Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Little Monkey

Never believe the word of a two-year old.

Trystan had a doctor's appointment at Children's Hospital around lunch time today. So we went to the zoo. Char will be disappointed when she hears that, but she had swimming lessons at preschool, and it was nice to have a day with just me and Trystan.

The zoo was fun. Trystan doesn't ask complicated questions about all of the animals--he is more focused on locating them, saying what color, and sometimes counting them. So we cover more ground than I do with Charlotte along, spending a lot less time at every stop. We saw the penguins, chimps, the bird house, primate house, and herpetarium, and some of the plains animals--gazelles and zebras (ce-ba), etc.

We finished with a ride on the zoo train. By then, my hips were about to kill me. I had made the mistake of asking Trystan if he wanted to walk or ride in the stroller, and he insisted--several times--on walking. But I think he meant he wanted me to walk. I carried him halfway around the zoo.

After the zoo, we went to Childrens and ate lunch in the cafeteria before the appointment. He insisted on hot dogs (little smokies actually) and pretzel bites from a hot food bar, but never touched the pretzels. Ah well.

The doctor visit was with the surgeon who did all of Trystan's bowel surgeries. In general, my little boy is doing really well. The fact that he's interested in potty training at all at his age is ahead of the curve for boys who have no issues. The fact that he occasionally even tells us he needs to poop and then goes in the potty is way way way ahead of the curve for a baby with his defects (it wouldn't be unheard of for him to NEVER get that far given his medical history, and he's not even 2.5...). Diagnosis: keep up with the good eating habits, tiny amount of daily laxative, and potty encouragement, and we'll see where he goes from here.

It was a good day. But next time, I'm bringing the stroller.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Eating Out On A (Calorie) Budget

Can you lose weight while eating fast food? Yep. Done that.

No, really, 500 calories for a whole meal? Yep. Yummy, too.

The past few months, in the middle of attempting to diet, I've been taking evening classes (in web design--fun stuff). I don't like to eat at 9 at night, I only have about 30-45 minutes including drive time (at rush hour), and I am already packing a sandwich or bagel for lunch. I like sandwiches, but 2 per day can be a bit much. So I've been hitting fast food joints. And staying on my diet. Seriously, the free candy bowl at class is a much bigger problem than a drive-through.

Some of my favorite meals:

Southwest Chicken Salad (Grilled Chicken) with dressing from McD's: 420 calories

Cheesburger Happy Meal with apple dippers and milk (yes, I'm a grownup who eats happy meals...): 500 calories

Asian Sesame Chicken Salad from St. Louis Bread Co: 410 calories

Steak Fajita Salad (steak, fajita veggies, lettuce, cheese, salsa, black beans) from Chipotle: 450 calories ** Another good option here is to order a whole burrito, and only eat half. And I don't like sour cream

Two hard-shell taco supremes from Taco Bell: 400 calories (Believe it or not, soft shells have more calories...)

Just about anything from Crazy Bowls and Wraps: Seriously, they have tons of filling options under 500 calories. And most of the numbers are on the menu board.

Skinny Vanilla Latte and slice of Pumpkin Loaf from Starbucks: 450 Calories. I never claimed these would all be super-nutritious options....

Eating out isn't that big of a deal. Nutrition info is all over the internet. Avoid the words "super-size", avoid french fries, and avoid those mongo flour tortillas (seriously, sometimes hard shells are actually better for you. Also, avoid sweet sodas and teas. Go diet or with water. Or you'll double your calorie count.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Strange morning

There was a TV news truck parked in front of my house this morning.  Across the street, actually, next to a neighbor’s house.  Not just a news truck, but the kind with the giant telescoping transmitter on top, already positioned high above all of the rooftops in the neighborhood.  No people were around at first, just a portable generator that appeared to be powering the thing.


As I was buckling the kids into their carseats, two additional vehicles arrived.  There was a green SUV carrying two or three people plus TV camera equipment.  And an ice cream truck.  It was about 7:45AM.  The ice cream truck had no music playing, and parked nearby to the other two trucks.  The ice cream truck driver was out of the car milling about near the folks unloading tv cameras.


I have no idea what this is about.  None of my neighbors seemed to be out and about, and I didn’t see any reporter-ish people.  None in suits anyway.  I’m assuming that only crew members wear shorts on the job. 


You can bet I’ll be checking in on the news channel’s website during the day.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

My diet

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Ive lost a little weight.  Not a lotabout 8-9 pounds.  I only have between 2-4 more to go.

