Conflicted About Reward Cards

rewards-programsI have a love/hate relationship with reward programs.

I love it when I finally discover that I’ve earned $350(!) back from using my Visa credit card.

I hate it when I think about all the times I’ve used my Staples rewards card to end up earning nothing. (As a result of this apparent road-to-nowhere program, I only whip out my Staples card when I know I’ll save on a particular item.)

I love it when I use my Wegman’s grocery card for my weekly purchases; I usually accumulate up to $10 in “savings” every trip.

I hate it when the bookseller cashier looks at me incredulously when I reply that I don’t have a Border’s/Barnes and Nobles card. Am I the only one who refuses to take advantage of the bookstores’ rewards program?!?!? (For some reason, knowing that a list is being kept of of all the books I buy creeps me out.)

My ambivalence about rewards programs was stirred up yesterday when my trash hauler launched a new program to encourage recycling, RecycleBank. We can earn points through the amount of refuse recycled each week and redeem them for fabulous prizes. (Well, maybe not fabulous prizes, but certainly more than I’m getting now, which is simply the satisfaction of being green).

But that means someone/somewhere will be tracking my trash. Yuck! That privacy-invading thought definitely gives me pause. However, after realizing that RecycleBank points can go to an Amazon.com giftcard to feed my Kindle habit, my privacy need has diminished. I sign up for the program!

A quick inventory of my participation in rewards programs reveals:

Wegman’s card (always used)
Staples, CVS, Safeway, Giant cards (only used when purchasing sale items)
Food Lion card (only used during my beach vacation six years ago; time to throw that one out)
Smoothie King punch card (never remember to use)
Hair Cuttery card (recently thrust into my hands by my stylist: I’ll probably toss that one, too.)

What do you carry in your wallet?

And how do you balance .. privacy … ease of use … and actual rewards given the effort … when deciding whether to participate in a rewards program?

One Picture = 1,000 Words

oil-duckThis image haunts me.

When I first saw the disturbing photo on the front page of The Post, I gasped. The enormity of the oil spill in the Gulf finally hit home.  My heart still beats fast every time I see this soon-to-be iconic shot by AP photographer Charlie Riedel; it makes me want to DO something to help with the clean-up and deal with its catastrophic aftermath.

So yesterday, after hearing the various sound bites of politicians castigating BP execs on Capitol Hill (and what exactly did all that blustering accomplish anyway?!?), I was motivated to act. I looked up a few of the wildlife rescue organizations which are busily helping the situation versus playing the blame game. My intention was to donate to their worthy efforts.

I started with the the International Bird Rescue Research Center as I had seen their staff clean off oil-covered birds on CNN. What I discovered was that, while the IBRRC accepts donations, its web site specifically says that BP is expected to cover the cost of the Gulf clean-up, and money raised would go to IBRRC’s other operations.

I was impressed by the non-profit’s forthrightness and willingness to put donors on notice that their money would not be headed toward the Gulf region. Since I wanted to feel like I personally was making a difference through my donation, I kept looking for a wildlife organization that could use my money for the Gulf.

I headed over to the National Wildlife Federation to check out NWF’s Gulf Oil Spill Restoration Fund. Donations to the Fund support:

  • Development and deployment of the National Wildlife Federation’s Gulf Surveillance Teams, a volunteer network that is being organized to monitor the coast for wildlife impacted by the oil spill.
  • Restoration of vulnerable nesting and breeding grounds, as well as other delicate ecosystems found throughout the Gulf Coast for water birds, sea turtles and other animals.
  • Public education about the oil spill and its impacts on wildlife, including informing the press and others about the impacts the oil spill is having on coastal communities and wildlife.
  • Policy work at the national and state level to support restoration of habitat in the Gulf Coast and better protection of our waters and coastlines.

Sounds like what I was looking for. I clicked on the donation button. After I was done with the process, I circled back to IBRRC‘s site and made a donation there, too. I rarely (OK, never) give to environmental causes, but this oil-covered duck really got to me.

I now feel slightly less powerless as I hear and watch the overwhelming news and images coming out of the Gulf. Only slightly less, but, hey, it helps.

How have you reacted to the Gulf oil spill?

Vegetarianism – Just around the Corner

foodincMy two older children and I sat down and watched Food, Inc. a couple of weeks ago.  I thought it would be interesting to watch, and they both reported having no interest in this type of Friday night movie activity, but I must say as soon as it started, they were drawn in.

