Urban Adaptation

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

Archive for the ‘Personal stuff’ Category

Bigger plans

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As I go through the machinations of budgeting – writing the budget, tracking what I spend daily, reporting it weekly here – it strikes me that I spend a lot more time on the budget itself than on why I keep a budget.  This isn’t necessarily a problem in itself – I do the budget anyway, because it’s habit, and I know in the back of my mind that it’s hugely important – but sometimes it’s good to remember that it’s for a purpose and it fits into a bigger plan.

Really, it’s pretty simple, though.

First, I keep a budget for the here-and-now, so that I have an emergency fund if anything unexpected happens.  By keeping a budget I can live enough below my means to save money.  Saving money means there’s some flexibility if anything happens.  Also, when I’m used to living below my means, if something happens – like, say, a pay cut – we’re already used to living this way, so while it may be an adjustment, it’s not as much of a hardship as it could be.

The bigger thing, though, is that I have a plan – or at least some hopes – about what I can do with a stash of cash and the ability to lie frugally.  I want some land.  It doesn’t have to be a lot of land.  It could be in the city or the country.  I’m not really all that picky.  But I want some land on which I can have a home, grow some food, raise some animals, and generally live life a little more on my terms.

This won’t happen immediately, I know.  There are too many things up in the air right now, and too much to get sorted out first.  But by living on a budget now – thinking and writing and watching and tracking – I can better prepare for this much hoped for dream, even if it is a good ways in the future right now.  I’d do this anyway – living below my means is important enough anyway – but having a dream in place makes it even easier, and gives the work a real purpose.

Written by Jenn

April 15, 2011 at 7:16 pm

Bytes and breeds

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By day, I research and teach about digital thing – bits and bytes and their effects on how we live our lives and interact with each other.

By night, I read blogs on urban homesteading, avidly research about sheep breeds, make my own pickles, and grow basil in my apartment window.

It feels like there’s a divide here, a significant split, possibly even a rift, between the two.  I’m trying to reconcile these things, trying to find tenuous links and possible projects and things that will let me stand not with my feet in two different worlds, but in one slightly messy combined one.  I have virtually no idea how, though, although it’s something I find myself thinking about a lot more these days, especially after another session flipping through the hatchery catalogue that sits on the coffee table.

I certainly think there’s room in this digital age to have both.  The Greenhorns blog recently posted about a course on using smartphones on farms.  The Internet has provided the space to question trademarks, raise questions about organics, and connect with similar minded folks.  I am endlessly impressed with the blogs and websites that I find that make hands-on, highly material work that is grounded in..well, the ground accessible to anyone, anywhere with Internet access.  I use digital resources to work and plan and figure things out for myself, to connect with other people, to make a record of what I’m doing.

But in my own life, I still feel like there’s a divide.  I suppose part of it is that I’m highly focused on finishing my dissertation, the one big project that needs to be completed and is about as far removed from any kind of material existence as can be imagined.  My hope, though, is that when this is done, when the light at the end of the tunnel has proven itself to actually be the light at the end of the tunnel and not a train that’s barreling down on me, that I can start to work on combining some of these things that are near and dear to me into my research and my life, and building better, stronger links between this academic life that I lead and these other things that I very much want for myself now, and in the future.

Written by Jenn

April 12, 2011 at 1:03 pm

Nothing like…

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…an afternoon on the couch, the windows open for the first time since fall, with a book and some tea and plans for spring cleaning in just a little bit.

Bliss, I tell you.


Written by Jenn

April 10, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Posted in Personal stuff

Grateful without

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A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.  – Henry David Thoreau

While I am always grateful for what I have, more and more these days I find myself being grateful for some of the things that I don’t have.  I know for some of the people I know that this is odd.  To be grateful for what you have isn’t all that exceptional, but to be grateful for the things you don’t have – other than, say, major health issues or a heavy mortgage – isn’t all that common in my experience.

