Why We Couldn’t Do the Tiny House Thing

It’s intriguing. It’s resource-saving. It’s simplifying. It’s even hip.

And there’s no way that we could ever attempt it.

The tiny house movement is a fad (there, I said it) in which people buy or build a super small building and make it work as their one-and-only living space. We’re talking 200 square feet spaces, guys. It’s kind of like taking a tiny NYC apartment and proving that you could live in it any old place. Sure, in the city it may seem worth it…okay, not even in the city does it seem worth it. At least, not for our family of four humans and three cats.

Even if it would be the best excuse ever to get well-meaning relatives to stop. Buying. All. The. Stuff. Tiny just isn’t viable or sustainable in the long-term.

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Currently, we’re living in a house just over 1,000 square feet. Some might say we’re already living in a tiny house, but I’d argue that it’s more of a small house.  Not bursting at the seams. Not “a hut in Africa” small. But cozy and definitely cramped, especially with a 3-year-old who takes to announcing “I’m Kid Flash!!!” zooming from room to room. As cute as he is, it gets old.

The idea behind tiny house living is an admirable one. In response to the mentality behind McMansions that led to the housing market collapse, people thought, “That’s gross materialism, plain and simple.” So, what’s the opposite? Gross simplification.

As you know, I’m all about living a simpler lifestyle. The benefits are immense. If we COULD wrap our heads around the idea of living in a tiny house, maybe this blog post would be a very different discussion. But, as it is, I’m a realist. And a mother, at that. Four years ago, I know I thought, “Well, if we don’t find another house, this one will suit us just fine in the long-term.” I was wrong.

I couldn’t have foreseen the special, what-the-heck-is-in-his-Wheaties kiddo who would bless our family. He is SUPER-CHARGED a lot of the time. Kid’s got spunk and energy for days. The only good our tiny house is to him currently is as a race track: the fact that our layout offers a misshapen circle to race is his favorite. Dining room, kitchen, living room…dining room, kitchen, living room….

No, a kid like this deserves a larger space. Sure, we could do a tiny house on a HUGE plot of land, but we spend far less time outside during the winter than we do inside. (Maybe I should amend that.) And, since winter is *usually* a pretty lengthy season in these parts, there’s a lot of energy that can get stored in a 3-year-old body. That energy inevitably explodes in sometimes disastrous ways.

So, while we by no means long for a McMansion or even a Happy Meal version, we’d like to upgrade to a reasonably larger space. At least one that allows for more inside play space (along with a bit more outside, too) but still small enough that we know our kids, if you catch my drift. Then, in purchasing a house rather than wasting materials on a new build, and by upgrading in eco-friendly ways, I’m hoping that our footprint will still be markedly less than the big beasts.

As with all things in life, moderation is key.

Postpartum Pampering & Bright Planet Review/Giveaway

Disclosure: I received free samples for review from Bright Planet, but all thoughts opinions shared herein are mine…all miiiiine! Also, I only review products that meet my standards for environmental/social responsibility and are relevant to Meg Acts Out.

Ever since Harper arrived 7 (!) weeks ago and Hadley is still, well, a typical 3-year-old, I’ve been tossed back into the world of “what day is this and when was my last shower?!”

At a stage such as this, it’s all too easy to forget that I’m still part of the human race – a human living in sweats with semi-permanent eye bags, but a human, nevertheless. In order  to remind myself of this simple fact from time to time, I force feed myself some simple versions of pampering with what limited time I can steal.

So, what are my postpartum pampering go-tos to feel like myself again?

1) Time to bathe *like an adult*. I don’t mean the 5 minute shower where you spend so much time pulling the shower curtain aside to check on the baby in her vibratey (totally a word) chair that you forget whether you washed your hair. I mean the “lose track of time, select pretty-smelling products (conditioner, yay!) and remember to shave” type of bathroom experience.

2) Getting out in the fresh air. Much like a golden retriever enjoys the occasional car ride, so do I love getting out these days. Mind you, I don’t want to do it daily; the effort to get everybody cleaned, clothed, and packed up isn’t a treat at all. But, whether it’s going for a ride, taking Hadley for a walk, heading to a family member’s house to hang out, or actually attempting a fun family outing, the fresh air does a body (and mind) good.

