Thursday, July 21, 2011

I will not complain

I used to hate winters in Boston, because I couldn't handle the cold. In my twenties, I was very, very thin. (You know those people who can eat anything and never gain an ounce? That was me back then. Alas, now that I'm over 40 and post childbirth, that's no longer true). Because I had so little body fat, cold temperatures took a toll on my body.

A store's motto, however, changed my perspective. I had a boyfriend who planned a hiking trip with some other guys in New Hampshire's White Mountains in November. He visited a ski shop to buy outerwear for the hike, and told me that the store had a motto proudly displayed on its walls: "There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing." Hearing that made me consider that maybe the problem was that I wasn't dressing warmly enough for the cold. I began to wear more layers and found it made a difference. For the first time, I could appreciate, or at least not loathe, Boston's winters. (Of course, gaining weight once I hit my 30s helped, too).

I also made a decision to be grateful for the weather, whatever it happened to be. That attitude served me well during my years in Boston, but I had forgotten it here in Washington. I found myself once more loathing a season, but in this case, it was Western Washington's nine-month rainy season from September through May.

But now... most of our relatives and old friends are living in parts of the U.S. that are sweltering. And meanwhile, I've heard a few locals here in Washington complain about the cool summer. I can't join them.

I will not complain. I know what I could be experiencing, and by that measure, this summer in Tacoma has been beautiful. Yes, it's cooler than usual, but the sun peeks out for several hours most days (sometimes even the entire day!), and by afternoon it often hits a balmy 70 degrees. I drive from work with the sun on my face and have a good hour or so to watch my daughter ride her bike outdoors after I get home. I can drive with the windows rolled up so I can hear the radio or a CD, without needing to turn on the car's AC. We not only don't need AC in our home, we've only needed to use a fan a couple times this summer -- saving both energy and money.

Yes, I most certainly can't complain. Instead, I am grateful for the summer we're having, and I pray for all those suffering across our nation.


FYI: Crunchy Chicken offers a great list of tips for keeping cool this summer.

For more on what's happening this summer across the U.S., this Weather Channel post shares some sobering information.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Summer Staycation Adventure, Week 1

(Since last Monday was July 4th, Monday, July 11 was the first vacation day I've taken this summer--making it Week 1 of our Staycation Adventure. My plan is to take each Monday off to have a fun and learning adventure with my daughter. More about our summer staycation plans here).

Discovery Pond: My daughter and I had two adventures last week. On Monday, we visited Discovery Pond at the Tacoma Nature Center. Adding to the specialness, my daughter's daycare teacher has decided to join us for each Monday's adventure, so all of her friends are coming along. Discovery Pond is a play area for kids designed as a natural environment that includes rocks to climb, caves to explore, a pond (with fish!) to rock-hop across, a treehouse to hang out in, and an old-fashioned water pump. A staff person told us that they were amazed that the fish have survived since Discovery Pond opened last year. They were sure that either the fish would die or the raccoons would get them, and neither has happened.

The kids had a ball in the play area, followed by a picnic lunch. We also visited a little of the inside of the Nature Center, and the kids got to see frogs, turtles, snakes and lots of bugs! As a follow up, I asked my daughter what she wanted to learn more about, and she said turtles, so we checked out a few books from the library about them.

Tiptoe through the Tidepools: I learned that day that Metro Parks Tacoma and the Nature Center were sponsoring a free "Tiptoe through the Tidepools" event at Titlow Beach on Saturday (yesterday), one of several they've held this summer. My daughter and I visited and it was fascinating. I learned a new word, "estuary," which is an area where salt water and fresh water come together. The Puget Sound is one of the world's most prolific estuaries, replete with sea creatures that are most visible at low tide. Estuaries are also perfect habitat for salmon, which is why this area is known for them.

My daughter and I were able to see and touch a variety of crabs--and watched a poor kid get pinched by one :( -- along with seaweed, barnacles, starfish, and the most amazing 20-legged sunflower sea star (see pic below). We're following up by reading more about tidepools here in the Northwest.

