Monday, December 14, 2009

Yes, We Can...

...afford to eat better.

The professor in my argument class this quarter decided that our main focus should be health care because of the timeliness of the issue. Like we can't just flip on the television and hear about that--but whatever. We had to write several essays related to health care and have class-wide discussions on it.

My first essay focused on why our health care costs so much--more than twice what it does in other industrialized nations, in fact. The answer seems to be that we are sue-happy and, more important, very unhealthy due to a really crappy diet. Obesity and related problems create up to half of our national health care bill. That's not counting things like type 2 diabetes that are closely tied to but not entirely caused by obesity.

My second essay discussed how we can change this. I said that if we are really serious about it, we need to treat junk foods like another famously harmful substance: tobacco. According to my research, the average obese person has health care costs far exceeding a smoker. So why are we serving junk food in our school cafeterias? Why can people buy chips and soda with food stamps? Why don't we tax these foods and make them illegal on school campuses?

My teacher wrote a note on my paper suggesting that most Americans can't afford healthy foods. And I say: Yes, we can.

Convenience foods cost more than whole foods per pound, and they seem to be the culprits in our expanding waistlines. People think that dollar menus are cheaper than cooking, but are they really? Sure, it's hard to beat one dollar for a burger, but no one is getting fat from that two hundred calorie burger. They are getting fat from a larger, three or four dollar burger, along with two dollar supersized fries and a large Coke. A single value meal is around six dollars, about the cost for a healthy homemade dinner for your whole family.

People in third world countries eat better than we do and have lower rates of diet-related disease, because they can't afford our crappy diet. Americans have more expendable income than most Europeans, who also manage to eat better. Anyway, whole foods are cheaper than Frankenfood if you look beyond out of season pomegranates and radicchio. So it's counterintuitive to suggest that money is the issue.

I think time and laziness are the issue. I'm not saying fat people are particularly lazy, but that we all are in this country. Some people are blessed with metabolisms that can handle all the extra calories and the sedentary lifestyle, others are not so lucky. And none of us feel like dedicating an hour to cooking in the evening, although many of us do it anyway. It's easier, albeit more expensive, to just open a box. And therein lies the problem.

We do have the money--beans and rice are cheap. We do have the time as well, for the most part. Most people feel like they have no time, but when their favorite TV show comes on, suddenly time is in surplus. We spend time on the phone, time shopping for things we don't really need, time waiting in fast food lines. It's only when it comes time to throw the beans in the crockpot that we get all short on time. Suddenly we don't have even a minute, unless that minute is spent in a McDonald's drive-thru.

If you aren't working, or even if you are, you have time--as much or more time than I do, at least. We can eat healthy. Yes, we can. To borrow another famous tagline: just do it.

There are a few caveats here. If you are feeding yourself on less than $5 a week, then you will be relying on ultra-cheap, ultra-unhealthy foods like ramen. But you won't get fat... you'll have a hard time just getting enough calories to survive. Obesity comes from eating too much--way too much--for a period of years, not from spending a few tight months eating from a Styrofoam cup. Also, organics do cost more. But you won't get obese from eating a conventionally grown apple.

In one of our class discussions, a girl said she and her one year old live on fast food because she is too busy as a single mother to cook and she can't afford better food anyway. But she gets her nails done every week and has a constant flow of new clothes and Coach handbags. She has time and money to shop and watch someone airbrush her nails. Just not the time to eat healthy.

It's not her fault, either. Every time you turn on the TV, some expert is claiming that Americans are fat because we can't afford the money and time for a healthy diet. People are being encouraged to make unhealthy choices and told that they have no control over something as basic as what they put in their mouth. But we all have the choice. We all have the option to eat well. Say it with me: Yes, we can.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Part-Time Homeschooling

I completely believe in homeschooling. My children never learned so thoroughly nor developed socially as well as they did when we were a work at home/learn at home family. Going back to college only reinforces my belief, because the top students in every single one of my classes are fifteen-year-old homeschoolers who shame the rest of us with their ability to learn.

Not only are they better students, the homeschoolers at my college are a refreshing change from the kids near their age. They dress more modestly, are better spoken, and fool around less in class. Many of my non-homeschooled classmates have difficulty relating to people in the class who are older than them or from different ethnic backgrounds. They stay in their own enclaves and giggle while the homeschoolers seem to socialize with a variety of people, and at more appropriate times.

I'm sure this is a generalization. I'm sure there are many mature and well-taught public school graduates and many immature and academically unprepared homeschoolers as well. However, this generalization has been true 100% of the time in the last year and a half of college. Which worries me, because my kids are now attending conventional school.

As I said above, I believe in homeschooling. On the other hand, something that I didn't consider when I married an older man is that at some point, I would need to pick up the financial workload. My husband is about 15 years away from retirement while I am in the middle of my childbearing years. When he reaches senior citizen status, we will still have children in the home and need to provide more than a retiree's lifestyle. We can save for that time, but these savings will barely put a dent in the financial needs of our future. Going back to school seems like the only realistic option, but it definitely infringes on the lifestyle I feel called to.

I decided to make a list of the things I feel my kids are missing out on by attending 'real' school and attempt to address them one by one.

1. Lack of appropriate socialization. What I hear over and over is that homeschoolers don't get socialized; however, my experience is just the opposite. They do not spend all day in a small room with people their own age, but is that really preparation for the future? On the other hand, they usually accompany their parents on daily errands, sometimes even go to work with them, as well as volunteering, going to lessons, and attending mixed age co-ops. My kids saw more of the community when we homeschooled and seemed more socially aware.

My solution has been to involve my children more in the community now that we are in school. I have taken them to school with me on occasion so they see what other kinds of formal education look like, and we are always looking for volunteer opportunities. We continue to take various lessons and try to maintain our friendships with adults and children of different ages and backgrounds.

2. The moral and ethical void of public schools. Wow, if my kid comes home with the words to another Black Eyed Peas song memorized, I am going to scream. When you send adults into the world, they have the foundation to deal with it; when you send children, their foundation is unset and prone to taking imprints you may find unpleasant.

This is honestly the hardest issue to overcome. We have a character building program that I bought while homeschooling, and we continue to use it. I am much more restrictive on television viewing than I was when we homeschooled. We take time for morning and evening prayers, and I emphasize moral and religious values at every opportunity. Is it as good as homeschooling? Nope. Is it sufficient? For now, yes, and when it stops being sufficient we will stop being public schoolers.

3. Materialism and emphasis on appearance. I used to love it when my friends came over with daughters in princess costumes. The clothing children wear to co-ops ranges from mismatched rags to thoughtfully created designer ensembles, and every variation in between. It doesn't seem to affect the social sitch at all in that crowd.

This is a hard one to combat at schools because no one wants to have their kid be the one ostracized because the parents take a stand on principle. My fourteen-year-old is willing to take that stand on his own: he'll dress however he wants, and everyone can take it or leave it. But he is a product of homeschooling, while the younger ones are more impressionable. I will buy new garments when needed provided they meet standards of decency and are within a certain price range. We do a lot of this at thrift stores, and I alway point out the waste involved with so many people buying and then getting rid of perfectly nice, stylish, name brand clothing. The result is that the younger kids seem to feel that the name-brand game is a little silly, but necessary if you want to get along, and something to be begrudgingly worked around. Which is exactly how I feel.

As for the constant need for stuff, I know that many public school parents will buy their kids the foods and toys seen on television. I believe that a constant pursuit of stuff is wrong, and I show it through my actions. We also purchased the Veggie Tales film, Madame Blueberry, which addresses this behavior in a more interesting and less preachy way than I can.

4. Bullying and victimizing behavior. It's the nature of many children and adults to try to gain power however they can. Honestly, the way we dealt with bullying in the homeschool community was for any adult present to step in and stop it, then report the incident to the offending child's parents. Believe me, no one seemed to have trouble doing this. If anything, many parents seemed over-sensitive to it. Public schoolers, on the other hand, are supervised at recess on about a 1 adult to every 100 children ratio. They can't see and intervene constantly. They have these bullying assemblies, but my second grader could not even define bullying after the last one. It wasn't a semantic issue; she honestly had no idea what it was except that it was very mean and bad.

Luckily, we have a large family, enough that everyone here has been on both sides of mild variations of bullying behavior. So they can see that it is mean and how bad it makes others feel. My kids are pretty empathetic, so this small amount of experience goes a long way. We talk a lot about how important it is to be friends with the kids standing alone at the perimeter of the playground and to include anyone who wants to play.

