Who’s Better?

Life isn’t a competition. And goodness knows that a marriage REALLY isn’t one. I’ve never been in for competitive sports, but it seems that I might just have a pretty competitive nature by design. My dad WAS into sports of all shapes and sizes, so maybe I’ve just inherited a pride at doing something well.

Nevertheless, I thought I’d wave a “hooray for us” flag but also show how truly flawed (and human! Get that!) Dave and I are. Particularly, I mean, when it comes to our newer eating habits and greener lifestyle. You can read my first post ever for what set us on this journey.

Dave is S-T-R-I-C-T that we not even set foot inside a Walmart. It seems that he’s quite proud of the post I once wrote about giving the place up. At the same time, out of convenience more than anything, we’ve stopped going to Aldi for fruits and veg. While this, of course, hurts our budget a little more, it really forces me to ask myself whether we neeeeeed the food items that we’re buying rather than turning it into more landfill waste. So, he definitely gets a gold star as far as his concern of the quality of our food and how much (or little) we waste.

Thanks to a looser schedule, however, I get a gold star (go me!) for the actual purchasing of the foodstuffs. I’d say that about 90% of the time, mostly out of necessity and, like I said, a much more accommodating work schedule, I purchase the groceries. During the summer, it might be a little less since there are more farmers market visits (although, the local ones run when I’m free and Dave’s at work, so the percentage may still be in my favor), and it’s fun for us to go shopping together. Sounds sick, but we truly enjoy discussing what we want, why we want to try it, and persuading each other to try something new. It’s very good for our relationship, so we do try to go grocery shopping together every month or so. But, still, the point is mine!

Here’s another area that Dave excels: *gulp* He eats his fruits ‘n veggies. Mind you, neither of us is altogether wonderful at doing this. Our lunches still consist of mostly soup or sandwiches and chips (all-natural, but still). We could be doing lots better. But, when I get an orange in my lunch bag, a vast majority of the time it somehow finds its way back home. Dave, however, eats it. So, point for him. Yeah, we both have to do a lunchtime makeover. Heck, I’m lucky enough that I have a husband who willingly MAKES mine for work everyday. Yes, you read that correctly. I’m a lucky lady, alright!

But, I get the next point for green thumbery. (No, that’s not a real word; yes, I think I’ll continue to use it on a regular basis.) While Dave helps me in any way possible with our gardening, such as when we built our first raised bed garden last year, but I’m usually the one tending and harvesting and planning. I sometimes got behind on it last year, but overall, it was definitely my baby — and, boy, have I got some plans for the 2011 Victory Garden! So, my point. Yessssss!

Stuff. Things. Possessions. Crap. Call it what you will, but Dave gets the point as far as our green initiative of decluttering is concerned. He’s the king of Ebay, sending NUMEROUS orders out weekly, all in an attempt to surround himself only with what he a) needs and b) is emotionally attached to. We’re working on a wabi-sabi existence (whether he knows that’s what it is or not ;-D), which I’m sure I’ll get into in a future blog post. Dave’s embraced a simpler life; I’ve still got tons of clothes and stored items that I’ll probably never use. Simultaneously, I’m trying to follow Dave’s lead of using what we have before purchasing new (which is hard — his mom, as any mother would, expects me to keep an eye on his clothes, etc, to make sure he looks acceptable for life’s expectations…I always say “It doesn’t matter what I look like, but he has to leave the house halfway presentable. He’s the one being criticized by viewers.”) Regardless, he does a great job with simplicity and I need to learn a lesson from him — Point, Dave. *By the by, I’ve read more about wabi-sabi recently in a magazine, but cannot remember for the life of me where I first discovered it. If it was on your blog (Sarah? Maybe??), please feel free to let me know so that I can give credit where it’s due! Thanks!!*

Greenery and sustainability! We both do our darnedest to be green, and should be proud of our efforts, I think. This is a very close category in terms of “scoring.” While we do produce more trash than we’d both like, we’re obsessed with recycling and reusing, when possible. We buy recycled toilet paper and, when possible, paraben-free soaps and shampoos. However, I think that I get the sliiiiiight edge here. I’m the one with sneakers made from recycled products, a new steam-cleaner (which we got for only a few dollars after using our Macy’s wedding gift card for using them as a registry) which reduces the need for a crapload of cleaning products, and an itchin’ to revert to cloth napkin and handkerchief usage. I’m learning how to can and freeze (hoping to have shelving dedicated specifically to my homemade canned goods and cold storage for root vegetables in the basement when it warms up a bit), and am still trying to figure out a better way to compost, for our needs (last year’s attempt may be deemed a disaster — we’ll see when the spring thaw comes). I’m dreaming of the day when our pennies are saved enough for newer, Energy Star appliances (but, again, using what we have until it’s no longer usable…*sigh*). And, while I have a newer car, it’s the bane of my existence — I wish that I’d considered longer and gone with a more compact Subaru wagon or VW that we could run for a couple of decades, or had saved up more for a hybrid. Sooooo, I’m a little…obsessed. I think I do a lot more research about green living and read more about how we can make life changes. Oh, and I’m already planning for 21st century parenthood (although Dave’s on-board with all my hair-brained schemes — cloth diapers and homemade baby food, anyone??). Did I mention “obsessed”? Yeah. Point, Meg.

