Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Do what makes you happy.

Once upon a time, there was a wise man, who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had the habit of walking along the beach before he began his work. One day he was walking along the shore; as he looked down the beach, he saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself to think of someone who would dance to the day, so he began to walk faster to catch up. As he got closer, he saw that it was a young man and the young man wasn't dancing, but instead, he was reaching down to the shore, picking up something and very gently throwing it into the ocean.

As he got closer he called out, "Good morning! What are you doing?" The young man paused, looked up and replied, "Throwing Starfish into the ocean."

"I guess I should have asked; why are you throwing Starfish into the ocean?"

"The sun is up and the tide is going out and if I don't throw them in they'll die."

"But young man, don't you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and Starfish all along it, you can't possibly make a difference!"

The young man listened politely, then bent down, picked up another Starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves. "It made a difference for that one." - adapted from The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley 1979

You've probably heard this story a thousand times.  I still really like it.   It reminds me that just one person doing just one thing can make a difference.  Because trying to live a more sustainable existence won't save the world but it will still make a difference to you and your family.  Or choosing to become a vegetarian won't save all the animals from the horrid factory confinement system but it will save a few.  You also know that you are not a part of the problem. 

I've found that even though D and I have given up a lot of luxuries, I'm actually happier.  I'm more present in my life, I'm more grateful for what I do have and  I'm a lot less stressed out.  And, on top of everything else, I really don't miss those pedicures luxuries.  

So, if you are unsatisfied with your life, don't be afraid to make changes that set you apart from everyone else.  Don't tell yourself, "It won't make any difference."  You  probably can never change the system but you can change your own life and take satisfaction in doing what you know is right.  Don't get caught up in the idea that if you can't do/change everything, why bother.  Do what makes you happy and be happy with it.  As Joel Salatin says, "Good enough is just perfect."

Well, I do miss those pedicures a little bit but still.....

Thursday, September 2, 2010


My CSA pick up was yesterday.  The veggies arrive at our local pick up point at 2pm and I wanted to be there as close to 2pm as possible.  So, Little Bit and I got in the car, I turned the key and.....nothing.  Turns out the tailgate on the Subaru didn't latch properly.  With the tailgate unlatched, an overhead light stayed on that I didn't notice in the daylight.  You really have to slam that darn tailgate.  It doesn't have enough weight to close on it's own and it drives me crazy!  This is the second time we've had to jump the damn car in our driveway.  That's just plain embarrassing.  But I digress......

So, I didn't get the veggies when I wanted to.  D picked them up on the way home from work and here they are:

In the box.
(it looks like a lot more out of the box)

Out of the box.

All together we got:
  • okra 
  • eggs
  • eggplant
  • acorn squash
  • sweet potato greens (did you know you could eat those?)
  • sweet potatoes
  • arugula
  • red onion
  • yellow onion
  • garlic
  • two tiny tomatoes
  • a boat-load of basil
  • mint
  • lots of sweet peppers
  • some bell peppers
  • several hot peppers (on top of the paper bag)
It's not bad for this time of the season.  Had I thought about it, I probably should have waited to sign for the CSA.  The summer crops are over with and the fall crops haven't come in yet so the pickin' are pretty slim.

Here's what I've done so far with the bounty:

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Trip of a Lifetime

So....D and I have been married 2 1/2 years and we have yet to take our honeymoon.  A few places topped our list; 1) Alaska 2) Colorado and 3) New Zealand.  The last one was a long shot since it's so expensive.  We talk about it every few months but never decide on anything.

Well, it came up again in June and we decided to bite the bullet.  And we decided that since it's been nearly 3 years, let's go all-in.  The three of us are going to New Zealand.

We talked about going in March of 2011 to make it before the Rugby World Cup.  The more we talked about it, the more we realized that we wanted to spend more than the standard 2 weeks.  In order to spend a month or more and do it right, we'll need to save quite a bit more money.

The plan now is to:

  • pay off all our student loans within a year and put that money towards our travel account
  • begin selling unnecessary possessions (Man vs Debt style) and  put that money towards our travel account
Why New Zealand?  A bunch of reasons (and not just because they filmed Lord of the Rings there).  It's:
  • exotic, far away (if we're going to go on a trip, we'd like to visit a far-off place)
  • relaxed, laid-back culture
  • several climates in a small area - beaches, hot springs, mountains, glaciers, plains, forests
  • beautiful scenery
  • emphasis on outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking, rafting
  • oh, and they speak English (we don't speak any foreign languages)

And now for some pictures:

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Lesson Learned

You may remember this update regarding D's computer.  It had gone out in a blaze of glory and all data was lost...or so we thought.  We talked about getting him a new computer.  Neither of us was totally thrilled with spending all that money and he was getting by with an older laptop so we decided to just wait and see.

D spent the next few weeks tinkering with his computer and doing some research and he discovered that the computer's problem was actually just something small that was mimicking a dead computer.  All was not lost.  So, for right at $100, it's back up and running.  He's even playing Starcraft II online with his buddies.

This was a lesson for us.  We shouldn't be so quick to get rid of something.  A little time and effort put toward mending or fixing can save us a lot of money and reduce our waste.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Two of My Favorite Blogs

If you're interested in greener, simpler living, here are two blogs that I love, love, love.  Coincidentally, they are both Australian.

In this blog, Gavin describes his family's journey towards a more sustainable life.  He's got great tutorials on soap making and cheese making.  He and his family even got rid of their TV.  He gets a bit into politics and the like.  I enjoy the political discussion but some might not.