5. The lack of an education. Isn't it ironic that so many parents send their kids to school to get an education? Yet that seems to be conspicuously absent. They barely get in their three R's and the occasional science or social studies unit between announcements and crowd-management. We did that the first hour of the morning when we homeschooled, then had hours for social studies, history, science, art, archaeology, religion, and dance lessons. All before noon, usually. By the way, my kids go to one of the highest rated school districts in our state. They are getting the best education available in American public schools.

I quickly identified the shortcomings of the school and have taken measures to overcome them. The elementary school we go to is good at teaching math, and pretty good at handwriting and reading. They make it as boring as humanly possible, but my kids love to learn so it doesn't really phase them. They read and write voraciously, so I haven't ever had to teach or police that, even when we homeschooled. That leaves the other things on the list, and I continue to do our Sonlight curricula minus the math and phonics to make up for this. We still take the occasional day off for museums. I have even taken members of the brood to school when we were learning something relevant to our other lessons. One of my teachers worked in Antarctica and gave a slide show on it; I brought Grace because of her obsession with penguins, and she talks about it still almost a year later.

So, I think we have the bases covered, for now at least. The secret to part-time homeschooling is to view the school as a flawed adolescent babysitter. Watch, listen, overcome the shortcomings that you can, and remember that you can always scrap Plan A and go back to homeschooling if need be. I miss my homeschooling mommy friends and the joy of watching my children's faces light up when they finally got it, but those are selfish desires that I can deal with alone.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Christmas Wishes

With finals over, I am finally free to rev up for Christmas. We actually have most of the shopping done, but there is decorating and general festivity to be done. However, my biggest gift this holiday is a 'B' in physics.

To clarify, I am usually a solid A student, but this one subject has been kicking my backside. I already had a B in Physics, but the final was scary in a 30% of our final grade kind of way. So when I saw that it hadn't had a negative effect on my grade, joy is probably an understatement for the way I felt.

What does this have to do with the holidays? Delayed gratification. It's something that our Santa Claus culture celebrates in words and disdains in actions. Right now the message everywhere we go is "don't you want....?" The impression I get from most of my non-homeschooling friends is that they feel compelled to buy their children every item on a long wish list of toys. For the record, I think this will have a long term negative effect, especially on their physics grade.

Being a college student, especially a pre-med student, requires a grasp of delayed gratification. How frustrating is it to do the same problem over and over, ending up with the wrong answer every time, until at last you have worked through the bugs and get it right? We have about twenty problems like that for homework every single week. No wonder over half of my class was gone before finals week. Modern life is about getting what you want as easily as possible, right? And Christmas is a frenzy of this attitude.

What will my children do if they want to be a doctor or a dentist or a lawyer? Will they be able to put in hard work with the reward deferred for a decade or so? A lot of young adults now can't seem to put in the two years necessary to get basic training for a skilled labor job. They don't even want to start at the bottom at a normal, every day job. Remember how Jacob worked seven years to win the hand of Rachel, only to have his father-in-law switch out his daughters? Jacob worked another seven years to get the wife he really wanted. That's a little extreme, but it stands in sharp contrast to modern men who expect sex on the third date.

I don't want my children to end up unsuccessful because their desires aren't handed to them in a pretty wrapped box. I want for them to want, and work, and associate the hard work with the eventual success. I want them to know what intellectual hunger feels like. I want for them to decide what success means to them and then to pursue it wholeheartedly.

On the other hand, I think that never getting what you want is disheartening. Not to mention that our society preaches that only naughty children don't get showered with gifts on this one special morning. So here's how I have been handling it: one present from parents, one from Santa Claus, and a stocking of fun but useful things including a little candy. They get many gifts from aunts, uncles, and grandparents as well, so it's hardly an austere existence.

I try to make sure that at least one of those gifts is their heart's desire, whatever that happens to be. Because I'm not into buying toys outside of major holidays (it severely limits their ability to have fun making homemade musical instruments with cardboard), this hardly seems excessive. This year, wish lists in my home include blocks, erector sets, bicycles, and some new-fangled cupcake-only version of the Easy Bake Oven. These are things that Santa is happy to buy.

These are things that my children have wanted for months, so imagine their joy when their wish is at last gratified. The world waited thousands of years for Christ, so waiting a few months for a new bicycle doesn't seem unreasonable. This patient waiting will come in handy should any of them decide they want to be a doctor.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Things You Know About Me, Things You Don't

Throughout the last twenty-four hours or so, I have been questioning why I was so initially freaked out when my doctor said he had read my blog. I think it's because I felt like he must know me better than I had realized, which throws me a little off guard. However, this lead me to another train of thought. Different groups of people know different sets of facts about me, and I always feel like that is a bad thing, which is a topic I have blogged about before. For instance, my blog readers know that:

1. I am against many forms of traditional medicine. Especially the so-called preventative care. I treat immunization schedules and treatments for routine illnesses with what many might call reckless disregard.

2. I am 'green', even obsessively so. I hide my crunchiness well, so unless you read my blog, you probably don't know.

3. I have a bitchy ironic sense of humor and like to make fun of things that don't make sense to me.

4. I hang out clothes, grow food, patch worn clothes, and generally enjoy a third world lifestyle.

What is the impression I give my doctor, my professors, my children's teachers, the public at large? That I am ultraconventional, put-together, etc. It's not like I try to lie, just that I think people take you more seriously when you don't look like you crawled out of a dumpster and you don't debate everything they say. So if you read my blog, you see a hidden, more subversive side of me. But you don't see the whole picture; for instance, people who see me in person know that:

1. I get embarrassed easily and will blush deep scarlet and even get shaky when caught off guard. Like yesterday :-).

2. I am a little obsessive about purses and shoes matching, etc.

3. I am a veritable well of useless knowledge. For instance, I know the details of how various flu epidemics have killed people. I just like epidemiology (shrug). I also know what all those weird nursery rhymes mean--most have a dark past and were written about very situations going on in the world at the time. And lots of random stuff like that, things that get pulled out in somewhat related conversations.

4. I am kind of a perfectionist.

Here are some things you probably don't know about me, whoever you are:

1. I am ambivalent about almost every controversial topic. There are people who can see both sides and decide on one. I see both sides and get confused. Because it usually comes down to security vs. liberty, personal rights vs. the common good, etc. And I like both.

2. I am secretly intimidated by cool people. Not Hollywood cool, but people who really have an identity and do neat things. What do I do that's really cool? I can't think of anything...

3. I am an obsessive science nerd. Probably how I learn all those random facts.

4. I don't believe in complaining about children. They know when parents do that. They sense it. And it bothers them--at least, it bothered me when I was little. As for my own brood: suffice to say, they are all cute and generally healthy and generally well behaved except for a few age-appropriate issues that we are working on together. I love them all and would have more if my uterus would cooperate.

See what I mean? I'm like a multiple personality or something. Should I work on becoming more normal? I kind of like my quirky, weird self, though. At least I'm never bored.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Blogging gets results (?)

If you are my doctor, it's okay to keep reading. I'm not freaked out by you reading my blog. I just didn't expect it to be brought up at an appointment. I was caught off guard, but it's really kind of cool when I think about it.

If you aren't my doctor, I had a doctor's appointment today. He told me that he had come upon my blog and read my one of my various complaints about his staff and shown it to them. It was a lot easier to get this appointment, as I blogged a few days ago. So maybe blogging gets results.

Here's where I confess that I am a big fat liar. When my doctor said that he read my blog, I immediately assured him that my blog was a small thing that I write for family and friends and venting pruposes. It may have started that way, but I have a lot of readers now that I have never met. So there: I am a big, fat (unwitting) liar. But if my doctor is reading this, he's a big fat liar too. Because when I starting hyperventilating when he said he read one of my posts, he said he would never read my blog again if it made me so uncomfortable.

I was uncomfortable--epic understatement. I wrote that post one and a half years ago while in the aftershocks of seeing my normally healthy oldest child almost die, and I never realized it would come back around years later. I didn't know what I had written, but now that I've re-read it, I stand by what I said--it was totally honest. Albeit one-sided. I can only really show one side here: mine. Blogs are about personal experience, and I've only experienced my life.

So, whoever you are, doctor or not, I am officially giving you permission to read, and, no, I didn't mean you are really a big fat liar.