3) Drinking something that’s actually hot. I haven’t been remembering to drink as much water as a lactating woman should drink, but I’ve been making up for it with tea. I find myself turning the tea kettle on throughout the day now (which isn’t the norm) just to refill my mug of green tea again. Some days even go by where I don’t have to microwave it. That, my friends, is the sign of a good day.

I know these things seem incredibly mundane and simple. Maybe they are. But, on those days when you find yourself happily singing Daniel Tiger songs all day or not so happily run ragged, they’re a godsend.

So, when Bright Planet contacted me to see if I’d like to try a few sample sizes of their bath and body products, I literally teared up a bit. “Spa experience, table for one!” As an environmentally conscientious company, Bright Planet offers hair and skin care products that you can feel at ease using.

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Group shot on stones crop

Overall, I was more than pleasantly surprised by the quality of all of the products. I can totally get behind Bright Planet’s 100% natural ingredients, which are paraben-free, phthalate-free, sulfate-free, petro chemical-free with no artificial fragrances or colors. Plus, the products are 100% vegan and made in the USA.

When you try out eco-friendly products, there’s a preconceived expectation that they’ll smell like…well…patchouli. If you catch my drift. But, the first thing I noticed was how calming and delicious-smelling all four items I tried were. If the scent’s right, it can be a downright spa-like experience, and these definitely were.

Here are some brief thoughts on each item:

Inspiration Sour Cherry Scrub – A gentle but effective scrub that utilizes walnut shells (rather than those now-illegal microbeads), I tried this out on my elbows, feet – any place that was looking a little rough, if you know what I mean. Not only did it work great, but the scent was absolutely wonderful. Like, “Calgon, take me away” but without being, y’know, chemical-laden Calgon. 😉 I felt totally pampered.

Orange Blossom Green Tea Facial Cleanser – Let me tell you…this was my favorite. It was mild yet effective, didn’t leave my face feeling dry OR greasy (how do they find the perfect middle ground??), and, as with all of their products, the scent was perfect. Not cloyingly sticky-sweet, definitely not “hippie.” Seriously, just right.

Inspiration Conditioner and Inspiration Shampoo – It could’ve been my “no poo” attempt awhile back or simply the changing of my hair’s pH after having kids, but my hair is like straw. Like, Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz could relate. I ALWAYS need to use a conditioner now (I wish coconut oil worked) or else my hair simply won’t detangle. So, I was apprehensive about these ones. Not all natural products work in my mess of a nest. But, they far exceeded my expectations. Plus, again, the SCENT was absolutely lovely.

In addition to the fact that Bright Planet makes legitimately incredible products, I love their social conscience. Take their latest initiative, for example. From now until the end of January, they’re partnering with KUTOA, a company dedicated to feeding children in need. With every purchase made using the campaign code HELPKIDS, they will give TWICE (once to an American child and once to a child overseas) to the KUTOA cause.

If you’re interested in trying out any of the Bright Planet products, now’s the time to do it, knowing that in doing so you can help fight malnutrition and childhood mortality worldwide.

And you can also get a chance to try a sample kit of the items I received by entering the giveaway Bright Planet has generously agreed to sponsor. Just click on the graphic below in order to head to my Meg Acts Out Facebook page and follow instructions to enter. Be sure to share how you like to pamper yourself (postpartum or not).
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Today’s Tip – First Edition!

I’m starting a new series that I’m lamely calling “Today’s Tip.” I’m hoping to share little tips and tricks (or “life hacks” as the kids these days are saying) to make your life just a wee bit simpler. The topics will range from parenting to cleaning to green living to just general time savers…and anything else that pops into my brain.

“Today’s Tip” is a super simple way to cut back on waste that’ll save you time, money, and one by one, the EARTH!!!

{dramatic pause}

No, really. If you’re not already doing this, it’s completely worth the tiny amount of time and effort to get on it.

I know, I know. This tip has been around forever. Yet, I know a ton of people who still buy over-priced bottles of water at work or go through the {oomph} effort it takes to lug the &$#%@*$ case of water home from the store. Switching plastic for reusable and filling it with filtered water at home is by far one of the easiest switches we’ve make, and has made a huge impact on the sheer number of water bottle waste we produce.

