What’s your Walkscore?

walk_signWhile cruising through my Blogroll one day, I ended up on One Green Generation, which had a link to a fascinating site called Walkscore.com.

Basically, it uses Google Maps to calculate your distance from important amenities like grocery stores, libraries, parks, restaurants, cinemas, etc. to give your neighbourhood a certain score based on proximity.  The higher the score, the less need you have for a car.

Our score in Centretown Ottawa? 93/100 (woo hoo!)

Our two old places in Toronto: 83 and 77 respectively

My parents’ place in Sudbury: 53

The house I grew up in: 10 out of 100

Interestingly, every move I’ve ever made has brought me to a more walkable location! (Well, except for my year in Montreal but we won’t count that.) Though I often dream about farm life, walkability is something I really value and would find it a major adjustment to live without. In fact, I think it’s a key component of my being frugal and urban!

So, what’s the deal with walkability?  The website gives a few points:

Walkable neighborhoods offer surprising benefits to our health, the environment, and our communities.

Better health: A study in Washington State found that the average resident of a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood weighs 7 pounds less than someone who lives in a sprawling neighborhood.1 Residents of walkable neighborhoods drive less and suffer fewer car accidents, a leading cause of death between the ages of 15–45.

Reduction in greenhouse gas: Cars are a leading cause of global warming. Your feet are zero-pollution transportation machines.

More transportation options: Compact neighborhoods tend to have higher population density, which leads to more public transportation options and bicycle infrastructure. Not only is taking the bus cheaper than driving, but riding a bus is ten times safer than driving a car!2

Increased social capital: Walking increases social capital by promoting face-to-face interaction with your neighbors. Studies have shown that for every 10 minutes a person spends in a daily car commute, time spent in community activities falls by 10%.3

Stronger local businesses: Dense, walkable neighborhoods provide local businesses with the foot traffic they need to thrive. It’s easier for pedestrians to shop at many stores on one trip, since they don’t need to drive between destinations.

I would agree with all these points, and would also add that being able to walk to work (something possible in Centretown Ottawa) means having more time to spend at home with the kids. My “commute” is less than 5 minutes door-to-door, which means I maximize the time I can spend with my daughter instead of sitting in traffic. Same goes for my husband, whose “commute” is about double mine.

Another thing I’ve noticed in my years living in walkable neighbourhoods is that where people can walk, they do, and the fact that there are people out walking around, usually at all hours of the day & night, greatly increases the safety of neighbourhoods. Jane Jacobs calls this “eyes on the street”. The more mixed use and pedestrian traffic a neighbourhood has, the less crime tends to exist in a place. In fact, many parks in dense urban neighbourhoods are actually safer than suburban parks at night, simply because there are more people strolling around.

Finally, having a car would mean greatly increasing our cost of living since we would not only have to worry about the car (and most likely a car loan), but also the insurance, gas, maintenence and repairs that go along with car ownership. Not to mention an automatic $100/month just to park the thing!

I found this website really fun, and as you can see, used it to check out all the places I’ve ever lived. I would definitely use this when choosing our next apartment or house.

Quick Tip #2: Save 30% at The Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic! 5% goes to charity

give+getNow I’m not a clothes buyer, or a shopper by nature, but this came into my inbox from Care Canada, a wonderful group doing great work with women overseas, so I thought I’d pass it along.  Plus, 30% off at Old Navy is practically free.

Here’s the Blurb from Care Canada’s website:

Give and Get in time for Back to School!

Give and Get from July 30 – Aug 2. Receive a 30% discount at Gap, Banana Republic or Old Navy and Gap Inc. will donate 5% of your purchase price to CARE!

Give and Get in time for Back to School!

CARE’s longtime corporate partner Gap Inc. once again has invited CARE to participate in its seasonal charitable giving program, Give and Get.

From July 30 – August 2, you can receive a 30% discount on purchases made at Gap, Banana Republic or Old Navy stores and outlets. When you do, Gap Inc. will donate 5% of all purchases to CARE! Past Give and Get promotions have generated more than $500,000 for CARE’s work around the world!

How does it work? Simply click here to download and print out your coupon. Then, take it with you shopping to Gap, Banana Republic or Old Navy from Thursday, July 30 – Sunday, August 2 to receive your discount—and generate donations for CARE. Gap Inc. has asked that each shopper go online and print their own coupon.

Please tell your family and friends about this promotion!

CLICK HERE to download your Give and Get coupon.

We’ll see you in the store!

Buy-Nothing Challenge

You may have noticed on my sidebar, a button that reads “Buy Nothing Challenge, August 2009“.  If you click on the button it will lead you to the Crunchy Chicken’s August challenge, which is (you’ll get this if you’ve been paying attention) not to buy anything for the entire month of August 2009.

