Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Mvelopes

I know it's been awhile since I've posted! 'Tis
the season, and like many of you, I'm sure, we've been busy getting ready and enjoying all of the
good things that this time of year brings. :)

Unfortunately for many, this time of year can also be financially stressful. I've talked before about how we use the Envelope Method to manage our finances. Using this method has completely changed our lives. No longer do we stress about money, because we plan for everything, and have relatively few financial surprises. This method allows us to spread our expenses out evenly all throughout the year, so there are no financial ups and downs. We budget for Christmas every single month, so there is no particular financial stress at Christmastime. We just spend the money that's been allocated in the "Christmas" envelope, and then in January we keep on contributing to it for next year.

Until recently, I was using Quicken, and "hacked in" an envelope method. However, it was clumsy, required some work-arounds that made reconciling bank statements a little annoying, and I hated that Bruce was always asking me if we could afford to get such-and-such. I was tired of being the budget gatekeeper, I wanted him to have equal access to our envelope balances. Also, we both recently got iPhones, which meant I was getting rid of my Palm Pilot (and Pocket Quicken was going with it!). I wanted something that we could check our balances on our iPhones, anytime, anywhere (since usually you're not making purchasing decisions while sitting in front of your computer!) I did some searching around online and discovered some web-based software called Mvelopes.

It's basically an online version of the envelope method. What I LOVE about it is that it incorporates ALL of your accounts, and automatically downloads your transactions. You then assign your transactions to the appropriate envelope, and the envelope balance is immediately updated. And because it's web-based, Bruce and I can check our envelope balances anytime, anywhere. (When you use the envelope method, your bank account balance becomes irrelevant... all that matters is whether there is money in the envelope to make your purchase. If there's not enough money, you either don't make the purchase, or make a conscious decision to move money from another envelope). This way, if Bruce wants to know how much money is left in his allowance envelope, or in the home maintenance envelope (really, the only two categories he cares about!), he just has to log on and check for himself. :) No longer do I have to feel like his mother and say yes/no to purchases. And THAT in itself is worth the subscription fee! I used the free trial for 2 weeks, and then decided to go ahead and pay the subscription fee. Normally I wouldn't pay a monthly fee for something like this, but I really do believe that we will more than save that amount of money by having ready access to our budget information, and thus not going over budget.

I love the envelope method because it helps us to spend within our income, eliminate debt, and achieve our financial goals. It allows us to make conscious decisions about how to spend our money. WE tell our money where to go, instead of wondering where it went. Envelope Budgeting is the best way to manage our money and Mvelopes is the only system I have found that allows us to effectively use the envelope method while also using electronic, non-cash transactions. As I've mentioned before, we use our credit card for as many purchases as possible and then pay the balance off each month. Within Mvelopes there is an envelope called "Money for Credit Card", and whenever you make a purchase with your credit card, it automatically moves that amount of money into this envelope. Then when the bill comes, the money is there to pay it. This ensures that the money to pay the credit card bill has already been set aside, and we can continue to happily collect our Air Miles. :)

As a bonus, just the other day, Mvelopes announced a new Refer-a-Friend program. You can sign up for a risk-free trial (you have to give them your credit card info up front, but as long as you cancel before your trial period runs out, your card will not be charged). If you decide to go ahead and subscribe (I highly recommend it!!), you will get a 20% discount off the subscription fee, and I'll get $15.00 for the referral. Even one referral a month would MORE than cover the subscription fee. :) And then if you sign up, you could sign up for the Refer-a-Friend program as well! You could theoretically use this fabulous service for free. :)

Click below to sign up for the free trial with my personal referral link.




Hope you have a merry, debt-free Christmas. :)

Alissa

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Diaper Woes...

So poor Gavin has been squeezing into his infant prefolds for WAY too long. I've been meaning to sew him up some diapers, but getting to the sewing machine has been a bit of a challenge, to say the least! But now that he weighs nearly 20 pounds, and his prefolds are only meant for up to 15 pounds, the situation was getting a little critical. My original "plan" (HA!) was that Owen would be POTTY TRAINED by the time Gavin outgrew his infant prefolds, and Gavin could wear Owen's Fuzzi Bunz. But alas, Owen is on his own timeline, and potty training is probably still a way off in the future. Not to mention the elastic has gone in them AGAIN, and I just don't have it in me to replace it all again right now.

I went to the Cape Breton Baby Company on the week-end and I picked up some beautiful wool Stacinator diaper covers at a steal. She wanted to get rid of them because she'd had them forever and no one was buying them, so she gave them to me at cost! I got 3 of them, one in a size medium and 2 in toddler size. The toddler size is a bit big yet, but he will grow into them eventually. They're SO nice and soft, and so much better than the PUL covers I was using with the prefolds. Now I just needed some diapers to go with them. I didn't want to invest in a whole new set of diapers, so I thought I'd make some pocket fitteds, and I could use his infant prefolds as inserts. It seemed like the cheapest, least wasteful option.

I sewed this one pretty quickly, (fast sewing is the only kind of sewing I can do these days!), so the quality is less than stellar... don't look too closely! You'll also have to forgive the photo quality; it was 10:00 last night, and Gavin was just waking up, needing a boob and a diaper change so the photography was a little hasty! Anyway, you'll get the gist.

I used the Mama Bird pattern again... it's a really simple, quick pattern.

I used some leftover t-shirt knit that I had used to make Owen some pants. It's nice to be able to use up leftover fabric!





































I had some leftover microfleece that I used for the inner. It's nice because it wicks the moisture away from the baby.



















The diaper looks wonky in this picture, but it's really not... just the way it was sitting. Like I said, I was in a rush!




















And here is the pocket, showing the prefold, folded into thirds as an insert.




















Now I just need to make about a dozen or so more. :)



Friday, November 13, 2009

A full and busy week!

