Monthly Archives: July 2015

Using Herbs

growing oregano and basil
Oregano and basil. These window boxes helped me make great use of my balcony space!

I’m pretty passionate about growing your own food. Ideally, I’d love to be able to grow at least half of my own food (or more??) and just have to supplement my garden with staples such as flour, rice and beans. To continue my dream, I would love to one day be able to barter for the things that I can’t grow with the things that I do grow.

Not only do I get great joy from growing my own food, I want to save money and be less dependent on foods shipped from far away (expending greenhouse gases into the air we breathe).

Obviously, I’m not there yet. I likely won’t be until I get a yard. But while I still have my balcony garden, there are many things I can grow in a small space, the easiest of which is likely herbs.

Before I go much further, I should admit that I’m not a gourmet cook. I have learned to use herbs based on my own personal tastes. My spice and herb vocabulary has grown from maybe a half dozen when I first started out on my own. I’m constantly expanding what I know how to use and experimenting to see what I like best.

This year I tried growing quite a few herbs but only got a few to successfully grow. It’s much harder to start seeds here since it’s so dry! I ended up with five: basil, oregano, sage, rosemary and parsley.

Picked these herbs to put in a breakfast casserole.
Picked these herbs to use in a breakfast casserole.

Those that I didn’t successfully grow: cilantro (though I got some from a friend!), dill and thyme. I’ll also be trying to grow garlic over the winter.

Now that I’ve gotten these going, how am I going to use them year-round?

1. Fresh. Obviously, this is the best way to use herbs. It’s such a change of pace from store-bought dried herbs so I’m still getting the proportions correct.

When the frost comes (early, here in Colorado), I’m going to try bringing my herbs inside to my sunny living room to see if I can keep them going year-round.

The latest oregano cuttings drying. Once dried, I crumble my leaves in a reused spice jar.
The latest oregano cuttings drying. Once dried, I crumble my leaves in a reused spice jar.

2. Frozen. As far as taste, frozen is as close to fresh. I froze cilantro (just stuck it in a Ziploc bag) and make my basil into pesto and freeze it in ice cube trays. I have also added a little olive oil to basil and pulsed it in my NutriBullet before also freezing it in ice cube trays.

3. Dried. So far, I’ve only dried oregano. At the pace it grows, I’ll be able to easily keep up with my taste for the herb so I’ll be soon sharing it with others.

What herbs have you tried growing? What have been your successes? What do you wish you could grow?

The Hippie’s Husband

I so wish I had captured my husband Riley’s reaction the day he got the mail and discovered this:

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Yes, you saw correctly:  that’s my first issue of the magazine, Modern Farmer.

It was one of my Recycle Bank rewards I chose.  It was a very interesting read–for example, I had no idea that suburban duck farming was a “thing.”

The irony here is that I am about the furthest thing from a farmer…ever.  Sure, I can sort of walk the walk when it comes to gardening, composting, and living close to nature.  I even have two small “horses.”  But a farmer I am not–partly due to lack of education in the field (literally and figuratively), and partly because I am squeamish about certain aspects.

So when Riley picked up the mail the day my first Modern Farmer issue arrived, his part-incredulous, part-amused, part-“here we go again” response of, “You subscribe to Modern Farmer?!” 

Yes.  Yes, I do.

This is the man who also has been through (several) sourdough bread starters (stay tuned for more on that one next week!), minimizing (read:  chucking) the heck out of our belongings, eating really healthy, and taken care of student loan debt with me.  Most of the time, I get the same incredulous, amused, or pained (as with the case of a particular healthy recipe gone awry) look from him when I approach him with another “hippie thing.”

Still, he puts up with it, as do our children, but the latter don’t really know any differently, since Mama has always been a hippie to them.

This post isn’t meant to be a love ode to the hubs, but rather to illustrate that it really is a lot easier to go at this lifestyle with someone (or many someones).  It’s helpful to commiserate, brainstorm, and collaborate with someone–spouse or otherwise–as you seek to improve and accomplish.  Take a minute and ponder who fills that role in your life–it definitely helps me!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have more Modern Farmer to read…

Cutting Costs by Cutting Your Own Hair

haircut before
My before picture.

Since moving to Denver last May, I have done a lot to get settled. I got my new driver’s license and plates for my car and found doctors and stores to meet my needs. One thing I hadn’t done, however, was find someone to cut my hair.

In North Carolina, I had a church friend cut my hair, so I was spoiled. It’s great to have someone cut it who knows how you wear it everyday.