In this blog, Rhonda invites you into her home each day and shares her thoughts on simple and sustainable living.  Something I really enjoy about her blog is her advocation of "slow living" and frugality.  She offers great tips and shares with you ideas and she's never, ever preachy or heavy handed.  She's inspiring me to learn to knit and start a household stockpile.

I highly recommend checking out theses blogs.  They've both got practical suggestions and, even if you aren't looking to green your life, they're entertaining.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Getting rid of unnecessary chemicals

Right now, I'm sitting in front of the computer while Little Bit naps and I'm sipping some Nursing Mother's Tea with some honey.  I've been wound up the past few weeks (hence the lack of updates) and I'm consciously trying to slow down my life and my mind.

It's been nearly 2 months and I'm still on the no 'poo wagon.  I did use regular shampoo and conditioner twice when I went out of town and forgot to pack my baking soda and vinegar but other than that, it's going great.  My hair has tons of body and never feels slimy.  I still have issues with oil but it's been very hot and humid lately.

This is the temperature my car registered while in the shade!
That's 42.2 C for you metric folks.

Ditching shampoo for baking soda really got me to looking at the ingredients of the products I use in my house.  You wouldn't believe the artificial chemicals, detergents, surfactants and the petroleum products that go into products you touch every day.  I also have terrible allergies and asthma so strong scents and chemicals make me sneeze and wheeze.  But one of the best things about making your own products?  IT'S DIRT CHEAP!

I browsed the web for recipes for homemade cleaning products and was happily surprised to find so many options.  I tried a few out and here's what worked out best for me:

For cleaning counters, showers, tubs, toilets (and most everything else) - baking soda to scrub and vinegar/peroxide to disinfect.  For the baking soda, I use a glass jar with a few holes punched in the lid so I've got a shaker.  For the vinegar/peroxide, I made a weak solution mixed with water.

Pretty much all I use to clean.

Deodorizing/disinfecting the air - I use a mixture of water, lemon juice, baking soda, tea tree oil and lavender oil to spray carpets, furniture, drapes and the air.  This comes in very handy for the nursery and those dirty diapers.  I re-purposed and old Febreeze bottle after scrubbing it clean.

Oh yeah, and it smells great!

Washing clothes - I've made my own liquid laundry soap before but I had fallen out of the habit.  I made a fresh batch of powdered laundry soap with Fels Naptha, Borax and Sodium Carbonate (NOT baking soda).  It smells good, gets all our clothes clean, and does a wonderful job on diapers as well.  I made a batch for my sister and she said that it does a better job of getting the sweat/funk out of her workout clothes than her store-bought detergent.

The yellow stuff is the powdered Fels Naptha.

Softening clothes - I put vinegar with a 2 drops of essential oil in the rinse cycle.  (No pictures for this one - pretty basic.)  The clothes come out clean, soft and have a very, very light scent.  

I'm also researching making my own soap with lye.  D is even making me a soap mold!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Our CSA Experiment

Did you know the average product at your supermarket has traveled 1,500 miles just to get on that shelf?  That's a lot of fossil fuels.  Not to mention all the packaging needed to keep that that banana free of blemishes and bruises when it bumps along in the back of that tractor-trailer or ship's cargo hold.

I've been feeling increasingly dissatisfied with the products that I buy at the local Wal-Mart and HEB.  Not only has the quality been lousy but I also have issues with how chains like Wal-Mart keep prices artificially low.

D and I took the leap and we have begun participating in a weekly vegetable CSA (community supported agriculture) and a monthly grass-fed beef subscription program.  Our first veggie pickup from Johnson's Backyard Garden is September 1 and our first beef pickup from Wild Type Ranch is September 9.  I'm planning on posting pictures and updates discussing what we're getting and how we like it.

A CSA is a farm that is funded by a group of community members. Members pay an advance fee in exchange for a weekly assortment of farm fresh produce or other farm products.  Basically, we enter into an agreement pay a portion of the farmer's wages and cost of production and, in return, we receive a weekly share of whatever the farmer has produced that week.  

Our particular farm produces mainly vegetables but they also contract with other local farms to provide fruit, nuts, and eggs in our weekly box.  The beef program is similar in that we agree to pay for a monthly portion of beef.  The beef is also rounded out with other seasonal products our farmer has whether it's eggs, sausage, veal, etc.

The great thing about these programs is that we are spending a large portion of our food dollars to obtain fresh, seasonal food and supporting local family farmers while doing it.  It's something that I feel good about.  I'm taking my dollars away from lousy Wal-Mart stuff and I'm purchasing real food.  

A big challenge, particularly with the produce, is that we don't get to pick what we get every week.  We get the best of what's growing right now.  This is tough since I'm used to going to the supermarket and getting tomatoes in December or asparagus in October.  It will be interesting especially as we enter the fall and winter.  D and I have never eaten a lot of cabbage or cauliflower but we plan on learning.

Another challenge is the budget.  We've committed 65% of our food budget to the programs.  That leaves 35% left over to buy everything else.  I think we will definitely struggle at first but I'm looking forward to the challenge.  I just need to remind myself that our money is going towards real, fresh, healthy food.  Sure, I might be paying a little more for this tomato but, not only does it taste better, it's got a higher nutritive value and less fossil fuels were used to get it to my table.  Plus, the money I'm spending is being used to pay a real farmer a sustainable wage.

If you are at all interested in buying locally produced food in your area, check out:

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Tiny Houses

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." Walden, a book by Henry David Thoreau.

