Monday, March 28, 2011

Green, Greener, Greenest!

We've gone veg, I've been taking my own bags to the grocery for years, we have fluorescent light bulbs, (and can't wait for the new LED bulbs since they don't have mercury), we recycle, we have a veggie garden, and now we've taken two more steps toward green. We finally made it to our local bait shop and we have actual, real live WORMS in our worm bin, and, most momentous of all, our new energy efficient windows and doors are going in!! Half of them went in today and the rest will go in tomorrow.

It's a huge expense but we invested for a lot of reasons. First of all, the windows we had were original to the house so they were sub par "builder's specials". The house is over 20 years old and they haven't held up to time at all. Secondly, there's the energy efficiency factor. Even if the glass was OK, efficiency-wise, which it wasn't, the old windows were of such poor quality that there were gaps where the windows were supposed to meet in the middle. Even our sliding glass doors (that we're changing for french doors) had big gaps you could see through, and not in places where you could easily repair them. We were air conditioning the world with those windows! Then over the past few winters, which have been unusually cold, the heater was completely ineffective. It would be stuffy for the length of time the heat would kick on, then once it went off it would freeze again. It was really miserable. Third, they were hard to open and close; not very safe if there was a fire and the kids had to get out on their own.

We've been in this house for 6 years so we've needed the windows for a long time, but good golly, they are pricey. We not only invested in energy efficient, we got impact windows since we are in a hurricane prone area. Which is the fourth reason we invested- impact windows are going to help on our insurance and protect our house just that much more in the event of a storm. (And we kept our shutters, which we'll also use.)

We finally managed to follow recommendations about choosing a contractor and I think it paid off based on the work they've done so far. We got 3 bids and went with the company that had a decent price along with good references. In fact, this company did work for a neighbor and for The Eldest's math tutor. They were both happy with this company which made our choice pretty clear cut. We've had bad luck with contractors in the past so this is a refreshing change, especially for the money we're putting into these things.

It's a large pain in the neck to have the work done- everything has to be cleared out of the way of the windows and several of the rooms in the house are a disaster (like the kids' rooms) so that is no fun. Then there's the waking up 4 hours earlier than we're used to thing, and having the house all in a shambles with strangers tromping through. Very nice strangers, but still. It's going to be worth it when it's all done, though. There won't be much difference aesthetically except for the french doors but there should be a huge difference in our electricity bill, the noise level from outside, and our worry level if we get a hurricane this summer.

As for our green, greener, greenest level, we're probably at greener. There is still a lot more we could do but we're plugging away as time and our resources allow. The windows are a HUGE leap for us. The next step is a hybrid mini van, but since they don't make those yet we have a few more years to go on that one. (A bigger step would be moving somewhere with good public transportation, but that's for way off in the future!)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

What We're Celebrating...

We celebrated Earth Hour today. We turned off all the lights and "screens" and went outside for a family night hike around our block. We took flashlights but didn't need them; our homeowner's association didn't participate in Earth Hour so the street lights were all blazing. I was a little loopy (low blood sugar) and DH and the kids started cutting up; I was laughing so hard my stomach hurt!

Once we got home I tried to start a fire in our outdoor fire pit but it was major fail. I used Girl Scout fire starters but didn't place them well so they eventually burned out without catching the wood. DH, pyromaniac that he is, gave it a try and was a lot more successful. The Wild Child was delighted! (He takes after his dad in the pyromaniac department.) He insisted on making popcorn in our over-the-fire popcorn popper which, in spite of predictions of doom, turned out perfectly. We never got around to toasting our vegan marshmallows; maybe next time.

I have conflicting thoughts about the fire. We weren't using any fossil fuels for it, and with the Girl Scout fire starters we weren't using any lighter fluids, either, but we were still contributing to global warming. Did we offset any good we did by turning out the lights for an hour? I don't know, but I do know I have a new basis for talking with the kids about turning the lights out when we leave a room.

There's something so comforting and primal (and smelly) about a good fire, though. We light up maybe 3 or 4 times a year so hopefully we didn't increase our carbon footprint too much! Plus we're doing a lot to reduce our carbon footprint by going veg all day, every day.

What We're Eating...

