Thursday, January 24, 2008

First trip to Aldi's...

I went to Aldi's the discount grocery store for the first time this week. Boy was it cheap! Of course, the produce section didn't net me much more than a bag o taters, but that's OK. I think what I like most is that you HAVE to bring your own bags. Otherwise, you just have to carry all your stuff out. It was a good kick in the pants to remember to pack mine.

Also, it's almost time to sign up again for our farm co-op (Paige's Produce). Last year, we got way more food every week than we could eat. A lot of it went to waste. I'm seriously thinking of investing in a very small chest freezer. That way I could store more of the co-op veggies and more of the things we grow ourselves in the garden. So much went to waste last year. And now that it's winter, I'd like to have all those tomatoes and ears of corn we couldn't eat in July!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Dreaming of compost...

I must be losing my mind. Last night I actually had a dream about making compost. Okay. Maybe it's a reminder that I haven't done anything about THAT New Year's resolution.

The plastic bags? Yes, I'm making an effort. But the compost is still stuck in bin indecision land. I've ruled out worm composting, at least for now. With a kid on the way I'm not sure I can concentrate on keeping thousands of wigglers alive in addition to a 7.5 lbs pink needy human.

In my dream, I just used a plastic trash can with a lid, threw in some compost accelerator, and turned it with a shovel every week or so. I think this is the way I'm going to go. After all, maybe my brain was trying to tell me something...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Reusable grocery bags...

In keeping with my New Year's Resolution to use fewer plastic grocery bags, I stayed up late last night making heavy-duty reusable grocery bags from some vintage 1984 Transformers fabric and some lovely retro Batman fabric I picked up used a while back. I lined the bags with a super heavy duty canvas duck cloth, so they are nigh indestructible, and gave each deep side gussets so that they'll hold a lot of stuff.

Turns out I made a lot more than I can use, so I'm going to put the extras up for sale on Etsy

I hope having these on hand will help me reduce my plastic bag dependence. I know I have cut down substantially since I made my resolution, yet I still manage to come home with more plastic bags than I had hoped, mostly due to poor planning or unplanned trips to the store. Oh well, it's a process!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Second-hand babies and family pressure

As you know, our first little one will be arriving in April. Early on, the SO and I decided we'd buy as much as we could used and second hand. After all, kid stuff is expensive, but they grow so fast they can't even really use it for that long. Why spend the money?

We got a used crib and stroller, a large laundry basket full of second-hand onesies and such (all for less than $1 each), some play mats, and some free used toy boxes. So far, I think we've spent about $120, and we have just about everything we need. Only a few things left: a car seat, a crib mattress, and some Happy Heiny's-- they are the new fangled reusable diapers.

Yet, I'm getting a lot of pressure from family and friends to have a baby shower. They all want to buy us stuff. I've politely ducked most of this, but the pressure is mounting. I've been to showers before. It's a bunch of women sitting around in a circle watching some girl open presents. That's great for some people, but it makes me really uncomfortable. I've never been comfortable getting lots of gifts.

At first I dodged by agreeing to have a normal party for the people we know. But now, I'm not even sure I want to do that. But this seems to raise a strange reaction of anger and tears from people I know. I mean. Do people really like feeling obligated to show up on a Sunday afternoon with presents??? I'm still conflicted.

So conflicted that I partially relented. I went to Target and registered. But it's probably the weirdest registry anyone has ever seen: most everything costs less than $5, and it's all for odds and ends like pacifiers, bottles, etc. But, that's the stuff we need that I can't buy used. I feel like the biggest weirdo in the world. Of course, I haven't told anyone about the registry, because I'm still debating.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The secret life of stuff

I ran across this awesome Web site today. It has a 15 minute flash video explaining the life cycle of the things we buy. It's very compelling. I hope you like it.

The story of stuff

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

It's garden planning time... already!

The first of the season's garden seed catalogs came in the mail yesterday. Three years ago, I never would have guessed that'd I'd be excited about seed catalogs. Something about the move to Ohio has changed me-- I think it's the magic dirt. Anything I plant does really well here, unlike in New Orleans, where gardening was a constant battle against sweltering heat, giant insects, and finding a vegetable-- any vegetable- capable of growing in subtropical zone 9.

The burning question: What to plant this year. My first two years in this house I stuck with basics. I planted 6 cherry tomato plants, 6 roma tomato plants, three zucchini plants, and 6 green pepper plants. It's not that I have an affinity for these. It's just that the local school has a fundraising plant sale and this is what they sell. The first year, we got 1 measly zuchini, 20 pounds of roma tomatoes, no green peppers, and enough cherry tomatoes for me to snack on while mowing the lawn and mulching.

