Thursday, August 28, 2008

"Back to School" Impact

Is it possible for Back to School to be green?

If you're a traditional schooler, I just don't know. Really. Here are a few ways that public/private schooling affect the environment:

1. Driving. Whether bussed or driven by mom, millions of children have to go to and from somewhere every weekday.

2. Waste. Because of the nature of serving large numbers of people, most schools use disposable products. Disposable dinnerware, papers used on only one side, paper towels. A cafeteria garbage can is full of perfectly eatable, untouched food. And wrappers; moms who send lunches have the food wrapped in plastic because we all know kids can't seem to fit the gladware back in their lunchboxes.

3. Chemicals. Again, this is caused by the nature of serving large numbers of people. You need bad-#%$ cleaners to make those bathrooms usable, and lots of them. Lawns get sprayed with toxic chemicals for weeds and bugs; plastic, paint, and other fumes float through the air.

4. Paper. Teachers are not amused when you hand in an assignment written on the back of another assignment.

5. Clothing, and keeping up with the Jennifers. When my stepkidlets were in school, they needed a constant influx of stuff. Not just clothes, although clothes were definitely part of it. Sunglasses, specific brands of backpacks, uni-ball pens because they just feel nicer, accessories. Shopping at a thrift store was an appalling idea; they wouldn't even go inside. This is not only ghastly expensive, it also creates waste as perfectly good items were discarded to make room for the latest thing. Luckily, I saved a lot of it and it is now used by my homeschooled junior high schooler and my husband. My 13 year old has been dressed for two years from one teenager's senior year wardrobe... dressed well, and I still have a few huge boxes of other stuff for when this round gets stained, torn, or otherwise ruined.

That's one kid, one year. And I have personally seen kids brutally teased for not having this stuff, so I wasn't willing to put my darlings in that sitch.

Anyway, let's compare this to a homeschooler.

1. Driving. Yes, we do some driving on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I combine lessons with errands and one of these days Mrs. March and I are going to work out a carpooling plan. I'd say I drive around half as much as I did when I had kids in school, and it still feels like a lot.

2. Waste. Very un-encouraged. In fact, it's one of the only ways to get mom to blow her top. Creative leftover use is encouraged, and if you are getting a cup of water, put that glass where you can find it the next time you're thirsty. Disposable? Are you kidding me? I budget about five bucks a month on paper products, and that needs to include toilet paper for a family of eight.

We don't throw away food, we eat food. And it's real, recognizable agricultural products that are usually less than a week and a few miles removed from their origin. No canned stuff and what-is-in-the-chicken-nugget-cuz-you-know-chicken-isn't-spongy-like-that.

3. Chemicals? I clean with vinegar, sometimes diluted bleach. My husband has our lawn sprayed, though, and I get so mad about it but he's the manager of the company that does it so I can't cancel behind his back. I can live with crab grass; he thinks it reflects badly on our family and his job. Other toxins are just not here, partly because we gravitate toward used stuff that has already released its icky chemicals, and partly because I won't buy anything with a chemical I can't pronounce. Heavy duty cleaners just aren't necessary in the average household.

4. Paper. We mainly use the backsides of memos from my husbands job.

5. Clothing. Handed down, freecycled, bought on sale or used, and assigned to the Marshall family's complicated hierarchy of clothing. At the top is church clothing, which is fancy and usually matches the siblings' outfits. Then there are 'town clothes' which we wear out in public, to doctor's appointments, to lessons and co-ops. If they become less-than-perfect, they are re-assigned to everyday clothing. Last are the mud clothes: stained, mended, barely covering our backsides... these are not just for mud, but for painting and other super messy tasks. They are practically disposable.

The hand-me-down hierarchy is just as complicated. Church clothes and town clothes are handed down, everyday clothes go to the garage sale or freecycled, and mud clothes become rags and quilts.

As for 'stuff', I am against it and don't buy it. My kids have no one to impress. The other homeschoolers are just as cheap as I am, and they won't care if my daughter has a brand new Hannah Montana folder or an old file folder with a scribbled out label. They get 'stuff' as presents and from Freecycle, but I refuse to put a line in my budget for it.

Whether you are a public schooler, private schooler, or homeschooler, there are ways to make your stay on our little planet just a little less wasteful. What are you doing for our Earth?

Exes and Hexes

Grrr.

I just need to vent here.