Ever wanted to just get rid of everything you don't absolutely need and live a simple, less-wasteful life?  Our house is just 1,500 sq ft but D and I have figured out that we actually use only about 800 of those feet.  Despite being a clutter bug, I've always had a desire to live Spartan, clean life.

D came home one day and told me about a website he'd stumbled upon - Tumbleweed Houses.  It's a company that specializes in very small, high quality home designs.  You can buy the tiny houses premade but you can purchase plans for either the tiny or small houses and build them yourselves.  The tour of the 100 sq ft house the owner lives in is really interesting.  He's since upgraded to a 500 sq ft house since he got married and has a baby on the way.

After further Googling, I discovered Tiny Texas Houses.  They are a Luling, TX company that specializes in building tiny houses for people out of reclaimed and salvaged materials.  They even use environmentally friendly milk paint to paint the houses.  D and I are planning a trip to check out the houses one weekend.

400 sq ft built by Tiny Texas Houses

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Back from (another) long absence.

I haven't updated in a month and a half.  Sigh.  I always fall off the wagon with updates for some reason.

Updates on the garden:

1) The squash and zucchini are gone.  Vine borers got to them.  Nasty little buggers.

2) The okra is done for.  We went out of town and didn't harvest them for 8 days and they stopped fruiting.
3) The tomatoes are on hiatus due to the heat.  Hopefully, we'll have a great fall harvest.
4) The cucumbers are still going gangbusters.  We didn't trellis them and they've taken over about 10% of our entire yard!
5) The peppers (bell, poblano and jalapeño) are still doing great.
6) The strawberries are flourishing.  They've been producing daughters like mad so we've been rooting them.  Soon we'll have to expand the plot we dug for them.

Overall, it's been tough to get out to the garden when it's been so hot and humid the last month.  In a few more weeks, we'll pull up all but the tomatoes and strawberries and start a winter garden.  We're still not sure if we're going to do the winter in our backyard or if we'll get a plot at the community garden.  Stay tuned for more updates.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

No 'poo? We'll see.

I just washed my hair with no shampoo.  I've read about it but I've been too chicken to try it.  So I let my youngest sister try it first.

Basically, what I did was mix 1 tbsp of baking soda with enough water to make a paste and worked the paste into my scalp.  I massaged it in and let it sit for a minute or so before rinsing.  Then I rinsed it out.  Right before getting out of the shower I rinsed my hair with 2 tbsp of apple cider vinegar mixed with a cup of water.

Currently, my hair is full and soft.  I had my doubts since after rinsing the baking soda my hair felt odd.  I didn't think I would be able to get a comb through my wet hair but it ran right through.   I probably used too much vinegar since my hair has a very faint vinegar smell.  I'll probably use just 1 tbsp next time.

The whole idea behind this is that commercial shampoo strips all natural oils out of your hair and, consequently, your body produces more oil to replace it.  So the more you wash your hair, the more oil your scalp produces and the more you have to wash your hair.

The plan is to try this combo for 3 days and then switch to using it 2-3 times a week.  Some people report hair that is greasier than normal for 1-3 weeks before reaching equilibrium and then their hair is silky, voluminous and soft.

I shall report my results in 3 weeks.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Budgets and Broke Stuff

D's massively powered computer has died.  Carter, as she was affectionately known, is no more.  Besides the extended mourning period that my husband will go through and the inordinate amount of time and effort that it will take him to save the data on his striped drives, we're stuck with another problem.  How are we going to pay for a new machine?

Carter was top-of-the-line (and super expensive) when he bought her in 2006.  I asked him how much he paid and I had a mini-heart attack.  There was no way we could replace Carter with a comparable product even given the reduction in prices over time.  However, she was way "overpowered," as my husband says and, consequently, burned herself up.  He really doesn't need a machine anywhere near that fancy (thank goodness!).  He bought Carter with all the bells and whistles back when he was single and could blow that kind of money. (Whoever said two could live as cheaply as one are full of it.)

We could save some money and get a desktop instead of the laptop, but D has to be able to work and also do schoolwork when we travel.  So we need to spend the extra money on a good, quality laptop.

We won't purchase a machine on credit.  The only things we'll buy on credit now are homes.  No consumable goods.  So, we'll probably take the money out of savings to buy the machine and then put additional money into our saving account the next few months to catch up.

That's a tough choice since we were looking at using that money to pay off a small chunk of our mortgage.  I just have to remind myself that into every budgetary life, a little rain must fall.  At least we won't be buying the machine on credit, so we won't be adding any additional debt to our lives.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Chicken and Green Chile Enchiladas

Recipe time!

I made green chile (or chili, chilli, chilie, chillie) enchiladas the other night and they were delicious. These enchiladas used to be a mainstay around our house until I read the ingredients to the canned enchilada sauce that I used. High fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, etc.

Since D and I both love them, I decided to try my hand at making them from scratch and they turned out fabulously.  It seems like a lot of steps and ingredients but I made the whole dish from start to finish in about 40 minutes and for roughly the cost of making it from the cans (the chiles were on sale at Sprouts).  What I really loved is the super green color.  Much more green than the stuff out of the can and I didn't use any artificial colors.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Best Blog I've Come Across in a Long Time

I stumbled upon a blog called Down to Earth.  Rhonda lives in Australia and has fully embraced a simple, self-sufficient lifestyle.  If you are interested in baking your own bread, making soap, or living simply, check her out.

What offense?

I feel like I might have offended someone with my last post and came here to remove it.  Then I wondered what I had actually done to offend.  I wasn't able to come up with anything.

