Crazy Bread Life Hack

I have posted before about my desire to implement more natural, sustainable food choices in our home and my gardening/farmers-market adventures to that end. But I have also admitted to being far from perfect in this quest – sadly too often convenience wins out. So I hope none of you will be too disappointed to hear me admit that, from time to time, my family very much enjoys picking up a pizza for dinner. My boys probably enjoy it a little too much. But one thing I DON’T enjoy is wasting food. And often times, when we pick up a family meal deal, complete with crazy bread and a drink, that is just what happens. Because, let’s face it, who likes to eat leftover crazy bread? It gets so hard and tough in the refrigerator that, even my cheap thrifty, waste-abhorring side gives in and feeds it to the garbage. Until today! Today I had an idea. A wonderful, awful idea, to borrow words from the notorious Grinch. Whenever they give you crazy bread, they also give you a little tub of pizza sauce to go with it, which invariably also gets thrown out. So why not put the two together, add a little bit of cheese (and some pepperonis if you happen to have them), and make a whole new pizza! I tried this today for our lunch and, let me tell you, it was a great success.

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Here is a quick run down of what I did if you’d like to give it a try:
– Slice each bread stick in half, length wise, to make it a little thinner and give you more pizza
– Spread the pizza sauce over the rough side of the bread
– Add toppings. I added pepperonis (sliced in half), grated mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese, and a little bit of Italian seasoning.
– Bake at 350 degrees till the cheese is melted and slightly browned (approximately 10 minutes).
– Enjoy!

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The boys loved it. And so did Mama’s wallet. Hope you all do too.

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Sustainable Food Choices – The Journey to Backyard Gardening

Over the past year, I have been contemplating our choices as a culture when it comes to food. Without getting into all the ins and outs of the many heated sides of this debate – organic vs. non, local vs. shipped, vegetarian vs. vegan vs. meat, raw vs. cooked, gluten vs. non, preservatives, pesticides, and food dyes, oh my! – suffice it to say that, for now, the one conclusion I have come to with certainty is that something has to change. Both for our health and for our society as a whole, we have to begin making choices that are more sustainable. Already, in our generation, we are beginning to see the consequences of bad, hasty, or financially motivated decisions and those consequences will be magnified many-fold for our children and grandchildren if we don’t commit to change. I am convinced that this change cannot begin with the government or the big businesses involved. It has to begin with us. Each consumer making more informed and socially conscious decisions to benefit not only themselves, but society as a whole and thus their own posterity. Even small changes, when implemented by the multitudes, can have a vast impact on the big picture. I am sure our food choices will continue to change and grow as we learn more and more about the way things are vs. the way we believe they should be, but for now, my family is making some changes that we believe will benefit our health, our home, our happiness, and our culture.

One major change is that we are attempting to buy as much as we possibly can from local providers. We are fortunate to have a prolific farmers market in our area that is open year round and provides locally grown, organic produce, dairy, meat, eggs, plants, soaps, and much more. We have found that we can buy all these things directly from the farmers, speak to them about their farming practices, and get advice about our decisions for almost the same price that we can get them at the grocery store. The only loss is in convenience, and that convenience comes at too high a cost. Whatever we are not able to get at the market, we will continue to buy at the grocery store – and, trust me, our choices are not always as noble as we would like them to be – but at least these concessions are a less pervasive part of our overall diet.

The second big change that we have made is very near and dear to my heart, as it has become a fulfilling and beautiful part of my everyday life. I have built and cultivated an extensive back yard vegetable garden. It is the most beautiful thing I have created since Owen and I am probably a bit too proud of it. But if it’s growth and success continues at the rate it has thus far, we will have organic, home-grown vegetables to last us through the summer and well beyond. It doesn’t get much more local than that! Anyone who has read some of my previous posts on aesthetics knows that I firmly believe that just because something is useful does not mean it has to look simply practical as well. I built my garden with my own two hands and I knew from the start that I wanted it to be a thing of beauty as well as a source of nutrition. I could easily have just plowed the “back forty” into rows and started planting (which is certainly a viable option for some, don’t get me wrong), but instead I laid out and planned 4 raised beds, leveled into a hill, framed, and surrounded by walkways. I chronicled my garden building journey with many pictures and decided to share some of them here with you. Hopefully a few of you may find inspiration as I have and be led to create your own oasis of food production.