So, at 3-3, it’s pretty obvious that we’re tied. That makes me pretty darn happy — I didn’t really want to win, anyway. There are areas that I’m very proud to know that we are succeeding so well at, while others are disappointing, to say the least (compost: fail — always sad to admit a failure, but, dangit, I’m going to figure it out!). I think the fact that we’re about 9 months into the true life change experiment and it seems that we’ve made some real changes is encouragement enough. Go, Team Dellecese!!! (My actual last name is legally McCoy Dellecese, no hyphen, but that gets confusing. ;-D Besides, we’re still connected by the Big-D.)

What Makes a Salad

Dave’s a salad guy. He oftentimes goes back for a second full salad after we finish our meal. I call it a dessert salad, although there’s nothing fancy schmancy (like strawberries) on it. He comes from a family that eats one before every dinner, and the salads usually cover the entire dinner plate. They also shake ground black pepper atop their salads, which I thought was insane at first, but have since come to also use. It does make it less bland!

So, we eat a lot of salad in our household. We often purchase the organic pre-washed salad mix (I know, but they’re just the right amount to get us through the week without wastage) or the organic romaine heads, and add various fixins. (We live in CNY – “g”s get dropped a lot.) Since I’m trying to eat more seasonally, at this time of the year I don’t have a lot of extras around — so a little sliced onion’s all I need. Dave likes to load his up with stuff.

Oh, and every couple of weeks I roast some nuts (almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts) with some egg white and turbinado sugar, which makes an AWESOME topper to salads…or, apparently, a snack, since they often don’t make it to the top of the “main event.” And, I must admit that our croutons aren’t organic (I’ve tried some and they’re not even worth it for their crunch factor), but they’re as close to all-natural as possible. Once in awhile, I get ambitious and roast my own out of local Italian bread, and they are the best EVER, but during work weeks with theater responsibilities and stuff happening, fuhgettaboutit.

During the summer, our salads are frickin’ awesome. This time of year, not s’much, but when it’s nice out? Nice. Seriously, we regularly will eat just huge salads for dinner and feel completely satiated and happy. The fact that 85-100% of the stuff that’s IN those salads come from our own back yard is probably an additional reason that we love these salads so much. The lettuce, peppers, tomatoes (for Dave…), herbs, and stuff I’m probably forgetting taste completely different from your own garden. We’re also known to throw in some more gourmet things when it’s nice and warm out, like strawberries (which I’ll DEFINITELY be growing this year). Add a balsamic reduction and some walnuts and you’re done.

But, what really MAKES a salad? You’re probably expecting me to say that the ingredients need to be fresh, local (or homegrown), organic, blah blah blah. Not really. For ME, what makes a salad is the dressing…and, in my mind, the only dressing I’ll ever need is Thousand Island. It’s sweet, it’s savory, it’s a tad it vinegary — and it’s versatile as a dressing, dip, sandwich spread, or even on tacos. (Don’t puke, seriously, I tried it this week — insanely good if you don’t have taco sauce around.)

So, I’d been eating Dave’s version of a “dressing” for about a year (id oil and any vinegar on hand — sure, it’s healthy, but sometimes just too simplified), shouting profanities in the aisles of Hannaford while I awaited for an organic or all-natural or FOR CRYIN’ OUT LOUD at least an HFCS-free version. I’m pretty sure Dave was embarrassed to go near the condiment aisle with me for awhile there. It just ticked me off. My blood boils now to think about it.

Instead of continually risking ejection from our favorite supermarket, I decided to get proactive. I found a few recipes online, purchased my organic pickle relish (which I’ll gladly use on any nitrate-free hotdog, any day!) and all-natural mayo, and got to work. Storing it in a mason jar in the fridge, I now have a dressing that’s not only way better for you than the ones in the store, but that TASTES 10x better. It’s cheaper, too, since I use all the other ingredients for other uses, anyway.

Here’s the recipe that I took and how I tweaked it a bit:

All-Natural Thousand Island Dressing

– 1/2 c. mayonnaise (there are name brands now that give you all-natural — I prefer the taste, but you can also try Vegenaise or whatever you’re into)
– 2 Tbs. ketchup (I use organic)
– 1 Tbs. white vinegar (or extra juice from the relish)
– 2 tsp. turbinado sugar or agave nectar (or white sugar, if you’re into that…not judging ;-D)
– 2 -4 tsp. sweet pickle relish, to taste (I’m such a pickle fiend that I’m considering growing cukes just for this purpose next year — but, for now, I bought organic)
– 1 tsp. finely minced onion (whatever you want — I’ve used red onion every time, but the original recipe called for white)
– 1/8 tsp. salt (eyeball it)
– dash black pepper

Stir it all together and store it. It’s better the longer it sits.

I know that there are a lot of people (such as my dear, sweet, better half) who despise the thought of this dressing, which is fine. But, I think I’ve always liked its subtle sweetness since childhood.

There are still others of you who are asking “Crap! How unhealthy is THAT?!” But, y’know what? I feel that we’re a part of the whole foods movement, so this is my gateway drug into the world of more natural living. There are a lot of pre-packaged or over-processed foods that we’re cutting off of our “we eat that” list. So, if I want more wholesome eating and living, I’d rather know how the food I’m eating was prepared and that I used the best ingredients I could to make it.

Maybe someday we’ll be eating 100% naturally (we’re getting there, but not to THAT extreme yet), with nothing but raw milk and local fruits and veggies in our systems, but for the time being, I think we’re doing just fine. 🙂 And I’ve got my dressing, so I’m happy.

Let’s Talk Finances

Gotta clean up our act,
financially speaking.

