What Falls By the Wayside

So, if you asked me what my goals were as of, say, a year ago, they would have sounded something like this:

–Get out of debt, and spend as little as possible.

–Eat healthier, consume more “real foods” and less processed junk.

–Eat in more and buy take out less often.

–Learn to fix, to mend, to do more from scratch.

–Figure out a cleaning routine and organize all of the chaos that is the clutter in my house.

–Be more patient with my little ones.

–Figure out what I truly believe in (I’m in a bit of a religious/spiritual crisis, if you will).

–Pottytrain my toddler.

Yeah, so these things aren’t going so well.

This wannabe homesteader, do-gooder, “simplify, simplify” sort of mama has gone off the rails a little bit between working more than I am used to with little ones in the home, plus trying to support a husband through a months-long job loss.

“Get out of debt?” Ha. I’m happy that we haven’t accumulated more than a small amount of new debt since the lay-off. In fact, I’m simply content to get the bills paid. And trust me, when we do have a little extra money, that shopping twitch that I have suffered from my whole life turns into a hellacious urge, and I then find myself knowing all of the cashiers at TJ Maxx on a first name basis.

Eating healthier and cooking more meals at home is a joke, too. On one hand, we keep a fair amount of fruits and veggies in house, but it’s simply finding the time, and the energy, to do anything with them. I mean, seriously, do I really want to make pesto from scratch, or slice countless veggies, or cook ANYTHING after a long day at work, when the pizza guy totally delivers?

Fixing things and learning how to do things from scratch? Again, time and energy.

My cleaning and organizational routine is still having our housekeeper on speed dial. That is another expense I have refused to cut.

My patience with my little ones has increased only because I have mastered the art of bribery. See, I’ve always been a big believer in bribes (“bwibery” was one of my son’s first words, and I am NOT kidding), but I find myself offering up Skittles and Peanut Butter M&Ms just to get the adorable little boogers into bed at a halfway decent hour. When in doubt, negotiate–that seems to be this #1 mom’s M.O. of late, and it’s worked, for the most part.

I don’t even know where to begin with spirituality and religion. It’s hard to even find faith in much of anything when your hard working husband was let go from a job he was devoted to for years because of some gluttonous, foolhardy corporation’s bottom line.

And pottytraining my toddler? Let’s just say that bribery doesn’t work with someone who thinks it’s AOK to play in cat litter, who only answers to the siren song of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, and who is firmly convinced that the potty is a hat. NOT. GOING. WELL.

And I don’t even know what to say, really, about any of it. I don’t know whether to be frustrated with myself for basically starting our lives over again from scratch (because little in our lives right now is stable or totally secure), or whether to say the hell with it and that this is entirely normal. Someone, somewhere is going to read this and think that these things are just so easy, and even easier to do or learn when your family goes down to one part-time income (“Well, this is the perfect time to learn to do such and such, to figure out how to spend less, etc.”). The thing is, it’s not. Each of those little goals of mine has become all the more difficult. I thought a job loss would propel me to a more simple life by default, but it’s just made everything all that much harder. I’m too tired, too worn out, too stressed, and sometimes, honestly, too apathetic. Feeding the kids Crazy Bread with their pizza dinner, and calling a housekeeper once a week falls into the “pick my battles” realm–is it worth adding more stress to worry about each “mistake” I make, or is it better to eliminate what stress I can, even if it means diving into processed foods and putting aside goals?

One thing I’m doing well in is finding a workout routine. I’ve never been much into formal exercise, even if I have tried repeatedly and failed, but this summer, I’ve found a system, a routine, and a schedule that works for me, and I’m shedding pounds, between that and the lack of appetite (stress related, I’m sure). So there’s one thing I’m doing kinda okay with, in spite of myself.

Everyone’s gotta do one thing well, right?

 

Participating in an Organic Foods Buying Club and Co-Op: Learning the Ropes

I was recently introduced to a local organic/natural foods co-op and buying club in a neighboring town. I was surprised to know that it existed, as I have been in the area for seven years, and no one that I knew personally participated in it. Due to a desire to save money while eating a healthier and more sustainable diet (a work very, very much in progress), my interest was piqued.

