Monday, September 28, 2009

A Must See

I couldn't find anything better to do during the insanely early hours of this morning, like sleep, so I found myself watching a PBS Special.  I'm so grateful for my episode with insomnia though.  This documentary was incredible!!  You can watch it online or at 8pm tonight on PBS (we conveniently had it DVR'ed for my viewing enjoyment this morning).  It's a six part series called The National Parks: America's Best Idea...the title didn't do much for me, but I promise, you will love it!! 

My description won't even begin to do it any justice, so here's the link...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A One Car Family

As if living without a dryer wasn't enough, God decided to seal the deal...

It was a late night for my husband, and I usually try to wait up for him on those increasingly more often occasions, so I was sitting in the kitchen consuming the worst possible beverage I could at 9:00 at night--coffee.  I was exhausted, but would feel so wrong if my hard working man were to come home from a long day of work to his wife all curled up in the cozy bed sleeping.  It's the least I could do to support him.  Little did I know, that drinking coffee at 9pm was not the only thing I was going to be doing to support my husband.  This Suburban Princess was about to get a serious wake up call that wasn't caffeine induced.

I could hear the rumbling of a diesel engine coming around the husband and his giant gas guzzler were home.  From the kitchen window, I can see the driveway, but I was having a hard time time seeing the truck through what looked like a cloud that decided to make landfall in my driveway.  There was smoke everywhere.  As I raced outside to see what was going on, I could barely see the silhouette of my now taking on the role of mechanic husband.  He had already gotten the hood open and was checking out the damage.  Apparently, the smoke was coming from the truck!!!

The next morning, we called a tow truck to come lug our smoking hunk of metal to the local Ford dealership.  The diagnosis...a big fat bill!!   After some searching around, we found a shop that specialized in problematic F350's...apparently this was an epidemic.  He could do the repairs for quite a bit less...woohoo!!!  So we thought....     

Here I was, a mother of three with one in Kindergarten (with no bus) and one in preschool two days a week, with what I thought was a life shattering dilemma.  We had already gone a few weeks trying to coordinate the never-ending drop offs and pick ups to school and the gazillion activities the kids were involved in, not to mention carpooling commitments and household errands all with one car.  I forgot to mention that my husband is a General Contractor....his office is his truck, so there was no dropping him off and picking him up from work, so during the day I was a REAL stay-at-home Mom (that was the "supporting" I was talking about).  Then, the big bomb dropped!

Apparently, we had some horrible timing, or there was a  F350 Destruction Fairy on the loose .  The mechanic working on our truck was seriously backed up and almost a month later had just gotten around to starting on our Mr. Smoky.  One unsuspecting afternoon, we got the call..."Just opened up your's blown."  It was official.  We had a truck with 6,000 miles over the warranty (God has a sense of humor) and a BLOWN engine!!!  From the looks of the estimate for repair, the engine was apparently the main value of the truck.  Unless that destruction fairy was kin to the tooth fairy and left behind a serious wad of $$ for her damages, there was no way we were going to be able to fix this disaster!!

After some serious soul searching, we decided that my husband was just going to have to set aside his need want for a gigantic, new ride and settle for what we could actually afford (a new concept).  There was no way we were going to be able to pay Mr. Smoky's monthly payment and finance another truck.  He was just going to have to use the money we were planning on using for the repairs to buy a beater.  A beater...could he we handle this?  What were people going to think?

The kicker...we had already given the mechanic half our life savings to do the original repairs, and he had used that to buy the parts needed to do those repairs before he opened up the engine and found out we had a whole different beast to slay.  So, we had to wait until he figured out how he was getting our money back...the money that we planned on using to buy another ride for the hubbie.  We had already made it a few weeks, what was another week or so?

Did I say weeks?  