For the rest of you, it was the normal thing plus a little bloodwork to try and nail down some of the symptoms that those of you who see me in person are tired of hearing me whine about. No biggie, hopefully.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The End of Doctor Drama--Can It Be?

The last time I saw my doctor, he assured me that they were overhauling their scheduling. So patients could actually get appointments, and little stuff like that.

Last week I had to make not one, but two appointments. One a routine appointment for me, and one just to make sure my youngest daughter's flu wasn't swine flu (it was, btw, and she's already over it). In both cases, I was able to make an appointment. Rachael had to see a resident, but whatever, I needed an appointment that day so I couldn't be choosy. Last time I called, I couldn't see anyone or anything there in the next week, and they didn't schedule beyond that. The appointment for me was schedules two weeks in advance--that's right, no 'We're full this week, so call back next Monday'.

The staff seems generally nicer as well. Could it be that they were just as dismayed by the old system? Now the doctors are in 'teams' sorted by color, which is a little fourth grade for me, but I got an appointment so WHATEVER.

Monday, October 12, 2009

N.P. in a C.P. World

It always seems to me that there are two camps: the natural parenting group and the conventional parenting group. When I read the c.p. magazines like Parents, I am a little appalled at the cavalier attitude toward kids. Like they are swine flu and I need a checklist to manage them. On the other hand, I don't really fit in with the n.p. group anymore. I am in school too much to homeschool, and as a result my kids sometimes have to do things they don't want to do, just like their mommy. My dryer is running at this moment, proving I am not the uber earthy mom I once was.

Still, I find myself applying n.p. principles to c.p. problems. Like:

A. Mornings. I was reading a c.p. magazine the other day and it had a big article on having smooth mornings. Most of the tips could be filed under: be a drill sergeant/Nazi/total meanie that your kids will cry about in therapy someday. Here are a few of my tips:

  • Rub backs and kiss the rounded cartilage-y part of their ears.
  • Make something really yummy for breakfast--they will come.
  • For teenagers, start their shower running, then wake them. Even my 14 year old won't waste hot water.
  • Do everything you can the night before, like picking out clothes, packing lunches and backpacks, etc.
  • Have fun morning traditions that no one wants to miss. Grace plays violin in the morning, and sometimes we make pictures for their bus driver if we have time.

No spray bottles of water and they still get out of bed? Indeed. Here's another c.p. magazine favorite: toddler tantrums. According to Parents, I should respond to a display of emotion by isolating the child in a homegrown version of solitary confinement and putting a stop-order on parenting them until they agree to stifle their rage, or at least put it aside until I'm not looking. Instead, I:

  • Give choices. Toddlers get mad when people make every decision for them, because they have just realized that 1. they are a separate human being from everyone else and 2. everyone else seems to be deciding what to wear, eat, play with, etc. Don't let them jump off the roof, but I think they can handle picking out shoes even if they end up wearing play shoes at the mall or even a mismatched pair.
  • Help verbalize emotions. Like, "you don't like it when we have oatmeal for breakfast? I'm sorry, that's what we have. You can choose to not eat it, but you'll be really hungry by snack time." Sometimes they just have something to say and it is too complex for their vocabulary.
  • Hug them a lot. I mean, they're two. I sometimes feel like screaming and I have sixteen times as much life experience through which to filter the whole confusing mess that life can be. If my two year old gets a little overwhelmed, it's understandable.

Here's one not from a c.p. magazine, but from a c.p. teacher. She is a little peeved because my daughter keeps reading books outside her assigned level. Either too hard and the second grader does poorly on the little computerized test they take on the books they read, or too easy because even if she reads at a fourth grade level she still likes second grade stuff like ballerinas and unicorns. So I pull out my best n.p. skills and:

  • Tell the seven year old to read whatever she wants, that the tests are totally unimportant compared to the fun of reading, and that the teacher can call me if there is a problem with that.
  • Send the teacher a letter politely expressing the above. (she never called)
  • Encourage the seven year old to at least look for a book in her assigned level before getting one that is technically too easy or too difficult.
  • If she isn't feeling like she understood the book well enough, we can read it together or she can just not take the test. Whatever, if the grade is that important, just don't take the tests unless you are confident you can ace them.
  • Look at the library for fourth grade level books about ballerina mice and girls who live in forest groves with unicorns.

Just because you are forced to live in a c.p. world, that doesn't mean you can't be a n.p. parent. If anything, I think it's easy to be the perfect earth mommy when you control your own sphere, but being a n.p. parent while surrounded by every random bit of insanity the planet can throw at you... well, that's an art form.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Woman kicked off plane for breastfeeding?

Yep. Here's the link.

Okay, so she was asked to cover up and didn't. Maybe she was hot. Maybe the toddler was stressed out by the change in schedule and didn't want a blanket over his or her head.

If you are sitting in the window seat in the back of the plane, with only your husband next to you, you kinda think that you can skip the blanket regardless of what the control freak flight attendant says because anyone who doesn't want to see your mammaries would have to crane their head to see them anyway. My youngest had this thing against blankets when she was breastfeeding. She would play 'peek-a-boo' and the blanket ended up covering nada. This was a real problem in my hood--the mommies at our homeschool co-op would enshroud themselves in the break room even though it was just us girls. I think the blanket is unnecessary, because anyone with a little decency would simply look away.

I breastfed the same child on a plane on the way to California. And back. And to Colorado, and back from there too. The abrupt change in elevation hurts little ears and the sucking alleviates it. 'Lap children' have to be in your lap anyway. Maybe the mommy in question was trying to get the toddler to sleep before the plane took off so she could chill with her Ipod during the flight.

Who cares why? She should be able to feed her kid the food that God intended for them. Doesn't this seem like a violation of civil rights? We have to be so sensitive to everything and everyone now, but harried mothers and their toddlers don't count?

This was probably all the complaining flight attendant saw:

Thursday, September 10, 2009

How You Like Them Apples?

They aren't just for dessert and snacks anymore!

We have an apple tree that blesses us with more apples than any reasonable family could eat. They're great for snacks and really unhealthy desserts, but I am always looking for a way to incorporate them into actual meals. Here are two super awesome and reasonably priced recipes that I found at the most unexpected place: Williams-Sonoma.

Puffy Apple Pancake


1 small apple--I made ours with THREE and it was very good
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup milk, at room temperature
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons confectioners sugar


  • Preheat an oven to 400°F.
  • Grease a 9-inch glass pie dish with butter.
  • Peel the apple, then cut it into quarters and core. I have one of those nifty apple things that does it for me. Using a small knife, cut the apple quarters into small chunks.
  • In a small bowl, using a fork, stir together 2 tablespoons of the sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of the cinnamon. Add the apple chunks and toss with the fork until the pieces are evenly coated with the cinnamon-sugar. *NOTE* If you use more apple, you'll need more sugar and cinnamon as well.
  • Pour the apple chunks into the prepared dish, spreading them out evenly with the fork. Set aside.
  • In a blender, combine the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, the eggs, milk, flour and vanilla. Put the blender lid on securely and, holding the lid down tightly, blend on medium speed until all the ingredients are well mixed and frothy, about 1 minute. *ANOTHER NOTE* I did this part by hand. I think it took less time than getting out the blender and then washing it and putting it away.
  • Put the dish in the oven and bake the apple chunks for 5 minutes. Using an oven mitt, carefully pull out the oven rack until the dish is visible. Do not remove the dish.
  • Pour the batter evenly over the apples. Slide the rack back into the oven and close the oven door. Bake the pancake until puffed and brown, about 25 minutes.
  • Using oven mitts, carefully remove the dish from the oven and set it on a wire cooling rack.
  • Dust the pancake with confectioners sugar using a fine-mesh sieve. Cut into wedges and serve immediately. Serves 8.

Once you've had apples for breakfast, why not have them for lunch as well? I made these sandwiches and they were good enough that I am no longer dreading eating apples three or four times a day for the next month and a half.

