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Seven…. January 31, 2011

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Today I present you with Gracie.  She officially gained the status of a seven year old in the early morning hours while most of us were asleep.  I’m not sure quite how that happened, as I was sure she was still a tiny two year old snuggling me just yesterday…..sigh.  Slow down already would you, time?

I thought I would share how we celebrated her birth and life while still keeping within the guidelines of our challenge.

First….dinner.  My children always get to pick whatever they want for their birthday dinners.  Gracie requested Pogo’s.  Right……we have never had those in our home.  Apparently the one time she has tried them she loved them though, so I did some google searching and found this tutorial (don’t you just love the internet?)  Anyway, I followed along, except I used veggie dogs in place of regular hot dogs.  Ta da!   They were a hit with the whole family!  Homemade junk food – yum!

Second…the cake.  This is the first time I have ever made a cake from scratch.  Looking outside of the box (The Duncan Hines Box to be exact) was a bit scary for me, but we did end up with an edible chocolate cake, which the little miss decorated herself. 

This is the recipe I used.

Third….the gifts. 

The “wrapping” is some of our beloved playsilks.

 In light of the challenge (and the fact that my children don’t actually “need” anything)…I made Gracie an outfit for her Mapelea Doll.

And a little something for the birthday girl herself.

There you have it.  A handmade birthday for my beautiful girl.


“Stuff” January 24, 2011

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I’m not a big fan of “stuff”.  I mean, some stuff has it’s place, and I have some things I really and truly love, but as a society we all have entirely to much “stuff”.  Much of it we have no use for if we really think about it. 

 My husband has gotten used to my agenda with stuff (which includes getting rid of it often, and moving around that which remains in our home on a regular basis.)  When we were first married though, I”m pretty sure I drove him mad.

I’m a minimalist at heart.  Even as a small child, I dreamed of living as a nomad with only my backpack.  Now that imagined backpack has evolved to an off the grid, eco friendly house that is sprarsely furnished, with just what we need to be happy.    Ah….someday.

But the stuff.  Oh my.  While I think that we may have less stuff than some of our comtemporaries – it is entirely too much for me.  I do not want to spend all my time taking care of our stuff, I have far more important things to do during my days.  The first and foremost being hanging with my children.  But how to keep it simple when you live with four children (and a husband who is more tolerant of material things than oneself?)  We try to only bring in to/keep in our home those things which a) have value to us, b) we use often or c) we truly love.

Recetly I have been trying to declutter one thing/room per week.  I find this to work well for keeping on top of things.

 I used to think I needed to have things to show my worth.  A nicely decorated home, new (well to me anyhow) clothes on a regular basis etc.  I”ve realized that this isn’t true.  I feel blessed to have the stuff we do have, as much of it makes life much easier and phsically comfortable than it would be otherwise.  But “stuff” doesn’t define me or anyone else.  What we drive, what we wear, where we live, none of that matters.  It’s not us – it’s “stuff”.

  This list is helpful as a guideline when deciding to keep or give away things.  This goes for things of “sentimental” value as well.   For things that you really don’t want taking up your space, but want to remember fondly – why not take a picture?

The List…..is anyone heading to declutter something after reading this? 

Do I love this item?

Have I used it in the past year?

Do I have another one that is better?

Does it have sentimental value that causes me to love it?

Does it give me guilt and make me sad when I seee it?

What does this item represent?

Why am I afraid to get rid of it?

How long am I going to carry it around?

Have I thought about this item for too long? 

Would i buy a replacement for it if it were lost in a fire?

Am I holding onto an item that was a gift out of obligation?

If it is broken do I really want to repair it?

Does it fit my vision of what my life should be like?

Does it bless my family?  Could it bless someone elses’s family?

So there you have it.  I’m on a mission to get rid of “stuff”. I want to simplify my life so that i spend less time shopping for, taking care of and moving around stuff.  I’d rather spend my time on people.

If you’d like some comedic entertainment I encourage you to check out George Carlin while he talks about “Stuff.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvgN5gCuLac

I also recommend watching – The Story of Stuff… –   http://www.storyofstuff.com/

What I Didn’t Buy…… January 14, 2011

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I recently realized an area in which we were not up to par for our challenge.  While I cook wholesome foods for the humans in my family…..the four legged members have been ingesting substandard dry kibble.  Which, from what I have read, is the worst of the worst.  Basically, pets that eat commercial pet food are starving for nutrition, even though they are getting enough to eat calorie wise.  (Sounds a lot like processed human food right? – High on calories but devoid of nutrition?) 

 So while we were grocery shopping this week, I did not buy our dear friends bags of dry food.  Instead, our shih tzu has been eating (and loving)  a mixture of turkey and vegetables the last couple of days.  His food is easy for me, as he can eat a lot of the things we eat, I just cut it up small for him and add some meat (which thanks to the leftover Christmas turkey we were given is already cooked.)

