I’m a Watt Killa

In case you don’t know how amazing the library is, it is incredible!  And here is just one more reason why: you can borrow a Kill-A-Watt, for free, for a period of 7 days.

Amazing, right?  These things cost, like, tens of dollars, and here we are with the ability to use one for free.  Okay, that was slightly tongue-in-cheek, but really, they’re very informative little pieces of machinery, and really, how many of us are going to buy one?  But the chance to borrow one for free could save you, well, pennies on your electrical bill.

Here are the results of my meticulous testing:

– the fan we use for white noise during our toddler’s naps uses 23 watts, which works out to about 0.1 kWh per day for the length of time we typically use it in a day. 1000 watts for one hour = 1 kWh.  We are billed 5.6¢ per kwh, so this works out to be about half a cent per day.

– my desktop computer uses 80 watts when it’s on, and 3 watts when on standby.  Over a 24 hour period the computer and the monitor sucked back about 0.22 kWh, or 1.2 cents.

– a regular load of laundry added up to .13 kWh, and the heavy load was .15 kWh, adding up to .7 cents and .8 cents respectively

– our router uses 3-4 watts at a time, the modem 3 watts, the phone 3-4 watts, all of which are minimal costs as far as I can see

So, why isn’t our energy bill like 65 cents a month??  Unless my calculations are off, there is a big energy chomping monster somewhere in our house.

After some musing, I have concluded that it just might be our stove.  Unfortunately you can’t test the stove or any other appliance that uses one of those big-ass plugs.

But I did test the toaster, and it was up around 875 watts–and that’s just for those four little elements.  An oven must use a whole lot more, and I use the oven a whole lot.

So, did the Kill-a-Watt change my life?  No.  Unless my calculations are way off (and I’m certainly not ruling that out) the appliances I’ve targeted are costing us minimal amounts per month.  But I can tell you I’m a lot less eager to use our 1000 watt air conditioner this summer (though ask me about that again in August when I’m 8 months pregnant . . .).

Now I just have to figure out how to determine my oven’s energy use.  And if that’s not the energy demon, find the actual demon that’s obviously sucking on our electrical outlets when we’re not looking.


Shampoo-Free Update #2

Last week I posted about going Shampoo-Free, or “poo-free” as the bloggers call it.  On Thursday June 4th, I started washing my hair with baking soda and apple cider vinegar.

The routine is: 1 tsp of baking soda, diluted in about a cup and a half of water from the shower. Pour over head and then massage in as you would do with shampoo.  The neat thing is, it feels kindof “soapy”, giving the impression that it’s doing something.  It might be psychological, but I like to feel it working.  Don’t leave it in too long, and then rinse well.

Next, dilute the acv in another cup and a half of water from the shower and pour all over head.  Massage in.  I like this feeling too.  The baking soda leaves the hair feeling somewhat stiff, but once the vinegar rinse is in, it feels soft and supple.  Massage through hair, and then rinse well.  The website recommends rinsing with cold water, but I just use the shower like normal.

I’ve kept it up for the week and this is what I can report:

– My hair is soft, clean, and supernaturally shiny.  I’m getting much better performance than my old shampoo/conditioner routine.

– It’s very easy to do.  I just bring 2 containers into the shower with me, 1 with some baking soda and one with some apple cider vinegar.  I add some water from the shower, mix, and dump over my head, massage in, rinse, and then follow with the acv rinse.  Easy peasy.

– I don’t smell like a pickle.  The first day I did a little, but that was because I used about a 1/2 cup of acv instead of the 2 tbsp called for.  Now, if my hair gets wet (like when my toddler splooshes my hair in the bath, every day) I can get a faint whiff of vinegar, and maybe I wouldn’t encourage tall dark handsome strangers to come and sniff my hair, but normally it just smells like hair.  Which I like.

– You wanna talk cheap?  This is basically cheap as free, and totally benign environmentally.

So, I’m sold!  I’ll do another update later on, but for now, I highly recommend baking soda and vinegar as a hair wash/rinse.  Let me know if you try it too!

Shampoo-Free Report, Day #1

I recently came upon some blogs talking about the concept of going Shampoo Free. Huh?!? How do you survive without a daily or so shampooing??  I tried going cold-turkey once, just letting my hair “go natural” and I quickly acquired a lovely hobo-like smell that didn’t go away from just rinsing with water.  Not an experiment I want to repeat, thank you much.

So, fearing the hobo smell, I followed the links with caution.  I first read a reference on a blog called Angry Chicken where she is reporting on going nearly 2 months without using shampoo!  She mentions using baking soda and a vinegar rinse, and a link leads to a livejournal blog called “Babyslime” with a thorough explanation of replacing your shampoo  & conditioner with baking soda and vinegar.