Sorry I haven't been around this week. Things have been a bit busy around here (well, busier than usual!). My husband took the week off to work on the basement (hooray!), building and installing lots of shelving in the furnace room (hooray for storage!!), and also working on making a playroom for the kids! They have no idea that they're getting it, and we're hoping to have it done as a surprise for them for Christmas. It's a pretty small space, with very low ceilings (my poor husband's head almost touches the ceiling while he's working down there), but it will be a great playspace for the kids. And perhaps I'll regain a tiny bit of sanity, knowing that I can simply avoid going down there if I don't want to see the mess! Right now our living room doubles as a play room, and the kids can destroy it in about five minutes flat. Also, Gavin will be mobile pretty soon (he can already scoot around on his tummy!), and in spite of my hypervigilance, there are always little tiny toys on the floor. So it will be nice to have the bigger kids' toys downstairs, so Gavin can safely play up here. I promise to post plenty of pictures when it's all done! :)


Monday, November 2, 2009

Boosting Immunity

As a family, we are trying to protect ourselves as best we can against H1N1 (and viruses in general), by boosting our immunity naturally. We have decided against the vaccine, for numerous reasons, so we need to be proactive in protecting our health. A friend and I researched and collaborated on various ways of boosting our immune systems. I wrote them out, and posted them on our fridge (complete with nice magnets!). :) I've been meal-planning around the foods on this list to ensure that we stay as healthy as possible this flu season.

Is anyone else taking a proactive approach? Any other suggestions for anything I might have missed?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Cleaning out the medicine cabinet

My weekly cleaning routine entails cleaning a different part of the house each day of the week. And whatever part of the house I'm cleaning, I try to tackle one extra chore in that room, in addition to the regular weekly cleaning. So on my last kitchen cleaning day, I decided it was time to tackle the medicine cupboard. It had been long-since neglected, and it had become more of a junk cupboard - a place to stick things when we didn't know where else to put them. (Sorry I didn't take any before pictures - just trust me when I say it was bad!!). One thing I've figured out is that the best way to avoid sticking things where they don't belong is by labeling!! Once there's a label on something, I'm far less likely to put something there that doesn't really go there.


(I know that's a funny place for our keys to go - it looked more normal when it was our "junk" cupboard!)

We're also gradually moving away from traditional, over-the-counter medications to more herbal remedies, so I wanted a shelf just for the herbal remedies that would continue to grow as we eliminated the other stuff. Being able to see them there, separately, makes it easier to see how we're doing in that regard.

There were lots of expired medications in there, as well as some medications that were recently deemed unsafe to give children under the age of 6 (according to Health Canada). That list that you see on the cupboard door lists all of the ingredients that kids under 6 should not be given. I figured by the time my kids were 6 those meds would be expired anyway, so I might as well go ahead and pull them out of there now. I bagged up those meds, plus the expired ones, to take to the pharmacy for disposal (so that they wouldn't end up in a landfill).

I love how great it feels to organize just one tiny area of my home. It seems so insignificant - just one little cupboard - but every time I open it, it's like a choir of angels is singing to me. :) And doing one little cupboard here and one little drawer there adds up to a lot of organization over time. And brings just a little more peace into my day.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Pumpkin-Fetching

We have an annual Hallowe'en tradition of going to Flemming's Farm to pick out our pumpkins each year, and this year was no exception.

Norah seems to have found the perfect pumpkin.



Owen, of course, picks the furthest one he can find!



See just how far he was...



The pumpkins were all looking a little green this year. Not sure what that's about. Mrs. Flemming said it had something to do with the weather. Everyone's pumpkins were green this year. Any ideas for some green Jack - o - Lanterns??


One more gander... just in case she missed one...


...a view of the pumpkin field. I was sitting, cozy, in the van... nursing my hungry babe and watching the action, while Bruce wielded the camera and the children.



Happy Hallowe'en week, everyone!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Off to the Eco Expo

One of our favourite events to attend each year is the Cape Breton Eco Expo. I don't know that the kids fully understand what it's about, but we take them anyway! There are some great kids' exhibits (like a constellation tent!), so they definitely get some entertainment value out of it. Last year there were some really great booths, and I'm hoping that it has expanded this year. There was a booth of handcrafted items made from recycled materials, which I loved. And someone was selling handmade cleaners, and someone else was selling handmade personal care products. I think there was a candlemaker there too, if I recall correctly. And lots of information booths from various organizations. Nova Scotia Power was there, talking about their renewable energy goals. There will be a presentation from the Cape Breton Vegetarian Society, talking about the benefits of a plant-based diet for both us and the planet, which I will definitely be attending. No matter how far we've come, we still have so much to learn, and I love any and all opportunities to do so! And it's fun to meet with like-minded people, or those who are just beginning their journey.

Have a great week-end! See you next week.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Project: Garbage-Free

Yesterday's post made me realize that we are inching closer to our goal of being garbage-free. There was a time when I would never have thought that this was achievable. The days when our garbage was overflowing with disposables of all kinds. The days before we began composting, when all of our food scraps, shamefully, landed in the landfill, instead of being returned back to the earth where they belong. The whole idea of a landfill rubs me the wrong way. The fact that, as human beings, we are so incredibly wasteful that we actually had to create an entire industry around collecting people's garbage, week after week, and dumping it into a big pile. When the pile gets too big, we cover it up with some nice grass, and start a new pile. It's completely appalling. If you haven't already, I encourage you to watch this video: The Story of Stuff. It's one that I watched in the early days of our journey, and it's very eye-opening and inspiring.

I recall reading awhile ago about a culture (for the life of me I can't remember what it was) that doesn't even have a word in their language for garbage. Everything they have and use either continues to be used, or gets returned to the earth in some manner. That just goes to show how completely unnecessary it is. With just a little more effort and consciousness, I think being garbage-free is completely attainable.

I know that we've come a long way. When we first started this journey, over two years ago now (wow, has it been that long??) we took out a kitchen-can sized bag of garbage every single day. That was just part of my evening kitchen clean-up, was to empty the garbage. And it was full. Now I would say that, on average, we empty the kitchen garbage once a month. How have we done it?