Our local buying club works through several wholesale suppliers of organic and natural foods. Volunteers work with participants and suppliers to coordinate orders on a regular basis. Many products are significantly cheaper to buy in bulk, so members will split cases of a product whenever possible. There is a $15 membership fee (a one-time only charge) after a two month trial period, and members can volunteer to help with administrative duties, deliveries, sorting orders, etc. in order to have purchasing power without the small service fee per order (something around 5-10%, depending upon the supplier).

Within a day or two of joining the club, I managed to catch the end of a “split order” that was being submitted to a supplier–meaning that certain items had been requested by members who wanted to pay the more inexpensive price extended to those who ordered items by the case, but who did not want to purchase said full case themselves, so you could purchase the remaining items in it to be able to order the case at the bulk discounted price.

For example, someone wanted to purchase two packets of organic taco seasoning at the discounted case price. However, they only wanted two packets, and a case had ten of them within it. So, since we use taco seasoning on a very regular basis (and since we prefer spicy, flavorful varieties), I decided to buy the other eight packets. Both of us then were able to receive the discounted case price.

Here was my first order, which came to $21.03, including a small service charge:

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In my order, I purchased two pounds of organic California white jasmine rice, two 10 ounce bags of butternut squash, and eight packets of organic taco seasoning.

I’m not entirely convinced I received a monumental price break. Per item, I did receive a discount as opposed to buying them at retail online (plus shipping). And compared to “conventional” foods, well, let’s be honest, the “conventional” items will almost always be significantly cheaper compared to organic foods and produce. It’s just the way it is. However, when compared to the organic items I sometimes find at discount stores or the local scratch-and-dent grocery store, the items purchased via the co-op/buying club were still higher in price.

However, several points in favor of the buying club…. For starters, I did not make much of an effort to track the items that were on sale or heavily discounted, or discontinued, etc. I am still learning how to navigate the suppliers’ catalogs and lists. Most of us, like myself, are used to making purchases with catalogs full of glossy pages and photographs. A wholesale catalog seems to be mere item numbers, names, and lots of price listings with abbreviations I am still learning, so I don’t feel as confident making wise choices as to what to buy and what to avoid just yet. Also, the food options and choices available are countless compared to any of the grocery stores in our area–if I want something, I am pretty much certain to find it in a supplier’s catalog somewhere, be it essential oils or spices or meats or cheeses, anything. Anything that I can think of is available somewhere. And, ultimately, in the end, the club will still be cheaper, and more than likely a provider of higher quality foods, than the mainstream grocery store. I am also thrilled to be participating in a community of people who are interested in the same dietary and environmental goals that I possess (even if I’m not very far at all in achieving them).

It will be a fun challenge to see what is on sale next time, and whether I have figured out any tricks to obtaining a better deal on my purchases the second time around. I’m also interested in possibly joining a co-op in my former hometown, and it has an actual storefront that has been in operation for decades.

Do you participate in a co-op or a buying club?

Experimenting With Homemade Laundry Soap, Part One

I have a ridiculous addiction to buying laundry products.

It’s really pathetic, really. I have, just going off of memory, three types of stain removers, two oxi-type cleaners, two types of bleach, two types of lanolin-based wool wash, a huge box of powdered detergent, two containers of fragrance crystals, several “booster” products, and seven bottles of liquid detergent.

And that’s just from memory–there might be more down there. (I’m too lazy to go downstairs for an accurate count. Sue me.)

I know that I need to stop buying so many products because it really costs me a lot of money, and when you’re trying to get out of debt and to live a more provident, self-reliant lifestyle, having a full arsenal of laundry care products seems a bit…contradictory?

I’ve been interested in trying homemade laundry detergent for a while now, but I have been hesitant. We do use cloth diapers, and the ONLY detergent that gets them truly clean (for us, anyway) is mainstream powdered detergents like you would find in the grocery store. And I’ve thought to myself, if I have to keep that on hand for the diapers anyway, is there really much point in MAKING detergent, too?

