Category Archives: home economics

Get Growing

“In the Spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” – Marget Atwood

My kiddos agree. Spring is such a glorious season, and my favorite part is getting out in the garden! I love when it’s finally warm enough to spend the majority of our family time outdoors.  It’s also exciting to teach them as the plants begin to grow with our  favorite kids’ garden books .

Growing your own food is one of the best ways to reduce your carbon footprint, as the average produce has traveled 1500-2500 food miles to reach your plate. Plus, it really helps you eat what’s in season and growing organic food is a great way to connect with the environment. 

It also a very cost effective way to feed your family healthy food. As you can see from my harvest of tomatoes last year, a few productive plants can provide an abundant harvest. If you can harvest for just a few weeks you’ll easily reap a return on your investment. Although I’ve never actually tried to quantify my “garden investment,” and hope this season to track it better.

Including soil amendment, this past weekend I spent $65 to get my garden started: tomatoes, basil, eggplant, celery, onions, leeks, potatoes, spinach, lettuce, cucumber, green beans, and dill. I had previously planted broccoli, cauliflower, shallots and garlic. I also have an herb garden with marjoram, oregano, curry, parsley, thyme, sage, peppermint, lemon-balm and lavender. We also have blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, rhubarb and apples.  The best advice that I’ve ever gotten is to plant what you love to eat!

You can make your garden even really budget friendly by starting from seed. Although I have to admit that I’m choosing mostly starts this season, since last year I ended up loosing almost all of my seedlings after getting sick. Until my kiddos get a little older and can truly help out with the seed process, I need to stick with the instant gratification of getting beautiful starts in the fresh Earth.

Gardening does have a steep learning curve, but don’t be intimidated. I learn more every year; last year my leeks didn’t produce much and I just realized that I didn’t plant them deep enough. My gardening “bible” is Rodale’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening The “companion” workbook is also very helpful, as it provides a handy place to plan your space, log your planting dates, and make garden dreams a reality  Maria Rodale’s Organic Gardening Companion.

Are you planning a veggie garden for your family?
Have you been successful in trimming your grocery bill?

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

Our Personal Story of Stuff

Aside from how beautiful Oregon is, the most common remark I’ve gotten from my Danish family and friends who have visited is that our home feels and looks more European than most American homes. I’m sure this is partly because I lived in Denmark, and I appreciate the aesthetic of simple nature-inspired design. While not spartan, our home is noticeably uncluttered. 

It’s also because even before kids, Hubby and I were a bit of stuff misers. We don’t want to be burdened by clutter and waste and we have a pretty low threshold for unnecessary things in our life. We make our choices about what material items we purchase very consciously and deliberately. We lived with an empty living room for almost three months just because I wasn’t willing to buy just anything. And although I love my furniture, I do regret that I was unable to purchase it without flame retardants…but that’s another story.

Here are some of the things we think about:

  • We evaluate carefully whether we really “need” something – We try not to buy something just because it’s a good deal. Not that we balk at sales, we just don’t want them to control our spending and consumption habits. 
  • We avoid impulse purchases at all costs, and usually agree upon the “need” for a purchase at least a month or two before we actually buy it. This helps our budget and ensures that we really want/need it.
  • We buy quality over quantity, like with our new vacuum. 
  • We try to buy used. some times this doesn’t work due to our quality criteria, but I bought Hubby a sweet Weber barbecue from Craigslist last Father’s Day.
  • We think about the life-cycle of the item once we’ve purchased it and ask these simple questions: 
    • How long do we expect it to last? 
    • Will it be reusable? Or recyclable?
    • How quickly will it end up in  our garbage can to head to the landfill?
There are obviously other factors that go into our decision making for some things, but you can get the picture. Asking these questions, thinking about them and talking with each other has helped us limit our spending, our clutter and our impact on the Earth. 

Now limiting stuff isn’t as easy with kids, but I’ve save that topic for another day. 

How do you decide what your family needs?

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

Organic Home Delivery

As a busy working Mama, I’m constanting adding items to my grocery list and am rarely as willing to head to the store. Because we take the bus to work, I can’t stop to grab something on my way home from work (which is probably a theoretical convenience.) So, I’m left trying to stock up for the week on Saturdays, which usually blows at least two hours of “free time.”

I love budget-friendly solutions…drum roll please…sign up for home grocery delivery! Spud is our local home delivery grocer of choice, and I’m actually just getting back into this practice (I actually got a Groupon for $25 to get $50 worth).

