Best of...

Last day of school. Time to look back at what we have done since January 1, 2010. Time to decide what to keep, and what to let go. So here are the ''best of'' decisions that we have made in the household this winter/spring, and how they have affected us.
  • Keep the thermostat down: helped us save on energy of course. We would dare to see how low we could go, but that can be difficult sometimes with kids. We kept it at 68ºF when the kids were in house, 65º when just us adults, and turned it off at night. Definitely used more blankets, and a lot of times long underwear beneath all the layers of fleece, which can make it quite cumbersome to practice cello or even hug your husband. My hands were so cold that I ended up using a space heater right next to me to keep my hands warm enough to play. That and huge amounts of hot tea kept us going, and the electric bill down. We ate a lot of soups, and used the oven almost every night, which also kept the living spaces warm and fragrant. Bread, scones, cookies, roasted potatoes, roasted vegetables, chicken, meat... Anything I could roast, I put in the oven. I also insulated the hot-water heater to make it more efficient, and put it on a timer. Keeper? Yes, but if I can find some way to better insulate the house for next winter, I will.
  • Clothesline: at first, it seemed like just more work. Instead of just shoving everything in the dryer, you have to hang one piece at the time, arrange them... with a few repetitions, though, I got the hang of what goes where (same clothes, after all...), and it gets done in a few minutes. I especially enjoy when my bed sheets dry in the sun; they smell fresh, and feel like they have been pressed. The only thing I have to make sure is to leave the clothes outside only during the day, and with good sun, so they don't mildew instead. The kids complained a few times about the towels being stiff, I must say. But between laundry on cold cycle only, no dryer, and low thermostat, our electric bill this winter/spring was cut in half. Less electricity, less coal burned, right? Keeper? Definitely a keeper. Wash at night, hang in the morning.
  • No AC: here in Florida, once the heat and humidity hits, it is almost impossible not to have AC. If we don't keep a minimum, everything in our house mildews. So... I put it on when it hits 86º (usually around 3 or 4pm at this time of the year), which is when the kids get back from school. And turn it off and open all the windows to get cross ventilation and a nice breeze before we go to bed. We use ceiling fans, which are fantastic and keep the mosquitoes away as well. Keeper? Yes, as long as we can use AC as needed. A couple more ceiling fans would also help.
  • CSA (Community Supported Agriculture): we tried 2 different CSA's this year, and I was not very happy with either of them. I know it is more convenient, but I do like to chose, touch and smell the vegetables before I buy them. Keeper? No.
  • Farmers Market: I love going to the farmers market, with or without family. I love buying all the vegetables and fruit there. They are always fresh and beautiful. I also get local raw milk, raw-milk cheese, plants, herbs, eggs and bread. You can ride there and make it a workout, or you can make it a family event that the kids look forward to- their chance to spend their own money on treats, as well as ride their bikes to and from there... we've also walked there, but I will not do that again unless I have some kind of little cart... Keeper? Definitely yes!
  • No processed foods: that is definitely the choice that was by far the hardest to implement. Because that means no cereals, no packaged orange juice or milk, no packaged bread, no packaged snacks and cookies, no packaged vegetables (canned, frozen etc), no packaged meat, eggs, chicken, chicken broth, butter, cream cheese, yogurt... the kids did complain loud and bitterly about the lack of cereal, orange juice and snacks. I started to make granola, scones, muffins and bread. The kids also found, to their own surprise, that they really like oatmeal with raisins, nuts, and super sweetened with honey or maple syrup. They ask for it in the mornings, which is amazing to us adults who actually don't like it as much... we also make them eggs sometimes, and of course pancakes and the like on weekends. We made orange juice almost every day during the winter (lucky us, we live in Florida after all!), much of it from our own orange tree. I also gave them fresh (raw) milk instead of packaged OJ, and hot cider or chocolate on cold days. Now that the oranges are gone for the season, we've had strawberries, cantaloupe, watermelon, blueberries... and we have still more blueberries, blackberries and peaches coming up. So instead of OJ, I've made them smoothies and other types of juices- as long as it is sweet, they seem to like almost anything! The school snacks can be a real problem if you don't give it some good thought ahead of time, and the kids get bored of the same things as well. I've tried to keep lots of different things on the cupboard, so as to keep the complaining to a minimum. Lots of different nuts, cookies, scones, muffins, cut up fruit and vegetables, cheese, bread, pop corn, kibbies, croissants, pieces of grilled chicken, quesadillas... anything you can pack that will keep and look attractive enough to eat and enjoy after a couple hours- nothing that gets mushy for sure. Keeper? Yes, definitely, as long as once in a while I can cheat and buy them (and myself...) some Oreos, M&M's or potato chips for a ''little'' change...
