Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Flummoxed by the Flu

I've been busy over the last few days! The flu winding its way through my family has finally made it to my poor 12 year old. On Saturday, he was a little tired; on Sunday he was still tired. Monday, he started vomiting, and now he's a weak, dehydrated mess. I'm confident he will pull through it... but that does't stop me from checking on him every ten minutes throughout the night.

When this nasty virus hit my household, I was in the middle of decluttering. My intention was to get a head start on spring cleaning and get things cleared out for the inevitable move. My linens closet, once a solid wall of material, is now neatly organized and rid of about 75% of its former volume. I gave my tupperware cupboard the same treatment. Now I'm moving onto the small basement room where I stores children's clothing. This room is wall-to-wall hand-me-downs, so call in a rescue team if you don't hear for me in several days!

Although caring for sick children and watching them struggle through the pain of illness is exhausting, it has given me an excuse to skip the endless round of activities that takes up such a huge chunk of my life. I feel lazy, but I'm enjoying the rest while I have it. With spring around the corner, this lull is definitely temporary.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Yummy Veg Meal #1

Last night, we had Tagliatelle with Tomato and Walnut Sauce I'll give you the recipe and then my comments.

4 ripe tomatoes
2 Tbsp oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 celeery stick, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, grated
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp red wine vinegar
1/4 cup white wine
salt and pepper
3/4 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1 lb tagliatelle
4 Tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Using a sharp knife, mark a small cross on the base of each tomato. Place in a bowl and cover with boiling water for about 2 minutes. Drain and allow to cool. Peel the skin and discard. Remove seeds. Roughly chop the flesh.
2. Heat half the oil in a large, heavy based pan. Cook the onion and celery for 5 minutes over low heat, stirring regularly. Add the tomatoes, carrot, parsley, vinegar, and wine.Reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Five minutes before the sauce is done, heat the remaining oil in a medium frying pan. Add the walnuts and stir over low heat for 5 minutes.
4. While the sauce is cooking, add the pasta to a large pan of rapidly boiling water and cook until just tender. Drain and return to pan. Add the sauce to the pasta and toss to combine. Serve the pasta and sauce topped with walnuts and Parmesan cheese.

My modifications: I couldn't find tagliatelle, so I used whole wheat fettucini. I also used balsamic vinegar instead of red wine vinegar, and I cooked the sauce a little longer because I like more "mature" sauces. I also added a little chopped garlic at the add tomato phase. Italian without garlic? Not in this house.

My kids liked it, except for the onions. Instead of finely chopping next time, I will liquidify them in a food processor. My husband couldn't taste anything because of a cold, but he enjoyed the texture of the walnuts in the pasta and sauce. I thought it was like a bolognese sauce with walnuts instead of meat. Same base elements. It will AWESOME with a capital everything twith riper, fresher tomatoes this summer.

This recipe, and all of our recipes this week, are from The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook, which I found at the Goodwill last week.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Extreme Ways to Save, and Why

Here is a great way to save money: don't buy anything.

It sound oversimplistic, but it's really the next step in my life, one I have been working up to and even practicing on and off for a few years now. I already buy local, buy organic, buy used, as do most of my blog friends. But I'm still consuming. There was a parent swap show a year or so ago in which one of the families got almost everything free. They dumpster-dived, bartered, and collected leftovers from restaurants. America was appalled; I was inspired.

Buying absolutely nothing may be next to impossible in a modern economy, but having it as a goal leads you to buy very, very little. It's also led me to a few great resources. One is freecycle. If you don't belong to a freecycle group, you should. My dryer, microwave, and an embarrassing proportion of my furniture came from freecycle. Another buy-nothing strategy is bartering. I have a deal with a family member right now: I give her hand-me-downs for one child, and she gives me hand-me-downs for another.

I have reached a point in my life where all of the standard tips on saving money seem like child's play. Buy with coupons? That would mean doubling my grocery bill. Reuse baggies? I do, but only rarely because, instead of baggies, I usually store stuff either in permanent containers or in produce bags and whatever leftover packaging happens to be around. What I'm looking for are a few great tips. How do you slash the bottom out of your already low budget? How do you take your small carbon footprint and erase it altogether?

