coke-free life, and I can't say things have gotten easier.

True, I'm not at the mercy of my chai tea to temper raging headaches. But some stressors in the office make me just want to break down and carve out six quarters for a fix - a price I'd never previously consider.

That said, no Diet Coke has touched my lips as yet.

But then came the Coke man. Yesterday at lunch, the delivery man shows. I jokingly said, "Have you got any for me?"

He says, "Sure what do you want?" I reply Diet Coke (OK, I was honest) or Diet Sprite. He sets four bottles on the break-room table.


I retract immediately, I didn't think he was serious. But, he said, they're considered overstocks and it was OK. I paused, and slowly dragged one bottle across the table, and say thanks as he leaves.

And I stare at it. 20 ounces of carbonated fix.

And then I grab it and two it of its sisters, and squirrel them into my lunch bag. I remember my priest's comment on how Sundays are "mini-Easters," and think I can keep it on hand in case of a "mini-crisis" in caffeine land.

And the bottles stayed in my bag. And my bag in the fridge. And this morning, I passed a cold one to my already-frazzled boss.

Maybe I can do this after all!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Starting our garden, ever so slowly

Spring is this month! How's that for a wake-up call?

I'm ready. Maybe not physically, but mentally, I can't wait for the 50-degree forecast for Thursday, particularly after it being a whopping 14 degrees on my way to the office today.

It's officially March, and despite my intentions of being motivated to buy additional seeds and the blueberry bushes for my yard, the catalog is still on the counter. Yes, despite my job description, at the end of the day, I'm a paper girl.

The good news is I'm slowly getting ready. Last night, we trucked off to Lowe's to get part one of our supplies for our garden this year - mostly lots of peat for our Indiana clay, but also a seed-starting tray with peat pellets for those few seeds that you should start indoors six to eight weeks prior to planting. And when they say here to plant around Mother's Day, that means we need to get going on this!

So this week, when it's mommy-kid time, we'll watch in amazement how those little peat pellets grow in water (because everything is amazing when you're three) and start those carrots and whatever else from my packets already on hand. The trick will be to protect these plants from an overenthusiastic gardener, her brown-thumb mommy and her pulling-up, grabbing-everything brother. Any brilliant ideas?