No, don’t turn away! Yes, finances. This talk makes everyone have a different reaction, and those reactions are generally none too pleasant. It may make you angry, for God only knows what reason (okay, maybe we know why), or sad and push you into an unhealthy bit of avoidance. Others just cringe and do what you initially wanted to — click the “x” in the corner of your screen or turn away, depending on where you are at the moment. Frustration, fear, depression, an impending sense of doom…none of these are fuzzy, happy feelings. Why is that?

I’m like everyone else. I go through a myriad of emotions when it concerns finance, AND I admit to you that I make lots of mistakes. Kinda not tiny ones. And, I’d like to get on top of them a heck of a lot better than I do now. We’d like to have more of an emergency savings plan in place, and deal with way less debt than we currently are. I’m personally not swimming in it — just floating, perhaps — but between Dave and I, given the “simpler life” we’d both like to live, the debt ain’t helpin’.

Our biggest expenses aren’t huge, but they can suck. (I won’t use numbers a) to keep some things private and b) because me bitching about a bill that’s $300 may make someone else in a very different economic area think “whuh?! Sign me up for THAT!”) The “biggest” group is made of the mortgage, our car payments (they’re both relatively new, and I find it to be one of the biggest regrets/albatrosses I’m dealing with), credit card debt (yep — although neither of us uses them anymore, for ANYTHING), some school loans (not s’much mine), and things like our heat and electric.

Stupid things that we find that we need in order to…y’know…survive and exist are our cell phones (we don’t have a land line), food, and cable/Internet. While considering whether or not we can live without cable, I decided to call Time Warner Cable (who are the spawn of satan, as far as I’m concerned, along with National Grid, our heat and electric monopoly) to see about getting our package down to the 60-something channel one.

I was nervously told that they have a deal for my current package which would make the 60-something package cost MORE. I felt like I was selling my soul to the devil, but I agreed to keep it. A year before getting married, I called them to say that I was going to cut it because, honestly, I needed to be able to PAY for the wedding, and they gave me a deal. After a year, they took the deal away — a mere month before upping the price locally, making my bill jump not once but twice. I have since felt that I still don’t NEED the hundreds of cable channels (although I do occasionally love my Cooking Channel and Planet Green — Beekman Boys!), thinking that not too long ago did I live without them. We may have better luck having Dave call with a manly voice — which sounds sexist and strange, but I tell you, my stepfather is the king at getting prices down this way.

If all else fails, we’re considering paying a one-time fee for PlayOn (after trying it for 14 days, free) to watch TV through the Wii. I knew there was a reason I bought that thing. 😉

There are other random costs, like eating out, things like Netflix, doctor bills (LOTS lately), and a ton more that I can’t even think about right now. But, I’m trying to make 2011 the year of difference (finished our collages! More on those later…), so by focusing on the positive and the possible unforeseen wonderfulness of life changes, rather than thinking about how scary they may be, it seems better than just saying “we’re going to change, period.”

So, I first ask myself what we love and feel that we need, then figure out how to make it happen. Isn’t this the best way to deal with life? Here’s what I’m thinking:

Priority #1: Keeping the food as natural as we can. This is something that we’ve already started to try, as far as money’s concerned, but I’ve finally come up with a way to keep “eating out” out of the equation. I don’t think that it’s completely viable to cut out restaurant meals completely. However, if we can remember the last time that we ate out and where it was…well, it’s not time to go. For example, I can remember that the last meal we had out was at 99 Steakhouse in New Hartford (and if you want to get technical, we’ve had Subway more recently). So, even though I may be exhausted after rehearsal tonight and Dave will still be rundown and cruddy feeling, this doesn’t mean that we have to turn to a restaurant to eat. I’ve bulked us up on homemade soup (and in the freezer, so there’s no excuse a month from now) and we always have go-to pasta or panini sandwiches if we need to.
Priority #2: While groceries are still something that we splurge on, and gladly do so, we HAVE to find a way to keep grocery costs down more. I find myself wishing that we had more fruits and veggies on hand ALL the time, since it’s what most of our diet should consist of. So, very shortly (like, this week), I will start planning our garden for the upcoming thaw. It’s also a way to get my mind around the fact that winter isn’t forever, that -20 degree weather (yes, that’s a negative) will go away. Cannot WAIT! I’ll consider our needs and amounts of items that we’ll want to use, and determine what items will e best canned for when the snow starts to fall again. Thoughtful gardening!

Priority #3: Paying off debt to help increase savings and get rid of car payments. So, we’re ecstatic that some of Dave’s big bills will be disappearing a little later this year, freeing him to…well, put more money towards different debt. He’s doing SUCH a great job of plugging away,  I’ve really gotta take his lead and do the same. My credit card bill (it’s just one and not a huge monthly bill but, ICK, interest) needs to go bye-bye so that the card can be used for emergencies only. I’d like to focus on getting rid of the SUV payment by putting more towards the
Priority #4: Keep doing what works. This seems simple enough. I’ve got to take a step back and praise ourselves for what we’ve done correctly. If you’re down on yourself for all that you’ve done wrong and just obsess on that, thinking about finances really IS a negative experience. Except with food (and sometimes when it does come to food), we try to buy things on sale — pretty much everything. So, we’ll keep doing that! On top of that, we try to think about what we need and save up for it rather than just splurging when we feel like it. We’ve got some jars that we’re using to save cash for certain “future things” we particularly want — and they even look kinda cute. It’s the little things.
Priority #5: Stop doing what doesn’t. What doesn’t work? Lying to yourself, or spouse. Not writing down your spending. (This month, we’re writing down EVERYTHING we buy to analyze our ACTUAL budgets.) Buying because you think you deserve it. Ohhhh, it just keeps going. So, this year, we’re going to try to communicate more about our finances, rather than wait until one of us needs help balancing. We’re also going to focus more on what we already have — and we have a lot — rather than spending needlessly. When we do spend, I’m visiting Goodwill more and only purchase something when I know it’s the best price I can get. This way, there’s also LOTS of thought involved, and less guilt later on.
Priority #6: Prioritize what to spend money on. I’m quite sure Dave and I have different ideas on what to spend our money on. I am into home decor, after all. 😉 But, what we do agree on is the fact that our house and future gets the extra ka-ching. So, while it may look like we’re spending a lot once in awhile, it’s on home repair and upping the value — and making it a more pleasant place to live. Of course, we’ll be getting quotes when using others’ services and always aiming for the lowest bidder…when not tackling the project on our own.