  • As I mentioned, we've ditched the disposables
  • Our community started a curbside compost pick-up (if your community does not yet have one available, I strongly encourage you to lobby your municipal government to start one), but soon we will be starting our own backyard composter
  • Just generally become more conscious of what we purchased, so that we don't have much crap to throw away
  • Started buying flushable, biodegradable kitty litter
  • Stopped buying processed foods, which are often packaged in non-recyclable packaging
  • Started repurposing things that would otherwise have been garbage
  • As of yesterday, started buying recycled and recyclable toothbrushes. :)
Really, those were the major things. And yet, we're still managing to produce a bag (albeit a small one) of garbage a month. I'm more determined than ever to stop producing garbage. :)
So how are we going to do it? Well, when we first started budgeting our money in a purposeful way, the very first step was to track our spending. Every penny. You can't possibly know where you're going unless you know where you've been. In order to know what you're wasting money on, you must first write down every itty bitty expenditure. At the end of the month, you add them all up, categorize them, and stand, with your mouth gaping open, at all the waste. Well, I've decided to track our garbage production in the same way. Enter, the Garbage Log:


I tacked a piece of paper above the garbage can, and anyone who throws something in the garbage must write down what it is. I figure this will achieve two things: One, we'll think twice about what we put in there. Is it really garbage? Is it compostable? Recyclable? Are we just not sure? Do we need to call the recycling hotline (yes, we have one of those!) to find out? Can it be re-used? Freecycled? Re-purposed? The remaining things, the things that we determine are, in fact, garbage, will require more thought. How did we acquire them? Why? Is there a garbage-free alternative? Was it something that someone else gave to us? (Which, admittedly, happens often... packaging, etc. from things other people give us, that we have to dispose of - things that come from the Dollar Store, etc.). Can we find a way to tactfully refuse such things, or request garbage-free alternatives?

Just this morning, it occurred to me that one of things we throw away are the rubber bands that hold our broccoli together. We just have so many of them, that I really couldn't justify keeping them any more, so I started throwing them out. (I guess that's a testament to how much broccoli we go through around here. lol). Well, it occurred to me, that Hank's, the place we go to get our produce, would likely be very happy to have these back! I'm going to start saving them up in a ziplock bag, and returning them there.

It also occurred to me that if we only bought clothing made from natural fibers, it could eventually be composted when it was completely worn out. (After being used as rags, and whatever other use we can get out of it). So no more polyester purchases.

These two things occurred to me just from putting up that Garbage Log - before I had actually written anything on it!

Anyway, that's the plan! I'm on a mission to be garbage-free. I also think this is going to be a very cool homeschool project! Environmental Science, anyone? :) I'll update periodically with our progress, and I'll post what things are on the Garbage Log so that you all can help me eliminate those things. Does anyone care to join me in this?? I'd love some company in this so we can challenge and encourage each other!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Preserve Toothbrushes

I just discovered the coolest thing. I had toothbrushes on our shopping list this week-end, because all of ours are getting a little ratty. I walked down the toothbrush aisle at the grocery store and just couldn't bring myself to do it. EVERY kids' toothbrush is plastered with TV characters. I dare you to try to find one that isn't! And they were $3.49. Each. And totally environmentally irresponsible. They're made with new plastic, and as far as I know, aren't recyclable. We use them as long as we can, but ultimately, they land in the garbage. So I did what every concerned toothbrusher would do. :) I came home and hopped online, determined to find a more eco-friendly alternative. And lo and behold, I found these. Preserve toothbrushes are made from 100% recycled plastic, including Stonyfield Farm yogurt cups. Each package features a different endangered species. How cool is that?? I'll take that over a TV character any day! Oh, but wait. That's not all! Each toothbrush comes with a stamped return envelope, so that you can return your toothbrush to Preserve to be further recycled into other products!! Oh, and did I mention that a portion of each sale goes to support the National Wildlife Federation? It just keeps getting better. But are they available in Canada, I wondered? Indeed they are! You can find them at www.homedepot.ca. For, get this: $2.99. Yep, cheaper than the grocery store variety. But what about the carbon footprint of having something shipped to me, you ask? Well, Home Depot offsets the carbon footprint of everything they ship. Yaay, Home Depot! And I figured I might as well make the shipping worthwhile, so I bought 15 of them. Yep. 6 adult ones and 9 kids ones. Then we'll just save 'em all up and send them back all at once for recycling.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Basic Weekly Plan

Something I've been working on lately is my Basic Weekly Plan. It's easy to let each day and week slip away from us, without having a clear vision of what it is we hope/need to accomplish. I find it often leads to frustration, as I figure out it has been weeks (months??) since I've done things like update the baby books, or work on photo albums. In general, it seems that if I don't have a plan for things to get done... they simply don't get done. There are no magic cleaning fairies or photo album fairies. :) (Much to my dismay...).

Included in my basic weekly plan are all of the things I hope to accomplish over the week, and includes my cleaning focus area, laundry, focus task, meal type (so we don't eat the same kinds of dishes too often, and also makes meal planning MUCH easier), and an evening task. Next year I will include homeschooling activities in this plan as well. Of course, no plan is perfect, nor do I expect to follow it perfectly. It is simply a guide, one that I do my best to follow, a roadmap of sorts. But it's okay to take a detour once in awhile. Bumps in the road are inevitable, but I always love having a smooth highway to return to when things get back to normal. (I'll stop with the driving metaphors now!!).

You can find more detailed information on my cleaning schedule here.
More detailed information on my simple meal planning technique here.
And how I fit it all into my day here.

Also, diaper laundry is done every 2nd night after the kids go to bed... I found that much easier than trying to fit it into my regular laundry routine.

As is the nature of my life, things have changed and evolved a bit even since writing those posts, but the general idea is the same.


So here is what I've come up with so far:

Monday
Cleaning Focus Area: Bedrooms (do an extra-thorough cleaning on a different bedroom each week)
Laundry: Colours & Sheets
Supper: Stir-Fry
Task: Memories (baby books, photo albums, etc.)