Peanut Butter and Apple Sandwich


2 tablespoons whipped cream cheese
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon honey
1 Granny Smith apple
2 tablespoons peanut butter, preferably all- natural
2 slices sandwich bread


  • Put the cream cheese, vanilla and honey in a bowl. Using a fork, mash together until smooth.
  • Put the apple on its side on a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, cut the apple in half lengthwise. Then cut each half in half again to make quarters. Lay each quarter on its side and cut away the tough, papery core and seeds. Cut each apple quarter lengthwise into thin slices. *Again, I use the apple machine for this. It takes like twenty seconds to core, peel, and slice one apple!*
  • Using a table knife, spread the peanut butter on one slice of bread. Spread the cream cheese mixture over the second slice of bread.
  • Cover the peanut butter with a layer of apple slices, and top with the second bread slice, cream cheese side down. Press down lightly. Cut the sandwich in half or into quarters with the sharp knife and serve immediately. Ignore small children begging for a bite. Makes 1 sandwich. You'll need a lot more than that!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

One Girl's Green Wardrobe

Does 'back to school' have to be expensive or bad for the environment? My seven-year-old eco-fashionista doesn't think so! Here are a few ways your kids can be paragons of style without compromising their values or your finances.

Buy Organic

T-shirt by Born On Earth, which is a new brand that makes children's clothing from organic materials. It's all made in Southern California, so you don't have to worry about oppressing people in the third world. If the shirt doesn't look brand-new, it might be because Grace has worn it at least five times since the company sent it to us (thanks, guys!). I tried to convince her to save it for the photo shoot... no luck. So you can see that it washes and line-dries well! We have gotten so many comments (especially when we went to Seattle last weekend... it was a real showstopper in Pike's Place) on this shirt because of the cute graphic on the front and the little details all over it. Check it out...

This tee has a modern, fitted cut and it's long enough to cover what low-rise jeans don't. If your little ones also happen to have been born on earth, you might want to check out their website.

Organic, fair trade clothing is more expensive than what you would pick up at Target, but it is well worth it. Take for instance, Born on Earth. The products are 100% organic with water-based inks. They plant one tree for each purchase through a partnership with Trees for the Future. Even their tags and bags are 100% recycled and recyclable. You'll be able to afford at least a few key pieces from green clothing makers if you fill out your wardrobe with the ultra low-cost options that follow.

Recycled Clothing

The outfit above is entirely from freecycle. The shorts are faded, but I think that's back in style now. The shirt was a boy's stained white t-shirt. I sun-bleached it to fade the stains and then tie-dyed with bright colors. The result is a beautiful, wearable piece of art that Grace helped make.

There are many sources of free clothing. First, freecycle and the free section of Craig's List. Second, hand-me-downs. Make it known that you take hand-me-downs and you'll start getting offers. Most people would love to have another mom to give their children's cast-offs to, but they are afraid to offend someone by offering.

Speaking of free clothing, the shirts below are from freecycle as well. Little girls can't wear thin-strapped tanks alone to my daughter's school, but they are cute and modest when layered to cover stains and worn spots in other shirts. I made the skirt--isn't it adorable?

Support your Favorite Cause

Grace cares deeply about the plight of endangered animals, so when she saw this shirt at the Bellevue Mall, she had to have it. We were even more thrilled when when we found out that one dollar from every tee goes to the World Wildlife Fund. You can get this shirt at Justice, which is in most major malls now. If you don't have one near you, there are also eco-themed tops at Cafe Press. Check out the bee green Kids Hoodie.


What can you do with really pretty toile curtains from the Goodwill that don't look right on a single window in your home? If you're a hippie mama like me, you can trace your daughter's favorite jumper onto newspaper, adding a half-inch all around for hems, and use that as a sewing pattern for a stylish jumper. This is a super easy project and the only costs are the curtains (99 cents) and the thread (pennies).

As you can see, procuring a school wardrobe without trashing the planet is attainable and even easy. Just remember to Recycle (by passing on your unneeded clothes and accepting hand-me-downs from others), Reduce (as in reducing the social and ecological impact of your new stuff by buying organic and fair trade), and Reuse (mend, tie-dye, and repurpose to get the maximum use out of every item).

Here's a game for my readers: of all the shoes Grace owns, only one pair was bought brand new. Can you guess which? The choices are: brown flats from first picture, gold sandals, or black tennis shoes. Leave a message with your guess and I'll tell everyone next Monday.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Solar Power

I'm in the middle of a huge writing project on solar power, which means I can't say much about it without plagiarizing myself. However, I can say this: I never realized how do-able making your own solar panels can be. There are a lot of options I have run into while researching my project that seem totally possible, even with my limited skills. I am especially interested in recycling broken solar panels--recycling and carbon-neutral power are two of my favorite things.

My children are really into this concept also. We've done a few solar science projects that have only whet their appetite for more. So, I am tossing around a few ideas right now. I'm thinking about trying to sell this as an article for a major magazine or a feature for a major TV show. After all, how many families decide to build their own solar panels?

I'll be sure to report back here when I have my thoughts on this a little more organized. Oh, and check back tomorrow for my ultra-green back-to-school post. I have made some cool stuff and even procured a few samples from the latest green kids' clothes companies.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Alternatives to Driving

Rising gas prices have led to a flood of articles on saving gas dollars, but most of them focus on things other than actually reducing your time on the road. Here are a few ways I am reducing my driving time.

1. Get to know your public transportation. If you aren't in a major city, it probably sucks. As in: it will take you twice as long to get anywhere. However, this is something that you can get used to. Consider: time that you drive is generally wasted time. You are not accomplishing anything. You are not making meaningful interactions. You're just burning fuel. When you are riding the bus, you can talk to your children, teach homeschooling lessons, make phone calls, pay bills, balance your checkbook, read a book, crochet Christmas gifts, mend socks, etc. The bus may take more time, but unlike driving time it can be productive.

2. Choose one or two days a week that you will drive. For us, it is currently Friday and Sunday. Friday is my errand day; Sunday is church day. I occasionally fall back on the car on other days for birthday parties, lessons, etc, but having two official driving days makes me really avoid driving on those other days.

3. Cut back to one car. It's easier than it sounds. My husband and I have always shared a car. In his old job, our kids walked to school and he took the car. I simply did without a vehicle during the ten or so hours he was gone. If I needed the car, I would drop him off and pick him up, but this wasn't really efficient. Later, when our children began going to a school farther away, my husband took our kids and some neighbor kids to the school on his way to work and the other mom picked them up after school. She thought she was getting off easy because she didn't have to get up as early.

My husband's job for the last several years required some driving, so his company provides one for work days, which eliminates the need for this kind of planning. It's made me lazy, but I'm trying to improve. When we homeschooled, I was getting really bad about spending all day in the car. I restricted my gas budget to $10 per week, and this helped me prioritize my driving.

Cutting back to one car is not just an eco-friendly decision, it is an economically positive one as well. Half the insurance, half the car payments, etc. Similarly, driving less will also save money. It's the way the rest of the world lives, and it's a decision that will probably be forced on us by finances in the near future. As Americans, we need to get used to the idea that oil isn't the answer to every problem.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Get Your Free Kashi Cereal...!

I love it when healthy food is affordable, and you don't get more affordable than free. These samples usually come with pretty decent coupons, so if you like your whole grain cereal you can get another box for a low price.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The Joys, and Trials, of Freelance Writing

As much as I love being able to make a living from home, there are a few things that bother me about freelance writing. Most of them fall into the following categories:

Repeat Work: Repeat jobs are like a so-so gift handed to you in a beautifully wrapped package. Don't get me wrong; I want those repeat jobs, because they make up a decent percentage of my living. However, I find it hard to write on the same subject indefinitely. Last year I wrote so much about soccer that I am now an expert despite never having donned a jersey. Right now I am doing my fourth job for a design agency, writing about (you guessed it) design. I feel guilty for being so tired of both topics.

If you are a client, yes, I still want the repeat work.

Random Ratings: At one agency I work for, both the customer and an employee of the agency rate each complete job. The customers here are invariably positive, but the employees are harsh. One gave me a low rating for misspellings, but I was supposed to write the article using misspelled keywords. It was to take advantage of people misspelling things in search engines. This is not an uncommon search engine optimization strategy, so the employee should have known--and they would have if they had read the directions I was given like they are SUPPOSED to.

In another ratings snafu, a client accidentally rated me too low on Elance. They didn't understand the parameters of the scale. Their written evaluation is nothing short of gushing, but because few people leave reviews this one negative number rating has lowered my six month satisfaction rate from 100% to 75%. Ouch. These low ratings affect my ability to get other work, so it's very concerning.

I don't mean to complain about a job that has been nothing short of a blessing, but like all jobs it has its frustrations. If you want to join me in wondering how much you could possibly write about logo design or , here are a few links to places where you can get money for freelance writing:

Go Freelance

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Really? Boycotting Whole Foods?