Here are a few extreme ways to save money:

  • Get all movies from the library. Make these movies one of the staples of your family entertainment.
  • Everything can be cleaned with diluted vinegar. I mean, EVERYTHING.
  • Put off grocery shopping as long as possible. This will inspire you to come up with interesting and highly frugal meals in the interim. Things like whole wheat carrot spice pancakes, and cornmeal empanadas filled with black bean and corn salsa.
  • Find a friend with similarly aged children and trade babysitting.
  • Instead of buying yarn, buy old sweaters at thrift stores and unravel them. I actually know someone who does this.
  • If you know someone who gardens or raised animals, offer to trade services for goods. I have housesat in exchange for vegetables and eggs.
  • You can crochet interesting things from cut-up strips of cloth, like from unwanted linens or outgrown clothing that even the Goodwill refuses.


The interesting thing about being an extreme environmentalist/tightwad/whatever-your-motivation-might-be is that you usually maintain what seems on the surface to be an upper middle class lifestyle. If you have an income, even one small income, and you spend almost nothing, there's bound to be leftover cash. If you maintain this balance, there will be a point in the near future when you have saved and invested an adequate amount and have money leftover for things like solar panels and hybrid cars, or private schools, or whatever your family feels is a worthwhile luxury. And everyone around you will whisper about why someone with so much money won't buy a lousy box of ziplocs. But you'll know.

There's a whole book on this:

Even if being a millionaire isn't one of your goals, there is no goal that cannot be helped along by financial security or completely derailed by the lack of it.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

What I'm Giving Up to Save the World, Part Two

I can hear the critics: Wow, she already gave up SHOWERING. What's next, clean underwear?

This week, we are going to become vegetarians. I am going to keep dairy to a minimum, but it would be mutiny on board the HMS Marshall if that little carton of Organic Valley disappeared. My kids love soy milk, so I'll buy that for everyday drinking and try to steer them away from the moo juice.

We already eat mostly vegetarian meals. Breakfast and lunch are generally whole grain and fruit/veggie based with a little dairy on the side. Dinner is vegetarian about half the time. So I am hoping to remove meat from our diet (here's the kicker....) without my family realizing it or missing it. There may be some complaining tonight because Sunday dinner is the big meat meal of the week, but I'm hoping to dazzle them with something so sophisticated and fancy that the absence of meat is not so obvious. Menus will be forthcoming, once I have finished them. And I'll let you know next Sunday how this all went over.

How going veg can save the world.

What I Gave Up to Save the World, Part One

Last week, if you recall, I decided to give up my steamy showers for a life of dampness and shivering. Okay, it hasn't been that dramatic, but it sure felt this way on a very cold Sunday morning last week.

We keep our house very chilly in the winter because I feel a sweater is just as effective and much cheaper than even our eco-friendly geothermal heat. If people needed to live in a rainforest every winter, we would never have ventured out of the tropics. And the same people who need a 75 degree home in the winter seem to need a 68 degree one once warm weather kicks in. Hmmm.

So anyway, I decided to take what I call a Santa Cruz shower. That means getting wet, turning off the water while I lather and shampoo, rinsing, turning off the water while I condition and shave, and then rinsing again. Altogether, this takes about 4 minutes, with hot water running about half of that time. Considering that I used to take 10-15 minute showers, this means that I save 8-13 minutes worth of hot water, plus I add 6-11 minutes to my morning. With hot water taking up the majority of most electric bills, this one change in habit could make a huge difference in my electric bill, especially if I enlisted other family members to join my effort. I love that I am saving time, too. Every minute counts when you need to get four children off to co-op or karate lessons.

Is it worth it? Like so many changes in habit, one has to view this through the lens of values. Which do I value more: a lower electric bill, conserving water and fuel to heat it, and a little more time every day, or a hot, relaxing shower. When put that way, it isn't difficult to decide whether I will continue giving up long showers to save the world.

