Ha!  You CAN save money and eat healthy, earth conscious foods!  It’s so simple I can’t believe I didn’t think of it before!  

Here is the secret:

Switch to a plant-based diet. 

That’s it….

Oh, don’t roll your eyes at me.  I don’t mean you have to become a vegetarian or a vegan (although those are very healthy, good lifestyles – just not for everyone).  Instead you become what is rapidly becoming known as a “flexitarian”. 

Apparently, and I just learned this new word last week, a flexitarian is someone who eats mostly a plant-based diet but isn’t opposed (morally or otherwise) to eating meat on the occasion.  

We did this a while ago, after working with a holistic health/food counselor who taught me new uses for old foods and coaxed me to eat vegetables I NEVER thought would darken my door, much less my refrigerator!  But being brave, and not one to ever shrink from a challenge, I pushed on.  Now we are full-fledged “flexitarians” eating meat only once or twice a week.  

We are a  family of three, fully organic/wild, including meat purchases – which in other words reads E.X.P.E.N.S.I.V.E.   And my grocery bill had creeped up to $250 a week (including whatever sundries we purchased, which are all natural products too)!  

Today, even with those expensive meats and products like for instance,$20 for a free range chicken! $18 lb for fresh caught wild Salmon, $7.99 for a small  container of laundry soap that is safe for the earth and for me and my family….

my grocery bill is…..drum roll please…..$150 a week!  Holy SMOKES!  I never thought I would see the likes of those prices again once I committed to eating organic foods and using organic products. 

So a regular weekly menu in my house looks like this:

Breakfast:  Whole Grain Cereal (usually Kashi brand), boiled eggs and fruit, omelette, or spinach Quiche

Lunch:  Left overs, sandwiches (made with boars head all natural meats and LOADS of veg including tomatoes, sprouts, onions, ect., salad and a slice of sour dough bread or homemade bread


Monday: Double Mushroom Soup, whole wheat bread and fruit salad made with seasonal fruits and sweetened with agave nectar. 

Tuesday:  Cuban Black beans & Rice

Wednesday: Roasted Chicken, Cajun spiced boiled potatoes, sautéed collard greens, sliced tomatoes

Thursday:  Left overs

Friday: Stuffed Portobello Mushroom caps (stuffed with spinach, cheese, etc), some sort of vegetable side

Saturday: Clean out fridge – left overs

Sunday: Warm Shrimp Spinach Salad with sliced bread

snacks include: roasted pumpkin seeds or nuts, fruits, pretzels, popcorn, smoothies, banana bread, guacamole and baked tortilla chips, etc. etc.

Fertile ground

January 21, 2010

I am fortunate to live in a very southern climate.  While it can dip below freezing in the winter, we also have many days that reach the mid-seventies.  Today was one of those days.  

Because of our mild climate, we are, in this area, able to garden year around.  In the past, there was always something growing in the little patch behind my house whether it be tomatoes in the summer or lettuces in the winter.   Unfortunately last year with my mother ill, my garden went dormant and remained so for a year, which also means it went to weed.  I considered yanking the whole thing and starting over in nice boxes that might save me some time weeding and hoeing and tilling up natures annoyances.  But I changed my mind and after today I am glad I did. 

Why?  Simply put, when I pulled back the pine straw that covered most of the garden I found a veritable metropolis of life.    Once upon a time I would have cringed to see the earth moving or have bugs crawl over my hand as I rested it on the ground.   But today I sat in the watery sunshine of a fine January day and rejoiced that the soil I have tended and nurtured over the last five years is still fertile.  Fertile enough to support an abundance of life.  Fertile enough to support the plants I wanted to sow. 

The thing about organic gardening is coming to terms with nature.   It is all the craze to build boxes and get your gardens up out of the dirt.  But I don’t like that and until today I couldn’t put my finger on why (well, other than the cost!)  It may save some time but it also creates a barrier between the earth and your food.  Weeding is never fun but you have to give credit to those little plants with deep roots that struggle just for survival only to be ruthlessly yanked from their homes and left to die. 

Today I planted about 100 white and red onions.  I am looking forward to pulling the young ones out of the ground for shallots in the spring and the big bulbs in the late summer and fall.  For some time I avoided the garden because of the work involved in reclaiming it but the fruits of my labor will certainly be worth it!


December 29, 2009

“When we tug at a single thing in nature, we find it attached to the rest of the world.”
– John Muir

I recently had lunch with a colleague who has left telecommunications and entered the world of bio-fuels.  Producing leaner, cleaner fuels to run our cars, trucks, trains and ships.  It’s renewable rather than depleatable like fossil fuels.  It leaves us much less dependant upon OPEC and the Middle East.  

Sounds great right?  I thought so too until we started discussing how much acreage is needed to produce bio fuels.   Bio fuels produced from palm oils would require thousands upon thousands of acres of rain forest to be cleared and planted with palm trees.   Rain forests aren’t just some neat place to vacation every now and then, they are vital to the earth’s ecology by recycling carbon gases into oxygen, helping recycle water from the earth back into the atmosphere to have it fall back down again, which makes them critical for weather patterns.  

Then there are biofuels produced from algae.   But they require a shallow area in the sea so they can get sunlight – an area about the size of Rhode Island.  Imagine how giant floats of algae would alter the ocean ecology. How many species would die from oxygen deprivation due to clusters of algae like the infamous red tide? 

And then my favorite, someone has figured out how to separate the oxygen and hydrogen components of sea water and make it burn.  Imagine, they say…using sea water.  How great, it is not depleatable! ….Or is it?  If we pump billions of gallons of water out a day  or a week or a month, how would that again alter weather patterns?  Would we one day reach the bottom of the well?

The one thing that struck me and struck me hard during that lunch the current American lifestyle is simply not sustainable.  For the sheer fact that, as John Muir states above, when we tug at a single thing in nature, we find it attached to other things.

I am finishing up a great book on sustainable living written by Barbara Kingslover, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.    Not only is the book well written – Barbara Kingslover writes well renouned works such as The Prodigal Summer and The Poisonwood Bible, but it is also full of useful information, facts and even recipes.

