Starbucks red cup 2017

Starbucks Red Cups, Zero Waste, and the Meier & Frank Holiday Parade

Starbucks red cup 2017Starbucks red cups are here! And people are losing their minds again! Thank god. I mean, can you imagine how sad Starbucks would be if people weren’t emotionally engaged with their holiday-themed marketing product to the point where they write about how mad and disappointed they are all over social media (and incidentally spread the word far better than an ad campaign could)?

Said ad campaign:


And yet . . . Starbucks red cups are special to me. I admit it. Even though I know it’s marketing, and I know it’s wasteful to buy coffee in a disposable, non-recyclable cup with a plastic lid, just seeing it brings me back to the Meier & Frank Holiday Parade here in Portland. Beginning in the ’80s, my mom would take me and my brother to see this homespun local parade—full of floats, high school marching bands, rodeo queens, and Shriners—and we would cheer and wait to see Santa ride up at the very end, and then we’d race inside to see Santaland.

Later, it was something just me and my dad would do (Mom wanted a break, my brother was living out of state), and then all four of us would go as a family. And as adults, part of the ritual became getting white chocolate peppermint mochas (oh, I am full of embarrassing confessions today) in Starbucks holiday cups. And I would feel warm and cozy and loved, and connected to my family and my city, because we were joining together for a yearly event that we’d done for decades, and all was right with the world.

But at some point, Meier & Frank (a department store with a rich and important history in Portland) was purchased by Macy’s, and after a few years they changed the store’s name. And then it was the Macy’s Holiday Parade (but not that Macy’s Holiday Parade). And then the downtown Macy’s store (still referred to as the Meier & Frank Building) closed this year. Goodbye parade. I even missed its final year, because of kids and rain and life, because I couldn’t imagine that even with the store closing, that someone wouldn’t take on the mantle of this historic, homey, seemingly essential parade. Such is life.

But Starbucks red cups are still here! I figure that much of our modern waste is due to convenience (individually packaged pre-sliced apples?), but so much is due to nostalgia and the kind of emotional connection that can only be forged by the epic collision of personal history and ad campaign.

Whew! This is a long essay to say I figured out a way to participate in this yearly controversy while eliminating the pesky paper-and-plastic waste (mostly): I bought a reusable Starbucks red cup and yes, I broke it out today (with coffee I made at home). It’s not colorable like this year’s model, but I can take it into Starbucks and get it filled with my yearly white chocolate peppermint mochas (no judgment) and I can go visit Meier & Frank’s erstwhile Santaland at the Oregon Historical Society with my brother, and something will be sacred, and something will last, and okay I may be a little stressed out right now.

But my point is, you can reduce your waste without cutting out the rituals and traditions that bring you joy—even if they seem a little silly when you type them down. Next up: how the heck do I get around holiday wrapping paper?!? If you have any suggestions, post them below!

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Happy Monday: I Enjoy Yard Work?!?

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#wokeuplikethis #nofilter

Happy Monday! I am pleased as punch to have some blogging time this morning, but I am a little perplexed. I have been undergoing . . . changes. I understand that at various points of a woman’s life, certain things . . . evolve. But I never thought I would start to enjoy yard work?

Growing up, yard work was a definite thing–that I would avoid. While my mother is a serious gardener (in addition to keeping a beautifully organized home) who knows all the Latin names of plants, I hate worms. And blisters. And getting dirt under my fingernails. Yard work was always like running–I liked the idea of it at times, but as soon as I was standing in the sun sweating, I would start to think, wouldn’t reading be a better use of my time?

Until now, my gardening has been limited to growing essential food: tomatoes, zucchini, basil. Even then, I became overwhelmed with the weeds and volunteer hours of my local community garden and was summarily kicked out after my plot (10′ x 20′ plot of sheer hubris) became a jungle.

But something changed this year. Between us and our neighbors, we took down several ill-advised trees (seriously, someone planted a sequoia in a four-foot-wide space), and my previously shady back yard became suffused with light! Which meant my sad, patchy, weedy lawn (all 200 square feet of it) was much easier to see. And I became obsessed.

