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The Store

We have three tween girls in our family.  Two age 9 1/2, and one age 11.  Trying to find clothes for all of them could break the bank, but we came up with a solution.

All summer long, I shop at garage sales and second hand stores.  Hubby and I watch for half-off sales and 75% off tags at Good Will, collecting cute clothes for $.10 to $2.00.

I have learned to hit the jackpot by driving slowly past garage sales, looking for  a stylish teenager guarding the money box.  Often their clothes have been worn once or not at all, or they have too many, so they practically give their unwanted threads away.

Right before school starts, and in the spring, we pull out the clothes and set up a store.

The girls take turn trying on and choosing items they love.  Lucky for us, the three girls have very different taste, and slightly different body types, so there isn’t a lot of competition.

This is the oldest in her "not quite polished mis-matched, but look at me I'm cute" look

The oldest sports a polished look.  The middle is a traditional preppy girl, and the youngest digs more of a Punky Brewster style.

Any clothes that are still too big get boxed up for the next season.  Unchosen clothes will make their way back to one of the thrift stores.

As they get older, I’m scared that they won’t want to shop this way anymore and my money saving plot will be foiled.

But they are still excited to pick out outfits.

Each of them will get a little bit of spending money to buy the school clothes that they didn’t find on shopping day.  We’ll go to the box stores and to the second-hand stores.  They’ll decide how to budget their funds to fill in their missing wardrobe.

I spent about $80 on the clothes and shoes bought this way.  Each of the girls is getting $40 to spend at the regular stores.  Any leftover money will be set aside if they want to buy something later this fall.

The girls are learning how to budget their money.  They’re learning about the value of reusing and recycling.  And heck, clothing three girls in really cute, full wardrobes for less than $200 total, works for me.

The three girls, youngest to oldest in their favorite outfit of the day


A Note About “The Boy”

My step-son is going into high school.  He is substantially less picky about his clothes.  I find nice shirts for him along the way, and his dad will take him to buy blue jeans and socks.  So far, so good.

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Planting tomatoes is pretty easy , but there are a few tips to learn to make your planting experience successful.

  • Choosing your plants:  Look for plants that are sturdy without discoloration or spots.  I look for plants that are between six inches and 12 inches tall.  The plant in the following photos is generally bigger than the ones I usualy plant.  But our weather was nasty so it had to stay in the pot longer than I would have liked.  Also, try to avoid plants that already have blooms on them.  If they already have blooms, you will want to pinch them off so the plant can use it’s energy to grow the plant bigger and adjust to its new surroundings.
  • My plants go into raised beds, but you can also plant them directly into the ground or in pots.  If you choose to go the pot route, it should be a very big pot with a minimum of 5 gallons for the determinate plants (the ones that stop growing at a maximum size).  Other, like many of the heirlooms, will require very large pots.
  • If you are short on garden space, consider planting them right in with your flowers.  Tomatoes can add a lot of nice color to your flower beds.
  • Do not plant before your last frost date.  I usually wait about a week longer than that.  Putting your tomatoes out into the cold ground or at risk to frost won’t get you ahead.  I live in Northern Indiana, and I usually plant around May 15th.
  • Plan to plant the tomatoes about 3-4 feet apart. (I am a terrible example.  I always try to squeeze in too many, but I think I pay for it with lower fruit production.)

How to Do the Planting

Step 1: Start with making sure the plants are watered thoroughly before planting.

Step 2: Dig a hole deeper than the plant sat in the pot.

Step 3: Clean up the plant.  Pinch the lower leaves and any that are dried up or otherwise discolored. I always go quite a bit up the stem.

Step 4:  Turn the plant over and push on the bottom of the pot to remove. Very gently tug on the stem if it’s stuck. Also, if you are having any difficulty removing the plant, check the bottom. It could be root bound. If you see little white roots sticking out of the bottom, pinch them off with your fingers.

Step 5: If the roots are at all root bound, gently break them apart a bit before planting.

Step 6: Place the tomato into the hole. The hole should be deeper than the tomato was in the pot. All the fuzzy hairs on the stem are root hairs. Essentially, by planting your tomato deeper, you will be giving your plant a deep tap root. Also, the little hairs will develop into bigger roots.

Step 7:  Fill the hole back in with dirt.

Step 8: Water the plant thoroughly. You can give it a bit of fertilizer or compost. But, don’t overdo it or you will end up with lovely giant plants without a lot of fruit.

A very special thank you to my cooperative hand model, Jeremy.

