Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Turning "Greenish" and Saving Green: Lessons we have learned as a family of 6

Over the last 10 years, my lifestyle has changed considerably. My husband has gone through grad school and gotten a job. I've quit working full time and started a family. And kept going. We have four kids, and one of our big concerns is the environmental impact of having a larger family. We want our kids to be good citizens who live mindfully, but that's not how our progression toward "greenish" living began. Nope, it began with grad school and soul-grinding poverty. We do this stuff because it has solved problems that we have faced, it saves money, and it actually simplifies the shopping process that would otherwise be taken up by extreme couponing. I consider us "greenish" because I don't sweat it if we can't recycle or compost an item. We don't drive a car that gets anything resembling good gas mileage. And of course we eat bananas that are more well-traveled than I am! When my husband was in grad school, and we were living on a tiny stipend with kids, I learned to make many of our favorite foods from scratch from bulk ingredients, saving money and packaging, and improving our health. Our first had feeding issues, so I had to experiment to get him to eat anything. After that, making baby food for our second child was a breeze. I had thought about cloth diapering our first, but my mother-in-law talked me out of it. Had I known how long my sons would take to potty train, I would've investigated a bit further, but the initial cost scared me. After my boys spent 3.5 to 4 years in diapers (long story) and I was still washing out funky underpants, I decided to give modern cloth a try for child #3. I loved it, and it brought about a laundry revolution in my house! With the residue-free detergent needed to maintain cloth diapers, I no longer needed fabric softener (1/8 cup Epsom Salt in the wash for clothes). Also, if I left a load overnight (always), I didn't need to rewash it because there was no build-up on our clothes! I started making my own detergent and scenting it with eucalyptus oil, yummy! I've had to tweak it for Wheeling water, but I have a new formula that's working great! Baby #4 is happy and dry in the same diapers her sister wore, and child number 3 potty trained much younger than her brothers did. I also found that hanging diapers in the sun made them smell clean and look great. We make wipes out of old t-shirts and wet them with a little soapy water. We cut paper items like paper towels, napkins, and plates early on to save money. Then I mixed up my own cleaners with a few cheap and safe ingredients, and I found that cleaning didn't make me feel sick! When we had kids, we didn't plan for them to be breastfed until just before the first one was born, and he nursed for 9 months. The next three have never had formula because they didn't take bottles, and they've been with me most of the time anyway. Even though we've always qualified for WIC, we haven't had a need for formula for long, which has saved a lot of containers and washing water. Having a lot of kids means that everyone figures you need clothes and gear and toys and books, and lemme tell you, it's so TRUE. We have been blessed by this fantastic form of recycling, and we are happy to pass it on when we are finished with it! And at our kids' ages (6mo to 8 years), they absolutely don't care whether they are the first to wear something or not. We have found that chasing deals for this stuff takes gas money and time, and amassing too much stuff requires a lot of storage, so we keep enough off-season clothes for one kid's size in a tote bin, and we get rid of anything that doesn't fit in the bins. Now that our family constitutes a "large family", or so EVERYONE in Kroger tells me, I have to work to keep healthy food in these growing bodies. By slow cooking and then freezing beans, I have a ready supply of BPA-free beans for 1/7 the cost, and the ones I cook are organic! It also cuts out a lot of trash from all those bean cans. By using one container of Stoneyfield yogurt to make all our yogurt each month, I'm saving about $30 and lots of plastic containers (yes, we eat a quart of yogurt every other day!). We make bread that has no icky additives and doesn't require a plastic bag each time (it doesn't last that long with all these kids to eat it!). We're getting back into gardening this summer, and I'm excited to see our seedlings sprouting in the basement. What I like about our lifestyle is that my kids don't have a sense that we should go out and buy things as a first resort. It has made them more resourceful to see us make things, reuse things, and use things until they're worn out. It helps them to have sense of thankfulness when they do get something new and to take care of their belongings. They are more creative when the toys don't do the playing for them, and that's why they're out in our green yard building a ramp and a catapult at the moment. Curious about making some greener choices for your family? We have a good thing going at Wheeling Mountain Sprouts, a support group for parents who are interested in any aspect of natural parenting. Check us out on Facebook, or join us at 10am on the 3rd Saturday of each month at Edgwood Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Chaos with a side of bacon

