Category Archives: Conscious Living

A line of her own

What can save you money, is earth friendly, encourages discussion, solves discipline issues and introduces life skills to young children? A clothesline!

Catherine has, for some time now, been following me out to the clothesline during my (almost) daily chore. Hanging the laundry is a peaceful, monotonous, repetitive chore that gives me a great excuse to get outside in the morning. Having a five year old nearby clamoring to help can make the experience decidedly less peaceful, I’ve discovered.

My first response to her offers to help were “okay! Please hand me a sock!” That suggestion, as well as “Please hand me a clothespin!”, were met with protests from the aspiring Mama at my hip. “I want to really help!” she’d say. That meant that she wanted me to pick her up and let her pin the clothes up on the line. Not such a problem the first time, but my back can only handle so many ups and downs lifting a fifty pound kid! Also, while I wasn’t exactly in a rush to finish the chore, getting done in a timely fashion pretty much went out the window with this kind of help.

My second response was (I’m ashamed to say) to shoo her away. “Go water the garden or swing on the swings or collect sticks or, or, or…” Read: “Go do anything else and let me be!” Obviously, this option went over like a hot rock, and didn’t make me proud of my parenting skills.

My third response, and the best of them all, was inspired by something I read online somewhere. The author mentioned how she starting hanging her clothes out on a small line that her mother had strung up. The (cfl) light bulb above my head went of and a couple of days later Catherine had her own little clothes line on which to hang some clothes.

This little line has stopped the tugging on my shirt and the begging to help. She now can take her own basket of socks and small shirts and hang them while I’m hanging the rest of our family’s laundry. While we’re out there we can talk about the weather or nature or the best way to hang a shirt. We also talk about plans for the day, upcoming events and whatever else tickles our fancy. What we’ve left behind is the power struggle of who would hang what and the impulse to shoo away a girl eager to learn the ways of her Mama.

Back by Popular Request…

…World Wide Wood’s most recent installment of

Keeping Warm in the Winter (without relying on the heaters)

It is December 1st and the Wood household has yet to turn on the heat. Not because we’re gluttons for punishment or because we’re better than you or anything. Mostly, it just hasn’t gotten cold enough to need it on. We try to avoid turning the heat on for a few reasons: conservation of energy and financial savings are just the big ones.

Here are some of our tips for staying comfortable (and saving money) as the temperature dives:

Reduce the amount of space you need to heat. The smaller your house, the less heat you’ll need. If you’re looking to buy a new house, don’t buy more square footage as you need. If you’re not moving, look at how you can close off unused space and keep the heat in the used space. Closing doors, shutting off radiators, hanging heavy blankets in open doorways are good places to start.

Insulate your outsides walls. This might mean more insulation in the attic or tighter windows. It can also mean draft dodgers at doors and windows. You can even buy (or make) heavy window quilts to keep the heat in. And there’s always window plastic to fall back on!

Use a programmable thermostat. If everyone is out of the house all day there’s no reason to keep the house too warm. Set your thermostat to turn on just before you wake up and turn off as you’re leaving for the day. You can set it to kick on again about an hour before you come home. We also set ours to shut off at night while we’re all asleep.

Dress appropriately. I love to go barefoot, but it just isn’t practical in these cold New England winters. Socks, pants and long sleeve shirts are givens. Sometimes long underwear or a sweater is just the layer you need to take the chill off. If you can wear short sleeves in February you’re probably keeping the house too warm. Remember to dress appropriately at night, too. Warm pjs and socks underneath flannel sheets and a warm quilt or comforter should do the trick.

Keep busy. Make cookies, vacuum, do the dishes, play games, exercise, organize a closet, fold the laundry, paint a room. The more you move, the warmer you’ll be.

Eat (and drink!) warm things. Hot chocolate, beef stew, chili, mashed potatoes, chicken soup, oatmeal, tea… you get the picture, right?

Get out of the house. You’ll spend less money on heat if you go somewhere else. We love to spend time at the library. Church makes for a long outing on Sundays. Walking the mall, exploring a museum or visiting friends and family can keep you away from home as well. Bundling up can give you more options- go for a walk or run, shovel snow, build a snowman. The fresh air will do you good and will make the warm house seem even warmer when you get home!

Lowering your thermostat just a couple of degrees can make a big difference. Start slowly and drop a degree or two. Once you get accustomed to that drop it a couple more. You’ll find a temperature that is both comfortable enough to live in and that won’t devastate your budget. Good luck, and stay warm!

Blessings in the guise of Freecycle

I’ve talked about my love of Freecycle here before. I really appreciate the philosophy behind the operation: Take what you have, pass it along to others, receive what you need. Less waste, less consumerism, more community.

