Category Archives: home economics

A Woman with a Garden Plan

Dreya and Alissa, permaculture designers extraordinaire

My favorite season has a officially begun; the season of eating outdoors whenever possible. This evening we had salmon burgers on our patio’s red picnic table, and it felt like our little private paradise. It’s hard to not feel madly in love with my yard this time of year. I spend as much time as physically possible there, and seem to savor the exhaustion at the end of the day. I love watching our kids’ rake and dig and play, washing off their mud at the end of the day.


And yet, even though in my estimation our yard is maybe 80% close to being complete, I obsess about the final 20%. After three full years of puttering around with various design ideas, I finally decided that it was time to hire some professional landscape designers. While I’m already fairly educated, having taken a permaculture design course in graduate school, the truth is that I could never seem to develop a wholistic design. I’ve wanted to clear out several bushes and holly tree, and Hubby always wanted a definitive “plan” before doing so (at our old place I did make a full permaculture plan, so I could never seem to find/make the time, plus there were some problematic areas where I really needed a second/third opinion). More importantly, without this illusive plan, I could never get Hubby’s buy off to purchase more than about a $100 of plants at a time. So, when we finally had some extra cash, I new a garden design was at the very top of my wish list.


I searched for permaculture designers, and was excited to find a small company of two women about my age doing landscape design and installation. Seed Garden Design has a philosophy that I aspire to as well, and just from checking out their beautiful before/after photos, I had a strong feeling that I had found the right duo to fulfill my garden dreams. They were truly a pleasure to work with, and they met with Hubby and I to gain a deeper understanding of how we want to use the outdoor space and what we view as beautiful.


Throughout the design process we met three times: first to determine the scope of the design, second to discuss likes/dislikes, and third to reveal the final design. We also had a bit of homework between sessions to help them assess our likes/dislikes better. I ended up deciding to do the full design for our front and back yards, which is a larger lot than most in Portland. The design cost $1550, and I feel it was worth it.  


I love having a full vision for my yard/garden. I can finally see its full potential, and can hardly wait to see it come into reality. We most want our yard to be kid-friendly and ready to entertain/enjoy. Plus, we want to produce more and more veggies/fruit from our garden. I also have a dream of having our yard in some type of local garden tour, so we have high hopes for our little paradise. 


We plan to pace ourselves though, and it will probably take 4-5 years to implement the full design. I bought $120 of native plants at Audubon’s native plant sale this weekend, and it felt so great to have my plant list in hand, knowing each plant had a destined place. I felt like a women on a mission…


Since I’m admittedly more inspired by plants than our finances lately, I’ll soon share some specifics of the design…which really rocks, by the way! I’ve also stared a new “permaculture garden” tag to help you find other related posts in the future.


Does your yard/garden have a plan?
How much is your yard/garden worth investing to you?


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Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Simplicity Parenting – Bunk Beds

January always feels like a very long month in our home, particularly this year. It’s partly because I’m always gearing up for the year ahead and setting our goals in motion. It’s also because we are still celebrating…we have 3 birthdays in January (Hubby turned 42, Girly turned 3, and our Big Guy turns 6 today!). Our goals and celebrations seem to have merged very fluidly lately with us working together to further our “simplicity parenting” process.


Even though I hadn’t yet read Simplicity Parenting last year, I spent a post writing about how simple I tried to be in birthday gift giving (previously about our family gift policy). In hindsight, I realize that I didn’t even need to purchase as much as we did…the flashcard puzzles were barely touched, and I haven’t seen the soccer ball in almost a year.


This year we took it down another notch, and gave the kids a bunk bed. It wasn’t itself a cheap gift, but it did turn out to force us to really refocus on simplifying their bedrooms. Our Big Guy had asked for bunk beds since I was pregnant with Girly, but during Thanksgiving he got booted into his little sister’s room for our family guests…but then he didn’t want to go back to sleeping in his own room. They continued to room together so well that we soon agreed that if they could keep it up until their birthdays, we would buy them bunk beds.