Try months...this was what I would call a deliverance.  November 2008 we had had the truck towed to Ford.  March 2009 we finally got a second vehicle.  Those four months felt like an eternity!!!  There were days that I was fine...being stuck at home was almost a relief.  THEN, there were days.  At the beginning, it was almost EVERYday.  I was on Emotionica...the roller coaster from hell!!   It went like this...some days, the line to get on the coaster was long.  I could feel the anxiety building up.  You know the feeling you get when you stand there watching the coaster creep up the ramp, slowly, slowly, and then race into a blast of ups and downs and upside-downs while thinking "Do I really want to do this to myself?".  I could see it coming from a mile away, but I couldn't help getting into the cart and strapping in.  I was like a ticking time bomb.

Sometimes, I would get stuck at the top of a ramp and the coaster would malfunction.  I spent hours kicking and screaming for someone to let me down.  Usually it was my husband getting the brunt of the kicks.  Then, sometimes, I would remember there was only one person that could get me down and it wasn't my husband.  Why had I not thought of it earlier!?!?!  Why was it not the first thing I did every day!?!?!  PRAY!!!  I needed to PRAY!!!     

The more I prayed, the easier it got.  My roller coaster junkie days were getting fewer and farther apart.  It was like this weight was lifting off my shoulders and my eyes were opening to the advantages of simplifying.   I starting thinking about all the gas we were saving (so much better for the environment) , and the extra time at home wasn't such a bad thing either.   I was cooking more and wasting less $$ on frivolous things like Starbucks and fast food.  No more 10 trips to the grocery store a week...I was actually getting organized!!!  I found myself cutting out unnecessary activities for the whole family.   Here's an awesome one, and I'll have to post about this later, I couldn't get out to Christmas shop.  With my new organizational and couponing skills that I picked up in all my spare time, I managed to spend only $47 on Christmas for our kids!!!  I seriously could go on and on with all the positive changes.  The best part...99% of the changes stuck, and the "beater" only uses half the gas as Mr.Smoky.  If I had it to do all over again, I'd say BRING IT ON!!


Just a quick follow-up to the One Gallon Bath....

Our water bill went down 20%!!!!!!!  You guys have got to try these little changes!!!  I would love to hear about what happens to all of your bills!!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Black Eyed Peas Gone Suburbs

I've never been much of a legume kinda' girl.  It takes way more effort than I find necessary to decide in advance what I'm cooking the next day (that in itself would be a miracle), soak overnight and cook for hours.  I might be able to conger up the needed energy if the result were something from the Chocolate Family, but for some black eyed peas...nope.

Well, who would have known--black eyed peas don't come from a BAG!!!  They actually grow on a pretty little vining plant.   They don't need soaking, they don't need to cook for hours, and the best part....I've never tasted a black eyed pea like this in my life!!   They are divine and you don't need a farm to grow them..just a POT!!  They even end up being pretty enough to put in the front yard as an ornamental!!!  Believe it or not, this pot is actually one of the things I could put in my front yard and look normal, and it's in my back yard...I know.

Here's how to do it...

What you need....

  • The biggest pot you can get your hands on (mine is a 5 gallon)
  • Organic soil to fill your pot (we just use soil from our compost bin, but Black Cow would work perfect)
  • A tomato cage
  • Black Eyed Pea seeds (you can buy a package or just grab some dried peas from you pantry)
  • Organic Fertilizer (any brand for veggies will do, we use Miracle Gro for planting and our own compost bi-weekly once the seeds sprout)

You can get all of this at your local home improvement store in the gardening section.

Fill your pot with soil up to about 6" from the top of the pot.  Throw a handful of of fertilizer on top and mix it in to the first 6" or so of soil.  Make little holes for your seeds about 1/2" down (plant 2 seeds per gallon of soil evenly spaced out).  Place your seeds in the holes and cover with soil.  Using a light mist from the hose, wet your soil down.

I put our tomato cage into the pot upside-down.  You can use any shape cage you want...I just like the way this one looks and it was sitting around doing nothing in our yard.  We leaned a little lattice up behind the plant for any extra spill over, but it's not necessary.  Make sure you put your pot in an area that gets direct sun for at least 5-6 hours a day.  Water them on a daily basis until it cools down a little, then every other day is fine. You should have little seedlings pop up in less than a week.  My plants were two weeks old in the above Labor Day pic.      