Owen wanted to know what exactly was going on when I came home from the store with all these crazy supplies.

Owen wanted to know what exactly was going on when I came home from the store with all these crazy supplies.

After cutting the necessary landscape timbers into half lengths, the next step was to lay out the location of the beds.

After cutting the necessary landscape timbers into half lengths, the next step was to lay out the location of the beds.

The first bed I attempted to till up by hand. Needless to say, for the next three, I rented a tiller.

The first bed I attempted to till up by hand. Needless to say, for the next three, I rented a tiller.

Here, all the beds were tilled and the hill was leveled out and ready for the frames to be assembled and put in place.

Here, all the beds were tilled and the hill was leveled out and ready for the frames to be assembled and put in place.

Owen was a huge help in building the frames ;)

Owen was a huge help in building the frames ;)

And lifting them into place!

And lifting them into place!

Now all the frames were in place and I discovered the need for retaining walls to prevent the soil from washing out underneath the low end of the hill.

Now all the frames were in place and I discovered the need for retaining walls to prevent the soil from washing out underneath the frames at the low end of the hill.

Aiden was a big help in building the retaining walls! I used cinder blocks that I filled with soil so that they could be used for plants as well.

Aiden was a big help in building the retaining walls! I used cinder blocks that I filled with soil so that they could be used for plants as well.

And here aesthetics came into play. I could not abide mismatched retaining walls and bed frames, so I spray painted them.

And here aesthetics came into play. I could not abide mismatched retaining walls and bed frames, so I spray painted them.

After I completed the beds, there was a significant mud problem at the bottom of the hill. So I created a walkway. A friend gave me ALL of the bricks that he needed out of his way and I filled it will builders gravel (not landscape gravel - they are essentially the same and the builders variety is 1/3 of the price).

After I completed the beds, there was a significant mud problem at the bottom of the hill. So I created a walkway. A friend gave me ALL of the bricks, saying he needed them out of his way, and I laid them out and filled them in with builders gravel (not landscape gravel – they are essentially the same and the builders variety is 1/3 of the price).

Then it was finally PLANTING TIME!

Then it was finally PLANTING TIME!

Baby plants full of potential. The pea trellises were $30 a piece at the garden store and I needed 4! I could not stomach this so I spent $15 on a bunch of stakes and some garden twine and made my own.

Here are my baby plants, full of potential. The pea trellises were $30 a piece at the garden store and I needed 4! I could not stomach this, so I spent $15 on a bunch of stakes and some garden twine and made my own.

The addition of angled trellises for the squash and zucchini.

Later, I added angled trellises for the squash and zucchini.

Some of the first fruits.

Already, we’ve been able to harvest some first fruits!

Today, the plants are enormous and lush. We're getting some fruit almost every day. This also shows the bean trellises I built from sticks I found around the yard and some zip ties.

Today, the plants are enormous and lush. We’re getting some fruit almost every day. This also shows the bean trellises I built from sticks I found around the yard and some zip ties.

Voila!

Voila!

Let me know what you think. And please share some of your gardening success stories. I can use all the help I can get!

The Versatile Blogger Award

Well, I’d like to thank the Academy… I mean Stephicakes, one of the most recent jewels I’ve found in my blog surfing, for nominating me for this award. It is good to know that someone I enjoy reading enjoys reading my work as well. And not only enjoys reading it, but thinks I am versatile in my choice/style of writing topics. This is not the first time I’ve received this nomination, but, not knowing how seriously to take it and always being a bit leery of the facebook-type fill-in-the-blank and pass-it-along publicity stunts, I never followed through. But since I felt flattered when I received it then, as I do now, I figured I’d flatter a few other people and pass it along. So here goes:

The rules for accepting this award are as follows:

1. Thank the award-givers and link back to them in your post.

2. Share 7 things about yourself.

3. Pass this award along to 15 other bloggers.

4. Contact your chosen bloggers to let them know about the award.

Seven Things About Myself:

1.) I am hopelessly in love with three men at the same time! Scandalous, I know! OK, I’ll admit it, two of them are men-in-the-making… but still. Anyone who has read any of my blog probably knows that I’m referring to my hubby and my two boys, the second of which is scheduled to make his debut in only a few short weeks. I ADORE being a mother, even if I’m not always very good at it. It has been one of the most fulfilling (and dang difficult) endeavors I have ever undertaken. And the lessons I have learned in the process are often the topics of this blog.

