Sunday, August 28, 2011

School supplies

I know that I've already posted today, but since then I've had time to think about other things... and that usually leads to a post. And at this time of year, there is nothing that you can do to get away from needing to buy school supplies, especially if you've got 2 kids in middle school. (What? How did that even happen?? I was just in middle school myself...)

Anyway, unlike years past, school supplies create a real conundrum for me now because, well as you all know, I don't want to buy anything new. The clothes are a cinch, especially with the Community Health Program having their bi-annual Children's Attic sale on September 9 and 10 - this is a big giant community consignment sale and I can still get clothes for all 3 kids there. For now. The rest is easy enough to find second hand. Worse comes to worse, I'll have a kids clothing swap... which isn't a bad idea, actually.

But it's the school supplies that get me.

So I spent some time today searching for some of the things that they will need online. I was looking for only recycled, eco-friendly things... as well as companies that I feel good supporting. I know that staples now sells recycled school and office supplies, but I would like my money to go to the people that I feel good about. So, here are a few of the things that I found.
(Note, my kids don't go to a public school and their needs might vary from other kids school needs. They currently have no need for anything electronic in their lives, so this is all back to basics kind of stuff.)

Rebinder makes some great binders... however, buying from their website seems to be strictly in bulk/wholesale. I am still looking for a place to buy one single 1 1/2 inch binder made by them for my son.

Buy Green has some good stuff too - I will be purchasing recycled paper binder accessories as well as newspaper pencils, which are pencils made from old newspapers instead of trees. Oh, and I'll probably get some lined paper from these guys too.

They will be needing woodless colored pencils, which I plan on purchasing from our locally run art store, JWS.

And lastly, I splurged on myself (again! this is getting out of hand...) and bought myself this very exciting lunch box from, where I also bought some of these awesome bamboo sporks for me and the kids both to take with our lunches.

Interestingly, a few articles have popped up in my radar about this cool new trend of zero waste and eco-friendly school products in the past few days. This article is great to get people thinking about sending their kids to school without disposable lunch supplies. And this article had some pretty decent product suggestions. Check them out!

You know, years ago my kids wished for "normal" lunch boxes and bags. While they thought they stood out, the parents of the other kids were coming to me asking where we got our lunch boxes because their kids liked them. Funny how that works. Anyhow, even just 2 years ago, it was difficult to find the lunch boxes that my older 2 kids have now been using for 8 years or so. And while I'll never find the same ones again, we are super lucky for so many options out there now.

I can't wait for my new lunch box!

Tomatoes and temptation

This year I decided to grow a garden (which I've talked about a few times)... mostly because I had to in order to make the most of my new lifestyle. It wasn't anything exciting (or even worth documenting) but we have gotten some food from it, which was really the whole point.

Regardless, we have eaten some lettuce from it, although the lettuce did the worst - we are pretty certain it's because our cat chose that spot in the garden as his outdoor littler box. Blah. We have gotten lots of tomatoes and a good amount of cucumbers. We were pleasantly surprised to get anything from this last minute, make shift garden... but now we are sold on growing our own food. Next year we will develop our garden more and tend to it better and prepare for it much earlier.... so watch out!

But when we had to prepare yesterday for a potential storm blowing through our yard with high winds, we decided it was best to pick whatever tomatoes were big enough to blow off. We left the cucumbers assuming they would be fine, but I am watching our little stream make it's way slowly up the hill towards our garden... I think it will be fine but we still have a whole day of rain left. If it gets close, we will go pick those as well.

Here are all of the tomatoes we could find to pick.

My goal is to make some ketchup with these babies. Ketchup is one of those things that is hard to find in glass jars, but when we have found it, it is unsweetened (yuck) or really spicy (kids aren't into lots of spice).

So look forward to my ketchup making feedback... sometime later this week if I have the energy.