Before I tried this, Ive never been on a diet.  Never.  For more than half a day, anyway.  But I thought it was time to quit sitting on the overweight fence.  And it did require a diet, and not just exercise.

I kind of hesitate to post any brands of products (though it would probably increase traffic to my blog LOL).  Suffice it to say that I used (am using) a well-known brand of shakes and bars in addition to simple calorie counting.  A brand whose name means quick weight loss.  Ahem.  Now that were all on the same page, Ill try to explain why I chose what I did.

Why was not too hard.  The brand is a household name, and they have a website.  One that will create meal plan suggestions for you, based on the number of calories your diet requires.  They even have recipes (serving 4!) for meals that fit their calorie requirements that the rest of my family would be willing to eat.  It was an easy starting point for me.

I chose a 1500 calorie diet, though I only follow it on workdays.  At home on the weekends, I try to eat normally, just not stupidly.  I.e. no devouring a dozen donuts plus a 16oz steak and French fries and 2L of soda.  The part-time diet thing seems to work for me.  I pack my lunch for work every day anyway (the alternatives are expensive, time consuming, and not terribly appetizing).

Ina  typical day I eat:

Breakfast: (200 calories)  A shake.  Ive tried a couple of varieties and I usually make a mocha.  1 cup skim milk + 1 scoop of chocolate powder + 1 tsp of instant coffee + crushed ice + blender = iced mocha.  Yes, they sell the stuff premade, and they sell a mocha flavor, but I can buy the chocolate powder in a big tin at Sams Club and its way cheaper.  I could also skip the shake and go with 200 calories of cereal or a muffin (homemade, from a recipe that gives you calorie counts) or whatever here.

Morning Snack: (100 caloreis)  a light yogurt.  Ive been buying the store brand lately, and theyre both good and cheap.

Lunch: (400-450 calories). 

Option 1:  a whole-wheat mini-bagel (or half of a normal size) with peanut butter and jelly.  I measured the pb&j the first few times, and now just eyeball it.  I think its about 2tsp pb & 1tsp jelly.  I like my bagel toasted, so the peanutbutter melts a bit.  Yum. 

Option 2:  A sandwich.  Sara Lee very low calorie whole grain bread (2 slices) plus ham or turkey (I forget which brandits 98% fat free and 50 calories for like 5 or 6 slices), plus 1 slice of 2% milk Provolone, some honey or Dijon mustard, and any veggies I feel like adding (usually just lettuce, but sometimes bell peppers).

I eat either option with one of the diet companys meal bars”—I pretty much eat either the brownie flavor or the chocolate chip granola bar version.  Some of the others are edible.  Some are really nasty.

There are plenty of other ideas on the website, or you can make up 400 calories of your own food, or 200 + a meal bar or whatever. Even go out to eat.  These two work for me because I like the food, and I dont have to buy a lot of expensive ingredients every weekthose bagels come in a 12-pack, and one package of lunchmeat lasts 4-6 sandwiches.

Afternoon Snack (150-200 calories):  Fruit (Summer is great for strawberries with a  touch of Splenda, or a bowl of grapes), plus 100 calories of a snack bar or something else.  I like granola bars, or Teddy Grahams, or swap the whole snack for a skinny vanilla latte at Starbucks.  Yum  Yum.

Dinner (500 calories):  Home-cooked, or from a restaurant.  For restaurants, I get online and check the nutrition info before I go.  I find stuff to eat at McDs, Chipotle, Subway, Panera/Bread Co., IHOP, etc.  And we cook stuff like tacos (hard shells even!  3 in one dinner!  Read those calorie countsyoud be surprised at what you can eat), stir fry, even chicken nuggets and mac & chz.  Just watch portions.  Do a little math.  Its not that hard!  Sometimes, especially for restaurant meals, I borrow the evening snack calories and use them for dinner.

Evening Snack (100-150 calories):  Also known as dessert.  Fruit (strawberries and light cool whip), or crackers, or ice cream (measure!  Maybe not the super-rich brands, but there are plenty of lighter  options that are good).

Also, Except for the shakes, I drink water, diet soda, or unsweetened hot tea.  If I find that Im having a hungry day (like the day after a hard workout), then I try drinking first.  I only drink 1diet soda a day, typically decaf.  If Im really having a low-energy point, Ill add another caffeinated diet, which perks me up.  Not that I think caffeine is terribly healthy, but I really dont consume that much.