Speaking of going veg, we had great vegan sandwiches for dinner. There's a restaurant in our area that serves a vegan sandwich we enjoy so we recreated it tonight for dinner. It's basically a whole wheat baguette with hummus, sprouts, shredded carrot, cucumber slices, tomato slices, and a sprinkling of sunflower seeds. DH added some fresh spinach and I put some avocado on mine. DELISH!! Quick and easy, too, especially since we make the hummus from a mix sold in the bulk food aisle at Whole Foods. (Yes, a processed mix which I normally try to avoid, but it turns out better than any of the recipes from scratch that I've tried, plus it's quick and doesn't dirty up the food processor.) (Not that I haven't gotten some really good hummus recipes from friends, but I can't get my hummus to turn out the way their hummus does even with the same recipe, dang it.)

And speaking of processed food, we also used a regular baguette from the frozen foods section at Costco that you heat up before using. (I love the whole wheat baguettes but they are all made with soy so I have to avoid them now.) :( Oh, how I love bread! Totally, helplessly, hopelessly addicted, I admit it. It's a shame 90% of it has soy, and the 10% that doesn't is the unhealthy white variety. I keep meaning to make my own but I never seem to find the time. (Plus I'd eat it ALL if it was coming out of the oven fresh and steamy- can't let that go to waist... waste.) So the frozen stuff was quite a find! I was buying the baguettes from the store bakery but I shop so late in the day that they would rarely have any in stock; this is our solution, so now we can have our vegan sandwiches, our tomato basil sandwiches, goat cheese with walnuts and honey toasted sandwiches, and portobello mushroom cheese "steak" sandwiches whenever we want them. Yummy!!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

What I'm Listening To

I take half hour walks almost daily around my neighborhood with my trusty MP3 player hooked onto my pocket. Usually I listen to NPR (love, love, love NPR) but they are having their annual pledge drive so I've been listening to my downloaded music instead. (Note to self: mentioning NPR reminds me I have to go pledge!!!) DH put an album on there for me after I heard one song by V.V. Brown. I never listened to the whole album before but after hearing a few more of her songs in my rotation I finally decided I had to listen to all of them. She sings with such feistiness and gusto; this is a woman who is grabbing life with both hands. Her music also has a great beat for walking; it gets my intensity up, which is always good!

Another artist I enjoy is Brown's fellow Brit, Mika. He does not get enough attention over here in the states, but his songs are fantastic. Go watch this video or this one and tell me you're not hooked; they are absolutely infectious!

Whenever any of the songs by these artists come up in my rotation it's all I can do not to dance around the block. I may be a musical geek in the eyes of DH and The Eldest, but I know what I like when I hear it!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

What I'm Reading

Well, I was reading Olive Kitteridge for my book club but it made me suicidal (too darn sad) so I had to stop about half way through. In searching for something a little more upbeat, I saw that The Pioneer Woman has a new book out, The Pioneer Woman: From Black Heels to Tractor Wheels, about her romance with her Marlboro Man. I've read her blog in the past so I was curious and ordered a sample on my Kindle. I read the sample and was hooked, so I ordered the book and stayed up way too late reading it. It's a lot happier than Olive Kitteridge, I must say, although there are some sad parts coming up. (She foreshadows.) I know she gets through the sad times, though, from reading her blog. I have to keep reminding myself it's non-fiction; it reads like a romance novel!

But I can't finish it now! I'm supposed to be at a beach clean up in a very short little while, so off the computer and into the shower, nownownownow!!!

PS: We never did make the beach clean up; I couldn't get the troops rallied and out the door in a timely fashion. I'm bummed. My friends were there and it was a gorgeous day out so I'm really disappointed. :(

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Luck O' the Irish to Ya!