I also have seen several news sources cite that there’s a possibility of increased cancer risk (particularly for females) caused by drinking water from a plastic bottle that has, say, sat in a hot car (due to the leaching of chemicals into the water). I know that there was a time that I did this — regularly. I’d rather not take my chances if making such a simple change can possibly help.

Now, we happen to live in a state that now charges a 5-cent fee per bottle (meaning that you can redeem it when you bring back your bottles and cans). But, between the effort of taking back ALL those bottles and cans, and the energy used to recycle that bottle into another (and, by the way, that’s not a never-ending process; one day, the plastic will no longer be able to be melted into another item…and where do you think it goes then?), it’s still a drain on our time, energy, and environmental resources. And, really, we used to have to bring bottles back at least monthly. Now, it’s a couple of times a year (more in the summertime…ahem, beer and hard cider).

The bottle that we happen to use is the Ello flip-top glass bottle (mine is in turquoise; Dave’s is in gray). We love the glass since it’s completely free of chemicals or leaching, and the silicone provides an extra layer of protection from breakage. Dave bought me a gorgeous glass one awhile back with a wood top and beautiful design, but a student knocked it on our *cushioned* library floor and, oye, what a mess. Still can’t believe that tempered glass broke. 

And one open-and-honest caveat: With our particular model, we have to keep an eye on the latch and ensure that the top is properly screwed-on. Totally user error stuff, but I’ve had the entire contents of my purse completely submerged (a couple of times). So, yeah. Keep that in mind! 

You don’t have to get this kind, though. Klean Kanteen provides durable aluminum options that are pretty cool, too. Just be sure that whatever you purchase is at least BPA-free and suits your needs. Some people like buying a larger option to ensure that they’ll get the recommended amount of water for the day; others want a smaller, more portable option. It totally doesn’t matter. Whatever you get, just be sure that it meets all of your own criteria.

And, remember that the price is a one-time thing vs. a continual cost that adds up over time. We grabbed our bottles at Target, but they were around the $15 mark. It sounds like a lot, but if you estimate a bottle of water is $1 (in our work vending machine it’s actually $1.50, but it’s far less if you buy in bulk, so let’s take the average), you’ll be paying it off in about two weeks’ time. I kid you not, though: I love having more than one on-hand to bring along (kept in a cooler…or not, doesn’t matter) when we hit the road. It’s worth its weight in gold since I’m far less likely to grab a beverage along the way.

So, raise your hand if you already have/use your own reusable bottles! What kind do you like? Do you use them for hitting up the gym (not I, says the pig) or for daily use?

The above post may contain affiliate links. This just means that, if you happen to buy the item (or anything else from Amazon purchased after clicking that link), you’ll be supporting this blog. Win-win! You’re under no obligation to buy anything.

Green Goals

Why, yes. I do want a onesie like this one. Why do you ask? 😉

Winter’s the season for hibernation, hunkerin’ down, inactivity and coziness. It’s nice to have a time devoted specifically to, well, in essence laziness – believe me, I’m a huge fan, especially while the little chicken dinner roasts away inside me.

But I’m also reminded of how nature utilizes the season. While it seems like nothing much is happening beyond winter weather patterns (which we’ve had absolutely minimal of this year!), the frozen ground holds within it lots of activity. If not for this “rest period”, the organic material wouldn’t be preparing itself for spring planting, animals wouldn’t survive properly until spring, and the whole system would be outta whack.

It makes me feel remiss, in the midst of all that nature’s doing to prepare for the next season, that I’m not doing my part for nature as much as I have in the past. While I’ve discussed “going green” quite a bit around my slice of the world wide web, I feel that I’ve dropped the ball a bit lately. An easy excuse is “I’m distracted by planning for the baby” — but, seriously, what better excuse to try to implement more “greenery” into our lives than the future generations?!

That being said, I shouldn’t be TOO harsh. I mean, there certainly are lots of areas of our lives that we’ve already changed – to the point where they’re second-nature and we’ve forgotten we’ve even MADE the changes.

Firstly, almost all of the products that we use (be them cleaning or otherwise) are “eco-friendly”. While I’d like to do more (by way of finding shampoo alternatives and making our own laundry detergent), we’re still doing more than a lot of people. There’s always room for improvement.