My oldest son, Tyler, is from a previous relationship. He visits his dad and stepmother for a month in the summer every year and comes back with a lot of general information about how I am viewed by my ex and his wife. I like to call it "Melinda Said". As in:

Melinda said you should send me to public school because she went there and turned out okay.

Melinda said you are ripping off companies by ordering freebies. She says it's fraud. (This came after the question, "what is fraud?" and I said, "well, it's when you steal from a company in a sneaky way. Why?")

Melinda said your house must be a mess with so many kids. (Tyler said he tried not to laugh because I keep a very clean house and he can't get through their living room without tripping four times)

Melinda said you don't feed me healthy food. (At least I feed him at all.)

Melinda said you shop at thrift stores because you are cheap, and that all Jews are cheap. (Melinda's of Arab descent and has a lot of opinions about Jews, Muslims, and the interaction between them.)

Melinda said I don't have enough socks. (I only sent a few pair because he wears flip-flops all summer. And then she bought him a package of socks to prove how dire she felt the situation was . They came home brand new and unworn. Thanks for the socks, guys. He already had about thirty pair, but it's a nice thought.)

And it goes on and on. It's not worth picking a fight over, and it really makes Tyler dislike her. It actually has the opposite effect than what I think Melinda intends, because most of it is obviously untrue. When he tries to argue with her, he gets scolded and told not to talk back. Fair enough; he shouldn't be sassing his stepmother. She's still an adult authority figure.

It's been a good lesson for me, because it makes me realize how easy it is for a well-meaning person to say things to a child that are upsetting. For instance, several years ago I bought some square white dinner plates. I bought them at Macy's for a hefty price (for me), and I was really proud of them. So, the first time I served dinner on them, my stepson informed me that I should have bought black. Why? Because his mom has square black plates.

His mom is one of those people who over-shops at cheap stores. Know what I mean? Some people buy plates once a decade at Macy's; others buy them every year at WalMart. They end up spending about the same. It's a matter of habit and perspective. And I should have said nothing, but I instead said something like: Who wants to eat off black plates? How unappetizing. And they don't even have that stuff at the stores where I shop.

In retrospect, it was very bitchy of me, and I'm sure it was carried home to mom and made to sound like I mounted a detailed attack on her dinnerware and her preferred retail establishments. I don't feel too guilty, though, because I know she uses her visitation to indoctrinate her children against their dad and me. And the kids see it as : look how much these people upset Mom, what is wrong with them? Or else, they think she just needs a friend and they should try to be there for her. So totally not a kid's job, not even an adult kid. And she knows it.

I try to keep my mouth shut. I try *so very* hard, and most of the time I succeed. But I'm getting it from both sides here: his ex and my ex.

It's more important that the kids be spared this crap than for me to come out 'right'. I just have to keep that perspective.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Thankful Thursday: Freecycle

Boy, am I thankful for Freecycle.

This week we got three big bags of toys (four? was there a fourth?) from Freecycle and found another Yakima Mommy blogger. TJ at http://dtkmkihn.blogspot.com/ lives less than a mile from me, and her kids had some decent hand-me-downs. Here are a few of our faves from the loot.












Malcolm likes dinosaurs and dragons, so he was happy to add a few to his collection.











Grace thinks the purple cat is a Bratz kitty, which is so thrilling for her because I won't buy anything Bratz... we have enough brats in our home, thank you. So, Bratz or not, this little plastic kitty has a place of honor on her bookcase.


Rachael is in love with this Elmo phone. Ironically, I gave away this exact phone on Freecycle about two years ago. Could it be the same one?

Ignore the furniture in the background, please--it's our family room, which is outfitted exclusively in hand-me-downs and Freecycle finds because we go through furniture like a winery goes through grapes. The antiques and Pottery Barn splurges refuse to enter.

Other things we've been gifted on Freecycle? Hangers, clothes for the kids (five separate occasions this year in fact), new bedding sets for the girls' room, an entertainment center, a mahogany armoire (not sure why they were giving that away...), old records, maternity clothes. Lotsa stuff. Even better is having a place to give things away. I don't usually post because I tend to give away things to people I know, but I always check people's 'wanted' ads. It's nice to email someone who has no baby stuff and tell them you have everything from crib to onesies if they want it. So check out Freecycle if you aren't already dialed into it... there's one in almost every community.