I suddenly found myself at Fred Meyer with an armload of products: weed killer! Moss killer! Lawn seed! I feverishly applied each in turn, setting up an old sprinkler and coaxing my lawn back to life. Not only did I start mowing it regularly, but I even edged it–by hand–last Friday. It took two hours! And I had blisters!

And it turns out that taking care of your lawn is like making your bed: the surrounding space suddenly looks 100% better. So I found myself thinking, “I should really rake those leaves,” and “I bet I could weed the whole area while Sarah is napping,” and “Scott should really sweep back here,” (I am not sweeping). And then I started bringing a book and an iced coffee out back and enjoying my back yard. Outside. We had a barbecue this weekend and it was awesome. Could hiking be in my future?!? HA HA HA only under protest.

But apparently this impulse isn’t going anywhere–I’ve caught myself eyeing the fallen leaves and weeds in the front yard and thinking, “Gee, I could clean that all up in a couple of days.” So I guess this is me now. I may even plant some perennials this fall and actually do most of the work, instead of standing back in awe as my mom goes to town!

Well! That was longer than I thought. On to links!

Geekery

The new Thor trailer is out and boy oh boy, if you’re a fan of Walter Simonson’s iconic run, you’re in for a treat!

Speaking of Walter Simonson’s Thor, my podcast with Miles Stokes, THOR: The Lightning and the Storm, is almost complete! The penultimate episode is up now.

Portlanders, there’s another geeky wine event coming up next month! Pairings Portland is throwing a Game of Thrones Wine Tasting Flight August 9-12. Eight wines paired to eight characters for $25!

What are you enjoying right now? Post below!

How to Keep a Clean House by: My Mom

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My Mom’s kitchen, this morning–before 10:00 am!

My Mom, Cathy Forsythe, is a Clean Person. Caps for emphasis. Actually, to truly communicate her organizational and cleaning skills, perhaps I should type CLEAN PERSON. Or even:

CLEAN PERSON

What I mean to say is, my parents’ house is always lovely–and clean. Clutter-free, no-dirty-dishes-in-the-sink, no-hair-in-the-bathroom clean. The dining room table? When they’re not eating, it has placemats and salt and pepper on it. That’s it. When my Mom complains that her house is dirty? It’s actually cleaner than my house when it’s clean for company.

It was this way when I was growing up, too–except, of course, for my room. Because whether it’s my nature or it was some weird reaction to having a Clean Mom, I grew up an irredeemable slob. I actually unearthed a checklist my Mom made for me when I was about 14. Not only does this show how nice my Mom’s handwriting is, but it alludes to how horrifically messy I was. I remember wading through knee-high piles of clothes, books, and plates:

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It’s even in a plastic sheet protector! I’d like to say I took this to heart and mended my ways, but I really didn’t. And while I’ve gotten a lot better since marrying my husband and getting a house, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed lately with two kids and the unending piles of books and things taking over my dining room table. So I went to the source and asked my Mom for her advice! She wrote me an email later that day:

I was thinking about your question yesterday about how I keep the house so neat/clean. Thought I’d share some things that worked for me (not quite so regimented now).

1. Weed out the Clutter

First off, clutter makes me nervous so I don’t have a lot of things I don’t use or love.

Guys, my Mom is totally right. There are days when I feel like I am living her origin story, as I hold up my children’s toys and ask, “But really, when did you actually play with this last?” This is also why I’ve switched to a 10-item wardrobe and cleared the heck out of my closet.

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This Great Room is a great room, am I right?

2. A Place for Everything, and Everything in Its Place

Second, I try to have everything in an assigned spot so it’s easy to find, with things I use often handy.

Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up said the same thing, but I trust–and listen to–my Mom more. Hopefully I can follow this.

3. Timing Is Everything

Third, I try to stay ahead of things to make things easy to tackle. Dishwasher run at night and emptied so it was ready the next morning. Not as critical now of course! I still neaten up the house before bed. We make the bed first thing in the morning (I think you do too?).

I am going to incorporate the dishwasher tip tonight–my day generally starts with me delaying doing the breakfast dishes until I empty the dishwasher. If something comes up (it always does), this means I’m struggling to clean the whole kitchen right before I make dinner. No more!

