Wednesday, July 29, 2009

So, in the recession, should be Pennied and Nickeled?

Opinions abound about the new federal minimum wage increase. It's been a long time since I've taken an economics class, and I don't want to risk turning this blog into a collection of liberal rants. But before you form an opinion about the minimum wage on either side of the issue (if you care to form an opinion at all, that is), I urge you to read Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will admit that I haven't read the entire book yet, but I started it yesterday and have almost finished it. It has to be a pretty compelling read for me to plow through a work of nonfiction that quickly. The book is well-written, and the subject matter is fascinating. Ehrenreich, a journalist/essayist by trade, conducts a social experiment by taking on a series of minimum-wage/"unskilled" jobs, and trying to live on her earnings. She acknowledges her advantages from the beginning: decades of desk work have not ravaged her body, she has a comfortable life waiting at home when the experiment is over, and she allows herself certain advantages (like a car) that would not be available to her if this were more than an experiment.

Friends urged me to read this book for years, and like my recent reading about food, I pushed it aside for too long. I worked in menial jobs in high school and college, but always with an eye toward a better job, and a better life. I've never known hunger, and I've always known that I would have a place to rest my head at night. This book is giving me a rare glimpse as to what it would be like to live a different life, and why it is so important that everyone has a chance at a real living wage.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

I'm Probably the Last Person on Earth

... who hasn't become addicted to The Huffington Post, right?

So you all probably already know about this. Kind of cool.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Sounds dirty, doesn't it?

Check out the EPA's Household Emissions Calculator. They also have suggestions for your home and yard to reduce your impact on climate change.

Our dad is totally going to whip out his Will and an eraser when he reads this, but I feel like our government is doing something right when it provides these tools to its citizens.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

All the News That's Fit to.... Read Online

A few years ago, we subscribed to the New York Times, and had it delivered to our home every day. We really did read it every day (or at least one of us did, while the other one of us was lucky to read anything but Goodnight Moon every day), and we often passed along sections or the entire paper to someone else when we were done, before recycling it. It was printed locally, so the paper didn't have to be shipped from New York to Minnesota every day, but resources are resources, and the resources that paid for the subscription were becoming pointedly scant at our house. So, we cancelled our subscription and now we're reading the paper online instead.

I have mixed feelings about this new turn of events. On the one hand, I know that the online version is every bit as informative (and sometimes more so) than the print version. We're saving natural as well as financial resources by cancelling our subscription. On the other hand, my husband did love the feel of the newspaper in his hands, and luxuriated in taking his news with him wherever he went (we have one computer, which I'm usually hogging). I also feel guilty for withdrawing our financial support from the institution of the newspaper. Newspapers are dying left and right, and while I'd like to believe that the New York Times will be around forever, they need our support now more than ever. Online advertising is, in my understanding, not as lucrative as print advertising, and the two markets are different enough that print newspapers don't feel as though they can compete.

What's a modern hippie to do?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

New links

Even though her site is primarily about frugality and not eco-consciousness specifically, this chick has a lot of great websites, helpful tools and blog posts about green living, getting involved, and living consciously. Happy browsing!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Cereal bags? Really?!

OK, this is not something I would have thought up on my own, but it's smart both from an environmental perspective and a money-saving angle. I read about it in Fine Cooking magazine. Their readers suggested that when you're done with a box of cereal, you keep the inner lining/bag to rinse and reuse. One reader uses these bags in place of waxed paper (by cutting them open), and another uses them to pound meat (by putting the meat inside the bag). Brilliant, right? I'm sure there are probably cost and environmental savings to just buying the huge bags of cereal instead of boxes, but in the spirit of "use what you've got," I think most of us have at least a few boxes of cereal in the cabinet. So, once my son polishes off his next box of Cheerios, I'll give him the box for his play kitchen, and I'll keep the liner for another purpose.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Use It If You've Got It

We grew up in a household where the soapy dishwater was reused from dirty bowl to dirty pot until the suds were all gone. Our dad followed us around the house turning off lights, reminding us that "a penny saved is a penny earned." And my grandmother provided us with our own CSA, of sorts - acres of garden that produced vegetables, berries, herbs, and even popcorn all summer and fall. My mother (her daughter-in-law) never knew what would show up at our doorstep from week to week, but she knew that there would usually be a lot of it, and it was her job to use it to feed our family.

In that spirit, I bring you the first of many posts about using what we already have - in the kitchen, in the garage, in the playroom, or wherever you see fit.

My son is almost 18 months old. This means that he'll play with just about anything, and if it's "real," it's better. In other words, a real (old, used) cell phone is much better than the toy phone that we bought him, even though the toy phone speaks to him in three different languages and has many colors and shapes. Same goes for a real camera, remote control, or even play food. We have a little kitchen and shopping cart for him, but the real joys of playing kitchen or grocery store come with the used containers we've given him - emptied egg cartons, coffee cans, berry containers, and cereal boxes. My mom promises me that these games will become more sophisticated and ultimately last for years to come. My latest trick for places like church, boring waiting rooms, and long car trips comes in the form of an old wallet that was falling apart. I placed used-up gift cards, laminated coupons, etc. (something sturdier than paper, but nothing fancy - even old playing cards would do), and he loves to take them out and put them back. This can be a great counting game as he learns to count, and eventually he could learn to put playing cards in numeric order this way. The best part is that all of the toys are free, and would have been destined for the recycling bin or the garbage can had we not resurrected them.

Speaking of using things up, I should give a little update about our CSA (community-supported agriculture) experience. It is wonderful. We have so much enjoyed the fresh fruit and vegetables that we receive every week, and going to pick up the box from the designated neighborhood site is a little bit like a community-building event. This week, we've been blessed with another family's box - friends that are out of town on vacation. The same friends asked us to water their garden while they're away, and to harvest anything that's ready to eat. It's zucchini season, so between the garden and the CSA, we've had zucchini pasta, zucchini bread, and zucchini cake. I've enjoyed the challenge of using up the contents of an extra box, and everything has been delicious. We've acknowledged my husband's southern roots with some squash casserole and broccoli casserole, but we've also had our share of simply steamed or stir-fried vegetables as well. I haven't tasted green beans this good since my grandmother grew them. If I had to decide right now whether we would repeat the CSA experience, I would definitely sign us up again.

In planning for the church book sale, I've been reminded about the community resources provided by and Freecycle is only for free items - members post what they want, or what they have to give away, and a pick-up is arranged. We gave away a mattress using freecycle a few years ago, and we were amazed at the interest it generated. And Craig's List, as you undoubtedly know, is basically a local area-wide garage sale online, all the time. We're advertising our book sale on Craig's List, and I was surprised at how many free items are listed there as well. If I'm looking for a specific item (particularly a children's item), I'm much more likely to search for it on Craig's List or at a local consignment shop, rather than search garage sales for it.

So, go use what you've got! And if you can't use it, get rid of it to someone who can!