This is what they look like today.

We're already starting to get little buds on the plants...won't be long before we have peas.
I can taste them already!!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

One Gallon Bath

My eco-friendly side has had this bizarro brain block when it came to preserving water.  I've always had the mind set that the planet is 75% water, so what's the problem?  Well, turns out, I'm not the only one with that mindset...imagine that!  The main problem--all of that water is not fresh water.  It takes a lot of processing to make it fresh and processing =>energy consumption=>$$!!   The more fresh water we consume, the more we need to process.  If the energy consumption part didn't get my attention enough, for sure I got the $$ part!

So, my newest contribution to water/wallet conservation....

So far, I've only tested the theory on my one year old.  Just fill up the bucket, suds the kid down and rinse.  Sometimes, I even end up with left over water!!

Some other water/wallet conservation ideas....
  •     Try turning off the shower water when shaving and sudsing up
  •     When doing laundry, match the water level to the amount of clothes you're washing
  •     Install low flow faucets
  •     Use the garbage disposal sparingly.  Compost vegetable and food waste instead.
  •     Water your lawn (only 2 days a week) in the morning or evening to minimize evaporation.
  •     Check out this link for more ideas

Monday, September 14, 2009

Adventures in Carlining

School started a few weeks ago, and the ever exciting carline wait came with it.  The most hilarious, not so hilarious at the time, thing happened to me last Friday.  It was a one of those days that was showing a glimmer of hope that the summer heat and humidity would be releasing it's grip.  I had checked out a book from the library and thought carline would be a great place to start injecting some good read time back into my life.  Seriously, I had not read a book for fun since college!!

Still haven't finished it, but it's a pretty good book
So, I pulled up to my spot in carline, rolled down the windows and started reading.   The weather outside the car seemed perfect, but I must have been parked on an angle that was just not letting that amazing ocean breeze in.  I was trying so hard to fight off the temptation to sit in the car with the air running and sucking up gas, but darn it, it was hot!!   I thought I'd try an alternative first.  I'm sure most cars do this...when you turn the key a few clicks without turning the car on, the air blows for some circulation, but the car is not actually running. worked!

I read a chapter or so of my book, looked up and noticed the car in front of me had started to move forward.  I reached down to start the car and catch up before I caused a commotion behind me, and ut oh (in the words of my 14 month old)...all I got was a clicking noise.  Feeling a bit desperate, I tried again.  Oh no, I could feel the blood rushing straight to my face and that lump in my throat (I'll say it was embarrassment, but I think it was more on the lines of mortified)...I was stuck in carline with a DEAD BATTERY!!

The gap between me and the car in front of me was getting bigger and bigger and BIGGER.  I glanced in the rear view mirror and could see the look of annoyance coming from the car parked behind me.  As I slinked down in my seat, I think my brain started to turn off.  Apparently, when it comes to fight or flight, I'm more of a flight kinda' girl.  From the safety of my floorboard, I reached up, turned on the hazard lights, "hazard", that's funny...I felt like a serious "hazard", and waved the car behind me around. 

Panicked, of course (see the last post), I call on my rescue party, my poor husband...what in the world was he going to do for me from work?   I guess I deserved this...his advice, get this, put the car in neutral and push it out of the way!!!  Ok, a little background, in my former life, I found it necessary to buy the biggest SUV on the market at the time.  I think I got some sort of thrill with being bigger than most of the other normal cars on the road...I know.   Unfortunately, I'm so upside down in my giant gas guzzler, that I'm stuck with it.  Hint, present husband wanted me to get out of my miniature tank and PUSH IT! 