So, are you using the new year as an excuse to get on top of any financials? It may be scary or suck, but we’re hoping to make it a regular, easier conversation. Good luck! Ka-ching!!

Orange: The Occupational Hazard of Housewifery on a Saturday

Mr. and Mrs. Squash.
I think I decapitated Mrs. Squash today.

We’ve had another surreal, wonderful Saturday around the ol’ crooked house yet again. While the poor hubs and Winston are both fighting off a nasty suntin’ suntin’, Beardslee and I have gone about trying to make them well again. Or, Beardslee has manfully rested — I’m sure he’s saving up his energy to do something truly heroic. He’ll probably display it around bedtime.

So, poor, hacky, drippy Dave had to leave the warm comfort of our bed this morning amid yet another tundra morning to help me schlep both cats to the vet’s. Boo had a follow-up visit and they kindly fit Winston in for his case o’ the cruds. Hopefully the shot and oh-so-fun-to-choke-down-his-throat medication that Winston received will stop things from flying out of both major orifices.

After a quick donut stop (yes, you heard that right — I think Dave had a craving…and who am I to deny a pathetic sick husband?), we headed home to brew a pot of organic coffee with which to enjoy a couple (and that makes it alright, doesn’t it? Yeah, I know it doesn’t).

Realizing that I have yet to get the disgusting ailment that has been making the rounds in our schools and places of work, I became grateful and thought of what to do for the #1 man in my life. The answer was obvious…homemade chicken soup.

After quick-thawing a free-range chicken I’d frozen for juuuuust such an occasion, and chopping up some almost-seen-better-days veggies, it was finally on the stove, simmering away. All of the veggies and their organic or FM origins made me feel slightly better about the donut I’d scarfed hours earlier. I used up the rest of the carrots, onion, a parsnip, and some organic celery from the fridge (and will throw in some leftover half-used bags of organic veggies from the freezer when finishing it off). While surveying what else would be going bad shortly, I noticed some butternut squash (already showing signs of ick — and not the fish disease) and a couple of sweet potatoes in need of usage.

Man, this thing’s starting to turn into a Donna Thompson article. Apologies. I’ll try to pep it up.

Wanting to utilize some of my green cookbooks, I found a simple sweet potato soup recipe (which could easily be frozen or taken for lunch throughout the week) which called for a method of cooking which involves using the stove as little as possible, “lid cooking” the potatoes after bringing them to a boil. So, I diced them up, along with the last parsnip, threw in our all-natural vegetable broth (who knew I’d love Wolfgang Puck so much?), some garlic, S&P, and a dash of ground ginger, just for the hell of it. Er, heck, depending on who’s reading this. 😉 I went slightly askew from the recipe, but I still kept the eco-friendliness intact by not peeling the taters and using the “duh, why didn’t I think of that” cooking technique.

After having diced the potatoes, I went after the butternut squash to freeze which, if you’ve ever disassembled, you know it’s a real…yeah, it kinda sucks and makes you wonder why you bought the thing in the first place. Upon taking the halved, peeled squash to the garbage can to scoop the seeds out, I realized how orange my hands had become — as well as my sock, from holding the lid of the can up (not sure why I did it that way, there IS a foot pedal) and the wall behind the can. Oye. I love the color orange and all, and particularly what it means when it’s in food (beta-bet-bet-bet-betaaaa carotene! Wow. I hang around with too many cheerleaders), but this made me want to sit down and have a beer.

So, rather than taking that route (definitely not a beer day — more like a hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps or hot cider with rum sort of a day — can I get a wuh wuh? Again. Too many high schoolers in my life.), I sat down and wrote this little ditty for y’all. I’m patiently awaiting the moment of dis-assemblage of the chicken and re-assemblage of what we like to call “mmm…sooooup.” Even more patiently waiting is Sick Dave…and, particularly, Winston, who dreams of people food. You can see it on his crazy face. His fazy.

Hope your Saturday’s just as nice, if not as orange. Looks to be a classic movie night here once again, for which I’m uber excited. Soup ‘n cinema. Sweet.

Green Buildings…?

Courtesy greenerworking.com

Dave and I regularly find ourselves discussing the pros and cons of our area. I’m pretty sure that most people are this cognizant about their futures and the futures of their families; or, at least, I hope they are. We wonder about the environments that our children should experience, what resources we’d like to have readily available to them, and what they don’t necessarily need at hand in order to be well-adjusted, well-rounded individuals. While we never know what the future holds, I’m the type to at least consider every option and plan for, well, all of them. I’d rather be blindsided briefly, then get up off my butt and take the future by the horns.

