Urban Adaptation

Sustainable urban living, rural dreams, and daily change for a homemade life.

Archive for January 2011

February shopping and spending

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It’s time yet again for more confessional fun at the end of the month.

Despite being well under budget this month, I’m still not happy with my shopping and spending.

I did well on my plans for TGAAD.  In terms of clothing I bought only a secondhand suit, an item that was on my exceptions list.  However, I did run into some problem areas that are really noticeable now that I’m looking back on what I spent, how much, and on what.  The two big problem areas for me seem to be housewares and books.  Housewares I tend to justify in terms of making home function better and be a more pleasant place to be, since this is where I spend much of my time.  Books, I tend to explain away either as an inexpensive form of entertainment, or as reference materials that I would like to have around, and this month, I got both.

This month, I spent $59 in my play category (the budget is $50) and $52 in my sustainability category (from a budget of $20).  Clearly, the amounts spent were higher than those budgeted for.  I was aware of this as I was going through the month, and knew that I would be saving more than enough money in other categories to cover it, but it’s still not sitting all that well with me.

One of the things I wanted to avoid with TGAAD was spending money in other places instead of for clothes.  I’m not sure that’s quite what I’m doing here, but it might be.  Although I am pleased with what I got and stuck to things that had been on my list for ages and was planning on buying new soon anyway, I don’t want to get into the habit of overspending in my set categories, even if it just means moving money that’s already built into the budget around to compensate.  Part of the point is to consume and have less, period.

So, I’m trying something new for February.

Part of what I don’t like about shopping is that I buy substitutes.  There are certain books that I want, for example.  If I see one used that’s inexpensive and on the same topic, but not the exact one that I wanted, I tend get it anyway.  Eventually, I’m likely to get the one that I want as well, which is a waste of money, as well as a waste of space if I don’t get rid of the first one.

So now, I’m going to focus on getting exactly what I want.  The cost of buying a few books that are kind of what I want could cover, or at least go a long way towards getting a book I really want.  So, this February, I’m making a deal with myself.  No shopping other than the necessities.  At the end, if I stick to it, I get this:

I very much want this.  I love his work, love reading his books, looking at the pictures, watching the shows.  It’s somewhat pricy, even after the discount.  But all the $3 and $4 secondhand cookbooks in the world won’t be this one.  So, rather than buy them, I’m going to get this one, and I will enjoy the living heck out of it.

This will take up much of my combined budget for play and for sustainability.  In fact, if I attend the workshop on starting seeds that I want to go to this month ($30) I could be a bit over (although I do have some gift certificates).  But I will be less over budget – if I’m over at all – than I was this month.  I’ll have the book that I most want.  And I’ll only have one new book to fit onto the shelf, rather than a pile plus a few new housewares too.


Written by Jenn

January 31, 2011 at 6:22 pm

From there to here – part one

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As I move further into trying to build a more sustainable life, and further into balancing those actions with my work (which is, as so often the case, the reason for yet more silence around these parts), I’ve recently gotten to thinking about how it was that I found myself where I am today, not just in the practical sense, but also in the sense of how I’d come to my current sets of beliefs, desires, and habits around the ways in which I want to live my life.

I was always a highly sensitive child (I am now simply a highly sensitive adult who is much better able to cope with the constant stimulus of living life).  One of the earliest things I remember feeling, and feeling in that deep-down, visceral, almost tangible sense – was a huge sense of dismay at the incredible unfairness of the world, and especially the incredible unfairness that somehow there were people out there who simply never had enough to eat.  The mere mention of children starving in Africa or stories of food banks on the radio would leave me with misty eyes and the threat of tears.

