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!

Advertisements

Taking Refuge in the Moment

buddhistI just finished reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s “The Art of Power“, a wonderful book with a deliberately and cleverly misleading title, since the “power” he talks about is not the power that people are generally seeking, but rather the power to be calm and spread peace wherever you go and with whomever you meet.

Two of the practices he describes in this book (besides sitting meditation which most are familiar with) are a) general mindfulness, and b) walking meditation. I think he focuses on these practices in this book because they are very easy to incorporate into even the busiest of lives, but they help to centre you very effectively and quickly.

Mindfulness is the skill of bringing your mind into the present moment and not being taken away by thoughts, memories, worries, etc. Most buddhists do this through the breath. When you follow the breath you are drawn into your body, into the present moment, and you allow your thoughts and worries and regrets, etc. (as well as your plans, and desires, and nostalgic remembrances), to drop away, leaving you considerably less stressed and more focused.

Much is made of the power of sitting meditation where you watch the breath for extended periods, but Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that you can get some benefit by bringing mindfulness into your daily life in short snatches. For example, when the telephone rings, you can use that as a recall to the moment, and take one or two deep breaths to centre you before you answer. Or stopping at a red light, this can also be an opportunity to watch the breath.

He has a lovely poem that helps with this simple meditation. The word pairs are said silently with the in and out breath:

in, out
deep, slow
calm, ease
smile, release
present moment, wonderful moment

I’ve been watching my breath and reciting this poem regularly over the last few weeks and it has given me access to many moments of calm and peace, helping me cope with some of the stresses of being heavily pregnant and parenting a toddler in the heat of late summer!

Walking meditation is an expansion of this mindfulness practice, but instead of focusing on the breath, you focus on your feet as you walk. Whenever you walk, the author explains, you should make your steps gentle on the earth. You are free, you do not need to hurry: walk calmly and slowly as if the purpose of walking is simply to walk.

As you walk, you can say the poem in pace with your breath, which will be in pace with your footsteps, maybe one in-breath for every two steps, or more.

Walking to work every day is so often a blur for me. It’s a short walk, but I usually spend the time thinking about work–sometimes bringing back some conflict from the day before, or worrying about what will be in my email inbox today. But since I’ve been practicing walking meditation, this time is so calm, such an island in my day, that I really feel that I can start taking refuge in the moment.

Now what does this have to do with a frugal or green mindset? I think plenty.

In terms of frugality, many of us turn to shopping and spending money when we are stressed. I am so guilty of this. And most of my stress-fuelled purchases have been big ones, undoing months of savings from baking my own bread and using baking soda for deodorant. The more tools I have to reduce stress and encourage a peaceful frame of mind, the less likely I am to go out shopping.

What’s more, the more value I place on being mindful and present, the less likely I am to seek distractions like magazines or shiny electronics. Think about it: if everyone started practicing mindful breathing on the bus, Blackberries would cease to exist!

The more unmindful consumerism in our world, the more energy and resource waste, the more landfill produced, the more waterways polluted. When we make our footsteps gentle on the earth, we also tend to reduce our ecological footprint by reducing consumption, waste and pollution.

Try these mindfulness techniques and see where you can fit them into your day. And please refer to any book by Thich Nhat Hanh to get a deeper, richer explanation of these practices. Check out his 1996 book The Long Road Turns to Joy on Google Books–a Limited Preview release specifically about walking meditation.

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.

Buy Nothing Fail: I got me a freezer!

So, after MONTHS of deliberation, I finally bought my tiny chest freezer today from the Rideau Loblaws. It was definitely not an impulse buy: I’ve been weighing the pros and cons, and several times I’ve gone to bed having decided not to get one, only to wake up thinking about all the food I can freeze before Tiny Baby arrives.

So I will confess my sins on Crunchy Chicken, and move on to this new world of freezer meals . . . which is crazy! There are so many websites out there dedicated to “Once-a-Month Cooking” or OAMC as they are calling it on the interweb, but I think I need these last 2 months of pregnancy to slowly build up a supply of prepared dinners for the fall.

To be honest, I don’t even know what freezes well and what doesn’t. I’ve never been a very good freezer-user, so this lifestyle shift is going to require some training. My plans for the freezer include:

– a lot of home-made stock, in small packages (great for sauces)

– a bunch of local organic meat, especially ground beef

– cheese sauce (is it okay in the freezer??)