One thing that isn’t on our list of “must haves” is an area like this: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2011/01/green-building-where-you-are-as-important-as-what.php?campaign=daily_nl

This article is about the fact that it’s much more ecologically friendly for green builders to do so within city limits. While I agree, in essence, with what the article is saying — ie, that green builders should look toward cities for building initiatives since greener transportation is more viable in these all-packed-within-a-2-mile-square-radius places — I don’t think that it’s a realistic approach for (I won’t say the majority) many people.

There was a time that Dave and I were both “city people” — in thought, at least. I’ve never actually lived in a city, although I’ve spent plenty of time down in THE city. Yeah, that one. I loved the hustle, bustle, and excitement. At one time, Dave, in his search for a fulfilling career in movies and writing, saw himself in a similar fast-paced environment. While I could see both of us living successfully in a city, we’re both in complete agreement that we’d prefer a more family-friendly environment for our future kids.

Our current living situation is what I call subrural. It’s not quite suburban (the closest “city” is Utica…yyyyyyyeah…with Albany and Syracuse an hour in each direction), but we’re not hicks. No, really, we’re not. While there are times I wish I could own chickens and grow my own food, the farm life just isn’t plausible in our area’s depressed economic state (and that description doesn’t just apply to the current recession; our rural population is silently hurting, and it has been for years).

What we DO have access to in the area (not necessarily our current locale, mind you) is the ability to take a walk several blocks to library, community center, park, schools…just to take a WALK, safely. Can’t do that in many cities; can’t do that on a rural road. Getting out, enjoying where you live, being able to talk with your neighbors — that’s what we feel we must have, externally, to raise our kids.

While I’m all for eco-friendly practices, I don’t see a need for these builders to add to the urban sprawl which is killing many parts of America. What I cry, instead, is to remember the never-too-old mantra that I consider my first “green lesson” back in 4th grade – “reduce, reuse, recycle.” Building more, even with green practices, seems to go against these basic, simple ideals. It’s a new way to prove the haves and have nots without the blatantly super-sized McMansions, and it’s not what I’d like to see as a lesson of this recession. Being eco-friendly cannot be an excuse for being socially unaware or downright greedy.

What I propose, instead, is to first look at the buildings that currently exist. We need more grants, more public initiatives to update homes and already-existing buildings. I think that my deep love of our history and newer social awareness and sensitivity makes this seem like an obvious solution. Not only will our Main Streets and neighborhoods be resurrected to safe, happy, locally-run locales, but the concepts behind the green initiatives will reach a broader public mass (rather than the “haves” — who, sorry to say, are not the face of America). Education which is embedded reaches a greater number with less need for persuasion.

We’ve already seen articles and stories about the fact that the current home-buying generation is changing its concept of what they “need” in a house. For the first time in years, people are actually weighing their needs vs. their wants — their “one bathroom would be fine” vs. their “I must have a home with a soaker tub…in our master bath, of course” — even if the HGTV Home Buyer Hour doesn’t indicate such. If smaller is better, we already have a plethora of small, cheaper houses ready for the taking — and greening, in the process.

Not to say that there aren’t towns with revitalized historical sections already. There are plenty of Main Streets that are successful these days, it seems. We visit Northampton, Mass. and its surrounding areas which, to me (an outsider), seem to be doing just fine. However, during our last trip, we found that the architecturally stunning bank had been turned into a national chain clothing store. We were aghast. There are so many culturally- and ecologically-aware storefronts (within historically gorgeous buildings) in these areas, but the economic despair is showing cracks in even their brilliant facades.

There was a time, not too long ago, that every town in the U.S. had its own self-sustaining local economy, from the movie house to its grocery store, and even plenty of hotels. Just think of the Main Street in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” While they had economically-depressed citizens just as we do (hell, it was the Great Depression they were portraying, remember), they had access to a Main Street that provided all its locals needed. That wasn’t just a movie set. I’ve heard from my mother and grandparents more times than I can remember what our old Main Street was like. Just look up, wherever you live, and take notice — that faded artistic writing on the brick exteriors.

Entrepreneurs and home buyers, politicians and normal folks. Everyone could get on board. Yep, I have an idea for greener buildings. Just look around.

Two Versions of Shopping

Last Sunday, my wonderful husband and I did something we don’t get to do together very often; we went grocery shopping. It was one of those down-to-bare-bones sort of trips. Our dinner the previous night was Dave’s very ingenious use of practically every already-opened bag of frozen veggies in the freezer prepared on the grill pan (there was, strangely enough, some smokiness added) and a balsamic and wine reduction to drizzle on top.

It really was inexplicably tasty. I wondered if part of the reason for its deliciousness was thanks to hubby’s practical “use what we have” thinking and absolutely infectious can-do attitude. Whatever it was, it made me want to try to use up the rest of the crap in our cupboards and fridge, much like John and Sherry over at Young House Love the weeks before they moved. But, alas, thinking of the school week ahead and crazy evening schedules starting, we were out of our all natural turkey and a plethora of other items. So, schlep to Hannaford we did.

And, y’know, it was as fun as a really good first date. We worked and talked about what we really needed. We discussed whether Campbell’s pretty-much-all-natural Homestyle soup was better than Wolfgang Puck’s organic stuff, and whether it mattered. We looked at dressings and quickly decided to put them down again — I could make this at home, and cheaper, and all natural in the process. We got exactly what we needed, and nothing that we didn’t. (I do “allow” that we can add up to 5 non-list items, just in case of sale or “gaaaaahhhh I must have that” syndrome, but we did pretty well this time as far as the 5 was concerned.)