If you are still relaxing under an endless flow of hot water, try this for just one week. I think you'll find it isn't as spartan as it sounds.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Apparently the folks at Kraft make a lot more than we do...

For all of us budgeteers, Kraft has put a page of frugal meals on their site. Yes, that's right folks--you can make a nowhere near organic, overprocessed meal with little-to-no nutritional value for under $15! As a free bonus, you get a huge bag of packaging, too!

Who spends $15 on an everyday dinner for four people? Am I that cheap? The family of four on Kraft's cheap-o plan would spend $450 a month just on dinners. They would also need breakfasts, lunches, snacks, desserts, and beverages. If you figure these take up half the food budget at least, we're looking at $900 a month for a small family's meals--that's without other grocery items like ziplocs and laundry soap. With food from home taking up 7.7% of the ideal budget, this means that our friends at Kraft think an American family brings home more than $11,500 a month. A cheap American family.

Is corporate America a little out of touch? or am I?


It's the three R's all in one!

You REUSE old items by RECYCLING them into something useful, REDUCING the amount you have to buy as well as the amount you have to throw away.

I am making a striped rag rug for my daughter's room out of old linens that I have no use for. I'm crocheting it and it looks really cool. Plus, I'm saving serious money because the cheapest area rugs I could find for her room were $100. The hook I'm using is huge, so it's going faster than I expected. I'll post a picture when it's finished.

Other great repurposing ideas:

*you can make a super sturdy and quite presentable crazy quilt from your children's outgrown jeans. Use a ratty old blanket as the lining and an old flannel sheet as backing.
*spaghetti jars make awesome glasses and shabby-chic type vases
*old skirts and dresses can be use to re-cover throw pillows, the seats of chairs, table skirts, etc
*old bread makes great stuffing, croutons, and bread crumbs
*old cake/muffins/cookies/etc can be layered with fruit and yogurt or pudding to make dessert parfaits
*I throw my leftover meats and veggies into a tupperware container in my freezer. When the container is full, I boil the whole mess and voila! soup. It's sounds gross, but it always comes out really good and it's a free meal. I've even had people ask for the recipe and I'm too embarrassed to confess.
*do not throw away even the rattiest baby blanket or newborn outfit. If you don't have a little girl, surely you know someone who does. They'll appreciate your contribution when said little girl goes through the naked-baby-dolls-as-far-as-the-eye-can-see phase.

I use my stuff until it's too shabby to be put on Freecycle... now what does that tell you?

The American Dream Lives...

Is it possible to go from being homeless with $25 in your pocket to economic self-sufficiency and even comfort in one year? This young man did it.
Granted, he is young, white, and educated. But so are a lot of us.

My Wacked Out Views on Modern Medicine

Disclaimer: these are just my opinions, NOT medical advice, nor am I criticizing other points of view.

Okay, with that out of the way, let me tell you about the last week and a half in my house. My generally healthy family has been struggling with a flu/cold package that has kept me very busy and even tempted me to call the doctor. But I don't, and why? Because I am not a doctor-caller. Except in extreme situations, such as pregnancy (yes, that IS extreme for me) or life-threatening illness, I am not a medical-system-utilizer.

My kids get their well-child visits, usually, but we are freakishly healthy. I believe we may be freakishly healthy because of our lack of medical system utilization. I believe that the greatest miracle in modern medicine is how very well we do without it. Consider the following facts:

1. Healthy children do not die from the flu. When they DO, as they commonly did a hundred years ago, they actually died from fever and accompanying dehydration, which is now treated by Tylenol or Motrin and, um, water.

2. I know when my kids are sick, thank you. I do not need a doctor to say, "Yep, it's a flu. Keep them hydrated and call if the fever doesn't break." The fact that so many people want medicine to be a reassurance and not a last resort is what has driven up insurance rates to their current atrocious levels. I prefer to skip Step A and just call the doctor if the fever doesn't break.

3. Doctor's offices are filthy, germy places. Your child WILL get a secondary infection if you go. You would be exposing them to less bacteria if you let them lick the bathroom floor at a truck stop.