A later memory that has always lingered came from some volunteer work.  As a girl guide (Canada’s girl scouts), volunteer work was required for certain badges.  I was around 11, I believe, and every week for one morning my mother would drive me to the food bank where I would put together bags of food, based on a set criteria, for those who needed them.  On the whole, it wasn’t traumatic – unlike the current situation, most people just needed something to tide them over until their next payday in a few days, or had hit a bit of a rough patch.  But one day as we were leaving, we saw a man who I had helped sitting on the lawn, eating a prepackaged cup of applesauce.  My mother turned to me and, very casually, mentioned that it must be hard to be so hungry that you couldn’t wait to get home.  I don’t know that that was the case here.  Perhaps he had eaten that morning, and wanted a snack.  Perhaps he wanted to enjoy the warm day and the sun on the lawn.  But the comment hit me like a fist to the stomach, and it has stayed with me ever since.

I’ve run across many stories and situations since then that have made me feel the same way, and that have stayed with me long term.  This is something that is nearly always in the back of my mind, and I still find it unfathomable that we live in a world in which there are people who are always, perpetually, painfully hungry.  As a result, this is something that informs the way that I try to live my life – not wasting, eating lower on the food chain, spending less so I can donate more, and generally trying to be responsible when it comes to food, since I have the privilege of having resources, and believe that they should be used as wisely as possible.

Written by Jenn

January 30, 2011 at 6:16 pm

The book of the farm

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With Victorian Farm and Edwardian Farm showing up recently at Cold Antler Farm and at Small Measures, I started rewatching the shows, which I’d seen bits and pieces of already.  It’s an interesting look at how life used to be, and one that I imagine that I’ll write about later.

What really struck me about Victorian Farm, though, was the use of their “bible,” the text “The Book of the Farm”, which appears to be a very comprehensive guide to farming.  While old, it looks to have a lot of useful information in it, and I was delighted to find a PDF copy (only 737 pages) from the Open Library.  So, if anyone’s interested, it’s readily available.

Written by Jenn

January 21, 2011 at 5:12 pm

Good luck at Goodwill

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After being without a computer for a bit (three fun issues, just to add a little spice to life), I stopped by the goodwill bookstore on my way home from the repair shop where it was undergoing diagnostics.  I sometimes lament how tempting its proximity to home is, since this poor little apartment has a rather large number of books in it already, but I really, honestly love it – great selection, great people, and supporting a charity at the same time – definitely right up my alley, so to speak.

Given that the weather has suddenly become incredibly cold, and that I was already somewhat chilled from waiting for two different buses, I seriously debating stopping.  I’m pleased that I did, though.

First, I stumbled across two young adult (I think) books that I’ve been wanting to read – “I Captured the Castle” and “The Yearling“.  Next, I found a copy of “Four Season Harvest“, which deals with ways to extend the life of a garden and keep production up through the whole year.  Finally, I stumbled across “Locavore” and “The 100 Mile Diet,” both of which I’d been considering from amazon relatively recently, but had decided to hold off on.  I’m now glad that I did.

The grand total for 5 books?  $16, or quite affordable.  I’m still trying to reduce my shopping as much as possible, and get stuff out of the apartment, but I’m pleased with these books, which are either classics, or good information and inspiration for my own efforts in living and eating more sustainably.  And now, I’m going to curl up on the couch with a book, a blanket, and some tea, and have a quiet afternoon.

Written by Jenn

January 21, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Local food and public perception

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“It is easier to change a man’s religion than to change his diet.”   – Margaret Mead

I’ve been thinking a lot about food recently – sourcing it, growing it, eating it – and this article at Salon couldn’t have come at a better time.  An examination not just of how food is accessed in an immigrant community, but the social pressures and even shame that go along with it, it speaks to different elements of the current food system at large, and the expectations of us as consumers within it.

First, it deals with the shame that can surround not food itself, but the processes of raising and getting food that are outside the mainstream.  No matter how useful, sustainable, healthy, or financially viable they are, in many areas there are still limits – some formal, but many not – not only on what we eat, but how we get our food.  Processed and packaged in a grocery store is fine.  Growing on a balcony is not so much.  Even if they’re not voiced, there are sometimes social exprectation, and certainly always social norms, around what it is that people eat and why.

