Thursday, May 27, 2010

Budget Friendly Date Night

Last Friday, Benny and I had our first date night in several weeks, which was so much fun. :) After coming home, changing clothes, and playing with Lavender for a bit, we headed out for two of our favorite places... Panera and Lowe's Home Improvement.

Dinner was totally budget friendly, since we used a gift card we'd received for Christmas. We both did the you-pick-two option and had water, so we could save the rest of the card for a yummy breakfast treat this summer. I tried their black bean soup for the first time, which was very filling with the Greek salad (one of my favs).

Then, we were off to Lowe's to browse the garden center and feed my need to get some veggie plants in the ground. (I picked up some organic tomato plants at EarthFare a while back which are doing well, but I wanted some peppers to add to the mix.) We picked up so many pepper plants, I think we'll be eating them for months, but there were too many varieties to choose from and they all sounded good... Anaheim, Pablano, Jalapeno, Sweet Baby Orange, Green, Banana, etc. The cool thing about many of these was that they were grown in compostable pots, either of peat or coconut fibers, so when I planted them, I just had to tear off the bottom of the pot and tease the roots out. I love it... no waste! We also picked up some herbs for pots on the porch (basil and cilantro to add to the parsley, thyme, lemon balm, and chives we've already got), so we'll have fresh herbs all summer for meals. Some of the herbs were as cheap as $0.99, so I bought a few and may go back for more before the summer's over. They're doing great in the pots on the porch.

To compliment the edibles, I couldn't pass up a few flowers for the garden, so I picked up a mounding perennial blanket flower and some groundcover plants for the bank behind the house. I also found some hostas (yes, I actually bought some hostas) that were unlike any I had seen at anyone's home (i.e. I couldn't beg them for a piece to take home) and will fill out the back bed nicely. Of course, I had to hit the clearance cart (yes there is one for plants), where I found a cute houseplant for $1 that needed a little TLC (really just a good trim and some water), so it's now in our home helping to keep the indoor air nice and purified. (Did you know house plants help with indoor air quality? All the more reason to decorate with live plants!) The best part of this Lowe's date night was that it was all funded on a graduation gift card, so it was free to us and I loved being able to add the things to our garden!

What are your favorite date night excursions? Do you find yourself continually "sucked in" at Lowe's or another home improvement place? How do you do it on a budget and keep things green? I'd love to hear from you! Here's to living and saving green!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Weekend DIY

This weekend we tackled perhaps our biggest (or at least the project we had the least experience with) DIY project to date... building a retaining wall. I suppose I should preface this with the fact that when I say "we" I really mean Benny, Roger (my father-in-law), Matt (our brother-in-law), and Mandy (Benny's sister). Benny's mom and I got the task of keeping five dogs out of the way and feeding the crew. (This was a little easier on the earth now that they're finally recycling, although she still insisted on paper plates. :) Baby steps, I have to remind myself... baby steps to green.)

We did our research well ahead of time and decided for our budget and ease, we would build the wall out of railroad ties. Since the wall was only about 3 feet high, these were ideal materials, since we could use an electric drill to go through them to secure them with re-bar. They were also nice and straight, which meant they lined up nicely along the deck supports. The biggest purchases for this project were the railroad ties (about $10 each), the fill dirt (we ordered from the landscaping place just down the road), renting the bobcat to help with moving the dirt and ties, and (in a few weeks after the dirt settles) gravel to cover the torn up driveway and the area under the deck.

I really wish I had a camera (mine was stolen when the house was broken into) to give you some pics along the way and of the finished project. While there was some stress along the way (the bobcat almost tipping down the side of the slope with Roger on it, the fill dirt covering up some newly planted things in my garden when it was dumped, the overestimation of the amount of railroad ties and fill dirt needed--which now sit in the driveway having been rained on for two days... and the electricity in the basement being blown by using the exterior outlet for the first time), I can say that I am exceptionally proud of my husband for orchestrating the whole thing and am so grateful to have a family who will help with a project like this! There is absolutely no way we could have done this by ourselves... especially since I can't help move the railroad ties because they're too heavy for me. :)

When I get some pics on Benny's phone or with the replacement camera, I'll post them. In the meantime, imagine the best looking retaining wall you've ever seen overlooking the best view this side of the Appalachians! Soon, I'll have a clothesline out there, blueberry bushes in front, and a hammock strung up to relax and read it. Heck, I may not leave that place until the leaves start to turn... aahhh, summer and a hammock.

