Urban Adaptation

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

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How low can you go – week two

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Friday – nothing

Saturday – rubbermaid tub (bought used for starting a worm composter) – $2.50; 4 books for $9 (The Almanac of Rural Living – 3; Rodale’s Garden Problem Solutions – 3; The Foxfire Book – 2; Last of the Curlews – 1)

Sunday – nothing

Monday – air mattress – $41 (the old one broke, and this is a necessity for nights when I can’t sleep and need to be in the living room)

Tuesday – nothing

Wednesday – packing tape – $4 (needed to pack up box to return old computer to manufacturer for a replacement)

Thursday – 4 books for $11 (The Lacuna – 4, How the Farm Pays – 3; The Trade – 1; a Terry Pratchett for The Boy – 2)

So, this was more or less a week of somewhat unexpected but necessary expenses.  More in the sense that the mattress, as noted, is necessary to my sleep and sanity sometimes, so $41 was well worth it, I think (I got a reasonable quality one this time that I hope will last longer and not lose quite as much air and require so much maintenance).  My computer’s being replaced under warranty, but has to be packaged up in a particular way to ship back, and so I needed to get a roll of packing tape.

The books?  Oops is all I really have here.  I love books, but I very much need to be better about what I buy.  I’m not too bothered by more books on gardening, farming, and sustainable living – they will get used, and I appreciate having them on hand.  The almanac is especially fantastic, based on my intial readings of it, and How the Farm Pays looks great too, especially since it’s a reprint of an 1884 manual and uses older techniques.  The other fiction books, though, are not really so necessary in the strictest of senses.  Kingsolver I love and would have bought new, but held off on until it showed up used (which took somewhere close to a year, as I recall).  The Road is dark, but post-apocalyptic survivalist fiction, which I find helps get me in gear.  The Last of the Curlews…well, that just feeds into my love of reading naturalist fiction, The Trade looked interesting from a Canadian history and wilderness perspective, and I pick up the odd book every now and again for The Boy to read (although I like Pratchett just as much as he does, I think).

The grand total?  $67.50.

I’m not in love with the number, but $41 of that was a new mattress, so I suppose it’s not really all that bad.  And, out of the books, I spent only $8 on non-reference materials (and half of that was on a book that I’ve been waiting quite some time for).  I’m also not sure I’m thrilled with the amount of things – it looks like a lot of stuff when it’s all typed out, especially for one week.  A rubbermaid tub, packing tape, a mattress, and 8 books in just one week is not really that sustainable in this space.  Really, I think that I could be better about spending money, but also about bringing more stuff home, so that’s something to look out for for next week, I think – being mindful of money and of space.

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Written by Jenn

April 15, 2011 at 6:00 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

Reference library

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I am my own library.

I’ve always loved reading and having books around.  When I was 10 or so I had one bookshelf, crammed with books, and piles everywhere else for the ones that just wouldn’t fit.

Things aren’t really that different now, although the focus of the books has shifted.

When I started my Masters degree, I realised how hard it was to get some of the books that I needed from the library, if they even had them at all.  I also realised that 3 weeks was simply not enough time for some of them.  So I started buying books.  Not a lot, but when I needed something, especially for my research, I tended to get it so I could have my own copy, always available, that I could do what I wanted with.  This carried through to my doctorate, and I’ve been fortunate enough to receive some grant money that has allowed me to buy most of the books that I use for research, many of which are generally good, useful texts that will be handy for a wide variety of academic work in the future (Veblen, Marx, Durkheim, Weber, Baudrillard, Bourdieu, de Certeau, and Simmel, I’m looking at you).

Once I became aware of issues around food security, sustainability, and peak oil, I began to see the value in using this approach of making sure I had books on hand that would help me live the life I was increasingly wanting to lead.  And so, with another bookshelf on hand, I started building up a greater selection of books on cooking, gardening, knitting, sewing, preparedness, preserving, food issues, compost, household maintenance, and most recently, raising animals.

Coupled with the fiction that I also kept around, this makes for a lot of books.  Actually, for awhile I considered getting rid of some of the fiction or academic books to make a bit more room (the fiction especially was considered for the shopping block), but then I read one of Sharon’s posts that included a section about buying books and feeling that she should be the local library, and I stopped thinking that way.

While fiction may not be useful in the practical sense, it gives me some very inexpensive, reusable, and lendable entertainment.  It’s an escape, a way to get away from the world for a while.  Sometimes its inspirational.  Sometimes its relaxing.  But I appreciate having books around that I want to read, and so when I see something at the used bookstore for a few dollars that I want to have around long term, it often comes home with me.  At the most recent 50 percent off sale, I came home with John Steinbeck, Eudora Welty, Dostoyevsky, Douglas Adams, John Irving, and Annie Dillard.  I’m still not looking forward to moving them, and I do trim the collection here and there but, by and large, the books stay.

The building of my library has been facilitated in a few ways.  My long-standing love of thrift stores has certainly helped, and I’d say the vast majority of my books have cost no more than a few dollars each.  Back in my undergrad days there was a thrift store where almost every book was a quarter or less – total bliss.  The annual library book sale here helps as well.  Also, everyone I know knows of my love of books, and birthday and Christmas gifts are frequently gift certificates.  I also do a few reward-type programs that don’t cost me anything, but that add up to a bit of book money here and there.  Occasionally there’s something that I want or think is useful enough to buy new, but this is very much a rarity.

Missing from this post: photos of my book-covered coffee table, bedside, nightstand, desk, and dining room table.

Written by Jenn

April 6, 2011 at 11:18 pm

How low can you go?

