Thursday, April 28, 2005

Adoption from Foster Care, the Fresh Air Fund and Me

An article I wrote, based on our experiences with fost/adoption and being a Fresh Air Fund host family, was just published in Hudson Valley Parent magazine. The article is not posted on their website but a fact sheet I wrote is at (click on Facts about the Fresh Air Fund). I'm just tickled.

I don't like to think of myself as an adoptive parent, I'm just a mom. If you want to get technical, three of my four kids were adopted from the foster care system. All three adoptions were transracial. We even adopted out of birth order. Our kids were placed with us at different ages(6years, 15 months and 4 1/2 months) and, like all children, each has his or her own challenges.

One of our kids is homegrown and no I didn't get pregnant after I adopted, my biological daughter was the first one on the scene. (Everyone seems to ask that question.) We didn't struggle with infertility either. After having one child, we explored and ultimately chose adoption because we felt there were too many children in the world who needed loving homes.

When my youngest son's adoption was finalized, we had to decide if we were open to more children. At that time, our caseworker had two little ones he was looking to place. He wanted to place them with us. Despite the temptation to say yes, we said no. With four kids, there was barely enough of us to go around. Instead, we chose to share our experiences so others can see the rewards and frustration of the adoption process. We hope others will be inspired to explore foster care adoption as a result. We have never regretted that decision.

When you adopt transracially, you become an unofficial ambassador for adoption. There is no hiding the adoption in our family, all you have to do is look at us. I have chosen to embrace this. I will answer any question relating to our adoption experiences providing it is relevant to your adoption goals and providing it does not invade the privacy of my children. I have been approached at school, in the doctor's office, on the soccer field, in the grocery store and many other places. When friends of mine meet someone thinking about adopting, they pass on my email address.

I am currently working on a children's book based on my daughter's experiences transitioning from foster care to forever family. She is now thirteen and wants to share her experiences so other children adopted from foster care will know they are not alone.

Thoughts on Potatoes in the Slow Cooker

Honestly, glue is the first thing that comes to mind. I peeled and quartered potatoes and put them in my slow cooker on low with just enough water to cover the bottom of the crock. I oiled the crock first, I hate when things stick. I had read somewhere that this would "bake" the potatoes. It definitely cooks them but I wouldn't serve them as baked potatoes, they're rather gummy.

Being the local queen of food rescue, I sauteed some onions, mashed the potatoes with some soymilk and water and then ran the whole mess through my blender (its a VitaMix, I killed too many regular blenders over the years.) Everthing then went back in the pot with a dash of Bragg's and a bit of pepper. Once heated, it was cream of potato soup and it tasted pretty good.

Since I had to thin it down, we ended up with quite a lot. This fits in nicely with my quick meal theme, so the leftovers went into the freezer for a quick meal down the road.

On tonight's menu, stir fry. My 12 year old is making it in her home and careers class and wants to try it at home tonight.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Harried Vegetarian Cook

Soccer season is in full swing. All four of my kids play for the town and my two oldest just made the school soccer team. Just to make things interesting, I added 5 more classes to my work schedule. This makes for a really hectic time in our house and our meals are showing the strain. The temptation to order takeout is intense.

At the same time, the bills still need to be paid. Plus we've set our budget to allow me to take the summer off and just be with the kids. There's not a lot of room for error with summer only two months off. I needed some quick, easy meals that have holding power tucked away in the freezer.

Lat night I took out my huge stockpot (it looks like a cauldron!) It barely fits on my stove. I made a huge batch of what we jokingly call High Octane Tomato Sauce. Its a "whatever I have on hand" recipe with one important ingredient, yellow split peas to add some protein and holding power. I had lots of onions and carrots in the fridge so in they went with quite a few cloves of garlic. I sauteed everything until the onions were translucent and then poured in a number 10 can of organic tomato sauce and the yellow split peas (already cooked-the acid of the tomato will not allow the beans to soften.) I added a little water to thin it and some greens (my daughter and I have reached an agreement, she will eat the dandelion greens as long as we only call them greens.)

I let the whole thing simmer for a few hours and then ran batches through the blender to smooth it all out. This is not imperative if you chop the greens but I was in a hurry and the blender was quicker.

