Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Eating from the Pantry Challenge

Crystal, from Money Saving Mom is holding a "Eat from the Pantry Challenge" where she's encouraging others to participate in a month-long stint with little to no grocery shopping. She encourages everyone to look at their pantries and figure out what works for them. My Eat From the Pantry Challenge will look like this:

1-Only 3 trips to the store in January, for dairy products and fresh produce, with a total grocery budget of $60 for the month. Because of my milk issues, the majority of that budget will go to buying the more expensive milk that my crazy brain insists on. We'll also eat out once during the month, but dining out money comes from a different budget than our grocery budget.

2- Not included in the three trips is our regular trip to costco for stocking up on basics (we didn't go in december, and are running low on important things like TP), and also trips to Rite Aid (I'm not counting Rite Aid, because I don't spend "new" money there anyway, it's all recycled rebates from earlier trips).

3- The money I save on groceries will be split in half, with the first half going to the Road Home Shelter in Salt Lake, and the other half being added to our camper savings fund.

Do you have a stocked pantry? If so, join in the fun! Jessica from Utah Deal Diva is also taking part in the challenge, check out her blog to see amazing pictures of her pantry and freezer (I think she could go for several months!).

A Little Spring in January

This time of year, when Christmas is over, the next thing I look forward to is spring, when the asparagus shoots start to poke out of the soil, signaling another gardening season. My excitement makes for a long winter- one way I’ve found to help pass the time, is to do a little indoor growing. To grow indoors you need grow lights. These can be purchased (one online store has some simple ones priced at $299) or made (for much less).

With a few tools and basic building skills (it really doesn’t take a lot) you can build a simple frame. The side supports are attached at the tray where the plants sit and with one 2x4 that spans the top. The top piece of plywood is attached by chains which allows it to be raised or lowered to keep the lights close to the plants. Once your frame is built, you just need a simple hanging style shop light from a hardware store. Make sure to get the kind that plugs in. We bought two and placed them side by side. We also built our frame with the length of the lights in mind. We used scrap lumber, and screws that we already had, so we only paid for the lights, the fluorescent tubes (and it’s helpful to combine both the cool and warm spectrum lights for healthier plants), and the hooks to attach the chains to the top 2x4. I think we spent less than $30 total.

While seed starting trays are nice, they’re not necessary, you can use old margarine or yogurt containers, just keep them moist and cover with saran wrap until the seeds sprout. Once they sprout, remove the saran wrap and place under the lights, moving the lights up as your plants grow.

There’s nothing like fresh lettuce in January. The light set up is also great for starting plants for the garden indoors. A packet of seeds and some potting soil is much less expensive than buying plants at the nursery, plus it gives you a fun winter activity- reading the seed catalogs and choosing which unique varieties to grow that year.

Monday, December 21, 2009

There but by the grace of God go I

Saturday night my Mister and I went out to dinner and then to a movie with friends. We ate at the Rio Grande, I hadn't been there before, but it was so good that I ate more than I should have. The movie was also enjoyable. On the walk back to the car, my stomach hurt from eating too much and I was shivering because it was cold, and I made the comment that there's "nothing worse than having a full stomach and shivering", to which I immediately added, "except maybe an empty stomach and shivering". We were walking near the Road Home shelter, where people were lined up waiting to get in. I don't know if everyone did, or if some people spent the night on the street.

I felt selfish and wasteful to have spent money on a night out, when there are people who have no place to spend a night in. It's so easy to go about our lives and not think about the homeless.

From their website: The Road Home provides support and shelter for overcoming homelessness. We have a wide variety of programs that provide services to people. The Road Home operates out of The Salt Lake Community Shelter, the largest homeless shelter in Utah.

We begin by providing people with basic needs such as food, clothing and shelter, while immediately working with them to develop a plan for housing. Our programs are designed to connect people with resources and help integrate them back into the community.

Housing Programs
Emergency Services
Self-Sufficiency Programs

You can donate money online here, or you can go here for a list of items they are in need of. There are also opportunities for volunteering, including Eagle Scout projects.

That homelessness exists shows how far we need to come in truly caring for the least of these. The homeless are one of society's most vulnerable populations. If I can afford to go out to eat and to a movie, I can make room in my budget to support emergency shelters in hopes that someday no one has to spend a cold night on the street.

Monday, December 14, 2009

I Pinky Swear

Kindergartners are big on the pinky swear. When J was in kindergarten I thought it was weird when he said to me one day, "I pinky swear mom!" (he wanted something, and took the solemn oath of pink swear that he would do something for me in return.)

