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.

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

The Anyway Project – March

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I’m not sure where March went, and it strikes me that I might not have updated for February, but here I am again with The Anyway Project, and reminding myself that slowly and surely isn’t a bad way to work towards something at all.

Domestic Infrastructure: I’ve added more things to the goodwill pile, to make room for the things that I feel are more important to have for living a more sustainable life, and I’m slowly but surely getting the piles out of here bit by bit.  I’ve rearranged some furniture, and gotten rid of chair that was un-sittable it was so uncomfortable, and made a bit more room in the main living area.

We’ve simplified the kitchen, which has been remarkably helpful.  I’ve gotten rid of a bunch of things that we don’t need, and we’ve put away some others, so we only have enough dishes for a few meals, which makes washing dishes easier and ensures that they don’t pile up as badly anymore.

Next month: Simplify the bedroom and bathroom by getting rid of extraneous clothes and other sundry things.  Get more of the donations out to Goodwill so they’re not taking up space here anymore.  Plan for a move – I have no idea if we will be moving, but acting like we will helps me to decide what to keep, makes me more ruthless, and helps me get into the mindset of moving if we do go through with it.

Household Economy: This month, I was a bit over where I wanted to be.  An extra shopping trip, a gift to my brother, and one larger-than-usual purchase (more on that later) put me a bit over where I wanted to be.  While I’m still living within my means, I’ve been trying to be extra-frugal, which didn’t happen as much as I wanted this month.

As a new computer is winging its way towards me (a replacement, effectively meaning that I just have to pay for the extended warranty and a cable to transfer files, meaning that I will have a new computer far less than I thought), I’ve been considering ways that I can set up and use my computer to bring in a bit more money.  I’m considering summer freelance work, and some more of my own writing, and hopefully finding some ways to make a bit of extra income on the side.

Next month: Cut the budget again (more on this later, but I’m looking to cut down on extraneous spending even further).  Set up the new computer for maximum functionality, and look into open-source or inexpensive programs that will help with either the academic work, some extra freelance or creative work, or come of both.

Also, I need to keep working on academic work.  Finishing the dissertation means I can stop paying tuition, which would be a very good thing.  I’m hoping it will also make it easier to find a job, which would also be a very good thing.  So that’s a priority, as is doing a few other things that will help my academic standing.

Resource Consumption: Happily, with a few more low-watt CFLs and more awareness of the fridge door, we’ve cut down our energy usage by a bit (although we’re still on the warpath, and I think another power bar that can be turned off might be in order).

We’ve been trying to buy foods in less packaging – more bulk, more produce – and I’ve been working on making a set of reusable produce bags.  I’ve also started saving up glass jars – salsa jars appear to be the perfect size for making yogurt in (one of my upcoming projects, I think), so they’re going to be reused.  I’ve also started on the “no ‘poo” hair thing again, so I’m buying less shampoo and conditioner, and using baking soda and apple cider vinegar instead.  They live in the shower in a reused chocolate syrup bottle and a reused soda bottle, respectively.

The purchase that I mentioned above falls in here too.  I bought a used bike trailer that attaches to my existing bike so I can haul things with out the bus, or renting a car.  For $75 it seemed like a reasonable way to try and see if this works for us before investing the big bucks.  If it works well, great.  If it doesn’t, at most I’m out the money, but could probably resell the trailer.  I’m hoping the trailer will fit into the Anyway Project in a few ways.  First, from a resource standpoint, I hope to need less oil and gas.  This should also help the household economy if I can spend less money on the bus (when my bus pass runs out), on car rentals (when I have things to move), or on purchases (if it’s easier to get to places with better quality items, or better prices).  I’m also hoping it will help my health if I wind up biking more.  I also think it will help with getting more local foods – getting to the farmer’s market will be easier, and so will the flour mill, which is bikeable but somewhat far from the bus routes.

Next month: Get used to using the trailer, probably to help remove some of the remaining piles of stuff from the apartment (which will happily also help to make room for the trailer, which is larger than I thought it would be).  Make some more reusable shopping bags.  Research for setting up a worm composter.

Cottage Industry and Subsistence: Still no real industry here, although I have started seeing what I can start / grow inside.  Radishes, peas, spinach, cucumber, dill, and basil have all been started inside.

While it’s still high tech, I’m considering (and pricing) ways that I can set up my computer to create a bit more of a business.  I’m a good writer and editor and, as I mentioned earlier, a bit of freelance work here and there wouldn’t be such a bad thing, and I’m also considering whether there’s anything I can contribute to the growing body of literature on living more sustainably, although that will likely just take on the guise of more blog posts.

Next month: I’d like to plant some more, and hopefully start setting up some containers for gardening outside.

Family and Community: I haven’t done great on community, although I’ve been to more local events on things like climate change and labour issues.

Next month:  More events, hopefully that I can bike to.

Outside Work: I still think the priority needs to be academic work, but as mentioned above, I’m considering some freelance or other work that can be done from home, possibly over the summer, and considering ways that I can maximize the sudden boon of a new computer to help with this.

Next month: Keep on keepin’ on, I guess.

