Monday, March 30, 2009

Cheap versus Responsible

As a self-professed cheapskate, I sometimes struggle to find a balance between being budget-friendly and being a responsible consumer.

I think this is an issue for a lot of people, and here's why.

Everyone likes to get a good deal. That's why coupons, sales and discounts are so popular. Stores realize this and offer things like frequent buyer programs, loyalty bonuses for customers and free gifts or discounts to keep consumers coming back.

I used to be the queen of discount shopping--if there was a good deal to be had, I could find it. I used coupons for groceries and only shopped at the double coupon places. I could find cute clothes and accessories at discount places and always had new outfits to wear because they were so CHEAP!

But several years ago, after starting to try to live more simply and frugally, I realized that buying things that are inexpensive isn't always the way to go. Cheap clothes wear out fast and more importantly I learned WHY they are so cheap in the first place (does the term 'slave labor' ring any bells?). Coupons that I had used weren't useful for me anymore once we started to shop for organic and local foods more, and traditional foods less. And all those sales on beauty products and accessories didn't do me much good, as I tried not to buy a lot of things I didn't really need, just for a "pick me up".

Still, even though I've heard other tightwads explain how it makes much more sense to buy really good quality clothes and not replace them for years, I couldn't get on that bandwagon either because:

A) I'm too cheap to spend the money on really good quality stuff and
B) My tastes change way too frequently to invest in things--I get bored often and want something new and different to spark my creativity.

So what's a tightwad to do?

My solution has pretty much been this: Shop at thrift or resale stores. You can find great quality merchandise at these places without breaking your budget. AND it's the ultimate form of recycling. I will often bring bags of clothes to the resale or thrift shop, and then do a little browsing while I'm there. Find a Goodwill in your area and check it out even if you're convinced you don't like used stuff. The one closest to me has TONS of brand new items, everything from nice bed sheet sets to new towels and cleaning products.

This doesn't solve all my problems of course. There are still things like fair trade chocolate to consider which is especially hard around holidays like Easter and Christmas. Still, I'm hopeful. It looks like Cadbury, the makers of the infamous Cadbury Creme Eggs (one of my favorites!) will be changing to Fair Trade.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Gratefulness List

Here's a list of 10 things I'm especially grateful for today, in no particular order.

1) Sunshine!
2) Fresh baked bread
3) Plenty of writing work to keep me busy
4) Dinner out with my sister and husband last night
5) The three lazy pets in the living room
6) Summer vacations (must be inspired by the sunshine!)
7) New books and magazines to read
8) Clean clothes and a load to put out on the line
9) Freedom
10) Good audio books for long drives

And here is a cool Web site, dedicated to gratefulness.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What can we do?

Sometimes, I find out just how small my world really is.

I recently hosted a fundraiser for an anti-sex trafficking/tourism organization called Coalition Against Trafficking in Women. This is the fourth or fifth year that I've held a fundraiser to support an organization working in this field. It's something that I feel very passionately about--the amazing thing to me, is how passionate others feel about it once they learn some of the horrors that these women and children go through. Kidnapping. Gang rape. Beatings. Starvation. Servicing 30 or more men a day. NO ONE should have to live like that! No one should be imprisoned and raped and beaten and abused. These are human beings, not pieces of equipment or merchandise.
It's estimated that between one and two million women and children are trafficked around the globe. Human trafficking is the second fastest growing criminal market growing. Children as young as six years old are sold to brothels in some parts of the world. PBS has a film about sex trafficking--I saw part of this a few years ago. Here's a link to the documentary clip.
And it's not just happening in countries far away. Read this ABC News story--incredible. I cannot believe that this type of thing happens right here in the United States.

I have been working for some time with an organization called Shared Hope International. In fact, a story about it's founder, Linda Smith, is what first opened my eyes to the sex trafficking industry. I knew that I had to do something. I'm not someone who can just read something that totally blows my mind, alters my view of the world, makes me sick with anger, and then dismiss it and move on.

I started by selling hats at church a few weeks before Easter Sunday. I called the project "Hats for Hope" and donated all the money I raised to Shared Hope International. The next few years, with the help of some very kind and helpful volunteers, I ran a Victorian Tea to raise money and awareness for the cause. The teas were successful but a lot of time and energy went into them.

