Monday, November 30, 2009

Green Holiday Plans

The winter months can be a lot of fun with all of the celebration, visiting, and gifts. However, they can also be quite expensive and these fun activities and traditions can create lots of unnecessary waste. Here are a few of the plans my husband and I have made to cut down on our spending and waste this holiday season.

  • Gifts: Nearly everyone in our family, and several friends, will be getting a jar (or two) of pepper jelly that we made over the summer or fall. This is nearly free to us, besides the money invested in the garden beds, and the jars. In addition, I am making cloth napkins for immediate family. I picked out some fun patterned fabrics, and will be using my new (to me) serger to trim the edges. I made a set of napkins for us a couple of years ago and have loved using them so much! This gift is economical for us, but has lasting value for the recipient and also helps them to create less waste from paper. Baby's first Christmas can be a tempting time to buy lots of new toys, but we have decided we'll be getting her just one main item for under the tree and will focus on spending time together rather than buying lots.
  • Wrapping: We have committed to not buying any additional wrapping materials this year, and will be using the ends of rolls from previous years, re-using bags and ribbons, or wrapping in fabric.
  • Travel: This is probably our weakest area, as we typically drive all over the state in December. This year we are taking one trip by plane before Christmas and one car trip afterward, but will be spending the actual day at our own house. We're really looking forward to seeing all of our family and couldn't give up these trips, but will do our best to carpool with relatives when we can. We are lucky to live in a place that doesn't get too cold for walking and biking, and will continue to try to do some commuting and errands by bike or by foot. Today I returned a movie while on a walk with the baby and dog!

What are your favorite tips for saving money or reducing waste? Share with me!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

White "Green" Painting

Today we made a big purchase: a 26-gallon air compressor and a paint sprayer kit. I'm going to paint a dresser for Sweet Pea's room, and I have a nearly unlimited number of other projects in mind that I can now tackle with more confidence of a good outcome. The idea is that I will achieve a smooth, professional finish. That's the hope at least. I have never used a paint sprayer or air brush before so this is all in theory right now. I was inspired to try my hand at spray gun painting by the impressive DIY feats of fellow blogger Michelle of Three Men and a Lady.

While we did spend a bundle on those two items, and the no-VOC paint I got as well, we're hopeful that in the long run this will save us money: I can paint a cheap used dresser and make it look nice rather than buying one new, I can paint the desk we have and spruce it up rather than buying a new one, and eventually I can paint our kitchen cabinets while we save to re-do our kitchen, probably years from now. A few of the other projects I have in mind include: 2 bookshelves, the frame of a bulletin board, a plant stand, the futon frame, and Sweet Pea's toddler bed. Most of these items are currently untreated or stained wood, and are all different shades and in various states of needing attention. Really, the cheapest, greenest thing to do would be to just leave everything as is, but I want my home to look nice and my furniture to look better than it does. I think painting, and a few new drawer pulls, is the best option for improvement. In addition to painting, the air compressor has many other uses, including airing up tires, powering an impact wrench or a nail gun, or lots of other tools. Average has wanted one for a long time so this was an exciting purchase for both of us.

To get started with my projects, I picked out a gallon of white, actually "Grace's Smile" is the name of the color, non-toxic paint. I bought it from the local Green Store. I wish I had known about this product when we first moved into our house. I was pregnant at the time and nervous about being exposed to paint fumes, so Average (with the help of some friends and family) did all of the interior painting before we moved in. He painted all three bedrooms and the ceilings in the entire house without any assistance from me at all-- what a guy, right? The house still smelled like paint for weeks, or maybe even longer. Well, the Green Store stocks two brands of low-odor paint, Yolo and Mythic, and Mythic is completely non-toxic and no-VOC. They are substantially more expensive than traditional paint (the gallon of Mythic that I bought cost $47.95), but I think the cost is worth it, especially since my first project is a dresser that will go in my infant's bedroom. You can get Mythic mixed to any color you want, even from another brand's color swatch!

Look for more posts to come as I begin work on the dresser, etc. The puppy is finally getting easy to manage, most of the time, so I may actually have some free time for projects again. Of course, the holidays are coming up so that means more events and travel for us so I'm not exactly sure when I'm going to be able to get started. I also have a post in mind about our holiday gifts and how we're saving money, being more environmentally responsible, and hopefully also giving more meaningful gifts this year.

Please let me know if you have any tips on using a paint sprayer, or on furniture remodeling in general. As always, all comments are welcome!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Big Plans for the Garden

This fall I hired a garden planner, Villa Verde Garden Designs, to do a plan for the backyard. I decided to do this after a few months of mentally planning, but always feeling unsure of where to start, how much of what materials to buy, and nervous about wasting money with mistakes. With a plan laid out, we know what the final outcome will be and we can do portions of it as we have the money and time, without worrying that putting one thing in is going to screw up something I'm going to want later. I also wanted help with sizes of things from someone who has more experience with gardens than me. The completed plans, delivered to us on a large paper, fully scaled for accurate dimensions, include a path, a couple of border flower beds, tearing down and rebuilding the current raised beds and adding several more. Our planner, Leah, knew to do things I might not have thought of like designing the new beds to be sizes that you can buy boards so we won't have any waste, and with big enough spaces between each one to fit a wheelbarrow. She gave us two options for layout, and included detailed views of how to put together a stable path that will last. She also included a list of local suppliers that have good prices for our building materials, and a list of plantings for the border beds. I would highly recommend this service if you're planning making a major change to your yard, or if you're just unsure about what plants to add to your space. We got our plan and all of the advice for a very reasonable rate, and I am thrilled to be adding to our vegetable garden and beautifying our backyard. I hope to document our progress on this blog as we begin making changes.