The book explores the Kingslover family quest to spend one year consuming only what they could produce or was grown or produced locally.  Throughout the project, and the book, you and they learn the fine art of gardening, planning, preserving and canning and raising animals for meat. Frightening facts are sprinkled liberally throughout the book such as the water piped into to serve Arizona residents is considered toxic to aquarium fish but safe for humans or how humans are closer to starvation than we know because of our reliance on unicrop food production has dwendled the available food species to just a few, meaning just one blight could put the earth on a course for global famine.  She also pulls no punches on “big food” and their appalling practices such as raising over 1,000 turkeys into a room the size of my bathroom all in the name of mass producing cheap turkeys for the holidays while not criticizing farmers, including tobacco farmers, for making a living.

Even if you don’t plan on living off the land, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is a good read and a good opportunity to think about how and where you get your own food and why paying more may be worth the price.

I didn’t put a source for this quote because I have seen several sources. It is mainly attributed to Mohandas Gandhi or Mohatma Gandhi but I have also seen other names attached.  Knowing how accurate the web is (sarcasm alert), I am not going to take the chance of attributing it but will just say…it is a great quote.

In this season of consuming, it is important to think about what we buy, where it comes from and how it is made.  The United States is among the worlds most prolific consumers, utilizing resources worldwide to keep our ever constant demand supplied.  But our demands negatively impact people’s lives in the third world by purchasing goods made from slave labor, sweatshops, and resource depletion all in the name of feeding the god…Consumerism.

Today, take a step back and rethink what you give for Christmas or Chanukah.  Think about giving of yourself, your time, or an experience over a material item.  Afterall, memories are the only thing we take with us, in the end.

The answer is most usually yes.  I know, the price of organic foods is high but you really can eat organic and healthy on a budget. 

Here is the secret.  Eat seasonally, buy locally and eat less.  It takes some adjustment and a bit of an adventurous streak but in the end, it is cheaper and healthier for you and the environment. 

Virtually every part of the country has access to either farmers markets or community sponsored agriculture.  The first is where local farmers bring their produce and other products usually one or two days a week.  I am lucky, I live in a city that has not 1, not 2 but 7 different farmers markets going on throughout the week.   The prices on these foods are generally slightly lower than you would find on the same organically grown produce in a grocery store because the farmers have taken out the middle man.  But, wait for it…you get a bonus.  You get the best tasting and the most nutritionally sound produce because it was picked either the day before or more often the morning it was brought to market.  

Produce in the grocery store, even organic produce is nutritionally inferior (organic does not boost nutrition, it simply limits how much poison you and the earth absorb growing that particular item).  It was picked before peak ripeness so it would come to you fresh and pretty and ripe on the grocery store shelves.  When it is picked prior to ripeness, not all of its nutrition has been fully set.  And then once separated from the plant, vegetables and fruits almost immediately begin to lose nutritional content, in other words, it begins to die.  So the week or two it spends between the grower and the grocer it is steadily declining in vitamins and minerals.   Not only that, but most often organic produce is grown in California or south of the border and shipped at great expense and great CO2 emissions to your waiting grocer’s shelves.   

By choosing a farmers market you are not only getting the best produce but you are buying local, supporting local small farms that have a tough time making a living against giant commercial agriculture, you are reducing your carbon footprint by reducing emissions that it took your food to come from where it was grown to your plate and you are getting the best bang for your nutritional buck.

Community sponsored agriculture (CSA) is another great option.  This is where you “buy into” a farm.  You buy shares and receive a box weekly of what that farm produces.  It is just as good as the farmer’ markets but perhaps a bit riskier. Farming itself is risky business and if a farm produces a bounty, all CSA members share in that bounty.  But if it has a hard year, you share in that too.  I would love to do this but you have to find a CSA selling new shares. Most of the farms in my area take advantage of the farmers  markets and the limited markets that buy local produce therefore there are fewer CSA opportunities.

I have the best option.  Living in a very green city, a local entrepreneur started a delivery grocery business.  When possible they buy from local farmers but they also have a nice selection of other grocery items you can buy. It is like shopping at Whole Foods over the internet and it comes directly to your door.  I will post more on that another time. 

For now, check out this website to find your local farmers market or CSA.

Local Harvest

If you live in Central Texas or San Antonio check out Greenling

Change, Change, Change

December 8, 2009

I have had a lot of changes in my life recently. Changes that forced me over a year ago to abandon this blog and focus inwardly on my life, and culminated in the loss of my mother to breast cancer.  No one ever wants to lose their parents, especially when their parents are still so young.  But with my mother’s death, I was given an amazing new insight and clarity about life that I didn’t have before. In other words,  with my mother gone I am officially a grown-up.

Yes, I realize that since I AM 38, I should have realized I was grown up a long time ago.  But you really never feel that way until you can no longer pick up the phone to call your mom.  Despite whether you had a good or bad relationship, rocky or smooth, your mother is the true umbilical cord to your childhood. 

And so with this growing up, I am making more changes. Positive changes.  First and foremost, I am changing the name of this blog to “Simply Green”.   The former name is long and unwieldly.  Simply Green, however, aptly conveys my quest to live simply, live green and to save money (green being a double entendre for both the green movement and money).

Not all changes have been as hard as caring for and then losing my mother.  I have made a great many positive changes in my life over the past year and I am excited to tell you about them and I will start tomorrow.

Take care and keep watching.  Simple living is back.

Living to Work

May 14, 2009

This past weekend one of my husband’s co-workers passed away.  He was in his 50’s, in seemingly good health and fit.  It made me think of all the professionals I know that spend 10 or more hours a day, not including their commute, in the prime of their lives (their 30’s) and the youth of their children’s lives, at an office away from their families.  Many miss important milestones hoping that some day, all their hard work will pay off and some day they will have time to relax, travel and experience fun.  Some day typically means retirement.

I have to ask…… why?  At the end of the day, the golden years often aren’t very golden.   In fact, if we are lucky enough to make it to retirement, not having been stopped by the two biggest killers in the US  heart disease or cancer, we will likely not have the energy or the money to just do what we want.    Why wait until our kids have kids to enjoy spending time with a child? 

I say work less now, pare down expenses to live on less, take time out for our children now while they are young and developing, take time to travel now while you can enjoy the experience without fear of health issues and fixed incomes weighing on your minds. 

I hate to break the bad news but you can’t bank time and experiences to be saved up and used when you are ready for them.  You either live now….or you don’t.

After a very long absence due to family illnesses, I have returned. I hope to restart this blog and resume my place as a guide to creating a work-life balance now that my own life has settled down. I hope to see my readers back as well.