Previously they only offered produce and though delicious we had a hard time guaging how much we needed, especially during harvest time. I’m very excited by how much they have added lately; they now offer milk products, eggs, meat, baked goods and lots of pantry staples. Now we can order enough for a weekly delivery without feeling like we’re forced to eat nine fruits and veggies a day, not that it would be a bad thing for us… 

If you haven’t used a home delivery service before you may wonder – How can delivery save your family money? How can you trust the quality? How is this a more sustainable option? Here are my top reasons:

  1. They guarantee fresh produce, and it’s always fresher since delivery from field to your house is faster. I was really astounded with my first delivery.
  2. They create a weekly price comparison to prove that you are getting a real deal (in Portland with New Season’s and Safeway).
  3. They tell you how many miles your food has traveled, which is sometimes impossible to find in grocery stores.
  4. Buying online is really easy, you can set recurring items (weekly, every other week, etc.) and since I know that my family will always need certain items, this really a no-brainer. You can make lists, like for your pantry, snacks, etc. Once you’ve got it set up it should take you less than the time it probably takes to get to the store. Plus, you can plan family meals better and you’re not as likely to forget key items.
  5. They offset the carbon footprint of delivery, which actually lower with delivery than it would be to get goods from one warehouse to multiple grocers and shoppers driving too.
  6. I find it much easier to stick to a budget and not over-purchase. Lately I’ve been stopped by a Whole Wallet near our local library for a few items, and I can never get out of the store for less than $50!

If you’d like to try Spud out you can save $25 over your first 4 deliveries. Simply go to and sign-up using promo code CR5-147718. (They have delivery in Portland, Seattle, San Fransisco, Los Angeles and several Canadian cities).

Have you tried a home delivery service?
If you try them out, please leave a comment with your experience!

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

Vacuum love!

I know you may seriously be wondering what kind of spring cleaning bug I’ve caught, but I am in love with our new vacuum cleaner!

Here’s the back story:
Hubby and I bought a cheap Hoover when we moved in together just shy of ten years ago. It was a pretty momentous step in our relationship, as he insisted that we purchase it together…it may as well have been a proposal! So while it was never anything special, it got the job done. But for the past two years our vacuum has teetered on the edge of the dumpster, and I was glad to see it get through the holidays in tact.  So, I wasn’t shocked to come home and find it on front porch in pieces (yes, I’m lucky enough to have a Hubby who vacuums!).

There have been a few “Green” vacuum cleaners to hit the market recently, and I looked into these models:

Yet, I didn’t want our decision to be entirely driven by eco-marketing. Our criteria for a new vacuum were pretty simple:

  • Longevity – buying things that are built to last means less waste and resources
  • Local – we wanted to support the local economy (Stark’s)
  • Repairs & Recycling – the shop we chose also repairs and recycles vacuum parts
  • Responsible company – while Simplicity isn’t big into eco-marketing, they are all about quality. Machines are American made which ensures better wages and some environmental standards, plus it didn’t have to be shipped from Asia.

Plus, these are some of the whistles that sold us on the model we bought: HEPA filters, cloth filters, best for hard wood floors, very quiet, compact for carrying up/down stairs, adjustable suction, on/off brush roller, horse hair brushes, retracting cord…and yes, our BigGuy thinks its the new family toy, and yes, the best part is that Hubby still does the majority our vacuuming, and no, it doesn’t hurt that it’s my favorite color! 🙂 

Lastly, while it wasn’t a cheap disposable vacuum cleaner, it didn’t entirely break the bank. We bought our new vacuum (Simplicity Snap) for $360. For a purchase that we hope will last us at least ten years, it’s worth the price. What’s next? We’re hoping to repair our clunker before donating it, and then play when the vacuum some more… 

Do you pay for quality on long-term purchases? Will you buy an “eco-vacuum”?

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

Green Gifts

A co-worker and friend is having a housing warming party, which gets me thinking about green gifts.
  • House plants  – Is there a better way to bring a little bit of nature inside than house plants? I love house plants and they are one of my favorite gifts to give (and receive). Many are very easy to propagate, and I often will snap off a piece (or my kids do it for me) and put in a vase until it roots. Yet, I also realize that not everyone is has a green thumb, so I try to only give ones that are easy to grow. Here some more favorites: prayer plant, Christmas cactus, philodendron, spider plant, wandering jew, asparagus ferns and jade plant (a symbol of prosperity). Aloe is perfect for kitchens in case of burns. House plants shared by friends can also become like family, my Mom has an angel-wing begonia from a friend since before I was born, and I have a plant from the same cutting.
  • Candles – Nothing warms a room like candles, but you want to make sure you give (and use) “green” ones. Many candles are petroleum based and some are made with a thin wire of lead in the wick (to help with dripping) obviously not good for your own environment. Pacifica  is my favorite candle-maker (and soap, lotion…)
  • Herbs – It’s very cost-effective to grow your own herbs for your pantry . Yet, you’ll find that come harvest time there’s almost always a surplus. Everyone could stand to refresh their herbs (I know I’m in need!), and moving is a great time to do it.
  • Seeds – After the blossoms fade it’s easy to collect seeds from your favorite flowers (or even in a friend’s yard), and they make perfect gifts.

Sharing things like seeds and herbs can be a great way to earn some social capital. Enjoy sharing the wealth!

What gifts do you give for a house warming?
Do you bring hostess gifts?

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