Monday, July 30, 2018

Mindful Living - Less Plastic

Plastic Free July is wrapping up so I thought I would share some of my favorite ways to reduce the plastic consumption in my home and life. 

Photo by Dustan Woodhouse on Unsplash

By 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.😞 The best way to prevent this is by avoiding single use plastic like grocery bags, water or soda bottles, and to-go or single serving food containers. I will be upfront and say it is a work in progress for me and I still use far too much plastic! While I have many plastic free and reusable options, I still get a chai frappe in a plastic cup and occasionally forget my reusable bags. It's a learning process, but rather than get down about what I don't do I am going to celebrate and share what I DO.

1) The easiest first step is to use reusable grocery bags.  Keep them in the front seat of your car or hanging by your front door so you don't forget them. You can probably buy basic ones at the grocery store checkout for a dollar or two.  Or, if you want a cute one, you can buy from this Etsy store where I bought one of mine.

2) Once you get in the habit of carrying these with you, grab some reusable produce bags. These are nice because they are see-though and if you buy produce from the grocery store most likely they need to be able to see the code to ring it up. I keep my produce bags in with my grocery bags.

3) Many of us use reusable to-go coffee mugs.  Most coffee shops and gas stations don't have any problems refilling such cups and many even offer discounts for bringing your own cup. When I recently traveled to Nebraska, I used my to-go mug to buy coffee on my trip.

4) I carry this cutlery pouch in my purse. It rolls up and stays in the bottom of my purse and is great for those restaurants that use plastic cutlery. After using, I simply wash and dry them in the restaurant restroom and return them to the roll.

5) I also have these Stainless Steel StrawsI keep a couple in my purse and some in my silverware drawer for when I make smoothies at home.

6) I don't use these as much since I don't pack a kid's lunch anymore, but when my kids were little and I packed a lunch I would use sandwich wraps such as these rather than a plastic baggie.

7) I still use these reusable snack bags when I am going to be in the car for awhile and know I will need some almonds, pretzels, or chips. They are also good to use in lunch bags.

8) I bought some Bee's Wrap Sandwich Wrap for using in place of plastic wrap for left-overs in my fridge. I still buy plastic wrap for some things, but the Bee's Wrap has replaced a good portion of what I would use before.

9) I love my to-go water bottle. I hate spending over a dollar on a water bottle when I'm out and about! Keep your water bottle handy so you can remember to fill it and take it whenever you get in your car.  This bottle is great because it has a straw so it is spill-proof and has easy access for workouts.  It also comes with a lid so you don't need to use it with a straw if you prefer.  ICONIQ Stainless Steel Vacuum Insulated Water Bottle with Pop Up Straw Cap.

10) For my readers who are women, have you looked to switching to waste free periods? I have used a Diva Cup and cloth pads for years. It's a learning curve, but saves quite a bit of money and waste every month!

11) Finally, Pyrex 18 Piece Simply Store Food Storage Set is a great way to store your leftovers without using plastic. I have had mine for years!

Obviously, these are all an investment, but I have added to my plastic free collection for the past 6 years to acquire what I have listed above.  Take it slowly, add one plastic-free piece per month or per quarter.

The next thing I want to buy is a 16 oz reusable cold cup with a straw for when I buy a frappe. Many coffee shops are becoming environmentally aware so I am hoping my coffee shop will make my frappe in this Stainless Steel Tumbler.

Have you switched to anything reusable? What are your favorite plastic free tips?

Have a great week, friends!

*Some links above are affiliate links and I make a small commission if you buy what I suggested. When possible, I have included links to small businesses and encourage you to shop small first....even if I don't make a commission from those shops. I only suggest things I use and love and appreciate you shopping with companies that support this blog.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Recipe - Campanelle Fresca

Today I have a perfect recipe that can be served year-round with minimal prep and maximum flavor. I used Herb Campanelle pasta that I bought at the Farmer's market, but I have also used bow-tie, rotini, or penne. Take a few minutes the evening or morning before to assemble the sauce so the flavors can meld together, producing a more flavorful sauce. This meal comes together in less than 30 minutes and only takes one pot!

