Monday, April 21, 2014

Frugal Living

Speaking of Money, which I did in my last blog… I’ve been living in a real house, and buying groceries for the first time in my life for the last two months. It’s been a strange shift to “adulthood”—a term I use really loosely when regarding myself—but I have been able to maintain a conscious despite the fact that room and board is no longer provided as a work stipend.
A few things that help me live cheaper, and usually more sustainably.
1)      Kids lose shit.  I have not had to purchase sunscreen, ball caps, pens(!) or reusable water bottles in YEARS. I guess this isn’t something that’s replicable for all my readers…but having a finders keepers mentality has saved me some money, and gotten me some cool shit. For example, I would Never spend the money on a glow in the dark Nalgene, some non-comedogenic sunscreen, or a big roller gel pen…but now I have all those things.
2)      Businesses gotta stock up. Proud to say I have Never purchased toilet paper. Hmm, maybe that one time I lived on my own in college one summer.  But certainly for the last several years of working residential jobs, and even now of working in a park—the Man pays for my toilet paper, and I’m sadly proud of that. I also use no more than 6 squares (if it’s necessary) at a time, but average out around 4. We’re pretty frugal TP users. And I’m sorry if that’s TMI, but I challenge you to use 6 squares of something that’s not 4ply Charmin! J
3)      DIY toiletries. The other day I was thinking about how much money I would spend on shampoo (if I had more hair), toothpaste, and deodorant if I didn’t make it myself. Simple household kitchen items go a long way in all these products without using plastic containers, aluminum and sulfites, or requiring transportation costs. Win.
4)      On Sale + coupons +discounts. These last two months have been only 2 of the 6 months or so in my LIFE that I have had to purchase my own groceries…and I’ve been having so much fun. When we first got here, we went a little crazy. We successfully avoided all the bagged snack items, but we bought a ton of pantry stockers (which is necessary in a new home). Fortunately, the local co-op (which is AMAZING) was having a bulk-food-discount month, and we saved $50!! The next few weeks we spent an astonishing amount on groceries, and I was tempted to call my mom and ask how she spent the same amount on 5 people that we do with the two of us…but now we have figured it out. I have a chart of how much things typically cost at the lovely local co-op and the larger, big box store, Sprouts. Unfortunately, most things are cheaper at Sprouts, but not everything! We can save quite a bit by knowing what to buy where, and since they’re across the street from each other, we don’t spend a lot on gas by store-hopping. We have also adopted a new method of only buying things on sale. Instead of planning menus with recipes we have, we take advantage of the discount bags (we just got 8 lil’ peppers for $1!) and get creative in the kitchen, making a big batch of something to eat on throughout the week. For a while I was taking advantage of volunteer opportunities around town that are sponsored by the co-op to meet some locals and earn a 18% discount for every hour I volunteered. But now that Amil WORKS at the co-op, we both get perpetual discount cards. Yipee!
5)      Bike/Commute I’ll admit, we’re not great at this yet, but we’re trying. We bought some roller blades, and a bike. We live just over a mile from our main “office,” and less than a mile from the Co-op that Amil will be working at. We try to consolidate trips, but ironically, I do the most driving for meetings with the environmental groups I’m a part of.  There’s a store we both need things from, and have for over 2 weeks, but we haven’t gone yet because it’s “out of the way.” :) I like that. I also LOVE my bike ride to work and back. It’s warm and the wisteria are blooming and …I’m just falling in love with Albuquerque.
So, I’m sure there’s other things we’re not really aware of to ‘live frugally’ but those are some of the more fun ones I’ve thought of recently. One thing I’m super anal about (probably unnecessarily so) is using the oven. I always want to make sure we have 2 or 3 things to put in the oven so it’s “worth it”. I’m not sure if this is actually efficient, but tonight, for example, I’m bringing my black-bean brownie mix to a friend’s house to use her oven while she’s baking. Silly? Maybe that should be something I examine in my trade-offs website which will hopefully launch soon.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Shaking the Dust Off, while the wind blows around.

This past week I had the immense privilege of taking an inspiring group of 6th graders to a place I had never been to before. Listed somewhere in the perks of the unbelievable sights, the student’s questions that made me ponder as much as them, and the experiential … experience, is the fact that I got paid to do this.
(Photo by Conservation Lands Foundation)

Yep, it’s my job to drive young'uns around this incredible state, feed them wild things, encourage them to crawl through rocks,  and challenge themselves to do things they never even thought about doing. Some people surely believe that I spend my days singing cum-by-ah and kicking soccer balls at kids to whom I’m just another adult at their disposal- but I’m happy to say I have never been in a position like that. Working at  current position has enabled me to provide the most insightful, intentional and hands-on education I have ever been able to offer. Sure I have to scorn a few trouble-makers, clean up some toilets and vacuum vans…but the real “dirty” work is the most fun: digging through shallow riverbeds to find what’s lurking beneath rocks, churning adobe bricks with your own hands or feet, or using a “bludgeoning tool” to break off all the lower Ponderosa pine branches as part of sustainable fire ecology.
This past week was particularly enjoyable because it marked my first trip with a school group with this company, my first time to Tent Rocks, and my first time with this particular group of students, who will be joining us for a longer trip later in the spring. At this point I have led groups of students to explore the outdoors in New York, North Carolina, Texas and California, but none of the programs I’ve worked with have emphasized the exploration of Nature quite like this one. Of course we stress safety, and always keep a watchful eye, but when a student can pick up a lizard and give it a name, or scrape a sandstone cliff to feel it erode, you can actually see the moment of understanding and appreciation in their eyes.
What really stood out to me about this visit to Tent Rocks was how much I was able to learn. Another thing that is invaluable about this line of work is that I can constantly grow and learn- as a student and as a teacher. As we ventured into the narrowing canyon, the students’ enthusiasm grew, despite ticking past their usual lunch time. They started to make their own theories about why Ponderosa pines were increasing in density along our walk, and asked each other really good questions about how the sediment layered like it did. Although this may have been a particularly bright group of 6th graders, it was clear that their sense of curiosity was driving them to round each corner, and that a sense of exploration was pushing them to climb toward the top. A rewarding view only further encouraged the fulfillment of time spent in nature, whether learning or just appreciating.
Although this was my first week working with students since December, and this was my first school group in New Mexico, I remembered how natural, and exciting it is to work with young minds, and agile bodies. The  trip to Tent Rocks last week was a nice reminder of how to flow into the logistics of leading a group of students through permit-required places, but more excitingly, it released the momentum of the possibilities for us teaching students this spring. Right now I am in the planning stage of several other trips, all overnight, from 2nd grade to 7th grade. I am so excited to design some unique experiences for the youth in this state, and even more excited to get out there in the dust with them, and learn some things.