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It’s three days into April now, but at the start of the month, I decided that this will be a month where I see how low I can get my budget to go under normal circumstances.

The goal?  To spend as little as possible while I live like I normally would.  No eating strictly from the pantry, no putting off things that I need until the next month to skew the spending lower, no making The Boy take on more than he normally would to cover for me.  So, normal life, just with less spending, whether that means buying fewer things, or spending less on the things that are necessities.

Seems simple enough, but I suppose I shall see.  I’ll update as I go with weekly spending reports.  Three days down, 27 left to go.

How low can you go?

Written by Jenn

April 3, 2011 at 4:06 pm

Labour

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“We must not only become reliable, progressive, skillful and intelligent, but we must keep the idea constantly before our youths that all forms of labor, whether with the hand or head, are honorable.”

Booker T. Washington

 

After a long discussion with The Boy over lunch today that covered everything from how different types of labour are valued through to anti-intellectualism, I was glad to stumble across this quote, first because I think it can be an easy thing to forget, especially in this modern society, and second because it’s  a solid reminder of the fact that I need to better incorporate different forms of labour in my own life.

I’m an academic.  I spend a whole lot of time in my head reading, writing, and thinking. I certainly think there’s value here in thinking about the world and asking questions about different elements of culture and society.  There’s also value in teaching about it, and helping students to develop critical thinking skills so that they can better engage with their world.

There’s equal value in other forms of labour too, though.  Over the last few years I’ve found that I’m increasingly dissatisfied with living life mostly in my head, wrapped safely in the spires of the so-called Ivory Tower. And so, I’ve looked for other ways that I can engage in labour, even when they’re relatively small compared to the academic side of my life.  And I’ve found, happily, that ensuring that academic life is coupled with more tangible forms of labour makes for a great deal more balance in my life, and also what feels to be more productivity.

Carrying heavy loads from rice to soil home, planting seedlings, hanging laundry, and digging in the yard are all forms of labour. I find they help to ground me, remind me of the basis of daily life, and to not get too caught up in my head or my work.  I’m also aware that they’re productive in very different ways.  Hauling, planting, and digging are all productive in very concrete ways – I wind up with more materials at home, and more things growing outside.  In academic work, at most I wind up with a conference presentation or a journal article, which are material only because they’re sometimes (only sometimes) printed on paper.  While both can be satisfying in their own ways, there’s certainly something to be said for the value in seeing the real, material results of labour.

These are by no means the total basics of everyday life – to provide completely for myself would require labour that I doubt I can even begin to fathom, and that I imagine would take me away from most if not all of my academic endeavours.  I also realise that I am in a privileged position – I get to work at a job that I enjoy, and only take on other aspects of labour by choice, based on what I want to do and not on what is necessary for my survival.  But these small acts, a movement towards forms of labour other than the immaterial, the digital, and the ephemeral, help to ensure that I don’t get too lost in my head for too long, and bring me back to everyday life in a way that becomes more valuable and necessary all the time, both for practical and more personal reasons.

 

 

Written by Jenn

April 2, 2011 at 9:39 pm

And then there was rice…

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When I started on this path, as it were, I had pretty much one thing on my mind (or a few things, all linked together, sort of).  I wanted a farm.  I wanted chickens and ducks and sheep and a woodstove and fireplace and a big garden and a small office filled with books that I could write from and a couch on which I could doze off every now and again when the chores were done and I could grab a few minutes to myself.

But as I read yet more about the state of the world, things started to shift.  I wanted to be sure that I could take care of myself and the people I loved where I could if I had to.  I wanted to make the space I was in suit what we needed now instead of waiting for some future that might or might not come.

In part, these changes are rooted in fear.  I think it’s disingenuous to say otherwise.  I’m concerned about keeping warm and clean and fed.  I worry that someday there won’t be water in the pipes, food in the grocery store, heat in the apartment, or money in the bank.

But I also don’t want my life ruled by fear, and so I try to see the changes that I make as empowering, even if the actions I take and the things I do are rooted at least partially in being afraid.  I try to remember that given the situation I’m being as proactive as I can be right now, and that I’m still making choices to act in ways that I think are useful and that will be helpful in the future.

Today, I bought two 8 kilo bags of rice on sale.  I noticed the sale yesterday, but didn’t have enough hands (or strength) to carry them along with the other groceries.  So today, I went back for two bags.  It took about 45 minutes to do, since I needed to take the bus part way home (they were very difficult to carry while walking), and I feel better with them parked in the kitchen.

I can see the rice as being a product of fear, and be reminded of it every time I go into the kitchen, or cook, or (to be honest) every time I trip over it, which I will, given the present state of my kitchen.  Or I can see it as something that will help me, and as a way of pushing that fear a little deeper while also using it to make changes for the long run.  Some days it’s harder than others, but I’m really working on the latter.

Written by Jenn

March 28, 2011 at 11:26 pm

Torn

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Every so often the Ontario Power Authority sends out coupon booklets for savings on things like CFLs, programmable thermostats, and energy star appliances.

And, every so often, the recycling bin beside the mail area for my building is filled with those same coupon booklets.

I don’t know if it’s that people don’t read them because they think they’re junk mail, are already completely stocked up on energy efficient lights, or simply just don’t care, but I’m always torn.  While I’m delighted that a bit of digging nets me a bunch of extra coupon books, it also means that other people aren’t taking advantage of them, which I’m just not sure bodes all that well.

Written by Jenn

March 26, 2011 at 7:27 pm

Posted in Sustainable living