The Dutch Reach

Now here’s a good idea for drivers to avoid “dooring” bicyclists. A simple shift in how you open the door when you park your car. This would be a good habit for everyone who drives or rides in a car to adopt – passengers on the driver’s side can be just as dangerous as drivers in this situation, and you never know when you – or your child – might be a driver-side passenger.

I’ll add that another simple practice I’ve put in place as a driver is to always check over my right shoulder before making a right turn – just as you would normally check over your shoulder when changing lanes – because if there’s a bike lane, you actually are changing lanes, as you need to drive through the bike lane to make your turn. Here’s some more discussion about that.

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The Mortgage Monster

Yesterday our family spent three hours building this:


(The Lego monstrosity, I mean, not the other sculpture – that’s a Tenyoh creation. And while we’re at it, the painting is a Micah Bloom original.)

Now I think this is a pretty amazing creation we made together, but to be perfectly honest, I don’t really like having it featured so prominently in my otherwise minimally-decorated dining room.

But I’m going to have to live with it for a while – roughly 3.5 years according to our current financial forecast. And having it right in front of my face every day was exactly my plan when we sat down to construct it yesterday.

The idea for this Lego masterpiece came from a post at thegracebook. Theirs was a “debt tower” symbolizing student loans and credit card debt as well as a mortgage, while ours only represents our mortgage – each brick/doodad represents $100 of the principal owed on our house loan. So I’m calling it the mortgage monster. Every time we pay off $100 of our mortgage, we remove a brick, until the monster is completely gone.

We paid off a previous mortgage and bought a house for cash back in what feels like another life, in another town, before the housing crash, when our kids were very small. That lower cost of living allowed us to work less than full-time and be home more often with our kids, all four of us together, during those preschool years.

Then we had a big dream to move to Colorado, found work here, rented a house for a year, and then bought a house in 2014. Here the housing market is booming, while housing prices back in Minnesota where we sold our house still hadn’t recovered, so we took a big loss and basically ended up back where we started before we achieved mortgage freedom.

Which, we gratefully acknowledge, is where many people wish they could be – our only debt being our mortgage. But having lived without a mortgage once, I know how freeing it is and am eager to get there again. As much as I love reading early retirement blogs like Mr. Money Mustache and Frugalwoods, our own age/stage in life and earning potential doesn’t put us in a position to anticipate considerably-early retirement (maybe we could fully retire by age 55 or 60), but as soon as we are mortgage-free, we are free to go back to the “semi-retired” life we lived while the kids were small.

Which, just as we experienced the first mortgage-free time around, gives us more freedom to work and play together as a family, commit to some bigger things in our community, try new pursuits, work on interesting projects . . .

All of which we are doing in smaller measure right now even as we live a much more typical American family lifestyle (weekdays, each of us heads off in a different direction between jobs and school) – because while long-term dreams are vital, the present moment is all we are given, and we may as well make the very best of life right this minute!

While I wouldn’t have wished to be working towards paying off a mortgage a second time, I’m finding that this time around is a great opportunity for our kids to be involved in the process. They were babies the first time we paid off our mortgage. Now, we are engaged as a family, and this is some valuable real-life education!


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Who Threw My Cheese?

When we first set up house together – or, more specifically, I moved into the house Nathan had already been living in for a month – I discovered an unopened block of cheese in the fridge that was past its expiration date. I promptly threw it in the trash and went on with my day. Later, Nathan discovered the cheese in the trash (still unopened), retrieved it, maybe wiped it off, and put it back in the fridge.

Which of course prompted one of the first big fights of our marriage. I don’t remember what happened to the cheese. My guess is Nathan ate it and I avoided it.

Now I shop at a discount grocery store where I routinely buy foods past their “enjoy by” date – and enjoy them doubly because they taste fine and I saved money – or maybe triply because I also saved them from a trip to the landfill.

Here’s the latest episode of one of my favorite podcasts that investigates the story of all those dates stamped on food. Enjoy! (By . . . whenever).

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Chicken Update

The chicks in the spring, getting bigger!

The chicks in the spring, getting bigger

Emma and Zack are both hens! We started getting eggs this summer – one or two per day, just right for a boy who likes to have fried eggs most mornings for breakfast and the occasional weekend waffle extravaganza or batch of cookies. But eggs really feel like a bonus, because these girls are so helpful with yard and food waste – any weeds we pull or food that’s gone a little south gets tossed into their enclosed run, and they are happy to pick through it, eat what they want, and then tromp it down into a nice compost-y floor.

The coop in process.

The coop in process.

The completed coop, with attached enclosed run.

The completed coop, with attached enclosed run.

They are sweet backyard companions while I sit with a cup of coffee or Nathan and I have a beer together – their calming clucks, busy scratching, entertaining dust-bathing (in which they carve out a bowl in the dirt, scratch up a cloud of dust and roll around in it, contorting their feathery bodies into impossible shapes, and then doze off intermittently – their ironic way of keeping clean!).