4. Medicine isn't the panacea it claims to be, at least not for healthy, normal children. Antibiotics will not help a child with a flu or cold, unless they picked up a secondary infection at your doctor's office. Even then, a healthy immune system works at about the same rate. There are flu medicines, but they don't help unless you take the child in at the first symptom. And if you take them in everytime they sniffle, you are going to have huge problems because you will spend your life in the doctor's office wallowing in those bacteria-laden burlap chairs and your kid's immune system will be as robust as Nicole Ritchie.

5. People, and viruses, build up a resistance to medication. Everytime you medicate, you allow your child's immune system to get lazier. You might as well buy it an X-Box. And every time you medicate, those germs mutate just a little. If influenza were not a highly adaptive organism, it would have gone the way of polio long ago. That is, it would have been eradicated by vaccination and aggressive treatment.

So, no, we haven't been to the doctor, nor do I foresee a visit in the near future. I know someone whose kids went to the doctor at the first sign and were given Tamiflu. Their illness seems to be following roughly the same curve as ours and lingering just as long.

My youngest three children have never been on antibiotics or anti-viral medication. Amazing, huh? The youngest two have never even had cough syrup. My oldest, on the other hand, received "the best in medical care" because I was an insecure young mother who believed his doctor grandmother that he needed this constant intervention. He was a sickly child with asthma, allergies, recurring flus, and a skin condition that required visits with a pediatric dermatological specialist... UNTIL I had his younger sister and no longer had time to deal with it. Then he miraculously recovered.

I still have done my time in doctor's office, for routine check-ups and broken bones and mysterious rashes that freak me out because I have no idea what that could be. I'm not saying to NEVER see a doctor, just to use your head. You don't need seven years of college to know a runny nose when you see it.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Politics as Usual

With the election approaching, I'm amassing my personal list of relatively unbiased sources of information. Traditional media venues have proven repeatedly that they do not deserve a place on that list. A new place I found is They are simply a search site for other organization's articles, but I like that I can search blogs and videos as well as the less trustworthy traditional venues.

On the front page of the site right now is a link to an article titled, "When Penny Pinching Becomes Unethical". (You know what's unethical? Spending money on non-necessities when you are in debt. I don't care if you're an individual or a first world nation with the highest GDP in the planet--it's just wrong. But I digress.) The forums are dead right now, but me and one good friend could change that, and even without our intervention, I expect things will pick up as November looms larger on the horizon. Right now we're all paused wondering whether Clinton can overtake Obama (no, I am not watching tonight's debate, because Hillary makes me nauseous and I get really ticked off when she suggests that only "experienced" career politicians can run a government that was founded by farmers to be BY THE PEOPLE.... oops, I digress again) and how it can possibly be that John McCain is the best the Republicans could scrape up. Once we have two clear candidates, it will be ON and I predict this site will be swamped with posters.

btw, to set a few ground rules for upcoming eight months. I do not consider a person's political persuasion to be a statement of their character. The modern parties are so similar to each other in how they actually govern that it's like hating someone because they are a Raiders fan. So if you don't hold my particular breed of political insanity against me, I'll be sure to smile and nod politely when you display your own lunacy. Handshake? Pinky swear?

Master of the Shop, Dah-duh-dah-duh-dah...

I really want to start up an e-store. I'm not sure what I would sell, but I have that entrepreneurial spirit thing where I feel like I should be running something. My best friend says it's because I'm a Jew, which sounds anti-semitic and yet maybe true at the same time.

I must confess, I have no idea how to run a retail business. In addition to the obvious considerations like space, products, and manpower, the e- in e-store presents its own e-challenges. Like e-ordering, e-shopping carts, and (hopefully) e-payment. You can buy ecommerce software packages from Ashop that sound pretty comprehensive. This shopping cart software allows me to sell online, accept credit cards, and customize my e-shop to fit my unique needs. Which are...? This is a service I didn't actually know I needed until I stumbled upon it, and that makes me wonder: what else am I missing?

