Planting Peas and Hoping for the Best

Planting Peas

I planted peas last week, so the 2015 summer garden is officially underway.

I probably should have gotten them in the ground earlier, but we had heavy, wet snow last weekend and I was ensconced inside with a good book and hot tea.

With our changing weather patterns it’s hard to know exactly when to sow seeds and how our plants will respond to temperature extremes, but we do our best and keep trying.

Gardening always has been, at its heart, an act of faith.

 

How to plant peas

 

These are organic Oregon Sugar Pod snow pea seeds. They soaked in filtered water inside for 24 hours before planting, so they were nice and plump. I planted half of the packet, and will save the other half for a fall crop. The seeds are planted about an inch apart — twice as dense as the recommended 2-inch separation. When the plants emerge I’ll thin them and we’ll enjoy the tender pea shoots on pasta.

Close up of peas before planting

 

To give the vines something to climb on, I planted them around a cone-shaped support woven of willow:

Willow support for peas

 

How about you? Have you started planting your summer garden yet? What do you hope to grow this year? I’d love to hear about your plans.

Hugs and happy digging,

The signature for Eliza Cross

Nepal-childP.S. My heart is heavy this morning, mourning for the people of Nepal. So far away, all I know to do is offer the two things that can help — prayers and support. Organizations like Mercy Corps and American Red Cross are on the ground right now providing assistance, and we are grateful.

Photo: Mercy Corps

 

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

In Search of Good Toilet Paper – Part 2

Toilet paper comparison

I’m beginning to consider the possibility that the perfect toilet paper may not exist. As I wrote earlier this month, I’m on a quest to find the perfect t.p. that offers comfort, a reasonable price, and earth-friendly manufacturing. Unfortunately, these attributes can sometimes conflict with other important considerations.

We’d all love a brand of toilet paper that is soft, strong, and not prone to turning “linty” during use. (One Amazon reviewer referred to a certain toilet paper’s tendency to cause “dingleberries,” a term I laughed over for several days.) Cottonelle and Quilted Northern Ultra Plush get high rankings online for these attributes.

Quilted Northern Ultra is the #1 toilet paper on Amazon, in fact, with a near-5-star rating and more than 3400 reviews.

For more data related to these attributes, alert reader Elaine kindly pointed us to testing by Good Housekeeping. The institute performed extensive research, looking at factors like absorbency, strength, and softness.

Their top choices? Charmin Ultra Soft, Cottonelle Ultra, and once again — Quilted Northern Ultra Plush. Eureka! Might Quilted Northern Ultra Plush be the elusive, Holy Grail of toilet tissue?

Not So Fast, Kemosabe

The issue with Quilted Northern Ultra Plush? From reader e-mails I received with anecdotal information, it’s one of the brands  that may be more prone to clogging pipes. The other brand most mentioned in this regard by readers is our household’s current brand, Cottonelle.

It stands to reason that the tissue’s strong/fluffy combination doesn’t break apart as quickly, so if your pipes are super-finicky you may want to choose something other than Cottonelle and Quilted Northern Ultra Plush.

Scott was a brand recommended by several readers for its sewer pipe-friendliness (a phrase we don’t get to use nearly often enough, if you ask me).

Is Earth Friendly Toilet Paper an Oxymoron?

I’d really love to make an environmentally-conscious buying decision, so I turned to the NRDC’s list of toilet tissue ratings.

Two brands caught my eye on this list — Marcal and Seventh Generation.

Several readers recommended the eco-friendly brand, Seventh Generation, which is manufactured from 100%  recycled paper — 80% of it the post-consumer type. It’s also the only brand that scored well on both the NRDC list, while ranking a respectable B-on the Good Housekeeping list.

Marcal Thick & Soft, also praised by readers, is made from 100% recycled paper, but only 40% of it is post-consumer. This might actually be a plus, as you’ll read below. In addition, Marcal’s parent company Soundview Paper is frequently recognized for its corporate values, ethical standards and environmental stewardship.