Over the past few years we have been blessed by the existence of Freecycle. Before the birth of Catherine (and now in preparation for her sibling) Peter and I sorted and organized and purged our belongings. Instead of tossing them we listed many (most?) of them on Freecycle. Folks came and got what they needed and we were left with clearer minds and more space to organize baby items. We also were fortunate to find several items listed that we could make use of ourselves.

A year later as we packed to move 2 miles up the street we found ourselves listing more things on the site. Common questions between the two of us were, “do we need this?” “do we love this?” “is it worth packing/unpacking?” and “could someone else make better use of it than us?” So often the answers led us to posting yet another “Offer: in Beverly” and we felt lighter in the process.

In our journey to living more simply, paying off debt and making more positive contributions to our community we have continued to look to Freecycle. We may not be able to donate to every cause that comes calling, but we can pass on those things that still have value, just not necessarily to us. We may not be able to help all our neighbors who are troubled or stressed, but we are can accept their generosity and help clear their lives of ‘things’ as we receive items that they have offered. We may not be able to Save the World, as it were, but we can do our best in our own little corner of it.

This past weekend we had an experience that has further confirmed how blessed our lives are. For many reasons (some petty, some not so) we have been wanting a dishwasher. Due to the restrictions in our kitchen we knew we were looking for a portable washer, which seem to run around $400. Given our budget, which has a little wiggle room, but not much, we had been at a loss as to how to afford one. Giving to our Church and making overpayments to our debt are budget priorities, but avoiding handwashing dishes wasn’t…so we continued to pray for another solution. The most promising was a little savings plan that would build up over time, allowing us to head to Sears.

Until I saw a listing on Freecycle for a portable dishwasher…located right around the corner! A couple quick emails back and forth to the owner and we had an appointment to go and check it out. She claimed it worked, but her family just didn’t want it any more. Peter and her husband carried it down from the second floor and into our car, where it just barely fit. With a friend’s assistance on Saturday we brought it into the kitchen and gave it a test run. A few loads of dishes later we’re happy to say that it seems to work just fine!

Thanks to Freecycle, for the low, low price of $5 (we needed a connector piece for the faucet) we were blessed and were made able to continue blessing others. Need examples?
*Our kitchen now has at least twice the counter space as before (the dirty and clean dishes aren’t sitting on the tiny counters anymore!). That alone makes my heart lighter and I feel 10x as motivated to be in the kitchen preparing food for my family. We’ll eat healthier and won’t be tempted to eat out as a result.
*The family who gave use the washer now has more room in their, also small, kitchen. The washer was taking up space they wanted and now they are living lighter and making better use of their space. They probably feel good that they were able to help another local family, as well.
*By resisting temptation to “buy now” and put it on our credit card we have been able to continue to adhere to the budget that we have committed to.
*We are still able to contribute to the causes that we believe in, because we’ve kept to our budget. We aren’t taking from others because of our ‘need’.
*We’re conserving water- at least I think we are! By running a full load of dishes in the washer I think we’re using less water than we would be doing the dishes by hand. Even though we were very mindful of our water usage.
*And we’ve saved another perfectly good appliance from heading to the dump to spend the next eternity rusting away.

All that to say, I really love Freecycle and I’m really happy with our new, free, dishwasher.

North Shore Birth Center

Beverly Hospital, where our daughter Catherine was born, offers a Birth Center as one of its services. It is offered for women with low-risk pregnancies who want a comfortable environment to pursue a natural and unmedicated childbirth.

The management of Beverly Hospital has brought a proposal to the hospital’s Board of Trustees to stop allowing births at the Birth Center, apparently due to a sharp increase in malpractice insurance premiums. Today, the Board decided to postpone taking a vote on the issue, thanks in large part to supporters of the Campaign to Save the North Shore Birth Center. The Campaign has organized letter-writing campaigns, sent emails to board members, and gathered together a group of supporters to rally outside the hospital’s grounds today just as the Board was to meet this morning.

Rebecca and I support what the Birth Center does, even though Catherine wasn’t born there and our next child won’t be born there. So I wanted to explain why we support them. Natural childbirth is the practice of a woman going through labor and delivery of a baby without the aid of medications for pain relief, speeding up labor, etc. A natural childbirth can be had anywhere: Rebecca gave birth to Catherine without the aid of medication right in a normal labor and delivery room at Beverly Hospital. Other moms have natural births right at home, or in places like the North Shore Birth Center.

One might ask why the Birth Center needs to exist when a natural childbirth, like ours, can take place at a hospital. One advantage of the Birth Center is that it’s specifically geared towards natural childbirth. In a regular labor and delivery ward, all of the options are available to you, and even if you go in with the intent to do things naturally, it is very easy to make the quick decision to switch to medication. In the Birth Center, those options aren’t readily available – you’d have to be moved over to the hospital to receive any medication. So if you’re completely intent on a natural childbirth and don’t want to bother with the possible distractions of labor and delivery in a medical setting like a hospital, the Birth Center may be for you.