So here is a picture of a bunny with a pancake on its head just for grins.  Happy Wednesday, everyone!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Okra, Tomato and Sausage Gumbo

Recipe time!  I love to eat okra.  Fried, stewed, and pickled.  It's delicious.  I've even converted my previously greens-hating husband to the stuff.  This is my favorite okra gumbo recipe:

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Still warm from the garden....

We came home from Houston this weekend to a bounty in the garden.  More jalapeños, squash, zucchini and purple beauty bell peppers.  I enjoyed my two very favorite veggies while they were still warm from the sun...

Cucumber and yellow pear tomato salad.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Disturbing Trend

I've been noticing something lately that I don't really remember seeing before.  Instead of mowing along the sides of fields and roadways, farmers, cities and counties are spreading Roundup.  How is this a good idea?

I'm wary of using pesticides and herbicides on everything nowadays.  The very point of these products is to poison.  I don't want poison on my foods, in the air I breathe and on my skin.  Now they are linking pesticides to  ADD and ADHD and maybe even autism.

I don't know if any of you are familiar with Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) among honey bees.  It's a phenomena that causes the worker bees to simply disappear.  Many causes have been cited such a disease or migratory bee keeping (keepers more around so bees can't find their hives anymore).  A theory that is growing in  popularity among scientists is pesticide use is causing CCD.  Pesticides can cause a couple problems.  
  • The pesticide interferes with the hormones that naturally allow a bee to home in on it's hive.  Basically, it gets lost and can't find its way.
  • Pesticide flat out kill or mame the bees.  It's called a pesticide for a reason.
A lack of honey bees means a lack of foods that are pollinated by honey bees.  Apples, tomatoes, you name it.  And it's spreading.  This map is just as of March 2007!

I don't know about you, but even if we couldn't scientifically link pesticide and herbicide use to any malady, it simply doesn't make any sense.  At the commercial level they are all made from petroleum.  The petroleum is trucked to the factory, the pesticide is made from the trucked petroleum, then it's trucked to the warehouse, then to the purchaser.  It's ridiculous.  

Why don't we try beneficial inter-planting or simply go nuts and try beneficial nematodes or tobacco juice?  Because all the agribusiness (even the local extension office!) types tell us we have to use the latest weed or insect killer.  And why do we have to use the latest?  Because weeds and insects are already developing increased resistance to last year's model.  Why do we believe these guys?  They're the folks who stand to make money off us.  They quote studies that say their latest poison is non-toxic to humans.  A study they paid for.  And haven't we heard time and time again about corporations that fund multiple studies and simply hide the results of the non-favorable ones?  

Didn't we learn anything from Big Tobacco and Pfizer?

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Garden is Coming Along

I'm back!  We were out of town all last week visiting my husband's family in North and West Texas.  We got back on Friday and we discovered that we have mice again.  The joys of living near corn fields.  They chewed through our Ethernet cable in the garage so I've been internet-less for a few days - it's now up and running again.

We have our first harvest!!!!!!  Behold!

Squash, zucchini, jalapeños and cucumber

The garden is going gang-busters.  It still amazes me how much these plants can grow in a week.  To recap, we are growing:
  1. Tomatoes (several varieties)
  2. Tomatillos
  3. Bell peppers
  4. Hot peppers (several varieties)
  5. Yellow straight-neck squash
  6. Zucchini 
  7. Vining cucumbers
  8. Okra (LOTS)
  9. Blackberries
  10. Strawberries
We also identified the mystery plant that we found growing in a forgotten planter.  It was yellow squash.  But I am sad to update that it is dead.  While we were gone, a friend of ours watered the garden.  However, we forgot to tell him about the squash hidden in the planter stuck behind a patio chair and it burned up.  Alas.

But here's the progress of what we have so far:

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Car Seat Blues

We upgraded the Kiddo's car seat.  His current seat, the Graco Snugride 32, is rated for (wait for it) 32 lbs and 32 inches.  He's only about 28 lbs now but it's nearly impossible to fit him in the seat.  It's become a taxing, origami-like trick to fit his little arms and shoulders under the straps.  He's very squished and Mom and Dad are frustrated.

Snugride Indeed!

We picked up the Graco Nautilus 3-in-1 seat.  I fell in love with it.  We could use it as a car seat till 80 lbs and then a booster till 100 lbs.  We put it together and then I realized that it didn't have a rear-facing option.  D'oh!  I never even thought to check because you can begin using at 20lbs and I figured that it must have the option.  Wrong.

This seat feels like a tank-I loved it.

I know the whole rear-facing issue is hotly debated but, for me, I insist that even though he surpassed 20 lbs long ago, he be rear-facing till at least 1 year.  He's not even 9 months old.

So back to the store.  We wound up with the Graco MyRide 65.  Apparently, we have a thing for Graco.  Overall, the seat is okay.  We can only use it until 65 lbs at which time we'll need to upgrade to a booster, but I can live with that.

It's got 2(!) cupholders.  Somehow, I doubt my 8 month-old will be double-fisting sippy cups.

D's going to install it in the Subaru tonight so that Little Bit can ride in style to Houston tomorrow.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Haircuts all around!

I've been waiting on updating since all my posts need pictures and my camera's battery has gone to the big battery recycle center in the sky.  Luckily, we had a little windfall and D and I decided to treat ourselves.  He got a replacement iPod and I got some clothes and a new battery.  We try to apply any windfalls or unexpected cash towards our debt (ie house or student loans).  However, I am a firmly believe that you must treat yourself every once-in-a-while.  If not, I feel that it's easier to fall off the frugality wagon. "All work and no play make John a dull boy," kind of thing.  Even worse, you may start to resent your frugal lifestyle and really throw it out.