And on a total side note, I just wanted to add a little moment that I had a few days ago when I had to pick up a prescription for these gross antibiotics that I had to go on (for Lyme - that's why I might not have much energy for the ketchup making). When I was in the store waiting for the prescription to be filled, I was walking around the store looking at everything they sold. I used to shop at this store every now and then even just 4 or 5 months ago... but now I realize that there is NOTHING that I could (would want to) buy there now. Everything is in packaging or made with resources that I don't want to support. I stopped for a minute in front of a flip flop sale display. I had a half a second where I thought how easy and cheap it would be to buy a pair instead of combing second hand stores for a new (used) pair for my partner (who broke his beloved flip flops), but then I stopped myself. This is exactly why people have been coming to me and asking how I can do what I am doing, saying that's it's really difficult: it's called temptation. I get it guys, I really do. And all I can say is this: be confident in your buying decisions and try not to feel guilty about what you feel you need to do for yourself and your family.

After that, I walked out of the store and down the street to a friend's shop who sells second hand items to clear my mind. And when I went back to finally get my prescription, I felt confident again that I could ignore all of the deals wrapped in plastic all around me.

Oh, and as for the prescription, I was able to ask them to kindly leave all paperwork and bags, etc. out of the transaction. They had no problem just handing me the little plastic bottle as is. Who would have known I could avoid all that other waste? It's all a part of the learning process.

Too bad I couldn't avoid the plastic bottle and prescription itself... oh well.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Thoughtful Thursday links

... about my phone.

So I took the plunge and allowed myself to be ok with buying an iph0ne4. I was able to get a refurb and was due for an upgrade so in the end it didn't cost that much and I didn't contribute to the production of another new item.

However, I'm afraid I'm going to break it without a cover on it. So now I need a cover.

In the past, I would just go to ebay and find cheap covers for my phone, but they were usually cheap because someone bought them in bulk from China and then sold them on ebay. At least, that is my theory. They certainly were not 2nd hand items.

So my dilemma is finding a case for my phone. I know how ridiculous it sounds that someone would consider buying a phone case a dilemma - but for those of you who know me, you know that it's not about the case... it's about the whole idea of buying something new at all.

So I reviewed my options. This is the process that I go through now before buying things, the item could be anything really, it just happens to be a cell phone case right now.

I checked craigslist for used cases, but there was nothing near me. I searched ebay but they were all new there. Finally, I did a search for eco-friendly iph0ne cases and came up with the following options:

- TRTL BOT makes eco-functional cases in Southern California. They believe that being eco-friendly is "about buying recycled products, being locally made, and doing more with less."

Innovez is a Chicago based company whose goal is to "educate the community about the importance of an eco-friendly lifestyle through all aspects of our designs and to create fabulous products that make a positive impact on people and in turn our planet."

- I really liked the idea of this bamboo case, but I wasn't feeling like the companies that were selling most of the ones that I was finding were super eco-friendly. 

- Bioserie makes cases from a bioplastic made from plants.

This was the best that I could come up with... which really isn't bad actually. To have options is great, but I still wanted the option to not buy new.  

In the end, I was able to come up with a pretty decent solution - I found one of the Bioserie covers used on ebay. Score!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Shopping basket

I know that some of you wonder what it looks like when I shop. People are always poking their heads in my shopping cart, curious how I buy certain things. Since most of you can't see me shop, I thought I'd post a picture of what you might see with me when I venture out to buy food.
With these jars, I bought the following on this particular shopping trip: dish soap, laundry soap, maple syrup (my old iced tea bottles are perfect for this), oats, 2 different types of rice, some chocolate, sugar, coffee beans, pistachios and olives. I tend to use jars for bulk instead of bags (unless I run out of jars) since everything is going to just go into jars anyway... and I save the cloth bags for produce.

I know it's difficult for most people to remember to bring their cloth bags when they shop, let alone jars, etc. However, I have found that I can fit everything in this basket - and as long as I always bring my basket, I'm all set. Throughout the week as the jars start to empty out, I just put them in the basket to refill. It's really actually quite easy once you get into the routine of it.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Clothes and wine

Today we started dealing with our clothes.