I am grateful for not having a car, a washer and dryer, a dishwasher, or a cell phone.  I’m grateful that I don’t have the financial burden of paying for or maintaining them.  Although my hope is that this will change someday, I am grateful for not having a mortgage.  I’m also grateful that I have ways to get by without them.  That I can walk, or bike, or take the bus.  That I can wash clothes in the tub, or a sink, or a bucket.  That I actually rather like sudsy water and the act of making dirty dishes clean.  That I have a landline, a laptop, and easy wireless access.  That I have an apartment now and that someday, with any luck, I will have enough saved to get that mortgage.

I am grateful without these things, certainly – I have enough in my life, certainly, and so much that is better than a few appliances and techno-gadgetry. I’m grateful for family, for friends, for food, and for shelter (and, admittedly, I’m especially grateful this afternoon for books and a guitar).  I don’t need more than what I have, and not having these things does not diminish my life in any way, or detract from my gratitude for the things that I do have.

But I am also grateful that I do not have them, which seems to me a bit of a separate thing.  I’m grateful that I’ve learned to be without them, and that being without them is simply normal, even pleasurable sometimes, and not deprivation.  I’m grateful that I’ve learned that there alternatives to what so many people seem to accept as a given, if not some inalienable right granted by the gods of credit and debt.

There are moments when I whinge and moan, as most people do, I think.  Moments when the dishes and laundry are piled too high, the grocery stores seems thousands of miles away, and it would be easier to call home on a phone in my pocket rather than one across campus.  But these moments are the exceptions, and are far from the rule.

There’s more that I would like to cut out, I think.  More that I would like to be grateful about not having.  I hope to make some of these changes soon.  But for now, I’m grateful – grateful for what I have just as much as for what I don’t.  It’s a good feeling this gratitude, especially when it works more than one way.

Written by Jenn

April 10, 2011 at 1:51 pm


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With the state of the world, and I suppose also the state of my life (really, really not so very bad, but next year’s work situation shook me a bit), I’m feeling a little like shrinking away.  It’s not a great feeling, probably because it’s a survival mechanism, and I’d like to get away from the shrinky feeling now and out into the world again.

But, sometimes if you’re not open, I think life can pry you open.  I’m not so sure I’m up for prying right now, though, I think that giving in and opening up, rather than trying to get smaller and and further away and more closed off is the more productive way to go (and quite possible the most interesting and useful as well.  So instead of shrinking, I’m trying to be open.  It’s not always easy – sometimes it’s downright hard – but I think it will be worthwhile in the end, especially after this odd initial feeling passes on through.

Open means a few different things here, some of which are easier than others.

It means…

Open to opportunities other than those that I initially expected – smaller contracts, other cities, new countries.

Open to new ways of living – more frugality, less consumption.

Open to challenges – finding the best ways to manage in somewhat uncertain times.

Open to gratitude – looking for the positives anywhere I can.

Open to being open – I’m rather fond of control, and being open can be…well, a bit of a stretch.

No telling where I’ll end up on the other side, I suppose, but I’m looking forward to trying this openness out a bit more and seeing where I wind up and whether anything changes.

Written by Jenn

April 8, 2011 at 1:08 am

The kindness of friends

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While I think about this somewhat regularly, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about community, and friendship, and especially about sharing.

I realised awhile back that in some of my efforts to live a low-impact, low-energy, low-cost life, there are times when my friends loan me things, or do things for me, that get to be difficult to do on my own.  Because I don’t have a car, sometimes I need rides to or from places, especially at night when the buses don’t run a lot.  Since I’ve chosen not to have a cell phone, sometimes I need to borrow one if we’re out and about.

Realistically, I know there are things that they get from me in return.  I spend a lot of time listening to people’s problems, and I offer advice.  I cook and bake for people.  I watch pets, water plants, collect mail, and return library books.  I’ve read and edited an awful lot of papers and grant applications.  On paper, these don’t feel like big things, and yet I know they matter to the people who they help.  But sometimes, even though I do think I probably give back as much as I receive, I’m just so very, very grateful for the people in my life who help me out every now and again with the things that it gets to be difficult to do on my own.

I’d like to do more, though, and I see the world in its present state, and all of the things that need dealing with, I think we need these connections with other people more than ever.  So I’m going to make a concerted effort to not only be a better friend, but to be a better friend to more people.  I want to share more of what I have, especially in terms of time and energy, with those who could use it.  I’d like to spend more time building community, and finding ways to connect with people, and fostering the sharing that I think we so desperately need.