So what's new in the UsefulMom household?  I finally got my hair cut.  When the kiddo was about 4 months old, half my hair fell out.  Well, it probably wasn't actually half but it sure felt like it.  Since then I've been waiting to see how it grew in before I got it cut.  So far, it's growing in a bit thicker than it used to be (yay!) but it's also growing in pretty grey.  I decided to get just a plain old medium length layered bob.  I'll post pics once my camera battery finishes charging.

The same day I got my hair cut, I cut the Little One's hair for the first time.  It looks pretty good and yay for saving money.  D has been after me for a few weeks to cut his hair and I've been resisting.  I felt that if I cut his hair, he'd be a "boy" instead of a baby.  He does look a lot more like a boy now but I can live with it.  The alternative was pretty bad.  His hair had gotten so long that it was curling around his ears, giving him odd "ear wings."  NOT a good look even on a baby.

The actual cutting was a challenge since he's so wiggly.  I used D's beard trimmer and I had him hold the Little One still while I cut his hair.  I used the trimmer without the guard to edge his neck, around his ears and his hairline.  Then I put the guard on (at #5 if you're interested) and cut the back and top.  Apart from a few mess-ups on his hairline and a bizarre tiny bald spot on top of his head, he looks great.  Pics are coming.



Aw, he's all grown up!

He's got some crazy, uneven sideburns.  :)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Summer and the Budget Squeeze

D and I have been trying very hard to stay within our budget.  With the summer in full swing, the budget watch is just that much harder.  This summer alone, we'll be taking a week long trip to Amarillo and head to Houston many, many times since my sister is getting married in July.  An upcoming weddings also mean gifts and hotels - two more budget busters.

We try to pre-buy and pack as many consumables as possible.  We take all dog food, baby food, baby Motrin, diapers (we use disposables on the road), and any emergency meds like Tylenol or Immodium.  I've found that we have fewer runs to the store and, consequently, fewer impulse buys while we're on vacation.

We also budget $75 per month for vacations that builds up if we don't use it.  When a trip rolls around, we see how much money we have in our vacation fund and decide how much we want to spend.  Then we withdraw that cash amount and that is all we can spend.  Period.

We did alright for our trip to Amarillo.  I forgot and put some small purchases on my debit card because I'm so used to using it, but for the most part, we paid for everything with cash.

The real test is coming up with the end of June and all of July. 3 more trips to go...

Monday, June 7, 2010

Death of FarmVille

I killed FarmVille.  Cold turkey and with no remorse.  FarmVille no longer has me in its clutches. I started feeling like I was was on a wheel with that game.  Getting more cash so I could buy more stuff.  Ick.  I hate feeling like I "have" to do anything.  See ya, FarmVille!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Successful Cloth Wipes

The cloth diapers worked so well that I decided to try sewing some cloth wipes.

I had never sewn anything in my life but I've been wanting to learn.  Well, they weren't the prettiest but they worked fantastically.  I got tons of receiving blankets while I was pregnant and the kiddo was too big for them when he was born!  I decided to cut some up and make wipes out of them since I thought flannel would make a nice wipes texture.  

Sewing the flannel/flannel wipes
I made 8x8 and 8x12 (for big jobs)

The hand-me-down receiving blankets worked the best.  They've been washed dozens of times are are super soft and absorbent.  A few days later, I tried an old cut up towel and made wipes with terrycloth on one side and flannel on the other.  They're perfect for big jobs!  (Just be careful with the terrycloth in your machine.  I had to unclog it a few times.)

Terrycloth/flannel wipes

Now that they're made, what to do with the wipes?  I got an idea from The Feminist Breeder to put the wipes in a regular disposable wipes container and fold them so they'll pop up.  Genius!

Folding the wipes so they'll "pop up."

Success!  They popped up!

After this, I even made my own diaper wipe solution.  There are millions of recipes online but I just made mine up.  I fill a sink with warm water, add a squirt of baby bath wash and a few drops of tea tree oil.  Soak the wipes and Voila!  I like the tea tree oil since it has antiseptic properties so you don't have to worry about the wipes staying damp for a few days.

And a special bonus - these wipes also fit in a standard wipes warmer.  I have mine in the Munchkin Warm Glow Wipe Warmer and I love it.  A lot of folks say they have problems with the wipes getting musty or drying out and browning around the edges but I've never had this problem.  But then again, I replace them about every 4 days.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Adventures in Cloth Diapering

If someone had told me three years ago that I would be diapering my son with cloth I would have laughed.  I mean it's:

  1. Gross
  2. Hippy-fied
  3. and WAY too much work
Turns out, none are true.  

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Corporate Dummies?

Are we dummies programmed to consume and not ask questions?  Are we unable or unwilling to make thoughtful choices in our consumerism? The thought's been rolling around in my head for a while.  The term sounds so shocking yet obvious - I don't think I like it but I can't come up with a better phrase.  I realize that the above is an extremely simplistic view but it still makes me wonder.

I was thinking about "what this all means."  What do we do that makes our lives meaningful?  Do we just run in the hamster wheel in an endless loop of making money so we can buy stuff and buying stuff so we have to make more money?  If you watch TV, you're constantly barraged with commercials stating that you must buy their product or your very happiness is at stake.