  The cat however will pose an issue.  I tried making raw food for him once before following a recipe I found online, and barely made it out of the experience without being ill.  I think the main issue was that I attempted to grind up the raw meat myself, which is a bad idea for someone who  does not eat the stuff.  This time I’m planning on heading to our local butcher and asking them to grind up some chicken for him.  I”m hoping that if I just keep the meat mixture in the freezer I will be able to handle mixing it with the other ingredients and getting it into his bowl for him a couple of times a day without losing my appetite entirely.

While I was reading about the feeding of pets I decided to quickly check into greener options for cat litter as well.  What i found made me feel really bad about the amount of cat litter I’ve purchased over the years.

 Did you know that traditional clay based cat litter is retrieved from the earth through strip mining?  The process of strip mining involves stripping back the top layer of earth to get to the seam of clay.  It is incredibly destructive to our planet. 

That alone would have been enough to convince me to never agian buy standard kitty litter, but there’s more.  The dust from cat litter is made up of tiny silicon particles.  The “bentonite” aspect of the clay is made up of aluminium phyllosilicate (crystalline silica). These silicone particles are a known carcinogen.  Yeah, I think I’ll pass on that.

 We are now using pine litter, which is flushable (if you aren’t on septic, I don’t care what the package says, I”m not putting anything extra in a septic tank) and it is also compostable.  While this is an improvement on what we have been using, I’m hoping to find a self sustained (and thrifty!) option soon.

But those come in a package…… January 10, 2011

Posted by boaktree in In the Kitchen....
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I don’t hugely enjoy cooking.  I wish that healthy, delicious food would appear before my family each meal without any effort from me.  However, I accept the fact that it doesn’t work that way.  So, as the Stay at Home Parent in the family I prepare most of the meals.  I’ve started making meal plans the past while, finding that it is easier for me to get inspired to enter the kitchen if I know ahead of time what it is I’m going to be making.

For this past Saturday night I had planned on making enchilada’s.  For us, these include a filling of basmati rice and lentils (seasoned) topped with homemade salsa and shredded cheese.  Pretty easy.  Or so I thought.

Only we were out of tortilla wraps.  Crap. I was not going to the store for one item.  I had made a pact with myself to cook more from scratch. 

I’ve made homemade bread tons of times before.  But had never considered making wraps.  Those just come in a package don’t they?

(Before The Challenge we were guilty of getting take out quite often on the weekends, but that didn’t fit into The Challenge, our budget or my standards for healthy food.  Sigh.)

So, I looked online for a recipe for homemade tortialla wraps.  Ya know what?  They are surprisingly easy!  And they taste great!  My 6 year old normally doesn’t even like wraps, and she loved these.  They were a hit with the whole family.

This is the recipe I used.  It makes 12 (I doubled it so i could make large ones though)  We’re making more of these today (along with trying out homemade crackers) to eat with our hummus.

1.5 cups of flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

3 tbsp soft butter (I used vegan becel, you could also use shortening etc i believe)

2/3 cup warm water

Combine flour, salt and baking powder in bowl.  Rub in butter.  Make well in center, add water and mix to form a soft dough.  Knead a couple minutes, place in bowl and cover.  Let rise 10 minutes.   Listen to three year old ask you twenty times if it is done rising yet….

Divide dough into twelve equal parts.  Use lots of flour on surface and watch three year old try to roll out each tortilla.  Finish making each one into a thinner circle than the three year old can manage.  Answer him gently about why his just aren’t quite thin enough to cook.  Heat pan with oil, cook each tortilla on med high about 1-2 mins, flip and cook another 30 seconds.  Ta da!  Lovely  tortilla’s!

This took me about 40 mins or so I think.  Though i imagine it could take quite a bit less time if you aren’t working with a three year old apprentice.

My First Challenge January 8, 2011

Posted by jaboak in jaboak.
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This is challenge going to be easy right, we don’t buy a lot of stuff anyways…. Or will it be so easy?

Yesterday while traveling I heard a really cool song, quickly I grabbed my smartphone (which somehow seems to go against the spirit of our challenge… but we love those things) and I was able to use an app to determine the title and artist (what a world we live in! We could seriously start  a discussion about the horizons of technology, and technology for technologies sake)

I love the song and I knew my wife would too.  I felt that the radio was speaking to me, that the challenge was coming out over the airwaves.

I resolved right then and there to buy it when I returned home from work!

That the last statement was in stark contradiction with our challenge never even occurred to me.

I didn’t take long for my dear wife to dash the excitement I felt welling from within (I get pretty pumped about collecting new albums) over the harsh reality of the challenge.

To be fair I can get the album within the rules of the challenge, but I have to find some means other than my regular income to raise the funds to purchase the music.

My wife graciously offered to buy the album for me with money she had garnered from some cloth diapers she had recently sold, and the proceeds from dish cloths she had crocheted.  That didn’t fly with me, my wife doesn’t use her money by me things!!  (I can see this leading to deeper exploration of my relationship with my wife and our roles in the family.  I’m desperately going to need her to buy me things this year unless I can come up with a way, outside of my 9-5, to get some cash.)