We got a puppy shortly after we got the final plan and sadly haven't done a single thing to the back yard since then. But, yesterday I did manage to dig up the entire front border of our front yard, remove the plastic sheeting, add a little bit of soil, and plant 130 bulbs! I am so excited to see them come up this spring! I also planted a lovely climbing rose next to our walkway. My long-term plans for the front yard include adding several lavenders and another climbing plant along the walkway and some wild-flowers next to the curb. As part of doing this I will be taking out all of the plastic that is currently in the border beds of our yard, under an inch or two of wood/bark chip. I hate plastic sheeting! While it does a pretty good job of minimizing weeds for a couple of years, it breaks down in the ground over time, losing functionality and turning into plastic flakes in your soil. This is not the kind of material that I want where I am trying to grow things.

In the back yard, we didn't plant a fall/winter garden this year, so we are pretty much done with harvesting for 2009. . . although there are still a couple of peppers out there that we never picked because we had such an amazing bumper crop of peppers. We ate peppers in salads, in sauces, and in burritos. I cooked more stuffed peppers this summer than in all other years combined, and we made many batches of pepper jelly, which will be one of our main gifts for Christmas this year.

Remaining to do in the back yard before it is really ready for winter: prune the raspberries, remove the dead, dried out plants, stir the compost pile, and add mulch to the raised beds.

So we have lots of big plans, now we just need to find the time to do the work.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Puppy's Sweet Side

The sweetest things about our puppy:

He won't go to bed until we all go to bed. That means that if I am bouncing the baby in the office while daddy is asleep, he will come lay near me and won't go to his crate until I go in to bed too.

The way he crosses his ears over the top of his head when he is concerned or paying attention REALLY hard.

The way he lays down if I give a command he doesn't understand - like that's the utmost he can do, is this what I'm asking for?

The way he licks toes.

How he now associates me getting peanut butter out with him going in his crate, so he jogs down the hallway ahead of me and gets inside, ready for his treat.

The way he tries to crawl onto my lap when I sit on the ground.

The way his kisses make Sweet Pea laugh and laugh!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Nursing in Public

How do you feel about nursing in public? Before I had a baby, I felt a bit conflicted about it. Now, after having a baby, and nursing in public myself at least once a week... I still feel a bit conflicted.

My internal conflict isn't about whether or not it should be allowed or how women should go about it. I firmly believe that every mom should have the right to feed her baby in any location at any time, no questions asked. I also believe that women should simply do it in the way that works best for their babies, without regard for the "comfort" of those around them. It is natural and healthy and therefore should be a non-issue. However, even I (called a nudist by my husband for my tendency to wander around the house naked) have some hang-ups about exposing my breasts in public. Why? I don't know, probably because of this up-tight, patriarchal society I come from. Again, intellectually I think it's totally great and should be totally acceptable, but I find myself looking at other women nursing in public, curious about how they do it, how they hold the baby, what clothes work for them, are they comfortable, are other people staring, etc. Then, I think, "Oh no, am I making her uncomfortable because I just realized that I am the one staring?!"

So here, is my conflict: I WANT to be totally comfortable doing it, but I'm not always actually comfortable, even though I try to act like I am. Things that help me to feel the most relaxed about it are if I have on a nursing tank so my belly isn't exposed, and if I have a cloth tucked in to catch any stray sprays or drips. I also appreciate it if those around me just continue to interact with me normally, rather than totally looking away. I own a nursing cover/"hooter-hider" thing, but I've only used it a handful of times because I have never gotten the hang of it where it feels like it makes things any easier. The few times that I did use it I was in a position where I felt very exposed, for instance facing out into a crowded restaurant, and I wasn't wearing clothes that were very conducive to nursing. I know some people that love them, but it just has never worked very well for us to cover Sweet Pea up while she's trying to eat. Now that Sweet Pea is older she can figure out how to latch on in nearly any position, with only a small portion of my breast exposed, and she is very efficient at getting the milk, so it is much much easier to get the job done quickly than the early months. Although of course now that she is older she also squirms and gets distracted by people around us more, so I still sometimes try to find a quieter, private area to nurse. For this reason, I believe that nursing rooms should be available in more public places. NOT because women should have to hide themselves or worry about other people's comfort, but just because it can be easier to get the job done when you have a comfortable chair in a quiet location.

As she grows, I also wonder how I'll feel about nursing an older baby in public. Will I feel more uncomfortable because I'll be concerned about being judged for nursing a toddler, or less uncomfortable because I'll have so much experience by then?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Halloween Costumery

The winning idea this year was: Super Mario Bros. family!
I was Princess Peach
Average was Mario
Sweet Pea was Toadstool

We sewed blue overalls for Average out of some heavy "duck" fabric we found at JoAnn's, got heavy red fabric for the hat, and bought a red shirt at Value Village. I found a pink prom-style dress for myself at the village too, a pink silky robe that I modified with PUFFY sleeves, and we bought a wand and a crown to complete my outfit. Sweet Pea's costume was the simplest: a mushroom hat and a matching vest. I thought this would be good for her because at 8 months old, she isn't that patient for clothing changes, and I wanted her to remain fully mobile and comfortable. My sewing machine held up through all of the sewing of the heavy fabrics and the fluffy fabrics and the silky robe thing, but it is starting to go slower it seems. (Hmm, maybe it's time for another oiling and cleaning? I better make sure it's in good shape because this year for Christmas I am planning to try to make most of my gifts.)

Average is already thinking of ideas for next Halloween, and we were definitely inspired by some of our friends' creativity as well. I can't wait for Sweet Pea to get excited about Halloween too!