Tuesday
Cleaning Focus Area: Bathroom
Laundry: Whites & Towels
Supper: Beans & Rice
Task: Ironing


Wednesday
Cleaning Focus Area: Upstairs Hall/Stairs/Entryway
Laundry: Darks
Supper: Casserole
Task: Mending


Thursday
Cleaning Focus Area: Living Room/Dining Room
Laundry: Colours
Supper: Pasta
Task: Library


Friday
Cleaning Focus Area: Kitchen/Laundry Room
Laundry: Whites
Task: Meal Plan & Grocery List
Supper: Burgers/Potatoes/Steamed veg.
Evening: Date Night

Saturday:
Focus Area: Yard/Van
Laundry: None
Task: Shopping & Errands
Supper: Homemade pizza
Evening: Family Fun Night

Sunday
Cleaning Focus Area: None
Laundry: None
Task: Food prep for the week (I'd love to get this done on Saturdays but it just doesn't happen)
Supper: Soup/Salad/Bread


I would also like to add in some personal fulfillment goals at some point. It seems that meeting and fulfilling my own personal goals is the easiest thing to neglect, so I should definitely be penciling those in. Wouldn't it be lovely to have a scheduled bubble bath? Or pedicure? :) Will we really give those things to ourselves if we don't plan for them? This is definitely an area I need to work on.

I love how laying things out and writing things down brings me such clarity. In the same way that budgeting allows us to spend purposefully, planning our time allows us to spend our time in a purposeful way. This is really just a rough draft, and I'm sure it will evolve and change as time goes on.

Do any of you follow a simple plan like this? Has it helped you to establish rhythms to your days and weeks? Has it evolved and changed during different periods of your life?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Taking up knitting...

As I've mentioned before, sewing is pretty much a no-go these days. My sewing time used to be in the evenings, when the house was tidy and quiet, I would sip my tea and work on whatever project I had on the go. I loved sitting at the machine, the quiet hum had such a calming effect. It was my time to unwind and process the day, and think ahead to tomorrow.

And then there was Gavin. :) There is so much hustle and bustle to our days, that Gavin would rather be part of the action than to settle down and nurse. Oh, he has a little nip (HA! No pun intended...) here and there... but no serious nursing. So now, in the quiet of the evening, my time is spent laying on the couch with my nursing babe. I needed a new "unwind" activity that could be done while laying down on the couch. (Gavin is definitely a lay-down nurser). I've had my fill of dishcloth crocheting. I do believe there is a point at which we have enough dishcloths. :) So I decided to take up knitting. I think knitting and crocheting both have their merits, and are each good for different things, so I would love to become somewhat proficient at both. Since I'm also striving to hand-make as many of our things as possible, I believe this Christmas will be mostly a knitted handmade Christmas. (Knitted pajamas, anyone??).

So here is my first real knitting project, almost complete. A wool diaper soaker. I've been wanting to use wool for a long time now, as I love the thought of using all natural fibers on my baby's bum. I've met a lovely new friend by the name of Katrina, who has been kindly putting up with all of my silly knitting questions and helping me through this new venture. I'm still debating whether or not to add a cuff to those legholes. Part of me just wants to be done, and I'm admittedly intimidated by the whole picking up stitches thing... but I think I would be more pleased with it if it had cuffs. I also think I'll felt it a wee bit, since it goes almost up to Gavin's armpits.


I think the other reason I feel the need to craft, is to have something to show for my day that doesn't get "undone". As moms, particularly those of us who stay home with our kids, our days are filled to the brim with seemingly endless chores that have to be done over and over again. We clean, it gets dirty. We put something away, turn around, and someone has gotten it out again. We change a diaper, it gets peed in. We wash, dry, and put away clothes, only to do it all again the next day. We spend hours cooking meals that get eaten (or worse, not eaten). For me, crafting means actually making forward progress on something that won't get undone. It's my saving grace on a day when I feel I've gotten nothing "accomplished". Even one row of knitting is one row more than I had done yesterday. It allows me to meditate and think of my children, who are typically the recipients of my crafting endeavours. I love that what I create, even with its imperfections, is stitched with love, and I hope that my children feel the love that is present in those things. Try getting all THAT from something you bought at WalMart.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Making a Nature Table

First off, sorry for my absenteeism! I've been quite busy researching and marveling over this whole homeschooling thing. In my research, I've discovered the wonder and beauty of Waldorf-inspired homeschooling, and I think this is the direction we are going to take with our little ones. I love how it is so grounded in nature and in the arts, and helps to create such a beautiful and rich life experience for children. I've bought a couple of books to help get me started. One is Kindergarten with your Three to Six Year Old, by Donna Simmons. The other is Heaven on Earth by Sharifa Oppenheimer. I've been devouring both of them, and working on putting in place some of the many wonderful suggestions they have to offer. One of my favourite suggestions has been the Nature Table! A Nature Table is basically a place for you and your children to celebrate the beauty of each season. When you go on your daily walks, you can find things in nature that represent the season, and bring them home and place them on the Nature Table. It helps the children get a strong sense of the yearly rhythm of the seasons by helping them to appreciate and celebrate them. Some people also add various other things to their tables, like handmade seasonal accessories. I was even thinking of making seasonal curtains for the window above the shelf (yes, our table is actually a shelf - our shoe shelf, actually!). Our table will evolve as we add things to it and change it around. On there now is a tart burner, burning a beeswax candle with apple peels and cinnamon sticks in the top (which makes the house smell wonderfully of fall), some pinecones (that we painted!), some acorns and rocks that we found on our walks, and some gourds and Indian corn we got at the farm where we get our produce. The kids are really enjoying it, and I love that I don't just have a boring ol' shoe shelf in our entryway!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

So much to do, so little time...

It seems that as we plunge further into this lifestyle, the work that needs doing just continues to expand... yet the number of hours in a day stays the same! I'm in awe of those of you who can juggle all of your responsibilities successfully, and not drop any balls. (And if you're reading, feel free to leave me some tips!!).

My husband and I have had some further discussion about homeschooling, and have decided that since legally, we are not required to register our daughter for school until the year she turns six, we're going to hold off on becoming official homeschoolers until next year. That gives us a year to feel our way through this, and figure out what the heck we are doing. :) That definitely eases some of the burden on me, as it gives me plenty of time to research and gather curriculum (as much as is needed for a kindergartener). We're still going to do some unofficial homeschooling, but definitely a very relaxed approach. I just feel like four-going-on-five year olds should still just get to be kids. Thank goodness, because that leaves a little more time for everything else!