A few pet peeves about Freecycle: it's an environmental thang, but some posters have refused to give me items because they were holding out for someone who sounded needier. So, they basically want a story writing contest? lol. I also get a little annoyed when I drive across town for a bag of boys' size 4 clothes and it ends up to be a bag with one size 4 stained t-shirt and the rest adults XL (really happened). Or when I pick up three bags of size 2T clothes and they are all 12 mos or smaller. But usually I can find someone who can use the surplus (in both cases I did), and I love the constant flow of new stuff into our house. It inspires me to increase the flow of stuff out of our home, and there's no cost, financial, environmental, or otherwise.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

To Cool Off... My Baby Sister in the Snow Last Winter

video

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Crockpot in the Morning, Crockpot in the Evening, ...

This morning I woke up and a hot, healthy breakfast was ready to eat. No, my husband didn't get on a helpful streak (those of us who know my husband are laughing right now... he has many fine qualities, but he's happy to leave all housework to me). I made crockpot oatmeal. And it was SOOOO good. Here's the recipe I used:

Ingredients:

  • Butter or oil
  • 2 cups of oats, not instant or quick. Just plain oats.
  • 5 cups of liquid--we do half milk and half water
  • If desired, about one cup of add-ins, like: nuts, dried berries, etc

Instructions:

  1. Butter or oil the inside of the crockpot well.
  2. Add oatmeal and liquid, plus add-ins
  3. Cook on low 6-8 hours

If you are the type who actually gets a good night's sleep, this recipe will be no good for you. Those of us who are creeping by on 5-6 hours will find this recipe a good way to soak up some of the black coffee.

A few thoughts on crockpots: New ones cook much hotter than the old ones. My crockpot was five bucks at a garage sale--this is the only way it matches my other appliances--and is, I assume, an older one. I'm not sure, though. If anyone would like to try this recipe in a confirmed new crockpot and report back, I'd be much obliged. I don't know if you've seen the cost of bulk oatmeal lately... it won't be an expensive experiment.

I recommend using dried apples, pecans, and apple pie spices as extras. Dried cranberries and dark chocolate chips are always good; just add the chocolate chips when you serve.

Crockpot 365 is a blog dedicated exclusively to--you guessed it--using the crockpot.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The In Group and the Out Group

Even though I am a practicing Christian, I really dislike hanging around other Christians. Almost every church I've been to has seemed swept away in jargon--Have you been born again in the blood of the lamb?--and totally self-congratulatory--We are so Awesome. We worship God in this totally unique way. Wouldn't ya know, it's the only way He wants to be worshipped, and I know this because I have Him on speed dial and also I have this little used translation of the Bible that isn't accepted by any other church...

This is how I ended up Catholic. Not because I think they are right about everything, but because Catholics feel so guilty and inadequate. It cuts down on the smug.

So, anyway. A friend, an intelligent Christian friend, whose beliefs I would respect just because they happened to be hers, said that she has hesitated to join a local homeschooling group because of the statement of faith. The statement of faith is loosely based on the Apostles' Creed, which many people (I'm told) feel is a tool of exclusion.

Oh, I hate exclusion. I have been the popular girl, the girl who the popular girls hated, the girl who hated the popular girls... Adolescence sucks, and I feel no need to recreate it in my adult relationships. I don't think it's a requirement to be a Christian. Christ was inclusive. He included everybody who came with an open heart, and even a few who didn't. I try to emulate that.

On the other hand, I think we can believe things, and have a group based on said beliefs, without excluding others. But if the others feel excluded, we have effectively excluded them just by failing to include them. Is that confusing enough? I don't want cool, funny, smart families to be afraid to join our party. And, apparently, they are.

How do I fix this?

MacGuyver Monday: Money, Money, Money

Grow a garden.
Buy in bulk.
Drive a more fuel efficient car.

What do the above have in common? They, like many money-saving tips, require more investment and waiting time than a strapped family has. When I was twenty, my then-husband and I split up unexpectedly just before we were set to move to another state, and I found myself jobless and moneyless with a small child. What do you do if you are hit over the head with a sudden financial shortfall? You MacGuyver your finances.

Step One: Cut Your Food Bill

The priority is to keep a roof over your head and keep any wage earners earning (or get them earning again). Where do groceries fit in to that? They don't. Most Americans have pantries full of food, yet we head to the grocery store every weekend for another cart full. If needed, most of us could squeeze two weeks' of meal out of our kitchen. You may end up with some unorthodox combinations toward the end, but if you treat it like an adventure, your family can have fun with this.