We use cloth napkins at every meal, and try to use dish towels and rags as much as possible (although we have to keep minimal tissues and paper towels around due to colds and gross cat ears that need cleaning); again, an area in which we can continue to improve.

We like to use glass-and-silicon reusable containers for our work lunches, and recyclable/recycled double-plastic bags when needed (I wish I wasn’t so dependent upon these!). Dave reuses any accidental plastic grocery bags (y’know, the ones you get when you don’t have a reusable bag on hand) to carry lunches, and I use a cloth lunch bag for mine. Seriously, it’s literally a brown bag. So plain and somehow cute at the same time!

Then there are those “Oh, yeah, I forgot about that…” eco-friendliness we’ve been imparting for awhile. When we moved into our house, Dave went on an energy-saving whirlwind through the house – CFLs in any and every light fixture (we’ve only had to replace one; that’s not bad!), tiny foam insulators for the outlets (most of which have also been switched out), among other little changes. And, lest we forget the low-flow toilet and shower head, as well as the brand new boiler and heating unit (both with excellent Energy Star ratings) that my stepdad put in before we even knew what hit us.

There’s always room for improvement, though, so I’d like to share some thoughts on ways that our family can get on-track to better help both our interior and exterior environments. I’d like to call this list (apparently I’m all about lists, who knew? My mom would be so proud…as would my husband), with lots of positive energy and less guilt in mind:

The Greening Our Family List
(“Dun dun duuuuun” – Ooohhh, impressive!)

– Getting back into the ever-important composting. We’ve got a bin full of the stuff to use for planting in the spring, but got off-track as far as the “adding to it” aspect of composting (the upstate NY winter also helped throw us). I also never found the time/money to get into vermicomposting, unfortunately, so I believe the focus will be the much simpler, hopefully manageable composting. This is an area that I relish teaching to our kids. Oh! And we were lucky enough to get gifted a large composting bin that should be interesting to learn how to use!!

– Speaking of garbage, I’d like to cut back on how much garbage actually gets put out. We do generally have LOTS of recycling, and usually put a full garbage bag out to the curb every other week. Hopefully, by hitting the “restart” button on composting, we’ll be able to cut this down to *fingers crossed* once a month. And, while I don’t think we’ll ever be as awesome as the Zero Waste family, it would be nice to cut back on how much we recycle, too. (One step at the time, lady, one step at a time.)

– Aaaaand also speaking of spring planting, there has been some conversation in our household as to whether or not we should try out a CSA this year or continue with our two (yep, we build another one last year!) raised veggie beds. I found that we had a less successful year in 2011, mostly because I think that we didn’t plan enough and planted far too much — it was simply too much to keep up with. However, I’m not sure I’ll have the time to put into “finding new recipes” to fit in with a regular CSA, so find that it may be a waste of money. So, I’m currently leaning towards utilizing our beds (if ya got ’em, use ’em!) but spacing things out and ONLY growing what I KNOW we’ll use. I know, I’ll be in my third trimester when it’s time to plant, and have a newborn when it’s time to tend and harvest, but I do feel that this will be tons easier if we simplify, simplify, simplify. Plus, I’ve got a loving husband to help (who also happens to LOVE the fact that “this came from our own garden!!!”, especially when salads are involved).

– I’ve had a difficult time finding “green” toiletry products that are actually green or that do a decent job. I find my hair getting dried out or weird-feeling (sorry, I can’t find a better way to describe it than that!), then feel that I need to use this product until it’s gone as not to waste it. So, I thought that I’d try the ever-popular, most-eco-friendly method out there. Here’s a hint: It involves baking soda and vinegar (and, no, I’m not making a volcano on my head – although, weren’t those fun when we were kids?!). I’ve pretty much given it away, but I’m sure I’ll report back on my success/failure rate.

– In my mind, green = simplification. We don’t NEED so much STUFF, and we’re doing a pretty good job of trying to purge (and send on our unwanteds to the thrift shop, or put them aside for our quasi-annual garage sale). The scary thing for me is that all-too-true saying “with baby, comes stuff.” I’m not blaming the baby, and I totally understand the need that people seem to feel about buying cute things (regardless of a) the necessity or b) the size of said item) – but I don’t agree with it. If we need it, it’ll be on our registry. If you think we need it, check with us first. Odds are, we don’t. (I hate to sound so mean or ungrateful, but we’re working VERY hard to purge, purge, purge, so if we end up getting even MORE “CRAP” to purge, we’ll be a couple of very grumpy new parents.)

