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4/30/2014

This past weekend a friend and I were chatting about living on a budget. Both of us are trying it in earnest for the first time. We were commiserating about the difficulties of reducing our food costs, especially when shopping for healthy, fresh and unprocessed foods. Not to mention, we both have families of four with two small boys. A fact that makes reducing our food costs a necessity. The question then was, is it possible to eat healthy, organic, real food on a budget?

Grocery Shopping
Photo by Fotolia/Goran Bogicevic

Food Budgeting

It is commonly recommended that your food bill equal no more than 5 to 15 percent of your total budget. Before I started paying attention and making an effort to reduce my family’s food costs, we were spending more on food than on our mortgage. I obviously had a lot of room for improvement.

According to the USDA the average family of four is spending between $544 and $1235 per month for food eaten at home. They break it down into 4 plans: thrifty, low-cost, moderate, and liberal. We were in spending beyond the liberal plan and looking to move to a low-cost or moderate food budget. That gives us a budget of about $800 per month.

After some trial and error (and actually looking at my receipts after shopping), I discovered that our most expensive items were meat, condiments, juices and deserts—organic or not. Eliminating some or all of these items has cut our grocery bill in half.

To reduce your food costs, here are some helpful tips that are working for my family. Using these, we have found that healthy, organic foods can still be affordable and keep us on budget.

Tips to Eat Healthy on a Budget

1. Keep a list. On your refrigerator write down items you use most often as they run out so you aren't guessing when you get to the store.

2. Create a simple weekly menu. I have had success searching the internet for recipes with minimal ingredients. 5-10 ingredients seem to be the magic number for cost savings while also saving you time in the kitchen.

3. Grocery shop only once a week. I have found that reducing my trips to the grocery store to one time per week reduces impulse buying that can add frivolous items your food costs. If I run out of something I ask myself – do I really need this now, or, can it wait until next week?

4. Create a shopping list. When shopping at the grocery store, purchase only the items on the list.

5. Eat vegetarian a couple times a week. Meat, poultry, and fish are big ticket items. Eating vegetarian meals even 2-3 times a week will make a big impact on your food bills—in the right direction.

6. Shop for the season. Purchase foods when they are in season, especially produce. Prices skyrocket for off-season foods.

7. Buy fresh herbs and freeze or dry the excess. Chop up soft herbs such as cilantro or basil. Place them in a glass jar and freeze. Or dry your herbs on a cooling rack with parchment paper underneath. I almost never use an entire box of fresh herbs for one recipe so this method is a money saver.

8. Avoid boxed cereals. Compare the per-weight price of any packaged, processed cereal to that of quick rolled oats, and you'll see how much the boxes mark things up. There are lots of delicious ways to eat plain oatmeal, and it takes only 3-4 minutes to prepare.

9. Avoid buying prepackaged meals. These shortcuts do not really save you time, and, pound for pound, they cost far more. If you are in a rush, pick up a roasted chicken instead.

10. Skip the beverage aisle. Buy milk or 100% fruit juice if you need it (we typically stick with orange and apple), but remember water quenches thirst just as well. You can squeeze in a slice of lemon if flavor is what you crave. We keep refillable glass bottles of tap water in the fridge for a cool refresher.

11. Skip dessert. Sweets are essentially an indulgent grocery item and add to your grocery bill (and your waistline) quickly. But who doesn't like to indulge once in a while? So go ahead, but try keeping desserts to one night a week. (Your kids' pediatrician will thank you). Make your own desserts to save on costs.

If you are willing to trade more of your time to reduce food costs and improve quality, you can also look into bulk group buys, or, improving your cooking skills to be able make most of your food from scratch.


Christina SelbyChristina Selby is a writer, blogger, environmental educator, and mom. She lives on two acres of tumbleweed-ridden land in Santa Fe, NM into which she is constantly trying to breathe life. On her blog, Tumbleweeds and Seeds she shares tips and ideas to help readers live simply and sustainably—freeing up time and resources to follow your dreams and make a difference in the world. Visit her blog at Tumbleweeds And Seeds.



