Lessons on Less

I write here fairly often about ‘sustainability‘, which dictionary.com defines as: “pertaining to a system that maintains its own viability by using techniques that allow for continual reuse”. It’s a word that has been bandied about rather loosely over the last decade but it’s the single best word I’ve found to describe the lifestyle that I aspire to, and that I wish for the planet. It’s that “Continual Reuse” that I find difficult to maintain. Actually, I’ve only managed sustainability in just a few areas of my life, and even then only for short periods of time: using clothelines, maintaining compost piles, heating my home for 10 years using only coppiced and downed wood (and then adding the ashes to the garden), harvesting rainwater and refusing bottled water, and creating zero waste. It’s very hard to even grow food sustainably, for I’d have to save all my own seeds to be completely sustainable in the garden.

I’ve come to the conclusion-finally-that I cannot lead a sustainable life. From cradle to cremation, our lives are simply not sustainable in the modern world. I’ve realized that even the Native Americans weren’t living sustainably as they cut down trees for their every use, planted their crops until the soils were so depleted they had to ‘move on’ and made face paints from mineral pigments that they dug from the earth. Believe me when I say that admitting that makes me sad. 

However, here’s the good news: we CAN easily practice and produce things in our households that will help us  be skilled and resilient in the face of the continuing threats of worsening climate changes, economic instability and inequity and the depleting of the earth’s natural resources. ‘Curtailing’ is a newer buzzword when used in conversations about sustainability.  That means buying less, using less, wanting less and wasting less. Curtail means to “cut back” or possibly to “downsize.” It is more reflective of the seriousness of our current situation than the probably more politically acceptable word “conserve.” Conservation often implies a relatively small reduction in consumption, possibly recycling or buying compact fluorescents or maybe buying a hybrid car. If conserve is to be used as a synonym for curtail, it would be appropriate to preface it with some modifier such as “radical” conservation or “extreme” conservation or “rapid” conservation.

Buying Less: I am really trying to ‘curtail’ my driving these days, even though I’ll admit that  I don’t do it so much as a frugality measure, but as a health measure. I enjoy getting my daily exercise walking or biking to the places I need to go and have found when I carefully ‘bundle’ my errands, I don’t spend any more time walking them than I did driving them. Without the stress of road rage, I find the time spent is actually conducive to my well-being, beyond the cardio benefits. While running errands recently I’ve noticed birds’ nests, hidden rabbit litters, blooming flowers and the neighbors’ gardens. I’ve witnessed homeless people, panhandlers and drunks too. Being in a car isolates and insulates me from those realities of life, but I’d rather live life with eyes wide open. I’ve saved many dollars on fuel, prevented the release of countless CO2 molecules, and preserved the miles on my car’s engine and tires, all while running errands. Hooray for ‘curtailing’!

Consume Less

Using Less:  I’m also conserving more energy these days; both mine and the electric company’s! With the arrival now of truly hot weather, I rise earlier so that I can run my errands and work in the garden before the heat of the day settles in. That gives me the rest of the day to guiltlessly enjoy reading, cooking, napping, playing music or writing, all the while sipping ice tea under the fan. Not a bad trade-off, this ‘conserving’ 😉

Wanting Less: Seems like recently I’ve forgotten my own advice about buying more ‘stuff’ and I found my closets and corners filling up once again. Getting into the habit of buying somehow magically leads to buying even more. A new dress can lead to a new pair of shoes to match it, which leads to a new car to drive around town looking good in while you’re wearing the new dress and shoes. Ask any star. But it’s just a habit. Of course knowing something and doing something about it are two completely different things. I smoked for many years even after I realized how bad it was for me and the planet. Smoking was a habit, and so is excessive shopping. But-more good news!- the habit can be broken and with the release of its’ grip, you automatically begin to want less. I’m no minimalist, but to know with certainty that point of having ‘enough’ is priceless to me. And wanting less is the key to that knowing. 