As I mentioned, we were able to have a natural childbirth right in the hospital, thanks to having written up and distributed a birth plan, having some great and supportive nurses, and lots and lots of personal determination. We’re thankful that we were at the hospital to give birth, because Catherine had some complications after she was born and needed immediate attention. Had she given been born at the Birth Center, the time it took to transfer her to the hospital could have led to even greater complications. As it was, they were able to rush her up to the hospital’s special care nursery right away, and then down to Brigham and Women’s Hosptial in Boston. However, the vast majority of births occur without these sorts of complications, and the Birth Center is readily able to handle them.

We have friends who’ve used the Birth Center, and we know that many other people want to have it as an option. It’s been a great option for women for nearly 30 years, is one of only two in our state, and it would truly be sad if the hospital removed this option purely because of a business decision. I’m hopeful that the delay in voting will give the Board time to discuss the issue and give supporters time to make their cases.

If you’re interested in learning more, head over to the site for the Campaign to Save the North Shore Birth Center.

Update: For reference, here is the recently-released official statement from the hospital’s Board of Trustees:

OFFICIAL STATEMENT FROM BEVERLY HOSPITAL (November 18, 2008): The Board of Trustees takes its responsibilities to this organization and to the community very seriously. Consistent with other birth centers around the nation, the North Shore Birth Center is experiencing a significant rise in the cost of malpractice insurance premiums. The Board of Trustees is diligently weighing the impact that the closure of the Birth Center would have on the community; the level of community interest in its continued operation has not gone unnoticed. The Board intends to leave the Birth Center services unchanged while it continues to examine and discuss this

Frugal Haircut

Sometimes you have to spend a little money to save a little money. This week I spent $15 on an electric hair clipper set. We’ve talked about it several times in the past, but had never actually laid down the money.

So, today, for the same as it would cost for Peter to go to the cheapo haircut place, I cut his hair for him. Luckily he sports a really basic hairstyle so it wasn’t too hard! Even still, taking the first swipe was a bit nerve wracking for me. I think it came out pretty well.

The best part is that we broke even on the clippers with just one haircut and all the following cuts/trims will be 100% free.

First Winter Preparation…

Have you heard that the Old Farmers Almanac is predicting a particularly cold winter this year? OFA forecasts are prepared two years in advance, which leaves a lot of room for error. In our neck of the woods, however, winter can usually be counted on to be cold.

With the cost of heating the way it is, we’re already planning for the chilly weather. I finished up a little project this weekend to help keep Catherine toasty at night: flannel sheets! Flannel sheets are always a little nicer to climb into on frosty winter nights.

I’ve mentioned before that I like to find a second hand source for the things I need/want whenever possible. This project was no different, so I paid a visit to a new store in my grocery plaza- Savers. I’ve heard tell of Savers from friends in other parts of the country, but this is the first one around here. It is sort of a nicer, more organized Thrift Shop.

I quickly came across what I needed, a queen sized flannel sheet for the low, low price of $3.99. I snatched it up and ran it through the wash. Then, using this tutorial, and some too-wide (but all I had) elastic, I set to work. I was able to get on crib sized fitted sheet and an average sized pillowcase out of the one sheet. Had I planned better and wasn’t so set on reusing the manufacturer’s hems I might have been able to get a second sheet. Next time around I think I could make due with just a full sized sheet to start out with.

sheets

All told, the cutting and sewing probably took me 2 hours. The sheets fit her little bed perfectly and I can’t wait for her to snuggle in this winter.

Reusable Tulle Produce Bags

Lately, I’ve been noticing that more and more people at our local Market Basket have been using reusable grocery bags. I think it is great! We’ve been using our cloth bags exclusively for some time now and have been very happy. Recently, I’ve decided that it is time to go whole hog and I’m no longer going to use those little plastic produce bags.

I’ve been putting larger or single items right in the top basket in my carriage, but it is hard to buy several lemons or green beans without putting them in a bag. Why not use a reusable bag for these items as well as the rest of my groceries? It’s a great idea and there are several mesh, gauze and tulle bags for sale out there specifically for this purpose.

But,before I buy anything I look to see if I have something that can serve the same purpose, or can be crafted to my needs. (then I try to find it secondhand from Freecycle or a Thrift Shop and lastly, I buy it new) In this case, I knew that I had some tulle in my fabric box that would fit the bill. It is a dark, hunter green tulle that I was especially happy to reuse. In fact, it has lived a couple lives already! It started out as a little shawl for my friend Joanna’s wedding. I wound up with three bridesmaid’s shawls and once we got back home they shawls quickly became window valances in our ‘office/sewing room/ nursery. They hung in the windows for the next five years! One of the three had a brief career as the arms of my Princess Fiona costume, Halloween 2006. They’ve been in a box since we moved just waiting for the perfect opportunity to be used again.

veggies

I made myself several little drawstring bags from the shawl/curtain/sleeves. Then I tucked them into my shopping bag where they sat until their maiden voyage today. I am happy to report that my new produce bags worked out quite nicely. The cashier didn’t even bat an eye as she rang up my tomatoes and other veggies. The tulle is strong enough to carry produce in and translucent enough to read the PLU numbers on the veggies’ stickers. Nice.

veggies2

It will probably take a few more shopping trips before using these bags becomes second nature. I’m sure, though, that like recycling, shutting off the water while I brush and using canvas shopping bags, soon I’ll have forgotten how ‘new’ it was to bring my own produce bags.

