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.

Thoughts Of A Working Mom On Bed Rest

It’s every working mom’s dream, right? To have plenty of time to lay around on the couch and have everyone else take care of all your responsibilities while you just . . . rest. Hmmm. You might think so until you have a doctor tell you that you have to do just that. For a month. This forced hiatus from life, otherwise known as bed rest, is anything but a fantasy, as reality sets in and you realize that you no longer have any control over your life, your home, or your children. Everything must be done for you and your bank account slowly reminds you why it is that you and your husband both work. In the mean time, your hubby takes over all the details of your finances, family, work, and home while trying desperately to hang on to the last threads of sanity. You can forget romance or sweet nothings – you just hope this whole episode doesn’t crush him. Although your job has been expecting to lose you to maternity leave in a month, they find themselves spontaneously in a lurch and end up hiring a temp to replace you. You hope and pray he’s not as good as you are and everyone is glad for you to come back when you’re ready, but will they be? And your little boy, whom you adore cries in your arms every night because he misses you and there is almost nothing you can do with or for him anymore. All the people you love and care about do everything they can for you and, although you are extremely grateful, you can’t help but feel like you’ve just become a giant millstone around everyone’s neck. And there’s nothing you can do about it. You have to protect your unborn baby and bring him safely into the world when he’s ready. So you while away the hours with books and the internet and TV while your life marches on around you but without you.

Still sound like a dream? Well, it’s not exactly peachy, but there are a few things that I have learned from this whole process so far:

  • People who really care are willing to do SO much. It is more than words of sympathy, it’s service that stuns you. And although you may feel guilty for asking so much of people, you know that no one who has given anything resents what they’ve given. And it is beautiful.
  • My hubby would do anything for his family. Even when it feels like he can’t, he does. He is a man worth having and holding and I am lucky.
  • Once again, as I have said so many times before, I am reminded that we have to hold tightly to the little things. The beautiful things. And not become bogged down in difficulty. Rather than sink in the face of all that I cannot do, I need to cherish the time that I do have to read my son countless stories; do silly projects on the couch like paper plate superhero masks for his birthday; write notes of gratitude to the many people who are helping us (something I am normally so bad at accomplishing); and catch up on some blogging that pain and stress have kept me from staying on top of.
  • People so often surprise you, and most of the time in a good way. You never know who will stand up and do something extraordinary that you never expected or something small that is touching in its intimacy.
  • It is never shameful to ask for help. Those who want to give will do so gladly and those who judge you for asking can either get over it or get lost!
  • Rest is overrated! So in the future when I complain about being too busy or stressed, I need to remember that it is those very things that fill my plate and make me so busy that I miss when they are taken away. They are the building blocks of my life and add purpose and fulfillment to it. As Jonathan always says, “To be a happy man, I have to be a tired man!”
  • In the end, a month or two of hardship is tiny compared to the new life we are bringing into the world. One that will, as his brother did, completely change our lives and enrich them in ways we never even thought possible. Owen, I know you are worth it and I can’t wait meet you!

♥ For any who are interested . . . A Small Way to be a Big Help

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!

Gift Making Magic!

I have mentioned before that I like to make my own Christmas gifts, both for the sake of economy and for the added thoughtfulness infused into such gifts that cannot be attained by picking up something at the store simply because it was time to buy someone a present. But every year I try to brainstorm good ideas that will be appreciated not just for the effort, but for the thing itself. Because, lets face it, no matter how much effort or thought goes into a gift, it’s not quite the same if the receiver doesn’t actually like it. It has to be the right balance. Often times though, this added proviso of likeability leads to a great deal more effort than I anticipated, as I try to wrap my fingers around what my brain has devised. Of course it doesn’t help that I have a VERY large family of consisting of 30 people outside of my immediate circle of 3 (soon to be 4). It can get a bit overwhelming.

