Thursday, October 20, 2011

Modge Podge Roundup

Today is for cake baking and toy building, but I wanted to share my first roundup before it got too old.

Our little one will have her first birthday tomorrow and her present is in a million pieces, waiting for assembly when Papa comes home.  And while I remember all the "joys" of "assembly required," I'm sure we will not not sleep much tonight.  Let's see how much progress the toy industry has made in 21 years!  I'm sure we'll want to die tonight and be able to laugh about it once we catch up on our sleep, 5 years from now. :)

You might find it odd that we've bought some huge monstrosity from the Toys R Us marketing machine.  This completely goes against my pledge to not buy into the toy industry, with all their overpriced, molded plastic goodies.  We can build anything ourselves while teaching our child the skills she needs to be self sufficient.  I was overtaken by this one though.  It crept up on me.  I was powerless :(

Look at it!

It has a working doorbell for goodness sake!

Back to the Roundup!
I'm not sure how this whole blogging thing will work for me, but I hope everyone - you know, my enormous reader base :) - will be patient with me as I navigate this new area.  In any case, of the blogs I follow, I have noticed a few do a "roundup" where they post links to other blog posts and interesting articles.  I guess this is so freaks like me, who already have little time and issues with too much research, reading and googling, have yet more to read.

It's already a feat of great proportions for me to even start a blog without having refreshed my grammar skills, researching successful blogging strategies and banking 20-30 posts for the days (or weeks) where I become to overwhelmed to post.  I have perfectionist issues and do a lot of planning and not so much doing. :)

In my effort to change how I do things and step out of my comfort zone, here I am and here's my first unplanned, non-themed, haphazard "roundup."

Why a personal trainer is making himself obese… on purpose
This is a great article on Drew Manning, a personal trainer that has gained 70 pounds on purpose, with the intention of losing it, to better understand his clients' point of view.  I love that he acknowledged the addictive quality of processed foods.
"I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is how intense and how real these food cravings are.  I think a lot of people associate the word “addiction” with drugs and alcohol, but I do believe this addiction (to America’s processed foods) is real and very similar. I know I’ll never know exactly what it’s like for every person that’s overweight and I don’t claim to, but at least I understand better than I did before when I never had to struggle with this. I hope to learn a lot more in the second half of my journey, from fat 2 fit."
Back to the Land, Reluctantly
I just loved the quote below.  I am definitely one that is finding my way with growing my own food. It's nice to see a level of success from someone that was a novice once too.
"My turn with spade and hoe started a few years ago when I found myself divorced and flat broke. My livelihood as a freelance writer went out the window when the economy tanked. I literally could afford beans, the dried kind, which I’d thought were for school art projects or teaching elementary math. And I didn’t know how to cook."

Southern Savers
For anyone living in the south, this is a priceless site for saving money.  If you hate the tediousness of couponing, as I do, this site does most of the work for you.  Although I do not buy all the processed food that most of the big coupon savings are for, there are other savings that are worthwhile!  Plus, they list some freebies, free movie rental codes and post saving opportunities for online shoppers.

Ana White

Never buy from Pottery Barn or any of those fancy-pants, overpriced stores again!  This site has building plans for almost any piece of furniture you might need for your home.  She includes cut lists and everything!

The Quaint Cottage

This site has building plans also but more so for smaller projects and accessories.

The Simple Dollar

I like this guy!  He teaches frugality, simple living and gives money saving ideas.  More importantly to me, he often inspires by illustrating that we are not just trading money to have certain things, we are trading time.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

DIY Lattes

Isn't it funny how someone will complain about the price of gas while holding a cup of coffee that cost them $4?  I figure an average Starbucks beverage costs about 25 cents an ounce (or $32 a gallon!)