I do have something to report.  During my absence here my family radically altered our lives once again to find that elusive work-life balance.   My husband left his stressful, job with long hours as an engineer in the private sector and returned to his first place of employment – a state agency.    Three years ago, we were both lulled by the siren song of high pay opportunities and he left his job at the state agency for the private sector.   Three years later, he had seen the sun come up at his office more times than either of us care to think about, he worked six days a week and thought about work 24/7.   Our lives were unravelling. 

We looked around at friends who are also engineers and realized it would be years before he saw any relief, if he ever did.    We had to really focus on whether the money was worth him being an absentee father and husband in order to join the ranks of the upper middle class.    Our decision….the money wasn’t worth what we were having to give up. 

Today my husband is back at the state agency.  He will never earn six figures.  His job isn’t sexy or glamorous. But he goes to work at 7 am and comes home at 4 pm.   Without exception.  I have my husband back.  Our son has his father back.  And the state has a damn fine engineer. 

This means we will never be able to move into the tonier part of town…but we like our small home in our modest middle class neighborhood.  I will never have granite counter-tops or a pool in my back yard nor will I be able to quit my own job to devote my time to writing…but my question is…why should I be able to pursue my dreams at the expense of someone else, namely the man I love?   Everything requires sacrifice, who better for me to sacrifice my dreams for but the man I love and with whom I intend to spend my life?   And I still get to write, I just have to juggle it with my job. 

So there you are.. I put my money where my mouth is and you know what?  Life is sweet.

The third step in simplifying your life is to look at your obligations and prioritize them.   Once you have prioritized your list, eliminate anything that isn’t a required obligation.  For instance volunteering, book clubs, bunko groups, birthday parties, etc. etc.   You won’t have to eliminate these things forever, just long enough to regain control over your life. Once you have freed up time and money, you can bring back the things that are most important to you.

Below is a look at some of my obligations and the changes I made:

Most of us have to work in order to feed and cloth ourselves so obviously work goes to the top of the priority list.  But you will find that as you simplify your life, you need less money and you may be able to work less in the future.   However, there may be things you can do today to lessen the burden of a stressful job.  Can you work from home, eliminating a commute and possibly reclaiming two or more hours a day?   Can you work part time, freeing up more of the day to put toward the wants in your life?

Volunteering is important but it can be put off until you have achieved balance and simplicity in your life.   I have always volunteered.  In the past I was on a homeless feeding group, I was on the board of my son’s daycare center, I was on the board at church to establish a mobile homeless food canteen and I volunteered at my son’s elementary school.   In the end, I had to drop every single one of those until I had gotten my life where I felt I needed to be.   Today, I have a saner volunteer schedule.  I volunteer weekly in my son’s school on a program that early identifies and early intervenes in dyslexia and other learning disorders but don’t volunteer for things like parties.  I do try to make one class trip a year because it makes my son happy for me to be there.   I am slowly getting back into my homeless causes, something that is very important to me.  I will realign those and re-volunteer because now I have the time to devote to it without feeling overwhelmed and pushed.

Family and friends.  I used to be involved, along with  my crazy volunteering schedule, in many neighborhood activities like a book club and a bunko group as well as sitting on several committees for our neighborhood association.   Many women in my neighborhood enjoy this time out.  But I found it became mostly an opportunity to complain about their lives, their husbands and their children.  I wasn’t comfortable in that environment because my husband has always been my refuge so, after deciding I wasn’t getting anything out of it and spending money on hosting or providing entry fees, buying books and the obligatory holiday white elephant gift exchange, I dropped them all.   We try to spend more time on what really matters,  family members and close friends.   We have a standing Friday  night date with our son for dinner and a movie – we cook at home and watch a family movie from Netflix.   We reserve Sunday as a time for just us and our son because it is easier to do without interrupting his time with friends.   Most importantly, we remain flexible and if he has a Friday night sleepover with friends, my  husband and I lock the door, light candles and enjoy being together.

Incessant child parties, and adult parties for that matter…We completely eliminated these.  We don’t even go anymore.  With 22 kids in our son’s class, we could be having at least two parties a month (and sometimes we did).   This costs money for gifts that the kid probably doesn’t need and won’t play with more than once, money that you could be saving for something far more worthwhile.   It also takes time and lets face it, with a large, rambunctious party the kids aren’t really attending to developing meaningful relationships.   We usually RSVP with regrets that we have a conflict that cannot be avoided.   That conflict may be us staying home and riding bikes together, the host doesn’t have to know and I don’t feel I have to explain.  I haven’t seen where this as unduly affected our son’s friendships.  We make sure to organize meaningful time together with friends so he  can build relationships and spend meaningful time on friendships that are very important to him.

Grocery shopping.  Many of us live in areas that have grocery delivery.   If you do, take advantage.  Shop on the internet and let the groceries come to you.   If you can’t, plan well in advance what you need and minimize your stress level by going at an ‘off peak’ shopping time – I used to leave my husband and son home and shop at 9 pm because I knew the crowds would be at home getting ready for bed.

Kids activities.  These need to go right now.  Yes, extracurricular activities are important but in America we have over scheduled our kids to the point they need their own daily planners.   Our child actually did this for us when he broke his arm so spectacularly that he couldn’t participate in anything for three months, it was during this time we realized how crazy his life had gotten.   Once he was able to rejoin extracurricular activities we decided to limit it to one a semester.  Instead of robot club and chess club after school, music lesson and baseball – most of which he didn’t care about, we now focus on one activity.  If he really wants to join a second we probably wouldn’t stop him but we encourage him to rationally choose what he wants to join, keeping a balance between activities and school work as well as prioritizing free play.   He chose to drop everything except music lessons.  We have one music lesson weekly — for 1/2 hour plus his daily practice sessions.  The rest of the time he spends time with friends and free play activities like riding his bike or scooter around the neighborhood or playing legos or games indoors.   There is nothing quite like the shock on your drum instructors face when he shamefully asks if we can accommodate a schedule change and we happily say “Dave, we are at your disposal, you are our only obligation on Saturdays….”   There is also nothing quite like the beauty of waking up and knowing we don’t have anywhere to be on any given Saturday or Sunday with the exception of our one half hour commitment.  Again, we have freed up more money by not being involved in many organizations that each require a fee and support throughout the season.  Kids don’t need a host of activities to be happy and healthy or have strong sense of self and accomplishment.  That is an adult creation and a fairly modern one at that.  I believe kids need far more free time, down time and opportunities for free play than they need soccer three times a week.