My backyard buddies in my summer breakfast nook.

My backyard buddies in my summer breakfast nook.



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How Buying Two Pairs of Running Shoes and Then Donating One is a Fantastic Deal

In 2012, after I had been running regularly for a few years and began going longer distances, I rewarded myself by going to the store and getting fitted with a brand new pair of running shoes.

Those New Balance Minimus shoes took me through many miles and three years, leaving nanobits of themselves behind me with each step. This year I began to think about replacing them, but couldn’t justify the $80-100 that would require, for at least three reasons: I’m not running long distances these days, we’re on a mission to pay off our 15-year mortgage in five years, and buying used is almost always my preference, based on ethical, environmental, and financial reasons.

So I began keeping an eye out for good-enough running shoes whenever I was at the thrift store. A few weeks ago, I found the New Balance 442s pictured, barely-used, for $5. I took about ten runs in them, and while they were not as high-quality as the Minimus shoes, for my purposes they would do.

Then last week, I found these also barely-used Nike Frees, a much better running shoe, for $7. Since I’m aware of the sunk-cost fallacy, I swallowed my loss aversion and bought the shoes. I’ve had several great runs in them already, and they are a significant improvement from the 442s. (Maybe I will get back to longer distances!)

My well-worn Minimus shoes at top, 442s on the left and Frees on the right.

My well-worn Minimus shoes at top, 442s on the left and Frees on the right.

Today I’m gathering up items to donate on my next thrift-store trip. While I just bought the 442s, I am gladly adding them to the donate pile. I don’t have a good use for them, and someone else can now get a great deal on these practically-new shoes.

In the end, I paid $12 in order to get a pair of $90 shoes, and all of that money went to thrift stores that make a difference in their community – one of them being a Habitat for Humanity ReStore – AND now I am re-donating a pair of shoes that will help the thrift store’s bottom line, give another person a good deal on a good pair of shoes, and keep that pair of shoes out of a landfill for a while longer.

None of this is earth-shattering, but it’s these little choices we collectively make all day long, every day, that actually do make a world of difference. And very often these choices integrate a whole list of values – physical health, environmental and social responsibility, frugality and simplicity among them.

I’d love to hear any stories you may have about everyday choices like this. Please share in the comments!

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Multitasking Rubberbands

I knew I was saving those thick rubber bands that sometimes come on produce for a reason! And now I can take “jar opener” off my list of things to buy. Thanks wikihow!

One band around the lid, one band around the jar, one hand on each band, twist and shout!

One band around the lid, one band around the jar, one hand on each band, twist and shout!

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What Can You Do With Produce Stickers?

Hey! Now maybe the kids will stop sticking these on each other! And one less little thing to go in the trash.

simple up

As I continue to look for ways to reduce plastic in my life, one that comes up are those little stickers on our produce.  I avoid stickers when possible by shopping farmers’ markets, but during fall to spring, I still get lots of produce (often with stickers) from the store or food co-op.  When one composts, you need to remove the sticker.

IMG_9564 Produce stickers tell us the country and often the state of origin of the food, which is important if you want to reduce your food miles.  And a 5-digit code that starts with a “9” informs us it is organic.

Last year I began to save my produce stickers as I heard in the book, “Plastic Free” by Beth Terry, that you can send them to a guy named Barry Snyder at Stickerman Produce Art.  Barry uses the produce stickers to make art.  He’s a guy from Erie, Colorado, who…

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Junk Mail Doodling


DISH sends us mail every week. Maybe because our house still has a DISH dish bolted to its side, left by the last owner. Until I get ambitious enough to remove the dish and hunt down DISH to get off their mailing list, I have decided to entertain myself by playing with their mail. Dishing it out instead of just taking it. (So sorry, I couldn’t resist a terrible pun.)

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A New Chicken Chapter

Here we go again! Now that we own a house, and spring is around the corner, and the girl has been begging for a pet for months, we’re getting back into backyard chickens.

We’ve had hamsters, a mouse, parakeets, a dove, bunnies, a cat, and we even had a dog for a week*. But the animals that have always worked best for our family have been chickens.

Our new chicks (we hope they are hens! - too small to tell yet), Emma and Zack. (We let the kids name them. Zack is a fine name for a hen!)

Our new chicks (we hope they are hens! – too small to tell yet), Emma and Zack. (We let the kids name them. Zack is a fine name for a hen!)

Our very first chickens came to us as tiny hatchlings like these (six days old today), and those particular chickens were easygoing, happy to be picked up and held and played with, PLUS they made food for us.

The boy with Tigerlily and Tigress, our first two hens, in the coop we built from my old dollhouse.

The boy with Tigerlily and Tigress, our first two hens, in the coop we built from my old dollhouse.

