My family has drastically slashed the amount of food we waste since starting the Waste No Food Challenge in May. 

  • We cook in smaller amounts.
  • We put leftovers that are not getting eaten into the freezer. And then . . . (cue drumroll) we actually eat it later on!
  • We keep an tight eye on what’s in the fridge, so we don’t forget about what we have.
  • I am more realistic at the grocery store about about we eat. (Yes, I know carrots are good for you, and that two pound bag is incredibly cheap. But it’s just better for us to buy a couple carrots at a time, than let most of it go to waste.)

None of this is difficult or particularly earth shattering. Yet it’s made a huge difference in the amount of food my family is wasting. Not to mention that we’re spending much, much less at the grocery store.

When I do toss food, I feel bad and guilty, so privileged and unappreciative. I am not going to eat those rubbery carrots, but I know there are plenty of people who would.

There are a few books I’ve read through the years that feature characters dealing with extreme hunger and starvation. Here are a few books that have stayed in my thoughts and mindset:

Marge Piercey’s Gone To Soldiers. This is one of my go-to books that I re-read every few years. This incredible WWII novel has a scene where one of the main characters is given an apple while in a concentration camp. This apple is a treasure to her, which she shares with her two friends. They savor every little bit, even the core. The scene is so vivid and memorable, I think of it always when pulling rotten food from my refrigerator.

Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. I started this book maybe three times before it pulled me in. And pull me in it did! This novel about a Southern minister who takes his wife and daughters to Africa to work as a missionary, got under my skin and stayed there. It is deeply affecting. The daughters are grossed out by a stringy goat stew that is served to them upon their arrival. They later end up eating insects and such, and realize what a special honor it had been, to be served that stew. 

Helen Dunmore’s The Siege. A historical novel about the siege of Leningrad during WWII. No food or supplies were coming into the city, and 600,000 people starved. The characters are boiling leather book bindings and receive a gift of a lab hamster, which feeds the entire family for days. All birds vanished, as people caught them for food. This too was a very affecting, yet such a beautifully written book that I had randomly pulled off the library shelf without knowing what it was even about. 

Should we have to sear our minds with disturbing imagery to stop wasting food?

No.

But sometimes it’s good to have a bit of perspective on how lucky we are.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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I was driving my ten-year-old son to school this morning. He took the opportunity of some back seat time to ruminate on life’s big mysteries.

“How do people know the Easter bunny is a rabbit?”

To which I answered,

“I don’t know.”

(This, technically is true. As I don’t know how Easter became a holiday about a rabbit with eggs.)

“I know he’s not you, because I got a note with a drawing on it once.”

(The boy has a point, as I am kind of a crappy artist.)

“How do you know that drawing wasn’t done by someone else?”

Silence.

“Well, I know you’re not the Easter bunny, because my toys always comes in their packaging!”

So there you go. The set-in-stone logic of a child. Mom is part of The Compact, and only buys used, so she can’t possibly be the Easter bunny.

Game. Set. Match.

Any more of life’s great mysteries to be solved? ‘Cause I’m on a roll.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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Why I'm Not A Coupon Queen

by Katy on October 14, 2008 · 19 comments

 

I was given a copy of Amy Dacyczyn’s The Complete Tightwad Gazette when I was on maternity leave with my now ten-year-old son.

It changed my life.

This book saved my family countless thousands of dollars through the years.

One thing I disagreed with though, was the author’s stance on coupons. She wrote that:

“Most food coupons are for convenience foods. Often the foods are more processed. Even when these items can be purchased cheaply, it should be considered that your family is acquiring a taste for these more expensive and less healthful items.”

How could she say that?!

I loved using coupons! I snagged extra Sunday circulars at work, and hoarded the Safeway double coupons.

It was pretty normal for my grocery receipt to show a 40% savings most every trip.

But then our income went up, and I let the coupon use dwindle, until it became an occasional endeavor.

I’ve been reading that the current economic crisis had seen a sharp increase in coupon usage. And that sparked an old hobby. Perhaps I should ramp the coupon use back up again. After all, there were no internet coupons ten-years-ago. It might be a way to tighten our belt that much more.

So I pulled out the glossy coupon circulars from the Sunday paper this week and grabbed a nice, sharp pair of scissors. I turned page after page without finding a single coupon for an item I would normally buy.

Nothing. Nada. Zip.

Huh?!

But I figured it out. Ten years ago I bought a lot of prepackaged food. My goal for feeding my family was to spend as little money as possible. Always. These goals have changed. Yes, I want to spend as little as possible, but it’s more important to serve healthy, fresh, local food. 

And frankly, there are no coupons for this type of shopping.

So I put my scissors away, and tossed the coupons into the recycling.

And I no longer need to feel like I’m missing out on potential money savings.

And I now agree with Amy Dacycyzn.

Agree? Disagree? Please share your coupon philosophy in the comments section below. 

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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When Duh Meets Aha!

by Katy on October 13, 2008 · 3 comments

 

I am somewhat frugal.