For exercise, I do a 1-hour step class once a week, and go for a 10 minute walk around the building every day at work.  On weekends, we tend to be on the go all the time, and its harder to fit in an organized exercise class.  On the go frequently involves lots of walking (at a museum, big box store, park, etc).  I try to actively play with my childrenkicking a soccer ball around, crawling on the floor with them, swimming, jogging around the neighborhood in a race.  But still, this is one area Id like to improve.  I just havent figured out how to bend time yet.

As far as that rapid weight loss thing goes, it hasnt been that rapid.  I didnt drop 9 pound in a week.  Or even a month.  Try about 3.  And I definitely do fluctuate up and downMonday morning I tend to be at my heaviest (after a weekend of eating heavier food), and Friday is my lightest (the morning after my big workout).

I know this wouldnt work for everyone.  For whatever reason, this combination of food & products & exercise was just about right for my metabolism.  My husband has had no success with this at all, though I suspect Im more careful about budgeting my calories than he is (and he added a mealbreakfastevery day that he didnt used to eat).  I am happy to eat much the same food every day at work, and I didnt have to break any eating-out habits to do this, which made it much much easier. 

I also had to get through a couple of weeks of being hungry before my body settled into the routine.  Not that hunger is a bad thingIm a grownup, not a newborn who screams at the slightest tummy twinge.  But it was an adjustment after years of pregnancy and breastfeeding, where I snacked constantly.  Hunger is a point that I think undermines a lot of diets.  The shakes and meal bars claim that they control hunger for 4 hoursnot so much.   I eat plenty of food, but my stomach had to adjust to the new schedule.  Nowadays, Im rarely hungry during the day (mostly the day after a workout).  I look forward to being hungry.  It makes food taste that much better, more like a reward for my hard work.  Plus, if Im seriously hungry for a day or two (despite all of the snacks and meals), I tend to notice a drop in my weight, which makes me happy.

Monday, July 20, 2009

My week

I tried not to tell my kids that I was going on a trip until the last minute. And, as I expected, I got a torrent of tears when Charlotte realized that I was going, and she was not coming with me. No amount of reassurance--it was only 4 nights, after all--helped at first. And then she pereked up, and demanded that I bring her a gift. "Mommy, you have to buy me a present."

My daughter, the princess.

I don't think Trystan would have quite understood, which is unfortunate. For him, I was there at bedtime, and gone by the time he woke up in the morning. I had a 6:40AM flight on Wednesday, and left the house by 5. I think he held up just fine while I was gone, but barely left my sight on Sunday after I got home.

I talked to the kids every day except Saturday, when they were at their aunt's while my husband attended a wedding. Charlotte led the conversation Thursday night, starting with an (unprompted) play-by-play account of her entire day. Then she asked me what I did that day. How very grown up she is.

Trystan only says "hi" and a few other phrases on the phone before he begins pressing buttons. My gadget boy.

I went to a writers conference last week. It was fun. It was overwhelming. I had 4 days of adult conversation and meals without potty trips. That was awesome. But, it was also 4 days without snuggles from my kiddos, without kisses and hugs, without singing a single lullaby or reading a bedtime story.

I am glad I went. And I am so glad to be home.

Monday, July 13, 2009


5 windows with stained wood trim around the windowsills

5 roman shades

5 drapery panels

4 brackets for the drapery rod

1 French door

1 wall mounted speaker

1 wall mounted motion detector

1 wall mounted alarm panel

Various switch plates and power outlets

Kitchen cabinets (top and bottom)

Crown molding

That is all the stuff we had to remove/mask/avoid as we painted this weekend.  On just the Eastern wall of our combined kitchen/breakfast/living room.

The giant room combination is done!  Well, its painted.  The baseboards were purchased (a while ago) and are still awaiting staining and installation.  But the wall painting is done!   The place looks so nice.

We switched from a cool, pale blue to Warm Buff (which looks a lot like caramel) and Wool Coat (which looks more like chocolate milk to me).  The colors do a good job of tying the two ends of the room together.  My husband thinks it reminds him of Starbucks.  That doesnt bother me in the least.

We have a honey-oak color on our kitchen cabinets and on the doors throughout the house, red mahogany on the wood pieces of living room furniture, dark walnut laminate floors, and a natural wood breakfast table set.  Thats probably too many wood finishes for one space, especially once you add in cool blue counter tops and warm olivey-sagey furniture with purple drapes and a red accent chair.  But believe it or not, it all looks quite nice (despite what it sounds like in print) Especially with the new color scheme helping to tie it all together.