I guess some people aren't as tolerant as they like to think they are.

The founder of Whole Foods--you know, the place I wish I could afford to shop and sometimes do anyway--recently wrote an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal. He didn't say anything controversial or extreme. He points out that there are a lot of problems with socialized health care in the countries that use it (like 1.8 million people currently on a waiting list in Great Britain for hospital care while we Americans could walk in any day of the week and get pissed off if we had to wait a few hours) and offers a few common sense alternatives.

In response, Democrats want you to boycott Whole Foods. A Facebook site has been set up completely misrepresenting what was written in the article (read the article at the link above and then visit the site to see what I'm talking about. It's pretty egregious). Some are even calling for people holding the stock to sell it so the price will go down, maybe taking the company with it.

I believe strongly in exercising your rights as a citizen in one of the first and last free speech/free economy nations on the globe. However, trying to destroy a company and the people who own its stock--a company that pioneered the free trade and organic movements, no less--because the founder calmly and respectfully expresses his opinion about a political issue and offers his ideas for a better solution... it seems very closed minded and intolerant. Extremist, in fact.

Why the vitriol? Is there no room for debate in the health care 'debate'?

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Quantity vs. Quality

There is an artisan cheese store called Beecher's that I like to visit in Seattle. For just $20 or more dollars per pound, I can get mouthfuls of organic, homemade, local dairy pleasure.

People always give me stunned looks when I mention how much I will pay for certain food items. After all, in the US we like our food cheap. Because I am more frugal than most, my secret love of artisan cheese just doesn't add up.

I think the artisan cheese is actually a fine economic choice when you consider a few things. It is way healthier than most cheese. The grass fed cows and sheep produce milk with omega whatever acids and lower levels of bad fat. No hormones and garbage either. Dollar per dollar, I'm getting less calories but more nutrition, which is imperative with my fat jeans getting tighter by the millisecond. Plus, the cheese is rich and flavorful enough that I can eat it at a rate of about one bite per day. Last night my husband and I crumbled a little dry jack on our polenta. Today we'll mix some gorgonzola into a homemade vinaigrette.

Americans eat way too much food but spend less than, well, almost anyone in the world on groceries. This is because we are always looking for the cheapest way to get a plate full of meat. We aren't willing to buy legumes, and we won't pay more even if the better nutrition justifies it. We can afford to eat conventional meat and dairy in massive amounts because both are heavily subsidized by the American government. Healthy options, not so much.

We don't just east the wrong food, we eat way too freaking much of it. A typical French croissant is 1 1/2 ounces. An American Sara Lee croissant is 3 1/2 ounces. In Mexico, they use 5 inch tortillas to make quesadillas. Here we use ten inches. In most of Europe, the largest container of milk you can get is 1.5 liters. That's less than half a gallon. In other countries people eat better, but they eat way, way less. That's why we are the fatties of the planet.

We don't just eat more than other countries, we eat more than we used to. Here is a graphic depiction of fast food serving sizes now and just twenty years ago:

Personally, I think the government should tax unhealthy food and use that money to subsidize organic fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Maybe even make them free. Then I could feel like I am doing something magnanimous whenever I bust out the Cheetos. Plus, it would eradicate the need for food stamps, the school lunch program, and various other bureacracy- and waste-ridden programs. Anyway, if we are going to make socialized health care work, we will need a healthier population to keep the whole bloated barge afloat. Healthier diets is one step closer to that utopia we all want to live in.

Most people need to eat their ideal weight times ten calories per day. So, for an average American female, 1200-1300 calories per day. Wow. That's less than half of what most of us eat.

If you eat half the food, you'll be buying half the groceries. It leaves a lot of budgeting room for things like artisan cheese.

Back to School... or not

One week ago, I took my son to kindergarten. Now, for many people, this is something to look forward to. One less toddler in the house, one more starling out of the nest for seven hours a day. For me, it's a reason to cry into my dishwater. I have VERY mixed feelings about school.

We used to send our kids to private school. They received an excellent education in a very moral atmosphere. However, the families at the school were wealthy, that California type of wealthy with Hummers and McMansions and $300 jeans. We were one of few exceptions. I didn't want my children to be teased or rejected for not having what their peers had, so I pieced together designer wardrobes from thrift stores and made sure they opportunities to earn the key items their friends had. Yet I had very real reservations about the whole scene. The materialism permeated the experience, and even interfered with the moral education that was my reason for sending them there. Paying tuition as well as keeping up with the Joneses became way too expensive when multiplied by several kids, so we turned to charter schools.

Our charter school was geared toward science and math. It catered to gifted students, but... not enough. The kids were bored for much of the day after years in a top private school. Luckily, we were accepted to an even more challenging Latin charter school that required this hellaciously long application process. The day after we received the acceptance letter, we found out we were moving to another state. One without California's wide range of charter schools.

That led me to homeschooling. It was a magical two-plus years. I never dreamed I could find so much inner joy spending the day with a house full of small children. To discover new information with them, to see their faces change when they finally 'get it'--it's priceless. It feeds your soul. Homeschooling was an amazing experience, but an insular one. The kids wanted to branch out. And, to be honest, so did I.

Now we are in public schools. The kids are exposed to some questionable ideas, especially the high schooler. We discuss these things as they come up, and he has appeared to be ready for most of the challenges public school poses. At some point, we all must live in this terrible world of ours. His most scandalous moments have involved another homeschooler, so I can't blame that on the evil world. Because we live in an excellent school district, the education is sufficient, even by my lofty standards. Everyone is involved in honors and gifted programs that will prepare them for successful lives.

But that could change tomorrow. I'm just nor feelinf bought into public school. As a matter of fact, I feel excluded by it and vaguely jealous of my children's teachers. They get all day with my awesome kids. Do they know how lucky they are? How cool my children are? What lovely souls they have? I doubt it. As soon as this schooling arrangement doesn't work, we're outta here. We are tentatively back to school. Today at least. Tomorrow... ?

My schooling philosophy? I will do whatever it takes to get these kids an exceptional education, moral and otherwise. We are partners in this path, so I take their feelings very seriously. It's THEIR life. THEIR education. If they become unhappy with their current schooling situation for legitimate reasons, we will change it once again.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Negative Peer Pressure and Green Moms

Do you ever find yourself feeling like you need to hide exactly how green you are?

I certainly do, especially when we have houseguests. I put away the homemade cleansers so no one sees that I don't use the commercial antibacterial stuff. I make 'normal' meals, like meat tacos. I buy packaged foods for my cupboards. If asked, I describe my blog as a 'family' blog.

None of the words for people who embrace an ecofriendly lifestyle have positive connotations: hippy, crunchy. My personal favorite comes from a Chemistry classmate: "You are so granola." From there, it's all downhill. Activist, dirty, extremist, nutcase.

My houseguests are without exception wonderful people who would accept any weirdness I threw their way, but I feel the need to put on a show of how conventional I am. People have been trained by the media to think that our disposable lifestyles are cleaner and safer than the alternative. I don't want to have to sound like a perpetual Sierra Club ad and I don't want anyone to think they are going to be attacked by germs if they use my toilet. So I buy individually packaged granola bars instead of making my own and put the homemade laundry soap in an old Tide box.

People should feel guilty for not hanging things out, for not reusing, for pouring anti-bacterial crap into our waterways. Instead, I blush when the kids ask for falafel or when freecycling comes into the convo. I feel a little shame at cleaning with vinegar and old rags. wtf?

From now on, it's no more Miss Nice Mommy. My house is green, but it is as clean and comfortable as any other. It's time for all of us green mommies to be proud of who we are and what we stand for!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

And I thought I was green...

I'm reading a book on urban homesteading and really digging the idea of being off the economic grid. I started searching for sites to help me along and found this one. The website is published by a family of four that lives almost entirely on products grown or otherwise created on their small city-sized plot in Pasadena. It's like the city version of Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I hope they are as inspiring to all of my friends in the blogosphere as they are to me!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Fun Lunch Ideas

When I homeschooled, we relied on leftovers for lunch. Leftover meat could be rolled in a tortilla and baked to make taquitos, or I could throw together a salad and serve with slices of cheese. I didn't have to plan for lunch. Now, however, with everyone in school (including me), lunch is a little more complicated. Modern parents can't rely on the schools to provide a healthy lunch, nor can we send the traditional PBJ in this allergy-prone era. Here are my solutions:

1. The Leftover Wrap. I keep whole wheat tortillas in the fridge--they stay good forever, it seems--and I use leftovers to make healthy, tasty wraps for our lunches. The only potential problem is sogginess, but there are ways to solve this. First, spread something thick and water resistant on the wrap before filling, like cream cheese, hummus, or a nut butter. Second, use hardier veggies, like cole slaw mix, broccoli, or cabbage. Thicker leafy vegetables work too--think chard, spinach, and kale. From there, just add a filling, fold, and enjoy. You can get really creative with wraps! Our favorite right now is hummus, red curry chicken, and shredded cabbage. Don't knock it until you've tried it!

