Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Each One Reach One

This post was inspired by Zengirl over at Heart and Mind. She has a great article this time with a lot of thoughtful suggestions about how you can help your unemployed friends. You can check it out here: http://tinyurl.com/2ckxd7z .

Let's face it, a lot of us are struggling financially right now, even if we are not unemployed. I have a few additional suggestions on how you can help your friends and family to help themselves.

Are you a whiz at using coupons? Why not share your knowledge with your friends and family so they too can save a bundle at the grocery store? Here is a quick lesson on how to use coupons for those who are not as savvy: http://tinyurl.com/25fzbc9 .

Do you regularly get a lot of items for free by taking advantage of rebates? Share your secrets! If you don't know how to rebate, here's a quick rundown: http://tinyurl.com/5uoyn7 . Don't forget about drugstore rebates. If you live near a CVS, Rite-Aid or Walgreen's, you can get most of your toiletries for free. If you're not familiar with how the different programs work, here are some links that break it down pretty well: CVS: http://tinyurl.com/22tsoa9 Rite-Aid: http://tinyurl.com/2dld8wf Walgreen's: http://tinyurl.com/24lcu4v .

Is your thumb a vibrant shade of green? Why not help an agriculturally-challenged neighbor to plant and maintain a few tomatoes or a zucchini plant? Start small so you don't overwhelm the fledgling gardener.

Do you have Little House on the Prairie-type skills? Help a friend learn to make jam, bread or yogurt, or learn how to can or dehydrate produce. Then they can take advantage of those great supermarket produce markdowns, or their own garden surplus if they are talented in that area.

Are you a Knit-wit or Stitch-witch? Pass those sewing and needlework skills on! Making useful items from old clothing or altering cheap yard-sale or thrift store finds can be a valuable skill.

If each of us taught only one other person a skill that would help them to save money and improve their life, what a difference it could make!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Home Green Home

An article I came across recently about a man who builds houses out of at least 80% recycled materials gave me the idea for this post about green homes. The man's name is Dan Phillips, and his Texas company builds low-income housing for single parents, artists and low-income families. He works together with a non-profit that helps to secure financing so that these individuals can take out an affordable mortgage to buy their home. He employs unskilled, minimum-wage laborers and teaches them valuable skills which they can then take to better-paying future jobs. So, his homes are great because they are keeping useable items out of the dump, they are providing job training for low-skilled workers, and they are giving poor people the chance to own their own home rather than living in housing projects. Because of the way they are constructed, these homes all have a one-of-a-kind look. You can look at some photos here:


Yurts are another type of "green" home. Based on the tents used by Central Asian nomads for centuries, they are lightweight, but weatherproof and strong. They consist of a durable fabric cover, and a wooden frame. The door is framed in, and there is a solid floor. Plumbing and electricity can be hooked up in these structures. They are easy and inexpensive to erect, use minimal materials, and have no negative impact on their surroundings. They can also be quite beautiful, as you can see here:


Tailor-made for minimalists, the Tiny House ranges from 65-140 square feet, and comes on wheels so it doesn't need a building permit. You can buy them already constructed, or build your own. They have a tiny kitchen, mini bathroom, a living-dining area, and a loft bedroom. They can be hooked up to plumbing and electricity, or use tanks and solar power like an RV. The heater runs on propane. You just tow it to where you want it, and you're ready to go! Slightly larger versions, the Small Houses range up to 800 square feet, all in one large room. You buy the plans for these, and build them yourself on location. Why are these homes green? If you live in such a small space, you use very little energy, and consume very little in general. Check out some photos here:


Aptly named, the Earthship uses mostly recycled materials such as used tires and aluminum cans. The tires are filled with earth, stacked up, and plastered with adobe or cement to conceal the tires. The cans are plastered over and used to make thin, curving interior walls. This type of house takes advantage of passive solar power to heat the house. The insulating effect of the earth in the tires keeps it cool. These houses often include systems to capture rainwater and reuse greywater. If artfully constructed these homes can be much more attractive than they sound, as you can see here:


The Straw Bale House has a traditional wooden frame, but the thick walls consist of bales of straw that have been plastered on both sides. These walls provide excellent insulation that minimizes the need for heating and cooling. These houses sometimes have a Hobbit-like quality. You probably noticed one incredible example at the previous link, before the Earthship as you scrolled down the page.

Living in one of these unusual homes can be a challenge. Short-sighted or simply unfamiliar with these types of homes, city officials can refuse to issue permits for them. Insurers sometimes have a hard time determining their value to insure them. Banks sometimes balk at loaning money for them. If you can get past these obstacles, you could really enjoy living in one of these inexpensive, environmentally sound abodes. Wouldn't you like to hang your hat in a place that will make your friends and family "green" with envy?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Brew Up Some Cheap Fun

From time to time I like to write about inexpensive party ideas. I've been attending quite a few teas this spring, and it occurred to me that teas are an economical and relaxing way to reconnect with friends. If you go to a tea house, it can cost $25 or more per person, but having your own tea is much more affordable, and lots of fun!

One of your friends probably owns at least one teapot. Someone else most likely has a set of china you can use. As far as teacups go, I think it's a lot more fun to have everyone bring a special teacup and tell its story. The one with the prettiest garden can provide cut flowers for the table.

Those who bake can be responsible for lemon bars, brownies, shortbread or sugar cookies, etc. You must have scones for a tea party, in my opinion, but these are just as good made from a mix. You just add water, drop by spoonfuls on a cookie sheet, and bake. Non-purists could opt for muffins instead.

The habitual tea drinker in the group could provide some loose tea. Teabags are just not the same! You might need to provide some herbal tea as well, for those who are trying to avoid caffeine.

You'll need some jam (I like strawberry or raspberry, but in the fall apple butter or cranberry might be better) and some lemon curd for the scones. There is an easy recipe here http://tinyurl.com/yf6zad6 for lemon curd.

There are lots of recipes for tea sandwiches on line. The best way to make tea sandwiches is to use cheap white or wheat sandwich bread that has a square shape, and to cut the crusts off AFTER you've made the sandwich.

My favorites are egg salad, cucumber and chicken salad. The egg salad is pretty self-explanatory. The trick to the cucumber sandwiches is to slice the cucumbers really thin with a mandoline or food processor, then sprinkle with salt and place in a colander in the sink to drain for awhile. Spread both sides of the bread with cream cheese, layer the cukes on, slap them together and cut the crusts off. My secret chicken salad recipe contains canned chicken, broken up into tiny pieces, dried cranberries chopped small, diced walnuts or pecans, a little celery, and mayonnaise. I don't measure, I just add some of everything until it looks good.

If you want an additional savory item, you can buy some of those mini quiches, or some stuffed mushrooms. I don't think you really need them unless your pals have big appetites! I also like to put a few strawberries or grapes on the tray.

You can have your tea indoors in a pretty room, but if the weather's nice, why not have it in the garden? Real silverware, china and cloth napkins provide a touch of elegance. Tiered serving trays work best, but if you don't know anyone that has any, you can just use pretty plates or platters.

It's fun to have a theme for your tea, such as roses, lavender, fall leaves, etc. Let your imagination run wild decorating in keeping with your theme. It's also fun to wear hats. Have a contest to see who can wear the prettiest or craziest hat. The winner gets a prize.

I hope you have a wonderful afternoon tea! I would love to hear about your tea party experiences, favorite recipes, etc.