At the same time, it also begins to look at the benefits of local foods, and the ways in which families made use of what was available to them in terms of space and resources to access what they needed.  Despite what seem to be some less than ideal circumstances, food was obtained in a variety of productive and even creative ways.  Sharing meat.  Planting vegetables in available lots.  Using grass clippings as fertilizer and mulch.

But there’s also an element of community here – bartering, helping others, and working together to provide. Maybe it’s just where I am right now, but I don’t see a lot of this on any level, even with something as fundamental as food.  Everyone goes to the grocery store and gets what they need to bring home and cook alone.  Even the borrowed egg or cup of sugar from days of yore, as it were, seems to be a thing of the past.

There’s also a loss of identity when people lose their ability to produce and eat food in ways to which they’re accustomed, which is what struck me most here.  While the people here lost of way of living to which they were accustomed, I wonder if there’s a fundamental need to produce.  I suspect that even with those of us who haven’t known a lifestyle that included raising or producing food in some way, shape, or form have lost something by not being more connected with what we eat and where it comes from.

These are just some of the reasons I want to and am trying to move more into being responsible for my food, either by growing what I can, or making sure that I’m aware and responsible for what I eat.  I don’t have all the solutions yet – although there are some great ideas in the article – but I think it’s incredibly important that it’s something that we start getting back to, even if on a small scale, whether or not it’s a life with which we’re already familiar.

Written by Jenn

January 14, 2011 at 12:12 am

New year, new budget

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With a new year, I’ve refigured my budget just a bit.  With the current financial uncertainties, being on the job market, and just trying to better manage my resources, I’ve made a few adjustments here and there while also trying to simplify things a bit more.

First, since I’ve joined The Great American Apparel Diet (TGAAD), I’ve eliminated the clothing category.  Only $10 a month, but that still $120 a year.  If I do wind up getting a suit (I’m on the job market, and trying to make sure I have appropriate clothing, so it’s my TGAAD exception), it’ll come out of my education amount for the month.

Second, I’ve raised my automatic savings amount from $125 to $150 a month.  Because it’s buried in the budget, I tend to forget it’s there, and it makes a nice addition to the money that I try to save out of my other categories.  Adding in an extra $25 makes it an even nicer surprise to remember.

Finally, I’ve started recording my spending by rounding up to the nearest dollar.  This way, the amounts I track are slightly higher than what I actually spent, leaving a bit extra at the end of the month – $0.23 here, or $0.71 there.  It’s not a lot, since I don’t spend all that often, and it’s $0.99 at most each time, but even an extra $0.50 on 10 purchases is $5 a month.

And just a note on budgets in general. A few people have asked me if I find my budget very restrictive.  The short answer is no.  The long answer, though, is that although it works well for me, I get that this won’t work for everyone.  Not everyone likes to track in this much detail, or have such strict limits on spending.  For me, though, it works.  It’s interesting, and I see keeping my budget and especally staying within it as a challenge.  This makes it more fun and interesting and less like some restrictive drudgery.  Furthermore, it’s very much a choice.  I don’t have to live like this, but I want to, and choosing versus being forced to do something are two very different things.  In general, I like saving a lot more than I like spending, which certainly helps as well, but setting out the numbers and finding ways to stay where I’m supposed to be feels rewarding to me, and not like a chore, and therefore works quite well.

Written by Jenn

January 11, 2011 at 11:38 pm

Posted in Money matters

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Worstward Ho, Samuel Beckett (1983)

All of old.

Nothing else ever.

Ever tried.

Ever failed.

No matter.

Try again.

Fail again.

Fail better.

I have all but the first two lines of this framed on my wall.  I think it’s a good reminder.  Every day, I try to fail better.

Written by Jenn

January 10, 2011 at 6:24 pm

Posted in Words

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