Urban Adaptation

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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.

 

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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

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

Potential

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Walking home sometimes, I stop to look at the outside of my apartment.  I live on the bottom floor, close to the ground, and the apartment opens out onto a patio and a bit of grass.  To some, I imagine the patio looks cluttered, with its mismatched pots, bags of soil, crates, bike, chairs, and a table.  All I see, though, is the potential.

The table is there to work on, and the pots to grow things this summer – herbs, small tomatoes, and maybe a few other plants as well, if I get really lucky.  The bike’s to get around without relying on public transit or a car (not that I have one).  The chairs are to sit out and enjoy some time outside.

There are currently some problems with the space.  Unfortunately, the most notable are the neighbours to one side, who noisily use the space as their own, leaving tents and beer bottles and cigarette butts out wherever they want, and the neighbours above, who generously let their dogs use the balcony as a bathroom, and then sweet it all down to us.

That said, I haven’t lost hope.  I still see the beauty in this place – in any place, really – where I know that change is possible, and that things can be done in a way that is productive and sustainable.  I’m working to make these changes.  Sometimes the work is slower than I’d like, but it’s happening, but by bit, as I try to find a better way of doing things where I am here and now.

Written by Jenn

February 5, 2011 at 10:31 am

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