Our new little babies have been showered with snuggles from our kids (and us adults!) all weekend long, and we’ll continue to be sure they get lots of interaction with our family so they can hopefully grow up to be enjoyable pets**.

Pets with benefits!

*Sad story of an otherwise sweet dog being overly aggressive towards other dogs and dominating over our youngest child, and me being unwilling to do the training it would take to work with her, and realizing that any dog needs more attention and work – and, yes, money – than I am willing to give. I learned my lesson, and will remain firm no matter how much my daughter begs (pleads, cries, rages . . .) again.

**We are well aware that one or both of these chicks may turn out to be roosters, which we did experience before, as discussed in this previous post. I don’t think we would go the butchering route again if this happens. What will we do if we can’t rehome then? Not sure. Stay tuned . . .

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The Open Road

my beloved steed

my beloved steed

In golopomo life, green living, healthy choices, saving money, and overall zest for life often come together like a package deal. I’ve found this to be true especially in my latest efforts to do more errands by walking or biking, saving the car for distance driving. A small adventure from today illustrates:

Our family signed up to give a gift to a child served by our county social services this Christmas. I need to get the gift to my pastor by tomorrow, and tomorrow he just happens to be holding office hours at a coffee shop two blocks from my house, which is a perfect car-free opportunity for me to get the gift to him.

So today I decided to bike over to the local Jax store, which is the store closest to me that I expected to have some of the items our assigned child had asked for. It was a bit brisk (mid-30’s F), but I dressed accordingly and enjoyed the short ride to the store, which takes me past an always-entertaining prairie dog town and treats me to mountain views when I head west on my return trip.

Jax did not have the particular items I was looking for. But I discovered they had the best price on motor oil I have found yet in this town (still not Fleet Farm prices you lucky Minnesotans!), and with a holiday road trip coming up, we’ll need to bring a couple spare quarts in our old oil-burning car. So I bought some oil, threw it in my bike basket, and biked home.

On my return trip, I thought, “it sure is good I found this motor oil; otherwise, this would have been a wasted trip.” And then laughed at myself – a 2.5-mile round-trip bike ride, which along with my jaunt around the inside of the store took me all of 20 minutes, and gave me a little exercise and fresh air, with squeaky prairie dog cuteness and mountain views to boot, was a waste? Silly me.

As I was unlocking my bike to leave Jax, it occurred to me that I was now closer to Wal-Mart, which would definitely have the items I was looking for, and would be another enjoyable bike ride, mostly along the city recreational trail. Our family avoids Wal-Mart for ethical reasons, but maybe this was one of those instances where I needed to choose the lesser of two evils – continue biking east to Wal-Mart so I could finish my shopping car-free, or give up, go home, start up the car, and drive much further east to the nearest Target (a one-way five-mile ride mostly along a busy highway, which my schedule for today and tomorrow would not allow time to do by bicycle).

Then it occurred to me that there is also a K-Mart in this town, which would also have the items I’m looking for, and which is only three miles from my house and a much safer cycling route. Also, the trip I take with the kids every morning to school, either by foot or bike, gets me a mile closer to K-Mart. And the recycling center, which I discovered today will take the worn-out bicycle tire which Nathan just replaced for me, is only a tiny bit out of the way, and allows me to ride home almost completely on the bicycle trail.

Ding-ding-ding! Problem solved. Thankfully, in this mild eastern Colorado climate, good weather is again forecast for tomorrow.

I write all of this not to show off or lay any guilt trips. This is an inside look at how car-light living works in my everyday life. It’s taken me years to get to this point, where I feel confident enough in my abilities to cycle safely, dress appropriately for the weather, pick a good route, estimate the time a ride will take, and carry stuff home on my bike.

It has also taken years to arrange my life in such a way that I can live like this. I have relocated to a bike-friendly town with some good trails and lots of marked bike lanes, in a climate where, maybe 85% of the time, even through the winter, the weather and road conditions are good enough for me to safely ride my bike (without needing snow tires and extra-protective gear!). We bought a house that is within a mile or two of nearly everything we need for day-to-day subsistence – work, school, groceries, credit union, tons of shopping and restaurants, even the public library and a couple parks. I live with a very handy DIY man who is glad to help me keep my bike in good working order. My kids are both in school during the day, and I don’t have a day job, so I have a good chunk of child-free time available each day for errand-running like this.

And I haven’t “arrived” either. It’s been a blast getting more adventurous on my bicycle – pushing myself to become comfortable with busier streets, colder temperatures, and heavier loads – and I am excited to continue pushing my limits!

One of my favorite mantras, which I first heard in the context of exercise, also applies to making sustainable choices – “some is better than none, and more is better than some.” What’s one errand you can do by foot or bike instead of car this week, or maybe combine with other errands so you use your car just a little less? Make it an adventure!

And enjoy the package deal you get with each little choice along the way!

For further (and better!) reading, start here with a classic Mr. Money Mustache post on biking.

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