The rules are (from the Crunchy Chicken herself):

* No new clothes
* No new gadgets
* No new furniture or housewares
* No salon services
* No makeup
* No tools
* No whatever the hell else people buy

Food is an exception, as are canning and preserving supplies, and I’m assuming bills are okay to pay.  And there’s a weekly “confessional” if you either break down or if you have something planned ahead of time, like a trip (as we have planned for the first weekend in August).  Other stuff, you might want to plan ahead, though obviously going crazy in the weeks beforehand would kinda counteract the point of the challenge.

So yeah, I’ve pledged my name in there as a non-consumer for the month of August. I’m a bit nervous, though I’ve been putting in a whole lot of Zero-Dollar Days lately (where I spend absolutely nothing for a whole 24 hour period–no exceptions).  I don’t know how I’ll do with the challenge: will I panic and rebel against it? will it make me super paranoid about spending money afterwards?

I predict that in many ways it won’t be hard.  I predict that I will be faced with challenges of the “want vs. need” variety, possibly regarding craft or kitchen supplies.  But that just brings me back to working through my stash.  As someone wrote in the New York Times reader-submitted Survival Strategies for the Recession, “Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without.”

So if you’ve got a birthday in August, I hope I either remember it this week, or that you enjoy home-made stuff because that’s what you’ll likely be getting. I’ll update you on how it’s going.  Let me know if you join the challenge too!

Getting Wasted

I can’t believe I’ve been so blind.  This is really a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing.

On the one hand–the “right” hand in this case–I’ve been shopping wisely, comparing supermarkets, clipping coupons, turning off lights and appliances, making my own laundry detergent, washing my hair with baking soda and vinegar, even wiping with re-usable toilet cloth for goodness sake!

On the other hand, I have been letting food rot and throwing it in the garbage! That’s like taking cash money and throwing it in the garbage.  It doesn’t matter if I took the bus to Price Chopper and got those asparagus for $2 instead of for $3.50 at Hartman’s. If I let them sit in the fridge for 2 weeks and then throw them in the garbage once they get too smelly to ignore, all my frugal good intentions fly out the window when I waste food like this.

Sigh.  I feel so guilty.

But to combat this bad habit that has been plaguing me (without my really acknowledging it) for too long now, I am setting a new challenge for myself: to waste less food!

I realize I should create a measurable goal for myself, like “waste no more than $5 worth of food per week” or “reduce food waste by 50%” but to be honest, I don’t even know how much I’ve been wasting, and so I don’t know exactly what’s reasonable to expect of myself.

But I do have some strategies to achieve “my” goal, and here they are:

– calculate the cost of the food I throw away.  This will mean recording what I paid for it (in my Ottawa Grocery Price Book), and then weighing or estimating the value of the waste.  Hopefully this will sink into my consciousness that throwing food away isn’t just “cleaning the fridge” but “throwing money in the garbage”.

– not buying anything perishable unless I have a specific plan for it.  This means tinkering more carefully with my meal plans and making sure I can work what I buy into the meals I’m planning.

– cleaning out the fridge and freezer (and recording what I’ve wasted) so I can see what’s in there.  Also, not storing anything in opaque containers in the fridge, so I can easily see the food I’m storing.

– checking the fridge, freezer and pantry before I plan my meals and/or go shopping, so anything that’s about to go bad can get included in the soonest meal possible.

– probably make more soups, into which I can throw my miscellany of nearly-spoiled vegetables.  And then eat them.

I’m hoping this will also help me to be better organized around lunches.  There are many days when I forget to plan and then finding myself taking a peanut butter sandwich to work.  It’s not really that bad–freshly ground peanut butter on home-made sourdough–but my partner finds it isn’t quite enough to sustain him for the day.  Planning my meals more carefully to avoid wasting might force me to make sure I’ve got lunch stuff planned too.

I will report back with my progress, and let you know which strategies work and which don’t.  And in the mean time, I’m going to give that asparagus one more sniff . . .

Laundry–final analysis?

So, after posting at least twice about how I make my own laundry soap, and it’s super environmentally friendly, and super cheap, and totally just as good as regular store-bought laundry soap . . . I broke down today and bought some regular ol’ detergent from Superstore.

What changed?  Just last week or so, I was posting about how great things were going: I made a new batch of goop, and getting my money’s worth out of my washing soda / borax purchases.

Well, the final straw was the tea towels.  It could be the humidity, or possibly my imagination, but my very best tea towels that I used to prize as being the very absolutely best tea towels one could ever hope for (from the now-long-defunct, but oft-mourned Caban), started to “smear” the water in a wet dish rather than soak it up lickity-split like it used to.