This should come as no surprise to any of my readers.

But sometimes I feel like I’ve hit the apex. Like there’s nothing new to learn, and the fun challenges of finding ways to save money have come to a standstill.

Fear not, fellow Non-Consumers, there’s always something new to learn!

I baked some home made pizzas for my son’s birthday party over the weekend, and I was out buying toppings from a local pizza joint. (This is cheaper, as I can buy two half servings of a topping for $1.50, and it’s enough for two pizzas, and exactly the amount needed.) I rode my bike for this errand, which also included a trip to the library, and the grocery store for shredded mozzarella cheese.

So I was feeling like I had climbed to the tippy-top of the frugality mountain. The very apex.

Nothing new to learn here.

I asked the woman at the pizza place how much it would have been to buy the cheese from her. She said it would count as a single topping, which would be $1.50 for about ten ounces. I had just paid $5.50 for 16 ounces of cheese from the grocery store. 

Although I had bought toppings there before, it had somehow never crossed my mind that I could also pick up cheese there in a single fell swoop.

Duh!

I would be able to buy exactly the amount needed, in a single errand, for less than I usually pay. And the pizza place is only two blocks from the house! Easily walkable in any weather.

Aha!

I love these moments when duh meets aha. 

It’s what I live for.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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Non-Consumer Gifts For A Teenager

by Katy on October 13, 2008 · 3 comments

 

My older son turned 13 this week, and it took some extra thinking to figure out a gift to buy that wouldn’t break The Compact. (Buy nothing new.)

This son is always kind of hard to buy for because, unlike his younger brother, he doesn’t crave things.

He loves rock music, and has gone with his father to see both U2 and The Foo Fighters in concert. He’s crazy for music, so I gave him a home made gift certificate for a rock concert of his choice. (To be accompanied by Dad.) I had looked in the paper to see if there were any bands he liked, but nothing really struck a chord. So now he gets the fun of finding a concert on his own. 

This was not a cheap present, as concert tickets can be pretty expensive. But I would rather he have a great and memorable experience, than some manufactured object. (Although I am going to try and help him find something somewhat inexpensive.)

When people asked me what he wanted, I told them iTunes gift cards. (Or to choose something themselves, as I don’t really like to dictate gifts.) He has an iPod that he got as a birthday present three years ago. He listens to music on it almost every day. I feel good about this as a gift. With the exception of the plastic card and cardboard hang-tag, the iTunes gift card is a very compacty gift. There’s no excessive packaging. And the gift itself is pretty much virtual.

There’s no thing that had to be manufactured, shipped, stored and then disposed of. 

He’s received three so far in varying amounts.

He also got a $10 Blockbuster gift card from a friend. He was able to find a $9.99 used video game, and was quite proud of  himself. 

Teenagers can be hard to shop for, although being five days into parenting a teen hardly makes me an expert.

I feel I was able to figure out good gifts that stayed within The Compact, without sacrificing my kid for a cause.

What gifts have you found to be a hit with your teens? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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I Don't Therefore I Can

by Katy on October 12, 2008 · 3 comments

 

My husband is about to take a dream job that will result in a pay cut for the first year.

Am I worried?

Not in the slightest.

We know how to live on very little.

And it’s actually quite simple. It’s not about all the things we do, but rather all the thing we don’t do.

  • We don’t buy anything new. (I am part of The Compact, a buy nothing new movement.)
  • We don’t buy expensive presents. (Although I give great presents, but they usually only set me back a few dollars.)
  • We rarely eat out.
  • We don’t rent movies. (Libraries!)
  • We don’t have expensive hobbies.
  • We don’t buy a ton of stuff for the kids.
  • We don’t go on expensive vacations.
  • We don’t air condition the house.
  • We don’t spend money decorating the house.
  • We don’t entertain expensively.
  • We don’t pay for haircuts for the males in the household. (Me? I get a cheapo-cut 1-2 times per year.)
  • We don’t subscribe to magazines.
  • We don’t have cable TV.
  • We don’t purchase workplace lunches.

Sound grim?

Absolutely not!

We have everything we could ever possibly need, and then some! 

We watch DVD’s from the library, we eat delicious home cooked meals, entertain simply, shop at Goodwill or simply not shop at all.

Our life is rich. We don’t need to be.

If you’re having trouble living within your means, take it down a notch. Heck, take it down a dozen notches! Stop all the extra stuff, and you may find your life seems more relaxed, more sane, more in control, more happy. 

Less = more.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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Are You Registered To Vote?

by Katy on October 10, 2008 · 0 comments

 


 

Politics. Politics. Politics.

I don’t know about you, but I sure wish it was November 4th already! 

Until then, we can can all confirm that our voter registrations are up to date and correct. National Public Radio mentioned a website this morning to confirm that you’re registered to vote. It’s called:

canivote.org.  

Canivote.org is a non-partisan site put together by the National Associations of Secretaries of State. 

I inputted my personal info and BAM, there I was, confirmed and ready to vote. There’s also information on the site on how to contact your local election officials if you have questions that can’t be answered from the site.

