Hello again!

Hi everyone, I’ve been away for awhile, but I figured I would check in. How are you all doing?

Me, I’m doing pretty good. Planning a move in a couple of weeks, working on my curriculum and my rhythm for the Fall, and I’m quite excited about some of the stories I’ve found on http://www.mainlesson.com. ¬†It’s a site with hundreds of free stories, many from the early 1900s, very sweet and in keeping with my own values and aesthetics.

Since I last wrote, my girl turned 5, we completed our 1st homeschooling year, and we went away for another month at the cottage. We also found out that we got the apartment we were hoping for–a 3-bedroom stacked townhouse in our same neighbourhood, with 2 little balconies (container gardening–yay!), and a laundry room! No more doing laundry in my kitchen and hanging clothes in the dining room!

Our homeschooling year went well. Of course there were tough times–like most of February! But I think we all get the winter blahs if we’re prone to them, whether we homeschool or not. I’ve gotten to know Waldorf a lot better, and have met many homeschooling parents in the area and made some very nice friends. And to top it all off, I’ve had the ultimate compliment from my daughter who told me, “I have the BEST teacher!”

So I’m trying to do even better this year, with a rhythm that will be doable, and also with some story content ūüôā For those of you unfamiliar with Waldorf, the kindergarten years are meant to be filled with the rhythms and work of the home, with rhymes and stories and songs and art. So the parent-teacher gets the chance to work on their consistency during the days and the weeks, planning this day for mending and this day for baking and so on, and the children get to know the days of the week not as “Monday, Tuesday” but as “Mending Day, Baking Day”. ¬†You know you’ve succeeded when your kid asks you, “Mom, is it Washing Day today?” Extra gold stars if it’s because they want to help you wash the floor!

It ain’t easy, but it sure is fun.

On top of all that, moving to a bigger apartment means higher rent, which means our frugality skills need to ramp up a wee bit, which will be fodder for some new blog posts I’m sure. Over the time since I started this blog 3 1/2 years ago, our bank balance has wavered between the black and the red, but you know what? Each year we are moving forward. So I have faith we can meet these new challenges ahead.

And if not, I can always move back to drying laundry in my dining room.

Advertisements

Going for Straight As

According to the WWF, only 10% of Canadians give themselves an “A” when it comes to being green. The irony is that with this self-grading, the more you know, the less of an impact you feel like you’re having. I’m pretty damn green: no car, no dryer, cloth diapers, pee wipes, etc. but still I don’t give myself an A.

What could I do better?

– eat more local, less imported stuff

– buy less packaged food

– get Bullfrogpowered

– a miriad other small things,

and . . .

– recycle greywater.

I’ve always just sortof assumed that since I’m in an apartment, there is no realistic way for me to recycle my greywater. I can’t change plumbing, and I don’t have a garden to receive the rescued greywater. Plus, we don’t pay the water bill–the landlord does–so the motivation isn’t quite as high as if it would actually save us money. (I’m into enlightened self-interest here!)

But this weekend, watching the water empty into the sink from our portable washer, I had a brain wave: how easy would it be to catch this water, reserve it in a 5 gallon bucket, and use it to flush the toilet? Turns out, very easy.

Recycling GreywaterIt’s astonishing how much water we use. Watching it go down the drain, you just don’t get the sense of how much water we use and waste every day. Catching it in a bucket, you see: here are 5 gallons of almost clean water flushing down the drain. Using that water to flush the toilet, you realize: I’m using a couple of gallons of greywater to flush, but normally that would be drinking water.

Argh. So I’m a bit obsessed with this water thing at the moment. The only problem, it’s a damn pain in the ass. I mean, we already have a diaper bucket and a diaper bag hanging out in our tiny bathroom. Now I’ve added a 5 gallon plastic bucket of greywater, just waiting for my daughter to accidentally knock it over and cause thousands of dollars in water damage to our downstairs neighbour’s apartment. We just don’t have the room . . . and yet . . . it’s like using hankies and cloth diapers. Once you stop throwing something away, it just feels so wasteful when you use the disposable version.