This year, I tried something different. A Music Matinee combined local musical talent with refreshments in a beautiful art gallery. My mother set up a table with all the pamphlets and brochures that I'd sent away for, to help educate others about the organizations out there doing great work.

I would call the Music Matinee a success, and once again, couldn't have done it without the help of my family and the awesome, professional musicians who donated their time and talents. Mark Sustic played (as shown above), along with Carol A. Jones, Lisa Judge, and Rebecca Padula.

Yesterday though, as I started reading through the book, "From Congress to the Brothel," I realized that one event a year, while a nice start, isn't going to cut it. This work is something that I feel incredibly passionate about. I'm now in the process of seeing how I can help on a more regular basis. Reading the stories of those women and children, the first hand accounts of what they have gone through is simultaneously eye-opening and heart breaking.

So I'm in the process now of waiting. Waiting to find out what it is I can do to help. Waiting to find out if this is something I need to do on my own (Set up a separate Web site or blog about sex trafficking? Start a nonprofit creating something to sell which can donate money to this cause? Create more community events? Stage art exhibits where all the art created is around the topic of sex trafficking and sex slavery?) or whether I am meant to partner with one of the organizations working on this problem already.

I'm not sure where I'll end up, but I know that everything I learn about this subject, everyone I tell about this subject, helps to draw it out of the shadows and into the light. I believe that is the first step in exposing something too awful to imagine--first bring it into the light. Let the sex traffickers, the pimps, the "johns" (men who "buy" these women and children) be seen for what they really are. Bring their despicable, disgusting, loathsome actions out into the light for everyone to see what and who they really are. And let that same light be shone over the women and children who are hidden away, so that they can escape from the shame, humiliation, and degradation and start new lives for themselves.

What can we do about a problem that seems so overwhelmingly huge?

We can start. We can do one thing and see where it leads. And then, we can do another.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

An un-diet revolution

I have been thinking about food a lot lately--or rather, my relationship with food. During my pregnancy, I've had to change my eating habits. I've been a lot more conscious about what I'm eating; trying to eat more protein, less sugar, more fruits and veggies, less "white" stuff. While all these changes have been positive, there is part of me that misses being able to eat what I want.

And the cravings? Out of control! I have had cravings in the past but nothing like this--it feels like PMS cravings every day. All someone has to do is mention the word "chocolate" or "ice cream" and it's all I can think about.

Luckily, I've been pretty moderate in my weight gain throughout my pregnancy. I can see how easy it would be to just say, "Oh forget it!" and gobble down any old thing, but I try hard not to do this. I grew up with a weight problem and I certainly know first hand how very, very hard it is to lose weight.

All of this brings me to a point (don't worry, I DO have a point!). It reminds me about the importance of non-dieting. Several years ago, after many, many failed attempts to get "control" of my weight, and fluctuating between losing and gaining over and over again, I decided that I'd had it. I read a book by Geneen Roth, started eating whatever I wanted whenever I was really hungry, and began to live in a whole new way.

That's not to say that my weight and body issues were cleared up overnight, but I see the reading of that first book as the beginning of a different way of life.

It seems that everywhere I go, every group of women I talk with, all have the same feelings about food. They feel out of control. Or they are very much in control, to the point where it takes over their whole life. Working out for several hours a day and obsessing about calories is just as unhealthy in my opinion, as being overweight.

Where does this obsession with food and our bodies come from? The media definitely plays a role. So did our parents and other family members during our formative years.

A few organizations are determined to put an end to the dieting obsession. Read about the organization Overcoming Overeating here. Find out more about learning to eat more intuitively here. I also came across this interesting looking book here.

Un-dieting or non-dieting should be explored much more in our American culture. Living isn't about deprivation or extravagance, but a fine balance between the two. And the freedom one can enjoy when not controlled by thoughts around food and appearance are just the tip of the ice burg.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Little happy surprises

Last week I had a surprise in the chicken coop. A very pleasant, very pretty BLUE surprise! Though the lighting in this photo doesn't show the true shade of the blue egg (nearest my fingers) it is so beautiful that I hesitate to eat it.