Because we may have many long weeks left of election nonsense, but at least we can all make sure our registrations have their I’s dotted and their T’s crossed.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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I wrote a few days ago about how my son chose some rather delicious foods for his 13th birthday supper. The main course was my signature curried lime chicken satay sticks. (Okay, the recipe is really from my friend Tina Bloom, PhD, but I digress.) This recipe is super simple, inexpensive and impressive to family and special guests alike.

Heaven on a stick.

I thought I would share this recipe that is fancy enough for special occasions, yet easy, easy, easy.

Curried Lime Chicken Satay

To broil in oven or on outdoor barbeque.

1 tsp. finely chopped/grated ginger.

2 cloves garlic, minced.

2 Tsp. fresh lime juice.

1 Tsp. soy sauce.

2 tsp. olive oil.

1 tsp. curry powder.

1 – 2-1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into strips.

1) Whisk all marinade ingredients together. Stir in the chicken pieces and marinate 2-24 hours in the refrigerator, stirring twice.

2) If broiling, line baking sheet with foil. (Use a broiler rack with a lip, as it otherwise drips everywhere.) Place oven rack 4 inches from heat source. Preheat the broiler or prepare your outdoor grill.

3) Poke chicken onto skewers, making sure to carefully place them, so they’ll cook evenly. Set on baking sheet in oven or directly on grill. Cook for 3 minutes. Turn and cook another 2 minutes, or ’til done. (These cook very quickly.)

Serve with rice, a nice salad and maybe a peanut dipping sauce. (I have been trying out different recipes, and have yet to find one I’m completely happy with.)

I usually double, and often quadruple this recipe. It’s never an issue of whether the leftovers get eaten. The marinade can also be used for inexpensive chicken pieces such as thighs. Use your imagination, it’s quite adaptable.

When you have the ability to create wonderful meals from scratch, you will save thousands of dollars through the years. You don’t have to choose between intimidating gourmet meals or plop-a-can-of-mushroom-soup style cooking. After all, you are what you eat.

What are your favorite recipes? Tell us about them in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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Autumn Has Fallen

by Katy on October 8, 2008 · 5 comments

 

I woke up this morning to a nippy cold house. I quickly grabbed my thick robe and started up the morning school day routine. I took a quick glance at the thermostat and saw the temperature in the living room was indeed 60 degrees. Brrr . . .

Did I crank the furnace into action?

No way.

I opened up all the blinds to let some sunshine in and filled the tea kettle. By noon I could still see my breath outside, so this was indeed a true Autumn day.

Did I turn the furnace on now?

Nope. 

I pulled on a polar fleece cardigan and made sure to be wearing my favorite wool socks. Flannel sheets made their way onto the beds.

I will fight this. I refuse to turn on the furnace until it’s absolutely necessary.

It’s a current expectation to be able to live in a home heated to summer temperatures year round. People in cold weather countries such as Ireland and Sweden have proud traditions of intricately knitted sweaters. And why? Because if it’s cold out, you wear that thick extra layer — even indoors.

It might be different if I had a nice, well insulated house, but that’s simply not the case. Our house is like a sieve. Strong winds move the curtains, and the only thing insulated is metaphorical.

We had the Energy Trust of Oregon do a free home energy audit last year, and the guy laughed at the house. Laughed! He had many, many suggestions, few of which we could afford. With a 94-year-old house, there always seems to be something vying for our home improvement dollars. Sewer line, de-commissioning an oil tank. You get the drift. Fun stuff. Yes, I’d like to have insulation blown into the exterior walls. But it simply isn’t in this year’s budget.

So I’ll wait to start heating the house until the flannel, wool and polar fleece aren’t cutting it anymore. And yes, we’ll all be drinking a lot of tea. I might even take up knitting. (With used yarn, of course!)

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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Picky Eating — Don't Give Up

by Katy on October 7, 2008 · 9 comments

 

I just had a momentous day as a parent.

My oldest son became a teenager.

And I let him choose anything he wanted for his birthday dinner. He chose:

  • Curry lime chicken satay kabobs with peanut dipping sauce.
  • Salad with bleu cheese and shrimp.
  • A homemade chocolate cake.

And what the birthday boy/man wants, the birthday boy/man gets.

Even the most elaborate made-from-scratch dinner is going to be cheaper and more relaxing than a nice dinner out, so I’m happy to accommodate his tastes.

And frankly I’m kind of proud that my son didn’t request pizza, chicken strips or other such unhealthy typical teenage fare.

My kids are not atypical. They’re picky eaters in their own way, but I don’t just give up and feed them crap. I want them to be able to enjoy a variety of different types of food, hopefully healthy food.

I think this is a fight many parents are unwilling to fight. Yes, it’s easier to feed your kids processed chicken nuggets in the shape of dinosaurs, but you do them no favor by serving this pseudofood to them.

Are you willing to fight the fight?

Tell us how you deal with picky eating issues with your kids in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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