This year, however, I had the benefit of a little helper that Santa let me borrow. It is still surprising to me that my little boy is old enough already to actually help me with projects. I do use the word “help” loosely, of course – he is after all only two. But even if his help wasn’t a time or effort saver, it was most definitely a mood saver during the 16 hours I spent this weekend completing everything. And, as is always the case, he was more of a teacher to me through the whole process than I was to him.  I may have taught him to mix ingredients or add just the right touch, but he taught me patience, understanding, a healthy sense of wonder, and an appreciation for licking all things yummy! And he helped me see all the old classic Christmas cartoons though a fresh set of eyes.  So at the risk of spoiling the surprise (if you expect to receive a gift from me, don’t look too closely or analyze too much), here are a few highlights from our weekend of gift making magic. I obviously can’t include the final result of the gifts we made for the adults, but since there are presumably few children who read my blog, I will share those – parents don’t tell!

Convenience vs. Waste?

At the risk of sounding like a mommy blog (which is not my goal or vision), one of the biggest issues on my mind lately has been whether or not to cloth diaper our second baby. I know that, after the initial investment, in the long run it is cheaper and better for baby’s skin, but the real clincher issue for me is waste. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the big issue on my mind lately has been the overwhelming waste in our society as a whole. It is not just the diaper issue, although I’ll get back to that in a minute, it is all the other ridiculous habits of convenience that produce an astonishing amount of garbage which most of us don’t give even a second thought to after it leaves our house twice a week. As though the garbage truck makes all of this non-biodegradable waste just magically disappear! Even things that are degradable, like yard waste, for instance, are placed inside PLASTIC bags that won’t break down and sent to landfills where they create piles of rotten vegetation entombed in plastic bricks. I say all of this with the indignation of someone who you’d think was proactive about reducing excess consumption and waste. But I suppose that is the problem I am facing. MYSELF. I am lazy. Like much of the rest of western society. I have a hard time relinquishing convenience. In the three years we have lived in our current house we have never put forth the effort to start recycling despite the fact that our neighborhood has curbside pickup. Why? Because I don’t have a good place for the bins or the time to sort my garbage. Please! I watch documentaries that get me all fired up, but then I rarely do anything about it. We did have our own garden one year, but it yielded so pitifully that I have not attempted again. We did compost for a while, but the smell (in our kitchen and yard) was just too much. We do buy many things second-hand, but I’m not sure it’s from a sense of resourcefulness so much as budget constraints. But, but . . . BUT.  It’s time for change! This year instead of bagging our leaves and shipping them off to the dump, we are following the suggestion of woman we heard interviewed on NPR and mulching our leaves with the mower and spreading them over the grass to be driven in by the rain and used as natural fertilizer. We have gotten the recycling bins and the schedule for pick up and will be starting a habit of recycling soon (darn it!). I am making my own Christmas gifts, from the heart, instead of spending an exorbitant amount of money on a bunch of stuff that no one really needs or most of the time even wants.

But now we come back to the issue of diapers. And I have to ask myself, how far does this conviction go? I love the convenience of disposable diapers. I mean LOVE. My conscience almost got the better of me with our son, but since I work and we’ve had to have child care for him during the day, that’s always been a convenient excuse. But we have since switched sitters to someone who cloth diapers her own children. Bye bye excuse! What about time spent washing diapers as a working mom? What about the initial expense of investing in a supply of cloth? What about the added extent to which I will have to HANDLE someone else’s poo! (Sorry all you non mommies out there.) Are these inconveniences enough to allow me to ignore the fact that one child produces over a TON of diaper waste in their short time using them? Or the fact that approximately 27.5 BILLION diapers are consumed in the US alone in one year and each of those takes between 300 and 500 years to break down in a landfill! That means if disposables had been available in the 1500’s we would still see remains of them today!  Diapers are the third largest single consumer item in landfills representing about 4% of all solid waste! And yet I am still having trouble making this decision. As I stated above, I am lazy. Will I overcome this laziness and take the leap into the world of cloth diapers? I still don’t really know. But after writing all of this, if I don’t, I give all of you, my readers, full permission to mock me mercilessly until I come to my senses.

(The facts about diaper waste in this post are found in numerous places online, but the most succinct collection of them came from http://www.realdiaperassociation.org/diaperfacts.php)