Now Girly’s old bedroom only has a toy tower, bookcase, and dress up chest (we plan to set it up as a guest room soon…). The new shared “kids’ room” has their dressers, lamp, kids’ CD player, alarm clock and a closet with games in it.


Admittedly, even after two weekends of gutting their rooms (and another putting together the bunk-beds), I know that I still have work left going through the toys in the tower…most of which they haven’t played with in months! I purged many of our board books, but I still   need to take another look to cull more unread books…it is emotional to let go of those original baby books, and I plan to hold on to a few… 


Our kids really didn’t balk at getting rid of anything, there were naturally a few items they became temporarily enamored with again, but I just let them play until they were done and then scooped it into the give-away.


The kids were thrilled when we finished assembling the bunk beds. It kind of feels like a new era for our family, and we’re all happy to have simplified living space.


Otherwise, the only gifts we gave this year were a few really beautifully illustrated Irish/Faery tales to replace the classic board books. They got some needed sneakers/cleats. They also got a world/U.S. map to decorate their new room. Plus, Girly got to pick out sheets for her new bed. 


Have you simplified your child’s space?
Do your kids bunk together?


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Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Doggy Update

Alas, it’s time to give an update on our doggy decision…it’s a tough topic for me.

I wrote about our decision regarding Kiki’s knee injury in the context of our finances, but in reality its much more of a personal/family decision than a pure money matter. The fact is that we’ve been challenged to keep Kiki altogether. Here’s the brief back story:

We adopted Kiki two summers ago when Girly was just five months…we adopted him on a bit of whim and I teased close friends that it was my way of distracting our desire for a third child (we had previously agreed we wanted a dog after having kids). The kids quickly fell in love with him, especially Girly (see video her lounging on him last summer), and now she walks him with me every weekend morning. Hubby and I had a steeper learning curve as new dog owners, and within the first months we had repeated trash incidents, compost digging, food nabbing, he ran away two times, plus loud barking any time he was left outside without us (which the neighbors wrote us notes about…) Ironically, we were baby-proofing our house at the same time as doggy-proofing, and I came to think of them as the same thing: provide a safe environment and everyone will be happy/healthy!

However, the fact is that Kiki’s dog ways can drive Hubby mad, and he admitted after a few weeks of having him that he brought out some OCD tendencies and that his threshold for misbehavior was way lower than mine. But don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a happy camper when Kiki tore my stuff: two camelbacks, a sherpani work bag, our Ergo baby carrier, our Kelty baby hiker backpack, our new luggage…plus three leashes and two harnesses…yes, we’ve gotten the hint that he likes gnawing on straps/bags! Now that I think back, I wonder how I could tolerate it all…but despite his natural dog-tendencies, Kiki is truly a great dog and wonderful with the kids. 

Hubby had been threatening for months under his breath to give away Kiki, and it made me cringe each time. But it was Kiki destroying a new homebrew kit that Hubby excitingly purchased that was the last straw for Hubby. That was in March. I thought long and hard, and realized that despite his sometimes destructive dog ways, Kiki is part of our family, and I wasn’t ready to give up. Since then I’ve taken over all dog duties (including poop patrol, which I vowed to never do…), and I now get up at 5:30 to walk him (nearly) every morning.

My bond to Kiki has certainly strengthened, and even with the hard family lessons, I’m glad to have him in our life.

But with more reflection, I can see that I was willing to pay the thousand dollar vet fee in part because I felt like it’s our obligation as responsible pet owners and because I feel  guilty for ever considering giving him away. I know in my heart that having him in our family isn’t something you can put a price tag on, and we can’t even imagine the long term value his playful presence will have for our children. As you can see from the “dress up” photo, they love him.

As for the knee surgery, I’ve decided that with his arthritis and age, he’s not a good candidate. I also feel like expense and effort would be too much of a sacrifice on our family, but we will continue to give him the best care and love we can. Thankfully, his limp is gone for now and his full old-age vet scan came back gleaming. As I paid another $25 to renew his tags a few weeks ago, I felt like I’ve made the best decision for our entire family.

Have you ever had family pet tribulations?