Wasting Less: My friend Sandy tells me: “A low consumption lifestyle is the ultimate waste reduction strategy.”  I enjoy the challenge of not being wasteful. I’m not talking about just drinking the last sip of milk, I’m talking about buying the milk in a returnable glass jug! I’m not talking about eating the apples before they go bad, I’m talking about composting the cores and feeding the seeds to the chickens! I’m not talking about recycling your #2 plastic bottles, I’m talking about drinking out of a glass for goodness’ sakes! I really can say with confidence that I don’t ‘waste’ anything. Like developing the habit of ‘wanting less’, it’s become such an ingrained habit in me that the concept of wasting anything is strange. Yet I see (on those daily walks in my urban area) senseless waste each and every day. From an uncancelled postage stamp to an unwanted article of clothing, you’ll find very little waste in my life. I’m proud of that. But you know what? It doesn’t matter that I’m not able to live 100% sustainably; what matters is the trying.














Frugal Friday- June 13, 2014

It’s Friday the 13th AND a full moon! Seems like an auspicious way to begin post number 2-0-1- on this blog. Since returning from my trip to Ohio, I’ve been distracted with gardening and meetings, and festivals and meetings and shelling peas and meetings and out of town company and oh yeah, did I mention meetings? This week I’ve really tried to concentrate on eating from our garden every day, as well as walking and biking as much as possible to get where I need to go. When I left town to travel to Ohio, I filled up for $3.32 a gallon, but when I got there, gas was $3.99 a gallon! If that’s not incentive to park the car, I don’t know what is, yet the city where my family lives just had bumper to bumper traffic everywhere! Before I get on to my personal efforts to live fully and frugally beneath my means, I wanted to show you a picture I took in downtown Columbus of a new ‘car rental’ system they have there…


The Car2Go system is brilliant for use in a big town. A one time membership fee of $35 gets you a swipe card. The card readers are on the dash of the car. Swipe your card, the doors unlock, then the reasonable pay by the minute-mile-or hour fees are charged to your credit card. Park it when you’re done in one of many many spaces allocated for them. They’re perfect for one, they’re fuel-efficient because of their small size and as  you can see, you can park two cars in the space that one car normally takes up! Talk about frugal! The only bad thing is having to live in a big town to take advantage of this. No thanks, I’ll just walk.

OK, before I get started on ‘this week’: a few of my close friends have said, from time to time, “you didn’t do such and such on Monday, it was Wednesday!” Whatever. The point here is not to give you a play by-play rundown of my week but instead, to simply show that every single day there are opportunities in our lives to save time, energy and resources. Living well on less is a way of life. Even on Mondays. Or Wednesdays. Just sayin’…

Monday: We had two compost bins but wanted to start a third one so we can be sure to have enough compost made this fall and next spring to add to our garden beds. The two bins we already had-and love-were $75 each last time I priced them (that’s them on the right, below) but with graduation gifts and travel expenses this month, there’s simply not enough money right now to buy another. But-we had a small section of wire fencing that we’d used several times to trellis growing vegetables, so we rolled it up, stuck it in the corner beside the other two and said ‘good enough’! It works fine and didn’t cost us a dime. And, as  you can see, it’s already filling up!


Tuesday: Speaking of graduation expenses, or special gift giving occasions: I’m always on the lookout for the perfect gift for such events. A few months ago I was in my favorite thrift store and found this little gem for 50 cents:


It had a lot going for it, from my point of view: it looked brand new, but no new resources were used for me to purchase it used, I wrote a personal note to put inside with the $100 bill I gave my graduating granddaughter, so no card had to be bought and then thrown away, nor did I need any wrapping paper. AND she’s got the little box for as long as she wants it to store ‘stuff’. Cheap? Nah, Sweet!

Wednesday: With summertime comes mosquitoes. I was hopeful that Michael’s chemo treatments would make him less desirable to the biting buggars but that doesn’t seem to be the case so it was time, once again, to mix up a batch of my infamous ‘Bug Potion #9’. Here’s the ‘recipe’: it makes 2 cups and usually lasts all summer. We keep it in repurposed spice jars, along with some cotton balls, in the camper,the car, the kitchen and the bathroom!


