My brother Ray is every writer’s dream reader.  He’s an implementer.  If he reads it, and likes it, he will change his life based on it.  When he was 11 or so he was really in to My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George.  He read it and then planned on running away from home, hollowing out a tree and living off the land.  My mom actually had his birthday cake made to look like a tree with a large hole in the side and got him a compass and a hammock as gifts!  (Would your mom encourage running away?)  He continued falling for whatever he read in a big way.  I love this about him.

I read a lot, but sometimes it’s hard for me to remember where I read what really spoke to me, or sometimes I read and I think, “That’s great.  I should be more like that.” But then I do nothing about it.

I do, however, glean useful things from books that were not intended for what I take away.  I reread To Kill a Mockingbird a few years ago and got a lot of parenting advice from fictional Atticus Finch.  (He is based on Harper Lee’s dad, so he’s kinda real.  Right?)

I also enjoy a healthy amount of snark.  I like reading things that brave and irreverent authors write.   It makes me laugh to see in print a thought I may have had but wouldn’t word so catastrophically.  Read: I like books with bad words in them.

BUBebe_pbOne book like this was Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman.  It’s kind of a “French do things better” book about all things childbearing/raising.  After reading it I tried to not give snacks, except once in the afternoon, so my child would eat at meals.  I have since regressed.  I did stop “narrating play” at the park, and I even allowed my kid to walk up steps to the slide without me holding on.  This freaked my husband out.  Poor man with founded safety-related fears.   Now we’re in between.  We’ve backed away some, but we do go on playground equipment still (especially with our nearly 2 year-old).  Why are there so many “free fall” spots on playground equipment anyway?

This book also helped me become open to getting an epidural for my second labor and delivery (because the French don’t even have a phrase for “natural birth,” they basically think only crazy Americans would forgo pain relief intentionally).   I’ve been the crazy American, and then I chose pain relief.  Love that pain relief.

One thing from Bebe that I implemented and am still using today actually has to do with food.   According to Druckerman, the French only eat meat at lunch.  Their dinners consist of a cold vegetable salad, a warm vegetable main (like a puréed roasted vegetable soup) and some kind of carbohydrate (usually French bread), and fruit is a dessert.  I started doing this exactly, even roasting asparagus then puréeing it with broth on the stove with my immersion mixer.  We got a little tired of pureed soups, and I’m not as strict that it has to be dinner anymore, but we basically only eat meat one meal a day.

I did it to be more French, but it had a lot of fringe benefits.  Now we do it for the benefits.

  1. Meat is expensive, if you don’t buy it you save $
  2. We eat more vegetables when we don’t eat meat

I’m sure there are also health benefits from consuming less saturated fat or environmental benefits by decreasing our meat-eating footprint, but really it’s just 1 and 2 that motivates us.  I estimate we eat a little less than 4 oz of meat a day per person.  That means that a nice size package of ground turkey lasts most of a week for us.  My mother-in-law often sends us home with Sam’s Club double packages of ground turkey and a good-sized pork loin when we visit, so there have been whole months where I’ve not had to buy meat at all.

We feel like we save so much by eating less meat that we share this with anyone who wants to save money on groceries.  My husband almost reflexively asks someone, “Have you thought about eating meat less?”

We’re still not close to the amount of vegetable servings you should get everyday… health people (read: nutritionists and doctors, people who know) keep increasing how much we should get.  What is it now?  Eight servings?  Ten?  But, eating meatless dinners means we eat our veggies.

You may have noticed on my last post that my meals are labeled lunch or dinner (dinner being mostly vegetarian), and my Pinterest boards are also divided that way.  All my vegetarian meals are in my “Dinners” board.  We’ve found some favorites, and I think sometimes we actually prefer our dinners to our lunches.  We don’t even miss the meat.

Some favorites…

Falafel Platter (Click the picture to get the recipe)
Vegetable and Bean Tostadas (Click the picture to get the recipe)
Vegetable and Bean Tostadas
(Click the picture to get the recipe)
Mexican Green Spaghetti (Click the picture to get the recipe)
Mexican Green Spaghetti
(Click the picture to get the recipe)
Hummus and Fresh Vegetables and Pita (Sorry no recipe.  Find your favorite.)
Hummus and Fresh Vegetables and Pita
(Sorry no recipe. Find your favorite.)

How about you?  What do you do to up your vegetable intake?  Do you participate in Meatless Monday?   or… What fictional character do you glean real life advice from?