That doesn't mean I don't love it though.  Coffee at home doesn't ever seem to be quite as good.  We had a good thing going though and my cup of coffee was sacred to me.  It was as perfect as it could be without being a latte.  Someone even asked me how we manage to make our coffee taste like "Christmas Morning" once.  However, as I methodically removed all of the processed food from my life, I had a frightening realization... my coffee creamer... had... to... GO :(

Oh my...

What would I do?  We tried milk, half and half and heavy cream but nothing seemed to create that magical perfection like the chemical laden non-dairy creamer.  The very first ingredient in this delicious powder is corn syrup solids.  I couldn't be any farther away from acceptable.  I was dancing with the devil every morning and it had to end.

I tried giving up coffee altogether and I almost died.  I'm serious; just ask my husband.  I think he had a bag packed!

So I thought for a bit and figured if I could make a decent espresso, I could figure the rest out.  After all, I'm Italian and quite savvy in the kitchen.  Certainly I could make a latte at home without spending an arm and a leg on some fancy machine.

After all, my goal is not only to eliminate processed foods and chemicals, I want to do this frugally, without gathering a bunch of equipment.  It's possible in every case.  It just takes work and, as a result, I appreciate everything that much more.

So I purchased an old school Moka pot.  My parents used to break this out during the holidays after big dinners.  A shot of liquor might have been added and there were the men, drinking espresso and making "the face" (as illustrated by Silvio of The Sopranos) after every sip.  I think "the face" meant that it was good, but this is a mystery we'll have to solve in another post.

So I was off to google to find this coffee pot.  I didn't know the name at the time, but that is the magic of google.  I found one at Amazon for under $30 and ordered it.  I read review after review and decided to forgo the frother.  One reviewer simply microwaved the milk, another used a pot and a whisk.

The pot arrived and sat in the box for several weeks, then on the counter for several days.  My excuse was that I needed to find ground espresso Finally, in a desperate attempt to cut my ties with powdered creamer, I broke the pot open and started reading instructions one afternoon.  After two exhausting hours of "breaking in" the pot, I finally experienced my homemade latte.

And, if I do say so myself, I captured my Skinny Venti Vanilla Latte right at home for less than $1!

The at home espresso aficionado will have you believing that you need fancy machines, steamers, milk frothers, tampers and so much more to experience a latte at home.  I'm sure they have an affinity for all the nuances of flavor, texture, aroma and temperature that a sommelier has for fine wines.  However, if you are just looking to replace your average coffeehouse drink, you can for a very small investment.

Here's what you need!

  • A "moka" pot - I ordered a 6-cup Bialetti from Amazon for less than $30.
  • Milk - I recommend skim.  You can heat your milk in a microwave or a pot on the stove.  We use the stove and wisk the milk to create the froth.  (The froth, we discovered, is completely aesthetic.  It makes us feel good but it has no affect on the taste of the latte.)  You can pick up a decent frother for less than $20, but I swear it is totally unnecessary!
  • Espresso grind coffee - we use Cafe Bustelo, it might very well be the cheapest option and we love it, so do all of our guests.  You can get crazy here with special roasts, fancy brands and different flavors.  I will say that Amazon is a great place to buy coffee and the price actually fluctuates often.  Watch for a low price and buy a bunch of it.  I just saved more than 20% by just waiting a day before ordering.
Then the rest is really all about personal taste!  You can play with your milk to coffee ratio to create lattes, cappucinos, macchiatos and more.  You can add flavors with extracts, syrups and spices and sweeten to your taste.

On a side note...
The minimalist in me, that secretly thinks maybe I will have to survive in the woods one day, was thrilled with the fact that I could actually use the Moka pot on a fire.  I spent weeks beaming with the satisfaction that I could sit in the woods, sipping delicious lattes even if the dollar does crash.  

Jarret asked where I was planning to get my cafĂ© Bustelo and milk.  Whatever… a girl can dream!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

No One is Going to Change Anything for Us

It never ceases to amaze me that we spend a lot of time demanding change, whether we are peacefully protesting, sending chain emails, tweeting, facebooking, bashing one politician, praising another, watching or listening to our favorite political talk show… we are all so outraged at what is happening and we just know it cannot go on any longer. What if…

Just entertain my thoughts for a moment… what if we are the ones that have to change?