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Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Benefit Comparison

Prior to family life, I would have never imagined myself spending a late Friday evening comparing health care benefits. It’s been a family goal of ours to thoroughly compare benefit packages (here’s a previous post on maximizing benefits).


Mostly, I feel very lucky to be in a position where both of us are benefit-eligible. For the past several years I’ve taken advantage of my employer’s opt-out option. Since I can prove insurance coverage for a spouse, I get $62.50 per pay period as a pay off for my employer not having to ante up full coverage. It’s been really a win-win.


I didn’t question it until last summer when Girly was having digestion issues and I wanted to take her to a naturopath…frankly, I had gotten to the point where I thought our whole family could benefit from this intuitive medicinal approach. I had known several of my co-worker went to a naturopathic clinic near my office, so I didn’t think it would be a problem to set up an appointment. Yet, it turned out that Hubby’s insurance didn’t cover naturopathic care. So, I started down the path of trying to see a more traditional nutritionalist, but it turned out that wasn’t covered either (since it was “preventative,” even though I hardly think that treating chronic diarrhea should be called preventative!) So, long story short, our only option was to get a series of tests done by a gastroenterologist, which only ever ruled out some causes and never gave us true answers (thankfully gut-maturity has helped out and unless there are bugs going around, she is fine these days…)


Alas, I would still like to see a naturopath, but I’ve determined that since Hubby’s insurance out of pocket is very similar to my own it makes more sense to use the “bonus cash” of $1500 annually toward any naturopathic appointment, it’s unlikely to exceed that amount. Mostly it won’t feel as expensive knowing that my employer is still in essence paying for any extra appointments that aren’t covered by Hubby’s standard insurance. 


Do you have the option to “opt-out”?
Does your insurance cover naturopathic care?


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Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Doggy Decisions

My mind has been consumed this week with facing decisions about our family dog, Kiki. When Girly and I took him on a walk Saturday morning, he started limping after the second throw of the fetch-it. While he didn’t yelp, it sure seemed serious and I knew we’d have to take him to the vet (especially when his appetite was nill…which I’ve never seen).


We got an early Monday appointment, and my BigGuy accompanied us. After an initial exam, Dr. Rachel (from Irvington Vet Clinic) suspected that his knee was torn, as she could feel looseness. I left him for full x-rays, and started to prepare myself for the prospect of shelling out a LOT of money for a knee repair surgery, roughly $4-5k. I know after two years of dog ownership that pets cost, but that’s a big chunk of cash.


When we got the results back I started to have second thoughts about surgery. It turns out that he actually has looseness in both knees, plus arthritis in both knees and hips. Add on the fact that he is a HUGE purebred Labrador weighing in at 107 pounds (he is literally the biggest lab I have ever seen, and people tell us the same all the time). Then there’s the factor that he’s turning 8 this fall and the average life expectancy for his breed is 10-12 years.


Sadly, when we adopted him 2 summers ago the original owner had actually given him up because she was obese and her vet told her that if she didn’t get him regular exercise that he wouldn’t life a full healthy life. We had hoped to give him the active lifestyle he deserves.


I worry that if we sucked it and did the surgery that he would continue to compensate through his opposite knee or hips. And wouldn’t have a full recovery due to the arthritis.


It’s a damned if you do, damned it you don’t prospect.


Yet the prospect of just letting him atrophy and live in pain kills me too. I would at least treat him with medications and acupuncture, but it would bring him back to his previous bounding self. In the end, it would likely shorten his life. 


It’s also a slightly more personal dilemma, but I’ve had one arthroscopic and 2 full ACL surgeries on my knee. I couldn’t imagine not being given the chance at recovery. Yet, I also know the warning from my orthopedic surgeon…”you’ve got max of one knee replacement, so I don’t want to see you for a very long time…” Sadly, I’ve been likening Kiki’s predicament with whether I would want a grandparent to operate or not, and how much of a quality of life it would actually give him.


No doubt, it’s a tough choice. I’m not entirely set, but I am obviously leaning, and I need some perspective on this tough decision…


What would do for your pet? 
Is surgery the best choice?


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Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.