Watching my friend Mrs. Hannigan's adventures in business ownership should be enough to scare me away, but the idea just keeps hanging on. So with software squared away, the next question is, what should I sell?

Debate of the Week

Cell phones for teens and tweens--yes or no?

Mine all have them. The 12 yo even has one, although I cut off service because he was spending so much time on the phone/internet and a small fortune downloading games. You can call 911 without minutes or a plan, although the 12yo just uses my old school no games/no net phone now.

To me, it seems like a basic safety feature of modern life, one of the few ways that technology has enhanced our lives without taking more than it gives. I love being connected all the time. And I love knowing my kids can always reach me, no matter where they or I happen to be. I'm a little perplexed that people are offended by that, but I'm starting to meet more and more people who are.

What do you think? I am especially interested in hearing from the 'hatas'.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

and now a moment of silent contemplation...

"Nature is not human-hearted."
--Lao Tzu, founder of Taoism

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Things We Deserve

I've come to the conclusion that Americans are derailing the economy and trashing the planet to feed our own overblown egos.

I realized this yesterday, when talking to someone about some deals I found at a local thrift store. They told me that they feel they "deserve new clothes".

My first thought was that I would never dream of stepping into my yard, much less a public place, in what she was wearing. Her entitlement to new clothing forces her to wear poor quality clothes, which need replaced more often and never look as good as the better quality clothes my unentitled family wears. But that's mean. And it's a matter of values... She values "new". I value quality, economy, and ecology because I have found that they last longer than "new".

Later, I reflected that perhaps she was forced to wear unstylish hand-me-downs as a child, or maybe she has self-esteem issues and needs this boost. Would looking really, really good feel better than that second of tearing off a store tag? She probably doesn't look at it that way. But she's not alone in using material goods to make herself feel better. It's a cultural malaise here in these United States.

Consider, for example, cars. Would you drive an old, dented sparkly-brown Nova without being forced by economic necessity? Of course not. We buy cars that say something about us--whether it is a Prius, a Lexus, a Hummer, or a minivan. We "deserve" a nice vehicle. We want that daily affirmation. Same with houses. Our houses are simply too large, but I personally love having all the space. I love it when people come over for the first time and tell me how nice my house is. I spend half my life keeping it clean because we "deserve" a clean and organized space.

Or, take food. A friend tells me her husband "deserves" meat at every meal because he works so hard. It doesn't matter how expensive it is, how devastating cattle are on the environment, or how he will die of atherosclerosis at the age of fifty. He deserves meat, darn it. Because he is apparently the only man on the planet who puts in a long day.

I'm guilty too. Here are a few things I "deserve":
a glass of wine in the evening
high quality coffee beans
designer handbags
long showers (yeah, I'm working on it)
higher-end haircuts and highlights

I could write all day, but you get the point. Would I be another, lesser person if I carried a Target handbag? Does that glass of wine negate a long day caregiving and homeschooling? Of course not.

Here is what we truly deserve:

our minute share of a small and fragile planet--and no more
breathable air, clean soil, and fresh water
balanced budgets and lives free of the stress of debt
health, happiness, and aesthetic beauty to the point that we are willing to work for them

Coach purses, whether new or used, bought full price or at a killer deal, pale in comparison. So do meat dinners, the new clothing smell, and the privilege of owning an automobile. Join me in reevaluating your entitlements, not so much to criticize the love of possessions as to understand their very marginal place in our lives.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

What I'm Giving Up to Save the World, Part One

Last year I did a "Frugal Habit of the Week" for several months, during which I tried a new frugal habit every week. Some habits stuck (like making homemade, completely unpackaged lunches for my husband) while others seemed to last about a week too long. At the end I calculated my savings and the difficulty of practicing the habit.

This year I want to give up bad, carbon-producing habits. As I have said before, I believe that most American families are wasteful in the small habits of their lives than in the larger areas. So here's what I'm giving up this week: long showers.

My showers are not actually that long, about 10-15 minutes. I justify them by claiming that they are my only time to think and I use a low-flow shower head. This week I am going to give up the long showers (and possibly also thinking, but, realistically, how much is that thought really worth?). I am going to get wet, turn off the faucet, lather up, turn on the faucet, rinse, and turn it off again. End of shower.