The result of our movie viewing?  I now have a vegetarian daughter, and a son (meat hound that he is) that now takes pause before eating a bite of chicken or a burger.  It makes me not want to ever buy a Purdue or Tyson chicken pack or any meat, for that matter, that is not organic and grass fed.  The documentary was certainly an eye opener, and the representation that it makes of how our agriculture culture caters to a low cost mass production food system doesn’t bode well for our health, or the health of the animals that we eat.  The conditions that these animals are raised under are horrific.

So with that, I think I have the push to buy those more expensive organic meat brands, but probably less often.  Plus, I need to consider this whole new world of vegetarianism.  Nothing would suit me more than turning my entire backyard into a vegetable garden; I just know that is too big a task for me to undertake at the moment.  Last Sunday evening I prepared a meal of Butternut squash and Kale risotto (very delicious – and I will share the recipe, but thought given that it is more of a fall type dish that I would wait until then), black beans, and grilled maple sweet potatoes.  My daughter was in heaven, and remarked that she wanted every meal to be this way.

So, I will share a very simple Bobby Flay recipe that my kids love, and if you have any good vegetarian recipes, please share!

Maple – Glazed Grilled Sweet Potatoes

4 large sweet potatoes (do not peel)

3/4 cup pure maple syrup (I didn’t use this much)

1 T ancho powder (I also used chipolte pepper powder)

salt

1/4 cup mild vegetable oil, such as canola

1.  Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover with cold water.  Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer the potatoes until soft but not mushy (you should still feel resistance when you stick a small knife through the center), 25 to 35 minutes.

2.  Have ready a bowl of cold water.  Drain the potatoes, put them in the cold water, and set aside until cool enough to handle.  Peel the potatoes and quarter each one lengthwise.  (The potatoes can be cooked a few hours in advance, covered and set aside at room temperature.  Don’t cut them until you’re ready to grill).

3.  Heat your grill to high.

4.  Whisk together the maple syrup, ancho powder, and salt to taste in a small bowl.  Brush the potatoes with oil.  Grill until golden, about 3 minutes.  Brush with the maple glaze and continue grilling, brushing often with the glaze, until the potatoes are glazed, lightly charred, and heated through, about 3 minutes more.

Serves 4, From Bobby Flay’s Boy Gets Grill

Garlic Harvest!

DSC_0482For those of you who ventured into “garlic farming” with me last fall, attached is a link that provides guidance on when and how to harvest your garlic, and what to do with it once it is harvested (click here). I pulled up about 75% of what I planted this past weekend.  I had some really nice sized heads, but some were a little on the small side and probably could have stayed in the ground a little bit longer.  The person who originally told me about planting garlic, someone at the local Nature Center, told me he typically harvested in mid June.  Most of what I’ve been reading recommends late July through mid August – which I think is more on target.  (Of course, the crazy non-ending rain this summer probably did delay the crop).

I must admit I am proud of what I have.  We braided it up, and it’s hanging in our kitchen now. When harvesting, pull gently.  I did break a few of the greens off  and had to go digging with a trowel to find the head.  After I pulled them up, I dipped them gently in a bucket of water to clean the dirt off of the bulb and the roots.  I then put them in the sun to dry.  I later read that I should have not put them in the sun, but a dry place out of direct sunlight.

Depending on the rate at which I use garlic, this should last me at least through the winter.  So time to find some good garlic recipes.  This one for pan-fried garlic shrimp looks like it’s worth a try (and it’s a video!).

Chicken Wire Takes on a Whole New Meaning

dsc_03731As I was looking at the latest round of pictures I took of the chicks, I realized that this is the first time, in all the times I’ve used chicken wire for projects, that I’ve used it for what it is purported to do – contain chickens.  I realize that there is maybe 2% of you that are actually interested in our new lives as chicken farmers, so for those 2% – I’ll keep reporting, occasionally, to fill you in on the sordid details.  For the rest of you, please bare with me.  

So far, so good.  (I think this primarily has to do with the fact that young animals make little poops). These 10 chicks are still relatively cute – although I know their days of cutedom are numbered.  Given that they are now four weeks old (which means 5 months ’til eggs), this was the first weekend that we could let them venture outside.  Of course, they were relatively forced out their door – as two pairs of young hands grabbed, lifted and pushed them outside and down the ramp into their new outdoor pen.  Once there, I think they rather liked it.  

I’m rather amused by how my husband has taken to his new role as well.  He likes to check on the chicks just as much as the young boys, and has busily been building indoor perches, outdoor perches, nesting boxes, climbing stumps and a ramp with steps.  

Pictured above is the chick named Tom.  He (well she really) was the one we were most worried about when they arrived in their little box – flown in from Ohio.  She was definitely the smallest, but has become rather assertive, and is mostly seen hopping right into the middle of the feeding dish.  Her feathers and markings are quite beautiful, and she stands up a bit straighter than the rest of the chicks.  Ironically we also have a chick named Michael Jackson (MJ) – who was named so before the superstar died… I guess our own special family tribute(!)  While I’m a bit embarrassed to report on how he was named – he was named so by my teenagers because of his black and white feathers.