Campanelle Fresca

12 ounces campanelle pasta, bow-tie, penne', or rotini
1 cup tomatoes, seeds removed and chopped 
1 small red onion, chopped
4 ounces fresh baby spinach
1 tablespoon olive oil
Feta Cheese

Fresca Sauce:
1/2 cup good quality olive oil
1/8 cup white wine
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
5-6 cloves garlic passed through a garlic press
1 teaspoon sugar or honey, (may omit if a sweet white wine is used)
1 teaspoon salt

The evening or morning before you plan to make this pasta, assemble the sauce ingredients in a mason jar or some other glass container with lid. Give it a good stir and then place on the counter or windowsill to allow the flavors to come together.

Cook pasta according to package directions and drain.  While the pasta is cooking, remove the seeds and chop the tomatoes and peel and chop the onion. In the same pot, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat until shimmery and add onion. Cook 3-4 minutes until onion is translucent. Add tomatoes and cook 2 minutes more. Stir often to avoid burning. If needed, add a small amount of the fresca sauce to tomatoes and onions and then add spinach.  Cook about 1 minute more until the spinach is bright green and wilted. Add noodles and remaining sauce tossing to coat the noodles thoroughly. Salt and pepper to taste. Place in a serving bowl and top with feta cheese.

This recipe is also fabulous with grilled chicken and also tastes good cold the next day. I used large cherry tomatoes in this recipe, but any tomato will work, although roma tomatoes would be the most authentic. Also, I have made this and only let the sauce marinate for a couple hours and it tastes fine, but the garlic is a little strong that way. I think this recipe would also be great with grilled or roasted vegetables on the top.

Hope you enjoy!!

Monday, June 25, 2018

May/June Update

Hi friends!

It's almost July and I'm just now getting around to updating.  Better late than never I guess......

May was a pretty low month for me, so it was nice when June rolled around with some exciting plans and a fun trip. It didn't help that the last 2 weeks of May literally had one sunny day, I was still struggling to get my spending under control, and our schedule was shook up by Nakoma and Phoebe moving back to Tennessee. For someone who thrives in sunshine and routine, it was tough.

But sunshine has returned!  I took a refreshing trip! Nakoma and Phoebe seem to be getting settled!  Nakoma started her new job at Amazon in Chattanooga and it seems like an awesome opportunity for her.  I miss them, especially Phoebe, but I'm excited to have my freedom back.

So on to the recap:

As I said, May was a spendy month.....but some of my spending was totally worth it! The biggest purchase was this sofa I found on Facebook Marketplace.  It's from Pottery Barn and was only a few years old. Score! And it looks great with our rug.....and dog.

I still need to get some pillows and an end table, but the room is coming together nicely.

The week before Nakoma and Phoebe left we took a trip to the Virginia Safari Park. It was such a nice day and Phoebe had a blast. 

I loved the aviary with parakeets! Phoebe liked seeing the giraffes and monkeys. The Safari park also has a drive-thru area where you can feed the large animals like elk and buffalo!

I finally bought a few frames and finished framing my grandmother's art. While I would like to get them professionally framed, at $150 a pop it isn't something that will be done anytime soon.  So I went to Michael's and bought some basic frames and got them hung on my wall. I love I am able to display her art again. I inherited 4 new painting when my Dad passed away in 2014, but had nowhere to display the paintings at my last home. The little girl and the woman are paintings of my Mom and the man is my grandfather.

Phoebe's birthday was June 9th, so before they left we celebrated her special day with her favorite meal of spaghetti and had cupcakes for dessert. 

I sure miss this little girl!

The Farmer's Market has been in full swing! Here are a couple of my favorite things from the last few markets.  I really enjoyed the asparagus and strawberries last month and am loving peaches, raspberries, blueberries, and tomatoes now!

