Welcome to The Part-time Green Prepper!

I read a variety of blogs of stay-at-home moms who home school their children, prepare every food item from scratch, prepare for emergencies, have removed all dangerous chemicals from their homes, recycle and compost nearly everything they use, live frugally and are nearly self-sustaining due to their large gardens and farm animals. I would love to do all of those things. However, that is just not possible with the place I am in life right now. My husband and I both work full time. I am trying to figure out how much I can reasonably do with the time I have available. This blog will describe some of my attempts at prepping, preparing home-made natural foods for my family, growing our own food and going green. I know many of you will do all of these things better than I do, but I am trying and that's the best I can do!

Monday, July 4, 2011

My new love . . .

I have a new love . . . it's my clothesline! I have had it for just over a week now and I'm doing laundry every day just so I can use the clothesline! Our family is trying to lower our electric bill and trying to be more green, so what better effort than a clothesline? We live on top of a windy hill and have no neighbors to speak of who could complain about our clothesline, so why not give it a shot?

I researched clothesline for a few days before finally making a decision in consultation with DH. I didn't want to put permanent poles in the yard for dh to mow around (especially if I didn't stick with actually using the clotheslines). I also didn't want to spend a bunch of money on a "system"--that just defeats the purpose of trying to save money by drying outside. We don't have any trees in our "yard," just in the woods-too far away from the house- so I was at a loss as to how to put up a clothesline. We finally decided to move the kids long-abandoned clubhouse from out back to up near the polebarn and string the lines between the clubhouse and the pole barn.

I bought some eye hooks, clothes line, clothes pins and a clothes pin bag at Dollar General. (Expect for the hooks which I got at the hardware store.) It wasn't hard to set up at all--I did it all by myself! Now I have 4 lines about 25 feet long each. So far it's been more than enough space.

I have to interrrupt this story by saying that during the school year, my DH does the laundry. He has a system in which all laundry is washed, dried and put away in 1 day. It does however take an entire Sunday. Now that I am on summer vacation, I take over the laundry duties and have come up my own system that works great for the clothesline.

1. I use home made laundry soap. It's the basic hm recipe with Fels Naptha, Borax and washing soda that you can find all over the web. I add a little tea tree oil since I have it on hand. It works out to a cost of about $0.01 per load.

2. I put a load in the washing machine first thing in the morning after I get up. While that washes, I have breakfast, straighten up the kitchen, check the email and daily blogs I read and get the boys started on their days. By that time the washer has stopped and I go hang the clothes out on the line. I am still learning the best way to hang everything so I won't give any suggestions on that!

3. Once the clothes are out to dry I take my shower and go on with my tasks for the day. By afternoon the clothes are dry and I bring them in and put them away. I do put towels and jeans in the dryer for 5-10 minutes to soften them up because that's how I like them.

By doing a load everyday, I can keep the loads small and manageable. The first few days I used the clothesline it was cloudy, cool and damp. The clothes took a long time to dry and the bugs really were attracted to the damp clothes. Sunny and breezy days are the best. Yesterday I did 2 loads because it was such a hot, breezy day! Today I did sheets and they were dry so fast! I also discovered that even though it seems like the bugs are attracted to the clothes, by the time the clothes are dry and ready to be brought in, the bugs are gone!

I doubt that I will be able to use the clothesline for every load once school starts back up again and I am back to work. I know how busy everything gets and it just won't happen every day. Hopefully I'll be able to still use it for some loads on the weekends.

If you have the time, I do suggest you try using a clothesline. It's actually fun!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Summer is here!

At last! It's summer vacation! Actually my last day of work was last Th, but we were hosting a young woman from Chili in our home for a week. It was really a great experience, but exhausting and expensive due to the activities the sponsoring organization requested of us ie . . . expensive dinners out, lots of driving her back and forth to town (30 min each way) . . .

I've also been stressed out about getting an answer to questions regarding my teacher certification. No one has been able to give me a straight answer and now I've been waiting for 3 days for a response from a new person. The answer is important now even though the certficate is good for another year because we may need to come up with another few thousand dollars on top of the $1,200 we've already had to dish out.

On to the fun stuff:

I've been trying to do everything at once here and while it was fun, it's been exhausting! In the last 2 days I

  • weeded in the garden, which is not doing as well as last year

  • made homemade laundry detergent (and did the laundry)

  • made dishwasher detergent (and did the dishes)

  • made homemade bar soap

  • baked homemade rolls with the recipe my new Chilean friend brought me. (They were excellent by the way!)