THAT being said (yes, a new paragraph within a bulleted list – shocking!), we’ve already started this baby off as green as we can (without purchasing expensive green furniture…that’d be easy to do). We’ve borrowed newborn through 6-month neutral clothes from my sister. I’m researching what cloth diapers to purchase. We’re trying to only buy/ask for eco-friendly lotions and soaps. I’m hoping to breast feed and, eventually, make baby food (or try baby-led weaning) which may cut back on the need for a kazillion bottles, formula and purified water containers, baby food jars etc. I’m also uber-excited about the prospect of receiving certain goodies, such as a space saver high chair (it attaches to a normal dining table rather than taking up lots of extra square footage) and a portable swing (which will not only be portable, but take up way less space, too – and is foldable for when it’s not being used). These, I foresee, will be worth their weight in gold, along with perhaps some natural baskets (we’ll look for these on our own, that doesn’t need to be on a registry) to help us maintain the clutter.

So, that’s it for my immediate green list. While I’d like to say that every little thing we’ll be doing around the house will involve a step closer to a habitual green lifestyle, I realize that there are some simply un-green things that we’re working on. For example, Drylok-ing the basement isn’t the best for our internal environment (stinky!!!), plus painting all the walls and floor down there will be costly if we use only low-VOC paint. Since we’re not planning on staying here forevah-evah, the cost is simply too much to go too gung-ho with our greenification efforts. We’ll do our best (especially when it comes to, say, painting the baby’s furniture), but it’s not like we’ll be putting in a brown water system or solar panels. We’d just like to continue fixing the place up enough to make it worth selling, and purdy enough to look at. 🙂

So, how about y’all? Any green efforts going on in your little piece of the world? Or green efforts that you didn’t even realize you were taking part in? Do tell!

Earth Day — in our own way

My fiance, Dave, and I stumbled upon “Food, Inc.” on PBS last night and were equally touched and horrified by what we saw. I gotta tell ya, well-produced documentaries sure are the way to get tears and fears out of me, but I suppose that’s what they’re meant to do. I hate to fall into the trap, but I agree with and accept the information they provide — in general.

While watching it, my mind started hopping from thought to thought. Why are we so dependent on big business? Has it been given too much of an opportunity to grow, thus take over our lives? Are Americans (well, many humans, not just us) so ignorant that they follow the leader so eagerly (and lazily)? I don’t want to sound overly hippie, but this all turned my stomach…well, it could’ve been all the slaughter scenes, but anyhoo….

One reason that Dave and I get along so well is that we seem to transcend time. No, we’re not Dr. Who or Marty McFly. We’re just very connected to past time periods. I’m not sure about him, but I’ve always wished that I could live in a different time, from the Colonial period to 19th century to the 1940s to the 1960s…hard to live in the now, but we are where we are. I know the grass isn’t always greener, but when it comes to eating, I wonder if we’d be a lot better off living a century ago. So, my first extreme idea was to buy a farm, quit our jobs and start a whole new lifestyle.

Go ahead, take the time you need to finish laughing. I can wait. 🙂

Not even sure Dave understood what I meant when I tearfully explained that. But, I never expected it to become a reality. The second idea was less extreme…but still extreme: moving away to an area that has more resources for healthy living. Of course, this would mean leaving family, friends and jobs. Not something that we’re currently ready to do.

So, the compromise that Dave came up with after sleeping on it a bit was to take our first steps to get healthier — and we don’t mean in order to lose weight, but to retrain our bodies not to depend on the salt, sugar and fat that they have thus far grown to crave. Mmm. Sugar. *shakes head* That’s gonna be a tough one.