So now we need to start researching how to make these chickens super healthy egg producers – free range, grass fed, eggs with high omega 3s (I think they primarily get this by eating flax seed).  While I must say I’m still eating chicken, and I don’t think twice about doing so, it does make you think about the food chain – and what the animals eat, you ultimately eat.    Ahhh, a topic for another day (still want to see the new Food, Inc. documentary that is out).

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Uh, oh – I said Yes to More than a Fish

dsc_0545Uh, oh.  I said yes to more than a Fish.

I’m a dog person.  That being said, I don’t have a dog.  I’m constantly having a mental struggle about whether to have a dog or not to have a dog.  My biggest stumbling block is the amount of time we’re on the go and out of town.   Managing the logistics of what to do with a dog is something I’m not quite ready for.  

Well in a weak moment, I said yes to a chicken.  I should say eight chickens.  I can justify it under the guise of academics.  My son is in an Agriculture Science program in high school, and with participation in this program comes membership in the Future Farmers of America.  So you see, owning chickens is just purely and simply a school project – kind of like homework.  And of course the big side benefit is nice and tasty fresh organic eggs.  Very expensive eggs, I might add.  My wise women friend Charlotte thinks I’ve fallen off my rocker.

So the “coop” has been furiously under construction.  An extension to our once playhouse, now shed.  The back now serves as the roosting zone.  My husband relishes in the construction – and I do agree – the building of the structure is a good family project. 

My wise women friend next door neighbor has been very good at biting her tongue when we discuss these new neighbors that are moving into our back yard – no rooster I insist. Just chickens – and just remember, fresh eggs.

As you read this, the chicks have reportedly hatched.  They are being mailed from Ohio and will arrive any day at our local post office.  That event in and of itself, I hear, is something to witness.  I know the kids will have sheer delight on their faces when they hold a 4 day old chick in their hands. 

And I’m sure I’ll have more blog worthy reports on my new venture in chicken farming…

St. Patrick’s Day Fashion Faux Pas

irish-flag

I am half Irish (on my dad’s side) which requires some display of my Irish pride on this most revered day, St. Patrick’s Day. Alas, a frenzied search through my wardrobe for green clothing produced only teal, aqua and chartreuse garments. None of these shades proclaimed, “I am Irish!” with enough gusto, so I ended up in one of the zillion blue-colored outfits I own. (While ‘zillion’ may seem like a fanciful number, soon zillion will be the new billion at the rate our economy is going).

My frustrated quest to join in the wearing of the green is ironic in two ways:

  1. Each year I engage in the same frantic and futile hunt. What do I think happened in the intervening year? A leprechaun tip-toed into my closet and deposited a lovely emerald green shirt or sweater for me to wear on March 17th? Actually, if I’m going to be visited by a leprechaun, I’d rather he left a pot of gold to replace my now paltry 401(k).
  2. The color blue – not green – was originally associated with St. Patrick. According to Wikipedia, St. Patrick’s Blue appears on the Irish Presidential Standard (i.e. the flag of the President of Ireland) and the Coat of Arms of Ireland. The blue and gold color scheme is said to represent “the Ancient Colours of Ireland” and is found on the coat of arms of “the Ancient City of Dublin” the Flag of Munster, the Flag of Connacht, and serves as the colors for the University College Dublin.100px-coat_of_arms_of_irelandsvg

So, I’m not out of step with the rest of the green-wearing, Irish wannabe world. I’m just retro in my color scheme. How have you celebrated St. Patrick’s Day – past or present?

One Woman’s Ingenuity and Creativity

A few weeks back, Elaine blogged about different ways to go green. (Click HERE to read her blog).  Stacy, one of our faithful commenters, shared a number of different ways she “recycles” – which has included turning many different objects into works of art.  Clearly she is an artist, as even if I could conceive of some of what she has done, I don’t think I could successfully execute it.  One of my favorite things that she does is buys old pairs of ice skates (white girl’s pairs are particularly charming) at tag sales, paints a winter scene on them, and then hangs the pair on the front door in lieu of a holiday wreath.