This is really quite a task that will task some time in the long run, but today I forced my older 2 kids to deal with what was in their room. First, they went through everything they had: they had to neatly fold and put back all of the clothes that fit them that they would definitely wear, and the rest got sorted. Some will go into a donation bin, some will be passed onto friends that can use them, and the rest will go to a consignment shop. I certainly am not out to make money off of my kids old clothes (even though that sounds nice), but some of the really nice stuff could be recirculated in the community and I have a friend who owns a kids consignment shop so I love the idea of supporting her and her local business.
And while I was at it, I grabbed our nice wooden dollhouse that we've had forever and took that along to resell. That is one thing that I would really like to see someone pick up and continue to love - I remember years ago when my daughter was little and I was playing around with the single mom status and money was so super tight - I really splurged to buy her the doll house and (slowly) furniture and dolls to go with it. But now she is too big for it and my youngest rarely plays with it so I really want to see it find a good home.
(If you looking for a wooden dollhouse, stop by and buy it in the Great Barrington location...)

Anyhow, after dropping all of that off, we headed to the Purple Barn for some second hand clothes buying... in the spirit of back to school shopping.
Not only did we score some great stuff, we did it without spending more that $30. Check out the loot:

I found some awesome Pumas for my 4 years old, as well as some much needed rain boots and some slippers. I also found him a nice button up, a sweater and 2 pairs of pants. My oldest got some nice DC flip flops and a cool shirt - he really wanted a purple suit for his halloween costume and was bummed to not find one (I warned him that he probably wouldn't find one). My daughter found a few shirts and a nice zip up sweatshirt. And as a bonus, I found my partner a nice button up shirt.

I am really loving second hand shopping, it's becoming very satisfying and we can almost always find whatever we need without contributing to the over consumption of purchasing new products. It's the perfect solution really.

And then we came home and ate a snack.

This was some hummus that I made from scratch and some yogurt dill dip that I concocted from the batch of yogurt that I made yesterday, served with some fresh local veggies.


 And then I poured myself a glass of local wine.

See, last night I sort of rescued someone's dog and today they delivered a bottle of wine to the co-op for me - and I was super please that it was local... like they knew me or something.

The dog story is no biggie - somehow a standard poodle puppy ended up in our store and I took care of it until I could I deliver it to the police station in some crazy downpour thunder storm. It just so happened that when I was at the police station, the owner of the dog showed up hoping that someone had reported their dog... she was so happy to know that her dog was in my car.

It is so nice when things fall in place like that. And considering the day that I had struggled through yesterday, it certainly felt good to make someone happy like that.

And if you are out there, owner of Roxy the poodle - thank you so much for the wine. It totally hit the spot.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Thoughtful Thursday

It's been a long week, for many different reasons.

This morning was my first morning off since last Friday and I am taking total advantage of having time in my kitchen on this rainy day. I have already made coffee, breakfast, cream cheese, yogurt and granola. Well, the cream cheese wasn't very time consuming since I started it last night - however, this particular batch didn't yield as much as I'd like and I think it was because the yogurt wasn't very thick.

The yogurt making is a trial run. My sister in law gave me a yogurt maker (thanks!) and I have been avoiding it up until now. She told me that I had to follow all of the instructions, and that always scares me... mostly because I can never follow instructions exactly, I always tend to alter for some reason. But then I spoke with a friend that makes yogurt and she didn't do it the same way the instructions said, so I thought I would give it a shot this morning. Once done, I will let you all know how it went and what I did differently... if it works.

The granola was long overdue. My kids were starting to get a little tired of granola so I let it run out, but now they want more. And with the way the smell of it is penetrating the kitchen, we are all excited to eat more at the moment. I was also thinking of delivering some with fresh milk to a friend that recently had a baby... if she is ready for visitors tomorrow.