I recognize that we choose whether or not we will heed those commercials but do we really?  The human mind is so tied to the group mentality that it becomes very hard to resist the urge to fit in.  Are we able to make an educated choice about what products we buy and whether or not we really need them?  I think that life has become so complex that it is all but impossible to make a well thought out choice regarding many purchases.  Most companies are extremely secretive so it's pretty much hopeless to discern whether or not your product (consumable or not) was brought to the market in a responsible, ethics and humane way.

Does the company who raised, killed and delivered my chicken to the dinner table practice routine cruelty?  Does the company who manufactured my shoes treat its workers fairly?    Is my cable provider an unfair monopoly skating by on government lobbying?  And healthcare.....oh, healthcare.  Where do I start?

We chose a high deductible health plan last year after we determined that we could save money if we didn't go to the doctor much (we don't) and we could chose our services and providers wisely.  D and I are big on consumer responsibility.  Supposedly, each provider has worked out a price with our insurance company.  The theory goes that we can call that provider and request the pricing of office visits and any procedures that we need.

Well, even trying to pry out a price for anything from a doctor's office is like pulling teeth.  I call, they refuse to offer prices and tell me to contact my insurance company.  I call the insurance company and they will only quote the coverage available with my plan and that for a specific price I must call the provider.  I call the provider and around and around we go.  I get to the point where I demand the price or I will take my needs elsewhere and I might get a price.  But the price is only the sticker price for the visit, not the contracted price.  I am continually told that I'll only get the contracted price after my visit has gone out for coding.  It's ridiculous and  maddening.

After the baby, I tried to get pricing for an IUD and after 6 hours on the phone, I finally just settled on going back on the pill since Walgreen's gives out their contracted drug prices freely.

I don't think Americans have the resources or even the time or emotional capital to be responsible consumers for all issues in their lives.  Life is just too complicated.

Corporations tell us that we are free to choose to buy their products or not but are we really?  Their notoriously opaque business practices are in place specifically to inhibit our choices.  But, in this day and age, does it even matter to most of us?  Do most of us even care?

Monday, May 31, 2010

Baby Bath Time

Bath time with the kiddo is probably my favorite time of the day.  I mean, how can this picture not bring a smile to your face?

We try to keep the same ritual for bed time every night.  Bath, nurse, story, bed.  We got the routine from a friend of ours and it works like a charm.  Bath time is the best. Kiddo gets a chance to get his last burst of energy out and we play and splash.  I look forward to it every night.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Good enough is just perfect

I stole the title line from Joel Salatin.  If anyone is interested in farming - I highly suggest his books.  He's a little Bible thumping at times for my taste (like decrying evolution in one breath but preaching the benefits of selective breeding on successive generations in the next) but he's a farming genius.

This weekend D and I have worked ourselves to the bone.  We've each put in hours and hours and hours in the yard.  We found more gardening cloth super cheap at Sam's so we're in the process pulling up all the mulch and hay we've put down and putting down the cloth then covering it again with the mulch.  We planted a blackberry bush and several strawberry plants.  Thinned the okra.  And weeded, weeded, weeded.

I have a hard time with big work weekends like this.  Not necessarily because it's a lot of work but because, I know that even with all the work we put in, we'll never get everything we want done, done perfectly.  I tend to be a perfectionist and it leaves me feeling frustrated and overwhelmed when I can't have everything EXACTLY the way I want it.  There just aren't enough hours in the day, dollars in the bank account and so on.

One of my goals the past few months has been to tell myself that doing what I can when I can is enough.  It's not worth it to go crazy making everything "just so" when it was fine in the first place.  I was reading You Can Farm by Joel Salatin and he sums is up well - "Good enough is just perfect."  Pretty much what I've been thinking about but said in a much more succinct way.  Don't kill yourself for the nicest or most expensive or best looking whatever.  If you make a functional clothesline for your yard and the angles aren't exactly square - don't kill yourself to make it perfect.  The clothes won't get any drier.  You're only wasting time and mental capital.

Sometimes I wish we had something more for the yard.  That something would make it perfect, right?  Wrong.  I get annoyed that we don't have a drip irrigation system for the vegetables.  We have one soaker hose for the tomatoes but use an old square plastic cat litter bucket with a brick in it to water the other vegetables.  Weird, huh?  We take our regular hose and place the nozzle through a hole in a leftover brick that's placed in the bottom of the bucket and set the bucket in between veggie patches.  That way, the water breaks over all fours sides of the bucket and doesn't hit the plants too hard.  And the brick keeps the hose weighed down.  It's pretty silly looking but, you know what?  It works good enough.  So it's just perfect.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Whew.  My resolve to post at least 5 times a week got busted.  I had an unexpected family situation and have had to be in Houston all week with no time/ability to post.  D headed down with me and the kiddo on Saturday but he returned home on Sunday for work and school.

I stayed at Mom's till Wednesday and, wow, it is hard work to travel with a baby all by yourself.  I was a little nervous on the drive back when I wondered how exactly I'd use a restroom in a gas station with Little Bit in tow.  A lot of gas stations have baby changing tables in the handicapped stall but not all.  If I couldn't strap him down while I did my business, I'd have to sit him on the floor?  Ick.  Luckily, that didn't come to pass.  My camel-bladder rescued me again.

Adding insult to injury during this already stressful time, we forgot diapers.  You'd think we hadn't had a baby for the last 8 months or something.  Normally, we use disposables when we travel so we always have a small stash on hand.  We got to Houston and each asked, "Uh, you packed the diapers, right?"  Crap.  Look in the diaper bag, and see 2 diapers.  Double crap.  Back in the car to head to the Wal-Mart out in the boonies.  There is one closer but sales tax is 1% cheaper in said boonies.  We get home and open the box only to realize WE BOUGHT THE WRONG SIZE.  Triple crap.  So, back in the car.......

