Tuesday, November 8, 2011

moneySMARTS: Cha-Chingle Bells!

I don't know about you, but I really love all the end of the year holidays...October through December is jam packed with festivities!

To enable myself to enjoy them responsibly, I came up with a little trick that really helps me get through the season with minimal dinero issues. 

Every month (usually when I pay my rent), I transfer $100 into a second (free) checking account. It's the modern day equivalent of writing yourself a check. And, when December rolls around, I have $1200 to spend on holiday related costs--presents, holiday party outfits, decorations, Christmas cards and stamps, and whatever else I feel would help spread holiday cheer.

I tried just earmarking the money in my mind, but it never really worked. It wasn't until I physically separated this money into a totally different account from my regular checking account that I was able to really leave it alone.

It's pretty cool to run around all over town humming holiday tunes and not really worry about the financial aspect...and January through March are a lot more fun when you don't have that holiday debt to work off. 

I know it's a little late to start now, but what you can do is set up that second account so that when you pay your January rent or mortgage, you can just slide that Benji right on over!

And, if Christmas isn't your thing, you could institute this program for ANY expensive endeavor...maybe you throw a serious St. Patty's party every year, maybe you want to go totally nuts next Halloween, maybe you want to go on a "real" vacation next year. The general principle works for any major cost, and is scalable (you can just put in more money monthly for higher cost items). The most important parts are (1) do it every month, without exception (2) keep it separate so that you aren't tempted to dip into it.

Give it a try!

- Risa Osbon-Escobar

During the day, Risa works as a marketing whiz. But she is significantly more famous for her love of chilidogs, relentless list-making, and role as party buddy. She has been told on multiple occasions that her positive outlook on life is borderline-annoying, and that her laugh is really loud.

Monday, October 24, 2011

foodSMARTS: Yum-O-Saurus!

D-I-N-O-S-A-UR my favorite salad! Seriously. Seriously! 

This recipe calls for dinosaur kale, which I see in the store as lacinato or tuscan kale. I had never had it before some dear (and very hot) friends served it one night at their house. I could not get enough! I have made it several times. Below is the original recipe but I omit the bread crumbs (just don't have any in the pantry) and add about four pieces of chopped bacon. I probably use more than 1/4 cup cheese and I don't measure the ingredients...that's just how I roll. I also prep the dressing in a sautee pan so the first servings are slightly warm. The kale is quite hearty so left overs are delicious and not wilted. 

1 bunch Tuscan (I prefer dinosaur) kale 
1 thin slice country bread (part whole-wheat or rye is nice), or 1/4 cup homemade bread crumbs (coarse)
1/2 garlic clove, finely chopped
1/4 cup finely grated pecorino cheese, more for garnish
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, more for garnish
Freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste.

1. Trim bottom 2 inches off kale stems and discard. Slice kale, including ribs, into 3/4-inch-wide ribbons. You should have 4 to 5 cups. Place kale in a large bowl.
2. If using bread, toast it until golden on both sides. Tear it into small pieces and grind in a food processor until mixture forms coarse crumbs.
3. Using a mortar and pestle, or with the back of a knife, pound garlic into a paste. Transfer garlic to a small bowl. Add 1/4 cup cheese, 3 tablespoons oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper flakes and black pepper, and whisk to combine. Pour dressing over kale and toss very well to thoroughly combine (dressing will be thick and need lots of tossing to coat leaves).
4. Let salad sit for 5 minutes, then serve topped with bread crumbs, additional cheese and a drizzle of oil.
Yield: 2 to 4 servings.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

homeSMARTS: Homemade Laundry Detergent

Last week I wrote about nasty xenoestrogrens and mentioned that I made my own laundry detergent in an effort to limit our exposure to household chemicals. I wanted to do several washes using the detergent before posting about it, just to make sure it didn't totally suck.  Good news, it's great!

The recipe I followed came from here. This gal seems more concerned with how cost effective the detergent is than it's green factor.  This is also super important to me because when I priced out the natural detergents at ye olde New Seasons I was dismayed to discover that a five pound box cost $19. $19?!?!?!  This recipe yields about 16-18 lbs for less than $20. And because it's super concentrated, you only use two tablespoons per load. 