1 cup witch hazel
1 cup rubbing alcohol
8-10 drops peppermint oil

Shake well, store in a tightly capped container so that alcohol doesn’t evaporate. Applying this with a cotton ball as soon as possible after being bitten results in better effectiveness.

Thursday: I signed up on-line to join the Adult Summer Reading program at my local library. Just for doing that, when I went in to the library today, I received a free tote bag, bookmarks, and a book of my choice! And for each book review I post on their website, my name will also be entered into a weekly drawing! Does your library offer such sweet deals? Check it out-pun intended.


Friday: I invite company over at least once a month so my house will get cleaned. (oh surely you do that too! 😉  This week we had an out of town band stay with us overnight and the upstairs guest quarters were looking, um…kinda shabby. The night stands and table belonged to my grandmother and looked as old as she did-hey! she was 101, and she deserved to display all those years proudly, just like this furniture does:


  I spent $40 on new knobs and paint, a few pleasant hours on the patio and think the 3 pieces look pretty nice. I’ve also got enough paint left to do another small project so I’ll be on the lookout at yard sales this summer for a scuffed-but-solid table or stool to use it on- perhaps as a Christmas gift for my daughter? I just don’t know what to do with the paint cans once they’re empty. Any ideas?


I hope you’re carrying the ideas of Frugal Friday with you throughout your week, and that you’re inspired to make the best use possible of whatever resources present themselves in your life before looking ‘elsewhere’ for the things  you need. Enjoy the weekend-frugally of course!

The Good Life- Staying Cool, Hippybilly Music and Lightning Bugs
May 23, 2014, 9:39 PM
Filed under: ENOUGH!, Frugality | Tags: , , , , ,

Whew! It’s been a busy week. We had a gig with our band, the plot that’s being grown in the community garden for donation to the One Acre Cafe had to be planted, and overriding everything else, was Michael’s final week of chemotherapy. Let me repeat that: it was Michael’s final week of chemotherapy! We’re tired but happy today and are looking forward to a healing holiday weekend of music, food and friends. Some weeks offer more opportunities for frugality than others, but this wasn’t one of them, so I had to really stretch to reconstruct the week to see if there were ways we managed to save a dime or two. We did okay, in spite of our busy schedules.

Monday– In the process of making the ‘calling card of the South’ (sweet tea 🙂 ) for a meeting I was hosting, I poured the boiling hot water for the tea into my glass carafe and it busted immediately. Of course. My initial reaction was one of panic, thinking I’d need to run to the store to buy another. Not! Instead I went to the cellar and found one of those half-gallon canning jars that won’t fit in my canner, and filled it with the hot water and tea bags. I mean, canning jars are MADE for hot water, right? And I liked the look of the tea in the jar, so served right from it, even garnering a compliment on how ‘cute’ the jar was. ‘Cute’ canning jar, who knew? The point is, I didn’t have to buy anything, and was able to make use of something I already had on hand. You know my mantra: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without”…


Tuesday: A cool, rainy day led to making soup and baking bread, two of our favorite things. We probably won’t be making either one now until fall, so this batch was especially good, but bittersweet. We figure the bread costs about 25 cents per loaf and this soup was from a bag that I’d picked up at the discount grocery for $2.00; two pounds of Bob’s Red Mill Veggie Soup Mix, to which I added some garden carrots and onions, limp celery, a jar of home canned tomatoes and the last of the Christmas turkey I had in the freezer. Turns out the mix will be enough to make four pots of soup, so it was quite a value! And awful good too, even if it is May!


Wednesday: Michael and I are members of a little band that plays what we call “HippyBilly” music. We have BIG fun playing with our friends and sometimes we even make a bit of money doing so. This week we each made $25 for one hour of playing and that will sure come in handy when I travel to Ohio next week to watch my granddaughter graduate from high school!

