Sunday, May 23, 2010

Rhonda asked...

Rhonda is a lady living in Austrailia who has a blog I read at I started reading her blog about two years ago, and found she had some inspiring ideas - her garden is to DIE for! On her blog she asked what led us to attempt the simpler life......well..... not sure mine is so simpler, but I'm trying a few things to create less waste, and bring my family back to certain values.

1.) The garden. We started this several years ag0. The first year I did it because my Dad had been diagnosed with cancer - already stage 4, and one of the contributing factors may have been his diet. My focus at that point was to get off as much processed food as possible. I read Animal,Vegetable, Miracle, and a few others, and was pretty motivated. Last year I also bought a lot of veggies at the farmer's market and learned to can/freeze as much as possible while the prices were so low. I'll definitely be doing this again. I'm still hooked on Cokes, but we tend to make more food from "real f ood" and have a lot less processed foods.

2.) Plastic - I'm still working on this, but I've gotten rid of a lot of containers that are plastic, but still have a few. Most of what I have left is for school lunches, but that is one of my priorities this summer. We also don't use products with aluminum in them.

3.) Recycling - easy, they pick up, and I've found a place nearby for the things not picked up by the bin.

4.) Knitting/Quilting, etc I have started knitting and quilting again. I need to make more time for this.

5.) Buying less- um definitely. Brian was out of work for 8 months, so we are definitely on board with that. We're going to the library, found a lot of free places to hike or put in the canoe. Found out about free sundays at the art museum, etc.

6.) Laundry- I'm still using the washing machine, but not the drier. Hanging clothes to dry either inside, or out on the porch has not been a big deal except I do have to iron more.

My goals - learn to make pasta, three season garden, continue teaching my girls/students about gardening, cut down on trips/gas, more canning/freezing than last year. Someday I need to replace my windows, and add gutters to my house for rain barrels. I'm slowly purging things we don't need, and as we renovate we are going as eco-friendly as possible. Any other ideas would be graciously accepted.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

I love science day.

I live in a very suburban town, with easy access to our smallish capital city. As a teacher, I want to always engage my students in meaningful learning and maybe give them some new ideas. Friday was I Love Science Day at my school, and students rotated between 4 of the fifth grade classrooms to do a variety of "cool" science activities. Mine was making lemonade.... yes, you heard me correctly - we made lemonade.

I brought in my lemon tree that is potted and on my deck - it was a gift last mother's day. I explained how it bloomed, and turned into lemons (answered questions about why they were green not yellow), and then showed them the pictures over at and discussed how people were really focusing on ea
ting healthier, and eating whole foods, etc. I then put them into groups and gave them a few lemons to juice, we pooled our juice together, added water and sugar (discussed if this was a mixture or solution), and then drank it. Some of them didn't like pulp, and remember from our chemistry unit this year that you could filtrate mixtures/solutions to remove larger pieces, so we pulled out coffee filters and the tri-pod funnel for them to try out. We discussed the taste differences between their idea of lemondade (crystals in a plastic container) and the one we made.

They then harvested the seeds from the lemons, and planted them, or some of the bean, or corn seeds I also had. All were interested in the idea of how we define food now, and I feel like maybe eventually I can show students, by example, how to make better choices. I wish I could show the student faces, but I just don't feel that is ethical, but I will tell you they were full of smiles.

For Mother's Day today, I received a gorgeous little orange tree, and I'm looking forward to showing that to my students too. My family definitely knows how to make me happy!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Unemployment lessons

Last August, the government closed the bank/mortgage company my husband worked for. There was no notice, no severence package, they simply sent out an email announcing doors were closing at noon. That really sent us into a tailspin. We had some savings, a family of 6, and my teaching job. Now, let's be honest.... I make a decent living, but not enough to maintain our lifestyle. So, the cuts started that day.

Activities - The first thing to go were the kids activities. I allowed them (the older three) to stay in scouts because I run the troops, and the girls raise their own money through the endless cookie sales to participate in activities. Big Al played travel soccer, and her club gave her a scholarship - she was thankful. She also played school soccer which was free. T-Rex gave up archery (tough for her to do), but got to keep chorus (free). Blondie and Cheesie gave up Tennis.

Clothing - We bought no new clothes for the fall - this was really tough because T-Rex was growing, so I would buy her something new periodically, but the rest of the girls used the hand-me-downs we make use of anyway.

