Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Eco-Friendly Craft Supplies

I have craft supplies on the kids' Christmas list this year, and I wanted to find some eco-friendly ones. Sheri over at Green and Crunchy tipped me off to this great site:  Stubby Pencil Studio.  Not only do they have great craft supplies, but they have eco-friendly toys and other gifts too.  I think I'll be ordering some soy crayons, some watercolours, and some washable markers made with recycled plastic. 

Monday, November 17, 2008

I made ketchup!

I'm trying to focus on buying whole foods, and eliminating those convenient, pre-processed foods.  Even though the few that I do buy are organic, I would still prefer to make my own from scratch.  Both to save money, and because I'm sure it's healthier.  Strangely, it also simplifies our lives.  You might think, but it's more work to make condiments than to just buy them!  But the fewer ingredients I have to buy and store on our monthly grocery shopping trip, the better!  And by sticking to whole (ie - single-ingredient) foods, it really simplifies that process.  Then, throughout the month, if I run out of something, I can simply make it myself.  When we ran out of ketchup, I almost ran to the store to get more.  But then I realized I had everything I needed to make my own.  I used this great recipe from Passionate Homemaking.  Bruce and I really liked it, but I don't think the kids were crazy about it.  You could definitely taste the molasses in it.  Which isn't a bad thing, but might be an acquired taste for the kids.  (They are used to the bottled stuff, after all!).  I might keep experimenting until I come up with a recipe that everyone likes.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Hallowe'en costumes, as promised...

I know I promised you a picture of the kids' Hallowe'en costumes, so here it is.  I guess I should mention that Norah changed her mind...she wanted to be a flower for Hallowe'en! And so Owen was a bumble bee.  They were a bit more of a challenge than I expected!  The bumble bee turned out great - I was really happy with that.  It's hard to tell in the picture, but there are black wings that snapped onto the back of the costume.  It was adorable - he was running around making buzzing noises.  :) The flower was a little trickier.  I used craft foam for the pedals, and had a really hard time getting them to stand up.  Then Hallowe'en morning I tried the hood on her (it was supposedly a size large!), and the chin strap didn't even come close to meeting.So I had to devise a new chin strap.  And then the weight of the flower pedals kept making the hood fall down in her face, so I had to add a strap at the back that snapped onto the jumper to keep that from happening.  Needless to say I was so DONE sewing that thing by the time Hallowe'en came!  And then on Hallowe'en night the camera batteries were dead (it's a rechargeable battery pack, so there was no popping new batteries in)...  so we had to wait for my in-laws to arrive with their camera.  By then the kids weren't in the mood for pictures, so this is the best we got.  :)  Anyway, the kids had fun, and Norah loved her costume anyway, so that's what counts!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Like a box of candy...

Thanks to this post over at Jenn of All Trades, I was inspired to pick up one of these bead organizers from Michael's to use for my snaps.  Mine was a little pricier than hers for some reason ($4.99 instead of $1.99!), but the end result was sooooo worth it!  Don't they look good enough to eat?  :)  And I love how it had the exact number of compartments I needed...  that makes my inner organizational freak happy.  So thanks, Jenn!  Now I don't have to worry about spilling snaps out of snipped-open plastic baggies any more.  :)

Monday, November 10, 2008

I took the handmade pledge.

I Took The Handmade Pledge! BuyHandmade.orgI just signed up on www.buyhandmade.org and took the handmade pledge.  I plan to make as many of my gifts as possible this Holiday season, and what I don't make myself, I plan to buy from local crafters.  Will you take the handmade pledge?  

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Owen's Birthday

It's my goal to give as many hand-made gifts as possible this year, and my son's 2nd birthday is no exception!  I also want those gifts to be as eco-friendly as possible.  After searching around on the internet for patterns for soft toys, I realized that I had a pattern for this soft book in my stash.  I thought, what a great way to use up all of those itty bitty fabric scraps!  I keep a bag of small scraps that are too small to be useful, but too big to be thrown out.  I had fun rooting through it last night finding pieces that would work.  :)  I will still have to buy a few things to complete the book, but most of it will come from my scrap bag.  It's a very interactive book, each page has something for him to do.  There are bells in the cat's bow.  The butterfly wings crinkle.  The shoe laces tie up.  The flowers button and unbutton.  The dog is on a leash, and you can pull him out of the dog house.  The corn has a working zipper.  And the bird's nest pulls down to reveal little eggs inside.  :)  I hope he enjoys it!  I'd better get cracking!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Another power rate hike

We just received word that Nova Scotia Power has been approved for another 10% rate hike. This is just as we finished making budget adjustments from the last 10% rate hike. I'm not sure we can squeeze our budget any tighter, so the only alternative is to reduce our power consumption to the tune of 10%. I plan on making a few changes:

  • Putting power bars on our electronic equipment, and shutting them down when things are not in use. This includes our computer (and associated equipment), our entertainment unit, and a small entertainment unit we have upstairs. From what I understand, all of these things draw "phantom power" even when turned off, so the only way to stop them from drawing power is to disconnect the power supply. We attended an eco expo a couple of week-ends ago, and a representative from Nova Scotia Power was there. He said that most people pay more for their electronics when they're turned off than they do when they're actually using them. Food for thought!
  • Indoor drying racks. I'm on the hunt for a quality, sturdy, indoor drying rack. I bought one last year at Wal Mart (the only one I could find!), and I'm not sure what it was designed for, but it wasn't wet clothes! The rack buckled and sagged under the weight of the clothes, and finally collapsed. I returned that thing pronto. But now I need a replacement! Since we use a woodburning insert to heat our home, I could hang our clothes on racks in front of the insert in the evenings (after the kids go to bed and there's no danger of it being knocked over).
  • Using the toaster oven for more than just toast. Tonight I was about to bake a Lima Loaf (it tastes much better than it sounds!) in the big oven. I looked at the size of the little loaf pan, and the huge oven, and decided it was a waste of energy. My toaster oven doubles as a mini-oven, so I just set the temperature, the timer, and popped it in there. No wasted heat.
  • Switching our Christmas lights to LEDs. Home Depot had a promotion on last week-end where if you brought in your old incandescent Christmas lights, they would give you a coupon for 50% off a new set of LED Christmas lights. We gathered up all of our old Christmas lights and did the exchange. Since LEDs last much, much longer than incandescents, I think we made a wise investment. Not only will we save on energy consumption this Christmas, but hopefully the lights themselves will last us a lifetime.
  • Less things on. This seems obvious, but is one I sometimes overlook. During the day we watch too much t.v. If the t.v. isn't on, we're listening to music. The computer often runs for the entire day. Powering down will be good for us. It will help us to reconnect, and hopefully we'll find some more productive things to do during the day!
I'm sure there is more that I can do, but this list is a start. Are any of you noticing energy rate hikes in your area? What are you doing to offset the hikes? Powering down, or budgeting up? Or some combination?

Monday, November 3, 2008

A new budgeting method and a new shopping method

I've talked before about our envelope budgeting method, where we divide our paycheque up into various spending categories, (or "envelopes"), and then spend exclusively from those. The method itself has been working remarkably well, and I've decided to take it one step further. My husband gets paid twice a month. What we have been doing is budgeting each paycheque as it arrives, and funding different things out of each cheque. One would go to fund our spending envelopes, and the other went to debt repayment and savings. We also get the Universal Child Care benefit from the government, which would randomly get assigned to whichever envelope needed it (usually groceries). While I really liked our overall budgeting method, I was a little dissatisfied with the haphazardness of it. After reading up on a program called You Need a Budget (YNAB), I was intrigued by one of their rules, which indicates you should always live on last month's income. So, basically, you allow your income to accumulate in your chequing account for the month, and ignore it. Then, at the end of the month, you total it up, and make a budget for the following month based on the amount you already have in your chequing account. I was attracted to the idea for two reasons: One, it means I only have to handle our budget once a month! And you know I'm all about simplifying. :) And two, it really streamlines the process. Instead of budgeting based on each bit of income, I get a full picture and can budget more accurately for the entire month. While I don't plan on purchasing the YNAB program (my Quicken pseudo-envelope-budgeting is working just fine, and as they say, if it ain't broke...)... but I do like the rules imposed by YNAB, particularly the living-on-last-month's-income one. So we have implemented it starting this month, and so far it's going great! On the last day of October (the day my husband's 2nd paycheque of the month hits our account), I totalled everything up and made our budget for November. I then left just enough in our chequing account to cover our automatic payments for November, and transfered the rest over to savings, which is where our "envelopes" live. The process will begin all over again this month.

To go with our new budgeting strategy, I thought I would also try a new shopping strategy! I've mentioned here about my usual grocery shopping strategy. Using Handyshopper on my Palm Pilot, I simply add items to our "need" list as we run out of them. Then, on Friday nights, my husband and I sit down and and make a meal plan for the upcoming week. I then added any fresh items that we would need for the meal plan, and Saturday morning I would go off and do my shopping. Although this has been working well, I've really felt that I could improve on it. It seemed rather pointless to pick up one or two cans of diced tomatoes each week as I used them up, when I could instead pick up 6 or 8 to last the whole month. Same goes for things like rice and pasta... why pick them up in dribs and drabs throughout the month, when I could buy enough for the whole month? I've toyed with the idea of once-a-month shopping before, but for various reasons (mostly because I couldn't wrap my head around the planning of it), dismissed it. But now, with the weather getting colder, and a new baby on the way, the idea is sounding more and more appealing. I normally make several stops each week (the bank, the hardware store, the health food store, the grocery store, the drug store, the farmer's market, etc...). Only having to do all of that once a month makes me feel warm and fuzzy, especially with temperatures hovering near freezing, and having our first snowfall yesterday! So instead of just marking on my list what I would need for the coming week, I went through my entire house, and made my best estimate of what I would need for the whole month. I took inventory of everything from toothpaste to light bulbs. Then on Saturday, I did a marathon, exhausting shopping trip. But it feels SO good knowing that I won't have to do that for another month! I plan on doing it the first Saturday of every month. I don't expect it to be perfect the first time around. I'm sure we'll run out of things before the month runs out, but I expect that to be part of the process, and we'll improve each month, adjusting quantities as necessary. I'll then only have to do a quick weekly trip for fresh dairy and produce. I'm even thinking of revising my meal-planning strategy. Instead of planning meals first, and then buying fresh produce, I'm going to do it the other way around. See what's available at the farmer's market, and then try to be creative and plan meals around that, in combination with what I have purchased for my pantry. Obviously this will only work while there is still produce available at the farmer's market, but I'm really working on eating as locally and as in-season as possible. Over time, I plan to replace my farmer's market purchases with things I grow myself, and preserve for the winter. That will ultimately eliminate my need for the weekly farmer's market run. Our ultimate goal is to be as self-sufficient as possible, and I feel that once-a-month shopping is moving us closer to that goal.