Remington finished 10th grade the beginning of June. His summer is in full swing working with a landscaper, in addition to his regular job at the local burger joint. Here he is all cleaned up for his school's banquet.

I took an 11 day solo road trip to Nebraska this month to visit friends and family. I hadn't taken a solo road trip for 10 years so I was thankful my anxiety didn't get the better of me. I'm working on a blog post about my trip that will be coming soon.

Chad and I have also talked about taking a three day weekend and going to DC or somewhere close this summer.  Otherwise since we are footloose and fancy free from childcare we'll probably hike, hit some breweries, concerts, and local restaurants as well as yoga several times a week. 

Looking forward to July, we have some house projects in the works and Chad's parents are coming out to help with some of them. We plan to do a ton of painting and some electrical work and we have hired a guy to replace some doors and windows. This fall we also plan to redo the family room floors.

Now that I am back and refreshed from my trip, I have been working on the budget, changing a few things up and planning for the future. We are looking for additional avenues of income, possibly renting out our guest room through Airbnb, in addition to renting out our basement apartment. Since our emergency fund is fully funded we will start sending the majority of our extra income to house projects, but will continue to save a smaller amount. Eventually we would like to have six months of expenses saved, but we are comfortable with a little over three months saved now.  With the last few months of spending and traveling our emergency savings and house savings have been at a standstill, so I want to see it start growing again. I also want to try to get better at meal planning and lower the grocery bill. Our grocery budget seems high for a family of three, especially when our teenager hardly eats here.

As I said above, I am working on a blog post about my trip to Nebraska. I also want to get back to budgeting posts as well as updates on our house projects! So stay tuned....

How is your summer going, friends?

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

April Update and May Goals

Hi friends! We are well into the second week of May and I have yet to update April! I think I drag my feet when I have to report I haven't been as disciplined as I should! :-) wasn't all bad.  On to the report!

April was a spendy month for us. We received a settlement from a car accident that occurred on our property, so we used some of the money to buy a few extra things for ourselves and our home that were not part of the no spending challenge. We also saved a large portion of the settlement and are very close to our fully funded emergency savings goal! Of course, since I gave myself some leeway with the extra money I am now having a hard time corralling my urge to spend!

I did quite a bit of landscaping and planting flowers in April; spending about 5% of our monthly income on it. I have completed what I planned to do this year as far as planting flowers and perennials go, but I do want to put new mulch down and also get the backyard area ready for grass sometime this summer. I would love to do more and our yard has so many possibilities, but my back protests and so does our budget! :-)

Still needs mulch but looks much better!

I also bought a rug for our library, a yoga mat, four books, and a replaced a few articles of summer clothing that were worn or two small. With the clothing, for every item that came in, an item went out, either in the donation box, consignment store, or trash. Our new rug replaced our old one and Chad now uses my old yoga mat. As you see below, I have plenty of space on the bookshelves for the four new books. Two of the books are leather-bound classics I reread every few years, one was a biography on FDR, and one was a novel. All were bought second-hand. I also removed 7 books I'll never read again from the shelf and donated them in an effort to keep my possessions to things that actually add value to my life.

The new rug.

Since we are projected to meet our emergency savings goal soon, I'm revamping the shopping ban. We still want to continue to save so we can replace the flooring in the family room this fall, so we need to tighten up the budget again.

Not only do I want to save for some house projects, I still want to be a conscience consumer and only buy things that are needed or that add value to my life. With this in mind, I've decided to keep a mini shopping ban each month.  My plan is to evaluate what I need at the beginning of the month and only buy things on my lists. That makes me have a bit of a waiting period before I buy something that isn't on the list so there is no frivolous spending.

Below is my personal and financial goals for May. Moving forward, I no longer will be sharing a detailed look at our budget each month, but more of an overall look focusing on the positive.

May Goals

Do not raid savings: We have a bit of vehicle expenses to pay for this month for Remington's truck, so we won't be able to save like we have the last several months.  I would like to be able to pay for them without taking money out of savings, which is doable if we're frugal!