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Trying to live more simply is my journey of the last seven years.

The road began with reading up on small scale agriculture.  I loved gardening and animals, had studied farming in college, and was just beginning to hear the buzz about sustainable farming.  I had filled my small city lot with flowers, lettuce, and tomatoes.  There was not an inch left for any more beds.  I was longing for the country and I was trying to plan for my future eco-friendly farm.

One of my Diet Cokes and Miss “X”
(okay so it’s Lisa, but she’s given up DC for good.)

A couple of years after the quest to find out about sustainable agriculture began, I was afforded the opportunity to work for an environmental learning center which would change my life forever.  I knew very little about nature when I started.  Now I am eco-nature-geek and it’s all their fault!

As I’ve mentioned before, Diet Coke is one of my biggest vices, less now than three years ago though.  I would stop by the gas station and buy 44 ounces of pop, and bring it in to work.  I didn’t eat vegetables, and I ate a lot of meals from a tin can.  My new ecofriends would scold me (in an encouraging way of course).

No one ever bopped me on the head or called me any bad names; none that I can remember anyway.

Mostly, they led by example.  My friends…

  • carefully sorted their garbage into: recycling, worm bin, and throw it into the woods for the raccoons.
  • never used paper plates or plastic forks, even when we had a big party for our volunteers, we washed dishes.
  • always jumped in because there was work to be done.
  • were diligent about carpooling or riding bikes to work.
  • carried their water bottles and encouraged me to get one too.
  • carefully shopped for their new purchases, making sure the fabrics were sustainably produced and fairly traded.
  • found joy in a walk on a sunny day, even in the winter.
  • convinced me that winter could be fun (well, at least less awful), if you learned to dress for the weather.
  • had me order the more expensive coffee because it was shade grown and the farmers were paid a fair wage.
  • showed me how to like snakes.
  • applauded my efforts at learning about small agriculture, and encouraged me to bring in fresh eggs and extra tomato plants.

My friends led by example. Not in a preachy way, but in a “This is how we live our life way.”

I drank Diet Coke from styrofoam cups until the day I left.  I never once ate Thai food willingly while at work, never tried the fair trade coffee, and secretly used paper plates at home sometimes.

But, I can now drink coffee, drink way less pop, carry my water bottle, cook my food from scratch, wash my own plate at school-even when there are paper plates and plastic forks out.  I now eat curry on purpose without whining.  I pick up snakes on my hikes with my students.  My family of six only throws out about one or two small trash bags per week.  We compost most waste and feed our worms and chickens.  And I’m much more willing to jump in and help than I used to be.

I learned a lot from my friends.  They have changed the way that I live my life.  I was going through life without really thinking about the price of my actions.  I love them for being my teachers and mentors.  I hope that I can be the same sort of teacher and mentor that they are to me for someone else.  Not in a preachy way, but by example.

A “This is how I live my life” kind of way.

Thank you Jane, Dana, Lisa, Paul, Carol, Jennifer, and Luke for making such a difference in my life.

My Eco-buddies trying to show me that winter can be fun, while playing broomball.

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After reading Katy’s response to my blog post, I feel really bad.  I in no way intended to insult her.  I completely related to her story, and wanted to offer her support when I saw that people were slamming her.  I read and reread my post until I was sure that I was offering support in the form of my story, but I guess I wasn’t making myself very clear.

I was trying to relate my reality and journey from blind consumerism, and I didn’t do this very well.  My stance is that we should understand what our own values are so we can use those values to make informed and conscious decisions about our purchases.

I have struggled a lot the last few years with my values of frugality and doing what is best for the environment and socially.  I am about as cheap as they come and I can pinch pennies until they bleed. The intent of my post was to offer support as we learn how to best do this.

I’m not going to pretend that I am perfect.  No Way!  I still lust over Diet Coke, have too much junk on my counter, and buy veggies from the farmer’s market that don’t always get eaten.  I drink coffee every morning, and my hubby and I are chocovores.

Here are the points that I was trying to make, in a nutshell.  I’m going to break these down with facts, figures, research, and real experts over the next week or so.  If you’re interested, stay tuned…

1. We are all in this together, and should offer one another support and encouragement.

2. There are many food injustices. There is not a shortage of food on the planet, but a problem with the distribution of the food in the form of availability and access by price.  This includes people here in the United States, not just in developing nations.

3. Even choices that seem reasonable, may be greenwashed. Just because a label says cage free eggs, or a natural product doesn’t mean that it is what we assume it is.  And veggies that look good in the store may have traveled from Chile or some other far off place, all the while losing nutrients.