My dear husband is working on fixing up the basement to make it habitable... and creating a playroom/schoolroom for the kids. I am counting the days until there is no longer a train table and a sea of toys in my living room. :) The only downside is that whatever precious free time he has will be spent holed up in the basement for the foreseeable future, which means he has less time to help me with the regular household stuff. But I'm quite happy to grin and bear it if it means we finally get a play room!

Last week-end we had a lovely visit with my husband's family in the beautiful Annapolis valley. The Valley is a beautiful agricultural community, and is best known for its apples! I was determined to come home with as many apples as we could fit in the van. We picked some of our own, and bought some, and all told, we have 30 pounds of apples. They weren't certified organic, but they were pesticide-free, which is good enough for me! Do you know how much we paid for 30 pounds of pesticide-free, practically organic apples? $14.00. At the grocery store we would have paid five times that much. And what am I going to DO with all of those apples? Make pies, of course! Lots and lots of pies. And freeze them for winter. With all my spare time. And here's the kicker. I have never actually made a pie. Ever. Not even with a store-bought crust. Even if I wanted to, I'm not sure I could find time to make ONE pie. But somehow I am going to make like 30 of them. If I manage to pull this off, I promise to take a picture. :)

Also, our little Square Foot Garden is producing like mad! We have already harvested all of our radishes, eaten some crisp, perfect sugar snap peas, steamed some beautiful yellow beans, and today, my husband appeared at the back door with two perfect (albeit small) green peppers. We had them in a stir-fry tonight, and they were crisp and green and as flavourful as you could imagine! And there are lots more to come. But I am afraid... very, very afraid... as we planted 16 square feet of tomatoes. And they are all going to ripen at pretty much the exact same time. That is a LOT of tomatoes. So what are we going to DO with all of those tomatoes and peppers? Make salsa, of course! Lots and lots of salsa. (We are big salsa eaters!). So if all goes well, we will never have to buy another pie or jar of salsa again. Well, for a few months, anyway.

So far we have picked (at a U-Pick) and frozen several pounds of strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries for smoothies all winter. And made strawberry jam, strawberry rhubarb jam, and blueberry jelly. I want to freeze some peaches while they're fresh and in season as well (peaches in a smoothie are YUMMY!). It's so much cheaper to freeze fresh fruit in season than to try to buy it in the winter. Our goal is eventually to be able to grow and/or freeze/preserve almost all of our food. Luckily I won't have a four-year-old, a two-year-old, and a five-month-old forever. :) Just when I think I can't possibly find room on my plate for one more thing, I somehow manage to squeeze something else in there.

And soon it will be time to get our wood delivered and stacked and then we'll be all set for winter. I love the cozy feeling it brings when all of your hard work pays off, and you finally get to enjoy the fruits of your labour. I look forward to cozying up by the fire and doing some crocheting, and maybe munching on some nachos and homemade salsa. :)


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Holy crap, we're homeschoolers! :)

Well, today would have been the first day of Kindergarten. Our daughter was registered, school supplies bought, and we had been singing the praises of "Big Girl School" for weeks. However, this nagging, gnawing feeling in my gut just would not go away. The feeling that I needed to look deeper into homeschooling. I had toyed with the idea of homeschooling in the past, but never really thought I could do that, and certainly didn't for a minute think that my husband would agree to it. But as the countdown to "Big Girl School" began, I found myself devouring more and more information about homeschooling, and ultimately I knew that this was the path I wanted to choose for our family. But I was also scared to death. How would I tell people we weren't sending our kids to school? Could I really be responsible for my childrens' education? Weren't those public school teachers professionally trained? How could I possibly rival what they did? What the heck did I know about teaching?? Well then I realized, I had been teaching them all along. Through our day-to-day interactions, through answering her bazillion questions a day, through exploring, by helping her learn the names of all the bugs she was catching in her bug cage, by planting and tending our garden, by baking muffins, by reading together. I never deliberately taught her to crawl or walk or talk, but somehow, she managed to figure that out without any professional guidance. Could it be true that learning could happen in the real world, and not just inside the four walls of a classroom? Is it possible that being inside the four walls of a classroom could actually inhibit learning instead of fostering it? As my mind raced with all of these thoughts, my greatest concern was my husband's reaction. After all, I had been gently (or perhaps not so gently) making changes to our lifestyle over the past couple of years. Would this be the one thing that would put him over the edge and think I had finally lost it? I carefully compiled a list of pros and cons for homeschooling, the list of pros being 7 pages long, and only 3 little cons (none of which couldn't be overcome with a little creativity). I presented him with my list, and he read it over, and said "Sure. I think she's too young for school anyway". I nearly fell to the floor. Have I mentioned that I have the best husband ever?? :)

So instead of shipping my little almost-five-year-old off to school today, we attended a "Not-Back-to-School" pool party with a local homeschool group. I felt like we were playing hookie, and I loved every minute of it. :) I'm so excited to learn and grow with my children, and to see this big wide world of ours through their eyes. To continue to be as close as we have been thus far, and to not yet have to experience the heartache of sending them away. We're planning to take it year by year and see how it goes. Yesterday I called the school to tell them she wouldn't be attending, which made it all very official and real. Holy crap, we're homeschoolers. :)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Ditching the microwave