  • made yogurt

  • baked bread

  • tested a recipe for all-natural deodorant

  • make some all natural bar lotion

  • baked muffins for dh to take to his work meeting

  • cleaned the living room carpet

  • visited my older son at camp

Today, I'm feeling a lack of gumption and a lot of stress in my back muscles. I have an appointment for a massage this afternoon. I know that sounds like an expensive treat, but it is theraputic and done in a doctor's office so my insurance covers this cost for me. I am careful not to take advantage of this and only go when I need it once every few months. I know that the rest of the day and especially tomorrow I will feel pretty sore as my muscles recover. However I will be much better able to sleep and have more energy. Right now with my muscles so tight I feel sluggish and lazy.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Warmer weather is here!

I have a guy who promised to drop some pallets off at my house soon. I hope he does--they will be for my compost bin! I am going to build it right next to the garden so it will be convenient. I am also going to get some manure from the neighbor who has alpacas and horses on Friday. I got started on the this weekend and plan to work on it some more today since I took a day off from work. I also have to take Hunter in to the vet and go pick up our beef order from the processing plant-an hour away. That should take up my whole day off. I cannot wait until summer vacation! It's really too bad teachers can't work from home! :)

Friday, April 29, 2011

New habits

I am getting better at not grabbing paper towels! I am now reaching for a cloth napkin or tea towel. The consciousness is carrying over to work. I find myself pausing at the paper towels in the restrooms. I have also moved the recycle box closer to my desk where the trash can was previously. Every little bit counts!

I have also started a compost can in the kitchen and my 13 year old is actually remembering better than I am to use it! I also put all the grass I dug out of my flower bed into a bucket this afternoon for the compost pile. I haven't actually started the compost pile, but maybe this weekend I can build a bin.

There are buds on my blueberry bushes and apple trees! :) It's still too early to plant my garden. Michigan weather can be tricky in the spring--I'm waiting! I only want to plant once!

What habits are you working to develop?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Time to re-stock

About five months ago, I was feeling quite comfortable with my food stash. I figured I had about 2 months of food in the house. Well, certain items are almost gone! I try to buy food only when it's on sale and I need to stock some. Apparently we've been doing a lot of eating from our pantry, which is ok--I bought the food to eat of course! We're not having a financial crisis or anything, but we've had a lot of large unexpected bills (taxes for one!) that ate into our budget recently. The result being I had less money for groceries, which wasn't a problem since I had food in storage to eat, sometimes just bought produce, milk, juice, bread, cheese and some of the junk food my husband thinks he can't live without.

I got on my step stool yesterday to look for something in the pantry and I discovered a bunch of empty space behind our cans! Apparently when you keep taking out cans and pulling them forward, the back gets bare!

So now I am hoping our budget gets back on track so I can begin the process of stocking back up! I am also going to try to buy groceries every 2 weeks instead of every week and see if that makes any difference. Even if it doesn't save money, it will at least save time and gas--two valuable things! Our next payday is a week from Friday, so I'll try it then and let you know how it goes.

How often do you shop for groceries?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Really liking the trash-free lunches!

I am loving the challenge of packing trash-free lunches each day! It's become part of our "clean up the kitchen after dinner routine." While food and dishes are out, we pack up lunches for the next day. Tomorrow the kids are having pancakes from the freezer packed in plastic sandwich containers, syrup, fresh fruit with yogurt dressing, and water in a re-usable bottle. Kind of a sweet lunch, isn't it? Today they had whole wheat pitas with pizza sauce and mozzarella cheese, peaches, and crackers.

This week end while I was grocery shopping I saw a "sandwich wrap" in one of the aisles. It was regularly $6, on clearance for $3. I decided to try it out. It is lined with a food safe plastic and the outside is a cute red and white checked fabric. You put your sandwich or food in the middle, fold the sides up and over and velcro closed. I actually made the sandwich on Sunday night for Monday's lunch, but DH surprised me by picking me up for a lunch date on Monday, so the sandwich had to wait until today. It was still soft and fresh! I am too frugal to pay $6 for more. I would need at least 2 more-1 for each kid. I was trying to figure out how to make my own. I wasn't sure how I could get the food-safe plastic for the interior. As I was typing this post, I realized I could probably use vinyl designed for tablecloths. That is really inexpensive and can be sewn. I think I have a good idea!!