Probably as much point as there is in having seven types of liquid detergent “just because.”

So, tonight, I went to my fellow bloggers at the Homestead Bloggers Network and asked them for recipes, as I knew they would be reliable, tried and true. I received a few, which I will share with you at the bottom of this post, but, due to the ease of production, and the fact that the one I chose included a pricing breakdown for a 5 gallon bucket’s worth (you had me at the words “many batches”), I went with the recipe provided by the lovely Linda Loosli with Food Storage Moms, and you can find the original recipe by clicking this link.

Their recipe consists of:

  • 1 cup Borax
  • 1 (grated) bar of Fels Naptha soap
  • 1 cup of washing soda (Arm and Hammer Super WASHING Soda…please note that baking soda is NOT THE SAME THING AT ALL!)
  • I added a decent sized scoop of scent crystals to add some fragrance to the detergent (you can find these at the grocery store). Other similar recipes allowed for this, OR, for the addition of essential or fragrance oils. This is optional, of course.

Add all of the items into a blender or a food processor, then pulse to turn them into a powder which will resemble the consistency of the brand-name detergent you would buy in a store. Store in an airtight container.

The materials used….

Gather all the ingredients....

Gather all the ingredients….

Not gonna lie…grating the soap isn’t the most fun job in the world…it’s not awful, but it’s a bit annoying.

Perfect curls of soap....

Perfect curls of soap….

Add the Borax, the washing soda, the grated soap, and any scent additives (if you choose), into a blender or processor, and pulse away.

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The finished product, stored in a Tupperware container specifically reserved for cleaning products.

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Now, I have yet to try this on clothes yet (hence why this entry is a “part one”), but I was itching to document a Sunday evening’s kitchen experimentation. You’ll have to wait a bit for “part two.” It will be worth it. 😉 Thanks again to Linda at Food Storage Moms for the recipe!!

More recipes from trusted bloggers:

DIY Laundry Soap from 104 Homestead

Homestead Lady’s Homemade Laundry Soap and Dryer Sheets

Trading “American Girl” for American Farm

I’m one of those mothers who unfortunately has the fault of chronically comparing herself to other mothers. And in our quest to get out of debt and to live a simpler life, I find myself questioning my decisions involving my children even more.

We cut the cable cord over a year ago–we do have a few channels still, due to a digital tuner–but avoiding the bombardment of incessant commercials telling me what we supposedly need and apparently lack is totally worth it. I don’t have children who ask for the latest and greatest toys, gadgets, processed foods, or whatever else is being sold and packaged in bright, neon colors and advertised with flashy commercials and ever-present advertising.

However, I am on Facebook. I do utilize social media. So, it’s easy to see the green grass on the other side. At Christmas, I see children with smartphones, and American Girl dolls, and tablets, and piles of clothing, and expensive shoes, and shiny presents with gigantic bows that fill entire rooms. I know that my Kindergarten-aged son’s friends have video game consoles, the latest toys, their own electronic gadgets. I know this, and it worries me. For now, my son seems oblivious, but sooner or later, he will start asking why we don’t buy presents on the level of So-and-So’s family, or why he can’t have a smartphone when he’s eight years old. I feel it is inevitable. Someday, his little sister will want Barbies, and even more expensive dolls, and more toys, and what her friends have.

And, sometimes, I question my decisions–is it wrong to deny them a grandiose Christmas? Should I make presents more of a priority? Don’t I care whether or not they will be made fun of in school? Is our goal of a self-reliant life going to set them up for bullying later on?

Today, our family attended a Maple Tree Tapping class at a local farm. And as I watched my children marvel at baby goats, as they chased chickens while trying to feed them organically grown soybeans harvested from the farm, as my son learned that maple syrup doesn’t come from a cute glass jar at the grocery store…during those moments, and on this rare occasion, I feel like I’m doing something right…..