Here’s how we did (toilet paper and all):

As you can see, we’re still doing well with our all natural/organic quest. If it’s not organic, at least it’s all natural (and no HFCS, thankyouverymuch). You may notice the word “Goya” a few times. Now, I wasn’t raised to be a beans girl, but knowing that Dave’s now interested in eating more vegetarian meals, and just that he’s verbalized that means that I need to grab it and RUN WITH IT! So, I’m looking for ways to incorporate beans more. And not be intimidated by making them the center of a meal.

Carmelized hazelnuts for salads – or snacks – or dessert. Two homemade salad dressings (my own thousand islands!!!). The Barefoot Contessa’s scallops provencal planned for dinner. It was a lovely Sunday afternoon when we got home.

Then, Saturday, we decided to schlep out to Cooperstown for their occasional winter farmers’ market. While it was a little chilly (it’s inside, but in an unheated building that they have to try to blow warm air into), I think it was one of the most enjoyable farmers’ market experiences we’d had.

Sure, the cool British guy with awesome coffee and true, homemade scones wasn’t there, but it was so much less pressured than usual. During the summer, it’s gorgeous out and there’s such an incredible variety of produce, but everyone’s thinking the same thing: “What a nice day to go to the farmers’ market” or “Gotta do my weekly shopping.” So, you get lots of Cooperstown locals (which, admittedly, is a dream of ours to become, if life could follow that direction), tourists, and folks from 50 miles in any direction. Lots. Of. People. It can get brutal if you’re not in the right mood to wait or put up with a crowd — one reason we don’t go weekly during the summer (plus, our own garden and the cost of the drive).

So, anyhoo, this visit was great. We not only were able to actually look at every vendor, compare prices, pick what we needed, and get out pretty darn fast. We had time to hunt down a cafe and enjoy a local-eggs-and-sausage breakfast sandwich before our regular town walk (although, admittedly, it was fuh-reezing). We ended up picking up some raw milk cheddar that had been soaked in hard cider, maple syrup, some whole wheat/potato bread, and our produce – gorgeous carrots, parsnips, potatoes, onions, shallots, leeks…

Do you think it’s strange that I get so excited over carrots…and, especially, parsnips? I ended up roasting some parsnips, carrots, a potato and shallots with some seasoning for 30 minutes or so and, holy cow, it was aaaaaawesome. Pair that with some all-natural chicken thighs stuffed with Vermont goat cheese (picked up during the honeymoon) and some salad with homemade dressing and, dang, were we happy! I do have to admit that this whole eating natural and organic thing has turned me into a much more adventurous cook. At times, it seems expensive (although, yesterday, every vegetable we got was $1 per pound, vs. $2-4 for others at the market), but when I think about how much a meal like this would’ve been in a restaurant (especially if it was locally-grown or organic), it would cost, conservatively, twice as much.

So, can we get a hallelujah for two weekends in a row that consist of a food AND relationship focus? Love it!

Positive Changes – Volunteerism

Yay, a positive post! (While I found my last post to be pretty invigorating, I have a feeling it might not have been the easiest or most fun read for you folks.) While looking over some of the cutouts that Dave and I found in our many, many old magazines for our New Year’s collage, there was a noticeable trend to focus our attentions towards our house, our interests, our relationship, and ourselves. Boy, that must sound self-involved, but what it really means is that we would like to simplify our lives to what we “need,” and throw back in a little more of what we “want,” rather than what we found ourselves wasting a lot of time on.

So, this is one post in a series entitled “Positive Change.” I’ll be sharing my own goals towards positive change in my life, and hope to influence some positivity in some others’ lives — be it through my actions or maybe even by inspiring others who read megactsout to insight a little change in their own 2011 lives. 🙂 You never know, one kind word can reach a lot of people.

As you see from the title, this first Positive Change post is about volunteerism. As far as I’m concerned, volunteering is a win-win situation. The person volunteering gets new life experiences, a new perspective, and that incredible sense that you’re not wasting the life you’ve been given. Simultaneously, the organization or individual that you’re giving your time to (hopefully) gets something wonderful out of it, too. Yay, yahtzeeeee, everybody wins!!!

I’ve been involved with the Ilion Little Theatre Club for awhile. While I definitely volunteer my time there (I only got paid when I was the theater’s cleaner — but over 1/2 of the time I either couldn’t track down the treasurer or I’d lose track of how many months I’d cleaned, so I just didn’t request payment — they’re a non-profit, for cryin’ out loud), I still don’t consider myself a “volunteer.” There are, at any given time, a dozen to two or even three dozen folks who give their time to not only put on pretty darn good shows, but to keep the place up and running. Being on the board, I don’t feel as if I’m “volunteering” anymore. I more feel like it’s my duty, an unpaid job that, while sometimes daunting and stressful, keeps on givin’. So, I guess you’d call me a volunteer at the Little Theatre, but I’d more say that I just feel responsible to help the place and its legacy going on.

For the past few years, I’ve joined my sister (and, at times, her darling husband) in volunteering at the annual Great American Irish Festival in Frankfort, NY. The first year, we were in Band Hospitality (there are some AWWWWESOME Irish rock groups); the next, we did tickets (nice to keep busy); last year, we took care of clean-up during the event (which was, admittedly, draining and disgusting). At the end of the weekend, a volunteer party is given for free, so, again, I don’t feel much like it’s volunteering since we get such an incredible perk, plus free admittance throughout the weekend.