When the dishes were all cleared away, I had 9 containers of sauce in the freezer for other hectic nights. Now we are only a pot of boiling water (for past to go with the sauce) away from a hot meal on a hectic night. BTW, I also used the sauce on last nights dinner.

More ideas on quick meals will be coming up. Right now, I have potatoes in the slow cooker. I'm curious to see how that turns out.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Maybe if You Turn It Upside Down?

Spring has us rushing all around, trying to soak up the sunshine while accomplishing all that needs to be accomplished. I love this time of year. I much prefer tackling outdoor yard messes than inside house ones. This is also the time of year when the garage door gets pulled open and you discover how much stuff you've put in the garage over the winter.

Before my frugal, eco-friendly days, we would drag down one of our four garbage cans and just chuck anything we got our hands on. Purging like that felt good. Unfortunately we discovered that sometimes things we could have used got tossed. Now the process is a little different. Everything gets a second look before a decision is made.

Here's a couple of examples from this weekend:

An old stereo cabinet that dates back to my childhood
It turns out my husband's record collection has grown to the point where this is useful again. It got taken to the cabin to replace an overflowing milk crate of records. Not a new use but a good one.

A metal rack that is used to create an extra shelf in cabinets
This is one of those things that looked great in the store but never worked in our cabinet once we brought it home. Like an idiot, I bought three. I'm really into cast iron pots and pans but they are pain in the tush to store in a lower cabinet because of their weight. (The angle to remove them would be spine snapping.) I put one rack on the counter next to my stove and voila, I have a new shelf to store my cast iron on.

A drip rack from a roasting pan
This has very limited usefulness once you stop cooking meat! Although you can use it to cool baked goods on. I took this and put it under the rack I mentioned above. Now if I spill water on the counter I will avoid rust rings from the cast iron that had been sitting directly on the counter.

The stuff we can't find a use for in the forseeable future gets freecycled or donated. But we're always saying things like, "maybe if you turn it upside down it will work."

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Clothes Shopping for the Frugal Shopper

I hate Walmart for a host of reasons and, although I know many swear by its low cost options, I try to avoid it like the plague. I have found the best place to get the most for your dollar is the thrift stores in your area. Not all thrift stores are created equal. Here's a breakdown of what I've found.

Salvation Army Thrift Stores
The clothes are tagged in here with different colors based on what day they came into the store. Each day of the week there is half off one of the color tags. Unless I'm in search of something I need immediately, I try to shop by tag color. Also before major holidays (Christmas, Memorial Day, Easter, Labor Day, etc) they mark multiple tag colors down to clear things out. We often head to the cabin for the holidays and hit the store close to home and the one we pass on our way.

Goodwill Stores
I find these to be a little more pricey. But they follow a similar discount each day pattern.

Hospital Thrift Stores
These are smaller and hit or miss. The prices tend to be higher and the discounts fewer.

My plan of attack is to generally have my eyes open all year for the needs of the upcoming year. I got a ton of clothes for school back in May at the Memorial Day sale at the Salvation Army Thrift Store. I got a ton of summer clothes around Labor Day & Columbus Day when they were discounted. See the pattern?

I try to hit the thrift stores about every two weeks, sometimes I buy nothing sometimes I hit the jackpot.

Tag sales are also great and usually cheaper than thrift stores. Friends and relatives who buy like crazy are a great resource as well. Your local Freecycle group is another great place to check for clothes. Check out to find a group near you.

Monday, April 18, 2005

A Little Work Now, a Lot of Money Later

We're still stacking and cutting wood from that huge branch that we took down. Its a lot of work but it feels good to know that I won't have to buy as much wood down the road. I find the outside of our house is a great place to save money, as long as you can think long term.

For example, the forsythias are in bloom (and the bees are nutty) but did you know that they are really easy to root? My mother in law showed me years ago her very unscientific technique for rooting. It goes something like this: cut off long branch on angle and shove into ground on angle, water whenever you remember. At the time I thought she was nuts but she was right. Its a great way to make one or two forsythia fill a larger space over time.

Most bulbs and perrenials can be seperated to cover a larger area over time. I don't generally use annuals because when I'm done landscaping one spot, I really like to be done. Although, I have an impatien that I have been taking cuttings off of for three years. Talk about easy to root.

Another technique is to rescue unwanted plants from your family and friends. I've gotten spreading juniper bushes, day lilies, iris and a ton of others that I don't know the names of.