So, for now the greywater bucket stays. But for how long?????

Guerrilla gardening in my own back yard

Our apartment building has a side yard, breezy and shaded by several large trees and a row of small cedars. It faces south onto a parking lot, and no one goes back there. Last year a young guy who lived in our building used to smoke back there and play his guitar, but he moved out in the winter, and now we’re the only users of the leafy green space.

It’s falling into disrepair. The old super’s wife used to tend the garden, but since he died, no one has weeded or pruned or planted. The leaves are still on the ground from the fall. So I started poking around, doing a bit of weeding in the front, and one day a company rep said I could “probably put in a little garden in the back” if I wanted. He couldn’t see why not. And do I want? Oh yes!

I’m not sure why I never tried this before. I guess this year things are looking so particularly dire back there that I know I wouldn’t be stepping on anyone’s toes. And since the general yard work isn’t being done, I figure I can earn my keep by raking, pruning and weeding.

The other thing that always kept me from leaping into the dirt back there is that it is quite shady. It’s glorious on summer days, but I’m just not sure what kind of food I could grow back there. There are rose bushes that flower, and peonies, and even a grape vine. Is there any way I can predict what might grow other than by trial and error? Any food recommended to grow in shaded south-facing lots?

I’m completely new to gardening, but now this summer I find myself gardener times two! Any help or advice is appreciated!

My plans thus far include:

– a rhubarb plant. I figure they will need more light at the beginning of the season, before the trees come into leaf. If anyone has a cutting for me, let me know!

– strawberries

– leafy green things like lettuce and chard

– some cooking herbs

– carrots

– green onions

– potatoes?

So, I’ve got lots of plans. I probably won’t grow all of these things this year, but gradually add more each year until I’m producing all our food from this little lot. Let me know what shady food plants you’ve successfully grown! And then in August, come over and share my harvest ūüôā

Nerdmobile cleaning cart

I blogged about it awhile back, but I finally did it: created my very own cleaning cart! And yes it is as exciting as it sounds (that is, if it sounds like the most exciting thing ever!).

What you see in the photo is my version of this cleaning cart. On the front is a blue bag for laundry, the inside is for items that belong in another room, with a red bag for small things or things that belong in my daughter’s room. On the back I have a garbage bag and a recycling bag.

This is the tidying version; when I’m doing cleaning too I have a tray with my cleaning stuff and rags that goes on top. The only additional things I have to lug are the broom, mop or vacuum if I’m using them.

The idea of the cart is that you set yourself up to sweep through the house once, tidying (and/or cleaning) as you go, with no time-wasting back-tracking to put stuff back where it belongs. Once I heard the idea, I was intrigued. Once I tried it, I was sold! It really works. It’s super fast to just stick things into the appropriate bags in the cart and move along. Otherwise, I tend to pick up a sock and bring it into the bedroom, there noticing a coffee cup and bringing it to the kitchen, where I notice that the stovetop is dirty, which I clean, and before I know it an hour has gone by and nothing substantial has been accomplished. With the cart, even if I can completely clean/tidy one room before a minor emergency distracts me, my life is seriously improved.

One fantastic additional thing I discovered about this cart is that my preschooler was really into helping me tidy up the living room! I guess she enjoyed sorting the stuff into the different bags. We actually tidied up the entire living room together, which really helped my sanity, and occupied at least 15 minutes of our time.

So, if you have a handy shopping cart like the one in the picture, try out the Nerdmobile technique and let me know how it works for you!

My Cloth Revolution

Over the past year and a half, I have been a Cloth Revolutionary at my house.  Little by little, disposable paper items are disappearing from our landscape, only to be replaced by colourful, reusable Cloth replacements.

The first step in our Cloth Revolution was the switch to cloth diapers. ¬†We did this when our daughter was 11 months old, after visiting with some friends whose daughter was using cloth. The cloth diapers seemed so cute and cozy, and more “natural” than the crinkly perfumed plastic ones we were using. I was nervous about the workload, but found them not to be that much work. We have a small washer that plugs into our sink, and we dry them (as pictured) on our collapsable drying rack.