Im glad the painting is done.  And Im hoping this color choice will last another 8 or more years.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

School Shopping

The kindergarten that we chose for Charlotte is a private, Catholic shool. That means uniforms.

This is all new to me—I attended public school my entire life. Back-to-school shopping for me usually consisted of a trip to the mall or local department store to pick out a couple of new sets of clothes. As I got older, and started feeling more peer pressure, I dreaded that first day of school. It didn’t matter how cute/flattering/stylish my outfits looked at home. By the time school started, they always looked wrong. It was like everyone knew to shop at a certain store or buy a certain style, and no one ever clued me in.

I’m kind of liking this uniform concept. Charlotte’s school shopping is done. Except for shoes—we’ll take care of that soon enough.

The uniforms at Char’s school are strictly mandated. Girls uniforms come from one specific supplier. Boys from another. For next year, she will wear a plaid jumper, with either a specific blouse or a plain white turtleneck (no generic white collared blouses allowed). Underneath, she must wear “privacy shorts” from the same supplier, and a specific kind of shoes. All girls, from pre-k to 8th grade wear the same exact shoe style.

A few weeks ago, we bought one brand-new uniform set from the supplier, and spent about $100 for one jumper, one blouse, one shorts, and one cardigan sweater. Today, the school held a used-uniform sale, and I have had the date circled on my calendar since it was announced. I left the school gymnasium with 4 more blouses, 3 more shorts, 2 jumpers, and one pair of pleated shorts that she can wear instead of the jumper for the first and last months of school. Total cost: $33. I will definitely be relying on these sales in the coming years.

We still need to buy the uniform shoes and gym shoes. And I have to sew a white dress for special mass days (I have the fabric already bought and waiting).

The more I think about the uniforms, the more I like the idea. If I had to buy 5 (or more) normal back-to-school outfits with shoes, I wouldn’t spend much less than what I have for uniforms. And she’d probably need new things as the seasons change. This way, there will be no question of what she wears every day. If the clothes I bought today are any indication of how the fabrics weather use, she will be able to re-use anything that still fitsts next year (1st grade requires a different skirt, though).

And, she won’t have to walk in the first day of school and looking out of place.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Kristi's Guide to making Pizza (Part Deux)

I got a little behind on my promise of Pizza crust and sauce recipes. Here they are, as promised. My crust looks a lot like Alton Brown's, with some modifications to yeast and rise time so that I don't have to plan a whole day in advance (I never manage to do that).

Pizza Crust
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp Kosher Salt*
  • 1 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil, plus more for the rising bowl
  • 3/4 cup warm water (NOT boiling)
  • 2-3 cups bread flour (you can substitute 1-1.15 cups whole wheat flour here if you like)
  • 1 packet or 1 scant Tbsp (2 1/4 tsp) dry yeast

*If you use regular table salt, go with 1/2 Tbsp.

Add yeast to the warm watter, stirring to combine. Set aside for a few minutes until it starts to look foamy.

In the mixing bowl of a stand mixer (or a regular bowl if you've got strong upper arms), Add 1 cup of the flour, sugar, and salt. Mix by hand to make sure you don't have lumps of sugar or salt. Add the water/yeast mixture and the oil.

Attach bowl to stand mixer and knead with kneading hook (or whatever your mixer uses for bread). Add remaining flour, about 1/4 cup at a time, until the dough forms a ball around the hook. If you're doing this by hand, you want a fairly stiff, not oozy dough. The amount you need seems to depend greatly on the humidity and how loose or tightly packed your flour is when you measure it.

Knead with the mixer (or by hand) for 10-15 minutes. This helps develop the gluten, which will make your pizza dough chewy and firm and able to be stretched into shape.

Lightly oil a bowl with olive oil. Remove dough from mixer, and hand-shape it into a bowl. Place dough in oiled bowl, and flip it over once so that the top surface has some oil on it as well. Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and set it to rise in a warm (non-drafty) place (I like inside the oven, but for pizza I use the top of the stove, since you'll be turning the oven on in the next step)

Place your pizza stone (if using) on the very bottom rack in the very lowest position in your oven. Turn your oven on as high as it will go (mine goes to 500 degrees).

No, I haven't forgotten to let the pizza dough rise. But your oven needs to pre-heat for a REALLY long time to make good use of that pizza stone.

Let the dough rise for about an hour, until doubled in size. You should be able to poke it with the tip of your finger, and the dent will not immediately spring back.