Breakfast was ok. I cooked up some eggs (in bacon grease that we save - mmmm!) with some feta cheese. I also decided to cook up some of those tomatillos on the side since I have been avoiding them too and I didn't want to see them go to waste. They were the just ok part of breakfast. I don't think they are my thing. I like tomatoes but I'm not a big pepper fan... and I feel like they are a cross between the two.
Oh well, if we don't try new things then we will never know what we are missing with some of the delicious and exotic stuff out there.

As for some links for the day, I don't have too much to share because, as you might have noticed, I've been avoiding a lot this week (due to the amount of other stuff I have been dealing with). All I've got for you is one more link to check out if you are thinking of spending money on back to school products for your kids - read it here and try to remember that we vote with our dollar, even when buying school supplies.

Lastly, I will leave you with a photo of my kids from when we took a hike on a rare non-rainy day this week:

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Pantry shots

Today has been an interesting day.
I know that there is a full moon out tonight but I'm really starting to feel things change a bit, on a deeper level. Today, I felt like things are really starting to fall in place.

And here are just a few reasons why.

These are some of the veggies from the farm share that someone wanted to share with me today. He knew that he couldn't eat all of it and he knew that I am totally against waste, so he offered it to me.

I have never had tomatillos, but I am going to try them tomorrow morning for breakfast with some eggs.

Beautiful cucumbers to make more pickles.

Some garlic to roast, maybe turn it into a roasted garlic spread of some kind. (Thanks farm share sharer!)

And then I told someone that I wanted to get a bike and start biking more. He told me that he had one to give me and later in the day it appeared. I'm really excited to ride a bike.

Right after that conversation, a friend told me that they had bought a new grill. Since I was into recycling and reusing, would I like the old, still very usable grill? Uh, yes! It's huge and the only downside is that it runs on propane... but we could totally have a great BBQ party with it.
At the very least we can hold onto it until we find a better home for it... but I think we could enjoy it.

On a totally different note, but sort of the same, I am excited that I have found yet another way to avoid packaged item temptation.

I love drinking honest tea, the lemon flavored one that come in glass only. But then that company offered up this really cool bike for us to raffle off at the co-op and because I am an employee there, I am not aloud to enter the raffle. And while I totally understand these very reasonable rules, I am still grumpy with them since they are one of the last companies that I am purchasing packaged product from. So to make myself feel better, I decided just to make my own stinkin iced tea. My current recipe includes bulk loose green or black tea, a little raw sugar to taste and fresh lemon.

I think it's going to work as a perfect substitute.

And I look forward to more satisfying solutions like this to help us move forward.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Thoughtful Thursday Links

My most recent ranting has been about biodegradable plastics - if you work with me then you know that I have been on a mission to do something about all of the biodegradable plastic cups that we offer around the store for quick sips of water. Without going too much into it, I think it's important to note that (at least for the biodegradable cups and plates) sometimes biodegradable might not be that much better than plastic that is made from post consumer recycled product and easily recyclable (and actually recycled). One of the biggest reasons that I feel this way is because it is actually not super easy to compost this stuff. If any of you have ever tried to toss a biodegradable plastic cup into your home compost, then you know that it doesn't go anywhere very quickly. What I have learned is that those things are designed to break down in a very specific kind of composting environment, and ideally all of the cups should be sent to one of those facilities for them to biodegrade properly. Also, most biodegradable plastic (from what I have seen) is a #7 plastic, which is the most difficult to recycle. And lastly, to make things worse, if one of these cups makes their way into the landfill, you might think that at least it will break down while none of that other plastic will be going anywhere for at least 1000 years... and while you are right, there is a downside to that: the biodegradable plastics are breaking down quick enough but they are also in an oxygen-free environment, which means that they will emit methane, a greenhouse gas 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

If you are interested in reading a little more about this, check out this article.

And more on an interesting and thought provoking point of view about plastic can be checked out here.

Do you have kids that will need any supplies for school this fall? Then please, pretty please, check out the back to school guide to PVC free school supplies.