I rearranged the plants in the second year and got bumper crops of all of them. I mean bumper. Baskets and baskets of veggies, so much so that I had to go buy a special cookbook featuring those vegetables. We got so much we couldn't use it all OR give all of it away so many tomatoes and such just rotted on the vine. (Time to buy a chest freezer?) Between that and our farm co-op share, we didn't buy a single vegetable all summer. Except maybe some potatoes and spinach.

Bear in mind that the only space we have for gardens are traditional, front of the house flower beds. Our backyard is all shade. I'd till up my entire front yard and plant if I could, but the neighbors would have heart attacks. So we've learned to do a lot with a little space.

This year, I'm not going to let hard-won fruit rot on the vine. Here's this year's rough plan:

- Potatoes: I'm going to plant three varieties of potatoes in garbage cans in my back yard. Why garbage cans, you ask? Because that way you know where to dig when it's time to get a potato. Put them in the ground and you'll spend all day digging holes looking for them. My grandpa used to plant them in garbage cans and with great success. Now I'm going to try it.
- Peanuts. The hubby loves them, so I'm going to plant a few in some containers on the front porch. If I stick it in a pot, it'll look decorative and minimize the ire of the neighbors.
- Tomatoes. I'm going to cut our crop in half, to 3 roma and 3 cherry plants. That should cut our annual yield to something more manageable-- like 20 pounds instead of last year's 40!
-Zucchini. Plant one and it takes over. So this year I'm literally only planting ONE. That should be enough for salads and the occasional loaf of zucchini bread.
-Watermelon. Mmmm. Mmmm. Who doesn't love watermelon? I wouldn't normally have enough room for this, but I found a dwarf vine that is only 3 feet long, so where the zucchini once stood, the watermelon will now be king.
-Greens. We love basil, cilantro and spinach, so I'm going to dedicate last year's green pepper space to these three crops and see if it goes anywhere.
-Strawberries. We planted a bunch of strawberry plants last year. They should be ready to spit out some fruit this year. I'm keeping my fingers crossed on that one.

I'm not sure if this is too ambitious a plan, considering we have our first baby on the way. But my mom assures me I'll feel fine when it's time to plant in May.

Veggie gardens may seem passe, but they really do save you a lot of money on groceries. We like that ours has supplied us with months of organic, delicious veggies for two years in a row. You can't beat that.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Geothermal savings and plastic grocery bags

It's still too early to get a final tally on the potential savings we're garnering from our new furnace, but the early results do look good. For both November and December we spent $200 less on home heating than in the same months last year. So, it looks like the early savings tally for the geothermal furnace is $400. Not too shabby.

The bad news is I'm up to 5 plastic grocery bags and it's only Jan. 8. So sad. But it would have been worse had I not paid $1 for a reusable bag at the local grocery store the other day. That saved me three bags right away. This week, I'm planning to make some reusable grocery bags from some vintage fabric I found at the thrift store. I'm hoping to make 6 paper-grocery-bag sized bags out of the fabric I have. We'll see how that goes.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Window shopping- literally

The hubby and I went window shopping today. We finally got tired of having sheets of ice on the insides of our windows when it gets cold. Even though we weren't planning on it, at least not yet, we purchased nine Energy Star rated windows for our house from a company that is based in and makes the windows right here in our hometown.

We chose simple sliding windows with low e argon gas between the panes and a U rating of .30. Energy Star windows generally have a U rating (the equivalent of an R rating for insulation) or .25 to 1.25. We were happy with that range.

Frankly, they weren't as expensive as I thought they would be. I was expecting to pay between $7,000 and $15,000 for replacement windows. Our tally? $5700, including installation and a very nice lifetime warranty. We did get a 35 percent discount because the company was attending a home and garden show this weekend. They apparently offer that special to all those who buy during show weeks, even though we weren't anywhere near the show.

Installation is in 7 to 9 weeks. Since we weren't planning on this expense, we will have to be a bit spartan in our living the next couple of months, but I'm happy to do it. You can lost up to 50 percent of your heating through the windows, so it's money well spent. Plus, it knocks another big project off of the "big" eco-ranch to-do list. All that's left? The roof, and some solar panels.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Geothermal works great. But then there's the windows...

Well, our new geothermal furnace is pumping along nicely, filling the house with nice warm air. Our last natural gas bill was only $9, far less than the $300 plus a month we paid with our 1957 gas furnace chugging along in the basement.
But now that the furnace is nice, it's made it very clear that we need to replace our windows ASAP if we are going to save any energy. We still have the original single-pane aluminim frame 1950s windows in this house. We got our second snow of the year today, and as usual, the inside of the glass is covered in a nice sheet of ice. Inside. So, every minute we run the furnace, we're sending all of that heat out into the ether because our windows are terrible.

I have no idea how much replacement windows cost or even if anyone will come and do that work in the middle of winter, but this Saturday, I'm heading out for an Energy Star window shopping adventure to see if we can afford it. New windows were on the list of to-do projects, but I was planning to wait a couple of years. I don't think we can afford to wait that long.