4. GMOs are in almost everything we eat that has Corn, Soy, or Canola in it. The only way to avoid it is to buy organic.  GMO’s have the DNA of other organisms in it which have a built in pesticide or resistance to a pesticide.  We eat this stuff.

5. CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) raise animals in a non-sustainable way. Animals like cows and sheep are fed grain to fatten them up.  They were not designed to eat like this, and it can cause health problems, in addition to the environmental problems CAFOs can create.

6. High Fructose Corn Syrup is made from GMO corn.

7. I don’t shop at designer food stores either, but there are other ways to get our hands on foods that are raised sustainably and ethically.

8.  This is the most important one.

Our food is too cheap.

It is subsidized so that we are not paying the actual cost of production.  The actual cost of production is more in line with the organic foods at the grocery.  We may save money by buying chicken raised in cramped barns, bread made from over-processed GMO grains, and veggies that were shipped in from somewhere else (losing most of the nutrients along the way).

But we ultimately pay for it with our tax dollars, livelihoods, health and biodiversity.

I wish I didn’t know all of the stuff that I know about agriculture and the injustice and greed of big agribusinesses.  It would make going to the grocery a lot easier.  These agribusinesses are trading our health and health of our planet for their financial gain.

Tonight I went to hear Wes Jackson of the Land Institute talk about the future of sustainable agriculture.  His plan focuses on perennial grains.  Grains make up 75% of U.S crops.  I will be discussing what I learned over the course of the next week also.

Again, I want Katy to know that I was in no way trying to make her feel bad.  I think she’s doing a lot of great things.  She’s also right, I’ve only been reading her blog for about 6 weeks now, and I do highly recommend it, she has lots of great things to say.

Below are a couple of my posts that may relate what I was trying to say about values, and my concern over food choices, better than how I said it yesterday.

values-are-worthless
big-ag-threatened-by-extremists-a-k-a-educated-eaters
lets-get-ready-to-rumble
how-to-shop-beyond-green

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This post is in response to Katy Wolk-Stanley’s blog post on The NonConsumer Advocate, “Why I Love New Seasons, but Why I’ll Keep Shopping at Safeway.”  Please stop reading my blog for a second and go read this post so the rest of this makes sense!

I love her blog, and read all of her posts.  Today, there was one post that really struck a chord with me.  It did so, because this post was totally me after my daughter was first born.  It makes me see how all of the teeny tiny changes along the way, have completely transformed the way I eat.  There was no way I would have believed that I could afford the good food that I have on my table now.

Katy,

Wow, it seems like this has sparked a lot of debate and strong feelings!  I am totally with you on wanting to save money, and I was right there with you using coupons and buying food from Save-a-lot and other groceries using my double coupons.

Ten years ago, my family was eating cheap food, and not necessarily what was healthiest for us.  I remember watching a Dr. Phil where he blasted a family for not buying fruits and veggies, that they were cheap.  He was wrong.  Veggies and fruit can be expensive, and not everyone has access to healthy foods.  There is a lot of inequality in our food system.

Here is what has changed for me over the last few years, and I hope this doesn’t make me sound like a food snob.

I started by raising my own chickens.  Most eggs from the grocery are from chickens that live in dark, smelly barns, in cramped cages.  Even most of the cage free chickens rarely if ever see the light of day.  When I sold my first flock of chickens, I bought my eggs from local farmers.  They were more expensive, but I ate less because I just couldn’t justify eating eggs from factory farms anymore.

I stopped using coupons to save money.  I know that sounds ridiculous, but I took the advice that a lot of weight loss experts give, just shop the outer perimeter of the store.  We buy cereal and the occassional frozen pizza.  Other than that, everything comes from the produce and dairy section.  In fact, I only do heavy duty grocery shopping about every six weeks.  Buy not using coupons, I wasn’t tempted to buy food I didn’t need, especially the prepackaged stuff that’s full of high fructose corn syrup, all kinds of preservatives, and GMOs.

I stopped buying meat at the grocery.  We buy lamb from a farmer, have it butchered and frozen.  For about $400 we have about 6-8 months of burger, roasts, and chops.

We raise a lot of our own food in raised beds out back.  I blanch the veggies and throw them in the freezer as they ripen.  We made a ton of salsa this summer that we canned.