2. Cheese and whole grains. This is the easiest lunch solution, and my kids are almost guaranteed to eat it provided we haven't had it for lunch all week. I slice cheese and send it with whole grain crackers, whole grain toast, or just about any whole wheat grain. Whole wheat pitas can be sent with spaghetti or pizza sauce and shredded cheese for DIY pizzas. Kids love cheese, so be creative and you might be surprised at what they will eat.

3. Chopped fruits and veggies with protein dips. These can include hummus, which is super cheap when homemade with the recipe at the bottom of this post, or nut butters. Earthbound Farm sent me some individually packaged organic carrots and apple slices that were so good we couldn't manage to save any for when school started. If you go to their website, you can get on their mailing list and get coupons for delicious, healthy products sent to your home. With or without coupons, these still cost less per ounce than packaged chips, and the nutrition is clearly superior. I'm not fond of things that come in individual packages, but this company uses recycled materials, which takes some of the guilt out of this easy, busy-morning solution.

4. Pasta Salads. Mayo-based salads are a breeding ground for dangerous bacteria, and not even really healthy. Oil based salads, on the other hand, are safer and healthier. Simply start with whole grain pasta boiled as directed--they give a kick of healthy fiber and don't get mushy--then add your child's favorite crunchy vegetables chopped into bite-sized pieces. Complete with a protein, like nuts, beans, or crumbled cheese, and mix with olive oil and spices to make a yummy pasta salad.

Any of the above main courses with a homemade snack (like pumpkin bread or peanut butter cookies) and a fruit or veggie will make a frugal and green lunch that your kid is very likely to eat instead of trading for a Twinkie. If you have any fun lunch ideas, email me or leave a message. I'm always looking for kid friendly lunch ideas that are tasty enough that I can bring them to school as well.

Easy Homemade Hummus

1 can garbanzo beans, drained
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup tahini
salt and pepper to taste

Put all in food processor or blender and process until a paste forms. Refrigerate until ready to enjoy.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Hamburger Heaven

I try to use as little meat as possible, but hamburger has two things going for it: it's cheap, and it's versatile. Whether you buy half a grass-fed cow from the local farm or follow the sales, if you are like most households, hamburger is a staple.

I reduce the environmental impact of hamburger by stretching it as far as it will go and by serving it on rushed nights when our only other option is fast food. I buy hamburger when it is on sale and process it in the following manner:

1. Determine the weight of the hamburger and measure out one-quarter that weight of dry TVP. Hydrate the TVP by mixing equal volumes of hot water into it and letting set until absorbed. Then, add to the burger.

2. While you're at it, throw in a few handfuls of dry oatmeal, barley, or bulghur. Crackers and bread work as well if you have some you need to use up. The point is to add fiber with whatever you have around the house.

Adding protein and fiber not only stretches your hamburger, it lower the overall fat percentage and makes it more filling. I then add some finely chopped onion and garlic, because we like those in all of our hamburger recipes.

3. Make your recipes and freeze them. You might have your own favorites, but here are some of mine.

Meatballs two different ways (if you are going to make these, get the sauces started and cooking on the stove before doing anything else)

Take the mix mentioned above and add some of your favorite spices (mine today had about a tablespoon each of dill and rosemary) and an egg or two. Roll into balls and brown in a pan over medium heat. Do this in batches so there is only a single layer in the pan at any time.

As they finish browning, add half to each of the two sauces: spaghetti sauce and one other. I seem to get good spaghetti sauce on sale for less than it would cost me, so I just use jarred. The second sauce is made with whatever I happen to have around. If I have mushrooms, I make Swedish meatball sauce; if I have the stuff for homemade BBQ or sweet and sour, I make one of those. Let them simmer for an hour or so, then put in separate ziploc or freezer containers.

Easy Mini Meatloaf

I add two eggs for one large-family batch. Work in, then add your choice of spices and some kind of tomato-based liquid. I use about one cup for the aforementioned large-family batch. I like to play around with spices--adding taco seasoning for the spice and leftover salsa for the tomato, or spaghetti sauce for the tomato with extra garlic and oregano. I then put a handful or so in each well of a large muffin pan and top with a layer of the same tomato product. You can then either bake the whole thing at 350 until done, then taking the meatloaves out of the pan and freezing; or wrap up the whole pan and freeze raw, to be cooked another day.

Browned Meat

The rest gets browned and frozen in meal sized portions to be added to tacos, casseroles, or whatever inspires me.

In a normal hamburger session, I spend less than two hours of cooking to get six meals: two meatball, one meatloaf, and three browned beef. One days that are overbooked, I take out a package and put it in the refrigerator in the morning. For the meatballs, you can thaw overnight and empty the bag into the crockpot in the morning, leaving it to simmer on low until you are ready to eat.

All of these meals are faster than a pizza and much cheaper... I hope they make your busy life a little easier!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Dealing with a Stiff...

...basket of laundry. What did you think I was going to say?

No one wants to wear scratchy underwear. I understand that, believe me. This is the number one argument against hanging out clothes, but you can fix this problem with relative ease. There are two ways I deal with this:

1. Add a cup of vinegar to your rinse cycle. The vinegar smell will be gone before the clothes even dry, but for some reason it makes them softer. Some things, like blue jeans and towels, still need a little help.

2. Put clothes in the dryer with a damp dishtowel for a few minutes. I know the point is to not use the dryer, BUT using it for three minutes beats using it for forty-five.

Some things, like crisp cotton, need ironed anyway. That takes care of the stiffness. I don't consider it a waste of electric because I iron those items even when they are dryer-dried.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Laundry: the new way vs. the old way

Whoever said the only certain things are death and taxes must not have been in charge of the laundry in their home. In my house, it is absolutely a certainty that I will have to do some laundry related chore every day.

Because laundry is both universal and constant, the way we do our laundry can make a huge difference. There seem to be three different schools of laundry thought:

The Old-Fashioned Way: Most people don't do their laundry the truly old fashioned way--agitating and wringing it by hand--but there are still many people who make their own laundry soap, use natural fabric softeners like vinegar, and hang out the wet clothing to dry. I generally fall into this category, although I have been known to (gasp) buy laundry soap when time is short. I also use my dryer in the winter when the temperatures are below freezing.

The Cheap Way: These people use conventional washers and dryers and conventional laundry products. Obviously in the United States, this group makes up a substantial majority.

The Neo-Hippy Way: This crowd is not into extra work, but they are willing to be a little more green by spending some green. You know them by their state-of-the-art front loaders in museum quality colors. They tend to use Method and other greener cleaners. I'm not picking on these people; my parents and some of my best friends are among them.

Which is the greenest way? I think we can all agree that the middle route is the most wasteful in terms of water and electricity use. Between the old fashioned way and the neo-hippy way, well, it's hard to say. If you buy the front loaders because you sincerely need new machines, they aren't such a waste, but if you actually got rid of perfectly functional traditional machines to buy them, well, there's nothing green about that. No, the savings in water and electric don't even come close to the environmental cost of manufacturing that machine or transporting it across the globe. And when it comes to drying, even a front loader can't do it as cheaply as the sun.

The problem with laundry soap, chemical-free or not, is that it contains a lot of water (which is heavy to transport, thus requiring a lot of fuel) and must have packaging. When I make my own, none of my ingredients come in a plastic container. That alone makes it leaps better than the most eco-friendly detergent on the shelf, although I am not above buying them when being a full-time student/full-time worker/full-time mom leaves me without the few minutes it takes to throw together my own.

It's not that I'm hooked on standing in the heat dodging bees (allergic here!) while hanging heavy wet laundry on a line. It's just that I love it when the green decision is also the cheaper one. I never could pass up a great deal like that. Hanging out laundry and making my own soap cut my laundry expenses down to a few dollars a month for a whole lot of people. That makes it worth my time.