Local Food Consumption

Part of our commitment to living more conscious lives involves being more local consumers. Buying locally grown and produced foods from local vendors is good for both the environment and the local economy. We have already changed our eating out habits in order to patronize local establishments (Acapulcos, Pizza Bella Mia, Daily Harvest Cafe) and we’re working on filling our pantry with locally produced staples.

When it comes to groceries we’ve always shopped at Market Basket. They’re a locally owned franchise of grocery stores that don’t waste time and money on advertising, websites, or stock presentation. They just have low prices and a wide selection of groceries. They’re based out of Tewksbury, Ma, so I already feel better knowing that we aren’t supporting a multinational company like Stop and Shop.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve noticed a few positive changes at my local Market Basket. First, they got on board with the larger chains and started selling their own, branded, reusable shopping bags. Yay! I haven’t bought any, though, because I already have enough bags. They have also upgraded their checkout computer systems. My receipt is now printed on both sides and I can now sign the digital tablet when I pay with my credit card- both of which save paper on every transaction! And slowly but surely I am training the baggers to fill up my cloth bags and forgo the plastic. I’d like to think that eventually they’ll use so little plastic that they’ll stop offering it all together!

I usually stick to my list while shopping and buy the least expensive/best value of the selection that I can find. Take peanut butter for instance. Normally I buy the Market Basket brand at $1.50 a jar. This week I noticed that the same size jar of Teddie all natural peanut butter was 2/$4. I decided to pay the extra 50 cents to check it out. As it turns out, Teddie is a local, family owned company, based right here in Everett, Ma. And as an extra bonus the peanut butter comes in a wide mouth glass jar that will be perfect for fridge storage once we’ve licked it clean of pb!

The last month or so we’ve also been drinking local milk. Those of you on the North Shore will certainly know Richardson‘s for their ice cream but they also sell their own milk. I don’t drink milk, but Peter claims that it tastes quite good and milky. I like the fact that Richardson’s raises their own cows and feeds them corn and grain that they grow themselves here in Massachusetts. We do have to drive a little further to get it, but I think it is a good trade off.

We’ll continue to seek out opportunities to buy local food. When the weather warms up I’m sure we’ll have a ball at the farmer’s markets that are in our area! How do you support your local farmers and economy?

Need something to read?

I’ve recently finished a couple of good books:

Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic by John de Graaf, Davin Wann, and Thomas H Naylor

I found this to be a good primer for examining the effects of over consumption. The book is based on a 2000 PBS documentary and, as such, it has a casual narrative style. It was a fairly easy read but is definitely intended to incite its readers to action- specifically to reexamine your own consumption and to reduce it- for the sake of the Earth.

Affluenza was strong on the causes and symptoms of Affluenza but seemed to fall short when discussing cures or solutions.

More With Less by Doris Janzen Longacre

This second book offers some of the solution that was lacking above. Written, and contributed to, by members of the Mennonite faith, this book is primarily a cookbook. In addition, it is a handbook for cooking and living in simple and sustainable ways. I especially like the mindset that the author is coming from. The recipes are all basic, but unique and tasty. Most of the ingredients are easy to find at the store. And there are little tips here and there about how to save and use your leftovers and scraps. I love having thrifty inspiration.

Daily Harvest Cafe

Peter, Catherine and I had the opportunity to check out a new local restaurant last week. The Daily Harvest Cafe recently opened on High Street in Danvers and we were eager to give it a try.

cafe

We were all very pleased with what we found there. Catherine loved the wagon full of kids toys and was disappointed to see that the kid sized table was already occupied. Peter and I were intrigued by the variety of the menu offerings. Peter had the “Chloe” (a turkey and muenster sandwich with a cranberry orange mayo) and I had the Thai Chicken Wrap. Both were delicious! It was difficult to choose from all the sandwiches, salads and burgers on the menu. They also had a huge selection of natural juices and bottled soda as well as a soda fountain serving Real City Soda.

I particularly like that if you ‘eat in’ your sandwich comes on a real plate and you get a real glass for your fountain soda! It is great that they are doing their part to reduce waste. Overall, it is a comfortable, earth/health conscious, locally owned establishment. We will definitely be going back.