Thursday: With the weather warming, we’ve started running fans in our upstairs and master bedroom window all night. The fans bring cool outside air in and help keep the whole house cooler throughout the day. We haven’t had to turn on our AC yet, and I hope we don’t all summer! We have one of those indoor/outdoor thermometers so when we see the outside temps drop below the house temp, we know it’s time to turn the fans on. We’ve also begun turning on the bathroom ventilator fans when we shower, closing blinds and drapes to keep the sun out, and have replaced our heavy winter bedding with light-weight summer stuff. We’ve also switched to bedtime showers, because after grubbing around in the garden all day, not only are we dirty, the showers cool us down just before bed, and makes sleeping much more comfortable. My kitchen windows face west, so I’ve also started cooking our dinners in the morning while it’s cool in there. Once it’s cooked, we usually go outside or for a walk while the kitchen cools. All these little changes in routines and being proactive at keeping the heat out, rather than reactive once it’s heated up, help keep the house cooler and our electric bills lower. It’s lots more expensive to air condition a house than  it is to heat it, and I’d rather spend that extra money on camping trips or music festivals in the summer. I know this is easy for me to say in May. We’ll talk again in August to see how that’s working out for us 😉

Friday: We drove to the oldest town in Tennessee this evening, a mere 9 miles away, to attend the unveiling of the soon-to-be-opened Farm Store and accompanying wall murals, as well as to enjoy the weekly ‘Music on the Square’ that’s offered free (donations gladly accepted) to the public during the summer. Sitting in our lawn chairs, listening to good live music, enjoying the cool breeze as I spotted the first lightning bug of the summer, in a beautiful little town square, I felt rich beyond compare. Lots of folks were eating ice cream cones, but we’d just eaten our supper, so we simply waited until we got home, where we ate our fudge bars right out of our freezer. They were cold and sweet and cost $3.00 for a box of twelve, making them 25 cents each. The single cones that were selling like hot cakes downtown were $4 each. You do the math.


P.S. The 9 mile trip was the farthest we’ve been in our car in ages, but well worth the trip to hear the music and to spend time with our friends and neighbors. Frugality is really all about the dozens of little choices we make each and every day, whether we’re making choices about what to eat, what to buy or how to spend our time and energy. I’ve come to realize one really important thing though about this way of living: my life is rich, so I don’t need to be!

T.G.I.F.F. (thank God it’s frugal Friday)

Note: I wasn’t able to insert any pictures into this post, for reasons I don’t understand. So, use your imaginations, and perhaps I’ll get this ‘bug’ figured out before I post again.

I’ve been too consumed with being a caregiver for Michael to put together a post since Halloween. But, his cancer surgery is over, he’s recovering fairly well, and the doctors feel it was very successful. We are filled with gratefulness during this month of Thanksgiving. He still has one more surgery to go through in a few months, followed by a long round of chemo to complete, but we’re feeling very, very thankful.

All that said, we’re facing some hefty medical bills, so it’s become all the more important that we continue to live within our modest means while also continuing to live well. Lately, living well has included a few little luxuries, like some restaurant meals when energy for cooking lags, some cozy wool socks for both of us, and a few new-to-us books and DVD’s for helping fill the recovery time. Oh yeah, hand-made soaps are an affordable luxury that can make you feel positively extravagant!

Now, let’s focus on this week:

Sunday-Wednesday: I made a pot of great-tasting veggie soup and ate it for several days, taking it in my thermos each morning to the hospital to have for lunch. I also took my travel mug to fill with the free coffee and herbal tea (which was offered  to surgery patients and their families), along with fruit, cookies and almonds for snacking on throughout the day. Savings: the one meal I ate in the hospital cafeteria cost me over $5, for not much food, and I estimate the soup cost me maybe $1.00 to make from veggies, rice and beans I had on hand. Since I ate it four days, I’m estimating I saved at least $20.00 or more. AND, since soup is my comfort food, it was actually priceless 😉

Monday: Attended a free screening of a new documentary about the questions and controversy surrounding GMO foods,  titled “GMO, OMG”! An unexpected reception afterwards of fruits, cookies, wines, cheeses and bruschetta, all compliments of my local university’s School of the Arts, and time spent with a good friend made it a special evening without spending a dime. If you’re lucky enough to live in a college town, you might be able to take advantage of similar things too. Ditto for dental, medical and other schools. PS Michael and I once got free one hour massages given by graduating students of a local massage school. Priceless!