What if the lifestyle we all know and love is the very thing that supports big government, corporate power and rampant corruption?

As long as we continue to live the same lifestyle, with all of the same “comforts” of big houses, big cars, processed and fast food, luxuries, conveniences, TV, facebook and all of the other things we think we need, we are voluntarily supporting the very system we denounce.

If every one of us chose just one day to boycott this lifestyle – didn’t drive around, run errands, shop, drag our kids to countless activities, engage in mass media or social media, didn’t spend ONE dollar – trust me, we would get a lot more attention than the largest “Occupy…” gathering ever would.

For just one day, turn off all screens, stay home, cook your own meals, plant a garden, mend a pair of pants or repair something instead of buying new, go outside, talk to your neighbors, take a walk, love your children with just love and nothing else…

If we all stood together and supported each other, voluntarily shared our knowledge, resources, love… we would all thrive in any economic condition. I know mass media wants you to fear that and vilifies that kind of talk as something that will “kill jobs.” Think about it though, is it about having more jobs so we can keep working and consuming or just having what we need?

Need some stuff? There is enough “stuff” on this planet to go around for decades. Our throw away mentality must change. I imagine we can all buy, sell and barter our way through the next year and still have enough to go around without ever walking into a Wal-Mart. I guess some computer genius somewhere can make a new eBay or craigslist that has its own form of currency. Imagine that, not buying from big corporations and not even using standard currency to make purchases… that would really stir things up I imagine.

Worried about starving? We don’t need corporations to feed us. That’s what dirt, water and sunshine are for; they are all free.

Essentially, everyone keeps calling for something to change because they would be extremely uncomfortable with what it will really take to see these changes through. Nothing of this scale just happens though. A great sacrifice is always made. It is usually through war, violence and the loss of life. All systems before us where an oppressed class rose up against tyranny did not go quietly into the night.

I’d like to think that our current society could enact change without violence. I think a simple turn to truly putting our priorities in order would at least start the ball rolling. (I cannot truly imagine what the government fat cats and big greedy corporations are capable of if their money flow ever ran dry.)

What’s that? You would give anything to have more time with your kids? How about that SUV? Would you give that? Would you give up the spare bedroom in your house? How about that 3 car garage? Look around you and take stock of all the things you traded in your freedom for; do you really need them or did some marketing genius convince you of that?

Essentially, this all goes against what we were brainwashed raised to believe from birth so it is not easy. It’s not easy for me but it is becoming second nature more and more every day to look at things from a human or spiritual perspective rather than from a consumer perspective. It’s very liberating and, no, your country does not want you to do this.

If we ever feel satisfied with what we have or find true happiness in the simple things in life that would mean that we could stop shopping, work less, pay less income tax, love more, stop overpaying for goods and services, buy less gas, pay less sales tax, and simply stop supporting the economic system that has turned us all into slaves. There is no political party, media outlet or government official that supports your freedom as a human being.

The government and all of their corporate “sponsors” simply support your freedom as a hardworking, hungry, overworked, under-loved, overcharged, underpaid, slightly unhealthy and always feeling like you need just a little more all consuming American. If you don’t fulfill that role, the rich may not get richer and they may not even stay as rich as they are… what a shame.

I don’t care what your spiritual beliefs are, we all know when our time on Earth is done no one is going to care how many square feet we had under air, what our net worth was or even (gasp) what our credit score was. If today was your last day, what would you care about? Do something about that :)

I have so much more to say about this. I could research and write for days and days on how we sacrifice our time, our loved ones and our lives to “feed the machine.” However, I am spending most of my time giving myself to my family instead of giving myself to a company so they give me some money so I can in turn buy things for my family.