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Thrift Store Treasure Hunting

I decided to take on the topic of thrift shore shopping for a few reasons:

First, I have noticed in conversations sometimes that some still have the belief that thrift shores are only full of your Grandma’s castoff sweaters from the 1970s, broken action figures, and Harlequin romance novels. However, I find many brand name clothing items for myself and my children, small appliances, great novels from current bestselling authors, toys that my children enjoy, and many more things which I will mention later, and all of these are at stores such as Goodwill–for pennies compared to what you would pay for them at full cost from a big box store or online. For example, in Kohl’s, I found Christmas dresses in my toddler daughter’s size “on sale” for 50% off of $56.00, which would make the sale price $28.00. However, at one of our local Goodwill stores, I found a holiday red velvet dress from Gap for $3.00. Or, for $13 and change, I was able to buy a Ralph Lauren Chaps shirt for my son, a Ralph Lauren dress for my daughter, plus three pairs of jeans for her, too (OshKosh, Levi, and Gymboree). Can you find those items and prices in one place anywhere else?

Second, I consider it a joy when I am able to help others save money. I was once one of those who were ashamed to step inside a thrift store. However, as I grew older and joined “the real world,” I realized that I could buy more brand name items with my money by utilizing these stores and buying second hand. I am someone who wants to live a frugal life, yet who enjoys having “things” sometimes and spoiling my family on occasion, and using the strategies that I will share with you allows me to stay within my budget while living a lifestyle I want to be accustomed to. If I can help others do the same thing, I find this fulfilling.

Third, thrift stores are now frequently becoming connected to local charities, and some will donate 100% of their profits to charity, after expenses like rent. Check within your own communities to see if there are any stores that are associated with a specific cause or non profit organization. In general, what happens within these stores is that community members donate items for free to the charity. The charity them sells them in a store, and after paying costs like rent and utilities, the profits stay within the organization. I have found thrift stores related to hospice care, animal rescues/shelters, women’s and homeless shelters, etc.

Fourth, buying items secondhand is a way to live a more sustainable lifestyle. It’s a different way to recycle. Whether you buy something to use directly or to repurpose into something new, you’re using something that has already been made and already has made a carbon footprint instead of buying something new which takes more fuel, more energy, creates more waste and pollution…you get the idea. 🙂

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Think of buying secondhand as a form of recycling….

So, are you ready to take a virtual thrift shop tour with me? 🙂 Let’s go!

My plan is to go department by department within a “traditional” thrift store (think Goodwill). As we go through each department, I will share strategies and tips for sorting and sifting through the many items you will encounter. If I miss anything, feel free to add information, ideas, suggestions, etc in the comments.

Women’s Department

Shirts and Blouses–As a rule, with some searching, you can do well in this area. However, one word of warning is that there will be a LOT of shirts, and you honestly can’t go through each and every one, or you’ll be overwhelmed, frustrated, and you’ll miss the diamond in the rough waiting for you. A word of advice for here and any other department–do a relatively quick glance and only pull any item that strikes your interest on first impression (prints, material, color, etc), rather than trying to look at each one. If you can get through the aisles quickly enough, you can always take a second round through them. For shirts, I tend to focus on brand (known quality), colors or prints I like, fit, and general style. The price here needs to be really good for me, though, because I sometimes can find comparable pricing on first-quality clearance racks at department stores. Here, I would focus more on finding items like professional work attire or brand name clothing where you would see a cost savings compared to buying at retail pricing. In the Women’s Department, I feel the best areas to save money are with Sweaters, Jackets/Blazers, Dresses, Coats, and, if needed, Maternity. We’ll discuss each of these subsections, plus why I don’t consider shopping for Intimates secondhand, shortly.

Sweaters–Look here for better brand names, as you will often find them. I have found Columbia Sportswear, Gap, Old Navy, LL Bean, Land’s End, Eddie Bauer, and a whole host of other favorites. The thing is, sweaters are expensive at retail price and even “on sale” at a traditional store. They are usually much pricier than, say, a t-shirt. So, when you buy a sweater secondhand, you will save more money on it than you would save buying said t-shirt second hand because it was already cheap to start with, make sense? Focus your browsing on colors and styles, then check sizes and brands.