Break the Christmas Craziness

December 12, 2008

I am not a religious person.  However, I watched this video and was moved by the message – spend less, give more of yourself, simplify Christmas, live simply so that others may simply live.

The Advent Conspiracy

According to this, it would cost $10 billion to provide safe drinking water to every person on the planet.  Yet Americans spent over $450 billion on Christmas last year and many people still lack safe drinking water and die from diseases caused by water contamination.

Something to think about.   Every pebble into the pond causes ripples all the way to the edge.  Every dollar we spend in the United States affects, advertently or inadvertently, someone living in dire poverty in the third world.

I know, I am slightly late a day late posting the second step to simplifying your life.   Last week, you should have been focusing on identifying the things you want in life, from big to small, the things that you think will make you happy.  

This week, the focus is on obligations.  We all have them.  These are the things we either think or know we cannot avoid.  In order to get to the next step and set priorities, you first have to know what you want out of life and what you have to do to get those things but you also have to recognize when there are activities that cannot be avoided that you must account for in your quest to simplify.  In a later post we will talk about how to make those obligations as simple or as enjoyable as possible.

Here is a sample list of obligations that you feel you cannot avoid.

  • Work – most of us are not fortunate enough to have been born with enough money to simply float through life doing what we want.  Generally, in order to live or survive, we have to work.
  • volunteering – whether it is with your child(ren)s school or the community, many people feel that giving back to the community is a “must”.
  • family
  • friends
  • social or adult “playdates” – these are those little things like bunko with the girls or poker with the guys.  They build community, relationships and help you unwind or even required attendance for work like cocktail parties or those awful holiday parties
  • vacations – everyone needs time off – even if you just stay at home
  • our children’s obligations – sports, theater, dance, etc.

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The economy

November 25, 2008

There is no doubt, things are scary out in the world today. The entire first world is in trouble with issues that hearken back to 1929. Are we there yet? No. Will we get there? I don’t think so but then neither did the people who experienced the Great Depression.

One thing is certain, those that have lived simply will be better prepared than those who have lived the great American tradition of spending, buying, and accumulating goods if we do experience another economic meltdown of the proportions of a depression. Why? Those who live simply don’t have as much debt because they didn’t buy as many things. They typically have smaller homes with a reasonable mortgage or no mortgage at all. They may grow their own food and therefore are prepared to provide if the economic meltdown mimics the late 1920 bank runs where money simply evaporated out of accounts.

It isn’t too late. One of the best ways to prepare for economic crisis is to choose simplicity over abundance. If you don’t know how, look for my Wednesday posts where I publish each step to guide you into the simple life.

Even if they manage to pull the economy out of this nose dive, we can all benefit by simplifying our lives and will be better prepared for any economic crisis that comes our way. 

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The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. (Economy) Walden, Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau is talking about the race of men that are born into an ideal that one must work and toil the best parts of his life away in order obtain the trappings of success.  I think this is one of the most important sentences in Walden and resonated with me as I read it while in the midst of a career crisis – 15 years into a career that I realized I hated.  While I don’t agree with everything in Walden, Thoreau is right that if we allow ourselves to  get sucked into the trappings disguised as luxuries, we will toil in desperation, worried about keeping that life going and thereby limiting our choices when by fate (bad economy) or by design (unhappiness) our current jobs are no longer an option.  By simplifying we open avenues that we never knew existed and allow us to sing in ways we never before considered.

I will quote a lot from Thoreau, after all he did go into the woods and idealized the quintessential simple life in Walden.   We can learn a lot from his experience but we should also remember that his extremism, while a goal, isn’t always obtainable.  Thoreau enjoyed a luxury most of us don’t have – friends that tolerated his philisophical minimalism, in the name of Ralph Waldo Emerson who owned a home in Concord Massachusetts in which Thoreau often lived and the land on Walden Pond on which Thoreau built his famous cabin in the woods.

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This post begins a new idea.  There is a lot of information bandied about on the net about simplifying your life but there isn’t really a “step-by-step” guide so to speak.  The sheer amount of information can be overwhelming and a life change isn’t easy, often it is hard to find a place to start.  I am going try to create one.  This will be the first post in a series on steps to simplify your life.   I will try to make these posts at least once a week because I want to keep to the new format I am creating of offering up inspirational quotes on Monday, personal experiences on Tuesday, and simple living resources on Wednesday.  I am reserving Thursday for the Simple Living Guide.  

So here goes – Simplify – Taking the first step.

The goal of simple living is shedding the unwanted and unnecessary obligations in favor of filling your life with peace, beauty and well…things you actually DO want to do.   But often, with our incredibly fast paced society and forced obligations, it is difficult to listen to that voice inside you that directs you in the way you want to go.  

Like anything, simplifying our lives is a process.  The first step in this process is to start listening to that inner voice.  But we are so conditioned to external noise.  How do we go about the task of figuring out what we want out of life?

Find a quiet place, a sheet of paper and a pen or a pencil.   Spend a few minutes picturing what you feel is the perfect life for you.  Include where you want to be, where you want to go, what you want to do and how you want to feel.  In other words, it is kind of like a bucket list – you know, from the movie – all the things you want to do before you kick the bucket.

I will share a bit of my perfect life list.

  1. Spend uninterrupted time with my husband and my son.
  2. Read a book in one day.
  3. Eat something I have never tried
  4. Learn a musical instrument.
  5. Learn a foreign language.
  6. Travel, both within the US and outside the US.
  7. Write a book.
  8. Sit in the sunshine.
  9. Cook a gourmet meal.
  10. Climb a mountain.
  11. A safe home.
  12. A garden.

Don’t worry if your list looks different than mine, we are all different people and there is no right or wrong answer, no right way to be, right things to want.  This is only a partial list and it contains small things like a day in the sunshine as well as big things like a safe home.

The only way to simplify your life is to first know what you want.  In the next post we will tackle obligations.

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Your Money or Your Life

November 19, 2008

Your Money or Your Life  is one of the best resources to changing the way you view money.  It really explains well the actual rather than initial cost of the products you own.  With maintenance, cleaning and repair, often your stuff ends up owning you because the more you own, the more you have to work. 

The authors go about changing the reader’s perceptions about money by putting costs in the form of life hours.  How many life hours will it take you to pay for something and what would you rather be doing with those life hours – working to pay for stuff or doing something on your own terms.

