Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The February Project Continues

Yes, it continues to suck! Just kidding. We are halfway through the month...a month without the mall, without Target, without a single trip to my beloved Red Onion for dinner. I'm not saying we have obeyed the ground rules perfectly. I made a desperate trip to toys r us to purchase diapers after my homemade laundry detergent idea fell through and I had to manually scrape a few too many BM's out of the cloth diapers and into the toilet. I understand if anyone just threw up in their mouth a little.

I also had a little indiscretion involving a stop at my local ridiculously priced kitchen tools store for some equipment and supplies to make valentines day cookies. They were adorable. I made them heart shaped and used royal icing to pipe EKG tracings on them, to bring to work.

Other than that though, I've been a model of thriftiness. Buying produce at the local farmers market, where we faithfully go every Wednesday. Using up all the 12 bags of assorted flours in my cupboard to make homemade bread with. Ditto with the 12 assorted bags and boxes of various pastas in my cupboard. Substituting things I don't have for things I do have. Searching for recipes that utilize stuff in the house. It's about to kill me though, because I found a new food blog that I absolutely love, Annies Eats (ohhhhhh, the recipes...) and I'm dying to go to the store and spend a thousand dollars on groceries so I can make every single one of the things she has on her blog. The cookie indiscretion was directly attributable to Annie, in
fact.

But I'm being good. I have made some penny wise/pound foolish discoveries though, along the way. I resolved at the outset of all this to send leftovers to work with Hugo every day, since we wouldn't be going to the store and couldn't, therefore, keep the freezer stocked with his frozen dinners that he normally brings to work to have for lunch. I now realize I would have been better off to go to the store one last time and stock up on 10 or so of the frozen meals. Most days he's been good about taking leftovers, or I've made him a sandwich or something, but let's face it... We don't always have leftovers. It seems like at least once or twice a week, he ends up leaving for work in the morning without a lunch and then has to go downtown at lunch and buy a sandwich. He usually spends 8 or 9 dollars. So it doesn't take too many of those oops moments to add up to much more than we normally spend on his lunches when he does frozen. That's in addition to the fact that he often eats lunch at his desk and can therefore justify staying on the clock, while he has to clock out for his lunch break if he leaves the credit union. So, yeah, the $4 Annie's meals are probably well worth the sticker price ( even though the Smart Ones entrees that I made due with when I worked days are MUCH more economical at $2.50 apiece). Just sayin...

Tomorrow I'm going to the mall to get my hair done. I will probably spend 75 dollars or more. What?!!! Yes, I'm going to the mall to get my hair done. I temporarily thought about delaying my hair appointment till the end of the month in the spirit of the February experiment, but I decided not to. First of all, the idea was to cut out consumer/consumption type spending. Hair care is a service. It supports the local economy by supporting my local hairdresser, creates no waste, and only involves a teeny tiny tube of hair color that, ok, fine, DID have to be shipped here, probably from China. The money for my hair appointments gets automatically saved, a little each pay period, in a separate account which accumulates enough each 6 weeks to pay for my haircut, getting my roots done, purchasing my make-up and getting an extremely occasional ( as in, once or twice a year) pedicure. The money is there waiting to be spent on my hair appointment. Delaying my appointment until the beginning of March would accomplish nothing beyond requiring that I walk around with offensive roots for the next two weeks and then probably have to spend extra at my eventual hair appointment dealing with the consequences. We've already been over and around the hair thing in separate experiments during the course of our 6 year marriage (in January! Yay!) and Hugo has agreed that A. He likes when I get my hair did. B. It is EXTREMELY penny wise and pound foolish for me to pack the kids up and drive all the way over to Daytona Beach for a whole day to have my hair done for free by my sister, in terms of wear and tear on the vehicles and the hassle factor. And C. Being married to a woman means there are going to be certain beauty maintenance costs and those costs have to be factored in to the budget or else fighting will ensue.