Jackets/Blazers–Carries the same “shopping philosophy” for me that the Sweaters section possesses. Look here for cost savings. Blazers and jackets are even more expensive than sweaters, as a rule! 

Dresses follow the same pattern, also. Some might be dated, but many are not, and a lot are only worn once for one special occasion, and are then given away, which means you reap the savings, and you receive an item that is still in excellent condition.

Coats–Once, at a local Goodwill, someone had donated BRAND NEW North Face jackets–four of them–tags still on them (some worth a few hundred dollars), and they were listed for $10 a piece. I was so upset that I wasn’t an “X-Small” or I would have bought them on the spot. (I suppose I could have resold them, but I don’t have the motivation, and that seems wrong to me anyway.) Why pay $200 for a brand new Columbia parka when the local thrift shop might have them for $5? (This happens ALL OF THE TIME.)  You can also find nice dress coats and wool ones, too. I highly recommend starting here for coats for your family before you head to a “real” store.

Maternity–I’m not going to lie. It’s really touch and go whether or not a thrift store even has this section, and whether it is amply stocked. I do recommend looking at a traditional store in addition to the thrift shop. However, when these clothes are available, your savings are significant, as maternity clothes pricing is an outrage, in my opinion, considering you’ll only wear them a short amount of time.

Intimates–I know some people who buy underwear and bras at thrift stores, but I happen to like to know where my undies come from, thanks. True, many shops launder their goods before they are placed on the sales floor, but…I know of a certain big box store in my region who had a pubic lice outbreak that stemmed from their Intimates department–and those clothes were brand new. Maybe it’s wrong of me, but there’s an ick factor here. Practically speaking, I don’t want someone else’s worn out bra…let’s be honest. You are better off buying higher quality items in a regular store.

Men’s Department

The men’s department, for me, has similar rules to what I use for the women’s sections. Buying basic shirts won’t save you much money in the long run compared to buying them on sale in a conventional store. However, one perk to buying shirts in the men’s department is that you can find “collectible” t-shirts frequently–vintage sports team shirts, t-shirts with funny sayings, some that commemorate events, places, television shows, movies, etc. I often enjoy looking for those items myself.

Buying suits second-hand will save you a fair amount of money, and buying coats and jackets here will as well, for the same reasons I listed when discussing the women’s section. Consider fit and style, and try on items before purchase, checking to see if they can be altered if they don’t fit quite right.

One thing I want to mention is buying ties–I have found so many designer ties at places like Goodwill. These are ties that might retail for $50 or more because they have a specific name on the tag, yet they will run for $3-4 at a thrift store. If your husband/significant other wears a lot of formal business wear, be sure to check out the ties.

Children’s Section

Buying clothing here is a must. I am someone who prefers buying certain brand names in clothing for my children. This isn’t because I am a snob, but because these particular brands LAST. And the beauty of this is that if they last, chances are, they will be handed down or given away in reasonable condition. This is where thrift shops can help you, as you can find these brands for only a few dollars (maybe even less) per item for your child. Or, if you’re looking for play clothes, and aren’t feeling as particular about the condition they are in, you can find cheap sweatpants, leggings, t-shirts, etc. for $1-2 a piece–why pay full price for play clothes, honestly?

Speaking of clothing, I have noticed during the holidays that outfits for children for Christmas, Easter, Halloween, etc. are EXPENSIVE. I have seen formal dresses for TODDLERS selling at stores like Sears (a basic department store) for $40-50. For a toddler. I’m sorry, but that is obscene. If your little ones are anything like mine, they will have that frilly, sequined dress destroyed in two seconds flat. And if it lasts, they will be so uncomfortable  in it, or it is so difficult to wash/launder, or they will wear it once, and that’s it because it’s simply just too formal. I often find holiday outfits at thrift stores–you can find formal dresses, dress up clothing (for pretend), Christmas shirts and pants and ties for little boys, Halloween costumes, etc. I found my two year old’s Christmas dress this year at a Goodwill.