In our quest to create a healthier home, we've done many things so far. We've eliminated all of the chemicals from our home. We've ditched the disposables. We've eliminated most plastics. But one thing we've been procrastinating on is getting rid of the microwave. It's just so darned convenient! Forgot to defrost something from the freezer? Pop it in the microwave! Need to re-heat leftovers? In the microwave they go! Initially I told myself I'd just try to use it less, and to use the stove for re-heating things whenever possible. But slowly, gradually, we reverted back to using the microwave. I've mentioned several times that I'm a believer in creating an environment that sets us up for success. By leaving that thing in the kitchen, I was setting myself up for failure. It is human nature to take the path of least resistance! If the microwave is here, I'm going to use it. So yesterday, after reading a few articles like this one, I decided it was time. I unplugged that baby and got it out of the kitchen. (Okay, it's only sitting about 10 feet away while it awaits its fate in the basement, but at least it's out of the kitchen!). My husband's only protest was that he wouldn't have enough time to re-heat his oatmeal on the stove each morning (he makes a big batch on the week-end and re-heats it all week). I said he'd either have to get up earlier, or put it on the stove on low while he takes his shower, and then eat his breakfast after his shower. The point is, we are all addicted to convenience. One of my favourite new quotes is: "a luxury, once sampled, becomes a necessity". So I am now much more wary of what I sample. We buy things to make our lives easier, and then we can't imagine living without them. I made a deal with him that we'd do without it for a week, as a trial period, and see how it went. If we survive, we will get rid of it for good. Sometimes men have to be eased into such changes. :) But I've already decided that our future will be microwave-free. Now, any tips on re-heating things without a microwave? We eat leftovers for lunch almost every day! I'm thinking our toaster oven will be our new best friend. We'll just have to think about lunch more than 30 seconds before we want to eat.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Back home, and a renewed commitment

Well we're back from our lovely vacation, and back to our daily grind. It's always so nice to get away, but also nice to get back to our regular routines. The kids get pretty out of sorts when they get off their routine. But a rest from that routine can be good as well. It gives us a chance to step back and reflect on our lives and on the direction our lives are taking. An opportunity to re-evaluate that direction, and decide if we need to make any changes. For me, being away inspired a renewed enthusiasm and determination to continue on this path that we're on. For some reason, when we're on vacation we tend to stray from our values a little. We spend a little more freely than we normally would. We buy things that we wouldn't normally buy. We ate fast food several times a day, which was horrible for us, and produced a tremendous amount of waste (but is difficult to avoid on a 3-day long trip). We feel the influence of others who are more into consumerism than we are, and lose sight of what we are striving for. It's also difficult when staying in someone else's home to continue to be environmentally conscious when they are not. You don't want to offend anyone by insisting that they should compost or recycle or NOT clean with toxic cleaners while your children are in their home. As they say, "When in Rome...". That being said, I love my family dearly, and I was also reminded of how much I miss being close to them and having them to lean on. Families are an important network, and will be increasingly more so in the future. I think that it's better to inspire others to change through example, rather than criticism. While we were staying with my Aunt, she had run out of her usual dish soap, and instead of purchasing regular dish soap, she bought some that was eco-friendly. I also noticed she had some organic shampoo in her shower. That could have been purely for my benefit, but it's also possible that I inspired a teeny-tiny change in her habits. It's only one or two things, but as we all know, the only way to get from point A to point B is one step at a time. No matter how small the steps. I know that there are so many people who just don't realize how destructive their own habits are, and what kind of impact they themselves have on our environment. It wasn't so long ago that I was one of those people. I would buy cheap, made-in-China crap, not realizing that I was contributing to child labour, to global warming, to oil depletion, and to our landfills (which is where the stuff ultimately ends up). I didn't realize that what I was cleaning with was making us sick. That what we ate and where that food came from was crucial to creating a sustainable environment. It took a huge awakening to realize the impact I could have on our planet and on our own health- either positive or negative. I have to bear that in mind when I get frustrated that we are working so hard to make our planet healthier, while others are making it sicker. Sometimes I feel like we are spinning our wheels, because others are undoing what we are working so hard to do. In a sense, that's what makes me happy that Peak Oil is upon us, and we are facing an oil-deprived future. For those who won't change out of concern for the environment, they will change for the sake of finances. It will no longer make economic sense to purchase crap from China, because the cost of getting it here will nullify the advantage of cheap labour. Buying things locally will eventually be cheaper than buying things from far away. Petroleum-based chemical cleaners will cost more than vinegar and water (and probably already do). The price of gas will be out of reach for the average person, so riding a bike or walking will look like a much better alternative. Growing your own food will be cheaper than buying it at the grocery store. All of these things are already true, but as petroleum skyrockets in price, the differences will be magnified, and people will start to notice. I just pray that the effects of Peak Oil are severe enough to inspire change before global warming reaches the point of no return.

As part of our renewed commitment, we built another garden after arriving home, so that we could plant some more food. (I'll take pictures soon - we're using the Square Foot Gardening method!). We bought some canning supplies so that we will be able to preserve some of that produce. We bought some books that will help us on our path. Books on composting, on preserving, on sewing "green" (with recycled materials), and one on general self-sufficiency. We are trying to build a library of reference books that will help to learn all of those skills that died with our ancestors. I'll add these books to my side bar as we accumulate them. It's funny that in talking about sustainability, I'm also talking about the things we are buying - but we are buying things that will help us to be more sustainable and buy less in the future. As inflation takes hold, these things will be invaluable to keeping our cost of living affordable. We've started a Wish List of things we want to buy in the future, as finances allow. On that list is things like a bike for me (my husband and kids have one, but I don't). Other reference books we want to get so that we can practice our skills in those areas. More canning supplies, and possibly a dehydrator. And as the cheap things we already own break, we are replacing them with things that can be repaired, and will hopefully last a lifetime. Like good, sturdy kitchen tools. We're planning to insulate this year to keep our heating costs low. We'd like to build a wood shed so that we can buy a winters' worth of wood all at once, instead of buying more halfway through the winter when costs are high, and the wood is not as well seasoned (meaning we burn more in order to get enough heat). These things all cost more money up front, but will pay huge dividends in the long-run.