Only buy 1 top:  I want to buy one more linen top. I love medium-weight European linen tops for their coverage but coolness in the summer. They are so easy to wash and wear and perfect for home or yard work because of their durability. I own two that are in constant rotation during the hot months. I am on the hunt for a thrifted version as new ones are pretty pricey. A few of my summer tops from past years are pretty thin and see-through and are not at all cool if they are needed to be layered over another top! Other than that, no other personal purchase. No books, clothes, house decor, makeup, pedicures, or anything else I would otherwise spend my personal spending on.

Keep the grocery budget less than 15% of our budget: Last month we went over on our grocery budget with quite a bit of eating out. Now that the farmer's market is on a weekly schedule I am sure I will want to start cooking more with fresh, seasonal ingredients, which will help lower our budget.

Sell on eBay: I have a little stockpile of things I need to list. I need to stop procrastinating.

Paint the basement trim:  Phoebe will be going to visit her Dad and his family soon, so I need to paint the trim since I will be free. I will need to purchase a gallon of primer and I already have paint.

Refurbish some of our furniture: Instead of spending money on new things for our home this month, I want to refurbish some of our current pieces of furniture.  I would like to strip the table top and also strip and paint the toy box that also doubles as a coffee table. I have all the supplies to do this.

No more landscaping except mulch and grass: I need to stay far, far away from Lowes. :-)

Keep exercising 3-4 times a week: I want to hit a few Friday yoga classes in addition to my Tuesday and Saturday classes, do some hikes if the weather/schedules cooperate, and get out on more walks with Mocha.

How about you friends? How's your budget going? Any personal goal for May?

Sunday, April 1, 2018

March Budget Numbers

Happy April, friends!

Can I say good riddance to March? It was cold, rainy, snowy, and expensive.  I'm so over it and hoping April is an easier month. This month I was glad to have savings envelopes in place, even though several were maxed out. I also made a little money this month which helped offset the costs of all our extra expenses. 

So here are our numbers:

Groceries - 18% -  This month we ate out a bit more, and while I did buy alcohol it wasn't a huge amount, but both were enough to increase the budget by 3%. It has been a stressful month personally, so I find when I'm stressed I don't make wise food purchases and we eat more pre-packaged or fast food. 

Savings - 14% - Regardless of our expensive month, we were able to still save 14%. While I'm annoyed that it could have been more, I'm still happy we have saved more than we planned both months of this six month challenge!

Monthly Bills - 42.5% - Our electric bill was cheaper again this month, but we had a few quarterly bills due, so our monthly percentage was the same as last month. This is also less than we originally planned when we did our budget at the beginning of this challenge.

The remaining 25.5 % were split up between the envelopes (17.5 %) and saving for Remington's school and expenses for him (8%). Because I made some money this month, we were able to fund all the envelopes fully, even with the higher grocery budget.

Our vacuum died after a good 10 year run and the printer also died, so we replaced both. Fortunately, we had enough in the house repair envelope to cover them by the end of the month.  I thought about going without a printer until after my shopping ban, but I use it for my eBay business to print shipping and save quite a bit from going to the post office, so I decided it was worth the cost and necessary.  

Our Honda also needed a tune up this month. We had about a third of the cost saved in our car repair envelope and the other two-thirds will be made up with our tax refund that will come in later this month.

Personal Spending - I bought 3 things in March with my personal spending.  I decided to take up adult coloring after reading about the benefits of it helping with anxiety and stress. I bought a coloring calendar,which has a daily coloring exercise, on clearance at the bookstore.  I also bought some nicer colored pencils since the only ones I had were Crayolas left over from when the kids were little! While this wasn't on the approved shopping list for my challenge I feel ok with my purchase of $22. I have already noticed I feel less anxious when I spend time being creative!  I didn't buy any books this month, but made use of the library instead, so I had a little extra in my envelope that wasn't earmarked for an approved purchase. I also bought 1 plant for outside, which was an approved purchase.  My local grocery store has beautiful big ferns for only $10! I am getting a little stockpile of money in my personal envelope.  I plan to buy more plants later this month so it will probably all be used up by May.