So, what about you? How do you wrangle your family into helping with your DIY projects? How do you use up your landscaping leftovers? What's your next budget friendly DIY project? Here's to living and saving green, with family in tow!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Graduating Green

This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of walking across the stage at ASU, for a second time, to receive my Master's in Library Science. While being finished with that phase in my life is nice, this post is not about the accolades for myself, but how to graduate and celebrate on a budget and stay eco-friendly.

First, I knew that I would never wear this regaila again, so I opted for the most eco-friendly and budget-friendly option I had... borrow the gown from a classmate who graduated with the same degree last semester. I picked up the gown after work one day, and she also loaned the cap, tassel, and hood, which saved me even more. ASU does use gowns that are compostable, but they do not rent regaila, so this was the most finaicially and environmentally responsible decision I made with regards to this formal part of graduation. In return, I'll bake her a batch of homemade cookies. Pretty sweet deal (no pun intended... well, maybe kinda :))!

For the dinner for family, we hosted it at our home and served salmon with a feta and sundried tomato relish, green salad with homemade croutons, and baked potatoes. Dessert was easy, since we ordered a raspberry lemon blast cake from our fav bakery, Stick Boy. The salmon we baked in parchment packets for easy cleanup, and the feta and sundried tomatoes came from Sam's. We added some chives fresh from the garden on top of each portion, and it was a huge hit. The salad we made with greens from a local vendor we found at the farmer's market, and added some grape tomatoes, feta, chives, and craisins. For croutons, I took a loaf of bread that I made a few days before (it was too dense to use as sandwich bread, after trying this new recipe), diced it in 1/2 inch pieces, toasted at 375 degrees for several minutes, drizzled with butter, garlic powder, and basil, and had fantastic yummy croutons. The baked potatoes were easy and we put the salmon in the oven for the last 15 minutes or so, and everything came out on time and wonderfully. So, to summarize... buy in bulk, buy fresh and organic if possible, and make the work easy by letting the local bakery do the dessert.

Dinner and dessert were served on our china, which Grandma greatly appreciated, and made the waste minimal. Since I had cousins around, the cleanup was a cinch. We used our standard stainless flatware so that went in the dishwasher, meaning we didn't have to wash each by hand. Again, saving green in both respects.

So, what about you... how do you entertain for a graduate? What do you do to make graduation and the celebration green? Here's to living and saving green... on the master's pay scale!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Gardening on a Budget

So, I've been absent from the blogosphere for a while for various reasons. I'll fill you in on the biggest holdup later, but today's post is all about the generosity I've experienced in terms of our garden.

I should preface this with saying that I teach a gardening exploratory once a week at school for a handful of middle schoolers. As a result of my pleas to faculty and staff (and parents) for their perennials and donations, there are several folks in the community who know that I have a passion for gardening and sharing what grows well up here. Benny's also shared my love of gardening with regular customers, so there are a few painters who will bring him seeds and root cuttings of various things. Over the past few weeks, I've had friends and coworkers bring me hosta plants, dahlia bulbs, chives, burning bushes, raspberry bushes, and some grapevine cuttings. Since these are all things that need to be split and pruned on a regular basis, it was no inconvenience to anyone and ended up helping us out a lot.

We've created a small area for a veggie garden, which we hope to expand, where we'll plant the heirloom tomato plants I purchased at Earthfare on Monday. (They were in peat pots and if they produce what the tags say, will be fantastic this summer!) We also plan to plant some peppers, squash, zucchini, and some lettuces. We made the raised bed out of a damaged door frame that came from our back door, so it was totally "free" and was a great way to repurpose something. The small group community garden I mentioned earlier won't come to pass this summer, since several folks have become overwhelmed with building a home and/or moving. Maybe next summer on that...

The raspberry bushes and grapevine will be planted along the fence line in our side yard so that they have plenty of room to grow and climb. I'll need to construct an arbor of some sort for the grapevine, so if you have great ideas, let me know. We picked up our blueberry bushes from the 4H program a few weeks ago and I started them in pots, since the area we want to plant them is getting a major overhaul next weekend thanks to the McFalls clan and a retaining wall being constructed. So, our edible landscape is coming along nicely.

The hostas, irises, yarrow, various ground covers, and other plants from friends last year have come up beautifully this spring. It's an exciting thing to start to see your gardens take shape, especially when you start with just construction dirt, like we did! All of the garden areas have received a generous helping of mulch, thanks to the free stuff from the landfill. Hopefully the new garden areas will get some mulch once we can borrow a truck to haul it in.

So, what about you? How do you garden on a budget, share the wealth with family and friends, and find the joy in spring? Here's to living and saving green in the garden this season!