Sunday, November 29, 2009

The holidays

It is difficult to save during the holiday season, but here are a couple of ways that we try to be frugal and green during the winter season.

1. Digital greeting cards. Last year we sent an ecard through Care2. They are free and you can include a link to a family picture album. We did a short slide show and posted it to Picasa. In Picasa desktop you can make collages with your pictures. Care2 has added photo cards, so you can put a family photo or create a custom one. We also discovered Microsoft photo Story. This year we will make a video with captions and music and upload it to You tube with a link. Its a much more personal way to keep in touch and let your friend see what you've been up to. Photo story is free.

2. Save gift bags and boxes. These come in handy during the whole year, since I inevitably do wrapping at the last possible minute. I can grab what I need out of the box in the closet. Don;t forget the holiday left overs....we sock away plastic containers to make sure we can send food home with family. Thinking ahead can help with containers for cookies and gifts (see below). Never doubt the power of baby food containers!

3. Make your own wrapping paper. This is great for kids and you can do it from just about anything. I had a roll of craft paper and asked my daughter to color some pictures on it. This takes a little more time, but some things need wrapping and don't fit in bags. Is your baby trying to "help" with wrapping? How about red and green hand prints on the paper?

4. Gift tags- I cut off the front picture of cards and reuse them as gift tags the next year. Writing in pencil helps too.

5. Spending time with your friends. Instead of going out, I like to invite people over to amek things to give to others, like making cookies. Mostly it is a good chance to spend time together, but it can be dual purpose. Be careful to have a good mix of oven, stove top, and microwave options. Not too many cookies can be done at once in the oven. Also prep space is valuable. Pre-made dough can be helpful.

6. Re-gifting swap. When you invite your friends...have a swap. Maybe you have a tea pot you don't want or other knick is a good chance to swap for those little things. Cleaning out your closets before the holidays is really important especially if you have a small house like I do!

7. Homemade gifts. Cookies aside there are a million things you can make as gifts that show your thoughtfulness. Bath salts, bath fizzies, small ornaments, magnets, origami... the list goes on...think of what you have a lot of and what you are good at. You got recycling? Maybe paper mache or origami or notebooks or.....what about old CD's? How about a miniature wreath......Old Altoids corks... I would love to hear your ideas on this!

What do you do?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Starting a Community Business on the cheap

Starting a community business has been an interesting challange and an eye opening experience. 3-1/2 years ago we took on Brigid's Paradigm and set a goal to build a house in Houston similar to the Commotion homes in Huntsville. We had no money, but we did have support from Brigid's Place, from which the program grew.
The idea of starting a business of this sort could easily be set up for failure by simple things...being too depandant on one person or one computer or cost. When you have a volunteer based orgainzation, duplicity and transparency are keys to success. Burn-out can drive small not-for-profits into the ground. Recurring costs take thier toll when you are not sure what your budget will be (if you have one).
So how do you start a business with low overhead and no recurring fees? It's not too difficult actually. I think it cost us $25 for a domain for 2 years and using many free tools on the internet.
First, we decided to start a newsgroup, so our supporters could follow our progress. We chose Google, simply for the fact that there was less visual clutter, and of course it is free. Facebook, is another great tool that we use. We began to use Picasa as a photo album where people could see example of homes projects that are related to what we trying to do. Setting up a gmail address was also free and keeps responses flexible. Once those were established, we worked on a blog and set that to our url (it's still up today!).
Contacting some local non-profit assistance programs helped us to connect with a volunteer lawyer on documents need to file for a business not for profit corporation in Texas, and then with the IRS (which was a big, long ordeal!).
Recently we have taken to Google documents as a way to stay organized, on task, and reduce confusion that could happen with multiple files ciricling the internet. We also found Google Sites and are working on a web page that will be nicer than the blog.
I'm not a big cheerleader for Google, but we sure do use a lot of thier tools. I can't speak for thier privacy rules, but I do apprecite all the free tools they provide that give us a boost!
Once we recieved our 501c3 we were able to acess other tools, like Vertical Response and Google grants (for ads and no fee donation buttons). With voice we are hoping to get a phone number which we can point to the appropriate person to answer or make sure we are not using too many minutes on our personal cell phones. This will also be a permannet phone number, not dependant on a bill which could easily bust the budget.
Here are the tools that are helping us become successful:

Google Groups
Google Documents
Google sites
Free Conference

For Non-profits:
Vertical response
Event Brite (maybe)

So, go for it! There are many ways to meet your organization's needs in this new technology age!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

20 projects under $20

Here's a challange- 20 home improvement projects under $20. What are your best ideas?!