Shoes are hit or miss for me. It’s worth a look, as you can find pricey shoes and good brands for cheap when you come across them, but in my experience, shoes are one of those things in thrift stores that you “happen into.” You can’t just go in expecting to find the right pair and brand of tennis shoes. (These same rules apply for ANY size of shoes–whether they are for children or adults.)

Toys are another hit or miss section. You CAN find great deals here, but a few words of caution:

1) Make sure the toy works, if you are able to test it.

2) Ensure all parts are there.

3) Check to see if it can be easily cleaned or repaired, if needed.

4) Avoid buying secondhand stuffed animals, unless you’re looking for a specific collectible item. Maybe it’s just me, but that’s one toy that I prefer to buy brand new or receive as a hand me down from someone we trust.

Books

Yes, by all means, buy books here! I buy a good 90% of my books from thrift stores. I see absolutely no reason to pay $30 for a bestseller when it will end up at Goodwill or Salvation Army for .25 to $1 in a few months. You will be surprised at the popular authors that are frequently available. I have also found autographed copies of novels, collector’s sets, and older editions, as well.

Household Items

Furniture–Secondhand furniture is a great way to save money. If you have little ones or animals, and they are anything like mine, they will pee, throw up, wipe hands, wipe noses, paint, draw, shed, and a million other things on your furniture. If you have kids or pets, to me, it seems silly to buy brand new furniture with the knowledge that it will become stained, scratched, or hairy within 24 hours of purchase. Save money and buy desks, chairs, tables, couches, nightstands, etc secondhand. Check for condition, and if something is slightly damaged, assess whether it can easily be repaired with some paint, a marker, or five minutes with a hammer and nails.

Small Electrics–Sometimes, you can find great deals on kitchen electrics here, as well as televisions (older style), vintage computers, DVD players, etc. Many might be older styles or models, but could be in great working condition. Sometimes, if someone has a duplicate waffle iron, for example, and never gets to the store to return it, they will donate it brand new and in the original box. I see things similar to this all the time. One word of caution–if it costs more than a couple dollars, ask the cashier about the return policy. Often, thrift stores will allow returns of electrics if they are not in working condition, but make sure because *some* stores have goods as final sale.

Kitchen Utensils, Pots and Pans, and Glassware–I bought my best skillets secondhand for a $1 a piece. That being said, use discretion with these items. Check for condition, whether the pans and pots are warped or cracked, and consider favorite brands when browsing.

Bedding–Avoid buying a mattress here, unless you can guarantee it is brand new. Buy blankets and sheets at your own discretion. Launder anything you purchase.

Media

Consider buying CDs and movies at second hand stores. I find a lot of “old school” favorites at the local Goodwill that I can’t find anywhere else. You’d be surprised what you can find, and the neat thing here is that a lot of music and movie have gone out of print if you want a hard copy version of something. See if you can find it at a thrift store before you buy the MP3.

Jewelry

Assume all jewelry is “fake.” Sure, real gold and jewels do come through secondhand shops on occasion, but traditionally, what you see is costume jewelry. However, if you’re fine with that (and I am), you can find some neat vintage jewelry here.

Do you shop at thrift stores? What are your strategies? What have been your best finds?

Why We Choose to Support Local Farms

Today, I was excited to find an article in the Huffington Post that outlines several reasons why, and ways, to avoid factory farmed food products and why it is so important to break our reliance on grocery stores. You can find that article here.

I don’t necessarily want to repeat what the author has already written. But because this blog is centered around our journey to become more self-sustainable and more aware of our purchases and consumer choices, I felt compelled to share why it is important to us to know where our food comes from and why we support our local farms.

I’m not going to lie to you or try to pretend that we are something we are not. We have Pop Tarts in our house. We sometimes have to buy meat at a traditional grocery store. Drinking Pepsi is one of my biggest vices (though I am trying very hard to moderate my consumption of it, for health reasons). Sometimes I give my children boxed cereal because it is quick and easy. And every member of my family enjoys a good fast-food burger when the mood hits us. Even though I want to have backyard chickens someday, we don’t have a coop and a flock on our property. I have the blackest thumb of anyone I know–I couldn’t even keep potted herbs alive for longer than two months. We don’t grow a bit of our own food.

