Frugal Urban Dream Home

I’ve been on a dreaming streak lately, thinking about what I would have if I could build my dream home. Here is my wish list for what my Frugal Urban Casa would have, in no particular order:

– a large garden for veggies, wheat and herbs, both culinary and medicinal

– a chicken coop so I can enjoy fresh organic pastured eggs every day

– a bee hive

– an outdoor wood-burning brick oven for bread. In my dream, I have a twice-weekly schedule for baking, and people come from all over the neighbourhood to bake their bread in my oven.

– a sauna attached to the wood-burning brick oven so I can enjoy a steam when I’m not baking bread.

– a root cellar for keeping preserves, desum (a Flemish whole wheat sourdough bread that favours cool temperatures), root veggies, and brewing projects

– berry bushes and fruit trees around the property

My dad once said to me “Everything I’ve ever wanted, I have had a chance to acquire in my life. But then I’ve had to decide whether it was what I really wanted at the time.” And actually I’ve found that to be true in my life. Most of the things I’ve really really wanted to happen have happened. So, maybe in ten years or fifteen, I’ll have a chance to build my urban homestead.

Until then, I’ll just keep dreaming . . .

What about you–what do you want in your dream house?

Waste-Less Wednesday

So many blogs have a “thing” for Wednesdays: Wordless Wednesday being the most popular I’ve seen. After reading a lot about garbage and waste and gleaning lately, I’ve decided to create “Waste-Less Wednesday” where I look at ways of reducing our household waste.

Today I’m thinking about paper waste. I feel like I’ve always got bits of paper going out the door–mostly to the recycling bin, but that doesn’t clear my conscience, because how much of that actually gets recycled? And when I think about the amount of energy required to recycle it, it doesn’t quite seem like the free ride we’ve been told it is.

Some of our sources of paper waste include:

– food packaging like cereal boxes

– art paper from our daughter’s projects

– old bills

– store receipts

– packaging from new things we buy (pretty rare in this house, except at birthday/xmas time)

– flyers and junk mail

Of all of those, the last one might be the easiest to take care of, with a simple note on our mail box. For reasons beyond even myself, I’ve never indicated my displeasure with flyers. They come in with their “amazing deals” and “this weekend only” sales and take up far too much of our time, money and landfill.

Actually, if truth be told, I secretly enjoy a couple of them, particularly the Canadian Tire flyer. There’s something so nostalgic about leafing through the new Canadian Tire catalogue while eating a bowl of cereal.

But no more! Today I will put a little note on my mailbox that reads “No Flyers Please–We’re Saving Trees”. And then, when I see my neighbours’ boxes stuffed with the CT savings of the week, I’ll look mine up online.

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 🙂

Back to Frugality

A hand-made doll

As I’ve mentioned on here, I haven’t been feeling very frugal these last several months, mostly since my son was born in October, and also during Christmas and our March/April birthday madness (five family birthdays from March 21st to April 5th!). But those seasons are past, summer simplicity is here, so I feel it’s time to bring back the frugal.

In light of this, I’m making May a No Buying Month, with the following omissions:

– groceries (though I will endeavour to stick to my budget)

– gardening equipment and supplies

– some glass freezer containers so I can start making my partner some microwavable frozen lunches

I’ll try otherwise to hand-make gifts, make do with what we have, and avoid the Great Glebe Garage Sale (though that one will be really hard!). I’ll try to focus on gardening, cooking for the freezer before the hot weather sets in, and sewing some gifts.

What do you think? Is May a good time to do a No Spend month for you?

Staying the Course

Our little guy in the newly cleaned-up play space

All in all, last week’s Waldorf Week experiment was a great success! We got out in Nature and made a Nature Table, we eliminated daytime TV, we did cooking and housework together (my girl can crack an egg!), and I revolutionized her room to make it tidy, safe and completely playable. It was a great week, and this week’s plan is simply to stay the course and keep on Waldorfing it up over here.

I’m also very happy to say that my whole blog-the-meal-plan plan has been working too. Meals have been much more organized and our food costs are much more stable. We’ve cut way down on our meat, and amped up the veggies significantly.

All in all, it’s a very boring “life is good” post that I have for you today. Of course, that doesn’t count our trip to the emergency this afternoon (daughter’s headache turned out NOT to be meningitis), followed closely by almost burning down our apartment (yeah, if you go to the emergency, make sure you don’t leave perogies boiling on the stove. Luckily the smoke alarm worked and the super came and turned everything off and opened our windows. No damage except the pot, and a residual “barbecue” smell about the place).