Tuesday: Started a jar of sprouts for use in sandwiches, salads, and stir fries. Cost for 1 T. mixed seed: 25 cents. Savings: $1.75 since a cup of fresh organic sprouts cost $2.00 WHEN you can find them.

Wednesday: Brought my “pot of celery” inside to live on the kitchen windowsill, hoping it will continue to grow. This plant was started by cutting the root end off of a store-bought stalk of celery and simply laying it on top of some potting soil and keeping it moist. If it produces, I’ll have saved a couple of bucks on celery. If it doesn’t, I’ll still enjoy the greenery during the winter, and can use the leaves in soups and stuff.

Thursday: Walked out of a physical therapist’s office on the third visit because they wouldn’t  quote me a cost, or even an estimate. Savings: ??? 

Friday: Have successfully gone through the first cold week of the season without yet turning on the central heat. We stay close to the gas stove in the living room (and love the glow of the flames!) and have an oil filled radiant heater for use in the kitchen, as well as a small thermostatically controlled heater for use in the bathroom or wherever a bit of heat is needed for a short period of time. We’ve also reinstated our winter ritual of  taking our showers back-to-back, while the bathroom is already heated up from the little heater AND the steamy shower.

“They” say that little things don’t count, don’t matter. I beg to differ. It’s the little things, the one and two dollars saved here and there that allow us to live so well on so little. We don’t feel deprived and have enough in our lives to share. I also feel strongly that the premise behind this blog, almost 2 years after I began writing it, is still reason enough to continue it. We are facing hard times, in spite of the fact that the stock market reached an all time high today, in spite of the fact that gasoline is once again below $3.oo a gallon, and in spite of the fact that national health care is becoming a reality. Maybe. This week also saw the world’s strongest typhoon in history, the beginning of the two-week UN Climate talks already beginning to falter after only a couple of days, and closer to home, family in California informs us that water supplies are becoming a huge problem for the Central Valley. You know, that place known as our nation’s bread basket.

The window for making graceful transitions is beginning to close, but we can still create a way of living that’s significantly more connected, more vibrant and more fulfilling than the one we find ourselves in today. Now is the time to take stock and to start re-creating our future in ways that are not based on cheap, plentiful and polluting oil but on localized food, sustainable energy sources, resilient local economies and an enlivened sense of community well-being. Learning to Live Well while living frugally makes the whole process of transition easier. Please feel free to share your own attempts at frugality and living well by commenting below. We’re all in this together you know. Thank God it’s Friday!

I Only Came In For Bread
January 25, 2013, 8:22 PM
Filed under: ENOUGH!, Frugality, Mindful Consumerism, Plant based diet, Resilience


Grocery store clerks have told me that they’re often amazed and amused by the customers that tell them “I only came in for bread”, yet they’ve also got a can of refried beans, a package of Oreos, a pound of cheese and a frozen box of Stouffer’s Lasagne on the checkout belt, right along with that bread. A $2 loaf of bread turns into $20. Or more. I’ve done it myself of course but the reminder remains: “Step Away from the Store!”  The tendency to pick up impulse items is even stronger when there’s a storm forecast. You know, “just in case”. In this month of winter storms, W4 tax forms, new year resolutions, and a promise on my part to spend January writing about food on this blog, today seemed to be perfect for continuing that theme. (For non-local readers, Tennessee is under a ‘state of emergency’ as I write this, due to icy and snowy conditions.) But I digress…

My post earlier this week focused on a way to easily prepare healthy and delicious food, at minimal cost. Homemade soups are filling and are an excellent way to use up leftovers or small amounts of beans, grains and veggies, that by themselves, wouldn’t feed more than one, let alone a hungry family.  Now granted, my ‘souper’ meal didn’t compare to the meal served Monday to President O’Bama and his 220 guests at the inaugural luncheon. Celebrating the theme of the inauguration, “Faith in America’s Future”, artisanal, sustainable and, where possible, local foods were used, though some items came from the West.  The three-course farm-to-table menu included steamed lobster tail topped with a New England clam chowder sauce, placed atop vegetables.  Hickory grilled bison tenderloin (sourced from South Dakota) with a wild huckleberry reduction was the entree, joined by vegetable sides, including a red potato horseradish cake.  The grand finish was President Obama’s favorite dessert, pie: Hudson Valley Apple Pie, with sour cream ice cream and maple caramel sauce, accompanied by artisan cheeses and honeycomb.  Wines were from New York and California. The very fact that this Presidential meal was planned to highlight local and sustainable foods tells me that there’s real change in the air concerning our food system. I’m not so sure about that whole “Faith in America’s Future” theme, but it sounds good, doesn’t it?