When your pantry is running low, the Hillbilly Housewife has a $40 emergency menu and shopping list that, while not nutritionally optimal, is certainly as healthy as the average American diet and is dirt-cheap.

My friend Mrs. Hannigan gets just about everything for free with coupons, but she has a few years of this lifestyle under her belt. If you are new to the world of couponing for free stuff, Couponmom.com can help guide you. Just remember: you cannot afford to "spend to save". If you can combine coupons and sales to get things absolutely free, take advantage. But beware of becoming one of those coupon freaks who spends $400 a month on shampoo but swears they are saving so much.

If your cupboards are truly bare and you don't see a paycheck in your near future, go to a foodbank. Many of us donate to food banks because we know some people find themselves in dire situations through no fault of their own. Save what little money is left for things like housing and electric, things that aren't readily available

Step Two: Impose a Spending Moratorium

That means no Starbucks, no non-work-related driving, not even a trip to the Goodwill. As long as you have clothing to cover your back, you don't need anything else. Remember that this is temporary. Eventually you'll bounce back, but until then, your kids may have to enjoy homemade birthday presents or go to school without supplies. This too shall pass.

Step Three: Cancel Everything

Be smart here. Cable can go, high speed internet can go, but if you have to pay $200 to cancel your cell phone, do the math. How long will you need to do without? Does your breadwinner need that phone? Can you cancel your landline and use the cell instead? You want to pay as little as possible, so keep your calculator at hand.

Step Four: Cut Your Electric Use

Pretend you are in a third world country and have no electric. Would you have television? No. A dryer? No. A toaster? Most likely not.

It's easy to live without a toaster. It's hard to live without a refrigerator. The longer you can do without things like toasters and clothes dryers, the longer you will have money for things like refrigerators. Focus on what you physically need. Everything else should be unplugged and put away.

Step Five: Increase your Income

It's as easy as it sounds. In my case, as a 20 year single mother, I took a low-paying job as a nurse's aide trainee (every community needs nurse's aides because no one wants to do that kind of work). It allowed me to work nights, when relatives could watch my toddler. It was the worse job I have ever had... the worse job I have ever even heard of, but it brought in a regular paycheck and now I have a unique perspective on what makes a job truly horrible.

It wasn't enough to live on, at least not with the upper middle class lifestyle in which I was raised, so I told everyone I knew that I was looking for work. I organized houses, cleaned group homes, and sewed Halloween costumes (among other things). I did surveys in my spare time. I traded farm labor for rent. And while I was doing all this, I took college classes so I wouldn't have to live like that forever.

If you are determined not to leave your children, there are a lot of things you can do for money at home.

If you have a quick way to save money or earn it, leave me a message and I'll add it in.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Something from Nothing Saturday: Pillowcase Dresses

For my daughter's sixth birthday, my good friend Mrs. Hannigan gave her all the ingredients needed to make an adorable stylish dress: a pillowcase, a length of ribbon, and some elastic. The dress we are making is like the one here except that it has ribbons instead of fabric ties on the shoulders. You can find cool pillow case clothes all over the web, but my favorites are at:

Maya Made
Molly Coddle
Mothering.com

If you want to buy one, or if you are an awesome seamstress and can copy designs from sight, there are some cute pillow case apparel ideas at Pillow Case Dresses. If you get bored with them, check out these easy homemade onesie dresses and t-shirt dresses.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Our Normal Lives Don't Suck

My mother and stepfather left this morning after a week-and-a-half visit, and I exhaled for the first time since we put away our schoolbooks late this May.

Homeschooling moms should look forward to summer. Even if you are the year-round schooling type, the pressure to progress is significantly lessened; after all, your neighbor's kids aren't learning anything. Most lessons are put on hold to allow for family vacations. Communities seem to bloom with fun activities. If the whole world homeschooled, this would be what our lives looked like year round: concerts, gallery openings, and hordes of children milling around every conceivable public place. This is a time for traditionally-schooling to reconnect with their children, and a chance for homeschooling families to relax. Or it should be.

If your summer has been full of rest and naps in hammocks, God bless you. Mine has been a long series of disruptions, from a variety of illnesses both exotic and mundane to a parade of obligatory visits and visitors, all set against the backdrop of an anxious nation waiting to behold their political and economic future.