3/25/2013

Artist Sandra Stevens wasn’t a typical child of the 50s. Growing up on her family’s 540-acre ranch near Houston, she rebuffed baby dolls and tea parties to play with duck decoys and cow skulls. She had a pony and occasionally rode the family’s cows. “I was an antisocial, weird, little kid who liked to draw pictures,” she recalled. Her parents encouraged her talent and arranged for professional art lessons.

Although she always painted as a hobby, Sandra chose a career as a fine-art photographer. In 2007, she picked up her paint brush on a fulltime basis. Animals— and cows, in particular—inspire most of her oil paintings.

Sandra Steves with cow paintings
Artist Sandra Stevens with two of her cow paintings at the Holland St. Gallery in Bellville, Texas. Photo By Pat Pape.

“From childhood on, my comfort, reassurance, love and joy came from and went to animals,” she said. “I'm not very comfortable in social situations, but animals fascinate and attract me. And for some reason, they seem to be attracted to me. My husband Robert says I have a natural compassion and empathy for them. When I make an animal feel healthy, safe and happy, I feel the same thing inside myself.”

Sandra paints at her home in Sugarland, Texas, and at her small ranch near Columbus, Texas, where she raises Longhorn cattle. She also travels with a camera and has taken thousands of bovine photos. Many times she has stopped her car on a country road to snap an appealing heifer whose portrait may eventually hang above a fireplace.

Sandra Stevens in her Sugarland, Texas, studio
Sandra paints at her home studio in Sugarland, Texas and at her Longhorn ranch in Columbus, Texas. Photo By Pat Pape.

Some of her work is realistic, and some is fantasy, such as the white-faced cow posing next to a mirror, red dress and red high heels. Its title is “Betty Lou Got a New Pair of Shoes,” the same name as the 1958 hit by singer Bobby Freeman. “I like a realistic animal with an unrealistic background,” she said of the painting.

Sandra’s canvas cows have inspired a following among ranchers and city-living country lovers. Her work has been selected for juried shows and used as the poster art for other events. Dr. Temple Grandin, the well-known expert on autism and an animal advocate, owns one of her paintings. And even though Sandra paints other rural subjects, cows remain her passion. “Texas Longhorns are real live art on the hoof,” she said. “I’m fascinated with bringing them to life on canvas.”

There have been many Longhorns in Sandra’s life, but her all-time favorite is Cinco, a 17-year-old steer who enjoys a leisurely life on her ranch and has frequently been the subject of her art. “His heart is so totally pure and kind,” she said. “It was something I felt the first time I saw him—more than being impressed with his horns and his beautiful coat. I literally laid my face against him and felt the kindness in his soul and knew I could trust him. In no time at all, I'd climbed up on his back, and we've been more or less inseparable since then.”

Sandra Stevens and Cinco the longhorn
Cinco is Sandra’s favorite Longhorn, model and riding cow. Photo By Pat Pape.

Yes. Sandra has given up the duck decoys, but she is still riding cows, as evidenced by her recent photo with Cinco.

Sandra’s work is shown at Marta Stafford Fine Arts in Marble Falls, Texas; Holland St. Gallery in Bellville, Texas; and Ranch Antiques in Brenham, Texas. Her most recent paintings are featured on her website at www.sandrastevensart.com.


Pat PapePat Pape is a freelance writer and communications consultant. She lives north of Dallas on five acres, dubbed Pigs Fly Ranch, along with her husband, cats, dogs and pygmy goats. 



2/26/2015

Many of us find restful sleep elusive, but we know that getting enough of it is crucial to our health. With that being said, there are a number of things we don’t know about sleep. Read on to discover 11 things you likely didn’t know about sleep.