Of the three brands we tested, Marcal is also the “tallest” t.p. — about 3/8 inch wider on the spindle than Cottonelle. It also has the most sheets per roll — 360 two-ply sheets.

Could Seventh Generation or Marcal be our Ultimate Choice?

Hold On There, Maynard

Several readers alerted me to the possibility of BPA levels in toilet tissue made from post-consumer recycled paper; this is due in part to the recycling of thermal receipts — which have high levels of BPA — that get in the general paper stream. You can read more about this possible problem here, but even after trying to “absorb” the information it’s difficult to make an educated decision. The facts are as fuzzy as roll of cheap toilet paper about how much BPA one is exposed to when using these products, as well as the levels it might be considered safe for us be be exposed to BPA.

Marcal and Seventh Generation both have a slightly greyish color, and their two-ply paper comes apart more easily than one-ply Cottonelle, making them less DR (dingleberry resistant).

What About Cost?

Because toilet paper is a product we use every day, day in and day out, the costs can add up over time. The ultimate product would also be a good value.

It’s challenging to decipher the costs based on number of sheets per roll, but alert reader Judy sent in a handy chart to compare brands according to the square footage per package, the only real way to evaluate those confusing “double roll” claims.  Scott brand comes in at the top of this list for best value.

Of the three brands we’ve been testing this month, these are our local costs for a 12-roll package from least to most expensive:

Marcal Thick and Soft – $9.99 or 83 cents a roll or .23 cents per sheet

Seventh Generation – $12.72 or $1.06 a roll or .35 cents per sheet

Cottonelle Clean Care – $10.95 or 91 cents a roll or .44 cents per sheet

The “Bottom” Line

We’ve personally tested Seventh Generation and Marcal this month, comparing it with our previous brand, Cottonelle. Here are our findings, based on a 12-pack of “double” rolls:

SEVENTH GENERATION might be right for you if you want:  A product that doesn’t use trees; is made from 100% post-consumer recycled paper; and has pretty good comfort qualities.
Number of sheets per roll:  300 2-ply sheets
Width:  4 inches
Cost:  Mid-range
Earth-friendly attributes: Very Good
Comfort and DR (dingleberry-resistance):  Good
Value:  Moderate

MARCAL might be right for you if you want:  A taller roll that fills up the holder; more sheets per roll and a low price; a socially-responsible manufacturer; a product that doesn’t use trees; and a lower percentage of post-consumer recycled content which might translate to lower BPA levels.
Number of sheets per roll:  360 2-ply sheets
Width:  4 5/16 inches
Cost:  Low
Earth-friendly attributes:  Excellent
Comfort and DR:  Moderate
Value: Very Good

COTTONELLE might be right for you if you want: A product made from responsibly sourced trees (certified by the Forest Stewardship Council); good DR qualities; a product that is soft and strong (and therefore most appropriate for sewer pipes not prone to clogging).
Number of sheets per roll:  208 1-ply sheets
Width:  3 15/16 inches
Cost:  Higher
Earth-friendly attributes:  Moderate
Comfort and DR:  Very Good
Value:  Moderate

To complicate our experiment, our local grocery store put Cottonelle on sale this week!

Cottonelle on sale

For now, we’ve switched to Marcal in two out of three bathrooms, with Cottonelle still present in the third.

Next we’re going to try Trader Joe’s toilet tissue, which was recommended by several readers. I’ll report back with our findings soon, knowing that you’ll be on “the edge of your seat” until then.

Big thanks to all of you who chimed in on the original post and shared many interesting suggestions around this topic. I’d love to hear if you’ve discovered a solution, so please keep those comments coming!

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Let’s Talk about Toilet Paper – Part 1

Toilet paper holder

My friends, I’ve decided to give our toilet paper choice a comprehensive review. Because toilet paper is an ongoing expense and a resource we use continually, I want to be sure we’re making an informed decision. Naturally, you’re invited to come along for the journey.