As I said above, the house repair and car envelopes are empty. In addition to her dog food, Mocha also had a groom and I bought her antler bones which drained her envelope. Chad and I also used all of our date money. The fuel, gifts, donations, and travel/hosting envelopes all have money left to carry over to next month.

This month I want to keep the grocery costs down so April is not as expensive.  I'm also hoping nothing else breaks down! We also have two birthdays this month which will be covered by the gifts envelope.  Right now I don't anticipate any other major expenses other than things that have been planned and budgeted for already. Let's hope it stays this way!

Month three here we come!

How about you, friends?  How was your March? 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Privilege of Living Simply

Since moving to our new home I've been decluttering and trying to simplify our life and finances. Lately, in my quiet moments of reflection, I have had the reoccurring thought over and over again:  Privilege.

Photo by Easton Oliver on Unsplash

Let me back up.  I believe this thought entered my head several weeks ago while listening to a podcast by Nicole Antoinette on her thru hike on the Arizona Trial. In the podcast, she mentioned the privilege it was to choose her own suffering. She chose do this hike and to leave her life, family, and friends for 6 weeks to be alone in the desert. It was tough both mentally and physically. She could have stopped any time, but she chose to stick with it even through the cold, the cactus that shredded her skin, the hunger, and lack of water. It was a privilege for her. Most people never get to experience a thru hike, even those who desire it. 

That got me thinking about my life, priorities, and ambitions. For those regular readers of my blog, you will know how I desire to live a simple, conscience type of life. I declutter, getting rid of things I no longer use or need.  I want to live in a small house.  I strive to make the things I DO purchase come from local or small businesses, and companies with ethical principles.  I love to cook with fresh vegetables, fruit, and meat bought from local farms. I don't work outside my home and like to devote my life to my family and lifestyle.  All of this is an incredible privilege.

In my last post I mentioned how when Nakoma and Phoebe moved in with us, we were crammed into our 1250 sq ft house, and how it really was a first world problem that I was even complaining. That's privilege. As I said in that post, in many countries, multi-generational families live in much, much less. But even in our own country this is privilege. Many multi-generational families are squeezed into small homes, living paycheck to paycheck, not even able to have the option to move to something larger.

Some people in my own town live in a food desert, meaning they are not within walking distance of a store that sells fresh food and do not have the transportation available to make the longer trek to the store. They are then left with the option of the fast food joint down the street that sells 2 burgers for $2, or the convenience store on the corner where they can get a $1 slice of pizza and a bag of chips. The fact that I choose and am able to shop for local and organic food is a great privilege. (By the way, the food desert is something I want to dive into more at some point in time.  I am very new to this reality in my town and many other towns in the US and cannot speak knowledgeably about it at this time other than what I wrote above. I know there are many organizations who are trying to eliminate food deserts in cities.  Hopefully I can post again on this subject.)

Because I haven't always lived a simple life, I have things I am constantly removing from my home. I sell them, give them to charity, or throw them away.  Even in our own country, there are many people who lost everything in the hurricanes and fires last year and do not have the means to replace them. The fact that I have excess to remove is privilege.

Finally, I have the tremendous privilege to work from home. I was fortunate when my children were growing up to be able to choose to stay home.  The times that I worked outside the home was because I wanted to, not because we needed the income.  Now that my children are mostly grown I still work from home.  I am able to help Nakoma with childcare for Phoebe, cook fresh meals, keep my home clean, and spend only the hours I want to working on my eBay business or blog. Many people desire to do this, but are financially not able to do so. 

Now don't get me wrong, I certainly don't want to sound like I am writing a blog post about how I'm privileged in a I'm better than them way. That isn't my point at all! So does that mean I should stop talking about these things?  I don't think so. I think that it's fine to live in this way; to strive to be good with money, thoughtful in purchases, and not living in excess. Not only is it a good lifestyle practice, it's more sustainable for the planet. I think it should be a way of life in which I write to encourage others. But only, while knowing how incredibly privileged I am to be on this path. 