Here's a little trick with lillies for those of you with septic systems and soggy leech fields, plant day lilies, they thrive in this environment and eliminate some of the sogginess allowing other plants to grow.

Now I'm off to enjoy the sunshine.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Weeding the Frugal Way

I horrified my 12 year old last night. As she was taking a bite of the Carribean Rice and Beans we were having for dinner, I asked my youngest son to tell her where the greens in the dish came from. He proudly told her we picked them in the backyard. She stopped with the fork halfway to her mouth and proclaimed, "Tell me these aren't weeds!"

Well, technically I guess dandelion greens are weeds but that's just being nitpicky. Our farm cooperative grew them last season, that makes them a bona fide vegetable! They're a dark green leafy vegetable that is exceptionally hardy. The fact is they're edible and this time of year before the blossoms open, they are less bitter.

Once the blossoms open you can make things like Dandelion Jelly and Dandelion Wine. I've never tried those but this could be the year.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The Maiden Voyage of the Clothesline

I just hung my first load of laundry on my newly installed clotheline. Its a beautiful day for laundry, sunny and breezy. I have high hopes. I suspect my clothespins are a little low quality to hold up heavy things like jeans, but time will tell. I only dropped one pair of jeans off the deck! Not bad for a newbie.

I firmly believe little changes make a big difference, like those flourescent bulbs. The washer just finished up, time to hang the next load. (I've been shirking my laundry duties!)

Monday, April 11, 2005

Reducing Your Electric Bill

We painlessly cut about $20 off our electric bill over the past year by replacing burned out light bulbs with compact flourescent bulbs. Every time the electric bill comes I'm suprised. The other perk of this change? Now we only have to change those hard to reach bulbs every couple of years!

This weekend we accomplished another energy saving/electric bill reducing goal and finally hung a clothesline. A wooden rack in the basement just does not cut it for a family of six! I can't wait to start using it today.

A perk of the clothesline getting installed is the humungous tree branch that we had to take down. That's future firewood we're stacking to dry. That may be one of the best examples I can come up with about how your thinking changes when you become more frugal. Frugal thinking requires you to carefully explore every angle before moving on. In the past I would have dragged the downed wood into the woods behind my house and not given it a second thought.

Friday, April 08, 2005

How Do You Keep Track of Frugal Ideas?

I've found the hardest part of doing anything is remembering to do it. Have you ever been in the car and heard about an upcoming event that was important to you only to forget about it once the next song came on? That's how I am. A few weeks ago I heard a piece on our local NPR station about renewable energy and upcoming workshops on how to get started. This appealed to me on two levels, frugalness and sustainabilty, but I had the hardest time remembering to go online and get the info. Finally, I wrote myself a note because that is what works best for me.

Similarly, when I read books that are just chock full of information that I want to follow up on, I write myself a note. I was just reading Invest In Yourself Six Secrets to a Rich Life by Marc Eisenson, Gerri Detweiler, and Nancy Castleman. It's a great book, chock full of easy to understand, practical ideas, not dry reading at all. In it they referenced two frugal cookbooks, one of which I already own. I wanted to check out the other from the library, so I wrote the title and author on the piece of paper I was using as a bookmark.

When I'm done with a book, the bookmark goes into the next book. About once a week, I take the list down to my computer and log into our library system to request the titles be sent to my local branch. This is a great convenience and its free at our library, although some library systems do charge.

I've just started to keep a binder of frugal projects I'm working on. I'm not sure how it will work out but it seems like a good idea right now.

My husband, Jim, prefers to use the voice notes feature on his cell phone. Lists don't generally work well for him because he loses the lists. He's also been known to call home and leave messages to himself on our answering machine. The wipe off calendar in our kitchen is a big help to everyone, its got everything on it for everyone in the house. My planner is the back up for the wipe off calendar.

How can this save money? Well, Wednesday from 6-9pm is discount night at our local farm/specialty store. You get 10% off your total order. Although many things are more expensive, the Silk is the best price around. The catch is, we have to remember to go to the store that night. That's where the calendar helps, its written on the calendar.

How do you keep track of frugal ideas?

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Times and People Change

A while back, while getting ready to go to a party, I discovered my dressy pants were too short. I'm still 5'3" so it seems the pants shrunk. I used to toss things into a bag to donate immediately but now I ponder a bit more. Perhaps I can still use this?