Last year, I finally got fed up with the store brand of toilet paper. Over the years the rolls had gotten thinner and shorter, and the paper seemed increasingly prone to disintegrating. One day I marched into the store muttering to myself, “You work hard, you make sacrifices for the family, and darn it, you deserve nice toilet paper.” I yanked a 12-pack of Cottonelle Clean Care off the shelf, and never looked back.

Cottonelle toilet paper

This wasn’t a frugal buying decision at all. At our local King Soopers, a 12-pack of Cottonelle is $7.49. With tax, it’s 67 cents a roll. We don’t belong to a price club, so the only way we save money is when it goes on sale—which is rarely.

The label is printed in nice, bold print. Yet for some reason, the text at the bottom listing the number of sheets per roll is printed in the lightest, impossible-to-read pale blue. Why do you think this is?

toilet paper info

With the aid of high-strength binoculars, I was able to read that a pack contains 12 rolls, each with 208 1-ply sheets per roll. It also lists the square footage (266.4) and square meters (24). This information could be handy for easily comparing brands—if only one could read it.

The package boasts that my 12 “Double Rolls” are equal to 24 “Single Rolls.” Like me, do you scratch your head when you read this? Since every toilet paper brand now considers its products to be double rolls, ours don’t seem particularly robust.

 

Magnifying the text on a t.p. roll

Aided by a magnifier, I found the Double vs. Single explanation on the package back in a font so small that Ripley’s Believe it Or Not Museum once used it to print the Declaration of Independence on the head of a pin:  “1 Double Roll equals 2.3 times the number of sheets as the leading ultra brand regular roll.” Ahh, now I understand.

Fancy T.P. and Sasquatch

Wait—what “leading ultra brand?” Are you telling me the leading ultra brand only has 90 squares per roll? I’m skeptical. Let’s keep our eyes open for pricey—but skinny—super-fancy t.p. rolls in the future. Will you let me know if you find this elusive, half-size luxury roll?

On the plus side, I also discovered this information in tiny elfin text: “Paper from responsible sources,” accompanied by a miniscule logo from the Forest Stewardship Council. Greenwashing? Not this time. A little research convinced me that the FSC is a legit organization which promotes responsible harvesting. Here are the principles of FSC-certified forests:

* Never harvests more than what grows back
* Protects biodiversity and endangered species
* Saves rare ancient trees
* Guards local streams
* Supports the local people
* Uses narrow skidding trails so as not to disrupt the rest of the forest
* Prohibits replacement by tree plantations
* Bans toxic chemicals
* Bans genetically modified trees (no GMO)

In the coming days, I aim to delve further into whether Cottonelle is the best choice for us—and if so, whether we can buy it cheaper elsewhere. All three of these attributes are equally important:

a. Comfort

b. As earth-friendly as possible

c. Reasonable price (would this be the right time to make a “cash flow” pun?)

How about you?

Do you make your own toilet paper from recycled feed sacks? If not, would you be willing to share the brand of toilet paper you use? Do you buy it at the grocery store? Or do you get those Volkswagen-sized packages at Costco for a better price? Are you Single Roll, Double Roll, Triple Roll or Mega-Quintuple Roll user?

I look forward to flushing out all of the options with you in the days ahead.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

Top photo: A.N. Berlin

 

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

January Money Diet Day #21 – Less is the New More

JENNIFER HOEY INTERIOR DESIGN

Photo copyright: JENNIFER HOEY INTERIOR DESIGN

Many of you know that I’m a full-time, self employed writer. One of my favorite side jobs is writing articles for home design magazines. Studying the beautiful rooms created by talented designers always inspires me.

Let’s look at the lovely living room vignette above, designed by Jennifer Hoey Interior Design. I fell in love with Jennifer’s work in 2012, when I wrote about her for Western Art & Architecture magazine.

We see that the room above does not include a lot of stuff. There are no Tuscany-themed throw rugs or gyro snack bowls or Brookstone TV remote pillows. Jennifer moved the furniture away from the walls in this beautiful, serene space, and kept the emphasis on just a few well-chosen pieces.