When the February experiment is over, I will go back to the grocery store. I will go back to the mall. I will go back to the ridiculously priced kitchen gadget store. However, I will do so with a heightened awareness of my own consumer choices and how they are multiplied by the millions every single day, resulting in potentially negative effects on our communities and our planet. Hugo and I discussed how trade has been going on, globally, for hundreds of years. We don't necessarily think thats a bad thing. The spice of life, literally, is trying new things from different exotic places. However, when I was searching through the fridge at work the other day, I grabbed a little package of Dole orange segments and tore into it for a snack. As I was munching away on the little treats, I saw on the label that they were mandarin orange segments grown and packed in China. I have bought those same packages at the grocery store and I know that they are cheap. Very cheap. You could buy a locally grown orange (yay Florida!) for about the same price as a whole package of those little individually packaged oranges. So, if you do the math backwards and figure that the distributer is making the most money on packaging and shipping that thing halfway around then world, how much do you think the guy who actually grew and picked the orange got paid? When you buy fresh oranges from the farmers market, it's all going to the guy (or girl) who grew and picked it. Someone who lives here, in Florida, and might even return the favor by coming to my hospital for a procedure or to have a baby or something.

So the long and short of it is, we will continue to visit the farmers market and take advantage of whatever local stuff is available. Even if it's a little more expensive. Even if it's a little inconvenient. We will also make the effort to go to Ward's, which is a locally owned grocery store that keeps a lot of local products and also sells bulk stuff like oats and grains and nuts that aren't uber-packaged. It's kind of a pain since their store has super tight aisles and doesn't have shopping carts that accommodate two kids, but we will do it anyway. They also sell dairy from a local farm that has grass fed cows. I've been reading a lot about grass fed and a lot of it makes sense. We still aren't going back to the milk-drinking thing. The kids have been off milk (routine drinking of it, that is) for two weeks now and haven't developed any signs of impending malnourishment. Their pediatrician is going to be very surprised by that...

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The February Project

I am an experimenter. I love to try new things, just to see what happens. The ramifications of this is that I'm an ICU nurse, a blogger, a novice home chef and a dabbler in things that I probably shouldn't dabble in.
Anyway, my current experiment is a home-based one. My husband (Hugo, Oogie, Hugs, he goes by many names) and I recently watched a documentary about "No Impact Man", a guy who, along with his extremely cooperative wife and cute little 2 year old daughter, attempted to live in NYC for a whole year without having any impact whatsoever on the environment. They gave up,in phases, toilet paper, meat, electricity, taking any kind of motorized transportation and all buying, except for locally grown food purchased at farmers markets. I had a few nit picky beefs with their thinking ( it wasn't EXACTLY local as most of the produce was brought in from "upstate New York", which fellow New Yorkers know can mean anything from 20 minutes across the bridge to 8 flipping hours to where I grew up in Saranac freaking Lake).
However, the documentary DID get us talking about some things like, why do we spend so much money on stuff when we just end up bringing carloads of "stuff" to the dump? Also, why do we buy food from California at the grocery store when other farmers are growing the same damn stuff a few miles from our house? And finally, why do we watch documentaries anyway when we
could be enjoying a brand new episode of Glee? These are the questions that plague a modern couple in these uncertain times...

So, we decided to undertake a family challenge. For the month of February (not a whole year, ok, what do we look like, maniacs?) we would turn off the television, stop making purchases (specifically, consumption type purchases for THINGS) and buy only that which is locally available to eat at our local farmers market. No eating out. No Sesame Street. No This Old House or Antiques Roadshow (ok, I admit, our normal television patterns are incredibly geeky as it is). We can supplement whatever we get at the farmers market with whatever is in the cupboards and that is it. No thrice weekly trips to Publix for milk and frozen pizzas. No Friday night pizza delivery for dinner.

We just finished day two of the challenge and we have already failed, but haven't given up. A good friend of mine babysat for me today (along with her own three) and I wanted to thank her so I went to Starbucks and got her a Grande white mocha, her favorite. I didn't want her to feel left out so I just got myself a leeetle drip coffee as well. It was great, as we are just about out of coffee and they don't sell that at the farmers market. I checked. Also, I had requested a hold on a potty time DVD at the library for Sofia before all this started and it came in today, so we allowed them to watch it after tubby time tonight as a special treat. Never mind that this particular departure from the rules left me and the Oogster wanting to stab our eardrums with little shards of glass, just so we wouldn't have to listen to the cheesy circa 1984 potty-themed songs. It was still cheating! Other than that though, there has been no television for children or parents in the Ochoa household for two full days. My rationalization on the coffee thing is that if I had paid a babysitter, it would have cost me about 20 bucks, so I was getting off easy by simply sharing 6 bucks worth of delicious coffee
beverages with a good friend in the middle of the day.