However, when you have children, and as you age and develop health issues, you start to pay more attention to ingredient labels. I notice a behavioral change in my children when they consume food with artificial food coloring and dyes. I am noticing that I have adverse reactions to traditional dairy products, when consumed in higher quantities (i.e. yogurt is okay, but drinking straight milk can have troublesome side effects). I’m realizing that I can’t handle fatty, overly sweet, or highly greasy foods anymore without, um, paying for it a few hours later. I’m troubled when I realize that there are ingredients on our labels that I cannot pronounce, let alone define. I’m frustrated that high fructose corn syrup is in seemingly everything I feed my little ones–and it’s not the corn syrup in and of itself that is a problem for me, but that, due to it being inexpensive, companies make things twice as sweet as they used to be because they can–hey, this stuff doesn’t cost much anyway, and the kids love sweet stuff, so throw twice as much in there because it will sell! One of the reasons we cut traditional cable is because we got so tired of commercials telling us we had to buy, buy, buy or we would somehow be lacking “the good life,” and commercials trying to get my children to eat neon colored fake foods are part of that. While we do enjoy meat and animal products in this house, it breaks my heart to know that animals are crammed into feces-laden, disease ridden feedlots, and that they are abused, tortured, neglected, sickened–all to sell eggs or a chub of ground beef to the grocery store. And what comes of these feedlots and slaughterhouses, not to mention factory farms where the crops are assaulted with pesticides and chemical fertilizers? Well, all of the sickness, and the chemicals, and the toxins go straight into the ground or the water supply–and of course they can enter your food. Think of all of the outbreaks and recalls with veggies and meats in recent years….

We shared a CSA with my in-laws last year. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, CSA stands for community-supported agriculture. Some farms offer a program where customers can purchase a “share” of what the farm produces at the beginning of the season. The payment in early spring helps fund the farmer’s endeavors. In return, you get a box or a bag chock full of the farm’s harvest every week throughout the growing season. You essentially own a share of the farm’s bounty. This is really something that I believe in because you are giving not only financial support to a local farm, but you are also showing faith in them and what they are doing–and what these small farms are doing is so important, both to our families and our food system in general (the animals, the environment, etc).

(One of our weekly bags from last year’s CSA share.)

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I encourage you to visit one of your local, small farmers. There are few things more rewarding, and honestly, one of the most responsible things you can do for your family, is to talk to a farmer and ask him/her about the produce they grow–how it’s planted, tended, harvested. With a local farmer, you can go straight to the source to ask where your food is coming from, where it originates. You can actually see it growing in or roaming the fields. Go to a large company, like the corporations that govern feedlots, and chances are they will drive you away quicker than you can blink. They don’t allow cameras or questions, but a small farmer will (I can’t tell you the number of times that I have visited local farms JUST to take pictures). If you’re not interested in physically going to the farm, many communities have farmers’  markets where you can see what has been harvested (usually that morning, not weeks ago and then trucked across the country, like factory farms will do), and you can ask questions of the farmer or the workers.

(Besides…picking your own strawberries at a local farm reaps a huge savings, money-wise, and the berries are far more yummy.)

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When I think of this subject, I tend to think of chickens. I have an inherent fascination with chickens. They are just fun to watch. One of the things that brightens my day is seeing the chickens roaming around in the mornings on a farm–they wander the property, usually not too far from the barn, picking at the ground for bugs, scratching, clucking to one another as they make their rounds. The resulting eggs are so tasty–far better than anything from the store–because they eat natural foods, and they are healthier creatures to start with because they can live how nature intended a chicken to live. The eggs are beautiful, unique, various colors, different sizes. They are the total opposite of uniform, colorless eggs from chickens that have been packed by the thousands into a building, where the only thing they have to peck and scratch are each other, where there is no room to roam or, simply put, to be a chicken.