But I'm not complaining. I think the events of my summer have led me to make some very positive changes. I look forward to jumping back into our normal routines and seeing how the new twists add flavor and spice.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Suck/Rock(!) Awards for the Week

If you're wondering why the freebie updates at my website have been so few and far between, I have a variety of explanantions to offer. First, I have been busy between the relatives in town and the run-ins with the law.

Second, Yahoo (my webhost) had some weird glitch whereby I would update and upload the changes, but they weren't actually, umm, taking. As in, the website wasn't showing the changes. Because I've been busy, I just went along my merry way assuming that we were all on the same page, and now I've probably lost half of my itty-bitty audience to frustration and ennui.

Yahoo wins this week's You Suck (!) award, no surprise there. But you know who wins the You Rock(!) award? Mary Kay.

Yeah, seriously, like the blond lady with horrendous blue eye shadow. I can move on--it was the sixties, after all, and my grandma still wears that color too. And don't worry that I'm trying to sell you the stuff, because I couldn't sell bottled water in the Sahara Desert.

My friend Mrs. March is a consultant (or whatever they call the salesladies), so I'm getting a crash course in Mary Kay-ology. I now know that it's not MLM, which is cool. I know that Mrs. March's boss ladies are super nice to her and that she needs more of that in her life. Don't we all. I know that she's all smiley lately and strutting around in cute black dresses as if she didn't grow up around here, where women actually have 'church jeans'.

Now my mother wants to sell it. Half of me says GO FOR IT because she could use a few nice boss ladies and she already has the cute black dresses. Part of me worries she'll invest time and money and not recoup it, because she is already strapped for both between two frail elderly parents and various parasite relatives. And of course, I wonder why do this with her level of education. Am I going to finish a doctorate and still need to sell cosmetics from my garage?

btw, did you know Mary Kay was one of the first cosmetics companies to start recycling on a corporate scale and to stop testing on animals? You have that from someone who has never, will never sell the stuff.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Life Doesn't Suck Because No One's Hurt and We Aren't In Jail Either

I've been accused of being a lenient parent, especially by people within the uber-conservative homeschooling community. If you consider letting my children make their own decisions on issues like hairstyle lenient, then I certainly am. If you consider letting them watch mainstream, age-appropriate television lenient, yeah. I'm not saying there are no rules in my home; quite the contrary. I firmly believe that children (and people in general) should be responsible, respectful, and fun to be with. We all have our standards, and those are mine.

All standards aside, we are and always have been the loud and perhaps obnoxious family on the block, and that has just become exponentially worse. I went grocery shopping today and came home to find my road blocked by a police car. There was no one in the car, and my driveway was just feet away, so I squeezed by it in my minivan and pulled into my driveway, where there was yet another police car and a police motocycle to boot. Men with guns were milling around on my front porch and my stepson was leaning against the railing looking very guilty.

Apparently, he was bored, and with the little ones gone, he decided it would be entertaining to set off a few firecrackers he had saved from the Fourth of July. (No, I am not cool with the fact that he had fireworks stashed away in a house full of small children.)

The neighbors thought they heard gunshots and called the cops. The cops arrived en masse expecting to find a shooting. And that's when I returned home with a trunk full of organic ice cream and veggie dogs (which were disgusting btw).

My stepson has a hefty fine to pay and my neighbors have something exciting to talk about. Hopefully we'll escape without fallout from the landlord, and of course I am so grateful no one was hurt or arrested as a result of this total lapse in judgment. I'm sure I'm not the only parent whose kids have, umm, lapses in judgment, and if trying to deal with this in a calm and rational manner makes me a lenient parent, I guess I'm there.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Wordless Wednesday: The Duggar's

I don't have a big family. Now that (see above) is a large family.

I am amazed by the Duggar's because they run their lives. Period. That's a lot of people, and they seem to be growing into functional human beings. For the record, I am not evangelical. I don't wear long skirts unless they happen to be in style that season. I have a paltry eight children and only four of them actually share my DNA (and I would never name them all with the same initial). I encourage free thought and use mainstream science curriculum. But I think Michelle Duggar and I could sit and have coffee (if that's allowed by her religious beliefs) and get along. I don't have to agree with everything she stands for to admire a bright and well-organized mind. I read their website sometimes just to see whassup wit' dem.

If you haven't checked out the Duggar's, you should. You'll be dismayed or inspired, and it's an entertaining read either way.

It's never Wordless Wednesday around here. Just can't shut up. :-)

Monday, August 04, 2008

MacGuyver Monday: Doing stuff with yarn

If you knit or crochet, you probably have a few skeins of yarn lying around. What can you do that's useful and doesn't require buying yet more yarn? Here are a few ideas.