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Living room!

4. Make a Weekly Schedule

I did find the thing that really worked for me was a regular schedule. I cleaned house, washed sheets and towels on Monday, clothes laundry on Tuesday and grocery shopping on Fridays. Wednesday and Thursday were used for projects, volunteering, and fun. Saturday morning I gardened while Dad golfed!

This makes so much sense to me! I need to figure out what is going to work for our schedule. Also, this reminds me of Ma Ingalls’ schedule: “Wash on Monday, iron on Tuesday, mend on Wednesday, churn on Thursday, clean on Friday, bake on Saturday, rest on Sunday.” Um, I’m glad I don’t have to churn every week.

5. Create Systems–and Assign Them Accordingly

I guess I really like systems, I was always missing stains on your Dad’s clothes so I finally put a bottle of stain remover under his bathroom sink and told him to pretreat his own stains before putting in the laundry!

I wish I could have Sarah do the same–but two is probably a little early for that. I have started having Scott and Sid do the dinner dishes while I’m putting Sarah to bed, which helps a lot.

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Look at those shelves. This pic is from when my parents first moved into this house, but it still looks nice. How?!?

6. Let Something Go

We also had that great play space downstairs that I could ignore if needed!

Phew! In our house, I also can shut the door to our basement and let the kids run wild while I entertain upstairs.

7. Limit the Interruptions

Another thing occurred to me is the difference with social media and internet. We didn’t have to react and reply to texts, twitter, Facebook, and emails. Lots of interruptions now that we didn’t have!

This is probably the hardest guideline to follow–not just because I do a lot of side projects where I need to answer email or post things on social media in a timely manner, but because the advent of this technology makes me feel obligated to respond in real time. I’ve been toying with the idea of just putting my phone away for an hour or two at a time every day–stay tuned!

Thank you to my wonderful Mom for passing on her wisdom to me (again), hopefully I can follow it this time. Hope you all find this helpful!

No-Dine-Out February Update!

IMG_0961.jpgWhy hello there! Geez louise, am I writing an update about last month a month late?!? I’ve been a bit busy. And I’m about to get busier (psst! I’m gonna have an announcement in the near future!).

But! To refresh your memory, my family and I pledged to not go out to eat in February, with a few exceptions (coffee and a pastry allowed, in very limited amounts; we already had plans to go to Great Wolf Lodge for a night; we had one Burgerville “cheat” night to use).

The goal: To virtually eliminate our restaurant expenses (which comprises 33% of our monthly food bill) without increasing our remaining food budget by more than 10%.

The result: Overall, we reduced our total food budget by about 9%–which was disappointing, and far off the mark in terms of only increasing our grocery bill by 10%! But I was pretty sure why: while our restaurant spending went down by 70% (I did take advantage of our “cheats”), our grocery bill went up by 37%. This was mainly because of Valentine’s Day (I splurged on steak and lobster), and because we held two or three dinner parties for eight–lots of comics folks were in town for Wizard World Portland (no I’m not linking to them).

Conclusion: If we were going to realize the full benefit of cutting out restaurants, I needed to similarly tighten our grocery budget. A no brainer for most, probably, but oh well!

Plus, we did eat out a few times, using a loophole I discovered near the beginning of the month: we used our weekly cash allowance instead of our food budget. While not strictly kosher, I was grateful for this for a few reasons:

  • I got super sick
  • I had a week where I cooked three freakin’ four-course meals and I was exhausted
  • If I can’t go out to eat occasionally life is terrible

Other observations:

  • Cooking virtually every meal (with a few exceptions) was, overall, easier than I thought. When I made our monthly meal plan, I made sure to add in any activities/events we had, so I was better about planning something super easy the night I had book club, for example.
  • While the urge to have a treat is a powerful inducement to go out to eat, I actually felt like social pressure was even more of a factor. The idea of looking cheap (or like I was no fun) made me more uncomfortable than passing up a sushi dinner.
  • Using my “personal funds” (my weekly cash allowance) made me a lot more selective about going out to eat–the reality of handing over cash made it much more real!