  • No supermarkets: keeping with the non-processed theme, there is almost nothing you can buy in the super market that is not processed or super-double-packaged. So... the choice is to head to a store where you can buy in bulk. The easy thing about it, as long as you don't forget your bags, is that you only need to go get bulk items once in a while. Nuts, raisins, flour, grains, beans, nut butters, pasta... they all keep for a long time, so you can go as long as 2 months before you need to step foot in a store. And trust me, the least you go into a store, the less likely you will be to buy packaged cookies and anything else that looks so great when you are hungry. Don't forget to ask for the discount for your bags. Keeper? Definitely yes- worth my money, time and peace of mind.
  • Make your own: you know what goes into it, and better yet, you can control what goes into it. Nothing funky. It is definitely more work. But certain things taste so different, and so much better,  that I feel I cannot have it any different. I will continue to make butter and yogurt from raw milk, because they are nothing at all like what you find in the store. Bread was great to make during winter, but definitely not now that it is this hot. So I am happy to buy it for a change. Keeper? Yes, and keep the recipes coming.
  • Hand-washing dishes: worst idea of the year. I hate washing dishes. No matter how much alcohol  I try to drink while doing it, it does not go away into forgetfulness. Even if it saved me on electricity, it drove me absolutely crazy. So I put the hot-water heater on a timer, and now run the dish-washer when/after the hot-water heater is on to save on electricity. Keeper? Absolutely not. Same goes for hand washing clothes.
  • Cleaning products: I am slowly switching, as I finish whatever products I still have, to more and more use of vinegar. I use it for the floors, for the glass and mirrors... haven't tried borax yet, but maybe I'll give it a try once I finish the Bon-Ami we still have. I will not use bleach, it is way too toxic. Keeper? ''Love that fresh vinegar smell!''
  • No kibble: I will not lie, at first it was incredibly hard. I did not know what to give the dog, the ratios and how much to feed him. On top of it, this dog came from the city pound with heart worms and skin problems. It was very stressful and frustrating to go to a regular vet who chastised me for giving the dog raw meat, and offered me nothing but kibble, antibiotics, antihistamines and cortisone shots. The dog would get better, but shortly after it would get even worse. It's been a journey, but I finally found a vet that is knowledgeable in both western and chinese medicine, and who can help me treat not just the symptoms, but the underlying conditions as well. The dog is finally responding and starting to get better. Keeper? Yes. Once you get the hang of it, feeding your pet raw food is very easy and simple- you just take a piece of meat,  give it to him and he scarfs it down, basically. It is just meat; it is not made from other sick animals such as dogs/cats euthanized at the vet and turned into animal food, plus rotten GMO grain and vegetables pulverized and treated with preservatives to make little pellets that vets say is what dogs an cats should eat.
  • End note: we have been told that raw milk is dangerous, and that full fat milk, yogurt, and butter are bad for cholesterol. We have used nothing but whole milk, butter and olive oil since I found a dairy farm in January. Both my husband and I just had our blood checked as part of the yearly wellness exam, and found our cholesterol are at optimal levels. His cholesterol had been high in the past. We also just visited the dentist, and our gums are the best they have ever been. Curiously, our trash has also been reduced to 1 bag every other week. Keeper? Yes, because it is a win, win, win: less trash produced, less energy wasted, and more health as a result.  


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