It's freaking freezing in my house, by the way.

But I don't have a lot of truly wasteful habits. In fact, I am going to have a hard time thinking of another thing to give up next week, so I welcome suggestions. I could give up all animal foods and products. Driving. Indeed, I, a normal mommy, am going to be taking many short forays out of the mainstream and trying on la vida crunchy. Because I think our planet is worth it, and my electric bill was insane last month.

I plan to write about each week's habit the Sunday after it is finished and introduce the new habit in that same post. So be sure to check back then... and during the week as well.

(If any companies want me to try their green stuff for a week, email me because I am so about the freebies and this is your company's chance to reach out to the bazillions of mommies in Yakima and worldwide who read me.)

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Dealing with Unwanted Parental Advice

Like most homeschoolers, I belong to several co-ops, where our children get together with other children for classes that are not practical to teach in a home. You know, like Irish step dance, latin, etc. Anyway, a mommy at one of our co-ops stood up last Friday and publicly asked that parents use more discretion on what material their children use for book reports. She was appalled by some of the poor literature choices she observed at the last meeting and felt this needed addressed. She also talked specifically to several parents whose chldren she felt were particularly egregious offenders. Again, in public.

I was not there due to a family-wide flu, but here are a few samples of what could have been my response.

A. "Thank you, X, for your input. Why don't you give me a list of acceptable literature so I know what to allow my children to read and what to bring to the next community book-burning."

B. "When I find someone who wants unsolicited parenting advice, I'll give them your number."

C. "What my children read is, frankly, none of your concern."

How would you have responded?

Keep in mind that this is a Christian co-op that said woman helps run, but also that it is nondenominational and nondogmatic--just generally Christian in values. Also, apparently the offensive books were Star Wars novels, Dragon Rider, etc, not the Satanist Bible or the Penthouse Guide to Bartending.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Apparently you need a prescription or something...

I was reading about oxytocin at another blog. Apparently your body releases its very own form of crack after natural childbirth and during breastfeeding. Which is a great idea, one I would love to have partaken of. Does anyone get this high I keep hearing about? I get postpartum weepies and everyone else is floating around in hormonal euphoria... that's disturbing.

At Placenta Benefits, they have an answer: ingesting capsules of placenta. It's an ancient, global practice that is believed to allieve post-partum hormonal let-down because placentas are chock-full of the very hormones a new mother is in need of.

In theory, this makes sense, but in practice, no thank you.

Sage Mommy Quote of the Day

Why do people give each other flowers? To celebrate various important occasions, they're killing living creatures? Why restrict it to plants? "Sweetheart, let's make up. Have this deceased squirrel." ~The Washington Post

Ugghhh, Valentine's Day

How did my dinner go? It was okay. Just okay. Could have been better.

I dropped by Rosauer's (local grocery store) to pick up some of the organic lamb they had advertised, and found that it was all frozen solid. Which did me no good, because I was starting dinner as soon as I returned home. As I walked by their fresh meat case, I saw a lovely display of stuffed salmon. Perfect! and not too expensive, so I asked for some. I also asked how to prepare it, what wines would go with it, etc. The lady behind the counter gave me a butcher-paper package and I went home.

At home, I unraveled the butcher paper and it contained these shrink-wrapped, solid-as-an-icy-rock bricks of stuffed salmon. Not fresh, not lovely, not even thawed. I was as far from dinner as I had been when I walked into the grocery store. My husband called the store because I was so distraught, and they saw no problem. The manager was actually a little testy about it. Like I should assume that meat and seafood from their fresh-meat, butcher counter is frozen.

So one of my courses was ruined before I even started. A four-course meal lacks the oomph of a five course one, you know? It isn't even worth it to bring them out at different times. We ate our scampi and our salad and nibbled at the cheese and drank the wine. It wasn't a special dinner, just any old dinner.