A little change in laundry habits can make a huge difference! Don't be afraid to try a new way and see if you can add one more green habit to your repertoire.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Modern Housewifery and the Green Movement

There was a time, just a century ago, when a typical housewife burned up to 9000 calories per day. They were up before dawn cutting wood for the morning fire and carrying water in buckets from a far-away well. Making pancakes for breakfast required collecting eggs, milking cows, and grinding wheat. I consider myself a productive person, but I don't accomplish in one day what these women did before their families even woke up.

The other day, I was reading one of my favorite homemaking sites. I realized that, unlike housewives of other times, the main duties of a modern hausfrau are cooking and procuring/managing goods. Sure, I clean, go to school, take care of my kids, and work when I can. However, the things that occupy much of my time are cooking, baking, organizing stuff, and making decisions about what new stuff my family needs. Like most women, like most modern people, I am not a producer. I am a consumer.

Americans are consumers on a mass scale, and that is why our food and consumption decisions are so important both politically and environmentally. It seems frivolous to micro-analyze every little decision, but those decisions will determine the type of consumer I am. Is local, organic lettuce worth a dollar more? Should I throw away my daughter's jeans with the blown-out knee, or can I find a way to make them wearable? Is it worth my energy to pick through thrift store racks when an organized Macy's is across the parking lot and doesn't cost a whole lot more? A lot of my life, and a lot of this blog, revolves around these seemingly insignificant choices.

In the end, my food is going to have a greater impact on the environment than my choice in cars. My decisions on what to buy will have a bigger effect on child labor in the third world than my voting. If you want to make a difference in your future quality of life, every consumer decision matters. Is it worth sweating the small stuff? I think it is.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Slow cooker sausage and beans

What's not to love about a slow cooker? There's nothing like coming home from a busy day to find dinner is already made. However, most crockpot recipes are not very 'green'. They tend to be meat-heavy and to use a lot of (expensive and unhealthy) processed foods like cream soups and canned beans. I have had to develop my own repertoire of crock pot recipes, and it has been well worth it! Here's one new recipe:

Slow Cooker Sausage and Beans

· 2 cups dried beans (I like to use a blend, like 1 cup pintos, 1/2 cup black beans, and 1/2 cup kidney beans)
· 4 to 6 links organic chicken sausage or other link sausage
· 1/2 cup chopped onion
· 1/2 cup canned tomato sauce
· 1/4 cup barbecue sauce
· 3 tablespoons brown sugar
· 1 teaspoon chili powder
· 2 tablespoons prepared mustard
· Salt and pepper to taste
· 1 can (8 ounces) crushed pineapple, undrained


Soak beans overnight (I soak mine in the crockpot to cut down on dishes). Place in slow cooker on high with water to cover, plus a few inches. Cook until soft, about 4 hours in my crockpot. Longer is okay, too. Drain beans, reservings about one cup of fluid. Add all other ingredients, along with the reserved fluid, and cook in the slow cooker on high for another hour. Serves a medium sized family. If I need to 'expand' the recipe, I increase everything except the sausage. Organic sausage is expensive!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Monday Menus

This week I found organic chicken sausages on clearance at Safeway for $1.99 per package. This led me to develop some fun ways of using them in this week's meals.

Sunday: Pork ribs, potato salad, canteloupe

Monday: Slow cooker sausage and beans, spinach salad

Tuesday: Super baked potatoes (with cheese, chives, and of course, sausage), honeydew melon

Wednesday: Slow cooker 'baked' ziti with marinara and sausages, green salad

Thursday: Spinach, garlic, and cheese omelets, corn salsa

Friday: Roasted veggie sandwiches on ciabatta, I'll throw what's left of the sausage on there if any's left, roasted potato wedges

Saturday: Black bean/multi-colored pepper fajitas, spanish rice, miscellanous fruit salad
Recipes to follow!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Guest Blog: Bill Hawthorne on Green Living and Health

Green Living: Improving Health Today and Tomorrow

Much attention has been paid in recent years to what seems to be a growing environmental conscience in the United States. Going green used to be considered expensive and a luxury for those who could afford the trend. Now it appears that we are learning that not only is adopting more environmentally conscious attitudes good for our economic situation, but also our….health?

Yes, if we dig a bit deeper we can see that dirty industries and backwards policy is actually harming the health of the earth for our children and the health of her inhabitants today.

How Does Environmental Policy Affect Public Health?

There are two levels of health consequences associated with dirty industry, both direct and indirect. The direct consequences are examples like increased asthma rates in areas with high smog indices. Chlorofluorocarbon release into the atmosphere has shown to decrease the filter of direct sunlight on the planet, resulting in more concentrated ultraviolet light reaching the surface of the earth. Perhaps it is no surprise then that in countries with depleted atmospheric gas, skin cancer rates are among the highest in the world.

The indirect health consequences are harder to see immediately, but closer examination reveals that these are, in fact, perhaps the most hazardous. Bi-products of dirty and backwards industries, such as coal and oil processing, include cancer causing substances like asbestos and benzene. A U.K. study conducted in 2002 indicated that coal and oil industry workers are at a much higher risk of developing mesothelioma (associated with asbestos exposure) and leukemia (traced to benzene and heavy-metal exposure). Dr. Valerie Rusch among many other doctors who specialize in this area understand that these are substances that can be directly traced to antiquated pre-regulation equipment in industries whose environmental hazards are even more inherent.

Can we really afford to continue on the path we were on before? Investment in clean industry means not a healthier planet for our children and grandchildren, but also a healthier place for us to live today.

--June 25, 2009 Written by Bill Hawthorne with the maacenter

Friday, July 24, 2009

Duck! The Boomerang's Returning!

You don't have to duck. Just me. Because, yes, two of my older kids are returning home for a while. Due to real estate situations, their apartment is no longer available (or it won't be in a few weeks at least).

I love that they feel comfortable enough with me to fly back into the nest when times are tough. I love that I am still their step-mommy, even though one of them is literally two of me. On the other hand, things are getting a little crowded in the Sage Mommy home, and the last time they both lived here, our electric was like twice as expensive.

Here are a few tips for dealing with not-empty-enough-nest syndrome:

1. Make them chip in. Luckily, my kids both have jobs, so I plan to charge them whatever is a reasonable amount of rent for one-third of a bedroom (yeah, we'll be back to three in a room :-O ) plus electric and such.

2. Make them do chores. Lots of them. As I recall, older kids can double the housework load with their constant snacking in the living room and excessive towel use. I'm already making their chore lists. Now that they are adults, their to-do lists will look more like mine than before.

3. Repeat after me: "this is not a frat house". I don't know what went on at their old house, but I have an imagination. And none of it will be happening here. This is a family home, and only traditional morals are allowed. No girls, no monkey business, and any kegs will be confiscated to be later shared with the cooler members of the local homeschool community. You know who you are.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Can WalMart Ever Be Green?

They think they can.

I'm not an eco-perfectionist, and I'm not going to pick on WalMart. We've all heard it before, and they must be doing something right because millions of people still work there and millions of people still shop there. However, I think even the most devoted WalMart shopper would balk at calling them green.

Consider: nothing gets to a WalMart without being carted over thousands of miles of blacktop. That's if it didn't have to be flown here before hitting the trucks. That $4 t-shirt may have more miles under its belt than Ferdinand Magellan.

Consider: undercutting local companies until they die away, then jacking prices up once there is no alternative is the WalMart policy. It's not an accident--it's how they operate.

Again, I'm not hatin'. Obviously millions of people approve, and that is their business. However, Wal-Mart is now trying, at least superficially, to 'go green'. They offer a range of 'green' products. Okay, I don't know exactly why a plastic bottle of toxic cleaning chemicals is now green--maybe that's its actual color. WalMart also is stepping into the realm of organic cotton products and other popular green accoutrements. It doesn't make them green; it makes them aware of the issues of their times.

However, they are actually leading the green movement in one arena: labeling. The way some stores label healthy choices, WalMart is going to start labeling green(er) choices. I don't know exactly what will make something a 'green' choice among the many choices in those crowded aisles, but if it gets more everyday people to buy into environmentalism, I guess it can't hurt anything.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

one is silver and the other gold...

...make new friends and keep the old. So goes the song, at least. Making friends is something I seem to do without trying, and I love it. I love having a posse. I'm not even a particularly outgoing or interesting person, but I seem to collect interesting people the way some people collect those naked little troll dolls.