Things You Didnt Know About Sleep 

Fun Facts About Sleep

1. Man is the only mammal that willingly delays sleep. (Source: National Sleep Foundation)

2. Most of us need seven to eight hours of sleep each night for optimal daytime functioning, but at least 50 percent of Americans struggle with sleep problems. (Source: How to Sleep Naturally)

3. Fatigue can lead to depression, irritability, headaches, concentration problems, gastrointestinal symptoms, increased susceptibility to colds and infections, increased mistakes at work, and an increased risk of car accidents. (Source: How to Sleep Naturally)

4. The human body operates best when it’s in sync with natural cycles, but excess lighting from large urban areas has thrown off our biological clock and its connection with the rising and falling of the sun. (Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine)

5. Fragmented sleep could be as harmful to our health as a total lack of sleep—just one night of interrupted sleep can negatively affect mood, attention span and cognitive ability. (Source: University Herald)

6. More than eight in 10 survey respondents think that people misuse prescription sleep aids. (Source: National Sleep Foundation)

7. Medical experts have found a link between lack of sleep and weight problems: Dieters who sleep longer burn more fat, while people who sleep less burn more muscle mass. (Source: NPR)

8. Interrupted sleep can impair memory. Research even shows that shortly after childbirth a mental fog sets in until children start sleeping through the whole night. (Source: Medical News Today and Mother Nature Network)

9. Sleep deprivation has been linked with lower libido and less interest in sex in both men and women. (Source: Medical Daily)

10. Nearly 30 percent of people who drink four or more caffeinated beverages daily are at risk for sleep apnea, a disorder in which breathing is interrupted briefly and repeatedly. (Source: Business Insider)

11. The record for the longest period without sleep is 18 days, 21 hours and 40 minutes. The record holder (who was competing in a rocking chair marathon) reported hallucinations, paranoia, blurred vision, slurred speech and memory and concentration lapses. (Source: Sleep Academy)


Gina DeBacker HeadshotGina DeBacker is the associate editor at Mother Earth Living, where she manages the health section of the magazine.



3/20/2013

Every year at Natural Products Expo West (an amazing products fair that features all of my favorite natural goodies in one massive convention hall), the press room showcases new natural products out on the market—the "Best of the West." I was asked to vote on my favorite Best of the West products just by scoping them out. Here were my three picks for the most intriguing and innovative.

PurO3 Ozonated Jojoba Oil 

Ozonated Jojoba Oil with Lavender 

By PurO3 

What It Is

This beauty product infuses organic jojoba oil with activated oxygen to form a moisturizing skin cream. Lavender essential oil is added after the oxonation process.

Why I Love It

I adore jojoba oil. It is an excellent moisturizer and it helps control the oil your skin produces. Every other night, I use jojoba oil as a natural cleanser and rub it gently onto my face. It’s a great facial treatment that supposedly helps trick your skin into producing less oil, and it effectively removes my eye makeup. However, I have personally never before heard of oxonating oils such as jojoba. What a great idea! You get the same skin benefits as the oil, but in a creamier form that is easier to apply.

Impressed by its innovation, this was the first Best of West product I voted for. After taking my PurO3 sample home, I fell in love. The cream is refreshing, and the lavender oil adds a scent perfect for winding down in the evenings. Apply it to your face every other night 30 minutes before going to bed so as to let the oil absorb into your skin. The company also offers oxonated avocado, coconut, hemp, sunflower and olive oil.

Plum Organics Slam Dunx 

Organic Slam Dunx yogurt dippers 

By Plum Organics

What It Is

Slam Dunx are a line of portable and fun healthy snacks for kids: vanilla wheat sticks served alongside a creamy vanilla-coconut yogurt dip.