Today, A came home from kindergarten pinky swearing to his brother that he'd play with him.

I love 5-year-olds.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Where to Get Milk?

As I've been researching meat and the sustainability and health issues surrounding the way most meats are "grown" currently, I've also been looking at milk. I read an article on webmd that was a study on children fed organic dairy products versus traditional dairy products, the study found that children who ONLY consumed organic dairy products had a much lower rate of asthma and allergies than children who at any amount of traditional dairy products in their diet. I'm not quite ready to switch to organic dairy entirely (and I think in the article, it wasn't just the organic label that was important, it was that the dairy cows were pastured, therefore healthier, and didn't need antibiotics- antibiotics being my biggest concern).

I've been doing some reading on milk and where it comes from. Costco organic milk is a "great deal" at nearly $3 per half gallon. Unfortunately, today I read this: wholesalers and major "organic" brands are continuing to sell milk and dairy products labeled as "USDA Organic, even though most or all of their milk is coming from factory farm feedlots where the animals have been brought in from conventional farms and are kept in intensive confinement, with little or no access to pasture.
The Organic Consumers Association is expanding its boycott of Horizon and Aurora organic dairy products to include five national "private label" organic milk brands supplied by Aurora, as well as two leading organic soy products, Silk and White Wave, owned by Horizon's parent company, Dean Foods...Aurora Organic supplies milk for several private label organic milk brands, including Costco's "Kirkland Signature," Safeway's "O" organics brand, High Meadows, Giant's "Natures Promise," and Wild Oats organic milk. Aurora Organic received a failing grade from the Cornucopia Institute's survey of organic dairies for its practice of intensive confinement of dairy cows. For pictures of Aurora Organic's operations, follow this link. The Cornucopia Institute recently blew the whistle on Aurora Organic's greenwashing and its bogus certification of animal welfare.
Additionally, its been revealed that much of the soy for Dean Food's White Wave tofu and Silk soymilk products are sourced abroad, primarily from Brazil and China. Environmental standards and workers' rights are routinely violated in these two countries.

Anyone know of sources for milk that comes from cows not treated with routine antibiotics? Costco was going to be my source for milk. I don't care about the organic label, I just haven't found any non-organic milk that meets my requirements.

It's making me tired.

UPDATE: I think we're going to go with Rosehill dairy. It's a local, small scale dairy, and I feel fairly comfortable with the way the cows are raised and fed, and with the quality of the milk.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Sugar Cereals

General Mills has announced that they will be Reducing Sugar, amounts in their cereals, the ones that we call "sugar cereal".

I suppose this is a good thing, but my feeling is that making junk food cereals slightly less junky isn't the answer to our health food woes. Especially not when it appears (I don't know for sure) that the sugar in the cereals is just being replaced by some sugar substitute (the article said it won't use artificial sweetners, but on the Doug Wright show, there was discussion on the cereals not being noticeably less sweet, with led the host to wonder if they'd be using a sugar derivative (which happens to have the happy side effect of diarhea)).

I buy my kids sugar cereals for camping trips. It's a special treat, it shouldn't be a breakfast food. Kids need foods that will fill them up and provide the nutrients and energy they need for the morning. When my kids eat sugar cereals, they're hungry again in an hour (and I don't think that's a problem stemming from just the sugar in the cereal, I think the cereals are so much air and very little else that they just don't fill kids up for long).

How about instead of trying to put a banana peel on a twinkie, we just eat the bananas.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Changing the way we live

I've been thinking a lot lately about why we do things the way we do. Why we buy the things we buy, and eat the things we eat. And why we're so hesitant to look at other options, and so quick to laugh and label different ideas as "crazy liberal ideas". Ideas can't hurt us, so why don't we do research and then accept or discount the ideas based on their actual merit?

I've been reading books like, In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan, and Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, and watching documentaries like Botany of Desire and Food Inc..

I gow a garden in the summer, and can as much food as possible for winter use. I raise chickens for eggs (if they'd start laying again), and I try to eat real food as much as possible, though we do still eat convenience foods more than I'd like.

I've been thinking more and more about living in a sustainable way, and the changes I would have to make are scary, but I think they're scary because we've grown up thinking that the way things are are the only way.

What do we do when we can't go to costco and buy a jumbo bag of frozen chicken breast? It sometimes feels easier to live in ignorance of where your food comes from, because once you've seen it, it's a lot harder to continue eating it.