Time and Happiness: I’ve made a lot more time for running and biking recently, which keeps me saner and calmer and healthier, all of which are good things.  The Boy and I have also been experimenting with new recipes together, which is lovely, and going for at least a few long walks a week, which I love.

Neck month: Yet more keep on keepin’ on.  More walks, more biking, more running.  Maybe some meditation.

 

Written by Jenn

March 26, 2011 at 4:10 pm

Prepping

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I’ve never really thought of myself as someone who’s a prepper.

Someone who’s interested in food security?  Yes.  Someone who wants to grow their own?  Certainly.  Someone who wants to be prepared for an uncertain future?  Absolutely.  But a prepper?  Not really.  I don’t have anything against it, it just never really crossed my mind.

Until this week, that is.

Now, although I’ve never thought of myself as a prepper, I’ve read about prepping, and thought about prepping, and wondered if, really, I should be doing something more along the lines of prepping and getting together some stockpiles and basic tools and things for which there might be a need somewhere down the line.

I was at the thrift store this week, and I stumbled across rather a lot of inexpensive hurricane candles (likely because they are in a shade called “lemon” which, yes, is a well and truly awful bright yellow).  They worked out to $1 for a box of six.  I bought seven bags with four boxes in each for a grand total of 168 candles for $28.  For another $5 each I also got two brass-with-glass-chimney hurricane lanterns.

They’re not the ideal solution for every issue (this is why I also have lanterns and lamp oil as well, although I should stock up on wicks, and I have my eye on a hand-cranked LED lantern), but I now know I have a supply of emergency candles with solid holders to use if something does happen and the power goes out.

I also picked up an extra pair of sturdy shoes (since apparently one of my great fears in life is not being able to find or replace solid, comfortable, fairly long-wearing footwear, which could at least partially explain my current five pairs of Doc Martens), two pizza pans, and a large binder in which to store my paper collection of things-that-I-might-need-to-know-and-have-on-hand.

Of course, now that I’ve started, I’m thinking about it more, and there’s a lot that I still want to do – so much so that thinking about it all makes me a bit nervous in terms of cost, time, and the idea of either storing stuff (which I’m working on), or finding a way to move it if I have to move at some point.  More on this later, though.  For now, things are a bit busy, so I won’t be getting to it all right away, but I’m considering ways in which I can relatively easily start to improve my current and future situation a bit more.  Of course, suggestions are always welcome as well.

Written by Jenn

March 25, 2011 at 4:18 am

Clearing house

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A long time ago, in a land far away…

(Really, just a few years, and pretty much right here…)

…was a girl who really, really liked cool vintage stuff.

And so she went to thrift stores and she bought lots and lots of cool vintage stuff.  Glasses.  Casserole dishes.  Dresses.  Jewelry.  Furniture.  Blankets.  Lamps.  Purses.  Dishes.

Her vintage things were lovely – well made, interesting, and like nothing else that most other people would have (this girl liked things that were somewhat unique).  But she felt a little silly wearing much of the clothing, since she was really more a t-shirt and jeans kind of girl.  And some of the dishes had hairline cracks, so they couldn’t be heated too much.  And some of the linens had holes, or stains, or were just difficult to wash spaghetti sauce out of.  And some of the things that were lovely and perfect and mint, well, she was just afraid to use those, lest they get damaged.

And so, the girl wound up with an apartment full of vintage things that weren’t used, plus a whole lot of semi-equivalent items that were.  And although it never came anywhere close to those scary homes that show up on Hoarders, it became more difficult to clean and manage.

As is probably very obvious, that girl is me.  A love of vintage and a love of collecting combined with the need to have things around that I actually use and a general unwillingness to get rid of anything that still has use in it (even if I’m not actually using it) has made for a full apartment (and this is before we even start talking about the many, many books that live here too).

Now, I try to buy only what I need and have a specific use for.  If I need something, I still usually try to look for something cool and vintage, but also something that’s sturdy and will last well and that I’ll be willing to use (in all honestly, though, in almost all cases function wins out over form these days, although I appreciate the form of the functional in a whole new way – ask me about how much I love my dutch oven, for instance).  These days, that means more cast iron, stainless steel, and heavy glass than anything else.

But I do have my eye on some things that I want to buy, things that I think will be useful.  They will, however, also take up space.  Which means making space.  Which also means going on the warpath again and getting rid of yet more stuff.

I’m trying to keep in mind other benefits too, though.  Getting rid of things means it’s easier to keep this place clean.  It also means more room for things that are more important, such as food, water, and tools.  If I have to move, either for work or for lack of work, it will be easier and less expensive to move fewer things.  More space and tidiness means I’m happier at home, which makes it more likely that I will want to spend time here, which is usually far more frugal than going out.  And less stuff means more room for the projects and activities (and stuff that goes along with them) that help me be more frugal, like the seeds starting on the coffee table, and the sourdough starter, ginger beer starter, and sprouts I have in the kitchen.

This is not something that comes naturally to me at all, but it’s something that needs to be done, and something that I’ve talked about before.  Although I’m currently too busy to set defined goals, I’m trying to get a few things into the donation pile each day, to tidy up here and there, and to consciously think about what I really want and need in my life.

Written by Jenn

March 21, 2011 at 12:43 pm