If you haven’t already, check out the website or get a copy of the book (from the library of course) and participate in the transformation.  Let’s face it, since we now all have to pay the bill of our consumer society so we are really not in a position to choose this transformation instead it was foisted upon us.


As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness. .  – Henry David Thoreau

The art of saying “No”

November 17, 2008

This lesson was hardest for me.  I hate saying no.  I am a doer, I get a charge out of helping people so when a call would come across for help, I would volunteer and then think “why did I do that?”.  Finally, my health forced me into a semi-recluse state.  In order to heal myself, I had to stop and let myself just be.  I didn’t have the energy to get out of bed and get my son to school – a task that my husband took on – much less be there for people totally unconnected to me. 

I am better now, after a few years of seclusion, delving into both alternative and traditional western medicine, and improving diet and exercise.  But during that time, I learned a valuable lesson.  The fine art of saying “no”.

Over the years I have been a beacon at my son’s school from preschool to elementary and at my former church.  I was over-committing with the PTA, volunteering to fill in when an officer vacated the post due to her own overcommitments, volunteering every week on a reading program, helping during field trips and class events, volunteering to feed the homeless, being on an executive board at my son’s preschool and at our church, on top of working full time and starting a new business. 

After taking a step back I can see far more clearly that that the more I try to do, the less I do well and the less I am able to truly fulfill my commitments.   I think this is universally true.  We would do better to sign up for less and commit to those projects 100% rather than spreading ourselves so thin we do many things but we do them poorly.   I am not advocating anti-volunteerism.  Just sane volunteering.

This past weekend was a great test for me and my family.  My family travelled to a neighboring city (well neighboring for Texas which is actually hours away) for a concert.   We planned our time well.  Our schedule, while busy, built in time for rest.  Our plans included meeting up with a friend from high school for dinner on Friday night, visiting an Ancient Egyptian/King Tut artifacts exhibit on Saturday morning, attending a rock concert on Saturday evening and visiting a museum on Sunday morning before heading home.  My in laws ended up in the same city, at the same time.  While we had Saturday afternoon free, my husband held firm that we were not going to plan anything with them as we would be seeing them for an extended trip at Christmas.  I felt a twing of guilt, afterall they don’t get to see their grandson very often, but my husband stood firm and for that I thank him.  So Saturday afternoon was spent lounging by the hotel indoor pool, napping and watching television to recharge our batteries for the concert and the museum on Sunday.   All went well and we came home tired but happy and relatively unstressed.  And we did see them briefly on Sunday while waiting for the museum to open. 

We could have easily gave in to the guilt of them being, normally, six hours away and not seeing them very often and spent Saturday visiting and shopping with them instead of resting but it would have made the remainder of our trip miserable.  We would have been tired at the concert Saturday night and probably would have opted to skip the Sunday museum in favor of just coming home and collapsing.

Toss the guilt, guilt is a useless exercise anyway, and choose one thing to say “no” to this week.  Whether it is the 10th child birthday party for your child’s classmates, someone visiting when it really isn’t a good time, the school desperately seeking volunteers for some project and take that time to rest, read, really look at your family or do anything that truly nurtures your spirit.  You may find you are far more able to fulfill your existing commitments.

Simplify Dinner

November 12, 2008

We need to eat but I hate cooking.  A connundrum is it not?  

I work from home and I have arranged my life around principles of simplicity by not taking on a lot of extra curricular activities so technically I have “more” time than many Americans.   But when you work from home, you have to be extra diligent not to let “life” interfere with actual working.  I have clients I have to answer too and they expect, if they are going to pay me, that I work for them not do my laundry or prepare some elaborate meal for my family.    Besides, since I hate cooking and simplifying life is about ditching those things you don’t like to do for those that you want to do finding ways to cook less is right up my ally. 

But, despite my best efforts, we still have to eat…. so what is a girl to do besides go on the raw food diet?

There are several options – I have utilized pieces of them all to create my own hybrid that works well for my family.

1.  Once a month cooking – You  utilize one day a month to prepare giant portions of meals that you separate and then freeze for later.  I am not really a fan though because I prefer fairly fresh foods, don’t much care for casseroles and I don’t want to give up an entire day for cooking, even if I get to not technically cook the rest of the month.  

2.  Detailed plans – You plan your daily food preparation (and by extension, grocery list) every week.  This eliminates the need for standing blankly in front of the fridge trying to figure out what you are going to cook.  Hopefully it also saves you from having to make last minute runs to the grocery store or the drive through.

3.  Eat simply – Ditch the complicated dinners that takes an hour or more to prepare.  Forget about complex casseroles that contain many chopped ingredients and prepare something simple like poached or grilled fish, steamed vegetable, rice (which takes the longest to cook of all of the items) and salad.

Or you could use my hybrid approach.

I plan meals weekly rather than monthly.   In doing that I plan two simple, yet smaller dishes that take little time and preparation and one larger one-pot dish like a soup or beans (with rice) or a stew.    Soups and stews are an excellent way to get more vegetables into your family’s diet.    Beans are a great source of fiber and protein and I can cook them all day in the crock pot without worry.  

We eat fresh meals three days out of the week and then the other four are leftovers, either from the simple dish or the stew/soup or beans.   If we are planning on grilling anything in a particular week, we take advantage and plan several meals with meats that need to be grilled and put them all on at once.  It seems a shame to waste a good grill fire for just a few burgers, add chicken and beef to have fajitas later in the week. 

We also keep a store of fresh vegetables that are chopped and prepared such as cucumbers, bell peppers, onions and celery.  We can eat it as a quick snack or we can pull out the pieces we need such as bell peppers, onion and celery for recipes. 

There are several kitchen items I cannot live without as they simplify my life immensely.  The first is my crock pot.  I don’t even soak beans anymore. At about seven in the morning, I simply throw dried beans in the crock pot and fill with water.  I put the crock pot on high and forget about it – until dinner.  I then season to taste.   The second is my bread machine.   It takes just a minute or more to toss the ingredients for fresh homemade bread into the machine and turn it on.  It does all the work without any of the worry.  And the final is my food processor.  

And my philosophy toward those that balk at leftovers – if you don’t like what I cook, you are welcome to the kitchen yourself. So far no one has taken me up on that offer and the moaning about leftovers has been reduced to a minimum.