Finally, the most interesting thing I learned during this experiment is how to make pressed sushi (pictured above)! I’ll post the technique/recipe . . . before June. I hope.

 

Last Gasp of Summer

summer vacation Slurpees

Slurpees yesterday before we went to the pool–proof that we had fun (and sugar).

It’s the last day of summer, and I’ve been struggling holding back tears all week because I am that mom/stepmom/nanny (seriously, I cried when I was 19 and my 6-year-old charge went off to first grade–sorry Allie). Yes, Sid is entering middle school, and I am gripped by panic and guilt.

Did I use our summer productively? Did we have enough fun? Did I enrich Sid and Sarah’s lives and brains with culture, and challenges, and new experiences? Well . . . if watching Bob’s Burgers counts, the answer is a resounding yes.

summer canteloupes

All that work for two . . . two canteloupes that smelled better than they tasted. The anticlimactic flavor of summer (don’t even ask about the tomatoes).

In all seriousness, yes, we went to the zoo and on vacation, and swimming, and to the library every week for Tiny Tots. Sarah and Sid completed their summer reading challenges today (Sid read a lot of Archie). We watered the garden (occasionally) and made a ginger bug to make our own lemonade soda (turns out Sid does not like the taste of ginger), but mostly, it just feels like summer went by too quickly. Sid had at least five weeks of summer camps, and a huge chunk of my day is still taken up with Sarah’s naps and freelance projects (one big reason this blog has been slow).

But this summer is over, and we have a limited number of summers, and really, we might not have one like this again. Sid is 11, he needs less supervision and wants more independence, and that is a natural thing, a great thing. But man–right now I just want to capture this summer and keep it, fill the last few hours with everything wonderful and lovely and memorable and special.

I think this means more Slurpees.

Coffee Grinder Zero Waste

Shopping With Less Waste: the Caffeinated Version

Coffee Grinder Zero Waste

My shiny “new” coffee grinder!

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a Zero Waste post, mainly because I’ve just been doing the same things: using reusable bags (including produce and bulk bags), doing as much bulk bin shopping as I can, and doing monthly meal planning to try to cut food waste. Unfortunately, I am still buying meat and cheese in plastic (although I’m buying large quantities to at least cut down on the overall packaging). But I did have a revelation a couple weeks ago that will propel me down a path to less waste.

Our house guest, Alise, stayed with us for a month after Emerald City Comic Con. That was enough time for her to acquire enough souvenirs and gifts from people and publishers that she needed another suitcase before she flew home to Latvia! Not wanting her to spend more money than necessary, I took her to the massive Goodwill Superstore near us. If you’ve never been to a Goodwill before (how?!?), it’s a thrift store filled with donations from people clearing out their closets, as well as some new things donated from companies.

I usually only go there to get rid of things (so many things). I rarely go in, because I’m trying not to buy more stuff. And yet. When I went down the aisles stuffed with electronics, kitchen gear, books, and more, I kept seeing things that yes, I had purchased new this year. A five-gallon drink cooler! A stainless steel travel mug! Pyrex (I bought a 10″ x 14″ glass casserole dish for $7.99, score)! My mind boggled as I realized I probably never needed to buy anything new again.

So this was fresh in my mind when I opened Sid’s Mother’s Day present to me, which included a bag of coffee! Yay, I love coffee! However, when I opened the bag, I realized it was coffee beans. And I have no grinder. Or rather, I had one, but I lent it to a neighbor 15 years (and about 12 residences) ago and never got it back (I am pretty weird sometimes).

Off to Goodwill, where I found two identical white Mr. Coffee grinders, one for $4.99, one for $7.99 (I picked up the $7.99 one just in case). Took it home–no bag, no packaging to toss–gave it a quick clean, and then made a pot of coffee. Perfect! I looked up my grinder on Amazon and saw an identical one for $15.44, so I felt very smug. Also caffeinated.

Thrift store purchases might be hard to stomach, for some. The stuff usually seems “used,” rather than “vintage.” It can make you feel poor. There’s definitely something in our culture that makes stepping into a shiny-new store and buying a brand-new, brand-name object feel so good.