In 2011 (and beyond), I’m hoping to add a new activity to my list of volunteering. I’ve always been a museum-goer; specifically, historical museums (although I do appreciate art museums nearly as much — art, in my mind, IS history). As a kid, my mother knew this (and I’m pretty sure she was also as much of a history buff as I was), and for any summer trips that she planned, a stop at a state historical park or a privately-run museum was a must — much to the chagrin of my stepdad and sister, who’d much rather hit the beach.

For example, I’ve been to the Adirondack Museum as much as I have Cooperstown’s Baseball Hall of Fame (which, if you’re from this area, is a lot). However, one of our last family trips was, instead, a week at a cabin on Raquette Lake (in the Adirondacks). I spent it as would any moody 16-year-old who didn’t have a friend along — miserable and slouchy, while reading and re-reading “Walden.” Depressing. One day, Mom shouted out the back door that anyone who wanted to go to the museum should meet her at the car in 5 minutes. Very unlike my mother. So, who, out of all of us shows up at the car? Mom and I. And, man, we had a blast. The good thing about museums is that, while their regular exhibits often stay the same, they have fascinating rotating “specialties.” Purdy cool.

So, why all the talk about museums? Well, I contacted a very nice lady with museumwise.org who helped to point me in the direction of volunteering at a few possible local spots. I’m going to first attempt to get in touch with the folks at the General Herkimer Home in Little Falls. Being my grandfather’s granddaughter, I know all too well who Gen. Herkimer was and his importance in the valley as well as in the Revolution. I love the fact that I get to live in the Mohawk Valley, with all its history just built in for the taking. (Not that we’ll live here forever. But, I’ve always appreciated, regardless of current financial instability and downright depression in the area, the relevance and serious respect owed to the settlers, the Native Americans, the past events that make it known.

If they’re not looking for volunteers for the summer (who knows, with our state’s budget), I’ll contact the Herkimer Historical Society to see if they’d like any free hands (literally), then work out to Cooperstown. I could see traveling once or twice a week throughout the summer to learn about how museum works and do whatever needs doing at the Farmers’ Museum or the Baseball Hall of Fame. Makes me excited to think about it — ahhh, gas prices. 😉

I’m still considering whether or not I should do summer school again this year. There were plenty of cons to the job last year; the pros, honestly, were the money and the amount of hours I had to work in relation to the money. But, it would leave me with afternoons and a three-day weekend to volunteer at a museum.

Of course, I write this on a snow day, and it still seems to be coming down pretty hard outside. So, maybe I’m just excited to think about the summer. But, I don’t think so. This should be interesting.

Overcoming Facebook Addiction…Hopefully

Courtesy http://techsavvyagent.com

I recently posted on my Facebook page that I’d be using it less frequently, eventually (maybe) becoming Facebook Free. Casually, my husband and I have discussed the fact that FB seems only to birth annoyances and frustrations, and finds a way to actually delete people, in the literal sense, from our lives. I can recognize all the good that it creates for us — probably the most important, for me, is the fact that I can very quickly tell how my friends and family are doing (the only time that I communicate with some is through their status updates), and somehow it’s become another form of email. For others, it creates entertainment and fun. For still others, it helps with business, sometimes without needing a professional web site of one’s own, which I get. I see it. I really do.

However, an issue with Facebook, as with most Web 2.0 tools, is the anonymity factor, and the hurt that is sometimes brought by it. I’m not referencing any recent experience or anything; in the distant past, I found myself getting chest pains and literally red in the face over arguments I’d had with complete strangers on a friend’s status update — ridiculous! If I’m so sensitive to people and the way that they treat others behind the concealing black screen of the Internet, why was I made to live in the Information Age?!

But, I digress (as I often do on this blog ;-)). Also, as I often do on this blog, I create lists. So, I feel that’s the best way to let you know my reasons behind this decision.

– This is #1, and I give credit to my mother for saying it (and, undoubtedly, thinking that I wasn’t listening. I’m 28 now, and I do listen to my mother.) Living life. Living life and knowing that you’re living it. Looking at what’s around you and not immediately thinking, “I’ve gotta take a picture of this to post.” (Mind you, I occasionally do this for the blog, but it’s also because I want to remember the moment.) Just loving it, in that moment. FB is a pretty big hindrance to life living, for me.

Forcing myself to make separate connections to friends and family. It’s easy, REALLY easy, to comment on someone’s post or shoot them well-researched suggestions when they put it out there in their status update. But, what communication are we truly achieving? There’s a back-and-forth, sure. Do I really know that this person is my dear friend now because they left a kind word on my FB page? Wait, do I even know who that person IS? The human’s intrinsic need to find friends is being exploited by the FB company. You can pick out the people who are simply using FB to “get more friends,” regardless of the true connections they share. The more people who use FB, the more jump on the band wagon. The more users FB has, the more income. I don’t care about these stats! I want to figure out who my real friends are, and see them face-to-face or talk to them over the phone! (I will accept email and snail mail correspondence, of course, as well.) It’s time-consuming, but there’s a reason that it worked just fine for our parents, grandparents, and so on. I’ve gotta relearn how to do this.