2.) I aspire to one day be a published author. I know, I know… what consistent and dedicated blogger doesn’t? I’m not entirely sure that I will accomplish this goal some day, but it would be amazing and wonderful if I did. I hope to write children’s books primarily and am constantly toying with new ideas.

3.) One of my biggest motivators in writing this blog (or one day attempting to get published) is the desire to leave a written legacy to my children and grandchildren. To pass on tidbits of wisdom and humility, humor and beauty, and small vignettes of what life looked like when I was young (OK, maybe not so young anymore, but youngER).

4.) Although it is a significant battle sometimes, I REFUSE to give in to cynicism. I prefer instead to believe the best of people and let them continually surprise me; to not always plan for the worst case scenario, but rather the best; and to not let the things that so easily bog us down take a more prominent seat to those that are quietly beautiful.

5.) I LOVE shopping! More specifically bargain hunting. I can’t really explain it, but it gives me a rush of satisfaction and relieves stress in ways very little else can.

6.) I adore cooking and frequently create my own recipes. I see it as a creative outlet, building dishes that are unique and interesting and satisfying out of sometimes surprising ingredients. I rarely use, or perhaps I should say follow, a recipe unless it’s as a springboard for ideas or to remind myself of something lovely I created in the past. My cooking is experimental and, although not all of these experiments are a success, I like to share the ones that are with you, my faithful readers. I imagine that you all jump to cook my most recent recipe post as soon as it comes up, and although I know this is probably not the case, a girl can dream, right ;)

7.) I host a book club once a month that has proven to be an excellent outlet for intellectually stimulating adult conversation that does not center around family and children and everyday life. It has also kept me consistently reading new and surprising books – something that has always been very important for my development both as a person and as a writer.

8.) BONUS tidbit – Although I love being a mother, I HATE being pregnant. Perhaps this is only relevant to me right now because I am enormous and uncomfortable, but it’s true. I also know many of you would gasp and think, “Pregnancy is beautiful and magical, etc. Enjoy every minute!” To those people I want to say, “You are very lucky if that was your experience, and more power to you! Pop out as many kids as you please and embrace the magic!” But for me, this will most likely be my last pregnancy.

So there are just a few things about me you may have already known, or perhaps you didn’t. This is definitely not a comprehensive list, nor is it written in any particular order other than the order in which they popped into my mind. If you are intrigued and would like to know more about me, keep reading . . . I am certainly not shy or private in my writing.

As far as who I’d like to pass this award on to, here is an incomplete list. I don’t want to pick 15 simply because I have to, so I’m picking the ones that I actually consistently read and am personally inspired by:

Life As I Know It – a blog about the many hats of a mom.

Broadside – a blog by a writer in NY who’s life inspires me and whose writing is always intriguing.

Doodlemum – a charming sketch blog that always hits very close to home.

Pomp And Circumstance – a design AND fashion blog, how can you beat that?

Utterly Smitten – tidbits of design and daily life.

The Cotton Boll Conspiracy – a history blog with anecdotes about history that are often surprising.

Redesigning Sarah – a design blog that is always beautiful and a great source for inspiration.

Xanax or Running Shoes? – an honest take on life as a working mom.

Chai Thoughts – my friend’s beautiful blog about life, photography, family, and inspiration.

Dear Photograph – I can’t even summarize this one. You must go check it out.

Jeeze, Julia! – a delightfully whimsical view into one woman’s life and style.

2 Sleeping Babies – a friend’s blog about motherhood and all that it entails.

With a Little Pixie Magic – another friend’s blog who writes about a little of everything in life that just takes a little magic.

Hope you find all of these blogs as intriguing as I do, and show everyone a little love while you’re there!

The Real Cost of Cheap

Today I found myself ruminating on the ideas of durability and quality versus availability and cheapness. We come across this dilemma rather frequently in our daily lives. Something breaks or wears out and we are faced with the decision of whether to spend a little now and pretty much guarantee that we’ll spend it again in the not so distant future, or spend a bit more now for a quality item that we know will stand the test of time. In the long-term, of course it’s a better investment to opt for quality, but who has the extra money to spend? If things break around our house, usually it’s not part of the planned budget and too often, cheap is the only option. But sometimes I wonder, why is cheap an option at all?  It never used to be. If a craftsman built something, they built it to last. They took pride in what they had made. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it had to be any more expensive to make. It it was just made with care rather than the understanding (and often the hope) that the buyer would most likely chuck it in a few years and buy a new one. Plastic and prefab have since replaced wood and steel. Machines have replaced hands. And because there is such a dramatic difference in quality, there ought to be a significant difference in price, right? Even if it didn’t really cost that much more to make. And no one seems to consider the fact that all of these products that are made to be discarded and replaced year after year end up in landfills and never biodegrade.