Traveling with a baby is crazy.  I always said, "I'll never be the parent who packs everything but the kitchen sink."  But I am.  The play yard, the bath seat, the baby Motrin, the bulb syringe, toys the blanket, the Boppy, the extra outfits.... It's ridiculous.  I've made a list of all the items that we usually take with us and I note if we use them or not.  Four months ago, the Subaru was packed to to the gills for just the three of us and the dog.  This past week, I easily packed the car and could still see out the back window.  My list of 53 items is down to 25 or so.  The older the baby (and parent), the less stuff you need.  Hopefully, I'll knock it below 20 for our trip to the Panhandle next month.

Friday, May 21, 2010

September 24, 2009

This entry is very plain speaking and describes the birth of my son and my feelings leading up to it.  If you'd rather not know nitty-gritty details about birth stuff (or my cervix), then you definitely won't want to read more.  If you choose not to read it, you certainly won't offend me.  :)

On the business of birthing babies *

What do you think of when you hear "natural childbirth."  It conjures of images of a granola-eating hippie who thinks medicine is for the birds and who would rather have the birth of their dreams than a safe birth.  A lot of people liken it to "natural dentistry" and who would do that?  Well, having had both - I can tell you that they are nothing alike.

I'm a huge proponent of natural childbirth.  For me, that means giving birth without the use of drugs and with as little intervention as possible.  This means the woman is allowed to eat and drink, she does not have a mandatory IV, she is not strapped into a bed by monitor belts, she is not induced unless medically necessary, and above all else, she is allowed to take time to give birth to her baby in a safe, quiet and nurturing environment.  A woman's body is designed for childbirth.  It's not like having her appendix out.  Her body was made for this.  Provided with a safe, nurturing environment, and a skilled childbirth attendant, I feel that 9 out of 10 women can give birth to perfect babies on their own.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Baby Needs a Schedule

And by baby, I mean me.

I'm a disorganized mess who thrives on organization.  Thus, my quandary.  When I had a traditional office job, my coworkers were envious of my workspace. Always meticulously ordered, a place for everything and everything in its place.  I even color coded my files.  Oh, and the Excel spreadsheets.  I get pleasant shivers just thinking about the neatness and organization and categorization and million other -zations.  I used to work on payroll and HR stuff.  You know, the kind of stuff that can't get messed up or someone doesn't get paid properly.  Since I'm not willing to allow someone to get their pay screwed up, I was meticulous to ensure that I didn't make mistakes.  I'm a firm believer in the "cluttered desk = cluttered mind" theory.  The neatness and organization cleared away my thoughts of procrastination and motivated me to get my work done NOW.
Me at work (Not my actual desk but you get the picture)

But it all changes when I get home.  At heart I'm somewhat of a lazy hoarder.  What saved me at the office was my small space and desire not to mess up someone's pay.  This has been my single biggest challenge since my office became my home, and the park, and the car, and the grocery store.....  How do I stay organized and motivated and not just play on the floor with the kiddo all day long?
Me at home (again, not my actual home but, you know...)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Living More On Less

You know the notion that "less is more?"  It's something I never used to think about.  I lived paycheck to paycheck and knew to stop spending money when my checking account reached $0.  My savings account never had more that $250 in it, I was swimming in credit card debt, I never even tried to set up a budget and I was always stressed out and upset over money.

I've come to realize that as we live on less money, I'm more happy with my life.  It's by no means happy all the time, but I've become proud of our accomplishments.  Our philosophy is to earn our freedom.  Our financial freedom.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Musical Musings

I'm watching It Might Get Loud.  It's a documentary-type movie featuring Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin, the Edge from U2 and Jack White from the White Stripes.  It's fun to listen to each of them talk about how they got started playing guitar and how they came up with some of their best known guitar work.  Music is something I'm fascinated by but I have absolutely no ability to create.  So I listen.

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love the Edge and U2's music.  He doesn't do much talking with Bono around (who could?) so I enjoyed hearing him talk about his fascination with creating the sounds he hears in his head.  He also took us on a tour of the Mount Temple School in Dublin where U2 got their start.  Thrilling!  I still get excited when I see U2 play live, even on video.  I get butterflies in my stomach and a little part of my heart swells.

It was fascinating to learn about the beginnings of Jimmy Page's career.  I really don't know anything about Zeppelin so it was new and interesting.  Plus, Jimmy Page comes across as incredibly nice, down-to-earth guy who loves and respects music.  I'm going to listen to more Zeppelin.

That brings me to Jack White.  To be honest, I don't really get Jack White.  I think it's his attitude - he kind of comes off like a jerk and so contrived.  I'm not really sure he's on the same level as Jimmy Page and the Edge when it comes to talent either.  Am I being snobby?  Maybe.  It just rubs me the wrong way when a guy steps on his guitar on purpose.  I did really ennoy his appreciation for some of the early blues guitarists like Blind Willie Johnson but I think I just have a disconnect with him.

I haven't been listening to a whole lot of music lately but the documentary reminded me why I love it so much.  Now, off to update iTunes!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Pflugerville, a pfun town

I moved to Pflugerville about two years ago.  At first, I wasn't crazy about this town.  I mean, the name was fun but that was about it.  The more I learn about this town, the more it grows on me.

