Monthly Archives: March 2011

Time to Decide If It’s a Staycation or Vacation Kind of Year

Spring break is coming right up, with summer not far behind. Both these events bring thoughts of taking a family vacation. Time to get somewhere and have some adventures as a family, break your usual routine and enjoy life a little.

A vacation is nice, certainly, but a staycation has its good points too.


Your typical staycation costs a lot less than a vacation. No airfare, no hotel room rentals, it’s pretty affordable. You decide exactly what you want to spend your money on.

Costs can add up, of course. While not the most eco friendly of options, you might choose to spend a day or so at a local theme park. Lots of fun, but they do add up.

You could stay a night or so in a nearby hotel if you really need to get out of the house, of course. Sleeping at home is not an absolute requirement, and it is nice to get out of the house for the night sometimes. You’ll still save by not traveling so far.

Camping is another option, especially if you want to enjoy the natural beauty in your area. It’s quite affordable, and if you love being out in nature, you can enjoy camping as well.

Learning About Your Local Area

Have you ever noticed that visitors sometimes know more about the neat stuff to do in your area than you do? Or that there’s some place nearby you always talk about going to, but never do? Your staycation is the time to turn things around.

Start with the things you keep not doing in your area. Check out the local historical sites and natural areas.

Next check with your local tourist information office and see what you didn’t even know you could do in your area. There’s always something, some sort of nearly secret area that you never heard of that sounds really great.

Trying New Restaurants

Why eat just the way you usually do at home on staycation? Skip the fast food places and try some of the restaurants in your area you’ve been curious about. You’d be doing a lot of eating out if you went off on vacation anyhow, why not try it more locally? You might find a new favorite.

What Not to Do On Staycation

Whatever you do, don’t tackle big projects around the house when you’re taking a staycation. Don’t decide that it’s time to organize the closets, paint the house, landscape the yard or anything like that. That would be taking days off to do things around the house, not taking a vacation. If you need to get that stuff done, dedicate some time to it but don’t say it’s a staycation.

The great part about taking a staycation is that you cut out some of the frustrations of vacations that require more travel. You aren’t spending hours or days getting to your destination. You don’t have to worry about if you’ve picked a good hotel or feel as though you have no options if you pick one that doesn’t work out. Just think about what you can do in your local area that will help you get the kind of relaxation you’d like from a vacation.

With Gas Prices Going Up, It’s Time to Cut Your Usage Down

It seems as though the price of everything is going up right now. That’s especially true when it comes to buying gas. The prices are awful, and not expected to improve anytime soon.

Just call it more motivation to cut back on how much gas you and your family uses. It’s not always easy, but you can often find areas where it’s worth changing your routine to save some gas.

1. Daily commute.

For family members who work outside the home, how is that daily commute? Do you have any alternatives? Carpooling, public transportation, riding a bicycle, even walking? Depending on the distances involved, one or another of these could be worth it. My sister carpools to her job with two other people, which has cut her costs to about a third of what it would be if she drove only herself to work daily. Pretty nice deal, and the added time isn’t too bad.

Public transportation is great when you’re in an area with a good quality system. Not everyone is so fortunate. If this is going to be a regular thing, see what a monthly pass costs versus paying each day, as this can make the difference in whether or not you’re saving enough money to be worth the additional time public transportation costs.

Not everyone can bike or walk to work. The distances or road conditions may not allow it, and arriving at work all sweaty isn’t always the best image to bring forth.

This also goes for students in the family headed for school. Walking or biking is usually far more possible for students.

2. Running errands.

How often do you really run your errands in an efficient way? Do you combine errands and make a list so you won’t forget something and have to go shopping again too soon? These are some of the things you need to be more careful about in order to save gas.

You may be able to walk some errands or ride a bike when they’re local enough. Grocery shopping can be a little challenging, but not impossible depending on weather conditions and just how far you have to go.

3. Other trips.

When it comes to the other reasons to drive, think about when it’s really worth it. Can you walk that far and will it still be worth it? What options do you have? Are there any more efficient ways to get there?

Increasing gas prices are really hard on a tight budget, and even those with more room in the budget don’t particularly like paying more for it. If you haven’t done so already, now is a great time to start using some of the alternatives you have available so you don’t drive as much.

Thrift Store Shopping Shouldn’t Make You Feel Poor

The problem some people have with thrift store shopping is that they feel it’s something poor people do. There’s the image of a dirty store with old, unwanted clothing. When you find a good thrift store in your area, you’ll find that the reality is far from that image.

There are a lot of very good reasons to shop at thrift stores. Being poor or just on a really tight budget are good reasons, but there are others.

You could just be aware of good deals. Many times you can find brand name merchandise in good condition at a thrift store. Why would you pay full price if you can get it just a little later at the thrift store for a few dollars?

You might enjoy it as a treasure hunt. It’s not just clothes you can find at the thrift store, but items for all around the house.

You could go thrift shopping as a small way to support a charity you approve of. They usually are for good causes, such as the job training Goodwill does.

You could go thrift shopping because you want to be more environmentally friendly. Reusing is certainly better than buying new.

In so many ways, thrift store shopping is the smartest way to start your search for many items, especially clothing. Once you know where the good stores are you won’t need to go all over town trying to figure them out. There can certainly be particular stores that get the best stuff in an area or that get picked over too quickly.

If you know what days they get and put out deliveries, that can be a huge help to your thrift shopping success. The best things will of course go more quickly. If you’re looking for trendy clothes, getting to them fast may make them easier to find. Sometimes you even luck into clothes with the tags still on.

Certainly you have to be picky about which thrift stores you shop at. It’s often clear when management just tries to sell everything and doesn’t worry about what’s in working condition or otherwise usable.If the one nearest you has awful merchandise, look around until you find one that has the good stuff. They’re out there.