Why I Love It

This line of products has actually been on the market for awhile, but I had never heard of it—whether that is because I’m not a mother or because I just don’t pay that much attention. I voted for this product because it reminded me of the similar (but sugar-heavy) Dunkaroo snacks I used to enjoy so much as a kid. (Any 90s kid would agree with me here.) I love that this children’s snack offers the same dipping fun that kids find exciting, but with a health-conscious twist: It’s made with wholesome ingredients such as real yogurt, and it is free of artificial flavors. The best part? It tastes great! How can your kids reject such a tasty snack?

Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Snooz

Sleepytime Snooz Berry Natural Sleep Aid

By Celestial Seasonings

What It Is

Made with melatonin and herbal sleep-aids such as valerian, chamomile and lemon balm, this “snooze shot” is designed to help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.

Why I Love It

Although I love drinking tea (I am an Herb Companion alum after all) I don’t always want to take the time start a pot of tea—especially after 9 o’clock. But I liked the idea that these natural “snooze shots” are available pre-packaged and ready to drink. This particular one is flavored with stevia and other natural berry flavors.

After tasting it, I was thrown off guard by its bitter taste. The berry flavors are there to help it go down smoother, but I still had some difficulties. Despite that setback, I have to say—I enjoyed a good night’s rest. Do not exceed one bottle per day.


Gina DeBackerGina DeBacker is the assistant editor at Mother Earth Living. She loves that part of her job entails traveling and testing new natural products.  



3/21/2014

Do you have a pair of jeans that you out grew or have a hole in a ‘tragic’ area?

Do you wash dishes or craft and are tired of the leak-through?

If you said yes, then this craft is for you. This DIY jeans to apron upcycling project is easy to complete in one hour. I know I kept a pile of jeans around because it felt wasteful to throw them away. I also hang on to the random 1/2 yard of fabric left over from other projects. Over the years I’ve come up with a few great uses for old jeans and this DIY apron is one of my favorites.

Project Description

Materials

1 pair of jeans with the knees intact. Mine were husband size 35-35
1/2 yard of fabric 45in wide or more.
Thread to coordinate with (or accent!) your fabric

Tools

Scissors
Measuring tape
sewing machine
optional serger
pins 

Step 1 – Put your jeans on a flat surface and smooth them as much as possible. Cut diagonally from the groin seam up toward the side of the leg. See the photo below but think ‘short shorts’ as you are cutting.

Step 9

Step 2 – Examine the cuff of the pants. If there is a bad section, like all my husbands pants have where he walks on them, you want to cut directly in the center of the worst part. If all things are equal go equidistant between two seams. CUT down the leg as straight as possible.

Step 7

Step 3 – Unfold and refold the leg so the cuff is straight. The bottom will not be level, don’t worry, the top needs to be straight as possible.

Step 2

Step 4 – Cut a ‘J’ curve into the fabric on the open side (not the fold). This will be the arm hole(s) and for me the measure was 7.5 inches long and 4 inches wide; measure on yourself but remember the top of the apron will not be on your shoulder, and, aprons tend to be one-size-fits-most style fit.

Step 8

Step 5 – Cut 3 strips of accent fabric then finish the edges with a serger or a zigzag.

Step 6 – Finish all but the top edge of the apron. I used a serger; you could just as easily turn it under and zigzag. In this tutorial I do not show decorative edging around the side edges but you can do that too, however, raw jeans edge look frizzy after washing so choose your method to combat the fuzz.

Project Collage

These next steps sound complicated but they are really easier then it looks. Think about making a fabric sandwich; accent, jean, accent.

Step 7 – Choose what arm you want to start with. Take one of the accent fabric strips and place it 1/2 inch in from the arm hole cut out *Leave 4 inches ABOVE the top of the apron. On the FRONT of the apron pin the accent fabric strip, right side down, around the curve of the arm hole. You will see there is a long tail left over, that will become the tie on the back.

Step 8 – Sew the curve. Wrong side up. Do not stress if it is not perfect!

Step 9 – Pick up the fabric and wrap it around the armhole edge.

Step 10 – Flip over the apron.