This upcoming weekend is the Deutschen Pfest.
Oh, I forgot to mention that every city event that starts with the letter "f" MUST be spelled "pf".  I love this fact, er, pfact.  I'm not sure exactly why, but I do.  The Deutchen Pfest will be full of German music, polkas, local vendors and stuff.  We're going this Saturday and I'm super excited.  This summer is the Pflugerville Pfirecracker Pfest, the Pflugerville Pfun Run and lots of other stuff.

This city also places a lot of emphasis on the environment and community.  It may have something to do with the fact that Austin is so close.  The city has a special rebate program to encourage homeowners to plant native trees, shrubs and flowers that require less water.  This past February, our garbage collection started a new single stream recycle program.  This cut our 4-5 bags of trash every week down to 2.  The city offers free wood chipping for all yard debris and the recycle center offers free mulch and compost created on site.  Right next door to the recycle center is the Community Garden where you can rent a plot for a season and they provide cinder block edging, water, mulch and compost for free.  To top all this off, we have tons of lovely parks and a farmer's market at Heritage Park.

I just got back from a walk on a 5k trail that runs between Gilleland Creek Park, Bohls Park and Heritage Park.  I like this trail because I can walk through a heavily treed park, walk around and over the Gilleland Creek and through several different neighborhoods in older Pflugerville.

I laid LD down for a nap after we got back and, if he wakes up soon, we're going to head down to the recycle center to pick up some compost and mulch.  If you noticed the mulch around some seedlings in my last post, that's the free stuff from the city.  We're going to needs tons more mulch because both the dog and I are allergic to our original mulch, timothy hay.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Our Family

A little bit about me and my family.

I'm married to an awesome guy named Donald. I'll probably call him "D" throughout this blog. He's a wonderful husband and terrific dad. We met online through Match.com in June 2007. The rest is history. He proposed on the day he closed on our house in January 2008 and we were married on our one year anniversary. We both tend to be cautions planners but when we met, everything seemed to click.  D is a software engineer.  He's working full time and going to school full time to complete his BS (only 16 more months!).  We don't have a lot of time together right now but we make the most of it.

We have a son, Dax. I'll probably call him LD (Little D) in this blog. He was born nearly 15 months after D and I married. We decided to take a page out the book, "Don't Waste Any Time." :)  LD is hysterical - he makes me laugh all day long.  I can't tell you how much fun it is to watch him discover new skills every single day.

Aw...aren't they cute?

We also live with two cats and a dog. Charlie, Dora and Jane. As soon as I figure out how to post pics, I'll get around to that.

Charlie AKA Jabba the Cat



It's like a menagerie most days but I don't mind - we have a lot of fun.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Big Break

I haven't updated anything in well over a month. The kiddo has been teething so I've been rocking and holding him more than anything.

D and I got the vegetable garden up and running over the last two weekends. Our beds were totally neglected over the fall and spring last year.  Newborns take up LOTS of time.  Now we're able to devote more time to the garden and LD can play outside with us.  We had to till and cover the beds with plastic to kill the weeds and encroaching Bermuda grass.  After a few weeks, we took the plastic off, planted and then mulched with hay and bark mulch.

 I love growing and cooking our own vegetables. They taste better than anything we could buy and I get so much satisfaction knowing that I grew this food.  This year we planted:

  • tomatoes (Sun Master, Big Boy, Early Girl, red cherry, yellow pear, and some mystery kind sprouting in our compost heap)

  • tomatillos
  • okra (YUM)
  • cucumber

  • zucchini
  • straight neck squash
  • and a variety of peppers (Purple Beauty, mild jalapeño, and poblano)

I also noticed a mystery plant growing in a big pot that was long forgotten last season.  

I'm hoping they're the strawberries that never came up but I can't for the life of me remember where I planted those last year.  Mommy-brain was already fully in effect.  I can't wait to see those little white flowers.

We also inter-plant with lots of marigolds to reduce pests.  These are a little peaked but I got 'em for one dollar at the local high school's ag sale.  I'll pull the seeds from the dead heads and spread throughout the garden.  In two months, we'll be covered up in marigolds and our pests will be long gone!

Last year I also planted lots of herbs in pots but they ended up neglected and dead.  I am horrible about remembering to water flower pots.  If I can get a bed cleared by early summer, I'll try the herbs again. 

I'm going to try canning some veggies this year.  Stay tuned to see how it goes.....

Monday, March 15, 2010

I'm a cliche. Groan.

I'm a stay-at-home mom addicted to FarmVille! It's true! I only have a few free minutes at a time so playing a game that takes strategy or planning just doesn't work for me. I can log in plant some crops, feed some chickens and go back to my day. It's doesn't really further the cause of humanity but it gives me some time to decompress (and create an adorable farm).

 Shamelessly LAME.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

So this is it. Or so I think.

I've been thinking about blogging since before I had my son. Then a friend jokingly suggested I write a book about all my different things I'm interested in and I decided to go for it (well, decided to go for a blog at least).  I debated about it because I didn't want it to wind up as an adult version of my old LiveJournal where I posted all these frustrations, grievances and whine-filled (and sometimes wine-filled) missives.  Who wants to read that?!  Certainly not me.

I wanted to start a blog that talked about things that were important to me. This blog is mainly written for me but if someone else enjoys reading it, that's great too.

The title, "UsefulMom" is something I've been thinking about a lot lately. When I left working to stay home and raise my son, my biggest fear was becoming the mom who "gave up" on herself.  Above all else, I wanted to live out my goals, as varied as they may be and be useful to myself.

Being useful to myself enables me to be the best mom, wife, sister, daughter, and Me I can be.

I'll probably ramble a lot but the point of this whole thing is to document things that are important to me.