Now that St. Patrick's Day is over, here's my post for the occasion; a little late, just like everything lately, but here at last. We didn't go too crazy around here but we all wore green and we ate Irish food and green food for dinner. The Irish food took the form of Irish Soda Bread, which came out with the texture of a pound cake but not as sweet. (The Wild Child topped his with maple syrup and had that for dinner; he can make any meal unhealthy!) We had Holy Moly Guacamole from Hungry Girl that was surprisingly good, and also a little sweet. Plus VERY GREEN. (Yes, a Mexican recipe, but it was green, OK!?!) The recipe is great, too; it gives you the flavor of a good guacamole but cuts the calories by subbing PEAS, of all things, for a huge portion of the avocado. I don't usually watch Hungry Girl because I didn't like one of her cookbooks I leafed through due to her heavy use of artificial sweeteners. I don't do artificial sweeteners at all, so I never made a point to watch the show. I was flipping channels one day, though, and she was making the guacamole. I was so fascinated by the use of peas, which is sheer genius, and had to check out the recipe on the Cooking Channel website. I made baked tortilla chips from spinach flavor tortillas, so they were green, too. Well, the ones I didn't burn, anyway.

We also had broccoli soup, a modified recipe from a mushroom soup recipe on the Poor Girl Eats Well website. (I've mentioned this recipe here before.) You pretty much sub broccoli for mushrooms, but DH made it (I was planning to do it but I was too wiped out from the rest of the day and making the guac and bread- once again he comes to my rescue) and he says he didn't follow the recipe too closely. He read through the recipe then winged it. I think you could make a fine broccoli soup just making the one substitution, though. It's also good with a little bit of shredded cheddar cheese on top, but only if it's a good quality cheddar. (We like the store brand of cheddar from Whole Foods.)

I also bought ingredients for a green smoothie but we never got around to making it, so we'll have that for tomorrow. You don't need to wait for St. Patrick's Day to enjoy a green smoothie, that's for sure!

So that was our day!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

UPS Sucks

Most of the time, UPS does just fine and delivers packages to where they are supposed to go in a timely manner. When they screw up, however, forget about it. When we first moved into our current house UPS delivered a package to our door that belonged to someone 5 streets away. Now, we have an address in our community that is very close to ours and we are constantly getting their stuff and vice versa; it's annoying, but we can understand the error, and we just take them their stuff and they bring us ours. This was NOT one of those cases. The address was NOTHING like ours! The house number and street name could in no way be mistaken for ours.

That's when the fun started. I tried to contact UPS to find out what to do about it. Ever tried to contact UPS? I couldn't get a real person, first of all. Then I had the brilliant idea to GO TO the UPS store. I walked in right before closing time; they didn't even want to let me in at first. I approached the girls at the counter and explained that the package was mis-delivered. They were confused. THE PACKAGE IS NOT MINE; IT NEEDS TO BE RE-DELIVERED TO THE CORRECT PERSON. How hard is that to understand? It was like I was speaking Martian or something. Blank stares. Then they said no, no, no, they couldn't take the package back, and if I wanted it to be delivered anywhere they would have to charge me. I said you don't even know who I am. They said well, we'll just deliver it back to you then. I said BRILLIANT, go ahead and deliver it back to me. That meant they would have to deliver it to the addressee, which is what I wanted in the first place. I left the package and walked out shaking my head.

Jump to today. We got a call from our gatehouse that someone wanted to come in and bring us a package. It's Sunday! UPS doesn't deliver today, and besides, the gatehouse doesn't call for UPS. That means someone else from outside of our neighborhood got our package and was very kindly re-delivering it for UPS.

Thank you, good, honest people for taking time out of your day to deliver a package to us when UPS should have done it right the first time. I am grateful, and I promise I will pay it forward. (They put the package by the door and drove off before we could thank them personally, so this is the best I can do.)

Friday, March 11, 2011

My Seed Box

Over the years the kids and I have accumulated a lot of seeds, to the point where I had little piles of seed packets in several locations all around the house. I had no idea what I had or when to plant it, and I finally realized it was a ridiculous situation. Organization had to be applied, especially now that we are gardening and the chance of actually PLANTING some of our seeds is high. I gathered all the seeds (I hope)and put them in a big pile. I got out an empty photo storage box from my scrapbooking days (another hobby I'm not keeping up with) and started sorting.

I used the dividers in the box to make a section for each month. (Luckily there were 12 dividers; very handy.) The seeds were filed according to the month when they can be planted. Where a range was given on the seed packet, they went in the closest upcoming planting month. Using that method, we have a HUGE section for March! There's a lot that can go in the ground right now, which is fun. The Wild Child is working on a 4H project so we cleared all of our planting bed except for the tomato plants. (The only plants doing well anyway.) We put down more compost and fresh soil to build the bed up even more, and now it's ready to go. I'm hoping we'll get a chance to get out there and plant more seeds this weekend!