1. Amigurumi are an easy and cute way to use up yarn in a productive way. Basically, they are cute little crocheted Japanese stuffed animals. I am going to make some for Christmas stockings, and maybe Etsy.
Here's a link with lots-a amigurumi tips and a pattern for a little guy.

2. Crochet or knit dishcloths, potholders, and hot pads.

3. Make little flowers to decorate clothing.

4. Make pom-poms--no knitting or crocheting needed, and it's so easy a little kid could make them.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Menu Planning for Non-Meat Eaters

I was looking around at menu planning sites today, searching for recipes to feed next week's house guests.

Houseguests make for difficult meal planning in the Sagemommy household. On one hand, I want to knock their socks off with my gourmet skills; on the other hand, I would like to spend some time with my family outside the kitchen. Then there's the ingredient issue; we are mainly meatless around here, but most Americans are conditioned to think it's not dinner without a slab of flesh taking up half their plate. I want to introduce people to the delicious fresh tastes of a Yakima summer, but I don't want them to go home grumbling. Also, my houseguests are highly allergic to, among other things, milk and milk products.

I've discovered that most meal planning sites either recommend rotating the most boring traditional American meals--as in Monday is spaghetti night, Tuesday is taco night, etc.--or they plan meals around meat, as in Monday we'll make something with chicken breast, Tuesday something with pork chops, and so on. All of these work wonderfully if you really, really enjoy traditional American foods. If. My houseguests happen to be my parents--a European/Jewish heritage stepfather, and a Middle Eastern/Central Asian/Eastern European/non-practicing Jewish mother who grew up in China. Did I mention they're Buddhist? Only in California...

Then I had an epiphany: why not plan meals according to cuisine type? As in Monday--Mexican, Tuesday--Thai, Wednesday--Italian, and so on. I started searching, and I found low-meat, dairy-free, budget-friendly meals from every nation I could think of on the web. I think this is going to become my new strategy. As a bonus, this plan made it easy to plan side dishes, as Thai food just begs for sauteed noodles and it isn't Mexican night without Spanish rice. As I am fond of pointing out, third world cuisine is generally cheap and easy to prepare, because they are even more strapped for time and cash then we are.

I plan to incorporate more adventurous cuisines into my family's diet this summer. It will keep us out of the sandwich/salad/fruit rut we seem to creep into when it gets too warm to properly cook. Don't worry; I'll share recipes as I find good ones.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Maxing Out your Meat

That sounds like a Enzyte commercial, but, seriously, that's not where I'm going with this.

The price of meat is going up with the price of, well, everything. I think the price is going to increase faster than other food prices, and here's why:

Meat, even local meat, is rarely entirely local. Cows, for instance, have to be shipped from where they are born to where they are raised, then from there to where they are fattened just before slaughter, then to where they are slaughtered, then to where they are processed and packed, then to a store's distribution center, and then to the store. Whew! that's quite a run-on sentence, and it's quite a lot of traveling for an animal whose sole function is to lay quiet on your plate with a side of Yukon Gold fries.

Animals don't fit neatly in the back of a Prius, and with oil prices going up every second, it's fair to say that these intrepid world travelers are not getting any cheaper. So how do you cut your meat budget in times like these? By cutting your meat intake. And here's how:

1. Experiment with vegan meals. Even meat lovers will like some of them, so try a few out. Instead of making spaghetti without the meatballs, try checking out a vegan cookbook and trying an altogether new dish, one that won't feel like it has something missing.

2. Do the meat limbo--lower, lower, lower. In the spaghetti with meatballs example, make your meatballs slightly smaller, with slightly more fillers, and use slightly less. Go a little lower every time you try a recipe, and bump back up a step when people start complaining. You can halve your meat usage this way without your family noticing.

3. Experiment with cheaper cuts of meat. Chuck roast may not be ideal for barbecuing, but it sure makes a nice pot roast. Tougher cuts of meat are often more flavorful, and therefore better for casseroles and stews.

Meat is always tastier and greener when bought from local farmers and butchers, so call around about options other than the corner supermarket. Sometimes these sources are cheaper, too.

If you're worried about protein intake, remember that most Americans are getting two to four times the protein they need. Unless you're a strict vegan, you ought to be okay (and what strict vegan would be reading this?).