All Son Sunday

November 9, 2008

Life gets busy, even when you try to live simply.  To counter-balance being working parents, we have a weekly standing date.   Because we aren’t religious, we reserve Sunday mornings to afternoons for all “son” Sunday.  This is time dedicated to spending time with our son.  We usually do something he likes to do like putt putt. 

This time is just for the three of us – mom, dad and son.  It doesn’t matter what we do, it just matters that we are together.  We try not to let anything or any person intrude on our special time.

Schedule time together like you do any other appointment.  Time for yourself and with your family is just as important as any other commitment.


November 5, 2008

This blog is not a political blog but I think this is an opportunity to stop and think about how far we have come and where we have yet to go.

What a momentous occasion – the United States, after a long history of slavery, Jim Crow, Separate but (un)Equal segregation laws, the civil rights fight in the 1960’s, deeply entrenched racism – elected it’s first African American President.  Now I can only wait to enjoy watching a woman taking that place and hear the shattering of that glass ceiling.


November 2, 2008

Last week I caught up with several friends from high school, people I haven’t seen in almost twenty years! It is surreal to chat with someone whom, in your head, is still seventeen but, in reality, is a practicing attorney, an elected official, or a triage nurse at a children’s hospital. 

One friend in particular inspired me to think about my own life and the choices I make.  This friend left a fast-paced, probably well paying, law firm in a large city to move back to our home town to spend more time with family, or just have more time.  I admire the guts that move took.  It is obvious an attorney will earn far more working in a large urban firm than being partner in a firm in a town of two thousand.  It is easy to let that financial knowledge and quest to have more be the sole decider of your fate.

Let’s forget the fact that I am now old enough to have spent my formative years with people who are now either prosecuting or defending capital murder cases – and think about what my friend gained.  While he is currently working on a significant case that involves a great deal of time, he still has control over what cases he takes, how many cases he takes and where he takes them. 

Many of us that continue in the urban grind do so because of our children and their education. It is no question that many suburban or upper class urban schools have far better resources, more money and incredible parent involvement than small town schools, giving our children an “edge” in higher education.  But I wonder at the cost. My child is lucky, his mom works from home and while his dad has a demanding job, he works with a family friendly firm.  Many kids at our son’s school aren’t so lucky.  They go to outside care before school, after school and see their parents for a few hours a day so their parents can work in their, granted high paying, demanding jobs so they can send their kids to the “best” schools.

I think back to my own education.  It was lacking, to be sure.  My husband and I were not as prepared for university as some of our higher ed classmates.  But still, we both went on to be professionals.  While some of our classmates continue to toil in small jobs, many went on to become doctors, lawyers, dentists, nurses, teachers, writers, lobbyists and other professionals.  So it couldn’t have been that bad.

I think my friend may have found the modern day equivalent to Thoreau’s Walden.  I don’t know if I would do it, but he has my full admiration.  And has made me take a moment to pause and wonder…what if.

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I have always believed you get more from an experience than you do from an object.  Turns out a study published in 2003 supports my theory.

Assistant professor of psychology Leaf Van Boven at the University of Colorado at Boulder concluded from a series of experiments and surveys over the course of several years that people receive more pleasure and satisfaction from an experience.  The researchers believe it is because people can internalize experience and their feelings during the experience.  For instance, my sister and I took our children camping.  Over the course of the trip and being novices, we didn’t sleep well due to the oppressive heat, had to swim across the lake to rescue our children and the canoe they were attempting to steer and had an encounter with a venomous snake and ax wielding neighbors determined to save the “little women next door.”  We ended up cutting the trip short and leaving after dinner on the second evening of our trip.   We all concluded, as we fell into our respective beds exhausted and disillusioned from the experience, that we were not cut out for camping.  However, we all look back on that trip now as a wonderful experience.  We overcame obstacles and realized we could do it all without the “men” and we have hilarious stories to tell especially the one of our kids sitting in the middle of the lake paddling in circles. 

The research suggests that perceptions of experiences change overtime making the memories more enjoyable.  According to Van Boven, the perceptions of an object never change, an object remains just an object. 

So when you write your wish list to Santa this year remember that you may get far enjoyment more from a pair tickets than a pair of shoes. 

Some experience ideas:

Arrange a family picnic

Attend a music concert

Take a trip you have been longing to take

Learn a musical instrument

Learn a foreign language

Visit a museum

Take a hike, literally, with your family through a nature preserve

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This should be obvious but I am going to mention it anyway – it fits green living, minimalist lifestyles and frugality.

One way to reduce resource waste is to visit your public library rather than purchasing books or videos.  Since the library is free, it is also a big money saver.  Most public libraries now have Internet search and reservation options in which you can search for and reserve a title.  Once the title has been secured, you will be notified of its reservation and location, as well as how long they will hold it in your name.   The Internet search and reserve function saves a great deal of time and resources in fewer trips to the library.

If your library does not have a title you are interested in you can usually search and reserve through the inter-library loan program.  Most libraries participate in this option in which you can borrow titles literally from libraries all over the United States.  Odds are if your local library doesn’t have a specific title, a library somewhere else does.  

Libraries don’t just stock books.   They subscribe to newspapers from across the globe, monthly magazines, and resource materials.  If you wish to learn a foreign language they often have language tapes or cds.  For the sight or reading challenged, they often stock books on tape/cd as well as large print additions.  Videos and music cds, including classics, new releases and how-to videos, are another big commodity.  Finally, they often host community programs including story times, book clubs, author lectures, and writing workshops.  Thanks to governmental grants, all libraries have high-speed Internet stations available to the general public.

All of these resources are available to you free because of your already contributed tax dollars.

Recycling Resources

October 25, 2008

Earth 911is an excellent Internet resource for finding recycling options.   Simply enter your zip code in the box indicated and it will list the recycling centers located in the surrounding area.

Living Cheaper

October 24, 2008

With talk of a global recession, everyone is understandably nervous and looking for opportunities to cut back on every day expenses.   Here is a tip.  Live lightly.  Be a conscientious consumer.  Don’t fall in the marketing trap.  

Making conscientious choices can lower your carbon footprint thereby helping the earth but also lessen the wallet squeeze, helping yourself. 