After we finally put the Christmas decorations away, that is...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Earth's Bounty

The little ones and I did manage to sneak away for a few hours on Monday to pick strawberries. (But I didn't pull out the camera; we were too busy!) The Wild Child was mainly useless; Martha Jr. and I picked about 4 quarts of berries between us. We also bought goodies from the farm stand store- more produce, jam, bread, and cookies. We had what my grandmother used to call a "vegetable dinner" that night, with a pot of black eyed peas, fresh tomato slices with green onion, squash cooked with sweet onion, and bread sticks. Our modern days twists included some rice to go with the peas and steaming the squash instead of boiling it to death. She would have made corn bread, too; we went with the bread sticks we bought at the market. And of course, we always have "vegetable dinners" now with menus she never would have dreamed of.

Some of the recipes we've been enjoying lately are the mushroom soup from Poor Girl Eats Well and variations. I had some broccoli I needed to use up so I subbed broccoli for mushrooms in the same recipe and it turned out to be delicious. We've also been enjoying the tomatoes and basil from our garden. DH puts tomato slices on an open baguette, tops it with basil and cheese, then pops it in the oven until the cheese gets melty and the bread gets toasty. We had that for lunch today and EVERYBODY ate it, which is rare around our house. (Well, everybody who got to the table fast enough. The Eldest is still sleeping at 3:45 in the afternoon. She's on spring break so she's taking full advantage.) He says don't try it with store bought tomatoes; they won't even come close to being any good.

We tend to cycle through recipes. We go crazy for one recipe or another, having it once a week or so for the longest time, then we get sick of it and that's it for a while. Or permanently. I've been sick of just about ALL of our regular recipes lately, yet too swamped to search out new recipes, so we've been in quite the culinary rut. Luckily I pulled out that PGEW recipe and gave it a try; it was a hit with 3 out of 5 of us, which counts as a win around here! Then I modified it with the broccoli and DH came up with his sandwich, and just like that we've got 3 new recipes in the rotation. We're also pulling an old recipe back in the mix since DH found a miso made out of chick peas instead of soy. It's a recipe from a Robin Robertson cookbook; it's for White Bean Cassoulet if I remember correctly, and the miso is an essential ingredient. We really liked it so I'm looking forward to having it on the menu plan again.

Friday, March 4, 2011


Our gardening project is going well! For the first time ever, I have tomatoes. I've tried repeatedly to grow tomatoes in the past but was never successful. I'd get one or two bug eaten tomatoes out of a plant before it died in ignominy; it was truly sad. For some reason, my losing streak has ended and we have tomatoes coming out our ears!

Actually, I think the biggest reason is I got the baby tomato plants from friends instead of Home Depot. They are also in a different location in our yard where they are getting more sun and I put compost in the soil when I was prepping the planting bed. The plants are HUGE and yielding more tomatoes than we can eat! We have some spiders out there too who are eating the bad buggies, much to the children's chagrin. (They HATE the spiders, even when I remind them they are probably protecting our tomatoes.)

We also got some beans from plants The Wild Child and Martha Jr. planted but never enough to rely on them alone for a side dish. We planted some seeds from a lettuce mix packet but the plants from that were too bitter and we finally pulled them all up. We put some strawberries in the upside down planter but they went in too late, plus they were the Home Depot variety so I'm not expecting much.

DH made me a worm bin for Valentine's Day but we haven't started using it yet. No worms; I need to get by a bait shop. (The kids are keeping an eye out for worms in our yard but no luck yet.)

DH and I are still sticking with a vegetarian diet. We eat eggs occasionally. We eat vegetarian cheese (as opposed to cheese made with rennet, which is NOT vegetarian) quite often and small amounts of butter now and again. We hardly ever drink milk. (I still use it in recipes on occasion, and I wouldn't turn down hot chocolate during cold weather.) I still avoid soy like the plague, but I miss recipes using soy sauce- stir fries and some raw recipes and so forth. I also miss the bread products I've had to give up that contain soy, like the whole wheat bread I used to get at the grocery store bakery.