Most of the top designers I talk to invest in clean-lined, classic furniture of good quality and scale appropriate for the size of the room. They accessorize sparingly.

Are we ready?

In ten short days we’ll be reaching the official end of the January Money Diet, and we’ll be re-entering the world of shopping malls and impulse buys.

Much like addicts in rehab, we need to start preparing now for how we will deal with the inevitable temptations.

Many of you expressed joy after undertaking Monday’s challenge to clear stuff out and give it away. Let’s join our hands and pledge to honor those happy feelings and not crowd our homes with More. Doesn’t it feel good to have Less?

When I am at Target and I’m tempted to buy, say, a Tuscany-themed throw rug, I need only to remember the serene, simple rooms I love. Our home is a happier place with more space — and less stuff.

How about you?

What is the one area in your home that you’d like to edit and clear, so it’s a place of order and calm? (For me, it’s the basement. No, it’s actually the garage. No, wait — it’s my office closet.)

Your challenge is to take one step toward that vision of Less, and organize one space — one drawer, or one shelf, or one square foot — in that too-full place. Take one step, and tell us about it in the Comments section.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. WELCOME to those of you just joining the January Money Diet, and feel free to jump right in with today’s challenge! You can also visit the main blog page and scroll down to read the previous posts.

P.P.S. I was so inspired by all of your comments from Monday’s post about taking unwanted items to a charity, I’m loading up another batch today! If you donate more this week, be sure to post a comment so it counts in the contest. The person who gives away the most stuff by midnight this Saturday will win an inspirational money book.

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Filling the Gaps

Remove window trim

Hmmm. . . I wonder what’s behind here?

 

Dear friends,

Last week I wrote about radical ways to save energy, and I finally had time to tackle a little project here.

For a long time I’d been curious about why the window in our guest room felt so cold and drafty, despite the fact that I’d had a new window installed several years ago. I decided to pull the trim off from underneath the window and have a look.

Here’s what I discovered:

A drafty gap in the window frame

Yes, my friends, that is open sky and sunlight that you’re glimpsing through our guest room wall. We might well ask ourselves — did the installer use a dull bread knife to cut the hole?

I happened to have a can of insulating foam on hand, and it was a simple (and quite satisfying) task to fill the gap:

Insulating foam to fill a window gap

I replaced the trim and felt an immediate difference. The window felt snug, and the draft was gone.

My daughter slept in the room this week and remarked on its comfort, and how it was no longer chilly at night. I wonder how much expensive, heated air has slipped through the hole, and how much hot air has freely flown in during the summer. (Do you think this is why our guests never stayed more than a night or two?)

But the gap is closed, and that is one small step in the right direction.

Hang In There

I know that sometimes it can feel like our efforts aren’t very fruitful, and that we have so many literal and figurative gaps to fill on the journey to financial freedom. But collectively, the things we do will start to make a difference. I promise.

Putting our finances in order is much like decluttering the house. We might devote 15 minutes a day to reducing clutter, combined with self discipline not to bring more stuff in the house. In the beginning, the task seems insurmountable and the piles never seem to decrease. But with time and dedication, it does get better.

One day we look around and notice an improvement. We have more room, and with less stuff we can really appreciate the things we have. It becomes easier to keep the clutter out because we’ve developed good habits, and our home becomes a place of calm, not a source of stress.

Small Steps Add Up

The same is true with money. We might decide to save more, and resolve to have the self discipline to stop frittering money away on stuff. Some of our efforts — like making a homemade pizza instead of spending $20 for delivery, for instance — might seem so small we wonder if they will ever make a difference. But if stay dedicated to being resourceful and thoughtful about spending, over time the many dozens of things we do will add up.

One day we finally pay off a credit card, and then another, and then the day comes when we no longer spend every dime on credit card payments and interest…and that will be just the beginning of even better things.

Little by little, our efforts will make a difference.

So let’s stick together in this endeavor — and let’s keep filling the gaps.