Basically you mix 1 tbsp of baking soda with 1 cup of water and use that as your “shampoo” or cleanser.  Rinse with water.  Then use a follow-up rinse of 1 or 2 tbsp of Apple Cider Vinegar in 1 cup of water.  Rinse thoroughly with water, cold recommended.

Sounds easy enough, and it is!  But does it clean your hair?

Well, I decided to give it a try today after noticing that this pregnancy is leaving my hair very clean for many days.  Today was day 4 after washing, and I could have “almost” gone to work with the hair I woke up with.  I figure the hormones are reducing my oil production or something, but anyway, it seemed like a good time to try it.

So, using two plastic containers that my daughter plays with in the bath, I went to the kitchen before my shower and chucked some baking soda into one and some vinegar into the other.  In the shower, I just added some water as directed and poured mixture 1 over my head.  The neat thing was, it “felt” like it was doing something.  Some ran over my face, and it didn’t hurt my eyes.  I rinsed, and then tried the vinegar solution.  It really smelled like vinegar!  I think I used too much, and will try less next time.

And the end result?  My hair felt really soft, and looked totally nice and clean, just as if I had shampooed it today.  I think it feels even softer than usual, probably because the vinegar reversed the effects of our somewhat hard water.  The Pioneer Woman touts the virtues of a vinegar rinse (regarless of shampoo use or lack thereof) on her website too, so it’s really not just me!

So, day 1 is a complete and unqualified success! I’m going to keep up the experiment and will let you know how it goes after a couple of weeks.  Let me know if you try it too!

If it’s broke, fix it!

I’m a pretty DIY kind of gal.  I like to make my own bread and granola bars, occasionally sew some clothes, and rig stuff up when I get the chance.  But too often I still have the instinct to throw away broken stuff and get something new.

But not any more!  I’ve started fixing whatever I can, and boy does it feel good.  Even beyond the money-saving factor of not having to replace something, and the knowledge that I’m not sending this thing to the landfill, there is something very satisfying in opening something up, tinkering around, and finding out you’ve turned garbage back into gold.  

But the money factor is pretty sweet: Last week I saved about $40 by fixing a couple of things.  Here are my projects:

1. My plastic stroller rain cover.  After losing the beautiful fitted rain cover that came with my stroller some time last summer, or possibly the summer before, (argh–see my post on the Cost of Being Disorganized) I bought a generic plastic stroller cover to replace it.  Now, it was nowhere near as nice as my old one, but it did the job.  But like anything that comes into contact with kids in the outdoors, mine developed a couple of rips and tears over the year or two of use.  I’d been using it that way for months, but it was starting to get to me.  I mean, the ripped plastic look is not really what I’m going for.

I was very close to throwing it away, but my frugal mind rebelled, knowing I’d have to plunk down another $12 at Sears for a new one.  So instead, I brought it to my sewing desk and zig-zag stitched the tears with white thread.  It worked brilliantly!  No more ripped plastic, and you can barely notice the white stitching holding it together.  I am very proud.

2. An old fan.  We’ve had this fan for a few years now, and the last few times we’d used it, it started making a horrible SQUEEEEEEEEEEAK noise.  The last time we used it, it actually squealed to a halt, making more horrible noises.  Thinking it was a gonner, I was ready to chuck it and pick up a new one.  But something stopped me.  I think it was my pride in my previous repair job that inspired me to give this one a try.  

So I got out the screw driver and opened up the fan.  Turns out years of dust had accumulated inside and gummed up the works (well, duh!).  All it took was a little vaccuuming and a little WD-40, and the fan was as good as new.  No more screeching, and we didn’t have to replace the fan, which would have cost around $20 – $25.  I also gave another fan a good cleaning, so although it wasn’t broken YET, I bet I added years to its lifetime.

So there you have it.  I figure I saved around $40 once you add tax on, just with these two fix-it jobs, and I got the added bonus of pride in a job well done.  Now I’m asking myself, “What else can I fix around here?” !!

Accidentally Vegan

So, I realized this afternoon that we’ve been eating vegan for the last couple of days without really realizing it. It’s not 100% because we did have butter, and there were some cookies that also had eggs, but our veggie chili from the last 2 nights, and my olive-y pasta today at lunch, are completely meat-, dairy- and egg-free.

Not that I’m a voluntary vegan by any means. I like my animal products very much (especially when I can get them from local, organic, sustainable sources). But I have discovered a few nice things about eating vegan:

– It’s cheap! As I twittered about the other day, our entire meal of veggie chili, tea biscuits and organic strawberries came in at around $7 (the strawberries were on sale); and that fed 2 adults and a toddler (who only eats the chick peas & beans) for 2 suppers and a lunch.