I’m blessed to live in a rural area that has multiple farmers’ markets, several CSA opportunities, many more local farms, etc. I understand that it isn’t as easy to simply avoid factory farms. I get it. I mean, I live in the middle of an ideal community for it, and I still go to the standard grocery store when needed. But it is so easy to make one or two changes. Maybe your choice is to grow your own herbs in pots, or to buy eggs from the farm instead of the store, or to attend the market once a week or once a month, or to choose one fruit or vegetable to buy organically–the thing is, even that one small step matters. It’s voting with your wallet. If everyone committed to one small thing, think of what we could do?

What is your small baby step going to be?

(Taking your little ones to the farm and teaching them to enjoy it and to make a habit of it…that is one small step.)

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The Hunger of Greed

I was watching a little television after our Thanksgiving dinner this afternoon, and I noticed a public service announcement about hunger in America. The PSA was a spot for a charity called Feeding America, and Dr. Phil McGraw was the celebrity spokesperson sharing facts about hunger in America with the viewers. He stated, via the non-profit’s studies, that 1 in 6 people in America, the richest country in the world, go hungry. He also stated that 1 in 5 children are going hungry in America as well. If you look on the Feeding America website, they claim that “in 2012, 49.0 million Americans lived in food insecure households, 33.1 million adults and 15.9 million children.” These are statistics that an average citizen expects to hear elsewhere–we’re used to thinking that malnutrition and hunger exists in underdeveloped, third world countries, and not in the United States. What is really frightening is the fact that there are also many children who are both clinically obese and malnourished at the same time due to the diet given to them at home–whatever the reasons may be, be it financial, parenting skills, location, lack of education, etc.

Immediately after the PSA alerting the American public of the growing hunger epidemic on our soil, I saw a commercial from Toys ‘R’ Us for Black Friday, advertising toys and game consoles for hundreds of dollars–big, bold, bright, eye catching fonts to attract the attention of both children and parents. You must have this toy NOW! Everyone else will have this toy! This specific item will make or break your children’s holiday! Buy! Buy! Buy!

To be fair to Toys ‘R’ Us, they were not the only Black Friday advertisement I saw–JCPenney had an ad with a family being encouraged by carolers to hurry, hurry, hurry, and clear those Thanksgiving dinner plates because it is time to shop, shop, shop (no exaggeration). I also saw advertisements for Kohl’s, a mattress store, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and my email inbox was glutted throughout the day with images and banners trying to convince me to go out and spend money I don’t have. Don’t have it to spend this year? No worries, friend, we have CREDIT for you! Pittsburgh’s NBC affiliate shared a story on their website where they show their audience that Black Friday sales aren’t really the best deals around, and parents and grandparents disregarded this, and made comments like, “I will not make my kids or grandkids wait (for the hot presents this year.)”

I saw these two ads juxtaposed, one discussing rampant hunger in America, and the other epitomizing the gluttony that has consumed our holidays and many of our citizens, who, might I add, trample each other in big box stores to get a cheap flat screen television, and I just felt nauseous.

Where are our priorities? When did our nation become so greedy, so gluttonous? When did we stick our heads in the sand, willing to ignore those suffering around us? When did we start putting “things” and plastic Chinese toys and kitchen electrics over providing for our families, our neighbors, our loved ones?

The system is broken, folks.

Stop glorifying Black Friday, stop buying on credit, stop purchasing in excess. Stop stampeding into stores on Black Friday, with complete and utter disregard for those around you, just to fill a cart full of “stuff.” Just plain stop.

No one is saying not to buy Christmas gifts, but do it in cash. Support your local businesses. Make more gifts, give more time, and less trinkets. And instead of focusing so much time and attention on scoring the best deal at midnight tonight, consider volunteering your time at a food pantry instead tomorrow, or donating a meal, or spend more time paying attention to those who might be in need around you. Learn to garden, to put food by, to cook from scratch, to mend, to do without sometimes.

The fact that 1 in 6 Americans in this nation are going hungry should be the priority tonight–not camping outside of the shopping mall.

Food for thought.