I am still making a few cloth napkins each week as I have time. I have been putting one in my lunch, but no napkin in the kids' lunches. I guess if they need a napkin, they'll have to get one from school. Maybe a damp washcloth would be good for the younger one tomorrow for the sticky pancakes and syrup. I have some old ratty ones from when the kids were toddlers. I can wet it and put it in a zip-lock . . . AH! There I go with the zip-locks again--such habits are so hard to break! Maybe he could just go in the restroom and wash his hands. That might be my best bet!

I have dreams of sewing sets of cloth napkins and co-ordinating sandwich wraps and selling them at the farmer's market this spring and summer. I doubt it will happen. I was also going to make a bunch of baby quilts and sell and craft shows a few years ago, too . . . But napkins are smaller, quicker and should be easier to sell to the farmer's market set. I am still working on the best way to finish the edges of the napkins. I am making a variety of edges for our personal use to see how well they launder. I'll see what works best and maybe . . . just maybe I can make enough for the market.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Stocked pantry, high fiber snack and napkin update

It's nice to have some extra food stocked up. We were out of town all weekend helping my brother move into his first house. It cost us $145 in gas alone. Fortunately we didn't have to stay in a hotel. Today I had to put more gas in the Saturn to get home from work. The price of gas today jumped $3.99. These fill-ups have taken a chunk of the budget for the next 2 weeks, so I had less to spend on groceries and household supplies. Fortunately, I just needed to buy some cheese, yogurt, milk, fresh fruit and veggies, and bread. We had some great fajitas for dinner tonight and extras for tomorrow's waste-free lunches! While I made the fajitas, my boys mixed up some more trail mix and baked up a large batch of granola out of our pantry ingredients. Our granola is really high in fiber--it has oats, wheat germ, ground flax seed, sunflower seeds, and cornmeal. The trail mix has a fair amount of fiber as well. My younger son has had an ongoing problem with severe constipation for 3 years now and requires fiber supplements. I try to teach him about the benefits of eating high fiber foods and drinking plenty of water. Oh remember the cloth napkins? I got a few made the other day! Of course only enough for 2 meals and now they are all waiting for laundry day. I have a bunch cut out, but need to stitch the edges. Perhaps this weekend I can get some more done. (That's the "part-time" part of my green prepping--I can only get a little done at a time!)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Old habits . . .

I am having a hard time breaking my paper towel habit. Just this morning I had one of those blueberry muffins I made yesterday for breakfast and I had to stop myself from grabbing a paper towel to put it on. I told my kids about the idea of using washcloths and cloth napkins yesterday and my oldest said, "You mean I would have to wipe my face on the same thing you wiped dog pee up with?" I told him we'd keep paper towels for that gross stuff and then he was good with the idea. I guess what I'll need to do is actually put away the paper towels and put the cloth napkins out on the island in a basket or napkin holder so they are in sight and in reach. Right now all I have is a bunch of old white washcloths that I used in the kitchen for washing dirty faces when the boys were little. Not the most attractive. Maybe I can make some more attractive napkins using some fabric from my stash. Unfortunately tomorrow is my last day of vacation at home and I do have some other things I need to do. I am going to really try to find some napkins today though!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Trash-free lunch updates

I decided to talk to my boys about trash-free lunches. They think it's a decent idea. We visited the website http://wastefreelunches.org where we found information on how whole schools can go waste-free along with examples of how to pack waste free lunches and lots of healthy lunch ideas. The bonus to parents it that it is less expensive to buy items in large packages or make them homemade and pack in a container than it is to purchase single-serving packs of everything. It is also healthier! A piece of fresh fruit is waste-free and is healthier than a single serve pack of canned fruit. At lunchtime we made a bunch of pancakes which we freeze on a try and then put into a container. When they want pancakes for their lunch or breakfast, they just pop out a couple and heat them up. We are also making fruit roll-ups for the first time today on our new dehydrator and I am planning to make some blueberry muffins for the freezer. Since I already try to pack lunches each day, packing them waste-free won't be much more of an effort I don't think. The problem is always the planning ahead to make the lunches in the first place! Now that one of our Sunday afternoon activities has ended, I am hoping to have more time for lunch planning and preparing homemade food, for eating, lunches and storage. Ah, if only I could stay home everyday . . . I'd be so organized, make everything from scratch, have an immaculately clean home, have 1 year's worth of food in organized storage . . . Who am I kidding??? Even stay-at-home full time moms don't get all that done. Well, maybe some do, but I don't think I would. At least summer vacation is just a few months' away . . . then I can pretend to be a stay-at-home full time mom for a few months! :)

My big decorating project!