Meanwhile, moving back to the reality of feeding ourselves and our families within the confines of our personal budgets: those impulse buys can wreck your food budget. The safest and easiest way I’ve found for sticking to my own budget is to stay out of the stores, food or otherwise. There’s an old saying that goes like this: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without”. It’s my personal mantra and I always feel positively virtuous when I can follow it. It’s probably saved me thousands and thousands of dollars over the years, yet at the end of the day, I never feel deprived, but rich beyond the normal measure of what money can buy. I am a lucky woman, and I know it.

Making a menu plan and a shopping list really help me stick to what I need when I finally do go to the store. I try to go only once a month for my main shopping, and rarely will go again for just one item. I’ve found I can often substitute one item for another, or leave an ingredient out altogether without degrading whatever I’m cooking. ‘Doing Without’ can save a trip to the store and a twenty spot.

I read a book several years ago named “Hungry Planet” that was a pictoral essay of what other families around the world eat. I picked three from it that I thought might better make my point:

Ecuador: The Ayme family of Tingo
Food expenditure for one week: $31.55
Favorite Food: Potato soup with cabbage


The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp
Food expenditure for one week: 685 CFA Francs or $1.23
Favorite food: Soup with fresh sheep meat


United States: The Revis family of North Carolina
Food expenditure for one week: $341.98
Favorite foods: spaghetti, potatoes, sesame chicken

I could be crazy. Many people think that I am 😉  But I truly do think we can help ourselves best, and help the planet most, by simply “doing without”. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Merry Christmas!
December 24, 2012, 9:31 PM
Filed under: ENOUGH! | Tags: ,

I’m ready for Christmas and have enjoyed the journey getting to it as much as I will the big day itself. We’ve always loved Christmas, but for the last dozen years Michael and I  have tried to focus on the special things about the season other than the gifts, and now we enjoy it even more! We both remember too many years of simply being exhausted and broke by the time the actual day arrived. Some years we’ll buy one another a little gift, sometimes we don’t, but we no longer buy just because it’s Christmas. Our grown kids are on board with this simplicity, and it’s taken a lot of pressure off of all of us! But I do love having the girls and my grandkids visit, love cooking a big family dinner for us all, love seeing the lights and decorations everywhere I go, enjoy the beautiful music that is so special to the season, and all the festivities leading up to This Night. But after being out to special events three  nights in a row, here it is Christmas Eve and we just don’t feel like going out in the rain tonight to the candlelight service at the downtown church like we’d planned. So, we’ll stay home by the fire and watch “A Christmas Story”, and pop some popcorn instead. Simple and quiet tonight, but when the family arrives from Ohio tomorrow, the noise level goes WAYYY up! Oh what fun!

I wish you a happy and memorable Christmas with your families, friends, neighbors, pets and loved ones. I hope you all have enough, however you define it and that you’ll take a moment to say a prayer or a meditation for world healing and peace. Merry Christmas everyone!