Sending you hugs and encouragement this weekend,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Welcome to Day #1 of the January Money Diet

Happy new year 2015

If you’ve decided to try the January Money Diet this month, congratulations! Previous participants have accomplished amazing goals, from paying off credit cards to saving for a house down payment to funding emergency savings accounts.

The key to starting off 2015 financially strong is to radically cut spending on everything but the barest essentials. Together we’ll explore ways to spoil ourselves, eat well, enjoy fun activities, improve our surroundings, and have a wonderful time — all without spending cash.

What Are the Rules?

One of the most common questions I’m asked about this annual month of no spending is “How do you define essential expenses?”

The answer will be different for each one of us, and the good news is that there are no hard and fast rules for the January Money Diet. In our family, I keep it really simple:  I try to only spend money on the monthly bills and groceries. It’s quite amazing how much money is left over when I’m not regularly whipping out my debit card for non-essentials.

If spending is a temptation, you may want to leave your credit card in a safe place at home (one reader froze hers in a block of ice!) or try Dave Ramsey’s envelope system for paying only for the month’s essentials.

How Does It Work?

If you’ve participated before in the January Money Diet, you’ll notice two changes this year.

The first update is in the number of e-mails you’ll receive. In the past, I sent an e-mail every single day during January. Thirty-one e-mails can be a little too much for anyone’s InBox, though, so I’m trying a different approach this year.

You’ll receive a daily e-mail from me for the first five days of the diet. Each of these posts will discuss an important, key strategy for January Money Diet success.

After that, I’ll send out several e-mails a week with various ideas and challenges for you to try. I encourage you to share your own ideas and experiences in the comments section of those posts. Let us know about your victories and struggles, and we’ll encourage and cheer each other on!

Be Diligent and Win a Special Prize

The second change for this year’s money diet is that I’m giving away a large gift box filled with goodies to one lucky January Money Diet participant.

The box includes a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card, $25 cash, pantry staples like bean soup mix and organic quinoa, signed copies of three of my cookbooks, homesteading supplies like candles and eco-friendly cleaning supplies, and more.

In past years I’ve done some smaller, random giveaways, but this year’s winner will be chosen intentionally. At the end of January I’ll ask you to share your results, and the prize winner will be someone who participates in the January Money Diet with heart and soul and achieves good results. Good luck!

Your First Challenge

On this first day of the January Money Diet, begin by doing some “shopping” at home. This is the perfect time to go through the closets and drawers looking for those unused things we all tend to hold on to for “someday.”

Take inventory at home for Day 1 of the January Money DietStart in the pantry and freezer; do you have any fancy, gourmet items or forgotten goodies lurking back in the shelves?

In my own kitchen, I did some excavating and brought forth a box of pumpkin bread mix, a bag of frozen blueberries, lasagna noodles, artichoke hearts, panko crumbs and baker’s chocolate. This month I’ll try to find creative ways to use these products (not all in the same dish, of course) and clear some room in the cabinets and freezer at the same time.

What about those specialty kitchen appliances and gadgets gathering dust? We have a paella dish, a tortilla press, and an ice cream cone maker (that’s right), all of which I plan to put into service this month.

Another place to “shop” at home is the bathroom cabinet; are there shampoo samples, fancy soaps, loofahs, pedicure kits and bath salts languishing in your cabinets? Gather them up and plan to use them. If not this month, when?

What about those unused craft and scrapbooking supplies? Home improvement materials? Fabric and notions? Yarn and knitting needles? Office supplies? Candles? Blank journals? January is a splendid month to take on a project using things you already have.

Check your medicine chest, too; are there vitamins and supplements languishing there? Take a look around the closets and drawers of your home, and you might find a treasure trove of good stuff just waiting to be used up and enjoyed.

Make a List

After you’ve gone on a scavenger hunt at home and taken an inventory of the products you plan to use this month, post a few highlights in the comments section below this blog post. You know we’re all just dying to hear what you unearth.

From our home to yours, we wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous 2015. May these next 30 days be the beginning of your best year ever!

Hugs,
The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.