When we built our house last year, I didn't have the builders put in a backsplash in the kitchen because I wanted tile, however it was too big of an expense at the time. Every little decision was costing more and more money. So I decided I would tile the backsplash myself. It took me a long time to choose the tiles I wanted and over the last 5 days I got the job done. I put up 30 ft sq of white subway tile with some accent tiles in a brushed nickel/black/gray tones that match the drawer pulls and the countertop. I really like it! It was frugal because I did the work myself, it will last forever, and I purchased the tiles from a locally-owned store instead of the big-box stores. The GM of the tile store is actually one of the neighbors I hadn't yet met. So it was good to make that connection. We live on a rural dead end road with only 9 houses, so in an emergency situation it is good to know your neighbors!
Being a frugal, part-time green prepper I try to decorate with items I can use and that didn't cost a fortune. This fall I made my own valances and cafe' curtains for the kitchen and dining room. I think I spent $20 total-including the curtain rods. I like to have nice things to decorate the house with, but hate spending money on them. As a result, most of my walls are bare. I did spend some money on 1 print for the living room I had to have. It was expensive to me -$70, but I know people spend a lot more than that on art. The other things I have in the living room include a framed Amish print from Salvation army, a large country print from a garage sale that my mom picked up for me, 2 oil lamsp-1 was a gift 17 years ago, the other is from a garage sale, some hardcover books I love-from Salvation Army and 2 metal wall hangings from a discount store. Oh in the hall I have 2 small framed mirrors I got as a birthday gift 10 years ago.
I have some greenery in a box somewhere I am going to try to find today to decorate above the kitchen cabinets. We'll see what else I get done today, though my vacation from work is half over and I've spent it all working, plus this weekend I am helping my brother move. So I may spend this day reading and baking--2 of my favorite things!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Pets and emergencies

As I roamed the woods today with a bag of dog treats calling for my 2 golden retirevers to come home, I realized this would be a problem in an emergency situation. My dogs are lovaeable and fluffy, but also large and energetic. It is difficult to give them enough exercise daily in regular times without letting them run free for little while. Even so they don't always listen (like today) when I call them to come back. If I had to keep them in the house for a long period of time, that would be a problem. They would get restless and the younger one would start chewing things again. I also need them to listen better! I have been trying to train them to come when I call. In the house, that's no problem. However, outside with acres of land and the distraction of deer and animal scents, it's a challenge. Maybe I'll have to take at least the puppy to a class this summer when I'm done teaching. I was trying the call and treat method. I would let them loose, and call them back after a few seconds and give a treat. Let them run for a few seconds, call back and treat. Over and over again. It only works if I have treats. And they don't see a deer or groundhog. I am considering putting in a fence around a section of the yard to keep them contained when outdoors and not on the tie out line.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

My BIg anti-green, anti-prepper mistake!

I wasted food today. :( This happens sometimes when a person is only a part-time green prepper. The brain gets filled with the full-time job and family duties and a person might forget something important. For example, a person might have taken a chicken out of the fridge, discovered it was still frozen and decided to let it sit on the counter for a few hours* to help it thaw. Then perhaps 18 hours later, while 30 minutes away at work, suddenly remember the chicken is still sitting out! I came home hoping it was still cold. However, it was not cold at all. We can't eat it. So not only did I waste an entire chicken, we have nothing prepared for tonight's dinner! I remember when I was a stay-at-home mom/child care provider, I would get really busy with the kids and forget things I needed to do (like take the laundry out of the washer and put in it in the dryer). I would set the timer on the kitchen stove to remind me and it worked great! So, if you are a part-time green prepper like I am, might I suggest to you that when you have something important to remember--like thawing poultry--you set a timer! Meanwhile I am enjoying a peanutbutter smoothie made with homemade yogurt while I figure out what we are going to have for dinner! *Warning: According to food safety experts you shouldn't thaw meat/poultry on the counter. Harmful bacteria can grow on the outside of the meat while the inside is still frozen.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Trash Free Lunch