I'm really starting to appreciate the natural environment here in Washington, and probably will even more so after we visit Mt. Rainier, which is the most prominent mountain in the contiguous US (prominence is the measure of the distance from a mountain's lowest point to its summit), and one of the world's potentially deadliest volcanoes.

I never thought anything could compare to the breathtaking beauty of a New England fall, complete with apple picking and scrumptious apple cider donuts. But I'm learning that Washington state has a unique beauty of its own.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Cheap green tip: Etsy for everything! (almost)

I have grown to love Etsy so much! It's an online site where individuals can buy and sell handmade and vintage items. It has become my go-to place for so many reusable products. I've purchased (insert "reusable" before each of the following items) sandwich wraps, snack bags, Swiffer mop covers, cotton makeup remover pads and business card holders, and I have (continue to insert "reusable") flour sacks, bowl covers and dryer sachets on my wish list.

These days, anytime I think, "Wouldn't it be great to have a reusable [whatever]," I first check local thrift shops for the item. If I can't find it there, my next step is to do a search on Etsy. I'm usually in luck: if I've thought of it, then someone else has thought to make it. Best of all, by buying through Etsy, I'm buying American and supporting small business craft people.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Cheap tip, period: technology ideas

These aren't necessarily green tips, but they are money-saving ideas that I'd like to pass along.

Net10 for cell phone service: About two years ago, I had completely had it with most traditional wireless phone services. I was tired of the poor customer service, the sneaky add-on fees in the bills, the two-year contracts with hefty early termination fees, the way they'd extend your contract without your knowledge every time you called to ask for any change in your services (often times to reverse a change that they'd made without informing you), and on and on.

I'd considered pay-as-you-go phones, but most seemed to work best for people who use them rarely. For the amount of minutes I used--typically about 450 a month--most pay-as-you go phones would be pretty costly for me.

Then I learned about Net10. The 10 stands for 10 cents a minute, which is what the phone costs to use (with minutes purchased in $20, $30, $60, or $100 increments). I've now been using Net10 for almost two years, and I love it! All of my complaints about typical cell phone plans are non-existent. And even better, you can add minutes online, saving both the environment (by not buying the disposable plastic cards to reload minutes) and money. Net10's best monetary deals are available if you pay online, so I now pay $25 a month for 750 minutes (which I never use up). And if I ever choose to discontinue service, I can just stop paying.

The best part about Net10 is the fantastic service. My husband became a believer this weekend. We took a trip to the Cascades to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary, and while in the mountains, his T-Mobile phone had no reception. As usual, my Net10 phone's reception worked perfectly. Net10 even offers a smart phone, the LG900, which is what my husband plans to switch to as soon as his T-Mobile contract is up. And for $50 a month he can get unlimited service, which is half (when you include all the fees) of what he currently pays for unlimited service with T-Mobile.

One caveat: Net10 offers excellent service at really cheap prices by saving money on the physical phones themselves, which aren't as well made as phones offered by other wireless carriers. I've had one phone that broke into pieces after 9 months, and my current phone has little quirks, such as occasionally freezing up (I have to turn it off and on again to restart it).

Netflix plus Roku in place of cable: Cable TV is another service in which I had been increasingly frustrated. Countless channels with at times nothing good to watch, the lack of ability to select only those channels we really wanted, poor service, and big jumps in cost after an initial startup period. No thank you! So we dropped cable about two years ago. Netflix, in contrast, costs $7.99 a month for unlimited movies and TV shows. I've read a few articles recently noting that several American households are like mine: they've opted out of cable for the much more affordable and more personalized services of Netflix instead.

The Roku streaming player device allows you to watch Netflix on your TV. It's pricey--we paid $79 for ours--but it's a one-time purchase.

But what about Internet? Since many people obtain their Internet service via their cable provider, foregoing cable means finding an alternative for getting online. We use Clear, a 4G wireless Internet provider, which doesn't require cable or installation. Monthly at-home service is only $35, and if you add an on-the-go device (allowing you to use your Internet service anywhere), the price goes up to $60 a month. Note: Clear isn't yet available in all areas of the U.S.