The Keystone “Check Out” Line

One of the most eye-opening books I’ve read in the last few years has been The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.  He analyzes how we form habits and how we break them.  Fascinating and so fun!  One of the ways we start to break a habit is by implementing a “keystone” habit.  You don’t have to do A B and C, just A.  Like for someone who needs to lose weight, don’t start excercising and dieting.  First just start food journaling.  Write down everything you eat.  That’s a keystone habit.  It’s the same with saving money.  A lot of experts say, first, write down everything you spend money on for a whole month.  Facts are your friends.  Then you can see where you’re spending unnecessarily.

I like budgeting, but I have a harder time sticking to it.  I was going over on my grocery budget regularly and I figured that was the fault of rising food prices and adjusted my budget up.  I’d go to the store and buy what we wanted to eat because, “Hey, it’s groceries and we need to eat.  It’s not like I’m wasting money here.”  Wrong.  The grocery store is a great place to impulse buy.  I needed to use a keystone habit to change my ways.

Grocery Journaling, if you will.

1111I’ve been saving my grocery receipts now since October (though I started making them cuter as I went) thanks to a smart blogger’s suggestion.  Her suggestion was to keep track of them so you know exactly what store had the best price on any item.  I rarely shop comparatively.  That takes a lot of time.  Instead, I use my kept grocery receipts to keep track of how often I’m buying certain items, to figure the cost per serving on my meals, and to split the receipts for budgeting purposes.1112

most often purchased 1First I started a spreadsheet to figure my costs on my most purchased items.  I thought I was being frugal enough (I don’t even buy soda or chips), but then I started to see I was spending the kids’ college fund on Goldfish crackers.  Yikes!  My kids were going through a bag a week.  I cut back.  I started packing bins of Cheerios for snacks instead. most often purchased

It’s also fun for me to see how often we buy toilet paper or detergent.  In almost every area that I keep track I’ve cut back.  The keystone in action!

Next I enjoy seeing just how much we save by eating at home.  It’s pure motivation to go home and eat real food instead of stopping somewhere quick.  I calculate my meals by adding up the exact (use those receipts) or approximate (dividing a bag of onions) cost for each major ingredient and then divide it by how many servings (or more realistically how many of those servings we’ll eat.).  cost per servingI do this on Excel, again.  I format the cells as currency.  For the total I use the formula[ =SUM()].  Then for the cost per serving I divide by using [ = /  ](plugging in the cell with the total as the = and manually putting the number of servings after the /). Does this make sense?

Then to organize the findings I made a database.  (This way I can see my meals in order and by price.  You can do this on Excel too, but Microsoft Access and I are buds.)  So far I’ve not made anything that costs more than $2.73 per serving.  My Taco Bell order is more than that.   recipe cost report

Click here to see the full recipe cost per serving report.

We experimented with a cash system budget for a few months.  It didn’t work for us.  I budget separately for groceries, home supplies (cleaning products, trash bags, toilet paper, etc), baby supplies, and personal care items (shampoo, etc.).   When we used cash envelopes I was the annoying lady in the checkout line asking my checker to separate orders.  Now, I simply use my debit card, keep my receipts, figure the purchase myself with a highlighter and a calculator, then I split the transaction on my budget app (

I love Mint.  I also love tracking things myself… thus my receipts database.  (Sensing a theme?)receipt database

Most people won’t find this necessary, but I’m discovering that I collect data like some people collect teddy bears or Willow Tree figurines.  I like my database report.   It shows the snapshot with a total and details that I want.  I can now compare how I’m doing month to month so easily!

Click here to see the Receipts Report

How about you?  Do you track your grocery line by line or have an easier way?  Mine is about as labor intensive as you can get.  🙂  Where do you impulse buy at the grocery store?

Behind Closed Doors 

I nearly titled this post “my tricked out bathroom.”  That’s how I feel about ours. I can take no credit for this first part other than that I discovered a use for it. We rent right now and our landlord hung a mirror on the outside of our bathroom door.

I thought that was an odd placement. Most people hang them on the inside.  But the genius of this placement is when you open the door and angle it right with the medicine cabinet mirror you now can see the back of your head!  It’s like being spun around in the stylist’s chair. 

Now I can curl or flat iron my hair and check the back so I miss nothing. It’s great for braiding too!  I’m a little tied to this now. It’s hard to fix my hair 2 dimensionally when we travel.

The problem came along when I had kids. If I open the bathroom door, they are immediately in there, going through drawers, pulling out toilet paper, etc.

I was fixing my hair with the door closed, and I thought what I needed was one of those doors like we always had at the church nursery where the top opens and the bottom stays shut. (Just looked it up… It’s called a Dutch door.)  

I’m thinking this would solve my problem and I could get my magic mirror back and keep an eye on my kids too. Then I thought, “It’d be like when I cook and put the gate up.”

Lightbulb moment. 

“I could use the child gate!”