The main benefit I saw right away was cost. We went with cotton prefold diapers, which are about the cheapest you can go, and we used some high-tech fleece-lined, microfibre-insert pocket style diapers for night time.  I think the four night time diapes cost around the same as our two dozen prefolds with four or five covers.  It has been great not to worry about having to drive out to Costco to get the best deal on diapers.

My next Revolutionary Act was to replace my tampons and pads with a set of beautiful, comfortable, reusable Lunapads.  This was after doing some reading about how tampons have dioxins in them left over from the bleaching process, which can then be absorbed into your body when you use them.  Also, after having my baby, I found them uncomfortable to use.

As the stickers say, “I ‚ô•¬†my lunapads”! They are so comfortable and beautiful. The nicest thing about them is that I never run out!¬†I had bought myself an “Intro kit”, and then after using them for a couple of months, I got another kit to round out my collection. ¬†It has a good selection of sizes, thicknesses, etc. for different stages of my cycle. My only disappointment is that I got pregnant again right after my second kit arrived! At least I know they are waiting for me when I start my cycle again.

Next I replaced paper towels with cloth napkins. On a trip to Sudbury to visit my parents I stopped into an adorable new store called Mimi & Lulu. They have all sorts of beautiful handmade clothes, aprons, bags, toys and crafts, as well as a selection of fabrics so beautiful I thought I was looking at a magazine or something. I honestly don’t think I’ve seen such gorgeous fabric in stores, ever.

The best thing (for me) was their remnant bags, a bunch of colour-co-ordinated fabric bits from their collection, mixed with some cute vintage finds, all for $13.  Inside was enough fabric (in the right size) to make more than 10 napkins, some of which I kept & use, and some of which I gave away as gifts.

It’s so nice to use cloth napkins, especially ones in such cute fabrics. They seem to add a touch of class to every meal.

Home-Made Toilet PaperThe next item is a bit more . . . unusual, and I hesitate to mention it in my first post on the Simple, Green, Frugal Co-op, but here goes: the next paper product I replaced was toilet paper.  Well, not entirely, but I made some lovely wipes that my daughter and I use for #1. Being pregnant and having to drink a lot of water, this saves me a huge amount of toilet paper. I just throw them in with the diapies and wash them often.

Moving on, my most recent Revolutionary change was to make some cloth kleenex (tissues). Once again, so cute! Once again, so comfortable! I made them from some cloth I had in mystash, so I consider them basically free to me. We haven’t yet been through a major cold or flu with these, but I will report back on how they fare. I just throw them in any wash I’m doing (except for darks!) and they stay nice and absorbant.

Besides these recent changes, I have always used¬†cloth rags for cleaning rather than paper towels or even J-cloths. It’s a great way to re-purpose old towels and t-shirts, and if a rag gets too dirty, I just throw it away.

For me, this process has been about saving money, being green, and more importantly, finding a better product to replace the cheap disposables in my life. If you have replaced something I’ve missed, please let me know! I’m always open to making more frugal & green changes in my life, and sharing them with the world.

Frugal, Green & Clean

baking-sodaYou’ve probably heard all about the 1001 uses for baking soda. ¬†You probably know that vinegar is a natural antibacterial agent. ¬†You’ve probably even used the two together to create a volcano or a volcano-like effect. ¬†But did you know that you can replace most of your household cleaners with baking soda and vinegar?

The number one tool in my house cleaning toolchest is my spray bottle filled with vinegar.  This guy cost me all of 99 cents at the grocery store, and holds about 250 ml of vinegar.

And what do I clean with it?  Nearly everything in the bathroom:

– sink: spray vinegar around the sink, and wipe with a cloth. ¬†You don’t even need to rinse.

– toilet: spray all the sprayable areas, and wipe down with a damp cloth. Then dump some vinegar in the bowl–around 1/3 to 1/2 cup–and scrub until clean.