Project #1 Paper mache wall (link to pictures is new)

My daughter and I started a paper mache wall in our half bathroom with all of her old artwork. It really made her feel special and was a creative way to reuse paper. The project was under $20 (DIY- of course) and did take quite a few hours.

Here's what you need (and a budget) 1 gallon white glue- $10.981" painter's tape- $2.98car wash sponge- $1.48Smoother (optional)- $1.36 Smoother from cut pieces of PVC piping (optional) Smoother from your finger drop cloth 2 buckets Here's how we did it: A- Tape off trim and fixtures and lay a drop cloth down on the floor. B- Mix white glue and water, about 60% glue and 40% water in a bucket. Fill the other bucket with water and put the sponge in it. C-Cut or rip paper into pieces. Consider your design based on the paper you are working with. (The larger the pieces, the faster the project.) D- Put some paper pieces in the bucket for a minute or so; them pull them onto the bucket side so they will drip most of the extra glue off. When putting pieces in, make sure each piece gets coated in glue, they will stick together and stay dry inside. D- Position the paper on the wall and use the smoother or your finger to get all the bubbles out. It is good to have a helper hand you paper strips, but not necessary. E- Wipe up extra drips and glue with the sponge, being careful not to move the paper. REPEAT We learned a lot in the first couple of hours and here are some tips and tricks we learned. 1-marker does not like to get wet--it runs. 2- paper after it dries is somewhat opaque and so if there is old wall paper underneath you can see it. (consider what your papaer as on both sides) 3- you can cover up mistakes with more paper. 4- start high and wipe up drips as you go along. 5- start with a base of plain or simple backgrounds and then layer the more ornate piece on top. 6- drop cloths do not clean up well once the glue has dried, make usre you use an old sheet. 7- Rooms have one floor and 4 walls- consider doing a paper mache floor. 8- Have fun!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Green Food- striking a balance between health, environment & your wallet

How to choose healthy food on the cheap!? Everyone has different opinions about quality, quantity, and source. Personally, I do my best to strike a balance. I have noticed you can get just about anything with organic content (even Oreo's!), so I'm feeling like I'm buying trendy jeans when I buy Organic apples from New Zealand. Then there's the issues with conventionally grown food (will I get cancer from these grapes?!). We just use our best judgement based on personal circumstances.

The cheapest thing to do would be grow your own garden. Personally, I kill everything I try to grow (cuz I forget plants need water!); so, we buy what we can as organic or local. I'm considering planting fruit trees, since I get the idea that they require less maintenance.

In the grocery store, mostly we skip the organic meat due to price. Milk is much more available as organic, but you can also get no-hormone-added milk and its a bit less. Again, if you have multiple teenagers gulping it down, it can be a quantity issue. Fruits and veges are hit or miss. My daughter LOVES apples, but organic ones can be kind of pricey, so we do some organic and some non-organic. Carrots are always available organic and resonably priced, so we always get those. We get organic broths, since they are a good deal. Some bulk items are well priced as well. I opt for non-organic Kashi products, since whole grains are important to me. Mostly it seems that any given packaged product (mustard, mayo, crackers) will cost at least 75 cents more than the conventional counterpart.

As far as organic farmers' markets; I'm undecided. I would think a farmers' market would be a little cheaper than the store, but that's not always the case. There are several coops and farmers markets in Houston and its got to be a pretty good deal for me to make an extra trip. Now, I may be more excited about this if delivery was an option (in some places it is). Maybe I wouldn't mind paying a delivery fee if it ends up being the same cost, but buying produce is a hands-on experience.

Don't forget that some stores offer a discount if you bring your own grocery bags. Also, aks your current store to stock items you like. Our local Target started carrying Seventh Generation products when I asked for them.

