Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Economy v. The Economy

I think it's safe to say at this point that all of us have been affected in some way by that dreaded elephant in the room: The Economy. Maybe you've had your hours cut back at work, or have had a spouse, friend or family member lose their job. Perhaps you've seen your favorite restaurant close its doors, or a local plant shut down. Maybe you've seen an increase in the cost of some of your own expenses. Our household has been lucky thus far in that our own jobs haven't been affected--yet. But with Beo working in retail and myself working for a non-profit, we know that nothing is certain. We've watched friends, colleagues and neighbors lose hours, jobs, and even their houses. Learning that a neighbor packed up and left in the night is sobering (especially when it happens more than once). So months ago, we started tightening our belts and building up savings. We tried to get back to basics with food, stop going out to eat, spend much less on clothes, and cut back on the "extras". I stopped collecting dolls and sold off most of my collection to help pay bills and build up our savings. We're in good company, knowing that likely millions of other families are doing the same thing.

So we're feeling pretty good, though nervous, as we build up our potential "island", even as it's been challenged by medical bills and the like, and then we start looking out in the community and realizing: What is going to happen to the businesses we support if they don't get our dollars? Yes, we can go to the library instead of the local book store, but how many families can do that before the book store has to shut down? What about the local family-run restaurant, or the indy coffee house? Beo is baking bread again, but what about the new local organic bakery we just discovered, that is trying to get off the ground? We have to face that this is a dangerous dichotomy. We can build our own ark, or we can reach out to the community and figure out how to keep the flood waters at bay. Those who know us probably know that we've decided to go for the latter. It is a bit of a balancing act, and we have to be wise, but we believe it's necessary. These small local businesses reflect a model that we know is more sustainable not just for society, but for our environment. If we get through the current economic crisis ourselves and have no local bookstore, no local indy coffeehouse (which buys our produce), no local bakery, then how much have we gained? Futhermore, when these businesses close, business connections are severed, hurting more companies, and jobs are lost. It is in everyone's best interest to keep our local businesses strong.

So we're being smart with our money, but we're making sure to share what we have with the businesses that we most want to support. Baking our own bread may save me $20 a week, but it doesn't save the local bakery, and I can make room for that $20 in our budget. If we all work together, we can get through this as a larger community--not just here in our community, but in yours too, and as a nation. We can't do it alone. Last night when Beo took Sprout to the local bookstore, he questioned the owner about the signs announcing an "Inventory Reduction Sale". She confirmed his suspicions that she will likely be closing her doors soon. It's so difficult to watch a small, family operated business fail, especially when it is an important cultural hotspot for a small community. So please, take care of yourself, and your family, but don't forget to support the web that your strand is a part of, and help to keep that strong as well. Let's all try to do our part and work together to keep our communities strong.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Meal Planning

I have been trying to get back-to-basics with healthy eating and frugal cooking, for the benefit of the whole family. The thing that has kept me on track for a few weeks now has also helped to get the kids eating more of our different meals is to have a weekly schedule. Each night of the week is someone's night, with Friday being pizza night. (I still love Whole Foods' pre-made whole wheat crust On the weekends we can finish up leftovers, make a big pot of soup, or have a family favorite like veggie lasagna or field roast. Other leftovers go to lunches for Beo and I.

To make things simple, I compiled a list of main dish options and options for sides, and each week I have everyone choose their menu for their night, and put together a shopping list. The kids not only are more willing to eat their menu, veggies and all, but seem more willing to eat on other nights as well, as though they have a sense of fairness about it all. The kids have been helping out with dinner more too, setting the table, peeling potatoes (they're pretty good!), breaking cauliflower into florets, etc. As I've said before, I think having the kids partcipate in meal prep really helps them to be more open to eating the meal. So, our menu for the coming week:

Monday (Beo): Cauliflower and Potato Tian (Simple Vegetarian Pleasures) and Spinach Salad

Tuesday (Me): Potato Curry with CousCous and Mixed Greens Salad

Wenesday (Sprout): Homemade Mac&Cheese with Lentils and Steamed Carrots

Thursday (Bird): Cannelini Beans and Lemon Cauliflower (both Emeril Green recipes)

Friday: Pizza

Beo has been making bread again, so we often have fresh bread (or pitas/roti) in addition to what's been planned. We sometimes have a little salad or a second steamed veggie as well, but when it's a dish like the tian or curry, it usually is a meal to itself. This plan has helped take the stress out of planning meals for me, has kept us to a tighter shopping list, made it easier for me to plan my day Weight Watchers point-wise, and has made the dinner table a more relaxed and enjoyable place.

Thursday, January 01, 2009