Punch the dough down (just like it sounds, and then do 2 or 3 quick kneads to kind of mix in any crusty top on the dough) and let rest for 10 minutes while you make the sauce.

This dough will make 2 smallish crusts or one fairly large one. We usually do 2 to allow for more variety in toppings. So, divide the dough in half, and stretch/roll/pat/pull/smash the dough into a rough circular shape.

Also, if you want to double the recipe, check your stand mixer first. You might want to do it in 2 batches instead of one double batch. I don't want anyone burning out a motor.

Pizza Sauce
  • 1 small can tomato sauce (the short size. You can use a regular 15-oz can if you want, but you'll have leftovers
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Seasonings: salt, pepper, basil, oregano, fennel seeds, crushed red pepper (measure? I never measure....maybe around 1/2 tsp each except for salt, then taste and adjust. Do salt last, because it really depends on your preference and brand of tomato sauce)
  • OR a pre-made pizza seasoning. I like and use Penzey's Pizza Seasoning*, since it has pretty much the same stuff that I normally add.

In a small saucepan or skillet over medium-medium high heat, add the oil until it shimmers.

Add onion and saute until it starts to look clear (sweat the onion). Add the garlic and heat for about a minute. Then dump in the tomato sauce, sugar, and seasonings. Stir and simmer, adjusting seasonings and salt to your taste.

Note that I typically use dried seasoning. Fresh basil and oregano are wonderful--mince them pretty fine and add with the sauce. But you'll probably want some dried orgegano in there too. Dried tastes more pizza-ish than fresh. Don't ask me why.

Final Pizza Prep
Cut a piece of parchment paper into a rough circle the size of your pizza stone. Place one formed crust on top of it, then top with sauce, cheese, and toppings of your choice.

Using a pizza peel (those paddle things that pizzarias have) if you've got one, or a cookie sheet if you don't, slide the pizza, parchment and all, onto the pizza stone.

Bake at 500 for about 10 minutes, give or take. The cheese should be bubbly and just starting to brown. If you stretched your dough super-thin or topped it with 3 layers of topping, or something, adjust your baking time as necessary.

When you remove the pizza from the oven, you can (with oven-mitted hands) tug on the parchment and it will slide right off the stone. Leave the pizza stone in the oven between pizzas (or take it out with the last pie).

*No, I don't get any kind of money from Penzeys. I wish. I mean, I love their store and their catalog, and I would be happy to show photos of my space drawer (AND cabinet) full of Penzey's spices if they'd care to pay me (in cash or merchandise). But no, its just free publicity for them because I'm a satisfied customer.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009


1 house
2 kids
3 mortgages*
4 student loans repaid
5 jobs, 5 cars, 5 vacations
6 surgeries**
7.5 rooms painted***
8 years of marriage

Happy 8th Anniversary to my One True Love! May we have 80 more together!

* not at the same time!
** 2 for me, 4 for Trystan
*** our kitchen/breakfast/family room combo is half painted as I type

Monday, July 06, 2009

New Things: More and Less

This weekend, people saw both more and less of me for the first time. 

More of me as I wore a bikiniIn Public!for the first time.  Ever, I think.  Not counting a few romps in our backyard sprinkler with the kids this summer.  I dont remember owning one when I was a kid, and I was so self-conscious during jr high and high school that I never wanted one.  I could probably write a whole treatise on my body image issues and how they came about.  Maybe another day.

As for the less of me, that is the reason I felt brave enough to show my navel in public.  Ive lost a little weight.  Were not talking model-slim or ribs sticking out or anything like that.  In fact, so far, its under 10 pounds of weight loss (depending on where you count my starting point and whether I hop on the scale in the early morning or after dinner.).  After each baby, I got my weight back to my starting point, which is the same as Ive weighed since about the end of college.  I think today Ive gone back to around sophomore year of college.  Not quite Freshman year, and certainly not what my first drivers license listed (106!  I think that was a stretch even at 16).  The weight loss is slow-going.  8-9 pounds over 3 months.  Im not starving myself, and really only counting calories during the week, when packing both breakfast and lunch to eat at work makes the task pretty mindless.  And easy to stick to (the alternatives being an always-half-empty vending machine, nasty cafeteria, or wasting 20 minutes in the car driving to buy junk food).