I recently had a group of my son's classmates at our house for an afternoon play rehearsal. It was a half day of school so I took a few hours off from work to pick up the kids and bring them back to my house for a rehearsal. For convenience, I just had each child bring a lunch from home. One boy I noticed had some peanuts in his lunch. They were packed in a small glass jar with one of those rubber gasket/metal latch lids. I also noticed his sandwich was wrapped in waxed paper. I noticed these because they were a bit out of the ordinary. After he was finished eating, he put his banana peel and waxed paper back into his lunch box. THEN I finally got it--he was taking them home to his compost pile! Nothing from his lunch went into the trash can. This idea of a trash free lunch intrigued me! I had already stopped buying all the pre-packaged lunch items (Lean Cuisines for me and Lunchable for the kids) that were so common in last school year's lunch. This year it's been home-prepared lunches every day for me and many days for the boys. Though, I have to admit a few weeks went by when we were so busy the kids just ate school lunch every day (ugh!). Earlier this year I purchased a bunch of the plastic "take-alongs" containers in a variety of sizes for sandwiches, canned fruit etc . . . Eventually though, the lids get lost and we end up throwing most of them away at some point. Also, I have heard plastic isn't very healthy to eat from. Sooo . . . I am working on trying out "low to no trash lunches" for myself. I bought some small Pyrex glass bowls with lids that fit perfectly in the thermos lunch totes I got for Christmas. Once I test this idea on my own lunches, I can see how to adapt it to the kids'. When I packed this morning's lunch, here's how it worked: Triscuits-in the original bag, carrots-in the original bag, veggie dig-in the original container, a pear- well, in it's original peel! So, is it a "trash free lunch?" Maybe if I don't finish anything. It will likely have some trash--but it is not extra trash generated by putting a few of each item into little baggies, just the containers I bought them from the store in. I guess that counts! Doesn't it? Do you pack trash free lunches? How do yours look?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Homemade vs. Pre-packaged

No one would argue that homemade is almost always healthier than pre-packaged. Healthy eating is important to me. However, I have decided that my new phrase "what fits with the balance of our lives" fits very well when discussing healthy eating. Everyone you talk to has a different definition of healthy eating. Some people do "clean eating," eating foods as mininally processed as possible with a focus on vegetable, fruits and lean protein. Others focus on low-fat. Others value organic and natural methods of raising food. Some people try to eat only locally-grown foods. Some people try to eat foods that come from nature, not chemicals. I have to agree with most of these ideas in theory. But honestly, in my busy life with 2 boys, 2 dogs, a husband and a full-time job, I cannot grow all my own food (or supplement just from local farmers), grind my own wheat, make all my own yogurt, store 1 year's worth of food and prepare a healthy breakfast each morning that doesn't come from a box. Would I like to? YES! Will I do so when I have time? YES? Will I beat myself up if we have some Doritos for a snack this weekend? ABSOLUTELY NOT! Will I spend $6 a gallon for organic milk, when I can get hormone free milk for 2.50? Nope! Will I buy organic apples or banana if the price difference is under a dollar? Sure! I have decided a balance is best for me. I am an eclectic person. I have always wanted to be one of those people who is an expert in something. I have learned that is just not me! I am well-rounded and that is good! I can bake, cook, sew, garden, change a tire, and quilt. I can teach my students and train adults. I can do CPR and I know first aid. I store food and supples for emergencies. Am I an expert on any of these things? I don't think so, but I feel like it's better to be who I am--and know a bit about how to do all kinds of things than try to be some one I am not. So, do I always make every food I feed my family from scratch? No, but I do as much as I can. I never buy pre-packaged cookies, but make them from scratch. They are healthier and yummier! This evening we are having roast beef and potatoes, vegetables and for dessert strawberry oat bars my 9 year old made using sugar free jam, oatmeal, butter and a cake mix! Healthier without the mix? Yep, but this was quick and easy. And sometimes, quick and easy counts!

A balance of time and money

Our family built our current house last year and took some steps to make it more energy efficient. We used 2x6" framing for the walls to increase the amount of insulation that would be installed. We used recycled fiber insulation. We bought the highest quality windows we could afford. We installed a wood burning fireplace to take advantage of woods on our back acreage on the coldest winter days. Finally we are heating our home with geo-thermal energy. Even though there is an abundance of groundwater here, it did seem strange at first to learn we would pump water out of the ground and into our "furnace" where the heat exchanger does some magic and pulls the heat from the water to heat the air, then pumps the water back into the ground again. It seemed like we should use the water that gets pumped back into the ground for something--watering the garden perhaps. However, it's not getting wasted. It is just being "borrowed" from the ground and then returned a short time later. There are so many other things we could have put into the house to make it "greener"--flooring from renewable resources, using reclaimed lumber, low VOC paint, and a number of other things. However, I think it's important to have a bit of balance--in this case the balance for for the cost of the home! We had to decide what was most important to us and spend the money there. That's the conclusion I am coming to in this journey: Decide what is most important to me and see if it fits into the balance of our lives, both with time and money.