Obvious - We cut the obvious gym membership, etc. We never got as far as cutting the TV and internet, but I really thought the TV would just be great to get rid of anyway ( I think we would go through news withdrawl though, and if I had to choose between TV and internet, the TV would be out the door).

Electric-I started hanging my clothes to dry, and we layered through the winter. Bed linens were also layered, and no heat was used at night (in the south we get down to maybe 40 fahrenheit so it wasn't bad).

Shopping - I hate Walmart, but Brian bought groceries there as needed, but supplemented with produce from elsewhere. Christmas was on a serious shoestring, and we used a little savings for it, but it was on a much smaller scale than other years. I tried to do the coupon thing, but wasn't fanatic about it (and found that the bogo price at one supermarket was exactly the same as Walmart everyday - darn it-- I really hate that store). Last summer I had canned, and frozen a lot of fresh veggies, and stocked up on bogo meat sales, so that helped out for a long time.

Entertainment - Art museum is free on Sundays, state parks at $2.00 a car, while some hiking trails are free. We played board games, puzzles, went back to the library instead of buying books or movies, rediscovered our video games (which you can also get from the library).

So now, Brian has been back at work for about 6 weeks, and we are holding onto a lot of the changes. Ceiling fans are on instead of AC (although we are going to need to turn that on soon!), I still hang my clothes (why not? It was easy). I am about to have the long distance cut off (maybe even the whole landline). We still head for the library instead of buying books, I did join Netflix because we spend a bunch on the latest kid movies, and then end up keeping them "just-in-case" but I like the streaming movies, and it works off the Wii. I will be buying/ growing fresh fruit and veggies to can and freeze again, and will again stock up on meat for the longterm. If it had gone on much longer we may have had issues, but just as Brian's first round of Unemployment (a whopping 325 per week) ran out, he got his job. It did come with a noticable pay cut, so we aren't changing much of our habits.

We are still focused on paying off everything as fast as possible so we aren't in debt again. If we hadn't had two car payments, and a few other bills we would have been fine indefinitely. We were fans of Dave Ramsey before, but really are working toward the financial independence now. We continue to live as we did when he was out of work, and according to this article on the "new" frugality, we aren't alone. I think this was a good way for me to begin simplifying. When you have less money, you shop a lot less, and really we haven't missed much. We'll keep this up for awhile, and see how it goes.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Earth Day,and Wednesday

One of my colleagues had the idea to have our students give a gift of trees back to the school for their promotion gift. She thought fruit trees might be nice, and BOY did I jump on it. So the kids could bring in two dollars - one dollar to wear a hat on earth day when we planted the trees, and then second went for a homework pass. I bought the trees (four peach trees) and one of our students has a dad who is a horticulturalist and he donated 3 blueberry bushes.

The Dad came and spoke to all of the kids about his job. He sells plants/trees/bushes wholesale to other nurseries. He explained that if he wanted to sell 10,000 trees then he needed to have seedlings numbering around 14,000. The kids could NOT understand how he did it. He kept explaining, and they kept wanting to know if he got his seeds from Walmart or the local nursery. I would show pictures of the students planting all of them, but I just didn't think it ethical to post other people's children on the blog without permission, so you'll have to do with seeing the horticulturalist, and my daughter standing next to one of the peach trees. The interesting thing is that since then, the students all argue at lunch to see who gets to water the trees.

Now I have been trying to get grants to start a vegetable garden at school without luck, so I took the 4 trees and 3 bushes as the first of a lot of steps I/we would need to take to bring this to life at our school. My principal came to me and said Verizon wanted to make a donation to the school and send a group of volunteers to help us do "something green" and since she knew I was VERY interested in the garden idea she gave me $300.00 to start one. The local Home Depot gave us a generous discount, and I bought 3 raised garden beds, and all the soil/compost we needed, for under $300 and brought it back to school. This past Wednesday my morning math/science 5th graders built the beds with the volunteers, and the afternoon group mixed the bags of soil, conditioner, and compost. Both groups have already started bean and cucumber plants in school, but now they are thinking they want to take t hem home instead of putting them in the garden. Our summer kids (some are in a "daycare camp" at school while their parents work) will continue the garden, and harvest the peaches, whatever blueberries we can save from birds, and the garden veggies to donate them to our local foodbank. They will then start seeds for the fall veggies. All of this is planted right along the preschool/kindergarten fence, so as the little kids come out to play in their special playground they can watch the plants grow right there.
We are all very excited to watch this project unfold, and I'm hoping I can turn more kids on to gardening this way, and reinforce that plants make their own seeds, and you don't have to go to a store to get them.