I also admit that my goal is driven by our Wii Fit, which reminds me to set a goal to reach my ideal BMI every time I turn it on.  Im at a BMI of about 23 (ideal is supposed to be 22).  I ought to hit 22 in about 4 pounds.  Thats my goal: to shut up the Wii Fit.  And possibly to buy clothes in single-digit sizes.  Possibly.  I have been somewhat surprised that Im not really down a clothing size yet.  Its more that my skinny pants fit comfortably, and some form-fitting t-shirts fit my form better.  The only place that I ought to be down a size is in brasand that is depressing.  Because, darnit, its not even the bandsize thats shrinking (I do not have a delicately proportioned ribcageor delicate bone structure of any type)—it’s the cup size that has dropped.  Bah.

The occasion for my belly-baring was that on Friday, our family went to Aquaport, a nice water park in Maryland Heights.  That is also a new thing, btwweve lived fairly close by for almost 9 years, now, and never gone.  The kids had a great time.  They have wonderful kiddie pool areas including a water slide that Charlotte loved, and Trystan feared to try.  He was big enough, but wanted to go with a parent, and we were too big.  We all enjoyed the lazy river.  Charlotte can almost ride by herself (*she* certainly thought she could, *I* wanted her to be within reach because she cant quite touch the bottom, even if she can swim well enough).  Trystan rides very well on the lap of an adult.  The tricky part there is that I have to get positioned on the tube float and have someone hand him in. 

Looking around that day, I realized that my still-not-even-close-to-perfect body is well within acceptable bikini standards, at least among the mortal post-baby population.  I saw quite a few bronzed bellies that I would never have bared, but that didnt look that bad.  I definitely have looser standards for other people than for myself.  I was self-conscious of my stretch marks and droopiness below the navel, but really, it wasnt so bad.  Just pale.  But Im pale all over, and self-tanners either turn me funny colors or dont last very long. 

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Green Proof

I've mentioned before that we try a variety of different approaches in our house to live more greenly. Is greenly a word?

I'm not going to claim that we're off the grid (though my husband has been drooling over solar roof panels for several years), or that we're self-sustaining (though I might get a handful of tomatoes, apples, and blueberries..and possibly a pumpkin from our suburban yard). But we're making progress.

And I have proof.!

Ameren sent out a report of our energy usage this spring, comparing the last couple of years. And the graph shows a clear trend of decreasing energy consumption. Hooray!

We've been replacing light bulbs all over our house with compact fluorescents, where possible. There are several light fixtures that haven't been touched, because the lights are wired to a dimmer switch, and most CFL's aren't compatible with those. I've actually been considering swapping out the dimmers on some of them, since I don't much like dim light. (Complete tangent: my eyes see fairly well in the dark. Or in bright light. Not so much in dim light, or in darkness with bright spots like headlights. So, I am less of a fan of the dimmer switches than I thought I would be when we installed them).

In addition to the light bulbs, we are trying to make a dent in electricity usage with a few other simple things:

  • Unplugging chargers and the laptop when they're not in use.
  • Air-drying more loads of laundry (outside if its nice and we're home to make sure things don't escape in the wind, or inside in a drying rack set in our bathtub).
  • Setting the dishwasher to air-dry instead of heat, though that means towel-drying half of the clean dishes.
  • Using a shorter wash cycle for clothes--that one's practical too, as the "normal" cycle takes over an hour to complete and "express" gets the job done just as well in half the time.
  • Closing shades and drapes during sunny summer days (and I'm considering adding shades or blackout liners to a couple more windows on the west side of our house).
  • We've had a programmable thermostat almost since we moved into our house (I think we replaced the basic ones within weeks of closing). If you don't have one, and you're away from your house during the day, get one. They make it easy to save energy!

There's always more that we can do. Hubby's been researching solar-powered attic fans. We'd both like to add a second HVAC zone to our house (one unit is horribly inefficient for 2 storys plus basement--we get a 20 degree difference between the upper floor and the basement on a good day). The solar roof panels are a good idea too. And maybe a couple of rain barrels to help with watering the garden.

Most of the ideas are kind of big--like the dual zone or solar panels. And I'm concerned about doing the solar thing with our current roof--it's almost 10 years old out of a 15 (maybe 20 if we're lucky) year lifespan, and I'm thinking that solar shingles will complicate maintenance. The rain barrels aren't quite so huge of an issue, and maybe I'll get around to those this summer or next. In the mean time, we don't actually water the yard and garden that regularly (which probably contributes to my spotty vegetable yields).

How about you? What green-living tricks have you tried? What works for you? What didn't?