But how many of those things have you donated to Goodwill–or a similar outfit–over the years? The “new thing” smell wears off pretty quick. And oh man, the gadgets I saw: Ninja blenders, juicers (juicers are like the gym memberships of kitchen appliances), espresso machines, old-fashioned giant coffee urns like you see at church suppers (that might be something only I coo over)!

My tips: thrift stores in wealthier areas tend to have more brand-name items. And if you want something very specific (like a coffee grinder), I’d suggest going straight to a Goodwill Superstore rather than one of the smaller stores (you’ll waste less gas or have a shorter bike trip). Also, when you realize that no, you really don’t want to buy 20 pounds of produce to juice every week . . . donate that juicer back so another sucker can pick it up.

What’s your best thrift store find? Post below!

Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half

I Cut Our Food Bill By 44%–Can America’s Cheapest Family Get It Lower?

Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half

Lots of good tips, although I may have to work my way up to buying chubs of ham and asking the meat counter to slice it for me (their solution for expensive lunch meat).

So I’ve been making a Monthly Meal Plan menu and grocery lists for four months now–yay! I stopped posting my spreadsheets every month because I figured you’ve got the gist of them, but you can find past examples here.

Overall, planning out our menu has been very successful. We’ve averaged a monthly savings of 29.4% on groceries compared to our previous six-month average, plus we’ve saved 32.7% on restaurants. That means our average monthly food savings is 44%–which is insane!

But you know me: I figure I just cut the waste I should have had under control long ago. Surely there’s a way I can peel another 11% off our groceries, right? So I went to my beloved library and checked out Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half with America’s Cheapest Family, by Steve and Annette Economides, which had a lot of tips–some useful (create a price list), and some ridiculous (go out to eat at hospital cafeterias, I kid you not).

I don’t want to lay out all of their tips here, but there were a couple that struck a chord:

  1. Create a price list. I was bragging to Sid last week that I bought avocados on sale at five for $5, and he asked, “What do they normally cost?” Yup. Grocery stores advertise lots of “deals,” but if you don’t know the relative price of, say, a gallon of milk, how do you know you’re really getting a discount? The Economides (yes that’s their real name) have a “buy price” for almost anything–they won’t buy, say, chuck steak for more than a certain price, and if they find it at a deep discount, they stock up. I realized I shop at WinCo because the total bill is cheaper, but I really had no idea how much things generally cost off the top of my head. It’s going to be tedious, but I’ll be using my receipts to build a price list of all the things we buy regularly.
  2. Shop around. I really disliked the idea of this–I like to make grocery shopping simple, and usually just go to WinCo once a month (to stock up) and to Fred Meyer weekly for produce and dairy (because it’s close and I like it). I didn’t want to be slave to the weekly ads! But the book pointed out that every store has “loss leaders,” aka attractive items at rock-bottom prices, to get people in the door. Why not read the ads and see what I could find?
  3. Plan your monthly meal plan around grocery deals. This is so simple and obvious I should have been doing this before. Instead of making menus off the top of my head, I will definitely at least check our stores’ online ads and see what’s on sale.

I kept these ideas in mind this month and realized that Safeway (not my favorite store) was having a special on boneless, skinless chicken breasts (something we eat every month) at $1.69 a pound, compared to $3.29 a pound at Fred Meyer.

Because I’ve been keeping track with my monthly spreadsheets, I knew we ate four pounds of chicken breast per month. So I went and bought eight pounds, and separated and froze them all (note: I didn’t just buy chicken breasts–I did all my weekly shopping there, concentrating on loss leaders). The next time I was at WinCo, I checked out their prices: $2.69 per pound! So I saved eight dollars.

Of course, saving eight dollars over two months is not terribly exciting–gee, what’s that, a dollar a week? But that’s also only one item on my list. I’m hoping that by shopping a little smarter and using my freezer more efficiently, the savings will add up.

So . . . am I crazy? Just a little crazier than normal? I’ll keep you updated (on both our savings and my tenuous mental health). Got any tips? Post them below. And be honest: who among you have eaten at a hospital cafeteria . . . to save money?