– It’s easy! For the chili I just chucked a bunch of stuff in the slow cooker, after sauteeing the onions with the spices, and let it simmer away for a few hours. The pasta sauce was a matter of sauteeing onions and garlic, adding a can of diced tomatoes, and then chucking in some olives, mushrooms & spices for extra flavour. I don’t think vegan cooking is always this easy, but these 2 dishes were basically no-effort.

– It’s healthy! Beans & noodles to fill you up, veggies to add dimension & nutrition, and only a couple teaspoons of oil to fry the onions in. I think you would have to try pretty hard to make vegan food fattening.

So there you go. I’m not going to turn over a new leaf here, but I’m going to keep track of my “accidentally vegan” meals to see if they’re all this cheap, easy and healthy. It might turn out that Veganism might have more to offer than I ever expected!

Car-free living

I originally titled this post “Life without car” but thought a more up-beat title was better.  However, that all depends on how I’m feeling on a daily basis.

Living in centretown Ottawa I certainly don’t NEED a car.  My husband and I both walk to work (my office is just 2 blocks away).  Everything I could possibly need is right here in the downtown core: groceries, health food, recreation, entertainment (not that we ever go out) . . .  Centretown’s got it all.  And what it doesn’t have, I can certainly take a bus to a place that does have it.

So why do I long for a car?

There are a few reasons:

– access to the wilderness, or as we used to call it back home in Sudbury, “the Bush”.  It’s hard to get outside the city without a car, and sometimes I long for more nature in my life and my kid’s life.

– cheap groceries.  Hartmann’s is sooooooooo overpriced.  Less central grocery stores have much much better prices, but it’s pretty hard to wrangle a 2-year-old and a week’s worth of groceries onto a bus.

– farm visits.  Pick-your-own berries, fruits and vegetables.   Meet your meat.  Introducing my girl (not to mention myself!) to where our food actually comes from.

– other interesting entertainment.  Yes Centretown has everything, but there’s even MORE in the ‘burbs.  A wave pool or two, water parks, a giant indoor jungle gym . . .

So what’s holding me back?  

Partly it’s finances.  We are concentrating on paying off debt, and until that is done, it would be backwards to take on more debt.  

But more importantly it is because getting a car is much more of a want than a need.  Yes, some of my car ownership dreams involve super-great grocery deals, cost-free healthy hours spent hiking in the Gatineau and hauling home crates of berries to turn into jam.  But water parks and wave pools?  It’s the thin edge of the wedge.

Overall the costs  involved in owning a car (including gas, maintenance, insurance, and parking) would certainly outweigh the grocery savings.  By a long shot.  And as a new-car-owner friend said to me, “Once you can get out to all those big box stores, you go shopping a lot more often.”  Everything’s cheaper and more accessible . . . and isn’t that what drives our consumer economy?

So I’m sticking with my car-free centretown lifestyle.  I walk 90% of the places I have to go, cycle to another 7%, take the bus to maybe 2%, and for the other 1%, I have a generous brother with a car who is willing to drive me around in exchange for dinner once in awhile.

And comparing Hartmann’s mark-up to the costs of car ownership makes their over-inflated prices look reasonable in comparison.

Lansdowne Farmer's Market: Open for the season!

Today was the second week of the Farmer’s Market at Lansdowne Park, and my first visit of the season.  Hooray!  

I love the Farmer’s Market.  I mean I LOVE it!  I love meeting the farmers, seeing what’s actually in season this week, and the fact that it’s possible to buy local pastured organic meats.  It makes my carnivorousness a wee bit less guilt-ridden.

Not much on the produce slate this week but I picked up some meat: some pork spareribs and some bison pepperoni.  

I almost never buy pork because I’ve read so much about the cruelty involved in raising them in CAFOs.   So it was very exciting to buy from a small local producer, Upper Canada Heritage Meats, raising a heritage breed on pasture, by organic principals.  I’m going to cook the spareribs on Friday in my new slow cooker, and will try out a new barbecue sauce recipe at the same time.  They also sell lard, for just $1 per pound, including “Leaf Lard” which I learned is amazing for pastry (and cheaper than Tenderflake!), and back fat, which I might just use to make some soap.  

The bison pepperoni was from Pykeview Meadows.  I’m planning to make pizza on Wednesday, and couldn’t find anything at Hartmann’s other than the pre-sliced Ziggy’s garbage.  I got to try a chunk and it was de-licious!  Can’t wait for Wednesday!

My only other purchase was a little head of lettuce from Waratah Downs.  It’s a beautiful curly head of red-tinged buttery lettuce, as lovely as it is delicious.  The season is off to a great start!

The most special part of going to the market is bringing my little girl.  We look for the bees, talk about what’s for sale, and she gets the idea that this kind of shopping can be a totally normal part of life.  Maybe when she’s older, it will be.