40 Ways in 40 Days

Now that the Thanksgiving holiday is over, I suspect many of us are feeling as stuffed as our turkeys were yesterday, with leftovers filling the refrigerator. It’s interesting to see how the first three-day Thanksgiving celebration of praying, fasting and feasting, (yep, we always forget about that fasting part, don’t we?) held in late fall of 1621, and celebrated between the grateful Pilgrims and their new Native American friends, has morphed into a three-day eating and shopping extravaganza. When I think about how difficult life was for all of those settlers, compared to how good we have it today, I feel almost ashamed of my own excesses. But that’s just my good ol’ Southern Baptist guilt and indoctrination upbringing edging in to bother me. I suddenly realized today that the only reason for feeling guilt over my own enoughness would be if I wasted it, so I have vowed to make sure that during the upcoming holiday season I make an extra effort towards mindful consumerism and reducing waste.  Now I’m a natural born soap saver and bag washer, but sometimes I find myself becoming complacent (again!) and that’s where I’ve been more than I like to admit lately. I think recently  reading about the strife and the bombings  between Israelis  and Palestinians, and then revisiting the whole Thanksgiving story yesterday has combined to make me keenly aware of just how privileged I am. I wanted to turn this rekindled awareness into practical ideas and practices that I incorporate into my daily life and then share them with you in this post, especially as they relate to the very premise of this blog.

So today, as I’ve gone through a rather ordinary but quiet day, I’ve tried to pay close attention to some of  the little things I do to reduce waste. I’m a firm believer in how the ‘little things’ add up. I might not be able to install solar panels on my roof, but I can find ways to reduce my energy needs, so that when the day comes that I can afford those panels, I’ll be able to ‘live within my solar means’, so to speak.  Keep in mind that waste can occur in a lot of  different areas: food, water, energy, money, time, whatever. Thinking about food wastes in particular, led me to consider extravagance in general, which led to thoughts about how this is ‘Black Friday’, and how, exactly one day after we Americans give thanks for all our blessings, we start shopping for some more! At noon today, I drug the leftovers out of the refrigerator and realized how unethical it was for me to even consider feeding them to the dog, when so many humans are hungry. In anticipation of tonight’s predicted freezing, I liberally watered my garden before setting up a protective hoop house, and found myself thinking about how many US farm crops failed this year due to droughts, AND  how much oil was used to produce the very plastic that I covered the hoops with. This afternoon I brought in the cushaw squashes from the front porch to protect them from the coming cold weather, and thought about the struggle my daughter (and many, many others) will have with being able to afford to keep warm this winter in poorly insulated, run-down homes and apartments. The whole day reconfirmed my privileged status, and inspired me to share a few of the things I plan to do over the next 40 days to not only celebrate the season, but to do it sustainably and ethically. Why 40 days?  Simply because that’s the number of days left in this year and I feel like I can find 40 ways in 40 days.

Let’s begin with food: Even after sending home my dinner guests home with ‘care packages” yesterday, I still had plenty left. And we ate them today, but slightly in disguise. Turkey carcasses can be boiled down to make rich soup broth. Pick the bits of meat off the bones, add some noodles, chopped onion and celery, and you can feed the whole crowd again. So I made a big pot to share with my daughter and her boyfriend. I saved the really thick, rich drippings from the roasting pan to: make gravy, pour over the dog’s dry kibble, and to make into stock for adding to recipes. The baked sweet potatoes will be made into a pie, while the remaining mashed potatoes and green beans went into a Shepard’s Pie tonight for supper. (I thought such a dish was a great kick off to this particular season, don’t you?)  😉  I vow to look through my refrigerator and garden each morning for the next forty days left and plan my meals around what I find there. Research shows that eliminating food waste is the easiest and most effective ways to improve your own family’s food costs, by the way. I also vow to eat less.

Seasonal Decorations: We’ll be putting up the same Charlie Brown Christmas Tree that we’ve enjoyed since we got married, and just like the family in “A Christmas Story’, we’ll be holding our breath that the lights we already own will glow again. If not, they’ll be replaced with more energy-efficient LED lighting. Call me crazy, but I like the things I’ve collected over the years and see no reason to buy more. That said, I do enjoy crafting natural wreaths or mantelpieces from things I collect in nature, and they cost nothing but time, perked up with some repurposed ribbon or dried herbs. I also love burning candles during the long, dark nights of winter so I vow to shop for soy based candles this year, which aren’t made of, you guessed it, petroleum.