Simplifying; sifting through the crap to leave behind only what I need to focus on and attend to. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by life. While I’ve been under the misconception that FB seems to make life easier — get home from work, hop on, waste lots of time — those dishes are still sitting there, the cats look bored, the house could use some sprucing up, and I’m feeling L-A-Z-Y. Then, when the guy gets home, after working overtime (yet again), how do I feel inside that he heads straight to the dishes? Pretty crappy. I’ve got a good 3+ hours of free time at home before he gets home, and FB can’t be an excuse anymore. I’ve got to be doing more of the stuff I need to attend to around this place in order to analyze what want out of life — which, in essence, is more simplicity.

– Something about the status update has an addictive quality. Scroll, scroll, scroll. Oh, so-and-so’s kid is sick, bummer. Apparently the Jets won, as is evidenced by at least 23 updates. Someone needs help harvesting their farm; actually, several people do — if only those were real farms and they were feeding real people. This is such a sublime waste of time, and I’ve become excellent at it. I gave up all the games when I was planning the wedding, and haven’t looked back. I don’t like feeling like I NEED to do something, but I go ahead and do it anyway. This is the FB addiction. I must retrain my fingers not to send me there.

Answering questions:
Would I use FB in the future? (That is, if it hasn’t gone the way of MySpace. Can you imagine THAT happening? …You can’t? We used to think the same thing about MySpace.) I would consider using it, actually, and probably still will — in limited capacity (at least, at first). I will post my new blog entries on FB. I will continue to update Ilion Little Theatre Club’s Facebook page. I will use it to advertise any future projects (creating a new profile for those companies/endeavors) – commercially.

As a library media specialist, how can you turn your back on 21st century tools? You may not know it, but this actually would be a pretty big deal in some library circles I’m a part of. But, I don’t think I’d be embarrassed to announce: “I’ve given up Facebook” to students and fellow teachers. I’m incredibly familiar with the site. I know that it’s not something that I need to make a part of my future. While I do my best at my job, I don’t find my career to define me – it’s what I do, not who I am. If anything, the fact that students are finding me online is as much of a reason to quit FB as any.

Aren’t you being condescending to all of your friends who use FB and enjoy it? (This question is a case of self-reflection and over-criticizing myself, more than anything. ;-)) Touche, if you’re thinking this. By no means do I intend to be the person standing on her soap box telling you about the evils of ANYTHING. And, no, I don’t think FB is evil. I just think that it’s one of the lesser-positives of our current society. Also, I do apologize if anyone reading this is taking offense or finding me to be too self-aggrandizing or even too complaint-driven (I truly dislike when blogs are used to rant about things, seriously). So, you may think I’m a hypocrite. But, I’m just trying to, in essence, make some sense of my life and what I’m doing with it, to simplify it all down to the things that I a) HAVE to do (ie work, cleaning the house, etc) and b) WANT to do (ie the theater, drawing, writing, etc). I’ve found that FB has, simply, kept me from too much.

Do you have thoughts on the FB subject? Please feel free to leave comments – but I do ask that, particularly if you disagree, please keep them respectful. 🙂 Oh, and if you see me responding to anyone who’s commenting on my latest post (or posting at all), please be kind — this is definitely an addiction, and it’s hard to break. As I said, I will be posting a link to the blog when I update.

Acting Out Again

Ten little soldier boys…

Hello, dear readers. Here at meg, acting out, I talk about a lot — from home improvement projects and eating organically to married life and, of course, the cats. But, just last night it occurred to me that you might like to hear about something truly relevant to the name of the dang blog.

Last night, Dave and I went to the Little Theater for our first night working on their next production — “And Then There Were None,” an Agatha Christie murder mystery. Dave is playing the part of Marston, a snobby, spoiled brat who seems to care about nobody – except himself. I’m playing Vera, a secretary who gets wrapped up in the “mystery” aspect of the murder mystery.

Before this read-through, I found myself to be, sure enough, happy to be getting back onstage (and of my own accord, at that! The last show, I got roped into, and didn’t enjoy it in the least — ah, the loyal life of a community theater participant), but a little apprehensive. I hadn’t read the whole script and wasn’t sure how much I could do with my part. Luckily, the read-through proved to be not only a BLAST, but told me that my character has lots of ranges to play with – from calm, sweet and capable to downright losing it.

I haven’t done a drama on ILTC’s stage before. Dave reminded me that I did have the opportunity during “Clue” to have a mental breakdown (the night an audience member picked my “card” as the murderer), but I then reminded him that, while “Clue” was a musical, a comedy, a mystery and, yes, even a drama, whenever the chosen murderer for the evening gave their defiant, outrageous, “I did it! I did it!” speech, the audiences would go nuts…laughing. After reading Vera’s interactions with the other characters, I can be assured that, while there are amusing and even giggle-worthy moments, ain’t no one gonna be laughin’ at the wrong times.

I’m already proud of this show, and I’m not even the director. Speaking of which, our director is a very kind retired gentleman whom we (Dave and I) have worked with several times — including as our roles on the board. Regardless, it’s strange. I can tell when I’m really into a show when I suddenly feel that helping out won’t burden me or be a pain. I’ve already offered to create the programs and paint sets, and have a few other little jobs in mind if Art wants me to do them. That’s HUGE when it comes to ILTC. It’s hard to find anyone to do anything, and not for lack of caring about the place.

The show will be going up in March. I’ll be posting more information when things get nailed down completely, and I’m sure I’ll be letting you know how rehearsals are going. I’m not foreseeing any too-rough spots — the rest of the cast are pretty much pros, and we’re so excited to be working with all of ’em!