And lastly, just for a little fun, check out these awesome salvaged shipping container market - has anyone seen this in real life?? Tell me about it!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I need a new cell phone

... and I am not happy about it.

I admit it: I use an iph0ne and I'm pretty into it. I like how I can do some things on it that can help save resources, like using the note pad app when I have a thought, instead of using real paper. One of my favorite things about it is the ability to take photos and instantly transfer them to a source that makes them usable.

But I am not into the idea of the production and the over production of any product like the iph0ne. Yet, I still want a new one. How lame is that?

Over the past few weeks or so, my phone has been dying a lot. Not just the run out of battery kind of dying but the white fuzzy screen with lines where all of the graphics get crazy on you first kind of dying. Or the frozen in vibrate mode kind of dying. The hot to the touch kind of dying. Dying.

I have been due for an upgrade for a super long time, mostly because I don't feel like an upgrade is ever needed unless you need a new phone when your old one dies. Sure, I was curious when the ih0ne4 came out and was a little tempted, but I knew there would be a point when my current phone would die because, well, all pieces of plastic technology seem to die much sooner than later these days.

And so, I am on the hunt for a new phone without buying a new phone. My first thought was to get the iph0ne4 refurb version. There is one available but it's a little too fancy for me - I truly have no need to hold 32GB worth of data on a phone. So I will have to keep checking back for a lesser version (and hopefully cheaper). The other thing that I checked out was craigslist, but I'm not sure how to tell what's legit and what isn't when it comes to tech stuff, so I don't feel comfortable buying one through that avenue.

I will also ask around and see if anyone might be retiring their iph0ne4 anytime soon, but I can't imagine that would be a successful pursuit. I think I'm stuck looking for a refurb and crossing my fingers that I can get a few more weeks out of my current phone.

Truth be told, I hate giving money to any corporation and I hope that someday there will be another way to take advantage of good technology without having to: 1. always buy the newest, most up to date version every freakin year and 2. put our hard earned cash into the hands of a giant corporation.

I do have hope though. Our cell phones and our netf1ix streaming are the last of our guilty money giving pleasures, not including insurance and electric and gas for our cars of course... but let's not go there. I'm talking about stuff that is not technically a necessity, but instead a convenience or pleasure.

And by the way, I do think it is ok to find pleasure in these things, but being conscious of them is so very important.

*While I was writing this, a friend came by and I told her about my cell phone dilemma. She told me about another cell phone company called Credo. I checked them out online and they look somewhat promising as a worth while alternative. I would love to hear from anyone who uses them and get more info. However, it doesn't seem that iph0nes can be used with them... so I would really have to think this one through guys.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Pantry shots

I think that I have started using my kitchen like an artist might use a studio. I tend to find myself spending hours in the kitchen on most days, even after a long day at work like today, just making things.

Also important to note, I am aware that I have slowed down with my posting. Truth be told, I'm really getting into taking pictures of things more than writing about them. However, I am doing a bit of research on biodegradable plastics, which I hope to share with you in the very near future.

And with that, I would like to share my favorite "pantry shots" of recent:

 Mmmm bacon.
We don't eat a ton of meat in our house, even though my youngest is a natural born meat eater. My oldest son is a hard core animal lover but has felt the need for some meat in his diet since becoming a teenager. While he has a hard time doing it, he will occasionally eat some bacon or some chicken. However, my daughter won't touch the stuff no matter what. It's a good balance for keeping the meat in our house limited, which I appreciate for both the cost and the environmental impact that eating meat brings.

Hooray for bulk popcorn.

There would be no munchy snacks in our house without popcorn. Here is what I bought this week from the Berkshire Co-op Market  - it's on sale for $1.19/lb so I'm stocking up.

We seriously eat popcorn almost everyday.

Here is the big bowl of popcorn that I traditionally make most nights after dinner. It has organic raw butter melted over top (just made another batch tonight!) and some of that awesome pink Himala Salt ground on top.

Some nights my family will just eat it all.