I was not seeing that happen AT ALL!  For one, I was still plotting my plan on how I was going to get out of the car to collect my child without anyone seeing my face, so even if I was feeling like Hercules, that killed that idea.  For two, my position in carline made it impossible for me to move the car in any direction except backwards.  Picture this, I was parked just on the corner of the entrance to the parking lot.  Once you pull into the parking lot, carline goes 100% single file blocked in on one side by a fence and the other by a curb.  I guess in the midst of my disaster, I could be thankful that I hadn't been parked just a few feet forward where nobody could get around...that embarrassment would have been grounds for changing schools!

Somehow, I mustered up the guts to get out of the car and get my child.  My plan, we were walking home.  I was leaving my car right where it was, and I was walking home.  Really, our house is not that far from school.  Luckily, for my car, the Sheriff that was acting as crossing guard wasn't so keen on the idea of my car staying in the middle of carline.  Even though I was in a spot where my fellow carliners could get around me, they were having to wait for a break in the traffic coming out of the parking lot in order to use the outgoing lane to get around me and in.  Apparently, the chaos had caught his attention and over he came with his jumper cables to save the day.  Thank God, because I didn't have a stroller and carrying my 30 lb one year old all the way home was not my idea of fun...but, it did give me an idea...

The moral of my story...after thinking about it, walking to and from school on my preschooler's off days was not so bad of an idea (with a stroller, of course).  Think of all the gas/carbon emissions/$$ I could be saving, AND I would get some exercise which is always a positive side effect!!  Wonder why it took a dead battery for me to figure that one out :)? 

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Incredibly Breaking Dryer

So, I promised a post about my first REAL experience in simplifying my life.  Hold onto your hats...this one's a shocker!!

A few months into my new found outlook on just how oblivious I really was to my daily wasteful routine, I ran full force into my first real "test".   If you were to enter my house through the garage, and make a right hand turn, you walk smack dab into my laundry room.  It's pretty much the standard...measured and built just right to place two beautiful, matching, shiny pieces of metal equipment spaced just inches, but perfectly apart.  This Dynamic Duo was taken for granted every day in my house.  Countless trips a day were made to and from the little room, loading and unloading,  loading and unloading...usually more loading than unloading.  I had even fantasized a few times that if my little room were just a hair bigger, I could fit two for drying and one for storing!!

To my devastation one day, I opened my dryer to find a pile of sopping wet clothes.  In full blown panic, I started retracing my steps a few hours prior.  Did I turn the darn thing on?  Well, I did what any freaked out, overworked, pregnant mom of two (going on three) would do...I reran that puppy!   Maybe, I was just a full blown space cadet and never pushed the start button?

An hour and a half later, nothing.  The clothes weren't even warm!  As my heart was racing a mile a minute, I ran to the phone to call the hubby.  He'd know what to do...who cares if he's forehead deep in a pile of work, I was having a catastrophe, and he was going to help!  I have a horrible habit of calling him in the mist of a nervous breakdown and expecting him to drop everything he's doing to fix my world.    Of course, my Knight in Shining Armor came through.  "It's the heating element", he tells me.  That made sense, so off to my trusty search engine to find the cheapest heating element for my dryer that could possibly be found.  The economy had just started doing it's crazy little dance, and we were caught up in the middle of the construction industry's collapse.  Money was certainly not one of those things we had an excess of, so spending it on anything scared me to death.  Never mind on something I already had that had decided to go on strike! 

There I was with a pile of dirty clothes that seemed to multiply like rabbits and NO DRYER!!  It was rather comical though.  Had you walked into my house, you may have second guessed if you had taken a wrong turn and ended up in a second hand shopping mall or something.  There were clothes everywhere...hanging from the doorways, the counter-tops, the back of the couch and all over the shelves in my laundry room.  A funny thing was happening though, as each day passed, God really took charge and starting changing the way I thought.  Each load of clothes that was strung from one end of the house to the other began to represent dollar signs and a decrease in our carbon footprint.  I found that the more I hung, the more I wanted to hang.