In a moment of revelation, I realize that the pattern on these pants match the color scheme in our cabin kitchen. No, I wasn't planning on hanging pants from the wall, but I did need cloth napkins up there. (I had promised no cloth napkins there until the home cloth napkins proved successful.) I approached my husband with this idea and he loved it. "Those will be beautiful," I believe he said.

Odd, he didn't say that when I first talked about cloth napkins. The point is, time and people can change, especially when faced with good results. Family members who aren't on board with your frugal lifestyle can eventually come around.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Getting Past Our Obstacles

Sometimes people inspire me. Yesterday it was my neighbors turn. I was waiting for my son's bus to arrive when I caught sight of him. He was walking down the street followed by his nephew who was carrying a chair. Odd, but I have kids so nothing really seems all that odd to me anymore.

It turns out my neighbor has decided to exercise, no small task for a sedentary man who weighs more about 500 pounds. His goal is to walk to the end of the block. The chair is to allow him rest breaks. Ok, its not a marathon but he's making a change.

As a fitness professional, I think he's doing things the right way. He has set small realistic goals and his family is involved. As a fellow human being, I am inspired by his courage. He's not worried about how silly it might look, he's only worried about himself.

We could all learn a lesson from Roy by finding our own obstacles and some creative solutions to them, like Roy's chair.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Food Shopping Once a Month??

Every four weeks I get a pricelist from our food cooperative. Its about 200 pages long. I go through the whole thing to see what the specials are for the month and compare them to what we are running low on. This is how I grocery shop for the month.

Buying 50 pounds of whole wheat bread flour or oatmeal takes some getting used to. Our whole wheat pasta comes in 11 pound bags. A 25 pound bag of TVP is HUGE! 25 pounds of dried beans doesn't look so imposing until you try to find enough containers to put it all in. Have you ever seen a 5 pound bag of raisins? It can be overwhelming at first but you really can save a bundle. The food we order is organic and much more affordable than natural food store prices.

It takes some discipline to shop this way. In the beginning anything on sale was a bargain in my eyes. We averaged about $450 per month. In the last year we average about $250 per month, mainly by cutting down on the convenience items. We still order one convenience item each month (this month it will be Okara Courage burgers.)

I try to keep an inventory of what's in the pantry to help me order wisely and to ensure we don't run out of staples. In the beginning, its hard to know how long a 25 pounds of anything will last in your family. Time is the only accurate teacher because every family is different.

Food orders are placed one week and a week later we meet at one persons house for delivery. The food arrives on a pallet and we unpack and sort the order. Each person inventories their order, pays the coordinator and lugs their groceries to the car. Bigger packages are cheaper and sometimes we split things among cooperative members. Once home the car must be unpacked and the food put away. It helps to have containers on hand as things like flour need to be air tight to avoid bug infestations.

Its work belonging to a food coop but I think its less work than shopping in a store. If this sounds interesting to you, check out This is the food cooperative I belong to. It is not the only one, its just the one I'm familiar with.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Tools of the Frugal Vegetarian

It's truly odd how experiences can change your life. It was a college anatomy and physiology course that put on the road to vegetarianism. Those muscle fiber bundles we were studying looked a little too much like the beef I was serving for dinner that night.

The Compassionate Cook and Cooking With Peta are the best cookbooks I ever bought. They made food fun without requiring me to purchase frozen, premade stuff. They are the cookbooks I turn to again and again. I discovered those cookbooks at a time when everyone was getting tired of my recipe repertoire and they really saved the day. How can you not love a cookbook that gives you a veggie bacon recipe that tastes awesome?

Getting my hands on a copy of the Imcompleat Cheap Vegan zine by Stephanie Scarborough really opened my eyes to simple yet effective ways to save on food. They're yummy too! That zine is avaialable at

Stephanie mentioned the Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyzyn in her zine. I figured it was worth checking out. That book changed the way I thought about spending. Its a great book, one that I reference over and over again, for recipes, gift ideas and creative solutions of all kinds. Its not vegan but the recipes are easily adaptable. Its one of those books you read and think, she's a nut. Later on you find yourself giving stuff a try because it all makes so much sense. Besides, she has a recipe for caramel popcorn in there that's easy and a crowd pleaser.

Next time, what is a food cooperative and is it worth the time and effort?