The kids are perking along, dietarily speaking. The Eldest occasionally indulges in shrimp burritos but is otherwise vegetarian. I buy cold cuts from Whole Foods for The Wild Child (or he gets all peaked and cranky) every now and again; sometimes Martha Jr. will eat some of the cold cuts too, sometimes not. She's mainly veg except for that and eats the healthiest of the three overall. The Wild Child continues to be my biggest challenge. I have to feed the boy, but he won't eat much of anything healthy. As an example, if we have a pasta dish for dinner he'll skip the delicious sauce with veggies, beans, tomato sauce, etc. and put barbecue sauce directly on the pasta and eat only that. If we make whole wheat pasta he cries and won't eat anything. What do you do in that situation? He's gotta eat. Sigh.

I've gained another couple of pounds but I'm fighting it. I know where I've gone wrong. I stopped measuring my carbs and I give in to grazing during dinner prep. If I can get that under control I'd get back down to where I want to be, so that's my short term goal- get out the measuring cups for pasta and rice, stop buying those darn tortilla chips (a MAJOR "red light" food), and control bread portions. (As in one slice, not 3.) To try to control my tendency to graze when I cook I made some hummus (from a mix from the Whole Foods bulk bins, which is super quick and easy) so I can dip carrot sticks and cucumber circles. That helps when I actually follow through!!

I'm still having a hard time with fibromyalgia but things are getting easier as my schedule calms down a bit. The Eldest found a ride part of the way home on two nights a week; YEAH!!! I still have to go get her, but it's a 20 minute round trip instead of an hour or more, which makes a big difference. We've had insane weekends with major Girl Scout field trips but that's calming down as well; no field trips in the immediate future. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE Girl Scout field trips, they are just very tiring. I'm hoping we'll be able to start attending our home schooling group meetings again; I had to cut them out since I was so overwhelmed, especially by the end of the week (they meet on Fridays) but the kids miss their friends and I miss the other moms!! I've been sleeping well which is always an important component in keeping fibro under control. I'm still walking almost daily, which is important as well. When it comes to exercise balance is everything; just enough so I don't get "rusty", which makes things worse, and not too much so I don't get sore. (Since it takes FOREVER to get better when I get sore.) I collapse in bed for an hour or two when I get done with my walks, but I stick with it.

The key word to managing the fibro is that balance thing; it's an absolute necessity. I have to balance my schedule, exercise, sleep needs, weight, everything. I so need to take up meditation! (Which is supposed to help balance stress, or something.) If I can keep balance in my life, I can keep the fibro under control for the most part.

I try to take the kids on a road trip to pick strawberries at least once a year. I had a date set up to go this year with some friends but the fields were closed that day so we haven't been at all yet. :( I've wanted to try again since then but there was just no way to get the free time! I am hopeful we'll be able to go next week. The Eldest will be on spring break so I won't have to worry about picking her up so there are 3 possible days. If I get to go, I'll post strawberry pictures!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Supreme Court

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito is my new hero. He was the lone dissenting voice in the case against Westboro Baptist Church, where the court upheld Westboro's side, saying they can spew their hatred anywhere they want, even at funerals. They don't care about the emotional pain and trauma inflicted on the family of the deceased soldier. They don't care about dignity and respect for families who have made the ultimate sacrifice in losing their loved one to protect our country. Do they think our Founding Fathers, over 200 years ago, would have allowed such hatred? Would they be proud to see the Constitution being twisted to allow what Westboro is doing? They would be rolling over in their graves.

There have been several Supreme Court rulings that I have found to be an absolute travesty in recent years. The last one before this was giving corporations the same rights of free speech as individuals. Corporations are NOT people and should not be allowed to influence our elections. That is so wrong on so many levels I can not even believe it. Another ruling I take issue with has to do with imminent domain. Local governments are now allowed to take private property for the most frivolous of reasons. All it takes is a developer with the cash to buy off a city commission, and that house you've lived in, raised your family in, hoped to live out your days in, is now toast. It's disgusting. Where's the common sense? Where's the compassion? It's certainly not to be found in the highest court in our country anymore.

And there- now you know about 3 Supreme Court cases so you're more informed than Sarah Palin.

PS: As my commenter points out, it's eminent domain. And Samuel Alito is only my hero on this one case!! He's far too conservative for my taste otherwise. ~:-P