You can of course go to the big names in the business, such as Goodwill or the Salvation Army, but most areas will have smaller charities that run thrift stores as well. Don’t rule any of them out, especially if a good one supports a cause you love.

Spring Means It’s Time to Get Your Garden Going

The cost of produce right now is pretty awful in most places. I saw tomatoes here for $2.49 a pound, cucumbers at $1.29 each. It’s pretty painful finding decent fresh produce to feed my family. On the plus side, it’s spring and time to get serious about gardening.

Just what you can do for your garden depends on the space you have available for it. You don’t have to have a back yard – a porch or patio will do for some container gardening, or even just a sunny window to grow some herbs.

The first thing you need to do is figure out what will grow well in your area. The easiest way to do that is to check with your local nurseries. This is important even if you’re going to order heirloom seeds so that you can save seed for next year to keep your garden going. You want to know what will grow well in your area, and it’s often easier to speak with someone in person than it is to find accurate information on a shopping website.

Soil is a big issue where I live. Ours is very poor, and drains quickly. If you have similar problems with your soil, I suggest you go to the nursery to find out how to improve it. A local professional will know what local conditions tend to be and what to do about it.

If you have a compost pile, you may already have some natural improvements to mix into your soil. Your compost must be well broken down or it won’t be sufficiently beneficial to the plants you’re planning on growing. This can be much better for your garden than chemical fertilizers.

What to Grow?

Deciding what to grow is an important part of any garden. I prefer a garden that is mostly vegetables, although the occasional fruit such as watermelon is always welcome. For us, tomatoes, cucumbers and bell peppers are basics.

This is a time to get your children involved. Allow them to pick a few favorites to grow. Sugar snap peas are always a fun one, as are green beans.

If you have the space for a fruit tree, think about dedicating some space to one. It’s a long term plan and you may not get any fruit this year, but in future years you could have more than your family can handle. The plum tree my family had when I was growing up produced more than we could easily give away some years. I miss that tree.

Protect the Garden From Kids and Pets

While you should have your kids involved in planting the garden, I strongly suggest that you fence it off somehow to keep them out of it when they’re playing. It doesn’t matter if they can get in and out easily, so long as there’s something to protect the plants from accidental incursions when the kids are playing.

It can be even more important to limit the access any pets have to your garden. Dogs can dig up your garden or just walk all over the young plants. You usually can’t keep a determined cat from using nice, soft garden beds as a litter box, but you can make it a little less appealing by having a fence they have to get over .

You don’t have to get too fancy with a fence, especially if the garden is a very temporary feature for your yard or you intend to move it around. Get some posts and some lightweight fence material, pound the posts into the ground and attach the fence, and you have some basic protection for your garden.

Be Efficient With Water

Especially if you’re living in an area with watering restrictions, you need to be as efficient as possible when watering your garden. A good quality soaker hose will allow you to water your garden with minimal water use.

Watering early in the day is usually best, so the water can soak into the ground before the sun gets hot enough to evaporate most of it. You can set up a timer so that you don’t have to remember to water first thing in the morning.

In my area, I’ve found that two short watering sessions a half hour to an hour apart are more effective than a single watering session. This allows the soil to get wet enough to easily absorb the water, but also lets the first watering soak in deeper before more water is added. Our soil dries really quickly on a single watering, and this is a big difference for us.

The upfront costs of starting a garden can be a bit painful, especially if it’s your first year and you need all the supplies, with nothing left over or reusable from previous years. It does get better, and the quality produce you can grow on your own should be worth it.

With All That Went Wrong In Japan, Is It Time to Give Up On Nuclear Power?

The 9.0 earthquake in Japan has been a nightmare for people in that country. Not only are thousands dead or missing,  with massive destruction by both the quake and the tsunami, they have a crisis with a nuclear power plant. Even milk and spinach in the area have been found to be contaminated as a result. Small amounts of radioactive iodine have been found in tap water.

Naturally, this disaster has resulted in many people calling for nuclear power plants to be shut down. I understand why. You can’t see radiation, you can’t tell if it’s effecting you, but it can shorten your life. That’s a scary thing.

That said, as of this writing I haven’t heard anything to make me stress about the radiation from the Fukushima nuclear plant. It has plenty of problems, but so far it hasn’t done the worst possible, by a long shot.

I’d love for solar, wind, geothermal and hydro power to take over the power generation we need. That would be wonderful. The only problem is that it won’t happen soon. There are a lot of obstacles in the way, and quite simply people aren’t willing to make that sacrifice, even though we’d be better off once we made it work.

I fully expect nuclear power to be around for a long time to come. That’s why I’d rather focus on making it safer.

For one thing, the radiation from a functioning nuclear power plant is actually less than that coming from a coal power plant. You don’t really think about natural radiation coming from coal, but it does. XKCD made a really interesting radiation chart, and it’s amazing to see what the numbers really are.

With Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima as examples, engineers now know more about the disasters to plan for in a nuclear power plant. Much of it was known before Fukushima, but that plant was old and lacked certain safety features.

The major problem I have with nuclear power is disposal of waste. Spent rods have been a big part of the Fukushima problem, after all. Nuclear waste is hazardous for far too long and is incredibly difficult to dispose of safely. More passive safety features must be in place in all nuclear power plants.

Grist has some interesting points on using thorium in nuclear power plants, stating this is safer than uranium. Some of the people commenting on the article have interesting ideas as well.

I hope that more serious looks will be taken at generating power in safer ways than nuclear or coal, but I’m also realistic enough to know it’s not going to happen that soon. Too many people with too much power over the situation are invested in keeping things the way they are. I think it’s better to fight to make them safer as we continue to work toward using more sustainable technologies to power our country.