Apart from that, life is pretty good . . .

This week’s meal plan:

Monday: salmon cakes and tabouli

Tuesday: pizza

Wednesday: Stir Fry with Sesame-Peanut sauce (we didn’t have this last week)

Thursday: Chicken drumsticks with broccoli and mashed potatoes (planning to check out Saslove‘s selection of organic chicken and hopefully soup bones–fingers crossed!)

Friday: leftovers

Saturday: veggie lasagne

Sunday: poached eggs

Waldorf Week

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about Waldorf education and way of life. Unfortunately I didn’t bookmark the specific article that really inspired me, but a few of the sites I was browsing were www.naturalfamilycrafts.com, and www.waldorfinthehome.org. (Update: Found it! The really inspiring article was here.) If I wasn’t such a staunch supporter of public school, I would totally send my kids to Waldorf school. (Ahh, also if I won the lottery.) I still don’t know or understand everything about it, but here are some Waldorf-y things I’m incorporating into our life this week:

The Natural World

Waldorf education stresses a connection with the natural world, as well as emphasizing natural materials, to foster a connection with nature and natural systems. Since we live in Downtown Ottawa and don’t have a car, it’s a bit hard to get out in The Nature. But we’re trying. Actually, the River is within walking distance and it offers a very natural setting in the middle of the city. We took a walk there today for an afternoon play date and had a really nice time. We saw ducks and heard red-wing blackbirds and watched the river flow . . .

Less TV

When our little guy was born in October, Daddy would get up with our older girl, and watch morning cartoons. Mostly this was a coping mechanism because we were all too tired to think in the morning, especially while I was still night nursing both of them (crazy!). However, this quickly became the routine and has been the way the morning goes for the last six months. Today I did things differently. We got up together and instead of turning on the TV, my girl and I played. I had forgotten that she is often at her best in the morning, very focused and calm, and she really enjoyed the time together. Of course, it helped that the little guy was still sleeping, but I’m going to try to keep this going. Of course this isn’t specifically a Waldorf thing, but it certainly fits the theme.

Work as Play

When I read about this, it seemed so simple, I thought it wouldn’t really work, but it did. The idea is, instead of, say, putting the kids in front of the TV so you can cram in a load of laundry and quickly chop some veggies for soup, you involve your kids in the housework and make it a part of your activities for the day. This teaches the kids that they are not nuisances to be silenced while you frantically do the real but unpleasant work, but rather that housework can be fun, and a shared activity that involves satisfaction and learning, but also that the kids can be a part of making their home a nicer, cleaner, more orderly place. My girl is three, and she can now do things that actually help me and save me time. It was really pleasant doing housework with her today. Again, maybe today was special, but I’ll be trying this again for sure.

Reverence

We are not a religious family, so we don’t have many spiritual practices in our household. However, the more I read, the more I see the value of rituals and valuing the spiritual side of life. It’s funny–even though I’m not religious and never have been, I do consider myself to be spiritual, mostly in connection with the natural world (this is probably why Waldorf appeals to me so much). So this idea of reverence really struck me. The article I read (which I cannot find, gosh darnit!) spoke about using gratitude as a path to reverence. That is, thinking about where things came from and thanking the creatures and forces and beings that brought these things to you. Our girl got right into this. For our broccoli soup at lunch, we thanked the Sunshine, and the farmer for the broccoli, and Daddy for buying the broccoli, and Mommy for making it. This idea of stopping to think about where things come from, and then thanking those who brought or created it is common to Buddhism as well.

A simplified play space

Okay, I’m working on this. But our girl’s room has become messy to the point of being dangerous. She just has too many toys, all out and accessible all the time. Quite often, she flits from one thing to another. Other times, she works in “creative destruction” of her toys, painting them, cutting their hair, etc., it makes me wonder if she really values them. So my plan is to take away all but a few of her toys to play with at one time. The other things are going into her closet, so she isn’t worried about missing them. It will only make a visit to the closet extra exciting, but once this is all in order, I will make sure she’s only playing with a few toys at a time.

Today just felt so wonderful and so right. I know not every day can be like today, but I’m going to continue the experiment. I figure it can only bring good things!

And here is our Waldorf Week Meal Plan:

Tuesday: tabouli and hummus

Wednesday: chicken stir fry with peanut sauce

Thursday: leftovers

Friday: black bean soup and cheese quesadillas

Saturday: fish of some sort

Sunday: spaghetti (I’ll try to make it to the Organic Farmer’s Market on Saturday for some local beef–wish me luck!)