But community and help goes both ways.  It’s important for people to feel useful and needed.  And so I’m also going to try to be better about asking for help when I need it, which is something that I am not always so good at.  There’s lots I could use help with, though – everything from gardening advice to reading my papers as I work through them.

This could take awhile to work up to.  I’m rather shy, and a homebody, and because of these things I sometimes find building community takes a lot of effort and time.  But I think it’s worth it, and I’m looking forward to getting out there more.  I’ve had an awful lot of good in my life, and I’d like to give some of that back.

Written by Jenn

March 12, 2011 at 10:56 pm

Another urban homesteader

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I’m not sure I’ve ever used the term urban homesteader to describe myself.  Off the top of my head, there are two reasons for this.  First, although I find myself somewhat attracted to the term, I’m also not completely comfortable with some of the historical implications of homesteading (there’s a good post on some of those issues here), especially after a fair amount of study of things like colonialism.  While they are historical, meanings shift over time and don’t necessarily reflect on what’s going on in the movement today by any stretch of the imagination, I’m still aware of them, and still trying to figure out where I am without relying too much on labels, since labels can be uncomfortable in some circumstances, and can also have an unfortunate tendency to divide people.

Second, what I do here sometimes feels like it’s on such a small and limited scale that there’s no real way that I can justify why it could or should be called homesteading.  In the summer I grow some basil, dill, and the odd cherry tomato on my too-shaded patio.  I make my own pickles, jam, granola, and cleaning products.  I cook from scratch, and hang laundry to dry in my apartment.  I buy used, frequent the farmers’ markets, and keep the heat down in the winter.  I generally try to live as lightly as possible in this apartment.

That said, even in moments when I think I’m not doing enough, I want to live the life suggested by the idea of being an urban homesteader, whether I call it that or not.  Heck, maybe I’m just being hard on myself – as I so often am – and I’m already on the path; after all, this weekend I made pickles, granola, and bread, and started radish, spinach, dill, basil, pea, and cucumber seeds.  This week I hope to try my hand at yogurt.  And this lifestyle, and my hopes for what it can and will become, is why I find myself incredibly irritated at the kerfuffle over the recent moves by a family that will remain unnamed to trademark and take on this terminology for themselves.

I wanted, for a long while, to give them the benefit of the doubt.  While to my mind their site doesn’t offer a lot of practical information, it had, at one point, been a bit of an inspiration, albeit well after I had heard of homesteading.  Even after the initial furor I hoped that they had misspoke, and then that they had misstepped and would apologize for the confusion, explain their case, and back down.  That doesn’t seem to be the case, though, and nothing has come out other than a poorly-constructed press release and some brief blog posts claiming lies, hoaxes, and other insinuations that seem to be untrue based on their own communications.

And so, I’m calling myself an urban homesteader.  My way looks different from theirs, and looks different from those of the countless other people who are moving today to take back that term for themselves.  But that’s a good thing.  We adapt where we can, how we can, and we set up systems that not only work for us, but that also work for where we are.  But with all of these people, and all of these methods and ideas and ways of doing and knowing, there’s no reason why anyone should be claiming – or even trying to claim – sole right to being an urban homesteader.  Not only is there room for everyone in this movement, we need more people calling themselves urban homesteaders, or city gardeners, or whatever term works best to describe how they get involved and make these important changes to our selves, homes, communities, food, environment, and ways of living.  Shutting people out based on terminology and alienating them from the things they want to do – and in many cases already do – doesn’t help the community this is so necessary to figuring out how we can best live our lives in the ways that we want.

Now, I’m happy to see, people are starting to consider other ways in which we can use this momentum.  The taking of words and laying claim to a movement are offenses, certainly, but they’re small offenses (relatively speaking) with respect to a system that is fundamentally flawed and in need of our attention (there’s another great post from Grow and Resist on this as well).  Now, we get to figure out where to go from here, and how we can use this collective power to make more of a difference, more change, more movement.  Now that we’re galvanized, who’s in for the ride?

Written by Jenn

February 21, 2011 at 10:16 pm