Anyway, I recently threw a birthday party for my daughter, inviting two 'old' friends and one 'new'. It was really a revelation to me, for two reasons:

1. I am a totally different person in different social situations, and it is never so obvious as when I try to 'blend' friends from different settings. At school, where New Friend met me, I am edgy, sarcastic, and brainy. I dress in trendy clothes and make fun of things. My California coastal accent creeps back. My homeschooling friends, on the other hand, usually see me with kids, and thus they see the quieter, gentler Emily. The one who wears long skirts and talks in grammatically correct sentences. I never realized I encompassed these two very different Emily's until I was standing at my daughter's party at a total loss as to how to act. Is this normal? Maybe it is a reaction to the stark contrast between an academic setting and a more kid-friendly environment.

2. At some point, Mrs. Hannigan and Mrs. March, along with a handful of others, became 'old friends'. There was a point when my group of friends in Redding were the 'old friends' and the homeschooling mommies were nice people I hang out with because my friends are so far away. However, now they are not just friends, but 'old' friends. (Notice the quotes--none of you need Botox or anything. That's not what I mean by 'old'.) Anyway, I've became close to a handful of really cool women here, despite the fact that we never see each other and we have very different backgrounds.

This brings up interesting questions. What makes someone an 'old friend'? Is it going through trauma?--those of you who have been reading here for a while know what I mean by that. Is it that they are interesting enough that I wonder how they are doing even when we don't see each other? Who knows. I'm probably the luckiest person on the planet when it comes to meeting awesome people.

The other question: with student Emily being so different from mommy Emily, both of which are different from career chick Emily, what will Dr. Emily be like? How many more personalities do I have lurking in there?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I Don't <3 Papaya

Maybe I've just had bad luck, but every papaya I've tried has been kind of gross. Even my kids won't eat it. I'm not too hot on papaya flavored things, but they don't repel me the way the real fruit seem to. Am I doing something wrong? Is there a secret to making papaya pallatable?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Monday Menus

Locally, we are getting out of the greens and berries phase of late spring. Farmer's market stalls are full of a huge and colorful range of vegetables as well as every fruit you can imagine. Now is a good time to incorporate those veggies into stirfries, pasta dishes, and quiches, and serve every meal with a plate of sliced local fruit. Being green has never so easy!

Sunday: (instead of Sunday dinner, as we returned late from visiting Thomas the Tank Engine in Snoqualmie) Banana whole wheat pancakes with miscellaneous cut up fruit

Monday: Kung Pao chicken with pan fried vegetables and noodles, sliced papaya

Tuesday: BLT's and watermelon. Whole grain bread, of course. That makes the bacon and mayo healthy, right?

Wednesday: Red Curry chicken with stir fried vegetables and rice

Thursday: Vegetable quiche with homemade ciabatta and sliced fruit

Friday: Pasta primavera with leftover ciabatta made into garlic bread, green salad

Saturday: Hot dogs roasted over our fire pit, along with chips, marshmellows, and fruit salad

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Following Your Passions

I just thought I'd throw it out there. Even if you are a mom, you should have a few passions, a few happy thoughts you can carry in your heart when the laundry piles are high or you're trying to figure out how you will buy this week's groceries with the negative sixteen dollars you have left in your budget. This weekend, I decided to indulge one of my passions. I've been a fan--a full-blown, trivia-reciting fan--of Tori Amos since I heard her for the first time eighteen years ago. This weekend, I finally made it one of her concerts. I feel so refreshed, like I can face my life again. Here's the song that was one of the highlights for me. I wish I had a recording from my exact concert, but this one will have to do:

If you don't know what exactly your passion is (no, husband and kids don't really count), find it!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Cheap and Healthy Dinner: Dal

Tonight I made dal (an Indian lentil dish) and naan for dinner. It was so good, and I think it's because I inadvertently used a new recipe.

I usually make dal with a recipe that includes various curry spices, like cumin, turmeric, and ginger. Today, I realized I was missing a few key spices. Rather than run to the store, I subbed a little red curry paste. So here was the recipe, all three ingredients:

'Haven't Been to Fred Meyer in Weeks' Dal

1 cup red lentils
3 cups water
1-2 tsps red curry paste

Simmer until done.

Now, wasn't that easy? I served with homemade naan and sauteed chard from my mother's garden. Altogether, it was less than three dollars for my huge crew. Super healthy too! Just make sure your significant other likes the smell of curry, because red curry comes out your pores. I rather enjoy it, like an exotic perfume. :-)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Jon and Kate's Big Announcement: My Theories

By now, everyone with cable has heard that there is a big Jon and Kate announcement coming this Monday. I've been boycotting the show for a while, but based on what I've seen on the supermarket tabloid racks, I have a few theories on what these two plan to spring on us.

  • Kate plans to get rid of the dogs and instead use her super-sized property for a chicken farm. Between camera shots of Kate feeding the chickens, they will be cared for by one of the children’s nannies or her hottie-biscotti bodyguard. She will claim that she was inspired after noticing that her backward mullet looks surprisingly like a chicken’s tail end, and call the farm “organic” despite feeding the fowl a mixture of Juicy Juice, Lay’s potato chips and Domino’s pizza.
  • The house is so big it feels empty with just ten. This has inspired Kate to invite some family friends to visit—the Octomom and her brood of 14.
  • After being fined by the EPA for a garbage output that rivals that of a small European nation (Jon has to use his tractor to take out their weekly trash--no joke!), the Gosselin family will begin using real plates and cups.
  • The Gosselins will be homeschooled beginning this fall to accommodate their sixty hour per week filming schedule. Kate wants to use one of the Duggar girls, but Jon knows a local 23-year-old teacher who would be perfect for the job.
  • In yet another crossover special, the guys from The Deadliest Catch show up with a crabbing boat for each Gosselin kid.
  • Because former sponsors Gymboree and Baby Gap have been scared off by the scandals, Hot Topic will now be providing the children’s wardrobes. Maddy spends the show choosing between black and navy blue lip gloss, while the sextuplets run amok in coordinating AC/DC t-shirts and Converse All Stars with glittery skull appliqu├ęs.
  • And, in a perfect world… Jon and Kate have decided to quit the show and live comfortably for the remainder of their children’s youth on the millions of dollars they earned last year. They claim that their marital problems combined with the children’s increasingly bad behavior led them to realize that they need to refocus their lives. They move quietly to another area and lead simple, happy lives.

What do you guys think? Are Jon & Kate tacky enough to broadcast a separation or divorce? Is TLC? Will companies sponsor this (except Hot Topic LOL)? Heaven forbid, are they going to show the parents breaking it to their eight children?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Life Doesn't Suck Thursday: All Done with Doctor Drama?

Those of you who have followed my blog for a while now have heard probably more than you would like about how much my doctor's practice sucks. Doctor D. is an awesome doctor... once you get past his staff of snarling hyenas. Honestly, if you were going to design a system with the express purpose of denying health care to sick children and adding more distress to a worried mother's life, CWFM would be the place to consult, because they do a world class job of both.

I occasionally *mention* to Doctor D. that I am frustrated with his system. By *mention*, I mean that I bring it up at every opportunity. Anyway, at the last visit, he asked why I had waited so long to bring in a sick child (who ended up in the ER). I told him it wasn't for lack of trying. In fact, I tried for over a week before the problem became worthy of an $800 trip to the nasty, germ-laden ER in the middle of prime swine-flu season. He told me that this was going to change, and soon, because they had hired a new office manager who was re-vamping the scheduling system.


Honestly, would it be inappropriate for me to bring my new hero a bottle of wine or some homemade cookies? I am so excited. Because, this was the appointment where I was going to tell him I could no way see him anymore, great doctor or not. And now, I can avoid being doctor-less in this medically underserved area. Thanks, God.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Super Yummy Banana Bars

Okay, folks, there is NOTHING healthy about this sugar and butter-rich recipe, but it's so good you frankly won't care.

Banana Bars with Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a large pan, 10x15 inches or so.
To make bars, combine:

1/2 cup softened butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
8 ounces sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a separate bowl, mix:

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ones. Then, add:

2 medium ripe bananas, mashed

Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool and then frost with this awesome frosting.


1 8 oz package softened cream cheese
1/2 cup softened butter
2 tsp vanilla
3 3/4 to 4 cups powdered sugar

Frost the banana bars and enjoy. Store these in the fridge if possible... it's a lot of dairy for room temperature.