Well, it's funny, when God wants you to do something, he has a way of getting it done.  Our dryer element arrived, my handy dandy hubby installed it, and woohoo...we had our dryer back!  Would you believe, not even two days later, the belt snapped on that hunk of junk.  It was one of those, "ok, I get it" moments.

I know this sounds like I should be committed, but there was this part of me that was happy the dryer broke again (not the part of me that was fuming about the $30 I had just spent on a heating element though).  Then, the most insane thing I've every heard myself say came out of my mouth.  I decided I wanted a clothesline.  Yep, you heard right, a CLOTHESLINE!!  Did they even make those things anymore?  Where in the world was I going to put it?  My back yard was all of five square inches (not really, but it's seriously SMALL).  Besides, there was only one spot that even got enough sunlight to do the job.  It was my favorite spot in the yard...a small space cut off from the rest of the yard lined with pretty, brick pavers strategically alternated with squares of perfectly manicured grass.  At the back of this quaint, little space was a pergola covered bench backing up to the coquina wall that divides our pitiful pieces of land we call backyards.   Growing up the coquina and making it's way into the the lattice around the bench with just the right amount of green was a Creeping Fig vine.  It really was a nice little retreat...I didn't want to taint it with a clothesline!

Lucky for me, that hubby of mine came to the rescue again.  My Dynamic Duo became the Lone Ranger, and my pretty, little backyard space got accessorized with a clothesline.  A removable clothesline...genius!  It's galvanized steel cable with a loop on each end, and the loops hook onto eye bolts that are mounted to the walls.  The ironic part...I've never removed it!!

I can't believe I am going to post this's to being real!


This is me using my clothesline for the very first time.  My husband thought it was hilarious to catch me on camera 9 MONTHS PREGNANT and hanging out cloth diapers.  Like I said, keeping it real.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Collard Greens, Where??

Five years ago, my husband was begging me to plant vegetables in the front yard.  He was raised with more of a "live off the land" philosophy than me.  I guess that comes with the territory of actually living on a large piece of land.  My family, on the other hand, got our food from the grocery store.  Vegetables came in a can and meat came in a vacuum sealed package.  The closest to a  fresh veggie night we ever experienced was a can brought home straight from the store and "freshly" opened...right from the bag.  Imagine my amazement to find out tomatoes grow on a vine and lettuce in the ground!!  Not really, I wasn't that ignorant to the whole process, but I might as well have been.

After years of persistant begging from the hubbie to convert our front yard into a freak show, combined with  that nagging ache in my gut that I was the worst wife ever for depriving my better half, and a down right lack of money (love the economy), I finally caved.  In the fall of 2008, I had collard greens AND mustard greens in my front yard.  I guess that's what I get for marrying a country boy :) 

For weeks, I found it necessary to point out the greens in our yard to every passer-by, as if my confession was supposed to make me look any less insane.  Hello, world...I HAVE VEGETABLES IN MY FRONT YARD!!  Eventually, I got used to their presence, and was actually enjoying the whole process of walking out to my front yard, clipping some leaves off a few plants, and cooking them.  It was a pretty fun, little novelty.  I soon found myself bragging to passers-by...while I was clipping away.  Hello, world...Don't you just wish you could have VEGETABLES IN YOUR FRONT YARD!!

So, I get this email one day from my oldest daughter's teacher.  The Garden Lady...not the lady that throws fancy tea parties on her perfectly pruned patio surrounded by blooms of various beautiful colors, but an actual gardener...AT THE SCHOOL, was wanting pictures of the students in their own gardens for a contest.  Since I was feeling rather proud of newfound closeness to nature, I sent in a few pics.

Check out my little Farmer Girl. 

Seriously, I'm not sure she had gotten to the "proud" stage yet.  Even a six year old was feeling a little wacky.

I think she may have been a tad bit more excited about the tomatoes seedlings for the spring.   The 36 tomato seedlings!!  I wish I had taken pictures of what 36 adult tomato plants look like in a yard that you can mow with a electric mower.  Seriously, they guy who lived here before us didn't even have a gas powered mower!! 