– taps and tub: vinegar leaves it sparkling

Рfloor: use a strong solution of vinegar and hot water.  No rinsing required.

Рmirror: straight vinegar, sprayed on, then rubbed off with a dry lint-free cloth.  Actually, plain hot water would also do a fine job here.

For more stubborn things like bath crayons and soap scum, baking soda does a fantastic job due to its mild abrasive quality. ¬†Baking soda requires a lot of rinsing though, so it’s easiest to use on a surface that will handle a lot of water.

Simply google baking soda or vinegar and you will find dozens of blogs and websites containing tips for cleaning with these two powerful agents.

The benefits of switching from chemicals to these guys are many:

– they’re way cheap! ¬†You can get 2 L of vinegar, or 2 kilos of baking soda for under $4. ¬†No other cleaner is so inexpensive.

– they’re multi-purpose! Instead of needing a different spray, cream or foam for kitchen, bathroom, toilet, floors, etc. you’ve got just two products that can handle almost any job. ¬†This is great news for my fellow apartment dwellers with limited storage space.

– they won’t kill your toddler! ¬†Or your pet! ¬†Or you by inhalation of fumes . . . you get the idea. ¬†They are both very benign substances.

– you don’t even have to wear gloves when using them.

Рand finally, while baking soda is a mined product, it is still much less harmful to use baking soda and vinegar than it is to use highly processed, perfumed, chemical concoctions to clean your house.  Nothing is perfect, but these guys bring you closer to nature.

Next on my list to add to my cleaning arsenal: pure vegetable soap. ¬†Clean and green, and apparently it marries well with baking soda and vinegar to expand your cleaning power even further. ¬†I’ll let you know when I try it!

Frugal + Urban: a contradiction in terms?

apartmentOn a lot of the blogs and websites I’ve visited, the really frugal families and moms are living on rural or semi-rural properties. ¬†There’s a big emphasis on raising your own cows, pigs, chickens, goats, veggies, fruit, etc., as well as on fairly drastic measures to reduce energy and resource use and go “off the grid”.

Sometimes it’s hard to see how to write about frugality from an apartment-dwelling middle-of-the-city perspective, especially when I don’t even have a balcony! ¬†But it doesn’t take long to see that there are frugal benefits to living in the city too. It’s just a slightly different kind of frugality.

Living in the city doesn’t rely on a car. ¬†This is the number one biggest saving for us living right in Centretown. ¬†We can walk almost everywhere. ¬†Cycling expands our radius significantly, and anywhere else we need to go, we can take one of the buses that conveniently pass through the city just a few blocks away. ¬†

Where rural families can rely on the abundance of Nature, urban families can rely on the abundance of consumers (otherwise known as Scavenging). ¬†I’ve picked up many useful items for free that were left at people’s curbs. ¬†While it doesn’t compare to growing your own food, this kind of post-consumer re-cycling is another way to glean from the area around you.

In the city, there are many things we can do for free or cheap entertainment. ¬†The library is just down the street. ¬†There are three “play” parks, and several other scenic parks, within a few blocks from us, which we use heavily for most of the year. ¬†There are also museums and in the summer, Centretown Movies that play classic films outdoors for a “pay-what-you-can” donation. ¬†All within a short walk from our house.

The biggest benefit of enjoying neighbourhood entertainment is getting to know our neighbours. ¬†I love seeing the same people at the park, the grocery store, the musuem, and just bumping into them on the street. ¬†Having a baby, now a toddler, has brought me in contact with a whole network of moms & dads whom I now call my friends. ¬†We socialize mainly in an ad-hoc manner when we see each other at the playground, and sometimes we trade hosting for dinners or brunch. ¬†This type of socializing doesn’t cost a thing, but to me, it’s priceless.

So, while I don’t have the benefit of living off the land (and I do wish for some land, some day, or even a small balcony!), or modifying my house to be more resource-efficient, there are definitely financial benefits to living in the city. ¬†The social benefits keep me sane, and stop me from longing for a farm of my own.