Sunday, February 10, 2013


It has been over a year and my challenge fell short of the mark. I believe I would have been successful had it not been for moving across the country.

Since it didn't make financial sense to move all of our mediocre furniture with us, we left everything behind except the bed and bought new furniture at IKEA.

Nothing at IKEA is made in the USA, but I have always been pleased with the quality of their products. You do have to weed out some cheaper pieces, but we've disassembled and reassembled our IKEA bed frame twice now and it is no worse for the wear.

The lessons I learned from my challenge were:

  • If you stop and think about the quality of what you're buying and how it was made you end up buying a lot less stuff. This was extremely useful and I will continue with this mindset.
  • There are some items for which a USA made alternative is impossible to find (most electronics and plastics).
  • Locally made does not always equal better quality.
  • It is fun to map where items come from.
In the future, I will continue to look to support local producers. It makes good sense environmentally and it cuts way back on unnecessary spending via impulse buying. Most cheap deals are really just cheap deals and we are validating that business model when we buy low quality products produced in undesirable conditions. The flipside is that we live in a global economy and the trade of goods can be an amazing and positive experience for all.

And with that, I put this blog to rest.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Thanksgiving Part 3

I am thankful for:
  1. Wildlife. It is amazing how much wildlife we see even in the middle of Austin. Our apartments are on the Barton Creek greenbelt so I’ve seen raccoons, a coyote, a coral snake, and a possum.
  2. Volunteer Opportunities. I have been so rewarded by volunteering walking shelter dogs and mentoring. Both can be a challenge, but are worth it. Dog shelters are incredibly smelly and loud places (no matter how well run) and the dogs can be unpredictable. Mentoring kids from various backgrounds is hard because it is difficult to measure progress and sometimes the kids seem indifferent. Both are worth it!
  3. A Supportive Spouse. It is amazing to have a spouse that is positive. I believe everything works out as it should, but sometimes it helps to have someone remind you.
  4. Pasta. I love Italian food and there is nothing quite so wonderful as homemade pasta and pasta sauce.
  5. Air Travel. I have some flight anxiety (mainly related to inclement weather while flying).  However, without air travel my opportunities would be greatly diminished. Plus seeing the earth from the air is a map maker’s dream come true!
  6. Abundance. I have never lacked anything in my life. I’ve always had choices of food and clothes. I’ve always had access to medical care. I’ve always had a nice clean, safe place to live. I am blessed.
  7. Scotch. A good single malt scotch is a pleasure to enjoy on a cold winter night (I hardly touch it during the warmer months). While I have not noticed striking differences between a good $15 bottle of wine and the pricier bottles, quality aged scotch is worth the money.
  8. Air Conditioning. I think most businesses could stand to run the AC much less or at a higher temperature, but I would not want to do without air conditioning during Texas summers. During the day I could tolerate it, but it is so hard to get a good night’s rest when you are hot and sticky.
  9. Visual media. I am going to lump photography, art, and film all together in this category. These arts enrich my life in many ways. Visual media can be inspiring, thought provoking, beautiful, or just plain entertaining. Through visual media I have gained knowledge and insight that the written word alone could never convey.
  10. Coffee. A cup of coffee in the morning is a great way to start the day. I prefer black, unflavored, medium to dark roast (half decaf/half caffeinated).

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Cat Harness

Yesterday I bought a cat harness. Why would I buy a cat harness? First off, I've heard they are useful for car trips with your cat. Secondly, my cat has seemed interested in going outside and he really doesn't get as much exercise in the small apartment as he did running around the house.

He was not thrilled with the harness being on at first, but he got used to it quickly. We went out for a brief test walk. He sniffed around some in a grassy area and walked along a rock ledge.

I was most surprised that he was willing to walk up the stairs of his own volition (especially since they are open stairs). He remembered where our apartment was and how to get back and bounded right up the stairs to our door.

So far, I'm pleased. Here is a link to the manufacturer website: I picked mine up at Target for $7, but they only had medium size. I had to cut and re-sew the body harness because it was a bit too tight due to the material looped through the adjusters. It is nylon so I was able to seal the cut with a lighter to prevent fraying and I used heavy duty fishing rod thread which seemed to work well. PetCo also sells them, but they also only carry medium size in stores.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Thanksgiving Part 2

I am thankful for:

  1. An awesome job. I love my job. I love my co-workers. It took me awhile to realize not everyone loves what they do. If you don't love what you do, find something else. There is something out there that everyone loves to do and that will make you enough money to live comfortably.
  2. Access to great music. Between YouTube, what I own, and Pandora, I have enough amazing music to enjoy for a lifetime. Plus it is exciting to think what new musicians and types of music will emerge in the future.
  3. Opportunities. I am surrounded by myriad opportunities to learn new things and try new things. The internet is a great tool to seek out these opportunities and learn things for free.
  4. Family. I do not have the closest knit family, but they are all special in their own way. I also get along with all of them. I had a conversation about fighting with parents at work recently and could not recall fighting with mine since they were making me learn my multiplication tables in 2nd grade. Perhaps I did and have forgotten, but we certainly haven't fought since I've been an adult. All my family has the foresight to let other parts of the family live their own life without trying to dictate their ideas and beliefs.
  5. Pets. Pets bring life into a home. I can not imagine living in a home without them. I've been without a pet for awhile when our dog passed away and when my previous cat moved in with the neighbors. Coming home to a house without a pet seems a little lonely. All my pets have always greeted me at the door which makes a pleasant welcome home.
  6. Pork. I love food in general, but roasted pulled pork, carnitas, and bacon are near the top of my list. So are duck, goat, and venison. We eat a fair amount of vegetarian dishes which I enjoy, but nothing beats a well prepared meat dish.
  7. Wine. Along with those delicious fatty meats you need some wine. A glass of wine with dinner is a great way to end the day. Red wine has a lot of health benefits and it makes every meal a little more civilized. We even take wine camping (and yes they make decent wines in collapsible bags specifically for backpacking - perhaps the best discovery at the Amtrak station/farmer's market in Tuscon).
  8. Good health. I love biking to work and being active outdoors. I thank God I have always been healthy enough to enjoy outdoor activities.
  9. Washers and Dryers. Most modern conveniences I could live without, but the automatic washer and dryer are not one of them. Occasionally I have had to wash a few clothes by hand. It is a pain and very hard to get them thoroughly rinsed and not stiff when dry.
  10. Travel options. I have personally met people who have not traveled more than 50 miles from their home. I can not even imagine such limitations. My parents sacrificed to pay to send me to Australia and New Zealand when I was in high school. Since then I have traveled to 7 other countries and around our own country a fair bit.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Thanksgiving Part 1

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. I love the food! I love seeing family I don't see very often. I love thinking about what I have to be thankful for.

Even as a kid I liked Thanksgiving better than Christmas. My mom and I rode the train from Kansas to Illinois every year at Thanksgiving to visit her mom. To this day train travel is my all time favorite mode of travel. I love traveling by trains, watching trains, the sound of trains, the rocking motion of trains. Also, my mom's mom cooks every bit as good as my mom and I loved everything she made. I loved visiting a small town and being able to walk from one end of town to the other.

When I got married, we went to my brother-in-law's house for a few years to celebrate. One year we didn't celebrate with family (I can't remember the circumstances) and instead ate turkey sandwiches while kayaking around Canyon Lake. It was windy and chilly, but we were the only ones out on the whole silent lake so it was a special memory.

After we bought a house, we hosted Thanksgiving for several years. I loved all the cooking and having everyone over. I loved having my in-laws stay for several days after and eating delicious leftovers for days in a row.

We recently sold the house, so things will be different now. Regardless of where we celebrate, I think this will always remain my favorite holiday. I love to eat and especially love all the traditional foods. I also love the attitude of thankfulness. I think that is why Christmas never wins out for me. Thanksgiving is just about eating well and being content with your life and family, whereas Christmas is laden with so many other obligations. The older I get, the more I try to make Christmas like Thanksgiving. Nothing you can buy can make you as happy as what you already have.

This month I will post things I am thankful for.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


I made firestarters today. I'm hoping for a camping trip this Fall while the weather is nice. They cost 99 cents to make a dozen (they would probably be free if you have little kids).

You need:
  • dryer lint
  • a paper egg carton
  • a tin can with the label removed (I used a large tomato can)
  • broken crayons with the labels removed (I bought a bag of used crayons at Savers for 99 cents)
Stuff the egg carton compartments full of lint.
Dump all your broken crayons in the tin can and put in a pan of water and bring to a gentle boil. Lower heat and shake can until all crayons are melted.
Slowly pour the hot wax into each compartment of the egg carton completely covering the lint.
Cut apart each compartment and store in a ziploc bag. Set under your kindling and light the egg carton paper when ready to use.

A variation of this craft uses paper cupcake wrappers, old unscented candles, and wood shavings (fill wrappers with shavings and pour melted wax over). I didn't have those items on hand or I would have made both and evaluated which was better. In girl scouts, we made wax paper tubes stuffed with lint. They burned way too quick to effectively start a fire if your kindling was less than ideal or slightly damp. The wax firestarters we've bought at the park stores have never failed to start a fire, so I'm hoping these will have similar results.

Saturday, September 29, 2012


I used to have a garden at our house. It was rather extensive at one point and then we scaled back. We did raised beds to the side, raised in-ground beds that took up most of the yard, and raised store-bought beds. I thought I had pictures of the first two variations, but apparently they have gone by the wayside. I enjoyed our vegetable gardens and my extensive native plant garden. I really enjoyed all the birds and wildlife. However, I do not miss the yard work and trying to keep plants alive in a drought.
Our former yard
Our balcony
I have been trying to do some gardening on our balcony at the apartment.  I forget what the plant in the blue pot is called. It stands up well to neglect and has pretty little blue flowers. The "window box" style planter has done fabulously. It has a sage and silver pony foot. I made it from a gift basket my mom gave me that I lined with a heavy duty trash bag with holes poked in the bottom. It is attached with zip ties. The basil (not pictured) I moved from our front porch is also doing well.

Basket planter a couple of weeks after planting
Basket planter
My experimental yellow herb containers (recycled soda bottles) are so-so. They are technically sub-irrigated planters. The top is cut off and inverted in the bottom to create a water well and a piece of felt acts as a wick. The seeds were very slow to start. So far only the cilantro and climbing spinach look like they might make it (and even then they are puny). I was also trying to grow oregano and lemongrass. I will give the yellow containers another two weeks and if they haven't become more successful, I am replacing them with another large basket planter.
Sub-irrigated herb planters (and an aloe and rosemary)