Finally, to take it one step further, how can we impact those people in our own cities and towns who do not have the opportunities we do?  How can we balance excess and need? I look forward to diving into this more in depth in the future. Until then, what are your thoughts on this, friends? Like me, do you have incredible privileges that you take for granted?

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

My Quest to Live Simply

Since moving to our bigger home last December, I feel like I have lost a part of my identity.  When we lived in our little farm house it felt so perfect - so me.  True, there were things I hated, like the low water pressure, and how the water would get dirty every time we had a heavy rain, or the old beat up floors, or how an occasional mouse would find it's way in. But in spite of that, I loved it.  It was quiet with a beautiful view of the mountains; I had a garden and chickens, and over the year had made both the inside and outside my own.

The shabby little farmhouse and acreage were my simple life.  We had downsized by half to move there, both in space and in possessions. Because it was a rental and in the country there was no need to "keep up with the Jones's". I was able to grow some of our food and hang my wash on the line. I felt like the best version of myself there. If we ever talked about moving it was to downsize even more....we certainly never talked about doubling the size of our house and yard work!

But life changed. Within a matter of a week we became a multi-generational family squeezed into a 1250 sq foot house. Remington didn't even have closet space anymore. There was no separate spaces to decompress other than our small bedrooms. I know this is certainly a first world problem and in many parts of the world multi-generational families live in much, much less. But it was hard for us.

In the midst of this I was still dealing with the reality of my fibro diagnosis and it resulted in anxiety and depression. I was NOT in the right frame of mind to be making another life altering decision.  But sure enough, that is what we did.

Had we to do it over again, we would not have bought this house. We have lived here two months now and from day one we could see it wasn't the best decision. However, even though we should have thought through it a bit more - it's done.  Most likely, financially it was a fine decision.  We can put a little money and elbow grease into the house and make a good return in a few years.

For me, the hard part all comes back to losing a part of my identity by moving here. With a larger house comes the idea that we need to fill all the rooms with all the things, or, the idea that we need to do this, that, and the other so it looks like every other nice house in our neighborhood.

But this is simply not true.  We don't need to do any of that. We have a sparsely furnished room with the bookcases and one chair. I thought I needed to buy a few more chairs making it into a library...even though we have a sofa and recliner in the family room where we can read. Our guest room is totally empty, and while we DO need to get a bed for the room, it isn't a priority since we have no scheduled guests at this time. Truly, we have everything we need to live a comfortable life - way more than we need, actually.

I can still be the best version of myself here....even in a house in which the very size speaks against my ambitions to live a simpler, downsized life.  I can continue my quest to live simply. I can keep a sharp eye on the finances and only buy things that add value to our lives - not something I feel like I need to buy to fill the space or keep up with other people's ideals. I can cook more often with fresh, local ingredients. I can declutter so that when we move again someday we only have what we love and use. I can continue to make time for the things that add value to my life.  A walk with Mocha, a date with Chad, playing with Phoebe, expanding my knowledge with reading, or writing to encourage myself and others.

Even more, I can appreciate those things that I didn't have before.  The wonderful water pressure, the flowing clean water, and floors that are easy to keep clean and aesthetically pleasing to look at. I can enjoy having our own space to unwind without being on top of each other.  I can sit in my peaceful backyard and enjoy the trees, birds, and wildlife that live nearby, and listen to the water flowing in the creek next to our house.

I can continue my quest to live simply. When the time comes in a few years we will downsize again, hopefully having learned a few things along the way about contentment and living our best life wherever we are planted.

My encouragement to you, friend, is to also find contentment wherever you are.  Even if your entire life doesn't line up to your ideals, keep striving towards the things that are in your control. Practice gratitude, not only for the positive changes you make, but even the negative things that may just be a teaching tool for future growth. Happiness and contentment do not come from where you live or the things you have, but from how you live your life.