– pizzas: I’m planning to freeze dough that’s been rolled out, and separate baggies of pizza sauce in one-pizza sizes

– shredded cheese for said pizzas (Cheese is on sale this week at Loblaws for $4.99 for a large block): just shred cheese and lay it out on a cookie sheet to freeze in individual shreds, then sweep it into a baggie for storage

– a basic tomato-meat sauce that I can use as a base for either chili, spaghetti or lasagne by just adding different spices/ingredients

– some tomatoes if I can get some nice ones cheap at the farmer’s market. I’ve heard if you run a frozen tomato under hot water, the skins slip right off–great for sauces!

– 2 or three organic chickens

Not sure if I’ll have room for all this stuff, or if I’ll have room for more, but I think if I get these put away, we’ll be pretty well set-up for the first couple months of Tiny Baby’s appearance.  I’m glad I have some time to build up my stash. Next challenge will be to make sure we use all the stuff we put away!

Any other suggestions for freezable meals are very welcome!

A man, a girl, and a box

It’s the common comment: buy a kid a fancy toy, and they’ll spend more time playing with the box.  Well, yesterday I bypassed the fancy toy and went straight for the box. Actually I found the box in our basement recycling area, probably left over from someone’s August 1st move.

It’s a big box, but not appliance-big: about 3 feet high and 2 feet deep and wide. Just big enough to be a little house for a two-and-a-half-year-old.

I knew she’d have a ton of fun with it, but what I didn’t figure in was how much my husband would enjoy the “project” of building a cardboard box house for our little girl.  To begin with, he opened up and reinforced the bottom (was the top) to give the structure about 6 more inches of height–enough for our girl to stand up straight inside.  Then he got out his X-acto knife and cut out a lovely door.  He’s still planning on making a cabin window in the side for her to look out of, but he’s planning an a-symmetrical design to look x-tra cool.

Well, it was a big hit right from the start: she kept wanting to go in, and her daddy kept on saying, “Not yet” and telling her what the next stage of the process was. Then when he got the door cut out, she went inside right away and hid, and brought her blankie in, and hid . . . it was really fun to watch her play with it.

If it rains today (and probably even if it doesn’t), we’re going to get out the paints grandma gave our little girl for Christmas, and paint the house all pretty.

When I picked up the box yesterday morning, I had no idea that it would make for such a fun family project.  The excitement we all felt about turning this box into a toy was something I will remember, and I hope she will too. I want her to remember that joy of making something from nothing. To me it shows, it’s not the money you spend on your kids, but the time you spend with them that counts.

Urban Foraging, Experiment #2: Black Currants!

Today while walking . . . well, somewhere in . . . a city . . . I noticed something dark purple and shiny calling out to me from some shrubbery.  It was . . . it couldn’t be . . . no, it really was a blackcurrant bush!  And there were ripe purple berries dangling there just begging to be picked. (photos to come)

I couldn’t believe my good fortune, that such a treasure had not already been gleaned by another observant forager like myself.  I filed the location and vowed to return at a more convenient time to collect my treasure.  X marks the spot 🙂

So I returned under cover of dusk, wearing a green dress so as to blend in with the shrubbery, and spent a good half-hour picking.  Oh, the smell!  I was in cassis heaven as I plucked the juicy berries from the branches.

I brought my treasures home and marched through my little girl’s bedtime routine all the while thinking about the jam I could make with my find.

Well, after getting her into bed, and chatting with my mom on the phone I got down to the serious business of microwave jam making . . . at 11 o’clock.

First, I found a recipe seemingly from a Four-H club (?) for making small batches of microwave jam.  Aha!  Perfect.  For what I had was the makings of a small batch.

I knew that when I started out, even before I had measured my one-and-almost-three-quarters cups of picked berries.  The recipe calls for 1 1/2 to 2 cups of cut up fruit, but I was willing to go a little on the lean side.  I even included all of the “blemished” fruit, hoping that it wouldn’t spoil the flavour too much.

Then I topped and tailed them, and washed them.  In the measuring cup full of water, several of the more blemished ones floated to the top.  “That can’t be good,” I thought, and took a peek inside. Nope, not good.  It was a dried-out stinky worm-bed inside my beautiful berries.

There was no denying the fact that they most certainly would spoil the flavour, so I went through them again, discarding any berries sporting what looked remotely like a worm hole.  Down to . . . a very respectable 1 cup of washed, sorted, topped and tailed berries.  Sigh.

So I decided to halve the recipe.  “At least I’ll get one jar of jam,” I reassured myself as midnight struck and my dear partner (who had stood by me during the sad, sad culling process) went to bed.