Before we had raised beds, we bought just what we needed for the week from the farmer’s market.  By buying in season, we got organic produce at a reasonable price.  I buy seasoning, spices, flour, baking soda, etc. in bulk.  It costs WAY less this way.  I never buy those little taco and chili seasoning packets.  There is a lot of MSG, and other nasties in there.  Plus, by mixing my own as I go, it costs about 15 cents per meal vs. 75 cents to a dollar.  I have found a couple of family owned stores that sell in bulk.  I can even get organic whole wheat flour, and organic spelt flour for a very reasonable price, and avoid GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) junk-most of the corn and soy we eat is GMO unless it is organically grown.

My family of six averages about $350 for our food purchases for the month, including the meat. That is about what I spent when I had a family of three and was a coupon shopper.

I want to give you encouragement because I know how hard it is to balance finding good prices, feeding your family healthy foods, and doing what is ethical and a part of your value system.

For myself, I can no longer buy meat from CAFO’s.  I can’t buy eggs anymore that aren’t from chickens that don’t eat bugs and see the sun.  I avoid products made with GMO corn, canola, and soy.  I don’t buy products with High Fructose Corn Syrup if I remember to check the label.  All of the things that I avoid are for reasons relating to my value system as much as they are related to my family’s health.

The reason these stores are populated with “yoga moms” and “beautiful people” is two-fold.  One, they are educated consumers.  They understand parts of our food system that make them want to buy within their set of values.  These stores are usually more expensive though.  Here is the secret, those of us with average income and average to below average looks, find other sources for healthy foods like co-ops, dented can and overrun stores, farmer’s markets, CSA’s, home gardens, buying clubs, bartering, and buying direct from the farmer.

One last note.  Food in the United States is cheap for a reason.  But we all pay sooner or later.  The farmer pays by only getting pennies on our food dollar, the tax payers pay to subsidize corn, we pay with our health when we buy products that cause cancer and lead to obesity.  My journey started out with saving money, but it has become a journey of finding value and values in my food.

Somedays, I wish I was still in the dark about the realities of our food system.  But I’m not so this is how I’m living.  Katy (and the rest of y’all), please be encouraged, and if you need some advice on where to start, let me know.

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My Habit…

 

Indian Corn; Jenny Frech 2010

 

I’m really excited that some of my photographs are getting a little notice. I’m shy and self-conscious about my work, so it feels good to get a few kudos.

My Indian Corn photo was featured in a treasury on etsy this week, and then another blog found the treasury and posted it on their site. It’s a beautiful blog. That’s kind of fun.

I also received my complimentary issue of November/December issue of Grit, that has a photo I took of my old ram, Coal.  I sent a request to ask to be on the photo call out, the editor asked for samples, and they bought one right away.  That really was energizing.

If you see any photos that you like on my blog, most of them are available for sale in lots of different sizes. You can also purchase my photographs at my etsy store, Blewe.

And the bonus links

My friend Brooke wrote a poem about fall and dedicated it to me on her blog.  Thanks Brooke!  She has been trying to convince me that I should love fall, and this gorgeous October weather we’ve been having may be enough to do just that.

Check out Low Impact Betty’s blog, she has lot of DIY simple cleaners and easy ideas to get you started on a lower impact lifestyle.

 

Check out the November/December issue of Grit to see my old Ram Coal, Jenny Frech 2008

 

I love Frugal Girl’s blog too.  She discusses all kinds of ways to lower our expenses, create less waste, and she even has a series on contentment.  She is a great photographer.  Check out the pictures of her baked goods.  Jeremy got in trouble when he said he wished his wife could bake goodies like that!

This link is for my teacher friends.  Ittybiz links marketing advice with building relationships with students.  Very clever, and so so true.

Way cool paper-thin solar panels are being developed. Imagine the possibilities!

Three sources that discuss Monsanto’s Round Up Ready problems:  The Atlantic discusses “superweeds“, Grist’s blog post about Monsanto paying farmers to spray competitor’s pesticides, and Eco-Steps blog also discusses GMO’s failure to increase yields to help feed the hungry.

Thanks to everyone that’s visiting.  If you like what you find here, share it with others, and let me know what you enjoy most!

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This is a time of course correction for me.

What do you value? Fashion? Fun? Modeling?

When you drive on a curvy road you can’t keep going straight  and expect to stay on the path.  That’s how it is in life.  Only some of us (self included) have forgotten to make the turns that we needed at the right time, and now have to try to get back on the right road.  Sometimes it’s a simple turn, and other times we realized that we were reading the map upside down and have to turn all the way around.