I've joined the coupon craze, though mostly for non-food items since we don't eat a lot of the things there are coupons for (though I got a great deal on walnuts and butter and now have a nice supply in my freezer), but even for things like razors, I've had feelings of guilt for quite some time. I can get razors for free, but not the extra blades, so to never pay for razors we'd end up throwing away entire razors every time the blade goes dull. It's hard to balance the desire for a years supply of all things and still not be part of a rampant consumerism culture.

There are lots of things to think about, but in thinking about starting small, I'm researching how I can avoid eating commercialized meats. Being taught not to waste things, we'll finish up the bag of frozen chicken in the freezer over the next couple of months, and hopefully by then I'll have ideas on where to buy chicken that was raised in a sustainable way, that is healthy for me, for the farmers, and for the planet. I'll also look into the milk I buy and decide if I need to pay more for organic milk, and if that means that we'll be drinking less of it. And, if my chickens don't start laying again, I'll be looking into cruelty free eggs.

I know all of this sounds crazy to some people, but I feel strongly that we humans were placed on the earth to be wise stewards over all things, and I can't justify supporting companies that don't care if they're making us sick, or if their chicken farmers are developing allergies to antibiotics because of their overuse in the chickens, or workers on a killing floor who lose their fingernails to infections, or who care more about their bottom lines than about people dying from e coli poisoning.

I'm adding links to locally grown/sustainable farms as I find them. The one I have so far is Christiansen's Hog Heaven, which sells heritage breed pigs all processed and delivered in little packages. We're ordering a whole pork and splitting it among family.

Friday, December 04, 2009

For My Mom

...because she doesn't look on facebook and misses the updates about what is going on in my life (nevermind that we live close and see each other at least once a week...).

I made pie with a BIL in Oregon. He actually made all the fillings, I just took care of the crust. It's not my best effort, but they tasted good.

Berry (see the 'B' on the pie in the back) and apple are the only pies we got a picture of. I was having crust issues.
At Multnomah Falls, we met a long-time-online-gardening-friend and her husband. It was nice to talk to her in person- she felt like family. Multnomah Falls was beautiful, as we got close the water hitting the pool below sounded like a freight train. We walked up to the bridge in the background, at that point the spray off the falls felt like a heavy rain.

K's brother took us to a Chinese garden in Portland OR, it's just under 1 acre, or one city block, right in the middle of downtown. I was fascinated by the ground. Each area of the garden had a different pattern of hand-laid stones. This was my favorite (I especially love the moss growing between the stones):

After the garden we had lunch in a park (with the homeless man peeing behind a tree) and stopped at Powells Bookstore. It was ENORMOUS, and we could have gotten lost very easily, luckily we found our way out after finding plenty of new reading material.
The day after Thanksgiving another of K's brothers took us (8 or 9 adults and nearly 20 children) to Newport to see the beach. It was cold and windy, so after looking at tidepools (and a cool mushroom growing on the cliff side (drat that I didn't take a picture of it)) we left the beach to find somewhere to eat. Walking around the harbor we stopped to watch the sea lions play King of the Mountain. A few would be up on the platform, and others would try to climb up. As soon as a new sea lion started up, the others would all start barking, we found out why when a newcomer tipped the platform in his attempt to get on and made two others fall off (he did make it on though).

I missed my family at Thanksgiving. I've been spoiled to have dinner prepared the way my mom does it, and I've had to remind myself that just because it's not the same doesn't mean it's bad. Our meal was delicious (though I missed having orange rolls and my mom's stuffing).

And lastly, a quick update on funny things the kids say and do:

J accidentally bounced a ping pong ball into the oven. The door was open because I had just taken bread out. I was able to scoop the ball out just as it started melting, using a wooden spoon. It landed on the floor and started putting off thick green smoke. I used a hot pad, which is now scorched, to pick it up and drop it into the sink, just in time for it to burst into flames. Glad that didn't happen when I was holding it two seconds prior. If you've ever wondered why the rule "no bouncing balls in the house" got started, consider our experience.

A has been really into instructing his 2-year-old brother on life lessons lately. Lesson #1: If it's alcohol, say no, but if it's not alcohol and I tell you to do it, you should do it. Life Lesson #2 "CP, I don't believe you. I don't believe it unless I can see it, unless it's Heavenly Father. Heavenly Father is the only thing we believe if we can't see it".