But what is the solution if you can’t afford the quality that used to be affordable and now seems to be elite? My solution is usually to search for second-hand or slightly damaged or refurbished items that still, despite their age or scratch-n-dent appearance, stand out against their cheap counterparts as objects of beauty and enhanced functionality. And, this way, I also reduce waste by buying things that others have discarded or no longer need. For instance, our coffee maker broke this week. A problem that needed to be remedied ASAP, since it was creating very crabby parents in the morning. But for the last decade, it seems, I have been buying a new coffee maker every couple of years because that’s about as long as the $30-$40 machines last. And I was tired of this cycle. Particularly because, when I was growing up, we had the same coffee maker for at least a decade because it was made to last, it was a Bunn. But I certainly didn’t want to spend $200-$300 dollars on a new coffee maker. (Let me rephrase that, I wanted to, but I have MANY higher priorities for that kind of money.) Even though the five machines I’ve already bought over the last 10 year (at approximately $45 a piece) add up to the same amount and created 5 times the waste! So I searched Overstock and Craigslist and Amazon‘s used sellers and found an Amazon warehouse deal of a new Bunn coffee maker in perfect condition but with damaged packaging for $65 – only $20 more than I would’ve spent on a cheap one that I’d have to replace again in a couple of years. Score!

Another example of this is my son’s tricycle. You can find any number of cheap plastic tricycles and big wheels out there whose plastic cracks, colors fade, and seats fall off within a couple of years. Or you could spend a hundred dollars on a nice steel, Radio Flyer Trike that will last through every single one of your children. But I don’t spend that kind of money on my toddler very easily. So I found one on Craigslist for $15 whose owner’s only son “never really liked it that much and barely rode it.” Sold!

So, let this encourage you to seek out quality and stop encouraging the production and sale of goods that we know are made to be quickly replaced. Even if you have to cut some corners or bruise your pride a little bit to get it, it will be well worth it in the long run. And, who knows, we might just change the ideals of our society in the process!

Out With the Old, In With the New!

In a season marked by the giving and receiving of gifts, I am overcome today by a need to purge and clean as all the new stuff enters my house with no place to live and every closet and cupboard filled to capacity. Which begs the question – if we have to get rid of old stuff to make room for new stuff, how much stuff do we really need? Are we cultivating an attitude of simplicity and gratitude in ourselves and our children? Or one of excess and extravagance? Now, as I have mentioned before in a couple of posts, I don’t thing that gift giving is purely about satisfying needs. If it was, we would all get Hoovers and underwear for Christmas. Instead, giving gifts is a physical demonstration of the thoughtfulness that emanates from love. If our holiday gifts showed such thoughtfulness and were messages of caring and love, than they were a success and a worthy investment. If, however, they were just an accumulation of things because it’s the time of year to accumulate things, than they were a waste.

All that being said, I am grateful for the motivation and incentive to cleanse my house and my cupboards of unnecessary clutter. It has been a long time in the making. My boss once shared with us at a company luncheon that he and his wife make it a habit to go through their things once a year and get rid of anything that they hadn’t used in the previous year. Having lived in the same place for the last 3.5 years and never purged or rearranged, I’ve been drawn to this idea ever since he shared it. I’m sure my fire is fueled by nesting instincts as well, since Baby No. 2 will be making his début in 4.5 months. But regardless of the reason, nesting or staleness or Christmas, the time for “spring” cleaning has arrived and began today in earnest. I only made it through part of one room but already the pile marked for garage sale is substantial. Although I am exhausted and know I have a LONG way to go, this pile of no longer needed/wanted junk (or treasures to garage sale customers) makes me very happy. It is the beginning of greater order, more space, and enhanced simplicity. It is an opportunity to make some money from things we don’t need and benefit those who do. It is a change, no matter how small, that makes our home more livable. We’ll see how far I get in the coming weeks before the fire dies.