Step 11 – Fold under the edge of the accent fabric and fold it around the apron.

Step 12 – On the back, sew down the accent fabric onto the apron. Try to sew on the inside of the first seam to hide the seam best.

Step 13 – Move to the parts extending from the apron; fold the fabric, raw edges in, and sew it to itself.

Step 14 – Take the (sewn) fabric on the top of the apron and loop it down to the apron. Sew securely. This is the loop half of the neck hole.

Step 6

Step 15 – Sew the two remaining accent strips together end to end to make one very long strip.

Step 16 – Position the seam of the accent strip at the bottom of the unfinished arm hole.

Repeat steps 8-13. You should finish this with a long tail extending up from the top and out from the side.

Step 3

Step 17 – Thread your long tail through the loop to make the adjustable neck, tie it where you like it. You can stop here if you want, continue to add a pocket or any other accents you would like.

Optional

I like pockets, and, you have a perfectly good back pocket on those jeans so unless you do want some short shorts (on my husband! Ack!) I took the pocket right off the back of the pants.

Step 18 – Cut out the pocket leaving a boarder you can easily sew around with your machine.

Step 10

Step 19 - Position your pocket wherever you want it: top center, bottom right… pin and sew around using a joining stitch or a zigzag.

DIY Apron

This is just one way to finish the apron. I have made many versions and for an easier kids apron I just added ribbon for the neck tie and back; that is a 20 min project—10 if you are fast!

Women’s jeans tend to work best for kids, men’s jeans work for woman. If you want to make a larger apron you can use the other leg for extra fabric, just join it to the center part. If you need it longer, add a strip of fabric to the bottom. For me, this size is perfect; I wash dishes and bake and it covers well enough that my shirt does not look like I have 3 little kids/work in a warzone when I go out.

I would love to see how you choose to accent the basic center shape; link to your post or picture in the comments. If you would like more projects from me, or my views on life and raising 3 little girls check out my blog Katy Stuff.


Kate LuthnerKate Luthner is a mother of three little girls. Transplanted from Ny to MN, Kate began to blog about life to keep up with her family at home. Her blog, Katy Stuff is updated most every day with posts ranging from DIY projects to kid updates and an occasional book review or view on the news of the world. Kate thinks that if you can make it… don’t buy it.



4/23/2013

Air travel is wonderful for bringing new experiences, perspectives and opportunities. In addition to its many benefits, however, travel can also be very taxing on our bodies, health and wellness. But there are simple things you can do to stay healthy and happy while traveling—read on to learn my tried and tested tips.

As a former international flight attendant with more than 20 years of experience as a professional traveler, I have learned the hard way that there are a few things I simply cannot fly without. Taking a few minutes to make sure my carry-on contains these proven essentials has made all the difference for me on many flights.

Lisa Lent on plane 

Here’s my list of the top 4 things my carry-on cannot do without:

1. Noise-reducing headphones or earplugs

I’ve learned through experience that these can make a big difference to not only enjoying my music, book, nap or the in-flight movie more than I would without them, but they also help reduce stress by reducing the constant background cabin noise that can take a toll on your nervous system and energy levels without you even realizing it.

2. A large bottle of water and Oxylent multivitamin drink mix packets

Staying hydrated is perhaps the primary factor in staying healthy and comfortable while traveling. The air inside airline cabins is only one-third to one-half as humid as the air we encounter on a day-to-day basis, and dehydration can quickly result. Drinking at least a cup of water per hour is important, but research shows that electrolytes may be more effective than water alone.

Studies suggest that on long flight, drinking electrolytes in water is more effective than plain water, which is why I always add a packet or two of Oxylent to my water bottle, since it contains as many or more electrolytes than most sports drinks, in addition to a full panel of vitamins and minerals that help boost my immune system while flying.