The worst thing is that Rosauer's is the best source of organic meat and produce in my town, so I can't stop shopping there, however much they piss me off. What this town needs is some COMPETITION. Like a Trader Joe's.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

This is NOT a paid message

No, I just love this store.

Vegan Essentials is an online department store that has ALL vegan stuff.

Am I vegan? Nope.

Then why do I like vegan stuff? First, because animals create wear and tear on the environment, and I want to minimize wear and tear as much as possible. Second, because animals raised for "products" are treated even worse than animals raised for food. Betcha didn't know that was even possible. Until I can buy cage free feathers or cruelty free leather, I feel morally obligated to seek substitutes wherever possible.

Valentine's Day

Everyone else is talking about it, so I'll join the bandwagon.

I generally resent holidays that are invented by corporations, but my dear, sweet husband comes from a family that owned a florist shop. He LOVES commercial holidays and feels hurt when I don't give them (him) the attention and enthusiasm they (he) deserve(s).

I am celebrating without giving Hallmark or their competitors any of my money, and here's how.

1. I am making him a card and giving with it a few bars of organic, fair trade chocolate.

2. I am making a huge five-course Italian dinner. Course one: cheese and fruit plate, course two: shrimp scampi pasta, course three: lamb with rosemary and garlic, course four: baby green salad with goat cheese and caramelized almonds, course five: napoleans and whipped cream.

Hopefully this will suffice. My homemade answers to commercial holidays have had mixed results.

Yahoo for Cheap, Organic Food

I just realized my readers will think that I am saying one can find cheap organic food on Yahoo when really I am just feeling awesome about grocery shopping last night.

I went to the Grocery Outlet, which is generally more entertainment than shopping, but they must have received a lot from Whole Foods or something. There was so much organic food, especially breakfast cereals. We bought breakfast cereal, kid-friendly flavored instant oatmeal, general pantry fillers like tomato sauce, various Kashi snack stuff, ice cream, cheese, and yogurt. All were organic and all cost less than their traditional counterparts would at a conventional store.

If you live in Yakima, it's time to trek over to 1st St and brave the Grocery Outlet. My kids call it the Used Food Store... not sure where they came up with that.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Vacationing for the Cheap and Eco-Sensible

Breaking up the long northwestern winter with a vacation in the sun sounds extravagant for a sensible, middle-class family, but I have a secret: our long week in SoCal was not actually that expensive. Here's how we kept it within budget:

1. Combine work and play. This particular conference included airfare for my husband and I, a large room at a resort hotel for five nights, and dinner on four nights at 'family banquets' that the sponsoring company held at local restaurants. This left us to buy airfare for three children (baby was on lap and oldest two couldn't miss work/school), a rental car, two nights in the hotel, entertainment, and meals (breakfasts and lunches, plus 3 dinners). Even if you don't have an employer or vendor willing to send you to a conference, you can write it off on your taxes.

2. Shop around. We couldn't shop around for fares because obviously we wanted the children on our same flight. Nor did we want to change hotels mid-trip. We did, however, shop around for car rentals, and we found out which days were cheaper at Disneyland.

3. BYOFood. We brought chocolate milk in shelf-stable boxes, boxed juice, organic fruit snacks, string cheese, homemade jerky, and those obnoxious little cracker and cheese things. Once there, we swung by a Costco and picked up Uncrustables, breakfast cereal, breakfast pastries, crackers, bananas, oranges, and milk. We kept the milk cold in the hotel ice buckets. We still bought food at the theme parks and on outings, but we bought things because they appealed to us and not because we were starving. This meant that we spent no more than $20 a day on breakfast and lunch for the six of us, even at Disneyland. This also means that we ate generally healthy and sane meals, as opposed to living on corndogs and french fries for days on end.

4. Keep souvenirs to a minimum. I know those little Mickey ear caps look adorable, but at home they will become just more crap to dust. Same goes for all the overpriced Disneyland apparel; it's a waste, especially if, like me, you would never dream of wearing a Tinkerbell sweatshirt in public.