Ours is too small for the doorway, but it works if you wedge it between the bathroom and bedroom door frames. Genius!  Now I have my tricked out bathroom and can fix my hair and makeup (when that happens) without having to wonder what’s happening on the other side of the door.

What about  you?  How do you solve your “back of head” and “kids in my space” issues?

D-I-Y (the y is optional)

Do you have someone in your life who can build things?  I feel for these people because we always ask them favors.  It’s like your friend with a truck or the friend who cuts hair. 

My dad is that guy. The kind that builds things. I have a Pinterest board in his name where I put both things I think he’ll like and projects he could do for me!

I saw this cool holder for stuffed animals, and while I need one of those too I was in more need for one like it for balls. Before, I would attempt to gather the balls in bins or laundry baskets, but I ended up putting them in a corner and bracing them with our arm chair.

Dad and Mom were up for a visit two years ago and I asked him to build a solution. 

This is a favorite of mine. It’s 4 ft tall and built from 6 1x4s, I think.  I helped pick out the materials, but I was very pregnant at the time and couldn’t help more than that. 

For the bands we cut strips of plastic clothesline.  You need two people to tie them as tight as they need to be. 

For now this ball holder is in our living room, but as the kids get older and change to mostly outside balls, it will get moved to the garage probably. 

How about you?  Where do you store things you use often but for shape or size reasons hate to be stored?

Both kids also like emptying the bin and putting themselves in jail. 

In Case Your Maytag Breaks…

In high school I washed dishes at a tiny restaurant.  I wasn’t very fast, but I never broke a plate.  I was always the last person to leave the restaurant, save the owner.  The dish washer cannot leave until the dishes are washed… the dishes cannot be washed until the kitchen is done serving… the kitchen isn’t done serving until the customers leave.  If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, you know we loooooove people who come in right before closing time. 🙂

In my own home, I am most often the dish washer.  (My husband does dishes sometimes too, but he’s most often on bath duty.)  If you have a “dishwasher,” like the appliance, lucky you.  Count your blessings, and you can stop reading now.  This post is all about how I wash my dishes.

Yep, I’ve got a way to wash my dishes.  Not just “with soap” and “in the sink,” but with a logical order.

IMG_8890First, the dirty dishes are put in the sink.  All dishes are put in the right side, except cups and glasses, they are put in the left side to be washed first.  (I’m not left-handed, it’s just the way my counter works, the drain only fits on the left.)  I fill the sink with the hottest water and soap and begin washing the glasses immediately as the sink fills.  (Glasses get washed first because they are the most fragile and the most clean.)

Here’s my new favorite trick… craft pipe cleaner to wash sippy cup straws.  It’s the only thing that works!IMG_8892IMG_8893

IMG_8894After the cups I put in all of the silverware (no sharp knives) to soak and plates to wash.  I think of this load as “flats.”  If I have a cutting board, I wash it first, then each plate, and load the drain from back to front, largest to smallest.  Then I do the silverware, or I wait until after the bowls.

IMG_8895After the “flats” I do the bowls.  The all go in the soapy water and I wash one at a time smallest to largest and load the drain from front to back.


After bowls it’s a bit of a grab bag.  (Mostly going from least scrubbing necessary to most)  If I have plastic containers I’ll typically wash them next, then kitchen utensils.


My next step is knives.  No “everybody in the tub” here.  These I wash one at a time, never releasing the handle.  I’ve never cut myself while washing dishes by being very strict here.

Then I do my pots and pans.   (There’s no picture here.  I washed dishes after a meal of leftovers.)

IMG_8898Last I do my coffee pot.  If the water is fairly clean I don’t bother changing it, but if it’s greasy I’ll change the water first.  I do the coffee pot last because I want it out first in the morning from the drain, and I don’t want to dig for all the pieces.   (Mine is a grind-and-brew, so all 7 pieces must be washed every time!)  I also do it last because my pot is very fragile.  I’m on my fourth carafe in eight years because it likes to crack on the bottom of the sink.  Somebody want to get me a thermal one that won’t crack please?  My birthday’s in June!

My drain is typically much more filled than that.  I do dishes usually after lunch and after dinner.  This one was at lunch with leftovers, so it doesn’t do justice to my usual efforts.  I’ll go snap another real quick…

IMG_8907This is tonight’s dish load.  My goal is to have all of my dishes fit in the drain, but the coffee pot didn’t make the cut tonight.  Ha!  Is it weird that I set up “challenges” for myself with household chores?  It’s like Jenga with breakables!

Were you taught an order to washing dishes?  I’d love to hear how people do this differently.  I’m discovering through this blog that I’m very sociologically curious. Sociocurious? Curiosocial?  Weird?