So I must ask, what would you do with an old kitchen sink if you found it out in the woods?  Well Stacy found a sink, and turned it into a garden bench with a beautiful mosaic design.  Here are the steps – and the pictures marking the progress of this creation:

1.  Find an old sink.  Turn it upside down – and it obviously (not) has the potential to be a bench:  tn-81 

2.  Get some old plywood to create a back, and place PVC piping, cut in half along it to create a design:  tn

3.  Put PVC piping on the lower front as well, and make arm rests out of wood, with a half of a PVC pipe to make rounded arms. Then cover with a mesh wire.

tn-2

4.  Mix up some cement, and cover the sink, plywood and piping to create a smooth surface:

tn-1

5.  Then Stacy used old plates/china that she had collected from tag sales and made a mosaic design:

tn-3tn-7tn-6tn-4

 It truly is an amazing creation!  And believe me, Stacy has no shortage of ideas.  If I could ever have the vision for this, I would then have no idea where to begin.  Stacy, this could be another calling for you if you ever decide to switch gears!

Ways to keep us Sane – Carpooling

carpool-schoolI write this on Sunday evening, and feel like for the first time in quite I while, I’ve had a productive day. Some good family time, but thankfully for my mental health, I got through some of those things that have been on my to do list for quite a while.  I laugh that a day of paying bills, mailing overdue gifts, putting some laundry in the machine, moving my summer clothes into the attic and bringing down my winter clothes, can feel so good.  And the reason for this weekend being so highly productive was that as of last weekend, soccer for two of my sons is over, and field hockey is over for my daughter.  So coming off of last weekend where I felt like I was drowning – with 1 lacrosse game, 2 field hockey games, 2 soccer games and 2 birthday parties, plus a husband out of town, this weekend was wonderfully clear.

So as I was going through my piles today, I came across an article I had torn out of the paper awhile ago. According to the date, this article has been sitting by my bedside table since April 6th.  (And yes, that pile is now much smaller too.) Anyhow, it was about a carpool management website called dividetheride.com. It’s a very  interesting premise.  You register by putting in your name and address, your children’s names and their activities.  Then you invite friends and neighbors to join a carpool.  From what I can gather, the biggest advantage of doing this vs. facilitating a carpool schedule through phone or email, is that is calendarizes the schedule for you, maps the houses and destinations, and then sends out update reminder emails or text messages on the day of the carpool, 2 hours preceding the event.

It also has a function called CarLine Manager.  This is a program set up through your children’s school, and enables you to send an update into the school’s administration if you are not able to pick up your child at the last minute, and designates who will pick up your child instead.  I thought this would be a useful tool for those last minute scrambles when you’re stuck in traffic and know you’re not going to make it.

I think the biggest hurdle to overcome in using this is ensuring that this site is safe – as you are putting personal details about your children’s whereabouts on the web. It is a password protected, secure site, and only those you invite can have access to view your personal details.  That being said, it’s still natural to be trepidatious.

But as a mom of four busy kids, who lives in a rather out of the way neighborhood, carpooling keeps me sane, not to mention the fact that it’s a wonderful green solution.  I may just give this a try, when the next activity starts up, as long as I can find some willing guinea pigs!

Looking Through Green-Colored Glasses

recycleLast week I was at a brown-bag lunch talk, and I heard the woman next to me sigh. “Shoot, I forgot to bring a spoon.” The man on the other side of me whipped out a spoon from his backpack (the real kind, not plastic) and gave it to her. At the end of lunch, the woman wiped the spoon clean with her napkin and began to hand it back to the man with her thanks. He waived her off. “Keep it,” he said. “Use it and you’ll help keep 10,000 pounds of plastic out of our landfills.”

I hate it when that happens. Looking down at the plastic fork and disposable plastic salad container I was about to toss, I suddenly felt guilty.

Until that moment, I never really thought about my use of plastic utensils. In fact, I was proud of the stash of Costco forks, spoons and knives housed in my drawer for those days when I brought my lunch.

Now, the comments of that well-meaning man run through my head every time I reach for a disposable fork. Damn that environmental goody-two-shoes and the green-colored glasses he foisted upon me!

Here are a few other things I “discovered” you can recycle:

  • Wine corks. They’re turned into flooring and wall tiles. Mail them to Wine Cork Recycling, Yemm & Hart Ltd., 610 Chamber Drive, Fredericktown, MO 63645.
  • Tinfoil. After rinsing and wadding the tinfoil up, you can bring it to the curb with your recycled bottles and cans.
  • Videotapes. Instead of tossing them (and running the risk they unwind and get tangled in everything at the landfill), donate them. Send them (and other computer media) to ACT, a nonprofit that employs disabled people to clean, erase, and resell the tapes.

What you do to reuse, recycle and reduce? Despite my tantrum, I actually am looking for ways to reduce my impact on the environment. My next stop is The Nature Conservancy’s carbon footprint calculator to generate more guilt inspiration.

The more passions and desires one has, the more ways one has of being happy.
Charlotte-Catherine

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