Since it had been over 15 months since the last time my hair was cut, I knew it was time. In the spirit of “Buy Little” Month, I gathered what I had: a pair of shears, a comb, makeup mirror and a spray bottle with diluted vinegar. Then I got to work and made that first cut.

You may be a candidate to cut your own hair if:

1. You have never complained about having a bad haircut.

2. You spend less than 5 minutes a day on your hair.

3. You consider your hair style “whatever my hair decides to do today.”

4. Your hair is medium-length or longer.

5. You don’t wear your hair straight.

6. You’re trying to simplify and save money.

All of the above describe me. I’m incredibly low-maintenance when it comes to my hair.

The after picture. Shorter = success!
The after picture. Shorter = success!

Tips for cutting your own hair:

– Research online. That’s where I got the idea to do it in the first place. There are tons of blogs and videos about how to do it. Find someone with similar hair to yours and copy them.

– Have someone on hand to help you check your work. I didn’t have this, but it would have been helpful. I still think the back may be longer than the front.

– Cut it wet. I had my bottle of water and vinegar to wet it again if it had started to dry out before I was done.

– Have a backup plan. I wouldn’t have done it if I had an important event the next day, for example.

So would I do it again? Absolutely! I’m sure that I’ll gt a formal haircut again at some point, but I anticipate this to become my regular routine (though I may still only cut it once or twice a year…).

Have you (or would you) cut your own hair?

Reading and Stewardship

8596143348_b40cf0f5d2_mWe are big proponents of reading, here at Striving Stewardess.  Once a month, we do book reviews and both Ronnica and I are voracious readers.

While both of us embrace a variety of genres in our reading pursuits, one of the themes I have noticed take shape as we have grown in our stewardship quests is the type of literature we tackle.

In case you missed it:  we are very into how-to and/or informative texts about topics such as minimalism, environmentalism, building community, and financial health, to name just a few–all crucial components of stewardship.

I can’t speak for Ronnica, but I have a theory as to why this is my experience.  Of course we are drawn to read what interests us, but as has been noted before,  I am increasingly fond of reading such stewardship-directed literature because of the “pep talk” it provides.

There are only so many ways to practice the fine art of composting, or healthy eating, or trimming one’s budget.  But actually reading about those principles put into action?  It’s inspiring to me.  It proves to me that not only can the minimalist lifestyle be done, but that countless others share the same values–a sort of support group, if you will.

While I would love it if our readers found our blog inspiring, I will settle for helping build a small community of striving stewards and stewardesses.  Reading helps give me the knowledge and inspiration to keep striving–if stewardship or simple living interests you in any way, pick up a book.

On that note, we’re always on the look-out for new reads–do you have any suggestions?

Photo by Kirrus

Joint Book Review: Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Walden_ThoreauI (Ronnica) chose Walden for this month’s joint book review because it seems like every other book I’ve read on minimalism has referenced it. It seemed like it was necessary to get to the source.

Thoreau wrote Walden about his two years spent in a basic cabin in the woods outside of town, published in 1854.

Amanda’s Take

Read any minimalist work, and, as Ronnica noted above, chances are very good you will run across a reference to Thoreau’s Walden.

I first read this text in college, and I confess, it didn’t strike me as anything special–just a typical, dry, transcendentalist work.  Maybe it requires a bit more life experience to fully appreciate, because this go-around, I found myself relating to what he talks about (self-sufficiency, minimalism, living in sync with nature, etc.)–and thus enjoying the book–much more.

As with any work of literature, the take-away message of this text will vary from person to person. For my part, I found myself inspired–Walden served as something of a pep talk for truly “walking the walk.”  I find that to be the take-away for much of the minimalist-leaning literature I read, but this is truly the definitive work  on the subject.  Thoreau actually lived his values–actually going off the grid to do so–which is something I am constantly striving to do.

Ronnica’s Take

I’m so glad that I finally read this classic. I was stunned at how much of the book could have been written today. Particularly this passage about his generation’s obsession with news:

“Hardly a man takes a half-hour’s nap after dinner, but when he wakes he holds up his head and asks, “What’s the news?” as if the rest of mankind had stood his sentinels. Some give directions to be waked every half-hour, doubtless for no other purpose; and then, to pay for it, they tell what they have dreamed.”

Doesn’t that sound like social media and our addiction to it?

What struck me the most about Walden was how familiar Thoreau was with the wildlife around him, though he wasn’t a botanist or zoologist.  I think this is one of the saddest part of our nature deficiency: we find the species that co-habit this world with us to be completely foreign. Though I think I’m better than average in this category (thank you high school science competitions), I want to focus on this more and learn the names of some of the plants and animals I encounter on my hikes.