Gift Giving: Michael and I sometimes buy one thing for ourselves at Christmas. Last year it was a Vitamix Blender and the year before, a Kitchen Aid mixer. But this year, there’s just nothing  we need and since neither of us feels that a gift is necessary to help us feel festive, I may just vow to buy some really good Fair Trade dark chocolate for him to give to me. The rest of my family has slowly but surely reprogrammed their  idea of what constitutes a ‘good’ Christmas and they’ve  found that it ain’t Just about the gifts. The whole season has become more doable, manageable, affordable and FUN with this mindset. We put the emphasis on seasonal music, special rituals and foods, family games, visits, video nights and time together, with occasional small, thoughtful gifts that are often repurposed, regifted, recycled or consumable. One daughter gives me a case of tangelos, bought to support her local school, each year. Tangelos now SMELL like Christmas to me, and I look forward to them all.year.long. My most economically challenged daughter often receives a box with everyday items like toothpaste, shampoos, soaps and light bulbs in it. It helps her meet her daily needs and offers her some financial relief. And I always include some kind of little luxury in the box, to add to her fun. The point is, none of us are rushing out to attend the Black Friday sales, and yet, we don’t feel we’re missing anything. And when it’s over, there’s no gift returns, credit card bills due in January or huge trash bags filled with trashed gift wrap either. This simplified approach may not work in all families, and it sure hasn’t been an overnight success with mine, but a slower, smaller, quieter Christmas agrees with all of us.

Gifts Wrap and Cards: For the 13th year in a row, I vow to not buy any wrapping paper or bows, nor any Christmas cards. Not because I’m a scrooge, but because I’ve found alternatives to both that satisfy my desire to give a prettily wrapped gift and to reach out with my pen to out of town friends and loved ones. I save every suitable metal tin, gift bag, yarn, ribbon and pretty paper I can to present the requisite homemade Buckeye candies that mean Christmas to my clan. I also send out the many unsolicited  new cards I receive in the mail after my name is sold to yet another non profit’s mailing list, and pass on those I can’t use. I save the fronts of any cards I receive throughout the year and bulk send them to kids at St Jude’s Ranch to be made into new greeting cards that they sell for a small profit.

Water: I vow to shower every other day and flush less. I also vow to wear an apron when cooking and wear my clothes more than once before washing. I’ll wash FULL loads of clothes and dishes. Using a dish pan allows me to reuse dish water to scrub the shower, rinse the toilet, or scrub the floor. I also drain any liquids from canned veggies over the dog’s dry kibble- she loves it  and I like to think it adds some nutrition to her diet. When I make that turkey stock this weekend, I’ll be sure to reuse the water that I sterilize the jars with to wash dishes in. Then, once the canning is completed, I’ll cool the canning water and use it to water houseplants or fill the dog’s bowl. Canning and processing foods takes a lot of water and energy, so eliminating food wastes saves both, by the way. 

Speaking of energy: We’re only in the first heating season here in our new home, but have been pleasantly surprised to find our 112 year old house is fairly tight and comfortable and can be heated primarily with a little natural gas stove that sits in the fireplace. Still, I vow THIS WEEKEND to install those foam insulators behind all the light switches and electrical sockets. And I vow NEXT WEEK to make a couple of those old-fashioned draft dodgers to put underneath the front and back doors. I’ve got a bucket of sand in the garden shed that I hauled here from our old house for just this purpose along with lots of fabric scraps suitable for making the tubes. Now that I’ve publicly made this vow, I’ll be sure to get it done!

More energy savers I’ve used with much success: I’ve always used the heat from the kitchen oven to cook multiple dishes, and have found that if recipes call for temperatures that are no more than 25 degrees difference, they can be easily cooked together at the lower temp. If you use a clothes dryer, clamp a knee-high hose over the end of the dryer hose and vent that hot, moist air  into your house during the winter. Open your dishwasher to air dry after it completes the wash cycle, have your family shower back to back so the warmth from the bathroom is retained, run your ceiling fans on low in a CLOCKWISE position to push warm air from the ceiling down, and hang insulated curtains or even quilts at your windows to conserve energy. Caulking and weatherstripping are still two of the cheapest energy savers there are though!

I challenge you to use my ideas or come up with your own 40 Ways in 40 Days to simplify your  holidays, while saving resources of every kind forever. Little things do make a difference, I promise.

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