In our area of the country, we’ve gotta drive about half an hour to a modestly-sized city (where Dave works) or an hour to the east or west for a larger option. We’re between suburban and rural; we’re relatively close to farms but they still seem foreign. Many of my students live on farms, and a lot of the kids I went to school with back in the day (a town over from where we currently live) also lived on farms. Oh, and suffice it to say, Dave’s from the above city and my parents both grew up on farms (Mom eventually dated a dairy farmer, so I spent lots of time on it during that time — being a youngster on a farm has its merits), so farms are a little less foreign to me since I’ve vast experience scraping cow pies into gutters. Yessiree.

While you’d think that a quasi-rural area like this would allow us tons of great organic produce, it isn’t necessarily the case. We still rely on Walmart, Aldi (man, why can’t they have more organics?!) and Hannaford for groceries; the harsh winters take up most of the year, so farmers markets get set up for the summer — making it rough the rest of the year. Also, much of the “goods” the local farmers create are for a larger market, so they’re feeding (literally) right into the big business hype. *sigh* Sometimes we think that if we lived closer to a city, we’d have an easier time living differently. Strange how that works.

But, there’s some good news (albeit not cost-effective), and it’s what Dave’s great idea is. We found a local buying club called The Foodshed Buying Club on Facebook which, depending on the time of year and availability, offers eggs, meat, produce, etc from local farmers. You can order by Sunday night and pick up your goods that Friday or Sunday. There’s an annual $15 fee for their services (can’t blame ’em, and that’s not too bad, is it?), you get organic, hormone-free foods, AND support local farmers who, in turn, support our cause — buying locally.

So, here’s our first step — talking. Ohhhh, it sounds so simple, but rather than jumping in and spending a fortune (which we don’t have) on everything the Foodshed has to offer, we’re going to discuss our priorities and what we can’t already buy at a sufficiently healthy level in a “normal” environment. So far, my priorities are as follows:

  • MEAT!!! Ew. What are they FEEDING us?! We were raised as the traditional, all-American omnivores (with a big accent on the meat and potatoes…or heavy pasta), which there’s nothing wrong with. Well. There sort of is. We’re flabbier than we probably could/should be, and that probably has something to do with it. Regardless, once I’ve used up all the bulk goodies in the freezer, I’m buying no more meat from the grocery stores (unless specifically labeled as grass-fed…which is rare around here). This is one area that we will pay a pretty penny, and rightfully so.
  • Dairy – All the corn-fed (corn sounds healthy…it’s not…and it ain’t natural) cattle are producing hormone-infested milk and cheese products. Now, we’re not big milk-drinkers (didn’t we drink it, like, constantly as kids?) but I’d like to get into the habit of not grabbing whatever plastic container is cheapest, especially since we’d like to have a brood of our own one day. Instead, here’s one place that we’re a little luckier. Hannaford has organic milks as well as some locally-produced no-hormone brands which aren’t uber pricey — so, shall we say score?! Yes. They and the Foodshed also have great cheeses and yogurts which, although slightly expensive, aren’t enjoyed that much in the McCoy-Dellecese household, so will be a nice splurge here and there.
  • Produce – Here’s where I’ll have to do some experimenting. I’m not completely ignorant; I know that just because it’s a fruit or veggie, it’s not necessarily “good for” us. But, this is also the area that I think leaves us the most wiggle room. It’s still way healthier than hormone-laden meats and poultry, so, for now, we’ll work on getting fruits and veggies that help us stay within our budget.
  • Grains – Since I don’t bake as much as I should (why can’t I be Donna Reed?), I figure I can splurge on the whole wheat and organic flours from Foodshed. The harder thing is figuring out what to feed my guy — brown rice is always a go-to, but pretty boring, and anything with a strange-sounding name is a no-no. He’s a little like a child with some foods; I guess we all are in our own ways (I hate hate HATE raw tomatoes). Here’s where I’ll need to do some research. ANY SUGGESTIONS ARE WELCOME! 😀

We’ve already gotten well underway with our beverage consumption (except for that moo juice!), drinking mostly seltzer or flavored waters with zero additives, juice, plain water, etc. The occasional soda (ginger ale) gets tossed in when we’re feeling naughty. Oh, okay, and beer or wine, but those are social or mental health beverages (rough day at work much?), and consumed rarely.

So, that’s a start, I think. We’ll update when things get further underway. I know there’s a lot more in our area that’s still untapped. What better way to celebrate Earth Day than to take a new stance on our own impact? Well, at least I’m not crying over meat anymore.