I am the first person I ever met that used Napster, and I continued to get my music for free some quite some time after I downloaded my first song.  However,  I guess as the challenge had been building in us over the last few years I had decided that entertainment has real value to me. And although I don’t think that money is the best way to measure value in most situations,  capitalism has pervaded our modern world. And assigning dollar values to things is capitalism’s essence. So a few years back I decided that I was going to pay for music and get some of my dollars through to support the artist.

Boy do I ever regret that decision today!  It was actually a friend who had suggested that if we aren’t going to buy things I could just go and “napster” my music.  But I cannot deny the value of an artist’s work. And as yet I haven’t started bartering for anything, let alone with artist for their crafts.  (I’m going to try that this year!!!!   Maybe my burgeoning marketing skills can be of some use to an artist starting out somewhere.)

I suppose their is two things that come out of this post.  1)  This is going to harder than I thought.  Though we have been discussing this challenge for sometime and I thought I had steeled myself to it, it’s going to be a challenge to live by the rules we’ve set forth.

2)  I’m not saying we would be better off as communists when I poke at capitalism (and in reality socialism prevails) but we do need to examine the dollar value vs. the real value of things.  We need to look at how things are “commodified”. How real things like a persons time, or the environmental impacts of producing and using things are so rarely included in the dollar value of things that companies assign, markets bear, and hence we pay.

My wife crocheted 6 dish cloths in about 3 hours to sell for $15.00 CAD.  My wife’s time is worth much more than $5.00 per hour (and that doesn’t even include input costs!)  Yet a cloth made with virtually no electricity, no large scale manufacturing facilities, virtually no transportation costs etc. is likely worth about $2.50 in reality.

What do you think the real value is of the cloths you get for less than a dollar?


P.S.  For now youtube will suffice as my music collection.  Enjoy Simone White, and her song The great imperialist state

Full Disclosure January 8, 2011

Posted by jaboak in Introduction, jaboak.
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I want to start off my blogging on ‘boaktree’ with complete honesty.

We are trying to share our ideas and explorations through a year, and likely our lifetime while trying to leave a smaller ecological ‘footprint’ on the earth.

So in the interest of full disclosure…  my job title is “marketing coordinator”.  The purpose of my job is sell more stuff. Stuff being our buzz word for the excess material wealth that we believe North American’s inundate ourselves with and in most cases put a net drag on our environment with.

By environment I mean the ecosytem around us, the homes we live in, and the bio-systems that are us.  To me this connection is at the heart of the “challenge”.  It is the admonition that we (not just humans, but me, my wife, our children) are apart of, and can impact our environment.  And that very environment we live in has enormous impacts on us.

Our family, the “boaktree” is not exempt from having more things than we need; but thanks to my diligent, stuff hating wife (I love you DW), we try to keep things of need, quality, and that bring us enjoyment.

I won’t contribute nearly as many practical things to our blog as my wife. She is the main labourer and manager of our busy home, and hence experiences, and applies real world solutions that have a less negative impact on our environment.  Solutions to living life that are sometimes innovative, sometimes time honoured, and often a combination of the two.

And though I won’t contribute any green recipes that emphasize the ethical treatment of food (those won’t really even come from my wife, unless she gets into explaining why she chooses not to eat meat) I hope that I will be able to contribute some ideas that become food for thought.


A Beautiful Year January 8, 2011

Posted by boaktree in Introduction.
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First post…..here we go.  I meant to start this blog on January 1st, but while my intentions are always wonderful, my follow through is sometimes not…..

I guess I should start with why we’re here. The main purpose of this blog is to document The Challenge my family has taken on for 2011.  Okay, I’ll be honest, its real purpose is to entice me to document The Challenge – remember that previous comment about follow though?  Yeah, blogging on a regular basis is totally on my list of to-do’s for 2011.  I will not procrastinate…..lol But back to the point of this space….

The idea for The Challenge came about one evening while my lovely husband and I were talking….and I was so excited by the idea I declared “we should totally blog about it!” And so here we are.

The Challenge….

We aren’t going to buy anything new that isn’t a necessity (read food, meds, dental, vehicle maintenance -there’s a detailed list here…..) for the year. And the things that are on that list are pretty minimum…..there will be a lot of cooking from scratch etc….the grocery store is not a free for all. There are more rules too.  Anything we determine we do really really super need/want that falls outside of this category we will have to come up with the funds for outside of our normal income. This means selling something we have or made, gift money etc. If at all possible the item we buy has to be used or handmade.  At the very least it has to be responsibly made.   We are also going to be following a mad budget as we need to start saving money to buy a home.

The point of The Challenge (obviously) is to reduce our impact on our planet.   It is also to teach our children the real value of stuff. It’s all about need vs want. It’s about the fact that life isn’t about stuff – it’s about people and experiences.

I’ll use this space to share ideas about ways we try to do this…and anything else that suits my fancy to write about.

I’ll let you in on a secret.  My biggest hope for this year is that it completely changes the way we live our lives. I don’t really see it as a challenge. It’s just a reason to live as we should. Be more conscious of our actions. Reduce our impact.
I love frugality. This is my dream.

This is going to be a Beautiful Year.