My kids, on the other hand, do enjoy Disney brand merchandise, so I pulled a sneaky trick. I found like-new Disneyland sweatshirts and tees at thrift stores here in Yakima, then handed them out during lunch, just as the I-wants were setting in. They didn't ask me where I bought them, and I didn't offer the information.

5. Mix expensive outings with cheap ones. California doesn't just have theme parks; there are cute towns, fun playgrounds, and this huge mass of water called the ocean. Our funnest, most memorable days were spent doing free activities like building sand castles. We also found a thrift store in a wealthy suburb that had children's clothing on special for 50 cents an item, so we picked up a good portion of this summer's wardrobes for under twenty bucks, and the clothes were all trendy and like-new.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Adventures in Legoland

In case you didn't notice, I was gone last week. My family was on vacation in Southern California while my husband attended a job-related conference.

If you have ever vacationed with small children, you know that there are no afternoons laying in the sun or leisurely window-shopping walks. If you do not entertain those munchkins, they will entertain themselves--by chasing each other into busy streets, begging for brightly colored pieces of plastic, throwing sand at innocent passers-by, and throwing temper tantrums. I knew I would have to fill in the week with a variety of amusing and hopefully cheap activities. Legoland sounded like the perfect theme park for a family of adventurous, slightly nerdy homeschoolers. To make matters even better, our hotel/resort was located just one serendipitous mile away.

Before I start slamming Legoland, let me concede that it is the PERFECT vacation spot for an eight to eleven year old in families with an adult-child ratio of 1:1. Provided, of course, that you don't go there in winter, spring, or autumn, when they close everything for annual upkeep but charge the exact same admission price.

So we started off on a sunny Friday morning with backpacks full of organic snacks and high hopes. I was a little daunted when sidewlaks kept appearing and disappearing for no apparent reason, forcing my little troupe to cross busy Southern California streets with no crosswalk in site. But they can't control the traffic situation outside their gates, right?

As I lined up to buy tickets, I noticed a sign with a list of attractions currently closed. I paid $180 for myself and three children--the baby was free--and was a little staggered by the cost because it was almost as much as Disneyland had cost. But this will be better than Disneyland, right? All the fun, none of the commercialism...

Being unfamiliar with the park (as are most tourits), I did not realize that the list of closed attractions was also a comprehensive list of what my 12 year old would later call "all the good rides".

Unhappy children: 1

We wandered with our map for the next several hours, looking at ride after ride. My three year old was not tall enough for any of them. The few that my five year old daughter could ride on wanted one parent per child. None of them allowed a baby on the lap. Because I am unable to make my two youngest conveniently disappear, this meant no one could ride. When I complained to an employee, he sent me to the pirate section, where he claimed there were several preschooler-friendly rides.

Pirates? We love pirates! The pirate features had in fact been one of the reasons Legoland sounded so fun.

When we arrived at Pirate's Cove or whatever they call it, all of the rides were closed. Which is no big deal because according the signs, these rides also required that 1:1 parent/child ratio that I could not produce.

Unhappy children: 3

Who was the happy child? The baby, for about three hours. Then she was tired, hot, and bored. Normally I'd expect her to take one for the team, which is why large families produce such good citizens. Except that the team was just as bored.

Unhappy children: 4

They had these rooms full of Legos that sounded cool... but they were closed until early afternoon for school groups. So we ate our sandwiches and toured a fake Lego factory. My kids drove little Volvos in a circle to get Legoland driver's licenses and concluded that the only attraction they were allowed to participate in was coincidentally the most boring ride in our solar system.

We went back to the rooms of Legos, where we found the exact same products we have in our own bedrooms at home. The kids were amused for a half-hour.

Unhappy mommies: 1

Why? I realized that I had paid almost $200 dollars for them to play with toys we had available at home. How many new Legos could I have bought with that money??? Certainly enough for more than a half-hour of entertainment, and I wouldn't have had to drag the baby out into the sun.

Was there more to do? I'll never know because we had to leave after that. Legoland was closing. They close early on off-seasons (which are most seasons). So we braved the treacherous roads home to rest from a long, frustrating day.