The recipe calls for:

1 1/2 cups of chopped fruit

flavourings and lemon juice (this refers to a mysterious unlinked “chart”)

1 1/2 cups sugar

So I halved the sugar and added a bit over a tablespoon of lemon juice for good measure, and set about following the instructions.

Heat in microwave about 6 minutes, or until boiling–mine took much less time. Stir well, and then cook in microwave 10 to 13 more minutes, stirring every 2-3 minutes.  Mine went faster here too, and I was done after about 6 minutes.  It says at this point you should chill a spoonful in the fridge for 15 minutes to test the consistency, but I was pretty sure mine was jelling, so I jarred it*.

And this is what I got:

Approximately 2/3 of a one-cup jar of black currant jam.  Sigh.

Well, what this experiment taught me was respect for two things: 1, the price of high-quality blackcurrant jam, and 2, the value of pesticides.

I’m going to bed now, but at least I can look forward to some tasty jam tomorrow morning.

* Microwave jam is not processed, so it must be refrigerated immediately and will last for about a month in the fridge.

Confessions of an Organized Housewife

I mentioned upon my return from my holidays that I had borrowed a couple of books from my mom.  Well, this is one of them, and frankly the more exciting of the two.  I’ve borrowed it at least once before, and it’s really quite awesome.

To begin with, there’s the title.  For some reason, it speaks to me.  She is confessing her clean little secret, and really, she’s proud of it.  I guess part of me really wants to be an organized housewife, just like her.

So what does she offer? Plenty!  Here is a breakdown of the gems to be found in this book:

– pep talks that work.  Really.  After reading this book I often come away actually excited about cleaning and organizing my house.  She points out that by working on improving your technique, you raise houswork out of the mundane into a craft. She also discusses the benefits of having a clean and orderly house, including the feelings of peace and enjoyment of the home.  To me, this is a frugal thought: if we like being at home, we will be less driven to leave it for expensive alternatives.

– six “Basic Organizing Principles” including: Think Before You Act, wherein you stop working by habit and instead think through all the steps of a project or day or organization of a room, looking for the most logical time-saving way to approach it; Discard and Sort, wherein you de-clutter each area of your home so that there is “a place for everything and everything in its place” and everything you have on hand is useful and used; Group, which is pretty self-explanatory, except that she often groups by use instead of by type so that you might keep all your baking spices with your baking stuff and all your savoury spices near the stove if that’s where you use them, instead of keeping all your spices together; Be Motion Minded, considering how you move in a room, and saving time by putting things close at hand; Use Your Accrued Benefits, wherein you learn that it makes more sense to iron 6 shirts at a time, than to iron one shirt at a time six times; Do it Daily, so that things don’t get out of hand; and finally, become an “Indoor Scout“, leaving a room better than you found it each time.

– advice for building your own planner that will accomodate your and your family’s needs.

– efficient ways of moving through the house methodically so that you’re not re-tracing your steps or wasting time.  The coolest idea here is her housework cart that she uses, like a hotel chambermaid.  It’s totally collapsable and handles garbage, laundry, sorting of “stuff”, and cleaning all in one amazing little buggy!  Seriously, I’m building me one of these.

There’s lots of other tips here, many of which involve using labelled containers to sort stuff in cupboards, etc., but you should really read the book if you want to get into that much detail.

I’ll end with the most reassuring part of the book, the second-last chapter which is called “Where to Start”.  In case you have a tendancy to get massively overwhelmed by books like this, she has a little checklist with the basics that should be covered before you move on to more ambitious home organization projects.  The basics:

– I am able to keep the house picked up; check, for the most part.

– I am able to keep the laundry current; check.

– Meals are well-prepared and served regularly; check

– The kitchen is usually in good order; thanks to my partner doing the dishes every night, this is also a check

– Bathrooms are cleaned and straightened regularly; this is a new one, but I’m doing pretty checking good on it so far

– I am able to keep entry areas clean and tidy; hmmm

Well, I’m doing pretty good on 5 out of 6, so maybe the entry way is a good place to start.  In any case, I’m very reassured that I am winning at 5 of these basics.  Her recipe for starting a new level of cleanliness is to give yourself and your family six weeks to get used to it.

So, starting today I will aim to keep my entry area clean and tidy, thus basically completing all six of her basics, and preparing to enter a new level of household organization.

That is, until Tiny Baby arrives.  After that, I make no promises.