  1. Install a clothes line. Your clothes drier is the second largest energy consumer in your home.  
  2. Unplug unused appliances.   Appliances produce what is called a phantom load.  This is energy used while it is plugged in and idle waiting use.  Research shows that unplugging televisions and appliances when not in use will reduce energy bills by up to 40%.
  3. Invest in LED lights at Christmas.  To decorate for the holidays, use LEDs that consume up to 90% less energy that traditional Christmas lights.
  4. Invest in florescent. Florescent lights consume up to 80% less energy than their incandescent counterparts. 
  5. When you save energy you are shrinking your carbon foot print but also SAVING MONEY!
  6. Rethink conventional household cleaners.   Common house hold cleaners are full of synthetic and possibly toxic chemicals.  Switch to baking soda, vinegar and soap and water.   You will significantly reduce the amount of resources used in packaging by choosing not to consume these products in plastic bottles.  You will also keep far more money in your wallet as the cost of a few products is far cheaper than many separate cleaners.
  7. Switch from paper to cloth.  Invest in quality cloth napkins (preferably made with organic cotton).  These last far longer, use far fewer resources and are FAR CHEAPER than their paper counterparts when used over time.
  8. Don’t drive unless you need to and then combine errands for maximum fuel efficiency.  Not only will you reduce the amount of ozone depleting emissions you contribute to the environment, you will also reduce the amount of money depleting trips to the gas station.
  9. Ride your bike on errands within 2 miles of  your home.  Again saving emissions released into the environment but also saving money on gym membership fees and health care costs by being fit.
  10. Lower your thermostat in the winter and raise it in the summer.  Again you will save energy which will in turn save money on energy costs.
  11. Eat locally grown food whenever possible.  Locally produced, organic foods, contain more nutrients and are better for you than store bought foods that have to be shipped from long distances.  This results in saving money in health care costs.
  12. Exercise, play with your kids, and laugh….this all reduces stress which in turn will reduce your health care costs.  Happy, healthy people visit the doctor far less than overweight, unhappy people. 

I scoured the web to find ideas on what to do with my growing mound of newspaper – besides the obvious recycling.   Here are a few ideas, some useful, some fun. 

Fireplace logs – winter is coming and instead of buying pre-made fireplace logs, make your own from discarded newspaper (or I suppose any paper you have around the house – could be a good option for junk mail!).  http://familycrafts.about.com/cs/homecrafts/a/blhglogs.htm

Made beads for necklaces, bracelets, earrings or just for fun –  These beads have a very earthy quality. It looks like a great project for those long winter days with tween girls at home.  http://www.astorybooklife.com/how-to/paper-beads/

Newspaper structures – I just stumbled on this fun project, create structures out of newspapers. http://pepperpaints.com/2008/05/13/newspaper-hut/   I am going to enlist my husband, the structural engineer, and our son for a day of structure building!

Work-Life Balance

October 17, 2008

True freedom is waking up and deciding what you want to do with your day.  – The Color Purple.

Europeans, on average, live longer than Americans even though they smoke more, drink more and eat all the foods we can’t like real butter, rich and creamy sauces and white flour in their pasta, pastries and breads.   How do they do it?  They know a few things about balance.  

Europeans value time off so much that many countries have a mandatory five week paid vacation allotment for all workers.  In the US we are lucky if we get 2 weeks a year and most don’t even take it when it is offered.   Unlike the rest of the developed world, we call people that work less than 50 hours a week slackers – a negative connotation to be sure.  We feel guilty taking vacations and we carry our Blackberries and cell phones as if the entire free world rests upon our shoulders.  I have a secret…it does not. 

We pay a lot of lip service to family values, but what do we know about valuing families?  Yesterday I was fortunate to be a chaperon on my son’s fourth grade field trip.   At each station, as the kids were learning about pioneer life in our area, at least one parent was busy on their electronic appendage.  I don’t fault these parents, they are tied to their jobs by the electronic revolution.  Bosses provide these tools and expect them to be available and to keep their jobs, they are available…but meanwhile their kids are missing out; missing out on a parent that is fully there ‘in the moment’ just for them. 

Europeans know that families are important and family life is important (which is why they typically have shorter work weeks and longer maternity and paternity leaves).  They know that time off and relaxation are vital to healthy, happy workers.  They know that a long healthy life must have balance.   They know that workers shouldn’t have to choose between making a living and being with their families.   They support and pay higher taxes to ensure that no one has to work two weeks after having a baby, to provide paid vacation, paid maternity leaves, and basic health care for one and all. 

In other words, Europe works to live.  America lives to work.

Balance isn’t easy to achieve in this tumultuous time.  We are told that to keep our jobs we have to work more, be in the office more, stop working at home and generally sell our souls to the company just so we can keep our livelihood building other people’s riches.

October 24th is Take Back Your Time Day.   Visit www.timeday.org to find out what you can do to promote public policy that helps American workers find a reasonable work/life balance.

Borrow – Don’t Buy

October 13, 2008

Green resource: 

An excellent website that links people who have stuff with people who need stuff.


If you have something that you aren’t using regularly rent it to your neighbors who may need that particular item.  If you need something like a saw or a canoe or truck even…do a search on loanables to see if someone has one in your area that you can rent.

I am making an early new years resolution…stop procrastinating and post more, damn it! 

As for the dollar short….well, aren’t we all these days?  Can you believe what is happening in the financial world?   The fun and games of a few rich men, at the top of the heap are George W. and his band of criminal cohorts in congress, have thrown the entire world into chaos. Nice.  What a legacy.   An unending war that eats billions of dollars a day that we have to borrow from China so the rich don’t have to pay their fair share of taxes and a financial crisis to rival the early days of the Great Depression. 

But I suppose it is just, the rich have their mansions and million dollar parachute clauses while us poor bastards that do the majority of the living and working and dying in this country get to sort out the mess.  (okay, I did steal part of that line from It’s a Wonderful Life but it is a great line).  Meanwhile there are millions of us that cannot get basic health care, cannot afford to send our kids to college any longer and will lose our homes if we get cancer even if we are insured.  We let that happen and that disappoints me on so great a level. 

My day job is public policy.   I have been watching this train careening on the tracks headed for the cliff for a very long time.  When my husband came home the other day overjoyed to have been reassured by a colleague that we are in a ten year economic cycle and that we are simply feeling the pain, I unleashed all of the anger that I have been building watching this disaster in the making. 

It saddened me….even my husband, a well educated man proved…when we are desperate….we will believe anything.