I'm interested to hear what other people do when they shop, and what the good deals are out there. Do you opt to make an extra trip to the farmer's market or Natural Foods store? Maybe there's a good deal that makes it worth the trip? Here's some coupon links: Organic Valley Seventh Generation Stoneyfield Farms Brown Cow Mambo Sprouts Santa Cruz Organic various links

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Swap-o-rama-rama & Maker Faire

Consider this you personal invitation to creative recycling! I wanted to let everyone know about this really fun event that happened in Austin; it was the Swap-o-rama-rama and Maker Faire! It's was a blast! Swap-O-Rama-Rama is a giant clothing swap and series of do-it-yourself workshops in which a community explores reuse and creativity through the recycling of used clothing. At Swap-O-Rama-Rama consumers are taught to be creators and this transformation takes place through the local talent in the community. Swap-o-rama-rama was part of Maker Faire, which had everything from art cars to hacked bicycles, robots, CNC machine hacks, and recycled crafts galore! It was a blast for anyone with a creative streak or a knack for reusing materials. Everything a DIY-er could want! The next Maker Faire in Austin will be October 18 and 19, 2008. I know I'll be there! About Swap-O-Rama-Rama: About Maker Faire:

Building Green-on the Cheap

Brigid's Paradigm would like to invite members of the public to a tour of their salvaged material home and other salvaged material homes in Huntsville. The tour will take place on November 3rd at 11am and another at 2pm beginning at 1410 13th Street. This event is free, but will serve as a fundraiser for the program; donations are gladly accepted. Please RSVP to Directions: From Houston travel IH-45 North to Huntsville, and take Exit 116. Get onto the service road and go to the light. Turn right. From there go to the third stoplight, which will be Avenue O, and turn right. Go two blocks to 13th Street and turn left. Park on the street midway down the block close to 1410 13th Street. Brigid's Paradigm was on the New Capital Show September 13th. To listen to a podcast of the show visit The New Capital Show at About Brigid's Paradigm: Brigid’s Paradigm is a model for families building their own houses, with free, salvaged and recycled building materials, under the guidance of a mentor. Our first home has been built in Huntsville, TX in in collaboration with Dan Phillips of the Phoenix Commotion. For more information on Brigid's Paradigm and Phoenix Commotion go to: Also, check out Dan on Living Smart with Patricia Gras!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Green Travel- On the Cheap

Just having gotten back from vacation, I found a lot of ways to travel on the cheap and environmentally friendly! We took a road trip on the old highways of Texas.
For lodging we have stayed in KOA "Camping Cabins" where you bring your own bedding and share a central restroom, supplying your own toiletries. We have also stayed in restored motels, and in State park cabins. Surpisingly, there are quite a few of these around, if you book in advance. Some of the ones we stayed in were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and we also stayed in yurt. Of course, camping is always "least impact," but we mostly opted for A/C in the desert heat!
We brought a lot of our own food and snacks and looked for rooms with kitchenettes or camp sites where we could cook our meals. We were able to save quite a few meals out with strategy and our ice chest. We tried to eat at local places that would have vegetables and avoid fast food. I really noticed a plethera of picnic areas all along the highways. I also noticed large trees planted every 10 miles or so along the old highways; you can tell many people pull up there to cool off and eat lunch. It is easy to have a quick picnic and move on down the road.
One of the challenges of vacationing out of the City is access to fresh fruits and vegetables (not to mention organics, which were completely out of the picture for the most part). Many small towns barely have a grocery store; we unsuccessfully tried to keep an eye out for farmers' markets. I won't even begin to mention the lack of recycling options (which I gave up on). I was shocked at the fact that many people who live in these areas are forced to drive hours away to get dry goods and groceries. While I was happy to be 2 days away from the last Wal-mart I saw (and believe me- the towns' cultural difference without a Wal-mart are like night and day!), I was left wondering about the millions of rural folks that do not have access to organic foods or basic recycling. This could lead many people to eating a lot of Convenience store foods, leading to poor health and obesity.
Sight seeing:
We are very interested in Vernacular Architecture and history; so we visited a lot of State parks, Missions, and Forts. These places are surprisingly affordable. We noticed that if you pay to get into a State Park for the day, you can have access to any other State park as well. Well, of course, we stopped at every state park on our route almost!
What do you do to consider the environment a save $$$ on your travels?