So, up till this evening when we made our first weekly trip to the farmers market for produce, I had simply been making due with whatever we still had from my last trip to the grocery store about a week ago. Milk ran out early on and I am determined that, short of my kids showing signs of acute Rickets or Kwashiorker syndrome, I will not break down for the sake of milk alone. I have been reading my time-worn copy of the classic tome on nutrition entitled "Skinny Bitch" (seriously, you should check it out) and was trying to phase out milk anyway. I have decided that there is no good reason why children past the age of weaning require milk from another species, designed to fatten calfs to a stunning 2,000 pounds over the course of
several years, in order to grow and thrive. Are we now vegans? No. Does our day to day diet look a lot like a vegan diet? Yes. The facts are very simple. Anyone who makes a statement about a commitment to being "green" and continues to ingest a significant amount of animal products on a daily basis is really just kidding themselves. And really, green is what got us to this whole idea anyway, right? Also, have you ever gone to a farmers market and taken a look at the crazy vegans milling around? They are skinny, they smell strongly of body odor and they reproduce like f'ing RABBITS! I'm telling you those women are some kind of fertile! If they were severely nutritionally deficient, my common sense indicator light tells me they wouldn't be spawning like the dickens. We did get some locally produced, free range eggs. So everyone just calm down now. Don't send social services over to the house just yet.

One of the things I hadn't stocked up on recently was bread, as I usually buy it when it's buy one get one free and it hasn't been recently. So you know what I did? I got on my trusty iPad, searched breadworld.com and made some of my own. Over the past few days I've baked 4 loaves of bread with my own two hands. They came out pretty good too. I froze 2, just like I would normally do with the extras when I buy one and get one free. I'm pretty short on yeast now though, so we'll have to be thrifty and make this bread last for awhile. I don't know what the pioneers did without iPads and the Internet though. Did you know,if you're making a recipe and you don't have an ingredient, instead of jumping in the car, driving to the store, spending 50 bucks on things (since you're there) and then racing back home to finish your recipe you can just google substitutes? I found a recipe for eggless pancakes and it was great! I found a list of about 15 different things you can use in a recipe instead of eggs. I also made hot breakfast cereal this morning without oats, cream of wheat or milk. I used quinoi (I had it in the cupboard for the past 6 months or so), evaporated milk from a can and
water. My cupboard staples will eventually run out, which will make all of this much more difficult, but it will happen gradually over the course of the month so it shouldn't be a complete shock to the system. And I hope to have bare cupboards by the end of all this.
I will attempt to document our experience here in this blog, for fun and to increase accountability. A few exceptions we've already hammered out involve gas (got to get to work, after all), a weekly "movie night" where Hugs and I will watch a movie from our already-paid for Netflix subscription, and a weekly meal of prepared local foods at the farmers market on Wednesday nights, which is when it is. We went tonight and I got then aforementioned eggs, mushrooms, carrots, lettuce, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, fresh squeezed citrus juice from a farm about an hour south of here, and locally made pickles. We also got some delicious ready to eat samosas and other vegetarian Indian foods from a vendor there for our weekly meal "out". All together, we spent 50 dollars, which is about a quarter of what I generally spend on food per week, just ask Hoogarino, he has charts and pie graphs to prove it. If this works out, we will save a significant amount of money this month on food. Not to mention my regular indiscretions at White House Black Market in the mall...

We will not give up our toilet paper, but we have committed to buying no paper products for the month, so I have had to carefully examine my normal 5-7 sheet bundle...enough about that... The kids are in cloth diapers again and I found a recipe for ridiculously cheap laundry soap that I'm going to try and make to keep them clean. Another purchasing exception, but you can't use regular detergent on them since it has additives that accumulate on the cloth fibers... Everything else will be stretched like the dickens and when we do run out of something important, I will attempt to find a locally made (or make at home with things we already have) replacement or substitute for the real deal. I don't know of any chocolate factories in the greater Gainesville region, so that's going to be tough...

Wish us luck!