Many of the Peak Oil blogs I follow have indicated that we have already reached the Peak (in July of 2008), and that we will soon begin the descent. Oil prices, in spite of the economy, are beginning the creep upward, and it won't be long before they surpass the prices of 2008. Is anyone else feeling a sense of urgency in preparing for the future? If so, what concrete steps are you taking to make sure your family is fed, clothed, and has a roof over their heads? Are you concerned that Global Warming might beat it to the punch? Have you tried to influence your loved ones to help make them more aware, and thus become a part of the solution rather than a part of the problem? How have you gone about it?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Vacation & Travel Cups

I'm so excited, we are leaving in two days to go visit my family for a couple of weeks. It's a 3-day car drive, so wish us luck! :) We'll be stocking the car with lots of activities (including a couple of surprises to be pulled out during the trip when the kids start getting antsy), and most importantly, lots of snacks! I'll be making some homemade trail mix, bringing lots of fruit, and some water and juice. On our last trip home, it was right in the midst of all the BPA frenzy, and I was desperate to find some drinking cups or water bottles for the car. I think we stopped in just about every city on our travels, and everyone was cleaned out of stainless steel water bottles. When we finally arrived at our destination, we found some stainless steel bottles, and I quickly snapped them up (at a fairly steep price, I might add), only to discover that they leaked HORRIBLY, and the store we bought them from refused to take them back. We kept them for the year, but I curse them every time I use them, as the water ends up everywhere. Not this time, baby. I've been eyeing these Safe Sippies for quite awhile now. They're $17.99 a piece, so I was a little hesitant, but we decided to go ahead and purchase them. They're fully stainless steel, and have these great rubbery, colourful sleeves on them so that the kids' hands don't get cold. The top is plastic, but it's a completely safe, non-leaching type (#5, I believe), and the only time the water comes into contact with the plastic is when they're actually drinking. I absolutely wanted stainless steel for the trip, because plastic is bad enough under regular circumstances, but you definitely don't want it sitting in a hot car, as that is when the plastic will start to leach. The kids have been test-driving these for the past couple of days, and so far they've been fabulous! Thank goodness. I also love that each kid now has their very own water bottle... and they keep the same one all day long! I no longer have a million cups to wash because I'm not sure who was drinking out of what cup.

The next two days will be spent cleaning and packing, so I doubt I'll be back to post before we leave. We'll be back somewhere around the end of July. So have a great couple of weeks, and I'll be sure and tell you all about our trip when we get back!

Monday, June 29, 2009

On the Mend

We received this cute pair of pants as a hand-me-down for Norah from a friend of ours. When I went to put them on her the other day, I noticed the closure was missing. At first I thought it had been a button, so I was just going to sew a new button on. But then I realized there was no buttonhole, so it must have been a snap. I was thinking of making a buttonhole and sewing on a cute button, but then I remembered my snap press!





What good is having a snap press if you can't put snaps on things?















Here's what they looked like all fixed and good to go.





























I think mending is such an important part of learning to live simply. It's what our grandmothers and great-grandmothers did, out of necessity. They simply could not afford to discard clothes just because they needed some repair. I think it also teaches our children a valuable lesson. Sadly, most kids today have become accustomed to a throw-away lifestyle. When things break or are in need of repair, we just go out and replace them. Instead, I hope my children learn that no matter what we have, we take the best care of it that we can, and if it breaks we make every effort to fix it before deciding to replace it. Even if it's some cheap toy that breaks (and I'm probably happy it's broken! lol), we still try to repair it, if for no other reason than to set an example.

Now to tackle the rest of my mending pile. What's in your mending pile?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Summer Days...

There is so much I love about summer.

Eating lunch outside...





























(Gavin, too...)















Making a "bug circus" (don't ask...)














Laundry on the clothesline...















...and just generally soaking it all in.

Have yourselves a lovely, summery week-end. :) "See" you next week!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sprouting!

Something I've been meaning to try for awhile now is sprouting. Since we have made a decision to eat local and seasonal whenever possible, I wanted something live that I could supplement our diets with in the winter, when the ground has long frozen. Sprouts are also delicious all year long. :)

I decided to start with the basics: Alfalfa Sprouts and Bean Sprouts (from Mung Beans). I went to our local health food store and bought a bag of organic alfalfa seeds and organic mung beans. Total cost: $6.33. This should yield SEVERAL jars of sprouts, as you only need about 2 tablespoons in the jar. And buying sprouts at the grocery store is very expensive, and they're not as fresh. Also, we have no idea where these sprouts came from. At least in my own kitchen I know what kind of conditions they were grown in. I used mason jars that I had on hand, cut the feet out of a pair of (clean) nylons to put over the top, and attached them with the rubber bands that come on our broccoli bunches (I always save these thinking I can use them for SOMETHING...). The first day, you soak the beans and seeds in water, for about 8-12 hours. Then twice a day after that, you rinse them and let them drain out. If you can see in the picture, after just over a day, the beans have already begun to sprout! How exciting. It takes a few days for the sprouting to complete, and then you place them in sunlight for a few minutes to get them to green up. Then you refrigerate them. The kids love watching our "science experiment". I can't wait to have fresh bean sprouts in our stir-fry, and crunchy alfalfa sprouts on our chick-pea salad sandwiches. YUMMY!

Oh, the funny circular thing in the picture... that's a coaster I made out of my leftover cotton yarn. :) I wanted to use it up, and also wanted to practice crocheting in the round. I just kept going until I ran out of yarn. I blocked it to flatten it out, which is why it's sitting on the dishtowel along with the sprouts. :)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Another dishcloth. :)

I had another bit of cotton yarn left - a nice varegated one. There was just enough to complete the dishcloth (I literally ran out on the last stitch!), so I used a bit of cream to do the edging. My husband commented last night on how much he liked using the one I made. :) There's something so satisfying about making something yourself. Even with its imperfections (or perhaps because of them!), using something that I made with my own hands gives me a tremendous sense of satisfaction. It's one less thing that I am reliant on society (or some sweatshop in China) to provide for me. Something as simple as a dishcloth takes me one tiny step closer to being self-reliant.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Completed Dishcloth

Since I haven't been able to get to the sewing machine much lately, I decided to try a more breastfeeding-friendly craft: crochet. I've done a bit of crocheting before. This time I thought I'd attempt something uber-practical: a dishcloth.