Personally, I am pretty content with most of the aspects of my life.  The one place that I am trying to course correct is to better align my life with my core values.  Prior to the last two years, I spent a lot of time in survival mode.  

Of course, my priorities will shift as I move through Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  When I was a stay-at-home mom I worried about how we would pay the bills, which led to me taking a job to pay them.  This wasn’t so much in line with my core values as it was a necessity, and I valued having a roof over my head.

I do feel good about the direction my life is headed.  My family brings me joy and I appreciate my strengths.  But, my life was not deliberate.  Lots of “stuff” (things, activities, occupations, etc.) just sort of rambled into my life.

Now it’s time to evaluate my values and realign certain aspects of my life to match them.  I tried making a list of values last night and realized that I could come up with dozens.

Hmmm? So how am I going to prioritize dozens?  I’m not going to.

I’ve prioritized my core values.

1. Loving family life

2. Marriage and being a good partner

3. Parenthood

4. Time

5. Treating the earth and earthlings with kindness

6. Creative Expression

7. Frugality

What am I doing that is in line with these values?

1. Loving family life: We’ve given up the television as a background noise box, and make a plan a couple of times a week to snuggle on the couch and watch Muppet Show or Little House on the Prairie DVDs.  We also sit down to dinner together most nights.  (Quite a change for me when the first thing I did when I came home from school was turn on the t.v.)

2. Marriage and being a good partner: We communicate all the time, even about difficult issues.  We try to nip them in the bud early on while the issue is still teeny and weeny.  We also laugh as much as possible.

3. Parenthood: Making snuggle time for my kiddo, and recognizing the individual needs of all of the kids and giving them what they need.

4. Time: I am starting to steal micro-moments of time with my husband, kids, and friends.

5.Treating the earth and earthlings with kindness: I carry a water bottle now, hang my clothes out to dry, and recycle.  On most days, I am relatively patient with my students.  (Visit me 7th period, and you will see that patience in action)

6. Creative Expression: Currently it’s in the form of photography for me, but we also encourage it in the kids too.

7. Frugality:  I am cheap, and like to save money whenever I can, but NOT neccesarily however I can.

How do I better use these values as a guide?

1. Loving family life: Because I have the patience of Job at my job, I often come home like Oscar the Grouch, grumbling at everyone in my path.  I’m not crabby with them, I’ve just kept it pent up all day.

2. Marriage and being a good partner:  See #1

3. Parenthood: I can get wrapped up with my pictures, blog, or own sheer worn-outness that I miss out on good opportunities for bonding.

4. Time: The passing of time brings anxiety.  I spend too much time spinning wheels trying to get things done.  I need to figure out how to be present in all moments, not just a few.

5. Treating the earth and earthlings with kindness:  I still consume too much, have some products that need to make the big switch over to something greener, and have items that need to be given away.  I also hope to be a more gracious person.

6. Creative Expression: I need to make time for this.

7. Frugality: I can get caught up in the moment and buy too much of a good bargain, or buy too cheap of a product that breaks right away, instead of the item that I really want or need to begin with.

Whew, that was probably way more than anyone wanted to know about me.

If you don’t have your prioritized list yet, take some time to write down what is really most important to you.

I leave you with a very small example of how I used my prioritized list this weekend.

Hubby and I were at Walmart.  (Don’t judge me about big Wally…let me finish the story).

So, we were buying some yogurt.  We put into our cart 3 store brand 4-packs of raspberry yogurt that were a good price.  Then, as I was walking along the aisle, I spotted Stoneyfield yogurt.  It was about 20¢ more per serving.  However, I had read a bit of the biography of Stoneyfield’s founder, Gary Hirshberg.  His vision was to build a company that was sustainable, treated people fairly, and could make a difference with its profits.

Stoneyfield was one of the first organic companies to push its way into Walmart.  He is one of the folks with the vision to change the way the big box stores do business.

So, in this case, value #5 Treating the earth and others with kindness won out over value #7 Frugality, as it should.  Now, if there had been $1 more per serving difference I would have had to make some choices.  Keeping in mind the order of my values, I should either buy less of the original yogurt or none at all.

The problem that I have using this method, is that I have a very difficult time distinguishing between important things.  What is the most important to me can get cloudy when I’m in the midst of a big decision, or there is some glowing glimmery end goal like a shiny new house or how-to books.

For those of us that feel like we are just treading water, we can start making course corrections right now.  I may not be able to make major changes, but even the slightest turns, when made time after time, can turn me around in the other direction.

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