That 10 year economic theory may feel nice but it is hardly the truth.  That theory gives us leave to believe that we had no control, that this is something that is just happening to us.  To believe it means that we, as a government, as a nation, as citizen consumers, had nothing to do with the mess that has landed on our plates.   The truth is this country turned it eyes to irrelevant topics bandied about by the neocons from the far right of the republican party and let them raid the treasury – and we gave them the keys.    We were too caught up in our self-righteous ideals on how other people should be living their lives i.e. abortion and gay marriage that we completely abdicated our responsibility to police our government.  For that, we should be ashamed.

Once the thieves were elected they set about to bankrupt the nation – and make no mistake, this was their plan from the very beginning.  This mess is no accident.   First they began what Reagan started with his trickle down economic theory, which means if the rich have all the money, it will spur investment and eventually trickle down to the rest and economic prosperity will reign  (for those that are unaware this is Reaganomics- which had been proven a bust by the last enormous deficit and bank scandals – i.e. the Savings and Loan crisis of the late 80’s).  A  nice theory but doesn’t actually work in reality.  Reaganomics belies the fact that under Clinton/Gore, when taxes were higher there was economic prosperity and massive investment in the technology fields (that did eventually create a bubble that had to bust but did not do so as to affect every single American to such a massive degree).  It also fails to recognize that other developed countries in the world have higher taxes than the US has ever experienced yet still have investment by both their own national corporations and US corporations operating abroad. – In other words Dorothy – if you want to get back to Kansas, listen to the booming voice but do NOT look behind the curtain for surely you will find everything is not as you were led to believe.

How did they do this?  Here is the simplified outline.  Start with deep tax cuts for top 1% of the nation.  With that in place, there wasn’t enough money to run the current government programs. In essence the goal was to “starve the beast”.  The idea was to ensure the government couldn’t function so people would lose faith in the government programs and demand they be revoked and therefore would have less to pay for and so the rich keep more of their money.  The FEMA Katrina disaster was the culmination of that effort – that program was set up to fail by appointing people with no disaster management experience to run it and stripping its budget to the bones.  They were successful, FEMA failed most spectacularly. 

Finally, with the money back in the hands of the rich and the government limping after having been thrown under the bus, they set about the last phase of the plan – relax government regulations and allow private enterprise to police themselves – because, as Katrina proved, clearly the government was too incompetent to function in that role.   They literally repealed the majority of banking regulations put in place as a direct result of the Great Depression.  Without rules, the banking industry went wild as they did before the Great Depression that resulted in rules in the first place.  They issued loans to people who would have never, under the old regulations, been able to get loans.  They preyed upon the vulnerable (the poor and less educated) and tied them to the company store through crippling mortgages while televising commercials espousing the great American Dream of home-ownership. 

People who were brought in under low mortgage interest rates with ARM loans found that once the house of cards started falling, they couldn’t afford the higher shifting mortgage payments as interest rates started creeping up and that began the unprecedented level of foreclosures across the country.   Then the banks, having leveraged these loans, found themselves holding a bunch of houses and no income.  They didn’t have enough capital coming in to cover what they borrowed against the projected income of these loans and so they too started falling – and failing. 

Now the question is, should the government have bailed them out?  Well, if they didn’t it could very well end up in the second great depression.  But they did and yet, the sky continues falling.  It may have been too late.  We may not see the end of this for a very, very long time.

What is the moral of this story?  Corporations need rules and the entity (government) whose job it is to provide those rules abdicated its responsibility and left us to the wolves – with our consent seeing as we elected them in the first place.  But make no mistake, this did not happen because  government itself is too inherently bad or corrupt to function, it happened because a few people MADE the government unable to function through deliberate undermining of programs and appointing people with no experience.  When staffed appropriately with experts rather than cronies and funded adequately it can function just fine. 

Taxes are important to keep the country running.  No corporation could expect to run on limited means, and so no government entity can do it either.  I am not saying this from a self righteous position of someone that falls into a low tax bracket. My husband and I are firmly in the top 8% of the nation with regards to income.  This means we pay a fairly healthy tax bill with every paycheck and sometimes at the end of the fiscal year.   But we do so with the knowledge that when our country faces a natural disaster, there is a program that will assist. When someone cannot afford to eat, we will feed them.  When someone cannot afford to educate their children, we will take that duty upon ourselves.  When we have to go to war (and I specify have to not want to as in the case of Iraq) we can send our soldiers knowing they have proper equipment so they can safetly return home again. 

Private companies are entities without morals (not meaning they are bad, but they are things and things cannot have morals).  A corporation’s job is to look at the bottom line of their company – and that definitely has its place.   However, without someone looking at the bigger picture (the government) to look out for the continued interest of the country as a whole, the puzzle is not complete and chaos reigns. 

But the President and his crooks, I mean cronies, aren’t the only ones that deserve ire for our financial predicament.  There is plenty of blame to go around from greedy financial institutions to every single person that lived beyond their means, consuming as if there is a never ending supply of money.  Our irresponsibility has put the entire world into jeopardy, from the pollution we spew to keep up our never ending need for oil to the products we buy and dispose of without thinking about where the resources and cheap labor were obtained.  Sure we were sold a bill of goods by our government that created an economy nearly entirely based on retail consumption requiring more and more consuming to keep up the the demands of the economy.   We also saw millions of pictures every day that equated goods with happiness, prettiness and the perfect life….but you know…like our mothers used to say, if everyone is jumping off a bridge, would you do it too?  In other words, don’t we bare some responsibility for failing to think for ourselves?  Don’t we have an obligation to do what is right rather than what we are “told” is right?

Clearly, living lightly is something we, collectively as a society, have needed to do for a very long time and it looks like we will all get the chance.  Overall, we can look on the bright side, okay perhaps the less dark side, and see that we, who have become a consumer nation, will have to stop consuming.  We will have to go back to our roots, perhaps plant gardens and reuse those once disposable yogurt containers and butter tubs.  Already today I saw an unprecedented attendance at our neighborhood garage sale.  I am seeing more and more bikes on the roads and have joined the ranks for short trips around my neighborhood.  I stopped in at Goodwill on a tip that I can find great jeans at cheap prices…and this from an upper income neighbor.  You know what?  I wasn’t in there alone.  The place was buzzing with middle class ladies browsing the used clothing, kitchen items and second or third hand books.

Winston Churchill once said “You can count on America to do the right thing…after it has exhausted every other possibility.”   I think we are there.