I didn't have much in the way of cotton yarn, I had a bit of yellow and a bit of orange. Neither was enough to complete a full dishcloth so I thought I'd make a striped one! It's nice and thick and soft - I can't wait to put it to work. It may not be perfect, but it was good practice - and it will do the job! It worked up really quickly, so I hope to make a few more for myself, and maybe some to give away as gifts. If you've never used a knitted or crocheted dishcloth, you really should try them. They fit great in the palm of your hand, and do a wonderful job of cleaning. I like them so much better than regular dishcloths, and especially now that I can make them myself!


Friday, June 5, 2009

Finding a System for Artwork

If you have kids, and they're as prolific as mine, you probably have artwork coming out your ears. My kids are CONSTANTLY drawing, painting, and creating things, and I struggle with what to do with all of it! I feel horribly guilty tossing everything in the recycling, especially when my daughter sees it in there and asks why I threw it out. But I know it's unrealistic to keep everything. But what DO you keep? And for how long? And where do you keep it?

What I have been doing so far is giving each kid their own little "display" area in the kitchen. Their "area" only holds about 5 pieces of artwork, so if they want something else displayed, they have to choose which piece they want to take down in order to put the new one up. This seems to satisfy their need to keep their artwork visible for awhile.

However, I would still like a more long-term storage solution for keeping a sampling of their artwork throughout the years. Whenever I'm trying to decide what to keep for my children, I try to ask myself if they will care about it when they're adults. The last thing I want to do is burden them with a whole bunch of "stuff" from their past that they then have to sort through and deal with. As you know, I am trying to create a life of simplicity for our family, which means less physical "stuff", and less material burdens. I don't want my children to grow up with an attachment to objects, and be overwhelmed with "stuff". So after giving all of this some thought, I think that one piece of artwork per year would be a good number to hold onto, and would give them a representation of how they progressed through the years. So how does that translate to reality? To the day-to-day output of crafting?

I think it's important for the kids to be involved in the process, so that they can learn to prioritize what is important and meaningful to them. We are already doing this with letting them choose which pieces they want to display, which also means choosing which pieces to remove from the wall. This begins the process, because it means they are only choosing the most special drawings to display (not random scribbling on paper), because they know they have to remove a piece in order to display a new one. I thought I would then give each child their own box (or folder, or basket or something - any thoughts??). As their special pieces get removed from the wall, they will get placed in the box. I will let them collect there throughout the month. At the end of each month, they will choose ONE piece out of the box that is the most meaningful to them. This will get placed in another box. The rest will get recycled. The process will repeat every month for a year. Then at the end of the year, they should have 12 pieces (one from each month) in their second box. I will let them choose ONE piece from THIS box to put in their scrapbook. (If it's large or 3-dimensional, I will simply take a picture of it to include in their scrapbook).

I think it's really important to involve them in the process, so they don't just see it as mommy throwing out their artwork, which I know crushes their little spirits. By empowering them to make those choices themselves, I think is a good lesson in prioritizing what things we should keep, and what things we can let go of.

Do you have a system for this kind of thing? I'd love to hear about it! How is it working for you?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Sewing Machine Meme

Sew Mama Sew is hosting a Sewing Machine Meme today, so I thought I'd participate! Since I'm not actually getting any sewing done these days, I can at least talk about my sewing machine. :)


What brand and model do you have? Janome DC3050. I blogged about it here. :)

How long have you had it? Almost exactly a year.

How much does that machine cost (approximately)? We paid $799 CDN, but I think the regular retail was $999.

What types of things do you sew (i.e. quilting, clothing, handbags, home dec projects, etc.)? Right now, not much of anything. :) Normally, I like to sew kids clothes, cloth diapers, pajamas, curtains, pretty basic stuff. Lots of mending. And I'm learning how to quilt!

How much do you sew? How much wear and tear does the machine get? Ideally, I would like to sew for an hour or so each day. Since the baby was born, I think I've sewn for an hour, total. :)

Do you like/love/hate your machine? Are you ambivalent? Passionate? Does she have a name? I LOVE my machine! It's very, very quiet. Sews like butter. It has a good selection of fancy stitches, but not so many that it's ridiculous. I haven't named her... any suggestions??!

What features does your machine have that work well for you? I LOVE the automatic needle up/down. And the automatic needle threader. And that it automatically sets stitch length and width when I select a stitch. And the drop-in bobbin with the clear cover so I can always see when I'm running out of bobbin thread. What's the expression, "A luxury, once sampled, becomes a necessity...". So true!

Is there anything that drives you nuts about your machine? Some things took getting used to. Like the speed control for the machine is on the front of the machine, so to go faster, I have to adjust the little switch, rather than just push harder with my foot. Irritating at first, but now I'm used to it. Also, the seam lines are marked in centimeters (the inches are further up on the plate), which can be annoying when I'm trying to use a seam allowance that's in inches. I guess since I'm Canadian, I should get over it and just work in centimeters. :)

Do you have a great story to share about your machine (i.e., Found it under the Christmas tree? Dropped it on the kitchen floor? Sewed your fingernail to your zipper?, Got it from your Great Grandma?, etc.!)? We want to hear it! My darling husband bought it for me for Mother's Day last year. He was dying for a new iPod Touch, so he sold off almost half of his CD collection to raise enough money for it. Then his parents ended up buying him the Touch for his birthday, so he bought me a new sewing machine instead. :) Isn't he sweet??

Would you recommend the machine to others? Why? Absolutely! It runs like a dream. And other than the above-mentioned minor irritants, it's a fabulous machine.

What factors do you think are important to consider when looking for a new machine? SERVICE! No matter what machine you decide on, I think you should always buy it from a local sewing machine dealer (Not Wal Mart!). The machine itself is only part of what you're paying for, there's no substitute for being able to take it back to the dealer any time you have a problem with it, often they will help you with the problem free of charge. My machine also came with as many free lessons as I wanted. I would far sooner buy even a second-hand machine from a dealer than a cheap new machine from a big-box store that you're stuck with once you buy it.

Do you have a dream machine? Well, I love my sewing machine, and can't see myself replacing it any time in the future. My next dream machine will be a new serger. :) The Babylock Imagine.