I try to pack some of it into lunch boxes when there is camp the next day, like tomorrow. My older 2 kids are going to a water park so I want them to have some good stuff to snack on.

Every now and then, there is some popcorn left the next day to munch on. It rarely gets wasted.

Our dog will even eat leftover popcorn.

Last night I found some kale in the fridge that was getting to be past it's prime... I didn't want to see it go to waste so I took half of it and made some kale chips. I wasn't really sure if anyone would eat them, but I put them in a container on the counter and when I came home from work - wabam! - they were almost gone.

So I made more tonight, after cooking dinner (and tomorrows lunch) and before I made some popcorn.

And now, I will drink this glass of wine and put my feet up.

And since I have the day off tomorrow, I might just pour myself another.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Oh Blueberries.

Today, we went blueberry picking up on Mount Washington at Blueberry Hill Farm.
 It was only 78 degrees, but it was stinkin hot out in those blueberry fields.
 I think my oldest son ate the most blueberries out of all of us while picking.
But my daughter is the blueberry picking winner. She just got rubber bands put on her braces yesterday (which I don't want to talk about right now), so her mouth hurt too much to eat and all she could do was pick.
Here are all three of them picking away. My youngest insisted on wearing his "cowboy shirt", which is a flannel long sleeve button up, along with a bandanna around his neck. He got so hot and cranky soon after this picture was taken and once again became a non-helper.
Doesn't he look thrilled? Here is the 9 pounds of blueberries that we picked. It doesn't look like much and I wish we had picked more for sure... but we were hot and tired.

Some went in the fridge for spontaneous munching, a bunch went into the freezer for immediate freezing, and the rest went into a batch of gluten free blueberry bread and muffins.


Oh fresh berries, how I do love thee.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Movie theater snacks

You may think that this blog post must be about the delicious popcorn and snacks that I make at home and smuggle into the theater to avoid buying packaged disposable stuff when we go to the movies...

But it's not.

It's really about a question: Why the heck do we feel the need to always eat snacks in the movie theater?
Do you feel that way?

I realized tonight that in a way I do feel that way.

Buy your ticket, buy a drink, buy some popcorn... enjoy your snacks while you watch our film. I know this goes way back and that it was really just a way to get more money out of us, but how do we change it? It seems like you can't bring anything with you into a theater and that you have to buy everything that you need there.
So I thought about this tonight when the woman at the movie theater counter ask me if we needed any drinks or snacks with our tickets (our town is small enough that you just buy your tickets at the snack counter). "No thank you" I told her and she nodded. But then I felt guilty - almost like she nodded like that because she knew that I had a huge stainless steel water bottle and bag of homemade popcorn in my bag. Because, if I'm not going to buy anything, I must already have it with me. Because who goes to see Harry Potter with their kids and doesn't eat snacks?

I sat in the theater listening to everyone else crunching away on delicious smelling popcorn, but I wasn't hungry. I kind of wanted popcorn, but... not really. A little ways into the movie I asked my kids if they wanted popcorn and they said "not really, right now". This was brilliant! They weren't hungry either, so they didn't want to eat a snack. In fact, we only took one sip from the water bottle during that whole long movie before it was over. Who would believe it?

I was thinking about whether or not I snack when I watch a movie at home. Sometimes, if I'm up for a snack. But not always. Sometimes I just sit down on my couch, put my feet up and watch a movie. And maybe take a sip of water if I feel the need for it.

So I ask you: Do you need to give in to all aspects of movie theater marketing to lure you in and spend even more money on overpriced snacks that you probably don't even need? What if you went, just once, to a movie and only bought a ticket? What if you even ignored the snack that you smuggled in inside your bag or pocket?

I know it's totally crazy, but what if we all just didn't have to eat when we went to the movies??

I urge you to give it a shot. The freedom from feeling the need to buy is amazing in itself. But when you realize that you don't even need a substitute to buying something, that you can simply go without... that's really an amazing thing.