I often find myself in this odd predicament of standing in the doctor's/dentist's office making appointments figuring "I'm a SAHM with a flexible schedule currently surrounded by boisterous small people who just want a lollipop and to get out of this office". This is true. However, there is a serious flaw in my system when my kids have run the battery down on my iPod battery down during the visit, and I can't access my iCal to check for conflicts. I make the appointment, shove the card into my purse, and try to get out of that office without any incidents. Thank goodness most of these offices call us with reminders later! What has been happening recently is that I have accidentally scheduled appointments on a random day off in the Ohio County Schools schedule. I took all four kids to a dental filling, and they were great, including the kid with the cavity. Last Tuesday, however, was much more complicated. It was Election Day, which means that I needed to vote AND there is no school. It was also review and final exams week at WJU, where my husband is a professor. And the baby had a check up that resulted in 3 prescriptions. It all started out fine but went downhill from there! Dr. O', husband extraordinaire, offered to keep the big kids while I took the baby to her appointment. In the spirit of fairness, I took two kids and left him with two. What should've been a routine check-up turned into multiple diagnoses requiring a stack of prescription slips. I filled them all but cleared her up just fine with one, by the way. Lesson learned. The office visit lasted two hours and resulted in yet another visit tomorrow. We rushed home to let Dr. O' get to his noon class, and I left my stuff in the van planning to drive him in so that he could avoid getting rained on and we could get the prescriptions filled. When we got in, the other kids were eating lunch, and the baby was hungry. Dr. O' kissed me goodbye and left, and I assumed he was walking to work. An hour later, I had the kids all ready to go get the baby's prescriptions, and one of the kids shut the door behind us at the EXACT moment that I realized that we didn't have the van. Or my keys. Or my purse with my little-used cell phone. No windows were open to shove a skinny kid through to at least let us all back inside. THIS is why we bought a house near campus, because I have locked myself out half a dozen times! I informed my kids that we were walking to campus. I found an umbrella stroller on my porch along side the double jogger stroller that I would have taken had the front wheel not been in the van. We had no way to carry the baby's heavy carseat that far, but I decided we'd figure something out. I pushed preschooler girl in the stroller and carried baby girl in the Boba carrier while carefully instructing the boys on safety as we walked to campus. We arrived safely and found Dr. O' between classes! Eldest child said "we should've known better than to leave travel arrangements to someone as absent minded as Dad!", which was true but not very kind. Dr. O' took baby girl to his class, much to the delight of the undergrad girls. I drove the van home with the rest of the crew and picked up baby girl's carseat. Dr. O's class didn't have any questions about the exam, so class was brief. He watched the kids for a few minutes while I ran to the WJU gym to vote. Civic duty done, I piled the kids back into the van, kissed my beloved, and headed to Kroger. We had 20 minutes to wander the store while waiting for her prescriptions. Baby slept in the Boba, and two kids rode in the cart. They were remarkably well behaved, and I was informed several times that I "have my hands full!", which is the stupidest thing ever to say to a mother. Ever. While we were there, I picked up some nitrate and nitrite free bacon and let the kids pick out some fruit for a fruit salad. That night we enjoyed Breakfast for Dinner, one of my family's favorites. A bit of bacon, whole wheat pumpkin waffles, scrambled eggs, and fruit salad. The waffles freeze well, and I make a double batch of these on a regular basis. I highly recommend them with a drizzle of real maple syrup, not that corn syrup junk. I of course posted the bare bones of this day on my Facebook page because I found it funny. A few friends offered encouragement or registered their shock at our survival. I admit that at one point, I would've probably just cried and been completely overwhelmed. Last Tuesday, though, I was actually glad that all the crazy happened on the same day because it seemed less surprising that way! My advice to one Facebook friend who was once my little ninth grade student and is now a momma of two is to "just keep calm and keep moving". We can TRY to be organized, but life with kids IS chaos. Success or failure each day is in how we deal with the chaos!