Having read Walden, I don’t think that I need to forsake everything and head into the woods (though it is sort of tempting). But I do hope to join Thoreau in saying, “my great skill has been to want but little.”

Splurging

In talking about minimalism and stewardship with loved ones, the topic of sacrifice and “how challenging it (the lifestyle) must be”, as well as my responses (it’s not a sacrifice, and it isn’t too challenging once you get the hang of it) invariably comes up.

Another subject that comes up?  People want to know what I splurge on.  Maybe because they want to know that I am not a superhuman hippie and that I slip up too!

Hoo boy.  If y’all only knew!  Here are a few things I’ve come up with that I (all-too-happily) splurge on, because I’m human too.

1.  Vacation Junk Food

We just got back from a couple of family vacations, both of which offered lodging that had kitchens.  Handy for the budget, but not so much for the ol’ healthy diet.  Ask Ronnica–when vacationing with my in-laws, she went grocery shopping on my behalf, and much of my list was not pretty.  (Hint:  lime-flavored tortilla chips are my Achilles Heel.  And ice cream…always ice cream.)  It just served to prove that, if made readily available, junk food is what I will gravitate to…so it needs to not be in my house.  Thankfully, with vacation over, healthy habits are being reinstated.

2.  Professional Carpet Cleaning

I clearly decorated this house before we had two small children and two small horses for dogs, because I should have skipped the light-colored carpet entirely.  While we don’t have much in our small abode, we have enough carpet that it gets filthy (and torn–see below) incredibly quickly:

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With a kiddo whose primary mode of transportation is crawling, another kiddo who would eat off the floor if permitted, two big dogs who enjoy playing outside and who shed a great deal, one asthmatic husband and several allergy sufferers in the home, vacuuming a few times a week doesn’t cut it.  So, coupon in hand, I call up a professional carpet cleaner twice a year.  I know I could rent a machine…but this is my splurge.

3.  Activities

Our family places a great deal of value on experiences, especially those experiences we can participate in as a family.  As such, this summer we bought a season pass to the city pool, which has already paid for itself.  We enjoy going to museums and zoos when the budget permits.

We also have activities we enjoy separately.  Riley participates in a summer sport league, and I enjoy singing in a community choir, both of which have dues.  Both kids have done swimming lessons, and as they get older, we’d like to offer them the chance to choose hobbies and activities they would like to try.  While there are a plethora of free activities available in our area, we make sure to go ahead and “splurge” on an activity if it’s something that we will enjoy and will prove beneficial.

There’s several more things that I splurge on with some regularity, but I know I’m not alone.  What do you splurge on?

Intentionality

brownies
Making my own sweet for the week.

I’m now almost halfway through my 2nd Buy Little Month.  It’s interesting what stands out to me this time around that didn’t the first time around.

I’ve noticed that one thing that happens when you don’t allow yourself to go out and buy something to meet every need (real or perceived) is that you are more intentional.

Even outside my Buy Little Months, I don’t spend a lot. But it’s easy to fall into consumer habits and continue doing what you’ve always done. My Buy Little Months allow me to take a step back and pause before I purchase the same thing again for the umpteenth time.

Instead of grabbing that same item yet again off the store shelf, I think through why I need it. If it’s a genuine need, I search my house and the Internet to see if there is something that I already have that I may be able to replace it with. Creativity is a must.

Another aspect of intentionality during my Buy Little Month is that I can’t assume that I have something easy on hand for the day’s meals. I have to spend time at the first of the week or day to think through my options (yes, I still have options hiding in my cupboards and fridge). Routines that I have, particularly for sweets and snacks, are naturally broken when my favorite treats are no longer around. I’ve found that a sweet that I bake from scratch is harder to gorge on than one that comes out of a box.

While I won’t be saving as much this time around (I’ve built up less excess in the last 5 months than I had during January’s Buy Little Month), I’m very thankful that I’ve done it as I still have lessons to learn. Breaking routines and habits can be a healthy way to discover what really works and is important.

Bad Bananas

In the last post, I discussed my pursuit of a healthier diet and how pervasive sugar is nowadays.

Today, I share a recipe that involves sugar.  Go figure.

Hear me out though:  in addition to being passionate about healthy eating, I am equally passionate about preventing food waste.  Oftentimes, even with a grocery list, impulse purchases find their way on the list, or a recipe seems like a good idea but never comes to fruition.