Here's what you need:

1 4lb box Borax
1 3lb box Arm & Hammer washing soda (other recipes say 4lb but I could not find that)
1 4lb box Arm & Hammer baking soda
2 small or 1 big tub of Oxiclean (or the generic version)
3 bars Fels Naptha or any other soap that is not labeled "cleansing bar"

It plumps when you cook it
Personally, I used that soap you usually find in Chinatown that smells like jasmine. I thought it would be nice if the detergent smelled good. But later I added a bar of Fels Naptha because the mixture just didn't seem soapy enough. It seems soapy enough now.

I dumped everything in a 5 gallon Ziploc bag then microwaved the soap. Seriously. Did you know that if you microwave a bar of soap it plumps up? When it cools (it takes forever to cool, use the freezer) it breaks into a powder pretty easily.  I did get tired of breaking it up by hand so I broke out the food processor. I probably could have done that to begin with but then I would have missed out on the cool microwave plumping action. You can also grate the soap using a cheese grater. I'm using a glass jar for storage (and looks) but I also have a bunch left in the Ziploc bag. This stuff is going to last forever.

I've been using this detergent for a while now, done at least 12 loads of wash.  I don't see any difference from the mainstream brands I was using before.  Our clothes are coming out just as clean.

Monday, October 10, 2011

craftSMARTS: We've Got a Knituation

So, here’s the situation: I was out of town for a few days, visiting Ashland, Oregon. I brought along a knitting project I’m working on, just in case I had a little down time to knit a few rows. All well and good, except the project also involves some stuff I haven’t done in a long time, like doing single crochets and French knots.

Before I left home, I actually sought out instruction on how to do a single crochet and make a French knot on YouTube. (Of course, you can find these things on YouTube.) What I couldn’t find, though, was a LEFT-HANDED person doing the demonstrating. I just wasn’t able to make the shift as I watched.  And when I tried to imitate what I’d seen, what I thought were going to be French knots turned out not to be knots at all.  I needed a real person watching me and showing me the error of my ways.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

CleanSMARTS: The Stain Event

Although I love how professional they look, I rarely wear collared button down shirts because they require ironing and I just have too many things to do already. Thankfully, my man wears the wrinkle-free kind that don't require ironing, but I don't think those are available for ladies. (Editors note: they are, Banana Republic to the rescue!)

Basically, if I can't iron it with my hair straightener, it just doesn't get worn. By the way, hair straighteners are GREAT for ironing small details like ruffles, ribbons, short sleeves, collars, etc.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

healthSMARTS: Protecting Yourself From Xenoestrogens

I am waging war on toxins, especially xenoestrogens, in my household.  These are mostly man-made compounds (some do occur in nature and are called phytoestrogens) that mimic the function of estrogen in the body and lead to estrogen dominance. Estrogen dominance is associated with major health problems like endometriosis, prostate cancer, weight gain, depression, infertility/impotency, and breast cancer (in both men and women). These compounds are what we are specifically trying to avoid when we buy organic produce because fertilizers are some of the worst offenders. But even if you were successful in avoiding xenoestrogens in your food, your efforts would be undone every time you use toiletries, cosmetics, cook on your non-stick pans, put on clothes washed in mainstream detergent, drink out of most plastic bottles, or clean your house. It's pretty overwhelming when you really think about it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

travelSMARTS: Long Haul Learning

If you're planning a road trip with your family, why not educate them about the places you'll be passing through, the sites you will see, or the animals you may encounter? Print out pages from Wikipedia or other sources and read them aloud on the road. On a recent trip my family learned how Glacier National Park was formed and the history of the Blackfeet Nation. 

Fine print: I can't promise that your kids (and possibly your spouse) won't beg you to "please stop reading that!" five minutes in.  Just because those non-curious ingrates don't have a love of learning doesn't mean you have to stifle yours. This is still worth the effort even if you are the only one who enjoys it.