Also, though I very recently posted that the diapers were getting super clean and smelling like a fresh spring morning and all that, I’ve recently detected some odour emitting from them, especially when they are, ahem, freshly wetted.  They didn’t used to make that smell, but maybe some detergent residue has built up in them.

Some other things I noticed: the collars of a couple of my partner’s white shirts were still quite besmirched after washing; things have been seeming a little extra “stiff” on the line lately; and our colours seem to be fading a little more quickly than I feel comfortable with.

So I broke down and I bought a big box of Tide Free.  It wasn’t even on sale, but I had a ride to the grocery store, so I could bring it home without lugging it on the bus.

And how do I feel?  I’m glad I did the experiment.  I’m disappointed it wasn’t the magic bullet I believed it was for the last few weeks.  I feel a bit guilty about not even getting an eco-brand of detergent (next time!!).  But I’m also relieved to be back on a more normal track for laundry.  I was ignoring some of these failings for awhile now, so I’m glad to face and accept them.

I still have 90% of the last batch I made.  I think I will continue to use it, perhaps alternating with the regular stuff to reduce buildup.  But I will definitely avoid using it for my nice tea towels.

Amazing Grace

Now, this will come as no surprise to long-time residents of Ottawa, but Grace Ottawa is amazing!  As a recent new-comer, I admit I have checked it out once or twice before, but that was without my more recently acquired frugalista-vision.  Before I saw a lot of Mr. Goudas, and exotic seasoning blends I would probably never use.  But this time . . . this time was different.

Here is just a sampling of the amazing deals on staples to be had at Grace Ottawa:

– 10 lb couscous for $9.99

– 10 kilos red lentils for $20.99

– 10 kilos other beans for $16.99

– 5 limes for $1

– 4 lemons for $1

– fresh cilantro for $1

They also had bags and bags and BAGS of rice: Basmati, Jasmine, Indian, Thai . . . and  yes, Mr. Goudas.  I didn’t see the prices on rice but I’d bet the deals are good, and the selection is unbeatable.  I was also able to find coconut oil (for an upcoming experiment on making my own deoderant) and durum semolina flour, for making my own pasta.

In conclusion, shop at Amazing Grace, make use of their giant bags of staples, and save giant bags of money!

The “other” kind of tortillas

I didn’t mention yesterday but on Tuesday I actually went crazy and at the same time as making flour tortillas, I also made corn tortillas!  Bloggers, especially those living in New York City, really love their tortillas!  Here is a post about making corn tortillas on 30 Bucks a Week (thanks Tina!) and another on Homesick Texan.

I checked out Grace Ottawa after seeing it recommended on Ottawa Foodies as a place to buy Masa Harina–a specific type of corn flour that is recommended for making tortillas.  Sure enough, they had it (and many other wonders and goodies, which I will report on tomorrow) so I grabbed a bag of “Masa Mix by Mr. Goudas (2 kilos for $4) and made my way home.

Now these tortillas are also very delicious, and totally easy!  Even easier than the flour variety.  And the taste?  Well, I imagine the Mr. Goudas brand is probably not the height of flavour, but even so, they were completely delicious.  They smelled amazing and the texture was lovely and soft.  I can’t wait to try frying these babies to make hard tacos and home-made corn chips.

So, is it worth it to make your own tortillas?  Absolutely!  The flavour is incomparable, the ingredients are pronouncable and safe, they are fast and easy, and so CHEAP!  While I don’t see the corn tortillas replacing bread for me for summer wrap sandwiches (not like flour tortillas), I also don’t see myself spending another penny on Old El Paso any time in the near future.

I should add that I made them without the aid of a tortilla press, which Grace Ottawa also sells for $20.  I’m guessing a tortilla press would make them even thinner, and thus do even more for the texture and flavour.  I’m putting this gadget on my list of things to look out for at garage sales this summer.

Corn Tortillas

2 cups Masa Harina

1 tsp salt

1 1/4 cups warm water

Mix the masa harina with salt, then add water and stir until it comes together as a soft dough. Knead for a few minutes until smooth. Let it sit, covered, for 15 minutes. Divide into 12 round balls and then cover so they don’t dry out as you press and cook.

Next, flatten them into thin rounds using either a tortilla press with two circles cut from thick plastic wrap (like a freezer bag), or cover two heavy cutting boards with plastic wrap and use those to press the rounds.  Heat a heavy bottomed cast iron skillet on medium.  Cook tortillas 30 to 40 seconds on each side, or long enough to produce some browned spots on the surface.

Enjoy with your favourite tex-mex or Mexican food, or fresh from the pan with some butter and salsa.  Let me know if you try it!