Fresh produce, in particular, always seems to fall victim  to the best of intentions.  “Use it or lose it” comes to mind–and usually it is the latter when it comes to fresh fruits and veggies.  As great as composting is, it is best to use food for its original purpose whenever possible, plus the environmental and financial toll of food waste are significant.

So when some bananas were starting to go bad, I immediately considered what delicious creation I could make from them, before they would have to be tossed:

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…and I came up with banana bread.

Having never attempted banana bread before, I needed it to be easy.  A quick online search did not leave me disappointed, and it was such a hit, the loaf didn’t stick around long enough for a picture.  (Next time, I’d like to try this one–and it’s sugar-free!)

What ways do you prevent food waste?

There’s Sugar in WHAT?

Awhile back, I mentioned how our family tries to eat as healthy as possible.

Okay, so maybe it’s more of a “mention”–it’s something I’m pretty passionate about as a wife and mother. Striving to be a good steward of one’s body is a whole lot easier than it looks, though.

One of the sneakier culprits that regularly unrails our healthy eating efforts: sugar.

This increasingly common ingredient tastes delicious, is addicting, goes by many different names (witness: dextrose, maltodextrin, glucose, etc.), and is rampant. It is in so many different things that you would never think of sugar to be in. (I am referring here to added sugar, not to natural sugars found in nutrient-rich foods such as fruit.)

1. Peanut Butter
I kid you not. Ingredient #2 on the ingredient list is sugar.

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How we solved that: Buying all natural peanut butter, with no sugar included. Just peanuts and salt. I will warn you that such peanut butter has a different consistency than the sugar-laden variety, but we have found storing it in the refrigerator helps alleviate any issues.  It is just as delicious as the typical variety.

2. Bread
Did you know some brands actually have several different kinds of sugar included in their breads? Crazy!

How we solved that:  We buy sprouted grain breads, or make our own to control the sugar involved. The former is a bit on the costly side, but it’s worth it to me. The latter requires time, but the kids enjoy helping out. (Side note:  Next month, I will talk about my foray into making sourdough bread…stay tuned!)

3. “Healthy” frozen dinners
Awhile back, I bought into the theory that if a frozen food product is marketed as both simple to prepare and healthy, that automatically makes it a legitimate claim. Not so. While there are some brands that truly are both easy to make and healthy, you have to look out for the “cane syrup” and “dextrose” that is oh-so common.

How we solved that:  Bulk-cook meals ahead of time. This requires more time up-front, but in the long run is both cheaper AND sugar-free.

If you think I am a food purist, think again!  Next week, I will talk about my food splurges.  Going sugar-free is definitely a work in progress!

Where Does My Paycheck Go?

depositing checkA couple of months ago I read a post of the same title on The Single Dollar. I found it fascinating, so I decided to break my own paycheck down!

I waited until I had 2 months of post-debt-payoff data (yes, I’ve been 2 months debt-free!), as my budget has changed since then. My goals have changed: instead of throwing every spare dollar at my student loans, I’m now throwing every spare dollar at savings: for emergencies, retirement and a new car (though I still hope to go without).

A short note on how I made these calculations: they are an average of 4 bi-weekly paychecks. The amount I earn varies greatly each paycheck, so I thought it would be more useful to use these averages.

So where does my paycheck go?

14.2% goes to taxes (10.8 % federal, 3.4% state and local)
7.4% goes to FICA (6% social security, 1.4% Medicare)
4.5% goes to my 401(k)
2.4% goes to my share of health insurance premiums

All the above (28.5%) are taken out of my paycheck before the remainder is direct deposited into my checking account. So that leaves me with 71.5% of my earnings as take-home pay. This is where that goes (as percentages of my gross pay):

26% rent (painful)
13.3% emergency savings
8.2 % giving
5.7% new car savings account
5.4% transportation(gas, car insurance, car repair fund and public transit fares)
4.8% freedom fund (cell phone, discretionary categories)
4% utilities
4% groceries (ridiculous low, primarily due to other factors than my budgeting skills)

All told, I’m saving 23.5% of my gross pay (including 401(k), emergency and new car funds). I want to keep increasing that percentage.

When I take out savings and giving, I’m living on 62% of my take home pay. I think that’s an excellent place to start, as a single-person household earning median income.

I found this a very helpful calculation. I want to do this periodically to encourage myself not only to save and give more, but also to increase the percentage of my income that I’m saving and giving as my income increases.

Photo by David Goehring