Monthly Archives: December 2010


I like to give (and get) pretty utilitarian gifts. That’s why bags always come to mind. There are a lot of great bags made from recycled materials these days.

I’ve been toying between two bag-type gifts for my niece (really Girly buying for her cousin in our gift exchange). I’m partial to shopping local, so I’ve also been considering buying her an accessory from Queen Bee Creations. I splurged and bought myself a purse there over the summer, and I’ve really been enjoying it. There are almost too many pockets, but it is a really handy size to fit a lot without looking like a diaper bag. If you are in the market for a hip diaper bag, they have some really nice designs. They are a bit spendy, but very durable and the adorable.

Ecoist also  has some really chic purses made from recycled wrappers. I could definitely picture her sporty it at NYU.  They also have cute baskets if you’re looking for some utilitarian home decor.

I also love Sherpani bags (found at REI). I have one for my work bag, and it’s fantastic. Very functional, comfortable, and stylish (at least for Portland’s standard 😉 They now have a ton of sizes to fit almost any need…the carry on luggage styles are very tempting. They even have child backpacks.

My Twin Sis bought me the cutest little bags made of recycled yoga mats. My only complaint is that they are a too small for most of my needs, but Girly loves them!

My co-worker got a really hip black bag on her recent trip to visit her daughter in Columbia, Cyclus bags. Fair warning, the prices are in Columbian pesos, so you may experience sticker stock initially.

While a little simpler in style, KEEN also has some nice bags made from recycled materials. This is the type of bag Hubby would love…if he didn’t already have an REI bag.

There’s also always the option of the traditional grocery tote to help nudge a friend or family member to kick the plastic habit.

What’s your favorite eco-bag?

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

IKEA land

My first IKEA experience was in the suburbs of Copenhagen. It was intriguing as a foreigner, and I was fascinated when I learned that IKEA culture was being exported: t he awe-inspiring parking lot, the maze-like wonder of home goods, and the cheap civilized cafeteria.  

As a Scandinavian lover, I can’t help but adore IKEA. But I’m also always a skeptical shopper, as everything is so tempting and cheap at IKEA. It’s all too easy to suddenly feel like you “need” a whole lot more than your shopping list. IKEA shows how simple Scandinavians live, and how you don’t have to be a millionaire to live the good life. Likewise, IKEA does have some innovative sustainability practices.

IKEA opened in Portland right around the time we bought our home. Since we were moving from a much smaller house with minimal furniture and not much cash on hand, our best option was to turn to IKEA decor. In our first trip, we bought a dining table, four chairs, tv armorer, coffee table, kids’ bed, two bar stool chairs, plus miscellaneous stuff! Our house was literally empty for a few months before we finally furnished it (sorry to our friends who sat on the floor to visit!) We obviously would have preferred to have bought higher end more eco-friendly furniture, but we also knew that young kids would be hard on it. The fork marks in dining table prove the point, that we just weren’t ready to buy an heirloom quality table…although we hold hope for the Joinery dream.

Aside from cheap kitchen gadgets, IKEA has lots of great kids’ kitchen gadgets. Honestly, I was a bit frustrating when I bought a bunch mini-whisks and spatulas at a local toy store for a pretty penny only to find them later at IKEA. Really, a baby whisk shouldn’t cost $5!   But my favorite IKEA thing is the kids’ organization stuff!  They are so colorful and creative and they really help tame the clutter beast. Then your challenge is to resist all the cheap toys…

Are you a fan of IKEA?

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

Homemade Kids’ Kitchen

When we moved into our “new” house two years ago, we wanted our first Christmas to be special. But we couldn’t afford to spend a fortune…so-called eco-friendly play kitchens can cost over $300! So, my Twin Sis and I teamed up to create a built-in kids’ kitchen in the end of one counter. She took the lead and did lots of research on creating home made kitchens, and did a fantastic job.

She made a colorful laminated back-splash from old Body & Soul magazines, then she made a cook-top from recycled CDs and brads. She even included knobs and a clock, plus hooks and magnets, not to mention the touch light that helps to put a light on the subject and is oh so fun.  Then she went above and beyond by making homemade felted vegetables. The entire kitchen cost practically nothing, and was made of mostly reused materials. 

“Auntie” also bought him a pot set, and baskets for the all the veggies. My mom also sewed an apron, mitts and a chef’s hat. Hubby’s mom, Gram, bought a fun  Melissa & Doug Pizza Party set . I bought lots of utensils, and in retrospect I would have bought more that could actually be used to cook.

Alas, as it turns out, the kitchen didn’t hold Big Guy’s attention much (he was almost 3) and initially he only really played with it when other kids came over. It did inspire him to cook for real though, and he loves using the bigger utensils. But Girly has grown up with it and loves playing in her little kitchen (this pick was taken at 10 months last fall…hard to believe she has so many curls now!).

Lastly, I know not everyone has a spare open cabinet, but after seeing our kitchen a friend made one from a standard kitchen rack. The best part is that the rack is still useful and costs about as much as some play kitchens!

Here are some resources if you’re interested in designing a kids’ kitchen:

Eco-friendly Kitchen Accessories:

We’ve also shared a close-up for inspiration.  
Do you have a homemade play kitchen?

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

Refinancing Home

Big news: We’ve taken the first steps to refinancing our home! We’ve locked the interest rate at 4.375% for 30 years. The appraisal is scheduled for this Friday. This will mean a great deal more financial security and freedom for us, both in the short and long run.

Quite honestly, when we “bought” (or really financed) our dream house over two years ago, we were stretching our financial limits. We had outgrown our shoebox of a starter house, and we wanted and needed a house where we could truly raise a family. We fell in love with our house, and it met virtually every criteria on our want/need list…not that we don’t have a home wish list though. Buying our house was also stretch because I was pregnant with Girly, and knew that during my unpaid maternity leave we would be paying over 60% of our income to our home. Typically, it’s not advisable to spend so much of your household budget on housing, but in our situation we felt like we needed to make the initial sacrifice. 

So, it turned out that we needed to buy Private Mortgage Insurance, PMI, in order to make the initial house purchase possible. We weren’t too happy about it, but we felt like the initial sacrifice would be worth the gain. Conveniently, we were able to pay it off by the time the interest rates hit rock bottom. 

On top of the new interest rate, the real reason we are excited about refinancing is our lower payment plan. We’ve been paying $2,455 a mortgage (plus PMI!), and soon we’ll be paying $1,712. That equates to a monthly savings of $743, and $8,917 annually! That doesn’t necessarily mean that won’t work to pay off our mortgage earlier, but initially we’ll need to make some decisions about how to save/invest the cash. 

Note that we bought before the market dropped, but also managed to net $70k in less than three years’ investment in our starter house. I’ll be curious about what the appraisal reports, but there’s no doubt that current value is less than the sale price.

Have you refinanced lately?

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