Anyways...long story short, SHE WON!!!  Probably because we're the only crazies in suburbia to actually have a garden, never mind in our FRONT yard, but I'll just shuffle that thought aside, because my competitive monster (I have so many of those monsters) loves the fact that WE WON!!   


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Everyone Has to Start Somewhere (My Inspiration)

After weeks of racking my brain trying to name my blog and getting it ready to publish, I finally get to post...yey!!!  Where am I going to start you ask??  At the beginning, of course, ....

I had always seen the side of my green eyed monster when I heard a story of a person's "turning point" in life.  You see, I've been known to have a pretty freaky memory...I remember crazy things like the time I stuck a bobby pin in an electric outlet when I was four.  I remember my thought process when I was doing this (like I said--freaky!), I couldn't just stick it in the outlet, nope, I had to open it up and stick each end in a hole. Still have the scar on my finger to prove it!!   Or, this is a good one (not that sticking a bobby pin in an electric outlet wasn't),  I had one of those pull-string, talking, Bugs Bunny stuffed animals.  I vividly remember thinking...'what will happen if I pull the string, twist the string until I can't twist anymore and let go?'  Well, before you go experiment on one of your kid's toys, I'll tell you what happens...the string breaks (crazy, huh?).  After what must have been a pretty serious emotional outburst (did I mention it was my favorite toy?), my father and uncle disected Ol' Bugs.  To make a long story short, I ended up with a new was just never the same though :)

Anyways...there's lots more where that came from, but back to my monster.  So, I'm thinking with a well oiled memory like mine, why is it that I never had one of those cool stories to tell about this amazing moment in time that changed my life.  Was it that I had never had one of those experiences?  Who knows, that's one of those things that could cause me some serious couch time, but what I do know is that I finally have my story!!!   

Two and a half years ago, I was teaching a three year old...I'll repeat that...THREE year old Sunday school class (you'll see why I felt the need to repeat that later).  We had a special snack that week to go along with our story and the kids were served juice with the snack.  As I'm mindlessly throwing the empty juice container into the trash can, a little hand reached up and grabbed my arm.  "That's recyclable", the little voice said.  WHAT?!?!?!  Besides the fact that "recyclable" sounded way too cute coming out of the mouth of a child that age, a three year old...yes, THREE, stopped me in my tracks and gave me a "story".

I had one of those moments that feel like an hour, but was really only 3 seconds.  There were recycling bins in my garage...they were buried under a mountain of "important garage stuff".  I had used them once too...spaced just far enough apart, they made a great place to prop up some picture frames I was spray painting.  Now that we actually put them at the end of our driveway every week, I'm surprised how many neighbors want to know why the bottom half of my recycling bins are painted white!! 

So, as a result of my 3 second  moment, I realized that I needed to start being a better steward of not just our environment, but I was wasteful in so many other ways too.  I was horrible at managing our money, we had two gas guzzling pieces of machinery, I squandered my time away at the mall almost on a daily basis, my four year old had more shoes than Stride Rite (not really, but she came in a close second), we left the radio on all day for the cats, eating out was more the norm than actually cooking...please, don't let me go on.  Besides, if a three year old could recycle, why couldn't I?

That folks, was my moment, my "story" and it's just the beginning...the past two and a half years have been an adventure that I can't wait to share.  I've learned (ok, I'm learning) how to garden, we've cut our energy consumption in over half (loving my under $100 electric bills), I bake my own bread (so, YUM...I'll share recipes soon) and so many more fun changes!!  Throw in the economy factor and you have a roller coaster ride with a warning sign that reads "Do not ride if you can't handle 180 degree turns at 200 mph or painfully dead, still stops followed by gravity defying jolts landing within inches of the earth's atomosphere ".

STAY TUNED FOR MY FIRST REAL "EXPERIENCE" in simplification....I'll give you a hint...It has to do with the loss of a very important staple in a Suburban Princess' daily routine.


I'm working on my first real post tonight...can't wait to share!!!   D---