When my sister, mother, and I got chicks last spring, I ended up taking a little Arucana with a crossed beak. I was worried about her and thought that she might do better in my small flock than in my Mom's larger one. Her beak is so crossed and so pointed that it surprises our visitors that she can eat at all. Actually, it surprises me too when I watch her managing the food dish.

Her name is "Chipmunk" (or Chippy) because when she was a chick she had the exact markings of one. I never expected her to lay eggs, I just hoped that she would stay alive. My mothers Arucana's started laying months ago, so I had pretty much given up hope that Chippy would ever produce any eggs. But lo and behold--last Friday I found this gorgeous, full-sized, blue egg in the nest! I was smiling from ear to ear as I left the coop and had to take a photo in case it was some weird fluke. But no, she's laid two more since then!

I love happy little surprises like this.

I also think there is a message here. Don't give up. Don't ever assume that just because something "shouldn't" be or it might be too difficult or impossible to imagine, that it's not "logical," that it will never come to fruition. You never, ever know what kind of supposedly impossible things might happen.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Gotta love it

I just came across this great article on frugality and tightwadding on Yahoo news of all places. I couldn't help chuckling at the writer's slightly mystified sounding reference to making one's own laundry detergent--we've been doing this for almost a year now and love it.

Here's the link to the article. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Grateful for generosity

While this may look like a photo from the inside of a baby store, it's actually just some of the wonderful presents we received at a surprise baby shower given to us by our church family this weekend! We got so many great things, most of which wouldn't even fit in the photo. Clothes, toys, bibs, more clothes, a nursery lamp, snowsuit and much, much more. I was completely blown away. I had no idea that they were having a shower for us, even after our pastor asked us to come up front.

On top of all the wonderful things we received at the shower, a friend also gave us her daughter's barely used crib and bassinet. Another friend gave me a huge bag of maternity clothes and another filled with baby clothes AND a gigantic box of newborn diapers. Wow. I feel so loved!

What was even cooler about the shower and the other gifts that have been given to us, is that for the most part they are all gently used. I LOVE the idea of re-using things, especially baby clothes which are generally grown out of so quickly that they don't even have time to become faded or pilled. It's the ultimate form of recycling. I look around the nursery and see all these wonderful new-to-us things and know that these are items which will be kept out of the landfill.

Of course, not EVERYTHING is gently used. The above organic cotton sleep sets were given to us by an aunt and uncle and the adorable yellow knit set is something I've had for years, hoping I'd someday have a cute little baby to tuck into it.
Generosity just blows me away. And happy surprises are so much fun!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Inspiration and Motivation

This is the coolest thing ever. A solar shower that was just a few steps away an awesome yurt we stayed in on a trip to Maine a couple of summers ago. If you've never taken a solar shower, you've got to try it. It's like skinny dipping . . . for the more modest of us.

Building a solar shower in my backyard is on my "homestead dream list". Imagine a nice cool rinse in the outdoor shower after a hot afternoon spent fighting weeds?

There are a ton of other things on my list too, including building cold frames, expanding my flock of hens, planting blueberry and raspberry bushes, landscaping the front yard, expanding the vegetable garden, starting a strawberry bed, planting fruit and nut trees, raising angora or dairy goats, and much more.

Baby steps. Baby steps.

This is a hard time of the year for northern homesteaders, gardeners, and everyone else whose fingers are itching to smell fresh, green grass and feel the sun on their backs. I made a pact with myself that this year I wouldn't crack open a single seed catalog or start mapping out my garden expansion plans until March. I made it. (Barely!)

Of course, this hasn't stopped me from inhaling every magazine article I can find on homesteading, living off the grid, and "putting food by" (canning or drying for the next winter season.) Some of my favorite days are when my new Mother Earth News magazine appears in the mailbox. I also love my new subscription to Grit magazine (keep an eye out for a few of my upcoming articles in future issues of Grit!). On top of these two favorites are Mary Jane's Farm, Countryside, Hobby Farm and the new Hobby Farm Home which I just learned about.

And that's just the magazines! Then there are all the Web sites, blogs and online forums. Not to mention the great books I've found at the library and received for Christmas and birthday gifts. The inspiration is endless.

What are some of your favorite homesteading or do-it-yourself resources? Where do you find inspiration?