3. A small gift for the flight crew

Everyone always likes being appreciated, especially hard-working flight attendants. Their lives often involve leaving loved ones behind or missing important events in their lives while they work long hours and holidays. A simple little gift of recognition is highly recommended, especially on long-haul flights—you’ll find that any in-flight requests you may have will be happily accommodated, or that you may just receive some extra attention and appreciation without even asking! I usually bring a box of chocolates.

4. An attitude of appreciation

Finally, I always try to remember to appreciate not only the privilege of being able to fly, but also the fact that my fellow travelers and the flight crew are doing the best they can while they are often tired or stressed. Being mindful of these facts helps the inconveniences of air travel roll off my back rather than raise my own stress and tension.

I hope that my tips can help keep you happy and healthy on your next flight—wherever your journeys may take you.


Lisa LentAfter experiencing health challenges while traveling that led her to discover first-hand just how essential good nutrition is to health and happiness, Lisa Lent became determined to find a better way to supplement in order to maintain her own health and help others avoid similar health challenges. Her initial dream to create a supplement for travelers ultimately led to something far greater with Oxylent—a high quality effervescent multivitamin drink that has become the ultimate supplement for everyday life! To read more about Lisa’s story, visit: http://www.vitalah.com/CEO.php



4/24/2013

Sometimes your only option is to buy on the fly. No time to consider what brand is better, or even how your purchase gives a stamp of approval to the company behind the product.

But, when you think about it, if you put as much effort into considering the purchases you make as you do with the charitable donations you give, you could be changing lives or supporting causes you believe in each time you take out your wallet.

pulling cash out of wallet
Photo By maska82/Fotolia

In fact, where you spend your money is about the biggest statement you can make, whether you are buying food, products or buying into ideas. Each swipe of your card is your thumbs up on policies, organizations and people that matter to you. Actually, it’s the easiest way to get heard.

Purchase with a purpose isn’t a new concept, yet as more and more brands include supporting social good as part of their business model, your chances for showing support are gaining ground.

According to goodpurpose® 2012 study: “Not only are consumers making purchase decisions with Purpose top of mind, they are also buying and advocating for purposeful brands. Seventy-two percent of consumers would recommend a brand that supports a good cause over one that doesn’t; a 39 percent increase since 2008.”

There are many brands worth investing in not just because of their great quality but also because of the company's dedication to the environment, passion for giving back to the community and commitment to supporting organizations that make our world a better place. 

The obvious choices are shoes that help people in need, clothing dedicated to bettering the environment, food that cares for its workers farming the fields. When you buy one of these products, you are helping a cause and participating in its success. And that feels really good.

But what about companies that aren’t easily recognized as doing good, the smaller brands making a huge impact? Falling Whistles, for example, or Hand in Hand soap. For consumers faced with walls of products and a sea of options, all of this spirited social entrepreneurialism has its benefits.

A quick search on companies giving back will expand your buying power, but if time evades you, apps like Rank a Brand make supporting sustainable companies fast and easy. And here’s a no-brainer: stay close to home and pick up food from your local farm stand or select garments from a locally owned shop to make the statement "I support my community." Just as good, buy handmade.

Then there’s B Corporations (the B stands for Benefit), which have magnified a new interpretation of what it means to be successful in business. B Corps, a standard created six years ago by two entrepreneurs, are certified for meeting strict environmental principles and social responsibility, being good to your employees and generous within your community.

Applying for B Corp status helps companies loom above altruistic-boasting organizations that don’t follow through on advertised commitments. Last I checked there were more than 700 B Corps, some that stand out as Rock Stars of the New Economy.

B Corp Certification, however, can be a pricey commitment for small businesses, and there are companies with philanthropic initiatives already in place that don’t see the certification necessary. Either way, when you take the time to consider where you put your money, you too can B the Change.


Margaret GilmourMargaret Gilmour is a freelance writer who loves the outdoors and knows everything is better if it’s just-picked and all-natural. You can find her at Fresh-Basil.com (where she plans to spend more time). 



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